Sunday, November 8, 2015

Rubin's Stunning Comeback Earns Title at Charlottesville Challenger; King Wins Birmingham Futures; Johnson, Scholtz Claim Futures Titles in Greece and South Africa

With Noah Rubin serving down 3-6, 1-5 30-40 in the final of the $50,000 Charlottesville Challenger, Tommy Paul sent a forehand return long, and Rubin went on to win the next two points. In retrospect, it was important, yet in real time there was no sense of any kind of turning point, with Paul, who was playing beautifully, having two chances to serve out the match.  After playing cold-blooded tennis throughout his first four matches, all won in straight sets, and not giving more experienced players than Rubin any openings, Paul seemed like a good bet to close the door, quickly and firmly.

That didn't happen. The 18-year-old suddenly showed signs that he was nervous, hitting two double faults, the second on game point, to get broken at love, making it 5-3.  Rubin, who was hanging by a thread, went down 0-30 in his service game, but won the final four points to make it 5-4 and put the pressure squarely back on Paul. Again Paul got in trouble on serve, double faulting for 15-40, and although he saved the first break point with a winner, he missed a forehand wide on the second and the match was even.

Rubin won his fifth straight game to make it 6-5 and Paul managed a love hold to force a tiebreaker.  Up 3-2 and serving, Paul again had a chance to put Rubin away, but he made two unforced errors on the forehand side. Rubin, who had played steadily, if not spectacularly, during Paul's meltdown, gave Paul two unforced errors to put Paul back up; at 5-4 and with two serves, Paul was again in position to win, but he lost the first, so when Rubin missed a return on a good second serve from Paul, Paul had another match point, but on Rubin's serve. Paul missed a backhand long on his second match point, saved a set point at 7-6, but missed consecutive backhands to drop the set.

Rubin, who was playing his eighth match in nine days after coming through qualifying, took a medical timeout between sets for a back issue, and Paul also appeared to be struggling with his back. Paul took a medical timeout after getting broken in the third game, with the trainer performing similar methods to those he had used for Rubin three games earlier.  Rubin held and broke for a 4-1 lead, but although the match seemed to be his for the taking, it wasn't quite over. Paul broke and held for 4-3, and Rubin had to save a break point in that eighth game. At 30-all Rubin made an unforced error, netting a third-shot backhand to give Paul his chance, but Paul shanked a forehand, Rubin won the next two points for a 5-3 lead, then broke Paul at love to finish the improbable comeback.

Rubin had won only two Challenger main draw matches prior to this week, but the former Wake Forest star now joins Jared Donaldson and Taylor Fritz on the list of US teens who have claimed Challenger titles this year.  Rubin, who now leads in the USTA's Australian Open Wild Card Challenge, receives a special exemption into next week's Challenger in Knoxville, as does Paul. Rubin has drawn No. 2 seed Austin Krajicek and Paul is set to face No. 3 seed Tim Smyczek.  Taylor Fritz is back in action after a week off, with Stefan Kozlov and Mackenzie McDonald receiving wild cards. Michael Mmoh and Reilly Opelka lost in the opening round of qualifying today.  The Knoxville draw can be found here.

Chase Buchanan and Tennys Sandgren won the doubles title in Charlottesville, with the No. 2 seeds defeating No. 3 seeds Peter Polansky and Adil Shamasdin of Canada 3-6, 6-4, 10-5.  Jonathan Kelley has an interview with Sandgren (and an earlier one with Buchanan) up today on his On The Rise Tennis blog.

Nicole Gibbs lost in the final of the $50,000 tournament in Waco today, with Viktoria Golubic of Switzerland simply too good in her 6-2, 6-1 win. Golubic has a one-handed backhand, but if that is a liability, it wasn't evident today. She also served well, with Gibbs getting only two break points and failing to convert either of them.

The US did get one ITF Women's Circuit title this weekend however, with Asia Muhammad claiming the $50,000 event in Canberra, Australia with a 6-4, 6-3 decision over No. 2 seed Eri Hozumi of Japan. The 24-year-old from Las Vegas has won 15 doubles titles in her career, but this is just her third singles title, and the first since 2013. She and Lauren Embree lost in the doubles final this week to Hozumi and Misa Eguchi, by the remarkable score of 7-6(13), 1-6, 14-12.

Former Michigan All-American Evan King won the $10,000 Birmingham, Alabama Futures with two wins Sunday.  The 23-year-old, seeded No. 2, beat No. 6 seed Jean-Yves Aubone in the semifinal 6-3, 7-6(3), then defeated top seed Bastian Trinker of Austria 6-4, 6-4 in the final. It is King's third singles title, all this year. He has 13 doubles titles on the ITF men's circuit.

Two college players who completed their eligibility in May won Futures titles today, with former Ole Miss All-American Nik Scholtz of South Africa taking his seventh career title, this one at a $10,000 Futures in his home country.

Eric Johnson of Southern Cal won his second career title at the $10,000 Futures in Greece, with the No. 7 seed beating 18-year-old Tim Van Rijthoven of the Netherlands, the No. 8 seed, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 in the final.