Sunday, July 17, 2011

Lithuanian teen wins Aptos Challenger

   APTOS -- When Laurynas Grigelis arrived at the $100,000 Comerica Bank Challenger, his chances of winning the title were about as good as Arnold Schwarzenegger's of being named Husband of the Year.
   After all, Grigelis was ranked No. 373 in the world and had won one match in a month.
   Following two straight-set victories at the Seascape Sports Club, the 19-year-old Lithuanian barely survived against third-seeded Matthew Ebden and top-seeded Igor Kunitsyn to reach his first Challenger final.
   Grigelis completed his improbable run Sunday with a 6-2, 7-6 (4) victory over seventh-seeded Ilija Bozoljac of Serbia.
   "When I came here, I didn't expect to win the tournament," conceded Grigelis, who earned $14,400 and soared to No. 240. "I came from two bad tournaments. I just wanted to have fun and play."
   Grigelis was coming off qualifying losses in the Winnetka, Ill., Challenger and at Newport, R.I., on the ATP World Tour, hurting his fragile confidence.
   "Before (Sunday), sometimes he said, 'I can't play. I'm not good,' " said his coach, Andrea Stoppini of Italy. "He didn't believe in himself. He arrived here just to play."
   Grigelis' improved attitude paid off with easy victories over South Korea's Daniel Yoo and Taiwan's Jimmy Wang (who had beaten Grigelis on grass in Newport). Grigelis then outlasted Ebden 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2 in the quarterfinals and saved six match points in a 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (8) victory over the 62nd-ranked Kunitsyn.
   The finalists contrasted sharply with each other on a breezy, 66-degree day.
   Bozoljac, a 25-year-old Serb, was flashy, powerful and easily distracted. Wearing sunglasses, small gold earrings, a backward cap and black wrist bands, the 6-foot-4, 189-pounder played aggressively.
   Bozoljac blasted his serve and groundstrokes (hit with two hands on both sides) and often ventured to the net. At various points in the match, he complained about the balls, the wind and the sun reflecting off a woman's watch.
   Grigelis, despite his youth, was far more businesslike and focused. Except for his yellow tennis shoes, there was nothing flamboyant about him. He didn't even wear a cap or wristbands. At 6-0 and 157 pounds, he relied on his consistency and pinpoint passing shots. Significantly, he remained stoic throughout the match.
   "He was very positive," said Stoppini, a 31-year-old touring pro filling in for Grigelis' regular coach, Giuseppe Menga. "He never said anything. He just played. That's the way to be a good player."
   Placing his serve well, Grigelis never faced a break point. After holding serve for 1-1 in the first set, he won 12 consecutive points and four straight games to take control against the erratic Bozoljac. There were no breaks in the second set as Bozoljac reduced his errors.
   The only minibreak in the tiebreaker came at 4-4. Bozoljac hit a booming serve down the middle and followed it to the net. Grigelis lunged to hit a backhand lob that Bozoljac watched land inside the baseline. Grigelis, who moved with his parents to Italy to train when he was 13, then served out the match.
   "He was just the better player today," Bozoljac said. "I was fighting to stay in the match the whole second set. I'm happy I got to the final but disappointed I didn't finish the way I wanted. I go for all or nothing."
   Against the steady Grigelis, it wasn't good enough.
   Notes -- Top-seeded Carsten Ball and Chris Guccione of Australia won their third consecutive Comerica doubles title, beating third-seeded John Paul Fruttero of the United States and Raven Klaasen of South Africa 7-6 (5), 6-4. Fruttero starred at Cal. ...
   The Comerica Bank Challenger, in its 24th straight year, is the second-longest-running men's tournament on the USTA Pro Circuit. The event in Little Rock, Ark., has been held for 31 years. ...
   Past Comerica singles champions include International Tennis Hall of Famer Patrick Rafter (1993) and three-time Grand Slam runner-up Andy Murray (2005). Past doubles winners include 11-time Grand Slam men's doubles titlists Bob and Mike Bryan (1998 and 2000).

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