Tuesday, August 7, 2012

No. 1 Baker becomes latest victim in Aptos Challenger

Top-seeded Brian Baker of Nashville, Tenn., lost to Maxime Authom of Belgium
5-7, 6-4, 6-2 Tuesday in the first round of the $100,000 Comerica Bank Challenger
in Aptos, Calif. Photo by Paul Bauman
   APTOS, Calif. -- In any other tournament, top-seeded Brian Baker's first-round loss would have been shocking.
   But not in the wild, wacky $100,000 Comerica Bank Challenger.
   Baker -- "one of the greatest stories in the history of our sport," television analyst Justin Gimelstob told the New York Times in May -- was just the latest seed to fall. After the first round, only No. 6 Florent Serra of France remains.
   On a typically cool summer evening at the Seascape Sports Club, near the Pacific Ocean 80 miles south of San Francisco, Maxime Authom of Belgium rifled returns of serve and groundstrokes to oust Baker of Nashville, Tenn., 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 Tuesday.
   No top seed has won the title in the 25-year history of the tournament, the second-longest-running men's event on the USTA Pro Circuit behind Little Rock, Ark. (32 years).
Sacramento-area resident Dmitry Tursunov, middle, poses with fellow Moscow
natives Mischa Zverev, left, and Igor Andreev. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Joining Baker on the sideline were No. 3 Rajeev Ram of Carmel, Ind., and No. 5 Tobias Kamke of Germany. Ram lost to qualifier Dmitry Tursunov, a Russian with residences in Moscow and the Sacramento suburb of Folsom, 6-3, 6-4 in a matchup of former Aptos runners-up. Kamke fell to Sergei Bubka of Ukraine 6-3, 7-6 (2).
   Three other seeds -- No. 2 Igor Andreev of Russia, No. 7 Izak Van der Merwe of South Africa and No. 8 Denis Kudla of Arlington, Va. -- exited Monday.
   An ex-Aptos champion also was upset Tuesday. Alex Kuznetsov, the 2006 titlist, succumbed to lucky loser and fellow American Michael McClune 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (2). Kuznetsov, a Ukraine native who moved to the United States as a young child, complained about line calls throughout the match and declined the customary handshake with the chair umpire afterward.
   The craziness in the Comerica Bank Challenger actually started before the first ball was struck. Defending champion Laurynas Grigelis, 20, of Lithuania came to Aptos but didn't enter the tournament. He didn't feel good about his game with five straight losses and a No. 291 world ranking, according to Linda Feldbrugge, whose family housed Grigelis last year.
   Grigelis showed up anyway with the Italian contingent -- his coach is Italian -- for three days last week "to hang out and surf," Feldbrugge said. "My husband taught them how to surf last year."
   The runner-up to Grigelis -- Serbia's Ilija Bozoljac, flashy as always with his bandanna, sunglasses and earrings -- had to survive qualifying to reach this year's main draw and won his first-round match in three sets Tuesday.
   Authom was ebullient and Baker distraught after their encounter.
   "I think it was the best match of my life, " Authom gushed after his Aptos debut. The tournament is already perfect. Now is a bonus."
   Authom, 25, has struggled with physical and mental issues. The right-hander underwent surgery for tendinitis in his left wrist in 2010 and sat out for one year.
   "I had three tournaments (before Aptos) that were really bad, but they were very good players," Authom said in halting English. "My coach said to try to have fun on the court. Even after the first set, for the first time in my life I was happy. Normally, it would be 7-5, 6-2.
   "My problem is I think a lot. I say, '(Opponents) are very good. I'm not (good enough) to beat them.' Here, my goal is mental (toughness)."
   Baker, head in hands in the locker room, was not available for comment after his fourth consecutive loss. However, he repeatedly criticized himself aloud during the match.
   --After netting a down-the-line backhand: "That's not your shot today. Go cross-court."
   --After another miss with his two-fisted backhand: "If you're not going to move your feet, chip the ball."
   --And in the last game: "I've never hit my backhand this bad four weeks in a row."
   Baker, 27, launched a comeback last year after missing six years with injuries. He underwent five operations, including the Tommy John (elbow ligament replacement) surgery dreaded by baseball pitchers.
   As a qualifier, Baker reached the final at Nice on clay in May and the round of 16 at Wimbledon last month. His ranking has skyrocketed from No. 456 to No. 78 this year.
   Baker is one of the few players who has been injured more than Tursunov. Ranked a career-high No. 20 in 2006, he has plunged to No. 150.
   Tursunov, a right-hander with a two-fisted backhand, is struggling with not only a lingering left wrist injury but motivation and added responsibility following the death of his father last summer. Igor Tursunov was a tennis fanatic who recognized his son's talent when Dmitry was very young and pushed him hard to become a professional player. Dmitry's mother, Svetlana, lives in Moscow.
   "My mom feels she doesn't have a pillar," revealed Tursunov, who moved to Northern California at 12 and speaks English like a native. "I feel quite a bit of responsibility. It forces me to be there a little bit more. It definitely affects my life. Sometimes I have to compromise and go there. There's not much I can do about it."
   Tursunov's only sibling -- brother Denis, who's seven years older and single -- also lives in Moscow. But Dmitry conceded that his mother and Denis "are fighting a little bit here and there."
   Tursunov was buoyed by a one-week training camp with the rest of the Russian Olympic men's tennis team in England before competing last week in the London Games.
   "I did some fitness, and it was fun to be with the team," he said. "It was one of the rare occasions this year when I felt pretty motivated to work hard. It helps when people around you are trying to help you out."
   Tursunov fell in the first round of the Olympics to 29th-ranked Feliciano Lopez of Spain 6-7 (5), 6-2, 9-7 at Wimbledon. Lopez, a left-hander, is a three-time quarterfinalist there.
   "It was a good barometer," said Tursunov, a member of Russia's 2006 Davis Cup championship team. "It shows I haven't forgotten how to play tennis. But it's still a loss. I'm not ready mentally to play well. I'm in better physical condition, but it takes more than one week."
   Tursunov has no lofty goals at this point in his career. He will turn 30 in December.
   "I want to do well in this tournament," said Tursunov, who will face 2011 and 2012 NCAA champion Steve Johnson in Wednesday's featured match at 5:30 p.m. "I want to get back in the mind-set of winning a few matches in a row, not lose my marbles on the court and play well day in and day out."
   Tursunov hopes to play for a few more years.
   "Right now, it's definitely a tough proposition," he admitted. "Sometimes I wake up and don't want to do it. But I want to get through it. If I can't, I'll quit."
   Through Thursday -- USTA National Championships, girls 14s, Peachtree City, Ga.., www.usta.com.
   Through Friday -- USTA National Championships, boys 14s, San Antonio., www.usta.com
   Through Friday -- USTA National Championships, boys 12s, North Little Rock, Ark.., www.usta.com.
   Through Friday -- USTA National Championships, girls 12s, Alpharetta, Ga., www.usta.com
   Through Sunday -- USTA National Championships, boys 18s and 16s, Kalamazoo, Mich., www.usta.com. 
   Through Sunday -- USTA National Championships, girls 18s and 16s, San Diego., www.usta.com.
   Through Sunday -- $100,000 Comerica Bank Challenger, Seascape Sports Club, 1505 Seascape Blvd., Aptos, Calif., 95003, www.seascapesportsclub.com/challenger, (831) 688-1993.
   Aug. 27-Sept. 9 -- U.S. OPEN, Flushing Meadows, N.Y., www.usopen.org.
   Sept. 9-16 -- $25,000 USTA Oak River Rehab Challenger, Sun Oaks Tennis & Fitness, 3452 Argyle Road, Redding, Calif., 96002, www.sunoakschallenger.com, (530) 227-3498.
   Sept. 14 -- World TeamTennis, Western Conference finals, Sacramento Capitals vs. Orange County Breakers, 3:30 p.m. PDT, Charleston, S.C.
   Sept. 15 -- WTT, Eastern Conference finals, Washington Kastles vs. New York Sportimes, 3:30 p.m. PDT, Charleston, S.C.
   Sept. 16 -- WTT Finals, Western Conference champion vs. Eastern Conference champion, 12:30 p.m. PDT, Charleston, S.C.
   Sept. 29-Oct. 7 -- Natomas Men's $100,000 Challenger, Natomas Racquet Club, 2450 Natomas Park Drive, Sacramento, Calif., 95833, www.natomaschallenger.com, (916) 649-0909.
   Oct. 6-14 -- First Republic Bank Men's $100,000 Challenger, Tiburon Peninsula Club, 1600 Mar West St., Tiburon, Calif., 94920, www.tiburon challenger.com, (415) 789-7900.

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