Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Blake shows class while winning Sacramento title

   Notes from the recent $100,000 Challengers in Sacramento and Tiburon:
   Class act -- James Blake won more than the singles trophy in Sacramento. The former world No. 4 also won many friends with his sportsmanship and politeness.
   Most notably, the seeded-second Blake conceded a point in his 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory over qualifier Taro Daniel of Japan in the first round. With Daniel serving at 15-30 in the first game of the second set, Blake appeared to win the point when Daniel hit a lob long. But Blake notified the chair umpire that he had nicked the ball with his racket. Otherwise, no one would have known.
   Throughout the week, Blake said "Too good" when opponents hit passing shots and thanked ballboys and ballgirls for giving him balls.
   On the rare occasions when Blake made a bad error, he didn't yell, belt a ball into the next county or smash his racket to smithereens. He simply admonished himself by muttering "James" in a disappointed tone like a father to his son for neglecting to take out the trash.
   The oldest player in the singles draw, Blake will turn 33 on Dec. 28. He hopes to play for another year or more. Whenever he retires, it will be a sad day. 
   International intrigue -- Daniel, the youngest player in the singles draw at 19, has an unusual background. He was born in New York, grew up in Japan, lives in Spain and visits Santa Cruz in Northern California every year.
   Daniel's father, a financial manager for TRW Automotive in Spain, is from Santa Cruz, and his mother is Japanese.
   Consummate pro -- Rik de Voest, who won the singles title of the inaugural (2005) Sacramento Challenger and the doubles crown in Tiburon last week (with Chris Guccione), is a throwback. He wins with guile rather than power, volleys deftly and, like Blake, conducts himself professionally.
   Only 5-foot-11 (180 centimeters) and 150 pounds (68 kilograms), de Voest compensates for his lack of power with mental toughness, craftiness and consistency. The 32-year-old South African keeps the ball in play until 1) his opponent makes an error or 2) he can pound the ball into a corner and come to the net for a putaway volley. He is ranked No. 185 in singles (career-high No. 110 in 2006) and No. 131 in doubles (career-high No. 36 in 2009).
   De Voest had no business beating Rhyne Williams in the first round in Sacramento yet prevailed 5-7, 7-6 (3), 6-4 in 3 hours, 13 minutes. Williams served for the match at 5-4 in the second set and led 4-1 (one service break) in the third set.
   Williams, 21, is a prototypical young American. He has size -- 6-foot-1 (185 centimeters) and 177 pounds (80 kilograms) -- a big serve and forehand, and a volatile temper. While de Voest kept his cool in the match, Williams went ballistic.
   After de Voest hit a topspin lob to break for 5-4 in the third set, Williams smashed his racket on the court three times and was assessed a point penalty. Earlier, Williams had received a warning for pounding a ball over the fence.
   Fan-demonium -- Players often argue with the chair umpire. But with a spectator? It happened at the Natomas Racquet Club in Sacramento during Tennys Sandgren's 6-4, 6-3 second-round victory over Matt Reid of Australia.
   Sandgren, a 21-year-old American who won the doubles title with ex-University of Tennessee teammate Williams, complained to the chair umpire about not informing him that new balls were being used.
   "Yes, he did," spectator Bob Martinez, the junior tennis coordinator at the Gold River Racquet Club in the Sacramento area, told Sandgren. "Everybody heard him. You're complaining about everything. Just play ball."
   "Who are you?" Sandgren shot back.
   "Just a spectator," Martinez said.
   "That's all you need to say," Sandgren replied.
   After the match, Sandgren approached Martinez, and they cordially discussed the incident.
   "It wasn't just the balls," Martinez said later. "It was everything. He was yelling at the ballkids to move over faster. They were freaking out. It really bothered me because I work with kids. I would have regretted it if I hadn't said anything."
   Yankee Doodle Dandies -- Sacramento and Tiburon fans likely have witnessed the next generation of U.S. Davis Cup players.
   The front-runners to succeed John Isner, 27, and Sam Querrey, 25, in singles appear to be 62nd-ranked Ryan Harrison and No. 165 Jack Sock, both 20. Harrison reached the final of the Tiburon Challenger in 2010, and Sock won it last week. Sock already has won two U.S. Open titles, boys singles in 2010 and mixed doubles (with Melanie Oudin) last year.
   The top-ranked doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan, 34-year-old identical twins, could play for another five years. Ironically, another pair of brothers, Ryan and Christian Harrison (18), might succeed them. In only their second pro tournament together, they stunned fourth seeds and reigning finalists Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski of Poland en route to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open last month.
   Christian lost in the first round of singles in last year's Sacramento Futures. He did not play doubles in the tournament at the Park Terrace Swim & Tennis Club.
  Also in the doubles mix are Sandgren and Williams, and the Sacramento runners-up, Devin Britton (21) and Austin Krajicek (22). After the All-American doubles final, the Tiburon title match was an all-foreign affair. De Voest and Australia's Guccione, seeded fourth, beat second-seeded Jordan Kerr of Australia and Andreas Siljestrom of Sweden 6-1, 6-4.

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