Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Top seed Becker ousted in Sacramento Challenger

Daniel Kosakowski, a 20-year-old wild card, upset No. 1 seed
Benjamin Becker, below, 7-5, 6-3 Tuesday in the first round
of the $100,000 RelyAid Natomas Challenger in Sacramento.
Photos by Paul Bauman
   SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- On paper, it was a stunning upset.
   Daniel Kosakowski, a 20-year-old wild card who turned pro last year in Sacramento, ousted Benjamin Becker, a 31-year-old veteran seeded first, 7-5, 6-3 Tuesday in the first round of the $100,000 RelyAid Natomas Challenger at the Natomas Racquet Club.
   Becker is ranked No. 85 in the world after reaching a career-high No. 38 five years ago. Kosakowski, meanwhile, is No. 304.
   Most glaring of all, Becker has won 97 matches on the ATP World Tour, the major leagues of men's professional tennis, to Kosakowski's one.
   But considering recent history, Kosakowski's victory wasn't all that surprising on a day featuring the exits of three more seeds, the world's fastest server, a former Sacramento champion and several U.S. prospects. Kosakowski's triumph might have even been predictable. He has been on fire while Becker has been recovering from his latest injury.
   Kosakowski, a Los Angeles-area native whose parents are Polish, has won 11 straight matches and 13 of his last 14. He reached the final round of qualifying at the U.S. Open in August, beating 82nd-ranked Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia in the second round. Becker was the second top-100 win of Kosakowski's career.
   Last month, Kosakowski won $10,000 Futures tournaments in the Los Angeles suburbs of Claremont and Costa Mesa in consecutive weeks.
   "I was working on a lot of things in the summer, and things are starting to click now," said Kosakowski, who turned pro after winning the $15,000 Futures tournament in Sacramento in June 2011. "I got a lot of confidence from the Open. I know what I'm doing on the court and executing my game plan."
   Kosakowski, who won 24 of 25 points on his first serve against Becker and displayed a sensational one-handed backhand, added that he worked on his "serve and trying to be more aggressive with the backhand, trying not to give up too many freebies or short balls."     
Second-seeded James Blake, 32, wore down 19-year-old
qualifier Taro Daniel of Japan 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 in a match featur-
ing the oldest and youngest players in the singles draw.
   Becker, meanwhile, tore a groin muscle three weeks ago playing in a Davis Cup doubles match for his native Germany. He lost with Philipp Petzschner, but host Germany beat Australia 3-2 on clay to qualify for the elite World Group next year.
  "When I came here, I didn't know if I could play," said Becker, a right-hander with a two-handed backhand who underwent two operations on his left elbow last year and missed seven months. "I'm happy I didn't have any pain today, but I'm not happy with the way I played. I expected not to play my best, obviously. That's how it goes when you have a tough first round.
   "I saw he won a few tournaments (recently)," added Becker, who's best known for ending Andre Agassi's career in the third round of the 2006 U.S. Open. "He had a lot of confidence, and he could see that my confidence was not very high. I'm trying to get it back and hopefully have a better week next week (in the Tiburon Challenger in the San Francisco Bay Area)."
   Despite their age difference and nationalities, Becker and Kosakowski have a few things in common. Both are undersized former college stars.
   Becker, who's listed at 5-foot-10 and 158 pounds, is one of the few pros who played for four years in college. As a junior at Baylor in Waco, Texas, he won the 2004 NCAA singles crown and helped the Bears capture their only NCAA team title.
   Kosakowski said he's 6-foot and 180, but he appears smaller. He turned pro after one year at UCLA, where he was named first-team All-Pacific-10 Conference and the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year.
   After the first round of the Natomas Challenger, the only seeds left are No. 2 James Blake of Tampa, Fla., and No. 5 Matteo Viola of Italy. No. 3 Ryan Sweeting, the 2005 U.S. Open boys champion, withdrew with food poisoning, and No. 8 Denis Kudla, a 20-year-old American born in Ukraine, lost to qualifier Greg Jones of Australia 6-3, 6-0.
   Blake, a 32-year-old wild card and last year's runner-up to 6-foot-10 Ivo Karlovic, wore down 19-year-old qualifier Taro Daniel of Japan 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 on a 99-degree day in a match featuring the oldest and youngest players in the singles draw.
   "I got my legs moving a little better in the second and third sets, and I think his legs kind of went out on him  in the third set," said Blake, ranked No. 97 after reaching a career-high No. 4 in 2006. "He's already played three matches here.
   "I'm not a spring chicken anymore. Sometimes it takes a little longer to warm up. Those things are going to happen sometimes, but I'm happy I got through it."
   Blake, plagued by tendinitis in his right knee last year and earlier this year, pronounced himself fit but said he's taking his career "one match at a time at this point." He hopes to play all next year, "but you never know. One more bad injury, and that can change real quick."
   Eight years ago, Blake broke his neck while practicing in Rome. He slipped on a wet clay court while racing to return a drop shot and struck the net post. Had he not moved his head at the last moment, doctors said he could have been paralyzed.
   Viola dismissed Samuel Groth of Australia 6-2, 6-3. Groth, who blasted a 163-mph (263-kph) serve in a Challenger tournament in South Korea in May, converted only 20 percent of his first serves in the first set and 39 percent overall.
   "I felt really flat on court," said Groth, who has battled a head cold for two days. "I probably had my worst serving day for a year, and I was pretty slow in my movement. I don't think there was actually too much I did well out there. Matteo doesn't give you much, and I knew I was going to have to play a lot better than I did today, that's for sure."
   Bradley Klahn, a San Diego-area resident, and John Millman of Australia had big years in 2010. Klahn won the NCAA singles title as a Stanford sophomore, and John Millman captured the Sacramento Challenger. They met for the first time Tuesday, with wild card Klahn prevailing 7-6 (0), 6-4.
   The day ended with two 30-something veterans knocking out young Americans.
   Rik de Voest, a 32-year-old South African who won the 2005 (inaugural) Sacramento Challenger at the Sutter Lawn Tennis Club, outlasted 21-year-old Rhyne Williams of Knoxville, Tenn., 5-7, 7-6 (3), 6-4 in 3 hours, 13 minutes.
   Williams, who turned pro shortly after reaching the NCAA singles final in 2011 as a Tennessee sophomore, served for the match at 5-4 in the second set and led 4-1 (one service break) in the third set.
   Bobby Reynolds, 30, of Acworth, Ga., outslugged Jack Sock, 20, of Lincoln, Neb., 7-6 (6), 7-6 (4) in a matchup of 2011 Sacramento Challenger quarterfinalists. Sock, last year's doubles runner-up with Nicholas Monroe, already is out of this year's tournament. He and Phillip Simmonds of Reston, Va., narrowly lost in  the first round of doubles to Groth and Chris Guccione, the defending champion with Carsten Ball, on Monday.
   
RELYAID NATOMAS CHALLENGER - SACRAMENTO, CA, USA
$ 100,000
SEPT. 29 - OCT. 7, 2012
RESULTS - TUESDAY, OCT. 2, 2012Singles - First Round
[WC] D Kosakowski (USA) d [1] B Becker (GER) 75 63
[2] [WC] J Blake (USA) d [Q] T Daniel (JPN) 46 63 61
M Reid (AUS) d [LL] F Wolmarans (RSA) 64 64
[5] M Viola (ITA) d S Groth (AUS) 62 63
[Q] G Jones (AUS) d [8] D Kudla (USA) 63 60
M McClune (USA) d [Q] P Simmonds (USA) 16 63 61
R Farah (COL) d A Bogdanovic (GBR) 61 62
B Reynolds (USA) d J Sock (USA) 76(6) 76(4)
L Vanni (ITA) d [Q] L Gregorc (SLO) 46 64 76(3)
[WC] B Klahn (USA) d J Millman (AUS) 76(0) 64
R De Voest (RSA) d R Williams (USA) 57 76(3) 64

Doubles - First Round
[4] A Daescu (ROU) / A Hubble (AUS) d [LL] L Gregorc (SLO) / A Pavic (CRO) 63 64
A Kuznetsov (USA) / M Zverev (GER) d S Ianni (ITA) / M Viola (ITA) 63 64


ORDER OF PLAY - WEDNESDAY, OCT. 3, 2012
STADIUM start 11:00 am
D Kudla (USA) / T Smyczek (USA) vs A Courtney (USA) / P Raja (IND)
Not Before 12:30 PM
A El Mihdawy (USA) vs B Reynolds (USA)
S Groth (AUS) / C Guccione (AUS) vs [4] A Daescu (ROU) / A Hubble (AUS)
Not Before 4:00 PM
L Vanni (ITA) vs A Kuznetsov (USA)

COURT 1 start 11:00 am
M Reid (AUS) vs T Sandgren (USA)
M Zverev (GER) vs I Van der Merwe (RSA)
Not Before 3:30 PM
[3] B Reynolds (USA) / I Van der Merwe (RSA) vs [Q] J Dadamo (USA) / B Klahn (USA) - After suitable rest

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