Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Odd backgrounds serve Daniel, Seeberger well

Taro Daniel, shown today, was born in New York, grew up in
Japan and plays for that country but lives in Spain and considers
the Comerica Bank Challenger his hometown tournament. His
parents live near Aptos in Soquel. Photo by Paul Bauman
   APTOS, Calif. -- In vastly different ways, they probably have the most unusual backgrounds in professional tennis.
   Local favorites Matt Seeberger, seeded fourth in doubles with Julio Peralta of Chile, and Taro Daniel, seeded fifth in singles, followed each other on an outside court today in the $100,000 Comerica Bank Challenger at the Seascape Sports Club.
   Seeberger starred at nearby UC Santa Cruz in NCAA Division III and began playing on the pro tour, strictly in doubles, last year at 30. That used to be retirement age in tennis.
   Seeberger and Peralta lost to Yuki Bhambri of India and Matthew Ebden of Australia 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3) in the first round.
   There was no shame in that. Bhambri, a former world No. 1 junior, reached the third round of men's doubles in last year's Australian Open with Michael Venus of New Zealand. Ebden won the Australian Open mixed doubles title two years ago with Jarmila Gajdosova, a Slovakian-born Australian who played for the Sacramento-based California Dream of World TeamTennis last month.
   Then there's Daniel, who was born in New York, grew up in Japan and plays for that country but lives in Spain and considers the Comerica Bank Challenger his hometown tournament. Got all that? He defeated Farrukh Dustof of Uzbekistan 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-0 to reach the quarterfinals.
   Daniel, 22, led by two service breaks in the first set and served for the set twice. Dustof, who reached the Aptos semifinals two years ago as a qualifier, injured a groin muscle chasing a drop shot late in the second set and stopped running in the third set.
   Daniel has an American father, Paul, and a Japanese mother, Yasue. The family moved from New York to Japan when Taro was an infant and to Spain when he was 14.
  Paul Daniel grew up in Santa Cruz. A financial manager for TRW Automotive, he and Yasue moved from Spain to Soquel in the Santa Cruz area a few months ago. Taro, however, remains based in Valencia in the tennis hotbed of Spain.
   "It's a lot easier for him to work from here," Daniel said of his father. "His company is American. For me, basing myself in Spain is better for my tennis, so I plan on staying for the moment. I don't know what will happen in the future."
   Daniel, tall and slender at 6-foot-3 (1.91 meters) and 168 pounds (76 kilograms), had a large rooting section at his match.
   "All these people from this side (of the net) are related to me," he said. "My dad's from here, and I train at this club whenever I'm over here. I definitely consider this my second home."
   Daniel was less adamant about his national loyalties. He hesitated when asked if he feels mostly American, Japanese or Spanish.
   "Um, I think Japanese might be the most correct thing for me to say because I lived there until I was 14," he said. The first 10 years are where you kind of define your life.
   "I don't really feel 100 percent of any one of them. I definitely don't feel Spanish. Either Japanese or American."
   Daniel, ranked No. 112, will face top-seeded John Millman of Australia for the first time in a marquee matchup on Friday. Millman, 26, beat then-No. 19 Tommy Robredo of Spain in the first round at Wimbledon in late June as a qualifier and won the Lexington (Ky.) Challenger two weeks ago to attain a career-high ranking of No. 84. He is now No. 85.
   "He's been playing really well this year, especially the last few weeks, and played a really good match against (Roger) Federer at the beginning of the year," Daniel noted. "I saw that match and respect him a lot, but if I can play a little better than I did today, I think I can give myself a chance."
   Millman, playing in his hometown of Brisbane, lost to Federer 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the second round in January. Daniel, who fell to American Denis Kudla in the second round of qualifying in Brisbane, said Millman "was about to win, which really surprised me because Federer was playing well as well. But I don't think I'm too far from (Millman's) level."       
   Millman, Daniel added, "is very solid from the back (of the court). He has a similar game to myself. Maybe he hits the ball a little flatter."
Matt Seeberger, shown today, starred at UC Santa Cruz near Aptos
and began playing on the pro tour, strictly in doubles, last year at 30.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Seeberger, a 31-year-old San Francisco native, collected NCAA titles like beer bottles at UC Santa Cruz. He won a record eight of them (three singles, three doubles and two team). Seeberger transferred to Hawaii in the fall of his senior year but returned to UC Santa Cruz in the spring.
   "We didn't get a certain recruit we were looking for," he explained. "The team wouldn't be as strong as I was hoping for."
   After graduating from UC Santa Cruz with highest honors in economics, the analytical Seeberger began coaching privately in the San Francisco Bay Area.
   "I didn't want to play professional tennis," he asserted. "I felt I had done everything I wanted to do with tennis in college. I wanted to start coaching and pursuing other avenues."
   Finally, though, Seeberger couldn't resist the lure of the pro tour. He joined the Futures circuit, equivalent to the low minor leagues in baseball, last year in June.
   "I was encouraged by some good friends to go out and play and just focus on doubles," said the 6-foot-2 (1.88-meter) Seeberger, who displayed a well-paced serve, excellent return of serve and lightning-quick reflexes in today's match. "I thought it would be fun to try. I (had) paid off all my deft from school, and I didn't have any attachments -- no wife or kids -- at that moment."
   That didn't last long. Seeberger married Kelly, from Vancouver, British Columbia, in January and immediately moved there.
   In just over one year, Seeberger has soared from No. 1,334 in the world doubles rankings to No. 159.
   "It's gone way better than my expectations," he admitted.
   To reach his goal of playing regularly on the ATP World Tour, the major leagues of men's tennis, Seeberger must crack the top 100.
   Now Seeberger can see playing another "10 or 15 years if I feel it's the right thing to do with my life and my family. I'll keep playing until something else comes along."       
   Notes -- Two teenagers met in the featured night match as eighth-seeded Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan beat U.S. wild card Jared Donaldson 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.
   Nishioka, 19, might have pulled off the shot of the year on the Challenger tour late in the third set. After Donaldson had wrong-footed him, Nishioka struck a clean behind-the-back passing shot down the line. He immediately flipped his racket to the court in disbelief, raised his arms triumphantly, turned to his camp and smiled widely. Even Donaldson, 18, applauded with one hand and his racket.
   Other than their ages, Nishioka and Donaldson are opposites. Nishioka is a 5-foot-7 (1.70-meter), 141-pound (64-kilogram) left-hander. Donaldson is a 6-foot-2 (1.88-meter), 160-pound (73-kilogram) righty. ...     
   All seeds still have advanced as the quarterfinalists in the top half of the draw have been determined. Millman has had the easiest time, dropping only seven games in two matches. No. 3 Kyle Edmund of Great Britain also has not lost a set. Daniel and Nishioka, meanwhile, each have survived a pair of three-set matches. ...
   Age hasn't mellowed John Paul Fruttero, a 34-year-old doubles specialist. The former Cal All-American, playing in his first pro tournament since reaching the Aptos quarterfinals with Brian Baker three years ago, showed up as usual with his mohawk dyed Cal Bears blue.
   Wild cards Fruttero and Andre Dome, both Californians, lost to qualifiers Marius Copil of Romania and Andrew Rublev, a 17-year-old Russian, 6-3, 7-6 (3). Fruttero reached the Aptos final four years ago with Raven Klaasen of South Africa, and Rublev finished last year as the world's No. 1 junior in singles. ...
   Another pair of California wild cards, Dennis Novikov of Milpitas in the Bay Area and Daniel Nguyen, fell to top-seeded Chris Guccione of Australia and Artem Sitak of New Zealand 2-6, 7-5 [10-6]. Guccione won three straight Aptos doubles titles (2009-11) with countryman Carsten Ball.
At Seascape Sports Club in Aptos, Calif.
Second-round singles
   Kyle Edmund (3), Great Britain, def. Daniel Nguyen, United States, 7-5, 6-3.
   John Millman (1), Australia, def. Guido Andreozzi, Argentina, 6-3, 6-2.
   Taro Daniel (5), Japan, def. Farrukh Dustov, Uzbekistan, 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-0.
   Yoshihito Nishioka (8), Japan, def. Jared Donaldson, United States, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3. 
First-round doubles
   Austin Krajicek and Nicholas Monroe (2), United States, def. Deiton Baughman and Eric Johnson, United States, 6-3, 7-6 (3).
   Marius Copil, Romania, and Andre Rublev, Russia, def. Andre Dome and John Paul Fruttero, United States, 6-3, 7-6 (3).
   Chris Guccione, Australia, and Artem Sitak (1), New Zealand, def. Daniel Nguyen and Dennis Novikov, United States, 2-6, 7-5 [10-6].
   Dean O'Brien and Ruan Roelofse (3), South Africa, def. Guido Andreozzi, Argentina, and Nicolas Jarry, Chile, 5-7, 6-3 [10-8].
   Karen Khachanov, Russia, and Elias Ymer, Sweden, def. Carsten Ball, Australia, and Somdev Devvarman, India, 6-7 (3), 6-1 [10-8]. 
   Yuki Bhambri, India, and Matthew Ebden, Australia, def. Julio Peralta, Chile, and Matt Seeberger (4), United States, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3).
   Ruben Gonzales, Philippines, and Darren Walsh, Great Britain, def. Guilherme Clezar, Brazil, and Brydan Klein, Great Britain, 5-7, 6-3 [10-8]. 
   Malek Jaziri, Tunisia, and Ze Zhang, China, def. Farrukh Dustov, Uzbekistan, and Jurgen Zopp, Estonia, 7-5, 7-5. 
Thursday's schedule
Center Court
(Starting at 11 a.m.)
   Austin Krajicek (7), United States, vs. Mischa Zverev, Germany.
   Bjorn Fratangelo (4), United States, vs. Elias Ymer, Sweden.
   Malek Jaziri (2), Tunisia, vs. Guilherme Clezar, Brazil.  
(Not before 6 p.m.)
    Tommy Haas, Germany, vs. Matthew Ebden (6), Australia.
Court 5
(Starting at 2 p.m.)
   Chris Guccione, Australia, and Artem Sitak (1), New Zealand, vs. Ruben Gonzales, Philippines, and Darren Walsh, Great Britain.
(Not before 4 p.m.)
   Austin Krajicek and Nicholas Monroe (2), United States, vs. Marius Copil, Romania, and Andrey Rublev, Russia.
   Dean O'Brien and Ruan Roelofse (3), South Africa, vs. Karen Khachanov, Russia, and Elias Ymer, Sweden.

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