Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Smyczek prevails in thriller for second straight match

Tim Smyczek saved two match points in his win over 17-year-old
sensation Frances Tiafoe in Sacramento. Photo by Paul Bauman
    SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The consummate professional, Tim Smyczek shows little emotion on the court.
   But he couldn't resist letting out a roar after edging a fellow American in a thriller for the second straight match.
   The fourth-seeded Smyczek (pronounced SMEE-check) saved two match points in a 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7) victory over 17-year-old sensation Frances Tiafoe today in the first round of the $100,000 Sacramento Challenger at the Natomas Racquet Club.
   Tiafoe, who has been billed as the next great American, escaped one match point.
   Two days ago, Smyczek survived four match points in a 1-6, 6-1, 7-6 (7) win over his close friend and training partner, Denis Kudla, in the final of the $100,000 Wells Fargo Tiburon Challenger. Kudla saved one match point.
   "It was a really tough day for me coming off an emotional high like Tiburon and coming back and playing a match again so soon," said the 98th-ranked Smyczek, a Milwaukee product who trains in Tampa, Fla. "I did my best to prepare myself, and I'm happy I was able to battle.
   "Frances played very well, and I just got the better of him in a couple of tight situations. He played a couple of loose points at big times, and it hurt him a little bit. Really, all I did today was just hang around. I didn't have my best stuff by any means, so it was just a matter of trying to fight and live to play another match and get better."
   Smyczek, 27, will have one day to rest before meeting Mackenzie McDonald, 20, of Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area for the first time on Thursday. McDonald, a Tiburon semifinalist, dominated Peter Polansky of Canada 6-3, 6-1.
   Smyczek and McDonald, a junior All-American at UCLA, are two of the smallest players in the tournament. Smyczek is listed at 5-foot-9 (1.75 meters) and 160 pounds (72 kilograms), and McDonald at 5-foot-10 (1.78 meters) and 145 pounds (66 kilograms).
   The 6-foot-2 (1.88-meter) Tiafoe, originally from College Park, Md., in the Washington, D.C., area, saved a match point while serving at 4-5 in the third set with a putaway forehand.
   Tiafoe squanderered his first match point, with Smyzcek serving at 5-6 in the tiebreaker, by shanking a forehand after a long rally.
Tiafoe has been billed as the next great American. Photo by Paul Bauman
   The 254th-ranked Tiafoe had another match point while serving at 7-6, but Smyczek erased it with a forehand cross-court passing shot in the corner.
   Lamented Tiafoe of the point: "I played defensive; I didn't play to win."
   Smyczek, the runner-up to Donald Young in the 2013 Sacramento Challenger, then earned his second match point with a drop shot that Tiafoe reached but netted.  Tiafoe slugged a cross-court forehand that smacked the tape and bounced back to end the 2-hour, 15-minute battle. When the players shook hands at the net, Tiafoe hugged Smyczek.
   Tiafoe also suffered a close loss to seventh-seeded Blaz Rola of Slovenia in the first round in Tiburon. Tiafoe came within two points of beating Rola, a 6-foot-4 (1.93-meter) left-hander and the 2013 NCAA champion from Ohio State, before falling 6-7 (0), 7-6 (6), 6-3.
    "These guys have been stepping up in the big moments and the other guys have been letting stuff happen, and that's not the way to beat players like this," Tiafoe said. "I think I need to keep going after it on big points and not hold back."
    Clearly, Smyczek knows how to play big points.
   Asked where he gets his mental toughness, Smyczek said: "(The brain) is a muscle like anything else. You have to exercise it and practice. I spend some time working on the mental side of my game, too. That gets lost a lot. Guys don't really talk a lot about the mental training that they do.
   "I think it goes back to when I was a kid. I hated practicing violin, but my parents knew it was good for discipline, so I did it."
Dustin Brown serves in his three-set victory
over Grega Zemlja. Photo by Paul Bauman
   And how do you practice mental toughness?
   "More than anything, it's being cognizant of everything, making a real good effort not to have any wasted practices," Smyczek said. "It's easy to go out on the practice court and if you're not feeling (good) or hitting the ball well, it's easy to waste a practice. (Coach Billy Heiser and I) make a real good effort to practice that sort of the stuff so when I'm playing a match and not feeling (good), it's like I've been there before."
   Notes -- The top-seeded Kudla beat 18-year-old Frenchman Quentin Halys, a Tiburon semifinalist, 7-5, 6-4. Kudla will meet qualifier Tommy Paul, also 18, in the second round. Paul, this year's French Open boys champion, eliminated wild card and fellow American Alex Kuznetsov, a two-time Sacramento semifinalist, 7-6 (5), 6-3. ...
   American Jared Donaldson, yet another 18-year-old, defeated Mitchell Krueger 6-4, 6-4 after losing to his countryman in straight sets in the second round in Tiburon. "Today I was much more aggressive and confident in what I was trying to do out on the court," said Donaldson, a top prospect from Providence, R.I., who trains in Irvine, Calif. "I was a little timid last week. I hadn't played a couple matches in a little bit. I wanted to do really well and lost sight of what I needed to focus on. I focused on the result instead of what I needed to do in my game to give myself the best chance to win." ...
   Third-seeded Dustin Brown of Germany topped Slovenia's Grega Zemlja, a former top-50 player, 7-6 (6), 4-6, 6-3. The 6-foot-5 (1.96-meter) Brown, who has a tattoo of his Jamaican father on the side of his stomach, improved to 2-0 lifetime against Rafael Nadal by beating the 14-time Grand Slam champion in the second round at Wimbledon this past summer.          
At Natomas Racquet Club
First-round singles
   Jared Donaldson (8), United States, def. Mitchell Krueger, United States,6-4, 6-4.
   Tim Smyczek (4), United States, def. Frances Tiafoe, United States, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7).
   Denis Kudla (1), United States, def. Quentin Halys, France, 7-5, 6-4.
   Dustin Brown (3), Germany, def. Grega Zemlja, Slovenia, 7-6 (6), 4-6, 6-3.
   Tommy Paul, United States, def. Alex Kuznetsov, United States, 7-6 (5), 6-3.
   Matt Reid, Australia, def. James McGee, Ireland,  7-6 (3), 6-3.
   Mackenzie McDonald, Piedmont, def. Peter Polansky, Canada, 6-3, 6-1. 
   Tennys Sandgren, United States, def. Alexander Sarkissian, United States, 2-6, 6-0, 6-2.
   Blaz Kavcic (8), Slovenia, def. Philip Bester, Canada, 6-4, 6-4.
   Marcos Giron, United States, def. Marek Michalicka, Czech Republic, 6-4, 6-3. 
   Nicolas Meister, United States, def. Frederik Nielsen, Denmark, 6-1, 6-3. 
   Taylor Fritz, United States, vs. Connor Smith, United States, 6-4, 6-0.
First-round doubles
   Sekou Bangoura, United States, and Marek Michalicka, Czech Republic, def. Dennis Novikov, Milpitas, and Julio Peralta (3), Chile, 6-3, 6-4.
Wednesday's schedule
Court 1
(Starting at 10 a.m.)
    Blaz Rola (5), Slovenia, vs. Matt Reid, Australia.
 (Not before 11:30 a.m.)
   Daniel Brands, Germany, vs. Sekou Bangoura, United States.
   Johan Brunstrom, Sweden, and Frederik Nielsen (1), Denmark, vs. Evan King, United States, and Dimitar Kutrovsky, Bulgaria.
   Denis Kudla (1), United States, vs. Tommy Paul, United States.
Court 7
(Starting at 10 a.m.)
   Brydan Klein, Great Britain, and Jose Statham, New Zealand, vs. Ariel Behar, Uruguay, and Ruben Gonzales, Philippines.
(Not before 11 a.m.)
   Darian King, Barbados, vs. Nicolas Meister, United States.
   Carsten Ball and Matt Reid (4), Australia, vs. Darrin Cohen, Walnut Creek, and Kiryl Harbatsiuk, Sacramento/Belarus.
   Blaz Kavcic and Grega Zemlja, Slovenia, vs. Sekou Bangoura, United States, and Marek Michalicka, Czech Republic.
(May move to Court 1)
   Daniel Brands and Dustin Brown, Germany, vs. Philip Bester and Peter Polansky, Canada.

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