Monday, October 17, 2016

Thankful Giraldo makes splash with Fairfield title

No. 2 seed Santiago Giraldo of Colombia celebrates
after converting his first match point against unseed-
ed Quentin Halys, 19, of France in today's rain-
delayed final. Photo by Paul Bauman
   FAIRFIELD, Calif. — The biggest surprise today wasn't that the sun finally came out long enough for the $100,000 Fairfield Challenger to be completed.
   Or that Santiago Giraldo won the final after dropping the first set.
   Or that a UC Davis student got soaked with water after the match in a wacky fundraising stunt.
   It was that a professional athlete thanked a pesky reporter for helping him.
   What's next? The National Organization for Women (NOW) endorsing Donald Trump? Teenagers giving up social media? A pop music star winning the Nobel Prize in literature? Oh, wait ...
   Seven years after launching his impressive career by winning the $50,000 Sacramento Challenger, the second-seeded Giraldo might have revived it with the Fairfield title. The 28-year-old Colombian used his experience to outlast Quentin Halys, 19, of France 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 in the completion of the rain-delayed final at Solano Community College.
   Afterward, Giraldo told a writer who covered both tournaments that the Fairfield title "means a lot for me. It's been a very complicated year in results because I was working on a lot of stuff inside (my head). But as I told you on the first day, it was not easy here.
   "It's actually been a complicated week, too, with the rain and then a Monday final against a young guy playing very good in the beginning. So it's very important for me to come close to the top 100 again. It's just a number, but the most important thing is how I feel. You bring me luck — again. After seven years in Sacramento, I won (a tough match) in the first round and the Challenger, so thank you."
   Giraldo's lucky ball helped, too. Before his opening-round match against 18-year-old U.S. prospect Michael Mmoh, Giraldo put a tennis ball with a smiley face drawn on it on the chair next to his for the first time in his career "to remember how lucky I am." Giraldo won 6-3, 7-5 after trailing by two service breaks in the second set. He used the ball for the rest of the tournament and plans to continue doing so "forever."
   Giraldo added $14,400 to his career earnings of more than $4 million. More importantly, he rose 16 places in the world rankings to No. 108. He has finished each of the past six years in the top 70, peaking at No. 28 in September 2014 to become the highest-ranked Colombian in the Open era (1968-present).
Giraldo displays his check for $14,400. The former top-30 player has
earned more than $4 million in his career. Photo by Paul Bauman
   The first four days of the Fairfield Challenger main draw were dry, though increasingly breezy as a storm approached. Rain pelted Northern California on Friday, wiping out the singles quarterfinals and moving the doubles semifinals indoors 41 miles (66 kilometers) away in San Francisco.
   Giraldo won two singles matches in straight sets on Saturday to reach the final. But rain returned on Sunday, delaying the start of the match for 4 1/2 hours and then suspending play with Halys leading 3-1, ad-out.
   The final offered an intriguing contrast. South American vs. European. Veteran vs. teenager. Slim vs. strong build. Consistency vs. power. Fire vs. ice.
   Giraldo, 6-foot-2 (1.88 meters) and only 166 pounds (75 kilograms), owns career victories over Andy Murray, Marin Cilic, Lleyton Hewitt and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on clay and Kei Nishikori on a hardcourt. But Giraldo has never advanced past the third round of a Grand Slam tournament or won an ATP singles title in two finals. Fairfield was his 10th Challenger singles crown and second this year.
   Halys (pronounced Ah-LEECE) reached No. 3 in the world junior singles rankings in March 2014. Later that year in the juniors, he won the French Open doubles title with compatriot Benjamin Bonzi and reached the U.S. Open singles final (losing to Omar Jasika of Australia).
   This year, the 6-foot-3 (1.91-meter) Halys advanced to the second round of the Australian Open -- losing to Novak Djokovic 6-1, 6-2, 7-6 (3) -- and the French Open. In between, he won the $50,000 Tallahassee (Fla.) Challenger on clay.
Halys, addressing the fans after the final, reached
the second round of the Australian Open and
French Open this year. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Halys — who has not only a big serve and massive forehand but touch — overpowered Giraldo in the first set.
   Halys saved two break points to hold for 4-1, but Giraldo won the next three games. Halys then held at love with a service winner, deft backhand drop shot and two aces, and broke Giraldo for the set. It was the last time Giraldo lost his serve in the match.
   Halys suffered the only break of the second set on a double fault to trail 3-4. He also lost his serve in the opening game of the third set and again to trail 1-4. In the latter game, Halys double-faulted twice in a row for 30-all. Giraldo converted his first match point on an error by Halys.
   Halys finished with seven aces and seven double-faults with a first-serve percentage of only 46. Giraldo had one ace, committed no double-faults and put in 62 percent of his first serves.
   During the final, Giraldo often yelled "Vamos!" after hitting a great shot or winning a key point. After lacing a forehand passing shot down the line to set up match point, he said softly, "Si, seƱor. Muy bien."
   Halys, meanwhile, offered only one subdued "Allez" during the match. He is similarly stoic and taciturn in interviews, giving the impression he'd rather have a root canal.
   Halys, who ousted No. 1 seed Frances Tiafoe in the second round, jumped 21 places to No. 149 and collected $8,480.
   "He is going to be a very good player," Giraldo declared. "He already is a good player. He has good strokes, a good serve, he's young, big (tennis) country.
   "At the beginning (of the final), he was actually very good. I was just thinking, 'Be there, be there and be solid because you have more experience and you can also be very good. Maybe he will start to miss a little bit.' That's what happened, so I'm happy for that."
   Giraldo also made two tactical adjustments after the first set.
   "I just changed maybe a little the return of the second serve of him," he said. "I started (to stand back) a little more to give me more space. Also, I tried to hit deeper with more height on the balls. I was changing a little bit the rhythm for him because he was hitting (hard) at the beginning."
   Halys was bidding to become the second consecutive teenager to win the Fairfield Challenger after American Taylor Fritz won the inaugural tournament at a nearby club at 18. Ranked No. 694 before winning back-to-back titles in Sacramento and Fairfield last year, Fritz is now No. 70.
   Halys denied that he got tight on the double faults, averring: "I think I played great all the match, but (Giraldo) was just better than me. There is no excuse today."
Tom Purcell, a former Solano Community College player,
waits under a bucket of water after the final as part of the
the "Splash for Sports" fundraising campaign. Giraldo
nailed the bucket with a shot on his fourth attempt.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Halys succinctly summarized Giraldo's strengths.
   "He's serving good, he's playing very good from the baseline, he's moving very good," observed Halys, the doubles runner-up in the $100,000 Tiburon Challenger two weeks ago with Dennis Novikov of Milpitas in the San Francisco Bay Area. "There is no mistake from him. He's not missing too many shots."
   After the awards ceremony, Giraldo and Halys took turns trying to drench former Solano player Tommy Purcell as part of the "Splash for Sports" campaign. Top fundraisers for the tournament, Solano athletics and underserved area youths are given the -- uh -- privilege of sitting at the foot of a ladder with a bucket of water hinged to the top step. Pro players try to knock over the bucket with a shot.
   Tournament director Phil Cello fed balls to Giraldo and Halys at one baseline, with the ladder and black bucket, emblazoned with an orange San Francisco Giants logo, on that side of the net. Each finalist missed on three attempts, but Giraldo nailed the bucket on his next try, dousing Purcell.
   It was an appropriate ending to a wet tournament. Here are the complete singles and doubles draws.

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