Thursday, October 11, 2018

Wolf, 19, ousts No. 3 seed to reach first Challenger QF

JJ Wolf, a 19-year-old wild card, surprised third-seeded Noah Rubin 6-3, 6-2
today in the second round of the $100,000 Fairfield (Calif.) Challenger.
Photo by Cornelia Grimes 
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   FAIRFIELD, Calif. -- Dean O'Brien of South Africa had just left the trainer's room before his doubles match today when a reporter approached him.
   "Are you JJ?" the reporter asked.
   "I wish I was," quipped O'Brien, 28.
   JJ Wolf, a promising 19-year-old wild card from Cincinnati, displayed a powerful serve and forehand during his 6-3, 6-2 victory over the third seed, ailing Noah Rubin of Long Island, N.Y., in the second round of the $100,000 NorthBay Healthcare Pro Championship at Solano Community College.
   Wolf, a 6-foot (1.83-meter) junior at Ohio State, won a preposterous 24 of 25 points on his first serve and never faced a break point as he reached a quarterfinal on the Challenger circuit, equivalent to Triple A in baseball, for the first time.
   Playing Challengers, Wolf said, "is just a great opportunity for me. I'm just enjoying every minute out here and trying to get better and not worrying about winning or losing too much, just working on my game."
   On Monday in Tulsa, Okla., Wolf became the first Ohio State player to win the singles title in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-American Championships. He flew to the San Francisco Bay Area that night.
   "I got in a couple good warmup matches for this," Wolf said. "I'm playing solid tennis trying to get my game better for the future."
   Wolf will meet fifth-seeded Adrian Menendez-Maceiras, a 32-year-old Spaniard, on Friday. Menendez-Maceiras, ranked No. 132, beat former top-40 player Thiemo de Bakker, a 30-year-old Dutchman, 6-4, 6-3.
   In the other quarterfinal in the top half of the draw, top-seeded Jordan Thompson of Australia will play unseeded Bjorn Fratangelo of Orlando, Fla.
   Thompson, ranked No. 105 after reaching a career-high No. 63 in February 2017, beat hard-hitting Maxime Janvier of France 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-0 in a matchup of semifinalists in last week's $100,000 Stockton (Calif.) Challenger. The 6-foot-4 (1.93-meter) Janvier, 21, was breathing heavily on a cold night.
   Fratangelo, who was named after Bjorn Borg, defeated Germany's Dominik Koepfer, the runner-up in the indoor $100,000 San Francisco Challenger in February, 7-5, 6-3 to reach the Fairfield quarterfinals for the second consecutive year.
   Koepfer, a former All-American at Tulane in New Orleans, argued vociferously about a line call while serving at 5-5 in the first set and appeared to be justified. He then lost the game.
   Wolf already has cracked the top 500 at No. 499 and owns a victory over a top-100 player. He knocked off No. 86 Jozef Kovalik of Slovakia in the first round of qualifying in Wolf's hometown Western & Southern Open on the ATP World Tour, the major leagues of men's tennis, in August. Wolf then lost to No. 92 Marius Copil of Romania.
   "He's a good player," Rubin, a 22-year-old product of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy in New York, said of Wolf. "He's young, he's up and coming, hits the ball very clean, so I'm excited to see where he goes."
Noah Rubin praised JJ Wolf but complained of headaches and dizziness.
Photo by Cornelia Grimes
   The 5-foot-9 (1.75-meter) Rubin, who reached the singles quarterfinals and won the doubles title in Stockton, complained of headaches against Wolf.
   "I don't really get headaches too often," said Rubin, who had no aces and five double faults after the match played in 70-degree (21.1 Celsius) weather. "I think exhaustion took place. My coach (Carlos Benatzky) didn't really want me to play this tournament. I wanted to because it was just an hour away (from Stockton).
   "In the second or third game, I was just like, 'I'm not really moving to the left.' I was kind of seeing a few balls (at once). There was just a lot of dizziness going on. It's just one of those things that takes place. I just need a week without a racket and see what I can do at the end of the year."
   In steamy Washington on the ATP tour over the summer, Rubin toppled 6-foot-11 (2.11-meter) John Isner for his first top-10 win before losing to 20-year-old Russian phenom Andrey Rublev in the third round.
   "This is the first (year) I've been healthy," said Rubin, ranked a career-high No. 125. "I've never really experienced a full year before and don't know what it really encompasses mentally and physically. That being said, it's fortunate I had a successful summer. Most tournaments, I was playing three matches minimum. It's taken a lot out of me.
   "Today was just a mixture of being mentally exhausted and (getting) headaches. I was doing my best, but it felt like his serve was coming at me 180 (mph). I couldn't see anything. It was just one of those things."
   Rubin wore a Minnesota Wild (NHL) sweatshirt as he spoke after the match.
   "My girlfriend goes to vet school in Minnesota," he explained. "I'm a huge hockey fan. It's probably the only sport I really follow, and (the Wild) is a great team. The (New York) Islanders aren't doing so well, and it's fun to watch a really exciting team."
   Here are the Fairfield singles and doubles draws and Friday's schedule. The tournament is being streamed live.

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