FINE WEATHER AND UPSETS SET THE TONE ON OPENING DAY OF NJT INTERNATIONAL MASTERS
PORT ST LUCIE, Florida, USA – A short burst of rain early on Friday morning was soon overtaken by clear skies as Day 1 of the NJT International Masters kicked off at Club Med Sandpiper Bay.
The first round matches will only be completed on Saturday but there were a number seeded players who were blown away in the opening round.
Three of the matches programmed for Friday were unable to be completed due to darkness and will resume on Saturday morning.
Only three seeded players were in action on Friday and all but one made it through to the next round. No 3 Marko Osmakcic of Switzerland is out to add the Under-14 title to the Under-12 crown he won in the Bahamas two years ago. He began in perfect style with a 6-2 6-1 victory over Slovakian Lukas Klein and will next face Mexico’s Santiago Suarez.
Also through to the next round is No 8 Casper Ruud of Norway who put out Yibing Wu of China 6-2 6-3. His next opponent will be Chile’s Maximiliano Rojas.
However, there was no such fortune for No 7 Dylan Bednarczyk of Canada who went out 2-6 3-6 to Mate Valkusz of Hungary. Winning matches is hard enough at the best of time but when you’re not well, it is an almost impossible task. Bednarczyk, who coughed his way through the match, said: “It’s been going on since the Eddie Herr tournament. It started a few days before and it hasn’t allowed me to play 100%. If I play a long point I need time to get myself together or the next point is a disaster because I can’t control it.
“My opponent knew I was sick because I was training with him and he knew if he stayed in there long enough he could win. Not being able to play to my potential in a tournament like this is disappointing.”
However, Valkusz said it was a difficult match for him. “It’s tough to play somebody you know well. I felt he was ill because he kept getting upset and that affected me quite a lot.”
The two had played twice before with the head-to-head split 1-1. “Last time he beat me 6-1 6-2 but both of our meetings have been on clay,” said Valkusz. “I play better on hardcourt and I think this time I surprised him.”
With Bednarczyk serving at 3-5, Valkusz still needed four match points before he could end the match. “It was so hard to win the match point because my hands were shaking,” explained the Hungarian.
Valkusz reached the semifinals of the Under-12 draw in the Bahamas in 2010 but is looking to go at least one better this time. “I want to be in the final. I think it will be easy until the semis. I might have to play (no 1 seed) Mikael Ymer and I have lost both times we have played – but on clay.”
Speaking about the NJT International Masters he added: “Its great fun. The other tournaments are so serious but this tournament always has something happening. It makes the tournament special. It’s not just about the tennis but you play your matches and you can still have some fun.”
For Bednarczyk the year will continue in 10 days’ time at the Orange Bowl but he might reconsider plans to travel to Dubai next month. “My coach wanted me to have fun and relax but I went into today’s match thinking too much.
“I was very stressed about this tournament. Going in as a seeded player and a wild card people expect me to go far. I came out of an injury that put me out for seven weeks. I only started playing again two or three weeks before Eddie Herr. I am still not where I want to be but it’s part of life.
“I still have Orange Bowl but with my results I’m not sure what I’m going to do.
“I’m scheduled to play ITF’s in January but as I’m not living up to my standard and potential if can’t keep up my results it’s not worth travelling.
“As far as the Nike Junior Tour is concerned I love the tournament. I’m shocked by the setting, the hotel, the pools and the way it is organised. It really makes you feel important.
“If every tournament was like this everybody would want to play tennis. I feel privileged to have been invited.
“I came here to get recognition but a loss in the first round doesn’t help your cause.”
The Boys Under-12 draw was completed on Friday and only the top four of eight seeded players managed to win through to the next round. Easiest winner of the day was No 3 Rudi Molleker, who scored a “double bagel” (6-0 6-0) victory over Erik Grevelius of Sweden.
Second seed Yshai Oliel of Israel threw away a 6-1 5-2 lead, losing the second set 5-7 to Mischa Lanz of Switzerland. The match was poised on a knife’s edge when the pair were locked at 2-2 in the third with Oliel serving at 15-30, but the Israeli won the next three points to hold and then made the all-important break of serve for a 4-2 lead.
He almost had a second lapse in the next game when serving at 40-0, conceding the next four points to face a break point himself. However, he gathered himself once again and managed to hold. Lanz had very little left in the tank at that stage and Oliel went on to break again and take the match.
Top seed Alen Avidzba of Russia had a tight first set against Dorian Bahloul of France but then ran away with the second set to win 7-6 (7-5) 6-1. Also cruising into the next round was No 4 Nikola Kuhn of Spain who beat Tibo Colson of Belgium 6-0 6-3.
However, out went No 5 Boris Kozlov of the USA, beaten 6-3 7-6 (7-2) by Igor Gimenez of Brazil, No 6 Mark Keki of Hungary, who fell 2-6 1-6 to Artsiom Bardzin of Belarus, No 7 Tomas Macac of the Czech Republic bowed out to Yuefeng Di of China 2-6 3-6 and American Axel Nefve put out eighth seeded Czech Tomas Jirousek 6-4 6-2.
Both Gimenez and Nefve look dangerous floaters in the draw and could still cause more havoc. Gimenez overcame a nervous start in which he found himself down 1-3 but once he found his rhythm Kozlov’s best way of winning points was to hope the Brazilian lost them.
Gimenez has remarkable natural court craft and he read the Kozlov game to perfection. He moves about the court like a puma on the prowl and plays with explosive enthusiasm. At 1-3 he reeled off six games in a row to take the opening set and break the American’s opening service game of the second.
Kozlov managed to break back but looked to be fighting a losing battle when the Brazilian broke for a 5-4 lead. But he failed to take advantage and dropped his serve to love. The pair eventually went to a tie-breaker and from the first point it was all Gimenez. He stormed into a 6-1 lead and although Kozlov saved the first match point, he conceded the match tamely when he put a forehand wide.
“I was nervous at the beginning but I became more confident in myself and in my game and from there everything just grew,” said Gimenez. “In the tie-breaker I sensed he was getting more tired and as I was playing with the wind, could go into more of an attacking mode.”
Even though he has beaten on of the seeded players, Gimenez will not get too carried away. “I don’t feel any different. Every match I have a chance to win or to lose, like any other player.
“As far as the Nike Junior Tour is concerned I am having a great time. I have done everything the hotel offers but even though it’s NOT JUST TENNIS I’m still staying focused on the tournament,” said the Brazilian.
Nefve spent more than two hours on court to achieve his victory over Jirousek. In the process, he learned that patience on clay is a virtue. “I come from Chicago and normally play on indoor courts where I would rip the ball and try to put it away. Here you have to hit three or four shots before you can look at going for winners.
The American found himself 1-4 down before he managed to turn things around. “He had a huge forehand, so I was trying to work his backhand but made some mistakes in the first five games, so I slowed it down and that worked. He started missing and my confidence improved. He seemed to tire in the first set at 4-4 and began limping around.”
In fact, at 1-2 in the second set the Czech asked for the trainer to be called.
Nefve is hoping history repeats itself and he can emulate last year’s Under-12 winner, Gianni Ross. “We live within a few blocks of one another and play at the same club. There’s not a tournament where I don’t get to see him.”
According to US coach Phil Cello, there are a lot of similarities between the two players. “Gianni was a surprise qualifier last year and also put out a seed early on. He won a couple of really close matches to win the tournament.”
Nefve plays Viktor Banczi of the Slovak Republic in the next round.
Only one seeded player managed to complete her match before darkness descended over Sandpiper Bay and that was No 6 Julia Payola of Spain. She put out Vera Lapko of Belarus 6-3 6-1 and will play Petra Granic of Croatia for a place in the quarter-finals.
Both No 4 Viktoria Kuzmova of Slovak Republic and No 7 Theo Gravouil of France had won the first set of their respective matches before they were forced to come off.
Three seeded players took to the courts in the Girls Under-12 draw and all three emerged unscathed. Fourth seed Abigail Desiatnikov of the US put out Judith van Kessel of The Netherlands 6-4 6-3 while No 7 Jovana Vukovic of Serbia came through her encounter against Vanessa Langes of Germany 6-2 6-3.
Eighth seed Laura Rohacova had a more difficult passage against Simona Waltert of Switzerland, having to come back after losing the opening set. She took her time but eventually stamped her authority on the match to win through 2-6 6-3 6-4 in two hours and 10 minutes.
“I was too nervous, stiff and shaky,” explained Rohacova. “At home we play indoors and on clay and this was different. It’s difficult to change from indoor to outdoor. It is also the first match I have ever played outside of Europe.”
So shaky was her start that before she knew what was going on, the Slovakian found herself down 0-5. However, she managed to stop the rot by winning the next game and then breaking Waltert before conceding the opening set.
“It was Important to win the game at 5-0. It helped me to change my mental approach,” said Rohacova.
The second set went with serve until 3-3 at which point the eighth seed took control and won the next three games to level the match. However, she fell behind 2-0 in the third before getting back into contention to level at 4-4. She managed to hold for a 5-4 lead and then broke the Swiss to close out the match.
“The fact is that I played badly and still won. I’m happy to be in the second round. I just kept thinking I would end up playing in the Consolation Draw. But I love the tournament. The atmosphere is fantastic,” she added.