In Sao Paulo, Tuesday brought the second half of first-round singles, a scattering of interesting doubles matches, and inexplicable swarms of gnats. The gnats were almost as aggravating as the singles matches.
Click here for my reports on day one matches.
Renzo Olivo (ARG) vs Julio Cesar Campozano (ECU)
The question of the day was, “Who knows how to play tennis on hard courts?” The answers were not encouraging.
Olivo is one of only 18 players under the age of 21 inside the ATP top 300, and it only takes a few minutes to realize he got there based on clay-court results. That’s the generous assumption, anyway, since he looked simply dreadful.
His groundstrokes and movement looked as if somehow told him to try playing closer to the baseline, and he was trying it for the first time. He missed easy forehands in every direction, often misjudging the bounce. As the situation grew increasingly bleak (he ultimately lost the match 6-2 6-0), he went for more and more drop shot/lob combinations. This was particularly painful since he missed most of the drop shots and then, when he made one, managed to miss the lob.
Perhaps Olivo is a future star, but that future isn’t any time soon.
Campozano isn’t a future star either–he’ll turn 27 later this month and has yet to crack the top 200–but he looked much more comfortable on the surface. In fact, he looked like a good doubles player trying his hand at singles, with a consistent, well-placed serve and aggressive, compact groundstrokes. His movement to the backhand was particularly impressive.
Perhaps Campozano’s most notable achievement in this first-round match was to stay steady through Olivo’s barrage of random unforced errors. A lesser players would have let his level slip after an easy 6-2 first set; the Ecuadorian simply kept up the same style, letting Olivo lose the second set the same way he lost the first.
Devin Britton (USA) vs Jorge Aguilar (COL)
This was the strangest match I saw at the tournament. If such a thing is possible, Aguilar looked worse than Olivo. Sure, Aguilar has much more experience on clay, but he has a winning record in challenger-level hard court matches. Whether it was the beginning of the season or Britton’s game, the Colombian never found a rhythm.
For the American, let’s start with the positive. Throughout the match, he served wonderfully, utilizing the slice out wide in the deuce court repeatedly, especially once he learned Aguilar was never going to get it back.
Beyond that, however, I don’t see the weapons that will make Britton a future top player. Even his serve, well-placed as it was, didn’t look like a first-class weapon. In build and game plan, he’s a bit like Sam Querrey, but without nearly as much power. When it came time to get aggressive on the ground, he seemed even less sure of himself than some of the awkward clay-courters in the draw. While I wasn’t able to watch the entire match (Olivo-Campozano started at the same time), I’m not sure I saw a single clean forehand winner from Britton. To succeed, his game will need to be built around quick points that end that way, so that’s an enormous gap.
As far as Aguilar is concerned, the less said, the better.
Austin Krajicek (USA) vs Horacio Zeballos (ARG)
As noted yesterday, I’m not impressed by Krajicek’s game. But his performance against the #1 seed (and the only top-100 player in the draw) gave me some reasons to reevaluate my opinion.
Even when every player in the draw is within a fairly narrow range of about #100 to #400 in the world, it’s remarkable how much the better players stand out. Zeballos is in a class by himself, especially in the way he moves around the court. He simply makes the game look easier than anyone else at this event. And for all that, he barely squeaked past the American.
Against a better player than the day before, Krajicek’s forehand was a bigger weapon, even if he doesn’t yet have the tactical sense or net game to follow up some opportunities. Most impressive, though, was his mental steadiness at a time when many–far superior–players would have wilted.
At 2-2 in the second set tiebreak, Zeballos hit an “ace” that dribbled off the net cord. Krajicek had fought hard just to get to that tiebreak, and now luck turned against him. On the next point, he hit an ace to even the score. Then, after a couple of clunky points, he hit two more aces to save the first two match points at 6-3. It wasn’t good enough, as Zeballos took the breaker 7-5, but it made for a good showing against a very talented top-100 player.
Guido Andreozzi (ARG) vs Rafael Camilo (BRA)
Two years ago, Camilo reached the finals of this event as a qualifier. In this, his first match returning from an injury that kept him off tour for nearly 15 months, he showed no signs of the talent required to reach those heights.
Camilo has much in common with Adam Kellner, not even close to an appropriate fitness level for a pro tennis player, relying on one or two big (erratic) weapons to win points. The Brazilian did collect his share of cheap points off the serve. When forced to hit a second shot (or, heaven forbid, return a serve), the ball was more likely to end up in the hands of a fan than a ballboy.
As for Andreozzi, it was difficult to evaluate a player who was able to sit back and watch his opponent lose the match. The Argentine’s motions are bit unorthodox–his forehand reminds me of Marsel Ilhan‘s, if not quite that unusual–and he wasn’t quite comfortable with the surface. He also seemed a bit overwhelmed by the power of Camilo’s serve.
There must be more to Andreozzi, as he’s reached the top 200 at age 21, and is playing a tight quarterfinal match with Zeballos as I write this. Alas, he didn’t have to play much tennis to reach the second round.
Assorted doubles notes
Simon Stadler and Rameez Junaid squeaked by Facundo Bagnis and Alejandro Gonzalez. Junaid, who I’m embarrassed to admit I had never even heard of, is now a full-time doubles specialist, and appears to have the skills to reach the next level. Stadler seemed less sure of himself on the doubles court, while Junaid took control of the net like a pro.
Rik De Voest, the record-holder for most career challenger doubles titles, was in action with Marcelo Demoliner, against Marco Trungelliti and Ariel Behar. It was a rather mediocre match, with few entertaining points and a fair bit of sloppy play. But what caught my eye was De Voest’s absolutely relentless efforts to keep his partner in the right frame of mind. The veteran South African was joking and smiling throughout the entire match, redoubling (ahem) his efforts whenever Demoliner seemed the least bit frustrated. De Voest and Demoliner ended up losing in the second round to Britton and Krajicek, but I’ll bet they were smiling until the end.
Finally, the day ended with the top-ranked doubles team of James Cerretani and Adil Shamasdin against the Brazilians Julio Silva and Thiago Alves. In this case, it was the Brazilians joking around and the North Americans showing intensity. In fact, Cerretani may be the most intense player I have ever seen on a tennis court. A few ballboys from that match are probably still suffering nightmares in which they simply can’t find his towel.
More relevant to the outcome of the match, Cerretani and Shamasdin were by far the most professional doubles team in the draw. They moved forward like the Bryans, at the slightest opportunity and as an imposing unit. Both–and especially Cerretani–are absolute magicians at net, making for several entertaining points against the loose and talented Brazilians.
The bad news for the North Americans is that apart from doubles tactics and net play, they don’t have much to fall back on. Even accounting for the precision required from doubles groundstrokes, their unforced error rates from the baseline were outrageous. Neither had a particularly strong serve, and Shamasdin mixed in too many double faults for comfort. It’s perhaps indicative of their general level that, despite looking like the far superior team, they needed a match tiebreak to win–and in the tiebreak, the lost the first four match points at 9-3.
More on the rule changes
Despite the occasional lucky point, like Zeballos’s ace against Krajicek, the players seem completely unfazed by playing service lets. It eliminates arguments, speeds up the game, and doesn’t strongly favor any particular kind of player. I’m afraid the traditionalists may win this round and prevent wider use of no-let service rules, but I’m convinced the sport will be better off as soon as we get rid of lets altogether.
The 25-second warning is a different issue altogether. It sounds fine on paper, giving chair umpires a way to draw attention to a player’s slow pace without immediately affecting the course of the match. But in practice, it simply opens more doors to pointless arguments–that, incidentally, slow down the game.
On Tuesday, umpires gave time warnings to two players, Andreozzi and Cerretani. Andreozzi hadn’t been playing particularly slowly, and he certainly wasn’t gaining any advantage from it. When the warning was called, it took another minute for the player to talk it out with the umpire. In the second set of an otherwise brisk, lopsided match, it was unnecessary and bizarre.
Cerretani’s warning came near the business end of the match and raised more difficult issues. Cerretani and Shamasdin play at a very deliberate pace, and while it didn’t occur to me to clock them between points, there’s no doubt they were regularly exceeding 25 seconds. Cerretani, in particular, asked for the towel after nearly every point, and the ballboys weren’t very quick about it. That, in fact, was his complaint to the umpire when the warning was called–that the ballboy was slow.
More troubling, though, is that the umpire seemed to call that warning at the immediate behest of the opposing team. I didn’t understand the Portuguese, but it seemed as if Silva felt he’d been waiting too long, asked the umpire if he was going to call a time violation, and the ump immediately did so. So that’s what the official was waiting for?
And of course, Cerretani had to argue about it, giving him another 30 seconds or more to rest before the next point.
I understand the arguments against a shot clock, especially if the clock were to be prominently displayed and generate excitement as it crept down to zero. But the problem with the current system, regardless of the penalty for a first or second violation, is that it is so discretionary. Sure, there are reasons that more time is required before some points, like moving the balls to the correct end of the court, or distractions in the audience. So let the umpire (or some other official) reset the clock when those delays occur.
If tennis needs a time limit between points, that limit needs to be enforced fairly and consistently. Until it is, no minor rule tweak is going to stop officials from selectively applying it–or ignoring it altogether.