Wild Cards and Qualifiers Win in DC
August 4, 2009 -- Veteran doubles player Kevin Ullyett and his young partner Bruno Soares were supposed to beat the wildcard Aussie team of Lleyton Hewitt and Chris Guccione this afternoon at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, but they didn't. Marin Cilic, the #6 seed, certainly was pegged for the victory tonight, but didn't win either. His opponent qualifier Somdev Devvarman, a University of Virginia graduate, took the lanky Croat down in the first upset of the tournament. Finally, Frenchman Sebastien De Chaunac, another qualifier, put Denis Istomin on a train to Montreal after that switch up win. De Chaunac is currently ranked #181 whereas Istomin is ranked #67.
Was the full moon to blame? Probably not, but let's not count out the metaphysical aspects of tennis just yet.
The doubles win by Hewitt and Guccione came down to one point. It swung the match around as assuredly as night follows day. Ullyett and Soares won the first set 6/4, on a break of serve from Hewitt. The second set was tighter. When Ullyett served to stay in the set, Hewitt flicked a forehand down the line. It skidded off the doubles sideline for a winner. Hewitt and Guccione took the set 7/5.
The tiebreak was Ullyett's and Soares's. However, in the end the Aussie's got a bit lucky with favorable line calls and good hands. The score: 12/10. They owe that win to the shot in the second set by Hewitt.
Something has to be said about Kevin Ullyett. Even though he didn't come out on top this afternoon, the man has to be recognized for his brilliance as a doubles player. In his 20th year of competition, he was the best player on the court. Guccione served with more power. Hewitt has more notoriety -- a Grand Slam champion. Bruno Soares remained Ullyett's newest partner, fifteen years younger than the native Zimbabwean.
Kevin Ullyett is a Grand Slam champion, too. He won the 2001 doubles title at the U. S. Open with fellow countryman Wayne Black; and, in 2005 they won the Australian Open by defeating the Bryan brothers.
His skill with a tennis ball is formidable. Everything he did on court today was thoughtful and necessary. He has a masterful serve, flawless groundstrokes, and touch shots as light as feathers. However, it was his placement of the ball, the spin he used, and his intuition that made him stand out. In that sense his departure, along with his brilliant study Brazilian Bruno Soares, is a loss for the tournament.
At 37 years of age Kevin Ullyett has no intention of retiring from the game he loves. He misses his wife and two children while he travels and they stay at home in London. As he said in a recent article posted on the ATP web site, "I'm going to play as long as I feel I can compete and enjoy it. There are worse ways to make a living."
Another veteran passed through to the second round today: Juan Carlos Ferrero by defeating lucky loser Nicolas Lapentti 64 67 (5) 60. Two days ago, the Spaniard played in the final at UMag in Croatia. He lost what reads badly -- 60 61 -- to Nikolay Davydenko. No matter. What does matter is that UMag is a clay court tournament... slow red clay.
Since Sunday, Ferrero flew across the Atlantic Ocean, which gobbled up nine hours of backward looking time, landed in a hot sticky Washington D. C., and finally tried to get some sleep. Maybe after all these years on tour he has acclimated to international travel and can adjust to changes in times zones, whether forward or backward.
However, the adjustment from clay to hard court tennis can be tricky. Yesterday, Mikhail Youzhny took three sets to defeat Robert Kendrick. Youzhny had also played in Croatia. He admitted afterward that he needed all three sets to steady himself, judge the ball's bounce and correct his timing.
Juan Carlos was in the same boat this evening. He came in the match with a winning record over Lapentti -- 6 and 2. After Lapentti took the second set, the match seemed even. However, Lapentti had nothing left. His percentages on first and second service points won fell drastically. You cannot give someone like Ferrero that much leeway.
Nicolas Lapentti hardly made a sound throughout the match, though, which was noticeable. His silent manner contrasts with the grunts and groans that come from many of his pro peers. He didn't scream 'come on' after winning a point or game. He didn't mutter to himself when his technique proved miserable. The only sound that came from his side of the court was the boom that echoed from his racquet as he cracked a serve or forehand drive. We hope to hear from the Ecuadorian in the near future.
Marin Cilic and Somdev Devvarman met once before their match this evening -- in the final of the Chennai Open in Indian last February. Cilic won that match 64 76 (3). But it took them two hours to finish it. This is the work of Somdev Devvarman, another qualifier, who balanced their head-to-head record with a win over Cilic 75 64 in just less than two hours.
Devvarman retrieved every ball... every ball, and kept it in play until Cilic went for a winner and more often than not came up with an error. Devvarman's serve has improved since he played here last year, which made a difference tonight. However, Marin Cilic is ranked #15 and Devvarman is ranked #153.
The last match Marin Cilic played before Legg Mason was Davis Cup quarterfinals, which was staged on red clay in Croatia. His transition was not as smooth as Ferrero's and Youzhny's transition to hard court tennis. Cilic was not happy with himself tonight, either. His head dropped after every disappointing shot. He shuffled from one side of the court to the other, knowing that he might not have enough in him to counter the relentlessness of the Indian NCAA champ. Too many balls to hit. Not enough energy to change strategy. And certainly not enough energy to grind out a win.
Speaking of energy, tomorrow's matches will have plenty. Fans have been awaiting the entrance of Andy Roddick and they will be primed as the American faces Benjamin Becker, who defeated Robby Ginepri today 76 (3) 67 (1) 76 (4). Juan Carlos Ferrero will face countryman Tommy Robredo, in his first-ever appearance at the William H. G. FitzGerald Tennis Center. Robin Soderling and Jo Wilfred-Tsonga are also scheduled for Wednesday.