Dennis Novikov Stuns, Tatsuma Ito Progresses In Delray Beach Qualification
Adam Addicott, Tennis Atlantic
The 24th Delray Beach Open will see the highly anticipated return of Juan Martin Del Potro. As the Florida crowd waits for the main draw to get underway, they were treated to some spectacular battles during the qualifying rounds.
Qualifying was headlined by Italy’s Luca Vanni. The 30-year-old is currently three places from returning back into the top 100, however, so far this year he has only won two out of his five main draw matches. First up for the lively Italian was Ukraine’s Artem Smirnov. Vanni encountered little difficulty against the world No.254 by clinching the win 7-5, 6-2, after 96 minutes. Next up for the Italian was America’s Dennis Novikov in what was a titanic battle. Vanni gave a solid performance with 18 aces and he even won six more points in the match than Novikov (116-110). Despite his best efforts, the top seed prevailed in three sets to the world No. 150. The 22-year-old American won 7-6(0),3-6,7-6)6), after two hours and 18 minutes of intense play on the court.
Second seed Tatsuma Ito endured two marathon matches to secure a place in the main draw at Delray Beach. Ranked 118th in the world, the 27-year-old defeated American talent Francis Tiafoe to reach the semifinals of the ATP Dallas Challenger at the start of February. Ito’s first match in Delray Beach was against Ireland’s James McGee. The second seed was on course to a straight sets win after leading 6-3, 5-3, before McGee staged an impressive comeback to force a final set. The deciding set consisted of nine breaks of serve as Ito survived the scare to win 6-3,6-7(5),7-5. The marathon win set the world No.118 up with a second round clash with 2011 French Open Boys’ champion Bjorn Fratangelo. Fratangelo defeated little-known Italian wildcard Edoardo Tessaro 6-2,6-3, in his opening match. Emulating his opening match, Ito lead by a set and a break before coming undone towards the crucial point of the match. The vulnerability allowed his American rival to grab a double break and seal the second set. Ito then trailed 0-2 in the final set, before staging an impressive comeback to win 6-3, 4-6,6-4, after almost two hours of play.
Moldovan player Radu Albot was another player to encounter difficulty during his journey into the main draw. Kicking-off against world No.297 Eric Quigley, the third seed faced 15 break points throughout the match (saving ten of them). Despite dropping the first set and being broken three times in the second, Albot held his nerve to win 5-7, 6-4,6-1. Fortunately for Albot there was no repeat of tricky situations during his second match against Yoshihito Nishioka. Nishioka defeated 2015 French Open Boys’ champion Tommy Paul in his first match (6-4, 5-7,6-4). In the decisive showdown, Albot won 62% of his service points and saved 5/7 break points to win 6-4,6-3.
Finally, Australia’s John-Patrick Smith progressed to his first ATP main draw outside of his home country since August of last year. Smith is currently ranked 136th in the world, down from hisr ranking best of 108 that was achieved last September. In the first round he faced a tricky match against former junior world No.1 Andrey Rublev. The highly publicized 18-year-old has only won one main draw match this year (Chennai Open against Somdev Devvarman). Dropping the opening set, Smith won 12 out of the next 15 games to take the match 4-6, 6-4, 6-0. Next up for smith was Colombian fourth seed Alejandro Falla. Falla defeated Devvarman 5-7, 6-2, 6-1, in his first match. In what was a mixed match, Smith came out on top against Falla, winning 6-2, 2-6, 6-1, to book his place in the main draw.