Newly Minted Pro Chris Eubanks Back to Winning Ways at 2017 Charlottesville Challenger
Steve Fogleman, Tennis Atlantic
(Charlottesville, VA–October 31) Eight days ago, Chris Eubanks announced that he would give up his final season of eligibility at Georgia Tech to turn pro. Not much else has changed for Eubanks in that time, as the 2016 Charlottesville semifinalist simply returned to his winning ways here in a tight two-set victory over Canadian Samuel Monette, 7-6(9), 6-4. He had plenty of praise for his opponent after notching pro victory Numero Uno.
“I knew that (Monette) going in, it was going to be a grind to play him. He fights as good as anybody out there. He makes you play,” he said of the young Canadian. “I had a very slow start and my legs weren’t working. I don’t know what it was, but luckily after I got a couple of holds I kind of found my legs,” he continued.
As is so often the case, the long tiebreak would prove momentous in this match as well. “The breaker was a battle, a really big momentum shifter,” Eubanks said. “Whoever got that breaker was going to have a little extra juice and I was fortunate to save a couple of set points and come out on top of the breaker and give me some momentum.”
Eubanks gained that momentum and served first in the second set.
Like most players, Eubanks refuses to use numerical rankings toward his near and short-term goals. “Just to be be better every day,” he said. “I don’t want to put certain numbers or quantitative benchmarks on it. I just want to continue to progress and say ‘Hey, I think I’m a better player than I was two months ago’. When the end of December comes and I can say that I’m a much better player than I am right at this moment, then I think I had a successful year.”
You know you’ve got a Georgia Tech engineer on your hands when “quantitative benchmarks” come up at a tennis court. Eubanks will face Next Gen contender Michael Mmoh in Round 2.
Misadventures in Ball Boy Land: Don’t Try to Catch a Pro’s Serve @ATPChallenger
Steve Fogleman, Tennis Atlantic
(Charlottesville, VA–October 31) Getting destroyed by tennis pros on court while competing for the US Open National Playoffs five years ago wasn’t enough for me. I wanted more, and yesterday I did something I should have done 40 years ago: I was a ball boy. I don’t want to sugarcoat it by calling myself a ball person, because I was a boy out there.
I’ve been to the Charlottesville Challenger every year since 2012, and I guess I wanted to mix it up a little for my seventh installment of the tournament. I responded to a call on the Challenger’s Facebook page for ball people and noticed that they had very few volunteers during the school week. I signed up and watched a couple of YouTube videos about how to be the best ball boy ever. The only thing I remember from the videos was how to hold the towel on the edges so the players don’t have to touch your hands. It turns out that was wasted knowledge in a Challenger. I donned my red ball boy shirt and no sooner that I had, I ran into top seed Tennys Sandgren. After we greeted each other, he said, “So you’re chasing down balls all week?’ I told him it was, sadly, a half-day gig. Then I went down to the court and got a comprehensive crash course from Ball Person Coordinator Maureen O’Shea. The biggest two rules were: do nothing between a first and second serve and always keep looking at your fellow ball people and the player on your side. She explained that with so many college players in the ranks of the challengers, these guys were just happy you were retrieving their balls. And they could care less how you held a towel out to them. And as you may already know, the bulk of the “work” for a ball person occurs when the player on their side of the court is serving. Then you’re expected to do towel work and ball retrieving, which is more challenging than it sounds.
I was served the Frederik Nielsen-Edward Corrie qualifying final. As a forty-eight year old, there was no way my knees were camping out in front of the net for a few hours, so I opted for the baseline. The first thing I noticed was when my player was returning serve. The balls are headed for your own private orbs at 120 miles per hour and the first several times a serve was headed my way, I flinched and moved, forgetting that the player in front of me was going to intercept at least 90% of those shots for an attempted return. I learned to dodge the balls that got through. During the second set, I decided to stop dodging the balls and try to catch them instead. Less bending over would be nice. That was a mistake. I caught a Nielsen first serve that had to be over 120 mph. I immediately felt a pain in my hand but tried to ignore it. I made sure to never try to catch another one.
I’m sure many a 9-year-old could teach you like a pro at this, but it was a sensory overload for me. You’re handing the player the towel while balls are rolling at you from all directions as the player on your side of the net prepares to begin his service game. Nielsen was a big ball-checker. He wanted to examine all four balls before each serve and then he’d kick back one or more. The players will not make eye contact with you before tossing the unwanted ball back, so, once again, you’ve got to pay attention. And in a tournament like Charlottesville’s, it’s even more difficult because you have matches and practices going on all around you. I heard the crowd gasping during a long rally on the adjoining court and kept looking over before realizing that I would get beaned in the face if I didn’t pay attention to my own match. With my short-attention span, this was invariably the toughest part of the gig.
Another difficulty I noticed as a tennis fan was controlling the urge to clap after a great shot. I had to stop myself a few times. No one was closer to the action with some of these great returns and I was happy I’d left my phone off court because I would not have been able to resist the urge to tweet during my on court duties. I love the front row and I’ve been in the photographers pit at other tournaments before, but this was a ridiculously good view. You’re making eye contact with the players every 30 seconds. You get a better view of the players than their opponents do.
Another strange distraction was finding myself rooting for the players to finish the match. The Chair umpire sits all match. The linesmen get to sit down occasionally. The players get their Hollywood Producer folding chairs for changeovers. But no, the ball people have to stand all day. The breaks between sets never seemed so long in my life. I mean, it seemed like they could have run 100 commercials in between those sets, if that were actually a thing and fans were watching a challenger qualifying final on a major television network.
Nielsen won the first set, 6-4 and went up a break in the second. I started thinking the end was near. Corrie was in a bad mood, and cursed at the people walking on the catwalk above his opponent as he prepared to serve. But then Nielsen blew a couple of match points and Corrie had squeaked through the second set tiebreak at 6. I remember feeling relieved when the chair announced, “final set”.
Now Corrie had a swagger and Nielsen, who had been even-tempered throughout, started losing it. He talked to himself, yelled at no one, and when he gave up an early break in the third, he smashed a racket 3 feet away from me. This wasn’t a toss or a smack: he spiked it into the court with hundreds of pounds of thrust, as if to make sure it was dead and never coming back to life.
After Corrie was issued an obscenity warning, Nielsen fired back, “I already thought he got one earlier!” The chair indicated that Corrie had only been “accosted” for the first one but that didn’t seem to be any solace for Nielsen. Nielsen himself dropped some F-bombs in the third, but quietly enough to only treat the ball people into the demons in his head.
When it was over, Nielsen put the racket in the little trash can behind the umpire chair and strutted off as mad as hell. It must feel like such a waste to win two qualifying matches at an ATP Challenger, only to blow a lead in the final and walk away with nothing. As for the smashed racket, tournament organizers quickly removed it from the bin and took it away from plain sight, as if not to encourage such further behavior to those who would witness the mangled mess.
I always love to hate on the players when I hear of ball person abuse at the majors. I could find no such mistreatment in my match. They were good to us, even during the low points of their endeavor.
I didn’t get a chance to think about my hand again until after the match, but when I did, I found a big bruise on my thumb. From a tennis ball! Well, not just any tennis ball, but one served up by a Wimbledon Mixed Doubles champion. Wow, I’m so out of shape, I thought, I can even get injured doing ball boy work. It feels fine a day later but I felt it yesterday. No big whoop. Honored to serve. And it happened in the line of duty. The tonic my physician prescribed at the brewery down the road made it all better.
All I know is this: ball kids, you’re awesome. You have to be laser-focused at all times on court or else you’ll get a dirty look from someone, or worse, you’ll get hit—hard. I will never look at you the same way again. You make it look easy. And like most things in life, it’s a hell of a lot harder than it looks.
UPDATE: And oh, yeah, everything anyone ever does ends up on the internet now.
Qualifiers Gnaw Way Into Main Draw at 2017 Charlottesville Challenger
Steve Fogleman, Tennis Atlantic
(Charlottesville, VA-October 30)–Qualifying concluded at the 2017 ATP Charlottesville Challenger at the Boar’s Head Resort in Charlottesville, Virginia this afternoon. The four qualifiers are set: South Africa’s Ruan Roelofse survived a three-setter against Alexander Ritschard, 7-6(2), 4-6, 6-3. With 63 life years combined on court, 29-year-old Edward Corrie of Great Britain earned an impressive, calculated comeback against 34-year-old Frederik Nielsen, 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-4. American Jared Hiltzik advanced over Canadian Samuel Monette in two tiebreaks, 7-6(6), 7-6(4). Joining Hiltzik in the draw is fellow American Alex Rybakov, who at 20, was the youngest to qualify in Charlottesville after a 6-1, 5-7, 7-5 thriller over Neil Pauffley of Great Britain.
“The past couple of weeks I had some really tough matches, 7-6 in the third, that I lost,” Rybakov told me. “Here, I’m ready all day for anything. I put my heart out and at the end of the day I was ready for it,” he said.
As far as his chances go in the main draw, “it’s good,” he said. “I like playing qualifying because you get a couple of matches on the courts and if you qualify you’re used to the courts going in. This is my sixth challenger so I’m getting a good feel for it.”
Although the four qualifiers hadn’t been drawn in at the time of this report, two of them will play Filip Peliwo and Liam Broady in Round 1, and two of them will face each other.
Danny Thomas on Life as a Pro: “There’s Something I Can Learn From All Of Them”
Steve Fogleman, Tennis Atlantic
(Charlottesville, VA–October 30)–Danny Thomas lost in two sets to Britain’s Neil Pauffley in ATP Charlottesville Challenger second round qualifying yesterday, but he was in very good spirits after the match and wanted to talk. I guess 17-year-olds have more maturity than we think, and I give Thomas a lot of credit for not pouting off to the locker room like a 34-year-old (Frederik Nielsen, are you listening?). After reaching the Wimbledon Juniors Doubles Final in July, Thomas followed that up with a US National U18 Doubles Championship with Vasil Kirkov in August. That title also nabbed a US Open wildcard berth for the duo. Thomas promptly turned pro after the US Open.
Welcome to the bigs, kid.
I asked him what’s changed since the US Open appearance. “I think I’ve been playing with a lot more confidence,” he said. “Now, I’m obviously starting to play more futures and challengers. I think it was a real big boost for my game. It really helped me out mentally and I started believing in myself a lot more,” he told me.
But confidence aside, isn’t the level of competition a big step up?
“Yes, it’s rough,” Thomas told me. “You play guys that’ve been out here for a while and have a whole lot more experience. You know they’re coming out and don’t want to lose to a younger guy. So it’s tough, but I think once I get my rhythm and start playing more, I feel like I can do pretty well,” he said.
“I mean, these guys are just more consistent, they hit a bigger ball with a pattern, they’re much more disciplined, and there’s something I can learn from all of them,” he added.
Having signed with Lagardere only a month after the US Open, Thomas has gone all in. I’m hoping this means we can expect him to grab a wild card at Washington’s Citi Open, which is owned by the management and marketing representation firm. In the spirit of all things Lagardere, Thomas has teamed up with DC’s Denis Kudla for doubles in Charlottesville this week. Kudla was an early sign with Lagardere when he turned pro at 18 in 2010 before eventually rolling out with Sam Duvall and Topnotch Management last year. (Tip o’ the pen to @Parsa_Nemati for that fact check!)
Stefan Kozlov Beats Liam Broady To Win Las Vegas Tennis Open ATP Tour Challenger Championship
LAS VEGAS (Oct. 22, 2017) – It took a patient Stefan Kozlov a set and a few games to adjust to lefty Liam Broady’s crafty game, but once he did he was able to secure his second career $50,000 pro title by winning the ATP Tour Challenger Las Vegas Tennis Open on Sunday, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.
“We both just put it on the line today and it was 50-50,” the 19-year-old Kozlov told the appreciative Las Vegas crowd during the trophy presentation at the Fertitta Tennis Complex on the campus of UNLV. “We were both left gasping for air and it wasn’t easy. It could have gone either way today. I was very impressed with Liam’s sportsmanship today.”
Kozlov seemed to pick up his game down a set and an early break in the second set. He broke serve for 3-all and then hit several nice finesse shots, to earn a hold at 4-3, pumping his fist and getting the crowd fired up after each point.
“I haven’t had the best last couple of months, a lot of ups and downs,” said Kozlov, who earned $7,200 with the win. “For all the downs, you have to kind of look for the ups and today I had to dig deep for my up.”
Broady received treatment from the tournament trainer for some late-match cramping right after the match and before the awards ceremony, laying on a towel. He told the crowd a few minutes later that he “left it all out there, and sometimes you pay the price.”
Broady was playing in Las Vegas for his third time and received $4,240. He was watched all week by his coach David Sammel. “Obviously Kozlov has so much experience in these big matches,” he said. “Maybe I wasn’t aggressive at the right times of the match, and Koz has such good defense.”
It will be 20 years next month that Kozlov’s favorite player and Las Vegas resident Andre Agassi returned to tennis at age 27 ranked No. 141 in the world and made the final of a similar USTA Pro Circuit $50,000 Challenger in his first tournament back. On these same UNLV courts Agassi began his inspiring journey to regaining the No. 1 ranking in the world.
Like Agassi, Kozlov was a young prodigy who made his ATP World Tour debut as a wild card in Newport at the age of 15. He reached two junior Grand Slam finals in 2014, the Australian Open (lost to current world No. 5-ranked Alexander Zverev) and Wimbledon.
In the doubles final, the top-seeded team of Brydan Klein and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain beat the No. 3-seeded team of Hans Hach Verdugo of Mexico and American Dennis Novikov, 6-3, 4-6, 10-3. Tied 3-all in the super tiebreaker after splitting sets, Klein-Salisbury rallied off seven straight points for the win. Having played together for the past six month, Klein and Salisbury split $3,100. Both Hoch Verdugo (Abilene Christian) and Novikov (UCLA) each played college tennis and were playing for the first time together. They split $1,800.
“It was an amazing week of tennis at the Fertitta Tennis Complex,” said tournament host Owen Hambrook, the head UNLV men’s tennis coach. “This event keeps growing each year and it’s become one of the favorite stops for the players on the ATP Challenger tour. It was great to see a bunch of our up and coming American player do well this week, and we know we’ll be seeing them at the bigger ATP events in the future. Without the support of the amazing Las Vegas tennis community, this event wouldn’t be possible.”
Men’s Singles – Finals
 Stefan Kozlov (USA) def. Liam Broady (GBR), 3-6, 7-5, 6-4
Men’s Doubles – Finals
 Brydan Klein (GBR) / Joe Salisbury (GBR) def.  Hans Hach Verdugo (MEX) / Dennis Novikov (USA), 6-3, 4-6, 10-3
Reilly Opelka Beats Qualifier Jared Hiltzik To Advance To Quarterfinals At Las Vegas Tennis Open ATP Tour Challenger $50,000 Men’s Tournament
LAS VEGAS (Oct. 19, 2017) – Six-foot, 11-inch Reilly Opelka took advantage of what he described as perfect court conditions to advance to the quarterfinals of the Las Vegas Tennis Open as the No. 8-seeded Floridian beat qualifier Jared Hiltzik, 7-6 (5), 6-4, at the ATP Challenger Tour $50,000 Men’s tournament taking place at the Fertitta Tennis Complex on the campus of UNLV.
“There is altitude and the courts are playing pretty fast,” said the 20-year-old Opelka. “They are using a Penn ball which tends to be a little more livelier than Wilson. The ball is jumping and it’s a condition that definitely promotes big serves here. It’s easy for everyone to hold.”
Opelka will next meet Britain’s Liam Broady, who scored a solid win over No. 2-seeded and fellow countryman Cameron Norrie by the same exact score at Opelka, 7-6 (5), 6-4, on Friday as the final eight spots have been determined in singles.
Opelka described Broady as a “scrappy lefty” who hits a lot of slice balls “and tries to make you play an extra ball.”
Down 5-4 with Hiltzik serving in the first-set tiebreaker, Opelka hit a nice backhand crosscourt winner to even things up and then served out the first set with an ace.
Opelka spent the summer playing regular ATP-level tournaments, but said “coming back down to the Challenger level” was just what he needed.
“I lost a ton of matches this summer, maybe five of them, 7-6 in a third set and I think four of them I had match points,” he said. “What could have been a great summer ended up being brutal for me. I haven’t had too any main-draw wins consecutively for a while. This is perfect and just where I need to be right now.”
Opelka is rooming this week with fellow ATP “Next Gen” player and quarterfinalist Stefan Kozlov and the pair are staying in a house 20 minutes away from the Strip and UNLV in Henderson.
“Last night was the first night we got out and had dinner on the Strip,” Opelka said, adding that fellow American Michael Mmoh has also joined them for some basketball watching and playing during the week.
Defending champion Sam Groth of Australia was forced to retire down 2-1 in the first set against qualifier Jan Choinski of Germany because of a hip flexor. Top-seeded Tennys Sandgren continued his strong play, beating Lucas Miedler of Austria, 7-5, 6-4.
The tournament website is: www.lasvegastennisopen.com.
RESULTS – OCTOBER 19, 2017
Singles – Second Round
 T. Sandgren (USA) def. L. Miedler (AUT) 7-5, 6-4
L. Broady (GBR) def.  C. Norrie (GBR) 7-6(5), 6-4
[Q] J. Choinski (GER) def.  S. Groth (AUS) 2-1 Retired
 R. Opelka (USA) def. [Q] J. Hiltzik (USA) 7-6(5), 6-4
Doubles – Quarterfinals
 B. Klein (GBR) / J. Salisbury (GBR) def. B. Kozlov (USA) / S. Kozlov (USA) 7-6(0), 4-6, 10-3
K. King (USA) / R. Roelofse (RSA) def. [WC] B. Lock (ZIM) / C. Lock (ZIM) 6-3, 7-5
ORDER OF PLAY – FRIDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2017
COURT 1 start 11:00 am
 S. Kozlov (USA) vs K. King (USA)
[PR] B. Klahn (USA) vs E. King (USA)
 H. Hach Verdugo (MEX) / D. Novikov (USA) vs  J. Chaplin (AUS) / M. Libietis (LAT)
COURT 7 start 11:00 am
 T. Sandgren (USA) vs [Q] J. Choinski (GER)
 R. Opelka (USA) vs L. Broady (GBR)