2015 RBC Tennis Championships of Dallas (Challenger) Day 4 Recap: Ram tops flustered Rublev, Trungelliti surges back against Kuznetsov
Jeff McMillan, Tennis Atlantic
On an unnaturally freezing cold day in Dallas, Texas the action at the RBC Tennis Championships, the Dallas Challenger was heating up and I was there to witness the action.
The quarterfinals of the singles draw began at the conclusion of the first doubles match, around roughly 12:45 local time. The first singles match on pitted Alex Kuznetsov vs Marco Trungelliti. Both players were making a surprise quarterfinal appearance, the former knocking off the #1 seed Mikhail Kukushkin in round 1 and the latter fighting through qualifying all the way through to the quarters.
The match began with the American Kuznetsov on fire, sticking to an effective one-two punch formula of a big serve setting up a put away shot from the ground. Kuzentsov’s coach and girlfriend who were sitting close by enjoyed the first set. They were pleased with their guy’s strong play and how well he was able to enforce his will upon the match, for the time being the atmosphere relaxed among the Kuznetsov team. But in the 2nd set Trungelliti began to slowly turn the tide. It was evident from the first ball of set #2 that the Argentinian was going to give it his all in his attempt to get the semifinals. Suddenly Kuznetsov was not holding serve as easily as Trungelliti began to get deep into the service games of the American. But despite the pressure being applied in each service game, the break did not come immediately and I began to wonder if the missed opportunities for Trungelliti would come back to haunt him as he made a few poor shot selection choices on deuce and break points early in the set. However the break eventually came thanks to the consistent pressure and cracked Kuznetsov’s previously rigid game plan. Up 5-3 in the 2nd set, the 25-year-old Argentinian successfully served out the set without drama setting up a 3rd set showdown.
In the 3rd set, some frustrations began to boil over for Kuznetsov. He got agitated at some pretty straightforward calls, disputing the length of time that it took the chair to overrule clear errors from the lines people. The 3rd set quickly fell in step with the same pattern as the 2nd set, Treungelliti getting deep into the Kuznetosv service games, not allowing Kuznetsov to relax at any moment. Inevitably Trungelliti got a break and finished off the match 1-6 6-3 6-4, much to the dismay of Kuznetsov who chucked his racquet just two points from losing the match.
The key to the match turnaround from Marco Trungelliti was was his ability to use an all court game to disrupt the straightforward approach from Kuznetsov. He hit a few killer lobs, some deft slices and even mixed in net approaches, which Kuznetsov was not able to nor was he ready to handle. I was impressed with Trungelliti’s ability to find angles off the forehand wing and mix his play in just enough ways to get the big win.
The 2nd match of the day that I attended was the highly anticipated matchup between old and new. 30 year old Rajeev Ram vs 17 year old Andrey Rublev. Immediately I could tell that all the hype that has been surrounding Rublev is definitely justified. The young Russian has a very live arm on the forehand side and can crank the ball with a flashy whip of the arm. He also has good variety for his age on that wing, able to flatten out his weapon as well as use good topspin to find the angles. There were several flashy forehands that flew off the Rublev racquet throughout the match, each of which prompted oohs and ahs from the crowd. Rublev blasted his way to an impressive 6-3 first set win, leaving the veteran American on his heels.
But the former University of Illinois Fightin’ Illini legend is never to be counted out and he showed his experience as the match wore on. Rublev showed his immaturity a few times by showing clear dissatisfaction on his face and in his body language after a poor shot even if he was leading in a game. In the 2nd set Rublev dropped his racquet on two straight points in frustration and finally slammed the racquet into oblivion on the third point in the sequence, sealing Ram’s seizure of momentum and flipping the pressure to the young Russian. Ram would win the 2nd set 6-2 following a crucial 2nd break, which allowed him to serve first in the 3rd set.
The 3rd set was a battle in every sense of the word. Rublev shed the negativity he showed in the 2nd set and put on a new competitive coat ready to go to battle. Ram on the other side, buckled down and got ready to give the youngster his best shot. Each player made some great shots, Rublev blasting forehands and Ram coming up with some truly incredible volleys. Ram bossed the Russian on his service games, often finding the corners again and again much to the dismay of Rublev, who was outwardly incredulous. At the business end of the set neither player showed any nerves. But all it takes is a couple points to decide a match. At 30-30 5-6 on Rublev’s service game, the young Russian got a bit too bold and went for an untimely down the line change of direction backhand winner, which instead of finding the open court found the tape instead, putting him down match point. A double fault ended the great 3rd set battle, giving Rajeev Ram the 3-6 6-2 7-5 victory. Fan applause rained down as Andrey Rublev quickly shuffled off the court, to the locker rooms, a hoodie over his head, clearly disappointed in the loss despite the overall positive week. Meanwhile Ram enjoyed the win and signed several things for fans as he will march on to face Teimuraz Gabashvilli in the semifinals.
The semifinals are now set in Dallas. Friday will see warmer temperatures and even higher stakes at the Dallas Challenger. Teymuraz Gabashvilli vs Rajeev Ram and Tim Smyczek vs Marco Trungelliti.