Round 1 – July 14, 2018
The Hague Open qualifying got under way at 10am with Elliot Benchetrit and Ryan Nijboer. It was a beautiful sunny 25C° day with clear blue skies. The umpire may have been sleepy because he made some dumb mistakes. First he called the wrong score several times. Then he missed a call on the sideline and clearly just guessed the mark. To be safe he simply ruled the ball out. But 19 year old Frenchman and second seed Benchetrit was not affected by it. He was in control pretty much all the way. Elliot climbed the rankings consistently, he is now ranked 321st.
Ryan Nijboer is ranked 925 and was able to keep up in the rallies with ups and downs. I think Ryan moved pretty well and it was good to see this 18 year old get a chance to play against a much higher ranked player on home soil. As with many young players they lack consistency and are not able to put constant pressure on opponents. However they surely got after each other quite a bit. Benchetrit the more solid player today and a nice win for him on “quatorze (14) Juillet”, which is France’s national holiday.
Another Dutch-French encounter and another topspin festival. This time between first seed Geoffrey Blancaneaux (19, ranked 310) and currently unranked Roy Sarut De Valk (26), or ‘Roy de Valk’. His peak rank was 1000th in 2016. Blancaneaux has an intense playing style and he created a lot of groundstroke pressure. After a strong start, Roy lost pace, made errors and couldn’t defend Geoffrey’s strokes much longer. This match illustrated nicely that many players can actually play tennis very well. Yet very few are able to play consistent and winning tennis on ATP Tour level.
I joined this centre court match early in the second set. I had never heard of Torebko nor Guinard. Peter Torebko (30, ranked 481) has a high singles ranking of 182. He has swung back and forth between roughly places 200 and 500 for the last five years. Manuel Guinard (22) is ranked 475, which is also is personal best. Manuel has improved gradually from rank 2085 in the past two years.
From his wristband I could tell that Guinard is from the Brittany region of France. They are generally a tough breed. Maybe that’s why he managed to fight back after losing the first set. Torebko was upset with himself and missed dropshots over and over. He yelled “why aren’t they falling anymore?!” Guinard won the second set but started horribly in the third. His coach sat close by and cursed a few times after Guinard missed shots. He also took notes. Torebko surprisingly simple took the third set 6-1 for a second round of The Hague Open qualifying action.
On the day that Belgium would clinch their best World Cup football result, Kimmer Coppejans beat Slovenian righty Tom Kocevar-Desman. Coppejans is the only qualifier in the draw who was once in the top 100. Kimmer ranked 97th in 2015 but is now at number 368. That is far from reality for Tom Kocevar-Desman, who is ranked 738 with a best performance of 349, also in 2015.
It was a typical clay court match with lots of topspin shots but not as deep as the French players displayed earlier. Tom started pretty well but got frustrated after losing the first set. He had two moments where his racquet gently kissed the clay. It was one of those ‘he who makes the fewest errors wins’ matches. There weren’t many spectacular rallies in this one and Belgium won again.
The match started slightly later because a groundsman (groundskid rather) had put too much water on the court. Thanks to the heat this was solved quickly. While their colleagues were training or watching Djokovic beat Nadal at Wimbledon in the clubhouse, Yannick (ranked 439) and Alexander (ranked at a career high 490) got underway. Lefty Zhurbin is a very loud player and uses a lot of topspin. He is like a Nadal on a ‘slightly’ lower level. Vandenbulcke resembles Kyle Edmund and has a similar playing style.
Zhurbin started strong with a 4-1 lead but blew it. After a good dropshot from Yannick, Alexander sprinted to the net. He missed his shot and instantly grabbed his left upper leg. Zhurbin seemed in pain but continued. Yannick fought back to force a tiebreak which Alexander won. The match was interrupted for a Zhurbin medical timeout away from the court. The intense battle continued but Yannick lost his mojo, starting out set 2 with a very ugly double fault. He fought back again but eventually Alexander took the match home in straight sets.
Circumstances for the final match of The Hague Open qualifying were not ideal. Just as it got underway, a loud karaoke party started in a neighbouring apartment building. Court 4 is the most unattractive of the ‘show courts’ and some people were shouting from the street. The harsh reality of playing in the lower echelons of pro tennis. At least the weather was still good when these two giants stepped on the clay.
18 year old Alen Avidzba won his first Futures event in Toulouse, France in June. It boosted his ranking to a career high 785. The talented Russian trains in the south of France and hung around with the French players at the clubhouse. Niels Lootsma played only eight matches since November 2017. For reasons I don’t know, he has dropped significantly to number 914.
Both players unsurprisingly have a powerful serve. It was Lootsma who produced the more solid tennis. He played strong points, also at the net. Avidzba struggled with his returns and groundstrokes, producing some bad errors. Yet it is still clear that Alen has tremendous upside and was a promising junior player. His management is the same as that of Russian WTA star Daria Kasatkina. We’ll see where his journey ends. In Scheveningen it was in the first round of qualifying, as Niels Lootsma posted an impressive straight sets win.