Friday, October 4, 2013

Things are looking up Down Under

Matthew Ebden of Australia is close to return-
ing to the top 100. Photos by Paul Bauman
   SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- You think the United States has struggled in men's professional tennis?
   Consider Australia.
   The nation that has won 28 Davis Cup championships, second to the United States' 32, and produced legends such as Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad, John Newcombe and Tony Roche has no men in the top 50 in the world. As recently as the 2010 year-end rankings, Australia had one man in the top 100 -- Lleyton Hewitt at No. 54.
   No Aussie man has won a Grand Slam singles title since Hewitt in 2002 at Wimbledon. That tops the U.S. drought by one year; Andy Roddick won the 2003 U.S. Open.
   Of course, Australia has about 1/14th the population of the United States.
   However, there's hope for Australian men's tennis. The country is up to three men in the top 100 -- No. 55 Bernard Tomic, No. 56 Marinko Matosevic and No. 59 Hewitt. Tomic is 20 years old, Matosevic 28 and Hewitt 32.
   And it appears more Aussies are on the way, as they represent half of the quarterfinalists in the $100,000 Sacramento Pro Circuit Challenger. In fact, all four of today's quarterfinals pit Australians against Americans.
Robby Ginepri is the only active U.S. man
to have reached a Grand Slam singles semifinal.
   Third-seeded Matthew Ebden, who ascended to a career-high No. 61 last October, is No. 114 and rising. The 25-year-old veteran survived the wind and a challenge from 30-year-old Robby Ginepri, the only active U.S. man to have reached a Grand Slam singles semifinal, for a 6-0, 3-6, 6-4 victory on Thursday at the Natomas Racquet Club.
   "A few years back, we might not have had one guy in the top 100 for a short time," said Ebden, the runner-up in last week's $50,000 Napa Challenger and the mixed doubles champion in this year's Australian Open with Slovakian-born Australian Jarmila Gajdosova. "Now we're looking at four or five guys maybe soon going to be in there. Then there's the potential to get to 50 or better.
   "Everybody sort of has an Australian attitude -- just keep our head down and work hard and keep improving month after month and year after year. I'm trying to do the same thing."
   Just as the Ebden-Ginepri match was beginning on the Stadium Court, a matchup of two potential stars from Australia was ending on an outside court. Nick Kyrgios, an 18-year-old right-hander, topped 17-year-old qualifier Thanasi Kokkinakis 2-6, 7-6 (6), 6-1 despite being treated for a right wrist injury. Both players are prototypically tall and powerful.
Nick Kyrgios, 18, of Australia is by far the youngest player ranked in the
top 200 in the world.
   Kyrgios (pronounced KEER-ee-ose) also beat Kokkinakis in the Australian Open boys singles final in January, and they teamed to win the Wimbledon boys doubles title in July. Kyrgios, ranked No. 191, is the youngest player in the top 200 by 20 months over Dominic Thiem, 20, of Austria.
   Aussies Samuel Groth and Matt Reid -- ranked No. 202 and No. 235, respectively -- advanced to the Sacramento quarterfinals on Wednesday. Groth, who owns the world's fastest serve (163.4 mph or 263 kph), is 25 and Reid 23.
   Not playing in Sacramento is 19-year-old Luke Saville, who won the boys singles title at Wimbledon in 2011 and the Australian Open last year.
   Ebden cited two reasons for Australia's woes.
   "Like anything in life, there are cycles," he said. "In the economy, there are upturns and downturns. For a long time, Spain didn't have players, and then all of a sudden, they had tons of players.
Thanasi Kokkinakis of Australia won this year's
Wimbledon boys doubles title with Kyrgios.
   "Australia is very far away geographically. That's one thing people have to overcome, but if you want it bad enough, you'll find a way. With some good people in charge of Australian tennis, like (two-time U.S. Open champion) Pat Rafter who bring a really strong work ethic, everyone is sort of picking up on that and fighting to get up there."
   Ebden, from Perth, used his experience in the wind and his fighting spirit to subdue a valiant Ginepri, who lost to Andre Agassi in five sets in the semifinals of the 2005 U.S. Open, in a match featuring outstanding athleticism and shotmaking.
   "Where I live in Australia, it's quite a windy place, so I don't actually mind the wind too much," Ebden said. "I think that's probably why in the first set I was settled from very early on and maybe he wasn't. But he adjusted really well, and then it was just a good fight. I tried to be a little more aggressive in the third set when I could, and I think that was the key for me."    
   Seventh-seeded Bradley Klahn, a former NCAA singles champion from Stanford who won his first career Challenger title in August at Aptos, reached the Sacramento quarterfinals for the second consecutive year. The 23-year-old left-hander from Poway in the San Diego area defeated 20-year-old Benjamin Mitchell of -- you guessed it -- Australia, 7-6 (6), 6-4.
   Wild card Jarmere Jenkins, who completed his eligibility at Virginia in May, eliminated Daniel Evans of Great Britain 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 to reach his first Challenger quarterfinal. At the NCAA Championships in May, Jenkins led Virginia to its first team title, reached the singles title and won the doubles crown with Mac Styslinger.
   Evans reached the third round of the recent U.S. Open, upsetting No. 11 seed Kei Nishikori of Japan and 2011 Wimbledon quarterfinalist Tomic.
   In the doubles quarterfinals, wild cards Robert Kendrick and Brian Martinez edged Americans Austin Krajicek and Denis Kudla 5-7, 6-2, 10-6 match tiebreaker.
   Kendrick, a 33-year-old Fresno native, retired from the tour last year. He reached the Sacramento Challenger singles final in 2008 and 2010 and won the doubles title with Brian Wilson in 2007. In the second round at Wimbledon in 2006, Kendrick came within a tiebreaker of beating Rafael Nadal in straight sets before losing.
   Martinez is the tournament director of the Sacramento Challenger and director of tennis at the Natomas Racquet Club.
   Krajicek, a distant relative of 1996 Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek from the Netherlands, and Devin Britton of Brandon, Miss., reached last year's doubles final in Sacramento. They fell to Americans Tennys Sandgren and Rhyne Williams 4-6, 6-4, 12-10 match tiebreaker.
   Following are links to the singles and doubles draws and today's schedule:
   http://assets.usta.com/assets/1/15/singles_draw291.PDF
   http://assets.usta.com/assets/1/15/doubles_draw292.PDF
   http://assets.usta.com/assets/1/15/schedule292.PDF

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