Rain washed away most of the afternoon and evening play Wednesday at the $25,000 Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championship causing tournament officials to start play at 10 am on Thursday – two hours earlier than previously planned – in an effort to get back on schedule. The full schedule of play for Thursday can be found here: https://www.usta.com/content/dam/usta/pdfs/20190429_VeroBeach_M_OP.pdf
After a three-hour rain delay Wednesday, Paul Oosterbaan needed just two more points to advance into the second round before the hard rains returned. It took just three minutes for the 6-foot-8 Oosterbaan to seal the deal with one of his trademark booming serves as he finished off Great Britain’s Jack Findel-Hawkins 6-2, 7-6 (3) under the lights at The Boulevard tennis club.
“It’s nice to walk away with a win but it was tough waiting around for awhile but I’m excited to move on to tomorrow,’’ said Oosterbaan, who left the University of Georgia after his sophomore season to pursue a professional tennis career. “I tried not to think about leading 5-1 in the tiebreaker and just think about the point coming up we had to play. Luckily, I won my service point.’’
Oosterbaan, 23, ranked No. 682, has been training across the street from The Boulevard at Grand Harbor club. Despite facing a hostile crowd Tuesday night he and partner Andrew Watson edged Vero Beach locals Chase Perez-Blanco and Andrew Butz, 6-2, 4-6 (10-8).
“It was a fun night, big crowd, and a great atmosphere to play in.’’
It had to be far worse for Findel-Hawkins, 24, who waited three hours just to lose.
“I played a scratchy match anyway,’’ the 678th-ranked Findel-Hawkins said.
When Nicolas Mejia of Colombia made it through qualifiers and reached the quarterfinals of the Mardy Fish tournament last year he was still a junior. He ran into eventual Fish champion Juan Benitez in the quarters. A year later Mejia returns a 19-year-old man beginning his professional career.
Mejia, who trains in Bradenton with IMG, used some of that experience during a three-hour rain delay after splitting sets (and 1-1 in the third) against Japan’s Naoki Nakagawa. Serving at 5-3, Mejia was broken but broke right back and converted match point by having to hit two feathery drop shots during the final rally.
“I’m really lucky I travel with a lot of friends at IMG,’’ said Mejia, who won the Grade 1 Eddie Herr Junior Championships last year while reaching the semifinals of Junior Wimbledon, the quarterfinals of the Junior French Open and the round of 16 at the Junior U.S. Open. “We are lucky to have each other. It’s really fun.’’
Still waiting to play his first-round match Wednesday night was Benitez, who has since returned to Baylor University to pursue his degree in communications. Benitez, 23, ranked 608, has decided the gypsy-like existence is no longer right for him.
While Benitez has won at least three Future events, he has never played in the main draw of a ‘major league’ ATP-sanctioned event.
“It’s time to live a more stable lifestyle. It’s been fun traveling to 15 to 20 countries, but I want to get my degree and settle down. I have so many stories,’’ said Benitez of Colombia.
Also anxious to play his first-round match was 16-year-old Zachary Svajda, the youngest competitor in the tournament. The rain pushed back his match against fellow qualifier Dragos Constantin Ignat of Romania. Ignat, 26, manages a tennis club in East Hampton, N.Y., and is trying to get his career back on track after a litany of injuries, including shoulder surgery and severe migraines accompanied by vertigo.
Svajda, whose father is from the Czech Republic, eschews most junior tournaments, and prefers to play on the ITF circuit. He did post a big junior win in Carson, Calif., earlier this year.
Although the Dominican Republic is well known for churning out Major League All-Star baseball players, several athletes from the idyllic Caribbean island prefer a fuzzy yellow ball to the stitched cowhide variety.
Dominican Jose Olivares swung a formidable racket rather than a baseball bat as he bounced back from a first-set thrashing to vanquish hard-hitting qualifier Baker Newman 2-6, 6-1, 6-2 to advance to the second round.
Fellow Dominican, 580th-ranked Nick Hardt, 18, was unable to finish off his rain-delayed match with with 320th-ranked Maksim Tikhomirov of Philadelphia. Another downpour came at 8:25 p.m. All the doubles matches were postponed until Thursday.
Olivares’ reward for his first-round victory in the 25th-running of this newly dubbed $25,000 ITF World Tennis Tour event was a second-round meeting with top-seeded Pedro Sakamoto, who happens to be his doubles partner this week. Sakamoto, a Brazilian with a Japanese mother and Hawaiian grandfather, cruised past Isaac Stoute of Great Britain, 6-4, 6-2 on Stadium Court.
“I played baseball when I was about 12, but my uncle taught me tennis, so I preferred that and basketball over baseball,’’ smiled the 22-year-old Olivares, now ranked 670th. “[Sakamoto] is a good player but I’m confident in me. I will concentrate on the doubles and then talk to my coach about strategy against him and concentrate on that tomorrow.’’
Olivares’ coach Gustavo Granitto, who trains his disciple in South Florida (Pembroke Pines), said young Dominicans are riding the wave left by countryman Victor Estrella Burgos, who was the first Dominican to play in a Grand Slam at age 34 when he reached the third round of the U.S. Open in 2014. He was also the first to crack the Top 100 and reached a career-high 43 in 2015, while winning three ATP titles, all in Ecuador.
“They saw Estrella and they wanted to follow,’’ Granitto said. “They know their stuff and are working hard.’’
Newman, 23, has honed his strokes in Miami where he was a five-time state champion for Gulliver Academy before a standout career at Vanderbilt University. However, Newman and his older brother Spencer, play Davis Cup for the Bahamas, the birthplace of their father, Eric.
Sakamoto, 25, is enjoying a breakthrough season, having reached the finals of a $15,000 ITF event in Naples in January, winning a $15,000 ITF in Argentina last month as well as another finals berth in an ATP Challenger in Mexico. He appreciates being the top seed but also isn’t thrilled to have a target on his back.
“It’s a pleasure but everybody is against you and wants to beat the top seed,’’ said 382nd-ranked Sakamoto, who’s proficient in Portuguese, Spanish and English, but not Japanese. “All tournaments are hard, and everyone is playing good, so I have to look at each match and keep working for it.’’
A few weeks ago Sakamoto ousted 100th-ranked Alexander Bublik and earlier this year took out Carlos Berlocq, who was ranked 37th in 2012.
“I’ve been struggling in Futures and Challengers for the past 5-6 years, but this year has been quite different,’’ he said. “I started well in the U.S., reaching a final of a $15,000. I don’t know what happened, but I’ve been playing better and better, and now I’m enjoying tennis more this year. My main goal this year is to play in qualifying of Grand Slams. That’s the first step, and after that work hard to get into the Top 100.’’
The Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships is regarded as one of the best entry-level professional tennis tournaments in the world. Proceeds from the event benefit the Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation, the non-profit tennis foundation benefiting children, named for Vero Beach native son Mardy Fish, the former top 10 tennis star and the current U.S. Davis Cup captain. The event will be held April 29 – May 5 at The Boulevard tennis club in Vero Beach.
Tournament tickets and sponsorships for the event can be purchased at www.MardyFishChildrensFoundation.org Daily tickets for the April 29-May 5 are $20, with “night session” tickets starting at 5 pm from April 29 – May 4 costing $10. Season tickets for every session of the event are $100. Admission for children 18 and under is free. Fans can follow news and developments on the tournament on Facebook and on Twitter at @VeroFutures. Detailed sponsorship information can be obtained by emailing Tom Fish at Tfish10s@aol.com or Randy Walker at RWalker@NewChapterMedia.com Approximately 3,000 fans annually attend the event, which is seen as one of the best-attended entry-level professional events in the world.
Some of the past competitors at the USTA Vero Beach Futures have gone on to succeed at the highest levels of professional tennis, winning major singles and doubles titles, Olympic medals and Davis Cup championships and earning No. 1 world rankings. Andy Roddick, the 2003 U.S. Open champion who attained the world No. 1 ranking and helped the United States win the Davis Cup in 2007, competed in Vero Beach in 1999. Thomas Johansson of Sweden, who reached the second round of the Vero Beach Futures in 1995, won the Australian Open seven years later in 2002. Nicolas Massu, the 1998 singles runner-up in Vero Beach, won the singles and doubles gold medals at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, beating Fish in the gold medal singles match. Kyle Edmund, the 2013 champion in Vero Beach, helped Great Britain to the Davis Cup title in 2015. Other notable former competitors in Vero Beach include former world No. 2 Magnus Norman, former world No. 4 Tim Henman, 2016 Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic and most recently world No. 50 player and teen sensation Denis Shapovalov, who played in Vero Beach in 2016. Former Vero Beach competitors have combined to win 19 titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles at Grand Slam tournaments. Seven former Vero Beach players have gone on to play Davis Cup for the United States – Roddick, Fish, Taylor Dent, Jared Palmer, Donald Young, Ryan Harrison and Frances Tiafoe.
Founded in 2007, the Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation (www.MardyFishFoundation.com and @MardyFishFound on Twitter) currently supports over 2,200 children in 15 elementary schools, six middle schools and two after school centers in Indian River County, Florida by funding after-school exercise, nutritional and enrichment programs in a safe environment to prepare them for healthy, productive and successful lives. The Foundation introduced the “Six Healthy Habits” in 2012 which are Get Sleep; Drink Water; Exercise Daily, Eat Healthy; Brush and Floss; Make Friends.
The tournament schedule is as follows:
Thursday, May 2
Main Draw Singles & Doubles – The Boulevard Tennis Club, 10 AM, 5 pm, 6:45 pm
Friday, May 3
Main Draw Singles & Doubles – The Boulevard Tennis Club, Noon, 5 pm, 6:45 pm
Saturday, May 4
Singles Semifinals, Doubles TBD – The Boulevard Tennis Club, Noon, 5 pm
Sunday, May 5
Singles Final – The Boulevard Tennis Club, 1 pm
Tournament sponsors for 2019 include Presenting Sponsor PNC Bank, Grand Slam Sponsors Boston Barricade, George E. Warren Corporation and the Jake Owen Foundation, Cabana/Box Seat Sponsors John’s Island Real Estate, John Klein, Gene Simonsen, TeamChristopher.com, Dan Holman, Hadleigh Investments, Pene Chambers / Lynn Southerly, Lace and Bob Milligan / Mickey and Rob Stein, William Barhorst, CPA, Michael and Kathleen Pierce, The Pitcher Family, Shirley Becker, Scoreboard Sponsor Fit for Life / Syde Hurdus Foundation Backhand Sponsors Vero Beach Magazine, Rossway Swan, Nalzaro Music, Coastal Van Lines, Diamond Resorts International, Forehand Sponsors Karen and Steve Rubin, Mike and Meg Hickey / Premier Estate Properties, Shaklee / Suzie Sunkel, Indian River Animal Hospital – Charles B. Johnson, DVM, Marjorie Johnson, DVM, MS, DAVP, Serve Sponsors Cravings, Bistro Fourchette, Willem and Marion DeVogel, Foglia Custom Homes Topspin Sponsors Alex MacWilliam Real Estate, Eternal Water, Kit Fields Realtor, Patrick Williams / Tom Collins Insurance, Riverside Café, MinuteMan Press, Center Court Tennis Outfitters, Drop Shot Sponsors Treasure Coast Financial Planning, Inc., Peter and Judith Saidel, Deb Benjamin, Paul & Linda Delaney, Stewart Dunn, Susan Flannery (Aluma Tower), Tom Flannery (Malesardi, Quackenbush, Swift and Company LLC, Jim & Suzi Keegan, Don Moyle, Dee Patberg, Fran Smyrk (Treasure Coast Sotheby’s), Gary & Beth Williams, ABCO Garage Door Company, Inc., Barker Air Conditioning & Heating, Busy Bee Lawn & Garden Center, Coastal Comforts at the Village Shops, Colton, Williams & Reamy, CPAs, Complete Electric, Inc., Complete Restaurant Equipment, LLC, Glacier Clear Pool Service, Jack’s Complete Tree Service, Inc., Jimmy’s Tree Services, Ken’s Pool Service, ML Engineering, Inc., Nozzle Nolen, Inc., O’Haire, Quinn, Casalino, Chartered, Rich Look Lawn Care, Rick’s Custom Care, Statewide Condominium Insurance, Steve Supplee Construction LLC, Summit Construction of Vero Beach, LLC, Sunshine Furniture, White Glove Moving & Storage and Wilco Construction, Inc.