Most of the players in this week’s annual Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships at The Boulevard Village and Tennis Club are still chasing their dream to be among the sport’s elite.
There’s Sekou Bangoura of Bradenton, Florida, 30, who has notched wins over the likes of No. 17-ranked Reilly Opelka, No. 16-ranked Denis Shapovalov and No. 35-ranked Tommy Paul in their formative years. Or Ryan Shane of Falls Church, Va., who won the 2015 NCAA singles title for the University of Virginia. Or 28-year-old Ricardo Rodriguez, the all-time winning Davis Cup player from Venezuela and a finalist in Vero Beach in 2018 and 2021.
Then there are a couple of local teaching tennis pros like Chase Perez-Blanco and Slim Hamza, who gave up their dreams of playing on the ATP Tour after solid college careers at University of Florida and University of Utah (and University of Las Vegas), respectively. But they are quite content teaching juniors and adults in Vero Beach.
However, the two will get their chance against a field of ATP-ranked professional players when they compete in the main draw of the doubles competition of this $15,000 ITF World Tennis Tour event that is part of the U.S. Tennis Association Pro Circuit. Perez-Blanco, a teaching pro at Vero Beach’s Quail Valley Club, and Hamza, who works at The Moorings Club, will play their first-round match in the featured evening match on Tuesday not before 6 pm. The two earned their position in the doubles tournament by finishing first and second, respectively, via Vero Beach’s annual “King of the Hill” competition, featuring local tennis talent.
“We’re obviously excited to play,’’ said the 26-year-old Perez-Blanco. “There’s not a lot of pressure on us to win the tournament or the match. We’re just excited to go out and play competitive tennis, which we don’t do very often anymore. It’ll be fun for the tennis community of Vero Beach. That’s why we love to do it, to see everyone out there cheering. It brings two different clubs together, The Moorings and Quail, all rooting for one team. We just hope we put on a good show.”
Perez-Blanco, a Miami native who had an outstanding high school and college career, with his highlight in Gainesville being part of the 2016 SEC championship Gators squad. He’s ranked sixth all-time in Gators history for most combined singles and doubles victories.
Perez-Blanco, who’s just 5-8 but has a, “scary forehand,’’ according to Hamza, has won the “King of the Hill” tournament the last three years it was held. He only played the Fish event in 2019 when he and his brother-in-law Andrew Butz lost a third-set tiebreaker (10-8) to the ATP-ranked doubles team of Andrew Watson and Paul Oosterbaan. Perez-Blanco skipped the 2020 event because he had just got married to Christiana Butz and decided to, “party instead of training.”
“I played some Futures, but I knew once I graduated that would be the end of competitive tennis, and it would be time to move on to start a new chapter,’’ he said.
Hamza, 29, who played Davis Cup for Tunisia, was once ranked as high as No. 69 in the ITF World Junior rankings. However, serious knee and back injuries punctuated an outstanding college career (No. 34th in singles, two-time PAC Player of the Week), and all but dashed his professional aspirations.
“That was the dream, but my body let me down,’’ said the 6-foot Hamza, who earned three ATP singles ranking points after winning three matches in three Futures events in Tunisia in 2010 and ’14. “It was very hard coming from a small country that doesn’t give much financial aid. …I left competition behind and am a tennis pro at The Moorings. My priority on Tuesday is to entertain the people.”
To prove Hamza’s point, the highest-ranked Tunisian in men’s tennis is Aziz Dougas at No. 418. However, Ons Jabeur is ranked 10th in the WTA and is the first Arab to win a title (the pre-Wimbledon event in Birmingham, England last year) and first to reach the quarterfinals of any Grand Slam tournament. Also, in the pre-Open Era, Hall of Famer Nicola Pietrangeli, who played for Italy but was born in Tunisia, won 44 titles, including two French Opens (1959 and ’60).
“We have nothing to lose, just go out there, swing freely and if it goes our way we’ll take it,’’ Hamza smiled. “Then Roland Garros. Don’t get me dreaming!”
Segura Stars In Qualifying Win, Mendoza In Qualifying Loss
Many of the first round qualifying matches in singles Monday were one-sided, but one of the more exciting matches featured Vero Beach’s Sebastian Mendoza, who briefly threatened to pull off a major upset. Playing in his first ever match on the professional ITF World Tennis Tour, Mendoza, who was the No. 1 player on Vero Beach High School’s team in 2021, lost 6-1, 7-5 to No. 1214-ranked Joao Loureiro of Brazil, nearly extending the match to a match-deciding 10-point match tiebreaker, which is the format for qualifying round matches at this level of professional tennis. Mendoza, who is taking a year off before deciding on where to play college tennis, actually served for the second set at 5-4 against his much more accomplished opponent, before losing. However, the loss proved a valuable experience for Mendoza and his confidence, proving that he can compete against professional competition as he explained in this post-match video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HeP9a-A9W_E
James Van Deinse, the co-owner of the Vero Beach Tennis Club and the boys’ coach at Vero Beach High School, was defeated by Hernando Escurra, a member of Paraguay’s Davis Cup team, 6-1, 6-1.
Matthew Segura, the three-time champion of the Mardy Fish “Wild Card” event at Sea Oaks, successfully won his first round qualifying match beating 15-year-old Meecah Bigun 6-3, 6-4
Blaise Bicknell, a member of Jamaica’s Davis Cup team, capped his 6-0, 6-0 win over Michael Defelice with an under-hand ace.
The match schedule for Tuesday can be found here: https://www.usta.com/content/dam/usta/2022-pro-circuit/20220425_vero_beach_m15/OP.pdf
The updated qualifying draw can be found here:
The main draw for doubles can be found here: https://www.usta.com/content/dam/usta/2022-pro-circuit/20220425_vero_beach_m15/MDD.pdf
The main draw for singles can be found here: https://www.usta.com/content/dam/usta/2022-pro-circuit/20220425_vero_beach_m15/MDS.pdf
The DRAW CEREMONY for singles can be found here: https://youtu.be/23Yrp9bOxpc
MONDAY AGATE SCORES – FIRST ROUND QUALIFYING
Blaise BICKNELL (JAM)  def. Michael DEFELICE (USA) 6-0 6-0
Alvaro GUILLENMEZA (ECU)  def. Jakub OSTAJEWSKI (USA) 6-1 6-2
Jakub WOJCIK (USA)  def. Tom DYNKA (CAN) 3-6 6-1 [10-4]
Drew VAN ORDERLAIN(USA)  def. Andy ZHU (CAN) 6-1 6-4
Noah SCHACHTER (USA)  def. Caleb STROTHER (USA) 6-1 6-0
Kaylan BIGUN(USA) def. Fabian HANSCH MAURITZSON (SWE)  6-1 6-1
Stefan SIMEUNOVIC (CAN)  def. Rodrigo RAMOS CODES (ESP) 6-1 6-0
Hernando Jose ESCURRA ISNARDI (PAR)  def. James VAN DEINSE (USA) 6-1 6-1
Joao Victor Couto LOUREIRO (BRA)  def. Sebastian Mendoza (USA) 6-2 7-5
Joshua SHEEHY (USA)  def. Codrin MILLER (USA) 6-3 6-2
Jesse FLORES (CRC)  def. Rihirt SAUNDANKAR (USA) 6-0 6-0
Abraham ASABA (GHA)  def. Yuki IKEDA (JPN) 6-4 6-1
Kevin MAJOR (BAH)  def. Jake KRUG (USA) 6-3 6-3
Hillel ROUSSEAU (HAI)  def. Varun JAYARAM (USA) 6-3 6-1
MatthewSEGURA (USA)  def. Meecah BIGUN (USA) 6-3 6-4
Nikolay SYSOEV (RUS)  def. Luca- Julian HOTZE (USA) 7-6(6) 7-6(2)
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