By Harvey Fialkov
VERO BEACH – An afternoon downpour on Tuesday turned the Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships into an indoor game fest as the players battled it out indoors on the chess board and poker table.
The rain held off long enough for Chilean Miguel Angel Cabrera, who possesses the exact moniker as the legendary Detroit Tigers superstar, to eke out a three-hour 5-7, 6-4, (10-7) victory over Timothy Phung of Bradenton, Fla., at the Vero Beach Tennis & Fitness Club at Timber Ridge to earn a berth into the 32-player main draw of the ITF/USTA $15,000 Pro Circuit Futures event.
“Every time I say my name people get confused and say, ‘Oh, the baseball player,’ ‘’ smiled Cabrera, a 22-year-old who played four years at The University of Texas at Arlington before turning pro last year. Even my second name is the same as his.”
Unfortunately, Cabrera doesn’t receive the cherubic superstar’s mail or paychecks, but he hopes to add to his one ATP ranking point earned after a first-round win in a Dominican Republic $15,000 Futures tournament last November.
Cabrera was down 5-6 in the 10-point decisive Super Tiebreaker when an argument ensued over a ball struck by Phung. Cabrera was sure the ball was out, but the on-site umpire didn’t agree on the mark. Cabrera debated the call for so long that USTA tournament supervisor David Littlefield was called to the court to assist. Eventually, the call went Phung’s way, and he led 7-5 in the breaker.
However, a fired-up Cabrera won the next four points to set up match point. A 30-stroke rally ensued as a torrential downpour fell. Somehow, Cabrera returned Phung’s rain-soaked drop shot with one of his own to end the marathon.
“Maybe the long discussion changed the rhythm of the match, but I didn’t intend to do it,’’ said Cabrera, who lives in Miami where he trains with Juan Carlos Saez, once ranked No. 230 on the ATP Tour. “But if I won that point it would’ve been 6-all. I’ve been playing very good in the Super Tiebreakers over the last couple of weeks, so I came with more intensity. You’re playing to get into the main draw, so the pressure is great.”
Cabrera, who grew up cheering for Chilean countryman Fernando Gonzalez, once ranked No. 5, hopes to break through in Vero Beach.
“My big dream to get better results, especially I feel better on the clay, and get to the Top 100 and make a living playing tennis,’’ he said.
If he does make it, perhaps he can call his namesake for financial advice. After all, the future Hall of Fame Venezuelan has made more than $400 million over his sterling 21-year career.
Before rain delayed the afternoon matches for more than two hours, local Vero Beach teaching pro Ching Wang continued his unlikely journey into possibly the main draw of the singles and doubles events.
Wang, 25, who spends most days feeding balls to members of the Sea Oaks Beach & Tennis Club, entered the respective singles and doubles wild card events on a lark.
But after outlasting Matthew Vos, 7-5 in a one-hour, 39-minute first set, the former Division II Lees-McRae College (NC) standout wore out the Texas native 6-0 in the second, his final-round qualifying match against Benedikt Henning of Germany was rained out, to resume Wednesday morning at 9 am. Wang was also scheduled to play his doubles match Tuesday evening with 53-year-old Vero Beach resident James Bragg, after the unlikely duo won last week’s doubles wild-card event at Timber Ridge where they received a bye and a walkover into the finals. However, all first-round doubles matches were cancelled as another rainstorm hit at 3:25 p.m.
Wang entered the week as the second alternate for a qualifying round wild card after he reached the semifinals of the Mardy Fish Wild Card event at his club Sea Oaks in February. The winner of that tournament was Matthew Segura of Apopka, Fla., who has won it four times, but he ended up not needing the wild card for entry due to his improved ATP ranking. When Azariah Rusher of Delray Beach, first alternate from the event for a qualifying wild card, pulled out, the spot opened up for Wang.
“The wild cards, you just never know, you just have to be there,’’ Wang, a China native, said of his good fortune. “After long hours of coaching you don’t feel two hours out there are too much. I want to thank the Sea Oaks members for their support and pushing me to keep fighting.
“After trailing 1-4, I was able to grind out the first set and I felt like he didn’t have the stamina in the second set, so I kept adding pressure and was able to get the win in this beautiful tournament.”
In a second-round qualifying match, teenager Stiles Brockett of College Park, Md., fell to Alexander del Corral of Doral, 7-6 (4), 0-6 (10-4). Also joining Cabrera and del Corral into the main draw is Peruvian Jorge Cavero.
The all-teenage doubles match featuring Nico Godsick and Aidan Kim, heading to Stanford and Florida respectively, against 16-year-olds Americans Kaylan Bigun and Roy Horovitz, was rained out. However, Godsick, with mother/coach Mary Joe Fernandez, former No. 4 in the world and renowned ESPN tennis analyst, close by, was the big winner in Texas Hold ‘em.