Paul, Fritz to Play in All-American Boys’ Final

Tommy Paul in action.  Photo Credit: USTA

Tommy Paul in action.  Photo Credit: USTA

By: Steve Pratt

FLUSHING, N.Y. – Two American boys will battle it out for a junior Grand Slam singles title for the second time this year at a major, and once again it’s Taylor Fritz and Tommy Paul left standing.

The pair each won their respective semifinals on Saturday at the U.S. Open Junior Championships and will square off in Sunday’s final for a rematch of the French Open final the Lumberton, N.J., resident Paul won back in June.

Paul, an 18-year-old who is the No. 5 seed, dusted aside Australian qualifier Alex De Minaur with dropping a game, 6-0, 6-0, in his semifinal match played at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center.

“I think with Taylor it’s just about his power; he hits the ball so much harder than most people in the juniors,” said Paul, who was told once of Fritz’s serves was clocked at 138 miles per hour on Saturday. “You just have to be able to absorb that and play my game.”

Paul said he can only remember one other time during his junior career when he won without giving up a game. “It was my first match of 2015 in qualifying for a Futures event,” said Paul, who turned pro after he won the French Open instead of playing collegiately for the University of Georgia. “My coach once bet me I’d never do it because he joked I couldn’t focus long enough to win 6-0 6-0.

“I don’t think it was his best day,” Paul added. “I had an on day and didn’t miss too many balls. I’m not feeling bad for him because I want to win. It’s definitely tough to win 6-0 6-0.”

FRITZ MOVES ON TO FINAL

The top-seeded Fritz beat No. 11-seeded Yunseong Chung of Korea on Saturday in his semifinal match, 6-2, 6-3.

“It’s been a really good year,” said Fritz, who besides the final in Paris also made the semifinals at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals at the Australian Open. “I’d love to get the win. This is a better surface for me than the French Open (hard instead of red clay). Clay is my worst surface.”

Fritz said it is tougher to be the top seed. “There’s a target on your back and they have nothing to lose,” he said of his opponents. “They are going to play their best tennis against you. And you have to be focused and ready for that. They can come out dangerous.”

Fritz said he and Paul spoke before they played. “We both said let’s go out and get it done,” Fritz said. “We both wanted to play each other in the final. Wouldn’t want it any other way than two Americans in the final. We’ve been good friends for a long time.”

Paul has beaten Fritz the past two times they have played, but both on red clay and in three sets. Besides the French Open, Paul downed Fritz at a Futures event in Spain.

Recent U.S. Open champions on the boys’ side include current pros: Richard Gasquet (2002), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (2003), Andy Murray (2004), and Grigor Dimitrov (2008).

The last time two American boys’ played each other in the U.S. Open Junior final was in 2010 when Jack Sock beat Denis Kudla. It also happened in 2000 when Andy Roddick beat Robby Ginepri.

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Brandon Holt and Riley Smith Advance to U.S. Open Junior Doubles Final

Photo Credit: USTA

Photo Credit: USTA

By: Steve Pratt

FLUSHING, N.Y. – Brandon Holt and Riley Smith are making people forget who their tennis noteworthy parents are, and making names for themselves at this year’s U.S. Open.

The Southern California USTA wild-card team won their third straight super-tiebreakeron Friday in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Junior Championships, advancing toSunday’s final where they will face the Canadian team of Felix Auger Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov. They came back to beat the team of South African Lloyd George Harris and Japan’s Yosuke Watanuki in the semifinals, 4-6, 6-4, 10-8, at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center.

Holt is the son of Scott Holt and former world No. 1 Tracy Austin, who actually was on the schedule Friday and played in the women’s legends championship match on the same court as her son immediately following Holt’s match.

“I think she’s really proud,” Holt, 17, said of his mom, who won the U.S. Open in 1979 as a 16-year-old and again in 1981. “She’s really supportive and following our matches when she has more important things to do like warm up for her match; She’s watching us.”

Being back-to-back on an order of play sheet with your mom does not happen very often, especially at a Grand Slam. Perhaps inspired by her son, Austin went out with partner Gigi Fernandez and posted a super tiebreaker win of her own over Martina Navratilova and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario. The two play in the final on Saturdayagainst Lindsay Davenport and Mary Joe Fernandez.

Smith’s father is Peter Smith, the USC men’s coach who has won five NCAA team titles over the past seven years. Unfortunately, he head to return to Los Angeles for a USC team function and missed the match.

“It was strange because on his credential it said coach, and not dad, so that was a little different,” said Smith, who often plays doubles with his father. “He’s always just supporting us and wants us to do well. He’s taught me everything I know.”

Holt said he spent his younger years playing video games and eating candy and drinking Coke in the players’ lounge while at the U.S. Open with his mom, a tennis commentator for many years. “I would just sit in the suites and not really care about watching the tennis. I really like tennis, playing it and not watching it, I guess.”

With one more win at the U.S. Open, Holt will join his mother as a Grand Slam champion. “I thought we had a chance to make the final,” Holt said. “We had a really good Kalamazoo and there are some very good teams that were in that tournament.”

Question and Answer: Mitchell Krueger

Krueger in action at USC.

Krueger in action at USC.

Mitchell Krueger celebrated his 21st birthday back in January, and he did so in style, winning the $15,000 Los Angeles Futures title on the same day he became legally allowed to order an alcoholic drink. Krueger had a successful junior career before turning pro at the age of 18. Now starting his third year on tour, the Dallas-Fort Worth native has reached a career high ranking of 311 in the world, and should move a few spots higher after picking up a win at the Burnie Challenger. The Tennis Nerds spoke with Krueger about his adjustment to life on tour, goals for the future, and much much more.

(Editors note: Make sure you read to the bottom, the quick fire questions at the end are some of the best)

The Tennis Nerds: You’re in Australia AGAIN! You’ve spent quite a bit of time over there the last 12 months. I know you joked it was almost your FIRST home at this point. What goes into your scheduling decisions? Does playing in an English-speaking country make you feel more comfortable? Give the average fan a short breakdown on why you schedule the way you do.

Mitchell Krueger: Yeah I’ve definitely spent a lot of time down in Australia. I honestly think I’ve been there more over the last four months than I have in Florida(laughing).

Well for one, I’m not afraid to travel outside the U.S. and leave my comfort zone a bit. I feel like too many Americans get comfortable just staying within North America and end up limiting themselves. To me, it gets a little tiring playing the same guys each and every tournament. A huge part of being a professional tennis player is enjoying the travel and I think my game benefits from seeing different competition, surfaces, and conditions all the time.

TTN: You started the year with a title at the $15k in LA, beating some strong players in the process. Do you see that result as a springboard for things to come? Does it take some pressure off in the coming weeks knowing you started the year well?

Krueger: That result was definitely huge for my confidence going into the beginning of the year. It’s always a great feeling to win a tournament, and for it to happen so early in the season gives me some added belief that I can really take a big step forward this year. I’m really excited for 2015.

TTN: What was your offseason like this year? Where did you train and what were you focusing on?

Krueger: I actually didn’t have a traditional offseason this year because I ended up playing a tournament in the Dominican Republic right before Christmas. The past two years we’ve always shut it down right around Thanksgiving and had a solid four week training block to get ready for the coming year. But this year I only really had two weeks. I was down in Boca Raton and managed to get some good fitness work in with Pat Etcheberry and court time with my coach Stan Boster. I actually think having such a short offseason helped me continue to play good tennis into the new year because the break between tournaments wasn’t too long.

TTN: Often times when you’re traveling to these tournaments you’ll go with a group of either fellow Americans or other players. Who are your favorite guys to travel with and why? Who provides the most comedic entertainment?

Krueger: I’ve definitely spent the most time traveling with Bjorn(Fratangelo), Brad(Klahn), and Jarmere(Jenkins). We all get along with each other great and know how to push one another to get better. It’s never a dull moment when we’re all together that’s for sure. I mean it’s hard not to give the comedic crown to the guy that has several hundred thousand views on a YouTube video of him face planting on concrete. It made me laugh so hard I started crying the first time I saw it(laughing).

TTN: When I talked to Bjorn(Fratangelo) a couple months ago, he said he had just finished stringing a racket. Do you string any of your own rackets?

Krueger: As much as my mom has begged me to learn, I still don’t know how to string rackets. When I’m training, the absolute last thing I want to do in my free time is string a racket. To me, that extra thirty minutes of sitting on the couch is worth the price of getting it strung by someone else(laughing).

TTN: American men’s tennis has gotten plenty of negative attention in the last few years. Does that motivate you guys? What is your view on the years ahead for American tennis?

Krueger: It’s a huge motivation to me. Very few people that report that kind of stuff actually realize the amount of work and sacrifice that goes into being a world class tennis player. It’s very frustrating when people talk about how Americans just don’t want it bad enough. I think in the next few years these same people will start to eat their words. I’m very optimistic and excited for the future of American men’s tennis. I’ve seen the work that myself and many others have put in, and I know it’s just a matter of time before the rest of the world is able to see it too.

TTN: I know the debate between turning pro or going to college was relevant in your life and it’s been a big talking point lately. Now that you’ve spent a couple years on tour, what are your thoughts looking back on that decision?

Krueger: Obviously being an American, going to college and getting an education is something most kids are taught to strive for from a very young age. I can only speak for myself because everybody’s situation is different. I have absolutely no regrets in my decision to turn pro. The fact that I can wake up every day and devote myself 100% to getting better without any other distractions is amazing. Whenever I’m done playing tennis, I can always go back to school somewhere and get a degree if I want. There’s no age limit. The window for a person to make a living playing tennis is so small when compared to the rest of their life. I’m glad I made the decision to give myself the absolute best chance possible to reach my dreams.

TTN: There was a rather funny twitter exchange where your mental strength was discussed. It’s always seemed like one of the stronger points of your game. Where does that come from? How much did your upbringing and environment influence that?

Krueger: (Laughing) That tweet actually took me a bit by surprise because I seriously consider that one of the strongest aspects of my game. And I take it that Jarmere agrees with me because he actually had my back for once (laughing). I’ve always been insanely competitive in anything I do. I’ve never tanked anything in my entire life. I pride myself on never giving up on anything, whether it’s on court or off. Anyone that knows me can tell you the exact same thing. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I knew I could’ve given a little bit more effort. Win or lose, I can always rest easy knowing I gave it everything I had.

TTN: Which part of your game are you working on most specifically to improve right now?

Krueger: Right now I’m working mostly on really owning all my shots and understanding the ways I can use my game to win points and matches. Over the last couple years I’ve put a ton of time into strengthening both my serve and my forehand, and I think this next piece will really bring my game together. I’m very happy with the progress I’ve made and I’m excited to keep it going through the rest of 2015 and beyond.

TTN: You’re about to hit a career high ranking just a few spots outside the top 300. What are some of your short and long term goals ranking wise?

Krueger: Well my first really short term goal is to break top 300. After that, my goal is to make qualies of the slams this summer. I’m obviously getting close right now but I don’t like to put too much pressure on myself to hit a certain number. I know if I keep putting in the work and giving myself opportunities each week, I’ll keep moving up the rankings.

————————————————————————————————

Quick Fire Q’s

Favorite airline?

Krueger: American Airlines all the way. Hit platinum for the second year in a row.

Go-to drink and/or snack on flights?

Krueger: Either water or sprite. Sometimes Apple juice.

Again, on flights–Music, movie, book, or something else?

Krueger: I usually go all three. Movies if it’s a long flight. Music when I’m trying to sleep. And a book if I run out of good movies to watch.

Favorite challenger you’ve played?

Krueger: Gotta be Challenger of Dallas. Can’t go against my home tournament! Maui is a very close second though.

Favorite futures you’ve played?

Krueger: Probably some of the futures in Italy because of the food. Love the pizza.

Dallas Mavericks or Dallas Cowboys?

Krueger: This is tough. Probably gotta say Cowboys just because it’s easier to follow while I’m traveling because of their shorter season. I’ve been to more Mavs games though.

Tony Romo or Demarco Murray?

Krueger: Tony Romo all the way. Screw all the haters.(laughing)

Better NFL prospect: Stefan Kozlov or Nathan Ponwith?

Krueger: Koz probably won’t like this, but I gotta say that Ponwith’s catch off my perfect pass while being defended was a thing of beauty. At this point though, the Dolphins could definitely use Koz on offense. I really hope he reads this. (laughing)

Eat out or cook?

Krueger: Definitely eat out. As Bjorn can vouch for me, living with an Italian for the last few years has made me not want to embarrass myself in the kitchen.

Federer or Nadal?

Krueger: Federer for sure. He’s a GOAT.

 

A Conversation With Stefan Kozlov

Kozlov and good friend Noah Rubin pose with the American flag after the Wimbledon junior final. (PHOTO CREDIT: Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Kozlov and good friend Noah Rubin pose with the American flag after the Wimbledon junior final. (PHOTO CREDIT: Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

It’s no secret, American tennis(especially on the men’s side) has struggled mightily over the last ten years. So, naturally, everybody is looking for the next big American star. A name that has been talked about heavily is Stefan Kozlov, a 16 year old from Pembroke Pines, Florida. The American lost a tight three setter to big serving Sam Groth 6-3 6-7(5) 4-6 in the first round of qualifying at the Citi Open.

Born in Macedonia, Kozlov lived overseas until the age of one, when his family made the move to the United States. His game is a change of pace for American tennis fans. He doesn’t possess an enormously powerful serve, and although his forehand is a very good shot, but he is very solid in all aspects of the game. His biggest strength may well be his two handed backhand, which he can take very early. Kozlov recently reached the final of the Wimbledon Junior champaionship, losing out to good friend Noah Rubin in three sets. The Tennis Nerds(Joey Hanf) had a chance to sit down and talk with Stefan about a wide range of tennis subjects.

The Tennis Nerds: So you lost a tough three setter to Groth on Saturday, and you also lost a close three setter to Michael Pryzniezny last year in Newport. How much different is the level of play on the ATP tour?

Stefan Kozlov: I think it’s more about maintaining a high level. Whenever I get an opportunity to play in these tournaments my level rises so much. I think that I’m there with these guys to be honest. I should have beat Groth, and I think I maybe even should have qualified. Once you put yourself in that spot, you never know what can happen. My goal is to train hard and put myself in more positions like that

The Tennis Nerds: It seems like you’ve started to get a little more emotional on the court recently. Are you making a conscious effort to fire yourself up?

Kozlov: Recently I’ve been really focused, trying to win more matches. At this Wimbledon I put an emphasis on playing well and going deep in the tournament. I’ve gotta keep moving forward because this is my last year of Junior slams. Every match gets more and more important. I’ve always been emotional, it just depends what match I’m playing. Ever since I was a little kid I’ve been an emotional guy. I feel like especially at tournaments like here it helps me a lot, I can get the crowd involved.

The Tennis Nerds: You, Francis(Tiafoe), and Michael(Mmoh) have been playing together for a very long time now. What’s it like to compete alongside two friends as you try to make your mark on the ATP World Tour? How much do you guys push each other.

Kozlov: I think it’s great that it happened. Every one of us wants to do better than the other. It’s really just a natural habit; we want to do better than each other. It’s been a lot of fun.

The Tennis Nerds: Last year you got the quarters of Wimbledon(Juniors) and this year you reached the final. How much do you like the grass?

Kozlov: I’m really comfortable on grass. I think it’s one of my best surfaces. Actually, I think it is my best surface. I’ve always felt comfortable on it. There’s not too many weeks on grass for me, only two, so hopefully I’ll be able to play more(grass court tournaments).

The Tennis Nerds: You and Jared(Donaldson) recieved at wild card to play doubles in the main draw, and you drew the Bryan Brothers. How excited are you about that?

Kozlov: The first day I found out I was really excited. Now it’s kinda sunk it a little bit, and it’s still pretty surreal. I’m just excited to play. I’m not really happy(about drawing the Bryans) because I know it’s going to be a tough match, but I honestly think we can win. So that’s how confident I am in myself and Jared. If we play well, you knew never know.

The Tennis Nerds: I assume with this being your last in junior slams that you won’t be going to college?

Kozlov: No, I’ve already turned pro.

The Tennis Nerds: With your ranking in the 800’s…..

Kozlov: I haven’t really played too many pro events yet, so I think I’m much higher than my ranking shows.

The Tennis Nerds: Yeah you’re still playing some juniors. What’s your plan for the future, what events are you going to be playing?

Kozlov: I’m going to play the US Open(Juniors), Kalamazoo–hopefully I’ll do well in Kalamazoo so I can get a Wild Card into the Open. But yeah I’m trying to play more ATP events, hopefully get into some qualifying draws, and then some challengers and futures.

The Tennis Nerds: The state of American men’s tennis has been discussed a lot obviously, and everybody wants to know who is next. How much pressure do you feel being perhaps the most talked about name for the future?

Kozlov: I feel zero pressure. We don’t have that many top Americans, but I don’t compare myself to them. I compare myself to the best in the world. I think the fact that we don’t have a top American motivates everyone, but I don’t really feel pressure because of it you know what I mean?

The Tennis Nerds: Yeah I understand what you’re saying.

Kozlov: It’s kinda weird, I just try to focus on what I need to do to become number one in the world. I don’t really look at the top 100 to see how many guys we(United States) have there. I know we’re going to get better and better, and we’ll have more guys there soon.

The Tennis Nerds: What part of your game have you worked on the most over the last six months? It looks like you’re fitness is improving.

Kozlov: Yeah, me and my dad have tried to get after that. Moving forward, tennis is a very physical sport, and with my height and size matches are going to be really physical. So I’ve definitely worked on my fitness, but others things as well.

The Tennis Nerds: About that, it seems like you’ve grown a little bit. How tall are you?

Kozlov: 6 feet

The Tennis Nerds: Are you still growing?

Kozlov: Yeah I think I’m definitely still growing. I’m trying to grow everyday, you know.{laughing}My dad is helping me out, giving me a lot of vitamins, and we’ve been focusing on stretching.

The Tennis Nerds: The typical American game these days usually involves a big serve and a big forehand. You play much more of an all court game. How did that come about?

Kozlov: You’re going to have to ask my dad that{laughing}. I had no control over that to be honest. Whatever my dad taught me, I listened. So yeah, you’ll have to ask him.

The Tennis Nerds: About your dad, I know he coached you for most of your life. How much a balance do you have right now between your dad and the USTA?

Kozlov: I’ve been with Gully(Tom Gullickson–USTA) the last two weeks. My full time coach is Nicolas Todero, but his wife is having a kid so he hasn’t been traveling. I would say it’s a 70/30 ratio. 70 percent with the USTA, and 30 percent with my dad. I think me and my dad have a really good connection, so everything is working well so far.

The Tennis Nerds: Thanks Stefan.

Kozlov: My pleasure.

 

Dudi Sela: Israeli Pride

Sela in Davis Cup (photo credit: Uri Lenz/ FLASH90)

Sela in Davis Cup
(photo credit: Uri Lenz/ FLASH90)

The Israeli-Palestinian crisis has headlined world news for the last three weeks. The ongoing battle reached nineteen days Saturday, with over 1000 civilian casualties already reported.  A 12 hour humanitarian cease-fire was proposed, but was eventually rejected by Hamas friday, who today announced that they have fired five rockets at Israel.

Israeli tennis player Dudi Sela resides in Tel Aviv, where Gaza has launched an aerial onslaught.

“It’s a very tough situation right now in Israel. It’s not easy for me to talk about. When I play I hear people in the crowd saying ‘play for the soldiers’. It’s very emotional. I play 100% just for them,”Sela said.

Saturday in Atlanta he reached the final of the BB&T Open, defeating Benjamin Becker 6-3 3-6 6-3, in the highest quality match of the tournament. Both players were striking the ball with such pace and precision. He’s into his first ATP World Tour final since 2008, where he lost to Andy Roddick in Beijing. He will play John Isner, the big serving American.

Sela’s play this week has drawn the attention of many Atlanta fans, and with each match that goes on, you can tell the Dudi Sela bandwagon has grown. ESPN’s Darren Cahill and Brad Gilbert said they were “jumping on the Dudi Sela train.” After his win over Becker, the Atlanta crowd gave him a standing ovation for his efforts.

Sela recorded his 100th career tour level win friday, and his 101st today. His game is easy on the eyes, and features among the best one-handed backhands in all of tennis. At 5’9″, Sela generates an amazing amount of pace, and can take the ball very early when he wants to. When you’re small, you have to make up for it with great movement, and Dudi certainly does that. In his quarterfinal match against Vasek Pospisil, Sela executed one of the best shots you’ll see all year, an on-the-run  backhand down the line on match point.

Sela is no stranger to being a hero for Israel. His best performances have come in Davis Cup, where tennis players get the chance to represent their country. In all other tournaments throughout the year, players are competing individually. Tennis is the most individual sport in the world. There are no teammates, coaches, or caddies that can help you on the court. You’re all alone.

However, each year Davis Cup allows players to be a part of a team. For many, especially those who aren’t at the very top of the rankings, it is a top priority in their schedule. Israel has never been a tennis powerhouse, and Sela is the only singles player they have ranked inside the top 100.

In 2007, Sela defeated Fernando Gonzalez(who reached the Australian Open final that year) in a marathon five hour, five set match in front of a home crowd. This victory propelled Israel into the World Group for the first time since 1997.

Yaron Talpaz, the former sports director at Sport5 in Israel(equivalent to Ireali ESPN), talked about how the county rallied around Sela, especially during Davis Cup.

“Israel has been better than what the rankings show in team play and I think it’s part of the patriotic feeling the team had, especially in situations like these days(Iraeli-Palestinian conflict). And Dudi was always a big part of that ‘crazy’ good atmosphere,” Talpaz said.

Two years later, once again in the World Group, the Israeli squad made an improbable, drama-filled run. Sela produced a huge upset over Mikhail Youzhny, leading his team to the semfinals. A full story on Sela’s Davis Cup heroics can be found here, and it’s a great read. In that article, it talks about Sela getting stopped in public and praised for his performances.

Fans chanted, “Dudi, King of Israel” when he made a run into the round of 16 at Wimbledon.

There’s a lot of reasons to like Sela. For one, he’s about as honest of a player as you’ll hear from. After his quarterfinal match with Vasek Pospisil, Sela was asked why he took a medical timeout, despite looking fully fit.(Vasek Pospisil took one too, and received treatment twice more)

“(I took it) to do some thinking with myself about what I have to do. To relax,” Sela said.

Most players would have said they needed the MTO for a sore back, or a bum leg. But Sela readily admitted his decision and thought process, and won over many with his comments. After his dominate round of sixteen win over Sam Querrey, Sela talked about the state of his game, and was brutally honest.

“I’m serving terrible,”he said. The next day, after again having a less-than-stellar first serve percentage, Sela added,”Today was worse that terrible.” Saturday he served noticeably better, but was still not exactly thrilled. “Ehh It was okay. The last (point) the (first)serve was 79(mph) and the second serve was 78(mph), so I was not Isner today,” he said laughingly.

The Tennis Nerds spoke with a tournament volunteer, who was impressed with Sela’s level-headed, mild-mannered demeanor.

“Every other player in the draw has complained to some extent in the tournament. Dudi goes out there and doesn’t show any negative energy. He’s such a calm guy,” the volunteer said.

Want more? Sela has a great sense of humor. Last week in Bogota, he lost a close match to his good friend Ivo Karlovic, who towers over him at 6’11”. Instead of walking up to net and shaking Karlovic’s hand, Sela grabbed a chair from the court, stood on it, and gave Ivo a hug. It was an incredible moment. He hasn’t lost a match since, and appears to be playing some of the best tennis of his life.

With the crisis unfolding in his home country, Sela has given the Israeli people something to be happy about. You could feel how much it meant to him after the match when talking about the conflicts in his country. When all you can think about, hear about, and see is tragedy, people look for something, anything, to find reprieve. Dudi Sela is that reprieve for many in Israel.

Oz Havusha, a huge Sela fan who was born in Israel and now lives stateside, talked about how much Dudi means to his country.

“I am so happy for Dudi, I know how hard he’s worked for this his whole career. His success during this difficult time(for Israeli people) is really something to be excited about,” Havusha said.

Are you on the bandwagon yet? If not, you’re missing out.

Pasha Competes Well, Falls Short in First ATP Main Draw Singles Match

Pasha's serve topped out at 137 MPH

Pasha’s serve topped out at 137 MPH

One week ago, Nathan Pasha, a rising senior at the University of Georgia, was teaching tennis to youngsters at The John Beck Tennis Academy in Bogart, Georgia. He needed to make money to pay bills for his new off-campus house at UGA. However, a few days ago Pasha got a call from Atlanta tournament director Eddie Gonzalez, and he was offered a main draw wild card. Austin Smith was scheduled to get the WC, but he entered a futures event the same week and was forced to withdraw. Pasha couldn’t say no.

“I found out four days ago. I had been teaching for about two and half weeks, and that’s all I had been doing. So when I found out I tried to get back in shape, find some timing, and get ready as best I could in about three days,” Pasha said.

He had played a couple of futures events in June, including a run to the semifinals in Buffalo. But that combined with a long college tennis season had Pasha burnt out. He needed a break from tennis. Obviously playing an ATP event was good enough reason to interrupt that break.

Pasha played Slovakian Lukas Lacko tuesday, his first ever match against a top 100 player. Pasha has a similar build to frenchman Gael Monfils. He stands at 6’3, is lanky but strong, and his athleticism is incredible. His explosive movement is a sight for suffering American tennis fans’ eyes. In the first game of the match, Pasha hit the hardest serve of the tournament at that point. He blasted one down “T” at 136 M.P.H., and was averaging about 128 throughout the match.

Having only three days to prepare, it was clear that Pasha was a little off timing-wise, especially on the forehand side, where he has a very slight hitch in his backswing. He made quite a few errors off that side in the first set, as Lacko simply outclassed him from the baseline. The first set was over in 27 minutes, with Lacko taking it 6-2.

The second set started in similar fashion, with Lacko, who is a very pure ball striker, dominating nearly every exchange. But slowly Pasha started getting his foot into the match, extending rallies and mixing in the slice. His forehand is a plus shot when he gets it right, and at 4-3 in the second set, it started to click. He hit two inside-in winners to break Lacko, giving him a 5-3 lead, and let out a big yell of emotion. With the crowd behind him, he had a chance to serve out the set.

From there, things went downhill fast. He double-faulted four times to get broken straight back, and only won 2 of the final 18 points in the match, losing the second set 5-7. He admitted afterwards that nerves got the best of him.

“I’ve been playing tennis for 15 years. I have to make serves in that situation. It was all mental,” Pasha said. “I saw the finish line and I freaked out.”

Regardless, there is a lot of upside for Pasha, and he knows that a match like this can give him valuable experience for the future.

“I think in those situations I just need to slow down, take my time,” Pasha said. I’m sure Manny (Diaz) will talk to me about it and how I can learn from it.”

To play in your premier ATP World Tour singles match on only three days of preparation is extremely difficult, and a 6-2 7-5 scoreline is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. Pasha has one year left at Georgia, where he’ll look to lead a stacked Bulldogs lineup to their first national championship  since a John Isner lead squad in 2007.

He said that he’s going to keep teaching tennis for the rest of the summer, make as much money as he can, and then prepare for his senior season. His life is vastly different than everybody else in the main draw of Atlanta.

When asked what he would take away form the match, Pasha was candid.

“I’m not gonna freak out.”

The Tennis Nerds as Credentialed Media–Heading East for US Open Series

This is something I’ve been waiting to share for months now. I wasn’t able to make it official because so many things had to happen in order to have this opportunity. But the wait is no longer, and I, Joey Hanf, managing editor and founder of tennisnerds.com, am extremely excited to announce that The Tennis Nerds has been approved to cover the BB&T Atlanta Open as credentialed media.

The opening tournament for the US Open Series, Atlanta is held from July 19-27th, and the 2014 field is the strongest it has had in years. Top Americans John Isner, Sam Querrey and company are joined by high flying Frenchman Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet. Other notable players include Lleyton Hewitt, Kevin Anderson, and Radek Stepanek. Full player list here.

I have the great opportunity to cover the tournament for 5 days, from the 21-25th. I’ve been to professional tournaments before, but never as credentialed media. This allows me access into press conferences and the media room, which will be of great help in my quest to create the most interesting and compelling content for you, the reader. I’ll do my best to secure as many interviews as I can, and hopefully I’ll get the chance to talk to many young Americans.

Also, although I cannot 100% guarantee it, I am also planning on covering the Citi Open in Washington DC, a 500 event held the following week. A couple things need to be confirmed before I can make that official.

What does this mean? Well, first off, I’ll be updating this site daily, if not multiple times per day. I want to get as much work done as possible while still enjoying the tennis and the city. Second, I’m going to do my best as an amateur photographer to secure a great photo gallery for the site.

A lot of thanks are in order for making this trip happen. First off, Ricky Dimon of The Grandstand has been a huge help in the entire process, and none of this would be possible without him. I will also be writing for The Grandstand during my travels, and I often contribute to the site, so I highly suggest you guys check it out. Next, my parents, who are not only helping me pay for college(entering my junior year), but also supporting me in this trip across the country. I’ll be driving with my dad from California to Atlanta, and then I’ll be on my own up the East Coast before I settle it at my house in Ithaca, New York. I go to Ithaca College, and obvious shout-out is in order for the Bombers, and our amazing journalism program.

Finally, I owe most of this to all of you who read and comment on my articles, and interact with me on twitter.(If you don’t follow me yet, you should) Without the awesome support from my readers none of this would be possible. It’s always been a goal of mine to cover a tournament as media, but it makes it even more special that I’ll be doing so for my own website.

So, with this exciting news, I pose a challenge for you guys. What are interested in reading? Who do you want to hear from? I will do my best to cover as much as I can, and would love if you guys could comment any suggestions for content.