Thursday, August 27, 2009
The Argentines have always seemed to dominate their continent in tennis. With a few exceptions, most notably a few Chileans and the occasional Ecuadorian or Peruvian, South America is soccerland. Tell that to the Argentines. They already have 7 spots secured in this year’s US Open main draw, including last year’s quarterfinalist Juan Martin Del Potro who is one of the hardest hitters on the tour and without a doubt a favorite to make it back to the quarters and avenge his heartbreaking loss to last year’s finalist, the number 2 ranked player in the world, Andy Murray.
Del Potro will have to face Juan Monaco, a countryman, in his first round match. For the second year in a row, their names will be next to each other in the draw, but last year Del Potro faced another Argentine, Guillermo Canas. When you have so many co-patriots in the same event this likelihood inevitably increases. Last year they had 10 players in the main draw, but Argentina is still looking to fill open spots. They have 2 more players still alive in the qualifying.
As for the other South American countries Brazil has 2 players Thiago Alves and Marcos Daniel returning from '08 and Ecuador is looking to add its favorite son’s brother. Yes, Giovanni Lapentti may be joining brother Nicholas in the Open this year. And as dumb luck would have it, the 2 Chileans Fernando Gonzalez and Nicholas Massu will battle it out in the first matchup.
Today I had the good fortune of watching a rising star from Columbia, Santiago Giraldo, who was actually the number 11 seeded qualifier. Being a seeded qualifier is a dubious honor. It means you’re good enough to be recognized as somebody who should make it into the main draw where all the top-ranked players are vying for one million dollars and a golden cup, but you still need to win 3 straight matches to get there.
The 21-year-old Giraldo had to face an Argentine by the name of Juan Pablo Brzezicki. It was a heated contest and the fans really got into it chanting “Vamos Colombia” and “Vamos Argentina" as though it were a World Cup Soccer match. Had it been a soccer match there definitely would’ve been a brouhaha. In fact, a Columbian woman almost got ejected for harassing the Argentine. The chair umpire, who spoke Spanish, had to admonish some muchachos seated behind her because they kept insulting Giraldo. It was a tense match to say the least. But both players kept their heads on the match and let the fans engage in the verbal slugfest. So far, out of all the qualies I’ve seen, these two guys held the longest rallies, a few of which lasted thirty or thirty-five strokes. Nowadays, that’s a rarity unless the match is played on red clay.
Giraldo had excellent preparation from both sides, perfect balance, and, in my humble opinion, prettier strokes. His elbow stayed tight to his hip through the hitting zone, a textbook swing. The grace of the game is only one small factor. Anybody who has roughed it out through the Futures and Challenger Circuit can attest to that. Brzezicki had the mental edge even as he was being lambasted by errant courtside comments. His deep drives pinned Giraldo way into the backcourt and when the opportunity presented itself he carved out sharp angles; he kept Giraldo on a string and pulled him farther and farther off the court.
Brzezicki won in straight sets and will next square off against Michael Lammer from Switzerland. Carlos Salamanca, another Columbian, already lost his second match. The last hope for Columbia rides on the 24-year-old Alejandro Falla’s shoulders. He beat Jesse Witten pretty handily 6-1, 6-4 at Legg Mason before falling to Fernando Gonzalez in a tight 7-5, 7-5 loss. Last week he made it to the second round of the Rogers Cup in Canada pushing Gilles Simon to a third set. Falla has now advanced to the 3rd round of qualifying. His final challenge is against the number 8 seeded Croatian Roko Karanusic.
In addition to Brzezicki, the Argentines have Horacio Zeballos, the number 2 seeded qualifier. I think both of these guys can make it into the Open and then Argentina will have a total of nine players in the mix. Quite impressive except for the fact that Spain has 14 top-notch racquet-swinging matadors, and oh yes, that guy named Nadal.