Futures are the lowest pro circuit events where players can earn ATP points. They are not glamorous like the ATP level tournaments and sometimes lack amenities found in challengers (next tier up). But all players start their career there (stepping stone). Most spectators are friends, family, players, and hard core tennis fans. Wouldn't be suprised if I was the only "fan" to show up yesterday.
|Playing Courts (a.k.a the practice courts of ATP Winston Salem Open)|
Unlike the ATP event, there were no proper sitting arrangements at this ITF tourney. Viewers either stood or sat on the grass unless they brought chairs with them like Brian Baker (pictured below).
You may remember Brian, the "comeback kid" known for his world class backhand and sweet dropshots. The former World Junior No.2 had an amazing run in 2012 after coming back from a gazillion surgeries. He made the final of ATP Nice defeating Gael Monfils and Nikolay Davydenko before falling to the defending champ, Nicolas Almagro. Later, reached the second round of Roland Garros and fourth round of Wimbledon (I still remember his epic 5-setter against Frenchman Gilles Simon at RG and have a video of his match with Xavier Malisse on file). Shortly after reaching a career high of ATP 52, Brian injured his knee at the 2013 Australian Open and was forced to retire up a set on fellow American Sam Querrey. He returned later in the summer, but played his last tournament at the US Open before undergoing more surgeries :(.
Baker's Last Match
So what is his status? The 30 year old had another operation on his knee at the end of last year. He hopes to start hitting in six weeks and aims to return next year at the Australian Open. I was super excited when Brian told me the news because he is one of my all time favorite players to watch.
If he hasn't swung a racket yet, why is he here? The Nashville native is coaching good friend, Tennys Sandgren, for the time being. And speaking of Tennys, he won his first round match handily, 6-1 6-4 over Christopher Marquis (IND). The former Tennessee Vol takes on Wake Forest's No.1 player and National ITA Rookie of the Year, Noah Rubin, next. The reigning Junior Wimbledon and Kalamazoo Champion, without a doubt, will have the local crowd support.
|Tennys Sandgren trying to stay hydrated|
The next match I saw, the main reason why I drove 1.5 hours in the rain for, was between Rhyne Williams and 18 year old wildcard Dennis Uspensky. My longtime followers should already know that I'm a hardcore Rhyno fan who likes to tease him quite a bit. It was at this location almost two years ago when I first saw Rhyne live in person against former World No.4, James Blake. Ironically, JB was my favorite player before he retired. And Rhyne was the last player he defeated! So it was easy for me to remember.
Since that meeting, the former Tennessee Vol struggled with shoulder and back injuries as well as with fitness and confidence. His ranking plummeted from a career high of ATP 114 obtained two years ago. The Winston-Salem futures is the 24 year old's fifth tournament back from a second back injury (herniated disk) and he is still trying to regain his form.
Several Wake Forest coaches were taking in this match with interest. Perhaps, the Deacons were trying to recruit young Uspensky. I asked Dennis' coach regarding his status, whether he is turning pro or going to college. He replied that his pupil is still open (undecided), but is leaning towards the school route.
In the match, Rhyne started off slow but came back to win it 4-6 6-2 6-3 with a gorgeous forehand winner on match point. He still stretched his back every now and then; however, his movement was better than a month ago. As for Dennis, he seemed like a solid prospect with a nice one hander. He had too many forehand mishits though. Like most teenagers, the American had difficulty controlling his emotions (has a habit of tossing his racket). He would be a great addition to the Wake Forest team if they can land him. Edit: He signed with Wake Forest today (thanks to @zootennis).
Lastly, I saw the end of the doubles match between Noah Rubin/Jonathan Ho and Ernesto Escobedo/Mico Santiago. The Wake Forest duo were a 6-3 6-3 victors, but all of the players had fun sharing laughter and jokes.
|Jonathan Ho and Noah Rubin|
Unfortunately, I was unable to stay for the Rhyne and Tennys doubles reunion (their first match together in almost a year). To celebrate their first round victory, looking back at a special R & T moment from 2013.
For all the results and updated draws, visit the ITF tournament page.