Saturday, February 12, 2011

Palm Coast Futures 2011

I was fortunate to be asked to provide stringing services at the Palm Coast Futures men's professional tournament from Jan. 28-Feb. 6, 2011. Following are some of my observations from this event.
Jan. 27: I arrived about 3pm, and quickly became engulfed in frames form the qualifying participants. Upopn leaving the park at 9pm, I still had 10 frames sitting in my pile; a tough Friday awaits!
Most players were using full poly setups, with Luxilon ALU Power being the most popular. Since this was a clay-court event, tensions were, for the most part, low, with the majority of the guys using 50-58#, and the most popular frmaes were in the 95-100 sq. in. range (Pure Drives, Aero Pro Drives, Head Prestige Mid, and Wilson BLK sixone 95). There was one notable
qualifier: Wayne Odesnik.
After being suspended from the tour for 14 months, Odesnik is starting all over again: no points, no ranking, no nothing. What an insult it must be for him to do this, but he has no choice, as the rules are the same for everyone. He got through his first match easily, and looks to be the choice to win, as far as I can see. The #1 seed is only ranked #309 (Greg Oulette), and I don't see him stopping Wayne.
Jan. 28: I arrived at the park about 7am, and started to work. The pile never seemed to get any smaller, and that was mostly thanks to the Koreans.
There's a team of Korean players, about 8 or 10, I think, on this tour, and do they ever string some racquets! I never could tell who was who, and that's not an ethnic slur: one guy would drop off racquets for about half the team each day, and another one would pick them up and pay (they always seemed to pay with $100 bills, as well). They mostly used Babolat Aero Storm frames with a hybrid of VS gut mains and RPM Blast crosses. They always practiced and played doubles together, so they seemed to need all their racquets done at the same time. They were the last frames promised in the afternoon (3:00).
I stayed behind the machine from 7am-3pm, not even taking a bathroom break (Robin sent along a "Care package" for me, consisting of Extend Bars, Oreos and Alleve; it got me through many a tough patch!). However, by 3pm, I'd finished all the frames on time. Feeling proud, exhausted, and with supremely sore fingers, I took a lunch break and continued stringing until about 9pm, doing about 2 dozen frames for the day. I don't know how I'm going to survive right now.
Jan. 30: The qualifying is going full blast now, and main draw players are starting to filter in, making my day quite tough: I have to get everyone set up, but match players first, something not everyone understands. However, after some good-natured lecturing on my part, I get some common ground and start to work.
Odesnik is cruising, and there's another new threat: Razvan Sabau, former top-100 player from Romania, is in the field, and is also coaching 2 Italian players, Nicola Gehdin and Marco Speronello, both of whom make it into the main draw with him.
I go through another 20 or so frames today, and my hands are starting to feel better (or numb; I'm not so sure which right now).
Jan. 31: The last day of qualifying, and a scare for Odesnik. Denes Lukacs takes the second set, but Wayne bulldozes him in the third. He's still my favorite to win.
One player, whose name I will not reveal, comes to me at 9:49am, asking for a racquet to be done for a 10:00 match. I looked at him, then at my pile of frames, then back at him, all the while being completely silent.
"Well, as soon as you can in, in your order," he finally says. I pushed him as far up in the line as I could, getting his racquet to him by 11am. Hope he learned a lesson. Another 2 dozen frames today, and done at 9:30pm.
Feb. 1: Main draw going today in singles and doubles, but I'm in a groove by now. The staff at the Palm Coast Tennis Center are all great, and we've gotten a good system worked out. Players are able to put their frames in and get them on time, as long as we get their money before they leave. Solves lots of problems with tracking losing players down to get paid, I'll tell you!
20 or so more today, and left at 9pm.
Feb. 2: Odesnik is cruising, and plays Oulette tomorrow. Sabau also looks good, but may be on a collision course with his pupil Gehdin in the semis. Rising young American Jack Sock beat Speronello quite easily, showing a great serve and huge forehand. His backhand, however, looks suspect to me, especially if someone can get the ball up on him.
About 20 or so today, but got to leave by 8. Exhausted, I got Publix fried chicken with mac and cheese and chowed down.
Feb. 3: I spent my birthday knee-deep in racquets, and Odesnik made me look quite smart, destroying Oulette, 6-3, 6-0. It wasn't even that close, I was told. Tough draw for Greg, who's a local kid.
Some of the players are complaining a little about the unfairness of having to play someone of Wayne's caliber, but them's the breaks. He probably won't be playing Futures for very long, if that's any solice.
Half the field is gone now, so down to about 18 frames, and out by 8 again.
Feb. 4: Odesnik cruises again, and is into the semis without incident. His opponent, Australian Matt Reid, isn't as fortunate, winning a 3-hour plus slugfest against Sock, 7-6 in the third. Sock then goes on to play a 2-hour plus doubles match, which he wins. Even young legs must be feeling this day. Gehdin and Sabau make it through on the other side: teacher vs student tomorrow. Another dozen, but out by 5. Yippee!
Feb 5: Reid does his best, but is no match for Odesnik. The other match is what piqued my interest, though.
Neither Sabau nor Gehdin sent any racquets to be strung, which is the first day they haven't. This had me curious, to say the least. I got to watch a little of the match, which was all I needed.
Sabau double-faulted at least 9 times in the short spell I saw, and never got any depth on his shots, allowing Gehdin to totally dictate play. It was over pretty quickly, 1 and 4, and no one I spoke to thought Sabau gave his best effort. I hope they're wrong.
Only about 6 racquets today, and got a good night's sleep.
Feb 6: Finals day is the least busy, as I only did 3 frames: one for Odesnik, one for Gehdin (now he does one!) and one for doubles finalist Blake Strode (he and Oulette lost to Sock and Dimitar Kutovsky, 10-8 in a match tie-break)I got to watch some tennis today, and it was like a man playing a boy.
Gehdin is a strong, thickly-muscled kid, but he really works hard for his points. Odesnik, on the other hand, plays a much more relaxed style, really releasing the racquet head. After being broken in the first game, he asserted his dominance, working Gehdin mercilessly around the court, taking his best shots and sending them back with interest, and never allowing Nicola to get any traction.
Odesnik's immaculate footwork kept him in control, as he won in straight sets, 2 and 1. His $1,300 check is probalby meaningless to him (I assume he lost money for the 10 days), but the path this week puts him on is double important. I don't expect him to be playing Futures after spring, Satellites after summer, and to be in Challengers and main tour events by the end of the year, barring injury. His game is big-time good, and he looks to be focused and in great shape. The clay-cout season should be a god one for him; be looking for him if he comes to a town near you. He seems to be a good guy, as well, and I hope the problems of the past are behind him.
Final tally was about 150 frames strung between players and the staff and members of the club, and I hope I get asked back next year. Ken Obermeier and Alena Dvornikova have put together a great staff, and the public is staunchly behind the event. The crowds were large and enthusiastic, sponsor support was excellent, and the players seemed happy with their opportunities. If you're near Palm Coast, FL, next year, try to make it to this tournament.

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