19 Feb NISHIOKA AND YOUNG TRAVEL DIFFERENT PATHS TO QUARTERFINALS
NISHIOKA AND YOUNG TRAVEL DIFFERENT PATHS TO QUARTERFINALS
Tomic & Dolgopolov Join Thursday’s Winners
BY STEVE DORSEY
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DELRAY BEACH, FL. – Japanese teenager Yoshihito Nishioka and American Donald Young produced compelling feel-good storylines Thursday at the ATP World Tour Delray Beach Open.
Nishioka became the ninth teen to reach the Delray Beach quarterfinals when he defeated Aussie Marinko Matosevic 6-1, 6-3 Thursday night. A few hours earlier, the 25-year-old Young showed that he finally might be on his way to living up to the lofty expectations put on him as a teenager when he ousted Colombian Alejandro Gonzalez 6-3, 6-2 to also earn a spot in Friday’s quarterfinals.
Also notching berths in the quarterfinals were No. 3 seed Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine, a straight-sets winner over American Tim Smyczek, and Bernard Tomic, who needed three sets to oust his doubles partner, No. 8 seed Serbian Viktor, in the nightcap that was played in temperatures in the upper 40s.
Nishioka needed to win three qualifying matches, including two that went three sets, to earn a spot in the singles main draw here. The 19-year-old left-hander won his first ATP World Tour match on Tuesday with a 7-5, 6-1 win against Igor Sijsling and became only the third teen qualifier to reach the Delray Beach quarterfinals with his victory Thursday. It’s the fifth consecutive year that a qualifier has reached the quarterfinals here.
“I’m so happy, so happy,” said Nishioka, who arrived here with a No. 154 ATP World Tour ranking. “This is the biggest (win) for me.”
The last teen qualifier to reach the Delray Beach quarterfinals was fellow Japanese compatriot Kei Nishikori, who went on to win the title here in 2008 when he was 18.
“I knew that,” said a smiling Nishioka when given that information by reporters.
Nishioka also knows that Nishikori won the title at Memphis last week, and again smiled when the possibility of back-to-back winners from Japan was brought to his attention.
“I’d like to do that,” he said.
The 5-foot-7, 138-pound Nishioka doesn’t rely on a powerful serve like the bigger players do and had no aces – nor double faults – against Matosevic, who ousted No. 2 seed John Isner in the first round Tuesday night. Instead, Nishioka said he focused on not making any unforced errors.
“At the beginning, I was so nervous, but I think he was nervous, too,” said Nishioka, who has been training at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., for the past four-plus years. “I just tried to focus on every ball, every shot. I’m small, so I can’t hit service winners.”
While Nishioka is only beginning his journey on the ATP World Tour, Young knows first-hand how easy it can be to fall off the mountain top of tennis, but the 25-year-old American and former teenage prodigy is trying to work his way there again.
Young continued that ascent Thursday on a sun-splashed but chilly and windy afternoon at the Delray Beach Stadium and Tennis Center. Young’s victory over Gonzalez earned him a spot in Friday’s quarterfinals for the first time here after reaching his fourth career ATP World Tour semifinal last week at Memphis.
Young’s quarterfinal opponent will be Dolgopolov, who ousted Smyczek 6-2, 6-4 in Thursday’s other afternoon match.
Young was the No. 1-ranked junior in the world 10 years ago when he was only 15, and was widely viewed as being on a fast track to becoming the top-ranked American and a potential World top 20 player. But he has yet to reach that pinnacle. His highest ATP ranking was three years ago when he rose to No. 38. He arrived at Delray Beach ranked No. 56 in the world following his showing last week at Memphis after opening the season by reaching the quarterfinals at Auckland.
Young had lost in the first round three times at Delray Beach but knocked that monkey off his back when he defeated Ivan Dodig 7-5, 7-5 Tuesday. He dealt admirably with less than ideal conditions Thursday in dispatching Gonzalez.
“I beat some quality players (at Memphis) and won three in a row there, which is something I haven’t done often in my career, so I got a lot accomplished there,” Young said. “I’m happy to be playing well now.”
Young hired a sports psychologist a couple of years ago to help with the mental approach to his game, and he said he believes it has helped him become more patient and calmer on the court, something he has struggled with during his career.
“I had been doing a lot of losing, so I decided to try something different,” Young said. “The mental aspect of my game I’ve been working on quite hard. I still haven’t gotten all the way, but it’s definitely an improvement, and my mom calms me down quite a bit. Being resilient as well. It’s working so far. It’s a work in progress.”
Dolgopolov said that perhaps too much was expected of Young at too early of an age in his career, but has noticed Young’s improved play lately.
“He’s always been a talented player,” Dolgopolov said of Young. “Maybe they gave him too much credit in the early years (and) that’s why he didn’t succeed really early. He just needed to stay concentrated and work. That happens to a lot of juniors. It’s not the end of the world. He’s playing good now and he’s succeeded.”
Dolgopolov, who is ranked No. 24 in the world, broke serve three times in each set of his win against Smyczek.
“I think I started out really well. I don’t think he played really well the first set so that gave me a little free space to make some errors. The second set he played much better,” Dolgopolov said. “I think he was playing a bit more defensive than he usually plays. I know he likes to come in, but that’s the wind problem. He wasn’t confident after the first set to go for his shots and that’s why, I think, he was playing more defensively.”
Dolgopolov believes he knows what he must do to stop Young’s run here.
“He’s a lefty, that’s obviously not going to be a comfortable side,” Dolgopolov said of his likely strategy against Young on Friday. “He’s been playing quite solid the last few weeks that I saw. I’m just going to need to play my game, make him defend like I did today. If I let him use that forehand a lot, then I’m going to be in trouble.”
Tomic, ranked No. 46 in the world, reached his fourth quarterfinal of the year – including last week at Memphis – when defeated Troicki 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-4.
“Today was very cold, so it was tough for both of us the first set,” said Tomic, who needed almost two hours to notch the win in the unfavorable weather conditions. “I’m playing very good. This is my fourth quarterfinal this year. I’d like to push one more. Hopefully I recover well tonight.”
Tomic said he will not be taking for granted Nishioka’s youth and inexperience at this level in the quarterfinals.
“He’s playing good, he’s young and this is dangerous,” Tomic said of the matchup Friday afternoon. “Obviously, he played well in the qualifying here and he has five matches. He’s playing relaxed so this is difficult. I have to be ready.”
The other matches contested Thursday were in the doubles draw. The No. 2 seed team of Russian Raven Klaasen and Indian Leander Paes defeated Treat Huey of the Philippines and Scott Lipsky of the USA 6-3, 6-4. Americans Eric Butorac and Rajeev Ram knocked off No. 3 seed Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Max Mirnyi of Bulgaria in a third-set tiebreaker 6-4, 5-7 (10-4).
The singles quarterfinals will begin at 11 a.m. Friday with the Young-Dolgopolov match. Nishioka and Tomic will close out the afternoon session following the doubles quarterfinal between the No. 1 seed Bryan brothers vs. John-Patrick Smith and Michael Venus. Yen-Hsun Lu and Adrian Mannarino will kick off the evening session at 6 p.m., followed by the nightcap match between No. 4 seed Ivo Karlovic and No. 7 Steve Johnson.
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