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Atlanta's Scoville Jenkins Captures First Pro Singles Title

February 27, 2006 01:29 PM
Widely heralded as one of America’s brightest young tennis talents, 19-year-old Scoville Jenkins, the top seed at Star Island Pro Tennis Classic, lived up to his billing and seeding Sunday, besting No. 2 seed Eric Nunez (USA), 7-6 (2), 6-3, to win the first USTA Futures tournament of his career. The high-quality match lasted 1:47.

The tournament’s seeds held up last week in both men’s draws at the Star Island Pro Tennis Classic. For the first time in the tournament’s four-year history, the top two seeds played each other for the singles and doubles titles before a record crowd.

“I didn’t get broken on serve all day,” said an ecstatic Jenkins. “My serve helped me out a ton today. He was putting a lot of pressure on me, and I think I was returning well.”

Jenkins’ road to the singles final was significantly tougher than his opponent’s. The champion had to survive four tie-break sets during the week and a trio of three-set matches. Nunez’s biggest test came in the quarterfinals, when he was pushed to 7-5 in a two-set win.

Both players were warriors, grinding out long, baseline points. Each possessed laser-like passing shots, so they only occasionally ventured to net to finish off points. Jenkins displayed superior athleticism, but Nunez showed more of a variety of backhand shot-making.

There were no service breaks in the first set, forcing a tie-break. Nunez was broken immediately and dropped the next three points, before salvaging one of his next two serves. But the damage was already done. Nunez saved a set point before Jenkins took the set.

The second set was on serve at 4-3, with Nunez pumping himself up with an occasional “Vamos!” after scorching passing shots. The crowd was behind the underdog, hoping for a third set of the top-notch play.

With the aid of a double fault, Nunez found himself down two break points, serving at 3-4. He lined a laser backhand passing shot to level the game at deuce. Jenkins did the same, to gain the advantage, but Nunez saved the break. Jenkins was relentless, though, rocketing a cross-court passing shot two points later to secure the break and give himself the opportunity to serve out the match.

Nunez, who appeared winded and resigned that this wasn’t going to be his day, put up little resistance in the final game.

Nunez had five double faults and three aces. Jenkins had four aces and three double faults.

“When I was watching him play other opponents, I noticed on his forehand side, when other players would open him up, he wouldn’t move too well that way,” Nunez said. “But I didn’t give myself a chance to start dictating the points. I wasn’t dictating play with my serve. I got myself out of all the break points in the first set, but I had a really low percentage of first serves. I was on the defensive throughout the second set because of it.”

But he also credited his opponent.

“He was hitting really well to my backhand. It’s usually better than it was today. It was coming up a little short, and he was attacking me on that side. I didn’t perform as well as I would’ve liked, but it was a good week. It was a good start for the year for me.”

Meanwhile, Americans Alex Kuznetsov/Scott Oudsema, seeded second, needed just 1:10 to eliminate No. 1 seeds Brian Wilson/Jeremy Wurtzman (USA), in the doubles final.

It was Kuznetsov’s second consecutive doubles championship of the year – he also won last week at the Tampa Futures – and his second straight Star Island doubles title. In 2005, he won here with Mihail Zverev (GER). Another rising young American tennis hope, Kuznetsov was also a singles finalist here in 2005 and a semifinalist in 2006.

On a breezy day, all four players missed an inordinate number of volleys and overheads. But the Kuznetsov/Oudsema team played with more energy, using their speed, athleticism, powerful passing shots and attacking style to dominate the match, especially picking it up in the second set. Owning the net, Kuznetsov half-volleyed extremely well; Oudsema’s strong serve was also a lethal weapon. And they played with more confidence.

The match was on serve until the eighth game of the first set, when Kuznetsov/Oudsema got a gift from server Wurtzman, who threw in a double fault on break point. Oudsema routinely served out the set with the aid of an ace.

Wilson/Wurtzman eventually broke Oudsema in the second game of the second set after holding two break points to go up 2-0. But the momentum suddenly shifted when Wurtzman lost four consecutive points on serve after leading 15-love. Kuznetsov won his serve to consolidate the break. In the pivotal game of the set, Wilson was called for two foot-faults in the fifth game and seemed to lose his focus. Down love-40, he and Wurtzman battled back to deuce and saved a fourth break point before surrendering the game.

With Kuznetsov serving for the match at 5-2, Oudsema missed an easy volley, Kuznetsov hit a service winner but then missed straight volleys to go down 15-40. Wilson hit a winner down the middle to save one match game. He then served to stay in the match. Oudsema made three consecutive errors – two at the net – before Kuznetsov made his own net error to tighten the match.

Oudsema, serving at 5-4, served an ace to start the game. Kuznetsov then hit a half-volley winner that sent Wurtzman flat on the court in an attempt to reach it. Kuznetsov next nailed an overhead and Oudsema hit a service winner to end the match.

“We knew what we had to do,” said Oudsema. “We had to take care of our serves and take our chances on Jeremy’s serve. We got our confidence in the second set.”

About the inability to close out the match at 5-2, he said: “I missed a return, and there was a kind of snowball effect. And they played a good game.”

Kuznetsov, playing in this fourth Star Island tournament, credits his partners with his doubles victories here.

“My partners help me a lot. Misha (Zverev) has great volleys, and Scott has an incredible serve. I can return well, so we play well together. When we had break points today, we took advantage of them.”

Said Oudsema: “I like to focus on my serve and take the pressure off returning. Once you start closing on the net, the game gets easier.”

Wilson observed: “They hit a few good returns late that made the difference in the first set. The second set was up and down, but they served better than we did. They played well.”




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