Thursday, March 25, 2010

Learning to Crawl

While some of the more experienced players on tour were learning to swim (with dolphins might I add), other younger less proven commodities were trying to take their first baby steps in Miami yesterday.

There was much talk about the young Bollettieri protege, Filip Krajinovic of Serbia, who at the tender age of 18 pushed veteran James Blake to a third set. I've heard Mr. Bollettieri speak highly of Krajinovic, mentioning him along with Jordan Cox and Ryan Harrison as some of the young guns who could soon become big names on the ATP tour. Blake himself was impressed with the Bradenton resident, who is 13 years younger than him. "From what I saw tonight he's got a lot of talent, moves great, very solid, and a weapon in the backhand," he told the press, post-match.

The twitter wires were also jumping with comments about Krajinovic. Bonnie Ford of ESPN tweeted "Blake pushed hard by 18-year-old Serb Filip Krajinovic. Krajinovic, who trains at IMG Academy, has major game."

Mr. Bollettieri himself chimed in, saying "So proud of Filip Krajinovic and his performance at the Sony Ericsson Open. He's without a doubt one of the best up and coming players."

It was a close call yesterday, as Krajinovic had two break opportunities in each of the closely contested 2nd and 3rd sets, but couldn't convert a single one.

Baby steps.

Heather Watson, who is also learning to crawl at IMG, also got a taste of the brand of tennis that is played on the senior circuit. Watson, last years U.S. Open Junior champion, and only 17 years of age, was dispatched by the Bulgarian No. 1 Tsvetana Pironkova, in straight sets. It was Watson's first career match at this level, and regardless of the outcome the Guernsey, England (actually Guernsey is an island that is closer to France than it is to England) native, can at least depart with the knowledge of what it feels like to compete in a prestigious event such as the Sony Ericsson Open. Maybe she'll even be spitting mad about how short her stay was and come back next year with a vengeance (best case scenario but entirely possible).

Ryan Harrison, another baby stepper who has been cutting his teeth on the ATP tour this year after playing like a madman on the challenger circuit last summer, was also ousted yesterday. Harrison, still only 17 like Watson and fresh off his first ATP win of the season against Taylor Dent last week at Indian Wells, couldn't muster another surprise effort here in Key Biscane. He was handled routinely by a far more experienced player, the crafty Michael Llodra of France, who won 25 of 28 first service points en route to a 6-2, 6-2 educational (hopefully) thrashing.

Regardless of the outcome of their first round matches, Krajinovic, Watson, and Harrison, are all great young talents with oodles of upside. They're all gunning for glory, and getting a lot of help in the forms of coaching expertise and sponsorships along the way. Hopefully, there will come a day when we read about these three not because they showed up or almost won, but because they're reaching magnificent heights.

As good as their careers have been up until now, each would be smart to take their first round loss as a warning - if they don't remain hell bent on improving their games the media, their fans, and even their coaches will find that "almost" no longer cuts the mustard. I hate to be a realist here, but we are talking about serious dog-eat-doggishness that exists on the WTA and ATP tours - you either find a way to win some matches or you contemplate the next phase of your life.

Hopefully, if they can maintain their sense of purpose and lust for the sport amidst all the media hype and fan adulation, Krajinovic, Harrison, and Watson will each find a way to gain some traction on the tour.

Yesterday in Key Biscane might have been another small step for each in what may someday be a larger more definitive body of work.


  1. I love that you cover it all! Thanks and keep up the stellar work.

  2. Just started reading your blog. Thanks for the updates on these players. I had heard about Ryan's earlier win but don't know much about Watson. Good for Krajinovic in taking it to Blake. It is interesting to watch the drama of these players' careers unfold and in what direction they will go.

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  4. Sunny: thx for reading and commenting. Watson is ranked around 400 - but she did beat Nicole Vaidisova in a challenger this year...she's not really getting past the quarters of challengers yet, but people are excited about her potential so who knows what she'll become.


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