VERO BEACH, April 29, 2018 (Press Release)
It was a happy 25th birthday for Ricardo Rodriguez on Saturday at the $15,000 Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships U.S. Tennis Association Pro Circuit event as the Venezuelan Davis Cupper advanced into the singles final with a 6-4, 7-5 victory over No. 1 seed Marcelo Tomas Barrios Vera of Chile.
Exactly one year ago in Vero Beach, Rodriguez also played on his birthday but lost in a tight three-setter to eventual champion Calvin Hemery of France. This year, he was able to turn his fortunes into his favor.
“Obviously you try to enter the match knowing that it’s your birthday and no matter what you’re going to try to enjoy it,” Rodriguez said. “Fortunately, I got the win today and that makes me double happy.”
The unseeded Rodriguez will face No. 5 Juan Benitez of Colombia in an All-South American final Sunday at 1 pm at Grand Harbor Golf & Beach Club. Benitez defeated Strong Kirchheimer of Cary, N.C. 6-3, 7-5 in the other semifinals.
Rodriguez, the all-time leading singles player in the history of the Venezuelan Davis Cup team, is back into a final at a Futures-level event for the first time since May of 2015 when he won the title in Antalya, Turkey. Part of the reason that it’s been so long for Rodriguez to play in a final is an ankle injury that he suffered as a freak accident while playing paddle tennis.
“We had like eight days of full rain. We didn’t practice so we said ‘You know what, let’s try to have fun.’ Unfortunately, I injured myself,” Rodriguez said. “I was supposed to be six weeks off, it turned out to be 34.”
That injury played a mental factor late into the match for Rodriguez. He got off to a fast start, breaking Barrios Vera in his first service game and took a 3-0 lead. While serving at 4-2 though, Rodriguez was broken and the No. 1 seed got back on serve. Rodriguez held steady though, eventually breaking Barrios Vera again at 5-4 to take the first set.
In the second set, Rodriguez once again find himself in the lead with a break advantage with a 4-2 lead before extending it to 5-2 with a hold. After Barrios Vera got a hold of his own to make it 5-3, Rodriguez began to feel some pressure as he tried to serve for his spot in the final.
“I think it’s normal,” Rodriguez said. “After my injury, I’ve been through a lot and being so close to play a final after so long, I think you start thinking about it. You get a little bit anxious.”
Rodriguez was broken after a 24-point game in which Rodriguez missed out on three match points. After breaking and then holding at love, Barrios Vera found himself up love-40 on Rodriguez’s serve after winning nine points in a row, and it looked like the match was heading to a third set. Seemingly out of nowhere though, Rodriguez won five points on the trot to get the hold for a 6-5 lead before needing just six points to break Barrios Vera and win the match.
“Fortunately I was able to hold my serve at love-40, I think that changed things,” Rodriguez said. “It’s part of the process. Whenever you’re coming back, you have to struggle.”
This was the second week in a row that Rodriguez and Barrios Vera faced off, as Barrios Vera won last week in the quarterfinals at the U.S. Tennis Association Pro Circuit event in Orange Park, Fla., just outside of Jacksonville in straight sets. This time though, Rodriguez flipped the script.
“I think the conditions are different,” Rodriguez said as he explained why he thought he was able to turn it around this week. “I have nothing but respect for his team, we’ve known each other for a long time. He’s a great player.”
Benitez advanced to the final in stylish fashion, slamming forehand where ever he could from all over the court with loud grunts and enthusiastic reactions.
“It’s very positive. I’ve been working very hard with my coach,” Benitez said of his recent success. “It’s going to be great for my confidence and whatever is coming next for me. I’m very excited to be in another final.”
It was a straightforward first set for Benitez as he saved all three break points he faced and broke midway through the set for a 4-2 lead. The Colombian didn’t look back from there as he eventually closed out the set with a quick hold.
The second set looked like it would be straightforward for Kirchheimer as he got out to an early break and led 4-1. The ever-resilient Benitez fought hard though and won five games in a row after trailing 5-2, closing out the match with a 7-5 victory in the second set.
Benitez’s comments on his strategy during the match were simple and sweet.
“It’s pretty short what I’m going to say. Who needs a backhand?” Benitez asked.
The singles final will be a matchup not just of two players from South America, but also of two players who are being housed by residents in the luxurious Grand Harbor community in Vero Beach. Benitez is staying at the home of Doug and Susanne Sweeney while Rodriguez is staying with resident Pat Reynolds for a second straight year.
“The Sweeney’s are just unbelievable, the best housing I’ve ever got in my life,” Benitez said. “I can’t ask for any better housing. They’ve been amazing to me.”
Said Rodriguez of Reynolds, “She has been wonderful to me these past two years. She’s housing me in their home. She has opened the door for me and for my girlfriend and without her this wouldn’t be possible.”
The doubles final will also take place on Sunday between two All-American teams as the duo of Harrison Adams and Nick Chappell will face off against Junior Alexander Ore and Miles Seemann.
Adams and Ore will be on opposite sides of the net on Sunday, but they both played their college tennis at Texas A&M University and were Southeastern Conference tournament champions together in 2014 they reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Team Tournament in 2013. Despite spending two years on the team together, they never played doubles with each other.