VERO BEACH, April 30, 2018 (Press Release)
Juan Benitez of Colombia won the singles title at the $15,000 Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships U.S. Tennis Association Pro Circuit event Sunday defeating Ricardo Rodriguez of Venezuela in a gripping 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 final at Grand Harbor Golf & Beach Club.
The win for Benitez was the second on the “Futures” level of professional tennis, which is the equivalent of minor league baseball in tennis, after winning his first title in Morocco last year. He earned 18 ATP World Tour ranking points with the victory that will improve his current world ranking of No. 667.
“Amazing. Just every title, every week that you go undefeated is just amazing,” said Benitez. “I will always remember this week and this trophy. It’s been an unbelievable week for me here in Vero.”
The two hour and 28-minute battle between Benitez and Rodriguez saw 12 breaks throughout the match. Both players struggled to get a foothold early on in the match, as four of the 12 breaks in the match came in the first five games.
After the players settled in, break points came at a premium in the latter stages of the first set. Rodriguez had a look at one at with Benitez serving at 3-3, but the No. 5 seed held strong and won three points in a row to get the hold.
With Rodriguez serving at 5-6, he saved a break point at 30-40 to get the game to deuce, but Benitez fought hard to win the next two points to win the game and the set.
“Just one point at a time. He wasn’t giving many free points,” Benitez said of his strategy in the first set. “I had to work the point out, move him around, wait for him to miss pretty much.”
The second set was all Rodriguez as Benitez began to deal with soreness in his back. He was visited by the USTA trainer twice, and Rodriguez took advantage of the opportunity. He raced out to a 5-0 lead before Benitez showed signs of life to take two games late in the set. Rodriguez kept his nerve though and closed out the set 6-2.
“I had some physical issues that didn’t help me to move like I usually do,” said Benitez. “Sometimes I was being too passive and he was taking control of the point. I was either missing first, or he was making the winners.”
Benitez turned it back on in the third set though, jumping out to a 2-0 lead. Serving at 2-0 however, Rodriguez battled hard and capitalized on the second break point he saw in the game to get back on serve.
At 3-all, Benitez had a look at two break points to retake a lead, but Rodriguez continued to battle and won four points in a row to keep the match on serve. He turned the momentum from that game into two break points in the next game on Benitez’s serve, but the Colombian stayed resilient and eventually got the hold after a 10-point battle.
After a hold at love to go up 5-4, Benitez applied the pressure on Rodriguez’s serve and took advantage of the first and only match point he saw, forcing an error off the racquet of Rodriguez to claim the title.
“He’s been playing at a very high level throughout the week and I congratulate him,” Benitez said of Rodriguez. “It was a good battle.”
Benitez was especially proud of how he was able to fight through his struggles with injury throughout the match.
“You still gotta go out there and do everything in your power to win,” Benitez said. “I think I overcame those physical issues I had during the match and I’m very happy to get the win”
While Rodriguez didn’t get the win, he views his run in Vero Beach this week as a major positive for his career.
“I think it’s really good to be in a final again. It has been a little bit more than two years,” said Rodriguez, the all-time leading singles player on Venezuela’s Davis Cup team. “Finally I see a little bit of a light at the end of the tunnel. That gives me courage, that gives me strength, and even though I didn’t win today, I’ll try to build on it.”
Rodriguez, who is ranked No. 825 in the world, was once ranked as high as No. 282, but had to miss a significant amount of time from the tour with an ankle injury he suffered while playing paddle tennis in Spain.
His journey back to the highest levels of the tour has been a tough one, so tough that he almost gave up on trying to make a comeback.
“All my family, my team, my girlfriend, all the people who have been beside me in these dark times, whenever I step on court I just want them to feel proud of me. That’s my only objective,” Rodriguez said. “Without them, I would’ve quit a year and a half ago. They encourage me every day, they give me strength whenever I’m down.”
Rodriguez was not only complimentary of his team and family, but also of USTA Supervisor David Littlefield, tournament directors Randy Walker and Tom Fish, and the entire community of Grand Harbor.
“It makes one week for us easier than the rest,” Rodriguez said. “For us, the players, it’s great to feel appreciated and to feel welcomed, I think I’m talking on behalf of all the players.”
Ore/Seemann rally to doubles title
The doubles final was won by Junior Alexander Ore and Miles Seemann as they pulled off an impressive comeback from 6-4, 5-2 down to defeat Harrison Adams and Nick Chappell 4-6, 7-6(8), 10-6, saving three match points along the way.
The title for Ore and Seemann is their first in just their second tournament together. The pairing lost in the quarterfinals last week in Orange Park, and used that early exit to prepare for this event.
“After we lost early last week we just spent a lot of time learning each other’s games,” Ore said. “We worked on our chemistry, I think that was pretty big. I think that really helped out during this week.”
After coming out of the gates hot and holding a 3-0 double break lead, Ore and Seemann began to hit a rough patch as Adams and Chappell won 11 of the next 14 games.
“We knew it was just one break,” Seemann said of the 5-2 deficit in the second set. “We just kept fighting and we knew that if we keep fighting there might be a chance that we can comeback.”
After a comfortable hold to get it to 5-3, Ore and Seemann broke to get back on serve, but then had to fight off two match points while serving at 4-5 to get it back even. After leveling the set back up, the pairing’s confidence skyrocketed.
“Once we were at 5-all I knew we were going to win,” Ore said. “I just had a gut feeling.”
The duo got the second set to a tiebreak where they saved another match point en route to winning it 10-8.
In the match tiebreak, the Ore and Seemann raced out to a 5-0 lead and never looked back, eventually claiming the title with a decisive 10-6 scoreline.