VERO BEACH, May 4, 2019 (Press Release)
Play on Saturday at the $25,000 Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships will start at 11 am with a doubles first round match between Diego Hidalgo of Ecuador and Juan Galarza of Argentina against Dragos Ignat of Romania and Maksim Tikhomirov of the USA. This match was postponed twice due to rain and also again Friday night due the late hour after Hidalgo won a three-hour three set quarterfinal against 17-year-old Eliot Spizzirri of Greenwich, Connecticut 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3. The match ended at 10:40 pm.
Hidalgo, a former University of Florida standout and a member of Ecuador’s Davis Cup team, graciously agreed to play his doubles match prior to his singles semifinal match against Sekou Bangoura of Bradenton, Florida. The other singles semifinal match between Paul Oosterbaan of Kalamazoo, Michigan and Dmitry Popko of Uzbekistan will start at Noon Saturday. The Bangoura-Hidalgo semifinal will start at an appropriate time after the conclusion of Hidalgo’s doubles match in the morning.
Oosterbaan advanced in the semifinals without striking a ball, earning a walkover over Nicolas Alvarez of Peru, who injured his ankle in his second round match of Nick Chappell of the USA. Alvarez realized in his warm-up prior to the match would not be able to play against the 6-foot-eight foot American.
Popko, a member of Kazakhstan’s Davis Cup team, defeated No. 1 seed Pedro Sakamoto of Brazil 6-4, 6-3 in the feature Friday night match. Bangoura defeated Juan Galarza of Argentina 6-3, 6-4.
Play was delayed two separate times Friday after short rain bursts caused for hours of delays for the clay courts to dry. While rain has wreaked havoc on the latter stages of the tournament, nothing has deterred Dmitry Popko from his rocket-like rise up the ITF rankings in 2019.
Unlike the ATP Tour where there have been only two players with multiple titles this year (Roger Federer and Dominic Thiem), Popko, a Russian native playing for Kazakhstan, has dominated the new ITF World Tour circuit, winning six events in 2019, including three in Turkey, Naples, Sunrise and most recently Orange Park.
Popko was ranked No. 178th on the ATP computer in 2017 before a shoulder injury and change of coaches saw his rank plummet to No. 608. However, Popko is ranked 12th in the ITF. This new tour is designed to help young pros earn enough ranking points to get into the Top 200 so they could compete on the Challenger circuit, which is equivalent to Triple-A baseball, one step below the major leagues.
“I’m hungrier now and enjoying the wins,” said Popko, 22, who trains with his coach Ilya Drozdov in Boca Raton. “I don’t think that far into the future, but I just want no injuries and this year, and get to the Challenger level.”
The quarterfinal between Oosterbaan and fifth-seeded Alvarez was finished before it started as Alvarez, a Peruvian who’s based in Buenos Aires, pulled out with a left ankle sprain. Alvarez, 22, is coming off a run to the finals in a $15,000 ITF event in Cancun and a title in a $25,000 ITF tournament in Palm Coast, where he defeated Bangoura in the final.
“It is upsetting,” said Alvarez, a former All-American at Duke, ranked 519th in the ATP and 74th in the ITF. “I hurt it during the second set of [Thursday’s straight-set victory over Nick Chappell].”
Said Oosterbaan, “I saw he tweaked his ankle yesterday and unfortunately he couldn’t play. He’s a nice guy and it’s tough that’s happened, but it’s nice to get to the next round and not have to play two matches tomorrow.”
Said Oosterbaan of his semifinal with Popko, “I played Popko before and he’s a pretty tough player. Tennis is trying something new. I can’t be too negative about it. It’s giving chances for players to play abroad but it makes it harder to get into some tournaments like in Turkey. Hopefully, it will work itself out.”
Bangoura, ranked No. 213th in 2016, has dropped to No. 400, but is ranked 30th in the ITF. He won an ITF in Naples in January where he defeated Sakamoto; reached the semifinals in Bakersfield, Calif., in March and the finals of the aforementioned Palm Coast tournament.
“I’ve had ups and downs,” said Bangoura, 27, who trains in Saddlebrook Academy in Tampa. “The experience has been good. I’ve met a lot of people and traveled around the world. I’ve made the finals of three Challengers and got to 200. Almost qualified for the U.S. Open. … It’s a learning experience and hopefully I could get back there.”