Rowdy Crowd Support Nearly Pulls Vero Beach’s Butz, Perez-Blanco To Longshot Upset Doubles Win At Mardy Fish Tennis

Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships (photo: Randy Walker/twitter)

VERO BEACH, May 1, 2019 (Press Release)

Vero Beach’s Chase Perez-Blanco and Andrew Butz gave the standing-room-only crowd at The Boulevard plenty to cheer about in a riveting doubles match Tuesday evening in the first round of doubles play at the $25,000 Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships.

Perez-Blanco, 23, a teaching pro at Quail Valley River Club, and Butz, both played for University of Florida, albeit at different times, were leading 6-4 in the third-set match tiebreaker against two ATP-ranked pros, Paul Ooserbaan of Kalamazoo, Mich., and Andrew Watson of Great Britain but lost the next five points before Butz blasted two service winners to save a couple of match points.

However, Oosterbaan, 23, ranked No. 682, who has trained recently across the street from The Boulevard at the Grand Harbor club, cracked a booming serve that Butz couldn’t handle, giving he and Watson a 6-2, 4-6 (10-8) victory.

“We both played college, so we’ve been abused worse,” joked Evans, a University of Memphis All-American of the incredibly one-sided crowd that was reminiscent of a Davis Cup match. “What’s tennis without a great atmosphere. I’m not complaining; we got the win.”

No one expected a club pro and a sales rep for a family cushion manufacturing business to take a set off two young aspiring professionals. The raucous gallery, perhaps fired up from Happy Hour, roared when Watson double-faulted on set point.

“We kind of had it,” said Butz, a graduate of St. Edward’s school in Vero Beach. “When we first came out here, I wasn’t expecting much. I just started practicing three weeks ago after not hitting in three years. I enjoyed it.”

Perez-Blanco, who is the boyfriend of Butz’ sister, couldn’t wipe the smile off his face throughout the match.

“We had a lot of fun but we wanted to win. You get competitive, too,” Perez-Blanco said.

Perez-Blanco will be out all week watching his longtime BFF, Baker Newman, who won is qualifying match Tuesday to advance into the 32-player main draw. Newman will play Jose Olivarez of the Dominican Republic in a noon match on the Grandstand.

“We’re best buds,” Perez-Blanco, 23, said of Newman. “He’s staying with me. We’ve trained together at Royal Palm Country Club since we’re six-years-old. We won four state titles together [at Gulliver Academy in Miami].”

Wednesday’s feature 6:45 pm match at The Boulevard will look to equal the excitement of Tuesday’s doubles as defending champion and local crowd favorite Juan Benitez of Colombia will play Dmitry Popko, a member of Kazakhstan’s Davis Cup team. Top-seeded Pedro Sakamoto of Brazil opens the day session Wednesday at noon against Isaac Stoute of Great Britain.

On Tuesday, seventh-seeded Juan Ignacio Galarza, of Argentina ripped a running, down-the-line passing shot to secure a 7-6 (2), 6-4 victory over Italy’s Lorenzo Frigerio. Galarza, 25, is ranked 534th but was ranked 380 in 2016 after winning seven titles on the Futures and Challenger circuits.

In a hard-hitting battle between two American teenage wild card entrants and friends, Eliot Spizzirri of Greenwich, Conn., came from behind to defeat Ronald Hohmann of Oyster Bay, N.Y., 2-6, 7-6 (3), 6-2.

Hohmann, 17, who has lived in Parkland [Broward County) with coach Todd Widom since he was 14, is coming off a confidence-building title at the prestigious Easter Bowl Junior Tennis Championships in Indian Wells, Calif. He came out of qualifying to down four seeded players before taking out third-seeded Martin Damm from a set down.

However, on Tuesday, Spizzirri, a first-round loser at that Easter Bowl, turned the tables after getting blown off the court in the first set by Hohmann’s warp-speed serve and forehand. Hohmann, who at times seems as tightly wound as his strings, lost his composure and temper in the second set, allowing the calmer Spizzirri to get his claws back into the match.

“I played him several times in my life and I think I’m up 3-2 in the series,” Spizzirri said. “Sort of the same thing happened last week. I was down a set and a break and I raised my level a little bit. He dumped his level down a little, got a little negative and I saw an opening. It’s always hard to play a friend.”

Spizzirri, 17, has trained at the indoor tennis club of eight-time Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl, a former Greenwich resident, who happens to know his aunt.

“It’s nice to have him around to get some advice,” Spizzirri said.

Widom, once ranked 200 in singles and 162 in doubles, said that Hohmann has become like his third son with wife Beth, along with sons’ 10-months-old Eli and 5-year-old Brandon.

He’s going to play for coach Andi Brandi at LSU, a full ride, and it’s going to prepare him to be a professional,’‘ Widom said. “He has power off both wings and a huge serve, clocked at 125-mph. He just needs more experience. He’s got the whole package.”

Hohmann’s huge forehand let him down in the latter stages of the match and after losing the second set, he fired his racket and kicked his tennis bag.

Filling out the 32-player draw were eight qualifiers who won their second qualifying matches on Tuesday, including Romanian Dragos Constantin Ignat, who edged top-seeded Matic Spec, a former standout for the University of Minnesota, 6-4, 5-7, (10-7).

Ignat, 26, who has yet to crack the top 1,000, has overcome health issues, including a shoulder injury, dizziness and migraine headaches in six of the past eight years.

Ignat would play for an hour and then for two days, “I was a vegetable.” The doctors were mystified by his vertigo, but Ignat cured himself when he switched from two-week contact lenses to daily lenses.

“In the U.S., tournaments are very, very tough,” said Ignat, who played for Columbia University and manages a tennis club in East Hampton, N.Y., when he isn’t chasing ranking points. “There are a lot of college players who don’t have a ranking yet. “I’m finally happy with the way I feel and play. I enjoy it but my goal is still to play in the Slams.”

Ignat said his victory over the Slovenian came down to a few crucial points but hung tough after wasting a match point in the second set when Spec’s groundstroke found the baseline. Spec, 24, is ranked 851st.

“He got confident after that but in the [super] tiebreaker I started well,” Ignat said. “I love it. This is my favorite tournament I’ve played so far.”

Also advancing into the main draw was Italy’s Adelchi Virgili and Rowland Phillips, who took out Grey Hamilton, 6-3, 6-4. Phillips, 25, who plays Davis Cup for Jamaica, finally made it into the main draw here after three consecutive ousters in the qualifiers. He saved two match points in his first-round qualifying victory over Romanian Mihnea Turco.

“It feels good,” Phillips said. “I’m happy to win.”

At just 16, Zachary Svadja of San Diego, is the youngest player in the tournament, yet that didn’t stop him from dispatching fellow teen, Dominican Yeudy Villar, who trains in Miami with Extreme Tennis, 6-0, 7-5.  Svadja is into his first main draw of a professional tournament.

Also advancing out of qualifying was 18-year-old Ritik Sundaram of Boca Raton, after a 3-6, 7-5 (10-4) victory over Garrett Johns, also 18, of Atlanta. Seventh-seeded Naoki Nakagawa of Japan is into the main draw and will play Colombian Nicolas Mejia on the second match on Stadium Court.

British star Kyle Edmund won the Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships in 2013 and then used it as a springboard to a career-high ATP rank of No. 14 last year.

When Tim Henman was 21, he reached the semifinals in this 25-year-old Vero Beach professional tennis event in 1995 and reached a career-high rank of No. 4 in 2002.

Andrew Watson of Great Birtain defeated Chilean Bastian Malla, 7-6 (3), 7-5 in a first-round main draw match.

Watson, 22, played four years for the University of Memphis where he earned All-America honors. The 6-foot-4 right-hander utilized a 120-mph serve to pin Malla, ranked 439th, against the back wall.

Still, Malla, held three break points at 5-5 of the second set but a litany of unforced errors enabled Watson to hold which elicited a loud, ‘Let’s go!’ Watson then broke Malla at love to end the 2-hour, 30-minute battle.

“I had a couple of tough losses last year and lost a bit of confidence,” said Watson, who has yet to reach a main draw of an ATP-level tournament. “I felt great last week and reset my mind. I feel I got my edge back this week and am looking forward to the next two weeks and then getting back to grass [in London].”

Watson is hoping to join fellow Brits, Edmund, currently ranked 22nd, 46th-ranked Cameron Norrie, and 85th-ranked Dan Evans in the Top 100. Of course, all three are hoping to help fill the huge void created by the absence of former No. 1 Andy Murray, who is recovering from major hip surgery.

“I spoke to some coaches and he told me Andy is not feeling pain and hitting hard on the courts and moving around again,” said Watson, who has practiced with both Edmund and Murry in the past. “I don’t know how many years he has left but he will make the most of them.”

Following Watson on Stadium Court was Zimbabwe Davis Cup stalwart Takanyi Garanganga, the fourth seed, and 18-year-old Matthew Segura, who made the 32-player draw by winning the special Wild Card tournament at the Sea Oaks Beach & Tennis Club for the second consecutive season.

However, the slightly built teen was no match for the power of the 28-year-old Garanganga, who pushed the grand-nephew of the legendary Pancho Segura around the clay courts in a 6-2, 6-3 victory

That said, Segura, who possesses a two-hand forehand like his Hall of Fame uncle, as well as a left-handed forehand, hung tough. He’s also able to serve right-handed from the deuce side and left-handed on the ad side, and was able to trim the lead to 3-5 in the second set.

Segura was serving at what he believed was 30-30. However, Ignat called out tournament referee David Littlefield and after a long discussion, Littlefield agreed the score was actually 15-40. A point later the match was over and an upset Segura littered the court with his rackets.

“It set me off at the beginning. I didn’t know what kind of strategy I should come across with,” Garangara said of his opponent’s two forehands and no backhand style. “That’s why it was turbulent, up and down, but then I figured it out, so I’m looking forward to the next match.”

Segura’s parents, Jeff and Gianella, who live in Orlando, said that Pancho Segura – who coached tennis great Jimmy Connors — told them never to change his unorthodox style and that he believed Matthew would be a top pro someday.

“He used to teach Matthew while using a cane and then a walker,” Jeff Segura, said of his uncle who died two years ago at 96. “Even in his final years Pancho would call Matthew on the phone and coach him that way.”