In Fast-Four Format, Every Point Counts At UTR Pro Match Series

WASHINGTON, May 23, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Top seed Alison Riske saved two match points against 28th-ranked Amanda Anisimova during their round-robin match at the UTR Pro Match Series in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Friday afternoon. When it ended, the 19th-ranked Pittsburgh, Pa., native had eked out a 0-4, 4-0, 4-3 (6) victory, winning on her second match-point opportunity.

It was quite a turnaround for Riske. Consider this: She lost the first 10 points against Anisimova. Then, after being shutout in the first set, Riske won seven consecutive games only to be stymied while trying to serve out the win, after having a match point at 3-2 in the final set.

In the Fast-Four format being utilized with no-ad scoring, every point counts and momentum swings can come and go quickly. All of this was evident throughout the first day of the exhibition tournament, contested under partly cloudy skies and a temperature of 85º Fahrenheit. Like the men two weeks ago, this weekend’s UTR Pro Match Series is being played on a single hard court surface located on the grounds of a private residence in south Florida.

Riske ended Friday’s play with a 1-1 win-loss record after losing her first match to Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic, 4-3 (4), 4-1. The day began with Australian Open semifinalist Danielle Collins defeating 18-year-old Anisimova 4-1, 4-2 in an all-American matchup.

Although each of the four players has been idle from WTA match play since the pro tour shutdown on the eve of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., in early March – and Collins hadn’t competed since the Australian Open – all of them seemed ready and eager to compete. By the end of the day, each contributed enough drama on the court to whet any tennis fan’s appetite in this made-for-TV event presented by Tennis Channel.

“It was fun to get back out on the court. It’s been a couple of months. I think all of us are ready to be competing again,” said the 51st-ranked Collins during her post-match interview on Tennis Channel that followed her win against Anisimova. “I’m so happy to be back out on the court and grateful for this opportunity.”

Collins said she missed the fan aspect of the sport and that it brought back memories of her ITF Pro-level days when matches often were played with few spectators to support her. “One of the things that makes being a professional athlete special is having a fan base and people out there cheering you on,” she said.

Asked what she was most impressed with her game, Collins didn’t hesitate when she said, “My mentality, staying competitive. Obviously, I haven’t played matches for a while, and neither has Amanda, so it took a little bit of time to settle in. I think I played the points pretty smart. I wasn’t serving very well, it was really windy today. I had trouble getting rhythm on my serve, so I just had to do the best that I could. I played long points when I needed to and played aggressive when the time was right.”

After Tomljanovic’s straight-set triumph over Riske, the 27-year-old born in Zagreb, Croatia, said “I think I’ve managed in the last couple of weeks to find a reason to come out every day. … For me personally, I need that competitiveness.” 

The 56th-ranked Aussie performed steadier than Riske, who didn’t really come alive until the second set against Anisimova. Tomljanovic didn’t look like someone who had lost 10 weeks of training and match play. “I need that competitiveness to keep me going,” she said after her win.

Although Riske saved two match points, she was done in by an unforced error on the third match point, which gave Tomljanovic the victory. “I think we both (didn’t) look how we usually do,” she said. “For both of us, it was still a lot of fun. Being in the competitive spirit is what got me excited today.”

Still, despite several breaks of serves by both players, each hit some good returns. “I think a couple of times I went for it, and it paid off,” said Tomljanovic, who plays twice on Saturday and has a good shot at advancing to Sunday’s championship match.

Saturday’s order of play begins at Noon EST (5 p.m. London, 6 p.m. Central European), starting with Riske versus Collins, then Anisimova against Tomljanovic and concluding with Collins facing Tomljanovic. Going into the final day of group play, both Collins and Tomljanovic are tied at 1-0 in matches won/loss and 2-0 in sets won/loss, followed by Riske at 1-1 and 2-3. Anisimova is fourth at 0-2 and 1-4.