Paul Makes Quick Work To Reach Delray Beach Open Quarterfinals

Tommy Paul (photo: Andrew Patron/Delray Beach Open)

DELRAY BEACH, FLA./WASHINGTON, February 17, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Tommy Paul of the United States, who is currently enjoying a career-best ranking of No. 41, has never lost a Tour match against a player ranked outside the Top 200. Clearly, Paul was the superior player during his Delray Beach Open by second-round match at the Delray Beach Tennis Club Wednesday afternoon.

Going up against 267th-ranked qualifier Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan, the fourth-seeded Paul easily won 6-2, 6-0 in an hour. The match was interrupted for 20 minutes due to light rain in the second set with Paul ahead 4-0 (40-Ad), but it wasn’t any cause for concern for the American. After the interruption, Paul made quick work of the final two games to put away the victory and begin focusing on his next match Friday in this ATP 250 outdoor hard court tournament.

“I just wanted to come out and get that first point so I could serve it out,” Paul said in his on-court interview when asked if the rain delay affected him. “I know I wanted to get done before the rain. I’m happy we even started the match; it was a little scary in the beginning. Happy to get through.“

Paul closed out the 33-minute first set 6-2 after jumping out to a 4-0 lead. He won 86 percent of his first-serve points and 73 percent of his second-return points as Istomin struggled with his serve. Then, Paul immediate opened up a triple-break 5-0 lead in the second set as he pounced upon Istomin’s weak second serve.

Soon, Paul, who was given a wild card for this year’s tournament, closed out his sixth victory of the young season with an overhead winner. Now, he’s into the quarterfinals at Delray Beach after a pair of second-round finishes in each of the past two years. Plus, he’s reached his third quarterfinal of 2022 after making the final eight in both Adelaide International tournaments last month in Australia.

“I’ve been out here in Delray [Beach] for a while, practicing in the wind,” Paul explained. “It’s not too bad. This court definitely swirls a lot more than the outside courts. I really like playing here. Hopefully, I can have a long week.”

Paul put forth a solid effort against Istomin. He finished with seven aces, won 86 percent (24 fo 28) of his first-serve points, saved all four break points he faced and broke Istomin’s serve five times in nine opportunities. Paul outpointed his opponent 60-34 to move on to Friday’s quarterfinal round against American qualifier Stefan Kozlov.

Night session delay doesn’t affect Korda

Wednesday’s night session began late following a one-hour and 55-minute rain delay with fifth-seeded Sebastian Korda seeking his first quarterfinal of the season and second at this event while taking on the oldest player in the draw, Italy’s 37-year-old Andreas Seppi, ranked 123rd. The 43rd-ranked Korda’s last loss to a player ranked outside the Top 100 came last year at Roland Garros, when he lost to then-102nd-ranked Pedro Martinez of Spain in the first round Meanwhile, Seppi was chasing after his first quarterfinal since last June and 72nd of his career.

Korda won 7-5, 6-3 but it wasn’t as easy as the score line of the second-round match might suggest.

Given the blustery playing conditions, which produced five breaks of serve in the opening set – Korda broke Seppi for the third time to pull off the opening set 7-5 in 57 minutes after the Italian was unable to close out the set on his serve at 5-4. Korda won nearly half of his return points against Seppi in the first set.

Soon, Korda went ahead 3-0 in the next set with an early break of Seppi. As the second set unwound, Korda saved six break points. Serving for the match, ahead 5-3, Korda set up match point with his second ace but Seppi saved it with a forehand winner that capped a 28-stroke rally. Next, Korda gained a second match point with another high-quality rally that lasted 26 shots. However, Seppi wasn’t through yet. He saved another match point when Korda netted a backhand volley, and a third one after Korda netted another backhand volley eagerly coming in toward the net.

Finally, on his fourth match point try – and 14th point of the game – Korda triumphed when Seppi sailed a forehand long. It ended what turned into an hour and 48 minutes of unpredictable but highly-entertaining tennis. An extra break in each set proved the difference for Korda. He outpointed Seppi 82-71.

During his on-court interview, Korda was asked about he was able to manage balancing aggression with consistency because of the challenges presented by the weather. He said: “I kept the ball on the court,” he said. “It was brutal, tougher than it was yesterday. Happy with the outcome. I’m happy to be in the quarterfinals. I’ll see you on Friday.”

Next, Korda will play No. 1 seed Cameron Norrie of Great Britain, ranked 13th, who beat No. 85 Oscar Otte of Germany 6-3, 7-5 in one hour and 27 minutes.

The top-seeded Norrie is 0-2 lifetime against Korda. He’s won just 15 games spread across five sets, including a loss to Korda in the Delray Beach Open semifinals last year.

“Hopefully I can get some revenge, but he’s a great up-and-coming player, hits the ball clean off both sides,” Norrie said in his on-court interview. “I’m looking forward to playing. That’s the beauty of this sport, I get another crack at him so early.”

Up a set and at 5-all in the second, Norrie broke Otte and served out the win at love. He outpointed the German 74-57 to advance to Friday’s quarterfinal round.

Around the Delray Beach Open

Local qualifier Stefan Kozlov won his fourth match of the week – two in qualifying and two in the main draw – and became first to reach the quarterfinal round with a 6-1, 6-3 win over fellow American and 99th-ranked Steve Johnson. It was Kozlov’s third career victory over Johnson and just the seventh tour-level triumph of his career. Next, he will face No. 4 seed Tommy Paul.

The 151st-ranked Kozlov jumped out to a quick double-break lead against Johnson, who clearly showed difficulty in adapting to the sunny and windy conditions Wednesday afternoon. Simply, Johnson was unable to effectively get his first-serve in play and Kozlov took advantage of the situation. After being broken for a second time, Johnson drew a warning from chair umpire Simon Cannavan after he emphatically swatted a ball away in frustration on his way to the changeover. Next, Johnson saved a couple of break points and finally held serve with his second ace to complete a 12-point game and avoid a triple-break deficit.

However, Kozlov earned his third break and won the 35-minute set 6-1 after he hit a nifty forehand passing shot winner to counter Johnson’s perfectly-placed drop shot at the net. Then, he broke Johnson’s serve early in the second set and consolidated the break for a decisive 3-0 lead. While Johnson got the break back and leveled the second set at 3-all, two games later Kozlov broke his opponent after the American smashed an overhead into the net to go ahead 5-3.

Kozlov served out the one-hour and 23-minute match and won on his second match-point opportunity with a volley winner to move on to his second career ATP tour-level quarterfinal and first since 2016. Kozlov outpointed Johnson 67-51.

“I used the wind to my advantage. Steve is always tough to play and I just happened to play really, really smart today. I’m happy with that,” Kozlov said during his on-court interview. “It’s super special. Just being at this tournament makes me feel right at home. It’s such an amazing tournament playing in front of everyone. I appreciate the support.”

Later in press, Kozlov said he’s trying to keep improving with each match. “I’m trying to play better and better each match and enjoy myself. It’s such a beautiful event, amazing crowds. It’s amazing to be out there,” he said.

Doubles quarterfinal pairings set

The Delray Beach Open doubles draw, which began the week with 16 teams, is down to eight. Thus far, all four seeded teams have reached the quarterfinals. On Wednesday, No. 1 seeds Marcelo Arevalo-Gonzalez of El Salvador and Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands advanced with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Miguel Reyes-Varela of Mexico and Max Schnur of the United States.

Joining the top seeds in the quarterfinal round are No. 2 seeds Austin Krajicek of the U.S. and Hugo Nys of Monaco, who defeated Lloyd Glasspool of Great Britain and Harri Heliovaara of Finland, 7-6 (11), 7-5. Also, No. 3 seeds Aleksandr Nedovyesov of Kazakhstan and Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi of Pakistan as well as No. 4 seeds Luke Seville and John-Patrick Smith, both of Australia have moved into the last eight.

Wednesday’s Delray Beach Open results

Thursday’s Delray Beach Open order of play

By the numbers

When qualifiers Stefan Kozlov, Mitchell Krueger and Denis Istomin won their first-round matches on Tuesday, it marked the 12th consecutive year that one or more qualifiers had won a main draw match in Delray Beach.

“Quotable …”

“Every time you win a match, you get more confidence. It’s part of sports. Again, I’m just happy to be out here competing. The last couple of years haven’t been great to me. It’s an honor to be out here playing in front of people.”

– Qualifier Stefan Kozlov of the United States, who grew up in nearby Pembroke Pines, Fla. and now lives in Delray Beach, commenting in press about what winning four straight matches this week in his hometown ATP Tour event has meant to him.