Athletes as rock stars 

RCAs full of intrigue, drama

RCAs full of intrigue, drama

You’re going to see the best young American players in tennis at the RCA Championships. Tall, fit and among the best of the best, they’re like athlete rock stars.
Greg Rusedsk beat James Blake at the RCAs Tuesday.

You’ll also see a few things that just don’t make sense, no matter how little or how much you follow professional tennis — like coaches taking off their shirts on the practice courts when they aren’t the ones getting the heavy workouts. And why was that one chair umpire making long shot calls?

Good tennis, however, is certain at the RCAs. “There are sections of the draw that are going to be really interesting,” Jason Susha, Butler University’s tennis coach, offered of the RCAs this year, citing the competition that will vie for the title against Andy Roddick up to the finals. “Roddick’s section [of the draw] is the tougher section. People need to come to his matches because every one he plays is going to be a good one. Every match he is going to play will be like a finals match. I think it would be worth it to catch matches from that section of the draw.”

Roddick, top seed at the RCAs, is on the road to win his third consecutive RCA Championship. Roddick won the men’s singles championships in 2004, defeating Nicolas Kiefer 6-2 6-3, and in 2003 by defeating an Indianapolis favorite, Paradorn Srichapan 7-6 (7-2), 6-4.

“He’s good for the game,” Susha said of American favorite James Blake, who sustained a debilitating injury that forced him to withdraw from competitions last year. “It’s a good comeback story and everybody wants him to do well. You hope he can catch some breaks. Get a good draw, play pretty well, put things together and win a couple of matches. People would love that, especially heading into the U.S. Open if he can make a good run in the tournaments leading up to it he’ll have a good time.” Unfortunately, Blake lost to Gregory Carraz from France 7-5, 6-7(3), 7-5. Carraz will play Paradorn Srichapan today.

The other half of the draw has placed Paul Goldstein, Jan-Michael Gambill and Taylor Dent in a less attention-grabbing playing field. “I know it’s luck of the draw, but you’ve got three guys that have basically grown up together, American guys who will have to play each other early on and they’ve been playing each other their whole lives,” Susha said. At press time, Gambill was playing Donald Young (USA) to get into the second round. Gambill and Dent won their first doubles match in the competition.

Still, the competition is not without intrigue, talent and strategy despite the American dominance. “It’s good to watch Taylor Dent because he’s one of the few serve and volleyers. For those people who want to see variety of play, Taylor’s got that. He’s got under-spin off both sides and he’s the guy that’s going to get to the net,” Susha said. “Amer Delic, he’s got a great serve and volley,” Susha said of the skill that allowed the young American to go three sets with Srichupan last year (match point, second set) before defeat.

“Greg Rusedski had one of the fastest serves on tour there for a long time before Roddick,” Susha said of the competitions that have ensued. “You’ve got the guys with the monster serves out here and then you can have your Karlovic. He’s 6-foot-11-inches and serves that ball about as big as any of them.” The Croatian played against Kevin Kim yesterday, one of the shortest guys in the tournament at 5-foot-11.

Max Mirnyi, Jonas Bjorkman (the 1997 RCA men’s singles champion) and Rajeev Ram are all serve and volleyers, too. Ram, a local player from Carmel, received a wild card into the RCAs when Andre Agassi withdrew due to a recurring chronic sciatic nerve injury. Another local, Troy Hahn, was defeated at Sunday’s qualifiers by Brian Wilson 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. Actually, all of our local guys lost, including Matt Bearhman.

Because the RCAs are among the first in the U.S. Open series, players want to do well. “It’s important enough because it’s far enough away. They can work hard. They don’t need to taper or slow down,” Susha said. “Guys that win tournament after tournament, the week before the U.S. Open they’ll lose in the first round because they don’t want to play the rest of the tournament and that’s not going to happen here. They want to do well here because it’s better than practice and they want to be playing matches. There are a lot of points to be had with that, so if you do well here it’s going to set you up well for the rest of the summer.”

Call 632-4100 or 1-800-622-LOVE for tickets to the RCAs. Visit www.rcatennis.com for real time scoring and daily draws.

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