ATP CHALLENGER TOUR DISPATCH: HONG KONG

atp1
2015-Jan-29

Veteran tennis writer Robert Davis provides an inside look at the ATP Challenger Tour through his series of dispatches. This week, he is at the ATP Challenger Tour event in Hong Kong.

What I like best about the ATP Challenger Tour is getting to meet young men like Artem Sitak of New Zealand. I spent some time with Artem last spring in Heilbronn, Germany, where he had just lost in the second round of the men’s doubles. There he told me his goal was to make it to the ATP World Tour in doubles. At the time his Emirates ATP Doubles Ranking was around No. 160 and he was a long way from reaching that goal.

Since then, he has won an ATP World Tour event (Stuttgart, w/Kowalczyk,) and this past Sunday, at the Australian Open, he made it to the third round (w/Becker). It was only his second ever Grand Slam, and by far his biggest pay day to date. Sitak cleaned out his locker, rushed to his hotel and booked a ticket for Hong Kong that night. Though he was close to home, he chose to keep playing.

“I don’t want to lose the momentum,” Sitak told me. “I feel like I am playing well and want to keep going. It took me a long, long time to get where I am at now and I don’t want to relax.”

Unfortunately for Sitak and partner, Marcos Daniel, they would lose their first round doubles match to Jonathan Eysseric and Tennys Sandgren.

“Credit to them,” Sitak told me afterwards. “It was a high-quality match by all players, but today they were the better team.”

It is little things like that which make Sitak a pleasure to follow; no excuses and all the credit to his opponent.

The ATP is back in Hong Kong and what a great venue we have here at Victoria Park. It is a beautiful little park full of large oak, maple and sycamore trees, and it does exactly what a city park is supposed to do: encourage people to join in recreation and leisure. Early morning sessions of Tai Chi are everywhere, while walkers and joggers traverse the wooded circuit. On the Saturday of the qualifying event was the Standard Chartered Marathon and it seemed if all of Hong Kong had descended on Victoria Park. The tennis centre was one of the marathon stations and there were plenty of runners watching the tennis players practise and play.

ATP Supervisor, Ed Hardisty, has long called Hong Kong home. Ed is a favourite among all the players and coaches and he has been at nearly every major tennis event here.

“We have had Laver and Rosewall here,” says Hardisty. “That was when it was the MTC, then the ATP took over and Lendl, Cash, Courier, Chang, Sampras and Agassi all won titles here.”

Hong Kong was an expatriate haven back then, and though some things have changed, namely the government, Hong Kong remains the epicenter of Asia. Take a walk through one of the many street markets and bazaars and you will hear more languages than one would imagine; Bahassa Indonesia, Tagalog, Thai, Japanese, Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese. All shouted of course.

Victoria Park Tennis Center is public property and even though there is a professional tournament going on, Hong Kong residents have the right to book some of the courts for rental. There are 14 Plexipave hard courts that have been recently resurfaced and play a bit slow.

On Monday, I watched a final round qualifying match and I find it interesting how sometimes a player will behave when things do not go according to his plan. Usually, this happens when he goes into the match without the proper respect for his opponent and suddenly, finds himself losing a match he thought surely he would win. Once the match starts slipping away he begins the blame game; linesmen, ball boys, umpire and stringer all get accused of being at fault for his performance. Once, I overheard a coach telling his player (who was complaining about the supposed bad calls) that if he wanted better conditions then he should get a better ranking.

A few months ago, I wrote about Christopher Rungkat from Indonesia. In two consecutive ATP Challengers last year he lost in the final round. In Shanghai he lost to Sanam Singh 6-3, 6-1 and in Yokohama to Ji Sung Nam 6-3, 6-2. Rungkat spent his off-season investing in his fitness and this week he defeated both Nam and Singh in straight sets.

Tennis can be like that. Lou Holtz, legendary football coach, once said,

“One day you are drinking the wine, and the next you are picking the grapes.”

So much of this intricate game is won and lost before the two players even step on the court. Too many times a player will over, or under, respect his opponent and pay the price. This is an area where Rafael Nadal shines, for he has often said that there is no such thing as a good or bad draw in tennis. You have to go out and play the game.