The first day of play began at UTS2 and it was full of controversy, winner-fests, and sudden deaths. Here is a breakdown of Day 1.
Match #1: El Torero (Feliciano Lopez) def. The Sniper (Alexei Popyrin) 3-1
A dramatic finish kicked off the sequel to the Ultimate Tennis Showdown. It was a winner-fest for the first three quarters with Lopez taking the first and third (17-8 and 17-13). Popyrin had a dominant second quarter, winning it 19-11.
In the controversial final quarter, the pair were locked in at 12-all with no time left, meaning the point was going to decide the match. Popyrin was set to serve (only being allowed one due to the UTS Cards); he would send the match to sudden death if he won the point. Alternatively, Lopez would take the match with a win on this final point.
Popyrin served out wide and seemingly sent an ace right by Lopez to send the match to sudden death. Unfortunately for him, a late call by the linesperson turned what would’ve been an ace into a match victory for Lopez. The chair umpire confirmed the ball was out and the match was over.
Popyrin’s woes continue at the UTS. He’s won only one of his last eight matches dating back to UTS1 and seemed to be on the right track to improve with a win. Regardless of the outcome, his 11 winners and 52 total points in the match is a welcome sight for him as he tries to crack the top four this time around.
Match #2: The Virtuoso (Richard Gasquet) def. Grigor (Grigor Dimitrov) 4-0
Gasquet’s hot play continued into today with a commanding win over UTS rookie, Grigor Dimitrov. It was to be expected, given The Virtuoso’s strong performance over the last five weeks. He took advantage of the UTS Cards and proved to have the clear upper hand when it came to the breakneck pace of the match in comparison to regular ATP play.
Dimitrov’s struggle on the ground didn’t help. He committed an astonishing 21 unforced errors to Gasquet’s 9, including 12 in the first two quarters alone. It’s clear that some improvement will need to be made (likely a 3-0 finish) in order for him to have a chance at the semifinals.
Gasquet’s outstanding play is arguably getting better with each match; he’s emerging as the clear favorite to appear back in the top four for the second time. Each of the first three quarters was relatively close (15-10, 14-10, 13-11) but his ability to take control and hang onto leads was the clear reason for his victory today.
Match #3: The Rebel (Benoit Paire) def. The Artist (Dustin Brown) 3-1
Benoit Paire was the lowest-ranked player at the inaugural UTS event, finishing just behind Dustin Brown. Despite this, Paire was considered the better player even though his consistency wasn’t anywhere close to what was needed to have a good showing.
Paire showed why he was the clear winner today; he put on a points barrage against The Artist and showed little signs of faltering, even when he lost the third quarter. He totaled an absurd 71 points in the match (which included a second-quarter score of 21 and a fourth-quarter score of 22), which was a comfortable mount more than Brown’s 56.
Brown is likely not going to be a top-four contender this go-around, either. He’s one of the weakest players in the tournament, both ranking-wise (239) and skill-wise for the event. It’s very difficult to serve and volley due to the various UTS Cards that benefit winners, serves, and groundstrokes in general.
Match #4: The Tornado (Corentin Moutet) def. El Fuego (Fernando Verdasco) 3-2
Another winner-fest ended Day 1 of UTS2 and sudden death was thrown in just for fun. Moutet and Verdasco put on a tense show filled with firey winners and efficient serving.
Moutet pounded 19 winners in the match and starting off with a 19-13 first quarter win. He hit 92% of his first serves during the opening 10 minutes and that, coupled with Verdasco two double faults, gave him the opening quarter.
Verdasco fought back hard in the next two quarters, taking them both 16-13 and 16-12. Moutet’s total11 unforced errors negated his 78% first serve percentage over those two quarters. He looked to have the match in his hands.
The Frenchman evened the match with a stunning display of strategy. Down 12-8 with just over one minute remaining, he pulled out his “Winner X3” Card. Using it expertly, he played an underarm serve to catch Verdasco by surprise, then rushed to the net and played a perfect winner from the next to get him within a point.
After that, he won 5 of the next 6 points and brought the match into sudden death. He played a great body serve at 2-1 and Verdasco pushed his return long.
Post-Day 1 Standings
*Name (Match record, quarter record, point differential)*
- Richard Gasquet (1-0, 4-0, +19)
- Feliciano Lopez (1-0, 3-1, +6)
- Alexei Popyrin (0-1, 1-3, -6)
- Grigor Dimitrov (0-1, 0-4, -19)
- Benoit Paire (1-0, 3-1, +15)
- Corentin Moutet (1-0, 3-2, +6)
- Fernando Verdasco (0-1, 2-3, -6)
- Dustin Brown (0-1, 1-3, -15)
Day 2 Match Schedule
Match #1: The Tornado (Corentin Moutet) vs. The Artist (Dustin Brown)
Match #2: Grigor (Grigor Dimitrov) vs. El Torero (Feliciano Lopez)
Match #3: The Virtuoso (Richard Gasquet) vs. The Sniper (Alexei Popyrin)
Match #4: The Rebel (Benoit Paire) vs El Fuego (Fernando Verdasco)