Juan Benitez of Colombia won the singles title at the $15,000 Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships U.S. Tennis Association Pro Circuit event Sunday defeating Ricardo Rodriguez of Venezuela in a gripping 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 final at Grand Harbor Golf & Beach Club.
The win for Benitez was the second on the “Futures” level of professional tennis, which is the equivalent of minor league baseball in tennis, after winning his first title in Morocco last year. He earned 18 ATP World Tour ranking points with the victory that will improve his current world ranking of No. 667.
“Amazing. Just every title, every week that you go undefeated is just amazing,” said Benitez. “I will always remember this week and this trophy. It’s been an unbelievable week for me here in Vero.”
The two hour and 28-minute battle between Benitez and Rodriguez saw 12 breaks throughout the match. Both players struggled to get a foothold early on in the match, as four of the 12 breaks in the match came in the first five games.
After the players settled in, break points came at a premium in the latter stages of the first set. Rodriguez had a look at one at with Benitez serving at 3-3, but the No. 5 seed held strong and won three points in a row to get the hold.
With Rodriguez serving at 5-6, he saved a break point at 30-40 to get the game to deuce, but Benitez fought hard to win the next two points to win the game and the set.
“Just one point at a time. He wasn’t giving many free points,” Benitez said of his strategy in the first set. “I had to work the point out, move him around, wait for him to miss pretty much.”
The second set was all Rodriguez as Benitez began to deal with soreness in his back. He was visited by the USTA trainer twice, and Rodriguez took advantage of the opportunity. He raced out to a 5-0 lead before Benitez showed signs of life to take two games late in the set. Rodriguez kept his nerve though and closed out the set 6-2.
“I had some physical issues that didn’t help me to move like I usually do,” said Benitez. “Sometimes I was being too passive and he was taking control of the point. I was either missing first, or he was making the winners.”
Benitez turned it back on in the third set though, jumping out to a 2-0 lead. Serving at 2-0 however, Rodriguez battled hard and capitalized on the second break point he saw in the game to get back on serve.
At 3-all, Benitez had a look at two break points to retake a lead, but Rodriguez continued to battle and won four points in a row to keep the match on serve. He turned the momentum from that game into two break points in the next game on Benitez’s serve, but the Colombian stayed resilient and eventually got the hold after a 10-point battle.
After a hold at love to go up 5-4, Benitez applied the pressure on Rodriguez’s serve and took advantage of the first and only match point he saw, forcing an error off the racquet of Rodriguez to claim the title.
“He’s been playing at a very high level throughout the week and I congratulate him,” Benitez said of Rodriguez. “It was a good battle.”
Benitez was especially proud of how he was able to fight through his struggles with injury throughout the match.
“You still gotta go out there and do everything in your power to win,” Benitez said. “I think I overcame those physical issues I had during the match and I’m very happy to get the win”
While Rodriguez didn’t get the win, he views his run in Vero Beach this week as a major positive for his career.
“I think it’s really good to be in a final again. It has been a little bit more than two years,” said Rodriguez, the all-time leading singles player on Venezuela’s Davis Cup team. “Finally I see a little bit of a light at the end of the tunnel. That gives me courage, that gives me strength, and even though I didn’t win today, I’ll try to build on it.”
Rodriguez, who is ranked No. 825 in the world, was once ranked as high as No. 282, but had to miss a significant amount of time from the tour with an ankle injury he suffered while playing paddle tennis in Spain.
His journey back to the highest levels of the tour has been a tough one, so tough that he almost gave up on trying to make a comeback.
“All my family, my team, my girlfriend, all the people who have been beside me in these dark times, whenever I step on court I just want them to feel proud of me. That’s my only objective,” Rodriguez said. “Without them, I would’ve quit a year and a half ago. They encourage me every day, they give me strength whenever I’m down.”
Rodriguez was not only complimentary of his team and family, but also of USTA Supervisor David Littlefield, tournament directors Randy Walker and Tom Fish, and the entire community of Grand Harbor.
“It makes one week for us easier than the rest,” Rodriguez said. “For us, the players, it’s great to feel appreciated and to feel welcomed, I think I’m talking on behalf of all the players.”
The doubles final was won by Junior Alexander Ore and Miles Seemann as they pulled off an impressive comeback from 6-4, 5-2 down to defeat Harrison Adams and Nick Chappell 4-6, 7-6(8), 10-6, saving three match points along the way.
The title for Ore and Seemann is their first in just their second tournament together. The pairing lost in the quarterfinals last week in Orange Park, and used that early exit to prepare for this event.
“After we lost early last week we just spent a lot of time learning each other’s games,” Ore said. “We worked on our chemistry, I think that was pretty big. I think that really helped out during this week.”
After coming out of the gates hot and holding a 3-0 double break lead, Ore and Seemann began to hit a rough patch as Adams and Chappell won 11 of the next 14 games.
“We knew it was just one break,” Seemann said of the 5-2 deficit in the second set. “We just kept fighting and we knew that if we keep fighting there might be a chance that we can comeback.”
After a comfortable hold to get it to 5-3, Ore and Seemann broke to get back on serve, but then had to fight off two match points while serving at 4-5 to get it back even. After leveling the set back up, the pairing’s confidence skyrocketed.
“Once we were at 5-all I knew we were going to win,” Ore said. “I just had a gut feeling.”
The duo got the second set to a tiebreak where they saved another match point en route to winning it 10-8.
In the match tiebreak, the Ore and Seemann raced out to a 5-0 lead and never looked back, eventually claiming the title with a decisive 10-6 scoreline.
The Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships is the USTA’s $15,000 Futures-level tournament played in Vero Beach since 1995 and regarded as one of the best entry-level professional tennis tournaments in the world. Proceeds from the event benefit the Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation, the non-profit tennis foundation benefiting children, named for Vero Beach native son Mardy Fish, the former top 10 tennis star and a U.S. Davis Cup standout.
Some of the past competitors at the USTA Vero Beach Futures have gone on to succeed at the highest levels of professional tennis, winning major singles and doubles titles, Olympic medals and Davis Cup championships and earning No. 1 world rankings. Andy Roddick, the 2003 U.S. Open champion who attained the world No. 1 ranking and helped the United States win the Davis Cup in 2007, competed in Vero Beach in 1999. Thomas Johansson of Sweden, who reached the second round of the Vero Beach Futures in 1995, won the Australian Open seven years later in 2002. Nicolas Massu, the 1998 singles runner-up in Vero Beach, won the singles and doubles gold medals at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, beating Fish in the gold medal singles match. Kyle Edmund, the 2013 champion in Vero Beach, helped Great Britain to the Davis Cup title in 2015. Other notable former competitors in Vero Beach include former world No. 2 Magnus Norman, former world No. 4 Tim Henman, 2016 Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic and most recently world No. 50 player and teen sensation Denis Shapovalov, who played in Vero Beach in 2016. Former Vero Beach competitors have combined to win 19 titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles at Grand Slam tournaments. Six former Vero Beach players have gone on to play Davis Cup for the United States – Roddick, Fish, Taylor Dent, Jared Palmer, Donald Young and Ryan Harrison.
Sponsors for the 2018 Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships are led by Presenting Sponsor PNC Bank and Grand Slam Sponsors Boston Barricade, George E. Warren Corporation, Jake Owen Foundation, Syde Hurdus Foundation / Fit For Life and Land Rover / Jaguar Treasure Coast, Backhand Sponsors Publix, Rossway Swan, Coastal Van Lines, White Orchid Spa, Foglia Contracting, Forehand Sponsors Steve and Karen Rubin, Willem and Marion de Vogel, Cravings, M&M Group – Keller / Williams Realty Vero Beach, Rosato Plastic Surgery, Riverside Café, Ocean Drive Elite Physiques, 14 Bones Barbeque, Gordon Food Service, Peter Bernholz, Swarovski, Soul Music, Minuteman Press and Elite Airways, Kit Fields Realtor / CharlotteTerry.com, Cabana Sponsors John’s Island, Gene Simonsen, Michael & Kathleen Pierce, William Barhorst CPA, Dan Holman, John Klein, Hadleigh Investments, TeamChristopher.com, Tom Collins, The Pitcher Family, Pene Chambers Group, Waldo and Candy Johnston, The Pappalardo Family, Mickey and Rob Stein, Lace and Bob Milligan and Drop Shot Sponsors Fresh Market, Brooklyn Bagel, Hutchinson’s Florist, Seaside Grill, A Pampered Life-Disney Spa, Avanzare, New Chapter Media, Smith & Company Landscaping, Center For Advanced Eye Care, Cast Electric, Citron of Vero Beach, Amerigas, Central Window of Vero Beach, Bill’s Audio and Video Innovations, ML Engineering, Capt. Bob’s Airboat Adventure, Busy Bee Lawn & Garden Center, Complete Restaurant Equipment, Wilco Construction, Nozzle Nolen, Southern Plumbing, Treasure Coast Sotheby’s, Jack’s Complete Tree Service, Complete Electric, Statewide Condominium Insurance, Abco Garage Door, O’Hair, Quinn, Casalino, Chartered, Rick’s Custom Care, Rich-Look Lawn Care, White Glove Moving & Storage, Coastal Comforts @ The Village Shops, Jimmy’s Tree Service, Thompsons Remodeling & Home Repairs, Summit Construction, Colton Williams & Reamy, Sunshine Furniture, Malesardi, Quackenbush, Swift, Aluma Tower Company, Alex MacWilliam, Inc., Charlotte Terry Real Estate, Ken’s Pool & Spa Repair, Vero Beach Orthopedics, Barker Air Conditioning & Heating, Treasure Coast Financial Planning, Engineered Services, Peter Bernholz, Deborah Benjamin, John & Faith Parker, Duke & Betty Foster, Paul & Linda Delaney, Timmy Wood Gary and Beth Williams, Don Moyle, Chuck Pollard, Stewart Dunn, Leslie London – LL Vinyl Designs, Dara, Hunter and Thom Morgan