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VERO BEACH – When your unofficial coach is Mary Joe Fernandez, a perennial top 10 player and U.S. Federation Cup captain, it certainly can’t hurt.
For 18-year-old American Ethan Quinn, his magical week at the Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation $15,000 ITF/USTA Pro Circuit tournament ended Sunday in a 6-4, 6-3 loss to third-seeded Sekou Bangoura in front of about 500 sun-drenched fans at The Boulevard.
The fans were treated to Bangoura’s booming serves (five aces) which surrendered just two break points over his final three matches on the clay, and a thunderous Blue Angels F-16 jets Air Show.
Although Fernandez had to leave town after Quinn’s thrilling, three-set semifinal victory over second-seeded John McNally of Cincinnati on Saturday, she left the game plan with her son, Nico, Quinn’s longtime doubles partner, with whom he won the prestigious 16s Orange Bowl International Championships in 2020.
“Mary Joe’s been an extremely good help,’’ Quinn said before the match. “I have to be locked in playing against [Bangoura].”
Eventually, Bangoura’s experience and overpowering serve, combined with Quinn’s short recovery time after a physical, three-hour semifinal wore the youngster down and contributed to the 30-year-old Bradenton native’s ninth ITF singles title. The 569th-ranked Bangoura earned 15 ranking points and about $2,100 prize money.
“It feels good to get over the finish line,’’ said Bangoura, who had lost his last three ITF finals, including two weeks ago in Sunrise and the 2019 Vero Beach tournament. “It’s good for the confidence.”
His last title came at a $15K in Naples in January 2019, and he’s still hoping to reach his second main draw singles match of an ATP-level event.
Quinn, who received one of the wild cards reserved for juniors, is proving to himself that he’s good enough to test the USTA Pro Circuit and ITF Tour. That’s why he took a redshirt his freshman season at the University of Georgia.
In just five pro events, Quinn has reached the semifinals of an ITF $25,000 event in Bakersfield, California, about 100 miles from his hometown of Fresno, in March, and now his first final. At Bakersfield, Quinn lost a heartbreaker in a third-set tiebreaker to No. 337-ranked Rinky Hijikata, but in the quarters upset No. 289 Julian Lenz in straight sets.
“These [two tournaments] gives me confidence [at Georgia] where Ben Shelton [Gators national champion] will probably be one of the guys I’ll be playing,’’ said Quinn, ranked 1085, but who will move up after earning eight ATP ranking points. “I’m motivated to play him, knowing I can win these kind of matches.”
Quinn was considered the No. 1 American prospect before picking the Bulldogs. He hopes to someday join the large contingent of young Americans in the top 100 on the ATP Tour, including Taylor Dent, Sebastian Korda and Frances Tiafoe.
“Most kids would fade away after not closing out that second set [on Saturday], get frustrated, lose their composure,’’ said Georgia coach Manny Diaz, winner of four NCAA national championships. “But he’s such a good, mature competitor who has done that not only in that match but the last few tournaments. He’s a very resilient kid with a pro game, a big serve, easy power on both wings and has a sound enough volley to come forward.
“He’s also self-motivated and always searching for more information like a sponge. … He’s very coachable and is blessed with a lot of talent, and more than anything he’s fun to be around on the court. He just needs to continue to work hard and we’re building a great team around him for the next three, four years.”
Quinn protects break points on his serve like a hen protects her chicks as he had saved 24 of 33 break points faced in his first four rounds. However, Bangoura converted 3-of-4 break points, while winning 92% of his second serves.
Quinn was facing a more seasoned pro in Bangoura.
In the first round, Bangoura beat Alex Michelsen, the 17-year-old recent winner of the Easter Bowl. He then needed three sets to send 16-year-old Cooper Williams home to Boca Raton. In the quarterfinals, Bangoura ousted 19-year-old South African Kholowam Montsi 6-2, 6-0, and in Saturday’s semi, dispatched top-seeded Canadian Liam Draxl, who’s all of 20.
“I didn’t feel old until I heard them talk about after the match,’’ Bangoura said with a smile. “There aren’t many holes in [Quinn’s] game. When he’s super confident he’s dangerous. I’ve seen a lot of kids like him this week so America’s in good shape.”
Prior to the singles final, the doubles final took place and crowd favorite Ricardo Rodriguez, alongside his 16-year-old partner Nishesh Basavareddy, gave each other birthday presents with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over second-seeded University of Kentucky teammates Draxl and Millen Hurrion.
Rodriguez and Basavareddy, separated by 13 years, had never met before co-tournament director Randy Walker put them together on Monday and gave them a wild card into the main draw. Rodriguez, who turned 29 on Thursday, and Basavareddy, a California native living in Indiana with his parents (from India), who turns 17 on Monday, clicked from the start.
“He’s super talented,’’ Rodriguez said of Basavareddy, whose ITF Junior World Rankings of 16 places him directly into draws of upcoming Junior Grand Slams (French Open and Wimbledon).
“I love him and his vibe. He’s always smiling, hyped up and constantly looking for direct eye communication and for a fist bump after we win a point.”
Rodriguez and Basavareddy were up 4-1, 40-15 in the second set when the match tightened up before holding it together. The veteran-rookie duo converted its first match point to split the $1,200 prize money and earn 10 ATP doubles ranking points apiece.
Basavareddy, playing in just his second pro tournament, appreciated Rodriguez for his experience which has helped win 10 ITF singles titles and now his 10th ITF doubles title. Rodriguez, who lives in Miami, is still the top-ranked singles player from Venezuela.
This was Rodriguez’s third championship final in Vero Beach, having lost the 2021 and 2018 singles finals to Jerry Shang and Juan-Manuel Benitez Chavarriaga respectively.
The Fish Children’s Foundation tournament has an annual economic impact of approximately $500,000 per year on the Vero Beach local economy and is the largest fundraiser which helps provide access to safe and healthy after-school and summer activities for more than 2,000 children in Indian River County.
This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Mardy Fish Foundation Tennis tournament