Zach Svajda’s US Open experience took a drastic change of course over the weekend, and there are many who feel for the better and not for the worse.
Originally scheduled to play former Wimbledon and US Open finalist Kevin Anderson, the No. 16 seeded player, in the first round of the US Open on Monday on the Grandstand, Svajda learned on Saturday that Anderson had pulled out of the tournament because of a lingering right knee injury.
So while he won’t get the experience of playing on the new Grandstand court, the 16-year-old from Pacific Beach will make his Grand Slam and ATP debut against 37-year-old Italian Paolo Lorenzi on Court No. 5.
Once the first ball is served on Monday, Svajda will be $58,000 richer for having received a wild card into the year’s final Grand Slam two weeks ago after winning the USTA Hardcourt Nationals 18s title at Kalamazoo.
Because he won’t be returning the 6-foot-8 inch serving bombs off the racquet of a former top 5 player like Anderson, there were some talk on Sunday on the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center that the young Svajda just might have a shot in the best-of-five match to actually win, meaning a $100,000 payday.
Lorenzi – ranked No. 136 in the ATP World Tour rankings – lost in the final round of qualifying on Friday 7-6 in a third-set, but was given new life and entered the main draw as a lucky loser once Anderson pulled out. Lorenzi was born in Rome and his home training base is in Sarasota, Fla. His career-high ranking of No. 33 came in 2017.
“I was certainly looking forward to playing on a stadium court, but this will be another incredible opportunity against someone that is very experienced,” Svajda said. “Paolo certainly has a different style compared to Anderson so we will adjust our strategy and prepare for that. I’m still very excited about playing my first-round match.”
If Svajda wins on Monday, he will face a Serbian in the second round as he would play the winner of Laslo Djere and Miomir Kecmanovic.
In the Lorenzi-Svajda quadrant of the draw looms a possible matchup with former US Open champion Stan Wawrinka in the third round and a possible meeting with world No. 1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic in the fourth round.
“It’s a totally different opponent to face now,” Zach added. “I love it here, just the crowds and signing autographs. It’s really been an amazing experience.”
Svajda is in Manhattan with his father Tom, mother Anita, and 13-year-old brother Trevor, as well as other family friends and his coach Matt Hanlin.
“Zach’s prepared to stay out there as long as it takes,” Tom said Sunday night. “(Lorenzi) has an extreme grip and likes his backhand better than his forehand. He’s not going to miss a lot.”
After practicing with John Isner on Sunday, Svajda planned to walk through Times Square. “It’s really been amazing being in New York for the first time,” said Svajda, who arrived on Tuesday and has also practiced with top-five player Daniil Medvedev. “I’ve haven’t really had the chance to do any sight-seeing. I’ve just been focused on my training. The grounds (at the USTA National Tennis Center) are really nice.”
On Saturday night, the Svajda team left their hotel at the Grand Hyatt next to Grand Central Station and Zach entered a Ping-Pong tournament at SPIN, the hip table tennis restaurant in Midtown. He ended up making it all the way to the final losing to Bethanie Mattek-Sands’ coach.
There’s a curiosity about the high school junior Svajda here at the Open since not many people – even many members of the national tennis media – have ever heard the name Zach Svajda. That’s because Svajda chose not to play junior tournaments, instead deciding to simply practice and train with Tom, Trevor and Hanlin, and play only a handful of ITF Future-level professional events.
Svajda, who signed a professional contract with TopNotch Management last week, is the youngest main draw men’s player to play the US Open since Donald Young in 2005
Hanlin said Dallas will be Svajda’s home base as he begins his professional journey, but that he will visit Orlando frequently. “The USTA is fantastic for certain things,” Hanlin said. “They are so big and have the resources. The USTA will always be something we utilize over the years.”
Hanlin recalls finishing up a lesson in La Jolla, Calif., when he spotted a 2-year-old Zach dragging his racquet across the court, and stopped to watch for 15 minutes. “I was in awe at what I was seeing,” Hanlin said. “Not only was he connecting, but he was controlling every ball. I was struck with how totally focused and locked in he was on the court. It’s rare at that age to see that combination of focus and hand-eye coordination.”
Hanlin introduced himself to Zach’s father Tom, a teaching pro at the Pacific Beach Tennis Club, and asked if he could work with Zach.
“I’ll never forget that original image when I first saw him,” Hanlin said. “There are things I’ve seen Zach do with a ball that I’ve never seen before. He’s cracking that ball right now. He’s already playing at a pro level. I think he can achieve some incredible things in this game. It’s up to him and whatever he puts his mind to, he achieves it. I’m excited to be along for the ride. His future definitely looks bright.”
– Steve Pratt