Rodriguez feels right at home in Vero's Mardy Fish Foundation tourney

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VERO BEACH — Ricardo Rodriquez may be Venezuelan, but he has been unofficially adopted by the Vero Beach community after being a staple in the annual Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation ITF $15,000 Futures event for years.

On Saturday, Rodriguez joined forces with Nishesh Basavareddy of Indiana, and despite frittering away a 5-2 lead in the second set, managed to stave off the fourth-seeded tandem of Peter Bertran of the Dominican Republic and Mwendwa Mbithi of Boca Raton, 7-5, 7-5 to reach Sunday’s doubles final of the USTA Pro Circuit tournament.

The tournament gave the veteran Rodriguez, who turned 29 on Thursday, and Basavaredddy, a 16-year-old with Indian roots, a wild card, and the duo certainly has taken advantage of it. They played the winners of the late doubles semi between the second-seeded duo of Liam Draxl and his University of Kentucky teammate Millen Hurrion and third seeds Abraham Asaba of Ghana and Alex Knaff of Luxembourg.

Ricardo Rodriguez, far left, with his doubles partner Nishesh Basavereddy, and the duo they beat Saturday at the Mardy Fish Children's Foundation tournament in Vero Beach, Mwendwa Mbithi and Peter Bertran.
Ricardo Rodriguez, far left, with his doubles partner Nishesh Basavereddy, and the duo they beat Saturday at the Mardy Fish Children's Foundation tournament in Vero Beach, Mwendwa Mbithi and Peter Bertran.

Rodriguez, who lives in Miami, is a two-time singles finalist in this event, losing to Jerry Shang last year and to Juan-Manuel Benitez Chavarriaga in the 2018 final. In his fifth appearance at The Boulevard, this is his best result in doubles. He has clearly been the crowd favorite from the 500 fans ringing Stadium Court at The Boulevard.

"This has been my home since my first year I came," said Rodriguez, whose ranking has dropped from 282 in 2014 to 737, but is still the highest-ranked player from his country. "What makes it so special is the type of treatment I’ve received from my very first time I came here, the different vibe and environment. All the people are so nice to me. They appreciate my tennis, and I appreciate their support (especially his two hostesses Pat Reynolds and Wendy Orthober). It’s a great combination. Maybe that has to do with my performance."

Basavareddy and Rodriguez came to Vero Beach without doubles partners, so co-tournament director Randy Walker put them together and gave them a wild card.

"It’s been completely improvised," Rodriguez said. "We practiced on Tuesday, there was good chemistry, we talked about out tactics and right after our first game I realized we can do some damage and I wasn’t wrong."

Rodriguez has won 10 ITF singles titles and nine doubles titles, but has yet to play one main draw ATP event or Grand Slam over his 14-year career.

Basavareddy is playing in just his second pro event and is still competing in the juniors where he’s ranked 16th in the ITF World rankings after reaching the finals of the prestigious Easter Bowl last month. Three knee surgeries have slowed his progress, but the straight-A student is still headed to Stanford to play tennis this fall.

He turns 17 on Monday and hopes he will be celebrating with the doubles trophy and some ATP ranking points.

"Obviously, I don’t feel good about my singles result this week but to still be here and play in a final of a pro event is good," said Basavareddy, who won the Junior Orange Bowl 14s and USTA National Clay Court 14s before his injuries. He will play in the junior Grand Slams at the French Open and Wimbledon.

Ricardo Rodriguez of Venezuela plays during the 2018 Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships in Vero Beach.
Ricardo Rodriguez of Venezuela plays during the 2018 Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships in Vero Beach.

Because Rodriguez has yet to win on the major league ATP level, he has always been proudest of his role and accomplishment of being the winningest Davis Cup singles player in Venezuela’s history. That said, he is angry at a federation, country and captain that have failed to support him or any tennis players from a country that is embroiled in economic turmoil due to a dictator in power.

"Only the elite was able to play 20 years ago and now it’s worse," he said. "I’ll probably be the last one to play Davis Cup for a while; I hope I’m wrong, and the few ones who would be crazy enough to play for our country probably grew up in the States or Spain and they have a desire to compete for their national flag. There’s no system, no pathway.

"It was always my dream to play Davis Cup for my country but I’m not playing anymore. My federation constantly disrespects me and disrespects the nation. … That’s what you get from a Third World country where you have people who have no idea about managing tennis for the nation."

Rodriguez played Davis Cup last September in Forest Hills (Queens), the former home of the U.S. Open, against South Africa, but the tie left a sour taste when his captain didn’t play him in the clinching doubles match because of a personal agenda. He will represent his country at the South American Games in Colombia in late June.

Rodriguez took on an assistant pro job at Weston Tennis Center during the pandemic and is a part-time model along with his wife, Maulini. Although he turned 29 on Thursday and hasn’t won a first-round match in eight tournaments this year, he has no intention of retiring.

"I want to do this until either I feel I can’t break the top 100 anymore or I’m not happy traveling anymore," he said. "I still have the support of my wife, my family, my coaches and I still have that fire in me that tells me I haven’t reached my full potential. Unfortunately, I’ve had some personal obstacles that have made the journey a little bit harder but as long as I have the fire to push my boundaries and my limits, I’ll keep doing it.

"As they say, if you want to tell God a joke, tell him your plans."

"Ricardo is a first-class gentleman who has embraced and been embraced by our Vero Beach community," said Tom Fish, co-director and founder of the event. "He’s very popular with our fans when he plays here. We’d love for him to move here."

Rodriguez said when he finally hangs up his racket, he does indeed to own a home in Vero Beach. For now, the tennis vagabond will continue his long, arduous journey around the world in an effort to reach his potential and make an impact among tennis’ elite.

The seeding committee got it right as the three top seeds reached the semis on Saturday, along with 18-year-old Ethan Quinn, a redshirt sophomore at Georgia. Liam Draxl, the top seed from Canada who plays for the University of Kentucky, faced the third-seeded Sekou Bangoura of Bradenton in one semi, while second-seeded John McNally of Cincinnati took on Quinn in the other one. Draxl, 20, ended his 2021 ITF campaign with back-to-back titles in Cancun, and after losing in the SEC finals to the University of Florida last week, hopes to better his finish here last year when he reached the semis. Prior to his semi, Draxl has converted 13 of his 18 break points.

McNally, 23, chose to forgo his fifth year of eligibility at Ohio State, while Quinn elected to redshirt his freshman season at UGA to dip his toes into the ITF and USTA Pro Circuit Futures Tour. Both seem to have made excellent decisions. McNally, the brother of WTA doubles star Caty McNally, won a $25,000 ITF on his campus courts at OSU last November, and after battling some injuries earlier this year has dominated his opponents during the week with a tournament-leading 23 aces.

Quinn, who is receiving some guidance from tennis great Mary Joe Fernandez, the mother of his doubles partner Nico Godsick, has saved 18 of 23 break points in his first three match wins.

This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Ricardo Rodriguez feeling at home at Mardy Fish Foundation Tournament