While Dan is living it up interviewing Novak Djokovic and surveying the action at the Toronto Masters Series ATP event I decided to accept an invite from my friend Carlos, who wants to show me his friend's daughter who is in the draw and ranked around 600 in the world. Carlos has been telling me about Jan for over a year now. It's my first trip to the famous challenger in Crotona Park where such players as Marcelo Rios, Petra Kvitova, Maria Kirilenko, Nadia Petrova, among many others have played. It's only about ten minutes from my home across the George Washington Bridge and the Deegen Expressway, and as we get out of the car the first sight is a blond haired player siting on a bench hunched over and crying while being consoled by her coach. Obviously she just lost a tough match.Then I see a South American girl with black hair and black outfit, also with a strange black and purple bruise on her left hip. But she has a big smile on her face as she heads to the practice court. I see a guy asking a coach of a player, "Was that a slice serve?" They look at him curiously. I ask him about it and he tells me he is a novice player, seeking information about how to develop his own lefty slice serve. Sedgewick is his name and he's from Nigeria now living in the Bronx. He asks me a lot of questions about tennis and tournaments and what to do to get better. He says that he saw a match on TV a few years ago and just fell in love with the sport. We exchange cards and will keep in touch. I like Sedgewick, he has a pure love for tennis.[caption id="attachment_6275" align="alignright" width="220"] Sedgewick[/caption]The biggest name in the draw is former top 8 player Anna Chakvetadze and the top seed is #59 Romina Oprandi of Switzerland. The first match I see on center court is a Japanese named Hozumi vs. American Allie Will. A coach tells me Will, a big strong girl like a Davenport, used to hit the ball so much harder but since she went to college, she plays differently because it's more important to play to win for the team, not individually. It's a wild back and forth battle, with Will winning the first set tiebreak, then losing the second set 4-6, before closing it out with a bagel in the third. While this was going on I was captivated by a Venezuelan Gabriela Paz who lost a first set tiebreak to German Tiffany Malek and was trying to hang in the second set. Every point was just a war, Paz is a screamer, she gives it her all on every point, but Malek was a wall. It was an incredibly tough, brutal battle, Paz fought as hard as she could but couldn't get any kind of grip on the match and fell down 1-4. Malek was tough as nails too, and just a little stronger and a little better able to end points. Malek closed it out.My friend Carlos was watching his friend warm up his daughter who was scheduled to play third on stadium court. His name is Hicham Abaza and he coaches his daughter Jan, who moved from New Jersey about ten years ago to train in Florida. She is now based in Boca Raton with Rick Macci.Jan Abaza just played Challengers in Lexington and Vancouver, driving from Boca to Kentucky, then to Indiana, flew to Vancouver and back, and drove from Indiana to NJ. She won three matches to qualify for the main draw here and her first round match is against Adriana Perez of Venezuela, the girl with the bruise on her hip. Abaza is a big prospect, she is still alive in the national playoff for the wildcard spot into the U.S. Open - that tourney will take place in New Haven later this month. She also has a win over Madison Keys, the USTA's golden girl. I learn quickly that Hicham is a very nice, cordial man, with a happy, positive spirit. He has the mannerisms of a top coach, after Jan misses a forehand return, he moves in and speaks and motions correct form for her. When we talk about tennis, he sounds like a man who has been around the pro scene for generations. His observations are interesting: all the girls are young and strong and hungry, it's vicious out here. There aren't many girls playing these tournaments in the later 20's most of them are much younger, in their teens and early 20's. He once witnessed the recently retired Ashe Rolle trash talk an opponent before a match, telling her to her face, with an intimidating tone not a joking around playfulness, "I could beat you with my left hand." Yes it is vicious out here. These girls are all fighting for their careers, to reach the top 100, top 50, and beyond. After a lifetime of sacrifice, now they are thrown into the coliseum of the pro circuit and they have to prove they can win matches. And keep winning. If they can't, they will not make it, simple as that. There's an incredible pressure on every point, every game, every hold, every set is a war of attrition. That's the striking quality about a $50,000 Challenger event like this. The glitz and glamour and ESPN crew aren't here. It's a constant dog fight.Instead of player parties, sponsor tents, luxury car transportation, Brad Gilbert and Cliff Drysdale, there are about 100 fans scattered about, with two police officers guarding each court (it's a low income area). I spotted one cop taking pictures of the Paz-Malek match with his phone.Jan takes the court and she stands out in her outfit which consists of red shorts and a black shirt, with a red bandana used as a wrist band. She kind of looks like Vera Zvonareva - she is a mixture of Syrian, Russian and Chechnyan though she was born in America.Jan starts off slowly and falls behind 0-2 and 15-40 on her serve. But she fights back and wins that game and eventually the set 6-4. She is a typical player with a two handed backhand, steady forehand. But she has a fluidity about her movement and a tenacious, fighting quality that connects with the audience. While Perez is a stoic, talented competitor, Abaza implores herself on with Come ons and fist pumps. You instantly like her and want to see her win. A man in the crowd who is not related to the family, begins to root her on, "Come on Abaza." After she wins a point: "All day Abaza."I am sitting right in front of her father in a box near a service line. Hicham periodically encourages her with basic "Come on, right now. Right here." Just loud enough for her to hear. Then other times, he whispers quietly where I can barely hear him, and she certainly can't. It's as if he's communicating telepathically with Jan. "Elevate," he says before an important serve. "Stay low", when she's returning. "That was the right time to make a mistake." Though Jan falters in the second set and loses it 6-1, father Hicham never gets negative. It's as if he instinctively believes in his daughter, who is ranked about 300 points behind Perez, who is 19 and very, very steady and consistent. Perez has long black curly hair under her white Nike cap and bronze body that is in perfect condition. She reminds me of a WTA player I've seen live and on TV many times but I can't come up with a name. She looks like she belongs in any WTA or slam event. Maybe someday. Jan takes the lead in the third set and wills herself to a 5-1 lead. It appears over. But it's not. Perez somehow battles back all the way to 4-5. Jan serves for it again and loses a long game, it's 5-5 now. But Jan's spirit doesn't break after blowing the big lead and a match point which she netted a forehand after a long rally. No, she shows a remarkable resolve and raises her game and hits deeper and more accurately and breaks Perez back to serve for the match for the third time. This time Jan commands a 40-15 lead and finally conquers the super tough Perez. What an epic, incredible battle, in the first round of the Bronx Challenger.Jan is joyous as is her family and friends who all stand up and shake hands and embrace, just like they do on TV. In the box are Hicham, his wife and Jan's mom Mai, Hicham's brother Abdul and Carlos and myself. We are all happy and relieved. I comment half-jokingly that, "It never seemed in doubt."But it really didn't. Jan conveys that kind of confidence and strength, even during the most perilous moments of a tight, close match. My first realization after the match is that I have just seen one of the greatest women's matches in years - and will never forget this one. The 17-year-old showed remarkable talent, consistency, fighting spirit, colorfulness on court, and also the professional class of a seasoned veteran. It was a bravo performance. On the other side of the token, poor Perez trudged off alone across the grass to where ever she was going, you felt bad for her but that's tennis, only one can win, one must lose, no matter how well both players play. My friend Carlos really appreciated the effort of Perez and tried to console her, telling her how much he enjoyed seeing her play and that he is going to follow her future results. Jan sat down for a few moments in the grass and under a tree, she wore a giant smile. Then she jogged away for a cool down. A few minutes later she was already talking about the next match. Tomorrow it's the second round, and you could tell she can hardly wait to get back out on court and do it all over again.Remember the name: Jan Abaza. [caption id="attachment_6272" align="alignright" width="256"] Jan Abaza[/caption]