atlanta tennis

Future Stars Earning Their Stripes: Rising Americans in Stanford and Atlanta

Among the annual narratives of the US Open Series are the glimpses of rising American talents on both Tours.  The first week of the 2013 Series shone a spotlight on a dozen of these players in Atlanta and Stanford, small events without draws too daunting.  Some took advantage of the breathing room this week, while others allowed opportunities to escape them.

Atlanta:

Ryan Harrison:  He had not reached an ATP quarterfinal since early January, compiling barely more wins in 2013 than one could count on the figures of one hand.  But Harrison ended that drought and bolstered his sagging ranking by weathering a pair of rollercoasters against higher-ranked opponents.  He outlasted Marinko Matosevic and the fourth-seeded Igor Sijsling more from superior determination than superior tennis.  Under the Friday night lights, Harrison will face Santiago Giraldo in a rematch of an Australian Open meeting that he won comfortably.  A first career final is not inconceivable.

Christian Harrison:  Every player must remember the moment of their first victory in the main draw an ATP tournament.  For Ryan’s 19-year-old brother, that moment came in the first round of Atlanta.  While Alejandro Falla entered that match drained from last week’s Bogota finals run, Christian still showed impressive grit by battling through three tight sets to upset an opponent ranked 210 places higher.  The grit resurfaced a round later, when he fell to the top-seeded Isner by the narrowest of margins.  Christian battled a far more powerful, far more experienced opponent deep into the third set, nearly scoring a massive upset.

Jack Sock:  A quarterfinalist at Atlanta last year, Sock could not recapture his success despite his clear advantage in power over Santiago Giraldo.  This Colombian clay specialist even out-aced Sock on a hard court.  Since reaching the quarterfinals in Memphis, Sock has not advanced past the second round of any ATP tournament.  Accumulated frustration from those struggles may have contributed to his outbursts of temper in Atlanta.  Fans should remember that Sock remains a raw, unfinished talent still a few years away from fulfilling his potential.

Rhyne Williams:  Raining aces aplenty on both of his opponents, this prospect established himself as an intimidating server in the mold of many American men before him.  Williams powered past compatriot higher-ranked compatriot Denis Kudla in the first round without dropping his serve.  He threatened to spring an upset on the seventh-seeded, much more experienced Lleyton Hewitt behind another barrage of aces.  But his inexperience showed in the first-set tiebreak, which Williams lost after holding four consecutive set points and donating a costly double fault.

Denis Kudla:  The world No. 93 showed promise in North American challengers this spring and by reaching the quarterfinals at Queen’s Club.  Kudla’s modest serve left him at a critical disadvantage against a torrid Williams, so Atlanta fans could not fully appreciate his skills in other areas.  He will hope for more advantageous draws as the US Open Series continues.

Tim Smyczek:  Just behind Williams in the rankings, Smyczek earned attention at the Australian Open when he upset Ivo Karlovic and won a set from David Ferrer.  Since that promising statement, Smyczek has won just three main-draw matches at ATP tournaments.  Curiously, two of those have come against notable opponents in Fernando Verdasco and Sam Querrey.  Smyczek needs to exploit opportunities in winnable matches better than in his loss to James Blake.  At 5-5 in the third set, he could not convert break points that might have sealed the match.

Stanford:

Jamie Hampton:  Like Smyczek, Hampton emerged on the radar of observant fans in Melbourne, where she won a set from eventual champion Victoria Azarenka.  A clay upset of Petra Kvitova signaled a second peak in June, marked by a stirring run to the Eastbourne final as a qualifier.  The 23-year-old Hampton holds a seed for the first time this week.  She carried that burden with mixed results in her opener, striking over 50 winners while spraying plenty of careless errors.  A semifinal looms against Agnieszka Radwanska, whom she defeated in Eastbourne.  She must clean up her game by then.

Madison Keys:  In a tale of two matches, Keys dominated eighth seed Magdalena Rybarikova and then fell quietly to qualifier Vera Dushevina.  Eagerness to find a successor to the Williams sisters, which Keys could become, should not blind onlookers to the inconsistency in her results this year.  She often plays to the level of her competition, a trait common among young, raw talents, and more growing pains will lie ahead before we can rely on her as a late-week threat.  Stanford brought a dose of optimism and a dash of realism, a healthy recipe for both Keys and her fans to consume.

Christina McHale:  A once-promising talent veered off the rails when McHale fell victim last year to mononucleosis, often a death sentence for tennis careers.  The New Jersey native has time to regroup, though, for she just turned 21 in May.  McHale has advanced past the second round at only one tournament (Doha) in the last 11 months, but she has troubled top-15 opponents such as Li Na, Sara Errani, and Maria Kirilenko this year.  Still searching for confidence, she won just four games from Urszula Radwanska in the first round of Stanford.

Coco Vandeweghe:  Reaching last year’s Stanford final as a lucky loser, she qualified for the main draw this time and routed her first opponent.  The somewhat less inconsistent Sorana Cirstea then ended Vandeweghe’s bid for another breakthrough.  Back inside the top 200, the Southern California slugger wields a huge serve—and not much else.  She accomplished about as much as one could expect in the context of her year overall.

Mallory Burdette:  Unfortunate to draw Marion Bartoli in the first round last year, Burdette enjoyed only slightly better fortune by facing Francesca Schiavone in this year’s opener.  The Italian has feasted on inexperienced players like the Stanford alum, who became a full-time pro last fall.  Despite her dwindling form, Schiavone pulled away in straight sets to hand Burdette her fourth straight loss.  She will hope for less thorny draws as the US Open Series progresses.

Nicole Gibbs:  The best player in NCAA women’s tennis again received a wildcard to the tournament at her university.  Gibbs produced a result similar on paper to her Stanford appearance in 2012, when she won one match before losing the second.  But her three-set dogfight with the fourth-seeded Hampton revealed the toughness behind her gentle demeanor.  Gibbs easily could have grown disheartened after failing to serve out the second set, or after falling behind 0-4 in the third.  Her resilience in both of those situations suggested that she has the heart to succeed in the WTA, if perhaps not the weapons.

To Each Their Own: Previews of ATP Atlanta, Gstaad, and Umag

The US Open Series kicks off this week in the sweltering summer heat of Atlanta.  Perhaps uninspired by those conditions, most of the leading ATP stars have spurned that stop on the road to New York.  But Atlanta still offers glimpses of rising stars, distinctive characters, and diverse playing styles.  For those who prefer familiar names, two tournaments on European clay offer more tantalizing fare.

Atlanta:

Top half:  The march toward the final major of the year starts with a whimper more than a roar, featuring only two men on track for a US Open seed and none in the top 20.  Fresh from his exploits at home in Bogota, Alejandro Falla travels north for a meeting with Ryan Harrison’s younger brother, Christian Harrison.  The winner of that match would face top seed John Isner, a former finalist in Atlanta.  Isner, who once spearheaded the University of Georgia tennis team, can expect fervent support as he attempts to master the conditions.  He towers over a section where the long goodbye of James Blake and the rise of Russian hope Evgeny Donskoy might collide.

Atlanta features plenty of young talent up and down its draw, not all of it American.  Two wildcards from the host nation will vie for a berth in the second round, both Denis Kudla and Rhyne Williams having shown flashes of promise.  On the other hand, Ricardas Berankis has shown more than just flashes of promise.  Destined for a clash with third seed Ivan Dodig, the compact Latvian combines a deceptively powerful serve with smooth touch and a pinpoint two-handed backhand.  His best result so far came on American soil last year, a runner-up appearance in Los Angeles.  Berankis will struggle to echo that feat in a section that includes Lleyton Hewitt.  A strong summer on grass, including a recent final in Newport, has infused the former US Open champion with plenty of momentum.

Semifinal:  Isner vs. Hewitt

Bottom half:  The older and more famous Harrison finds himself in a relatively soft section, important for a player who has reached just one quarterfinal in the last twelve months.  Ryan Harrison’s disturbingly long slump included a first-round loss in Atlanta last year, something that he will look to avoid against Australian No. 3 Marinko Matosevic.  Nearby looms Nebraska native Jack Sock, more explosive but also less reliable.  The draw has placed Sock on a collision course with returning veteran Mardy Fish, the sixth seed and twice an Atlanta champion.  Fish has played just one ATP tournament this year, Indian Wells, as he copes with physical issues.  Less intriguing is fourth seed Igor Sijsling, who upset Milos Raonic at Wimbledon but has not sustained consistency long enough to impress.

Bombing their way through the Bogota draw last week, Ivo Karlovic and Kevin Anderson enjoyed that tournament’s altitude.  They squared off in a three-set semifinal on Saturday but would meet as early as the second round in Atlanta.  Few of the other names in this section jump out at first glance, so one of the Americans in the section above might need to cope with not just the mind-melting heat but a mind-melting serve.

Semifinal:  Fish vs. Anderson

Final:  Hewitt vs. Anderson

Gstaad:

Top half:  As fellow blogger Josh Meiseles (@TheSixthSet) observed, Roger Federer should feel grateful to see neither Sergei Stakhovsky nor Federico Delbonis in his half of the draw.  Those last two nemeses of his will inspire other underdogs against the Swiss star in the weeks ahead, though.  Second-round opponent Daniel Brands needs little inspiration from others, for he won the first set from Federer in Hamburg last week.  Adjusting to his new racket, Federer will fancy his chances against the slow-footed Victor Hanescu if they meet in a quarterfinal.  But Roberto Bautista Agut has played some eye-opening tennis recently, including a strong effort against David Ferrer at Wimbledon.

A season of disappointments continued for fourth seed Juan Monaco last week when he fell well short of defending his Hamburg title.  The path looks a little easier for him at this lesser tournament, where relatively few clay specialists lurk in his half.  Madrid surprise semifinalist Pablo Andujar has not accomplished much of note since then, and sixth seed Mikhail Youzhny lost his first match in Hamburg.  Youzhny also lost his only previous meeting with Monaco, who may have more to fear from Bucharest finalist Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the second round.

Semifinal:  Federer vs. Monaco 

Bottom half:  Welcome to the land of the giant-killers, spearheaded by seventh seed Lukas Rosol.  Gone early in Hamburg, Rosol did win the first title of his career on clay this spring.  But the surface seems poorly suited to his all-or-nothing style, and Marcel Granollers should have the patience to outlast him.  The aforementioned Federico Delbonis faces an intriguing start against Thomaz Bellucci, a lefty who can shine on clay when healthy (not recently true) and disciplined (rarely true).  Two of the ATP’s more notable headcases could collide as well.  The reeling Janko Tipsarevic seeks to regain a modicum of confidence against Robin Haase, who set the ATP record for consecutive tiebreaks lost this year.

That other Federer-killer, Sergiy Stakhovsky, can look forward to a battle of similar styles against fellow serve-volleyer Feliciano Lopez.  Neither man thrives on clay, so second seed Stanislas Wawrinka should advance comfortably through this section.  Unexpectedly reaching the second week of Wimbledon, Kenny de Schepper looks to prove himself more than a one-hit wonder.  Other than Wawrinka, the strongest clay credentials in this section belong to Daniel Gimeno-Traver.

Semifinal:  Granollers vs. Wawrinka

Final:  Federer vs. Wawrinka

Umag:

Top half:  Historically less than imposing in the role of the favorite, Richard Gasquet holds that role as the only top-20 man in the draw.  He cannot count on too easy a route despite his ranking, for Nice champion Albert Montanes could await in his opener and resurgent compatriot Gael Monfils a round later.  Gasquet has not played a single clay tournament this year below the Masters 1000 level, so his entry in Umag surprises.  The presence of those players makes more sense, considering the clay expertise of Montanes and the cheap points available for Monfils to rebuild his ranking.  Nearly able to upset Federer in Hamburg last week, seventh seed Florian Mayer will hope to make those points less cheap than Monfils expects.

In pursuit of his third straight title, Fabio Fognini sweeps from Stuttgart and Hamburg south to Gstaad.  This surprise story of the month will write its next chapter against men less dangerous on clay, such as  recent Berdych nemesis Thiemo de Bakker.  An exception to that trend, Albert Ramos has reached two clay quarterfinals this year.  Martin Klizan, Fognini’s main threat, prefers hard courts despite winning a set from Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.

Semifinal:  Gasquet vs. Fognini

Bottom half:  Although he shone on clay at Roland Garros, Tommy Robredo could not recapture his mastery on the surface when he returned there after Wimbledon.  Early exits in each of the last two weeks leave him searching for answers as the fifth seed in Bastad.  A clash of steadiness against stylishness awaits in the quarterfinals if Robredo meets Alexandr Dolgopolov there.  The mercurial Dolgopolov has regressed this year from a breakthrough season in 2012.

The surprise champion in Bastad, Carlos Berlocq, may regret a draw that places him near compatriot Horacio Zeballos.  While he defeated Berlocq in Vina del Mar this February, Zeballos has won only a handful of matches since upsetting Nadal there.  Neither Argentine bore heavy expectations to start the season, unlike second seed Andreas Seppi.  On his best surface, Seppi has a losing record this year with first-round losses at six of eight clay tournaments.

Semifinal:  Robredo vs. Berlocq

Final:  Fognini vs. Robredo

The Weekly Debrief – Mardy Fish’s Winning Secret Weapon

The US Open Series went into full effect this week in Atlanta seeing big names such as Mardy Fish and James Blake in both the singles and doubles draws. We also had a full-on twitter explosion speculating whether Juan Martin Del Potro is ready to defend his US Open title in Flushing Meadows, as well as a new title winner in Hamburg. There was also a dose of celebrity stardom in Los Angeles this weekend seeing the likes of Gavin Rossdale, Jon Lovitz and a slew of tennis legends. Let’s check out this week’s Top Moments in the Weekly Debrief.

Top Four

1. Mardy Fish has been bursting through the scene at lightning speed, picking up his second title in as many weeks at the Atlanta Tennis Championships.

Fish first took out top seed Andy Roddick in the semifinals 7-5, 6-3. This marked Fish’s first win over his good friend in their last ten meetings: “It’s one of the best wins I’ve had … It’s tough to beat a great friend … He (Roddick) said to me at the net: ‘I know how hard you’ve worked, so enjoy it.”

Fish then went on to defeat John Isner 4-6, 6-4, 7-6, in a humid and hot day that saw on-court temperatures reaching well over the 100 degree mark. The 2 hour and 45 minute match saw both players affected by the heat, with Fish even needing an IV after the match because of dehydration. He also had a long visit in the trainer’s room stating that he “sort of went into a lower body cramp with both legs.” In September of last year, Fish underwent knee surgery and had not shown great results until this summer. But he states: “It’s night and day. A year ago I would have fallen in the second set probably, or probably played a match to where I knew physically I couldn’t last so I needed to change my tactics. I just simply don’t have to do that anymore.”

The question surrounding Mardy Fish is how can he rebound so quickly this summer and have the best results of his career? It may be his slimmed down figure or the rehabilitation on his knee, but we found something else that could be the answer: a winning secret weapon, the Power Balance silicone wristband (pictured below).

Hundreds of athletes in various sports are using Power Balance, and the company is stressing that the athletes wouldn’t be wearing them if they didn’t firmly believe in its benefits. Several NBA players stand behind the product, including Los Angeles Lakers’ Lamar Odom who wears one on each wrist. “I definitely feel a difference on the court when I wear the wristbands. It gives me more energy and balance when I’m on court.” Fish also recently started wearing one on each wrist and the results are fast coming. Power Balance bands feature a “performance technology using holograms embedded with frequencies that react positively with the body’s natural energy field to improve balance, strength and flexibility.” Check out Power Balance’s website and the numerous athlete testimonials advocating its benefits at http://www.powerbalance.com/ .

2. Over at the German Open Tennis Championships in Hamburg, first-time ATP winner Andrey Golubev took out Jurgen Melzer in 90 minutes, recording a 6-3, 7-5 win. Ranked 82 in the ATP rankings, he will move up to a career-high of 37. Golubev just turned 23 last week and celebrated by beating world number 6 Nikolay Davydenko. After his run to the finals in Saint Petersburg in 2008, he failed to win more than two matches in a row at any ATP level tournament and had only won eight matches this entire season before coming to Hamburg. This also marks the first time a player from Kazakhstan has won a title.

3. If you were anywhere near twitter this past week, then you could have come across the news that Juan Martin Del Potro was “expected” to defend his title at the US Open. News first broke out when a provisional entry list for the US Open came out with Del Potro’s name on it, after which the USTA claimed that the Argentine has begun hitting in preparation for the US Open. The fact that Del Potro’s name is on the provisional entry list should not be news. For Grand Slams, players are usually on this list until they officially pull out. Undoubtedly, this news was meant as promotion and marketing for the event but it was handled poorly by the USTA.

After several hours of back-and-forth communication between reporters, media and writers, a dependable source out of Argentina claimed to have spoken to Del Potro’s camp and was told that he was not hitting yet. Later that evening, Del Potro updated his twitter and addressed his return (via translation): “I haven’t picked up a racquet yet so I can’t tell an exact date. When I know I’ll tell you the news here. I’m improving, that’s a good thing.”

The same day, Del Potro’s kinesiologist spoke on ESPN Radio in Argentina and confirmed that Del Potro is slated to still come back at the Thailand Open in September, but most likely not in time for the US Open.

4. In a new partnership with the Andre Agassi Foundation, this week’s Farmers Classic tournament held a “Stars Under the Stars” gala in Los Angeles in preparation for the event this week. As part of the opening, Andre Agassi took on John McEnroe and defeated him 6-4, 6-2. Below are photos of their warm-up and post-match handshake.

This was followed by a celebrity showdown, consisting of Michael Chang and musician Gavin Rossdale beating out Jim Courier and comedian Jon Lovitz, 5-3. Laughs were exchanged as well as some great points between the players. Rossdale is married to fellow musician, Gwen Stefani. He may better be recognized in the tennis world as a friend and supporter of Roger Federer, having often been seen in Federer’s box at both Wimbledon and the US Open.

Tennis player, Tommy Haas with pregnant fiancè Sara Foster were among the spectators.

Clockwise from top left: Courier and Lovitz; Rossdale and Chang; Rossdale serving; Lovitz, Courier, Rossdale, Chang

ATP BONUS
The ATP catches up with James Blake as he answers questions posed by his Facebook fans. See what he has to say about Serena Williams, why he doesn’t shave his beard during tournaments and what he has in store for the future. http://www.atpworldtour.com/News/Tennis/2010/07/30/Blake-Facebook-Answers.aspx

That’s it for this week’s Debrief. Just stop by anytime you want a recap of the ATP tour. We’ve got you covered!

Around The Corner: Hamburg And Atlanta Hit It Off This Week

The International German Open – Hamburg, Germany

The German Open offers European clay-court specialists another opportunity to pad their ranking point totals for the year.

Russian Nikolay Davydenko is seeded first but given his play as of late I wouldn’t expect much in terms of results here. Struggling to find his game after returning from injury, Davydenko was bounced in the first round in Stuttgart last week and is 3-4 since returning from a three month layoff. While Davydenko is the returning champion, he will have considerable difficulty in defending this time around.

Nicolas Almagro is seeded fifth and is always dangerous on red clay. The Spaniard just captured the title in Bastad, his first of 2010, and has a favorable draw here in Hamburg. One knock against Almagro however is that he usually disappoints after a big result. Consistency is lacking and it will be a challenge for him to put together back-to-back titles.

Veterans Juan Carlos Ferrero and Tommy Robredo are both in the draw and have the ability to raise the trophy as does Albert Montanes who won in Stuttgart last week.

Third seeded Jurgen Melzer has performed well at the last two Grand Slams, where he made the semis at Roland Garros and the fourth round at Wimbledon, but then bowed-out 4-6, 1-6 to Montanes a week ago on clay.

Second seeded David Ferrer is my favorite here and performed well in Bastad where he lost just a few days ago in the semi-finals to Robin Soderling in three sets.

The Atlanta Tennis Championships – Atlanta, Georgia

The city of Atlanta gets to host an ATP event for the first time since 2001 when Andy Roddick won his first ATP tournament. Previously this tournament was held on green clay, but returns as a hard-court event leading up to the U.S. Open. The city is no stranger to big tennis events as it hosted the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.

Roddick gets a first-round bye and could face Xavier Malisse in the third round. Roddick holds an 8-0 career advantage against the 58th ranked Belgian, who is climbing his way back up the rankings as of late.

If you’re a fan of American tennis you’ll want to keep a close eye on the second quarter of the draw. There you’ll find a quartet of aging American players who will fight for the chance of facing Roddick in the semi-finals.

Twenty-nine year old Taylor Dent gets an opening round match against thirty year old James Blake that should be a crowd pleaser. Blake has dropped out of the top-hundred while Dent is working on moving back towards the top-fifty. Blake is taking his departure from the upper-echelon of the game with much difficulty and has talked recently about how this could be his last year on tour if things do not improve.

Also lurking in this section are twenty-seven year old Robby Ginepri and twenty-eight year old Mardy Fish. I would look to Fish to have the best chance of breaking out of this section of the draw as he won the title in Newport, Rhode Island just over a week ago.

Third seeded Lleyton Hewitt should be able to have a solid run in Atlanta and his presence here indicates to me that he is serious about taking a good run in Flushing Meadows. The veteran from Australia can still hit a good ball and is always a threat when healthy.

In the bottom quarter look for second seeded John Isner to advance quite deep in the draw. I’d imagine that Isner has more than recovered from his epic first-round victory at Wimbledon over Nicolas Mahut. Let’s hope that Isner has found some time to practice around his recent media blitz that included reading the top-ten list on Late Night with David Letterman and winning an ESPY award for greatest record-breaking performance.