regions morgan keegan championships

Women Grab Some Limelight From Men in Memphis

by Rick Limpert, Special for Tennis Grandstand

With names like Isner, Roddick and Raonic in the men’s draw at the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships this week, it’s easy to overlook the WTA’s Memphis International also going on through Saturday in Memphis.

A deep and international field came together on the women’s side and close matches throughout the week have been the rule rather than exception at the Racquet Club of Memphis.

In quarter-final play, Marina Erakovic of New Zealand held off a stubborn Michaella Krajicek 6-4, 6-7, 6-4 to reach Friday’s semis.  Erakovic was dominant on serve in the decisive set winning 71% of her first-serve points and a whopping 73% of her second-serve points to take the win.  Up next for Erakovic is 89th ranked Vera Dushevina of Russia.  Dushevina defeated Stephanie Foretz Gacon of France 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 in a two-hour match Thursday morning.

The remaining semi will feature Italian Alberta Brianti who was a straight set winner over Varvara Lepchenko, the last American in the draw and former Memphis champion Sofia Arvidsson of Sweden who was a 6-2, 7-6 winner over Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine Thursday afternoon.

Two very competitive women’s semis will be on tap for Friday in Memphis.  Memphis’ favorite son Elvis had a hit in 1962 called “Good Luck Charm”, these four girls will be looking for their good luck charm and a spot in the finals on Saturday.

 

Rick Limpert is a freelance writer/photographer that covers sports, technology and the intersection of sports and technology.  He is based in Atlanta and his writings can be found on Yahoo Sports and Yahoo News, Examiner.com and CBS Atlanta.  You can follow Rick on Twitter at @RickRoswell.

John Isner: The Emergence of a True Contender

Most people know his story by now.

He attended the University of Georgia, where he led the Bulldogs to a national championship in 2007. He won the longest match in the history of professional tennis at the 2010 Wimbledon. And he owns one of the most vicious serves on the ATP Tour, a weapon that can be credited to his 6’9’’ stature.

And now the 26-year-old John Isner is poised to crack the top 10 in the world.

Isner turned pro in 2007 and left school as a four-time All-American honoree, finishing his career as the program’s leader in singles and doubles victories. He was 12 credits shy of earning his degree in speech communications, but quickly made an impact on the pro tour, advancing to the final in just his second ATP event, the 2007 Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, D.C. Isner lost to then top-ranked American Andy Roddick in the championship, but earned victories over former top-five players Tim Henman and Tommy Haas.

And just a few months removed from celebrating winning the NCAAs with his Georgia teammates, Isner was on Arthur Ashe Stadium playing against eventual champion Roger Federer in the third round of the U.S. Open. Isner delighted the American crowd by taking the first set off Federer before falling in four sets.

It became clear those wins in Washington were no fluke.

Since then, the soft-spoken Isner has won fans over with his powerful game and friendly demeanor. He picked up the 2009 ATP Most Improved Player award and has earned several sportsmanship awards along the way.

When Isner reached the quarterfinals at the 2011 U.S Open, fellow American Mardy Fish made a bold declaration. “I think he can win the tournament,” he said. Isner didn’t win, but he showed that the best was yet to come.

Although not young in tennis terms, Isner, currently ranked a career-high No. 13 in the world, has the most upside among the top ranking Americans. Roddick’s career faces a downward trajectory and the 30-year-old Fish has struggled on the Grand Slam stage. Isner’s recent four-set victory over Federer at the 2012 Davis Cup rubber between the United States and Switzerland was further proof of his emergence as a contender for tennis’ big prizes – the Grand Slams.

As young Americans continue to turn pro at a young age, (19-year-old Ryan Harrison, the latest promising U.S. prospect, went pro when he was 15), Isner remains a rare breed. His modest junior career coupled with four years of collegiate tennis experience would make him an unlikely Grand Slam champion. But if his improvements in the past few years are any indication, Isner is perhaps America’s best hope to win a major championship in the near future.

He is currently the top seed at the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships in Memphis, TN and will play compatriot Donald Young in the second round.

Immediately after beating Nicolas Mahut in the record-shattering 11 hour, five minute marathon match, Isner embraced the attention but emphasized that he wanted to be remembered for more than just a Guinness World Record.

That may or may not end up being the case, but in a career that has already been full of expectation-exceeding surprises, Isner does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon.

Correction: The original article stated that Isner graduated from the University of Georgia. He turned pro with 12 credits left to complete in his Speech Communications degree.

Young Americans Looking to Avoid the “Blues” in Memphis

Avoiding the “blues” is tough in Memphis when it comes to the city’s vibrant music scene, but that is what a number of young Americans will be looking to do when it comes to play in the ATP and WTA events this week in the largest combined indoor professional tennis tournament in the world.On the men’s side, Ryan Harrison will be looking to build off the semi-final showing he had last week in San Jose with a run at the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships.  Harrison will face a familiar foe in Jack Sock, another young American in the first round.
Sock, who won the 2011 U.S. Open Mixed Doubles title with Melanie Oudin, has embarked on his first full year out on tour and has made the necessary changes a young tennis professional needs to make.
“I’m a lot more professional with the way I go about my business,” offered up Sock.  “Unlike juniors, there are no easy matches and if you aren’t ready, the losses can start piling up.”
Donald Young has made tremendous strides in the past year when it comes to his game and ranking, and he’ll be itching to get on the court after his opening round loss in San Jose.  Young, currently ranked No. 40 will take on an opponent he has never beaten in Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria.The Memphis International’s women’s draw is loaded with rising Americans and this could be the perfect event for one or two of them to make a run.

All three tournament wildcards went to young Americans.  Madison Keys, Lauren Davis and Melanie Oudin all received the free pass into the main draw.

Teenagers Keys and Davis are looking make moves into the top-100,while Oudin is looking to halt a slide that has hurt her confidence for the better part of a year.
Also in the mix are Jamie Hampton, Sloane Stephens and Irina Falconi who just lost her first round match to Evgeniya Rodina of Russia on Sunday.
Many of these same players will also be participating in the doubles events, and that is a great opportunity to get close to the action and see the stars of tomorrow.
Over the years, the Racquet Club of Memphis has showcased the biggest names in tennis, but it’s also a great opportunity for these younger stars to prove themselves on a big stage.
Rick Limpert is a freelance writer/photographer that covers sports, technology and the intersection of sports and technology.  He is based in Atlanta and his writings can be found on Yahoo Sports and Yahoo News, Examiner.com and CBS Atlanta.  You can follow Rick on Twitter at @RickRoswell.

Memphis Finals Preview: Andy Roddick versus Milos Raonic

Yesterday was semifinals day for the men at the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships. In the end, Canadian upstart Milos Raonic defeated vetran American Mardy Fish in a tough three setter and Andy Roddick beat Juan Martin del Potro for the very first time, having met three times previously. Both matches were absolutely incredible to watch. At some point, all four guys played really impressive tennis, but Raonic and Roddick really shined which is why they were the ones to come through.

The difference between Raonic in his match yesterday versus Friday was striking. On Friday, he was actually winning against Kendrick, but looked extremely flustered. He was constantly looking at his coach and mumbling between points. Yesterday, he was totally calm and collected throughout the match even when it wasn’t clear which guy would win. Fish was playing some really great tennis, particularly in the second set and very easily could have taken this match if Milos hadn’t amped up his already impressive serve when it really mattered. When I asked him about this ability in the press conference, he said, “I sort of have my strengths that I try to rely on” and “they’ve been peaking at the right times.” Fish, who was extraordinarily gracious after his loss, had this to say about the capabilities of the Canadian.

“From the waist down, he’s strong, as strong as I’ve ever seen anyone’s legs. I mean look at his legs, his legs are twice the size of mine. I mean he’s full grown, you know in his legs. You can tell he’s still got some growing into in his upper body and his face. It’s a scary thought to think that he’s got a ways to improve. He can improve a lot of things. You know, he just makes you a little uneasy.”

It’s easy to see where Fish is coming from when you see Raonic play in person. He is strong and his serve is already intimidating. To think that he’s only 20 years old and he’s still filling out means that he’s only going to get fitter and stronger. The room for improvement is tremendous. He’s already the highest ranked Canadian in ATP rankings history and he’s not just going to fall off the planet at the end of this week. He’s going to keep playing tournaments and because he has almost no points to defend, he can really only go up in the rankings for the rest of the year.

Even though the matches were spread out throughout the day, by the time Milos and Mardy finished up their press conferences, it was already time to head back to the stadium to watch Andy Roddick and Juan Martin del Potro. This had the makings of a blockbuster match. These guys have played three times before and del Potro won all three. Interestingly, he dropped the first set in two of those matches, much like he did yesterday. At the end of the match, Andy was absolutely elated with the win. It’s the happiest I’ve seen him to win a match in quite a while, so clearly this was very important to him. It was clear through his press conference that Andy has a great deal of respect for Juan Martin. When asked about del Potro’s level of play, Roddick responded, “I played really well today to beat him. I think on a lesser day, it would have been a lot tougher. I had to play my best tennis to beat him today.” Andy also said that he thinks del Potro will be back in the Top 10 by the end of the year. When del Potro appeared for his post-match presser, one journalist asked him what he thought about this comment. Del Potro responded, “well, I hope so. It’s a long road. Andy will be Top 10, I think forever. He’s many years in the Top 10 and I have very nice relationship and he’s a nice guy with me.” It’s nice to see that these two have so much mutual respect and to be honest, his ‘Andy will be Top 10’ forever comment was pretty funny.

This is kind of a landmark final for Andy Roddick. It will be his 50th career ATP final. If he goes on to win the title, it will be his 30th career ATP title and he will become the third man to win the RMKC Memphis tournament three times. It’s a pretty different story from Raonic’s side. He’s riding high on the success he’s had over the past two weeks and that makes him a dangerous opponent. When I asked Andy what role experience would play in the final, Andy said experience wouldn’t be the issue, that Raonic was playing without pressure. In typical Roddick form, he managed to slip in some of his personal feelings, saying, “He’s already the highest ranked guy ever from his country after this week so he’s already set the precedent. He’s not really dealing with the lineage that some of us do.” There was a bit of a smirk at the end there, understandably. Andy has been the cornerstone of men’s tennis in the United States for almost ten years now. He’s our best guy and he has been for a long time so people expect a lot from him. Unlike the US, Canada has no history of really successful tennis players. Raonic has won one title and made one final and he’s already the highest ranked guy from the country, ever.

It’s tough to choose a winner for today’s match. Raonic has all the momentum in the world, he’s playing with a ton of confidence, and he does not seem to be crumbling under the pressure in any way. In fact, he seems to be getting more and more confident each day and executing his game plan even better. For him to keep so calm during the Fish match and bring that 140+mph serve even if it was break point, is going to be a huge advantage against Andy. He’s proved that he can stay cool under pressure and still play his game. Milos is fearless when it comes to his serve. Even down break point, he goes for serves in the 130s and 140s, trying to hit an ace. It’s risky, but like he said, so far it’s worked really well for him. I’m a little concerned about Roddick. He had some real issues yesterday with his shoulder. Clearly he was still playing well, but he did take a medical time out and have the trainer work on him. During the MTO, Roddick looked like he was in some serious pain. He tends to be one of those players to downplay an injury or not discuss, so I would not be surprised if it was a little more serious than the “possible pinched nerve” he mentioned to us in his presser. He also seems to have been battling a little cold, but that’s pure conjecture. He’s shown up to both press conferences with a little bit of a cough.

Juan Martin Del Potro is on the Comeback Trail

After weeks of anticipation, I finally arrived at the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships in Memphis, Tennessee today. This is my first tournament as credentialed media and I have a feeling that’s going to take some getting used to. It’s a little overwhelming to be bombarded with so many options. Do I watch from the media room and write? Or do I go out to the stadium court for a singles match? Or Grandstand for doubles? Or do I go to a press conference? Anyway, more on that later. What’s important now is that I opted to attend a presser with Juan Martin del Potro after watching his singles victory against Ivan Dodig, for a place in the quarterfinals. As far as press conferences go, this had to be a good one. Who doesn’t have questions for a guy who’s recently returned from nearly a year off because of injury? You can all look up the video, so I’m only going to hit the high points.

Let’s start with the most important takeaway. The wrist is ok. To me, it didn’t sound like he was feeling 100% yet because he did say he felt some issues after Australia, but it’s clearly not keeping him from playing and better yet not keeping him from playing well. In terms of fitness, he’s still lacking a little. It’s tough to come back from such a long break and be match tough. Del Potro mentioned he was working with his physical trainer to get back into his best form and be less tired after matches. More match play will also help with this.

Del Potro was asked about his wrist injury and whether, at the time, he believed it could have been career ending, to which he replied, “when I was with my wrist problem, I see everything black.” He also mentioned that he had a tough time with the injury because it took four months to find a doctor who could actually diagnose it and even longer to decide on a method of treatment.

One of the more interesting points in my opinion was that, without prompting, del Potro said that he has no goals for this season, particularly in terms of ranking. I find it hard to believe that somewhere inside his head, he doesn’t have a target, but I like the attitude. It’s more important to stay healthy and comeback slower than to risk another injury.

Aside from winning his match against Dodig today, Juan Martin and his partner Radek Stepanek lost in doubles. When asked whether he planned to play more doubles, del Potro said probably not because he was not a “specialist” as kind of a joke. It went over well. For real, del Potro said he likes playing doubles but doesn’t do it very often. He enjoys playing with Mardy Fish and looks forward to possibly teaming up for some tournaments in the European clay season.

In terms of general demeanor, del Potro was ridiculously endearing. He seems really quiet and shy, but at the same time didn’t seem to mind answering questions. He’s super tall in person, but does seem to hunch a bit, which also contributes to his introverted appearance. My guess would be that he would be significantly less awkward if he were being interviewed in his native language. I know I’d be tentative to respond if someone wanted to interview me in Spanish.

Del Potro plays the last match on Friday, where he will take on Michael Russell, the surprise American quarterfinals. I like Delpo’s chances of making the semis this week, or possibly even the finals depending on how well he holds up. I think he’s definitely on the right track to returning to his former glory.

Q&A with Andy Roddick

In a little less than two weeks, I will be attending the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships in Memphis, Tennessee. The event will be headlined by players like Andy Roddick, Fernando Verdasco, Gael Monfils, Juan Martin del Potro, and Sam Querrey. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to take part in a Q&A conference call with Andy Roddick. I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite questions and answers from yesterday’s call.

Q: Andy, how do you feel like you played in the Australian? Analyze that a little bit.

A: I played okay. I think I played better in Brisbane than I did in Melbourne. The conditions were a little weird. It was colder, so everything was playing a little bit slower which is not going to benefit me against some of the guys. Obviously I was disappointed with the last match I played. But, you know, made a final in Brisbane, made the second week in Australia. Like I said before, I think my biggest thing was the first kind of stretch of tennis where I’ve been healthy since May of last year. That was a good thing, that my body held up. So that’s something encouraging to take from it.

Q: Last year Sam Querrey and John Isner in the final. You’ve been kind of the class of American tennis for a while. What do you think about some of the guys that are coming up behind you that are going to be your competition in this tournament and probably for a while to come?

A: Yeah, I mean, Isner and Querrey had a good start to last year. They probably haven’t been playing as well as they wanted to recently. It’s always telling. Getting into the top 20 is one thing. I think getting into the top 10, the top 5 takes another level of commitment. I’m going to be interested to see how they progress from where they’re at right now.

Q: Jim Courier is coming to town for an exhibition right before Memphis. Could you talk about your feelings for him with his being named Davis Cup captain, what you think he might bring.

A: I’m excited. You know, there’s only a handful of guys who are Grand Slam champions that have been at the top of the sport. So to be able to kind of pick the brain of a another guy who’s done that always excites me. Jim and I have been friends for a long time. He’s always supported me. I was certainly happy with his selection as our new Davis Cup captain.

Q: You participated in the Rally for Relief at the Australian Open as well as donated quite a bit of your own money in Brisbane. How important do you see it, giving back to the community?

A: Well, I think it’s huge. That’s the one thing that’s great about the global nature of tennis. We kind of get to see different areas. The Queensland floods down in Australia were tragic. I think they covered a space bigger than Germany and France combined. The one thing I’ve always been proud of as far as this tennis family, we come from a long line of guys and girls who have been willing to give back, starting with Billie Jean, Arthur Ashe, Agassi. The group now are all on the same page as far as if we can help, we’ll try.

Q: Do you see yourself as a role model for younger players coming up through the juniors?

A: I don’t know. That would be a question for them. I’m certainly available for any of the upandcoming kind of highlevel juniors, and I always have been. I’m certainly not going to force my opinions on anybody. But I’m willing to help. I certainly have always accepted the responsibility of kind of being I guess the figurehead of American tennis right now.

Q: You obviously played Novak a bunch of times the past couple of years. Generally some good results. Talk about Novak. What made him step up and prevail in Melbourne? Can he leapfrog Roger and Rafa and become a consistent No. 1?

A: I think you have to become No. 1 before you can become a consistent No. 1. We’ll see. It’s funny to me how things, kind of the way they’re presented in the media, change quickly. When I was in Australia, it was pretty much like Roger and Rafa existed and everyone else was kind of like a peon. Well, now it’s like judge things on a threemonth cycle as opposed to a threeweek cycle. He’s certainly capable. I think he’s proved it. I think the big thing with Novak over the last six months or so since he’s been playing better, he looks a lot better, a lot more consistent. He was going through a little bit of a funk for a while on his serve. His forehand isn’t going off. He’s playing aggressively in tight moments.

Q: Does that mean that Michael Chang and Lleyton Hewitt are going to have a tougher time going forward?

A: Maybe. But guys like that, you know, I feel like a Michael Chang or a Lleyton Hewitt would find a way to be successful regardless. You can’t really put a height requirement on the amount of heart that someone has.

Q: There’s a women’s tournament in Memphis going on at the same time as the men’s tournament. How good are the women compared to the men? If you took the serve out of the game, could a top woman take a game, a set or nothing at all off of a top man?

A: I’m going to break this down for you. There is no way that I can answer this question and have it come across good, so it is really not even worth me commenting.

Q: Is [Roger] less dominant?

A: Listen, they had him dead and buried after the Open. He won the Masters. There was a thing in ’08 where you were asking me the same question. Is he less dominant than the year he went 873? Probably. But that was arguably the best year in tennis of all times. If that’s what the comparisons are going to be drawn to, he’ll most likely come up short. But would it surprise me if he won three majors over the next two years? No, it wouldn’t. One thing I don’t spend much time doing is worrying for Roger.