Sam Querrey

From Continent to Continent: ATP Washington and Kitzbuhel Previews

While the WTA divides its action between two coasts this week, the ATP spans the Atlantic Ocean with events on two different continents and surfaces.  The 500 tournament in Washington, part of the US Open Series, takes center stage.

Washington:

Top half:  A champion in Washington four years ago, Juan Martin Del Potro holds the top seed at the 2013 edition.  The Wimbledon semifinalist hopes to rediscover his torrid form against one of two men who shone in Atlanta.  Producing semifinal runs there last week, Lleyton Hewitt and Ryan Harrison will square off in one of the most intriguing first-round matches.  Nor can Del Potro relax if he survives the winner.  A strong grass season, highlighted by a second-week appearance at Wimbledon, will have restored Bernard Tomic’s confidence.  Although he continues to cope with controversy surrounding his father, Tomic has plenty of ways to disrupt Del Potro’s rhythm if the Argentine returns rusty from a leg injury.  A more straightforward test awaits from Kevin Anderson, seeking his third semifinal in three weeks.  Before he meets Del Potro in the quarterfinals, Anderson may find the returning Mardy Fish an opponent worthy of his steel.

If power dominates the top quarter, flair defines much of the second quarter.  The flamboyant shot-making of Tommy Haas favors precision over physicality, while the graceful one-handed backhand of Grigor Dimitrov has a vintage appeal.  Haas reached the final in Washington last year, perhaps using his training at the Bolletieri Academy in Florida as experience for coping with the humidity.  But power never lags far behind in a draw filled with Americans.  Sam Querrey will face one of two Atlanta quarterfinalists, Denis Istomin or Santiago Giraldo, in the second round.   A contrast of styles would await if Querrey advances to face Dimitrov and then Haas, although a 5-8 record since April leaves a deep run far from guaranteed.

Semifinal:  Del Potro vs. Haas

Bottom half:  Filled with question marks, the third quarter could produce a surprise semifinalist.  The favorite at first glance would seem Milos Raonic, by far the most powerful of the seeds.  Raonic’s massive serve could sizzle on a hot hard court, but he has accomplished little since winning yet another San Jose title in February.  Neither has fellow seed Nikolay Davydenko, who has struggled historically against possible second-round opponent James Blake.  Some of Gilles Simon’s best results have come in North America, including a Miami quarterfinal this spring, and the fifth seed’s steadiness might suffice to ease him past the erratic men around him.  Among them is former champion Radek Stepanek, who looks forward to American collegiate star Steve Johnson in his opener.

One might lose sight of defending champion Alexandr Dolgopolov in the fourth quarter.  Not a threat for most of 2013, Dolgopolov faces an arduous route towards a title defense.  Home hope John Isner looms in the third round if he can revive his energy after a draining title run in Atlanta.  An easier route to the quarterfinals beckons for Kei Nishikori, who won a North American 500 tournament at Memphis this year.  Bogota runner-up Alejandro Falla faded quickly in Atlanta, as did American teenage sensation Jack Sock.  The clean, balanced baseline game of Nishikori should carry him past either of those opponents, after which a first meeting with Isner could await.

Semifinal:  Simon vs. Isner

Final:  Del Potro vs. Isner

Kitzbuhel:

Top half:  An assortment of Europeans and clay specialists have headed to this Austrian event before venturing into the steamy American summer.  German top seed Philipp Kohlschreiber aims to move one round further than he did at another clay 250 event.  The finalist in Stuttgart a few weeks ago, Kohlschreiber can look ahead to a quarterfinal against Spanish dirt devil Marcel Granollers.  This Rome quarterfinalist will welcome the opportunity to erase memories of an epic loss in Gstaad last week.  Between them stand Horacio Zeballos of Nadal-defeating fame and Wimbledon surprise Kenny de Schepper, who reached the second week there.

A greater Wimbledon surprise than de Schepper came from Fernando Verdasco, who would not hold the third seed here if not for his quarterfinal appearance at the last major.  To his credit, Verdasco parlayed that breakthrough into a strong July, highlighted by victories over Nicolas Almagro, Grigor Dimitrov, and Jerzy Janowicz.  An all-lefty matchup against Brazilian clay specialist Thomaz Bellucci should not detain him for long en route to a rematch of the Bastad final.  At that Swedish tournament, Verdasco fell to Carlos Berlocq, who faces an extremely challenging assignment as the fifth seed.  Days after defeating Federer, the ominous Daniel Brands sets his sights on the Bastad champion.  Also in this deep section is Robin Haase, arriving from a series of morale-boosting wins in Gstaad.

Semifinal:  Granollers vs. Verdasco

Bottom half:   A week of mixed omens for Albert Montanes in Umag included an upset over world No. 9 Richard Gasquet and a tight loss to Gasquet’s compatriot Gael Monfils.  Twice a semifinalist on clay already this summer, Victor Hanescu finds himself on a collision course with Montanes, who won a clay title in Nice just before Roland Garros.  The winner should feel confident heading into the quarterfinals, although home hope Jurgen Melzer will have most of the audience behind him.  Melzer reached the second week of Wimbledon but has lost five consecutive clay matches dating back to Monte Carlo.

Arguably the softest section, the base of the Kitzbuhel draw lies at the mercy of second seed Juan Monaco.  This recent member of the top 10 has shown altogether too much mercy in 2013, helplessly watching his ranking decline.  All the same, Monaco has produced at least somewhat respectable tennis this summer on clay, his best surface.  Three qualifiers and a wildcard offer little competition, so any challenge would need to come from one of two Spaniards.  While Daniel Gimeno-Traver has struggled on clay this year, Roberto Bautista-Agut retired last week in Gstaad.  Monaco thus looks safe unless he implodes, admittedly not unthinkable.

Semifinal:  Montanes vs. Monaco

Final:  Verdasco vs. Montanes

Plotlines to Ponder: US Open Series Edition

The Emirates Airlines US Open Series begins next week with tournaments at Atlanta (ATP) and Stanford (WTA).  More events on both Tours follow during each of the five weeks between now and the US Open, including consecutive Masters 1000/Premier Five tournaments in Canada and Cincinnati.  As the action accelerates toward the final major of 2013, here are seven key narratives to follow.

1.      Will Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray seize the upper hand?

The top two men in the world have contested the finals at the last three non-clay majors and enter the summer hard courts as co-favorites for the US Open.  Fittingly, Djokovic and Murray each have won once in New York, although the Serb has reached four finals there to the Scot’s two.  While Murray has won multiple titles at both Masters 1000 tournaments this summer, Djokovic never has conquered Cincinnati despite winning three times in Canada.  A victory for either man over the other at one of those events would earn that player an edge heading into New York.  So would a Canada/Cincinnati sweep, a feat that has occurred only three times on the men’s side in the Open era.  Back on their best surface for the rest of 2013, Djokovic and Murray have an opportunity to take their rivalry another step forward.  Abrupt shifts have defined it so far, so predict at your peril.

2.      Will Serena Williams restore order in the WTA?

The world No. 1 has compiled a somewhat strange season, dominating Roland Garros and racing undefeated through the clay season but losing by the quarterfinals at the two non-clay majors.  Serena usually responds with courage to adversity such as her stunning loss to Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon.  One need think back barely a year to the second-half surge that she reeled off after a much more disheartening setback against Virginie Razzano.  The dominance of the top three women since the start of 2012 prepared few viewers for the implosion at Wimbledon.  That fortnight echoed the chaotic period in the WTA that preceded the current Serena/Maria/Vika Rule of Three.  For reasons developed further below, the top-ranked woman and defending US Open champion stands the best positioned of that trio to curb her inferiors.  Even as she approaches 32, her aura still intimidates.

3.      Will Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal pose the greater challenge to the top two?

On the surface, literally and figuratively, this question seems easy.  Federer has compiled the superior record of the two in the US Open Series and at the US Open.  For most of their careers, he has been the better man on hard courts and the better man in the second half, when his rival’s energy wanes.  That said, Nadal has surpassed Federer in recent years at the US Open, notching consecutive finals in 2010-11.  He also has produced the stronger season of the two by far, reaching the final at every tournament except Wimbledon, claiming a key hard-court title at Indian Wells, and overcoming Djokovic at Roland Garros.  Federer has won just one title in 2013 and has not defeated a top-five opponent.  The two superstars never have met in the US Open Series or at the US Open.  They responded in contrasting ways to early Wimbledon losses, Nadal resting his ever-fragile knees and Federer entering two clay tournaments in July.

4.      Can the Wimbledon women’s finalists consolidate their breakthroughs?

Hovering over Murray’s quest to defend his US Open title is the question of how he will respond to his Wimbledon feat.  The women’s champion there also faces the task of overcoming the inevitable post-breakthrough hangover.  Like Murray, however, Marion Bartoli may have the maturity to avoid that lull.  She has earned some of her finest successes on North American hard courts, including a Stanford title won from Venus Williams, finals at Indian Wells and San Diego, and semifinals at Miami and the Rogers Cup.  Bartoli might return at Stanford next week.

Much more a grass specialist than Bartoli, the woman whom she defeated in the Wimbledon final has reached four quarterfinals there but none at any other major.  Sabine Lisicki still looks to build on her victories over two top-four opponents at Wimbledon, and there is no reason why her massive serve cannot shine on fast hard courts.  Her main challenge has consisted of staying healthy long enough to build momentum, so her ranking could climb if she does.

5.      What to expect from Wimbledon’s walking wounded?

About five top-eight players limped out of the grass season with injuries that may linger.  On the men’s side, Juan Martin Del Potro should recover quickly from a minor sprain caused by hyper-extending his left knee.  The Wimbledon semifinalist and former US Open champion should prove the most compelling threat in New York outside the Big Four.  World No. 3 David Ferrer may need more time to recover from his ankle injury, while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has voiced uncertainty over whether he will return from a knee injury by the Open.

Eager to ignite her partnership with Jimmy Connors, Maria Sharapova withdrew from Stanford next week to rest a hip injury incurred at Wimbledon.  Sharapova posted playful photos of her rehab work, not sounding overly concerned.  Still, both Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka may need to brush off some rust early in the US Open Series.  Limited to one match since Roland Garros, Azarenka has played only five tournaments in the last five months.  Her coach, Sam Sumyk, reported that her knee incurred no structural damage, though.

6.      Will home soil inspire the American men?

At the US Open last year and at Wimbledon this summer, nobody in this group reached the second week, something once taken for granted.  With Andy Roddick retired and Mardy Fish chronically ill, American men’s tennis has plunged down an elevator shaft with embarrassing velocity.  Not much light shines into the bottom of the shaft from former phenom Ryan Harrison, who has developed into an uninspired journeyman.  The more explosive Jack Sock may evolve into a future star, as French sports magazine L’Equipe thinks, but his time will not come for at least a few years.  Until then, the two lethargic giants John Isner and Sam Querrey remain the only real hopes for the US.  The good news is that they have played their best tennis on home soil, winning 10 of 13 career titles there.  The bad news is that neither has done anything meaningful on hard courts this year.

7.      Which rising stars on each Tour will shine?

In the wake of a Wimbledon semifinal appearance, many eyes will focus on Jerzy Janowicz over the summer.  The boyish, lanky Pole has virtually nothing to defend during the US Open Series as he aims to rise toward the top 10.  Grigor Dimitrov has drawn attention mostly on account of his resemblance to Federer and his relationship with Sharapova, but he impressed at both Indian Wells and Miami this year.  And the deeply talented, deeply enigmatic Bernard Tomic could build on a promising Wimbledon if he finds more discipline on the court and stability off the court.

The women’s game features some youngsters who have advanced faster than their male counterparts.  One of three women to reach the second week at every major in 2013, the 20-year-old Sloane Stephens offers the home nation its most genuine threat outside Serena.  Stephens needs to transfer some of her feistiness from verbal barbs to her game, not an obstacle confronted by the powerful Madison Keys.  American fans should relish the sight of Keys this summer, showcasing a serve reminiscent of the Williams sisters and the penetrating groundstrokes designed for WTA success.  Reaching the second week at Wimbledon and at last year’s US Open, meanwhile, British teenager Laura Robson has shown the power and belief to strike down the elite.

 

Tim Smyczek Answers Tennis Grandstand Fan Questions on Video

(July 15, 2013) A few weeks ago, Tennis Grandstand teamed up with Athletic DNA to give three lucky fans the chance to submit a question for American tennis player Tim Smyczek, while in the process winning one of the brand’s new tops from their popular summer 2013 line.

Last week, Smyczek defeated top American Sam Querrey in the first round of Newport, and this morning, he will be battling it out alongside fellow American Rhyne Williams for the Newport doubles title.

Many great fan questions were submitted, Smyczek had a good time answering them and even reminiscing over a few, and now the entire video is viewable for all to enjoy.

Smyczek dishes on how he first started in tennis, his greatest strength, who his idol was growing up and even jokes about the mustache he had to sport last Fall because of a lost bet. Check out that and more in the fun video below!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDspfsF5QEE

(Video courtesy of Athletic DNA)

What to Watch in the ATP This Week: Bastad, Stuttgart, Newport Draw Previews

A day after the dust settled on the Wimbledon final, several notable men launch back into action at tournaments on clay and grass.

Bastad:

Top half:  The apparently indefatigable Tomas Berdych surges into Sweden just days after his appearance in the Wimbledon quarterfinals.  This spring, Berdych complained of fatigue caused by an overstuffed schedule, but a substantial appearance fee probably persuaded him to enter this small clay tournament.  Not at his best on clay this year, the top seed should cruise to the quarterfinals with no surface specialist in his area.  Viktor Troicki, his projected quarterfinal opponent, produced some encouraging results at Wimbledon but lacks meaningful clay credentials.

Much more compelling is the section from which Berdych’s semifinal opponent will emerge.  The fourth-seeded Tommy Robredo, a surprise quarterfinalist at Roland Garros, will hope to repeat his victory over the Czech in Barcelona.  On the other hand, Robredo cannot afford to dig the same early holes for himself in a best-of-three format that he did in Paris.  A first-round skirmish between fellow Argentines Carlos Berlocq and Horacio Zeballos features two thorns in Rafael Nadal’s side this year.  While Zeballos defeated the Spaniard to win Vina del Mar in February, Berlocq extended him deep into a third set soon afterward in Sao Paulo.

Bottom half:  The most famous tennis player to visit Stockholm this month will not appear in the Swedish Open.  Following her second-round exit at Wimbledon, Maria Sharapova accompanied boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov on a brief summer vacation before his appearance here.  Dimitrov holds the fifth seed in a wide-open quarter as he aims to thrust an epic Wimbledon loss behind him.  The man who stunned Novak Djokovic on Madrid clay this year has receded in recent weeks, and dirt devil Juan Monaco may test his questionable stamina in the quarterfinals.  Two Italian journeymen, Filippo Volandri and Paolo Lorenzi, look to squeeze out all that they can from their best surface.

Probably the most compelling quarterfinal would emerge in the lowest section of the draw between Spaniards Nicolas Almagro and Fernando Verdasco.  Like Berdych, Verdasco travels to Sweden on short rest after reaching the Wimbledon quarterfinals.  Unlike Berdych, his result there astonished as he suddenly rediscovered his form in a dismal 2013, even extending Andy Murray to five sets.  Verdasco can resuscitate his ranking during the weeks ahead if he builds on that breakthrough, and he has won five of seven meetings from Almagro on clay.  Slumping recently after a fine start to the year, Almagro faces a potential early challenge against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.

Final: Robredo vs. Verdasco

Stuttgart:

Top half:  Often at his best on home soil, the top-seeded Tommy Haas eyes a rematch of his meeting in Munich this spring with Ernests Gulbis.  The veteran needed three sets to halt the Latvian firecracker that time.  But Marcel Granollers might intercept Gulbis in the first round, relying on his superior clay prowess.  In fact, plenty of quality clay tennis could await in a section that includes Monte Carlo semifinalist Fabio Fognini and Madrid semifinalist Pablo Andujar.  All of these men will have felt grateful to leave the brief grass season behind them as they return to the foundation of their success.

Much less deep in surface skills is the second quarter, headlined by Jeremy Chardy and Martin Klizan.  Despite his Australian Open quarterfinal when the season started, Chardy continues to languish below the elite level, which leaves this section ripe for surprises.  Granted, Klizan took a set from Nadal at Roland Garros, an achievement impressive under any circumstances.  He opens against Nice champion Albert Montanes, who once defeated Roger Federer on clay with a quintessential grinder’s game.  Perhaps Roberto Bautista-Agut will have gained confidence from his four-set tussle with David Ferrer at Wimbledon, or Daniel Gimeno-Traver from his upset of Richard Gasquet in Madrid.

Bottom half:   Never a threat at Wimbledon, Nikolay Davydenko chose to skip the third major this year to preserve his energy for more profitable surfaces.  Davydenko will begin to find out whether that decision made sense in Stuttgart, where he could face fourth seed Benoit Paire in the second round.  Both Paire and the other seed in this quarter, Lukas Rosol, seek to make amends for disappointing efforts at Wimbledon.  Each of them failed to capitalize on the Federer-Nadal quarter that imploded around them.  Another Russian seeking to make a comeback this year, Dmitry Tursunov, hopes to prove that February was no fluke.  Surprising successes at small tournaments that month have not led to anything greater for Tursunov so far, other than an odd upset of Ferrer.

Another player who skipped Wimbledon, Gael Monfils looks to extend a clay resurgence from his Nice final and a five-set thriller at Roland Garros against Berdych.  Two enigmatic Germans surround the even more enigmatic Frenchman, creating a section of unpredictability.  Philipp Kohlschreiber returns to action soon after he retired from a Wimbledon fifth set with alleged fatigue.  While compatriot Florian Mayer also fell in the first round, he had the much sturdier alibi of drawing Novak Djokovic.

Final:  Haas vs. Paire

Newport:

Top half:  Not part of the US Open Series, this cozy grass event at the Tennis Hall of Fame gives grass specialists one last opportunity to collect some victories.  Wildcard Nicolas Mahut could meet top seed Sam Querrey in round two, hoping that the American continues to stumble after an opening-round loss at Wimbledon.  But Querrey usually shines much more brightly on home soil, winning all but one of his career titles there.  A rising American star, Rhyne Williams, and doubles specialist Rajeev Ram look to pose his main pre-semifinal tests.  Ram has shone in Newport before, defeating Querrey in the 2009 final and reaching the semifinals last year with a victory over Kei Nishikori.

Among the most surprising names to reach the second week of Wimbledon was Kenny De Schepper, who outlasted fellow Frenchmen Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet.  De Schepper will try to exploit a section without any man in the top 50, but Igor Sijsling has played better than his ranking recently.  The Australian Open doubles finalist defeated Milos Raonic and won a set from Tsonga on grass this year, while extending Robredo to five sets at Roland Garros.  But Sijsling retired from Wimbledon with the flu, leaving his fitness in doubt.

Bottom half: Currently more dangerous on grass than anywhere else, Lleyton Hewitt reached the Newport final in his first appearance at the tournament last year.  The former Wimbledon champion more recently upset No. 11 seed Stanislas Wawrinka at Wimbledon after defeating Querrey, Dimitrov, and Juan Martin Del Potro at Queen’s Club.  Hewitt holds the fourth seed in Newport, where an all-Australian quarterfinal against Marinko Matosevic could unfold.   A former Newport runner-up in Prakash Amritraj and yet another Aussie in Matthew Ebden add their serve-volley repertoire to a section of contrasting playing styles.

Meeting for the fourth time this year are two struggling Americans, Ryan Harrison and the second-seeded John Isner.  The latter man aims to defend his Newport title as he regroups from a knee injury at the All England Club, but fellow giant Ivo Karlovic could loom in the quarterfinals.  Just back from a serious medical issue, Karlovic opens against Wimbledon doubles semifinalist Edouard Roger-Vasselin.  Potential talents Denis Kudla and Vasek Pospisil also square off, while Adrian Mannarino looks to recapture the form that took him to the brink of a Wimbledon quarterfinal.

Final:  Querrey vs. Hewitt

Wimbledon Rewind: Favorites and Fifth Sets (Mostly) Dominate on Day 2

The first round concluded at Wimbledon today without any seismic shock similar to Day 1 but with many more tightly contested matches than yesterday.  Check out the intriguing events below.

ATP:

Match of the day:  The top-ranked American squared off against the top-ranked Australian in a five-set rollercoaster of two giants.  After Bernard Tomic eked out the first two sets in tiebreaks, he characteristically lost the plot and allowed Sam Querrey to win two routine sets.  But Tomic got the last word, repeating his 2012 Australian Open victory over the American by zoning back into the action for the final set.  When he catches fire, he can ignite a draw.

Comeback of the day:  An Eastbourne semifinalist last week, Ivan Dodig fell behind 16th seed Philipp Kohlschreiber two sets to none and came within a tiebreak of losing in straights.  Dominating that tiebreak, Dodig carried that momentum through the fourth set and reaped the reward of his perseverance when Kohlschreiber retired early in the fifth.

Trend of the day:  The first day featured only one five-setter, but the second day brought fans no fewer than nine.  Five Americans played fifth sets.  In four of those nine matches, one player won the first two sets before letting the opponent back into the match.  None of the nine extended past 6-6 in the final set, however, and two ended in fifth-set retirements, a strange anticlimax.

Symmetry of the day:  On the same day that Tomic defeated Querrey, a different American defeated a different Aussie in the same manner.  Denis Kudla won the first two sets, lost the next two, and then recovered to win the fifth from James Duckworth.  Taken together, those results accurately reflect the superior promise of Australian tennis at the top and the superior depth of American tennis overall.

Gold star:  A three-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist and a champion at Eastbourne, Feliciano Lopez plays his best tennis on grass.  He extended his winning streak to the All England Club by knocking off the tenacious Gilles Simon in straight sets.  The upset recalled Lleyton Hewitt’s victory over Stanislas Wawrinka yesterday, in which an unseeded grass specialist also defeated a seeded counterpuncher.

Silver star:  The volatile game of Florian Mayer does not make the easiest way to settle into a major, especially for a man who had not played a match on grass this year.  In his first match since the epic Roland Garros loss to Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic stood tall as the Wimbledon top seed in dispatching Mayer uneventfully.

Americans in London:  Beyond the previously noted Querrey and Kudla, the stars and stripes produced mixed results on Tuesday.  Ryan Harrison unsurprisingly fell to Jeremy Chardy, although he did win a set, while James Blake unexpectedly dominated Thiemo de Bakker for the loss of just six games.  Bobby Reynolds cannibalized Steve Johnson, who now has lost a five-setter in the first round of every major this year.  Court 9 saw the little-lamented departures of Wayne Odesnik and Michael Russell to a pair of fellow journeymen.

Question of the day:  While rivals Djokovic, Tomas Berdych, and Juan Martin Del Potro all advanced in straight sets, David Ferrer struggled through a four-setter against an unheralded South American.  He also lost his opener last week at the Dutch Open.  Do these struggles suggest an early exit for the other Spanish finalist at Roland Garros, or will Ferrer find his grass groove with time?

WTA:

Match of the day:  Former Wimbledon quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi sought to continue building her momentum in a comeback from a long injury absence.  Home hope Tara Moore sought to justify her wildcard and earn her first main-draw victory at Wimbledon.  The two waged a relentless 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 duel in the confines of Court 17, which ended in hope for Kanepi and familiar heartbreak for Moore.

Comeback of the day:  The pugnacious Barbara Zahlavova Strycova refused to fade after dropping a tight first set to Magdalena Rybarikova.  Over the next two sets, the Czech yielded one total game to the Slovak who had reached the Birmingham semifinals (and won that tournament before).  Compatriot and Birmingham champion Daniela Hantuchova also fell to a Czech opponent in Klara Zakopalova as the western half of the former Czechoslovakia held their neighboring rivals in check.

Upset of the day:  Not the highest-ranked player to lose today, Nadia Petrova suffered the most surprising loss in falling to Katerina Pliskova in two tepid sets.  Petrova owes her top-15 status to a series of strong results last fall, but she could not consolidate them this year and now has little margin for error in the second half.

Gold star:  Thorny draws often have awaited Laura Robson at Wimbledon, and this year proved no exception with world No. 10 Maria Kirilenko awaiting her on Court 1.  The leading British women’s hope delighted her compatriots with her second victory over a top-ten opponent at a major this year.  Robson now eyes a relatively open draw after that initial upset, although she cannot relax her guard.

Silver star:  Both of last year’s finalists advanced with ease, Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska losing six games between them.  But perhaps even more impressive was the double breadstick that Li Na served to Michaella Krajicek, a player whose massive weapons could threaten on grass.  Li has struggled for most of the spring, and she has not shone on grass since 2010, so this victory might raise her spirits for the challenging road ahead.

Wooden spoon:  A quarterfinalist at Wimbledon last year, Tamira Paszek fell in the first round this year to the anonymous Alexandra Cadantu.  She has dropped nearly 1,000 points in two weeks, combining Eastbourne with Wimbledon, and will plummet from the top 30 in May to outside the top 100 in July.

Americans in London:  Outside Serena, most of the main American threats are (or were) in the other half of the draw.  Two youngsters suffered contrasting fates on Tuesday, Madison Keys dismissing British talent Heather Watson and Mallory Burdette falling short in a tight three-setter to Urszula Radwanska.  The only other American woman in action, Birmingham semifinalist Allison Riske, earned an upset of sorts over clay specialist Romina Oprandi when the latter retired in the third set.

Question of the day:  It’s grass season, which means that it’s Tsvetana Pironkova season.  The willow Bulgarian, twice a quarterfinalist or better at Wimbledon, routed top-25 opponent Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova for the loss of just one game.  How far can Pironkova’s grass magic carry her?

Roland Garros Rewind: Federer, Tsonga, Serena, Errani Shine on Friday

A sweeping slate of second-round and third-round matches filled the slate on Friday as the tournament caught up from a rainy Thursday.  Here is a look back at the rapidly unfolding action.

ATP:

Match of the day:  Banished from the televised courts, Fernando Verdasco and Janko Tipsarevic continued their history of fascinating meetings with a five-set sequence of twists and turns.  Tipsarevic appeared to have seized control for good when he dominated the second set after winning a tight first-set tiebreak.  To his credit, Verdasco battled all the way back and took the eighth seed to 8-6 in the fifth.  Vulnerable all year, Tipsarevic found just enough courage to ward off the massive collapse:

Comeback of the day.  Tommy Robredo did it again.  Not known for flamboyance or drama, the Spanish veteran did what his compatriot Verdasco could not and charged back from two sets down to halt home hero Gael Monfils.  Fatigue from an overstuffed schedule may have hampered Monfils late in the match, for Robredo closed out the fifth set with surprising ease.

Surprise of the day:  Third-ranked Serb Viktor Troicki had struggled to string together victories all season, so an upset of the tenth-seeded Marin Cilic on Troicki’s worst surface raised eyebrows.  (Of course, clay is Cilic’s worst surface as well.)  The key to this match may have come as early as the first-set tiebreak, which Troicki saved multiple set points to win 14-12 before dominating thereafter.

Tale of two Spaniards:  Nine sets played, nine sets won for—not Rafael Nadal, but David Ferrer.  None of his first three opponents have tested the second-ranked Spaniard, whereas his top-ranked countryman has dropped the first set in both of his first two matches.  Nadal, who comes back to face Fabio Fognini tomorrow, looked strangely uncomfortable for much for his four-set victory against Martin Klizan despite his outstanding clay campaign.

Gold star:  Tremors rippled through Court Philippe Chatrier when Roger Federer lost his opening service game, a departure from his routs in the first two rounds.  Against chronic nemesis Julien Benneteau, however, Federer swiftly buckled down to business and never looked seriously troubled thereafter.

Silver star:  Top-ranked Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga continued his bulletproof progress with a surprisingly routine dismissal of compatriot Jeremy Chardy.  Tsonga lost only eight games in staying on track to meet Federer in the quarterfinals, a rematch of their Australian Open meeting.

Americans in Paris:  Winless in five-set matches, Ryan Harrison let a two-set lead escape him as his 2013 woes persist.  At least his disintegration benefited fellow American John Isner, who snapped his own four-match losing streak in final frames.  Less fortunate was the top-ranked American Sam Querrey, falling in five sets to Gilles Simon after coming within a tiebreak of victory.  Also gone on Friday was Jack Sock, overmatched by Tommy Haas in a competitive but rarely suspenseful straight-setter.

Question of the day:  Does the impressive form displayed by Tsonga and Ferrer suggest that they can challenge Federer more than they usually do?

WTA:

Match of the day:  Overcoming an 0-4 record against Varvara Lepchenko, Angelique Kerber withstood 46 winners from her fellow lefty to prevail 6-4 in the third.  Lepchenko’s history of strong results on clay underscores the significance of Kerber’s victory as she reached the second week for the fifth straight major.  Up next for her is 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, who recently played a thriller against her in Madrid.

Comeback of the day:  Pounding more winners in two sets than Lepchenko did in three, Mariana Duque-Marino served for both sets against Marion Bartoli.  The top-ranked Frenchwoman spent much of the match with her back to the wall, as she did in the first round, but she edged through a first-set tiebreak and swept the last four games of the second set to survive.

Surprise of the day:  In a day with no notable upsets, a match between two unseeded players produced the greatest surprise.  Brussels champion Kaia Kanepi failed to exploit a crumbling section of the draw, instead adding to the uncertainty caused by the exits of Li Na and Yaroslava Shvedova.  Having won barely a single match on red clay this year, Stefanie Voegele ousted last year’s quarterfinalist 8-6 in the third as part of an excellent day for Swiss players.

Gold star:  Top seed Serena Williams has dropped just six game in six sets here, extending the longest winning streak of her career.  Her momentum and aura has built to the point where many opponents seem to lose hope before they even take the court.  What a difference a year makes.

Silver star:  All three Italian women in action today prevailed.  Only slightly authoritative than Serena here, Sara Errani bageled imposing server Sabine Lisicki in a demonstration of how her clay-court skills can compensate for immense gaps in power.  Less persuasive was second-ranked Italian Roberta Vinci, who weathered a second-set lull to survive in three.  But the brightest headline of the day came from 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone, able to edge seeded opponent Kirsten Flipkens to reach the brink of the second week.

Most improved:  After she had lost the first set in each of her first two matches, Carla Suarez Navarro navigated through her third more routinely.  Perhaps Nadal should take a page from his countrywoman’s book.

Fastest finish:  Defending champion Maria Sharapova seemed to spend more time warming up before and interviewing after the completion of her second-round match than she needed to play the match itself.  About ten minutes of live action sufficed to move Sharapova past Eugenie Bouchard, although she needed a massive second serve to save a break point that would have leveled the second set.

Question of the day:  Which former champion has a better chance to upset a top-eight seed, Kuznetsova against Kerber or Ana Ivanovic against Agnieszka Radwanska?

 

Roland Garros Rewind: Federer, Serena Shine on Day 1; Venus Falls

Today marks the first in the series of brief daily recaps that will keep you updated on several of the key storylines at Roland Garros.  Roland Garros Rewind will be followed by Roland Garros Fast Forward each day, a preview of the next day’s notable matches.

ATP:

Match of the day:  Defending fourth-round points in Paris, Andreas Seppi brought little momentum here after staggering through a miserable clay season.  His opening match against unheralded Argentine Leonardo Mayer showed plenty of the reasons for his 2013 woes, but the Italian finished strong to win in five after several momentum shifts.

Comeback of the day:  Gilles Simon never had rallied to win a match after losing the first two sets, so things looked grim after he won just four games in two sets against Lleyton Hewitt.  On the other hand, he had not lost in the first round of a major since this tournament five years ago.  That statistic endured as the other disappeared when Simon eked out a 7-5 fifth set after blowing a 5-0 lead.

Surprise of the day:  None.  All of the men’s seeds won their matches, most much more comfortably than Simon.  Marcel Granollers did end the day in a spot of bother against compatriot Feliciano Lopez, suspended for darkness before starting the fifth set.

Gold star:  Pablo Carreno-Busta had sparked plenty of chatter among tennis fans for his success earlier this clay season and long winning streak at ITF events.  Roger Federer showed him no mercy in conceding just seven games on Court Philippe Chatrier, the first Grand Slam match of the qualifier’s career.  The combination of opponent and setting proved too much for the youngster to overcome.

Silver star:  David Ferrer took care of business efficiently too, meeting little resistance from Marinko Matosevic.  Ferrer has a very promising draw this tournament as he seeks his fourth semifinal in the last five majors.

American in Paris:  Aided by a severely slumping Lukas Lacko, Sam Querrey won just the second match of his Roland Garros career and did so handily.  In other words, the USA avoided the ignominy of its top-ranked man losing in the first round of a major.

Question of the day:  Three tall men won today:  Milos Raonic, Kevin Anderson, and Querrey.  Who will go the furthest this year?

WTA:

Match of the day:  In over three hours filled with tension, Urszula Radwanska upset Venus Williams for arguably the most impressive victory of her career.  Urszula easily could have faded when Venus slipped away with the second set in a tiebreak, but her youth may have helped her outlast a fading veteran troubled by back injuries this spring.  An all-Radwanska match could end the first week.

Surprise of the day:  The Puerto Rican phenom Monica Puig knocked off 11th seed and former Roland Garros semifinalist Nadia Petrova.  Granted, Petrova has not accomplished much this year, building her ranking upon two hard-court titles last fall.  Puig still deserves a tip of the hat for rallying from a one-set deficit despite her lack of experience.

Comeback of the day:  The first step often has proved the last for Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova this year, as it had in Madrid and Rome.  Déjà vu lurked just around the corner when Andrea Hlavackova served for the match against her in the second set and came within two points of the upset in the ensuing tiebreak.  Pavlyuchenkova not only held firm at that tense moment but managed to hold serve throughout a tight third set, a good omen for her future here.

Gold star:  What a difference a year makes.  Gone in the first round last year to Virginie Razzano, Serena Williams sent home Anna Tatishvili with a gift basket of a bagel and a breadstick.  The world No. 1 looked every bit as intimidating as she had in her dominant Rome run.

Silver star:  The last woman to lose at Roland Garros last year was the first woman to win at Roland Garros this year.  Now the fifth seed rather than an unknown dirt devil, Sara Errani responded well to the target on her back by conceding just three games to Arantxa Rus.

American in Paris:  In her first main-draw match at Roland Garros, Mallory Burdette started her career here 1-0 with an impressively convincing victory over teenage talent Donna Vekic.  Nerves surfaced when Burdette squandered triple match point as she served for the match, but she saved two break points before closing it out.

Question of the day:  Ana Ivanovic started proceedings on Chatrier with a bizarre three-setter that she could have won much more easily than she did.  Should we chalk up her uneven performance to first-round nerves on the big stage, or is it a sign of (bad) things to come?

See you shortly with Day 2 previews.

 

Why Novak Djokovic Will Win Roland Garros

By Jane Voigt, owner of DownTheTee.com

May 2, 2013 — Novak Djokovic is on a mission this spring: to win Roland Garros. His victory is not assured, however it is highly likely. Here’s why.

He can overcome any obstacle, whether physical or mental, on any tennis court surface. In Paris, we see red. Red clay. Second, Djokovic’s game is pitch perfect for the optimal and desirable opponent — Rafael Nadal, The King of Clay.

In mid-April, Djokovic took a giant leap forward in his pursuit of his missing link for a career Grand Slam. He defeated Nadal at The Monte Carlo Rolex Masters.

The number-one Djokovic is only the second man to defeat the Spaniard since 2003. Had Nadal won, history would have written of his unprecedented nine Masters accumulated at the beautifully situated country club.

The week prior to this, Djokovic clinched the tie for Serbia in the Davis Cup quarterfinals. And that’s where this prediction of French dominance begins.

During his match against Sam Querrery of the U. S., Djokovic took a nasty fall. The replay of his accident certainly convinced people of its intensity. Novak screamed and grabbed at his ankle. Fans went silent. The person Serbia counted on most looked doomed.

But Djokovic did not retire. He revived himself. The screams, ankle clutching, and limp to the sideline were merely reactions. He actually put aside his pain after a consultation with a medical team and a couple tablets of Ibuprofen. The need for his tennis skills was palpable, at least perhaps in his mind. He had to rise up and save his country’s and his own pride.

He threw himself into high gear and defeated Querrey by winning 6-1 6-0 in the last two sets. Some were incredulous. Was he faking that ankle sprain? Had the Djokovic of his pained past risen? No. All you had to do was review the video of the fall. That was the real deal.

Credible tennis journalists espoused the virtue of Nole’s grand feat.

Steve Tignor of Tennis Magazine wrote, “’And what else could anyone think on Sunday afternoon, as they watched him hobble his way through an ankle injury, and Sam Querrey, in four sets to clinch Serbia’s quarterfinal tie over the United States. This was one of Djokovic’s most impressive performances of 2013, and an exercise in resilience for team’s sake.’”

Tignor went on to say that Novak demonstrated ‘efficiency and focus’ while his movement was compromised, adding, “‘That’s what playing for country and teammates can do for you.’”

Twitter sang Djokovic praises, as if he was inspired by, perhaps, a spiritual essence deep within or at least a highly selective intuitive nature of how to handle baffling situations. Perhaps Djokovic’s elimination of wheat gluten from his diet, plus a few go rounds inside the high-elevation recovery egg vessel had created a guidance system that gave him that pinch of push no one else on tour possessed.

Impossible to prove. But millions of people witnessed that match.

He, too, was incredulous when speaking with reporters. He said he really didn’t know how it all happened, that he ‘took some Advil and they kicked in.’ Yet his performance went well beyond that simple explanation; and he knew it.

Ten days later, on the Monday, May 10, the first day of the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters tournament Djokovic finally announced he would play. He was entered, but people speculated he might withdraw because of his ankle. His team announced it wasn’t the best, but good enough. Monaco had become Novak’s adopted home town, like for so many other tennis players, and he wanted to play a home tournament.

The news was a mixture of speculation about Rafael Nadal’s record of having won eight consecutive titles and how he would try ‘my very best’ for the ninth plus Djokovic’s, or any number of other players, chances of knocking Rafa off his Monaco thrown.

Djokovic started the week slowly. Losing first sets, but advancing in three, until the semifinals where he took out Jarko Niemnen in straight sets.

The Serbian was primed as Nadal sailed through his half.

Rain delayed the final but did not discourage French fans and dignitaries. The sun cast its brilliance on Centre Court and tennis balls began to fly.

The first set from Djokovic was nothing less than perfect. He showed no signs of ankle strain. His concentration, shot selection, timing on the ball, movement and serve set a high bar. The stadium was alive. And Nadal looked intent on reversing course.

He didn’t. Djokovic wrested his first Masters from his adopted home. If he wins Cincinnati this summer, he will have won all nine Masters 1000 titles. No one else can say that.

During the awards presentation, Nadal thanked Novak for winning his favorite tournament and Novak thanked Nadal for letting him win it once. Their passion for victory and their sportsmanship superseded any impulse to disrespect either champion.

Djokovic had started the week as ‘likely’ and finished on top. His ankle improved throughout the week, and his confidence along with it. To have come through against Nadal proved a consistency with resilience.

He was physically impaired, yet capable of surpassing that which would have stopped many. Djokovic’s ankle, though, can’t be compared to Nadal’s left knee. This chronic problem took him away from the game for 7 months. In this final, Nadal’s weakness was not a result of knee pain either.

The rain at the start of the match dampened the court. As a result, the ball did not bounce as high as it would have had the clay been drier. Therefore Nadal’s primary offense — his top spin — was compromised. Novak walloped the ball within a comfortable range strike zone. There were too many unforced errors, too, from Nadal. These were partially due to Djokovic’s fine ball placement and Nadal’s technique, especially his under-spin groundstrokes.

To predict Novak Djokovic will win the French Open based on two tournament performances could be viewed as a thin argument, especially considering that Nadal has lost one match out of 53 in Paris. Yet Djokovic has been gunning for this title since 2006, saying along the way that Nadal is beatable.

In 2011, his chances were the greatest. He had a brilliant start to the year, accumulating a record of 43-0 coming Roland Garros. But Roger Federer pulled a fast one on the Serbian, defeating him in an instant classic in the semifinals. Federer raised his finger to the sky in a gesture of triumph and poignant reminder that he is the number one man to beat.

Djokovic reached his first Paris final in 2012. He was number one in the world, too, as Nadal attempted his seventh title. Over two rain-soaked days and four sets, Djokovic came up short. He had won the Australian Open but could not surpass the passion and skills of a determined Nadal. Novak ended up losing in the semifinals of Wimbledon to Federer, and losing to Andy Murray in the U. S. Open final.

It’s a lot to assume they will meet in the 2013 final. Djokovic will come in as the number one seed, but the rest is up in the air. Andy Murray could be seeded #2 or Roger Federer could capture that honor, depending on results from Madrid and Rome. Nadal, though, will certainly not be seeded two. Therefore the draw will set the stage, as it always does. If Nadal falls on the opposite side from Djokovic, odds are in Nadal’s favor that he will persevere to the final Sunday.

Which man has more at stake? Which is prepared the best?

Djokovic has more at stake because Nadal already has 7 titles and because Djokovic is ready to suffer for pride and country and history. Plus, he has proven over and over — remember the match in Melbourne against Stanislaus Wawrinka — that he is in charge of the rabbit in the hat.

Nadal’s record in Paris is Djokovic’s biggest obstacle. He will also have to bury Nadal’s ability to up his game consistently, year after year, in a city that has not embraced his grunts, style of play, and his certainly un-French-like crass on-court mannerisms.

With all the assumptions cast about the draw and the perfectly imperfect extraneous elements of the game lurking … this is Novak Djokovic’s finest and most opportune chance to seal his place alongside the six other men with career Grand Slams. His pride beckons the association. And his pride could be that sine-qua-non that sparks this champion to that lofty place.

Jane Voigt lives, breathes and writes tennis. She has previously written for Tennis.com, TennisServer.com, and the late, great Tennis Week publication. She now maintains her own website at DownTheTee.com, and has traveled throughout the U.S. and Canada to cover tournaments. Ask her to play tennis, and she’ll prefer singles to doubles.

Alex Kuznetsov Q&A: USTA Roland Garros Wild Card Hopeful on His Start and Goals in Tennis

May 1, 2013 — The last three weeks have been a game-changer for 26-year-old Alex Kuznetsov as he has shot up the rankings one hundred spots to world No. 176, and is also in the lead for the USTA Roland Garros wild card as part of the Har-Tru Wild Card Challenge.

Last month, the Ukraine-born and Pennsylvania-raised Kuznetsov dropped down to 271 in the rankings before having a breakthrough run at the Sarasota Challenger. He came through the qualification rounds to grab the title, en route defeating players all ranked better than him. He then went onto reach the quarterfinals of the Savannah Challenger the following week, and is currently in the second round of the Tallahassee Challenger after defeating young American hopeful Jack Sock in three sets on Tuesday.

With a win last year over current top 20 player Sam Querrey, Kuznetsov has had a taste of the top players and is ready to eclipse his career-high singles ranking of 158. Get to know the laid-back Kuznetsov as he talks about his start in tennis, his most memorable moment on court, and the player he would most want to play against in history.

What is your most memorable tennis moment?

I would say the Australian Open last year. I got through qualifications and drew Rafael Nadal in the first round – which was exciting but also nerve-wrecking. I had seen him play numerous times on TV, and he has won countless Grand Slams. I was really nervous going out there but it was a great experience for me, and I learned a lot from it.

A lot of my family actually got to see that match back home, and my girlfriend recorded the match — it’s still on my DVR back home. (Laughs) So sometimes when I’m bored, I’ll sit back and watch that a bit. I have maybe (seen it) a handful of times. After the first set, it gets a little frustrating to watch. (Nadal won 6-4, 6-1, 6-1.)

How did you first start playing tennis, and what is your earliest tennis memory?

My earliest memory is of my dad getting me out on the tennis courts in our neighborhood around age 6. A good friend of mine played tennis, and he was going to the local club and getting lessons. My dad said “Why don’t you go and try it?” At first, I didn’t really like it to be honest with you! I was more into team sports like basketball and soccer. But dad saw that I had talent for the game and pushed me to continue getting lessons and play in more tournaments. I remember traveling all over the state of Pennsylvania with him to junior events.

How would you describe your personality?

I have a pretty laid back personality. I like playing golf, that’s one of my favorite things to do. I have two dogs at home, a pug named “Gnarly” – my girlfriend’s dog – and we just got another one year ago, a terrier mix named “Poppins”. My ideal weekend would be playing golf and then spending time with them and going on walks, taking it easy … Nothing too crazy.

What are two things on Tour that you couldn’t live without?

My iPad, I can’t live without that. And, I guess, my iPhone to call friends, family, and my girlfriend.

Do you have a favorite app?

I’m not too into the games, but if I’m bored on a long plane ride, I have these racing and putt games I might play. But I love watching TV shows, so that’s something that I enjoy on my iPad.

What is your favorite show at the moment?

Oh, I’ve watched so many! I just finished watching “Shameless,” which is kind of a crazy show. But my favorite is “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia ”… I have all the seasons.

If you were in a Rock ‘n Roll band, what would your role be?

I would like to be the drummer and rock out in back, not out in front. (Laughs)

You had a titanium rod inserted into your leg after breaking it during a car accident in 2005. Is the rod still there and do you ever feel it while playing?

I still have the titanium rod and screw around my (right) knee. It doesn’t bother me at all; I don’t feel it. I feel that my right leg is even stronger than my left one now because I do a lot of work in the gym.

Do you have any trouble going through security at the airports?

I get asked that a lot. Only if they select me for the screening, the (metal-detecting) wand goes off. I don’t carry a (documentation) card, I just say I broke my leg and have a titanium rod in it. They just let me through. They don’t give me too much trouble.

If you could play against any player in history, who would it be and why?

Marat Safin. He was my favorite player growing up. He was kind of crazy out on court, but people seemed to really enjoy his personality. I’ve always looked up to him in the way he played the game and how well he struck the ball. Even for his big size, he moved really well. He just had so much talent and I really liked watching him.

If you weren’t a tennis player, what would you be doing?

I would love to be a golfer. Seeing how well those guys do and the lifestyle that they have isn’t too bad. I think I would still love to be involved in sports somehow, maybe even some coaching.

Do you remember your first Tour win and the feelings behind it?
(Editor’s Note: The player in reference, former world No. 60 and current University of Florida Assistant Coach Amer Delic, had already been playing on Tour while in college, and had just won the NCAA singles title before officially turning pro and making his debut against a youner Kuznetsov in 2003.)

That’s a good story actually. I beat a good friend of mine who just recently stopped playing, Amer Delic. We were in Lubbock, Texas and he had just turned pro as well. He was doing really well and this was (supposed to be) his first prize money check after his great summer results (as an amateur). I was just some 16-year-old kid and I happened to beat him, and that was my first ATP ranking point. It was a good moment for me. But I’ll always take the opportunity to remind him that my first point was against him. (Laughs)

What are your goals for the year in terms of progress or ranking?

I am not really looking for a rankings goal; it’s really mainly for me to continue improving. I’ve done ranking goals for myself before. But I feel the reason I’ve been doing well these last couple of weeks is because I’ve been really focused on my game and how I’m playing, and not necessarily the rankings. That takes care of itself if you’re playing well, I feel. I just want to keep improving, keep working hard off the court, and keep getting stronger and fitter.

To follow Alex around the Tour, make sure to check out his Twitter, @alexKUZnetsov87!

(Special thanks to Tallahassee Challenger media manager @NickMcCarvel who made this interview possible.)

Americans Nowhere to be Found on European Clay

By Yeshayahu Ginsburg

It sometimes feels like there is a long-standing tradition of Americans skipping the European clay court season. Oh, everyone will play Roland Garros because even a first-round loss at a Slam is too much money to pass up and the Slams are prestigious enough to merit playing on an uncomfortable surface. But no American since Agassi really seems to expect to win more than a few matches in Paris. The evidence is in the fact that no American ever really seems to take the clay preludes to Roland Garros seriously.

John Isner looks like he wants to buck the trend. Even though it ended disastrously for him, he took a late wild card to play Monte Carlo and really looked like he wanted to get more match play in on the dirt. Of all the Americans, he has the best chance to do well on clay and appears to have finally decided to try and pick up his results in Europe—which have not been good in his career, to say the least. Isner will also play Nice the week before Roland Garros. And while it is often debated whether or not playing the week before a Slam is a good idea, it clearly shows that Isner is in the right frame of mind here.

Sam Querrey seems to have gone the standard American route and will only play Madrid and Rome before the French Open. And, while we should not conjecture anything bad here, Americans since Andy Roddick have often found ways to avoid playing one or two of those Masters events each year.

After those two, it’s not only in Europe where Americans can’t be found. It’s really anywhere. Mardy Fish is still in the top 50 on the back of a good summer last year, but he has only played 1 tournament in the last 6 months and a heart condition isn’t always something that you can heal or fix. He is playing in the Savannah Challenger this week, but you have to begin to wonder how much longer he can physically play tennis.

Brian Baker, last year’s amazing comeback story, is still out with a torn meniscus suffered at the Australian Open. Ryan Harrison and Donald Young, both of whom have been in the top 50 within the past year, have dropped considerably. James Blake and Mike Russell are consistently in the tail end of the top 100, which seems to have been their constant place in the last 5 years.

The most spirited American tennis during the clay season always seems to come on the Challenger tour. This is because the USTA gives their wild card for the French Open to the player who earns the most total points in the Sarasota, Savannah, and Tallahassee Challengers. These players mostly know that their chances of getting through qualifiers and actually playing in a Slam, especially on clay, aren’t so high. Thus, we often see these 100+ ranked players giving everything they can and more in these tournaments.

Of the Americans outside the top 100, Rhyne Williams is rising. He began really improve last season and this looks to be his breakout year. He gained over 300 rankings spots in 2012, from 510 up to 191 and is currently ranked #119 in the world. Jack Sock and Steve Johnson, two talented youngsters, are still looking for their first breakthroughs on the professional tour. And Alex Kuznetsov, a once-hyped player who hasn’t been able to do that much with his career won the Sarasota Challenger and has the inside track for that wild card and his first-ever French Open Main Draw.