steve johnson

Popcorn tennis: lets, winners and aces from Thursday at the Citi Open

By Romi Cvitkovic

A quick report on the happenings and results of the Citi Open including winners, wildcards, aces and overrules of various events around the grounds.

Major Hold: We’ve all by now heard about Sam Querrey’s great comeback to catapult up the rankings to world No. 38 after being outside of the top 100 just four months ago. But today at the Citi Open versus Benjamin Becker, Querrey managed to win all, yes ALL, 24 of his first serves for the match. By no means an easy opponent, Becker stayed with Querrey exchanging four breaks of serve between the two, and only lost 6-4, 6-3. The summer season continues to favor the young American and perhaps he can repeat his stellar 2010 when he won three titles in the summer alone.

Overrule: As the first women’s match of the whole week on stadium court, Eugenie Bouchard and Sloane Stephens did not disappoint. What did, however, was the scheduling. Although the men’s tournament is at a higher level, the women should have at least been given a handful of matches on stadium court prior to today’s quarterfinal round. What is of note though is that Stephens was placed on stadium court, while fellow American Sam Querrey and his doubles partner Kevin Anderson took on the duo of Eric Butorac and Paul Hanley on Grandstand 2 in an overcapacity crowd.

Winner: After looking a bit rough around the edges in his first match in D.C., Mardy Fish slipped past wildcard and Los Angeles finalist Ricardas Berankis in an easy 6-3, 6-1 victory. Not visibly hampered by his ankle injury sustained in Atlanta, Fish is favorable to reach the semifinals where he could potentially meet another veteran of the Tour, Tommy Haas. But he’ll have to work on his baseline game a bit, as he won just 16 of 36 points from the back of the court.

Wildcards: Steve Johnson and his doubles partner Drew Courtney are living the dream in Washington, D.C. Johnson, currently No. 360 in singles and No. 171 in doubles, and Courtney, No. 827 in doubles and unranked in singles were handed some luck when their second round opponent and No. 4 seed pulled out due to injury. They were replaced by a valiant alternate team, but the American duo was already well-adjusted to the courts and they pulled out a significant win today to land a spot in the men’s doubles quarterfinals. They next face Treat Huey and Dominic Inglot, who themselves pulled off an upset as they defeated the No. 2 seed of Robert Farah and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi.

Let: Just two days after defeating the No. 1 seed, James Blake and his doubles partner Tim Smyczek went out in a tiebreak blaze versus Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin, 5-7, 6-3, 10-8. What is comforting for Blake fans though is that the loss was more due to Smyczek’s inexperienced hands than Blake’s errors. This ultimately opens up Blake to do well in the singles draw, but he’ll need to get past No. 2 seed Alexandr Dolgopolov tomorrow.

Ace: South African player Kevin Anderson, who was forced to skip the Olympics due to ITF ineligibility, redeemed his week by reaching the quarterfinals when he defeated French qualifier Florent Serra en route bombing 12 aces and winning 85% of first serves.

Deuce: Although not a clear out winner or ace, the five newly-surfaced practice courts on the southeast corner of the grounds are reminiscent of the ones at the U.S. Open, and may perhaps be even better for fans. There are no immense crowds jamming up against the barrier fence, and there is a walkway along the entire baseline of the courts as well. The players, however, stand in conflict with each other. While most of the female players have expressed their relief to have availability of courts for practice, some of the men have stated that there is not enough availability now that the women’s event has been added. As next year’s ATP level tournament is sure to boast more top players with the Olympics no longer a factor, the difference in opinions between the two tours is sure to escalate.

San Jose: McEnroe/Sock Prevail Over Monfils/Johnson; Anderson Wins

The weather in San Jose may have been unusually cold and wet today – even for February, but that didn’t stop things from proceeding exactly as planned at the HP Pavilion, where the first day of the SAP Open finished up at ten minutes before midnight, when big-serving Kevin Anderson prevailed over Grigor Dimitrov in a third set tiebreak. Dimitrov had come out on fire, but once the tall South African found his serving rhythm in the second set, neither player could manage a break, and when it comes to tiebreaks, being able to rely on a booming serve like Anderson’s can make all the difference.

The highlight of the evening had been earlier, when the legendary John McEnroe took to the court, along with the talented and top-seeded Gael Monfils to play doubles, each paired with a young American. McEnroe partnered with Jack Sock, while Monfils played with NCAA champion Steve Johnson. The exhibition match had its roster changed around due to the withdrawals before the tournament, but neither the B-team players nor the weather outside could dampen the audience’s enjoyment of Johnny Mac displaying plenty of his signature magic at the net.

Monfils got up to plenty of showmanship as well, with his own brand of shots behind the back, between the legs, and hang time smashes, not to mention plenty of diving and sliding around the court, in his inimitable fashion. Sock and Johnson each acquitted themselves admirably, both serving and volleying with more precision that you might expect from a pair so inexperienced at tour level. Sock has perhaps a bit more firepower and a bit more flare than the USC Trojan, but everyone in attendance was left confident that both players ought to have long and successful pro careers ahead of them.

Of course, it was McEnroe who was the main draw of the evening, and he did not disappoint. He served exceptionally well, going so far as to thank the operator of the radar gun when one of his serves hit the 126 mph mark, which he claims to have been a first for him. McEnroe turns 53 on Thursday (the crowd regaled him with a rendition of “Happy Birthday”) but his ability to hit pinpoint volleys from seemingly impossible positions and to place them perfectly on the other side of the court remains unmatched in the modern game. The crowd also got the result they wanted from the match, with McEnroe and Sock prevailing in two tight sets, 6-4, 6-4. There were even some theatrics involving the line calls and the challenge system, but it all seemed to be in good fun.

After the match, McEnroe fielded questions about the state of the game today and the surprises of his post-playing tennis career. He explained how thankful he was to have come to enjoy these sorts of exhibitions as well as his time as a broadcaster, two things which he never thought he would have wanted to continue doing, while he was playing. He also discussed his movie and TV roles, and marveled at how many people recognize him from his appearances in Adam Sandler movies, without being aware that he was originally a tennis player.

When it came to his take on the modern tennis game, he once again touched on how spoiled the United States had been up until the current generation, and what needed to be done to get an American player vying for grand slam titles, again. McEnroe touted Sock as a future top ten player, but he had more to say about what he is currently trying to accomplish at his tennis academy in New York. It was his opinion that the current trend in junior development which forces young players to devote themselves almost exclusively to tennis inevitably leads to burnout. He believed that a more rounded development process would ultimately be more successful, but he recognizes he’s in the minority, even finding himself in disagreement with his own brother, who is the head of the USTA player development program.

I guess time will tell.

When it came to the other matches during the day session, it was not a great day to be a former junior world number one. Two of them were in action in the final round of qualifying, and neither managed to win a set. Ricardas Berankis, who reached the quarterfinals in this tournament last year but has been struggling with a leg injury, was forced to retire against Tim Smyczek. Yuki Bhambri, another great junior player who has been struggling to make the transition to the pro level, fell to collegiate tennis player Dennis Lajola, of the University of Hawaii. It marks the first time that Lajola has ever successfully qualified into the main draw of an ATP event, and he has a chance to go even further, since he meets another qualifier in the first round tomorrow.

Australian Open Wildcard Playoffs: A Glimpse Into the Future

The banner boldly proclaims: “See the future of American tennis.” And on Dec. 16-18, tennis fans looking to see upcoming American stars and top pros during the “offseason” are in luck. Sixteen American men and women are set to faceoff at the 3rd annual USTA-sponsored Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs in Norcross, GA, vying for a chance to play in the main draw at Melbourne in January.

The playoffs, hosted by the Racquet Club of the South, gives fans a chance to watch future top tennis talents in a setting far more intimate than most tennis events. The two winners, one male and one female, will earn a wildcard into the 2012 Australian Open main draw.

The eight men are former U.S. Open semifinalist Robby Ginepri, NCAA champion Steve Johnson, U.S. Open wildcard playoffs champion Bobby Reynolds, U.S. Open Mixed Doubles winner Jack Sock, Daniel Kosakowski, Denis Kudla, Jesse Levine and Rhyne Williams.

 

The women featured are former U.S. Open quarterfinalist Melanie Oudin, this year’s U.S. Open juniors champion Grace Min, U.S. Open wildcard playoffs winner Madison Keys, Coco Vandeweghe, Gail Brodsky, Jamie Hampton and Alison Riske.

Last year’s winners were 19-year-old Ryan Harrison and 18-year-old Lauren Davis. Long touted as the future of American tennis, Harrison has seen his stock rise in 2011 and finished the season ranked No. 79 in the world. Davis, an accomplished junior player, made two Grand Slam main draw appearances this year and is currently ranked No. 320.

At No. 127 in the world, Bobby Reynolds is the highest ranked player in the men’s draw. The 29-year-old also has home-court advantage, hailing from nearby Acworth, GA. Reynolds was once ranked as high as No. 63 in 2009 but suffered a severe wrist injury that sidelined him for nearly a year. Reynolds looks to ride the momentum he built this summer with the WTT champions Washington Kastles and the U.S. Open wildcard playoffs victory to another Grand Slam main draw berth in Australia.

While Reynolds is a tour veteran, the majority of the playoffs feature fresh faces of the game. At this year’s U.S. Open, Jack Sock, 19, made headlines with a first round victory and by winning the mixed doubles title with partner and fellow playoff participant Melanie Oudin. Sock was last year’s runner-up and is poised to take it one step further. Former college standouts Daniel Kosakowski (UCLA), 19, who reached the finals of the U.S. Open wildcard playoffs, and USC’s Steve Johnson, 20, also have a great chance to start the 2012 season strong with a win here.

Coco Vandeweghe, who has spent time training this off-season by boxing, leads the women’s draw at No. 122 in the world. The imposing 20-year-old stands at 6’1’’ and has a game to match her size. Vandeweghe played in the main draw at all four Grand Slams this year and reached the second round at the U.S. Open.

Other notable young players include 16-year-old Madison Keys, the winner of the U.S. Open wildcard playoffs and 2011 U.S. Open juniors champion Grace Min. Keys went on to win her first ever Grand Slam main draw match in Flushing Meadows, upsetting Jill Craybas in the first round and taking a set off top-30 player, Lucie Safarova in the second. Seventeen-year-old Min won the juniors tournament without dropping a set, toppling No. 1 seed Caroline Garcia in the finals.

A win at these playoffs could create momentum going into the new season for the players and fans will have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of future stars to watch out for in Australia and years to come.