tim smyczek

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Citi Open Monday Gallery: Kerber, Stephens, Johnson and More

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Monday action at the Citi Open took place over five courts, with the last ball being played just before midnight, earning American Melanie Oudin a spot in the second round.

Players roamed, stretched, practice and played all over the grounds, including Angelique Kerber, David Goffin, Steve Johnson, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Dmitry Tursunov, Radek Stepanek, Juan Martin del Potro, Sloane Stephens, Magdalena Rybarikova, Alize Cornet, Bernard Tomic, Tim Smyczek, Eugenie Bouchard, and Taylor Townsend.

Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.

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

Ryan Harrison flexed some muscle this week in Atlanta.

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

Atlanta:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stanford:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tim Smyczek Answers Tennis Grandstand Fan Questions on Video

Tim Smyczek answer tennis fan questions

(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)

Giveaway: Ask “Athletic DNA” Tennis Pro Tim Smyczek a Question to Win Shirt From Summer 2013 Line!

Tomy Smyczek and Athletic DNA tennis brand_600

(June 11, 2013) In celebration of the release of Athletic DNA‘s new Summer 2013 line, Tennis Grandstand has teamed up with the tennis brand to give away THREE tops from the new line to lucky fans, while getting to know one of their top tennis pros, Tim Smyczek!

Tim Smyczek, nickname “Smee,” is knocking on the doors of the top 100 as he reached his career-high ranking of 101 just earlier this year. He defeated world No. 24 Fernando Verdasco in straight sets in February and even took a set off of world No. 4 David Ferrer during the second round of this year’s Australian Open. He holds two Challenger titles.

Have a fun question you have always wanted to ask a tennis pro, or ever wondered what life is like on the ATP Tour? Well, this is your chance to ask Tim your most creative, intriguing and fun questions about him, tennis or the pro tour!

All you have to do to win an Athletic DNA top is comment below with the question you would most like to ask Tim! Only questions (and not comments) for Tim will qualify you to win a top, and please submit no more than two questions per person. The three winning questions will be chosen and Tim will answer them on video which will be posted at a later date. Winners may choose their favorite top from either the Summer 2013 Men’s or Women’s line.

The contest is open now and will run until Wednesday, June 19th at 6PM EST. Kindly remember to provide a contact email address with your comment as we will notify the three winners by email.

Get the word out and get thinking on what you most want to ask Tim!

Americans Harrison, Smyczek, Kudla Book Semifinal Spots at Tallahassee Tennis Challenger

Tim Smyczek (copyright: Tallahassee Tennis Challenger)

TALLAHASSEE, FL, May 2, 2013 – The red, white and blue rolled on Thursday at the Tallahassee Tennis Challenger.

No. 2 seed Ryan Harrison played some of his best tennis of the week at the $50,000 USTA Pro Circuit event, beating fellow American Donald Young 7-6 (5), 6-4 to book a place in the semifinals at Forestmeadows Tennis Complex.

Harrison is joined by two other Americans – No. 7 seed Denis Kudla and defending champion Tim Smyczek – as well as Cedrik-Marcel Stebe of Germany in the semifinals.

Alex Kuznetsov, who earned the Har-Tru USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge birth in the French Open Wednesday, retired in his evening match against Smyczek, a close friend, with a shoulder injury. The No. 5 seed Smyczek was leading 6-4.

The day, however, was all about Harrison, who gave a spirited fist pump following a back-and-forth battle with Young, who won this title in 2011.

“The biggest thing I was trying to do was just stay calm, stay focused, and keep after it,” Harrison said of his win. “We’re both young, American, and have played a few matches against each other; so there was a little bit of competitiveness going on. I would say it was a tough win.”

It was a tough win for Kudla, who took down Facundo Arguello of Argentina 7-6 (3), 6-4. Arguello has been hot during the last few weeks, winning seven of nine matches leading up to Thursday.

The Cinderella story of the tournament has been Stebe, who as an unseeded player has won three straight matches to book his place in the semifinals. The German beat 2012 finalist Frank Dancevic 6-4, 6-3 to earn the right to play Smyczek.

In doubles, the American duo of Sekou Bangora and Reid Carleton were winners over Takura Happy and Salif Kante of Florida A&M University, booking a semifinal spot. They’ll be joined by Greg Jones and Peter Polansky, who beat former Florida State University standouts Jean-Yves Abone and Vahid Mirzadeh in the evening session.

Harrison, the world No. 81, is looking for his ninth straight win after capturing the Savannah title last week. The 20 year old won eight in a row in 2009 at a futures event then a challenger in California.

“I came out today, and I was ready to play. I feel a lot more energetic,” said Harrison, who has been as high as No. 43 in the world. “This is my eighth straight match win. The biggest thing I have to focus on is just tomorrow. You can’t think about the finals or two more before you get through the next one. I’ve played Dennis before. He’s tough, he’s a great competitor, and he’s playing well. I’m excited about the match, and that what I’m going to be focusing on.”

Harrison and Kudla will play their semifinal during the evening session, following doubles at 6 pm. Smyczek and Stebe are set for an afternoon tussle.

RESULTS – MAY 2, 2013

Singles – Quarterfinals
[2] Ryan Harrison, United States, def. Donald Young, United States, 7-6 (5), 6-4
[5] Tim Smyczek, United States, def. Alex Kuznetsov, United States, 6-4, Ret.
[7] Denis Kudla, United States, def. Facundo Arguello, Argentina, 7-6 (3), 6-4
Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, Germany, def. Frank Dancevic, Canada, 6-4, 6-3

Doubles – Quarterfinals
Sekou Bangoura and Reid Carleton, United States, def. [WC] Takura Happy, Senegal, and Salif Kante, Senegal, 6-3, 6-2
Greg Jones, Australia, and Peter Polansky, Canada, def. Jean-Yves Aubone and Vahid Mirzadeh, United States, 6-3, 6-4

Daily updates on this tournament can be found at www.procircuit.usta.com and www.tallahasseechallenger.com. Live streaming is also available on www.procircuit.usta.com. The tournament can be followed on Facebook at “USTA Tallahassee Tennis Challenger” and on Twitter @TallyChallenger or by using the #TallyChallenger hashtag.

The tournament is part of the Har-Tru USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge and can be followed on Twitter at #USTAHarTruWC and www.USTAHarTruWC.com.

Players Lounge Diary: A Look at the Intimate Side of the BNP Paribas Open

Tim Smyczek Tennis Channel Bag Check

Lauren, sister of ATP pro tennis player Tim Smyczek, blogs from Indian Wells, CA as Tim competes at the 2013 BNP Paribas Open, and takes us through two typical days on Tour.

By Lauren Smyczek

Thurs, March 7th — 6:00 am Woke up this morning a bit later than usual during our stay here in Indian Wells. I think I’m drained from all the sun yesterday even though I downed 3.5 Nalgene canisters of water — the desert air just sucks it right out of you! Mom and I are here supporting Tim this week on the road, and we are all staying off-site at a house of one of Tim’s friends; it was so generous of her to offer her place! Before the rest of the group wakes up, mom and I tiptoe out of the house and go for a long walk in the neighborhood. It’s surprisingly chilly in the mornings, but really a must before sitting all afternoon at the tournament site. If I’m being good, I throw in some yoga poses to get the blood flowing.

7:00 During our walk, we head over to the local coffee shop. My whole family are coffee snobs. Our favorite is Milwaukee’s Alterra but today we have to settle for other beans since Alterra hasn’t come to California … yet. I text Tim to see if he’s awake and ready for coffee, and mom and I chat at the shop until he texts back. Even at the beginning of the day, there seems to be a lot of “waiting around” when it comes to tennis players, but you get used to the random nature of the scheduling pretty quickly.

7:30 We head back to the house and my mom makes breakfast for Tim and Billy Heiser, his coach. Today, it’s every tennis player’s dream breakfast of eggs and chicken followed by Greek yogurt with jelly and my mom’s famous home-made granola. It takes a lot of nutritious food and calories to keep your energy all day as a player, so a balanced breakfast is a must.

8:15 Thanks to our hosts, Tim and Billy don’t need to head on-site for morning drills just yet. The family’s backyard is equipped with a tennis court, so they are able to get started bright and early with little hassle.

10:00 After drills, we all tune into the TV and quickly settle on watching The Golf Channel. This makes Tim itch to get out on the greens. He lives on a course back in Tampa, FL so we joke that he goes into withdrawal on the road when he doesn’t have access to a golf course.

10:30 We finally head over to the site for their morning hit, and on the way there — as every good partnership can attest to — Tim and Billy bicker over predictions on the outcome of today’s matches.

11:00 Once at Indian Wells, Billy grabs a coke from the locker room for my mom, and as we’re leaving the players’ area, a sweaty Stan Wawrinka walks past (he’s one of my favorite players right now). Across from the entrance to the players’ area is a big field for warming up and working out, and a game of pickup soccer is taking place with several players participating in the fun.

Today it’s colder and more cloudy than usual, and while I optimistically wore shorts, I also brought jeans which I gladly switch into. I walk around the grounds to catch some match play as the first round started today. The first match I catch is on Court 7, Viktor Troicki vs David Goffin. Long rallies, fist pumps, and a huge break for Troicki to get him back on serve at 3-4.

It’s only Day One, but the crowd is excited and ready for some great tennis. The early days of big tournaments like Indian Wells are always a lot of fun as there are so many great matches on, and perhaps even some surprises. The momentum of this particular match though, is going back and forth — it’s just incredible to see from both Troicki and Goffin just how much focus this game takes. You let up for even a single point and you’re in trouble.

We then move to watch some of Bernard Tomic vs Thomaz Bellucci, but find ourselves heading back to Court 7 for an enticing third set. With all the excitement on the grounds, I accidentally missed Tim’s afternoon practice, so I just keep on watching the matches. Tim will text when he’s done with the trainer and his ice bath. Glad I don’t have to “enjoy” those frigid ice baths — will leave it for the players!

3:00 pm It’s now been a few hours, but still no word from Tim in the locker room. We don’t like to bother Tim and Billy so we just wait. Who’s complaining though when you’re at an awesome event surrounded by world-class tennis?! I’m guessing that back in the massage line or trainer room, Tim is reading — or maybe even more likely — scrolling through his Twitter feed.

4:30 We hit some nasty traffic on the way back to the house. Shopping plans for the day? Nixed. Uhh … more Golf Channel?

7:00 We have dinner  with a group of Tim’s friends who are hosting a new Challenger starting off in Sacramento this Fall. It’s an exciting and riveting conversation, but my eyes are failing me and closing at the table. Tim, though, has extra helpings — have to stay fueled up!

10:30 Finally time for some shut-eye.

***

Friday, March 8th — 6:00 am No walk this morning as it’s surprisingly raining in the desert!

7:00 Off to get that coffee again to start the day right. Same routine as yesterday.

8:20 The rain was short-lived as the sun makes it’s appearance, even though the meteorologist called for more rain. Go figure!

9:15 My mom and I head out to do a little walking around and shopping now that it’s nice out. Tim is fifth up today for his match against Yen-Hsun Lu, so we won’t need to head to the site for a few hours.

1:30 pm Once we do arrive at the site, we catch some of the Jack Sock vs Ivo Karlovic match. What a tough loss for Jack after holding match points. Sometimes matches just don’t work out how we want them to.

3:00 We head over to watch some of Tim’s pre-match warmup, before seeing some of Jelena Jankovic vs Svetlana Kuznetzova. Once the sun starts to set though, mom and I realize that it would be better to spend a few hours inside so we’re not frozen popsicles by the time his match rolls around later in the evening.

4:45 Luckily, we were able to find in a nice corner of the players lounge where I can discretely do a little yoga — stiff from shivering all afternoon.

James Blake strides in smiling after his win over Robin Haase. Then from across the room, I see Haase discussing his loss with his coach and a cloudy look of disappointment on his face. With the constant flux of familiar tennis player faces walking in and out, it’s hard to not be distracted. But, of course, when you’re in the players lounge, you just play it cool — no staring, even if you are a little starstruck.

Stadium 3 is hosting a women’s match before Tim’s (Bartoli v Scheepers), so it feels like they’re trying to set a record for number of deuce games. Part of me — oh wait, all of me, is dreading going back out into the ever-extending frigid night.

6:00 We finally head out to Stadium 3 to shiver for a few more hours and watch Tim’s match against Lu. Tim came out of the gate strong, but Lu is known to be hot and cold. Sure enough, Lu got the break to start the second set, and then really started playing on all cylinders. Tim didn’t play poorly, but he can definitely play at a much higher level than this, and suffers a heart-breaking three-set loss, 6-2, 2-6, 2-6. Never easy to see a match slip through your hands after having had control.

9:00 After the cool down and some talk with his coach, it’s a quiet car ride back to the house as expected. I wish it could have gone better for Tim, but it was a heck of a time in Indian Wells and I’m incredibly grateful to have been along to support my brother! It’s the losses that show us our true strengths and I know Tim will bounce right back, looking for his next win.

As a bonus, Tim also shot his Tennis Channel “Bag Check” this week, so look for that in the weeks to come!

Until next time!
Lauren

Another Typical Day Watching San Jose

San Jose 2013 -1

The ATP 250 tournament currently called the SAP Open, and currently hosted in San Jose, California, has been continuously operating in some form since 1889, making it the second oldest tennis tournament in the United States. The current edition will be its last. Next year the tournament relocates to Memphis.

One would hope that in its final year the SAP Open would make a strenuous effort to honor its golden past. If today was anything to go by, the tournament instead appears content merely to showcase its dreary present, and to illustrate just why it had to go.

Last Saturday night an attendee at the San Jose Sharks ice-hockey game tweeted their disbelief that within twenty-four hours the playing surface would be replaced by a tennis court. Attached pictures attested that the floor of the HP Pavilion was indeed composed of ice, and that the stands were packed with people. Really, one must have greater faith in modern technology. Stage-managing the set switch from a hockey rink to a tennis court is relatively easy to accomplish. Convincing the people to hang around, on the other hand, is apparently an insurmountable problem. As ever during the SAP Open, the stadium today looked like it had been converted into a storage facility for unused bleachers.

It is debatable whether the prevailing vibe is more depressed in San Jose than it was in Montpellier last week, which attained transcendent new levels of banality in striving to entertain its few attendees. (The best moment – if ‘best’ is the word – came when the court was invaded by a dance troupe pretending to be synchronized swimmers. Unfortunately for those of us watching, the impression was uncanny, achieving a manic exuberance unmatched anywhere outside of a North Korean military parade.) The SAP Open boasts nothing as overtly weird, although ones awareness that this is its last edition certainly helps to deflate proceedings. It didn’t have to, though: you’d hope the imminence of its loss would lend proceedings a bittersweet piquancy. But the organisers seem determined that blandness will prevail, at least until the weekend.

It shares every other current event’s penchant for incongruous and blaring music at the changeovers. This is staple fare during the slow month of February, and each region has its own preferred playlist, although the selection never seems quite to align with local tastes. Montpellier had a great time with ‘Part Time Lover’. San Jose differs in that fans may make requests of the DJ via Twitter. So far today I’ve heard Bon Jovi, Nickelback, Bruno Mars and Chumbawamba, among others. It is therefore theoretically possible to track down those responsible.

In the spirit of commercialism, the SAP Open periodically alleviates these pop-medleys by advertising local businesses. I now know that Blue Mango was recently voted best Thai restaurant in Silicon Valley, which will come in handy the next time I want to travel 8,000 miles for dinner. Admittedly the ads are intended for those in the stadium itself, but given that there were only about twelve people there today, I’m not convinced Blue Mango is seeing a decent return for its advertising dollar. Along with sparse attendance, the tournament has struggled with sponsorship for years. The impression, across the board, is that the event has been left to drift aimlessly for a good decade, a far cry from the days when Barry MacKay toiled tirelessly in its promotion. As ever, the whole thing feels provincial, and, despite its cavernous venue, cramped.

For those fans who unfortunately cannot attend in person – apparently nearly all of them – the television coverage hardly encourages them to tune in. It is seemingly directed by Terry Gilliam in full Twelve Monkeys mode, and assembled from whatever security footage he has at hand. The default camera is positioned along the doubles sideline on the umpire’s side of the court, on a shallow angle. This is periodically switched out for a useful low-angle behind the opposite baseline, or to another less-useful camera suspended from the ceiling. The perspective and the ends switch about restlessly, thereby making it easier to lose track of which player is which. I know this is the tournament’s last year, but could they not have positioned a camera in the conventional spot?

Ryan Harrison today was the tiny but vociferous figure who wasn’t wearing a hat, while Benjamin Becker was the one in white, with his hat turned backwards. Harrison was by all accounts unwell, although as far as I could make out from the bird’s nest vantage he was competing with undiminished gusto, especially when he fought to break back in the final set. The crowd went wild, although their meagre cheers were immediately drowned out by the sound system’s efforts to entertain them. Alas, Harrison was broken again immediately, and Becker eventually served out the match. The best points came at the end, as Harrison saved a couple of match points.

Jack Sock was clad in yellow, and like Becker wore a hat, which counts as a highlight. Marinko Matosevic was hatless, in white. Sock led by a break throughout much of the first set, lost it, then lost the set in a tiebreaker. Thereafter he lost interest, and soon afterwards, the match. The hatless Ryan Sweeting fared no better against the presumably be-goggled Denis Istomin (the security footage made it hard to be sure), losing in straight sets. Later on Tim Smyczek upset Fernando Verdasco, thus saving Milos Raonic the trouble.

It was thus a mixed day for the young American men, but a bad day for an old American tournament. At least for the former there is some hope that better days will come. For the San Jose tournament the best days, in which the world’s top players would do vigorous battle for a coveted title, are only fading memories. The ATP website put up a nice video to commemorate the passing, appropriately valedictory in tone, rich with recollection, and entirely contrasting with the limping haggardness of the event so far. Thankfully, they’ve planned something special for the weekend. I hope it’s an appropriate send-off.

Keeping Score: How American Men Fared in Melbourne

Ryan Harrison led a legion of American men into Melbourne this fortnight.

With all of the American men gone by the third round of the Australian Open, we look back on how each of them fared.  Interestingly, the greatest accomplishments came from some of the least expected names, while the more familiar figures often fizzled.

Ryan Harrison:  Avenging his Olympics loss to Giraldo with a four-set victory, he relied on defensive tennis to a startling degree and could not trouble Djokovic at all in the second round.  Harrison’s serve looked sharp, but he appears to have improved his game little over the last year or so.

Sam Querrey:  The last man to fall fulfilled the expectations for the 20th seed, falling only to the higher-ranked Wawrinka.  That straight-sets loss ended a reasonably good week for Querrey, although he benefited from Baker’s retirement and did not defeat anyone of note.

Brian Baker:  Perhaps the saddest story of the tournament, he injured his knee in the second round against Querrey and may miss the next four months.  That said, Baker impressed by battling through a tight five-setter against former American Bogomolov, and he had won the first set from Querrey in a match that looked like an upset before his injury.

Michael Russell:  He drew Berdych in the first round and unsurprisingly had no answer for the Czech’s offensive arsenal, unable to match him hold for hold in a straight-sets defeat.

Tim Smyczek:  The most pleasant surprise of the tournament among American men, he entered the draw as a lucky loser when Isner withdrew and made the most of his opportunity.  Smyczek somehow tamed the towering serve of Ivo Karlovic in the first round, not even losing a set, and he snatched a set from world #5 David Ferrer in the second round before succumbing gallantly.  Especially impressive was his comeback from losing the first nine games of that match to make Ferrer earn his victory.

Steve Johnson:  Making his main-draw debut at the Australian Open, this former UCLA star qualified for the main draw and then received the unpleasant tidings of an opener against Almagro.  But Johnson rose to the occasion with panache, firing first strikes with abandon through five entertaining sets as he stood toe to toe with a top-15 opponent despite his inexperience.  His passion captivated and suggested that he can score an occasional surprise if he can refine his game.

Rajeev Ram:  More noted for his doubles expertise, this serve-volley specialist surprised by winning his first match over baseliner Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.  Falling meekly to Cilic in the next round, Ram still probably overachieved by reaching that stage.

Rhyne Williams:  The winner of the Australian Open wildcard playoff, he deployed his booming serve and forehand to brilliant effect in claiming a two-set lead over top-30 opponent Florian Mayer.  Williams later would hold match points in the fourth-set tiebreak before the German wriggled out of the trap to complete a comeback in five.  But the experience should help this promising young star evolve into a fitter, more tenacious competitor, which could prove a dangerous combination with his obvious talents.

All things considered, the American men produced respectable results in view of prominent absences like Fish, Isner, and the retired Roddick.  With expectations especially low, they competed with credit and, in some cases, produced results on which they can build.

Tennis Canapes: Hitting the courts with Djokovic, Sharapova and Del Potro

Maria Sharapova signing autographs for fans after her win

James Crabtree is currently in Melbourne Park covering the Australian Open for Tennis Grandstand and is giving you all the scoop directly from the grounds.

By James Crabtree

MELBOURNE — The day started well, I got an email from a very noble Nigerian who alerted me to the fact I had inherited $2 million U.S. dollars. So sweet of him to seek me out, will definitely chase that up later.

After a quick brekkie I skipped out like a happy smurf on to Melbourne Park for what turned out to be a canapé kind of day. What on earth do I mean you ask? Simply sampling, a bit of this and a bit of that. And let me tell you that the Australian Open app only forces you to court hop even more.

I started with Nicolás Almagro who was up against fellow Spaniard Daniel Gimeno-Traver. This was a one sided affair for Almagro which meant constant checking of the app for updates elsewhere. Radwanska, Kerber and Venus Williams all dominated quickly as the top seeded women do, except Stosur but more on that later.

Seriously, how about some more upsets? I am starting to believe it was a mistake since Wimbledon 2001 to increase the number of seeds from 16 to 32 and thus in many ways limit the chance for an upset.

Digression over, I hung around for Li Na but it was clear she was going to oust Govortsova although the tall girl with a dodgy serve made a respectable effort in the second set.

A quick walk out of the Hisense arena brought me to Stepanek resting on one court while Del Potro was practicing serves on another. Every time I have seen Del Potro practice, which is now five times, he is always serving. In fact I am starting to believe he doesn’t even practice groundstrokes.

On another playing court was Jurgen Melzer who looked in control against spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, so I skipped that one (even though it did go to five sets). Just beyond that match was another practice court this one showcasing Maria Sharapova, with fans hurdled around like she was handing out free candy — perhaps even “Sugarpova.”

That brought me to lunch although no canapés were on offer. Within the confines of the media restaurant journalists readily stuff their faces. It should be noted that a notable Australian doubles legend, who is commentating, didn’t disappoint. He returned twice (according to the girl working) for a serving of fries with a sweet soy sauce that was scooped from the depth of a bok choy chicken dish. That’s right, no vegetables or meat, just carbs and gravy which may be the secret to his eternal youth.

Back to the infamous Australian Open app and decision making. David Ferrer on Margaret Court or Stan the Man Wawrinka on Show Court 2? I chose Stan, just had to see that backhand, sorry David. Each set Stan was broken he kept his nerve and fought back, although a third set wasn’t needed against Kamke who retired.

On the way out of the Stan match I was greeted with the big screen showing big Berd(ych) cruising. Also worthy of a cruise and a round of Pimms was Tomas Berdych’s old school “lets go yachting” attire and its lack of a sponsor. He wore a plain white collared shirt and hat that felt ever so 1950. The logo on his hat was covered and his socks folded down to disguise a brand, with the only sign of sponsorship being his Nike shoes. “Good show old chap, good show.”

After another quick check of the app and a failed attempt to use the live streaming to watch Jerzy Janowicz playing out his epic two set down comeback against Somdev Devvarman, I finally moved onto the Margaret Court arena. Here David Ferrer ranked 5 and seeded 4, played against lucky loser and sister of Tennis Grandstand writer Tim Smyczek, ranked 125. Smyczek was hoping for his second win against a top twenty player, the first being Jurgen Melzer at Delray Beach last year. The little Spaniard (who really is that little) was his typically energetic self and ran out the win in four entertaining sets although Smyczek should be commended for his efforts.

Next, I gallantly shunned the Stosur match because I attended her first round exit last year and somehow felt I was an unlucky omen for her if I was there to watch. Omen or not she lost her second round match to Chinese player Jie Zheng. But as I wasn’t in attendance, Stosur’s loss is officially not my fault this time.

Over at Rod Laver arena was Djokovic, who avoided becoming the first defending champion to lose in the 2nd round since Mats Wilander back in 1989. The honour of joining that fateful club was never an issue against Ryan Harrison. Interestingly, this loss extended Harrison’s streak of losing to seeded players in grand slams to eight, although nobody could have beaten Nole on this night.

That brought me to the close of the evening where it was time to head home, charge the phone, get ready for the mega heat and tomorrow’s action – Davy and Fed, Serena and her dodgy ankle, Tomic, Murray in his tight shirt, Laura Robson and Kvitova! And, of course, time to sort out the $2 million dollars from the noble Nigerian.

Lauren Smyczek: Growing up with ATP tennis player and brother, Tim

Alec, Lauren and Tim Smyczek (L to R)

Lauren Smyczek is the newest contributor to Tennis Grandstand, and the younger sister of current ATP pro, Tim Smyczek who is playing at the Australian Open this week. You can follow her on Twitter @LaurenSmyczek where she talks tennis, fashion and life.

By Lauren Smyczek

For years, the Smyczek children, Alec, Tim and I, left the house at five in the morning for my older brothers’ tennis practice before school. I usually ate a donut on the couch while they hustled, but on a good day I would serve a bucket of balls or hit against the wall.

Growing up in Wisconsin, we didn’t take family vacations because most weekends were spent training or road-tripping to various USTA tournaments. Consequently, most of my earliest memories take place on or near a tennis court.

Tim, now 25 and three years my elder, excelled through the junior circuit and currently plays on the ATP Tour, reaching his career-high ranking of 125 just this week. He is in Melbourne for the Australian Open and just defeated Ivo Karlovic to reach the second round – a feat our entire family is very proud of.

So, what was it like growing up with a brother who would go on to play professional tennis on the ATP tour?

The training and travel were grueling, intense and challenging, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Jealousy never entered the picture in our family. If you knew Tim at all or had ever seen him pick up a racquet, you saw how much he loved tennis. Seeing how he literally never wanted to put his racquet down as a kid, you couldn’t help but want him to succeed.

I, however, had a very different experience with the sport from my brother. Early on, I just never felt the love and commitment Tim felt for tennis, so it began to be more of a burden than anything. It wasn’t until my college years that I realized just how much tennis meant to me.

By the time I was in middle school, Tim had already started traveling to tournaments and training with his coach almost every weekend. By that point, it was pretty clear to me that I couldn’t force the tennis thing anymore — my heart was elsewhere.

Around age 11 or 12, I realized that I enjoyed wearing the tennis skirts and cool shoes more than actually competing. Unlike Tim, I didn’t have that fight in me once I stepped on the court. He had won the state championship as a freshman and thus decided to begin playing tournaments rather than participating on the school team. As a result and due to my own work ethic, I put a lot of pressure on myself to excel as well, but this made tennis difficult for me to enjoy at times.

Then one day, I finally realized that I didn’t have to do absolutely everything that my older brothers did — so I ventured into doing theater to explore other activities. My tennis-driven family was not into theater much so their initial failure to understand why I would choose acting and singing over working harder at tennis for a shot at a college scholarship didn’t surprise me. However, being a close-knit family, they quickly supported my decision.

Rather than running away from a sport I had been surrounded with all my life, I decided to keep up with it in high school in order to be a better-rounded student. It may not have been my favorite high school experience but I believe I got through those years of playing and training thanks in part to my wonderful teammates, fantastic coaches, and other diversions in the form of multiple high school musical performances.

When I headed off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a transformation I wasn’t expecting occurred.

Once I left high school, a huge weight had been lifted in regards to tennis. The sport became something I now chose to pursue. Whether it was growing up in a tennis family, or playing alongside someone as successful as my brother, I was always my own worst enemy growing up when I didn’t perform how I wanted to on court. All of a sudden in college, my desire to play was rekindled when the pressures drifted away and I began enjoying it more than I ever anticipated.

I arranged hitting time with friends because I wanted to get better and to have fun with it. For me, finally being able to enjoy playing tennis was all about perspective. I got involved with the club tennis team at UW and loved it so much that I started running it my sophomore year. I had such a great experience my freshman year that I almost felt it a responsibility to give back and try to provide the same caliber of experience for the new players. I met so many wonderful people and have such fond memories from the club team.

Tennis now means more to me than my 12-year-old self could ever comprehend. And here’s the cliché, though very true: it is a healthy pastime I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.

From all those years on court as a kid, to my involvement during my early adulthood, I can firmly say that playing tennis has helped form me into the person I am. And what’s more, the sport allows us to create an instant, universal bond with others.

And what can be more enjoyable than stepping on court with your family and friends for a fun hit? Nothing, I say.

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