US Tennis

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Teenagers Eugenie Bouchard and Taylor Townsend Continue Their Winning Streak

DSC_87400001tennis-2

DSC_87400001tennis-3WASHINGTON, D.C. – Partnering for just the first time since winning the Junior Girls’ Doubles title at Wimbledon last year, Canadian Genie Bouchard and American Taylor Townsend took out their first round opponents in just 41 minutes at the Citi Open in Washington, DC on Monday.

As former top juniors with several singles and doubles Slams to their names, the two rising teenagers were on a doubles partnership streak that extended back to Roehampton of last year, and they weren’t ready to give that up quite yet.

“I told (Taylor), we have a streak to defend! … It’s been twelve matches or something – we can’t end that now,” commented Bouchard exclusively to Tennis Grandstand.

The pairing was a spontaneous decision that came about one recent evening after a World TeamTennis match, when the two decided to pick up where they left off last spring.

Today, during their post-match interview, the two friends were all smiles, frequently commenting on each other’s answers and playfully teasing each other when asked if they would continue the pairing.

“Are we?” questioned Townsend, looking at Bouchard. “Are we?” answered Bouchard, smiling back. “I hope so!” stated Townsend. “We better!” concluded Bouchard.

“I really enjoy playing with her,” said the 17-year-old Townsend. “We have really good chemistry on court. It’s really nice to have someone that you get along with and have so much fun on the court with as well as do really well with. So, I hope we can continue to play.”

The 19-year-old Bouchard has already been playing full-time on the WTA Tour for the past year, with her most notable results being a straight set win over Wimbledon No. 12 seed Ana Ivanovic in the second round this year. She has shot up the rankings to world No. 58, but feels there is much more to be accomplished.

“I played my first pro Slam at the French (Open), and then Wimbledon,” stated Bouchard. “It’s what I have worked my whole life for to play at this stage. I got to play on Center Court on both, which was really exciting for me. It’s what I have always dreamed of doing. To me, it’s just normal – just a step. It’s still a really long journey, still not where I want to be. But it’s heading in the right direction.”

And did she believe the good Slam results and high ranking came sooner than she anticipated?

“No. I always believed in myself and I always expect myself to do really well. So, it usually happens. Now, it’s like, what’s next?”

Townsend, on the other hand, is ranked 338 in the world and just starting her pro career while still strategically placing some junior tournaments into her schedule.

DSC_87270001tennis“Basically, I’m not sure if I’m playing US Open juniors,” Townsend commented. “But I’m playing the (USTA Girls’ 18s National Championships) because if you win it, you get a wildcard into the main draw of the US Open. So, why not play? It’s a great opportunity to get a lot of matches … and just work on a lot of things. I think that’s one of the main things I’ve been using the juniors for … Hopefully, next year, especially when I turn 18 and I don’t have a limit on the number of tournaments I can play, I think we can make more of a full schedule and incorporate more of the bigger tournaments as well as the pro circuit events.

Despite their young age and relative inexperience amid a veteran-packed tour, the two rising stars possess styles and weapons that make them dangerous floaters in any draw

“Most of the time when we play on the tour, we’re the underdogs so we have nothing to lose,” said Bouchard. “We can go out and play freely.”

Townsend echoed her partner’s thoughts: “No one knows who you are, no one is expecting you do to anything. You don’t really have any pressure. That’s the great thing about it. You can just go out and play freely, and enjoy everything – the crowd, the city wherever you are, and take it all in.”

The two are scheduled to play in their respective singles matches on Tuesday, where Bouchard will take on No. 3 seed Ekaterina Makarova and Townsend will open up against Monica Niculescu.

John Isner Wins Opening Match at Wimbledon But Needs a Baseline Game

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(June 24, 2013) I can’t even fathom how often these words are said. Sometimes it feels like it’s far too much and sometimes it’s nowhere near enough. But that is the way things are and it can’t be ignored any more.

John Isner could be a great tennis player. No, he will never have the movement and defensive prowess of a Nadal or the precision of a Federer. But a player doesn’t need that to be great. Isner has his own strengths and could compete at the top of the game if he could overcome his weaknesses. But we’ve been saying this for 6 years now and there has been little to no improvement.

There is nothing overly fancy to discuss here. This isn’t about utilizing a certain shot or tweaking some other aspect of his game. This is straight-up about being able to play from the baseline with other professional tennis players.

Isner’s game is his serve. Everyone knows that. He has one of the best serves in tennis. It is huge, it is fast, it is accurate, and his kicker is lethal too. He has ridden that serve to tournament victories, Davis Cup upsets, and even a Masters Series final. It has kept him in the top 20 for much of the past five years. But it is nowhere near enough if he wants to reach his full potential.

Just look at today’s first-round match at Wimbledon. Yes, Isner got through in straight sets. And he did it in his normal fashion, winning two tiebreaks. But the fact that the match had two sets go to tiebreaks in the first place means that Isner just wasn’t doing enough.

Isner was playing Evgeny Donskoy, one of the better Challenger-level players but a Challenger-level player nonetheless. Isner, as a top 20 player, should run over him. This shouldn’t be a close match. And Isner ran away with the first set in good form. But he couldn’t earn a break in the next two sets.

Isner’s problems are even more than that though. It isn’t only that he can’t break even poor servers; it’s how the rallies go along as Isner competed in them. Isner couldn’t win points from the baseline. His serve was excellent. When he could follow up a serve with a big forehand it was lethal. But otherwise, Isner was less than mediocre in rallies.

This is the fact and it must be dealt with—Isner, at his current level, cannot consistently win rallies from the baseline against even Challenger-level players, let alone better players. He needs to find some semblance of a baseline game if he wants to compete with better players. You just cannot win matches when it is a near-foregone conclusion that any rally longer than 5 shots will end with you dumping a ball into the net.

Isner needs more than just rally shots. He needs to be able to hit shots from the baseline that can allow him to win points. Then again, he can often just barely hit shots that keep him in the rally.

It is a little unfair to criticize like this as we don’t know exactly what goes on in his practices, but it is clear that if he is working on this that it’s not very effective. He needs to overhaul his game completely to be able to compete or he needs to utilize his strengths to mask his lack of a baseline game. He is very good at the net and his long wingspan is hard to pass. Maybe he can start chipping and charging on return just to help him get into those games. He is a very talented player and he has options as to how to get even better. But he has to do something because the status quo just isn’t enough for him right now.

Despite Monte Carlo Loss, Isner Picking Up Speed on Clay

John Isner

By Yeshayahu Ginsburg

A few months ago, we looked at John Isner and his apparent distance away from the red clay. We went through his good match history on clay and how, when he played up to his potential, he could challenge just about anyone in the world. It was also puzzling, though, why Isner wouldn’t take opportunities to play more on clay and further that aspect of his game.

Well, it looks like Isner has finally decided to go for it. He played in Houston, the only clay court tournament in the United States. This isn’t really surprising, though. Many Americans come to this tournament as a matter both of pride and collecting a bit of money. Also, it is a good introduction to the clay season and often has a relatively weak field, allowing decent players to get more match play on the dirt (when Andy Roddick has won a clay tournament three times, you know the fields can’t be that strong).

Isner started off this year in a bit of a slump, to put things mildly. He reached a few semifinals of 250-level tournaments but has some bad losses and hasn’t really looked good all year. He was forced to skip the Australian Open with a fluke knee injury and hasn’t been able to find much of a rhythm this season. In Indian Wells, where he was defending a semifinal showing, Isner lost his first match to Lleyton Hewitt. He managed to win one match in Miami before being beaten by Marin Cilic without much trouble. And Isner was easily handled by Djokovic in Davis Cup, but there is no shame in that.

Now, though, is where Isner is getting smart. He won the tournament in Houston, beating some good clay-courters along the way. You could see his confidence increase in each successive match. He was playing attacking tennis, taking everything in his hitting zone and absolutely blasting it.

Isner is not the most precise baseline player and having to hit low, awkward balls is a problem for him. But on clay, everything bounces up. He keeps enough spin on the ball to keep it coming back where he can just tee off on it. I’ve joked before that Isner doesn’t need to ever hit anything other than his massively high-bouncing kick serves. And while that is obviously an exaggeration, the point behind it stands. Isner was made to play on high-bouncing clay.

Isner took a very late wild card to come and play Monte Carlo, the optional Masters 1000 event on the tour. He had a very short turnaround from Houston (he played his first Monte Carlo match less than 48 hours after the Houston final and over a quarter of that gap was spent travelling across the Atlantic, time difference included), something he probably didn’t expect when he got the wild card. He played well against Gulbis before succumbing to fatigue and an injury, but the match did show that he kept to his strategy of attacking everything in his hitting zone. He now has 3 weeks to heal and rest up as he will not play between Monte Carlo and the two Masters events in May.

Isner seems to have realized that clay is the surface that he can really hit his stride on. Deciding to play Monte Carlo is a great sign from him, regardless of how it turned out. At 27, Isner is not one of the younger guys on tour anymore. You almost get the feeling that if he wants to have a breakthrough stretch of his career, it has to come during this year’s clay season. And, well, at least he’s giving himself a chance to do that.

Getting to know the next generation in American tennis: Querrey, Harrison, Kudla, Sock, Williams

US Men's tennis Querrey Sock Harrison Kudla

By Romi Cvitkovic

With Andy Roddick’s mid-season retirement, John Isner’s recent slump and Mardy Fish’s ensuing health issues, the 2012 tennis season has been tough on American tennis fans. The constant background noise regarding the decline in quality and quantity of players coming out of the U.S. in recent years is, in fact, just that – noise.

With 19 American ATP players in the top 200, the U.S. field deserves more credit than it receives. Well-lauded tennis powerhouses Spain and France boast 20 and 18 players in the top 200, respectively, yet the U.S. with 19 is somehow not stacking up to the competition? Clearly, perspective needs to be reevaluated here.

The U.S. boasts their deepest men’s field in three years, and thanks to the Challenger Tour, four of these players even reached career-high rankings this past week making the start to the 2013 season all the more energizing.

We’ll take a look at the U.S. players on the verge of breakthrough in 2013, in order of their current ranking: Sam Querrey, Ryan Harrison, Tim Smyczek, Denis Kudla, Jack Sock, Steve Johnson, Rhyne Williams.

Sam Querrey

Currently ranked 22 and just five spots from his career-high, many would say reaching top 25 is a breakthrough already. But not for Querrey, who, after returning from elbow surgery and a rare umbilical cord infection, has shot up the rankings after having fallen out of the top 100 as recently as April. He capped off his season by beating world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in Paris just last month, and his confidence is running high going into the off-season.

With 1295 of his 1650 season ranking points coming from June on, Querrey has all of 355 points to defend in the first five month of 2013. If he reaches just one 500-level tournament final during the Australian or U.S. spring hard court season (a prize bag of 300 points), he would be nearly there ranking-wise with only that.

After admitting he had “no motivation” to win back in 2010, Querrey has recommitted himself this year and just last week told ESPN reporter Ravi Ubha that “it would mean a lot” to become the top ranked American player on his own accord: “I want to do it off of my good results, by going deep at the Masters events and Slams, not off the other guys not doing well. I don’t want to be the U.S. No. 1 ranked 22nd because other guys fell off in the rankings.”

Ryan Harrison

Welcoming himself to the tennis world last year, Harrison took David Ferrer to five sets in the second round of Wimbledon and then followed that up with back-to-back semifinal runs in Atlanta and Los Angeles. Many were eager to see him breakthrough in 2012, but he fell terribly short.

After finishing 2009 ranked 360, 2010 ranked 173, and 2011 ranked 79, Harrison shot up to world No. 43 in July of this year but has since quickly fallen to end the season ranked 69. His mediocre results are perplexing as his game holds immense weapons that could drive him into the top 20. So what is holding him back?

While charming and thoughtful in interviews, he can quickly snap on court and reveal a heated temper – something that today’s tennis fans don’t always agree with. Physically well-developed, the 20-year-old is notorious for going through more than his share of coaches. In the past 20 months, Harrison has gone through four coaches and has yet to find a stabilizing force.

A product of the Nick Bollettieri Academy in Florida, Ryan’s first full-time “mentor” (as his father coach Pat Harrison called him at the time) was newly-retired doubles specialist and IMG teaching pro Martin Damm. After only seven months together, Ryan moved on to coach Scott McCain who was having great results with Somdev Devvarman. The one catch was that McCain was coaching both players at the same time and couldn’t devote the time Harrison needed. McCain recommended that Harrison work with Grant Doyle who had his own successful tennis academy in Texas. Although that partnership lasted the longest – a full season – the results did not follow.

Speaking bluntly, for a player as supposedly rattled with meltdowns and quick coaching changes as Harrison to hold onto a coach for a full season with minimal results takes an immense amount of patience. He has now teamed up with Tres Davis of the Austin Tennis Academy and we’ll see not only how that relationship holds up, but whether this younger coach can find Ryan’s tennis “voice”. The weapons are there, and perhaps Harrison just needed a year to get his footing on the ATP Tour, but now, it’s just a matter of having the right combination going into the new year and posting some big upsets.

Tim Smyczek

Wisconsin native Smyczek may not fit the current mold of top American tennis players: giants with booming serves and forehands. But at 5’9” he has defied physical trends and reached his career-high ranking of 128 this past week by winning the Champaign, Ill. Challenger. He began the year ranked 273, and while no breakthrough runs occurred this season, he’s had consistent outcomes: always bettering the previous week’s results – a stark contrast to his poor 2011 results.

While his best wins have come at the Challenger-level this year, his ranking is now high enough to bypass many tour-level qualifying draws and grant him main draw access. He’s had success playing through weekly qualifying draws in the past, only to get caught not being fresh enough for main draw play. That should change at the start of 2013 with San Jose, Memphis and Delray Beach where he could make some nice runs early on.

Denis Kudla

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJo9Jixl0gI&w=250]

One of the youngest in the top 200 and quite willing to indulge reporters on video (see video at right), Kudla’s on court sense is even more refreshing as his all-court game and mentality keep him grounded. At just 20-years-old, the Ukranian-born Virginian has won two Challengers since July and is sitting at a career-high ranking of 137. Earlier this year in San Jose, he even took Andy Roddick to three sets – including two tiebreakers – so a changing of the guards may very well lie in his hands in the next couple of years.

Physically lean and quick on-court, Kudla is another player who opted against college and decided to turn pro straight out of high school. The one difference between Kudla and Smyczek though, is that Kudla is four years younger and at nearly the same ranking as Smyczek – quite telling of his talent. And as a former world No. 3 junior player, Kudla knows a great deal about winning.

I had a chance to briefly chat with Kudla’s parents last year at their son’s old stomping ground, the USTA Regional Training Center in College Park, MD. Although many players have supportive family members, Kudla’s parents seem like unique advocates: his father is a proud no-nonsense kind of guy when it comes to Denis’ training, while his mother is cheerful and optimistic any time she speaks about her son and his future. Add USTA coach and clay court specialist Diego Moyano to his budding team, and you have a winning combination. Kudla’s poorest results come on this surface, so a strategic relationship with Moyano, the former coach of Fernando Gonzalez and Guillermo Coria, may be just what he needs to kick it up a notch next season.

Jack Sock

The name “Jack Sock” has been thrown around in tennis circles for over a year now and with good reason. Sock went undefeated in high school, opted out of college for the pro tour, went on to win the 2011 U.S. Open Mixed Doubles Championship with Melanie Oudin only months after graduating high school and has been a solid force on the Challengers circuit ever since, with memorable appearances in tour-level tournaments such as this year’s third round run at the U.S. Open.

At 6’2” and 162 pounds, Sock has grown into his body and game, and after an injury earlier this year, he is set to take 2013 by storm. Never having played a pro tournament outside of North America, Sock will make his way to Australia in January after a rigorous off-season. He started 2012 ranked 380 and playing Futures tournaments, so nearly any result in Australia will bump up his current career-high ranking of 137.

If he can lean up a bit and shed the few extra pounds he put on during his injury lay-off, Sock’s speed will turn into a strength instead of a liability. His rocket serve and forehand will then nicely complement his new agility, and the rest as they say, would be history.

Out of all the Americans on this list, I expect to see the biggest rankings jump from Sock next year given his crafty and powerful game, and don’t be surprised if he has a few tour-level final appearances or titles. (For an exclusive interview I did with Sock last month discussing his injury, goals and off-season plans, check out the USA Today article here.)

Steve Johnson

Johnson stands as the only player on this list to graduate from college – a telling aspect consistent with his character. While some players feel ready to transition into the pros after only two years of college play, Johnson took his time to develop in the NCAAs winning 72 straight matches and back-to-back NCAA Championships.

After graduating from the University of Southern California this past spring, Johnson started playing pro tournaments in July and notched his first Challenger title in Aptos in August without dropping a set. By winning the 2012 NCAA Championships, he was awarded a wildcard entry into the U.S. Open a couple of weeks after Aptos, and boy, did he capitalize. He lost to world No. 14 Richard Gasquet in the third round but not before taking home $65,000 in winnings and jump starting his pro career.

For the first six months of 2013, Johnson will have ZERO points to defend from 2012, as he only had two first round losses in Honolulu and San Jose while still in college. Talk about an advantage for the new season.

Rhyne Williams

Tennessee native Williams comes from a tennis family and won his first pro tournament at just 16 years of age. He possesses a surprisingly cunning serve and an accurate forehand that could consistently paint the lines, and Williams decided to attend the University of Tennessee to further develop both his skills and his mental game.

Since turning pro after playing college tennis for two years, Williams has had a steady climb up the rankings ladder, reaching a career-high of 190 this week after reaching the quarterfinals or better on his last four Challenger tournaments. What used to be his liability – his vocal self-deprecating comments on-court when down – has turned into a weapon most of the time. Now, instead of talking his way out of match through a loss, he successfully channels his anger toward a win. Sure, there are still slip-ups when he gets unnecessarily down on himself and doesn’t believe he can win through grit (we are always our own worst enemies on court), but they are rarer and far in between. And his on-court demeanor otherwise is infused with candor and smiles – especially during doubles with good friend Tennys Sandgren.

The first two full months of 2012 (when Williams was ranked 511 in the world) were spent playing Futures tournaments and scrounging for points. If he continues to build confidence in his beautifully-crafted game, and after a rigorous off-season training block in Florida this winter, the start to his 2013 can hold a great deal of hope for his entire year. Add to that the support of his cousin and former Tennessee Vols player and coach, Chris Williams, who travels with him, and he just may continue believing in his strengths and game even more.

Don’t forget to catch the Australian Open Wildcard Playoff next month in Atlanta as Denis Kudla, Steve Johnson and Rhyne Williams have all been invited for a shot to win a main draw wildcard into the 2013 Australian Open in January.

Kei Nishikori visits EA SPORTS to play Grand Slam Tennis

This week EA SPORTS was pleased to welcome Japanese tennis phenom Kei Nishikori to its Tiburon studio in Orlando, Florida.  Nishikori visited EA SPORTS to try out its new tennis game Grand Slam Tennis.  He first took a few practice swings on a Roland Garros practice court and once he got a feel for the motions, Nishikori jumped right into a match.  His first choice?  Centre Court at Wimbledon versus Pete Sampras.

“He was one of my heroes and I just wanted to play against him,” said Nishikori, who currently resides in Bradenton, Florida.

He said it was “a weird feeling” to see himself in the video game.  But added, “I like it.  I was thinking about it the past couple months that I’m in the game.  It was one of my dreams so I’m pretty happy.”

While this was his first time playing the Wii, Nishikori is no stranger to video games, having played Playstation 3 numerous times.

“This is the first time I’ve ever played the Wii and the first time I’ve played this game but it felt so real.  It was fun because you swing with your arm, it was good exercise to play the game.”

Grand Slam Tennis was designed and developed by EA Canada to be the deepest tennis gaming experience and Nishikori said it felt like a realistic experience on the court.  He would hold the Wii remote with two hands when hitting his backhand.

“I didn’t think anything of it; I just played tennis because it feels like real tennis,” said Nishikori.  “I didn’t know you can hit spins, slice, drop shots and all the shots so it felt real.  And the guy looks just like me.”

As one of the cover athletes for the Japanese version of the game, Nishikori joins an illustrious group of superstars who have graced the cover of an EA SPORTS Game.  On the Japanese cover, he’s flanked by Rafael Nadal and John McEnroe, an honour that wasn’t lost on him.

“Honestly I felt a little bad because I’m in the middle between Nadal and McEnroe and those two guys are legends and unbelievable players.  But I’m still happy to be on the cover.”

After playing Sampras, Nishikori selected Nadal, perhaps a rematch from their 3-setter at Queen’s Club last summer, a match he remembers well.

“I was so nervous to play against Nadal because he was number two at that time.  I practiced with him about 4 years ago and I felt like there was no way I could beat him and a couple years later I played him.  I was so happy to play against him and I played awesome.  I lost in three sets but I remember that was a good match.  Maybe I can get revenge in this game and hopefully I can win next time.”

After enjoying the game, recording some promo spots, doing a photo shoot and a radio interview for EA SPORTS, it was back to business for the Japanese star.

“I have to practice this afternoon but hopefully later I can go to the beach and go shopping.”

That’s something he’s able to do a bit more easily in the U.S. because in Japan, Nishikori is like a rock star, having to be accompanied by security at all times.

“I cannot walk in the streets or even outside during a tennis tournament.  I don’t feel it here in the U.S. but when I got back to Japan it’s crazy.”

Nishikori finished 2008 ranked #63 in the world after starting the year #289.  Last year he received the “Newcomer of the Year” award, which was voted on by all the players on the ATP Tour.

Other Kei Nishikori quotes:

On seeing himself in the game for the first time:

“It was a little embarrassing but it was fun.  Weird feeling because I’m in the game and I never thought I was going to be in a video game so it was fun.”

On the prospect of playing on the most famous tennis courts in the world:

“I’ve never played on Centre Court before so it’s good to play and imagine.  It looks just like the real Centre Court.”

On whether the game offered a realistic introduction to tennis:

“It’s fun to play and everybody can play even if you don’t know tennis so it’s good to start with this game.”

On how it feels to be in the game with some of the greatest tennis legends:

“I’m not a top player yet but I’m happy to be with these guys, the top players and maybe soon I can play them on the real court.”

On the legends in the game that he follows:

“My dad loves Bjorn Borg so I think he’s going to love playing this game.”

“I want to play against Roger Federer because I haven’t played him yet and he’s the greatest player.”

“For sure it’s fun to play against the legends and with me in the game, my family loves it.”

On who he tries to emulate on the real tennis court:

“I’m not like him but I try to play like Roger Federer because he can play on any surface and it’s just fun to watch him play.”

Photo Credit: Carlos Navarro/EA SPORTS

Weekly Links: Jelena Jankovic Is Taking Time Off

Hello True Believers,

This is another edition of the weekly links. Well weekly….I am sorry I haven’t updated lately but I had some computer problems and was unable to write the Weekly Links columns as I usually do.

And now for the good news:

My computer has been fixed and I can get back to lusciously linking you to the latest news from the world of tennis.

More and more U.S. colleges are dropping tennis from their programs. It’s a bad development for the future of US tennis. (The State)

An interview with Novak Djokovic. He is into reading, loves opera and Djokes on his blog. (Times Online)

Sad news for Hingis fans: She will stay retired this time. Tennis will surely miss one of their icons of the past decades (Mail on Sunday)

Henman thinks that Roger Federer’s reign is far from over. I can only agree with him. (Telegraph)

The World’s Worst Player has decided that it’s not ok to call him that and sues three newspapers (The Guardian)

Whoever wrote off Andy Roddick clearly is wrong. Roddick has a shot at the Wimbledon title (AFP)

No Pink Think for Diane Elayne Dees as she fights more sexism in tennis. This time she fights off the dreadful LTA’s Think Pink campaign. (Women who serve)

Friends around the campfire and everybody’s high, Zlatibor mountain high. Jelena Jankovic had to recharge after her disappointing loss in the semis of Roland Garros (Jelena Jankovic Official Site)

Sania’s back. India’s No. 1 was injured for a long time but finally reappears at the Ordina Open in The Netherlands. (India Times)

Interesting review of “Blacks at the Net: Black Achievement in the History of Tennis, Volume Two” about the achievements of black people on the tour. (Talk About Tennis)

Venus Williams like you have never seen her before (Great Tennis Photos)

Pictures:

Photos of the Gerry Weber Open

Bonus photos:

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Fight Club.

Tsonga Photo credit: Oliver Hardt/ATPtour.com

Gerry Weber Photo: ©GERRY WEBER WORLD / ATPtour.com

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