2014 Bangkok & Como Challenger Previews

2014 Bangkok & Como Challenger Previews
Chris DeWaard, Tennis East Coast

bangkok chang sat

It’s not only about the US Open this week, with two Challengers on the schedule. One in Thailand on hardcourt and the other in Italy, on clay.

Chang-Sat Bangkok Open 2014
ATP Challenger Tour
Bangkok, Thailand
August 25-31
Prize Money: $50,000

Seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)

1: Go Soeda (107)
2: James Duckworth (155)
3: Luca Vanni (170)
4: Thomas Fabbiano (227)
5: Matt Reid (236)
6: Kyle Edmund (237)
7: Yasutaka Uchiyama (242)
8: Elias Ymer (244)

The last direct acceptance is exceptionally high here: Congsup Congcar, ranked 2078th.

First round match-ups to watch

Danai Udomchoke – Hyeon Chung

Udomchoke has had a long career in the shadow of Thailand’s most successful player, Paradorn Srichaphan, which saw him reach a career high ranking of #77 in early 2007. This happened after arguably the greatest tournament of his career, the Australian Open, where he beat 24th seed Juan Carlos Ferrero in the second round and took a set off Novak Djokovic in the third round. You can watch a great point he won against Djokovic in that match below. A year earlier, he pushed #3 seed David Nalbandian to the brink in their first round match, falling 2-6 2-6 6-1 7-6(4) 1-6.

2007 was also the last year in which the now 33 year old Udomchoke was ranked inside of the top 100. Currently he is ranked just outside the top 300 at #308 and one has to wonder how long he will keep playing. Perhaps he can make a final run at his home event here. He will take on the South Korean youngster Chung, who is fifteen years his junior and ranked 249th.

Top Half

Last week, top seed Go Soeda was involved in what arguably was the upset of the year, losing 6-3 6-3 as the second seed to Oscar Hernandez in the first round of qualifying at the US Open. Hernandez had been retired for four years and came back on a protected ranking to solely play the qualifying tournaments of Grand Slams. During his professional days, he was known to be awful on hardcourt (5-32 on the main tour), so his win was an enormous surprise and quite humiliating for Soeda. However, Soeda thrives at Challenger level and should be able to brush off that loss here with a deep run.

Perhaps eighth-seeded Elias Ymer can threaten him, although it is yet to be seen how he performs on hardcourt, since the strides he has made this year have solely come on clay. I can’t see the other two seeds, Thomas Fabbiano and Yasutaka Uchiyama, threatening Soeda. A run by Udomchoke is a possibility to consider and would be a nice surprise.

Bottom Half

James Duckworth heads this half and should be a comfortable favorite to reach the final, fighting it out with Kyle Edmund in the quarterfinal for that spot. Matt Reid and Luca Vanni will battle it out in the other section for a semi-final spot against a variety of low ranked Indian and Thai players, which should be no problem for them. However, against Duckworth or Edmund, I see them as a solid underdog.

Predictions

Semis:

Soeda > Udomchoke
Duckworth > Vanni

Final:

Duckworth > Soeda

Udomchoke lets his hometown inspire him to make a good run, but Soeda will simply be too solid for the veteran. The quarterfinal between Duckworth and Edmund will be the real final, as I can see Edmund beating Soeda in the final as well.

ATP Como

Citta Di Como 2014
ATP Challenger Tour
Como, Italy
August 25-31
Prize Money: €35,000

Seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)

1: Facundo Arguello (121)
2: Pierre-Hugues Herbert (136)
3: Adrian Ungur (137)
4: Filippo Volandri (148)
5: Victor Hanescu (150)
6: Potito Starace (156)
7: Marco Cecchinato (160)
8: Andrea Arnaboldi (172)

The last direct acceptance is Christian Lindell, ranked 285th. Viktor Troicki is in the qualifying draw and is very likely to make it into the main draw.

First round match-ups to watch

(5) Victor Hanescu – Jan Hajek

Long time top 100 player Hanescu (33) looks to have dropped out of it for good this year and currently is barely holding onto a top 150 position at #150. Fellow veteran Hajek (31) has made an even bigger drop this year and currently resides exactly 200 spots lower at #350 after starting the year at #105. A big contrast to only a year ago, when he played Federer in the third round of a 500 event. This may very well be the last couple of months on tour for both gentleman and perhaps they can make something interesting out of this match, as both their previous encounters went into a dramatic decider, both won by Hanescu: 6-7(8) 6-4 7-5 and 5-7 6-1 6-4.

Top Half

As expected from a European Challenger the field is a lot more in balance than its Asian counterpart this week. Facundo Arguello heads the field and will be challenged by three Italian seeds in his half, Andrea Arnaboldi, Filippo Volandri and Potito Starace. Volandri and Starace are projected to battle it out in the quarterfinal, just like two weeks ago in Cordenons. However, it is yet to be seen if Volandri is fit enough, considering he retired from that match in the second set. I can’t see a lot of suprises coming from the non-seeded players, so an Arguello – Starace semi-final is very likely here. Unless, of course, Viktor Troicki qualifies and lands in this half, in which case anything can happen considering he would be among the top seeds. For my predictions, considering there is a 75% chance he draws a spot in the bottom half, I’m going to assume that will be the case.

Bottom Half

Pierre-Hugues Herbert leads this half, but he has been in poor form lately, so there might well be a surprise finalist coming out of this half. #7 seed Marco Cecchinato is projected to play him in the semi-final and I think the young Italian should be marked a favorite there. From the upper section, #3 seed Adrian Ungur should prevail over his countryman Hanescu. Ungur won a Challenger three weeks ago in San Marino, which should give him a confidence boost.

Predictions

Semis:

Troicki > Arguello
Cecchinato > Ungur

Final:

Cecchinato > Troicki

Top seed Arguello hasn’t had the best of showings on European clay this year, even losing in straight sets to world number 379 Roman Jebavy in his last tournament. If Troicki ends up in the bottom half, he plays Cecchinato in the semi-final, which would determine the winner of the tournament.

Cecchinato has been sniffing at main tour success lately, but coming up short in deciding sets on a lot of occasions. Here at a Challenger in his home country, he should feel less pressure and prevail. He has posted good results in Italy this year, with three semi-finals and a final in clay Challengers.

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2014 US Open Qualifying Recap

2014 US Open Qualifying Recap
Jeffrey McMillan, Tennis East Coast

US Open

Grand Slam qualifying. A mix of promising juniors, weathered journeymen, slumping former ATP level players and everything in between. Taking place during the week before the big lights shine, qualifying is a tournament of its own where players vie for those coveted 16 main draw slots. Pressure is high and players can either make or break careers in the qualifying event.

US Open qualifying this year was full of great matches and interesting stories. One thing that is particularly interesting about the US Open qualifiers to American tennis fans is the wildcards given to young American hopes. This year, a few young Americans made an impact in the qualifying draw. Francis Tiafoe, a 16 year old from Maryland battled hard against Tatsuma Ito but eventually fell 7-6(6) 6-4 6-3. Fellow 16 year old American hope, Stefan Kozlov faired better than Tiafoe, winning his first round match vs one of the best NCAA tennis players in the nation, Mitchell Frank of UVA 3-6 6-0 6-2. Kozlov lost in the 2nd round to another promising junior, Borna Coric, 2-6 6-2 6-2. 2013 Kalamazoo champion and 2014 runner-up, Colin Altamirano, easily beat Luca Vanni in the first round 6-4 6-2 but was overwhelmed by Berankis in the 2nd round after the first set, 2-6 6-2 6-1. Altamirano showed his talent but failed to show the mental maturity that is needed for the next level. He will take his game to Virginia next year and play under coach Brian Boland as a Cavalier where he will look to improve his mentality and to sharpen certain aspects of his game.

But despite the hype surrounding Tiafoe, Kozlov and Altamirano, the young American who fared the best in qualifying was Ernesto Escobedo, who had the lowest expectations among them all. The hard hitting 18 year old from California rolled through Somden Devvarman and James Duckworth in straight sets, both of whom were heavily favored against Escobedo, before falling to Facundo Bagnis in the final qualifying round. It was a great week for the youngster and hopefully for him something to really build upon.

Outside the borders of the red, white and blue, there were two prominent juniors who made their way into the main draw of the US Open with impressive qualifying runs. Aforementioned Borna Coric will be making his grand slam debut after qualifying. The young Croat impressively took care of veteran Jimmy Wang in the final round of qualifying 7-6(4) 6-1 to book his spot in the 128 man draw. Probably the most impressive set of three wins for any player in qualifying came from Yoshihito Nishioka. He started his quest to qualify by beating the #5 seed and ATP experienced Horacio Zeballos 6-4 6-4. In the 2nd round, he beat another hyped junior, Thanasi Kokkinakis, in an epic 7-5 4-6 6-4 match. The 18-year-old Japanese player finished his ascent into the main draw with a dominating 6-3 6-1 win over former top 100 player Marsel Ilhan of Turkey. Exciting junior prospects making grand slam debuts by fighting through qualifying is always a treat to see for tennis fans, and the fans following qualifying saw it this week through Borna Coric and Yoshihito Nishioka.

Qualifying is not only a place for juniors with big careers ahead of them with this only being the 1st step. It is also the place for weathered journeyman who battle week in and week out on the challenger (and in some cases the futures) tour trying desperately to give themselves the chance to play in a grand slam; to finally get to play in a best of 5 match vs the best players in the world on a big stage with millions of eyes watching them around the world. This year at the US Open qualifying, four such journeymen realized their dream and qualified for the main draw.

Taro Daniel’s grand slam qualifying attempt almost had a very short life as he had to win a 2nd set tiebreak 9-7 after he had lost the first set 6-4 vs Alex Kuznetsov in the first round of qualifying. After getting past Kuznetsov, Daniel got past Toni Androic and Peter Polansky, both in 3 sets to slot himself into the main draw of a grand slam for the first time in his career. It is undoubtedly the top moment of the Japanese player’s career to this point.

Moldova will have a player representing them for the first time ever in a grand slam after Radu Albot qualified for the US Open. Albot will fly the flag of the small former Soviet state of only 3.5 million people in New York after overcoming James Ward in 3 sets in the final round of qualifying. The Moldovan had previously never made it past the 2nd round of qualifying for a grand slam, but this time he made the most of his moment of opportunity.

Niels Desein has had a career of few highs. A career high of only 164 and currently deep in the 200s, the Belgian had the first big moment of his career at age 27 as he qualified for the US Open. He defeated Oscar Hernandez in the final round of qualifying to cement his spot. Hernandez has an amazing story himself during this qualifying campaign. Hernanadez, who had been effectively retired from professional tennis, came from nowhere to crush the #2 seed Go Soeda in round 1 and then advanced to the final round of qualifying after another win in his 2nd match. Hard courts had never been his strong surface, yet the 36 year old Spaniard still nearly qualified for the premier hard court grand slam in tennis.

Perhaps the best story of the entire qualifying tournament came from Irishman James McGee. McGee played college tennis at NC State and was never considered a great talent but he still was determined to be the best player he could be. Over the last few years, McGee has toiled away, slowly but surely raising his ranking but has never had a standout moment.

Until now. After cruising in the first round 6-1 6-1, McGee’s tournament was about to become much more dramatic. In round 2, he faced talented Indian youngster Yuki Bhambri, who was looking to make his grand slam debut as well. Bhambri served for the match at 5-4 in the 3rd set but McGee dug in to get a break and finished off Bhambri 5-7 6-2 7-5. In round 3, McGee faced Ze Zhang, yet another player who was fighting to get to his first grand slam main draw. Zhang overwhelmed McGee in the first set, handing the Irishman a bagel. But McGee was determined to accomplish his dream and won 0-6 6-4 6-4 despite some cramping in the final game. McGee let the tears flow after qualifying, because finally after years of hard work and dedication, he will be in one of the premier events in all of tennis.

Daniel, Albot, Desein and McGee. These four plus the two juniors mentioned above combine to create six players who will be making their grand slam in Flushing Meadows, a high number for a grand slam.

128 players started the week with a dream of playing in the US Open. Some had played in several grand slams before, some just one or two, but many never had. At the end of three grueling rounds, sixteen players emerged as US Open qualifiers. Getting in is the first step and now each of the qualifiers will be determined to make their presence known in the main draw.

Kalinskaya, Opelka Win @ITF_Tennis International Hardcourts Tournament @TheJTCC

Anna Kalinskaya had an easy peasy day yesterday in taking two titles at the ITF International Hardcourts in College Park, Maryland. First up was a two set 6-2, 2-1 win in retirement against Romanian Elena Ruse. The tournament’s top seed, she followed up the singles win with a 6-3, 7-5 doubles title with teammate Evgeniya Levashova, besting the American team of Gabrielle Andrews and Mia Horvit.

Anna Kalinskaya (C) TennisEastCoast.com

Anna Kalinskaya (C) TennisEastCoast.com

After the match, Kalinskaya told me that the timing of the title was fortuitous. “It’s great, because I feel more confident now for the US Open.” She admitted it was a nice treat to have more energy for the doubles match to follow than she normally would.

Her opponent, Elena Ruse, who retired, was still in very good spirits and clutched a Wimbledon towel, a spoil of war from her semifinal run through the junior tournament this summer. Ruse, whose middle name is Gabriela, prefers to be known as Gabby.

“My leg was bad”, she explained. “In the second round, I felt something in my leg, put on some tape and everything was good. Today, I felt so bad. I hope I will be much better for US Open”.

And what about that Wimbledon towel?

“It was my second Grand Slam and I played amazing. I love grass courts and I hope I will be there next year”.

Does she hope to have a special US Open towel to remind her of a great run through New York? “Of course”, she said.

Reilly Opelka

Reilly Opelka

Reilly Opelka, an unseeded American, posted an impressive 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (4) comeback win over Tim Van Rijthoven to capture the boys title. Both players did a nice job of holding serve throughout. Opelka’s serve really bailed him out in the final two stanzas. I missed the end of the match, but I was impressed with the resolve of both players. Opelka reminds me a little of Sam Querrey or John Isner.

Let me give you some reminders about junior tournaments:

1) They hang towels anywhere they can: There’s no one to hand your towel to, so you hang it yourself: from a fence post, for example. But if you’re playing indoors, there is no fence. Then, you find something else. A door knob or a fire alarm will do.

2) The delays of chasing down running balls: They aren’t a bunch of time-wasters in the Juniors like they are in the pros. In fact, they often quick-pitch and sometimes opponents have to tell the player on the other side of the net to slow down. No commercial breaks and speedy changeovers means the matches move quickly. The balls are the one impediment to the smooth progress of the game. No ball kids means everyone is a ball-kid: fans, line judges, and even the Chair will occasionally hop down to kick a nearby ball in a server’s direction. Imagine that in a pro match.

Also, players who want to slow down the pace of a match can do just that depending on how passively they gather up the balls before service. A player about to return serve can also slow down the game depending on how quickly or not they return the ball from their side of the net. It’s a moment to catch your breath, if nothing else.

3) Keep your own score: Just like when you’re playing your buddy on the concrete courts behind the middle school. Like a broken clock, the flip scoreboard is only accurate once every two games when the players flip it on the changeover. We all take electronic scoreboards for granted until they’re gone. Or, you could always ask Colette Lewis of ZooTennis.com. She keeps a reporter’s note book up-to-date with score and stats.

3) The Fans: They’re aren’t too many of them at a match, and they are probably related to the player on court, so watch what you say. Yesterday was unusual in terms of light turnout. The stars of the host Junior Tennis Champions Center had been eliminated in the semis, and the torrential downpour moved the finals inside. And by inside, I mean you had to walk through four buildings to find the courts. I walked through two buildings full of tennis lessons in progress, each time saying thinking, ‘No, this can’t be it’. Finally, I walked into the last tennis barn on the property, saw Colette Lewis, and knew I had arrived!

It was a pleasure to watch Colette at work yesterday. There’s no one like her in the world of tennis, and everything I learned about junior tennis, I learned from her. She also has a very diligent assistant, when he’s not busy with other duties.

For me, this Saturday used to be about Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day in New York. After watching title-match tennis a short drive from home, this seemed like a much better way to spend the Saturday before the US Open instead.

—Stephan Fogleman, Tennis East Coast

Rosol Denies Janowicz his Maiden ATP Title, Wins Second Career ATP Title in Winston-Salem

Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast

Lukas Rosol won his second career ATP title in Winston-Salem on Sunday, defeating now two-time ATP finalist Jerzy Janowicz 3-6 7-6 7-5, in a thrilling ending for the 2014 Emirates US Open Series. Rosol had to save two match points serving 4-5 in the third set, and from there he seized the momentum to power through to the finish, winning the next two games after holding serve to grab the victory.

Rosol will now be a top 30 player, while Janowicz, who is playing his best tennis this season, will return to the top 50, albeit disappointed he couldn’t win his maiden title this week. Rosol won a hard-fought match in the semifinals over Rendy Lu, coming back from a break down in the first set to win that set, and eventually win the match in 3 full sets. Janowicz beat Sam Querrey in 3, in a match many think Querrey should have won, as he had many missed opportunities.

Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah beat Jamie Murray/John Peers for the doubles title.

2014 US Open Week 1 Men’s Preview, Predictions

2014 US Open Week 1 Men’s Preview, Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast

The final slam of the season has arrived. It is one of the most wide open fields for a slam in quite a while in Flushing-Queens and this tournament is well worth watching to see who will emerge and eventually prevail. Here is a preview of all the action that will take place in the first week and beyond.

US Open 2014 Men’s Preview

 

US Open
Grand Slam
New York, NY, USA
August 25-September 7, 2014

Top 8 seeds
1: Novak Djokovic (1)
2: Roger Federer (3)
3: Stan Wawrinka (4)
4: David Ferrer (5)
5: Milos Raonic (6)
6: Tomas Berdych (7)
7: Grigor Dimitrov (8)
8: Andy Murray (9)

The big news is that the defending champion, and perhaps the second most feared player in the draw, Rafael Nadal, is not playing this year due to a wrist injury. As a result, everyone moves up a spot on the seedline and former champion Andy Murray grabs the 8th spot. Other big names out include the year-long injured former US Open champ Juan Martin Del Potro, Tommy Haas, Nicolas Almagro, Alex Dolgopolov, and last among top 50 players, Florian Mayer.

1st round matchups to watch:

(28)Guillermo Garcia-Lopez vs. Rendy Lu

Two streaky players, who if on, are dangerous, the creative shotmaker Garcia-Lopez has momentum coming off the quarterfinals in Winston-Salem, while the baseline backboarder Lu has similar momentum by virtue of making the semis at the same event. Both players have toppled some big names this year: GGL has wins over Gael Monfils, Tomas Berdych, Alex Dolgopolov and most notably Stan Wawrinka. Lu beat Berdych in Cincinnati and also beat David Ferrer on a hard court in Auckland, as he earns his living on the concrete. Lu won their only hard court meeting in 2009 and I’d tip him as a slight favorite as long as he isn’t worn out from a 3 set semifinal loss in Winston-Salem.

(3)Stan Wawrinka vs. Jiri Vesely

Wawrinka has fared relatively poorly given his high seeding at the two hard court Masters events this summer. He was booted in this third match in Cincinnati and his second in Toronto, both by players ranked outside the top 20 (Julien Benneteau and Kevin Anderson). Thus, his sub-par results on hard courts after his Aussie Open triumph and his sometimes loss of focus in matches suggests he should be on upset alert against the young Czech Vesely, who has a big game, and is looking for a marquee win to establish himself further on the ATP tour. All that said, Vesely has had far superior results on clay than on hard courts this season, and because of that I’m still relatively comfortable saying Stan the Man will advance given the surface.

(21)Mikhail Youzhny vs. Nick Kyrgios 

This match will be a big test for Wimbledon quarterfinalist Kyrgios. He has already made his breakthrough onto the ATP tour, and as a result he did not need a wild card to participate in the main draw here. However, he will have to face Youzhny, who is a two time semifinalist at the US Open and was a quarterfinalist last year. Even though he hasn’t played well this season, he does have a tendency to rise to the occasion in New York and this is their first meeting. It’s a hard match to pick, and Kyrgios is still going to have some growing pains but I’ve been bullish on the young Aussie for quite some time and I’m not backing off him now given his comparable showings in the US Open Series this summer. It will likely go five sets but I think Nick advances to the next round.

Pablo Andujar vs. Jack Sock

Sock had a strong start to his summer season home soil with consecutive semis in Newport and Atlanta, but he has cooled off since then and didn’t get past the second round in DC, Toronto, or Cincy. That said, a pair of losses to Milos Raonic, and a loss to eventual semifinalist Tommy Robredo in Cincy, doesn’t look that bad in hindsight and he could yet again find a hot streak at the US Open. Standing in his way is “Picasso” Andujar who primarily prefers clay and only has two hard court wins this season. That said, he’s not entirely a pushover and Sock will have to work win this best of 5 sets match. It could be a good tournament for the young American but he must begin with a solid result.

(29)Lukas Rosol vs. Borna Coric

Winston-Salem champ Rosol played some excellent tennis this past week, but he may be in trouble against the young qualifier Coric, a rising Croat who should approach this match trying to wear down a likely tired Rosol. Coric’s qualifying wins over Stefan Kozlov and Jimmy Wang are very credible and the 17 year old also has a quarterfinal in Umag on clay, and a Davis Cup win on indoor hard against Jerzy Janowicz that speaks to his hype. Rosol, if he can rest up enough, is favored, but I’m going out on a limb and picking Coric to get to the second round.

(6)Tomas Berdych vs. Lleyton Hewitt

It could very well be the last rodeo in New York for the former US Open champion Hewitt, who has been struggling for most of this season, and should be a somewhat sizable underdog against Berdych, a former semifinalist at the US Open. That said, Berdych is struggling and is just 2-3 in the US Open series, he has proven vulnerable to the upset, and Hewitt may just have enough fight and skill left in him for one last top 10 win in New York. I’m not picking it myself, but the opportunity exists.

(19)Feliciano Lopez vs. Ivan Dodig

I have a feeling this will be an under-appreciated match between two steady but not elite players. Lopez has been very streaky this season and he recently reached the semis in Toronto with two very notable wins over Milos Raonic and Berdych. Dodig had a good win over John Isner in Toronto, coming back from injury, and his loss to Ernests Gulbis in Cincy was in two tiebreaks. They have never met on hard courts but Dodig won on clay this season, and Lopez is the favorite I would think, given recent form. Dodig’s serve should keep him in this hard court match, but I have Lopez sneaking it out, and this match has five sets written all over it.

(14)Marin Cilic vs. Marcos Baghdatis

Cilic can’t be happy. He has improved his ranking up to being a top 15 seed, but even still, he drew an in-form and experienced player like Baghdatis as his round 1 opponent. Under the radar, Baghdatis won a pair of hard court challengers this summer and he is on a 10 match winning streak. On top of that, he has beaten Cilic twice in his career, both times on hard courts. Cilic has won their last two meetings though, which includes their most recent hard court meeting and he went 4-2 on the US Open series this summer with losses to Stan Wawrinka and Roger Federer, neither of which were unexpected. Cilic should advance but don’t be surprised if this one goes four or five sets before Baghdatis lack of stamina will likely give way to Cilic.

Federico Delbonis vs. (WC)Noah Rubin

Kalamazoo junior champ, and as a result, US Open wild card recipient Noah Rubin, a NY/NJ metro area local star, has an excellent chance to win his first career grand slam main draw match at the senior level against Delbonis. The Argentine is a clay courter and he has only won one match on hard courts this season (1-7 record). Rubin will need to adjust to the learning curve quickly, but he is unlikely to get blown out at a minimum in this one. It will be interesting to see what the McEnroe-backed young gun can do.

Bernard Tomic vs. Dustin Brown

Another under-the-radar match. Tomic is 10-3 in tournament matches since Wimbledon, qualified in both Toronto and Cincy, along with the title in Bogota, and is looking to re-earn his credibility as a future star. In order to do so, he will need to win matches like this one against the big serving and streaky Dustin Brown, who is 9-5 overall on hard courts this season, but plays challengers as much as he does ATP. Tomic should advance, but Brown is a good early test of his form to see if he can surprise some people this year at the USO.

Djokovic’s Quarter:

*Third round participant predictions are in bold

Novak, who has struggled to adjust after his Wimbledon triumph, suffering two shocking early losses in Toronto and Cincy, will look to regroup and win his second US Open title. He opens with Diego Sebastian Schwartzman in a match that should feature baked goods, given the Argentine would much prefer to be playing on clay, and he is more likely to get at least something resembling a competitive match against the winner of Gilles Muller/Paul-Henri Mathieu in round 2. Muller has been red hot on the challenger circuit all season, but he has taken a few weeks off, and though he has a big serve, I doubt he will challenge the excellent returner Djokovic, PHM likewise shouldn’t cause Novak much grief. Djokovic is likely to face an in-form player in the third round, as Winston-Salem semifinalist Sam Querrey is in his section, opening with Maximo Gonzalez, along with Garcia-Lopez/Lu. It’s understandable to think Novak may be vulnerable right now, but Querrey lacks the mental fortitude, Lu lacks the weapons, and Garcia-Lopez lacks the consistency needed to get a massive upset and upend the draw, so Novak should get through to the second week, perhaps without dropping a set.

13 seed and top American John Isner is nursing an ankle injury, as he continues to be unable to stay healthy, and as a result of that, even if he does participate it appears unlikely he will make a deep run even with a favorable draw. He opens with qualifier Marcos Giron of UCLA, and if he gets through that, he faces the winner of Mikhail Kukushkin/JL Struff. In the second round, it’s possible he will renew his rivalry with Philipp Kohlschreiber. In the third round for the third consecutive US Open, Kohli has to beat qualifier Facundo Bagnis in round 1, who is a fighter, and also the Michael Llodra/Daniel Gimeno-Traver winner.

Llodra is playing his final US Open and was given a wild card as a result. His silky smooth serve and volleying style will be missed on tour. Kohli is just 1-3 in his last four matches and has not had a strong season but the weak draw and an injured Isner should allow him to reach the second week. In the third round of the US Open in both 2012 and 2013, he knocked out Isner in five and four sets respectively in memorable matches.

Former US Open champ Andy Murray will be looking to, in some ways, salvage his season with a strong run at the US Open this year. He opens with Robin Haase, who he has played in the early round of Grand Slams twice before (2011 USO round 2 and 2013 AO round 1) and I expect him to have little trouble before a possible third round meeting with Fernando Verdasco. Radek Stepanek/Mathias Bachinger is his slated round 2 opponent and given Bachinger, a qualifier, favors clay, and Stepanek has lost 4 straight matches on hard court surfaces, Murray should get to the third round without dropping a set. It is fair to note Stepanek beat Murray at London Queens this year but Murray dominates the h2h otherwise. The 31 seed Verdasco played just two matches on hard courts this summer, as he fell in round 2 of Cincy, and he opens with the steadily improving Blaz Rola who has a below .500 record at the ATP/Grand Slam level this season. Look for Verdasco to find form and beat both Rola and Andrey Kuznetsov/Bradley Klahn to set up a meeting with Murray. Kuznetsov has some talent but he hasn’t prepared for hard courts this summer. Murray has only lost to Verdasco twice, and hasn’t lost to him since he was at his peak level in 2009, while winning many more head to head meetings, thus Andy should get himself into week 2.

One of the most watched players this US Open will be Toronto champ Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, after falling by the wayside for months, Tsonga put himself back in the conversation about US Open contenders with top quality play in Toronto that was a flashback to previous big showings for the Frenchman. He’s seeded 9th and his path to week 2 begins with the, frankly, washed up Juan Monaco, and then the winner of James McGee/Alexandr Nedovyesov. McGee is one of the nicest guys in pro tennis and he’s finally getting to make his grand slam main draw debut in New York. His qualification run is a big step for him personally, and for Irish tennis as a whole, and it’s great to see him doing so well. Tsonga should cruise through to round 3 without dropping a set, and if he can stay healthy, always a big question mark with him, he should setup a meeting with Julien Benneteau, his countryman, at that stage. Benny was a surprise semifinalist in Cincy and he has a win at IW over Tsonga this season. Though he clearly has talent left to display, Tsonga should still make the second week, and a dark horse run by Benneteau is likely to be averted. Benny first must beat his erratic countryman Benoit Paire and the Andreas Beck/Pablo Carreno Busta winner in the first two rounds.

Wawrinka’s Quarter:

Wawrinka/Vesely will face Thomaz Bellucci/Nicolas Mahut in round 2. Mahut played some quality tennis in Winston-Salem which included a win over Cincy semifinalist Tommy Robredo, but Wawrinka should get to the third round. It is notable that Wawrinka can’t afford to overlook Mahut, as the Frenchman has won both their head to head meetings. Wawrinka is likely to face Donald Young in the third round, but the American must first defeat Blaz Kavcic and Jeremy Chardy/Alejandro Falla. All four players have a case for the third round, but the Young/Chardy winner should be the deciding contest. Chardy has a lone hard court win over Young, but he is in questionable form. Young beat Wawrinka in five sets at the 2011 US Open, and I’m sure he’d love to do so again but his form honestly doesn’t indicate to me he is in the place to do that right now, and I have Wawrinka making the second week, probably dropping multiple sets en route.

The section below Wawrinka is stacked, as the Kyrgios/Youzhny winner will face Sergiy Stakhovsky/Andreas Seppi, and then likely Tommy Robredo/Vasek Pospisil in round 3. Pospisil, a finalist in DC, has hard court credentials, but he’s been inconsistent all year, while Robredo always seems to rise to the occasion for the Grand Slams and he had that shock run in Cincy after a ho-hum season overall. Robredo opens with Edouard Roger-Vasselin, and Pospisil opens with Simone Bolelli in round 1. I tend to believe Pospisil is rounding into form and I’m making a judgement call and picking him over Robredo to reach the third round. It could easily go the other way, though. Kyrgios vs. Pospisil would be a thrilling third round encounter, and in my own bracket I have Pospisil making the second week. Really, any of the likely third round matchups in this section look to be quality.

Another much talked about player is DC champ, Toronto quarterfinalist and Cincy semifinalist Milos Raonic, who won the US Open series this season. Milos, like Tsonga, is considered an outside favorite to win the title, and his early path runs through qualifier Taro Daniel, who will be playing in front of a home New York crowd, and the Peter Gojowczyk/Benjamin Becker winner. The big serving Becker has had USO success before, and he’s having an excellent season by his standards. However, the rested Raonic should outserve them all en route to the third round and then the Manitoba Missile should grab a win over Coric/Rosol or Igor Sijsling/Victor Estrella. Kei Nishikori, the 10 seed, who hasn’t played since DC, is his most likely opponent in the round of 16. Nishikori will need wins over USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge winner Wayne Odesnik, and Sock/Andujar to reach the third round. Sock perhaps could find form and do the same. Sock/Nishikori should be strong favorites against one of Leo Mayer/Albert Montanes/Tobias Kamke/Matt Ebden in round 3 though, in what is perhaps the weakest section of the draw.

Ferrer’s Quarter:

After facing the undersized Damir Dzumhur, Cincy finalist and two time US Open semifinalist David Ferrer could be in trouble against the winner of Tomic/Brown in round 2. That said, Ferrer is 2-0 against both Brown and Tomic, and thus is still likely to advance, even on upset alert. In round 3, Gilles Simon is Ferrer/Tomic/Brown’s most likely opponent. The 26 seed has not had a good season and is below .500 on hard courts this year, but he faces qualifier Radu Albot and the Delbonis/Rubin winner for his first two matches, thus a forgiving draw should allow him to get through. If Rubin can exceed the hype, perhaps he could make the third round. Ferrer should blow through whoever he faces in the third round regardless and book himself a place in the second week. At least, that is how I have it my draw. I have Tomic/Brown doing the same for what it’s worth.

Cilic/Baghdatis will face a qualifier, either Ilya Marchenko or Marco Chiudinelli in round 2, and I’d expect Cilic to get through to the third round where he should face off with Kevin Anderson. Jerzy Janowicz, who has finally found his form these past couple of weeks after a miserable 2014, is in this section, but coming off a grueling and disappointing Winston-Salem final, he should only be rested enough to get past Dusan Lajovic in round 1 before falling to the fresher Anderson, who plays somewhat similar, and was a quarterfinalist in both DC and Toronto. Anderson seems to be struggling mentally at the moment but Pablo Cuevas in round 1 and the Janowicz/Lajovic should be contests that allow him to find his game again. Cilic has a win over Anderson in Delray Beach this season and I think he will get his second win over the South African number one this year at the US Open, booking himself a spot in week 2.

Berdych/Hewitt will face Martin Klizan/Steve Darcis in round 2. The Belgian shark qualified and did so in under-the-radar fashion. Berdych is 2-0 against Klizan and should get through to the third round to face the winner of Santiago Giraldo/Alex Kudryavtsev. Giraldo has had a strong season, but he has struggled this summer and he opens with the slumping Teymuraz Gabashvili, while the qualifier Kudryavtsev will face his countryman Evgeny Donskoy. That round 1 meeting could go either way but Alex has the h2h edge. I expect a Giraldo/Berdych third round contest. It would be their first h2h meeting, and Giraldo could make it a battle, but Berdych is still most likely to make the second week.

Lopez/Dodig will face Steve Johnson or qualifier Tatsuma Ito in round 2. This is a hard to predict section given Johnson has a h2h win over Lopez in Delray this season, and both players have shown good form. Steve has cooled off a bit since reaching the quarters in DC and the third round in Cincy, but he’s still having a career year. Forced to choose, I’m going with Lopez, the veteran, into the third round to face Ernests Gulbis, the 11 seed. Gulbis opens with the last direct entrant, Kenny De Schepper, in round 1, and then Dominic Thiem/Lukas Lacko in round 2. Thiem and Gulbis are close friends and they share coaching teams, along with being hitting partners. Gulbis has a lone win in qualies 2 years ago in Winston-Salem over Thiem, but the young Austrian is much improved since then and much more experienced. That said, he’s out of form having lost three straight matches and though I have him beating Lacko in what should be a competitive match, I don’t think he will trouble Gulbis, who is entering the US Open quietly this time.

Federer’s Quarter:

Federer, The Cincy and Toronto champion, who has dominated this summer with Nadal absent and Djokovic MIA, is a co-favorite for the US Open title this go around. He will open with Marinko Matosevic, who is a somewhat challenging round 1 opponent, but regardless he should get through to round 2 against Sam Groth/Albert Ramos. The big serving Groth is also unlikely to take a set off the Swiss Maestro and look for Federer to perhaps meet Ivo Karlovic in the third round. Karlovic is struggling, and Federer beat him in Miami this season, his fifth win in a row over one of the best servers of all time. Karlovic’s path to round 3 runs through Jarkko Nieminen and Marcel Granollers/Jurgen Melzer. This section has four very experienced, but out of form players in Karlovic, Nieminen, Granollers and Melzer. All of them have the credentials to reach the third round, and Nieminen showed a bit of a boost in form in Winston-Salem. It’s nearly impossible that I’ll get this perfectly accurate, but in my own bracket I have Nieminen upsetting Karlovic against the odds, Melzer surviving Granollers given the surface, and then Nieminen dispatching Melzer. Federer should reach the second week without dropping a set, or perhaps playing one four set contest in three matches.

Cincy quarterfinalist and 15 seed Fabio Fognini opens with Andrey Golubev and then should face the Pere Riba/Adrian Mannarino winner. Given the weak draw, Fognini should reach the third round, even while being inconsistent and combustible. His first real test of the tournament should come against Roberto Bautista Agut. RBA will face dirtballer Andreas Haider-Maurer and then Tim Smyczek/Filip Krajinovic in round 2. Krajinovic qualified and Smyczek is a competitive hard court player so that match is a bit of a toss-up. Regardless, RBA is superior in terms of talent and even though he hasn’t been exceptional lately he still should get through. RBA/Fognini is a really hard contest to pick. They have met a bunch of times and have a split h2h this season on clay. They also have split outdoor hard court meetings overall and Fognini beat RBA in Miami this season. I see that match going five sets, and even though his form has been poor, I think RBA is more consistent over five sets compared to Fognini and I have the Spaniard into week 2.

7 seed Grigor Dimitrov, a semifinalist in Toronto, and another much talked player outside of the top 4 seeds, will open with Ryan Harrison just like he did at Wimbledon this year. Harrison injured himself in Winston-Salem and Dimitrov should cruise through to face Dudi Sela/Carlos Berlocq. Dimitrov will need to watch out for David Goffin in round 3. The Belgian underdog went on an exceptional 20+ match win streak that was snapped in Winston-Salem at the Quarterfinals stage and he is in tremendous form at the moment. Dimitrov has 3 career wins, all in clay court challengers and futures over the Belgian, and given this is hard court, Dimitrov is still the favorite to advance, but I see Goffin taking a set. Goffin’s path to round 3 is a first round match with his countryman, qualifier Niels Desein, and then a match with the Frank Dancevic/Joao Sousa winner.

Richard Gasquet, the 12th seed, withdrew in Toronto. As a result of that, he is getting almost no attention going into the USO, even though he was a semifinalist last year, a career result for him. Gasquet opens against Denis Istomin in round 1. Istomin isn’t an easy out but Gasquet has a 3-1 h2h advantage and a win this season over the Uzbek on grass. Denis the Menace is a disappointing 2-4 this summer during the US Open Series and he is likely to bow out in round 1. An interesting contest will take place between Dmitry Tursunov, who hasn’t played a tournament match since Wimbledon, and Alejandro Gonzalez, who for a South American player is a competent hard court competitor. Tursunov is a far more accomplished player but with rust/health in question, Gonzalez should be a slight favorite to meet the winner of Gael Monfils/Jared Donaldson in round 2. Monfils lost 3 set matches to Djokovic and Federer in Toronto and Cincy, and he appears to be playing well. I expect him to roll past Gasquet/Istomin, along with Donaldson and Gonzalez/Tursunov, to reach the second week. Lastly, keep an eye on young Japanese qualifier Yoshihito Nishioka, who I had the pleasure of interviewing earlier this year at the Tallahassee Challenger. Yoshi is making his grand slam main draw debut, and with dirtballer Paolo Lorenzi as his maiden opponent, he has an excellent chance to improve his record to 1-0 in Grand Slam main draw matches. The winner of Nishioka/Lorenzi will face Gasquet/Istomin in round 2 and Nishioka is perhaps the most dangerous qualifier in the draw.

Dark Horses (one for each quarter of the draw): Julien Benneteau, Vasek Pospisil, Bernard Tomic, and Gael Monfils

Dark horses are hard to come by in the first quarter. I don’t think Benneteau will go beyond the third round, but if he does upset Tsonga he would make the fourth round. I have Pospisil in the quarters, and I’m bullish on his chances. Tomic would need to upset Ferrer and get through Cilic but he could have a shock run to the quarters or even the semis as an unseeded player, and Monfils, if he can beat Federer, would find himself in the semifinals, but that is a tough ask.

Week 1 predictions (round of 16 matchups and picks)
Djokovic d. Kohlschreiber
Tsonga d. Murray
Pospisil d. Wawrinka
Raonic d. Nishikori
Gulbis d. Berdych
Ferrer d. Cilic
Monfils d. Dimitrov
Federer d. Bautista Agut

Djokovic and Federer should have limited competition in the fourth round, Tsonga/Murray could go either way, but Tsonga just beat Murray in Toronto when Murray was ahead, and I just can’t trust Andy this season to win key matches like this. He hasn’t proven yet this year that he’s reliable and confident enough to do so. Pospisil has had horrible luck against Wawrinka. They were slated to play twice this season early in the year, but Pospisil had to retire in Chennai during the match and he had a back injury that caused him to walkover before their slated AO match. I know I’m going against the odds but I’m bullish on Vasek to reach the quarters. Raonic is in better form than Nishikori and he beat him at Wimbledon this year, Gulbis beat Berdych at the French and Tomas’s form is suspect. Ferrer/Cilic is another hard judgement call, I’m thinking Ferrer has superior mental fortitude to get over the hump. Monfils has beaten Dimitrov at the USO before and I’m bullish on his form compared to the Bulgarian.

My Full Tournament Picks

Quarters:
Djokovic d. Tsonga
Raonic d. Pospisil
Ferrer d. Gulbis
Federer d. Monfils

Tsonga upset Djokovic in Toronto, but I feel in a best of 5 format that Novak will come out on top. It’s a hard pick to make and it is likely to be a closer match compared to some of their previous contests. Raonic has 2 big wins over Pospisil and he should get a third, Ferrer-Gulbis is likely to be competitive but I think Ferrer survives the test. Monfils may push Federer to five, but like we saw in Cincy, he doesn’t have that extra gear right now to finish the match off.

Semis:
Djokovic d. Raonic
Federer d. Ferrer

Djokovic and Federer have both dominated the h2hs and that should continue.

Final:
Federer d. Djokovic

Federer came close to winning their meeting in the Wimbledon final, and all of their contests have generally been competitive, with Novak out of form this summer, and Federer on fire, I think he will grab what may be his final slam at the USO.

Janowicz, Querrey, Rosol, and Lu are semifinalists at @WSOpen 2014

Janowicz, Querrey, Rosol, and Lu are semifinalists at Winston-Salem Open 2014
Eric Logan, Tennis East Coast

Quarterfinal day, my final day at the Winston-Salem Open, was an eventful if disappointing one as the four semifinalists were decided. Spectators arrived to Center Court for four singles matches and one doubles match for the honor of playing on Friday in the semifinals.

The first quarterfinal was played between Taiwanese number one Yen-Hsun Lu and Italian Andreas Seppi. While the two are ranked closely and were both seeded in the 9-16 range at the event, their form could not have been more polar opposite coming into the Wake Forest event.  Lu has been in superb form, beating Berdych in Cincinnati and nearing his career high rank. Seppi, on the other hand, has a negative win-loss record this year and seems on the downswing.

Their respective forms were telling as Lu broke early. Seppi had chances to break back, but repeatedly missed returns. In fact, the return seemed to be the source of the vast majority of the Italian’s woes, as it repeatedly found the net and the point was over before it had begun.

Lu reaches the semis and continues his career year

Lu reaches the semis and continues a career best year for him

The second set began with a poor Seppi service game, where Lu broke to cheers from his coaching camp. It was around that time that the announcement was made that defined the day for many fans: 2012 champion John Isner had withdrawn from his clash with the big-hitting Czech, seventh seed Lukas Rosol. The marquee match of the day now canceled, the crowd seemed almost to will themselves into emotionally investing in the match at hand.

That task proved difficult as Seppi continued to play woefully- at one point getting a chance to get back on even terms at 15-40 only to miss four consecutive returns. The 6-4 6-4 final score was generous to the fourteenth seed as he struggled to ever make any headway on the Lu serve. The match ended with almost two hours before the next match, which while doubtless a boon to the concession vendors, was unkind to the fans who had to wait in the heat for David Goffin and Jerzy Janowicz to play the only other day session semifinal.

After the match finally began, Janowicz quickly broke. The Belgian’s serve proved an enormous liability, and although throughout the first set Goffin seemed the better player off the ground, the Pole’s potent returns coupled with his own huge serve (which was more reliable than normal) allowed for Janowicz to take the set 6-4 after a game in which the net and the side of the racquet favored him on more than one occasion. In the second set, the confident and aggressive baseline play coupled with excellent retrieval that led Goffin to win 25 straight matches was nowhere to be seen as he was broken twice to lose the match 6-4 6-2. Janowicz would advance to the semifinal to play the winner of the day’s night match.

Janowicz snaps Goffin's win streak

Janowicz snaps Goffin’s win streak

With Rosol getting the walkover into the semifinals, the only other quarterfinal was contested between Sam Querrey and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Querrey had his serve and forehand working and he prevailed 6-7 6-2 6-4 as GGL faded late. In the only doubles match contested yesterday, Jamie Murray and John Peers beat Mariusz Frystenberg and Marcin Matkowski 6-3 6-4.

 

Sanity Finally Prevails @WSOpen R16 #WSOpen

Sanity Finally Prevails @WSOpen R16 #WSOpen
Eric Logan, Tennis East Coast

Groth=147 mph serve

Groth=147 mph serve

The seeds met in the R16 today at the Winston-Salem Open in North Carolina. The day produced some great drama, a wide variety of quality, and in the end, the majority of favored players advanced.

Action began on center court (and only center court, given the small number of matches on courts two and three) with twelfth seed Edouard Roger-Vasselin considered the underdog against Jerzy Janowicz despite his higher rank. Fresh off a controversial win over Joao Sousa, the Pole came back from a set down to win in a rather messy three set-match. The quality of tennis was low, but there was great drama at the end as Janowicz faced break point from 40-0 up serving for the match before serving out a 4-6 6-3 6-4 win.

Janowicz’s victory was followed by what would be considered the match of the day by most present, where fifth seed Guillermo Garcia-Lopez faced eleventh seeded American Donald Young. A tight first set was decided in a tiebreak in which, after a great effort earlier in the set to save a number of set points, the Spaniard crumbled at 4-5 in the tiebreak, losing both service points. Garcia-Lopez rebounded by breaking twice in the second set by prevailing in numerous beautiful rallies.

In the third, Garcia-Lopez captured the break and looked poised to win when he held two match points serving at 5-4. Young brought the crowd to its feet, however, by saving them with a return winner and a smash off a smash before Garcia-Lopez broke himself on a double fault. After drawing the set to a tiebreak, Young then held two match points at 6-4. Garcia-Lopez saved the first with a forehand winner before Young threw the second away with a double fault of his own. Garcia-Lopez then hit another of his countless forehand winners to set up a third match point on his serve, which he took at last.

The third match on Center court was another low-quality affair, where Sam Querrey dispatched an out-of-sorts Kevin Anderson in a match defined by countless Anderson unforced errors by a score of 7-6(4) 6-4. This match brought an end to the day session on center court, and left the tournament without three of its top four seeds after Robredo and Mayer’s losses in the previous round.

On the outer courts, eight players attempted to punch their tickets into the quarterfinals. Marcel Granollers arrived late to his match against Yen-Hsun Lu and looked thoroughly unprepared to play tennis. The eighth seed fell to the ninth 6-1 6-2 in a match in which he sliced the vast majority of groundstrokes, was kept on the defense constantly, and won only two return points in the second set.

David Goffin continued his win streak with a 6-4 4-6 6-4 score against an unexpectedly game Jarkko Nieminen. Nieminen has been in very poor form in contrast to Goffin’s 24 (now 25) straight victories. In the end, however, Goffin’s game proved more solid than the Finn’s. Lukas Rosol defeated Pablo Andujar 1-6 6-2 6-2 in an up-and-down match that seemed to end with words between the players. Nicolas Mahut was unable to back up his win against Tommy Robredo as he fell 6-4 7-6(7) to Andreas Seppi.

In the night match, top seeded John Isner took on thirteenth seed Mikhail Kukushkin. The Kazakhstani player began
the match extremely poorly, surrendering the first set 6-1 in a flurry of unforced errors amid some good returning by Isner. Kukushkin raised his game in the second to make the match competitive, but was unable to return Isner’s huge serve in critical moments and in the end surrendered 6-1 7-6(3).

The day’s most dramatic match in doubles ended the same way the most dramatic match in singles had: heartbreak for Donald Young. Young and Nicolas Monroe lost the first set to Florin Mergea and Joao Sousa 6-2 before roaring back to win 5 games in a row and send the match to a supertiebreak at 2-6 6-1. Here, the American team led 7-1 amid a number of bad calls against the Europeans that had even the North Carolina crowd calling out in dismay and had to have Sousa wondering if the officials had a pact against him. Things then began to turn, and it was a tighter 6-9 when Young and Monroe arrived at match point.

On the first match point, Sousa served an ace. The second was dealt with routinely as well. The third, however, was the shot of the tournament thus far. Off of a big Young serve that looked to have the point won, Mergea hit a stunning full stretch backhand return winner that seemed a good deal faster than the aggressive serve. Mergea backed up the shot with a big forehand, and a point later Mergea and Sousa clinched an incredible
comeback win.

In the final match of the day, Sam Groth showed off his enormous serve as he hit 147 miles per hour in the first game of his doubles effort partnership with Chris Guccione. The Australians faced two losers from the singles draw, Marcel Granollers and Pablo Andujar. Some clutch Granollers net play saved four break points, including a set point. Chris Guccione then tightened up to lose all three service points in the first set tiebreak to allow the Spaniards to steal a set in which they were clearly not the better team. In the second, however, they stepped it up a notch to break twice for a 7-6(4) 7-5 win.

Tomorrow’s schedule includes one doubles match, Jamie Murray and John Peers against the veteran Polish team of Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski. It also includes four appealing men’s singles quarterfinal matches: John Isner against Lukas Rosol, Andreas Seppi against Yen-Hsun Lu, Jerzy Janowicz against David Goffin, and Sam Querrey against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Until then, all eight players should still feel they have a fighting shot at the title in Winston-Salem.