MORE THAN 20 OF THE TOP 100 PLAYERS IN THE WORLD
Pico Reigns Supreme: 2012 ATP Houston Recap
By Steen Kirby, TennisEastCoast.com
[EDITOR: Tennis East Coast Phenom Columnist Steen Kirby picked not only the winner of the US Men's Clay Court Championship, he also picked the participants in the final. I don't bet on tennis, but if I did, I'd have Steen "The Teen" Kirby by my side, like Tatum O'Neal in Paper Moon.]
The US Mens Clay Court Championships in Houston wrapped up yesterday with Juan “Pico” Monaco taking out John Isner in a tough 3 set battle. Monaco took out Tatsuma Ito, 5 seed Kevin Anderson and Michael Russell en route to the final.
Russell was the story of the week, though. The Houston resident upset his countryman, slumping top-seed Mardy Fish in straights after knocking off Daniel-Gimeno Traver in 3 sets in his 1st round match. He then proceeded to take out another American, Ryan Harrison, to reach the semis before falling to Monaco in 3 sets. Russell also had to qualify to reach the main draw where he took out Denes Lukacs and Daniel Kosakowski. It was the best result and tournament run of his career at the age of 32, no less.
On the bottom half of the draw, Isner, who was a favorite going in, beat Argentine Horacio Zeballos in 3 sets, then dispatched defending champ Ryan Sweeting in 2 long tie break sets in what was a tough match, and finally beat Feliciano Lopez in 3 sets to reach the final.
Sweeting, before falling to Isner, beat Brazilian Ricardo Mello in the 1st round and fellow American Bobby Reynolds, who notched a good win over Ivo Karlovic in the 1st round.
Lopez took out Paolo Lorenzi and Carlos Berlocq before falling to Isner. Berlocq was playing good tennis but suffered an injury during the match with Lopez, but after losing the 1st set and struggling early in the 2nd he was forced to retire.
Ryan Harrison also notched a couple of good wins over Alex Bogomolov in the 1st round (3 sets) and Igor Kunitsyn in the 2nd before falling to surprise semi-finalist Russell.
If you read my ATP Houston preview last week, I predicted a Monaco vs. Isner final with Monaco taking it and that is exactly what happened. Monaco has been playing excellent tennis this season on both clay and hard courts and is certainly a dangerous floater in any draw– especially on clay. He and Isner, who has also had a great year thus far, are a couple of hot players nobody wants to face.
Speaking of the clay, I couldn’t help but notice the unique surface that at River Oaks Country Club in Houston. Opinions on it range from “it’s just dirt” to “what a new unique surface”. A couple of tennis tweeters noted it didn’t leave many marks and doesn’t have any sheen to it. I tend to agree.
On the doubles side, James Blake and Sam Querrey took home the title to the delight of American fans in what was a bit of a surprise. They beat Treat Huey and Dominic Inglot to take the title in straight sets.
The ATP World Tour heads to Monte Carlo now while many of the ATP Houston participants such as Isner will be skipping it due to the travel and distance, while others such as Monaco will get right back to it, plying their trade on red clay this time.
There is also a USTA Pro Circuit event in Sarasota this week that has a pretty good field of entrants. Stay tuned to Tennis East Coast for the ever-changing headline.
Can you hear it in the distance?
It’s the Call of the Main Draw Roll Call Down Under. One lucky American man will win an automatic main draw entry into the 2012 Australian Open during the USTA Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs at Racquet Club of the South in Norcross, Georgia on Sunday. Tennis Maryland will be there and wants to afford you a cursory advance briefing on the situation.
In comparison to the women’s field, the men’s field celebrates diversity. Diversity of age, that is. While the women at the 2011 USTA Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs range in age from 16-21, the men range from 19-29. In a microcosm of player development, it seems that the future of the future of American men’s tennis at the Wild Card Playoffs is slightly longer in the tooth than the women’s field. The men’s field is also ranked lower than the women. In fact, #3 seed Denis Kudla, with a world ranking of 275, would be the #7 seed on the women’s side.
The men’s draw also reflects the lack of volatility and the more rigid hierarchy of the men’s professional game at this time. Just like the top few players in the world, a man in the top four ranked players in the men’s draw at the Playoffs will likely ‘win it all’. However, in this case, the winner will only be flying off to Australia for a berth in the main draw and not necessarily be raising the trophy at Melbourne Park.
Based on the rankings of December 4, 3 of the top 4 players are the oldest in the contest, with Reynolds and Ginepri at 29 and Levine at 24. Of the top 4 players based on rankings, only Denis Kudla can’t legally buy a beer.
#1 Bobby Reynolds (#127): At 29, Bobby Reynolds from Acworth, Georgia, is the oldest player in the field, but only by a few months over Robby Ginepri. Reynolds, known locally for his play for the Washington Kastles and their 2011 undefeated dream season, also impressed with his commanding performance at the US Open Wild Cards. Though beset by injuries in the last couple of years, he seems to be on top form for the last half of the year. He should meet Rhyne Williams in the first round, who he beat in straights at the Wild Card semifinals in College Park.
#2 Jesse Levine (#164): The Canadian-born Levine is the only left-hander in the draw. He is likely to face Daniel Kosakowski in the opener. He’s battled back from injuries since his third round appearance at Wimbledon in 2009 and has climbed from #526 in August to his current ranking of #126. Levine defeated Reynolds in the duo’s only main draw meeting, in the round of 32 at Los Angeles in 2009.
#3: Denis Kudla (#275): Kudla is called ’Dangerous Denis’ for a reason. He can knock out a more experienced player at any given moment, such as he did at Newport in July, when he successively stunned Ivo Karlovic and Grigor Dmitrov to reach the Quarters. He should see first-round action against Jack Sock, who defeated him in the semis of this same event last year.
#4 Robby Ginepri (#318): The 29 year old Kennessaw native and 2005 US Open semifinalist looks to capture the crowd’s hearts. He could see Steve Johnson in the first round.
#5 Steve Johnson (#369): The 21 year old Californian saw his rankings reach the highest point of his career last month, and he has broken into the top 200 in men’s doubles.
#6 Jack Sock (#380): Sock drew an automatic berth into the US Open by virtue of his triumph at Kalamazoo last summer. He made the quarters in Sacramento before losing to James Blake and the second round of the 2011 US Open before being defeated by Andy Roddick. The 2010 US Open Junior Champion, he continues to move up the rankings and should be a joy to watch in an anticipated first rounder against Kudla.
#7 Daniel Kosakowski (#410): In his inaugural year as a pro, the 2011 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year was just one win away from the US Open Wild Card Playoffs in August. He has beaten Kudla and Johnson and lost to Rhyne Williams.
#8: Rhyne Williams (#511): Another freshly-minted pro, he left the University of Tennessee over the summer. He’s lost to Levine twice this year, and has beaten Ginepri and Kosakowski. He should face Reynolds for starters.
No surprises here. Bobby Reynolds dominance at the US Open Wild Card Playoffs in College Park, Maryland in August reflects his “one to beat” status and an overwhelming favorite to punch his ticket into the main draw at Racquet Club of the South next weekend. Or, it could go another way. Look at the draw posted above this entry. You’ve got Bobby/Robby on one side, and Levine/Kudla/Sock on the other. Consider Denis Kudla the Wild Card at the Wild Cards. That expected first round match against Sock could be Friday’s best action and possibly produce a finalist. Kudla and Sock are hungry to run the table. But, like Tulane Coach Taylor Fogleman told Tennis Maryland about Bobby Reynolds chances before the US Open Wild Card Playoffs just a few months back, “It’s his to lose.” That prediction still rings true and the title of our videos below from the US Open Playoffs sum it all up. If you don’t feel like clicking, the point is: Reynolds dominates Kosakowski and Williams. If Kudla or Sock get a chance to face Reynolds, anything can happen. Otherwise, it’s Bobby Time.
Don’t forget. Tennis Maryland will provide coverage of every match. Be sure to follow us on Twitter @TennisMaryland for the very latest in tennis ephemera. We’ll also have video and lots of it. Let us know who you want interviewed!
Though we were too busy to notice, there was some great tennis played last night. James Blake defeated 2010 Legg Mason Tennis Classic Defending Champion David Nalbandian. Blake seems to thrive off of the tremendous support he receives from DC-area fans.
Meanwhile, World #7 Gael Monfils attracted a line through the store and out the door as he held an autograph session on Tuesday at the Legg Mason Store.
Due to the uncertain weather conditions, we’re taking a pass tonight.
Value Alert: Tonight will feature fifteen matches and the top stars of men’s tennis at Legg Mason for the price of one ticket.
#1 seed Gael Monfils. Gstaad finalist Fernando Verdasco. Austrian Jurgen Melzer, World #18. Baghdatis. Daydenko. Troicki. Young. The Ryan Brothers (Harry & Sweets). The Bryan Brothers. Blake/Isner doubles (Blisner. Patent Pending). The carnival begins at 4:00 PM.
HERE’S YOUR LINEUP:
ORDER OF PLAY – WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 03, 2011
STADIUM start 4:00 pm
D Young (USA) vs  J Melzer (AUT)
Not Before 5:00 PM
 [WC] F Verdasco (ESP) vs [Q] M Matosevic (AUS)
Not Before 7:00 PM
 [WC] G Monfils (FRA) vs R Sweeting (USA)
 B Bryan (USA) / M Bryan (USA) vs M Melo (BRA) / B Soares (BRA)
GRANDSTAND start 4:00 pm
[Q] M Ebden (AUS) vs  N Davydenko (RUS)
 M Baghdatis (CYP) vs D Gremelmayr (GER) or S Devvarman (IND)
 V Troicki (SRB) vs [WC] R Harrison (USA)
M Berrer (GER) vs  J Tipsarevic (SRB)
COURT 1 start 4:00 pm
 X Malisse (BEL) vs M Russell (USA)
T Haas (GER) vs  T Bellucci (BRA)
[WC] J Blake (USA) / J Isner (USA) vs M Fyrstenberg (POL) / M Matkowski (POL)
 M Llodra (FRA) vs [Q] T Smyczek (USA) or G Dimitrov (BUL)
COURT 2 start 4:00 pm
R Stepanek (CZE) vs [LL] W Odesnik (USA)
F Cipolla (ITA) vs  D Tursunov (RUS)
M Knowles (BAH) / X Malisse (BEL) vs  R Bopanna (IND) / A Qureshi (PAK)
Ryan Harrison kicks off in Stadium Court at 4:00 p.m. against Mischa Zverev.
Tommy Haas is the oldest man in the Legg Mason Tennis Classic at 32. He and Fernando Gonzalez follow on Stadium Court.
2002 Champion James Blake faces defending Champion David Nalbandian not before 7:00 p.m.
Finally, John Isner takes on Tobias Kamke for Tuesday night’s nightcap at Legg Mason.
The 4:00 p.m. matches will be a double-cover. We will have a tweep photographing Harrison on Stadium Court and another blogger at the Sweeting/Junior match on Grandstand.
GRANDSTAND start 4:00 pm
R Sweeting (USA) vs A Bogomolov Jr. (USA)
[Q] T Smyczek (USA) vs G Dimitrov (BUL)
 J Nieminen (FIN) vs I Kunitsyn (RUS)
 M Llodra (FRA) / N Zimonjic (SRB) vs K Anderson (RSA) / P Hanley (AUS)
COURT 1 start 4:00 pm
M Ilhan (TUR) vs F Cipolla (ITA)
O Marach (AUT) / J Melzer (AUT) vs [WC] J Erlich (ISR) / A Ram (ISR)
[Q] C Guccione (AUS) vs  K Anderson (RSA)
COURT 2 start 4:00 pm
P Lorenzi (ITA) vs M Berrer (GER)
S Lipsky (USA) / R Ram (USA) vs E Butorac (USA) / J Rojer (AHO)
D Gremelmayr (GER) vs S Devvarman (IND)
American ATP rising star Ryan Harrison, a Shreveport, Louisiana native, has a very good spiral and a very good chance of backing up Drew Brees. He warmed up before practice on Monday right behind Blake and Devvarman on the South practice courts.
2010 Wimbledon Doubles Champion Philipp Petzschner got mad in his first round loss against Radek Stepanek at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic tonight. He didn’t take it out on his opponent, but on his loving racquet instead.
These kids don’t climb trees. They chase him. John Isner was on his way to sacred practice court time and just couldn’t. One kid asked him which team he played for. I blame World Team Tennis for accidentally messing with kid’s heads.
Finally, there is Just James, coolly practicing on a hot Monday in Rock Creek Park.