By Brad Hunter
(February, 11, 2014) MEMPHIS – Tuesday at the U.S. National Indoor Tennis Championships started with Matthew Ebden doing battle against Ivo Karlovic as the first match on stadium court. When Ebden was his most effective against Karlovic, he was keeping his shots deep to Karlovic’s backhand and then following short balls in to knock off volley winners. Unfortunately for Ebden, Karlovic played a similar game but did it more often and more effectively. Of course it doesn’t hurt Karlovic that he has one of the biggest and most ace-producing serves on tour, and he struck 14 aces today to 3 double faults. One thing I find interesting about Karlovic’s serve: it doesn’t “look” like he’s hitting hard enough to produce a 134-mph serve, and then I would look at the radar gun reading on the scoreboard and sure enough, it would read in the 130’s. Ebden reminds me a bit of Lleyton Hewitt, the way he stalks the baseline and rallies with controlled pace and depth and then looks to move in to the net on short balls (Hewitt was in attendance for the some of the first set). In the first set Karlovic and Ebden were even at 5-all, but Ebden lost his serve with an ill-timed double fault which allowed Karlovic to serve out the set. In the second set, Karlovic looked more comfortable and he began employing his forehand to stroke return winners and baseline winners and control most of the rallies. He also used his slice backhand to extend points and approach the net, and he played the most aggressive tennis, taking the set 6-4 and the match.
The next match on stadium court was between last-minute wildcard Marcos Baghdatis and qualifier Rajeev Ram. I had watched most of the last set of Ram’s match yesterday, and expected to see him attack the net as much as possible against Baghdatis because the tactic had helped him win that previous match. For the most part today, every time Ram came to net, Baghdatis was able to come up with whatever passing shot was needed. Baghdatis looked focused the entire match, racing out to a 3-0 lead in the first set, and playing his best version of creative and aggressive baseline tennis. Ram’s baseline game plan was not rooted in trying to hit clean winners; he was hitting probing shots, mixing up spins and depth, working his way into rallies. Baghdatis rarely looked uncomfortable, and he used his ability to end points to dominate the match. Baghdatis won the match 6-3, 6-4 in an hour and 15 minutes and next faces Hewitt.
Jack Sock and Adrian Mannarino both received direct entry into the Memphis draw, so this was the first singles match for either man. Sock played doubles with Donald Young yesterday, and they lost to Eric Butorac and Raven Klaasen in 2 tight sets. Sock started well, using his forehand to dominate rallies and finish points and he earned a break which he held until he served for the first set up 5-4. Mannarino took this opportunity to dig himself in and use his flat double handed backhand to run Sock around and he broke to make it 5-all. At this point, with Sock muttering to himself, it looked like Mannarino would be able to seize the momentum, but he played a loose game and Sock broke him back to take a 6-5 lead. Mannarino flung his racquet to the ground and broke it, then smirked and picked his racquet back up and then threw it to the ground again, this time bouncing it over the net and not too far from the ball kids. Had he hit someone, I think we would’ve seen an immediate default a la Nalbandian in that Queen’s final… But, luckily he didn’t hit anyone. (Later on in the match Sock received a code violation warning for language and he said to the chair “that guy almost killed somebody with his racquet!”) The crowd wasn’t having it, one lady yelling “watch the kids!”, and they got behind Sock much more as he served out the set 7-5. I expected the 2nd set to fly by, but it did not fly the way I expected (I thought Mannarino would be emotionally spent and disappointed and phone it in.) Mannarino responded by playing his best creative tennis, a mix of deep backhand drives and sneak volley attacks, and he won the set 6-1 (he also won 11 of 11 first serve points). In the third set, Sock began using his forehand again to dominate rallies and finish points and he raced out to a 5-2 lead. But Mannarino wasn’t done, and with a mix of good defensive tennis and Sock’s nerves, he was able to level the set at 5-all. At this point in the match, both men we cheering themselves on, muttering to themselves and playing the best tennis of the match. Sock yelled “come on” about a winner he hit, and when it appeared that Mannarino was protesting about him yelling, Sock said “you weren’t anywhere near the ball dude.” Mannarino smiled in response. The two men played until 5-all in the tiebreaker, and Sock took the last 2 points and the match to move on to play Jiri Vesely. After the tension and emotion of the match, I was curious about the handshake Mannarino and Sock would exchange- it was quick.
The last day match on stadium court was Ryan Harrison versus Bjorn Phau. Phau was coming off his run to the semifinals in Zagreb last week, and a 135 place jump up in the world rankings. Harrison has recently been playing challengers with mixed results since his campaign in Australia. Harrison played a solid, focused match and Phau never seemed to be able to find anything to continually hurt him. Harrison used his speed and defense to extend points and dominated rallies with his heavy, spinny forehand. They had several fun points where both of them played that blend of dinky, carvy short court tennis most often associated with doubles or practice sessions and Harrison usually came out on top of those points too. It was an all around good day for Harrison: he saved all 3 break points held against him and won 86% of his first serves and 60% of his second serves. He capitalized on 2 of his 5 break points, and won the match 6-3, 6-4 in an hour and 7 minutes.
RESULTS – TUESDAY, 11 FEBRUARY 2014
Singles – First Round
A Bogomolov Jr. (RUS) d  S Querrey (USA) 26 64 76(7) – saved 1 M.P.
 M Kukushkin (KAZ) d T Gabashvili (RUS) 76(9) 75
B Becker (GER) d L Lacko (SVK) 63 62
R Harrison (USA) d B Phau (GER) 63 64
[WC] M Baghdatis (CYP) d [Q] R Ram (USA) 63 64
[Q] A Kuznetsov (USA) d [Q] D Goffin (BEL) 64 63
J Sock (USA) d A Mannarino (FRA) 75 16 76(5)
I Karlovic (CRO) d M Ebden (AUS) 75 64
Doubles – First Round
F Cermak (CZE) / M Elgin (RUS) d  S Groth (AUS) / M Mirnyi (BLR) 62 76(4)
C Guccione (AUS) / L Hewitt (AUS) d T Bednarek (POL) / I Karlovic (CRO) 67(2) 64 10-7
SCHEDULE – WEDNESDAY, 12 FEBRUARY 2014
STADIUM start 11:00 am
T Smyczek (USA) vs M Russell (USA)
[Q] D Kudla (USA) vs D Young (USA)
J Vesely (CZE) vs J Sock (USA)
Not Before 4:00 pm
R Harrison (USA) vs A Bogomolov Jr. (RUS)
 B Bryan (USA) / M Bryan (USA) vs [WC] D O’hare (IRL) / J Salisbury (GBR)
 [WC] K Nishikori (JPN) vs B Becker (GER)
GRANDSTAND start 12:00 noon
T Gabashvili (RUS) / M Kukushkin (KAZ) vs M Matosevic (AUS) / F Moser (GER)
 S Gonzalez (MEX) / S Lipsky (USA) vs M Ebden (AUS) / R Ram (USA)
[Alt] A Mannarino (FRA) / M Russell (USA) vs R Junaid (AUS) / P Marx (GER)