By Herman Wood
(July 17, 2014) ATLANTA – Preparation for the US Open is underway. The BB&T Atlanta Open gets things started on Saturday, July 19th for the men. Qualifying begins at 10 AM. The BB&T Atlanta Open is an ATP 250 event, with a 28 player draw, four of which come from the qualifying tournament. The qualifying field will have 32 players. The doubles draw is a 16 team field. Last year’s champ, John Isner, is returning, along with fellow Americans Sam Querrey, Wimbledon doubles champ Jack Sock, and Donald Young. Gael Monfils, Richard Gasquet, Radek Stepanek, Ivo Karlovic, Ivan Dodig, Lleyton Hewitt, and the other half of the Wimbledon doubles championship team, Vasek Pospisil, are also expected in the tournament. The tournament aspires to be a mini US Open, with the venue set among the skyscrapers of downtown Atlanta at Atlantic Station. Atlantic Station is a community within downtown that provides homes for 10,000 people integrated with shopping, restaurants, and retailers that make it a hit with the players. Besides the attractive venue, players will get a jump on the US Open Series Bonus Challenge, where nearly $40 million in prize money is up for grabs. This is the third year the tournament has been held at Atlantic Station.
It is a familiar place for Americans, with Isner winning last year, Roddick in 2012, and Fish in 2011. It has also been comfortable for big man tennis- last year Isner, at 6’10”, overcame Kevin Anderson at 6’8” in three tiebreaks. Fans in the first couple of rows certainly had to pay attention with the huge serves coming their way. It is especially familiar for Isner, who competed collegiately just an hour down the road for the University of Georgia Bulldogs, leading the team to a national championship and winning every possible team title in 2007. He’s usually a fan favorite, with at least a couple of barks from Georgia fans in his favor at each match. Isner may not be the only recipient of barks; University of Georgia player Austin Smith has accepted a wild card into the main draw. The sophomore from Cumming, Georgia excelled this season as the Bulldogs captured the 2014 SEC Championship. Smith finished with a 35-12 record, and went 9-1 in SEC matches. He has won four USTA Pro Circuit matches. A tournament qualifier in 2011, Smith will be playing his debut ATP main draw match.
Another American, Jack Sock, could very well get on a roll at this tournament. After winning doubles with Pospisil at Wimbledon, he rolled into Newport and eliminated Isner in the Newport Hall of Fame event on grass just a week ago. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t able to keep that momentum and was eliminated by the veteran Lleyton Hewitt, who went on to win the tournament. Hewitt’s feisty shouts of “C’mon!” have endeared him to the Atlanta fans in past years. Fresh off his renewed success at Newport, he could very well win Atlanta. The main draw was just rounded out with the addition of Ryan Harrison and Robby Ginepri. “We’re ecstatic to welcome back two of our fan favorites in Ryan Harrison and Atlanta metro resident Robby Ginepri,” Tournament Director Eddie Gonzalez said. “One of our goals is to highlight American talent and both of these players are great examples of the fine players this country has produced.” Harrison won the doubles last year, partnering with Matthew Ebden. Ginepri appears for the fourth time, with a onetime ranking of fifteen. He is a graduate of Wheeler High School, just a few miles north of Atlantic Station. He currently resides in Kennesaw, another couple of miles north.
The draw will be finalized over this weekend with the completion of the qualifying tournament. Promising American junior Francis Tiafoe has accepted his first tournament qualifying wild card. Tiafoe, 16, is a talented young prodigy who rose to No. 2 in the world junior rankings this spring. Georgia Tech’s Nathan Rakitt and Alabama’s Becker O’Shaughnessey have also accepted qualifying wild cards. Rakitt, a Marietta native and All-ACC selectee, is competing again for the second year. O’Shaughnessey of Macon, Ga., led the Crimson Tide in singles wins (22) this season.