August 4, 2015

John Isner Three-peats at Atlanta Open

John Isner

(August 2, 2015) John Isner defeated Marcos Baghdatis 6-3, 6-3 capture his third straight Atlanta Open title on Sunday in 59 minutes. Isner became the eighth active player on the ATP World Tour three-peat a tournament joining active players Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori and Lleyton Hewitt.
“It was a short match against an opponent who wasn’t feeling well, but this week was exactly what I needed, to get matches under my belt,” said the 30-year-old former University of Georgia standout. “It should bode well for me going forward.”

Baghdatis was dealing with an injury which recurred a month ago and he apologized for his performance.
“I didn’t play my best tennis this week but I’m pretty happy with my mental side, I found ways to win,” said the Cypriot. “I played five matches this week…the good thing is that it’s nothing serious.”

“It’s always tough to have a match in (17) hours, especially when your opponent has (22). We are humans, you know, and you want to be able to play a final with the crowd loving it.”

Isner will move up in the rankings to No. 18, while Baghdatis will move to No. 44.

Isner takes the lead in the first week of the US Open Series Bonus Challenge, with the title victory. This year, the Series champions will compete for the chance to win a $4.3 million record paycheck at the US Open — $3.3 million for winning the US Open plus an additional $1 million bonus for also capturing the Emirates Airline US Open Series title. Isner has finished second in the Series’ Bonus Challenge standings each of the last three years. New in 2014 and continuing this year, any player who earns points in three or more Series events will automatically have their bonus points doubled.

 

Americans Bob and Mike Bryan defeated Colin Fleming of Great Britain and Gilles Muller of Luxembourg 4-6, 7-6(2), 10-4 to win the doubles title. It’s their 107th career crown and fourth of the year.

“Bob and I have really enjoyed playing this fantastic event and couldn’t be more thrilled to come away with the trophy,” said Mike Bryan. “Today’s match was a hard fought battle against a really tough team and it came down to the wire. Luckily we were able to play some great tennis toward the end to swing the match in our favor. The Atlanta fans have been awesome all week and helped push us over the line.”

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John Isner Survives Denis Kudla to Reach Atlanta Open Final

By Herman Wood

(August 1, 2015) ATLANTA, Georgia – John Isner took on rising American Denis Kudla in Saturday’s first semifinal at the Atlanta Open.  Even some fans needed some help with the heat!  At Wimbledon, he reached the round of sixteen.  Kudla, already with five matches behind him due to having to qualify, has been playing very well.  After getting through qualifying, Kudla took out fellow Americans Ryan Harrison and Jack Sock to get to Isner.  If he could get by Isner, it would be his first tour level final.  The men had exchanged holds to three all, when in the last game before a ball change, Kudla stepped way in on a second serve, blocking it back and Isner sailed a very makeable volley.  Kudla consolidated with an easy hold at fifteen.  The court looked extremely hot, though only Isner seemed to be leaving puddles of perspiration with every step.  After another easy hold, Kudla had an opportunity to serve for the set.  Isner wouldn’t go easily, earning a break point with a few Kudla errors.  On his first opportunity, Kudla took the opening set 6-4.

The two-time defending champion Isner seemed to settle into an easier rhythm on his serve early in the second set.  Kudla got a taste of Isner’s power when Isner stepped into some forehand returns and really got a lead in the point.  He earned a break with a missed Kudla forehand of a floating Isner return that Kudla was trying to hit hard enough to win two points with one shot. The break spotted Isner a 3-1 lead which he quickly consolidated to 4-1.  It was a very good thing for Isner’s number one fan, Justin.  Justin is a diminutive young man who supports him vocally at every match.  Isner has met with him many times and is very appreciative of Justin.  Justin had buried his face in a towel since Isner had dropped the opening set.  A second break of Kudla encouraged Justin even more, giving Isner the set 6-2.  With the second break giving him the set, Isner could step out in the lead with each changeover of the deciding third set.

Isner won sixteen of sixteen points on his first serve in the second set.  He started the deciding third set with another easy hold, only losing one point on serve.  Kudla certainly had to hit more balls to hold his serve.  Kudla really couldn’t make headway on Isner’s serve early, with Isner closing out the 3-2 service game with a 113 MPH second serve ace.  Kudla did his part to hold his serve, forcing Isner to rally, certainly not his strength.  It seemed that once Kudla got a lead in his service game, Isner was willing to let games go, not wasting as much effort to fight to stay in the game.

With Kudla serving at 3-4, Isner took a couple of big inside out swings from the ad court to get to thirty all.  Kudla felt the pressure and double faulted to give the advantage and a break point to Isner.  Isner took another huge swing at an inside out forehand and headed for the net.  Kudla found the opening for the pass, getting back to deuce.  Kudla again couldn’t make a first serve and Isner punished the forehand inside out for the winner and deuce again.  Kudla found the formula, making Isner run on the deuce point and finally making his first serve into the Isner backhand, earning an error and four all.

At five all, Isner served a double fault, perhaps feeling a bit of pressure.  The feeling passed quickly, erased with big serves, smashes, and a Kudla error.  Kudla had to hold, serving at 5-6, to get to a tiebreaker.  He felt some pressure, sailing a couple of balls to allow Isner to get even at thirty all.  Isner went big on a second serve offering, though he just missed wide from the deuce court.  With the ensuing game point, Kudla again felt the pressure, double faulting to bring up deuce.  He made the serve, placed well, but couldn’t get the rally going, missing a ground stroke.  Isner earned a second match point and Kudla missed wide.  A challenge was made, though Isner was so comfortable with the call that he shook hands before it was played on the scoreboard.  Match to Isner, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5.

Isner added 25 more aces to his assault on the tournament.  “That 2-1 game in the second set turned the match around.  I took some big cuts, my shots found the court, and I was able to break and it relaxed me a lot from there.”

In the second semifinal, Gillies Muller chose to open serving, not surprisingly since he hasn’t been broken in any of his three matches.  He’s only faced one break point.  It’s easy to see why, with the big lefty hook coming down the T in the deuce court.  Two aces helped him keep the streak alive in the first game.  He really likes this location, saying he hopes they keep it here forever.  Marcos Baghdatis matched him with an easy hold to get going, though without the aces.   After a pair of matching holds, Baghdatis began to make adjustments in his return position, hoping to get a better look at the Muller serve.  It didn’t help much in the outcome of the game, though he managed to hit more effective returns.  Muller caught on at three all or Baghdatis guessed wrong on every Mueller serve.  At times, it looked as if Baghdatis was running away from the Muller serve.  Baghdatis never got a good swing in the seventh game, getting to his serve at 3-4.  Fortunately for him, his play was equal to Muller’s serve and he had an easy hold.  Finally, after another Muller hold, Baghdatis provided an opening.  Muller successfully got more aggressive with a deep slice followed by an angled forehand.  Baghdatis hung his next serve and Muller knocked the cover off it for another winner.  Baghdatis steadied, working back first to thirty all, then 40-30 thanks to a Muller errant return, and then the game with a nifty slice followed by a finishing volley to even the set again, but at five all.  The favor of an opening was returned by Muller at that point, with some loose play and a double fault.  A net cord nearly gave Baghdatis a break point, but the ball rolled back.  Muller managed the hold with four straight points, the last a service winner.

Continuing a theme for the week, it was time for a tiebreaker.  Muller got a mini break, but gave it back with a surprising double fault.  In the ensuing rally off a Baghdatis serve, Muller was able to take advantage of a bit of a mishit and punish an inside out forehand for a winner.  A blast off a Baghdatis second serve secured the first set for Muller 7-6 (4).

As the second set opened still without threat of service break, Muller began to play more from inside the court with Baghdatis playing from behind the court.  Perhaps he pressed a bit much, finally giving Baghdatis a look at a break point thanks to a double fault.  On a second serve, Muller hit the top of the net and it sailed long, making it a double double fault and finally a break of Muller’s serve in the tournament.  Baghdatis had served first, giving him a two love lead in the set.

At 4-1, Baghdatis forced Muller to make more effort to hold his service game, nearly standing OTP (outside the perimeter, I-285, which circles the city and roughly defines Atlanta) to make returns.  This gave him time to read the Muller serve better and do more damage with returns.  In doing so, he appeared to be in a dance off with several lines people.  Muller managed the hold anyway, keeping it to one break, 4-2.  A subsequent easy hold by Baghdatis took him to 5-2 with Muller to serve.  Muller’s error rate was up significantly for the second set.  In that critical game, Muller stayed focused and held at love.  It looked as if Baghdatis was conserving his energy to serve the set out and have enough in the tank for the deciding third.  Baghdatis closed the second set with a net cord that proved too much for Muller to handle.  The match headed to a third set, even with a 7-6 set to Muller and a 6-3 set to Baghdatis.  It appeared that Baghdatis had the momentum.

Muller opened with another easy hold and appeared to take the momentum away from Baghdatis, also making him work hard from behind to hold and even the deciding set at one game apiece.  Muller got loose with his serve, however, double faulting away another game to give Baghdatis an early break and 2-1 lead.  Baghdatis consolidated, to take a 3-1 lead.  He was still returning from at least the front row.  Muller felt the return pressure, double faulting to open his next service game.  He did wise up to the tactic, starting to follow his serve forward and hitting drop shots that Baghdatis had no chance to track down from out in Atlantic Station.  It was enough to keep him on serve and within one break through 3-4.  It turned out to be critical, as Baghdatis got a bit tentative on his next service game and Muller was able to get a very patient break to get things even again at four.  With a hold, he could put pressure on Baghdatis to have to hold to stay in the match.  Baghdatis showed his determination on the first point of Mullers 4-4 service game, tracking down big shot after big shot, even sliding down before finally flicking a forehand winner.  Muller steadied, getting finer with placement of his serve, forcing weak returns and hitting a 125 MPH ace, finally holding due to a Baghdatis missed return.

Now with the pressure squarely on his shoulders, serving at 4-5 to stay in the match, Baghdatis stepped to the line.  The pressure didn’t affect his stroke- making consecutive drop shots for a 30 love lead.  Combined with an ace and service winner, Baghdatis had an easy hold to 5-5.  It appeared Muller could stay ahead with a routine hold, but a few forehand errors into the bottom of the net and Baghdatis had a break point.  Muller found his forehand again and held on.  After another double fault, he gave Baghdatis a break point looking at a second serve.  An errant forehand, this time wide, and Muller was broken.  Baghdatis would serve for the match.

Muller worked to get an opening in the game, chasing down a drop shot, and running Baghdatis.  Baghdatis felt the pressure, double faulting to give Muller three break points.  The first was saved by some great geometry from Baghdatis, with an angled drop shot, but Muller got the break on the very next point with an open court winner.

Returning to the tournament theme, it was time for a tie breaker.  Baghdatis got a mini break with the first point and made it hold up with an ace for 3-0 that Muller futiley challenged.  The mini break held up all the way to the Baghdatis serving 5-4.  On that point, Muller hit a high bouncing second serve earning an error from Muller.  The final point was another service return error and Baghdatis again kissed the court, headed for the finals and John Isner.  If he manages the win tomorrow, a kiss of the court would be most unwise- it could lead to a nasty burn!

When asked about his strategy of moving so far back for the return, Baghdatis said, “I gave it a try early in the second set and it confused his targets.  The key to tomorrow is messing up his game and finding a way to win.”  Isner is 5-0 against Baghdatis.

Some fine tennis was played, though the sold out crowd never really seemed to get going.  They were appreciative of fine play, especially from Baghdatis skidding about the court and running down balls hit into Atlantic Station.  It was cooler with the sun down, so heat wasn’t as much of a problem for the players or the crowd.  This could prove to be a big factor for tomorrow’s final, with a forecast temperature of 91 degrees and very little wind at match start time.

Herman Wood is in Atlanta covering the BB&T Open action from around the grounds for Tennis Panorama News, follow him on twitter at https://twitter.com/hermanewood.

 

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Isner and Bryan Brothers Advance at Atlanta Open

John Isner

John Isner

By Herman Wood

(July 30, 2015) ATLANTA, Georgia – If you’re wondering, yes, it’s still hot in Atlanta!  A few showers interrupted play on Thursday, and are not helping much with the heat, breaking the rhythm of matches and sending spectators scurrying.  Fortunately, they didn’t last long, didn’t wet the courts very much and play stayed on schedule.  In the first stadium match, No. 1 seed, American John Isner took on Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic.  Stepanek did get an early break, with Isner’s rhythm a bit off from the interruptions and help from Hawkeye.  Isner got it back and with the match at five all, had a break point in hand looking at a Stepanek second serve.  Stepanek was equal to the task and the match proceeded to the requisite Isner tiebreak.  The breaker was not close, however, with Isner earning mini-breaks and the ball in his hand at 6-3.  The expected ace was punctuated by a fist pumping YES!  Isner had 33 for the match, compared to 3 for Stepanek.  Isner displayed some very nice touch after motoring to pick up Stepanek droppers, making accurate placements in the open court for winners.  The crowd was very appreciative of Isner’s effort as well as the aces.  Stepanek managed an early break anyway to go up 3-2, then consolidated with a hold for 4-3, even forcing Isner to fight off another break point.  The crowd got some serious entertainment with an exchange of drop shots initiated by Stepanek, leading first to a Stepanek lob directly over Isner, a tall order of itself.  Isner made the effort, but sent his return in the clouds.  When it finally came down, it wasn’t exactly an easy shot for Stepanek to finish the point and Isner was able to track down the overhead for a forehand winner.    The crowd let both men know how they felt!

Stepanek seemed to have a little steam out of his game, double faulting twice to even the set at four.  An encouraged Isner promptly needed five points to fire four aces and barking ensued.  Isner is a University of Georgia graduate and has been a crowd favorite in years past.  Georgia fans bark at the exploits of their teams to encourage them.  The crowed also started up a USA chant to further encourage the Davis Cup stalwart.  Perhaps the rival Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket fans wanted to show their support but couldn’t stomach a “woof”.  Stepanek, serving, down 4-5, had to save a set point with his shaky serve, though Isner might have been a little jacked up and sailed a few long to help him out.  After an exchange of holds, it was time for another tiebreak.  (This was a theme tonight.)  The king of tiebreaks did have to put in a bit of extra tennis, closing out Stepanek in the breaker 9-7.  Match to Isner, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (7).  Isner said after the match “Had the crowd on my side, helped so, so much.”  He’ll take on Ricardas Berankis in the next round on Saturday.

In the finale, number one doubles seeds Bob and Mike Bryan took on Treat Huey and Steve Johnson.  Johnson had already played a singles match in the worst of the afternoon’s heat, losing to Ricardas Berankis 6-4, 6-2.  It showed a bit early, though he really turned it around after getting loose again.  The Bryans ran out to a very workmanlike 5-1 lead in the first set.  Johnson showed some very nice geometry, angling groundstrokes and volleys, but Huey let him down with a few poor volleys.  Johnson put his foot on the gas pedal, blasting away on returns and passes, at more than one point splitting the Bryans.  The Bryans tried to be offensive from the baseline, earning break points but were not able to convert, allowing Huey/Johnson to break their way all the back to 4-5 with Johnson serving.  It seemed momentum had completely swung, with the Bryans bouncing balls in front of them at the net and not being their usual aggressive selves.  After holds, the match proceeded to the evening theme:  tiebreak.

The Bryans seemed to be able to pick on Huey at the net with blasts that would have been painful had they not been deflected.  They were effective in earning a mini-break and momentum, though Huey did get the mini-break back, momentum seemed to never leave the Bryans again.  They continued to pick on Huey and took the first set 7-6 (7-5 in the tie break).

The second set featured amazing shot making and tennis that looked more like the Harlem Globetrotters had changed sports.  Mike Bryan whiffed a volley and it appeared that Bob volleyed it back without looking.  Huey and Johnson were so stunned the ball was soon in their side of the net.  The crowd enjoyed it, though the Bryans seemed a bit apologetic.  Later in the set Huey and Johnson had both brothers scrambling madly.  One of the Bryans ended up in a heap in the corner after a ferocious get and screeching slide.  It did earn them a point, but it cost someone some skin!

At four all, Huey’s volleys again got loose, allowing a service break.  Bob Bryan had the opportunity to serve it out with the crowed loudly encouraging the team, but they couldn’t get it done. Johnson and Huey fought hard to even the set at five all.  After a family meeting, Mike Bryan took his turn to serve, trying to get to the seven point set tiebreaker.  Johnson fired some bullets at Bob Bryan at the net, with Bryan able to block one, though the second was too good on one amazing point.  The ball sounded like a shot coming off both mens’ racquets.

Following the theme for the night, the tiebreak for the second set was on.  Huey/Johnson earned mini-breaks, but the Bryans got them right back and finished off the tie break and the match, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4).  The Bryans clearly relish having the opportunity to control the outcome of the match and have the ball on their racquet when it matters most.  It’s hard to argue that they aren’t the greatest doubles team of all time.  They’ll play the winner of Chris Eubanks/Donald Young and Austin Krajicek/Nicholas Monroe in the next round.

Herman Wood is in Atlanta covering the BB&T Open action from around the grounds for Tennis Panorama News, follow him on twitter at https://twitter.com/hermanewood.

RESULTS – THURSDAY, 30 JULY 2015

Singles – Second Round
[1] J. Isner (USA) d [PR] R. Stepanek (CZE) 76(3) 76(7)
[Q] D. Kudla (USA) d [3] J. Sock (USA) 76(6) 63
R. Berankis (LTU) d [6] S. Johnson (USA) 64 62
D. Sela (ISR) d [8] B. Becker (GER) 75 63

Doubles – Quarter-finals
[1] B. Bryan (USA) / M. Bryan (USA) d T. Huey (PHI) / S. Johnson (USA) 76(5) 76(4)
C. Fleming (GBR) / G. Muller (LUX) d M. Baghdatis (CYP) / M. Jaziri (TUN) 76(8) 62

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Tuesday in “Hotlanta” Sees Mardy Fish Fall in First Round

By Herman Wood

(July 28, 2015) ATLANTA, Georgia – Hotlanta indeed!  Following the directions of ushers to take a seat on Tuesday in Atlanta potentially risked a trip to the burn unit!  It certainly was not comfortable, even in the shade once the sun moved a bit at the Atlanta Open.  Action heated up on the courts as well, with a number of young and experienced Americans in action.  Steve Johnson got by Lukas Lacko 6-1, 6-7, 6-2, dropping a second set tiebreak 7-3.  Austin Krajicek fell to Marco Baghdatis 6-4, 6-0, despite some creative engineering of his frame, reportedly playing with a broken frame for one point.  Qualifier Denis Kudla sent wild card Ryan Harrison home for singles in three sets, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(5).  Harrison tweeted later, “Fought hard today.  Thank you @BBTatlantaopen for this opportunity to play.  I will get better from this and always be back.  #Bounceback”   Eighteen year old Jared Donaldson took down fellow qualifier Somdev Devvarman 6-1, 3-6, 6-4.  Donaldson is impressive if for nothing else the ability to seriously launch a ball out of the stadium.  Interstate 75 is a possibility!

Australia’s Sam Groth had all he could handle with 17 year old American Frances Tiafoe.  It was a draw until the tiebreaker began for the first set.  The veteran Groth got a service mini-break early and that took some steam out of Tiafoe.  He certainly fought, but Groth kept blasting away.  Fellow American and Georgia Tech team member Chris Eubanks rooted loudly for Tiafoe, encouraging him to keep fighting.  The crowd was fully behind him, exhorting him as well.  He got a bit discouraged after dropping the tie break 7-3 and gave up an early break.  Soon, the racquet was thrown and the crowd got a bit quiet.  The statistics reflected a very even match, but all Groth needed was one tiebreak and one break point converted.  He made it hold up for a 7-6(3), 6-4 win.  Tiafoe won’t find much comfort in the statistics, but he only had one break chance and couldn’t convert it and that was really the difference.

Singles wrapped up for the day with a more mature American, Mardy Fish, who will be calling it a career after the US Open, taking on last year’s finalist – Dudi Sela.  Sela won over the Atlanta crowd last year with fine play and gracious humor.  The crowd appreciated fine play all night, but tried to raise Fish, though there wasn’t as much to cheer for as they might have liked.  Fish managed to hold his first service game, but it was a struggle.   The struggle continued in his second service game, as he was broken by just generally loose play, spraying balls long.  The game was certainly there, especially when the shot required a quick reaction, whether forehand or backhand.  Fish flashed a 131 mph serve at one point, but Sela was more than ready, blunting the attack, blocking backhand after backhand back authoritatively.  Fish managed to get the break back to level the set at four with the help of two net cords, but was promptly undone again, not able to finish points he had most certainly earned.  Sela had to work, holding off a break point, but closed the set 6-4 in his favor.  Fish apparently had an issue with his socks at some point and took advantage of a medical time out by Sela.  Apparently, he gestured to Roddick, who simply removed his socks and sent them to Fish.  That’s a bit more sharing than I think most people want to do with their doubles partner!  After Sela had his wrist attended to, play resumed and stayed on serve.  The length of rallies and level of play improved for both men, until Sela earned a break for 5-4 with a wild Fish forehand.  During the changeover, Sela’s homeland flag of Israel came out on display in the stands and it seemed to inspire him.  He served the set out, winning 6-4, 6-4.  He was gracious afterward, signing and posing with fans.  “If Mardy had played his best, he’d have kicked my ass!”

“If I’m going to play like that, it’s going to be pretty tough,” Fish said in talking about the positives he’d taken from the match. “It’s just it’s nice to finish on my own terms. The sport, my job, was taken from me so abruptly that it took me a long time to get my life back.”

Fish is scheduled to play his last two tournaments of his career in Cincinnati and New York.

I was also able to chat with Chris Eubanks, a 6-7 sophomore from Georgia Tech (about a mile from Atlantic Station).  Eubanks graduated from Westlake High School, also here in Atlanta, and is the number 53rd ranked singles player in the NCAA.  Eubanks played with American Donald Young in the doubles draw, beating Mate Pavic and Michael Venus 6-2, 3-6, 10-5 in the super tiebreaker. Wednesday he’ll play Radek Stepanek in singles.  I asked how I would know if he were playing his best.  “I’ll be getting my first serve in and making my forehand.”  I responded that he had just described about ninety percent of American tennis players, whether on the tour or not.  That drew a laugh.  We also talked about on court demeanor and he shared how important it is that you have to be yourself on the court and express yourself in the way of your own choosing.  Eubanks was very gracious with his time, though he was clearly there to support Tiafoe.

In other singles results, German Benjamin Becker got by fellow German Michael Berrer, 7-5, retired.  In other doubles action, “Popsock”, Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock fell to Gilles Muller and Colin Fleming 6-4, 4-6,10-6.  Eric Butyric and Artem Sitak took out Matthew Ebden and Adrian Mannarino 6-2, 6-0.  Play continues on Wednesday with the evening matches focusing on doubles.  Fish and Roddick return to action, taking on Murray and Lu.  The Bryan Brothers have big serving Groth partnered up with fellow Australian Chris Guccione.

 

Herman Wood is in Atlanta covering the BB&T Open action from around the grounds for Tennis Panorama News, follow him on twitter at https://twitter.com/hermanewood

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The Road to the US Open Begins This Weekend at the BB&T Atlanta Open

BB&TAtlantaOpen

By Herman Wood

(July 24, 2015)ATLANTA, Georgia – The road to the US Open starts in Atlanta with the BB&T Atlanta Open this weekend with qualifying.  The BB&T is a ATP World Tour 250 event, with a 28 player singles and 16 player doubles draw.  Total prize money this year is $585,870.00.  The venue is set in downtown Atlanta, amongst the sky scrapers and shopping of Atlantic Station.  Two time champion and former University of Georgia all-time leader in singles and doubles wins, John Isner returns in search of a historic three-peat.

Arguably the best doubles team of all time, Bob and Mike Bryan make their debut in the BB&T.  They got their first tour win in an Atlanta event in 1998.  Defending doubles champ and singles semifinalist Jack Sock, along with doubles partner Vasek Pospisil, are looking to take another step in their development.  The doubles draw could be very interesting if a showdown between the Bryan brothers and “Popsock” materializes.  It was only a year ago that Pospisil/Sock denied the Bryans the Wimbledon 2014 title.

Marco Baghdatis is already turning heads in the ATL.  As he dropped off his racquets for stringing by the Prince Team at the Serious Tennis tent with Deana Buzzy Mitchell, he was reportedly, “very sweet and winked at me!”  That kind of behavior is sure to make him a fan favorite with at least half of the crowd.  Americans Steve Johnson, Tim Symzek, and Donald Young are also looking to make a statement.   In what could be a big story line, two time champion Mardy Fish is returning to the tour in this tournament.  He has struggled with health issues almost since the last tournament win in Atlanta.  He’ll also be teaming up with another former Atlanta champion, Andy Roddick.  Roddick will not play in the singles main draw, but is playing an exhibition match against another young American, 17 year old Frances Tiafoe on Monday night.  Tiafoe created a stir in the qualifying last year and has been granted a wild card into the main draw.  Other crowd favorites returning include Dudi Sela, last year’s finalist, 2013 finalist Kevin Anderson, and 2012 finalist Giles Muller.  The draw will also include 4 players from a 32 draw qualifying tournament to be played this weekend.

2015 French Open Boys’ champion Tommy Paul and this year’s Wild Card Challenge winner Trent Bryde have accepted two wild card spots into that BB&T Atlanta Open qualifying tournament.  Paul is the No. 5-ranked American junior. Bryde had to make his way through 5 matches in the Wild Card Challenge.  Georgia Tech also is providing a wild card to sophomore Christopher Eubanks.  Eubanks was named all Atlantic Coast Conference as a freshman last spring and finished ranked number 47 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings.

Ticket sales have been on a record pace according to Tournament Director Eddie Gonzalez.  Atlanta has always been a tennis town, with the largest local doubles league in the United States.  There will be several special events that are part of the tournament scene, including the above mentioned exhibition with Roddick, a kids weekend with special ticket promotions during the qualifying tournament, a Commodores concert, College Night, another concert featuring LoCash, Ladies Day, USTA member appreciation day, and a Family Zone presented by Prince at Atlantic Station where kids can play tennis.

Herman Wood is in Atlanta covering the BB&T Open action from around the grounds for Tennis Panorama News, follow him on twitter at https://twitter.com/hermanewood

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Serena Williams Leads 2015 US Open Women’s Field

2011-US-Open-Tennis-Tournament

From the USTA: White Plains, N.Y., July 22, 2015 – The USTA today announced that world No. 1 and three-time defending champion Serena Williams leads the women’s field for the 2015 US Open Tennis Championships. Williams is joined by 99 of the world’s top 101 women, including world No. 2 and former US Open champion Maria Sharapova, 2014 US Open finalist Caroline Wozniacki, two-time US Open champion and world No. 15 Venus Williams, and former US Open champions Samantha Stosur and Svetlana Kuznetsova.

 

In total, 33 different countries are represented in the women’s field. Eleven U.S. women received direct entry into the main draw – the most of any country – with seven Americans ranked in the Top 50.

 

The 2015 US Open will be played Monday, August 31, through Sunday, September 13, at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y. The US Open Women’s Singles Championship is presented by J.P. Morgan.

 

Leading the entry list is world No. 1 Serena Williams, who won her sixth US Open crown in 2014, tying her with Chris Evert for the most US Open women’s singles titles in the Open Era. This year, Williams is also going for the calendar Grand Slam at the US Open, last won in 1988 by Steffi Graf. Williams won her 21st Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon this month, which ranks third all-time, just one behind Graf (an Open-era record of 22) and Margaret Court (24 all-time).

 

Joining Williams in the field’s top four are world No. 2 Sharapova, of Russia, the 2006 US Open champion who won her fifth Grand Slam singles title last year at the French Open; No. 3 Simona Halep, of Romania, a 2014 French Open finalist and Wimbledon semifinalist; and No. 4 Petra Kvitova, of the Czech Republic, the 2011 and 2014 Wimbledon champion.

 

Following the top four are: No. 5 Caroline Wozniacki, of Denmark, the 2009 and 2014 US Open finalist; No. 6 Ana Ivanovic, of Serbia, the 2012 US Open quarterfinalist and 2008 French Open champion; No. 7 Agnieszka Radwanska, of Poland, the first Polish player to reach a Grand Slam singles final (2012 Wimbledon) and this year’s Wimbledon semifinalist; No. 8 Lucie Safarova, of the Czech Republic, who reached her first Grand Slam singles final at the French Open this year and also won this year’s French Open and Australian Open doubles titles; No. 9 Garbiñe Muguruza, of Spain, who reached the final at Wimbledon this year and has never won a US Open main draw match; and No. 10 Carla Suárez Navarro, of Spain, a four-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist who reached the US Open quarterfinals in 2013.

 

Nine players who have won Grand Slam singles titles in their careers are competing in the US Open this year, including two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, former world No. 1 and 2008 French Open champion Ana Ivanovic, of Serbia, and 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone, of Italy.

 

Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens, ranked No. 101, is the last player accepted directly into the women’s field of 128. One player has withdrawn due to a back injury, No. 29 Shuai Peng, of China. Four players are using a special ranking to gain entry into the main draw – No. 56 Petra Cetkovska, of the Czech Republic, No. 58 Laura Robson, of Great Britain, No. 73 Vania King, of the United States, and No. 87 Alisa Kleybanova, of Russia. Sixteen more players will gain entry through the US Open Qualifying Tournament, August 25-28, while the remaining eight spots are wild cards awarded by the USTA.

 

In addition to Serena Williams and Venus Williams, the other American women who received direct entry into this year’s tournament include No. 18 Madison Keys, of Rock Island, Ill., No. 32 Coco Vandeweghe, of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., No. 34 Sloane Stephens, of Coral Springs, Fla., No. 39 Madison Brengle, of Dover, Del., No. 45 Varvara Lepchenko, of Allentown, Pa., No. 54 Alison Riske, of Pittsburgh, No. 59 Christina McHale, of Englewood Cliffs, N.J., No.  76 Irina Falconi, of West Palm Beach, Fla., and No. 83 Lauren Davis, of Boca Raton, Fla.

 

Several of the young Americans listed above have had breakout performances on the WTA tour this year. Keys, 20, reached the semifinals of the Australian Open and the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, while also reaching one WTA final in Charleston, S.C.; Vandeweghe, 23, reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals; Stephens, 22, reached two WTA semifinals; and Brengle, 25, reached her first career WTA final in Hobart.

 

Among the players competing in the US Open Qualifying Tournament will be the winner of the sixth annual US Open National Playoffs – Women’s Championship, held during the Emirates Airline US Open Series’ Connecticut Open in New Haven, Conn., prior to the US Open Qualifying Tournament. The USTA created the US Open National Playoffs in 2010 to allow players 14 and older, regardless of playing ability or nationality, to vie for a spot in the US Open Qualifying Tournament via one of 14 sectional qualifying tournaments.

 

The July 20 edition of the WTA rankings was used to determine the US Open main draw entry list. Seeds will be determined and announced closer to the start of the event.

 

The 2015 US Open will mark the culmination of the Emirates Airline US Open Series, the North American summer season of seven ATP World Tour and WTA events that begin Monday, July 27.

 

The US Open is the highest-attended annual sporting event in the world. 2015 marks the first year of an 11-year agreement between the USTA and ESPN, which will see the US Open carried on ESPN through 2025. During the 2015 US Open, ESPN and ESPN2 will combine to air more than 130 hours of live match play with more than 1,100 hours of first-to-last ball coverage to be seen on ESPN3, which will also be hosted on the US Open website – USOpen.org.  In an expansion of its US Open coverage, ESPN will feature play from 11 courts.

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Great Britain Clinches Place in Davis Cup Semifinal

 

By Ros Satar

(July 19, 2015) LONDON, UK – In a rollercoaster race to the finish, Andy Murray overcame the worst possible start in the fourth rubber to clinch Great Britain’s place in the Davis Cup quarter-final against France.

 

From the outset though, it looked as though the crowds would be getting their money’s worth as a sluggish looking Murray floundered early against a far fresher looking Gilles Simon at the start of the first set.

 

The Frenchman seemed completely impenetrable on his serve, attacking well and out maneuvering Murray at every turn as he quickly consolidated an early break before wrapping up the first set.

 

While it was imperative that Murray got off to a quick start, getting broken in the first game of the second set was not in the plan, and there was many a furrowed British brow, as he struggled to stay with the Frenchman who was getting the better of the ling rallies, and at one stage reduced Murray to sink to his knees in despair. Even when he did get the break back, the Brit looked too exhausted to even bring forth a fist-pump, despite the crowd willing him on, yet somehow he consolidated.

 

Even in the tie-break, it looked as through the French were running away with it, with a 4-1 lead, but a couple of lacklustre points from Simon put Murray right back in it. Leveling the set saw a bit of a reaction, but there was still an awfully long way for him to go.

 

Murray was on the attack though, racing through the third set now that the momentum was shifting towards this side of the English Channel. But a bad slip after being broken at the start of the fourth set put the French at a disadvantage. Simon had already taken a tumble when his knee gave way as he landed from a serve, but after rolling his ankle, his movement was impaired as the fourth set got away from him completely. That being said, it took Murray four match points to wind up the tie 4-6, 7-6(5, 6-3, 6-0 and for Great Britain to win 3-1.

 

Of course once again the doubles was the pivotal point, no matter how many times team captains want to play it down, and at one stage it must have felt as though the entire tie was France versus The Murray family.

 

French team captain Arnaud Clement said: “It was every time a little push from the British team, a little bit more solid. A lot of sets during this weekend, just can see one or two points are missing and maybe can change but it was always in the same for the British team. So it’s just the British was a little bit more solid than us, and deserve this win.”

 

Leon Smith said: “It’s incredible how he find a way to dig as deep as he can. It is phenomenal what he finds within himself, a set and a break down and that tiebreak, 4-1 down but he fights and he fights and he fights and after a couple of those long brutal rallies, to be able to get up and serve again, ready for the next point. I was sitting there thinking this is why he does the hard work, those moments when he digs into his dark places of training and he finds a way to do it because his legs and his heart have been conditioned to do it, and he does it better than anyone. I have nothing but immense respect.”

 

For Murray it will be another tough battle to go deep at the US Open, and then face two if not three vital matches, if Britain are to keep their hopes of a place in their first Davis Cup final since 1936.

 

He said: “The memories that you have from those matches, like playing Glasgow earlier in the year, I mean I’m sure the whole team would agree the atmosphere was absolutely unbelievable there. You don’t get that in any other event, so you have a lot of memories from the Davis Cup and that’s one of the reasons you’re passionate to play.”

 

Great Britain will now play host to Australia, who fought back from 2-0 down against Kazakhstan in September, following the US Open.

 

Ros Satar is a British sports journalist covering tennis, and can also be found at Britwatch Sports.

 

 

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Brits Serve Up a 2-1 Lead Going into Last Day of Davis Cup Quarterfinal

By Ros Satar

(July 18, 2015) LONDON, UK – Great Britain gave themselves the best chance of advancing in the Davis Cup since the 1980’s after they beat the French to set up a 2-1 lead going into the final day.

 

Although Britain had nominated doubles specialists Jamie Murray and Dominic Inglot, there was a widely held consensus that in order for the Brits to give themselves the best possible chance, Andy Murray had to play.

 

Yet he himself had said that he would have to be very honest with the team about how he felt after a long European swing, which saw him win his first titles on clay, Queen’s and then bowing out at the semi-final stage of Wimbledon.

 

His older brother Jamie had the best success of his career to date, making the Wimbledon men’s doubles final with his Australian partner John Peers. He, along with Inglot had paired up in Glasgow earlier in the year, but lost to the Bryan Brothers in a close affair against the United States.

 

Right down to the wire, the decision was made that the Murray brothers would face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Nicolas Mahut in Saturday’s pivotal rubber, and early on it looked as though this might not be the wisest choice, as Andy Murray was broken in the opening game of the match, the French not relinquishing the advantage.

 

The second set was a much tighter affair between the sides, with the Brits finally earning their first break point to hit the front for the first time in the match, and with a far more boisterous crowd than yesterday, the atmosphere was electric as Britain leveled.

 

There was drama to come through, as the court has had very little time to recover to be ready for the tie, and over the course of the two days the players have been taking tumbles. The younger Murray had already tweaked his groin in his first match, and an awkward slip rendered him face down in the grass, not to mention some embarrassingly painful looking manipulation afterward.

 

Yet as the pair battled through a tense tie-break to secure a 2-1 lead, Murray minor was leaping around pumped and getting the crowd behind him. It must have worked as the brothers quickly notched up a 5-0 lead, with the French registering a game on the board, and even pushing Jamie’s serve to a break point, before the doubles specialist stole the day with the final winner on match point – final score 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-1

 

It was a subdued Arnaud Clement who met with the press to defend his choices, and of course he can field Richard Gasquet in place of Gilles Simon tomorrow for the fourth rubber, leaving Tsonga to face James Ward if it comes to a fifth rubber.

 

Definitely not subdued was Jamie Murray whose confidence after his Wimbledon run spilled over as he made the most of being chief speaker after today’s result.

 

He said: “I think the crowd were great from first to the last point. Obviously that tie-break proved critical. I don’t really even remember much about it to be honest other than Andy getting that serve back and Mahut diving, and turning round and seeing Andy six feet off the ground. But you know, that’s the thing [about] home support – it’s brilliant to have it and I think as long as we’re playing home ties, everyone that’s coming to watch us should be there and cheering as loud as they can and trying to help the players, because it does really help us to perform as best we possibly can.”

 

Andy now has to try and get himself in gear for the earlier start on Sunday, especially with mixed reports about weather closing in, although no one wants this to push through into next week.

 

He said: “Got to make sure tonight conserve as much energy as possible, go back, recover properly. Get a good night’s sleep and hopefully come out tomorrow and feel good when I get up. Obviously right now after that match, it’s hard not to feel good.

 

“But I’ve also played matches where you do have a massive high, a massive adrenalin rush during the match and in the evening you can feel quite fatigued as well. I’ve been through that before. Just deal with whatever cards I’m dealt tomorrow when I wake up and hopefully play a good match.”

 

The final day starts with Murray facing either Richard Gasquet or Gilles Simon in the fourth rubber, and if it comes down to a fifth and decisive rubber, James Ward will face Tsonga.

 

Ros Satar is a British sports journalist covering tennis, and can also be found at Britwatch Sports.

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Andy Murray Levels Great Britain versus France Davis Cup Tie at 1-1

Tsonga Murray 8814

By Ros Satar

(July 17, 2015) LONDON, UK – It was always going to be a tough ask for James Ward to tackle France’s highest ranked singles player (mind you, they are all stacked one after the other in the rankings).

 

With the fans kitted out in red and blue T-shirts, it was les Bleus who took first blood, as Gilles Simon edged past Ward in the first two sets with a single break, just having to up the level of intensity a little.

 

The third set was a runaway though by French standards as Simon closed out the first rubber comfortably under two hours, 6-4, 6-4, 6-1.

 

The Frenchman is no stranger to these courts this year, having reached the semi-finals here earlier this year, before going on to the quarter-finals at Wimbledon.

 

Ward had no option really but to praise his some-time hitting partner as ‘crafty’. He said: “He hits the ball very flat and moves very well, so even if guys are serving well, he returns well, he makes a lot of balls. And he’s pretty crafty, he puts the ball in places that are not always easy to attack from.”

 

The disappointment was evident in his body-language as he admitted that he and tea, captain Leon Smith had agreed upon tactics for the game, that just hadn’t worked out well today.

 

Ward said: “The guy moves very well, and even when I feel like I’m being aggressive, you can’t go too much because he gets a lot of balls back. And as I say it was very windy, it was moving around a lot there, so to time the ball perfect is very difficult. Sometimes you’re more worried about getting the ball in than trying to go for a winner and close to the line because the margins are small.”

 

So it was left to Andy Murray to level the tie, with a competitive first set just edged as Jo-Wilfred Tsonga went off the boil, spraying some wild forehands generously around the court.

 

There was a hope for the French though, as Tsonga broke at the start of the second set, and as the pair battled into a second set tie-break it looked again as though the French had the upper hand.

 

A strong fight-back from Murray saw them swap set points between them until finally an unforced error from Tsonga put the Brits in a commanding 2 set to love lead. From there it seemed to get away from Tsonga very quickly, with a nervy serve out by Murray at the end to level the tie.

 

He said: “I thought I did well. I mean the atmosphere helps. The crowd was great today, especially the important moments and yeah I was happy with the job I did today. I didn’t feel like I played amazing. I played some good shots at important times but it was very tough conditions today. It was extremely windy on the court today and swirling around a lot so it wasn’t easy to play very well.”

 

It remains to be seen what possible permutations come out for either teams for what is sure to be the pivotal doubles rubber on Saturday.

Ros Satar is a British sports journalist covering tennis, and can also be found at Britwatch Sports.

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French Pull Surprise at Davis Cup Draw Versus Great Britain

 

Tsonga Murray 8814

By Ros Satar

LONDON, UK – The BNP Paribas offices in Central London played host to the draw ceremony for the Davis Cup quarter-final tie between Great Britain and France

 

France perhaps pulled off the biggest surprise of all by announcing that the French No. 1 and No. 2 would be Gilles Simon and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, leaving Wimbledon semi-finalist Richard Gasquet off the side.

 

The British team were predictably in good spirits, laughing at in-jokes, and explaining away the strength in depth that the French have got, and always acknowledging that at any time, team captain Arnaud Clement could change his mind.

 

James Ward has the task of starting the whole tie off, and with a close history between his coach and Simon’s, the pair probably know their games inside out.

 

“I know him better than the other guys, I practice with him a lot so he knows my game just as well as I know his. I just need to stay aggressive and try and play my game and not worry too much about him, and yeah see how we get on.”

 

Simon agreed when asked in the French team’s press conference, adding: “I know what to expect, it will be hard but I think it will be a good match.”

 

The main focus of course is on Murray, who admitted yesterday that it had taken a few days to get over the Wimbledon semi-final loss to Roger Federer. But within the banter of the team, he was able to put his finger on what to expect when he plays the second rubber on Friday.

 

“He’s an explosive player, he can serve big, he can get to the net quickly, he can be dangerous,” he said. “The things that I’ll look for is to try and play a very consistent match from start to finish. If his level drops at times where he makes a few errors, try to capitalize on that, but he’s a tough tough guy to beat on this surface.”

 

There is always the option of adding Andy to the doubles mix, instead of Dominic Inglot who had to struggle to get fit in time for Wimbledon, and a lot will now depend on how that first rubber kicks off.

 

But one thing was clear – this was a team effort, and not a chance for Andy only to fill any hole in his trophy cabinet.

 

He said: “I wouldn’t say winning this year is the chance of the lifetime because we’re playing against a great team. It’s not like this is an amazing opportunity because the draw has opened up, this is an easy match or we have an easy path through to the final. It is extremely tough tie, beating the States was hard as well, and yeah it’s an opportunity obviously, but opportunity of a lifetime for me personally, no I don’t agree with that at all.”

 

As part of the team effort, the team are altogether in a hotel, fostering the team spirit we have seen when they greet the press for these draw conferences. Equally, the French team are just as motivated after their loss to the Swiss last year in the final.

 

The tie will start on Friday – James Ward v Gilles Simon followed by Andy Murray versus Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The doubles is expected to be Jamie Murray and Dominic Inglot versus Nicolas Mahut and Richard Gasquet, with the reverse singles on Sunday starting with Murray versus Simon.

 

Ros Satar is a British sports journalist covering tennis, and can also be found at Britwatch Sports.

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