2014/07/30

Isner Among the Top Seeds in Action at Citi Open on Wednesday

John Isner

John Isner

By Dave Gertler

(July 30, 2014) WASHINGTON, DC – The top seeds in the men’s draw at the Citi Open are all in action today, and with defending champion Juan Martin Del Potro still recovering from injury, as well as the pre-tournament withdrawal of would-be No.3 seed Grigor Dimitrov, fifth seeded American John Isner might be sensing the opportunity to finally raise the trophy of the tournament that has meant so much to him during his professional tennis career.

 

“For me, Washington has always been a special place,” said Isner during a USTA-organized conference call two weeks ago. “I’ve always played extremely well there, but I’ve never won it. I know I’ve made two finals and two other semi-finals, so I’ve always played well there, but haven’t quite finished it off. So hopefully this year will be different.”

 

“I was lucky enough to get a last-minute wildcard in 2007,” said Isner of his first appearance in Washington as a 22-year-old, “If I remember correctly, Fernando Gonzalez pulled out or something and I was able to get a wildcard. I was extremely lucky.” Having found success later in his career than most players, Isner’s nine career titles have all come in the last four years; five of them have been on hard courts, and all but two having come on American soil.

 

“I had nothing to lose,” he told of his debut at what was then the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, “And that’s how I played that week, and I made the finals. It helped me out so much. I sort of made a name for myself, and got my ranking up there pretty high really quickly.”

 

By making the finals that year, albeit one that he would lose to Andy Roddick, Isner’s dramatic rankings jump took him from 416 to 193 in the world.

 

Isner has since lost as many ATP finals as he has won. His most recent opponent in Washington, Del Potro, took a 4-0 winning record against the American into their 2013 final. One of those wins had in fact come in the quarterfinals of the 2008 Legg Mason. In 2009, Isner would lose once again to Roddick, this time in the semi-finals.

 

Along with Del Potro’s absence, the withdrawals before the tournament of No.3 seed Grigor Dimitrov, as well as Gael Monfils – a player who’s stopped Isner’s progress here in the past – has considerably opened up  the field for the 29-year-old, who maintained that, “Even without (Del Potro), I think the field is stronger than it was last year,” said Isner. “There are a lot of, lot of good players. This is one of the toughest 500 tournaments in the world, no doubt about that.”

 

While Isner’s best recent result was reaching the second week of Roland Garros, world No.7 Milos Raonic made the semi-finals of Wimbledon a few weeks ago, and can now be considered amongst the favorites to take out any ATP 500 Series tournament, as can Kei Nishikori, and world No.5 Tomas Berdych, who accepted a late wildcard into the Citi Open two weeks before it began, and plays as tournament’s top seed. Berdych has played the tournament three times, making a semi-final and two quarterfinals, most recently in 2010.

 

“I think it’s more exciting for me,” said Isner about the high caliber of players in attendance at the Citi Open, “Me personally, I always want to go up against guys that are ranked higher than me. That means I’m progressing well within that tournament. But it’s good for the tournament, it’s good for everyone.” Isner’s first match will be a second-round encounter with compatriot Steve Johnson, while fellow big man Ivo Karlovic awaits the winner in the third round.

 

While Isner will be making his seventh appearance at the tournament since 2007, one dangerous floater will also be making his seventh appearance since first appearing in the 1998 Washington draw as a 17-year-old. 33-year-old Lleyton Hewitt – who refuses to discuss any plans for retirement – will be celebrating ten years since he won the 2004 Washington title. Hewitt’s second-round win against countryman Marinko Matosevic pits him against the winner between Jack Sock and Milos Raonic, who are billed as the third match on Stadium Court today. Also on Stadium Court today, Americans Sam Querrey and Robby Ginepri to face Kei Nishikori and Tomas Berdych respectively, while 4th seeded Frenchman Richard Gasquet takes on in-form Israeli Dudi Sela.

 

Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney covering Citi Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his Twitter updates from the tournament @TennisNewsTPN, follow him on his personal Twitter @davegertler,  read his blog,  and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .

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Kristina Mladenovic Stuns Citi Open Top Seed Lucie Safarova

Lucie Safarova photo by Christopher Levy @Tennis_Shots

Lucie Safarova photo by Christopher Levy @Tennis_Shots

By Dave Gertler

 

(July 29, 2014) WASHINGTON, DC – It’s still only the first round, but the Citi Open women’s draw is now without a defending champion or a No. 1 seed.

Top seed at the Washington, D.C. event, Lucie Safarova, has been eliminated in the first round by French world No. 78 Kristina Mladenovic.  This upset came off the back of a straightforward win by No.2 seed Ekaterina Makarova over Magdalena Rybarikova, albeit not an upset other than the fact that the Rybarikova had never lost a match at the event, include her match against Makarova at last year’s Citi Open.

 

While Makarova’s was a straightforward 6-1, 6-1 win in under an hour, Mladenovic needed two hours, five minutes and three sets to topple world No.17. Broken twice in the first set, Mladenovic would turn the match around in the second set, breaking at 4-3 on a Safarova double fault, from which point, she held and continued to pour pressure on the Czech veteran, breaking her once at 2-2, and again at 5-3, when she converted a match point brought about by three consecutive errors from the Czech 27-year-old.

 

Kristina Mladenovic  photo by Christopher Levy @tennis_shots

Kristina Mladenovic photo by Christopher Levy @tennis_shots

It will be a second-round battle of the young guns when 21-year-old Mladenovic faces 18-year-old American qualifier Taylor Townsend who won through her first-round battle in three sets against Julia Goerges. Makarova is now the top seed remaining in the WTA draw.

 

Dudi Sela

Dudi Sela

On the ATP side, Dudi Sela’s run of form since Wimbledon continued in a tight 7-6, 3-6, 6-4 win against Australian Sam Groth, which lasted exactly two hours. Sela managed to get a read on Groth’s serve – one of the biggest in the game – in time to take control of a tight first-set tie break. Groth’s reaction to losing the first set – smashing a racquet to smithereens and receiving a code violation – would normally indicate a mental breakdown, but in fact Groth was spurred on to breaks in the first and last games of the second set, which he won 6-3.

 

By the decider, Sela had regained the confidence that has seen him go 8 wins to 3 losses since Wimbledon, and although Groth would recover one of them, Sela’s two breaks of serve allowed him to take the final set 6-4. “He has a very big serve,” said Sela of Groth, “But he’s serving-volleying so I have more target on the returns, so it was a little bit easier for me. He played some great games, some terrible games, and these terrible games that he played, I took my chance and broke him.”

 

It was a successful day for American men, with Sam Querrey and Steve Johnson getting through their first-round matches in straight sets.

 

Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney covering Citi Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his Twitter updates from the tournament @TennisNewsTPN, follow him on his personal Twitter @davegertler,  read his blog,  and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .

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WTA Event Enters Its Fourth Year at Citi Open

Alison Riske at  Kid's clinic at Citi Open. Photo by Christopher Levy @tennis_shots

Alison Riske at Kid’s clinic at Citi Open. Photo by Christopher Levy @tennis_shots

By Dave Gertler

 

(July 28, 2014) Now in its fourth year, the WTA Citi Open event in Washington is hosting one of its most impressive fields to date, even with the withdrawal of tournament favorite Eugenie Bouchard. Now seeded at No.1, Lucie Safarova leads an exciting field of 32 women including some top European hard-courters as well as American up-and-comers.

 

For the last two years running, it has been Slovakian Magdalena Rybarikova who has capitalized on a line-up that has been improving from scratch since Washington began hosting the WTA International event in 2011. The world No. 37 is undefeated across ten straight matches at the tournament, and has defeated the top seed both years – Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in 2012, and Angelique Kerber in 2013. Russian Pavlyuchenkova was ranked 28 at the time, while this year all eight top seeds are within the WTA’s top 29. Rybarikova did not play the Citi Open’s inaugural tournament in 2011, when world No.24 at the time, Shahar Peer, reached the final as No.1 seed, losing to second-seeded Nadia Petrova.

 

While Rybarikova is back in 2014 to attempt to prolong her dynasty at the Citi Open, Bouchard, Peer, Petrova, Kerber and her opponent in the 2013 final, Germany’s Andrea Petkovic, are prominent names missing from this year’s player field. The impact of their absences on the tournament, however, will be heavily reduced by the fact of the players that ARE attending.

 

Sloane Stephens leads the camp of exciting ‘new-wave’ of WTA players that will be in attendance this year. The world No. 22 – known for being much more solid at majors than she is across the WTA Premier and International calendar year – first entered the Citi Open in 2011, when she was 18 years old and ranked outside the top 120, losing in the first round. The following year, ranked just inside the top 50, she would reach the Washington semi-finals, losing to the eventual champ Rybarikova. In 2013, as a top 20 player, she would lose in the first round once again. It would seem apparent, therefore, that she’s due for another enduring showing at the Citi Open this year.

 

Although Bouchard has withdrawn from the 2014 tournament as the top seed, citing a knee injury, her results have been mixed since the Citi Open initiated their relationship with the Canadian in 2011 when they offered her a wildcard into her first main draw of a WTA event. In 2012 she lost a quarterfinal to Stephens, while last year – ranked No.62 in the world – she lost in the first round. Having reached at least the semi-finals of all three grand slams since then, Bouchard’s ranking has shot up to No.7 at the start of the Emirates Airlines US Open Series.

 

While the tournament has secured the first-time attendance of its high-profile Czech top seed Lucie Safarova, this only serves to augment the returned appearance of Romanian Sorana Cirstea, France’s Alize Cornet and American Madison Keys.

 

Cornet last year reached semi-finals on her first appearance at Citi Open. While the third seed will be vying for her fifth career WTA title, many Washingtonian tennis enthusiasts will have their eye on rising American talent, Madison Keys, who will be taking her career-high No.27 ranking into the Citi Open draw for her second appearance there. Despite retiring injured from her most recent match, a third-rounder at Wimbledon, Keys has been one of the big movers since clay season ended, going 8-2 on grass, and taking her first WTA title at Eastbourne along the way. Keys’ big serving game is a force to be reckoned with on hard courts, and has already ushered her to two WTA Tour semi-final appearances over the past year.

 

While unseeded Magdalena Rybarikova has managed to upset the field for the past two years straight, this year she faces a much tougher task if she’s to three-peat, considering the elevated level of play that will be coming off the racquets of top seeds with whom the Citi Open has been developing strong relationships over the past few years.

 

Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney covering Citi Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his Twitter updates from the tournament @TennisNewsTPN, follow him on his personal Twitter @davegertler,  read his blog,  and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .

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Citi Open Set to Begin

Milos Raonic (R) poses for a "selfie" on Saturday at Citi Open. Photo by Christopher Levy @tennis_shots

Milos Raonic (R) poses for a “selfie” on Saturday at the Citi Open. Photo by Christopher Levy @tennis_shots

By Dave Gertler

(July 28, 2014) The Citi Open in Washington D.C. is the only North American fixture on an 11-event ATP World Tour 500 series calendar. The defending men’s champion is Juan Martin del Potro, who hasn’t completed his rehab from left-wrist surgery in time to defend his title, leaving Czech Tomas Berdych as the highest-ranked player in a strong men’s field that also includes world No.7 Milos Raonic, No.11 Kei Nishikori, No.12 John Isner and No.14 Richard Gasquet. The withdrawal of stars Grigor Dimitrov and Gael Monfils before the draw was announced did not impact the fact that this is one of the strongest men’s draws the Citi Open has seen.

 

The tournament takes place at the William HG Fitzgerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park, with a Stadium Court that holds 7,500 people at full capacity. The arena took a year to build, opening in 1991, and was named after a man who was one of Washington’s leading philanthropists, and who helped establish what is now the Washington Tennis and Education Foundation (WTEF), and organization that uses tennis to help disadvantaged youth in the D.C. area.

 

The WTEF is the owner and beneficiary of the Citi Open, and has organized a series of fundraisers and community programs throughout the week, including top seed Tomas Berdych leading a community tennis clinic, a ‘Celebrating Our Heroes Day’ which featured WTA drawcard Sloane Stephens, and the screening of a documentary called ‘Queens At Court’, about struggles and successes of four lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender amateur tennis players.

 

While the WTA Citi Open event has only been going for three years, the history of the men’s singles event goes back to 45 years ago, when Thomaz Koch from Brazil beat Arthur Ashe in a five-set final. Since then, the tournament has been won by luminaries of the sport such as Ken Rosewall, Ashe, Jimmy Connors, Guillermo Vilas, Ivan Lendl, Yannick Noah, Andre Agassi, Michael Chang, Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt. Agassi currently holds the record at five titles, Connors also won all three finals he appeared in (as well as being doubles runner-up with Ashe in 1974), as has Argentina’s Del Potro.

 

Inaugurated as the Washington Star International from 1969 to 1981, the tournament was also known as the Sovran Bank Classic from the early ‘80s to the early ‘90s. Pete Sampras, whom many consider the greatest player that ever lived, was actually born in Washington D.C. but never played the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, as it was known from 1994-2011.

 

While Sampras is long retired, the D.C. crowd will still be able to cheer on a few of their own. Treat Huey, a D.C. native and resident, will take the court with doubles partner Dom Inglot in an attempt to reclaim a title they won in 2012.

 

Considerably more hype, however, has been placed around the 16-year-old winner of the Citi Open Wildcard Challenge, Francis Tiafoe, who grew up a short drive north of Rock Creek Park, at College Park Tennis Center. Taifoe’s wildcard was initially purposed for qualification-round entry, but after the withdrawal of France’s Gael Monfils, it was upgraded to a main-draw berth. Tiafoe faces Russia’s Evgeny Donskoy in their first round match on Monday night.

 

Australia’s Sam Groth, who lost in qualifying, has been named Lucky Loser in Dimitrov’s absence, and will play Israel’s Dudi Sela in their first round match on Tuesday.

 

Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney covering Citi Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his Twitter updates from the tournament @TennisNewsTPN, follow him on his personal Twitter @davegertler,  read his blog,  and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .

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John Isner Defends Atlanta Open Title

 

(July 27, 2014) John Isner won his ninth ATP World Tour title on Sunday by defeating Dudi Sela of Israel 6-3, 6-4 to win the Atlanta Open for the second straight year. It was the American’s fourth Atlanta final in five years.

“The field is so tough at this event,” Isner said. “I’m so happy to win this. I consider myself fortunate that this event is even here. It’s a big advantage for me to play in Georgia and to have a lot of support.”

“Isner went for his shots and played more freely,” Sela said. “With his return game, he just went for it.”

In doubles action, Wimbledon champions Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil reman a perfect 10-0 as a doubles team, capturing the title with a 6-3, 5-7 10-5 over Steve Johnson and Sam Querrey.

“[Johnson and Querrey] played well, but we felt like we were playing better than they were even after losing the second set, said the Canadian Pospisil. “We just had to stay calm in the [Match Tie-break] and go point by point.”

“We’re trying to make the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals,” said Sock. That’s one of our goals this year on the side, aside from improving our singles rankings.”

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Andújar Claims Gstaad Crown

Gstaad winner

By Florian Heer

(July 27, 2014) GSTAAD – Sunday’s final of Switzerland’s only ATP tournament played on clay took place in front of an almost fully packed Roy Emerson Arena in Gstaad when Pablo Andújar faced Juan Mónaco for the first time. It took eight minutes for the Spaniard to get through the opening game, which could have been considered as a sign for the rest of the match at this early stage but the world No. 71 was in a good shape on Sunday. Andújar converted on his second break point with a precise return long line to take the decisive 5-3 lead. A very faulty performance by Mónaco helped the Cuenca native to close the opening set out after 45 minutes.

The Argentine, who underwent a special experience earlier this week by visiting “Gstaad’s cheese cathedral” of the local dairy factory, raised his level of play only in the beginning of the second frame when he capitalized on his second break point of the match to take a 2-0 lead. Three consecutive service losses later, Andújar shortened Mónaco’s lead to 5-4 and evened score in the following. When the world number 105 from Tandil whiffed on a forehand drive volley, the Spaniard was wide awake to gain the break in the eleventh game. Andújar served the match out by an ace winning 6-3, 7-5 in one hour and 32 minutes to clinch his third ATP career title.

“I am very happy to gain the trophy,” said a very happy winner. “It was a very tough match. I knew that it would physically become a hard fight. I took the opening set by winning the two crucial points of the frame. Juan got the advantage in the second set but finally I played aggressively and the important points well and I made it.”

“I am feeling comfortable with the altitude here. I played well in Madrid last year, which is about 700 m over sea level. I knew that I haven’t got the power like other players and through the altitude here the ball gets a little bit faster and I also knew that I had options, as I had a good last week in Hamburg,” the Spaniard added about winning in Gstaad at 1.050 m over sea level.

He also explained his emotions after converting the match point when he fell on the ground of the centre court. “I saw my parents, my girl-friend and my brother, who were here to support me. It was an amazing moment to finish the match with an ace, which was the only one I made in the entire match,” Andújar laughed.

I have the feeling I wasted too many opportunities,” Monaco said afterwards. Maybe I was playing a little bit more nervous than usual because it was a final. It’s been a while since I played my last one and I need to get used again to play these matches at the defining instances. But overall I want to stress that this has been a great week for me. I won four matches and I proved myself I can still continue to grow and by working harder I am sure I will accommodate my game again and I hope I can start winning more matches.”

“I am a little bit sad because I lost a final and the truth is that it is something it’s going to be there forever. When you retire you are going to remember all the tournaments you won during your career, nobody remembers the finals. That is why I have this bitter feeling right now. But otherwise I have to recall all the things I achieved this week, after lots of injuries and lot of training, coming back to play a final means my game is coming back little by little. Then I need to follow this path and start recovering now for my first match in Kitzbühel next week,” the Argentine added.

Earlier the day the final news conference of the tournament’s 99th edition took place. “It was a very good week with high-class tennis and exciting matches. Unfortunately, we had not the best weather but with about 35.000 spectators, there were a lot of people coming out to watch the tennis. Of course, it is a pity that Stan Wawrinka couldn’t play but the other Swiss players achieved some good results and the people here just love the tennis, even without a top-ten player,” tournament director Jeff Collet told the media. The tournament also received the ATP Heritage Award for being part of the circuit since 1990. “Next year we will try to present something special for our 100th anniversary. I do not think that the shift in the ATP calendar will be a disadvantage for us. We are used to compete with other tournaments, so being in the same week with the ATP 500 in Hamburg next year will not make any difference to us. There are a lot of players on the tour,” Collet added.

 

Florian Heer travels the tennis tour with a focus on ATP Challenger events and the ITF Future Circuit!  Follow his twitter account @Florian _Heer.

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Isner to Meet Sela in Atlanta Open Final

John Isner

John Isner

By Herman Wood

(July 26, 2014) ATLANTA – Young American Jack Sock took on veteran John Isner on Saturday at the BB&T Open in the first singles semifinal.  Hotlanta certainly was up to the nickname.  Conditions were compared to this year’s Australian Open, when players were understandably concerned.  The difference?  In Atlanta, the humidity combined with the heat makes it more difficult for the body to cool itself.  Despite the conditions, both men came out in dark colored tops.  Isner said, “It’s not easy conditions at all playing, doing anything.  Heat like that is tough.  I don’t know how the fans endure it.”  Despite conditions, Isner started off on the right foot, unlike yesterday.  He was striking winners off his forehand and backhand, though his first serve was off and he only had three aces for the first set while serving 48% on that delivery.  Sock looked better able to handle the conditions early in the match, moving better with his head up and working for points while Isner was content to let some balls go.  Isner has been accused of playing “possum” a bit in matches, but the two men train together, so that was not in the cards today.  (In the southeastern United States, possum refers to a marsupial whose primary method of defense is to play dead until an opportune moment, at which time they either wander off or show impressive teeth and a willingness to fight.)

 

As expected, rallies were mostly short, one or two strokes after a return.  The first deuce point occurred at four games apiece, with Isner serving.  On Isner’s very next service game, Sock seemed to fully get his teeth into Isner’s deliveries and forced him to rally.  With an untimely double fault, Isner handed Sock his first break point opportunity.  With a second serve coming, Sock got the return back into play and correctly anticipated Isner’s inside out forehand and just missed a pass off the tape that might have made all the difference and he clearly knew it.  Isner took full advantage and held with a blistering forehand and 128 MPH ace.  Serving at 5-6, perhaps Sock wasn’t able to clear the thoughts of the missed opportunity and missed his next three serves, the first two a double fault.  His fourth serve was punished by Isner for an easy winner.  Isner was certainly feeling it, as he challenged on the third point of the game on a ball that was solidly on the line.  The challenge may have given Sock some time to settle himself, as he took that point and the next two to get to 40-30.  Isner toughened and Sock got a bit loose.  Combined, that let to nine deuces before the matter of the twelfth game and ultimately the first set could be settled.  Sock chose the more difficult down the line forehand on a short ball and clipped the tape.  Isner sealed the first set on his third try with a Sock backhand error, 7-5, on a ball that did not seem that difficult.

 

Sock settled in despite early pressure from Isner in the first few games of the second set.  Certainly, he showed maturity beyond his young age, keeping his wits about him and continuing with good fight through two games all.  On Sock’s serve, at 2-3, Isner made a challenge on a ball called out right in front of Sock.  It turned out to be a wise challenge, as review showed the ball good.  The chair awarded the point to Isner.  Sock argued that the call by the linesman affected his play on the ball and that the point should be replayed.  It was very tough to tell when the call came, though it did appear that Sock had a play and chose not to play the ball and the linesman made the call late.  Sock struggled with himself throughout the game.  He told the chair umpire “You ruin matches, you know that.”  To his credit, Sock worked through the game and held to get to three all.

 

Perhaps the game energized Isner, as he showed no signs of playing possum or “lollygagging around” as he kept the pressure on Sock, with extremely high kicking second serves that Sock had lots of trouble returning mixed in with a few more aces on first serve deliveries.  On Sock’s service games, Isner was clearly trying to attack with frequent approaches and crushed forehands.  The strategy led to some impressive shots as well as shanks, one of which may have stopped traffic on nearby Interstate 75.  The crushed forehands from Isner looked to do damage to anything they hit.  Isner stepped up his serve to hold to get to 5-4.  The game went for three straight service winners, only to be interrupted by an Isner miss on the only ball Sock got in play in the whole game.  Isner closed the game with an ace.  Sock stepped in to serve, down 4-5, to stay in the match.  After more impressive shanks by Isner, Sock let a thirty love lead evaporate on a poor attempt at a slice back hand and floating forehand winner by Isner.  Isner stepped up again and committed to the rally and Sock missed to give Isner a match point.  Sock saved it with aggressive play, leading to an overhead to get back to deuce.  Unfortunately for Sock, he double faulted immediately to give Isner another match point.  Sock played bravely, nailing a ball onto the left baseline that Isner challenged unsuccessfully.  If out, it would have ended the match.  Sock could not manage to rally on the subsequent deuce, missing a forehand to give Isner a match point. Sock finally donated a double fault to hand the match to Isner, 7-5, 6-4.  He will either face Dudi Sela or Benjamin Becker in the finals on Sunday.

 

When asked about his possible opponent on Sunday, Isner expressed no preference.  He mentioned that “They said on TV I was 2-0 against Becker, though I can’t remember the two times I’ve played him.  He’s another college product.  He went four years at Baylor.  That would be kind of cool, two four year college guys.  Dudi, I remember I played him in Delray Beach this year.  I beat him 7-6 in the third.  Although he is slight of stature, he doesn’t mind playing guys with big serves.  He beat Querrey.  He beat Pospisil.  He’s just an extremely talented player that can do so much with the ball.  I don’t know who to favor.”

 

 

 

Before an appreciative packed house at Atlantic Station in Atlanta, Israeli Dudi Sela took on German Benjamin Becker over three tough sets for a chance to play local favorite John Isner  With the first two sets virtual mirror images, with each man winning a set 6-3, the match came down to a tight third set.  With Becker giving him only one opportunity to break, Sela took full advantage to get to 4-2.  Becker had five opportunities to break at that time, but had not cashed in.    Both men could feel the pressure, but Becker stepped up with a forehand winner to finally break right back.  Sela was far from done, hitting his picture perfect backhand for winners at crucial times and breaking again to allow him to serve for the final, 5-3.  Sela went for his shots and earned his first match point with a nice forehand retrieve that Becker shanked.  On the very first match point, Sela seized the opportunity with a blistering forehand that was too much for Becker.  It will be only his second final.  He has experience playing big servers like Isner.  He eliminated Pospisil and Querrey earlier in the Atlanta tournament.  In Columbia, he played Ivo Karlovic and used a chair to shake his hand after the match.

Sela really appreciated the support.  “This atmosphere is great!  I love Atlanta.”  Somehow, even with a well educated Atlanta tennis crowd, I expect former Georgia Bulldog John Isner will be feeling a bit more love.  The last time they played, it took Isner a third set tiebreak to overcome Sela.  The local support may be all the edge Isner needs.

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Quarterfinal day at the BB&T Atlanta Open

 

 

John Isner

John Isner

By Herman Wood

(July 25, 2014) ATLANTA – Americans and best buddies Steve Johnson and Sam Querrey got things going on Friday.  Yes, they already played- each other.  On Friday, they took on Santiago Gonzalez and Scott Lipsky in doubles.  It was a tight match, with the American pair winning 7-6 (2), 7-5.  On an interesting strategic note, Querrey lined up in front of Johnson with Johnson serving and folded his 6 foot 6 inch frame downward in an attempt to… well, I’m not really sure, but that’s a lot of human being to squeeze under a serve.  In the other doubles quarterfinals, Chris Guccione and John-Patrick Smith broke a nine match win streak for Guccione in a loss to Nicholas Barrientos and Victor Estrella Burgos 7-5, 3-6, and 10-6 in the match tiebreak.  The rest of the quarterfinals were already completed.  Pospisil and Sock will take on the Barrientos -Burgos pair while Querrey and Johnson will take on King and Venus, all for a chance in the finals.  Those matches will be played Saturday.

In singles action, the No. 1 seed, John Isner surprisingly played at 4 PM rather than in the 7 PM featured time slot.  Isner said, “I preferred the 4 PM start.”  By the time he and Matosevic took the court, the stadium resembled an oven.  Matosevic said, “It was really hot.”  We do not call it Hotlanta without a reason.  Isner said “I knew he was struggling out there a little bit and he knew I was struggling out there a little bit.”  “A lot of people tell me I play possum out there.  Sometimes when I’m super tired I play my best tennis. I don’t have enough energy to run side to side.

There’s only one option for me and that’s to sort of play big and play aggressive and just go for it and sometimes it works out.”   Isner started the match on the wrong foot- a foot fault.  Of course that fired him up a little and the very next ball was an ace.  It was a slow start for Isner, as he was immediately broken, though it did not take long to get back on serve.  With a break to get to two all, the two traded holds until Matosevic was serving at 5-6.  Isner challenged him a bit, but it was time for a tiebreak.  Isner is not called “Johnny Tiebreak” without a reason.  He is experienced, calm, and collected in the big moment.

Sure enough, Matosevic handed the set to Isner with his second double fault of the tiebreak.  The other double fault occurred when Matosevic was up a mini break.  In the second set, the two traded service holds until three all, when Isner got a break and that was all he needed.  Up 4 – 3, he held easily, saved himself during Matosevic’s service game and then served it out 7-6 (8), 6-4.  Isner was happy for the early finish to his day.  “I’ll have a little more time.  I can walk the dog.  It kind of puts me at ease.”  He’ll play Jack Sock on Saturday in the semifinals.

Jack Sock

Jack Sock

In the evening match, American Jack Sock got the featured time slot.  He took on Slovakian, Lukas Lacko, in what could be a preview for the Chicago Davis Cup match in September if Sock were to be named to the American squad.  Unfortunately, like Isner, Sock got off on the wrong foot as he was broken on his first service game.  Lacko at one time had a 4-1 lead, but let it slip away.

Sock said “I had a pretty rough start.  He was playing the ball deep and keeping me off the baseline.”

A Lacko double fault at a critical time and an ill-advised strategy that did not include staying away from the Sock forehand let Sock get it back to 4-5 and serving.  The crowd was clearly behind sock, urging him on, but he could not manage another break and so the tie breaker was on.  Each man had his chances, but Sock pulled it out 8-6.

He kept the momentum early in the second, breaking to a 3-1 lead before he let down just a bit.  Lacko took the break back, only to see Sock immediately return the favor at love to get to 4-2.  It was clear that Sock wanted to run away with it, moving quickly, serving to 5-2, with Lacko serving to stay in the match.  Sock had his way in the decisive game, as Lacko’s first serve percentage had fallen off to only forty five percent.  Game, set, match to Sock, 7-6 (8), 6-2.

The Atlanta crowd was very appreciative of the effort and the win.  Sock will take on John Isner on Saturday for a chance at the the final.  They recently played in Newport where Sock beat Isner.  “Newport was pretty ugly for both of us.  We both played some shocking tennis there.  We practice almost everyday at Saddlebrook in Tampa.  I’ll have to use what I know from practice.  These courts suit him pretty well with a high bounce and when there is a seven foot guy serving down on you, it’s not going to be easy.  I’ll go out there and scrap out some points and see what happens.”

In late action on Friday, Sock’s doubles partner Vasek Pospisil was eliminated in a see saw match by Dudi Sela 7-5, 1-6, 6-2. It was a busy night for the trainer, as he was out three times for Pospisil and once for Sela. Pospisil was clearly injured, as the trainer really seemed to be working him over. Despite the injury, he was able to move very well.

Sela took a medical timeout of his own, though he did not appear in pain. Sela was quoted by another media member -Ricky Dimon of Tennis Grand,  as to why he took the timeout; “To do some thinking with myself about what I have to do. To relax.”

 

Sela will take on Benjamin Becker Saturday evening.  Becker ended the run of lucky loser Thiemo de Bakker 6-4, 6-2.

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 for July 25, 2014

Singles – Quarter-finals
[1] J Isner (USA) d [8] M Matosevic (AUS) 76(8) 64
D Sela (ISR) d [4] V Pospisil (CAN) 75 16 62
J Sock (USA) d L Lacko (SVK) 76(6) 62
B Becker (GER) d [LL] T de Bakker (NED) 64 62

Doubles – Quarter-finals
S Johnson (USA) / S Querrey (USA) d [2] S Gonzalez (MEX) / S Lipsky (USA) 76(2) 75
N Barrientos (COL) / V Estrella Burgos (DOM) d [3] C Guccione (AUS) / J Smith (AUS) 75 36 10-6

Schedule for July 26, 2014

STADIUM start 12:30 pm
K King (USA) / M Venus (NZL) vs S Johnson (USA) / S Querrey (USA)

Not Before 3:00 pm
[1] J Isner (USA) vs J Sock (USA)

Not Before 8:00 pm
D Sela (ISR) vs B Becker (GER)
[1] V Pospisil (CAN) / J Sock (USA) vs N Barrientos (COL) / V Estrella Burgos (DOM)

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Top Two Gstaad Seeds Mikhail Youzhny and Marcel Granollers Fall

 

Fernando Verdasco

Fernando Verdasco

By Florian Heer

(July 25, 2014) GSTAAD – Welcome to Gstaad – a town, which is considered by many people as the real Switzerland. Its local population is equal parts people and cows. Indeed, Gstaad’s direct vicinity has around 7,500 permanent residents alongside around 7,500 cows. Despite becoming an increasingly popular winter and summer tourism destination, farming is a major part of Gstaad’s identity and once a year, the ATP World Tour is making a stop amidst the impressive scenery of the Bernese Oberland for an event of the 250 category with total prize money of € 488.760,-.

The two top seeds of the Crédit Agricole Suisse Open, Mikhail Youzhny and Marcel Granollers, led the way on quarterfinal’s day 5. The Russian took on Robin Haase in a repeat of the 2013 Gstaad final, when Youzhny ran out a winner in straight sets. The world No. 19 from Moscow also had the better start today but the Dutch, who gained his first victory over the Russian in the last meeting between the two in Bucharest this year, stabilized his game and fought back winning 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 in one hour and 56 minutes, although it became really close in the end.

“Until 5-2 in the third set, I felt good,” said Haase. “But two net cord winners and one unbelievable backhand smash from Mikhail changed things. At 5-4 and a 40-0 lead, you think it is done. I double faulted and lost my rhythm but I knew I could beat him. Compared to last year’s match, it was very good.”

Marcel Granollers took on compatriot Pablo Andújar for the fourth time with the latter leading 2-1 in head to head before Friday’s meeting. After a close opening set, Andújar was in control of the encounter in the following. Through a solid baseline game and good returns the 28-year-old from Cuenca closed the match out in 75 minutes winning 7-5, 6-3.

In an all-South-American-affair Argentine Juan Mónaco faced Tomaz Bellucci. The Brazilian was making his fifth appearance in Gstaad and lifted two of his three career titles in Switzerland winning in 2012 and as a qualifier in 2009 but today Mónaco emerged victorious winning 7-6, 6-1 in 90 minutes to reach his first semi-final of the season.

Viktor Troicki

Viktor Troicki

In the final match of the day Viktor Troicki, who has returned to competitive action this week for the first time in 12 months after he had failed to submit a sample during Monte Carlo event in April 2013, which resulted in a suspension due to anti-doping violation, took on Fernando Verdasco. Earlier the day, the Spaniard had to complete his yesterday suspended second round match through a three set victory over Jan-Lennard Struff. In the evening encounter, it was the Spaniard’s forehand, which made the difference against Troicki. The 28-year-old Serbian, who dropped down to 847th position in the ATP rankings, felt obviously uncomfortable with the leftie’s game. Verdasco took advantage serving the match out in two hours and four minutes winning 6-4, 6-7, 6-1.

“This morning against Jan-Lennard, I just tried to win and finish the match in a good way because he served really well and I only had few chances to break,” the 30-year-old from Madrid said after his second victory of the day.

“This afternoon I felt the ball better and I played a really good first set, almost my best level. Unfortunately I made a couple of mistakes in the second set. Then I had a 4-1 lead in the tie-break and I became very upset after losing the set. It was mentally pretty hard for me. So I went to the toilet and I started screaming all the time, which helps when you are in a stressful moment. After ten or fifteen big screams, I started from zero and I was calm again and played the level of the first set,” Verdasco explained the ups and down in his match. “With the altitude here it is not easy to play from the baseline because you have to hit the ball in a perfect way otherwise it will be a miss. Viktor, however, served really well today. I have a good relationship with him outside the courts, so I’m happy that he is back,” the Spaniard said about Troicki’s return to the tour.

Stan Wawrinka

Stan Wawrinka

Earlier the day world No. 4, Stanislas Wawrinka, who represents the tournament’s ambassador, talked to the press. The 29-year-old from Lausanne should actually be Gstaad’s top-seed but after losing to Roger Federer in the quarterfinal of Wimbledon, he decided to take some time for recovery. “I took three weeks off, practiced and did some work with my fitness coach to become ready for the last four months of the year, which will be a tough one and a big challenge with the US-Open and the Davis Cup,” Wawrinka said. “It will be difficult to be better in in the second half of the season compared to the first but if I hold my level, I will achieve some good results,” the current Australian Open champion said and added that he will leave for Toronto in a few days.

Florian Heer travels the tennis tour with a focus on ATP Challenger events and the ITF Future Circuit. He is in Gstaad this week.  Follow his twitter account @Florian _Heer.

Results

Singles – Quarterfinals
[7] R Haase (NED) d [1] M Youzhny (RUS) 36 61 64
P Andujar (ESP) d [2] M Granollers (ESP) 75 63
[4] F Verdasco (ESP) d [WC] V Troicki (SRB) 64 67(7) 61
J Monaco (ARG) d T Bellucci (BRA) 76(1) 61

Singles – Second Round
[4] F Verdasco (ESP) d J Struff (GER) 36 63 76(3)

Doubles – Quarter-finals
[3] A Begemann (GER) / R Haase (NED) d P Marx (GER) / B Rola (SLO) 61 64
R Junaid (AUS) / M Mertinak (SVK) d [4] J Brunstrom (SWE) / N Monroe (USA) 76(5) 36 14-12

SCHEDULE – SATURDAY, 26 JULY 2014

CENTRE COURT start 11:30 am
[7] R Haase (NED) vs J Monaco (ARG)

Not Before 3:00 pm
[4] F Verdasco (ESP) vs P Andujar (ESP)
After Suitable Rest – R Junaid (AUS) / M Mertinak (SVK) vs P Andujar (ESP) / J Monaco (ARG)

COURT 1 start 1:00 pm
After Suitable Rest – F Bagnis (ARG) / F Delbonis (ARG) vs [3] A Begemann (GER) / R Haase (NED)

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John Isner Saves Two Match Points in Win over Robby Ginepri

GSM Isner

By Herman Wood

(July 24, 2014) ATLANTA – It was a showdown of Americans with local ties tonight at the BB&T Atlanta Open.  Former University of Georgia standout, top ranked American, and number one seed John Isner took on local Robby Ginepri, from just up I-75 in Marietta, now Kennesaw.  It was their fourth meeting, with Isner holding the edge, 2-1.

Ginepri, currently ranked 281, though as high as 15, was in the tournament as a wild card.  As expected in any John Isner match, things started with an ace.  Ginepri returned the favor with his very first serve and had a very easy hold.  From that point forward, it was evident that Ginepri was dialed in on the Isner serve.  He made Isner work by getting balls back in play off huge serves.  Isner did not help his own cause by only getting forty six percent of his first serves in and it led to the inevitable break with a sizzling passing shot by Ginepri to get him to 3-2.  Ginepri consolidated the break with a hold and the match stayed on track until Ginepri served the first set out 6-4.

As with any John Tiebreak, rather, Isner match, the second set went exactly that way.  There were threats of service break, again with Ginepri seeming to have really timed Isner’s deliveries.  It certainly seemed to take its toll, as Ginepri was flexing his wrists after blocking back 140 MPH or so blasts.  Isner served 71% of his first serves into play, converting 73% of those points.  Ginepri had no break points against his serve, while Isner saved the two opportunities Ginepri had.  There were mini-breaks of serve in the tie breaker, but the master of the breaker prevailed in a tight one 7-5.  Of course, the last point was an ace.

In the deciding third set, Ginepri seemed struggled a bit more to hold his serve, facing 7 break points.  He even dug out of one 15-40 hole and punctuated the hold with a yell.  It was inspired Ginepri tennis.  Isner had the customary two break points and saved both.  In Ginepri’s final service game, he was trying to hold for 6-5 and it couldn’t quite hold on.  The whole state knew what was coming next, but Ginepri was game, going for a new racquet in his attempt to break Isner’s  serve.  He never needed it.  Ace, ace, ace, ace.  Game, set, match; Isner 4-6, 7-5 (5), 7-5.  Isner said “It’s not easy, coming in playing your first match.  Having a bye is nice, but at the same time you are playing someone that has played a match.”  Isner will play Matsovci on Friday, surprisingly at 4 PM.  The feature 7 PM slot will see Jack Sock take on Lukas Lacko.

The crowd was well entertained and solidly behind good play, getting loud for each player in appreciation.  Of course, there was barking for Isner and shouts of ROBBY in support of Ginepri.  Some would have been concerned about turnout if Ginepri had won, but the crowd support for both men made it clear that Atlantans appreciation of good tennis should not be underestimated.

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