May 24, 2016

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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The US Open Series Begins this Weekend in Atlanta

 

BB&TAtlantaOpen

By Herman Wood

(July 17, 2014) ATLANTA – Preparation for the US Open is underway.  The BB&T Atlanta Open gets things started on Saturday, July 19th for the men.  Qualifying begins at 10 AM.  The BB&T Atlanta Open is an ATP 250 event, with a 28 player draw, four of which come from the qualifying tournament.  The qualifying field will have 32 players.  The doubles draw is a 16 team field.  Last year’s champ, John Isner, is returning, along with fellow Americans Sam Querrey, Wimbledon doubles champ Jack Sock, and Donald Young.  Gael Monfils, Richard Gasquet, Radek Stepanek, Ivo Karlovic, Ivan Dodig, Lleyton Hewitt, and the other half of the Wimbledon doubles championship team, Vasek Pospisil, are also expected in the tournament.  The tournament aspires to be a mini US Open, with the venue set among the skyscrapers of downtown Atlanta at Atlantic Station.  Atlantic Station is a community within downtown that provides homes for 10,000 people integrated with shopping, restaurants, and retailers that make it a hit with the players.  Besides the attractive venue, players will get a jump on the US Open Series Bonus Challenge, where nearly $40 million in prize money is up for grabs.  This is the third year the tournament has been held at Atlantic Station.

It is a familiar place for Americans, with Isner winning last year, Roddick in 2012, and Fish in 2011.  It has also been comfortable for big man tennis- last year Isner, at 6’10”, overcame Kevin Anderson at 6’8” in three tiebreaks.  Fans in the first couple of rows certainly had to pay attention with the huge serves coming their way.  It is especially familiar for Isner, who competed collegiately just an hour down the road for the University of Georgia Bulldogs, leading the team to a national championship and winning every possible team title in 2007.  He’s usually a fan favorite, with at least a couple of barks from Georgia fans in his favor at each match.  Isner may not be the only recipient of barks; University of Georgia player Austin Smith has accepted a wild card into the main draw. The sophomore from Cumming, Georgia excelled this season as the Bulldogs captured the 2014 SEC Championship. Smith finished with a 35-12 record, and went 9-1 in SEC matches. He has won four USTA Pro Circuit matches. A tournament qualifier in 2011, Smith will be playing his debut ATP main draw match.

Another American, Jack Sock, could very well get on a roll at this tournament.  After winning doubles with Pospisil at Wimbledon, he rolled into Newport and eliminated Isner in the Newport Hall of Fame event on grass just a week ago.  Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t able to keep that momentum and was eliminated by the veteran Lleyton Hewitt, who went on to win the tournament.  Hewitt’s feisty shouts of “C’mon!” have endeared him to the Atlanta fans in past years.  Fresh off his renewed success at Newport, he could very well win Atlanta.  The main draw was just rounded out with the addition of Ryan Harrison and Robby Ginepri.  “We’re ecstatic to welcome back two of our fan favorites in Ryan Harrison and Atlanta metro resident Robby Ginepri,” Tournament Director Eddie Gonzalez said. “One of our goals is to highlight American talent and both of these players are great examples of the fine players this country has produced.”  Harrison won the doubles last year, partnering with Matthew Ebden.  Ginepri appears for the fourth time, with a onetime ranking of fifteen.  He is a graduate of Wheeler High School, just a few miles north of Atlantic Station.  He currently resides in Kennesaw, another couple of miles north.

The draw will be finalized over this weekend with the completion of the qualifying tournament.  Promising American junior Francis Tiafoe has accepted his first tournament qualifying wild card. Tiafoe, 16, is a talented young prodigy who rose to No. 2 in the world junior rankings this spring. Georgia Tech’s Nathan Rakitt and Alabama’s Becker O’Shaughnessey have also accepted qualifying wild cards. Rakitt, a Marietta native and All-ACC selectee, is competing again for the second year. O’Shaughnessey of Macon, Ga., led the Crimson Tide in singles wins (22) this season.

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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Stringer Stories in Atlanta

Adam Queen from Your Serve Tennis, Photo by Herman Wood for Tennis Panorama.

By Herman Wood

 

ATLANTA, Georgia – At Atlanta’s BB&T Open, players are on a plane far above the recreational, league player or even teaching professional. Yesterday, Jack Sock recorded a 141 mph service ace while playing Alexander Bogomolov. Bogomolov had a few thunder claps of his own (or was that the usual Atlanta summer thunder storm that interrupted the match?). I know they’re bigger, stronger, and certainly better conditioned, but how is it possible to hit a ball 40 mph faster than the average Joe USTA? The racquets are the same, right? They’re using the same string, aren’t they?

I spoke to Adam Queen, stringer from Your Serve Tennis, the official stringer for the tournament to find out. “All the players are particular. They know what works best for them for different courts, balls, and conditions.” Conditions? “Most go up on tension with heat & humidity because the ball tends to fly.” Unlike you or I, professionals don’t need the stringers’ advice. They’ve experimented with different strings, tensions, number of knots and everything else you can imagine. Queen’s job is to meet those specs, unlike in one of his stores, where he’ll talk to a customer to find out what they need. Just like you and I, the pros want quality and consistency, but they want it to a high level. As an example, most players want their racquets done as close to match time as possible. Mardy Fish wants the second racquet he’ll use delivered ten minutes after the match starts! How would that make a difference?

It turns out that strings lose tension with time, not just use. Polyester string can lose thirty percent overnight! Alright, I could get my racquet strung just before my match if I could hit a 140 mph serve!

“That could be kind of tough on your arm if you use the same string the pros do and you’d have to restring for every match.” I asked Queen why it was tough on the arm. “Almost every pro uses polyester. Polyester string loses tension relatively quickly and becomes dead. Professionals’ shoulder, wrist, and elbow are better able to handle the demands of daily play and demanding equipment.” So that’s why my shoulder hurts when I hit with that year old polyester string! “They restring every time out.” That sounds expensive! So what else do they do differently? “Jack Sock strings at 40 pounds. James Blake uses 63 pounds. Both use polyester.” I guess that means I can play like Sock if I string at 40 and like Blake if at 63? Oh, I forgot- I don’t practice for hours on end every day and do physical conditioning for hours on end. What can I do?

“Be willing to experiment. Talk to your stringer. Give polyester a try, but be willing to cut it out after a few weeks even if it doesn’t break.” You think maybe I can hit that 140 mph serve, just once?

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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