2014/07/23

USTA Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs Roundup for Friday, December 20, 2013

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson

(December 20, 2013) NORCROSS, Ga.  – Denis Kudla and Steve Johnson are still on the outside looking in, hoping 2014 is a year their perspectives change for good.

 

Kudla and Johnson, both of whom spent time in the Top 100 this summer, each won their opening matches in the 2013 Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs, pocketing the first of three victories needed here to earn a wild card entry into January’s Australian Open and bypass the qualifying rounds that must be achingly familiar to both players.

 

Kudla, the tournament’s top seed, beat former No. 1 collegian Jarmere Jenkins, 6-4, 6-1, while No. 3 Johnson overcame 2011 French Open boys’ champion Bjorn Fratangelo, 6-3, 7-6(2). Afterwards, each player spoke on last year’s successes they’d like to repeat and the letdowns they hope to avoid.

 

Johnson, for instance, logged his first full season on tour in 2013 after leaving USC as one of the most decorated college tennis players ever, winning two straight NCAA singles titles and four consecutive team titles, and promptly reaching the third round of the 2012 US Open.

 

Last year, he qualified for the French Open then won a Challenger in Great Britain, after which he was awarded a wild card into Wimbledon. He peaked at No. 97 in early July. Following a first-round loss at this summer’s US Open, though, Johnson lost six of seven matches to end the season. His ranking has fallen to No. 156.

 

“I try to forget about after the Open,” Johnson laughed. “It was a tough couple-month stretch for me. I didn’t win too many matches, but, you know, that’s life. I don’t think I handled the end of the year very well. Especially it being my first year on tour, I think I let the little things really get to me, and I think that’s what led to the bad stretch up north and then to the indoor Challengers.

 

“That’s all behind me,” he added, “and I hope to learn from that and in this upcoming year just get to the end and really know what to do.”

 

Kudla, meanwhile, spent 11 weeks in the Top 100 in 2013, ascending as high as No. 90 after qualifying for both the French Open and Wimbledon – reaching the second round there – and making a quarterfinal appearance at the ATP Queen’s Club event in London.

 

According to the 21-year old from Arlington, Va., it was a “couple of off weeks” that he could have handled better last year to avoid sliding back to No. 114, outside the cut-off ranking for direct acceptances into Grand Slams, where he believes he belongs.

 

That was perhaps most evident when Kudla elected to not defend his points at the USTA Pro Circuit Challenger in Charlottesville, Va., in November — a tournament he won in 2012 — but instead played in qualifying at the ATP Masters in Paris, where he lost his first match.

 

“You get to a certain ranking and you get into Masters, you gotta play up. That’s how I look at it, at least,” Kudla said. “You gotta play the Masters and get to the next level. I’m not trying to be the best Challenger player. I’m trying to be the best Masters player, Grand Slam player.

 

“I could have had a little better consistency, for sure,” he added. “I thought I had a bad start to the year. I thought last year’s offseason I could have done a lot better, and the U.S. swing I thought should have been way better. And at the end of the year I got hurt, so I kind of just said to myself, ‘Stay healthy.’ Then I really just focused on what I did, and it was kind of a couple of off-weeks I thought I could have handled a little bit better. Hopefully I can repeat the year and do it better.”

 

Jenkins, who grew up a short distance away in College Park, Ga., drew comparisons to Gael Monfils from Kudla, who scrapped the strategy he employed against Jenkins when they were kids.

 

“I played him when I was younger, and I would just try to hit winners,” Kudla said of Jenkins, who nearly won the NCAA “triple crown” last spring at Virginia, winning the NCAA team and doubles titles and reaching the singles final. “But he’s like Monfils, he’s so fast. It’s insane. He’s an incredible athlete. So, I tried to just wear him down, tried to move him left and right. I kind of executed my game plan really well, served really well, was just able to stay on him and came out with a bit easier victory maybe than planned.”

 

Chase Buchanan, the 2012 NCAA doubles champion at Ohio State, fought off Rhyne Williams to earn a comeback victory, 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-2, over the 2011 NCAA singles finalist from Tennessee.

 

Williams, ranked No. 130, served for the match at 5-4 in the second set but was broken by the No. 307-ranked Buchanan, who then won a second-set tiebreak and hit, by his estimation, five aces over the final two games of the match to close out Williams, who won last year’s Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs.

 

Through the fall, Buchanan has played largely outside of the United States – winning Futures titles in Bolivia and Ecuador — and playing in tournaments through South America, Japan and Thailand.

 

“I think it’s really good to get away from playing the same people every single week in the same places,” he said. “I think it’s good to get away, change things up. It gives you a new perspective on kind of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.”

Victoria Duval

Victoria Duval

Vicky Duval, several months removed from becoming an international star at the US Open by defeating 2011 champion Samantha Stosur in the first round, fell behind to Maria Sanchez in the first set at 4-1 and 5-2, crediting nerves for her slow start and her improving serve for powering her 7-5, 7-5 victory.

 

“My serve was never my weapon,” Duval said. “I’ve worked really hard to turn it into that, so I was happy that I could really count on it in the tough times.”

 

When asked if he thought was an “unknown commodity” internationally, Tennys Sandgren answered by saying, “I don’t feel like I really should be known.”

 

Sandgren is currently at his career-high ranking of No. 183, after finishing 2013 with his first USTA Pro Circuit Challenger title, at Champaign, Ill. On Friday, he credited his movement on court in his 6-3, 6-0 victory over Austin Krajicek.

 

2013 Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs

Day 1 results

Quarterfinals

 

Men

No. 1 Denis Kudla d. Jarmere Jenkins, 6-4, 6-1

Chase Buchanan d. No. 2 Rhyne Williams, 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-2

No. 3 Steve Johnson d. Bjorn Fratangelo, 6-3, 7-6(2)

No. 4 Tennys Sandgren d. Austin Krajicek, 6-3, 6-0

 

Women

No. 1 Shelby Rogers d. Sanaz Marand, 6-4, 6-2

Sachia Vickery d. No. 2 Madison Brengle, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3

No. 3 Grace Min d. Nicole Gibbs, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5

No. 4 Victoria Duval d. Maria Sanchez, 7-5, 7-5

 

Order of play for December 21, 2013

Stadium (7)

12:00 PM

1st Match

DUVAL, Victoria (4) vs. ROGERS, Shelby (1)

Followed by

Kudla, Denis (1) vs. SANDGREN, Tennys (4)

 

Court 5

12:00 PM

1st Match

MIN, Grace (3) vs Vickery, Sachia (7)

Followed by

JOHNSON, Steve (3) vs. BUCHANAN, Chase (7)

For updated draws, each day’s order of play and match live streaming, visit the official tournament site at www.australianwildcard.com.

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Tim Smyczek Headlines ‘Serves For Summit’ Exhibition on December 7

Tim-Smyczek-Miami-2011-e1354932743597

(October 31, 2013) Milwaukee, WI – On December 7th, Americans Tim Smyczek, Rhyne Williams, Denis Kudla and Rajeev Ram will take the court at the REX Fieldhouse on the campus of Wisconsin Lutheran College to help raise money for the Summit Educational Association, which provides one-on-one tutoring and mentoring for Milwaukee’s inner city students.

Joining the four players on court will be former U.S. Davis Cup captain Tom Gullikson, a Wisconsin native, who will MC the action. The players will start with two singles sets and conclude with a doubles set, similar to Davis Cup format.

“In 2010 we held a tennis exhibition that was a lot of fun and raised money for Summit,” said Smyczek, ranked 83rd in the world and a Milwaukee native. “With the help of my family, friends and the great tennis fans of Milwaukee we’re hoping to make this event bigger and better so we can make a difference for a lot of kids who rely on the guidance and services Summit offers.”

The weekend’s activities start on Friday night, December 6th, when Summit will host a reception and dinner at the Hilton City Center in Milwaukee.

Tickets for the tennis, dinner, and sponsorship opportunities may be purchased online at www.ServesForSummit.com.

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James Blake Leads List of Wild Cards for Cincinnati

cincinnati-tennis-open-logo-e1313014647325

CINCINNATI (August 8, 2013) — Seven of the eight men’s wild cards for the 2013 Western & Southern Open have been awarded to American players, with four US players being added to the main draw and three entered into qualifying.

 

James Blake, Brian BakerRyan Harrison and Jack Sock have been granted wild cards in to the main draw.

 

In qualifying, Australian Bernard Tomic joins a trio of Americans who each reached a career high ranking last month – Steve Johnson, Denis Kudla and Rhyne Williams - in the field.

 

“We’re happy to welcome a familiar face like James back to a tournament where he has had a tremendous amount of success in his career,” said Tournament Director Vince Cicero. “At the same time, it’s exciting to offer these younger players a chance to participate in a tournament of this caliber. We look forward to having all eight of these players in Cincinnati for the Western & Southern Open.”

 

Blake, the 2007 Western & Southern Open finalist, will be making his 12th apperance at the tournament, third among active players behind Tommy Haas (14) and Roger Federer (13). He also ranks sixth among active players for wins in Cincinnati with a 15-10 record.

 

Baker, from Nashville, returned to tennis in 2012 after a series of injuries kept him sidelined for nearly six seasons. He climbed to almost No. 50 in the rankings before suffering a knee injury at the Australian Open in January that has kept him out of action until this week’s Aptos Challenger.

 

Harrison, a 21-year-old who now calls Austin, Texas, home, reached the semifinals last month at the ATP event in Atlanta. He also claimed the title at the Savannah Challenger this season. It will be his third Western & Southern Open main draw appearance.

 

Sock, a 20-year-old from Lincoln, Neb., won the title at the Challenger event in Winnetka, Ill., last month. He reached his second career ATP quarterfinal in February at Memphis. In 2010, Sock won the US Open Juniors title.

 

The four wild card entrants to the qualifying field will compete in a two-round tournament over this coming weekend for one of seven spots in the main draw.

 

Tomic, 20, is the top-ranked player from Australia. He recently reached the fourth round at Wimbledon and early this season claimed his first career title with a win in Sydney.

 

Kudla, a 20-year-old who grew up in Virginia, reached the quarterfinals at Queen’s Club in London in June.

 

Johnson, 23, won back-to-back NCAA singles champions in 2011-12 while playing for the University of Southern California. He won the Nottingham Challenger in June.

 

Williams, 22, turned pro after his sophomore year at the University of Tennessee, and was the NCAA singles finalist in 2011. He reached his first career ATP semifinal at Houston in April.

 

In addition, the following players have been added to the main draw – Radek Stepanek , Thomaz Bellucci and Denis Istomin. These three were entered following the withdrawals of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (knee), Viktor Troicki (suspension) and Marin Cilic (personal).

 

The draws for both the main draw and qualifying will be made on Friday. Qualifying begins Saturday, which is also AdvancePierre Foods Kids Day, and tickets start as low as $5. WTA main draw play begins Monday. All matches will take place at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, Ohio.

 

The Western & Southern Open hosted 176,000 fans in 2012, recording a record 10 sellouts over the 16 total sessions spanning nine days. The event drew fans from all 50 states and 19 countries. Cincinnati is one of the last stops on the Emirates Airline US Open Series leading up to the US Open, and often critical points and bonus money are on the line adding drama to the week.

 

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Americans in Paris – Day One at Roland Garros

USdcfclogo

 

 

(May 26, 2013) Twenty-five players from the United States are competing in the singles draws of Paris this fortnight at Roland Garros – 15 women and 10 men. Americans went 4-4 in Paris on the first day of the French Open.

Here is a look at how they all fared:

First Round: Serena Williams (1) (USA) def. Anna Tatishvili (GEO) 6-0, 6-1

In 2012 Serena Williams lost for the only time in the first round of a major when she fell to Virginie Razzano in Paris. Williams did not let that happen on Sunday. Her demolition of Tashvilli saw Williams win 56 of 78 points in the match and hit 8 aces.

Serena was questioned about about the surge of women from the U. S.  in the main draw of Roland Garros – a total of 15.

“I think the quality over the past year has jumped tremendously with the U.S. players,” Williams said.  “On the female, female U.S. players.  I think last year here, outside of me, all the U.S. girls did really, really well, and I think we started to see then just so many players just popping up left and right.

“That’s 15 in the main draw?  That’s pretty awesome.  Yeah.  So it is a lot of players, but they’re all really young.  So there is still an opportunity to grow.”

Williams gets a French wild card, promising teenager Caroline Garcia next. Back in 2011, Garcia led Maria Sharapova in Paris 6-3, 4-1 before the Russian came back to win in three sets.

 

First round: Sam Querrey (18) (USA) def. Lukas Lacko (POL) 6-3, 6-4, 6-4

The No. 1 U. S. male who is 20th in the world, has equaled his best performance at the French Open by reaching the second round. In fact, the California native won Sunday’s match on the same court where he was victorious back in 2011 – on Court 7. Querrey is 1-3 on clay coming into Paris this season.

“The clay season has been a little rough,” Querrey said to media.  “Pulled out of Houston, and the Masters Series, I played well in both of them, but took two losses.  And then Nice was a little disappointing.

“I just focused on my attitude out here today and played the best match I’ve played all year on any surface.”

Querrey gets Jan Hajek of the Czech Republic next in the second round. Hajek defeated American Dennis Kudla

 

First round: Urszula Radwanska (POL) def. Venus Williams (USA) 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-4

The three hour and 19 minute match on Sunday was Williams‘ first loss in the opening round of the French Open since 2001.  She’s now lost in the first round of 2 of the last four majors. she also lost at Wimbledon. Despite the heart-breaking loss, she is not discouraged and will continue to play.

“I think that obviously it’s disappointing to lose,” Venus told media in her post-match news conference.  “It’s not what anyone is going for out here.  Coming out to win.  I’m coming out to win my matches.

“And, you know, with what I’ve gone through, it’s not easy.  But I’m strong and I’m a fighter.  You know, I don’t think I’m just playing for me now.  I think I’m playing for a lot of people who haven’t felt well.

“I think for me today it’s a positive to be able to play three hours.  I’m constantly finding ways to get better and to feel better.

“For me, I would never give up because, you know, obviously at some point everyone has to retire.  You know, that’s an asterisk, but I feel like I have to give myself a chance to continue working on feeling better.  I wouldn’t just give up just because it was difficult.

“That’s not me.  So my thing is that I’m going to keep ‑‑ continue trying.  And, you know, I had a very challenging year last year, but I had many successes, as well.

“So I’m continuing to look forward to more successes.”

Williams is still playing in the French Open, she’s competing in doubles with her sister Serena.

 

First round: Viktor Trocki (SRB) def. James Blake (USA) 6-4, 6-2, 6-2

Thirty-three year-old veteran James Blake, playing for the ninth time at Roland Garros could do nothing against Troicki. The highlight of the match for Blake was a between-the-legs shot.

Blake who came into Paris with no clay court ATP tournaments under his belt, spoke about play.

“The difference between my best and now is consistency,” said Blake to media. “I’m still trying to work on it. There are days it is good. Today wasn’t one of my best days. Off days are exposed very quickly out here.”

 

First round: Mallory Burdette (USA) def. Donna Vekic (CRO) 6-3, 6-4

Stanford Alum Mallory Burdette was making her debut on the clay of Paris. She has seen her ranking rise from No. 142 at the beginning of 2013 to No. 80.

Burdette spoke to media about her challenges in learning to play on clay.

“It’s definitely a bit of a different game, but it’s nothing that we can’t adjust to.  I can’t really speak for the other players, but it’s a bit of a challenge.  You have to change up your strategy a little bit, especially if you’re a big hitter.

“It takes a little bit of effort, but it’s fun and it’s a good challenge.”

 

First round: Shelby Rogers (USA) def. 6-3, 6-4 Irena Pavlovic (FRA)

Playing in just her second major, Shelby Rogers made her Paris debut a winning one. Beginning the year on tour at 0-6, she earned a wild card into Roland Garros.

Rogers who turned pro in 2009, reflected on the win:

“Feels really good.  My first Grand Slam main draw win.  And especially against a French player.  I was expecting the crowd to be against me.  I was ready for a battle.”

“It was really tough for a while,” said the 188th ranked player. “I wasn’t a very happy person. But I kept grinding it out every day, and I knew something had to turn around eventually. Here I am – pretty much the highest point of my career.”

 

Jan Hajek(CZE) def. Denis Kudla (USA) 6-2, 5-7, 6-0, 6-4

Kudla, once the No. 3 Junior made it into the main draw as a qualifier.

 

Galina Voskoboeva (KAZ) def. Grace Min (USA) 4-6, 6-4, 7-5

The 2011 U.S. Open Girls’ champion Grace Min made it to the main draw of Roland Garros as a qualifier.

 

Karen Pestaina for Tennis Panorama News

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Kudla Wins Tallahassee Tennis Challenger

Dennis Kudla

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – May 4, 2013American Denis Kudla followed up a dramatic Friday night win with a solid performance Saturday, beating Cedrik-Marcel Stebe 6-3, 6-3 in the final of the Tallahassee Tennis Challenger, a $50,000 USTA Pro Circuit event.

 

Kudla, 20, had snapped Ryan Harrison’s eight-match win streak Friday at Forestmeadows Tennis Complex and waited out a four-hour rain delay Saturday to beat Stebe, a left-hander from Germany.

 

“I’ve been playing well this week, so I felt like if I came out and played my game today it would go my way,” said Kudla, who won his third career challenger title. “It feels great to win here this week. It was kind of unexpected to do this, but I trusted my training.”

 

In doubles, the No. 1 seeds Austin Krajicek and Tennys Sandgren stayed true to their ranking with a well-earned 1-6, 6-2, 10-8 victory over Greg Jones of Australia and Canadian Peter Polansky.

 

“I got a little bit impatient sometimes, trying to shorten the points with drop shots,” said the 22-year-old Stebe, who owns three challenger titles himself. “I wasn’t able to go in the long rallies with him. He played well today, making it tougher for me in the important points.”

 

Kudla won the first set on a backhand long from the German. In the second set, the American opened up a 3-0 lead and didn’t look back, closing out the match in 68 minutes.

 

“Until 6-3, 5-2 I didn’t realize it was Germany vs. USA,” said Kudla, laughing. “It did make me feel good to get that win.”

 

Kudla is projected to reach a career-high No. 114 in Monday’s rankings and says his goal is to receive direct entry into this year’s US Open.

 

Kudla is the 15th American to win in Tallahassee in 21 years of the challenger’s history, including five out of the last six years. Tim Smyczek was defending champion and Donald Young won here in 2011.

 

For Americans Krajicek and Sandgren, it marked the first time they had played doubles together – ever.

 

“It’s a great start to win our first tournament playing together,” said Krajicek, 22. “We have good chemistry on the court and played the big points well. It’s always better to get a win.”

 

Krajicek won his fourth challenger doubles title while Sandgren, 21, collected his second. Tennys noted the change in Tallahassee from hard courts a year ago to green clay for this year.

 

“I liked playing on the clay this week,” said Sandgren. “The grounds crew really knew what they were doing … it’s not that hard to pull off. But they did a great job on it.”

By Nick McCarvel

 

TALLAHASSEE TENNIS CHALLENGER – TALLAHASSEE, FL, USA

$50,000

APRIL 27 – MAY 04, 2013

 

RESULTS – APRIL 29, 2013

Men’s

Singles – Semifinals

[7] Denis Kudla, United States, def. Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, Germany, 6-3, 6-3

 

Doubles – Final

[1] Austin Krajicek and Tennys Sandgren, United States, def. Greg Jones, Australia, and Peter Polansky, Canada, 1-6, 6-2, 10-8

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Thirteen American Men Accepted Into Australian Open Qualies

James Blake

James Blake

(December 18, 2012) Thirteen American men have been accepted into the Qualifying draw of the 2013 Australian Open. They include James Blake, Jack Sock, Steve Johnson, Denis Kudla, Alex Kuznetsov, Wayne, Rajeev Ram, Tennys Sandgren, Tim Smyczek, Ryan Sweeting, Michael Yani and Donald Young.

 

Rhyne Williams also was accepted into qualifying, but Williams claimed a wild card entry into the main draw by winning the USTA Australian Open Wild Card Playoff last weekend. Bradley Klahn and Daniel Kosakowski are the second and third listed alternates, respectively.

 

The 2013 Australian Open qualifying tournament begins on January 7 in Melbourne.

 

The USTA reports that Jesse Levine is listed as an American on the Australian Open qualifying acceptance list, but will be representing Canada in Melbourne.

 

The Australian Open women’s qualifying acceptance list will be announced at a later date.

 

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Davis Cup in Monte Carlo, Day 3: Isner – The New Closer

By Guillaume Willecoq

“Before, it was Andy Roddick the biggest closer of the US team, maybe I can do as well.” For the first time, John Isner clinched a Davis Cup for the US team, after an amazing match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. “I was pissed off to have to admire the way he was playing” said Guy Forget, fair play. The US boy from Greensboro, NC ended Guy Forget’s run as French Captain.  Forget led the French Davis Cup team since 1999. The new captain won’t be named before September. For the US team, they will face Spain again in semifinals, as in 2008, “I assume on clay, laughs Isner, but we will be ready to go!”

4th rubber : John Isner d. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 7-6, 5-7, 6-3 in 3h20

First serve: 66% / 71%

Aces: 16 / 5

Double faults: 4 / 4

Winners: 56 / 43

Forced and unforced errors: 86 / 88

Break points: 2/9 / 1/7

Net points won: 37 / 29

The French team at their news conference :

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: “John has played a huge match. I wasn’t in a great day. John was better than I was. He played better the important points, and played more aggressively… It’s not a surprise he can perform at this level. But I was surprised he could keep this level through the whole tie.”

“Guy was the only captain I knew, and every time he made me like this competition, and tennis even more. He shared his love of the game. It’s the most beautiful thing to me.”

Guy Forget: “The deception is a little easier to accept since it comes from the hands of Jim Courier, a really good guy. Jim was a role model, and his players are just like him. This US team and mine have many values in common.”

“Tonight I have mixed emotions. It’s the end of 14 years as a captain, but my story with story with Davis Cup is longer than that: it started in the USSR in 1983 or 1984. It’s weird it’s over.”

The US team at their new conference :

John Isner: “I believe in myself : if I can play like I play this week I can beat a lot of people in the next Roland-Garros. Beating Gilles and beating Jo are two very good wins, I played very well, if I can keep this level up I’m gonna be tough to beat.”

“Jim definitely helped me in that first tie in Switzerland. I had a very good win against Roger and he helped this week. It’s been a gradual thing for me, my coach back home put the majority of my working, but when I came here, Jim kinds of make me ready. Captain Courier is a guy that I’m very comfortable on the bench, so that helps.”

Jim Courier: “The quality of today’s match was exceptional, I thought better even than on Friday. John is definitely continuing to improve even from the last tie. I think he played better this one. It is impressive.”

“Against Spain, we probably lose it on paper but they don’t play them on paper. We have to play it out there and we have players who are capable and passionate and hungry. We are definitely going to be the underdog once again but we will be ready to play.”

-          The special guests section:

Spotted today at the Monte Carlo Country Club: Novak Djokovic, the World N°1, and his girlfriend curiously at home in Monaco and not in Belgrade to support his teammates against Czech Republic; Ricardo Piatti and Ivan Ljubicic, for the last tournament of Ljubi’s career, next week in Monte Carlo; Eric Winogradsky, former Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s coach ; Alain Boghossian, former soccer player, World champion in 1998 with the French squad; the little group of the Net Heads, trying to make as much noise as the French crowd; and a bonus, Alexandre Vinokourov, the cyclist champion, training with three Astana’s teammates on the roads of Monaco.

End of the week in Monaco for Guillaume and MarieJ. It’s been a pleasure to share with you the coverage of this France / USA tie, in one of the most beautiful places for tennis. We are French, but we were really drawn in by this US team. See you next time and good luck in Spain!

Guillaume Willecoq was at the Monte Carlo Country Club covering the US versus France quarterfinal Davis Cup tie as media for Tennis Panorama News.  Guillaume Willecoq also manages and contributes to the French language tennis website http://www.15-lovetennis.com, follow them on twitter on @15lovetennis.

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Around the Grounds with “Behind These Walls” Filmmaker Rex Miller at the Sony Ericsson Open

Director/Filmmaker/Photographer/Tennis Coach Rex Miller is down at the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne this week.

I had the great opportunity to do some directing on a new promotional campaign for the WTA (I can’t talk about the details yet, but we were shooting all the top players, lots of fun, three – 18-hour days). This is my first post for  Tennis Panorama as I wandered the grounds of the Sony Ericsson Open on Wednesday.

Thomaz Bellucci

Thomaz Bellucci had a great run last week at Indian Wells, he pushed Roger Federer pretty close to the edge, and was a few points from taking the match, so I was eager to check him out up close. He was extremely flat in a morning match against Frederico Gil of Portugal, who was extremely pumped up. The crowd was split between the Brazilians and the Portuguese, both sides waving flags, and singing songs. The Brazilians had little to cheer for as Bellucci fell behind a set and two breaks at 4-1. Gil got a little tense and seemed to be begging Bellucci to come back in and join him for a fight, much to the delight of the Brazilians. Bellucci clawed back to 4-3 and had two break points but he felt the pressure and Gil was able to hold, and eventually limped across the finish line for 6-4. I say limped because both players were afraid to hit out, opting for steady play in the breezy conditions.

I’ve always thought that Bellucci’s talent was at a much higher than his results. He left the court despondent and skipped his post-match media conference.

 

James Blake

I caught the first set of James Blake- Nikolay Davydenko where Blake again proved that he has one of the best forehands in the game, as he ripped winners from many spots, with the crowd oohing and aahing.

Nikolay Davydenko

I’ve seen Blake too many times to get emotionally attached during his matches. I heard he eventually succumbed to the steely Russian, who–despite being one of the more un-animated players, is a joy to watch for those of us who love great footwork and amazing ball-striking.

I was anxious to catch American wild-card Denis Kudla, the 19 year-old from Washington, DC by way of Ukraine. I spent some time with Kudla two years ago as he was a subject of a documentary I shot for Tennis Channel “Who’s Next.” He’s a product of the Champions Training Center in College Park, which also produced University of Virgina’s freshman sensation and current NCAA No.1 Mitchell Frank and Texas A&M’s Junior Ore. Kudla is one of the best ball strikers you’ll see, he has absolutely great technique on both sides, has a good bit of pop on his serve and although being about 5’9″ or 5’10,” has bulked up in the shoulders a lot in the last two years and will probably continue to do so.

Denis Kudla

Today, Kudla was up against qualifier Antonio Veic from Croatia and he came out smoking. The two had long rallies with Kudla often controlling the action, ripping from both sides and occasionally venturing to the net to finish points with crisp volleys and a deft touch. He broke the Croatian twice to take it 6-2. Kudla has steadily climbed the rankings and is now at around 160. I sat next to his agent Sam Duvall who mentioned what an important match this was for a kid who is 160–big points at these Super Masters series, a great opportunity for a big jump, one that is hard to come by in the dogged ATP world. Kudla couldn’t maintain his high level and eventually lost in 3, I’m sure a disappointment to the hard-working kid, but look out for him because I think he’s going to have some good results in the near future.

 

Rex Miller is a filmmaker/tennis coach and self-described tennis geek who is covering the Sony Ericsson Open for Tennis Panorama News. He was the Director and Producer for the documentary – Behind these walls which aired on Tennis Channel. It talks about the unique world of “tennis behind bars” at San Quentin State (CA),Penitentiary, one of America’s most infamous prisons. Read more about Rex and his work at http://www.rexpix.net/.

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Brodsky Surprises as Levine and Ginepri Set Up Finals Clash for Australian Open Wildcard

Madison Keys (Photo by Tom Grason)

By Erik Gudris

NORCROSS, Georgia – Semifinals Day at the Australian Open Wildcard Playoffs held at the Racquet Club of the South had the feel of a community tennis event with kids practicing their serves on outer courts while spectators wandered around the merchandise and food vendor areas inside the indoor court complex of the club. With all this activity going on around them, the semifinalists must have had to concentrate even twice as hard to keep focus on their main goal – a coveted wildcard berth into next month’s Australian Open.

Both Women’s semifinals went the distance but the tone and decibel level of each match was decidedly different. Madison Keys looked sluggish and distracted during the first set in her semi against No. 2 seed Alison Riske who used her low crosscourt forehand to great effectiveness taking the first set. But Keys found her huge serve and didn’t look back for the rest of the match as she went on to secure a 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win.

The second semi featured No. 1 seed Coco Vandeweghe against Gail Brodsky. Despite Vandeweghe’s ability to hit heavy flat winners at will, Brodsky handled Vandeweghe’s pace and supplied plenty of her own in their rallies. Both women split the first two sets 6-3, 3-6 and as the third set started, the vocal outcries from both players showed how much they wanted it. Brodsky jumped out to an early 3-1 lead, but Vandeweghe fought to pull even at 4-4. The next game proved to be a marathon with multiple deuces, but with a break point opportunity, Vandeweghe found herself at net with several chances to end the point. Instead it was Brodsky who chased down a short volley and hit a stunning pass that brought the crowd to its feet. Brodsky finally claimed the game to go up 5-4, first with an ace that was called a fault then corrected as good by the umpire and then the ad point when Vandeweghe hit long.

Both players questioned what seemed to be poor line calls late in the match, but Vandeweghe appeared to be the more frustrated of the two, even at one point engaging in a long conversation with the umpire before the start of a game. That frustration, plus having to serve from behind in the final set proved too much for Vandeweghe as Brodsky passed her at net on her first match point to claim a 6-3, 3-6, 9-7 win.

Afterwards, Brodsky talked about the issues with the officiating saying, “I wasn’t that upset about the calls because I can understand the situation as it was pretty dark inside and we both hit the ball pretty fast so I can understand where the mistakes would come from. But obviously it’s hard to deal with obvious errors when the match is that close.” Brodsky later credited her recent off-season training with the USTA for giving her the stamina she needed to pull off the upset.

On the men’s side, both semifinals saw convincing wins with the same scoreline. No. 2 seed Jesse Levine defeated No. 3 seed Denis Kudla 7-5, 6-2 that saw Levine close out the match with an ace. Levine, who since September has climbed 300 spots in the ATP rankings to No. 164, credited his new fitness trainer Austin Brock and a new coaching team that includes Tarik Benhabilies with helping him stay healthy.

 

Robby Ginepri (Photo by Tom Grason)

Levine will now face in the finals local favorite Robby Ginepri who defeated Rhyne Williams 7-5, 6-2 in the other semifinal. “It’s going to be a really tough match, said Levine, “I’ve never played Robby in a competitive match before. He’s a great player and he moves extremely well and it’s best three out of five tomorrow too so I’m going to rest up tonight. Obviously there’s a lot at stake for both of us. Three out of five sets is always a physical and mental battle so I will prepare myself the best way that I can.”

Sunday’s finals schedule will start at 1pm EST with Gail Brodsky against Madison Keys followed by Robby Ginepri against Jessie Levine.

Erik Gudris writes and moderates Adjustingthenet.com, a tennis news site. Follow him on Twitter @adjustingthenet.

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Fields for USTA Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs Announced

 

USTA Player Development has named the eight men and eight women who will be participating in the Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs. They include in the Women’s draw – Melanie Oudin, Coco Vandeweghe, Madison Keys, Jamie Hampton, Gail Brodsky, Alison Riske, Grace Min and Taylor Townsend.

 

The men’s field consists of Robby Ginepri, Jack Sock, Bobby Reynolds, Denis Kudla, Steve Johnson, Daniel Kosakowski, Rhyne Williams and Jesse Levine.

 

The playoffs will be held at the Racquet Club of the South in Atlanta, one of the USTA Certified Regional Training Centers  from December 16-18.  The winners will receive main draw singles wild cards into the men’s and women’s draws at the 2012 Australian Open through a reciprocal agreement with Tennis Australia.

 

Seeding for the playoffs will be based on the ATP World Tour and WTA Rankings.

 

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