October 6, 2015

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.



James Blake Leads List of Wild Cards for Cincinnati


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.



Americans in Paris – Day One at Roland Garros




(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


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.