By Herman Wood
(July 27, 2018) ATLANTA – Nick Kyrgios had to get past Cameron Norrie to get back to the semifinals and a date with Ryan Harrison at the Atlanta Open. It was the first meeting for Kyrgios and Norrie. Kyrgios enters the match ranked No. 19 while Norrie is at No. 73. The favorite, Kyrgios entered the stadium only to be escorted immediately for a presumed comfort break. Norrie, the chair, photographers, and the honorary coin tosser waited patiently as he sauntered back while checking his phone. He was sporting tape on his left knee. There was tape on his left arm as there was in his earlier match. The left-handed Norrie served first, starting the match with a pair of service winners. Kyrgios sailed a backhand long and Norrie hit a winner down the line to take the first game. Kyrgios answered with an equally easy hold, yet did seem to be using a variety of service motions.
In his second service game, Norrie struggled a bit, but was able to attack the Kyrgios backhand successfully enough to hold. Kyrgios had problems finishing the game, but managed an ace to get to 2-2. As in his first match, Kyrgios appeared to be imitating others’ service motion despite his promise after the last match to use his own. Norrie again had to struggle to hold, getting down 15-40, but a trip to the net pulled him back to 30-40. A service winner earned him deuce, followed by a wild Kyrgios forehand gave him ad in. He had no trouble closing the game to lead in the set 3-2. Norrie was able to force a deuce of Kyrgios after Kyrgios made a mess of a drop shot, but Kyrgios held to 3 games all. Norrie seemed to take encouragement and held his next service game easily. Kyrgios came charging in on Norrie’s first serve at 40-0 and nearly paid a painful price when Norrie missed long. Twenty-one minutes into the match Kyrgios limped to the side and took a medical time out after Norrie’s easy hold. Between points, Kyrgios had not appeared to be walking comfortably, with what appeared to be an upper thigh injury. The trainers massage appears to be high up on Kyrgios left leg. After treatment, Norrie tested him in the Kyrgios service game, moving him about. Kyrgios appeared to bail on one point, slapping an easy forehand into the net. Despite that, he held easily, only losing that point to get the first set to 4 games apiece.
Norrie had to know what was coming next, as Kyrgios reached for another gear and put him down 0-30. Norrie moved Kyrgios for one point, aced him for another, but Kyrgios continued to pour it on, with a forehand blast to get 30-40. Norrie patiently rallied his way through the next point, running down multiple wide shots until the Kyrgios error. A solid serve followed up by a service winner that Kyrgios appeared to be trying to return with a drop shot earned Norrie the game. Kyrgios had to serve down 4-5 to stay in the set. The only thing that slowed him down was getting another ball, though Norrie did manage two points from Kyrgios errors, 5-5. Finally, after Norrie struggled through a hold for 6-5, Norrie managed to return every Kyrgios serve, but Kyrgios tried multiple drop unsuccessful drops shots to drop the first set 7-5.
Norrie opened with an easy hold, then broke Kyrgios without much effort. Kyrgios made a great effort to return a Norrie serve only to leave an open court for Norrie. He forced Norrie to work, but was feeling an issue with his left leg. Kyrgios was to step up to serve down 0-3 in the second set, but instead stepped to the chair, retiring due to injury. Game, set, match, Norrie 7-5, 3-0.
In regard to the match, Norrie said “I stayed focused and play well and am just happy to get through.” Asked about the Kyrgios injury, he said “My thoughts are with him.” Norrie will advance to meet Ryan Harrison in the semifinals on Saturday.
Ryan Harrison took on 22-year-old Hyeon Chung in their first meeting. Both men began the match with easy service holds. The only thing bothering either man was conversation in the crowd. The chair had to single a gentleman out in order to put things in order.
The match otherwise began on serve without much challenge. Harrison employed quite the charge to the net after getting a point on Chung’s service to surprise him at 1-2, but Chung hit a service winner and a nifty drop shot to assure the hold. At 3-3, Harrison started to struggle with the pace of the Chung groundstrokes. Chung got up 0-30, but Harrison fought back with a service winner. A ground stroke error by Harrison put him deeper in the hole at 15-40, but Harrison again served his way out, finally getting to 40-30 with a challenged service winner and a couple of volleys to hold at 4-3. Harrison again made a little headway on Chung’s service, but was too far down to be able to close the deal and Chung was able to hold to 4-4. With a quick Harrison hold, Chung stepped up to serve at 4-5 to stay in the set. Earlier play indicated the set would be decided by a tiebreaker and Chung gave Harrison little opportunity. Harrison returned the favor quickly with a 40-0 hold to take the first set to 5-6, Chung serving to get to a tiebreak. He was able to get there with little difficulty.
In the tiebreak, play looked much the same as earlier, with neither man giving ground. A long rally at 2-2 that saw Harrison send the final shot long gave Chung a mini-break, serving at 3-2. He kept Harrison on his heels, holding both of his serves and managing to coax a ground stroke error on Harrison’s serve to put the first set on his racquet. Chung took immediate advantage, putting Harrison and Harrison’s racquet away 7-3 in the tiebreak to take the first set. Harrison received a warning for the destruction of his racquet. In a match earlier this week, he had seemed to struggle until similarly breaking a racquet, after which he turned the match around.
Indeed, Harrison was able to break Chung in his first service game. He put Chung into scramble mode on the final point of the game and closed it out with several nice volleys. A hold at love to consolidate quickly put the ball back in Chung’s hands. Chung opened with a wide ace to serve notice that he was still in the fight. It proved to be an easy service hold for him. Harrison stayed right with him, until an angled volley exchange forced him to use a tweener from up close in the 1-3 Chung service game. Chung sailed the ball to give Harrison momentum on the Chung service game and he grabbed it with both hands, breaking Chung at love to go up 4-1. Another hold from Harrison and Chung brought the second set to 5-2, Harrison to serve. He held easily at love, bringing the match to 1 set apiece.
Both men managed relatively easy holds through 2-3, with Harrison serving. He again struggled off his groundstrokes, finding the net twice, allowing Chung an ad in that Harrison fended off with a big first serve. Chung challenged a let first serve on the first offering, but was incorrect. Harrison continued to find the net with his groundstrokes and bail himself out with big serves. Chung nearly found a way, hitting the tape, causing his shot to bounce high, but ultimately falling on his side of the net to get the set to 3-3, Chung to serve. Like Harrison, Chung struggled, even serving a second serve at ad out that Harrison helped him out with a very wide return. Chung took advantage, holding serve despite the struggle. Harrison to serve, down 3-4. He quickly went to work, firing aces, and held easily to 4-4. Chung returned the favor, forcing Harrison to serve to stay in the match, down 4-5. Harrison had handled his composure well enough throughout the deciding set and this game was no different with a very easy hold, 5-5. Chung’s subsequent easy hold seemed to rattle Harrison just a bit. The music choice in the stadium could not have helped with Billy Joel’s “Pressure” with Harrison serving at 5-6 to try to force a tiebreaker. An opening double fault only made things worse for Harrison. The crowd exhorted him and he appeared to exhort himself with several screams at himself as he went down 0-30. An ace followed by a service winner brought the game back to 30-30. The pace of his forehand groundstroke also stepped back up. Another service winner made it time for a tiebreaker.
The first point featured some big groundstrokes but ended by a Harrison volley at the net that gave Harrison a mini break. He was not able to hold it, despite desperate defense in the next point on his serve, finally just missing with a cross court backhand. He compounded the situation with a double fault providing Chung a full break. Chung gave one point back to get the breaker to 2-2, then sailed a forehand to put Harrison back in charge, 3-2 serving. Harrison continued to put pressure on Chung, forcing a wide squash shot from Chung that found the net. Harrison was very positive on the side change with fist pumps, serving at 4-2. Despite his positivity, his groundstrokes again let him down, with a rally ball into the net, 3-4, Chung serving. Of course, he could do nothing with the opportunity finding the net himself on his first point. He forced a Harrison error on this second, still giving Harrison the opportunity to serve out the match on his serve. At 5-4, a service winner it Harrison on the brink, serving at 6-4. Chung was very patient on the subsequent point, finally drawing a long groundstroke. Chung, serving at 5-6, was not up to prolonging the match further, sailing one last groundstroke long and the ball in his pocket out of the stadium. Game, set, match, Ryan Harrison 6-7(3), 6-2, 7-6 (5). Asked about the match, Harrison said “This is exactly what the doctor ordered for me. Chung is unbelievably composed. I’m a negative guy at times. A little bit of a yelling outburst helped me get it out.”
In the second quarterfinal played during the day, John Isner took on Mischa Zverev. As the match opened, the temperature was 92 degrees, with a feels like temperature of 95 degrees. Isner entered the match ranked number nine and Zverev number 45. Zverev has won their last three meetings. Conditions are just about what Isner likes best here in Atlanta, though they likely were similar in their last meeting at the 2017 US Open which Zverev won in straight sets.
Isner started the match with a huge serve and forehand to earn the first point of the match. His high bounding second serve was right into Zverev’s forehand in the ad court. It was still effective early. Despite a double fault, two aces ensured a good start on serve. Zverev returned the favor in his first service game with a double fault, but an ace and a service winner brought him even with Isner.
Twelve minutes into the match, it was 2-all with mostly service winners and few rallies. Zverev made a couple of errors to allow Isner into his second service game a bit, but sealed the game with a big serve. One minute later, Isner easily held again to 3-2. Early rallies favored Zverev, but Isner was effective when an opportunity presented. Unfortunately for him, Zverev was serving almost as well as Isner, the only difference statistically being one more ace for Isner at three games apiece. Isner held easily, to 4-3. Isner began to find the range on the Zverev serves, blasting two passes and nearly another to get two points in the game. Zverev continued to press forward, earning the game with a service winner to take the first set to 4-4.
Isner hit service winners and aces to quickly put pressure on Zverev to stay in the set, serving at 4-5. Zverev did not feel it, closing his game with a serve and volley winner off a second serve to even the set at 5. Isner again served his way through his game quickly, giving Zverev the job of keeping the first set from going to a tiebreak. Isner again took advantage, once with a bullet at Zverev that he was only able to sail long and two blazing passes. A wide Zverev serve and a near miss by Isner kept him alive. A blocked return that Zverev could not chase down and an Isner return dumped into the net gave Isner the set without the necessity of a tiebreaker, 7-5.
The second set began like many Isner matches- quick holds to 2-1. On the final point of Isner’s second service game, Zverev seemed to have no idea where the serve was headed. Serving at 1-2, his volleys gave Isner a good chance at passing shots. Isner managed a couple of points, but no more in that game. Serving with new balls at 2-2, Isner expected another easy service game, but Zverev guessed well on serves in the deuce court and made deep returns that Isner struggled with. Isner used his big kick serve in the ad court to stay in the game. Zverev finally was able to move in enough to block one to get an Isner service game to deuce. Another deep return gave Zverev the advantage. An Isner double fault donated the break to give Zverev his first lead, 3-2 in the second set. Isner continued to be effective with his passing shots, forcing Zverev to deuce, but an ace and a volley into the Isner backhand allowed him to hold, 4-2. The match continued on serve, with Isner able to earn a couple of points again on the Zverev serve and holding his own by handling the deep returns that Zverev had employed effectively earlier in the match. At 5-4, Zverev stepped up to serve for the second set and to force a third. A serve and volley attempt by Zverev was met with a topspin pass on the first point. Zverev reached back for a little extra on the next three serves, hitting aces and near service winners. Isner blocked one back weakly. Isner continued to resist, hitting tough passing shots to get two points, but Zverev served it out with an ace, 6-4.
All even at a set apiece, Isner started off with the usual aces, service winners, and big forehands. It was an easy hold for Isner. Zverev had a tougher time with his first service game, offering up just what Isner needed- second serves. Isner pounced, breaking Zverev when he made a mess of a half volley Isner ground stroke. Up 2-0, Isner let Zverev into his service game, getting two points. Isner had to make a retrieve on the deuce side, barely getting a shot into the last possible part of the court both depth and width wise. He closed the game with another high bounding second serve that Zverev almost hit out of the stadium to hold onto the break 3-0. Isner continued to pour it on, getting another break to lead 4-0. He pumped his fist and showed very positive body language on his return game. He stayed right with the positive in his service game to force Zverev to try to serve to stay in the match down 0-5. He was able to, placing his first serve well and not giving Isner the opportunity to get into the points. Isner stepped up to serve up 5-1 and fired an ace, a put away on a weak return, and another ace, for game, set, match Isner, 7-5, 4-6, 6-1. After the match, Isner was asked about the match; “I certainly played well today. It’s a home court advantage for sure, it’s like the Georgia Bulldogs playing in Sanford Stadium.”
Next up, Isner will play Matt Ebden, who beat him in the Australian Open last year. Isner said “It’s another tough match, for both of us.”
The Matthew Ebden versus Marcos Baghdatis match kicked off the quarterfinal round at the BB&T Atlanta Open on Friday. Temperature at high noon was 88 degrees, but it feels like a temperature of 92 degrees due to 50% humidity.
Marcos Baghadatis entered the match with a ranking of 95 on the ATP World Tour. Matthew Ebden, ranked 55, has played Baghdatis once before in Sydney, dropping the match in three close sets, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (3). Neither man seemed to apparently have gotten the memo about the conditions, kitted out in dark colored tops.
Ebden is very familiar with Atlanta, having won the doubles twice before. He started the match with an ace. Baghdatis had won the toss yet elected to receive. Ebden held with a bit of resistance. He was employing the squash shot to stay in points- if Baghdatis came forward he would have been able to finish the point- instead he had to restart from the baseline. Ebden mounted an early challenge to the Baghdatis serve, pushing him behind the baseline as he hugged the baseline, though the opportunity was wasted with a return into the net. It ended up not mattering, as Baghdatis finally donated the game with a double fault. Ebden made the break hold up, moving Baghdatis until he could close and finish points. 3-0, Ebden.
Finally, down 0-3, Baghdatis managed to string together a few points and get on the scoreboard with a service hold to 1-3. Ebden continued to come forward off serves and at every opportunity. Baghdatis had to really work to create angles and get into points. Ebden was able to hold easily to 4-1 in fifteen minutes. Baghdatis was able to hold in his subsequent games as was Ebden to get the set to 5-3 Ebden, with Ebden trying to serve it out. Baghdatis put up a fight, hitting deep returns in the deuce court, forcing Ebden back. On the ad side, Ebden employed the body serve twice to force unsuccessful or weak returns. Ebden then donated a double fault giving Baghdatis a chance to get back on serve. A chancy down the line shot kept Ebden alive in the game and back to deuce. An unsuccessfully challenged service winner and a Baghdatis error gave Ebden the first set 6-3.
The second set began just like the first with a Baghdatis break. He put up more resistance, defending two break points, though three double faults is not helping yourself. Ebden consolidated with an easy hold to take firm control of the set. Baghdatis ventured to the net on the first point of his service game, not very successfully. Ebden took advantage of volleys sent back deep and passed easily. Ebden’s first service percentage was under 50% at times. Baghdatis could not seem to take advantage of the second serves, despite creeping in and playing the first shot or two after his return from inside the baseline. Once Ebden got a couple of balls back in the point, he became the aggressor. He also continued to pressure Baghdatis on his service games. Baghdatis felt the pressure, even throwing in a double fault on his own advantage. Regardless, he continued to fight, holding his service game stay close with Ebden serving at 3-2.
After the easy Ebden hold, Baghdatis pretty much put himself out of the match, going down to 0-30. Ebden tried to bail him out, using his last challenge, unsuccessfully to get Baghdatis on the scoreboard. Despite the donation, Baghdatis continued with unforced errors to give Ebden a chance to serve the match out, 5-2.
Ebden apparently felt a bit of pressure, with Baghdatis still fighting, double faulting to keep the match going. Finally, he was able to close with a wide ace, 6-3, 6-2.
Ebden was asked about the conditions in Atlanta: “I’m think I’m lucky I’m Australian to handle the heat.” In regards to his strategy today, he said “Mixing my game around the net. I play an all court game and it helped me here and there again today.” On his possible opponent in tomorrow’s semifinal, he expressed no preference, though he did note that he finally beat Isner in the Australian this year, while acknowledging Isner is the favorite in Atlanta.
Herman Wood is covering the BB&T Atlanta Open for Tennis Panorama News.