By Herman Wood
(July 26, 2019) ATLANTA – Friday was quarterfinal day at the Atlanta Open. The day started with an early match of No. 3 seed Alex de Minaur against Bernard Tomic. Tomic entered the match 2-0 in Atlanta, having advanced with wins over Frances Tiafoe and fellow Australian Matt Ebden. Also an Australian, de Minaur made it to the quarterfinals with a win over American Bradley Klahn. Tomic had been playing matches with tape on his back all week, and apparently the problem simply became too much in the second set after losing the first set 6-2, as he retired down 3-0 in the second set.
The second match of the day featured another up and coming young player in American Reilly Opelka. Opelka, ranked 57, bounced returning champion John Isner in his last match. He was hoping to get to only his second semifinal of the year. His opponent, Great Britain’s 29 year old Daniel Evans entered the match ranked 55. A win here would take him to what would be only his fourth semifinal ever. He also had a victory over Isner previously in Delray Beach in the semifinals.
The first set never saw a challenge of Opelka’s serve, but then with 14 aces, there was not really much that could be challenged. Evans had to work a bit harder, facing two break points on his service games through the set, successfully defending both. Opelka served first in the tiebreaker and Evans earned a mini break on the first point with a desperate return that landed just over the net that Opelka was just a bit too careful with and pushed it wide. He got a full break right back, pushing Evans back in the court forcing an error, and then Evans donated to the Opelka cause with a double fault. Minibreaks continued to be the story, with Evans serving at 3-3, still in the tiebreaker, but sailing a ball long to give Opelka a 4-3 advantage and the serve. Evans managed to start rallies against the Opelka serve, but he had to play retriever to Opelka’s blasts from the baseline. To his credit, Opelka stayed very patient, moving to a rally ball when appropriate and then going back to being the aggressor when it was appropriate. Opelka did get a time violation warning for taking too long on his serve in the tiebreaker, started to address the chair, but let it go and then hit a big serve to earn the point. He took the tiebreaker 7-3 to claim the first set.
The second set had no break points through 5-5. Neither could really threaten the other’s service game. Evans’ holds had to be taking a toll, as he was side to side on many points. When he was able to get Opelka’s serve back, he was again on the run. In his last service game of the second set, Opelka got his teeth into Evans’ game and forced a break point, which essentially was a match point. He forced an Evans forehand miss to give him the opportunity to serve it out without the need of a tiebreaker. Ace, ace, rolling topspin forehand on the line, and a 23rd ace carried Opelka to the semifinals, 7-6 (3), 7-5.
Of the match Opelka said, “I served extremely well today. Evans is a difficult match up for me. His slice keeps the ball extremely low.” Asked about his next opponent Alex de Minaur, “He is probably the fastest guy on tour right now.”
Opelka said the two of them had dinner together the last few nights and would likely go after the match either way.
The final match of the afternoon featured number 53 Cameron Norrie of Great Britain, wearing all black, against Australian Alexei Popyrin in their first match. If the 23 year old Norrie could get through, it would be his second straight Atlanta semi-final appearance. This was Popyrin’s first quarter final appearance.
The match was a contrast in style, as Norrie looked to approach when he could create the opportunity. Passes by Popyrin did not seem to change that strategy. Popyrin’s service games were made simpler by his seven aces through his fourth service game. Norrie, though, still only had to face two break points, both saved, to bring the match to 4-4 in the opening set. He made some remarkable volleys of big Popyrin forehands. Finally, at 5-5, Norrie made some headway on the Popyrin serve, earning four break points. The fourth one did the job, giving Norrie the chance to serve the set out. He did not exactly help himself with a double fault up 15-0 and another at 15 all to give Popyrin encouragement. A serve and volley brought him back even to 30 all. He noticeably took a lot off his first serve to ensure getting it into play and was able to work the point to get 40-30 and a lefty slice wide earned him the set 7-5.
Norrie seemed to have found what he needed, earning another break point in Popyrin’s first service game of the second set and made the most of it with a forehand pass off a net cord to take the lead 1-0. Popyrin stayed committed to the match, saving a game point on the Norrie serve and a break point with a forehand blast. Norrie missed long to give the break right back to Popyrin, 1-1. A consolidation of the break provided a lead to Popyrin, 2-1. Norrie was able to steady himself on his service, gain a hold to even the set and then break Popyrin to get back out front 3-2 serving. Apparently, breaks were the story of this set, as he donated to the Popyrin cause with a double fault on break point to even the set again. The breaks seem to only fire up Norrie, whereas Popyrin’s service breaks seemed to frustrate him. At 4-4, Popyrin dug a 0-40 hole on his serve, even missing his first serve. He forced a Norrie miss wide to get 15-40. Norrie danced about awaiting the serve, managed to get a rally started, and missed a pass after a let cord to get Popyrin to 30-40. A short ball to the Norrie forehand and he pounced with a winner, giving him a chance to serve the match out, serving 5-4.
He gained the first point with a winning volley and the second with a slicing wide serve. Popyrin kept resisting, evening the score at 30. A Norrie drop shot and a service winner, again slicing wide, moved Norrie to the semifinals 7-5, 6-4.
Asked about the match, “Today was tough.” What made the difference? “I really returned well in the second set.” In regards to Popyrin, “He played really well.” He will play either the 19 year old Miomir Kecmanovic or the 21 year old Taylor Fritz in the semifinals. “I hope to use my maturity a little bit in the next round.”
In the last singles quarterfinal of the tournament, Friday night was for the youngsters. Miomir Kecmanovic, ranked 66 and all of nineteen years old, was looking to punch his ticket to the second semifinal of his young career. Taylor Fritz, the grizzled veteran at twenty one years old, and ranked number 32, was looking to make his third semifinal of the year. It would be his best showing ever in Atlanta. Earlier this year, he bested the Serbian in Newport Beach in the quarterfinals there. The winner will face Cameron Norris for a spot in the finals.
Fritz served first and yielded the first point of the match with a groundstroke error. Despite that and a double fault, he was able to hold with an ace. Kecmanovic also started with a groundstroke error, but squared things up with an ace. His groundstrokes remained shaky, giving Fritz the early service break. Fritz backed it up, consolidating in part due to a 146 mph serve-the fastest of the tournament thus far! Down 0-3, it was looking to be a short night for Kecmanovic. His unforced errors were giving Fritz confidence to go for winners, knowing he would likely get another chance if he missed. Another break, punctuated by a Fritz backhand that scorched the sideline, staked Fritz to a 4-0 lead. Less than fifteen minutes into the match Fritz was rolling with a 5-0 lead. If Kecmanovic could have called time to gather himself, he certainly would have. Most of the crowd had not finished their first drink! He finally managed a hold to force Fritz to serve it out. Fritz missed a couple of shots by inches to get to 30 in the game and was able to out rally Fritz to delay the inevitable. Another rally that saw a Fritz winner give the advantage to Fritz and a backhand cross court winner completed the first set in his favor 6-1 in twenty one minutes.
The second set started completely differently. Kecmanovic started with an easy hold and made Fritz work a bit to hold his serve. Both men were able to hold through 3-3. Kecmanovic got a lot of appreciation from the crowd for running down a Fritz drop shot and even managed a smile during the applause even though he missed it. The Atlanta crowd, though a bit partisan for Fritz, was not slow to show appreciation for any good effort or shot. Kecmanovic was matching Fritz with power, consistency and placement with his groundstrokes. As the set wore on, it seemed evident one of them would have to elevate or drop their level to make the difference in the second set.
Serving down, but on serve, Fritz got his inspiration. He hit a tweener off a Kecmanovic lob that fired the crowd up and him as well. He used the momentum to get the first two points of the 4-4 Kecmanovic service game, but Kecmanovic kept hitting big with winners and forced Fritz errors to keep the set on serve. Fritz would have to hold to keep the set going, stepping to the line at 4-5. It was no problem for Fritz, holding easily at love for 5-5. A quick Kecmanovic hold and Fritz had to do it again to get to a tiebreaker. His serves were well placed, either putting Kecmanovic off balance, aces, or service winners and he was able to get to the breaker at 6-6.
A mini break on the first point by Fritz put him in charge early. Kecmanovic seemed a little frustrated, as he was unable to get backhands into play or was wrong footed. It seemed Kecmanovic was down 6-0 in the breaker before Fritz could blink. Fritz went big with a 141 mph first serve that missed. Kecmanovic rallied with a down the line backhand winner to get on the scoreboard. A successful challenge of a let cord first serve forced Kecmanovic to hit a second serve. He made it, but was behind in the ensuing rally and Fritz closed the match 6-1, 7-6 (1).
About the match Fritz said, “I knew this was going to be a really tough match. I played pretty clean. I’m doing all the right things and it’s showing.”
He will face his friend Cameron Norrie in the semifinals on Saturday. “It’s going to be a really tough match.”
RESULTS – JULY 26, 2019
Singles – Quarterfinals
 T. Fritz (USA) d M. Kecmanovic (SRB) 61 76(1)
 A. de Minaur (AUS) d B. Tomic (AUS) 62 30 Retired
R. Opelka (USA) d D. Evans (GBR) 76(3) 75
C. Norrie (GBR) d A. Popyrin (AUS) 75 64
Doubles – Quarterfinals
 B. Bryan (USA) / M. Bryan (USA) d J. Erlich (ISR) / D. Sharan (IND) 64 67(4) 10-7
ORDER OF PLAY – SATURDAY, JULY 27, 2019
STADIUM COURT start 12:00 noon
J. Sock (USA) / J. Withrow (USA) vs  D. Inglot (GBR) / A. Krajicek (USA)
Not Before 3:00 pm
R. Opelka (USA) vs  A. de Minaur (AUS)
Not Before 7:00 pm
C. Norrie (GBR) vs  T. Fritz (USA)
 B. Bryan (USA) / M. Bryan (USA) vs  R. Albot (MDA) / A. Sitak (NZL)