By Herman Wood
(July 30, 2021) ATLANTA – On another hot day at the Atlanta Open, the quarterfinals wrapped up on Friday. Play began at high noon with nineteen year old American Brandon Nakashima versus the veteran Australian Jordan Thompson. This was the second tournament in a row that the two players have met in the quarterfinals. In Los Cabos, Nakashima won in three tight sets. Today, the margin of victory was not much bigger, with Nakashima again advancing 7-6(5), 7-5. Nakashima’s stock is rising rapidly, as he advanced to the finals to play Cameron Norrie in that Los Cabos tournament.
The daytime temperature was 93 degrees F with a feels like of 103 F. Fans have taken to all kinds of measures trying to cope. Umbrellas were seen in the stands being employed. Old fashioned fans like those handed out for Sunday church service here in the south were being handed out at the entrance and at every vendor booth.
The second singles match of the day was an all American affair with Taylor Fritz renewing the acquaintance of Reilly Opelka. The two players are best friends. Fritz has won all of their prior meetings except for Tokyo in 2019, even though Opelka is ranked six spots higher. As would be expected with two evenly matched players at this level, the first set went to a tie break. Fritz was the first to break through in the tiebreaker, earning a mini break at 3-4 Opelka serving. A big passing shot down the line gave him a bit of room to try to serve out the tiebreaker, 6-3. A double fault took the score to 6-4, Fritz. A sitter of second serve that Opelka crushed kept him in the tiebreaker, serving to stay in the set, 5-6. A backhand pass from Fritz that just got past Opelka and inside the line secured the first set for Fritz 7-6 (5). The second set progressed much as the first set, until at 5-6 with Opelka serving, he sailed a volley long and then left open court for Fritz to place a ball behind him setting up two match points for Fritz. Opelka raised his level to hold serve and get to the tiebreaker. In the tiebreaker, Opelka kept it up, running out to a 5-1 lead. Fritz pushed back, getting three points before Opelka closed out the second set 7-6(3) to get the match even at one set apiece. The third was as close as the first two. As Fritz stepped to serve at 5-6, the points were exactly 50% for each player. Both players seemed to still be swinging freely, going for broke on early shots in the point. As the tiebreaker began, there were nearly fifty aces between the two players. It seemed the match would come down to see which player would would make the first mistake. Fritz got the first chance, serving at 4-2 on the change of ends. He earned another point to have an opportunity to serve at 5-2. Opelka was able to successfully hold both his service points but Fritz had the opportunity to serve it out, 5-4. An Opelka error gave Fritz a match point, 6-4. That was all he needed. Fritz advances to the semifinals 7-6(5), 6-7(3), 7-6(4).
Fritz spoke about the match, “I think it was just kind of luck to win the big points. It just comes down to a couple points. Reilly competed very hard.” Asked if the two friends talked about their matches, “We don’t really share our thoughts on the matches. We’re going to play each other a bunch more times. We’re best friends”
In the third quarterfinal, Cameron Norrie played Emil Ruusuvuori for the second time in their career, with Norrie the better in the European Open in 2020. Though Norrie is the higher seed, it seemed Ruusuvuori had learned from the prior match. He stayed right with Norrie, taking the set to a tiebreak. In the tiebreaker, he ran out to a big lead before closing out the set, only allowing Norrie one point, 7-6 (1). He carried the momentum into the second set, earning an early break. Norrie managed to take it back, only to get broken at love to give Ruusuvuori a 4-2 lead in the second set. Ruusuvuori held his serve easily, missing very little, keeping pressure on Norrie to hold his serve, down 5-2, to stay in the match. Despite Ruusuvuori earning two points, Norrie held without much trouble. Ruusuvuori took the match onto his racquet and finished it up with a service winner that spun Norrie’s racquet in his hand. Norrie advances 7-6 (1), 6-3. When asked if he had taken anything from their past meeting, Ruusuvuori said “The things I was doing were working well. I just kept doing them. First serve is very important in these conditions.”
In the night session, qualifier Christopher O’Connell took on local favorite John Isner. The match was delayed just at the appointed start time with lightning in the area. The stadium and grounds were all cleared for everyone’s safety. Fortunately the parking deck adjacent to the grounds provided safe shelter and there was no rain. After almost an hour delay, the match began with O’Connell serving. The match proceeded on serve through three games all. The crowd was solidly behind the favorite, though O’Connell brought the crowd to its feet in appreciation for running down two consecutive Isner overheads, hitting a winning passing shot to stay ahead 4-3. Players were able to continue to hold serve until Isner was serving at 4-5, up 30-15, when play was halted due to rain. Both players were obviously concerned about the slickness of the court. Chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani dutifully climbed down and agreed play should be halted. The rain finally stopped just before 11 PM and the crew made short work of drying. Isner picked right up where he left off, finishing off the hold of his service game. O’Connell and Isner were both able to hold to get to a first set tiebreak. Isner got a mini break immediately on the first point of the tiebreaker and another on O’Connell’s next turn. O’Connell guessed properly on Isner’s next pair of serves and calmly got the breaks back and served his way to 5-4, Isner to serve. A service winner brought him even to 5-5. O’Connell guessed correctly on a serve down the T but was only able to pop it up for a short lob that Isner bounced into the parking lot. O’Connell stepped to the line down 5-6 and missed his first serve. Isner went after the second serve, but O’Connell kept it in play only to miss an easy forehand to hand Isner the first set 7-6 (5)
In the second set, with O’Connell serving at 3-4, he left some second serves where Isner could go after them with authority. Isner managed to get a break point, but missed a forehand return into the net. O’Connell got his first serve back on track with an ace to get the ad and then managed to hold with another strong first serve Isner could only pop up for O’Connell to put away taking the second set to 4-4. Isner held easily with aces and service winners to put the pressure on O’Connell’s serve to stay in the match, which he handled with strong serving, only allowing Isner to get into a couple of points, bringing the match to 5-5. He dropped only one point to again pressure O’Connell’s service game, serving at 5-6, again to stay in the match. Isner was able to make some returns in play, but O’Connell chose his shots very well and executed perfectly. At 6-6, the set went to a tiebreaker. O’Connell seemed to be either getting the measure of the Isner serve or was guessing very well as to where Isner would serve. He earned a mini break on each of Isner’s service turns. Isner stepped to serve down 2-5 in the tiebreaker needing at least one of his service points to stay in the second set. He was able to earn one, but an O’Connell return of a second serve put O’Connell at set point 6-3 in the tiebreaker. Isner sailed a forehand and at 12:25 AM the match was tied at one set apiece.
As the final set began, stalwart fans were seen yawning. One had to imagine the match was well past the younger ball persons bedtime. The match continued much as the first two sets until Isner finally broke through O’Connell’s serve to go up 4-3. Isner consolidated the break quickly to bring the set to 5-3 forcing O’Connell to hold. Isner went after service returns when given the opportunity, but O’Connell was up to the challenge, forcing Isner to have to serve it out, serving 5-4. O’Connell fought off a body serve on the first point, making Isner play the point. He was rewarded with an error by Isner, 0-15. Ace number 28 evened the score 15 all. Another good guess and great return forced an Isner error, 15-30. A service winner that overpowered O’Conell again evened the score, but at 30 all. O’Connell again got the Isner serve back, forcing a rally. Isner approached and was able to finish the point with a volley giving him a match point. O’Connell’s return made for a difficult volley that Isner missed. An Isner ace serving at deuce gave him another match point. A final ace out wide gave Isner the match 7-6 (5), 6-7 (3), 6-4 and a trip to the semifinals later in the day. The match finished at 1:10 AM.
In the semifinals, Brandon Nakashima will play Emil Ruusuvuori in the day session. The night session will feature Taylor Fritz against John Isner. When asked about Isner, Fritz said, “If I’m playing John, Reilly is pretty much the best practice match I can have beforehand.”
ORDER OF PLAY – SATURDAY, JULY 31, 2021
STADIUM COURT start 12:00 noon
M. Arevalo (ESA) / M. Reyes-Varela (MEX) vs R. Opelka (USA) / J. Sinner (ITA)
Not Before 3:00 pm
[SE] B. Nakashima (USA) vs  C. Norrie (GBR) or E. Ruusuvuori (FIN)
Not Before 7:00 pm
 T. Fritz (USA) vs  J. Isner (USA) or [Q] C. O’Connell (AUS)
A. Popyrin (AUS) / M. Reid (AUS) vs [WC] N. Kyrgios (AUS) / J. Sock (USA) or S. Johnson (USA) / J. Thompson (AUS)