Sunday, June 22, 2014

The official "On the Rise (a tennis blog)" Wimbledon 2014 ATP preview post!

See part 1 of this Wimbledon preview featuring the American women.

Quick refresher: the draw rating scale is Love (easiest) to 6 (toughest); I provide what I see as best case & more likely scenarios (i.e., my prediction) for each player; and I give FUN FACTS and my prediction of how many matches each sex will win.

Part 2: Dudeland

1. John Isner (9)
Rank: 11
First-round opponent: Handsome Dan Smethurst (GBR)
Best result: 2R (2010, 2011, 2013)
Draw rating: 2

Draw analysis: I had the pleasure of watching Smethurst up close last fall in Champaign, indoors. I was surprised to see he was ranked as low as he was (485) given his big game. Well he reached the semis and since then he's risen to a new career high ranking (240 - he's now at 243) and will likely go higher. He's got an aggressive game but it seems pretty clear that grass isn't his natural milieu - he's 0-5 in his pro career at all levels. (He did rout Dimitrov on the stuff as a junior though!) It's not John's either but one would think he gets through in 3-4 sets with 2-3 tiebreaks.

John's second round opponent, likely Nieminen, is 0-4 against the 'merican, and grass is his worst surface. The Finn does have a grass win, however, over Isner's potential third-round opponent, Feliciano Lopez. If Feli gets there - he's played a lot of tennis the last two weeks and could face a tough second round match vs. Falla. Call me crazy but I think Isner can get through to the 4th round, where he'd have a great chance against Wawrinka/Tursunov/Istomin/Lu. Could this really be Isner's second career QF? Ummmmm maybe.

Best case scenario: Yep, that QF spot looms large. More likely scenario: John still has his best Wimbledon ever, defends his seed, but runs out of juice in the 4th Round.

Fun fact: On day 2 of Isner's three-day epic vs Mahut in 2010, USA played and won its must-win match vs ALG to advance to the knock-out round of World Cup, where they summarily lost to GHA.

2. Steve Johnson
Rank: 68
First-round opponent: Roberto Bautista Agut (27/ESP)
Best result: 1R (2013)
Draw rating: 5

Draw analysis: This match between the two top candidates for Most Improved Player is a rough one for Stevie. He's already lost twice to the Spaniard in back-to-back first round matches in Indian Wells and Miami, and I just think RBA is the more complete player right now. Note crap like this:

Any advantage StevieJ might have with grass familiarity was erased as RBA managed to win his first tour title on the dang surface.  Were Steve to pull the big upset, he'd have a nice opportunity in Round 2 vs Kamke/Hernych. But then Murray would come up in the 3rd. (I'd actually be very worried about RBA were I a Backer of the Brits.)

Best case scenario: RBA is hungover from his celebrations and Steve's college greatness kicks in and he steals the first match, and gets his time on Centre vs Murray.  More likely scenario: A disappointing 1st round exit sends Steve back to the States, ready for a monster summer.

Fun fact: Steve Johnson's mom is a math professor. That basically rocks.

3. Donald Young
Rank: 69
First-round opponent: Benjamin Becker (GER)
Best result: 1R (2008, 2011, 2012)
Draw rating: 3

Draw analysis: You will first notice that Donald Young has never was a match at The Wimbledons, including qualies. In fact, one of the nadirs of his many-nadired career came in the first round of qualies last year when he failed to win a set off Agustin Velotti, the only time the Argentine has won so much as 6 games in a match on grass.  So that right there is a problem. Then again, Young was thought to be hapless on clay and then he won two matches and nearly a third at Roland Garros. And he did so be being more aggressive, which should pay off on grass. (Also he did snag a Junior Wimbledon championship waaaaaayyyyy back in the olden days of 2007.)

As for Becker - he likes the grass. Two of his three career finals have come at s-Hertogenbosch including this week's near miss vs RBA and his lone title in 2009. He's actually played way more ATP Tour & Challengers matches on grass than he has on clay (64-40) and he has 42 grass wins vs 8 on clay. But he's never gotten to the 3rd Round at Wimbledon or any major other than the fateful End of Agassi 2006 US Open. And he's NEVER won a fifth set. Bottom line - the longer the match goes, the better for Young. After that it's Groth/Dolgopolov (neither of whom Donald has played) then Dimitrov/Thiem.

Best case scenario: The new-new Donald Young comes out aggressive and firing, and reaches his third consecutive 3rd Round of a major. More likely scenario: Becker proves just a bit more savvy on the green, overcomes Donald in the 1st Round.

Fun fact: Young is one of 9 former Wimbledon Junior titlists in the singles draw. The others are Federer, Jürgen Melzer, Mahut, Monfils, Chardy, Dimitrov, Andrey Kuznetsov, and Luke Saville.

4. Bradley Klahn
Rank: 73
First-round opponent: Sam Querrey (USA)
Best result: 1QR (2013)
Draw rating: 4

Draw analysis: Bradley seems to have a bit of the Icarus in him these days. He did so well in late-season 2013 and early-season 2014 challengers and was poised to enter the Top 50. But his results at the ATP Tour level this year have been woeful and he missed several weeks for an undisclosed reason. Moreover his career grass record is 0-5 between qualies, main draws, and challengers. And now he'll have to face a confident Sam Querrey. And even if he does sneak a win, next would be Tsonga or Melzer. I'm guessing Klahn will be back in the US pretty dern quick getting ready to defend his Winnetka Challenger finalist points.

Best case scenario: Brad gets a flat Sammy and wins his Wimbledon debut. More likely scenario: 1st Round and Homeward Bound.

Fun fact: By far the best way to say Klahn is like Capt. Kirk says KAHN! in Star Trek 2. Try it out if you haven't:

5. Jack Sock
Rank: 75
First-round opponent: Pierre-Hugues Herbert (FRA)
Best result: 1QR (2013)
Draw rating: 3

Draw analysis: Another guy making his Wimbledon main draw debut, #jacksock warmed up for this major by playing oodles of matches at The Boodles.  He performed well, winning "matches" over Isner and Thiem, losing to Anderson and Janowicz. He's starting to look comfortable on the surface. PHH meanwhile has a great game for grass: he's comfortable serving & volleying and has wins this grass season over said Janowicz and then solid players Coric, Kosakowski, and Mecir in Wimbledon qualies. He's a tricky draw but I think #jacksock can win in PHH's main draw debut.

Next would be Raonic, who has a losing record on grass, and whom #jacksock has always played tough. Then a winnable 3rd vs Garcia-Lopez/Struff/Kubot or a rematch from RG vs Lajovic.  4th round would be Nishikori/Kohlschreiber. I have said before that I think the sky's the limit for #jacksock. Why not start this year at this wacky little tournament we like to call Wimbledon?

Best case scenario: #jacksock gets his breakthrough and announces his arrival with a 4th round appearance. More likely scenario: #jacksock gets bounced by a just-better-enough Milos Raonic in the 2nd round.

Fun fact: #jacksock is taller than me. Here's proof:

6. Sam Querrey
Rank: 77
First-round opponent: Bradley Klahn (USA)
Best result: 4R (2010)
Draw rating: 3

Draw analysis: See Klahn, above. Assuming he wins that, he could be competitive vs Melzer (against whom Sam has a 2-1 H2H) or even Tsonga (in poor current form).  Then would come Youzhny/Ward/Wang/A-Gon.  Then Djokovic.

Best case scenario: A truly motivated Querrey shows up and makes that 4th round Djokovic match, he returns to the Top 50 and all of a sudden Sam is the cat's meow. More likely scenario: Sam is 2 and done - a 2nd round loss to Jo or Jürgen.

Fun fact: All the guys who beat Sam in Junior Grand Slams are currently in the Top 100 (Murray, Cilic, Leonardo Mayer & Lukas Lacko). Only one guy he beat at a Junior Slam is currently anywhere near the Top 100 (Cilic, 2004 US Open, 2nd Round, in a BUSTER).

7. Michael Russell
Rank: 94
First-round opponent: Julian Reister (GER)
Best result: 2R (2010, 2012)
Draw rating: 3

Draw analysis: Julian Reister has the ability to win a set without dropping a point. He also has the ability not to capitalize on that by, say, winning a tour-level match in the past 12 months. His last victory at this level was, in fact, over Lukas Rosol (DO YOU?!) at our very own Wimbledon. On grass this year, he got a retirement out of Philipp Petzschner and then lost 1 & 1 to Joao Sousa and that's it. So it's very tempting to pick Iron Mike here. Problem is, Iron Mike hasn't been so (irony alert!) Iron-y recently.  Since making the semis in Memphis he's been struggling to win sets and had to retire down 0-3 to Cox at Eastbourne.  This one is a real possible suckfest (warning: NSFW).

My guarantee* to you: the winner will lose the next round to Istomin or Tursunov.

Best case scenario: Russell's body holds up better than Reister's mind. A nice payday for the Texan. More likely scenario: Reister gets his third career Wimbledon win. Mike exits 1st round at his last(?) Wimbledon.

Fun fact: In case you missed it last year, this is a really good read from Miguel Morales (@miguelreymorles) about the finances of a mid-level tennis player like Mike. I learned a lot.

8. Denis Kudla
Rank: 135
First-round opponent: Marsel Ilhan (TUR)
Best result: 2R (2013)
Draw rating: 4

Draw analysis: This is a nice opportunity against a fellow qualifier. Ilhan has had a decent year, including winning the Kazan Challenger in March, but he has yet to win a match on the tour level in 2014. Also Denis doesn't have to worry being tired after staying up to watch USA/POR tonight since his first match is Tuesday.  A win vs. Ilhan would mean Nishikori/De Schepper which probably means Nishikori which probably means no more Wimbledon for Denis. Even a De Schepper match would be tough. 3rd Round is Kohlschreiber but I don't see that happening.

Best case scenario: USA beats POR, Denis beats Ilhan in straight sets, and puts on a valiant display vs Kei but goes down in 5. More likely scenario: Still think Denis will beat Ilhan, but Kei is likely to end up putting a beatdown on the guy. Pretty rough draw there.

Fun fact: Denis is 9-2 at Wimbledon + Roehampton, 15-15 on grass everywhere else.

9. Ryan Harrison
Rank: 68
First-round opponent: Grigor Dimitrov (11/BUL)
Best result: 2R (2011, 2012)
Draw rating: 6

Draw analysis: I just want to take a moment to congratulate Harry on an excellent week of qualifying - single and doubles! - particularly coming back from a set & a break down to talented Taro Daniel in the first round and not dropping a set after that. He helped rescue an otherwise dismal European trip and gave us hope that perhaps his new partnership with Jan-Michael Gambill is exactly what he needs. I remain hopeful that Harry can address his deficiencies and get back to that Top 50. He's a really appealing player when on.

Best case scenario: What? I didn't analyze his 2014 draw? How odd. More likely scenario: Honestly, I meant to. Must've just run out of time.

Fun fact: I just can't.

10. Alex Kuznetsov
Rank: 149
First-round opponent: Fabio Fognini (16/ITA)
Best result: 1R (2013)
Draw rating: 3

Draw analysis: It was a surprise for me to see Alex qualify, even though he did so last year. Grass doesn't seem to suit his game as much as some other guys but here we are. And let's face it: FabFogs is beatable. He lost all four of his exo matches at The Boodles and generally hasn't been at his best at Wimbledon (except in 2010 when he beat the beatable Verdasco & Russell on his way to losing to Benneteau in the 3rd Round. A win over FabFogs would give Alex a great opportunity vs @GoldenSetTim or Gabashvili. Then would likely come Anderson.

Best case scenario: The bad version of Fabio turns up and Alex wins by default, and then golden sets @GoldenSetTim. More likely scenario: Fognini plays to his potential and hands Alex a 1st round exit.

Fun fact: The last main draw ATP match Kuznetsov won off US soil was in 2007 - at Queen's Club!


Predicted total number of matches won: 6

Basically, too much has to go right for the USA to approach the 9 wins we got at Roland Garros. But I think we can do better than last year's 5 wins. Unfortunately I can already hear the chatter: another horrible major for US men. US men suck. Blah blah blah. It's easy for me to say from my comfy chair but I think a year from now we will be seeing significantly better draws and results. In fact, I guarantee** double-digit wins for the men at Wimbledon 2015.

*Not actually a guarantee.
**Definitely not an actual guarantee.

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