Friday, June 13, 2014

USA Midseason Awards Part 2: ATP

Sam Querrey at the 2012 US Open
Querrey at the 2012 US Open
To see the USA women's half-year awards, see the first post of this blog.

And then there's the men.

Historically, US men's tennis has never been as strong as US women's tennis. While US men still have double the number of majors won in the open era of any other country (51 to Sweden's 25), US women have more than the next 5 countries combined (77 to 72 for Germany/Australia/Belgium/Yugoslavia/Russia). US men have undergone lulls historically whereas there's always been multiple US women at or near the top of the game.

But no lull has been as significant or long-lasting as the one US men are currently in, and it's absolutely unclear when (or if) one of our guys will get back to the pinnacle of the sport. One player in the top 60. One major quarterfinal among all active players. A brief period during which NO Americans were in the Top 20.

Yeah, it's a little bleak.

This, however, trifles me not. For I am a supporter of US men's tennis and will be even if we fall to the level of the Swedes (who all of a sudden have a bright young talent thanks - as the USA is to thank for much of its success over the years - to immigration). And things are actually looking up a bit despite the recent retirements/denouments of several excellent careers (including that of our last major winner, Andrew Roddick).

And so I'll get to what you've all been waiting for: the ATP edition of the On the Rise Blog USA Midseason Awards!

Top 10 half-years
1. Steve Johnson - sure, it's been primarily on the challenger level, but WOW has Stevie J. impressed this year. Starting in December at the #USTAAOWCPO in Atlanta, Johnson has made it clear that he has come to play. Challenger wins at Dallas & Le Gosier; finals at Irving & Bordeaux; his first career tour-level semi and 2nd career QF (both as a qualifier). And knocking on the door of the Top 50 with hard courts coming up and little to defend through January - exciting times for the Trojan.

2. John Isner - Won the US's only main-tour-level title. Tied his career-high ranking at #9. Put a scare into Djokovic in the Indian Wells semis and got to the Round of 16 at Roland Garros. Honestly, can't complain about the Bulldog this year, even if there were some tough losses along the way.

3. Donald Young - He's the #3 American in the Race to London and the only US man to reach the 3R of both of the first two majors of the year. Yes he underperformed in Davis Cup and has some truly inexplicable losses on his resume, but a seemingly new commitment to the sport and perhaps some off-court work have given us something to hope for. Plus he gave us "Son of a biscuit!"

4. Chase Buchanan - The Buckeye has been grinding in 2014. He's played challengers in 11 countries, and after a rough start 
seemingly has found his groove, reaching his first challenger final, breaking into the Top 200 and making it into the Wimbledon qualies. I'm excited to see how he does on his first-career match on grass.

5. #jacksock - He's my pick to "make it." It may never happen. But the pure potential he has is so enticing. Explosive power, athleticism, and great hands. And pretty clear self-belief. His results have been ... okay. He's been the butt of jokes regarding his propensity to receive (and then fail to deliver on) wild cards. And he really doesn't have any signature 2014 wins (beating Tommy Haas doesn't count for much this year). But his 3 QFs this year and #4-American spot in the Race to London mean he's comfortably among the top 5 performers this year.

6. Bradley Klahn - By all rights, Bradley should be much higher on this list. Back-to-back challenger titles on the heels of a title/final/semifinal challenger finish at the end of 2013 gave us thoughts of the Cardinal bursting into the Top 40. But then came the first-round losses at Delray Beach, Indian Wells, and Miami, followed by a complete absence during the clay season and additional first-round losses at Roland Garros and the Prostejov challenger and his stock has plummeted. Hopefully he's well and rested for the coming summer, where he has a passel of points to defend.

7. Daniel Kosakowski - Started the year at #591, currently at #276 (and #159 in the Race to London). Has a Futures title and 2 challenger semis. The top-ranked one-hander in the USA. 

8. Jason Jung - Got a good deal of attention with the Grantland article in which he costarred with fellow Wolverine Evan King.  The irony is that he's close to moving on from the Futures into the challengers. He reached a career high of #288 last month. Plus he writes a nice blog about his travels and travails

9. Mitchell Krueger - Dude started the year at #477 and is up to #356. And it's been particularly good recently for the Texan youngster: 15-4 in his last four tournaments.

10. Kevin King - The Yellowjacket is very quietly buzzing up the ranks, starting the year at #507 and currently at #335. Almost as impressive as his back-to-back Futures titles in Mexico was his supremely well-fought loss to Austin Krajicek in the 1st round of Rimouski Challenger: 46 64 67(11).

Honorable mention: Noah Rubin & Jared Donaldson - these two young men started the year in the 700s, now at #543 & #546 respectively. A lot of solid American teens in the pipeline but these are the two with the best results of 2014.

5 disappointing half-years 
1. Ryan Harrison - Oh, Harry.

2. Sam Querrey - This is a tough one, since Sam did get to the 3rd Round of Melbourne and the semis of Houston, but yeah. Feel free to jump ahead to the "crushing losses" section on this one.

3. Rhyne Williams - He actually started out okay but recently the losses have been fast, furious, and funless. Also he skipped the Roland Garros qualies which ... what? (But don't worry, Rhyne fans, this blogger has faith!)

4. Bjorn Fratangelo - A guy inside the Top 300 last fall now outside the Top 400.  Even with his Futures win last month, Bjorn is still outside the Top 500 in the Race to London. European clay didn't prove too friendly to the one-time Roland Garros Junior champ. 

5. Bobby Reynolds - Nothing really has gone right in 2014 for this former Top 75 player. Hopefully the upcoming Kastles season (with new teammate Sloane Stephens) will help him sort things out.

5 most exciting wins
1. Steve Johnson d. Laurent Lokoli, 1R Roland Garros. 46 67(7) 76(3) 63 63. When the best win of the year is against a *qualifying* wildcard, you know it hasn't been the most epic of seasons. But that was the most epic of matches, spanning two days, a rabid French crowd, overcoming incredible deficits and match points, and just gutting it out. Bravo, Stevie. Bravo.

3. Ryan Harrison d. & Bemelmans (saved 6 MP), FRQ Houston. 16 75 76(3) It's even more ridiculous when the second-best win of the year comes in the qualies of a 250 but I gotta give it up to Harry here.  Coming on the heels of two tough wins the day before, it was a truly gutty effort from a guy who hasn't had too much to celebrate this year. So let's celebrate! Woo! (Harry went on to lose his 1R match vs Donald Young 60 61.)

2. Donald Young d. Andreas Seppi, 2R Australian Open. 64 26 63 46 75. After taking out Haase in the first round, Young got one of the better seeds. It was an uninspired performance from the Italian but a great accomplishment from the American and the first sign that DY was ready to make a real push this year. (He got crushed in the next round by Nishikori though.)

4. John Isner, Auckland. Basically just winning a tournament, even a 250, is a big deal for an American not on US soil these days. And the way he did it (3 3-setters followed by a 76(3) 76(7) win over Lu) was pretty awesome. Unfortunately it wrecked him for the Australian Open, and he had to retire after losing the first two sets to Klizan.

5. Michael Russell d. Peter Polansky, F Charlottesville. 75 26 76(5). Came back from 0-5 down in the 3rd.  Yes I know it was "technically" a 2013 match but (a) this blog didn't exist then and (b) it was just that exciting and (c) whatever, it's my blog!

Honorable mention: Krajicek d. Kevin King, 1R Rimouski. 64 46 76(11). Just an extremely high-quality match in which both guys were pummeling the ball. Only reason it's not higher is because an American had to lose.

5 most crushing losses 
1. Sam Querrey, Davis Cup.

2. Sam Querrey l. Alex Bogomolov, Jr., 1R Memphis. 62 46 67(7). The suckiness of this one is only amplified by my dislike for Bogomolov. Just overall a crap night. 

3. Ryan Harrison l. Dimitar Kutrovsky, 2R Nottingham 2. 46 62 67(7). Really, though, Harry's season is full of three-set losses to guys he knows he "should" (I hate that word) beat and it's what's made this such a tough year for us HarryHeads.

4. Rhyne Williams l. Malik Jaziri, Dallas QF. 62 46 67(6). Anyone who watched this will agree with me. Jaziri came up with some special stuff, but it was so ... dang ... close.

5. Chase Buchanan l. Peter Polansky, Dallas 1R. 63 46 67(7). That he lost this match wasn't so crushing or surprising. It was that he lost his previous match, 2R Chitre, 67(6) 76(7) 67(5) to Andre Ghem. That was part of a rough stretch for Chase that didn't turn around until his fantastic run at Karshi & Arad.

Breakout performance 
Donald Young, Roland Garros. It was the 3R match he lost in five sets to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez that got us excited - he just played beautifully - but it was his 2R thrashing of Feliciano Lopez that set the stage. He got his first two wins at RG and hopefully set himself up nicely for a terrific second half.

Most improved
Steve Johnson. I admit - I kind of had him written off last year. Didn't even include him in my Top 10 prediction for US men. And yet there he is, both kicking ass AND taking names, a tough skill to master. Impressive.

Comeback player of the half-year
Daniel Kosakowski. Just a nice all-around year from a guy who was doing well last year until injury befell him. Here's a great write-up from Tennis Nerds.

Best soap opera plot 
Jose Higueras. He was all like "dudes aren't working hard enough, it's not USTA's fault it's 100% theirs!" and I'm all like "way to throw your guys under the bus dude - have you looked in the mirror?" and then nothing really happened but I'm still a little peeved about that whole thing.

Honorable mention: Harry and his dad in Miami. Here's the video. Yikes!

Injured reserve 
Brian Baker, Mardy Fish, Tennys Sandgren, and Christian Harrison are the most noteworthy, but Smyczek & Klahn have seemingly had their own issues. And I feel like I'm missing a couple...

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