Sunday, June 22, 2014

New USA Career-High Rankings, June 23, 2014

Each week I will endeavor to bring you a list of USAmerican players who have reached a new career-high ranking. This list is not exhaustive but will cover most players in the Top 1000. 

New WTA Career-High Rankings - June 23, 2014 (previous high & date achieved in parentheses)
Madison Keys -- 30 (36 - 10/14/2013)
CoCo Vandeweghe -- 51 (69 - 7/16/2012)
Victoria Duval -- 114 (115 - 5/26/2014)
Taylor Townsend -- 147 (148 - 6/16/2014)
Nicole Gibbs -- 150 (152 - 6/16/2014)
Louisa Chirico -- 268 (302 - 2/3/2014)

Career performances by Keys and Vandeweghe in Eastbourne and s-Hertogenbosch, respectively, are rewarded by big ranking jumps. Chirico was similarly rewarded for her $25K win a week ago in Italy, and will move up again after Wimbledon thanks to her $25K final this week.  Duval and Gibbs were playing Wimbledon qualies (which won't show up until after the full fortnight is completed). They and Townsend moved up because a couple of others dropped down.  Unusual not to see any* lower-ranked women with new CHRs but that's mostly because of a pause in USTA Pro Circuit events, which started to be rectified this week (in which we saw four Bethany Beach $10K semifinalists from the USA) and will show up in the post-Wimbledon rankings.

New ATP Career-High Rankings - June 23, 2014 (previous high & date achieved in parentheses)
Mitchell Krueger -- 330 (349 - 6/16/2014)
Evan King -- 432 (436 - 6/16/2014)
Noah Rubin -- 539 (542 - 6/16/2014)
Devin McCarthy -- 696 (738 6/16/2014)
Peter Kobelt -- 873 (1126 6/16/2014)

Conversely, there are no US men above 300 who achieved career highs. Three guys who did, though, had nice big jumps thanks to their work last week in Futures events in Israel (Kobelt & McCarthy) and Italy (Krueger). Kobelt's jump comes a week after his jump from #1947 - so he's shaved over 1,000 spots off his ranking and will go higher after Wimbledon. Krueger, meanwhile, has set a new CHR each of the last four rankings, improving from #405. Rubin has done the same, improving from #591.

As mentioned, the next rankings for both men & women will come after Wimbledon (as well as the Winnetka Challenger and quite a few ITFs) so we will likely see a quite a few names on the list.

*There may be some among women below ~750 whom I don't track. If you know of any, please share!

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.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

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

This grass. These courts. This ... Wimbledon! I have a lot to cover, so I'm going to dispense with the purple prose introduction and get right down to it.

This here is my first ever Preview, for any tournament. Today and tomorrow I will rate the draws of all 23* USAmericans on a scale of Love (easiest) to 6 (toughest), and provide what I see as best case scenarios for each (understanding that with the exception of Serena, the worst case scenario would be a first-round loss) as well as what I think is the more likely scenario (that is, my prediction).  Also there are fun facts for each! "Fun."

Finally, I will venture guesses at the total number of matches I think the each sex will win. Please come back after I fail miserably at my guesses to mock me! It's what I'm here for.

Okay. Here we go:

The Women of the United States of America

1. Serena Williams (1)
Rank: 1
First-round opponent: Anna Tatishvili (USA)
Best result: Champion (2002, 2003, 2009, 2010, 2012)
Draw rating: 1

Draw analysis: Serena Williams won't be losing to Anna Tatishvili. After that, everything is up to Serena. I feel like she's the heavy favorite to win this tournament. She's already had her "shock" loss at a major, and given her early exit last year I see her as being focused and motivated from ball one. Still, her health will likely be a concern for the rest of her career, and hell, Sharapova has to win ONE more time before one of them retires, right? Right? They could meet in the Quarters.

I predict her first tough match will be in the Round of 16 vs Petkovic - that could be a fun one actually.  Should she reach the semis, I'm pretty sure everyone would want to see an Ivanovic rematch. Except maybe Ivanovic's ever-nervous fans, of course.

Best case scenario: Hoisting her SIXTH Venus Rosewater Dish (her 18th major overall) and then dancing at the Champions Ball with Grigor Dimitrov.  More likely scenario: she dances with Rafa, Roger, Andy, or Novak.

Fun fact: Here's the list of Serena's conquerors at Wimbledon: Venus, Justine, Sharapova, Capriati, Bartoli, Lisicki, Virginia Ruano Pascual (first appearance), and .... Jill Craybas!

2. Sloane Stephens (18)
Rank: #18
First-round opponent: Maria Kirilenko (RUS)
Best result: QF (2013)
Draw rating: 2

Draw analysis: It's bound to come crashing down at some point - Sloane's run of six consecutive major 4th round appearances. I just don't think it will happen this month? A mentally fragile enigma who has yet to put it all together, my favorite player has frankly lucked out a bit with her draws at majors. Here, with Kirilenko's injuries, and Konta & Peng eminently beatable, most will pencil her into the 3rd round. There she could end up the lower seed vs. Pennetta, but my hunch is that she runs into Lauren Davis. Davis hits a nice ball, and took pre-Top 20 Sloane to 7-5 in the 3rd in Hobart last year. But I'd still call call Sloane the favorite there. At which point I see her losing to Kvitova or Venus. Or Li or Woz in the quarters.

Still, fair warning: it's absolutely possible than an in-form and inspired MaKiri plays like it's 2013 and sends Our Sloane back to the USA, and out of the top 20 with a LOT to think about.

Best case scenario: We have a repeat of the insanity of last year, where top players go down to nobodies and Sloane beats Kirilenko/Konta/Cepelova/Babos/Doi to reach the final and lose to Serena. More likely scenario: another 4th round for Slam Stephens.

Fun fact: Stephens and Babos won the 2010 Junior Wimbledon doubles title over Elina Svitolina & Irina Khromacheva!

3. Venus Williams (30)
Rank: #30
First-round opponent: Venus Williams Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor (ESP)
Best result: Champion (2000, 2001, 2005, 2007, 2008)
Draw rating: 3

Draw analysis: The newly minted 34-year-old Venus may not see success at another major but then again, she may. She has defied expectations of her supporters and her detractors, for better and for worse, for two decades now. And honestly her draw is pretty fair. MTTF has had a horrid year with the exception of a win over Kerber in Indian Wells OH AND A TITLE in Marrakech (proving conclusively that winning a title is not the mark by which we should be measuring players). Then Nara or Friedsam. Then a blockbuster vs. Kvitova who has a questionable hammy and a more questionable brain.  It stays tough after that (Stephens/Pennetta ... Li/Wozniacki) but Peak Venus can win those. So many great champions seem to manage that one last send-off - Martina at Wimbledon 1990; Pete at the 2002 US Open. Can Venus have hers six years after her last major victory?

I really don't think so :(

Best case scenario: Wins it all. Continues her career for another 5 years and loves every second of it. More likely scenario: Falls to P3tra in 3 in a 3rd round EPIC.

Fun fact: Venus' first-round opponent wasn't born the first time Williams was featured in Sports Illustrated. (Best line: "Serena is also a promising player.")

4. Alison Riske
Rank: #44
First-round opponent: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (26/RUS)
Best result: 3R (2013)
Draw rating: 5

Draw Analysis: Alison's run as the #4-ranked USAmerican proved short-lived as she ran into twin buzzsaws of bad draws and a Madison Keys premier title.  It's tough to get a read on her grass-court form: she lost early in tight matches vs. Sloane Stephens and Angelique Kerber. It's easy to see her going out to Pavs, who took out Aga in the first round this week. Then again, Pavs has not had great success at Wimbly, and Allie took care of her easily in Hobart in January.  But then likely comes Giorgi. Then Sharapova. Then possibly Kerber again. Then Serena.

Best case scenario: Beats Pavs, has Bacsinszky take out Sharapova, beats Bacsinszky, somehow advances to the quarters and proves herself as a true Grass Master. More likely scenario: 3rd round.

Fun fact: This time last year, Riske went into Wimbledon ranked #126 - and that was AFTER her amazing run through the qualies into the Birmingham semis!

5. Madison Keys
Rank: #47
First-round opponent: Monica Puig (PUR)
Best result: 3R (2013)
Draw rating: 3

Draw analysis: Maddy was primed to win her first title last month in Strasbourg when she was unceremoniously eliminated by ol' Monica Puig, against whom Keys is now 0-2. "But that was clay," you say. Yes but Pica got to the 4th round of Wimbledon last year (though against less-than-world-beating competition). More importantly, it's easy to see Madison a bit emotionally spent after her first-ever final AND title today. After Puig would be Koukalova/Townsend, then Jankovic/Kanepi or Shvedova/Kr. Pliskova in one of the juicier corners of the draw, particularly if you like your ladies Eastern European. Then could come Ivanovic/Lisicki/Ka. Pliskova. One more year and I make Keys the favorite in all those matches. But I'm still not convinced she's ready to take that leap at a major.

Best case scenario: When playing her best and really letting it flow, like this week in Eastbourne, Madison is breathtaking. Davenport comes to mind, but a better mover at her age.  With the confidence she must have gained from Eastbourne, and a magical fortnight serving, she could reach the semis. More likely scenario: 4th round.

Fun fact: I desperately am hoping for a Keys/Townsend 2nd round match so that (A) one of them can get to the third round and (B) we get a Battle of Illinois that could force people in my state pay attention to tennis!

6. Christina McHale
Rank: #49
First-round opponent: Chanelle Scheepers (RSA)
Best result: 3R (2012)
Draw rating: 5

Draw analysis: Christina (or "Tini" as I for no reason refer to her) should be the big favorite in the first round, as Scheepers' grass warmups have consisted of losing first round at a clay ITF event after losing first round at Roland Garros. But then comes Serena and <Boys2Men>We've come to the end of the road</Boys2Men>. Just can't see it. Not this year.

Best case scenario: A comfortable win over Scheepers and a distracted, unmotivated, unusually clumsy Serena. Still loses in straight sets.  More likely scenario: Actually that's pretty likely. 2nd round.

Fun fact: Wimbledon was where McHale was playing when she first came down with symptoms of Mono in 2012. I mean, it was at the Olympics, but still the site was Wimbledon.

7. Varvara Lepchenko
Rank: #57
First-round opponent: Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL)
Best result: 3R (2012)
Draw rating: 4

Draw analysis: Man, is there any more unpredictable player in the WTA than @Varunchik1? Before he settled on his "box of chocolates" metaphor, I hear Forrest Gump was going to say "Life is like Varvara Lepchenko." True story.** Anyway, yes, there are players who can confound us far more than "Vavs" (as I for no reason refer to her) - and one of them could be Pironkova. The former Wimbledon semifinalist & quarterfinalist won Sydney this year but then lost to Watson this week in Eastbourne. Still, she has a way stronger grass-court pedigree.  P-Ronk is also 4-1 vs V-Chenk and my guess is that that margin will only increase.  If Lepchenko does get through that, it's Errani or Garcia next (hmmm) then Doi/Svitolina/Date-Krumm/Makarova (HMMMM!). Each would be an opportunity ... for both players.

Best case scenario: Upsets Tsveti, makes quick work of 2R, outlasts KDK in 3, and flames out spectacularly in the 4th round against Radwanksa (or MLDB or Kuznetsova or Kontaveit). More likely scenario: 1st Round.

Fun fact: Lepchenko (2-0) is one of 9 players who are undefeated in Fed Cup singles for the USA, having played at least two matches.  The others: Martina Navratilova (15-0), Serena Williams (10-0), Pam Shriver (5-0), Jeanne Evert (4-0), Valerie Ziegenfuss (4-0), Peaches Bartkowicz (3-0), Amy Frazier (2-0), and of course Ashley Harkleroad (2-0)!

8. Lauren Davis
Rank: #58
First-round opponent: Alisa Kleybanova (RUS)
Best result: 1R (2013)
Draw rating: 3

Draw analysis: It was awesome seeing Kleybs get back to the Top 100 following her Hodgkin's Lymphoma diagnosis and treatment. But she seems to have plateaued since then: she upset Kvitova in Stuttgart and has lost all four matches since then - in straight sets. No grass court warmup for the Russian either. A good chance for the American, who would then face Pennetta (who's seemed a bit lost since her win at Indian Wells) or Cepelova (who seems totally lost since her final at Charleston). Next would be Sloane in a popcorn match for us USAmerican tennis heads.

Best case scenario: Grass wins over Paszek, Duval, Larsson, Pliskova, Errani & Hantuchova must have this young woman full of self-belief. That gets manifested in a mystical run to the 4th round and a new career-high ranking for the Ohioan. More likely scenario: 3rd round (and a new career-high ranking).

Fun fact: Lauren's Twitter feed is definitely your number-one source for both religious inspiration and dessert recipe retweets.

9. CoCo Vandeweghe
Rank: #69
First-round opponent: Garbine Muguruza (27/ESP)
Best result: 1R (2011, 2012, 20130)
Draw rating: 2 or 5

Draw analysis: I don't honestly know what the hell to say about this. It really kind of sucks that CoCo has one of the toughest draws of any USAmerican, given her there-are-no-adjectives win this week in s'Hertogenbosch. CoCo's game has developed quite nicely ever since she got into her spat with Putintseva in Brussels last year (Poots' game has ... not so much). Oh and she changed coaches.

On grass last year she lost first round Birmingham to Pliskova the Lesser by the PeakATP score of 7-6 (5) 6-7 (5) 5-7 and then first round Wimbledon to Kvitova 1-6 7-5 4-6. This year she was down a bunch to Muguruza until the heavens opened and after a rain break CoCo won handily. CoCo's serve has been on point this grass season (80 aces in one tournament!) but it's tough to make that finals-to-major turnaround for a relatively green ;-) player like CoCo, not to mention beating a tough player like Muguruza twice in two weeks. But if she CAN, she'd be the favorite vs Hsieh/Smitkova and then could face a VERY interesting 3rd rounder vs Azarenka; then would come the winner of Aga's section of the draw. It's all very intriguing. But first things first: Muguruza.  The Spaniard got to the semis of Den Bosch last year and shouldn't be looked past. Especially if she serves well and CoCo doesn't.

Best case scenario: CoCo's serve continues to be the biggest weapon on grass since Roundup® and carries her to the quarters. More likely scenario: post-Netherlands hangover and a 1st round exit.

Fun fact: Last year CoCo invited one of her harshest critics to coffee but he didn't respond to her.
10. Vania King
Rank: #75
First-round opponent: Yvonne Meusburger (AUT)
Best result: 2R (2006, 2009)
Draw rating: 5

Draw analysis: Moose Burger isn't particularly successful on grass. But she's more successful than Vania! This week, oddly, both had big wins - Yvonne over Kaia Kanepi and King over Eugenie Bouchard! Tough to read too much into either of those. More important was the next round, where YM lost handily to Muguruza and VK had to retire against CoCo. The injury makes this one impossible to call. Second round would likely be Li Na and I don't think Vania's at a place in her career where she can challenge even an erratic Li on grass.

Best case scenario: 2R. More likely scenario: 1R.

Fun fact: Vania is in 18th place all-time in prize money among US women. 5th among active players  (the other four: Serena, Venus, Raymond, Huber).

11. Anna Tatishvili
Rank: #114
First-round opponent: Serena Williams (1/USA)
Best result: 2R (2011, 2012)
Draw rating: 6

Draw analysis: Shitty.

Best case scenario: The problem is, Anna is coming back from injury and has a lot of losses since becoming an American citizen and switching her nation representation. I'm hopeful she has a good rest of the summer because I don't see her having a good start to it. A set off Serena would be a massive upset. More likely scenario: no sets off Serena.

Fun fact: "Tatish-vili [clap, clap, clap-clap-clap]" lends itself to easy chanting by small groups of Georgians in Queens, New York. I have no clue what kind of reception she'll encounter there this year...

12. Victoria Duval
Rank: #115
First-round opponent: Sorana Cirstea (29/ROU)
Best result: first appearance
Draw rating: 4.5

Draw analysis: The only USAmerican to qualify for Wimbledon (over Nicole Gibbs, one of 5 US Americans to lose in the final round of qualies) has in the future a bright career and in the present a bad back. Without the injury I'd like her chances vs Sori, who had lost 7 straight WTA matches before making the 3rd round of Roland Garros, but who also beat Ivanovic in Fed Cup in the middle of all that.  This also will be Cirstea's first grass court match of the season, and Vicky's 8th. So there's a chance. But then would come Bencic or Rybarikova, then likely Halep.

Best case scenario: Vicky enters the Top 100 with authoriteh, shocking Cirstea and her second round opponent and putting a scare into Halep. More likely scenario: 1st round.

Fun fact: This will be Duval's first singles match against a Romanian player.

13. Taylor Townsend
Rank: #148
First-round opponent: Klara Koukalova (31/CZE)
Best result: first appearance
Draw rating: 5

Draw analysis: I mean I just wish Taylor had played a grass warm-up tournament instead of Jogging With Rahm. Anyway, Taylor's gonna be great on grass some day. Just not sure it will be immediately, against a good grass player. But if anyone can pull it off, it's TayTo. One thing she doesn't seem to lack is a winning attitude. A win would bring her to the aforementioned Bring-the-Illinoise showdown.

Best case scenario: 4R and even more people on my CTA bus will be talking about her. More likely scenario: 1R.

Fun fact: Taylor is fun. It's a fact.


Predicted total number of matches won: 20

Well there you have it, everyone! A whole lot of words, but no real insight or bold predictions! And there's more to come with the fellas!

*The most of any nation! #merica
**Fake story

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The evolution of an American fan of American tennis

One of the great thing about being a tennis fan is the ability to celebrate the sport on one's own terms. Everyone comes at his or her fandom from a unique perspective, but the story of how and why a particular brand of fandom developed is often an untold story.  This is my version of how, as a tennis fan, I came to be almost exclusively interested in following the careers of players representing the USA. 

Consider it my manifesto!

During this 2014 World Cup, displays of intense nationalism are numbingly commonplace. Countless of ordinaries (including me) who wouldn't know a Neymar from a Nomar still get a big rush when the country of their birth scores an elusive goal; wins a valuable three points. And plenty of world-weary sophisticates (including me) who otherwise find displays of naked patriotism to be at best cringe-worthy and at worst reifications of neocolonialist subjugation will find nothing odd about strapping on a flag and crowing about a last-second victory over a relatively poor African country.

The same can happen on a more local level, say with professional teams representing certain cities. Sure you have plenty of Miami Heat or Manchester United fans all over the world. But the chances of any one person being an absolute FANATIC about the Kansas City Royals or the ... ummm ... Brisbane Lions are greatly increased by being from or in or otherwise connected to those particular cities. Those places.

Endless columns and books can and have been written about this phenomenon; what it means about identification and otherization; whether it's good or bad or just is. I'm not about to engage in any exercises in sociology or human psychology. All I know is that I find myself an avid fan of USA tennis players and I unabashedly root for them to win WIN WINNNNNNN to an acute degree.

I root for US tennis players even when I find myself deeply disturbed by their awful off-court statements, their political affiliations, or the ugliness of their games or on-court demeanor or shenanigans. I root for them whether they are the underdogs or the favorites, whether I've even seen them play or not, whether they've disappointed me for what I swore was the last time or have yet to crush my hopes and spirit.

I was a casual fan as a youngster. I remember my mom would watch some events featuring Goolagong, Conners, Evert, and King but I wasn't obsessed by it.  In high school a friend of mine told me about this fellow teen named Andre Agassi and I remember following his scores in the papers with some enthusiasm.  Michael Chang's French Open win was a turning point (he was my favorite player for nigh on a decade). Zina Garrison's 1990 Wimbledon final run was another exiting time. The Capriati/Seles 1991 US Open semi. The early reports of the next phenom: Venus Williams. (Looking back, it's a bit embarrassing the riches we had.)

I was a pretty big fan of tennis through the early 90s in college and then even more so with the advent of the internet. It was fun to connect with other fans, however remotely, and debate dumb issues on bulletin boards.

I have had non-US faves over the years.  Particularly in the early 2000s I will admit I did enjoy supporting underdogs or players I thought were unfairly castigated (Kournikova). Then there were my players from underrepresented parts of the world: Your Paradorn Srichaphans. Your Milagros Sequeras.  Your Angelique Widjajas.  I rooted hard for them for awhile.  And I became a Momo-for-lifer following her courageous coming out.

But in my heart I was a homer. And I've just found that the more I started attending professional tennis events and closely following rankings and being able to watch clips online and engage with social media, the more it was clear: the results I cared most about, the matches I most wanted to see, and the players who were able to get me most illogically passionate were the Americans. Chanda Rubin. James Blake. Jennifer Capriati. Robby Ginepri.

Of course, the tennis establishment promotes this nation-based approach to tennis to a great extent. It's enforced by very fact that each player has that three-letter acronym or flag by their name ... that official team competitions are nearly de rigeur and all by country ... that the vast number of wildcards are given to players representing a particular country. And the media (in every country it seems) exponentially reinforces that impulse.

Historically there have been exceptions for me among US players. It's never been easy for me to root for Serena Williams (I'm often secretly happy when she loses), and for years Venus also was a tough one for me to connect with. A lot of that had to do with my utter disdain for Richard Williams. I also found Pete Sampras nearly impossible to root for after his first major victory in 1991. Not to root for US players was a luxury at one time - and their dominance came at a time when there were other choices (Seles, Agassi, Davenport) among top-tier players. Those days sure aren't coming back, and I can't imagine me being blase about any US player under 30 today challenging for a major - or minor for that matter.  US players are the underdogs today in the grand scheme of things, while Europe is the big bad bully.*  I'm probably happier with the hapless.

In any case, the older I've gotten, the more I've traveled, and the less idealistic I've become, the more at peace I've become with being a tennis nationalist.  And it's led me to interesting new corners of the tennis world: Futures events, NCAA tennis, juniors.  It's been fun - watching players slowly (or not-so-slowly) climb the rankings; connecting with other unabashed American fans of American tennis; even at times debating those who will gleefully trash the current batch of American players.  And the trip I took in April with my boyfriend to watch the US women valiantly try to beat France in Fed Cup was the apotheosis of my current fandom. That was fun.

Oh and in the final few days of majors, I still have the ability to put aside the lack of US players and root for Roger over Andy, Andy over Novak, and Novak over Rafa. I'm not a total zealot.

*For what it's worth, I absolutely love Europe the place and its cultures and people. Love. It.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

New USA Career-High Rankings - June 16, 2014

Each week I will endeavor to bring you a list of USAmerican players who have reached a new career-high ranking. This list is not exhaustive but will cover most players in the Top 1000. 

New ATP Career-High Rankings - June 16, 2014 (previous high & date achieved in parentheses)
Mitchell Krueger 349 (356 - 6/9)
Evan King 436 (437 - 5/19)
Jared Donaldson 474 (546 - 6/9)
Noah Rubin 542 (543 - 6/9)
Devin McCarthy 738 (788 - 4/7)
Peter Kobelt 1126 (1894 - 1/6)

Donaldson got his boost from the Turkey Futures a week ago, at which he won his first title; Kobalt & McCarthy got theirs from twin semis at the Israel Futures event a week ago. Kobelt will get another huge boost from his final this past week in Israel, and McCarthy will get a nice one as well from his second semi in two weeks.

New WTA Career-High Rankings - June 16, 2014 (previous high & date achieved in parentheses)
Victoria Duval 115 (126 - 5/26)
Allie Kiick 141 (142 - 6/9)
Taylor Townsend 148 (150 - 6/9)
Nicole Gibbs 152 (159 - 6/9)
Denise Muresan 434 (467 - 6/9)
Danielle Lao 446 (475 - 6/9)
Christina Makarova 593 (606 - 11/4/13)
Anamika Bhargava 670 (679 - 6/9)
Ellie Halbauer 719 (772 - 6/9)
Karina Kristina Vyrlan 772 (777 - 3/17)
Josie Kuhlman 833 (837 - 6/9)
Tornado Alicia Black 875 (885 - 6/9)

El Paso (week of June 3) was moved later in the year from last year. Sanaz Marand, playing in Europe, saw her titlist points drop off, but a few players got a nice lift from their wins there, including Muresan, who had a QF, and Lao, Makarova, and 16-year-old Halbauer, each of whom got to the second round.  Gibbs will go even higher next week thanks to her semifinal at the $25K in Nottingham, which will be added next week.**

**Correction from the ever-on-point Colette Lewis of Zoo Tennis (@zootennis) who pointed out that Nottingham was a $50K and that those points were in fact added this week. I still think Nicole will go a bit higher next week as just about everyone near her in the rankings are at Wimbledon qualies this week, and so some people won't be able to defend points the collected last year at tour-level and ITF events.

Predicting the Top 10 WTA Americans - halfway there

Following up on yesterday's post about predicting the Top 10 US men for 2014, I also put together a prediction for who I thought the Top 10 US women would be. I don't have proof of this so you'll just have to take my word. Okay? Okay.

My prediction for the Top 10 ranked WTA players from the USA at the end of 2014 and where I thought they'd finish in the rankings:
1. Serena Williams (2)
2. Sloane Stephens (20)
3. Madison Keys (25)
4. Venus Williams (30)
5. Jamie Hampton (40)
6. Christina McHale (50)
7. Alison Riske (60)
8. CoCo Vandeweghe (70)
9. Varvara Lepchenko (75)
10. Lauren Davis (80)

... and here's where they stand halfway through the season, both with their rankings and the Road to Singapore standings:

WTA Americans as of 6/9/2014

WTA Ranking Road Standing
1 S. Williams (1) S. Williams (4)
2 Stephens (19) V. Williams (19)
3 V. Williams (30) Stephens (24)
4 Riske (40) McHale (32)
5 Keys (42) Keys (42)
6 McHale (49) Davis (47)
7 Lepchenko (59) Lepchenko (51)
8 Hampton (60) Riske (69)
9 Davis (61) Kiick (86)
10 King (74) Townsend (87)
11 Vandeweghe (75) King (90)


With Jamie Hampton mere hours away from falling outside the Top 100 (sobbbbbb!) I added the 11th spot for CoCo Vandeweghe, who should be at or around her career-high of #69 at the same instant Jamie drops.

Other than Jamie, I am doing pretty well. Keys has started a bit slower than I thought she might, but the hard courts should provide her with ample opportunity to shine - although draws will play a big part in how well she does.

Davis is having a stronger start than I expected. It would be amazing to see Lauren somehow finish the year in the Top 50. Meanwhile, McHale looks poised to rise higher after Wimbledon with nothing to defend between the next two majors. Unfortunately, she lost in a BUSTER in the second round of Eastbourne qualies today. She does seem to fold under pressure more than one would like, which prevents me from assuring you, good reader, of her return to a Top 30 spot this year.

The most interesting race will be to see who finishes higher among Kiick, Townsend, and Victoria Duval - any or all of whom have a chance of getting into the top 100 (and Top 10 US women). Duval has SIX points to defend until the US Open and is only 100 points away from the Top 100. Yes she has those second-round + qualies points to defend there (160 total), and an ITF $50K title (70 points) in Toronto, but that's basically it.  Direct entry (or a WC) to the US Open and a nice draw there could be key to her success.

Taylor, meanwhile, has merely 50 points to defend the rest of the year and, one would expect, a good number of wildcards coming her way (including Wimbledon). However, she's yet to prove her consistency on the tour and I could honestly see this summer going either way for her.

Finally, Kiick has only 10 points to defend through the US Open, but then the points come off pretty regularly. Many of the points she has in the race are thanks to her November & December successes in ITFs. Should she enter the Top 100 by then, it will be interesting to see if she tries to defend those points (this time as a high seed) or RESTS, as she probably should do, and start 2015 fresh with new horizons and great opportunity.

Exciting times for those teens, and a few others not mentioned (okay, I'll mention them: Min, Vickery & Chirico).  Onward we go, into the wild green yonder of Wimbledon!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Predicting the Top 10 ATP Americans - halfway there

So, back in December, a few of us fans of US men's tennis on Twitter agreed to predict the year-end Top 10 finishes. I'm honestly not sure whether this is for Calendar Year 2014 or for "Race to London" Year (after which challenger/futures tournaments start counting for the following year) but I think it should be the former. Anyway, I thought now would be a good time to remind everyone who we picked and see how we're doing. Please note there's a LOT of tennis to be played, much of it in the USA. So no bragging rights any time soon!

First, where we stand, both in terms of rankings and the Race (which started after last year's London WTF & so doesn't track with the Calendar Year ranking, but will give us a sense of how guys are doing so far):

ATP Americans as of 6/9/2014

ATP Ranking Race Ranking
1 Isner (11) Isner (17)
2 Johnson (63)Johnson (33)
3 Young (65) Young (59)
4 Klahn (72) Sock (62)
5 Sock (75) Querrey (71)
6 Querrey (78) Klahn (109)
7 Russell (97) Ram (124)
8 Smyczek (106) Kudla (130)
9 Kudla (122) Russell (137)
10 Harrison (141) Harrison (144)

Jonathan (@jokelley_tennis)
Including, for fun, where I thought their ranking would end up 
1. Isner (15) 
2. Querrey (30) 
3. #jacksock (75) 
4. Harrison (80) 
5. Smyczek (90) 
6. Klahn (95) 
7. Young (100) 
8. Kudla (105) 
9. Johnson (110) 
10. (tie) Williams/Sandgren (120)
Lang (@ARhyneMoment) fixed
1. Isner  
2. Querrey 
3. Sock
4. Harrison
5. Smyczek
6. Young
7. Kudla
8. Williams
9. Sandgren
10. Baker

Baseline Bagels (@BaselineBagels) 
1. Isner 
2. Sock 
3. Querrey 
4. Young 
5. Smyczek 
6. Harrison 
7. Kudla 
8. Johnson 
9. Klahn 
10. Sandgren  

Well, so far Baseline Bagels is leading this race, with 9 of the top 10 represented, and outside Johnson & Klahn, close to the same order. And certainly concerns about Klahn's health (and ton of points to defend this summer and fall) could drastically affect his final standing. Bagels also seems to have been right to challenge Querrey's #2 status (although again, there is a LOT of tennis still to be played).   Lang was the only one to include Ram in the Top 10, and based on the Race standings she could be right on that one.   [edited to add: maybe should've kept Ram in her Top 10]. Unfortunately, her Williams prediction seems a bit hopeful at this point (he's currently 18th in the Race).... but Rhyne can get hot at any time so who knows!  
And I was way optimistic on the Harry Front. Story of my life :(  Anyway, make sure to bookmark this post for posterity's sake. I'm quite excited to see how the second half plays out, and whether some of the dark horses (Buchanan, Krajicek, Kosakowski) can sneak into the race.

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...

Thursday, June 12, 2014

USA Midseason Awards Part 1: WTA

The inaugural post for this blog focuses on the US women's 2014 season through the end of Roland Garros. It's long, hope you enjoy!

US women's tennis is in an interesting position. By most measures, it's possibly the strongest nation out there: #1 player in the world; most women in the top 50, 100, and 200; most WTA titles* & majors won among active players. Tennis Grrrl has us ranked as the best tennis nation (based on ranking points of the top 10 players) by a wide margin.

However, it's a hollow strength. Most of the success is due to two exceptional women, both well into their 30s. One title by a woman not surnamed Williams since 2008. No Fed Cup win since the turn of the Millennium. That said, given the number of young players in the Top 200 (including 4 of the Top 10 ranked teens & 6 top-75 players under 24 years old) there is plenty of room for optimism.

So halfway through the 2014 WTA season, how're we doing? The answer is a very loud "meh."

Four titles (again, all by Williamses), two additional finals, and 11 players in the Top 100 in the Road to Singapore - all these are decent to good results. But no major quarterfinals, 2 bad losses in Fed Cup, and some notable injuries stop me from giving the women of USA anything higher than a C+.

Could be worse. Should be better.

Herewith are my awards for the first half of 2014:

Top 10 half-years
1. Serena Williams - 5 wins vs Top 8 players, #4 in the Road to Singapore, 3 titles, 2 wins vs fellow Americans (in 2 matches), and #1 in the world. The best 2014 by an American on either tour.

2. Venus Williams - Titles are everything, right? Well, she's the only other titlist in the group (Dubai). Plus she got a runner up trophy in Auckland.

3. Taylor Townsend - She started the year ranked 365 and currently sits at #150. She's the 3rd youngest player in the Race to Singapore. And dang does she have charisma.

4. Christina McHale - Reached her first career final in Acapulco, where she led Cibulkova by a set before succumbing 76 36 36.

5. CoCo Vandeweghe - Jumped back into the Top 100 with authority with her 5 top-100 wins (including qualies) in Miami. SoSo otherwise.

6. Allie Kick - Dating back to last November (which counts for her 2014 points) she has 34 wins including qualies & ITFs. Got her first main draw win in Monterrey.

7. Victoria Duval - Reached a career high of 126 thanks in part to 13 wins in qualifying. Paying those dues could see her into the Top 100 this summer.

8. Sloane Stephens - Was the last remaining USAmerican at both majors in the first half. Maintained her top 20 ranking when many thought she wouldn't.

9. Lauren Davis - Her biggest win of the year (over Azarenka) has the world's biggest asterisk next to it & she had a tough loss to Shvedova at RG, but generally she won the matches she was supposed to win.

10. Julia Boserup - Ranked outside the Top 300, she qualified for Monterrey, then beat Flipkens & Kiick to reach the quarters. Had to give props.

Honorable mention: The Gator girls - Peggy Porter, Josie Kuhlman & Brooke Austin all signed letters of intent to become Florida Gators this fall. They've all had some nice results this spring, highlighted by Indiana's Austin's run to the title at $10K Sumter. Gators could be monsters next year.

5 disappointing half-years 
1. Serena Williams - Only by her incredible standards, of course, but two early exits at majors (making that 3 of the last 4) = disappointing. Hugely so.

2. Sloane Stephens - No semifinals is bad enough, but it's the first round flops to Goerges & Duque Marino when she was #1 and #2 seed, respectively, that give me the most sads.

3. Maria Sanchez - Seemingly on the verge of the Top 100 last year, she's now at #277. With a bullet. Doing great in doubles, though - got her first WTA title in January!

4. Shelby Rogers - Up to #109 in March, her clay season was a dud, and she's down to #171.

5. Sanaz Marand - I hate to put her on here since she actually hasn't had a bad year, and actually reached a career-high #264 in May. But I really want her to make a push for the Top 200 and the first half of this year she had just enough disappointing losses that said push may not happen in 2014.

5 most exciting wins
1. I'm completely biased, but I have to go with CoCo Vandeweghe's out-of-nowhere second round win over Samantha Stosur in Miami this year.

2. Madison Keys d. Alize Cornet, Fed Cup. I was there. It was incredible.

3. Taylor Townsend d. Alize Cornet, Roland Garros. I wasn't there, but I heard it was incredible.

4. Christina McHale d. Alize Cornet, Sydney (not really, just wanted to tease Alize fans). Actually McHale's 6-4 in the 3rd win over Kanepi in the Acapulco quarters sticks out to me as a big one, as does her 7-5 in the 3rd win over Garcia in the semis.

5. Varvara Lepchenko's BUSTER win over Jelena Jankovic in Miami was (via my TL) edge of your seat stuff. To follow that up with a BUSTER win over Tomljanovic is legendary. Honorable mention: Megan Moulton-Levy. I'm not focused on women's doubles here, but just wanted to give a huge shout-out to the first-time title winner. Her collaboration with Dary Jurak has been fruitful indeed!

5 most crushing losses 
1. Sloane Stephens to Flavia Pennetta, Indian Wells QF. If Sloane fails to win a tournament her entire career, I will point to that match as the reason why. Having upset Ivanovic in the 2nd round, Sloane was a slight favorite vs Pennetta. But she didn't bring her best tennis that day, and was down early. Seemingly out of it a set and a break down, she turned it up (while Flavia got tight) and broke when the Italian served for the match. The momentum hers, all of a sudden a fierce wind storm invaded the Coachella Valley and every point was an exercise in pure luck. Still, Sloane got an early break and had points for a 4-0 lead. But Flavia scratched her way back in it and finally took the match 64 57 64. She went on to beat 2 top-four players to win the title. By no means do I think Sloane would have won that title had she survived the quarterfinal; but although i do not usually believe in mystical forces, it was clear that *something* happened that day to thwart the #2 American. Something EEEEEVIL.

2. Madison Keys to Zheng Jie, Australian Open. Madison hasn't had a terrible year - she got to a semi and is the #3 ranked teen in the world. But this loss hurt. She served for the first set twice only to lose it in a tiebreak. She then dominated the 2nd set 6-1 and went up 4*-1 in the third. And then Zheng upped her game big-time. She went for broke on returns and completely befuddled Keys. And won 6 of the last 7 games to take the match and make me sad. So, so sad.

3. Christina McHale to Silvia Soler-Espinoza (Q) (Strausbourg SFs) 57 76(7) 63. Between her and Keys I honestly thought we'd get a maiden titlist. And then … that … happened.

4. Venus Williams to Anna Schmiedlova (RG) + Venus Williams to Ekaterina Makarova (AO) Two losses from a set up against eminently beatable (if talented) players. It's impossible to say why, so we'll just say: sigh.

5. Alison Riske to Karin Knapp, Fed Cup. USA shouldn't have lost that tie to the Italian B Team but they did. Boy howdy, did they. All the losses were disappointing but this one, cementing the tie, was the disappointingest.

Honorable mention: Louisa Chirico to Arantxa Rus 64 46 67(3), $25K Brescia. This is the fallacy of recency at work but given that Rus was the top seed and that Louisa is still seeking a breakthrough this year, it hurts.

Breakout performance 
While Townsend's star turn in Paris was the inspiration for countless breathless articles, her back-to-back wins at the USTA Pro Circuit events in Charlottesville and Indian Harbour Beach that allowed her to compete at Roland Garros were revelatory. She played those tournaments like she owned them, and left no doubt that she had arrived. And winning 4 matches in a day at IHB did much to put on hold questions about her "fitness"

Most improved 
Allie Kiick. Did anyone have her crashing into the Top 150 this soon?

Comeback player of the half-year 
Samantha Crawford. Former rising star, then "whatever happened to," now getting good results again. And she's still only 19.

Best soap opera plot 
Unfortunately, 2014 has been relatively lacking on the controversy front. Folks will try to make something of relatively harmless comments from Sloane, but overall it's been a pretty calm year for the USA. The CoCo/Poots drama is so 2013, and seemingly all the big relationship dramaz are over in Europe. Serena's "will she or won't she play Indian Wells" was pretty much a dud. So I'm going to go ahead and create some drama - and say it's perhaps time for Mary Joe Fernandez to GO as Fed Cup coach. I enjoy her as a commentator and have no doubts about her analytical ability, but that doesn't necessarily translate into being a great in-the-moment tactician or motivator. I don't know. I just think it might be time for new blood. 

Injured reserve 
Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jamie Hampton are both electrifying players when they're on. Both have reached the top 30 - and both have fragile bodies. Unfortunately, both underwent similar major hip surgeries this spring and goodness gracious how we miss them. Melanie Oudin, too, was sidelined due to Rhabdomyolysis; Mallory Burdette and Jessica Pegula have both been inactive all year; and Alexa Glatch is similarly out of the picture. Even Anna Tatishvili - the newest addition to the American family - was in the middle of an injury hiatus when she changed her nationality.

*Wasn't able to confirm this but with at least 106 titles, it's a good bet!