Thursday, January 22, 2015

9 Americans in the Australian Open 3rd round is great

Nobody ever looks back at a major and says "boy, that country sure had a lot of wins through two rounds!" but your friendly neighborhood blog thinks the US has achieved something to celebrate and so we are posting this post for, erm, posterity. 

As faithful readers of this blog know, we get a little annoyed every time someone mentions the death of American tennis. Because first, they're usually forgetting the women, and second, they're comparing the men to prior glory days (particularly the 70s and 90s) that reflected a game that is well in the past. You'll likely never see any nation with 3-4 multiple slam winners competing at the same time and ruling the upper reaches of the rankings on either tour. The game is just too widespread for that (which is awesome). Even the almighty Spanish men, who seem to have unlocked the secret of producing high-level tenistas, have only produced one major champion in the past decade, plus an additional one-final-wonder in David Ferrer. Nearly as mighty France has no male champions. Hell, only two Russian women have won majors in that same time period, and for a while they had what seemed like 25 women in the WTA Top 20.

The fact that "only" two American men are into the 3rd Round of the 2015 Australian Open should be put in some perspective. No, we don't have anyone who will be playing for major finals any time soon. Yes, that's a big, big problem. But at this tournament we (yes, I know it's absurd to use that pronoun in this context):

  1. Outperformed our rankings (per the seeding, only 1 player - John Isner - should have advanced this far)
  2. Suffered only 1 "upset" loss (Querrey, vs. Pospisil) in 11 matches, offset by 1 "upset" win (Johnson, vs. Giraldo)
  3. Have as many players still around as all but 4 other countries in a given singles draw (US women, Spanish men, Czech women, Australian men) 
Here's the breakdown of where the 7 most prolific countries are at this point in the tournament:

1. USA 9
2. ESP 6
3. CZE 5
4. FRA 4
5 (tie). AUS, ITA, GER, CAN 3

I mean, that's a lot. Yes, it's mostly women. But this shows that professional tennis is just a very, very diffuse game, nation-wise. And again, that's awesome.

Now look: it's still early in the tournament and there's every possibility that by Tuesday, the 9 Americans will be down to 0 or 1. There are some incredible obstacles in our path to the quarterfinals: at least one of Djokovic, Nishikori, Kvitova, Radwanska, and Halep would have to lose for anyone but Serena Williams to reach that stage. And Serena's matches are no cake-walks - Svitolina, then potentially Muguruza.

But for now, let us take a moment to celebrate what we have: arguably the best tennis nation in the world, still.

And it looks like we're only getting better...

Monday, January 19, 2015

New USA Career-High Rankings, Jan. 19, 2015

Each week I will bring you a list of USAmerican players who have reached a new career-high ranking (CHR). This list covers all players in the Top 1000. Any player outside the Top 1000 will not be included unless they actually have earned at least one point from their previous career-high ranking. See all the CHR-related posts.

New WTA career-high rankings, January 19, 2015

Player name
Last wk
*= previous   CHR
+  from last week
If prior to last wk
Date achieved
If prior to last wk
Madison Brengle

Taylor Townsend

It's quite incredible, really. For weeks, even during the off-season, there were far more women than men making these charts. But now, those lower-ranked women who didn't play all either stayed the same or moved down a spot or two.

Townsend got a win in qualifying against Carina Witthoeft (who just yesterday beat Carla Suarez Navarro at the Australian Open) to move up a spot.

And then there's Madison Brengle. It's really been an incredible few months for the 24-year-old Delawarian. She recorded her first Grand Slam main draw victory, cracked the Top 100, made her first WTA quarterfinal, and then last week her first WTA semifinal AND final - as a qualifier! She had three top-50 wins (over Barthel, Knapp, and Nara) and is now 11-2 on the year, with 278 points. We're in uncharted territory for her, and her immediate future will be subject to the whims of WTA draws (she drew Petkovic first round at the Australian Open). But if she can manage a couple of quarterfinals between now and the French Open, she has a real shot at the Top 50. Hard not to be happy for her.

New ATP career-high rankings, January 19, 2015

Player name
Last wk
*= pvs CHR
+  from last wk
If prior to last wk
Date achieved
If prior to last wk
Jared Donaldson

Mitchell Krueger
Peter Kobelt
Deiton Baughman
Taylor Harry Fritz
Thai-Son Kwiatkowski
Nathan Ponwith
Clay Thompson
Aron Hiltzik
Eric Johnson

Well isn't this a fine turn of the screw - for the first time in LITERALLY AGES the men have a longer list than the women. And what a list it is! Five triple-digit jumpers, including a Top 1000 debut, and three more jumps of at least 30 spots. Besides Donaldson's rise (due to another's drop, as JD was in Australian Open qualifying this past week), all of the guys on this list came to their new exalted heights thanks to Futures tournaments from a week ago. Here's how it happened:

USA F1 in Plantation, FL: Baughman was the last American standing in this $10K event, with a solid run to the semis in which he didn't drop a set (unlike this past week **FORESHADOWING**). College kids Kwiatkowski and Hiltzik both won a round but lost their second round matches in three sets.

USA F2 in Los Angeles, CA: This fantastic $15K at the USC campus had nearly all the matches livestreamed, so the world got to see The Future Of American Tennis as Fritz and Stefan Kozlov battled it out in the quarters. Fritz won that 6-4 6-4 and looked well on his way to the final, up 6-1 and a break in the second, but Jason Jung had other ideas and ended up winning 1-6 7-6(7) 6-4. Still, this new member of the 1000 Club should be proud of his week, starting with his three-set takedown of #1 seed Dennis Novikov.

Krueger - perhaps spurred on by a certain tweet - was impressive all week and defeated Jung in the final (played the same day as their semis) to end a six-final losing streak. Meanwhile, qualifier Ponwith's 0-6 6-4 6-0 first round win over #2 seed Daniel Nguyen was the stuff of legend. Thompson (Q) and Johnson (WC) each earned a win.

Finally, in GER F1, Kobelt reached the quarterfinals, and gained 2 points, to inch up 8 spots.

(Final note: Apologies to Donaldson and Bjorn Fratangelo for initially leaving them off last week's CHR list. That oversight has since been corrected.)

Poll: Best USA result for week of Jan. 12, 2015?

Well it was QUITE the week for American players, both at home and on the other side of the world. Notwithstanding the previously blogged-about Debauckle in Auckland, there were some impressive results in a number of tournaments. However, there's no way to know which was the BEST result until you, dear reader, vote on it.

But before that, please give a round of applause to our honorable mentions:

  • Alexa Glatch had wins over #3 seed Lourdes Dominguez-Lino and local Jessica Moore before falling in final round of Australian Open qualies, 4-6 5-7. The wins should get her up close to the Top 400 with a lot of confidence and nothing to defend until October.
  • Frances Tiafoe impressed his way to the Sunrise, FL $10K semifinals, qualifying and then beating #2 seed Darian King in a dramatic 0-6 7-6(7) 6-3 win, then beating fellow qualifier Tommy Mylkanov (CAN) 6-4 3-6 7-6(5), and then recording a 1&2 win over #7 seed Markus Eriksson.
  • Samantha Crawford reached her first final since 2012 at the $25K in Plantation, FL.
And now, the nominees:

  • Deiton Baughman recorded 5 five-set wins, after earning a Special Exempt entry due to his semifinal the prior week, to win the $10K USA F3 in Sunrise. He opened the tournament with three consecutive 7-5 in the 3rd wins, and came from a set down in the last 4 matches.
  • Sachia Vickery wins her first 1st ITF title, at the $25K in Plantation, FL
  • Madison Brengle reaches 1st WTA final, in Hobart, Tasmania, raising her ranking to #64 (she was #91 to start the year, and #158 six months ago.
  • Michael Russell qualifies for the Australian Open at 36. Legend.

What was the best USA result for week of Jan. 12, 2015

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A debacle in Auckland

There are worse things that could happen. I'm not just talking about worse things in life (one would hope that was obvious) - I mean, on the tennis court: there are worse calls that could be made, more career-hampering losses, more massively unjust occurrences.

And who knows, maybe it's because I was up too late, a time when one doesn't always think the sharpest or handle adversity the best, but boy did that missed call last night at the Heineken Open in Auckland, New Zealand, feel like a huge debacle. More for the tournament than for me as a fan.

To set the stage, this event was already fraught with weirdness, as far as American tennis was concerned. First, defending champion John Isner pulled out, citing "tired," a move that was met with one of the more incredible rants you'll read about a 250 event:
Americans have different ways of saying things. They say elevator, we say lift; they say sidewalk, we say footpath; they say jelly, we say jam. They say "tired", we say the defending champion of the Heineken Open should bleeding well turn up.
(The tournament field was weakened further given Gael Monfils' withdrawal due to "personal issues," and then again when higher-ranked David Ferrer and Tommy Robredo both withdrew after the draw was made, both facts which seemed to cause much less consternation. And then Roberto Bautista Agut retired down 62 21 to Adrian Mannarino! Rough times.)

Hurt feelings probably weren't mended when Isner showed up playing the Kooyong exhibition, although to be fair, a practice set or two of tennis is much different from flying 1600 miles to a different country to play a full-on tournament where you'd likely have gotten at least to the semifinal. Last time he did that, he got hurt and had to pull out of the Australian Open.

Then, the top seeded Bryan Brothers celebrated a victory in their first match, only to have it snatched away from them like a contestant's wig in the middle of a RuPaul's Drag Race fight (I have no idea if that's actually ever happened) when somehow an out ball was called in. Chair umpire Kader Nouni refused to overrule this injustice, and the Bryans went on to lose that supertiebreak a few points later. See for yourself how bad it was:

Which brings us to last night (aka Thursday afternoon in Auckland). Here's how it went down: Donald Young had already lost to a very impressive Jiri Vesely, leaving 8th seed Steve Johnson as the only American left in the tournament. Johnson, as luck would have it, had to play the only other remaining seed, Kevin Anderson (another college tennis stalwart), in his quarterfinal. Yes, Johnson had beaten Anderson here last year, but Anderson was playing great in this match. Fantastic, actually, according to reports (the match was not shown on the Tennis Channel until after the conclusion of the Juan Martin del Potro/Mikhail Kukushkin match in Sydney), and broke Johnson in the first game of the match. Johnson couldn't touch the South African's serve, and the first set went perfunctorily, 6-4.

In the second set, Anderson's level stayed high, but Steve raised his game a bit and didn't face a break point until 4-4 in the set. Then, Anderson elevated even higher: at 40-40, Johnson hit a deep volley into the deuce corner that Anderson somehow tracked down and hit a disgusting lob that the Southern Californian had no chance at. Johnson would save break point with an ace, but then Anderson hit an incredible down-the-line return shot to set up another break point. Johnson saved that one as well, but then Anderson hit a cross-court return winner that left us all reeling. Faced with his third break point, Johnson hit an error and Anderson would serve for the match. And I turned off the TV to finally go to sleep.

But then immediately, Anderson's first serve deserted him like Meryl Streep did her family at the beginning of Kramer vs. Kramer and I saw that it was 0-30 and turned the TV back on. Three points later, Johnson hit a sick forehand down the line that caught the corner and sent the crowd into a frenzy. 5-5. Two quick holds later and it was a tiebreak.

Blah blah blah, good tennis, 6-6 at the changeover. 7-7. And then it happened.

Kevin serving, approaches the net. Johnson hits a brilliant backhand (YES A BACKHAND) down the line to set up set point on his serve. Truly his second ATP "hot shot" of the set, and at an extraordinary time! The crowd went wild!! This match was about to rescue the tournament from being a pretty lousy one into a potentially memorable one.

Except the apparently volunteer line judge called it out. And veteran chair umpire Gerry Armstrong didn't overrule. And there's no Hawkeye in Auckland. It was bad.
Sure, it was close. But remember, 99% out is 100% in.

The crowd was aghast. Twitter erupted. Steve said "fucking" a few times. Johnson then hit an ace (which, had the BHDTL call gone the other way, would have taken the match to a 3rd set, which, of course, he wasn't guaranteed to win but would at least have had a chance) but then hit a forehand long and on the next point, it was over.

Who knows, this might be a blessing in disguise for Stevie Johnson. He has to feel happy about his first two weeks of 2015, going 3-2 and losing only two tight matches to Top 16 players. And now he gets to join everyone else and head early to Melbourne - which IS NOT CLOSE TO AUCKLAND - to prepare for what could be a nice run at the Australian Open, draw depending.

But here's the other thing: it wasn't just one match for Johnson. No match is at this stage in his career. A win would have matched him up against Vesely, who is good but certainly beatable, for a chance at his first career final. Where he would face Pouille or Mannarino - also both very good, but very beatable. A title would have given him another 200 points - and moved him to #32 in the world (yes, higher than at least a couple of Australian Open seeds). Those opportunities don't come around every day for a tour grinder. (He also has 400 points to defend over the next couple of months, and so boy howdy would those 200 have come in handy.)

Look, Steve is a winner. He was in college and he's proving himself to be at this level as well. I think he'll be fine, and perhaps this farce will motivate him to turn things up even one more notch. Perhaps all the way to 12 (he is already at 11).

The Heineken Open turns out to be the loser in all this. I hope, for the sake of the tournament (and tennis in New Zealand), they get their house in order soon.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Dissecting the 2015 Australian Open: A Very Special Round Table

For the very first time, On the Rise (a tennis blog) is excited to bring you our first ever round table, convened to discuss the just-released 2015 Australian Open qualification draws! Our participants:

Jonathan Kelley: Your fearless moderator

Fanboy Jonathan

Pop Culture Jonathan

Vaguely Dirty Jonathan

Emo Jonathan

MJ: Wow, guys, this is really exciting! Our first-ever round table for On the Rise (a tennis blog)! I've been wanting to get you all together for some time, but the occasion never seemed right. However, we are on the precipice of the first major in the first full year of this blog, and what better way to debut this feature than a GRAND SLAM PREVIEW!?

PCJ: This is like a combination of The View and ESPN's First Take! You're Cari Champion, of course. I'm Rosie!

EJ: Wow, could you PICK two crappier shows?

MJ: C'mon, let's focus. As we're talking, the Australian Open qualies are going on. Fourteen American men are in the qualies draw, and 4 women. Who, if anyone, do you think will make it out?

FBJ: Honestly, I look at the draw and don't see any of them losing. This has already been a GREAT year for TEAM USA and it's only going to get better!

EJ: Okay so first, Rhyne Williams, Tennys Sandgren, and Robby Ginepri already went out in the first round of qualies --


EJ: That's not how this works. And second, four guys play each other first round so even if...

VDJ: Yeah, I'll BET they "play" each other!

MJ: I'll just say that through one round, Jared Donaldson impressed, as did Austin Krajicek coming from a set down against a tough customer in Devvarman.  I'm going to say we get three qualifiers on the men's side, which would make a total of eight in the main draw. Not stellar, but it might be much worse.

PCJ: Hey, Eight is Enough, am I right, Dick van Patten?

EJ: Way to age yourself, dude.

MJ: What about the women's qualies draw. 4 US women - but 16 in the main draw, close to an exact inverse of the men. What stands out to you?

EJ: The utter futility of it all, considering none of them has a chance to win the tournament.

PCJ: Have you ever sung "Anna Tatishvili" to the tune of "Rock Me Amadeus"?? So much fun you guys!

EJ: Go away.

FBJ: We are truly entering a golden age of USA women in qualies! Even though only 4 US women entered, I honestly think 5 will qualify!!

VDJ: Yeah, four women entered! Heh heh heh.

MJ: Okay. Well then. The main draws aren't out yet, but maybe talk a bit about how you see the next couple of weeks playing out, given recent form, history at majors, and your gut feelings.

FBJ: I just think this is our year. I'm calling it right now: two all-American finals, plus an additional semifinalist of each gender - someone completely unexpected (I'm looking at YOU Madison Brengle and Denis Kudla!)

VDJ: I'll *bet* you're looking at them!

EJ: Majors are just fundraisers for the big national associations. The rich get richer, and the rest of us are left holding the bill.

FBJ: PuhLease! Majors are where legends are made! Remember 2013 Australia, and Sloane Stephens' run to immortality? Or who could forget Robby Ginepri's history-making semifinal berth at the U.S. Open!?

VDJ: Now *those* two would make a hot couple. ;-)

PCJ: Majors are like Laff-A-Lympics - our one chance to see everyone do battle, even the supervillains! Is it just me or does Marinko Matosevic remind you of Mumbly from the Really Rottens?

EJ: Jesus, dude, have you watched *any* TV since 1979?

MJ: GUYS! Can we please focus? I already feel weird about the lack of diversity on this panel, I don't want to lose our entire blog audience with your tangential ramblings.

EJ: If a blog has no readers, does it make a sound? No, it doesn't.

VDJ: Hey WE can all still enjoy ourselves, if you know what I mean... ;-)

PCJ: Ewww.


MJ: Hey Vaguely Dirty Jonathan - you're out. Sorry. You are disgusting.

PCJ: Good riddance! He was more useless than Nikki and Paulo on Lost!

EJ: Getting closer, at least...

FBJ: Guys, did you see that Steve Johnson and Donald Young are both in the Auckland quarters?? Is there a way we can declare this a national holiday?

MJ: FOCUS!!! So, last question: Who will be the Australian Open winners?

EJ: Whoever it is, they likely already have more money than they know what to do with, meanwhile the men and women in the trenches are subsisting on slave wages.

PCJ: I think Ana Ivanovic is going to pull a Hilary Swank and win her second surprise major, and that Roger Federer is going to pull a Meryl Streep in Iron Lady and show why he's the best ever, even in his old age!

FBJ: Book it: Jack Sock and Venus Williams will be your 2015 Australian Open champions!!

MJ: Dude! Sock's not even playing this year!

VDJ: Did someone say something about playing with a sock??

MJ: Okay, this is definitely the LAST On the Rise (a tennis blog) round table.

Thanks for reading, everyone! Please feel free to give your predictions in the comments section. And thanks to all our round table participants! Enjoy what promises to be a stellar Aussie Open!

PCJ: Oh-Em-GEEZ you guys have seen this new video? It's so appropos!

MJ: I said we're done here!!

EJ: You got that right. Sigh. This blog is so over. Everyone knows Just Drop the Ball is the blog to go to for USA tennis analysis.

Monday, January 12, 2015

New USA Career-High Rankings, Jan. 12, 2015

Each week I will bring you a list of USAmerican players who have reached a new career-high ranking (CHR). This list covers all players in the Top 1000. Any player outside the Top 1000 will not be included unless they actually have earned at least one point from their previous career-high ranking. See all the CHR-related posts.

New ATP career-high rankings, January 12, 2015

Player name
Last wk
*= pvs CHR
+  from last wk
If prior to last wk
Date achieved
If prior to last wk
Jack Sock

Dennis Novikov

Connor Smith

Really not much to say  here. I mean, Jack Sock did this while recovering from hip surgery. I promise a bigger and better men's chart next week! PROMISE!!


My most sincere belated apologies to Bjorn Fratangelo and Jared Donaldson, both of whose career highs last week I completely skipped due to a rush to publish or a dearth of sleep or just laziness. In fact, those two talented youngsters had the biggest men's jumps of the week, thanks to qualifying for and, in Fratangelo's case, winning a match in the main draw of the Noumea Challenger.

So here is their own personal chart:

Player name
Last wk
*= pvs CHR
+  from last wk
If prior to last wk
Date achieved
If prior to last wk
Bjorn Fratangelo
Jared Donaldson


New WTA career-high rankings, January 12, 2015

Player name
Last wk
*= previous   CHR
+  from last week
If prior to last wk
Date achieved
If prior to last wk
CoCo Vandeweghe

Madison Brengle
Taylor Townsend
CiCi Bellis

Tornado Alicia Black
Rianna Valdes

Alexandria Stiteler

Ingrid Neel

Kelly Chen

Nicole Frenkel

Olga Morozova

Daniella Roldan

Emma Higuchi

Natalie Suk

Kristina Smith

Left off: Arconada, Dolehide, Tehrani, Failla, and 7 others.

There are three big stories this week, and all are in the Top 100!

Big Story the First, of course, is the debut of Taylor Townsend into the Top 100! She had spent the last 20 weeks hovering just outside it (ever since her second round run in Cincinnati) but had not quite gotten over the hump. A three-set win in the first round of Auckland was what did it. She then had to face top seed Caroline Wozniacki and lost but gave a decent accounting of herself (even going up 5-2 in the second before dropping the set -and match - in a tiebreak). Slowly but surely, Taylor!

Big Story the Second: The Woman, The Myth, The Absolute Legend - Madison Brengle! The 24-year-old Delawarian (Delawarite?) (that is a Taxi reference for you youngsters) won three matches to qualify for the premiere event in Brisbane, and then took out sister qualifier Lesia Tsurenko. She then had to face world #52 Kaia Kanepi and lost but gave a decent accounting of herself (even going up 5-2 in the second before dropping the set - and match - in a tiebreak). A year ago she was ranked #145 and the Top 100 seemed like a bit of a pipe dream. No longer.

Big Story the Third: CoCo Vandeweghe!! She took out two recent Top 20 players in Roberta Vinci and Kirsten Flipkens, both in three sets, to reach the Auckland quarterfinals. She then had to face #4 seed Barbora Zahlavova Strycova and lost but gave a decent accounting of herself (even going up 5-2 in the second before dropping the set - and match - 7-5).

Unfortunately CoCo, like Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens, will finish outside the seed cut-off for the Australian Open. All three of those women will be hoping for a remarkably kind draw, but chances are NOT all three of them will get what they want.