Sunday, January 11, 2015

Week 1: So. Much. Tennis.

Week 1 of the 2015 tennis season has started, and boy has it been a doozy. A DOOZY I TELL YOU! It's like there was all this pent-up energy created during the off-season, and it burst all over the place over the course of this week. Among the stories we had included:

Nadal losing his first match. Djokovic losing his third match. Raonic/Nishikori and Ferrer/Karlovic playing three-tiebreak matches in consecutive days. Roger Federer winning his 1000th match (and 83rd title). Timea Bacsinszky reaching her first WTA final in 5 years. Vera Zvonareva continuing to try to come back, reaching her first quarterfinal in nearly 3 years, but then having to retire after 5 games against Timea. And despite plenty of titillating upsets, mostly the finals were between marquee names.

All that was well and good, but this blog focuses primarily on Americans, and this post shant be the exception. Which is good, because it was a really solid week for Team USA.

Venus Williams

There are legends. There are superlegends. And then there's Venus Williams.

The 34-year-old straight-setted her way to the final and then overcame a set deficit to beat red-hot marathoner Caroline Wozniacki at the ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand. 17 years after her first title, 4 years after her Sjogren's diagnosis, she continues to burn like a silver flame.

Here's her acceptance speech/love letter to New Zealand.

Ryan Harrison

2014 was an incredibly rough year for Ryan Harrison. He had 1,000,000 first round losses, even in challengers, and his ranking plummeted as low as 197 - his lowest point since 2010, when he was 18 years old.

At first, 2015 looked to be a continuation of last year. He dropped the first set of his first-round match to 18-year-old South Korean Hyeon Chung in a tiebreak. It wasn't looking good.
 But then he won the next two sets 6-1 6-1. Next he took on top seed Blaz Rola and again dropped the first set (1-6). But again he rallied, recording his third breadstick of the week and then taking the final set 7-5. Next up was qualifier Maxime Authom, and Ryan yet again lost the first set. But he rallied in a slog, winning 5-7 7-5 7-5. His last two matches were straight-setters, with the final a 7-6(8) 6-4 win over former world #8 Marcos Baghdatis, Ryan's first title since spring 2013.

Among his accomplishments this week: 1) matches his 2014 total deciding-set wins with 3 (went 3-10 last year); 2) earned 80 points, or 32% of his 2014 total; 3) won five main draw matches, or 45% of his 2014 total of 11. Pretty much a fairy tale week for the Louisianan.

Varvara Lepchenko

Lepchenko told Matt Cronin that her goal for 2015 was to reach the Top 15. Her run to the Brisbane semis - her first at a Premier event - is a spectacular start. In her first round she went down 1-5 in the third to hometown girl Samantha Stosur. Then won the last 6 games of the match.

She backed that up with a surprising 4&4 win over compatriot Madison Keys (who had her own solid win over Dominika Cibulkova), and then took her quarterfinal 7-5 7-5 over Lucky Loser Alla Kudryavtseva. Although she lost 6-7(2) 4-6 to world #5 Ana Ivanovic, it took six dramatic seven match points for that match to end.

Lauren Davis

Harrison's comebacks this week were impressive, but Lauren Davis' were extraordinary. Playing in the bottom half of the Auckland draw, Davis overcame first-set beatdowns in her first three matches - vs. Shelby Rogers (1-6), Sloane Stephens (1-6), and Ula Radwanska (2-6). Not only that but she was down a break in each of the second sets - 0*-4 against Rogers! Although she lost 0-3 to Venus, she reached her first career semifinal and showed that when she's on, she is a ruthless 5'2" assassin.

American teens

The USA hosted two Futures tournaments this week, one in Florida and one at the USC campus (which meant live streaming for all the matches, including qualifying!) and the breakout stars were US teens.

In Plantation, FL, qualifiers Thai-Son Kwiatkowski (UVA) and Aron Hiltzik (Illinois) recorded first round victories before bowing out in three sets to Fognini-beater Chuhan Wang and eventual finalist (champion?) Julian Lenz, respectively. Their reward for such impressive work?
Also in Plantation, wildcard Deiton Baughman recorded his second career semifinal appearance (and second in his last three tournaments), and secured a main draw entry into the USA F3 event in Sunrise, FL.

More great performances game in Los Angeles, where five teens made the second round, including two top-5 juniors: Stefan Kozlov and Taylor Fritz, who upset #1 seed and Top 300 newbie Dennis Novikov 6-7(3) 6-4 7-5. Kozlov and Fritz met in a blockbuster quarterfinal, won by Fritz in straight sets. Matt Lin was awesome enough to record and upload match highlights:

Finally, an enormous round of applause to relative unknown Nathan Ponwith, who qualified and then drew #2 seed Daniel Nguyen. After dropping the first NINE games of the match, several of which went to deuce, the 16-year-old finally won a game and proclaimed, "YES!! I'm so happy." He then used that glee, plus some devastating groundstrokes, and lost only one more game on his way to a 0-6 6-4 6-0 win. He followed that with a straight-set win over another Trojan, Eric Johnson, and had fiery Texan Mitch Krueger on the ropes before finally falling 7-6(4) 4-6 1-6 (video here). Still, Ponwith showed that the coming generation is more than just the eight Zoo quarterfinalists.

And finally...

They were kind enough to let Poland win its first-even Hopman Cup but the team of Serena Williams and John Isner provided plenty of fireworks en route to the final.

Yes, the team exhibition will be most remembered for Serena's epic espresso order, but honestly it should be remembered for this Aga reaction following a hindrance controversy.

We can only hope that the rest of 2015 will bring us as much joy, consternation, and sleeplessness as Week 1!

Edited to add.....

Mitchell Krueger

After his last match of 2014 - the final of the Dominican Republic F4 Futures, which he lost 2-6 4-6 to #1 junior Andrey Rublev - his sixth loss in six finals last year - Krueger tweeted this:
Well, it looks like, at least through Week 1, Krueger was precient. A mere 22 days later, Krueger won his second-ever pro singles tournament, the USA F2 tournament in Los Angeles. Krueger lost a couple of sets in the first three rounds, and then, due to rain yesterday, had to play his semifinal and final in the same day. Facing two tough customers in Dimitar Kutrovsky and Jason Jung (who had defeated Fritz in three grueling sets earlier in the afternoon), the 20-year-old Texan (who is actually 21 in Nova Scotia - his birthday is  January 12) dropped just 9 games in two matches to take his second career title.

Krueger came to the net after winning match point and, before Jung had a chance to meet him there, spiked his racquet in a sign of victory, and to release over a year of pent-up frustration.  Congrats to him!

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