Sunday, March 1, 2015

This Week in American Tennis: 10 Takeaways

1. Ryan Harrison is playing at a high level. If his challenger title the first week of the year was an appetizer, his run to the Acapulco semifinal was the main course. Well, actually, hopefully the challenger title was an amuse bouche, the Acapulco run was, like, a salad course, and there will be a grand slam performance that will be the main course, and then a dessert course (which is risky but can pay off) in the form of a title of some kind.

And yes, Top Chef is definitely my go-to reality show.

Harrison's wins this week: 1 & 2 over Adrian Menendez-Maceiras and 2 & 3 over Michael Russell, and then the three-set wins over Donald Young (shortened due to retirement), defending champion and world #10 Grigor Dimitrov, and perhaps most impressively, Ivo Karlovic. His athleticism shone through, as did a calmness on court that has also benefited him in Memphis. He also played smart tennis - aggressive without overhitting his way out of a match, using different tactics depending on the match-up.

Although he lost the point, this point is indicative of the shotmaking and athleticism Ryan brought to his match against Karlovic:

Ryan has always talked a good game (this is not a slight, he truly is insightful and gives great interview) but as we all know, his on-court results haven't been able to keep up over the past few years. I love this interview he gave to's Ravi Ubha, and this quote in particular stands out:

“I was way too insecure with myself, with my career, worrying about judgement, about media, about all sorts of things that were not going in the right direction,” Harrison said. “Instead of reading all the positive articles, I would read every single negative one and look at it as like a criticism that was really letting it affect me to the point where I actually panicked about it. 
“I felt the need to please people to the point where I was hoping they were saying something good about me on TV, hoping they were writing good stuff about me. ‘I hope people think I’m going to be good,’ all that stuff that you would expect not to think about—and the things you don’t think about when you have security and confidence in the direction you’re going.”
It's no coincidence in my mind that Harrison's rankings fall began not soon after his frankly awful interview with Pat O'Brien during the 2012 Olympics, in which he apologized for his dreadful on-court behavior during a loss to Santiago Giraldo. (Yes, this Pat O'Brien felt the need to take another human being to task for poor behavior.) He could have just issued a standard apology through his agent and gone about his merry way. Perhaps he has turned a corner in this regard - his demeanor all year has been frankly stunning in its improvement.

Regardless, it's exciting for his fans to see this start to 2015.

2. Not as high as David Ferrer, though.

The Spaniard has lost one match in four tournaments (unfortunately for him, the biggest tournament of 2015 to date). His level wasn't always at its top in Acapulco but in the second and third sets against Harrison, he was magnificent. After UFEing himself out of the first, set, Ferrer put Harrison on the defensive on point after point after grueling point early in the second set. From there, an increasingly tired Harrison looked befuddled as to any strategy that could work. Perhaps none could have. The way Ferrer was playing, he would have been a nightmare for anyone. At this point, the US just doesn't have anyone who can do what he - or others in the Top 7-8 - can do when playing at their top level. That's what we need to aspire to.

3. V3nus V3nus V3nus

They call Kvitova "P3tra" - and for good reason. In 2013 a full half of her tour-level matches - 35 of 70 - went three sets.  Maria Sharapova earned her own reputation for going the distance last year with 28 of 62 matches going that long.  But Venus Williams has, over the past 2+ years, significantly outperformed both players in that dubious realm: Since the beginning of 2013, 47% of Venus' matches went three sets, versus 40% of Petra's and 32% of Sharapova's.

This last week epitomized Williams' penchant for long matches, as she played four out of four three-setters in Doha, beating Casey Dellacqua, Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, and Aga Radwanska before losing to Vika Azarenka. With Venus, more than perhaps anyone in tennis, you know you're likely to get your money's worth.

4. Semifinal nation
Maria Sanchez in Quebec.
© Jonathan Kelley 2014

Venus and Harrison on the big stage. Alexander Sarkissian (AUS F1) and Jean-Yves Aubone (USA F9) in men's futures events. Jennifer Elie (Clare, Australia $15K) and Sanaz Marand (Rancho Santa Fe $25K) among women's ITF tournaments. In all Americans went 2-6 in professional semifinal matches this week, and one of those wins was by Maria Sanchez, over Marand. The only player to win a semifinal against a non-American was...

5. CiCi Bellis!

The 15-year-old continues to impress at $25K events - she won two last year and is in her third final, to face Sanchez. (The match was postponed until Monday morning due to weather.)  Whoever wins will be well positioned to receive direct entry into the French Open, although both have a couple more months with nearly nothing to defend to get into the Top 200 (or, in Sanchez's case, back there) and secure their spots.

6. US women: rough waters in Mexico

Acapulco was tough for pretty much everyone but Ryan Harrison - but American women found it particularly tough, going 1-5 in first round matches, with the only win being Bethanie Mattek-Sands' win over Mexican wildcard Marcela Zacarias; BMS lost her 2nd round match to Caroline Garcia, winning only 5 games.

Particularly rough were Sloane Stephens' quick 3&2 loss to US Open nemesis Johanna Larsson and Madison Brengle's 2-6 7-5 7-5 loss to Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor - she was up 5-3 in the third.. It was Brengle's second consecutive 7-5 in the third loss - both times she scored more total points than her opponent.
The lone bright spot - Louisa Chirico qualified for her first-ever WTA tournament! Though she lost a heartbreaker to lucky loser Mariana Duque-Marino (again, 7-5 in the third) it's great to see her competing at this level.

This week also started roughly, with Grace Min, Alexa Glatch, Varvara Lepchenko (perhaps still not 100% after contracting Pleurisy), Chirico, and Taylor Townsend all dropping first round qualification matches in Monterrey. Fortunately for US fans, there will be one American qualifier, as Mattek-Sands will face Irina Falconi on Monday for a spot in the main draw.

7. Question marks surround Glasgow

Donald Young retired down 2-4 in the third against Harrison (although Captain Jim Courier does not appear concerned) in Acapulco.

John Isner was last seen not even getting to 5-5 in either set against Marinko Matosevic in Delray Beach.

The Bryan Brothers lost their second match of Dubai to Florin Mergea and possible Davis Cup doubles opponent Dominic Inglot.

As for our forthcoming foes, Andy Murray got crushed by 17 18-year-old Borna Coric; James Ward qualified for Dubai but lost in straights to Feliciano Lopez (which isn't bad, except Lopez lost the next round to Marcel Ilhan, not on anyone's list of world-beaters); and Jamie Murray is a mere 5-5 on the year in main draws, losing with partner John Peers in the 2nd round of Dubai to eventual champs Rohan Bopanna and Daniel Nestor.

And Inglot is having a fantastic year but it's unclear if he'll even see action in Glasgow.

Should be interesting, no doubt.

8. Go away, Kevin Anderson! 

Love, Steve Johnson.

(Seriously, poor Stevie is 0-3 against the South African this year, who likely kept the USC alum off the Davis Cup team and out of the Top 40. UNCOOL!)

9. Tulsa d. USC

One of the biggest upsets in college tennis memory, and the third consecutive week in which the #1-ranked men's tennis team has been upset. Is the format affecting outcome? Is parity more widespread than we thought? Is it good or bad?

10. Nobody beats the Quiz!

My first two attempts at creating Sporcle quizzes went pretty well. The ATP one is a bit more popular than the WTA one, which to date has proved nigh impossible. Perhaps some day, some savant will catch lightning in a bottle and get a perfect score. Or someone will cheat. Or they will both be forgotten about and consigned to the Sporcle dustbin.

In any case, I'm thinking about creating other quizzes, because I enjoy taking them myself. If anyone has suggestions, please pass them along!

Bonus: Happy to congratulate Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears on winning their first tournament of 2015 in Doha! The #4 seeds didn't drop a set all week and beat top seeds Mirza & Hseih 6-4 6-4 in the final. Next up for them: Indian Wells!

No comments:

Post a Comment