Monday, April 27, 2015

This Week in American Tennis: 5 Takeaways

1. Madison Brengle is 36. Yes there were withdrawals and yes her draw conveniently had her avoiding some big names but DAyuMMM Brengle played like a woman on a mission this past week in Stuttgart … a mission to outer space!!

Brengle from last year's Quebec City tournament

She just played such smart tennis (and without a coach along for the ride!) in reaching her first Premier-level semifinal. Moving the ball around the court with good depth, and stepping into her backhand that she is so confident in. Looks to me like she’s got good disguise on that backhand, allowing her to hit winners her opponent was nowhere close to. And that serve! (insert emoji with hearts in his eyes)

Angelique Kerber was a much different test than Petra Kvitova or Caroline Garcia. Both of those women can hit their way out of any match, but resurgent/peak Kerber will grind you the hell down. I didn't watch the match but from reports and these highlights suggest, the eventual champion was at her retrieving, crafty, squatting best.

As for Brengle on European clay, her experience is different than many of the other Americans who have been mostly below the Top 100 in their careers. She has taken several trips to Europe over the years, in 2009, 2011, and last year, playing ITFs there instead of in the US. Her movement on red clay is quite good and her point construction is excellent.

Where does Madison Brengle go from here? Well, tomorrow she goes against Barbora Strycova in Prague. It will be a great test of whether she truly has taken that next step as a potential Top 20 player. She's absolutely not sneaking up on anyone anymore. This time last year, the Artist Formerly Known as Beezus won their clay match in the former Czechoslovakia (an ITF event in the Slovak Republic, to be specific) in two tiebreaks. Much has changed for the better for these two women in the ensuing year. Should be a good 'un.

2. Six American men reached challenger semis.  While it's disappointing that none of the six US men in the Top 100 found their way either this past week or this current week to Europe to play ATP events, it was a very good week for several players in the next tier, as Rajeev Ram, Jason Jung, Kevin King, Connor Smith, Bjorn Fratangelo, and Frances Tiafoe all reached semis at the ATP Challenger level. The first four made the Guadalajara semifinals an all-American affair, with Ram beating Jung in the final, while the latter two fell in their simultaneous Savannah semis to Chung Hyeon and James McGee, respectively.

Unfortunately, some of the bigger names in Guadalajara fell inexplicably early, in their first-round matches - Austin Krajicek won only two games against Giovanni Lapentti, Denis Kudla lost in straights to Remi Boutillier, and Ryan Harrison lost to Juan Ignacio Londero - but that opened up the draw for some of the aforementioned players. (Edited to add: Krajicek did have a nice week in doubles, taking the title with Ram.)  Jung, King, and Smith are now all in brand new territory. Jung and (likely) Smith will be contesting their first-ever major qualies next month at Roland Garros. King, meanwhile, is finally into the Top 300, although with two Mexican Futures titles coming off his ranking in the coming weeks, he'll have to do a lot of work very soon to maintain that.

2a. Shout-out to Mitchell Krueger. Mitch played great against Liam Broady to reach his first career challenger quarterfinal in Savannah. If you didn't get a chance, definitely watch the match.

2b. USTAPCHTWCC - Men. With two weeks and one day gone in the USTA Pro Circuit Har-Tru Wild Card Challenge, here's where we stand: All the American players still remaining in the Tallahassee Challenger - and only those players - are still alive. If any of them wins the title, he wins the French Open wild card. Any player who reaches the final could also win it, if neither Tiafoe nor Fratangelo reaches the semis, and if no American reaches the other final. (Chase Buchanan chose to play two challengers on the red clay in Brazil which, in hindsight, looks like a decision that could well cost him the French Open wild card. Oh and he lost first round in both events.)

Tiafoe currently leads the challenge with 47 points; he can only add to that with a semi (the USTAPCHTWCC only counts a player's best 2 of 3 events). If he ties with Fratangelo or Jared Donaldson, the other player will get the wild card due to higher ranking.

My literal back-of-the-envelope calculations show basically the following scenario (apologies for the lack of formatting):

PLAYER        SF       F       W
Tiafoe             58       77      109
Fratangelo      58       77     109
Donaldson      47       66      98
Krueger          XX      63      95
Krajicek         XX      56     87
Sandgren      XX      55     87
Paul               XX       55     87
Kevin King, Jean-Yves Aubone, Rhyne Williams, Alex Kuznetsov, and Dennis Novikov: 48 points with a final, 80 points with a title.

3. Louisa Chirico and Katerina Stewart lead the USTAHTWCC charge! These two intriguing teens gave us a fantastic start to the women's side of the Har-Tru Challenge as both survived tricky draws to reach the Dothan $50K final and then gave us a topsy-turvy final that ended, oh so rightly, in a third set tiebreak. Chirico was the far better player in that final game, and so has a commanding lead in the race. Any other American player will need a semi and a final to beat her, and that's if she doesn't reach another final this coming week in Charlottesville or Indian Harbour Beach.

Stewart, meanwhile, will rue her inability to serve out the match at 5-3 5-4 (thanks Colette!) in the 3rd - particularly as a win might have been enough to make the French Open qualifying cut-off (generally around #200 for women - she would have been at around #208). But hopefully she doesn't dwell on it, as she proved she is already close to a Top 100-level talent, and has the shots and court sense to put a scare into a lot of people right now. A few more weeks of the level she's playing and we could just see her in the Wimbledon qualies.

Sadly, incredibly, the two Dothan heroines drew each other in the first round of Charlottesville. Tennis can be so cruel.

4. BMS! Well well, guess who got another title with her friend and doubles partner Lucie Safarova? Why it's none other than Bethanie Mattek-Sands who, with doubles partner Lucie Safarova, is, thanks to their title in Stuttgart and previously undefeated Sania Mirza/Martina Hingis falling in their first match, in first place in the doubles Road to Singapore a third of the way through the season! There are some other good teams out there but with the dissolution of Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, there's every hope that those two teams will face each other multiple times this season. I can't think of a better advertisement for women's doubles if they do.

5. Little success in Futures. This past week in Bangkok, Thailand, Andre Dome qualified and made the quarters. I point this out because he was the ONLY American man to reach the quarters at any level other than the two above-mentioned challengers. In fact, only four American men were in the main draw of any of the 11 Futures events around the nation. That's 4 out of 352, or only 1.14% of all the Futures main draw participants. I know it's rough when no such tournament is happening on your continent (while two challengers are happening there) but I do wonder whether the USTA could be doing more to put players in the right place to get points, and help flood the rankings with Americans. Perhaps instead of 35 players in the Top 500, we could have 40 or 50. I honestly don't know.

Sure, the ultimate goal is to have Grand Slam champions. The French, with their 15 Futures quarterfinalists last week, are no closer to that goal than they've been in decades. Spain, the greatest men's tennis nation, has had only one such champion, Rafael Nadal, in the past dozen years. But at the same time, it's nice to have more guys with a chance to compete on tour, and quite often the difference between #120 and #320 is just a few good draws and a lot of good health.

This coming week, three Americans made the trip to Abuja, Nigeria, to participate in the $15K+H there. Already Eric Quigley and recent birthday boy Deiton Baughman have secured first round wins, and Evan Song is favored to do the same on Tuesday. I love this move. Earlier today, Ian DW did a nice analysis of why it pays sometimes to go out of your way in the search of extremely valuable points.
Gold stars: Adam El Mihdawy (first career Challenger QF in Guadalajara), Tommy Paul (upset Savannah #2 seed Ruben Bemelmans 76(6) 67(5) 63 in Savannah), Malika Rose (first career QF in Guadalajara), Nicholas Monroe (ATP doubles final in Bucharest - lost 36 75 [17-15] to local wildcards Marius Copil & Adrian Ungur), Jessica Pegula (Dothan QF), Samantha Crawford (Dothan QF), Alexandra Stevenson (Dothan QF including a first round upset of top-seed Grace Min), and all the college conference champions!


  1. Stewart served for the match vs Chirico at 5-4, not 5-3 in the third.