Monday, May 25, 2015

This Week in American Tennis: 7 Takeaways

1. Ryan Freaking Shane. I mean ... what can you say about this dude? He, along with Most Outstanding Player Mitchell Frank and freshman star Collin Altamirano, leads the University of Virginia to its second NCAA team championship at #1 singles, then goes and, without a day off, wins six matches to claim the NCAA singles championship. In the final match, he was down 0-5 to odds-on favorite Noah Rubin of Wake Forest, then mounted a comeback that was helped, no doubt, by a shift indoors due to rain. Still, Rubin went up 5-3 in the second set and served for the match at 5-4. But Ryan kept to his guns, broke, and then ran away with the tiebreak and the third set.

I saw the guy in person for the first time in February and was frankly blown away by his power on both the forehand and one-handed backhand wings. He flat-out hits the felt off the ball. And he is a great competitor, as shown by his comeback in the team final against Oklahoma's Axel Alvarez, another instance in which he broke back at the end of the second set to extend the match, taking the pressure off Frank, who ended up clinching soon thereafter.

Shane had a nice run last summer to the semifinals at the Futures in Rochester but otherwise has been quiet on the pro level. His game is one that should translate well to the pros, where it helps to have a weapon, and helps even more to have a lot of confidence. Hopefully the confidence he gains from this past week will stay with him for a long time.

2. Noah Rubin was three points from an astonishing feat. Even though he came up a bit short, let's take a moment to appreciate Noah Rubin. He was manhandling Shane, up 5-2 in the first set when events were moved indoors, which I can only speculate played right into Shane's hands. And he still served for the match, but fell behind in the game and was broken at 30. Had he served it out, he would have become just the tenth player to have won both the USTA Boys 18s and the NCAA individual championships, and the first since Billy Martin in 1975. He would've been the first to do the two in consecutive years - AND he had a junior grand slam championship just before Kalamazoo - a three-peat nobody had ever accomplished over a career.

It didn't end up happening but boy what a year for the Long Islander. ITA rookie of the year, led his team to just its third-ever Sweet 16, and the individual finals. Whether he stays at Wake Forest or goes pro may or may not be settled - only he knows for sure. He's got high expectations of himself for the pros and that's about the best we can ask for.

3. Jamie Loeb's dream comes true. Speaking of an amazing player from the John McEnroe Academy who went to college in North Carolina, and had a great freshman campaign leading her team to an historic finish ... but who came up shorter than hoped for in the individual singles tournament - how about Jamie Loeb!! Last year as top seed she lost in the quarterfinals to Lynn Chi of California in three sets.  This year, as seventh seed, she won the whole thing, winning six of her seven five of her six (thanks, Colette!) matches in three sets, including the final against Stanford's Carol Zhao. She'll almost certainly appear late this summer (along with Shane) in the singles main draw of the US Open, effectively her home town tournament (Ossening, NY is an hour north of Queens). Your friendly blog proprietors couldn't be happier about the win, and wish her the best of luck in Flushing Meadows - as well as in various other pro tournaments - in the coming months.

4. Vandy reaches Astra-l heights. Although they were the #4 seed, Vanderbilt surprised a lot of folks by winning its first women's NCAA title. But they had big win after big win, thanks in huge part to their outstanding Aussie redshirt freshman Astra Sharma, who was rightfully named Most Outstanding Player at #2 singles. Sharma clinched the quarterfinal against Florida, the semifinal against #1 seed USC, and the final against defending champ UCLA. Her final match was particularly fun to watch, given the contrast between her and counter-puncher Chanelle Van Nguyen, who is never out of any match until the last ball bounces twice. She was bold in the face of incredible pressure, and made a lot of new fans, including me.

5. French Open qualies didn't go so hot. Alexa Glatch was the only American to qualify for Roland Garros. It looked like Jared Donaldson might join her after crushing top seed Chung Hyeon 0&1 in the first round and Ramkumar Ramanathan 2&0 in the second round. But then came Nikoloz Basilashvili, the man who in the prior round beat blog favorite Bjorn Fratangelo in a dramatic 6-1 6-7(9) 6-2 win after the American saved several set points.

The only other American man to win a match was Jason Jung, who beat Andrej Martin in three sets (all the more impressive given that it was Jung's first clay match of the season). A few women besides Glatch won one match, but only Jessica Pegula joined her in the final round of qualies, before falling to Paula Kania in two sets. In all, a very disappointing - and apparently portentous - start to the clay major.

But hey - FREAKING AWESOME JOB, ALEXA!!! Her first grand slam main draw since 2013 Wimbledon. So nice. So nice.

6. French Open days 1 & 2 - such rough terrain. As was mentioned in this blog's French Open preview, the first couple of days of the French Open featured few obvious wins for Americans. Indeed, Adam picked only one player to win on Sunday or Monday, besides the all-American Sloane Stephens/Venus Williams matchup. And while Lauren Davis fell in three sets on Sunday to the dangerous Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, spirits were lifted a lot by Steve Johnson's epic five-set win over Spain's Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.  After going up 2 sets to 0, most people assumed Johnson had the match in the bag, but he never had a lead in either the third set, which ended in a 7-1 tiebreak, or the fourth. In the fifth, he got broken in the first game but then broke back immediately in a three-deuce game, broke again in the sixth game, and never looked back.

As for Stephens (coming off her first semifinal - in Strasbourg - since the 2013 Australian Open), she was poised and confident in her match. With the exception of getting broken in her first service game (she broke back immediately) and double faulting on her first set point (she won the next one), her attitude, demeanor, and tactics were absolutely on point. Her backhand in particular was fantastic, especially down the line - she had a bushel of winners on that shot. Next up will be her arch-nemesis Heather Watson, whom she's never beaten. But with Sloane and slams, particularly this slam, it's tough to say she can't turn things around.

But yeah, otherwise, sucky first round so far for America.

7. Daniel Nguyen gets yet another Futures title. By winning at the Korea F1 $15K, USC alum Daniel Nguyen became the 11th different American man to win a Futures title in 2015.
Three times this week, including in the first round and the final, he came back from a set down to win. This is his 7th Futures singles title, and third in Korea. His ranking will rise to a new career high after the French Open - here's hoping his current ranking of #242 will be enough to get him into Wimbledon qualies (today's rankings should be the ones used for that).

Gold Stars: John Isner (Nice semifinal), Ernesto Escobedo (Mexico F4 final), Alex Rybakov (qualified & reached Spain F14 semis, upsetting #1 seed in process) and Taylor Fritz (Milan Grade A juniors semifinal).

No comments:

Post a Comment