Monday, June 22, 2015

These Weeks in American Tennis: Double your pleasure

We are pleased to present a supersized version of This Week in American Tennis!  Parsa has combed through the best and the even better of the last two weeks to bring you all that the USA had to offer on the grass (and some other surfaces) since June 8.

1) DK comes alive. Throughout his career, 22-year-old Denis Kudla hasn’t received as many wildcards into ATP tournaments as other Americans such as Donald Young or Jack Sock.  However his hard work and resiliency are second to none. Prior to this month, Kudla had received 12 wildcards in his career into the main draw of ATP tournaments and successfully qualified to the main draw of an ATP tourney 13 times. Sock, by contrast, has received 22 wildcards in his career into the main draw of ATP tournaments and has successfully qualified to the main draw of an ATP tourney only 4 times. I am not saying that Sock did not deserve those wildcards -- he will be seeded for Wimbledon after all -- but I am saying that a guy like Kudla has had to work a lot harder himself to be successful since he has to grind it out in qualifying much more often.

After the French Open, Kudla separated with coach Tom “Gully” Gullikson and started working with Billy Heiser, who also coaches fellow Americans Tim Smyczek and Rhyne Williams. Before heading back to Europe for the grass-court season, Kudla trained with Heiser for a week at the Saddlebrook Resort in Tampa, Florida -- a common training place for many pros including John Isner, Sock, and the Bryan Brothers.

Kudla had been having a sub-par season up until a couple weeks ago. He was 2-6 in tour-level matches this year, and had only reached one challenger quarterfinal in that time. But then the grass court season arrived. Kudla was seeded fourth at the Surbiton Challenger (screw all the Aegons, I am going with the city) and was playing remarkably well.  He did not drop a set en route to the final where he faced Aussie Matthew Ebden, who had already defeated 3 Americans in the tournament. Kudla took a tight first set in a tie-break before dropping the second set 4-6, and thus the final was taken to a third set. Both players were playing at a pretty high level, but it was Kudla who broke first in the set to go up 4-2. Each player held serve in their next service games which gave Kudla the opportunity to serve out the match and take the title. 5-3 40-15. Two championship points for Kudla. However, two unforced errors and four points later Ebden got the break back. After two holds, the match went to a deciding tiebreak in which Ebden raced out to a 5-2* lead. Denis stayed composed and won the next three points to even it up at 5-5. However, Ebden took the next two points, giving him the title and handing Kudla an extremely heartbreaking loss.

Now fast-forward to this past week in the Ilkley Challenger where Kudla was unseeded and facing Guido Andreozzi in the first round. Kudla found himself trailing 4-6 2-2 *0-30 and also faced two break points at 30-40 & 40-ad. Kudla could easily have decided to sulk and still be upset about how he let the title just slip through his fingertips the prior week in Surbiton. But no no no. This is Denis Kudla we’re talking about. Kudla stayed resilient to win his first round match in three sets and then took out the number one seed in straight sets in the second round. With a three-set victory in the quarterfinals and a solid straight-sets performance in the semifinals, Kudla found himself in the final of a grass-court challenger once again against none other than Matthew Ebden. Kudla was a man on a mission all week and what better way to avenge his crushing defeat the previous week than to defeat the same opponent a week later. Kudla played very solid and stayed focused on his way to a 6-3 6-4 victory to win his fifth career challenger title and first of the year.

Kudla’s solid all-around court game has enabled him to have good results on grass -- he reached the Junior Wimbledon QF as well as ATP QFs at Queens and Newport. In addition, in both 2013 and 2014, Kudla won three qualifying matches at Wimbledon to reach the main draw and then advanced to the second round each time. With his title in Ilkley, Kudla received a main draw wildcard into Wimbledon enabling him to get some rest this week and not have to worry about qualifying. In addition, Kudla brought his ranking all the way up to 105 and is just a few points outside the top 100.

Kudla is part of a competition between four young players sponsored by Tecnifibre who are fighting for their future on the ATP tour. The winner is awarded $50,000. Read here to learn more and make sure when tweeting about Kudla to use #YoungGunsOTR to help him win!

2) An American champion returns. Only for one tournament though. At next month’s BB&T Atlanta Open, Andy Roddick will come out of retirement and receive a wildcard to play doubles with good friend and fellow American Mardy Fish, who has been dealing with an anxiety disorder hindering him from fully returning to competition. Fish will use his protected ranking to also play singles, his first tournament since he played in Indian Wells earlier this year. In addition to playing doubles with Fish, Roddick will participate in a singles exhibition with 17-year-old fellow American Frances Tiafoe, who received a main draw wildcard for singles. On the prospect of facing Tiafoe in the exhibition, Roddick said it “literally scared the shit out of me.” American tennis fans, as well as all other fans of these two beloved players, will be thrilled to see both of these guys back on court, even if it may be only for one tournament.

3) Young studs turn pro. The two most recent American junior slam champions both announced they would turn pro within a couple weeks of each other. 18-year-old Tommy Paul, coming off a title at Roland Garros, has signed with Nike and decided to forego playing collegiate tennis for the University of Georgia. Paul currently has an ATP ranking of 445 and won two ITF singles titles before Roland Garros on European clay.

19-year-old Noah Rubin took a different route than Paul. He won the Wimbledon boys title last year and the 18s National titles at Kalamazoo in both singles and doubles, but still decided to play collegiate tennis at Wake Forest. The decision seemed to play off for the Wake Forest freshman as he was named both ACC Freshman and Player of the Year, and reached the final of the NCAA Singles Championship, helping him finish the season ranked number 5 in singles.

Rubin will play his first tournament as a professional in Tulsa, Oklahoma this week at the USA F19 Futures and then head over to Wichita, Kansas next week for the USA F21 Futures. Paul is entered in both the Nike Junior International Roehampton Grade 1 next week as well as the Wimbledon Junior championships the following week.
4) Former college stars win their 1st pro titles. This past week in Manzanillo, Mexico, Clay Thompson dropped only 8 games in 3 qualifying matches to reach the main draw, and then the 2014 UCLA graduate won his 5 matches in straight sets to clinch his 1st pro title. Even more impressively, Thompson overcame lobsters and puking before his quarterfinal match and immediately went to the hospital after his win (in which he dropped only 3 games).
Winning all 16 of your sets to take a title, it does not get better than that. Or does it? Thompson celebrated afterwards with his trophy under the beautiful Mexico weather in a pool with two special ladies per his tweet.

One week ago, recent University of Caroline graduate Caroline Price played in her 1st pro tournament since 2011 as she received a wildcard into the $10K women's Pro Circuit event in Charlotte, North Carolina. Price, the daughter of former NBA star Mark Price, battled all week in the brutal sun as she took out recent University of Georgia graduate Lauren Herring in a three-set final.  Price not only won her first title, but she also earned her first  WTA ranking -- she is now ranked #893.
This past week, former University of Michigan star Evan King was playing in only his 3rd tournament of the year in Harare where the Zimbabwe F1 Futures were taking place. King has won 11 doubles titles, but had never managed to capture a singles title before this tournament. King turned that around as he dropped only two sets en route to his first pro singles title, ending with a straight-sets win over fellow American Tyler Hochwalt in the final. The week before, King won the doubles title at the Mozambique F2 Futures with fellow American Anderson Reed (King's 11th and Reed’s 2nd career doubles title).

5) Rapid rankings climbers. Two weeks ago, two Americans steadily climbing the rankings each won an ITF Futures title. 19-year-old Deiton Baughman won the Bosnia and Herzegovina F5 Futures, his ssecond singles title of 2015, as he took out top-250 player Nils Langer in the semifinal and the eighth seed in the final in three sets. Baughman had a 2014 year-end ranking of 799, but with some solid performances this year, he has steadily climbed the rankings and this week broke into the top 500 for the first time, moving up 84 spots to #425. Baughman has a few nicknames, but Slim has really stuck with him since he looks a bit like Eminem (Slim Shady). So when you tweet about the 19-year-old, make sure to use his favorite hashtag #SlimRising!

Another American who has quickly ascended the rankings this year is former top-200 player Tennys Sandgren. The former Tennessee Volunteer had hip surgery last year that caused him to be out from February to September. Sandgren saw his ranking plummet all the way down to the 700s after he had been in the 180s. A week ago, Sandgren captured his second futures title of the year -- the USA F16B Futures in Charlottesville, Virginia -- beating 18-year-old fellow American Ernesto Escobedo in the final. Sandgren has been coached recently by former world #52 Brian Baker, who is targeting to return from injury at the 2016 Australian Open. Sandgren has reached the final at his last three tournaments which has helped him move back into the top-300; he currently stands at #280. #ReturnOfTennys

21-year-old Bjorn Fratangelo also recently has mounted the rankings swiftly. In July 2014, Fratangelo was ranked as low as 535, but then he came alive winning two straight futures tournaments in July and then winning two more in September. These four titles helped him enter the top 300, giving him the opportunity to play more challenger events and also enabling him to also earn more points. Fratangelo won his first career challenger title earlier this year in Launceston, helping him ascend into the top 200 for the first time.

Fast forward to last week where Fratangelo slid his way on the red clay to reach the final of the Caltanissetta Challenger. Fratangelo had to battle extremely hard in each and every match as he had a tough path to the final. He won his first round match in two tight tie-breaks, then came back from a set down in each of his next three matches with wins over fellow American Dennis Novikov and top-150 players Alejandro Gonzalez and Marco Cecchinato. In the final, Fratangelo ran into 19-year-old Swede Elias Ymer, who played extremely solid tennis and beat Fratangelo in straight sets. Fratangelo’s solid week in Italy pushed him into the top 125 for the first time as he is now ranked almost 500 spots higher than he was just a year ago.

5) Remarkable Return. Playing at the $10K in Victoria, Canada this past week -- her first pro tournament since 2012 -- 24-year-old qualifier Gail Brodsky came back from a set down in three of her matches, including the final, to win her 4th career singles title and first since 2011. The new mom took out four seeds on her way to the title including the 8th seed in the second round, the 4th seed in the quarterfinals, the 2nd seed in the semifinals, and finally the top seed in the final. About a month before her title this week, Brodsky kicked off her comeback by winning the Intermountain section of the US Open Sectional Qualifying in both singles and mixed doubles. Great job by Brodsky to come back from a three-year layoff and win the first pro tournament she played!
Brodsky is on the right in white

6) Doubles champs. This past week, Rajeev Ram along with partner South African Raven Klassen won the Gerry Weber Open in Halle, an ATP 500 tournament, taking out the #4 seeds in the quarterfinals, the top seeds in the semifinals, and the #2 seeds in the final. This was Ram’s 8th career ATP doubles title and 1st since 2012 as his ranking moved up to #33, tying his career-high from 2010.

A week ago, the all-American duo of Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears took the title as the top seeds in Nottingham, a WTA International event. It was the duo’s 18th title together and their second of the year. They are currently ranked 9th in the WTA Championship Race to Singapore.

While an all-American team won the doubles event at Nottingham, that same week another American took a doubles title as Asia Muhammad won the TopShelf Open at s-Hertogenbosch, a WTA International event, with partner Laura Siegemund. This was Muhammad’s 1st career WTA doubles title.

Gold stars: Hunter Nicholas (USA 16B doubles title with Finn Tearney), Gonzales Austin & Max Jacob Schnur (USA 16B doubles final), Collin Altamirano and Ryan Haviland (USA F16B semis), Adam El-Mihdawy and Andre Dome (Mexico F6 semis), Jean-Yves Aubone & Dome (Mexico F6 doubles final), Cameron Silverman & Raleigh Smith (Israel F8 doubles title), Patrick Davidson (Israel F9 doubles final), Winston Lin (USA F17 semis), Nathan Pasha & Sekou Bangoura (USA F17 doubles title), Greg Ouellette (Netherlands F1 semis), Alexander Sarkissian (Hong Kong F1 finalist), Zoe Scandalis ($10K Manzanillo doubles title with Renata Zarazua), Sabrina Santamaria (qualified & reached semis of $10K Alkmaar), Kourtney Keegan & Alexandra Mueller ($10K Charlotte semis & won doubles title at $25K Sumter with Ashley Weinhold), Jaeda Daniel ($10K Antananarivo finalist), Lauren Embree ($25K Sumter finalist), Jennifer Brady ($25K Sumter semis), Danielle Lao & Jacqueline Cako ($25K Sumter doubles finalists), Sachia Vickery (qualified for Nottingham & reached quarters), Alison Riske (Nottingham semis), Zoe Spence (won ITF juniors title at the Grade 4 in Guatemala).

A look ahead: Other than Kudla’s performances, it has been a rough grass-court season thus far for the American men. There are 7 American men playing in Wimbledon qualifying this week and through Monday we are 0-4 with losses from Chase Buchanan, Jared Donaldson, Jarmere Jenkins, and Dennis Novikov. All 3 seeded players are left in the draw as Fratangelo and Austin Krajicek have yet to play and Ryan Harrison split sets before having to stop play because of darkness.

17-year-old Taylor Fritz, recent finalist at the Roland Garros Junior championships, will make his ATP debut in Nottingham where he has received a main draw wildcard. Fritz has stated that grass is his favorite surface and that with his game style, it is a fun surface to play on. Steve Johnson and Donald Young suffered first round losses in Nottingham, Sam Querrey had a bye first round, and Tim Smyczek and Fritz have yet to complete their matches because of rain.

Jack Sock has not played any grass-court warm-up events, but he will participate once again at the Boodles, an exhibition tournament that will also feature other players such as Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and fellow American John Isner.

On the women's side, there are 11 American woman playing in Wimbledon qualifying this week and they are: Louisa Chirico, Allie Kiick, Vickery, Jessica Pegula, Grace Min, Maria Sanchez, Alexa Glatch, Anna Tatishvili, Melanie Oudin, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, and Katerina Stewart.

In the WTA Premier Event at Nottingham this week, Christina McHale, Irina Falconi, and Lauren Davis all qualified to the main draw. Falconi earned a first-round win, but McHale and Davis both lost, as did Madison Brengle and Varvara Lepchenko. In the main-draw, Sloane Stephens came from a set down to win advance to the second round where she will face 5th seed, Carla Suรกrez Navarro. Riske had a dominant straight sets win over Alize Cornet to reach the second round where she will face struggling 7th seed Eugenie Bouchard. The winner of that match will take on the winner of 12th seed Madison Keys and 18-year-old Belinda Bencic. Coco Vandeweghe had a nice win after being a set down to reach the second round where she will face 6th seed Angelique Kerber, who is coming off a title last week in Birmingham.

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