Sunday, June 28, 2015

This Week in American Tennis: 5 Takeaways

1. Let us now talk about Sam. Sam Austin Querrey is a tremendously gifted tennis player. He can serve lights out (#8 in aces on the year), hits big from both sides (yes even the backhand) and is, as the saying goes, a decent mover for his size (6'6"). He's won 7 singles titles - including on clay, grass, outdoor hard and indoor hard - and has wins over Djokovic, Wawrinka, and Murray. He's had the second-best American male career since the Very Good Roddick/Blake/Fish generation after John Isner, having spent 42 weeks in the Top 20, a ranking no other American born since 1985 has achieved (in fact, only Jack Sock has reached the Top 30).

For all his gifts and achievements, however, Sam has been criticized - often - for his questionable dedication to his craft, drive to achieve greatness, and mental strength in tight moments. As my midyear awards post demonstrated, he had a disproportionate number of matches this year in which he lost from a winning position.

So this week in Nottingham, it was to the amazement, and delight, of many as Querrey turned the tables, and won four matches to reach the final of the 250-level tournament. Most impressively, twice he came back from a set and a break down to win. In the quarterfinal, he saved match point against world #13 Gilles Simon to win 5-7 7-6(8) 6-4 then in the semis, he tripped up Alexandr Dolgopolov to win 4-6 6-3 7-5. He served out the match ace ace ace ace to make his second ATP final of 2015, more than any other American.

Then came the final. I didn't watch. But I saw Querrey down a set, and this time two breaks (returning at 2-5*), and I wasn't hopeful. But then he broke. And held and broke! And held!! And although Istomin held to take it to the second tiebreak of the match, Sam went up 5-1 and surely with his serve ..........

No. Sam lost 6-7(1) 6-7(6). Same ol' Ol' Sam?

2. Sloane now 0-6 in semifinals. Sloane Stephens - still your blog proprietor's favorite player despite everything - lost in the semis of the Aegon Whateverthisoneis in Eastbourne, 1-6 7-6(3) 2-6 to Aga Radwanska. (Yes, it's okay to have favorites, unless they're your kids, in which case you can have them but for God's sake don't blog about it.) This is the sixth chance she's had to reach a final, and her sixth loss in those matches. This is vexing.

To reach the Eastbourne semis, she had to overcome a game Naomi Broady in a third set tiebreak. Then she recorded her first Top 10 win since 2013 with 6-1 7-5 rout of Carla Suarez Navarro, and then made quick work of former bete noir Heather Watson. She caught a break with a walkover from Daria Gavrilova, and then came Aga.

Aga had always been a bit of a bother for Sloane. Three times before they'd faced each other. Twice, the match went to three sets while the other time Sloane lost 1-6 6-7(2). She always seemed to have a chance, but never trump the crafty Pole. But Aga has struggled this season. So you kind of thought, maybe? And after she blew TEN break points in her first two return games and went on to eat a breadstick in the set - and then Aga served for the match at 6*-5 in the second set - you thought, maybe not. But Sloane broke right back, thoroughly controlled the tiebreak, and you though, maybe?

But the wind picked up and so did Aga's level, and Sloane's dropped, and that was that. Here are highlights.

Beyond the disappointment, here are two notable things about this tournament. First, it's the second straight non-slam event at which Ms. Stephens has reached a semifinal after going 39 consecutive non-slam tournaments without a semi. It's true she lucked out in her quarterfinals - a retirement for Jelena Jankovic in Strasbourg and the walkover this week - but after going 0 for her last 8 in quarters, she'll take it. Second, it really does seem like she's as positive and proactive about her game as she has been at any time since early 2013. Going into Wimbledon and the summer hardcourt season, that's very promising news.

3. Futures frustration. US men have done quite well in Futures tournaments this year, with 18 titles from 13 guys. And this week, with 9 men in 4 Futures semifinals, it seemed quite likely we would get at least one more. But boy, did hope turn to sorrow quickly. First, in Harare, Evan King (ZIM F1 champion) led in both sets against South African Lloyd Harris only to fall 4-6 5-7 in the ZIM F2 semis. Then in Richmond, B.C., Alexios Halebian and Eric Quigley both won their CAN F3 semifinal first sets but lost in three to Canadians Philip Bester and Brayden Schnur, respectively.

(The Halebian loss hurt perhaps more because Bester shouldn't have even been there. I mean, I don't like to use the world "should" very often in tennis - things happen or they don't happen, there is no should. But back in the second round, Eric Johnson (USC) led Bester 5-1 40*-0 in the third set. Perhaps this was some sort of national revenge for Bester, who had three match points in April against Wil Spencer only to lose their USA F12 quarterfinal, and who was up a break in the third against Jarmere Jenkins in the Drummondville Challenger in March only to lose 10-8 in the third set tiebreak. But still: BOOOOOO!)

Then there were the two USA Futures: F18 in Rochester, N.Y. and F19 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In the former, 7 of the 8 quarterfinalists were American but the winner was #1 seed Emilio Gomez (ECU), who pulled double duty in beating both Alex Rybakov and Sekou Bangoura on Sunday. In the latter, 14 of the Round of 16ers were American but the winner was #1 seed Darian King (BAR). King didn't lose a set in his first four matches (all against Americans) but was down 2-6 3-5* to Noah Rubin only to win the last 10 games of the match to win 6-2 7-5 6-0. King has been dominant on the Futures circuit this year, winning 32 of 40 matches en route to 4 singles titles (only his 0-3 mark against Frances Tiafoe has besmirched his Futures record). Unfortunately for the Barbadian, he struggles mightily in Challengers, reaching only 1 quarterfinal in his career. But he'll be Top 200 now, or right around there, and he really needs to play those moving forward. So we'll see how that goes.

4. Danielle Lao!!! US women did somewhat better on their ITF circuit, with Jaeda Daniel reaching her second career $10K final in the Indian Ocean and four women making the semis of the $25K in Baton Rouge. Danielle Lao won the thing, her second career title, both in 2015. Here's a nice article, framed with a local Baton Rouge connection, after she claimed the title over qualifier Brooke Austin (who has to be chuffed about her week).

Lao is closing in on the Top 300 now, and is making good on her appellation as The Little Giant.
A photo posted by Danielle Lao (@thelittlegiant) on

5. Wimbledon qualies turns out to be a mixed bag. First, the good news - two American women qualified for Wimbledon: Sachia Vickery, who will be making her SW19 debut (and is closing in on that Top 100 debut) and Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who was clearly inspired by Jon Wertheim's suggestion she quit singles and won all six of her sets. Additionally Louisa Chirico won her first two qualies matches and was drawn first by BMS-victim Shahar Peer in a depressing Lucky Loser draw. However, as of the posting of this post, no woman has withdrawn. But hope springs eternal (or will until Tuesday).
The menfolk though. We knew it would be tough when we looked at their draws and indeed it was. Only one fellow, Bjorn Fratangelo, won a round (his first grass match as a pro!) and he lost against the very tough J.P. Smith in the second round. So he'll have to wait until New York to make his Grand Slam main draw debut. Austin Krajicek and Ryan Harrison lost winnable matches in third sets, Dennis Novikov lost to veteran Paul-Henri Mathieu in three sets, Jared Donaldson fell to Ivan Dodig (recent Wimby 4th rounder) in straights, Jarmere Jenkins lost to Evgeny Donskoy in two, and Chase Buchanan lost 6-1 2-1 (ret.) against Tristan Lamasine. Note that Buchanan was UP 6-1 2-1 when he had to retire, which just underlines how sucky tennis can be, and how tough Chase's year has been.

And of course, this had to be an historically bad qualies for US guys:

It's weird that that was the case - since qualies are a bit of a crapshoot, and you're talking about guys in the 100-250 range, in which Americans are pretty well represented. But it is what it is.

Gold Stars (given in addition to those highlighted above): Usue Arconada (Baton Rouge SF), Samantha Crawford (Baton Rouge SF and doubles final title), Emily Harman (Baton Rouge doubles final title), Zoe Scandalis (Manzanillo $10K SF and doubles title), Bernarda Pera (Helsingborg $25K SF and doubles title), Taylor Fritz (first ATP win, in Nottingham), Deiton Baughman (BEL F3 doubles title), Raymond Sarmiento & Hunter Nicholas (CAN F3 doubles title), Dominic Cotrone & Quinton Vega (USA F18 doubles title), Andre Dome (USA F19 SF and doubles title), Jean-Yves Aubone (USA F19 doubles title), and Tennys Sandgren (USA F19 SF).

A look ahead: Wimbledon. Seven USA men are in the main draw, and this blog has optimistically estimated 9 wins for them. We think they'll go 6-1 in the first round (with only Donald Young losing) and 3-3 in the second round (with Isner, Sock, and Denis Kudla winning). However, we have those three losing to Marin Cilic, Roger Federer, and Kei Nishikori in those 3rd round matches. It doesn't sound great but even 6 wins would be one more than the last two years. For this year, at least, nine would be divine.

Sixteen USA women are in the main draw. This blog has Serena Williams winning and completing the Serena Slam, and putting herself 7 matches away from the calendar Grand Slam. We have her beating Venus Williams in the 4th Round, who in turn beats Madison Brengle in the first round. We also have Madison Keys progressing to the quarterfinals and Stephens into the Round of 16. Beyond that, we don't have any 3rd rounders predicted but boy howdy are we hopeful!

Women's ITFs - Taylor Townsend, who is struggling mightily, is scheduled to play the El Paso $25K this coming week along with Jennifer Brady (who had to withdraw from Baton Rouge due to food poisoning), Asia Muhammad, Crawford, and Sanaz Marand.

Men's Futures - Again, two American Futures; again, both stacked with Americans. Darian King will be top seed at the Wichita $15K with Mitchell Krueger, Sandgren, Stefan Kozlov, Nicolas Meister, Mackenzie McDonald, Dome, Spencer Papa and Rubin among many in the main draw. In Pittsburgh, a $10K will feature Rybakov and Halebian, with plenty of other Americans playing as well.

In Canada, Quigley, Marcos Giron, and at least 7 other Americans are on the acceptance list. In Zimbabwe, Evan King, Evan Song, and Michael Grant are in the main draw. Colombia: Kevin King. Netherlands: Greg Ouellette and qualifier Mitchell Stewart. Spain: Peter Kobelt (3rd seed) and Eduardo Nava. Belgium: Deiton Baughman is the #3 seed.

Roehampton - The Grade 1 grass-court warm-up features 8 American boys (who went 7-1 in the first round, with Fritz as top seed) and 8 American girls (who went 4-3 in the first round, with Sofia Kenin's match postponed in the second set). Zootennis, of course, will have all your Roehampton results all week.

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