Monday, June 1, 2015

This Week in American Tennis - Parsa takes the wheel

This week's "This Week" is guest-curated by friend of On the Rise (a tennis blog) Parsa! Please enjoy his take on the May 25-June 1. We're also pleased to introduce a new TWiAT feature, in which we look forward to the coming week. Enjoy!

And please follow Parsa on Twitter!

1. The Sock keeps going higher. Thought of by many as the next great American star, Jack Sock has demonstrated he may be able to live up to that billing with an impressive performance at the French Open. Although Sock had a tricky first-round opponent in tenth seed Grigor Dimitrov, he remained confident and optimistic knowing that if he played his own game and dictated with his massive forehand, he can put up a fight against anybody. Dimitrov entered this year’s tournament with a 3-4 career record at Roland Garros so he was not a huge favorite over the young American from Nebraska. Sock came out and dominated Dimitrov in straight sets as he won 81% of his 1st serve points and saved all six break points he faced in the match.

In his second round encounter against Spaniard Pablo Carreño Busta, Sock displayed his resiliency as he dropped the 1st set and had to save three set points while serving at *4-5 in the 2nd set to keep himself in the match before taking it in four sets. Sock then took on 18-year-old Croat Borna Coric in the third round, who was coming off a five-set victory over Spaniard Tommy Robredo. Coric seemed to be feeling the effects of his grueling match in the previous round as he succumbed to Sock in straight sets; the American completely overpowered him. Sock then set a showdown with the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, in what would be a battle of great forehands. In their fourth-round match, Nadal was finding the Sock backhand and cruised in the first two sets. It then looked like the match was over as Nadal was serving for the match at *5-4 in the third set, but Sock stayed strong to break Nadal, saved a break point in his own service game, and then broke Nadal to take a set off the King of Clay. Nadal then cruised in the next set to wrap up the match in four sets. Overall, it was a fantastic week for Sock as he reached his 1st fourth round at a grand slam in singles and he showed that he is not afraid of the big stage and is hungry for more moments such as these.

Not only was Sock impressive in singles, but he also continued his excellence in doubles with Canadian Vasek Pospisil. The 2014 Wimbledon champions are seeded second at Roland Garros and have won three tight matches to reach the quarterfinals.

2. American women, great and disappointing.  There were 17 American women competing at the start of the French Open but only 4 advanced past the first round; all four of those players also won their second-round matches. One of those four wins was Sloane Stephens as she took out fellow American [15] Venus Williams in the first round in straight sets. Stephens was hitting the ball beautifully as she went out there and played her own game, confidentially hitting 22 winners and only 14 unforced errors compared to Williams’s 21 winners and 30 unforced errors. Stephens  after the match stated her day was made as she got a shout-out on Twitter from an actor on the TV show Scandal.
[Editor's note: Parsa obviously meant to say Felicity rather than Scandal but we'll let this one go.]

World number one Serena Williams cruised in her first-round match, before climbing out of two straight matches in which she dropped the first set. Williams mounted a great comeback particularly vs former world number one Victoria Azarenka in the third round as she came back from 3-6 *2-4 to hold off the Belorussian and reach the fourth round where she set up a clash with Stephens. In the all-American affair, it looked like Stephens was going to get the upset as she lead Williams 6-1 5-4* 0-15, before Williams turned on a switch to somehow turn everything around and take the match in three.

3. Impressive Third-Rounders. Steve Johnson, Madison Keys, and Irina Falconi had some good performances as each of them reached the 3rd round at Roland Garros for the first time. Johnson was in a thriller in the first round as he went up two sets to love over 26th seed Guillermo García-López, before dropping the next two sets as the match went to a fifth set. Johnson immediately got broken to start off the fifth set, but stayed calm and broke the Spaniard right back. Johnson then broke Garcia-Lopez a few games later to clinch the match and win a five-set Roland Garros match in the first round for the 2nd straight year. Johnson then overcame a slow start to beat Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky in four tight sets, setting up a clash against 2014 Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka. Johnson hung with Wawrinka in the first set, but Wawrinka moved him around the court beautifully as he was able to pick his spots as he pleased enabling him to beat Johnson in straight sets.

Keys was the 16th seed and won her first two matches in straight sets before falling to the 23rd seed, Timea Bacsinszky in straight sets. Keys did not dwell on the loss too much, as she is excited about the grass season -- she and coach Lindsay Davenport are focused on making a deep run at Wimbledon.

Falconi had a good run to the third round as she crushed a French wildcard in the first round, before coming back to take out qualifier Sesil Karatantcheva in three sets. Falconi then fell in straight sets to Julia Goerges, who had taken out 5th seed Caroline Wozniacki. By reaching the third round, Falconi will have a career-high ranking around 70 in the world. It is great to see her do well at a slam once again after she has been mostly battling in ITF tournaments the past couple years.

4. Tommy Paul keeps on rolling.  Tommy Paul and a few other young Americans traveled to Europe to play in red clay Futures tournaments ahead of the French Open Junior Championships, an annual trip the USTA has taken with some juniors the past few years. After winning his first Futures title on his 18th birthday, Paul reached the semi-finals at his next tournament, before winning his 2nd title in three weeks this past week in Lecco, Italy, giving him some huge confidence going into Roland Garros. Paul is currently committed to play collegiate tennis at the University of Georgia, a well-coached and solid program, but one has to think that turning pro is in the back of Paul’s mind with the way he has been performing in professional tournaments. As @langtennis has pointed out, most of Paul’s results have come on clay, so it would not hurt to play at Georgia and improve his hard-court game.

5. The return of Ahn. Former Stanford star Kristie Ahn had a fantastic showing at the $25K ITF Changwon Women's Challenger, as she did not drop a set all week en route to her 4th career title and 1st since 2009. It was wonderful to see Ahn finding success again in tournaments and hopefully she can continue her good play.

6. USTA Player Development. A passing of the baton became official yesterday, May 31st, as Martin Blackman officially took over as the head of USTA Player Development, succeeding former Stanford tennis teammate Patrick McEnroe who had the position for over 6 ½ years. Here is a good story by the New York Times in April going more in-depth on Blackman and his future role to try and continuously improve the state of American tennis.
Gold stars: Bob Bryan (French Open doubles QF - still in), Mike Bryan (French Open doubles QF - still in - and French Open mixed doubles - still in) Bethanie Mattek-Sands (French Open doubles QF - still in - and French Open mixed doubles - still in with Mike Bryan), Bjorn Fratangelo (Vicenza Challenger SF), Connor Smith (Korea F2 final), Michael Mmoh (Romania F4 QF & took out #1 seed), and American boys in Paris (went 7-1 in first round matches).

A look ahead to this coming week

World number one Serena Williams is the last remaining American in the French Open and she takes on Italian Sara Errani in the quarterfinals. Williams leads the head-to-head 8-0 and has won 16/18 sets against Errani; in their last WTA meeting, Williams dominated and won 6-3 6-0 in the final at Rome in 2014, although Errani made it close in Fed Cup this past April - Serena won that 4-6 7-6(3) 6-3.

The number one doubles team in the world, Bob and Mike Bryan, are in the quarterfinals of the French Open and they take on Matkowski/Zimonjic whom they beat in straight sets last month in the Monte Carlo semis. Should the Bryan brothers win, they would face the 2015 Australian Open champions Bolelli/Fognini, whom they just beat in straight sets last month in the Monte Carlo final.


In the Gimcheon Challenger played in South Korea this week, three Americans are competing and all three are former collegiate players. Daniel Nguyen (USC) is the 3rd seed, Connor Smith is the 5th seed (Ohio State), and Alexander Sarkissian (Pepperdine) is the 8th seed. Nguyen and Sarkissian are set to meet in the quarterfinals as all three will look to take advantage of a weak draw.

The first grass court tournament of the year will be played this week at the Manchester Challenger in the UK. Four Americans are in the main draw. Austin Krajicek is seeded 8th and takes on wildcard Joshua Milton in the first round; should he advance he would face the winner of Moriya/Broady. Ryan Harrison is back in action after injuring his ankle a month ago at a challenger in Taipei. Harrison will take on a qualifier in the first round, and should he advance he would face the winner of fellow American Rajeev Ram and [4] Ruben Bemelmans. Dennis Novikov will play his first tournament on grass since he played in the Wimbledon Junior Championships in 2010 and 2011. Novikov faces Aussie Jordan Thompson in the first round, and should he advance he would face the winner of [5] James Ward/Sijsling in the second round. All four Americans were drawn in the bottom half of the draw so hopefully at least one of them can advance to the final.

Three Americans are competing in the main draw of the red clay Mestre challenger this week. Congrats to Mitchell Krueger for taking out the 3rd and 5th seeds in qualifying to reach the main-draw. Krueger faces Andrej Martin in the first round, and should he advance he would possibly face the 2nd seed. Sixth seed Bjorn Fratangelo takes on a Spaniard in the first round, and should he advance he would face the winner of an Italian qualifier and an Italian wildcard. I like Bjorn’s chances to at least reach the quarterfinals as he will look to continue his stellar year. Chase Buchanan will look to snap a six-match losing streak as he takes on wildcard Matteo Viola in the first round.

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff Parsa! The depth of American tennis knowledge between the two of you is incredible. Sock and Tommy Paul both having great weeks. More evidence that the future of American tennis is in good hands. Hopefully, Blackman is ready for the job. Certainly have to give some credit to Pmac though. He gets a hard time because some guys like Harrison and Young didn't pan out, but player development is about more than just a couple players. There's more to be excited about in American men's tennis right now than there has been since Roddick, Fish, and Blake were juniors.