Monday, August 3, 2015

This Week in American Tennis: Considering Isner's place in history

1. Isner reaches double digits titles. The Wet Hot American Summer (aka the US Open Series) is usually John Isner's time to shine and it looks like he's doing it again, with his first final and title of the year coming at the BB&T Atlanta Open. It wasn't his most impressive run in Atlanta (he only beat one player ranked in the top 90 - a hobbled Marcos Baghdatis in the final) but it had to be satisfying to capture his tenth ATP title. In doing so, he joined select company:

That stat provides an interesting perspective on Isner's career -- he's nearly reached James Blake's level of excellence. Sure he's only reached one major quarterfinal (Blake reached 3), hasn't won Davis Cup, has a lower career-high ranking (9 vs 4 for Blake), and hasn't make the World Tour Finals or an Olympic semifinal. But he's equalled Blake in tour titles (Blake has 9 250s and 1 500, Isner has 10 250s). He's reached 2 Masters Series finals, as did Blake. And he's a few months away from securing his 6th consecutive Top 20 year-end finish. Blake only had 3.

Isner has a game that can probably hold up - or even improve - over the next few years. The serve isn't going anywhere. It could be that when he finally retires, he'll have had the second-best career of any American born since 1972. Say what you will about the man: for someone who didn't ever expect to reach this level of excellence, he's done quite well.

1a. The Bryans get title #107. There's excellence and then there's the kind of excellence where only having 4 titles more than halfway through the year comes across as disappointing. The Bryan Brothers are still going strong, winning Atlanta in come-from-behind fashion in the final (4-6 7-6(2) 10-4 over Gilles Muller and Colin Fleming). In doing so, they combined with Isner to do something for the first time in over 5 years:

The title moves them to #2 in the Race to London behind Wimbledon champs Rojer and Tecau. Like Isner, they'll want to use this summer to gather as many points as possible to continue to build on their records: most consecutive weeks at #1 (Mike currently has 153, Bob has 129 - next best is Todd Woodbridge with 125); most total weeks at #1 (Mike with 444, Bob with 428 - third best is John McEnroe with 269); most doubles titles (Mike 109, Bob 107 - then Daniel Nestor 87). Of course, their main concern will be the US Open, where they're hoping to surpass Woodbridge and Roy Emerson and tie John Newcombe with 17 major titles.

1b. Kudla makes his first ATP semifinal. Last year at this time Denis Kudla was sidelined with mono and now look at him. In four tournaments since Roland Garros he's got a Challenger final, a Challenger title, the 4th round of a major, and now an ATP semifinal - as a qualifier - with wins over contemporaries Jack Sock and Ryan Harrison. Top 80 (and #6 American). And awfully close to an ATP final (he lost to Isner 5-7 in the third, and had 40-15 at 5*-6).  He's one of five Americans aged 23 and under in the Top 150 (Sock, Harrison, Bjorn Fratangelo, and Jared Donaldson are the others). And he's virtually assured of direct acceptance into the next 4 majors, starting with the US Open - a huge monetary boost and stepping stone for the future.

Kudla is still seeking his first Top 20 win but he's getting closer. Given his tennis smarts and the purity of his ball-striking, I think he'll be able to hang at the ATP level for some time.

2. Crawford wins the USTA Pro Circuit US Open Wild Card Challenge. Last year, US women dominated the three tournaments that combined to make up the US Open Wild Card Challenge. 5 of the 6 finalists and 5 of the 6 other semifinalists were American. This year, only 3 of the 12 semifinalists were American: Sanaz Marand in Stockton, Brooke Austin in Sacramento, and finally Samantha Crawford in Lexington - beating Jennifer Brady in a winner-take-all quarterfinal. Crawford being the highest ranked of the three secured the US Open wild card in what would have been an anticlimactic finish. But then she came from behind to beat Julie Coin in the semis, and made the wild card challenge a little more satisfying.

This will be the first main draw at a major since 2012, when she took a wild card into the US Open qualies and then won all three of her matches there. Of course, the following week she swept her way to the US Open Girls title (her last junior title) and set up huge hopes for her pro career. Fast forward 3 years later, and it's been something of an uneven ride for the 20-year-old. She's still seeking her first singles title (she's reached four finals) but her big game makes her a threat against plenty of higher-ranked players. With only 39 points to defend through the end of the year, there's every reason to think she can finally break into the Top 200.

3. Lexington proves a tough nut for the men to crack, again. Last year, only 4 US men won their first round matches at the Kentucky Bank Tennis Championships in Lexington, and the sole US semifinalist (Wayne Odesnik) lost to James Ward (who in turn lost to James Duckworth). In 2013, only 3 US men won their first round matches at the Fifth Third Bank Tennis Championships in Lexington, and the sole US semifinalist (Bradley Klahn) lost to James Duckworth (who in turn lost to James Ward).

And this year, only 4 US men won their first round matches at the Kentucky Bank Tennis Championships in Lexington. This year, though, there were TWO US semifinalists - Bjorn Fratangelo and Mitchell Krueger. But again, neither advanced to the final. Still the two friends are now in first and second place in the US Open Wild Card Challenge, and both as a result of their success are at a new career high ranking (Fratangelo #110, Krueger #241).

That leaves one tournament - Aptos, in another week from now - to decide the precious (and lucrative) wild card. Fratangelo is very much in the driver's seat, as he can only be beaten by a final or title, depending on who gets there.  Currently, only Austin Krajicek is set to join Fratangelo in the main draw, although 5 of the 9 top alternates are American. If for some reason Bjorn doesn't secure the automatic wild card, one would hope he receives one of the USTA's discretionary wild cards. He's had too good of a year not to.

4. US Open qualies cut-off is here (I think). My understanding is that August 3rd's rankings will be used for US Open qualifying. Last year, the men's cut-off was right around #250. If that is the same this year (it could certainly be higher or lower), then Fratangelo, Harrison, Krajicek, Donaldson, Dennis Novikov, Alexander SarkissianDaniel Nguyen, and Jarmere Jenkins (221) should definitely be in. Krueger (241) and Connor Smith (242) should also be in, while Tennys Sandgren (262) will be hoping for numerous withdrawals. Also in, I believe, is 2014 American Collegiate Invitational winner Marcos Giron and of course the eventual winner of the US Open National Playoffs, who may or may not be American.

For the women, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Shelby Rogers, Anna Tatishvili, Nicole Gibbs, Louisa Chirico, Sachia Vickery, Katerina Stewart, Alexa Glatch, Maria Sanchez, Jennifer Brady, Taylor Townsend, Grace Min, and Julia Boserup (221) should all be in, with Lauren Embree (241) and Bernarda Pera (242) also likely in. On the cusp: Jessica Pegula (255), Allie Kiick (256) and finally Marand (269). Jamie Loeb won the 2014 American Collegiate Invitational but as she also won the 2015 NCAA individual title, she's much more likely to receive a main draw wild card. See above regarding the US Open National Playoffs winner.

5. Titles for Glatch, King, and Di Lorenzo. At the $25K in Gatineau, Canada, Alexa Glatch had a comfortable run in which she failed to let her opponents get as many as 5 games in any set on her way to her third title of the year. Glatch will return to the Top 150 for the first time in a couple of years on August 10, and will be eyeing a possible career high by the end of the year - her previous career high was #102, set on August 3, 2009.

18-year-old Francesca Di Lorenzo, slated to start Ohio State this coming year, won a title in only her third pro tournament, the $10K in Austin, Texas. Impressively, she beat Alexa Graham (who had beaten her the first round last week in Evansville, Indiana) in the semis and then Evansville champion Lauren Herring in the final.

And in Edwardsville, Illinois (across the river from St. Louis, Missouri), Chicago native Evan King won his second career title (both this year) by taking out Clay Thompson in straight sets. Bobby Knight has a comprehensive overview of the final.

A couple more great results from Evan and he'll be getting back near his career high of #426 in no time.

6. Robby Ginepri sets retirement date. Alongside Mardy Fish and Michael Russell, Robby Ginepri will be playing his last tournament at the US Open. Fish will get in via his protected ranking, while I have to think Russell will get a qualies wild card. Since Ginepri is a former semifinalist, one would imagine he is a big candidate for one of the very few discretionary main draw wild cards available. We will see.

Either way, I have to say that Ginepri was a great follow for many years on tour. His run to the Open semis was as excited as I got for a several-year stretch in the mid-2000s, and his 2005 and 2009 title runs in Indianapolis were great for this Midwestern resident to be able to watch in person. It's been tough to see his decline in the past couple of years, but it does nothing to diminish the fine career he had as a pro.

Gold stars: Mattek-Sands (Florianopolis semifinal), John Lamble (first career title, USA F23 doubles with Alan Kohen (ARG)), Chris Eubanks and Donald Young (Atlanta doubles semifinal), Marcos Giron (CAN F6 doubles title with Farris Gosea (GBR) and singles semifinal), Sarah Dvorak (first career title, Austin $10K with Lynn Kiro (RSA)), Ryan Harrison (qualified Washington DC ATP 500), Nicole Gibbs (qualified Stanford), Sanaz Marand (qualified Washington DC), and Sam Querrey, Madison Brengle and the rest of the Washington Kastles (World Team Tennis champions ... again). OH! And welcome back to Christian Harrison, who had a cup of coffee for the WTT Boston Lobsters, his first competitive tennis in over 2 years.

A look ahead:

Stanford: Although Serena Williams pulled out, several Americans are still in this WTA Premier tournament, including #7 seed Madison Keys, Alison Riske, Varvara Lepchenko, wild card CiCi Bellis, and qualifier Gibbs.

Washington, DC: The men's event, a 500-leve tournament, features #8 seed Isner, #13 seed Querrey, #15 seed Sock, plus Young, Steve Johnson, Tim Smyczek, wild card Kudla and qualifier Harrison.  The women's event has #7 seed CoCo Vandeweghe, Brengle, Sloane Stephens, Lauren Davis, Irina Falconi, Christina McHale, wild cards Taylor Townsend and Louisa Chirico and qualifier Marand.

Segovia Challenger: Smith is in the main draw.

Plzen $25K: Pera is set to be in the main draw (likely as a seed)

Fort Worth $10K: Herring and Nicole Frenkel lead a group of a dozen American players

Vienna $10K: Tina Tehrani plays #3 seed Skamlova.

Sharm El Sheikh $10K: Alexandra Riley is in the main draw, joined by Eva Siskova (qualified without playing a match). Shelby Talcott is in the first/final round of qualifying.

Tunis $10K: Karyn Gottormsen is in the main draw.

CHN F12/Fuzhou: Winston Lin and Shawn Hadavi are in the final round of qualies

ITA F21/Bolzano: Collin Altamirano and Morgan Mays (qualifier) are in the main draw

LAT F1/Jurmala: Hunter Reese (VOLS) qualified, dropping just 5 games in 3 matches

USA F24/Decatur: Kings Evan and KevinHiltziks Aron and Jared, fellow Illini Tim Kopinski, and Giron are the only Americans in the main draw (to be joined by at least 5 Americans qualifiers).

Zoo & San Diego: Finally, the USTA Boys and Girls 18s and 16s have already started in Kalamazoo, Michigan and San Diego, California, respectively. I'll be headed to the Zoo later this week, but regardless the best source of news will be Colette Lewis at her blog and on TwitterThe main tournament website is here. A great follow for information on the Girls is J. Fred SidhuThe main tournament website is here.

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