Monday, August 17, 2015

This Week in American Tennis: The Triumphant Return of Vicky Duval

1. The Triumphant Return of Vicky Duval. It was just 13 months ago that Victoria Duval got the earth-shattering news that she had developed Hodgkins lymphoma, a form of cancer that affects the immune system. After five rounds of chemotherapy, she announced that she was cancer free a couple of months later, and then has spent the last year recovering, training, and painting and crafting.  During her time away from the tour, Duval kept her fans in the loop thanks to a series of upbeat vlog posts (best being this one with fellow cancer survivor Madison Brengle) and a great Ted X talk.

It all led up to the moment this past week when she landed in Pennsylvania, ready to start her comeback at the $25K in Landisville, Penn.

Ultimately, getting back in competition is always a massive milestone for a player who's been out for any reason. Bryan Armen Graham covered Vicky's saga in great detail for the Guardian, including her first-round win over qualifier Sophie Chang (UVA incoming). She followed up that win with a massive come-from-behind effort against recent world #1 junior, Serbian Ivana Jorovic. Duval fell behind a set and 0-3* (two breaks) in that match. She then got a quick break back for 1*-3, and saved 5 break points in the next game but on her 6th, double faulted to give Jorovic a 4*-1 lead. Duval then won two straight games and Jorovic seemed to start to flag, but eked out a hold for 5-3*. At deuce in the ensuing game, Duval was dictating the point with big groundies, got a short ball, and hit a huge swinging backhand volley that was very close to the sideline. Jorovic got halfway through a celebratory "AJDE," thinking her defense had given her match point, until she realized the shot had been called in. Duval then held, forcing Jorovic to try to serve for the quarterfinals.

Jorovic did get to match point serving for it at 5*-4 but her serve and forehand couldn't handle the moment. She dumped the first groundstroke she had on match point into the net, then hit a few weak forehands in the next point to allow Duval to power to break point, and finally a meek double fault got Duval to 5-5. It was, as they say, one-way traffic after that (well, there were a few tough games in there but the final outcome didn't ever seem in doubt). Duval won 10 of the last 11 games.

You can watch it all here (starts at 3:47:30).

(Note a petulant Jorovic heading the opposite direction from the chair umpire after shaking Duval's hand at 6:12:40. Kids these days.)

Unfortunately, Duval was forced to withdraw from the tournament after that, as her body reacted with all sorts of cramping it seems. But by no means did that overshadow what she accomplished just by getting back on court.

1a. The Return of the (Vania) King. Less vaunted than Duval's return, Vania King also made her comeback to competition after nearly a year out due to a neck/back injury. Her last match was a drubbing by Venus Williams at the 2014 US Open at which Vania was clearly less than 100%. In her opening match, she beat France's Julie Coin in three sets - a match in which she needed **14** match points to win. She lost subsequently to Naomi Broady 4-6 6-7(9) - a match that, had she converted one of her set points, could have changed the entire tournament. In any case, we're thrilled to have the former world #50 player back in action.

1b. A great tournament for Robin Anderson.  After finishing a stellar career at UCLA featuring a 2013 2014 national championship, Robin Anderson came to Pennsylvania having already had an excellent summer. First, she qualified for and reached the semifinal of the $25K in El Paso, Texas, beating Cal's Maegan Mansse before losing a tight three-setter to fellow Bruin Jennifer Brady. Then, following a first-round qualifying loss to Baylor's Ema Burgic Bucko in Stockton (in three sets), she beat former Florida Gator Lauren Embree and then Brady before falling to Florida's Brooke Austin in the Sacramento quarters ... in three sets.

Honestly, with all these fellow-collegians out there, Anderson must have felt like she was playing back in the NCAA's. It's great to see so many college women succeeding at the pro level. I plan on looking more into that phenomenon this fall.

In Landisville, Anderson qualified and won four matches (two in third sets), including a huge win over world #101 An-Sophie Mestach, on her way to the final against Broady. There, both players played top-notch contrasting tennis, Broady with her offense-oriented game and Anderson with her defense. Each dropped serve just once on their way to a third-set tiebreak. Per the ITF stats, which aren't always the most accurately, Broady the Brit had 17 aces and only 1 double fault.

In the final game, Broady was incensed about what she saw as a bad out call on the sideline at 3-2. It was a floating defensive shot that Anderson was poised to hit a winner off of, but nonetheless Broady took well over a minute to reach the other side of the court, and perhaps the delay negatively affected an already exhausted Anderson, who won only won one point after that. (A 28-stroke match point was epic, though, well worth watching.)

This week should vault Anderson well inside the Top 500 once included in the rankings, up to a new career high (which is #463, set last spring). Here's hoping the USTA gives Anderson a US Open qualies wild card in recognition of her wonderful college career.

Broady, by the way, was an America-destroyer all week, beating three host-country women and being the beneficiary of the Duval walkover. Here's a fun local article about her final victory.

Bjorn Fratangelo (Twitter profile pic)
2. US Open Wild Card to Bjorn Fratangelo. A big congratulations to Bjorn Fratangelo, who edged Austin Krajicek to win the US Open Wild Card Challenge. Bjorn's results in three tournaments were terrific: a final in Binghamton followed by semifinals in Lexington and this past week in Aptos -- a total of 10 victories. However, due to the way the challenge was set up, a title by any American in Aptos would have been enough to overcome those results. Thus, when Krajicek fended off a game Fratangelo (including all seven break points) in Saturday's semifinal match, Bjorn could only sit and watch the final, and (in theory at least) root against his friend.

Fortunately for Fratangelo, Krajicek had to face John Millman, the Aussie Lexington champ with a seeming inability to miss. Although Austin played outstanding tennis in the second set to take it to a decider, he went down an early break in the third and couldn't convert on his 0-40 opportunity as Millman successfully served for the match at 5-4. The loss was a heartbreaker for Krajicek but he can be proud of his level all week, which started with an intense opening-round 6-7(4) 6-4 7-6(7) win over Dennis Novikov. (Novikov also refused to shake the chair umpires hand after his loss. Yeesh.)

So Fratangelo's 83 points from Aptos and Binghamton overcame Krajicek's 60 from Aptos alone. Fratangelo will play in his first-ever grand slam main draw in a few weeks, and while I tend to avoid saying anyone "deserves" a wild card, it's definitely great to see him get one. He's definitely one of the feel-good stories of American men's tennis this year, and is now at a career high ranking of #106. Fratangelo still has around 100 points to defend for the rest of the year - but a few more challenger semifinals should guarantee him that coveted Top 100 ranking to end 2015, meaning his first direct berth into a major next January in Melbourne.

3. Doubles mastery in Canada. Ho hum, the Bryan Brothers won their 109th title, 35th Masters 1000 title, and third consecutive title this summer ... and booked their place into London's World Tour Finals this fall.  If you (correctly) consider 2001 the first year of the millennium, the Bryan Brothers will have been in the World Tour Finals every year it's been offered for doubles (a total of 14 times in 15 years).

To win in Montreal, the Bryans had to survive three super tiebreaks, including a 10-8 second-round win over Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco and the 10-6 win over Daniel Nestor and Edouard Roger-Vasselin in the final. Obviously, winning the US Open is by far the biggest goal of the Bryans this year, as it would tie them with John Newcombe for the most-ever grand slam doubles titles (17). But the Canada win will go far in helping Mike achieve another massive record: his 10th year-ending #1 ranking.

Meanwhile, speaking of excellent doubles in Canada, Bethanie Mattek-Sands again showed her doubles prowess by teaming with Lucie Safarova to win Toronto. It was the pair's 4th title this year, and first since the French Open. The team vaulted, for now, past Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza into the lead in the Road to Singapore with 6390 points to their rivals' 6236. Both teams have now qualified for the year-end event.

Mattek-Sands is now at a career-high #3 in the doubles rankings, despite continuing to focus on singles. The two won't be playing together this week in Cincinnati, as Mattek-Sands will be playing the $100K ITF in Vancouver. But they'll certainly pair again in New York and we can all only hope for a final featuring the top two teams in the world.

3a. Tough losses for several players. Serena Williams losing just her second match of the year was not a bad loss, even if it was to relatively unseasoned Belinda Bencic, who had a phenomenal run in Toronto. Still, she reached the semis.  But elsewhere it was tough sledding. CoCo Vandeweghe and Alison Riske fell to Carina Witthoeft - a great opportunity for both women as Lesia Tsurenko ended up getting into the quarterfinals in that section and Sara Errani reached the semis. DC champ Sloane Stephens fell in a first-round encounter against Dominika Cibulkova; defending champion Venus Williams was drubbed 0&3 by Sabine Lisicki, and Irina Falconi, Varvara Lepchenko, and Anna Tatishvili all failed to win more than 6 games in their matches.  Brengle did get a win over wildcard Carol Zhao but then lost to Errani in three sets.

Serena, in fact, was the only non-European among the 16 players to make the 3rd round (although Daria Gavrilova is in the process of changing her representation to Australia). I keep hearing it's a global tour but once again, one continent is just dominant. Absolutely dominant.

3b. A few huge wins for the men, though. In Montreal, it was a devastating loss for John Isner against Jeremy Chardy in the quarterfinals: 6-7(9) 7-6(13) 7-6(4). As you might imagine, Isner had several match points in the second set, including one on his serve at 6-4. HOWEVER! Donald Young upset #5 seed Tomas Berdych, Jack Sock overcame #14 seed Grigor Dimitrov, and in all, US men had 8 main draw wins up north, the most they've had at that event since 2004. We'll take it.

4. The King of Champaign. If Budweiser is the "King of Beers" and Miller High Life is the "Champagne of Beers," then let's call Kevin King the "King of Champaign." The former Georgia Techie did one better than his run last week in Decatur, Ill. by winning the final at the USA F25 Futures event in nearby Champaign. He beat Richard Gabb 6-3 6-1 in the final, the same guy he beat in the Decatur semifinal.

The only player who seemingly gave him trouble all week was Tommy Paul, one of three Kalamazoo quarterfinalists to reach the Champaign quarters (all three lost). Paul, however, was up 5*-2 in the third set and had several match points before falling 6-1 2-6 7-6(8). (Fortunately for Paul, it freed him up to play Cincinnati ATP qualies on Saturday.  Unfortunately for Paul, he lost a uniquely scorelined 6-2 0-6 6-0 match to Denis Kudla in said qualies match.)

It was the 3rd career singles title for the lefty King who, as Colette Lewis points out, is set to re-enter the Top 300 next week. King only has 16 points to defend until March, so don't be surprised to see him inch even further up the rankings if he can stay healthy for the rest of the year. His game is certainly good enough to be a fixture in the Top 200, in this blogger's humblest of opinions.

Gold Stars: Justin Shane (USA F25/Champaign doubles title and singles SF as Lucky Loser), Ryan Shane (Champaign doubles title), Alexandra Mueller (Landisville $25K QF & doubles SF), Shelby Rogers (Landisville SF), Nicole Frenkel (qualified & reached Landisville QF), Nadja Gilchrist and Brynn Boren (Landisville doubles final), and Nicholas Monroe (Aptos SF with Krajicek).

A look ahead:

Cincinnati ATP & WTA: Already underway - Denis Kudla qualified to join Sock, Isner, Querrey, and wildcards Rajeev Ram, Mardy Fish, Jared Donaldson, and Fratangelo in the main draw.  Kudla plays Vasek Pospisil while Isner and Querrey face each other, as do Fratangelo and Sock. Ram faces Montreal semifinalist Chardy and Donaldson drew qualifier Nicolas Mahut (who beat Steve Johnson and Frances Tiafoe in qualies).

On the women's side, Christina McHale and Lauren Davis qualified, joining wildcards Riske and Vandeweghe and 6 other American women in the main draw. Davis got the toughest assignment: she'll face Vika Azarenka in the first round.

Vancouver Challenger & ITF: This tournament is run by the USTA and so several of the wildcards went to Americans: Novikov and Alexander Sarkissian for the men and Vania King and US Open Wild Card Challenge winner Samantha Crawford for the women.

Rogers, Tatishvili, and #5 seed Mattek-Sands are the American direct entrants. Tatishvili plays King in the first round, Rogers gets a qualifier, and Mattek-Sands plays Nao Hibino, who is 13-1 on US hard courts since Wimbledon, all in the $50Ks that made up the US Open Wild Card Challenge. Lauren Embree is the in the final round of qualies with a Monday win over Maria Sanchez and Julia Boserup and Sanaz Marand are trying to join her there.

Sarkissian drew #2 seed Millman, who demolished him in Aptos, in the first round, while Novikov got Matteo Donati, with the winner to face either Jurgen Zopp or top seed Ricardas Berankis. The only American with direct entry was Krajicek, who will face Brydan Klein. Mackenzie McDonald is the sole American through to the final round of qualies - he'll face Maxime Hamou later today.

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