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Tenaciously Tennis


Young, Vandeweghe among Americans in Australian Open Qualifying

I am proud to say that the following post is Tenaciously Tennis’ 200th. After just over a year of blogging, I’m excited to begin coverage of the 2011 season. For more on the blog’s first birthday, see here.

With the Australian Open, the year’s first major tournament, set to begin next week, the qualifying tournament is underway. On the ATP tour, players are already fighting it out on court for precious spots in the main draw. Donald Young and Coco Vandeweghe are among the American players seeking their place in the major via the qualifying rounds. While Young is seeded 15th, Vandeweghe enjoys the top spot in the tournament.

A former boys Australian Open champion, Young is ranked 129th, after earning his highest ranking, 79th, in 2008. Already into the second round of qualifying after defeating Germany’s Dieter Kindlmann in straight sets, he faces Alberto Brizzi of Italy next. Young is joined by sixth-seeded Ryan Sweeting, Alex Kuznetsov, Bobby Reynolds, Tim Smyczek, and Kevin Kim. Alex Bogmolov Jr. and Michael Yani have yet to play.

The 115th-ranked Vandeweghe, winner of the 2008 girls’ US Open, joins compatriots Irina Falconi, Jamie Hampton, Madison Brengle, Julia Cohen, and Sloane Stephens. The women still need to start their first round, but I see Vandeweghe and Stephens making a splash to advance to the main draw. For more on Stephens, who I saw play at the 2010 US Open, see here.

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What Brad Gilbert Can Do for Nishikori in 2011

Brad Gilbert, the former coach to Andre Agassi, Andy Murray, and Andy Roddick will be Kei Nishikori’s traveling coach for 2011. After some rough results due to an elbow injury, Gilbert’s world-class coaching could be just what Nishikori needs to get his form back.

Currently ranked 98 in the world, Nishikori enjoyed a career-high ranking of 56 in February 2009 before sustaining the injury that has plagued his career since. Nishikori put together some strong wins to get that respectable ranking. He surprised many after qualifying for the Delray Beach tournament as the 244th-ranked player in the world. Then, he Bobby Reynolds and Sam Querrey among others before  beating the top seed James Blake in the finals. The title meant a Japanese man’s first in 16 years. A few months later, he advanced to the fourth-round showing at the US Open in his debut there.

Nishikori has the ability and the drive to take his game to the top. He made it to the third round of this year’s US Open, and it’ll be interesting to see Gilbert’s influence on his game. At just 20, Nishikori still has a long time left on tour. It’ll be important for him to exercise every aspect of his game with Gilbert in case the relationship doesn’t last past the 15 tournaments in 2011.

According to a recent Tennis.com piece, “Nishikori will also continue to travel with his full-time coach, Dante Bottini, but will spend a week at Gilbert’s home in California before heading to the tournament in Chennai, which begins at the start of 2011. Gilbert will not coach him there, but will be with him at the tournament in Adelaide and at the Australian Open.”

Therefore, Gilbert is starting with the biggest events with Nishikori. Should he continue his strong form from the US Open and make a breakthrough at the Australian Open — his best showing is the first round — expect strong showings throughout the year to prove Nishikori’s back.

It’s always a great story when a player comes back from injury, makes big changes, and succeeds. I think Nishikori will embody that feel-good story in the coming months.

US Open Qualifying: Day One

I just got back from the first day of the US Open Qualifying tournament at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows. Although rain delayed play for a few hours, the tournament eventually commenced pitting former top players hampered by injury, rising young talents, and journeymen dedicated to the sport despite rankings hovering in the 200s, and more, against one another in the windy, rainy conditions.

A dog fight ensued, to say the least, and a lot of passion filled the New York City air — both on the court and off. Here’s what happened during my first day back at my favorite tournament of the season.

With the inclement weather, not too many fans showed up to see the inaugural action for the 2010 tournament. Those that did manage to get to the free event, however, embodied the die-hard fan, among a slew of officials, players, and media people.

You could feel the excitement in the air, the crowd’s energy was palpable. Almost everyone looked happy to be there, despite the annoying drizzle that hit the courts just enough to halt action. Personally, I’m always amazed by the energy, and the intensity around the grounds — the players fighting it out on court, players, trainers, vendors, and more rushing to courts, and other obligations, fans hurrying to get see matches, and other activities that fill the time in between.

After taking in the scene — and despite the rain — it was fun just taking it all in and people watching, eating a pretty good vegetarian crepe, and waiting for the rain to subside, workers took to the courts to start the process of drying. With squeegees and other equipment, matches resumed around 2pm.

The first match I watched presented one of the United States’ future hopefuls, Ryan Harrison against Jonathan Dasnieres De Veigy of France. Harrison, currently ranked 219, looked sharp in his first round qualifying match. Despite a shaky season so far, the 18-year old played with a impressive variety from stinging slices, high topspin lobs, and wicked forehands that put the French journeymen on the defensive for most of the match.

Near the beginning of the first set, I looked to my left and saw none other than Sam Querrey, the fourth-ranked American after Andy Roddick, John Isner, and a recently resurgent Mardy Fish. The 22nd-ranked Querrey, who’s having a strong US Open Series leading up to the US Open, looked to be supporting the young American, which was refreshing to see.

Harrison, probably inspired by the New York City crowd that heavily on his side, and Querrey, closed out Dasnieres De Veigy 6-1, 6-4.

After taking in some of Katie O’Brien’s match against Lesya Tsurenko — she won in three sets — I got the chance to simultaneously view the end of Anna-Lena Groenefeld’s match against Rika Fujiwara and the start of Michelle Larcher de Brito’s versus Karolina Pliskova.

Groenefeld looked ready to close out the match easily in the second, she was up 4-0. Her serve, however, got shaky, while Fujiwara improved her play with compact swings and raw emotion. The former top 20 player Groenefeld, who’s now ranked 129 in the world, eventually regained her form with poise to close out the match 7-5, 6-3. Seeing Groenefeld brought me back a few years to watching her on television. It was the first tennis match I’d ever watched, and it was fitting I got the chance to see her again today after about six years of watching, playing, and writing about tennis.

In the other match, Larcher de Brito impressed from the start with powerful forehands and a Maria Sharapova-like intensity. After trading service breaks with Pliskova, Larcher de Brito grunted her way to a 6-4, 6-4 win. Near the end of the first set, however, I’d be remiss to forget mentioning another player-sighting — none other than crowd favorite Melanie Oudin, who wowed fans with her surprise quarterfinal run at last year’s event. I was star struck to say the least. Let’s see how Oudin handles the pressure at this year’s tournament with her less-than-stellar results at other events so far this season.

Other matches of note I caught bits and pieces of as the day of tennis continued included: American Bobby Reynolds’ win against Chris Guccione, Sloane Stephens’ victorious match over Anais Laurendon, and Kei Nishikori’s successful play after an elbow injury hampered most of the season versus Paul Capdeville.


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