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Tenaciously Tennis


US Open Qualifying: Day Three

The skies opened up, and a beautiful day of tennis ensued at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. On my second visit to the home of the year’s final major, I made my way through throngs of fans to find some of the most promising American talent.

After arriving in the early afternoon — missing Jesse Levine’s heartbreaking loss to Brazil’s Caio Zampieri due to retirement — I arrived at Court 7. The match featured the 21st seed Maria Elena Camerin of Italy against the 15-year old Madison Keys of Florida. Keys began her Grand Slam debut firing away to capture an early break against Camerin. Nerves, however, set in with the players trading breaks until Keys pulled away to take the first set 6-3.

The young American, who trains at the Chris Evert Academy in Boca Raton, hit crisp backhands, while sporting a powerful serve and a strong mental game. Errors started to creep in Keys’ game as Camerin found her form — although never her serve. While the young American lost in the next two sets, bowing out against her 28-year old opponent3-6, 6-3, 6-4, expect success from her in the future once she finds increased consistency.

Also noteworthy about the match and the US Open atmosphere in general: after the first couple games finished, I looked up to see Keys’ mother enter the stands. Another arrival: Tom Gullikson, the brother of Tim Gullikson, who was Pete Sampras’ former coach. I suspect Tom works with Keys in Florida, the state in which he resides. Sightings like this happened for most of the day, once again highlighting the wonderful atmosphere for which the qualifying tournament shines.

With that match over, I went to Louis Armstrong stadium, catching Gael Monfils hitting. In the nearby court, the Australian Open finalist and world number four Andy Murray was practicing with the 25th-ranked Feliciano Lopez of Spain. Talk about a fan-friendly experience — for free!

On the way to see the men practicing, I ran into Melanie Oudin — my second sighting of the Georgia teenager at the qualifying event. In fact, over the course of the day, I saw Oudin a number of times, supporting her compatriot Sloane Stephens and other Americans, among others.

I caught most of the 17-year old Stephens’ match, and I can safely say that she’s another one to watch. Currently ranked inside the top 300 in the world, Stephens enjoyed a good run at the BNP Paribas Open during which she advanced to the second round after qualifying. Although she fell  in the second round the US Open Qualifying for the second straight year — this time to veteran Zuzana Ondraskova 6-3, 7-5 — Stephens hits hard and with passion. She’s still streaky, especially on the forehand side, but with Venus and Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters as self-proclaimed idols, a good volleying technique and a powerful backhand, the Florida-native looks poised to one day get into the top 100.

Once finished, I went to Court Four, which is notable for its easy-viewing access to the practice courts. There, I yet again saw Oudin along with Wimbledon semifinalist Tsvetana Pironkova, Donald Young, and personal favorite Patty Schnyder.

I next scanned the courts for another match to view, making it in time to see Serbia’s Ilija Bozoljac close out the first set against Guillermo Alcaide. Bozoljac, known for taking a set from Roger Federer in the second round of this year’s Wimbledon, is an exciting player to watch. He hits a big serve, rips backhand winners, and surprises with his tricky slice and two-handed forehand. After winning 6-3 6-2, a person in the audience — presumably a friend — mentioned his match against Federer to which he replied, “One set and one point.” Meaning: he only needed to win one more set and one more point against the greatest of all time to win the match and move on to the third round. Bozoljac will remember that fact for the rest of his life.

I ended the day by watching parts of Sania Mirza’s match against Elena Bovina. The former top 30 Mirza looked sharp, hitting winners and powerful groundstrokes to win 6-3, 6-3. I also caught Wimbledon junior winner Kristyna Pliskova — identical sister to this year’s Australian Open junior winner Karolina Pliskova and — beat the 18th seed Aranxta Rus. Are the Pliskova sisters the next Williams sisters? It’s too soon to say, but it will be interesting to see how the sisters’ games develop in the coming years.

My second trip to the qualifying tournament ended by viewing Ryan Harrison versus 10th-seeded Rui Machado. The young American advanced in a riveting 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-3 match filled with heavy support from the home crowd under the blazing lights of the US Open.

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Fish Tops Isner; Ball Rolls Over Levine

Posted in Carsten Ball,Jesse Levine,John Isner,Mardy Fish,Sam Querrey by Ben on July 26, 2010

The first week of the US Open series is over. The winners: Mardy Fish and Carsten Ball. The wins, however, couldn’t be more different. While Fish needed three sets, including a tie-break in the third, to defeat John Isner, Ball ousted Jesse Levine in two (albeit tight) sets.

Fish’s win over the second-seeded Isner means the veteran American, who shed 30 pounds to increase fitness, takes home his second straight title — the first being at the season’s final grass court tournament at the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships. Fish won his tenth straight match in the 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (4) battle.

With Fish at an all-time high for confidence, look for him to continue doing well on the US Open Series. As long as that ankle doesn’t continue bothering him, Fish looks ready to take more titles. Can he keep it up at the US Open? That’s another story entirely. As long as he keeps improving on his current ranking of 35, which he earned after the Atlanta win, he should get a decent seeding at the major. Then, it’s all up to the draw. Regardless, I see Fish getting to at least the fourth round. He deserves it after typically streaky play at the majors has plagued his career.

Battling against the sweltering Atlanta heat and himself, Isner ran out of gas towards the end. It was an excellent effort by the 6’9 American. At the same time, it’s sad that such an immense talent failed to win. Already in his fourth final of the year, Isner is 1 – 3 for the year (the win coming at the season’s start in Auckland). Since then, Isner has lost twice to compatriot Sam Querrey. Hopefully he proceeds to do well at the rest of his US Open Series. Isner needs to show the world he’s more than just the winner of the longest match in history. He needs to go one step further and add a second ATP title to his name.

At the Lexington tournament, Ball beat Levine 6-4, 7-6 (2). It’s great to see the American making it to his first final on the ATP tour. He should break into the top 100, where he certainly belongs if he can keep up the form.

Fish Fries Roddick; Isner Edges Anderson

Mardy Fish snapped a nine match losing streak against Andy Roddick after taking out the top seed in the semifinals of the Atlanta tournament. Fish beat Roddick 7-6 (5), 6-3 to make his third final of the year. So far, he’s won a title at Newport — the fourth of the his career. Fish also got to the finals of Queen’s, where he lost to Sam Querrey.

It’s nice to see Fish doing this well. The next step is converting the success to the majors. This year, he hasn’t made it past the second round. The last time Fish got to the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam event was at the 2008 US Open. Depending on his results the rest of the US Open Series, Fish might just shock some top seeds at the US Open in September.

If Fish can keep up the confidence tomorrow, he has a strong shot at taking out a weary John Isner in the final.

Isner, who took out South Africa’s Kevin Anderson, looked strong in the first set, which he cruised to win 6-3. The heat, which apparently got to over 120 degrees on court, took its toll on the 6’9 giant. He lost the second set in a tiebreak 7-6 (9) after holding match points. In the third, he won 6-3. If it’s another scorcher tomorrow, I see Fish winning. Regardless, I’m guessing the match goes to a third set. Both are big servers, so it’ll be decided with only a few points. Look for at least one tiebreak.

As for Roddick, it’s another disappointing loss. He’ll need to re-evaluate his commitment to the game and try to figure out what’s going wrong with his game before the US Open.

In other news, Jesse Levine defeated Alex Bogomolov, Jr. to get to the finals at Lexington. He won in two close sets. Next up for the American, the tournament’s top seed Carsten Ball of Australia.

American Men Succeed at US Open Series

Led by the top-seed Andy Roddick, the American men continue to win as the US Open Series recently got underway. At the Atlanta event, John Isner and Mardy Fish posted wins, both reaching the semifinals along with Roddick. At the Lexington tournament, Jesse Levine’s got to the semis, too.

Roddick may not be looking sharp, he needed three sets to beat Xavier Malisse in the quarterfinals. He should, however, begin to raise his game in the next couple rounds, and throughout the summer. He next faces his friend Fish, who beat Taylor Dent — a player I see having a strong US Open Series.

But before getting back to the singles, let’s examine the doubles quickly. Roddick and Fish pulled out of the doubles to focus on singles. Now that’s something with which I have a problem. When you sign-up to play in a tournament, you’re making a commitment. For the American duo to win their first match, and then decide it isn’t worth their time playing together, is a huge snub. This gets at the heart of why people consider doubles a second-rate version of singles. The top players simply don’t care enough for a number of reasons, with low prize money being at the forefront. Roddick and Fish could’ve rolled through the draw together.

Instead, they’ll face one another in the semifinals. There, Roddick should easily win. He has a 9-1 career head-to-head against Fish, although a couple of their meets went to three sets.

Along with the Roddick and Fish, Isner’s performing very well. In the quarterfinals, he eliminated his low-profile compatriot Michael Russell 6-1, 6-2.  He next faces Kevin Anderson of South Africa, who’s currently ranked 96th in the world. Isner will win in two sets to make it to the final, where he’ll more than likely meet Roddick.

At the Lexington event, the fifth-seeded Levine beat Sergei Bubka 6-4, 6-0 to make it to the semifinals. He next meets another American, Alex Bogomolov, Jr., who’s ranked outside the top 200. With the way Levine’s playing, he shouldn’t have a problem getting a real shot at the title.

Isner Wins in Atlanta; Other Americans Advance, Too

As the US Open Series gets underway with the ATP’s Atlanta and Lexington events, a slew of American men advanced, signifying a strong start on home territory. John Isner, seeded second in Atlanta, won his first match back on tour since his marathon Wimbledon win over Nicholas Mahut. James Blake, however, fell to Taylor Dent in three sets in the tournament’s first round– indicative of his lackluster year. Let’s take a look at the results.

Isner, the winner of the longest match in tennis history, deserves to go far in Atlanta after his historic result (followed by a quick three-set loss in the major’s second round). Isner beat Gilles Muller 4-6, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (7)  in his first match back.

Blake, a former top ten player with a career-high rank of four in 2006, hasn’t been in form for over a year now. The last time he made it past the third round of a major was at the 2009 Australian Open. Once a threat at Grand Slams, his results this year include a second round result at the Sunny Slam and a loss in the first round of Wimbledon. Blake didn’t play at the French Open. With the way things are going, Blake isn’t looking sharp heading into his best major — the US Open. There, he made it to consecutive quarterfinals in 2005 and 2006.

Regardless, it’s great to see Dent advance. Prone to injury, Dent, who reached a career-high ranking of 21 in 2005, looks poised to get back into the top 50 if he keeps excelling. Currently ranked 94, I see the California native building off his second round results at the past three majors to get a good showing at the US Open, an event he made it to the fourth round in 2003. If his draw is kind, look for a repeat performance of that result. After beating Blake in the round of 32, Dent won against the fourth-seeded Horacio Zeballos in three sets, including a bagel in the third, to get to his first ATP quarter-final since 2005.

At the same event, longtime friends and doubles partners, Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish advanced in two sets. Look for the duo to take home the title. Both Roddick and Fish are into the final 16 in singles, too. After an early loss at Wimbledon, Roddick could definitely use the win, especially on home turf. As the event’s top seed, look for a smooth ride into the finals, including over Rajeev Ram in the next round. The main competition in his quarter — Xavier Malisse in the semis.

Fish next meets compatriot Robby Ginepri, an opponent noteworthy for getting to the fourth round at this year’s French Open — a rare result for an American man. I see Ginepri pulling off the upset.

Wild card Donald Young won his match against Israel’s Dudi Sela along with Michael Russell, who beat Germany’s Benjamin Becker. At the Lexington tournament, Jesse Levine overcame a tough test from Brydan Klein to win 7-6 (4), 7-6 (8).


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