Quotes of the Day: Isner, Matosevic, Sela, Becker, Sock

The second installment of my new series “Quotes of the Day” is here. Friday in Atlanta was an interesting, action-packed day of tennis. The sun was out, and it was unbearably hot. I’ll let the players tell the rest of the story.

John Isner–The 6’10 American played a very….unique match against Marinko Matosevic. After winning the first set(Matosevic double fault), Isner appeared to be laboring. He sluggishly moved around the court, but out of nowhere broke serve at 3-all. He served it out easily.

On starting at 4 p.m.: “I actually preferred the 4 o’clock start. It wasn’t easy out there, but I’m done and it’s 6 o’clock as to where last night (I didn’t get off the court)until 11.”

On the struggles of playing in the heat: “I knew he was struggling out there a little bit, and he knew I was struggling out there a little bit. But a lot of times, in situations like that, it’s a big advantage for me. Even though I appear to be very tired, I muster up enough enough energy to pop some big serves.”

Again, on the heat: “At the beginning of the second set it felt like somebody threw us in the oven.” 

On looking tired: “A lot of people tell me I play possum out there, and I may do that. But I’m not breaking the rules by any means. I’m lollygagging around between points but  when we start the point I’m ready. A lot of times when I’m super tired I’ve played some of my best tennis because at that point I don’t have enough energy to run side to side. There’s only one option for, and that’s to just go for it.”

On heat compared to Atlanta Athletic Club(tourney site 2010): “I don’t think anything is ever going to get to that level. We could have made scrambled eggs on that court for sure.” 

On whether not he’ll be able to walk his dog(with him at tourney site) tonight: “Yes actually(laughing), I will. Last night I went to bed at almost 1:30 in the morning. Tonight I’ll go to bed at a normal time, walk the dog, and that puts me at ease.” 

Marinko Matosevic–Only a couple quotes, but they tell the story.

On the heat: “It was really hot. (He said emphaticallly) I would say it was as hot as the 43 degree celsius day this year in Australia when I played Nishikori, if not hotter. The sun was on your head and you couldn’t escape it.”

On whether or not Isner was playing possum: “No no no no no, he was definitely tired.” 

Dudi Sela–A very interesting match between he and Vasek Pospisil, which featured medical time-outs from both players, and some very high quality play, and some very low quality play. Sela pulled it out 7-5 1-6 6-2, recording his 100th tour level win.

On 100th tour level win: “I didn’t know that. Wow.(laughing) Yeah, that’s good. It’s nice to get your 100th win when you’re a break down in the third.”

On why he took MTO: “To do some thinking with myself about what I have to do. To relax.”

On incredible backhand winner on match point: “For me it’s my best shot, the backhand. So I’m happy I finished it off with a good backhand.”

On serving(said yesterday that he was “serving terrible”): “It was even worse than terrible(laughing). It was not good at all. I was already thinking about the second serve (before I hit the first serve).”

Benjamin Becker–The 33 year old has quietly cruised to the semifinals, today beating Thiemo De Bakker 6-4 6-2.

On his game: “It’s coming together. I’m feeling well, I’m playing well. The final in s-Hertogenbosch was big for me to gain some confidence, get some matches under my belt. The start of the year did not go the way I planned, but now I have the chance to play for another final, and that builds my confidence.”

On winning 83% of second serve points: “I think I was very consistent from the back, didn’t miss much. If I have that every match I have a very good chance to win, so that’s a good stat to have.”

On the chance of reaching another final at 33 years of age: “I know I’m at the end of my career, or at the later stages at least. Finals are not always around the corner, so obviously I want to take this opportunity and give it my best.” 

Jack Sock–The American took out Lukas Lacko 7-6(6) 6-2, and showed that he has matured greatly as player over the last 12 months. He looked confident, and was the stronger player mentally,

On finding a way to win: “It was a pretty rough start. He came out and was keeping the ball very deep, and pushed me behind the baseline. I just had to chip some returns back in play, extend some rallies, and I was able to do that and get the break at 4-5.”

On his spectacular one-handed backhand passing shot: “Against (Michael) Venus I had nearly the same ball, and hit it cross court, and I laced it pretty good. And the one today was really clean off the racket, so I had to look up at (my coach) and give him a smile because we had just been talking about it in the warmup.”

Advertisements

Wild Cards–Coveted and Appealing, but are they Beneficial?

Wild Cards. Those exciting, compelling tournament entries that everybody who hasn’t gotten direct acceptance wants. But as we look deeper into wild cards, you begin to notice very obvious trends on who receives them and how those players fare. We all want our favorite players to get wild cards, because that gives them an opportunity to play in upper level tournaments where they can play the best players and improve their ranking rapidly. However, research proves that often times accepting too many wild cards hurt a players development. Let’s take a look into who get’s wildcards, why they get them, and how they play in those matches. We will focus on a few players throughout.

Who Get’s ‘Em?

There are 61 ATP World Tour stand alone tournaments, 4 Grand Slams and in 2013 there were 149 Challenger tour events. At every level wild cards are given out. Slams give out 8 WC’s, Masters 1000’s 4 0r 5, and 500+250 events award 3. A number of things is taken into consideration when a tournament decides who to give a WC to, but predominately they are awarded to players from that tournaments country. Along with that, tournaments like to give WC’s to young players who have shown promise, players who can draw in fans, or older players who have a strong reputation but couldn’t get direct acceptance.

The real problem: not every country is equal, and this equates to a very uneven distribution of wild cards. For all the problems and discussion about the state of American tennis, guess who receives the most WC’s? Yepp, Americans, and it’s not even close. The USA is the only country to have  more than one Masters 1000, we have *three*(Indian Wells, Miami, and Cincinnati). We also have a Grand Slam(US Open), one 500, and 6 250’s. That is BY FAR the most tournaments for any country. And, not so coincidentally, our players receive the largest chunk of WC’s. Research by Jeff Sackmann in 2012 stated that the top 200 players of that time had received 748 WC’s before the age of 25. 139 of those, or 18.6%, went to just 7 American players–Mardy Fish, Donald Young, Ryan Harrison, Jesse Levine, John Isner, Sam Querrey and James Blake.

Now, you would think that said WC’s would help those players. But in most cases it does not. Let’s go case by case on three players: Donald Young, Jack Sock, and Ryan Harrison.

Donald Young

DY is the most infamous WC failure case of all time, and it wasn’t really his fault. Young reached the number 1 ranking in Juniors as a 15 year old, something unheard of at the time. He won the Australian Open and Wimbledon Junior championships, garnering major attention from the USTA and tennis fans everywhere. With that hype came a lot of opportunities. Young has received 27(!!) main draw wildcards in his career, as well as 7 other tour level qualifying WC’s. His record in those tournaments is abysmal. He’s 14-34 overall, and he lost in the first round an astounding 25 times. And the real problem was that, as a 15 year old, he was getting main draw WC’s into Masters 1000 events, where he just was not physically or mentally mature enough to compete at that level. Through his first 10 WC’s, Young never reached the age of  18. He went 2-10, and lost in the first round 9 times.

Jack Sock

This is the guy that really sparked me to write this blog. I’ve followed him pretty closely over the last 3-4 years, and he seems to get more WC’s than anybody on tour. And it’s somewhat understandable. Sock was dominant as a US Junior. He won the USTA Junior National’s in Kalamazoo two years in a row, and wan’t even challenged too much in those tournaments. He was a man among boys. Jack’s serve and forehand are no doubt top 30 strokes. Combine all of that and what do you get? Wild cards, lots and lots of wild cards. Not counting this week’s tournament in Delray Beach, where Sock has a WC, he’s received 18 tour level wild cards. His record is 12-18, with 9 first round losses.

Something I came across that was fascinating to me, was an article from The Changeover, comparing Jack Sock and Denis Kudla. Sock beat Kudla in the 2010 US Open Juniors final, and both have been touted as American hopefuls. From May 2012 to May of 2013, their tennis lives were completely different. Sock received 9 WC’s, Kudla 1. Jack Sock’s wild cards guaranteed him over three times as much money as the lone wild card Denis Kudla received. The exact figure for the difference in guaranteed money was $48,610. That money can be crucial for youngsters trying to make it on tour. But the most fascinating thing is this: at the end of those 12 months, Kudla was the higher ranked player, at #115, while Sock was at #118. Denis qualified into a few tour events, and kept his head down and worked hard at the challenger level.

Ryan Harrison

As I researched Ryan I thought that he would have received less than the previous two, but he’s right there in between Sock and Young. Harrison also garnered a lot of attention(noticing a trend?) when he qualified and won a main draw match in Houston as a 15 year, the second younger player in the history of the ATP to do so. So Harrison started getting chances to play in big events at a very young age. He’s received 24 main draw wild cards, and although his record is a little better than the other two(18-24), he lost in the first round 12 times.

The Problem For All Three

Young, Sock, and Harrison all have different stories, but they share the same problem. Young was gifted everything as he transitioned from the Juniors to the Pro circuit. He had a couple nice results, but loss after loss in the first round does terrible things to a player. Eventually, in 2010-2011, Donald stopped getting WC’s, and dropped down to the challenger circuit. He started playing more matches, winning more matches, and that gave him confidence, after reaching the round of 16 at the 2011 US Open, Young got his ranking all the way up to 39, doing it the “hard” way. Of course he has since fallen off the grid, losing something like 17 straight first round matches, but has once again worked hard in the minors to inch his way back into the top 100, even playing in Davis Cup a couple weeks ago. However, those WC’s did terrible things to DY. His attitude is not good, and that is probably because of a multitude of things, but being handed everything certainly contributed to that attitude and persona.

For Sock, the problem is similar, but slightly different. Because he’s getting around 8 WC’s a year, he can play a lot of tour events. But one of Jack’s biggest issues has been his fitness, and when you’re losing first round every other week, that really hurts. His motivation to improve is just not good enough. His talent is off the charts, but he’s unwilling to sure up his backhand, and work hard to get on the same playing field physically as his peers.

Harrison had some nice results and cracked the top 50, and for about 8-9 months was playing exclusive at the tour level. But now that he’s dropped back down in the rankings, he is struggling to get back to where he was. There is no doubt in my mind that Ryan wants to be great, you can see it in his eyes every time he plays–except when he’s playing a challenger. When he’s playing at the lower level it appears he thinks he’s above his opposition. Last year, he had just come off a good result in Atlanta, making the Semis. He then travelled to Aptos to play a challenger. He played James Mcgee in the first round, and you could tell by his attitude and remarks that he thought he was 5 levels above James. Mcgee won the match because of it. Harrison has it engrained in his mind that he should be playing at the tour level, when really he needs to earn it, and prove he belongs there.

All three of these guys should take a page out of the next few players books.

Dominic Thiem

Thiem just had a great week in Rotterdam, taking Andy Murray to three sets. Similar to the three above players, Thiem was a highly touted junior. He reached the French Open final and won the Orange Bowl. However, he’s only received 7 main draw wildcards, and he’s 6-7 in those tournaments. Other than that, Thiem has done it the hard way, playing challengers and qualifying into tour events. In 2014, he’s qualified into Doha, Melbourne, and Rotterdam. This gives him match experience and toughness. (Speaking of toughness, have you read this article on Thiem fitness coach?) He’s gotten his ranking up inside the top 100 because of it.

Jiri Vesely

This one is even more extreme. Vesely has only been awarded *ONE* main draw wild card into tour events, and only 7 into challenger events(imagine if I counted American challenger WC’s?). He played 2013 almost exclusive at the challenger level, amassing a lot of points by going deep into almost every tournament he played. He’s now up to #81 in the world and has the chance to prove himself on the main tour.

Bradley Klahn

Now an American comparison. BK went a different route than Young, Sock, and Harrison, and decided to play college tennis before turning professional. He’s received a grand total of *THREE* wildcards, two of those to San Jose when he was playing across the bay at Stanford. Klahn has not been handed anything since graduating college, except for a WC into last years US Open. Instead he’s been grinding, working, and doing everything he can to improve. He’s now up to #67 in the world, and in great position to break the top 50. Think BK has a problem playing challengers? Does he feel entitled? Nope.

Conclusion and Solution

What I’m trying to say is that Young, Sock, Harrison, and all other American players who get numerous WC’s, are being halted in their progression. International players, who don’t have the same opportunities, are doing things the old fashioned way, and earning their place in tournaments. Obviously the blame can’t be put solely on the shoulder of young American players, because who wouldn’t take a WC into a tour event? But something has to change.

I think there needs to be a more merit-based system for awarding WC’s. There’s some of that now, such as the Australian Open Wildcard playoff, which forces players to win 3 matches to get a wildcard into the Aussie. Wimbledon has a great system. The winner of the Nottingham challenger(a grass court challenger a couple weeks before London) gets a WC into the main draw of Wimby. We need more WC’s to be given out like this.

My final idea might be an unpopular one. I think there should be a limit to the number of wild cards a player can receive per year. I think 4 is more than enough, but even that would force players to earn their way up the rankings. Either limit a players WC entries, or reduce the amount of WC’s each tournament gives out.

Keep in my mind that both Tomas Berdych and Janko Tipsarevic never received a main draw WC before they were 25. Novak Djokovic and David Ferrer were awarded a grand total of *2*.

The End of the Road for an American Favorite

Blake

James Blake had an emotional press conference Monday morning where he announced his retirement from men’s tennis following this year’s US Open.

Blake turned pro in 1999 following his one year collegiate career at Harvard University where he was the #1 ranked collegiate singles player. As his career began to rise, James had a catastrophic injury in 2003 while he was practicing in Rome. He was running for a drop shot when he tripped on the clay and went head first into the metal net pole. Blake had a broken neck and was also diagnosed with shingles during surgery. Most players would have never played tennis again. But the recovery of Blake is one of the most inspirational stories for all tennis players. The recovery process was long and strenous, but with the support of his family and friends, he made an incredible comeback. Blake’s passion for the game was fueled by 2 people, his idol Arthur Ashe, and his father.  James heard Ashe speak at his school when he was a child and that inspired him to pick up tennis. His father was the driving force behind Blake’s career. Even when James’ dad died of cancer in 2004, his spirit kept Blake moving forward in his career.

It had been many years since Blake had played on tour due to his injury when he played the 2005 US Open. It was at his home slam that his name will forever be remembered. James’ ranking was very low, but he was granted a wild card by the USTA. He was scheduled to play former finalist Greg Rudeski in the first round. After Blake upset him, he defeated Igor Andreev in the second round. His third round was against number 2 seed and 18 year old phenom, Rafael Nadal. Considered a heavy underdog, James pulled off what I still consider to be the best win of his career as he beat Rafa in four sets. Following his fourth round win over Robredo, Blake set up the quarterfinal showdown with Andre Agassi, one of his idols and friends. I consider this match to be one of the best in US Open and maybe even Grand Slam history. The shotmaking and athleticism was incredible. Agassi ended up coming back from 2 sets to love down and best James in a fifth set tiebreaker. But as Andre said, “the real winner was tennis that night, not myself”.

Following that breakout tournament, James went on to win 10 singles titles, 7 doubles titles, and was a key piece in the US Davis Cup victory in 2007. Blake also was a finalist in the Shanghai Masters in 2006 and reached a high of #4 in the world. He had all these accomplishments on the court, but one of the most important features about James was his personality off the court. Considered to be one of the nicest players on tour, he won the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award in 2006 for his work in fundraising for cancer prevention.

As for what James means to me, he has always been my favorite player and someone that I have always looked up to. His adversity through life and classiness off the court is something everyone should take into account. Even when coaches tried to change his game, he stuck with what he knew, and it definitely worked out for him. He was never afraid to go for the big shot and that is something everyone needs to learn how to do in pressure moments. Hit through the pressure and not crack down on it. Blake made the most of a career that could have been something much quicker and injury filled. The best thing about this retirement is that he is retiring on his own terms. I am glad his knee injuries in the past did not force him to retire and he can play his last tournament so close to home in New York. When I go to the open this weekend, I hope to see him in singles or doubles. James plays Ivo Karlovic in the first round of singles and plays the number 2 seed Peya/Suares in doubles with Jack Sock. Fire it up one time, bam! Go James go!

The Problem With American Men’s Tennis

isner

Yes, you’ve heard this a thousand times. Yes, its redundant. But yes, it needs to be talked about. For many years now, American Tennis has been in the gutter. Every year people talk about new hopes, young kids who are going to make a breakthrough. The truth is, people are saying those things out of want, not out of belief. The problem with American tennis runs deep.

Lets go back to the golden age of American Tennis. With players like Mcenroe, Connors, Sampras, Aggasi, and Courier, Americans were spoiled with success. Things were good, and we took it for granted.

Now lets look at the players of today, and we’ll even include Andy Roddick in this mix. Isner, Querrey, Harrison, Russel, Sock, Kudla, Johnson, Williams. Now how many of those guys first names do you know? Exactly.

Lets start with John Isner. The 6’10 monster has one of the top 3 biggest serves in the history of the sport. The trajectory of the serve combined with the raw power is nearly unreturnable. He should never get broken. Ever. And he usually doesn’t. It’s after the first ball that things go wrong. His forehand can actually be huge weapon, but he hardly uses it. After his huge serve, he’s basically a pusher. On his return games, he stands yards behind the baseline and plays defense. It is beyond frustrating to watch. Yesterday against Harrison, Isner was pushing and moonballing on break points. It was pathetic. And then after the match he said,”I played well.”

Next is Sam Querrey. He also has the huge serve, he’s a mere 6’6. I think he’s a way better player than Isner, but even he lacks key traits. He’s got the big forehand, and he uses it. It’s a very reliable shot, and he hits a lot of winners off that side. The problem is the backhand. It’s bad. He smothers it all the time, and especially when he’s under pressure. He played well against Simon yesterday, but let a break lead in the fourth set slip, and eventually lost in 5.

The future? A few names come up. Ryan Harrison, Jack Sock, even the infamous Donald Young comes to mind. Each of these players have their own problem. Harrison made it up into the top 50 last year, and things looked like they were coming together. But after a couple bad losses his season took a turn for the worse. He’s got the great serve, but after that he lacks the skills. His forehand can be good sometimes, but often he rolls it too much and the ball lands short. His backhand is kind of a mess, and combine that his short temper, and you realize he doesn’t quite have what it takes.

Jack Sock has some promise. He follows the American mold of  having a big serve, and he actually has a great forehand. But for as good as his forehand is, his backhand is equally as bad. He made it to the second round of the French, but thats his first tour level win outside of the US. Europe scares the Americans, and thats why they have little success over there. His progress will be interesting to follow.

So how do we fix this problem? It starts from the ground up. First off, players have to be flexible as kids. They have to practice on clay. Everybody else in the world does. Most importantly, coaches, and namely the USTA has to start developing more complete players. The big serve, big forehand can only get you so far. We have kids who have talent, and we have to use that talent. My pick for the next American number 1…Stefan Kozlov. Look him up.

French Open Preview – Day 5

Image

Here is a look at some of the featured matches of day 4 at the French Open!

Lucas Pouille vs. Grigor Dimitrov: This match features two of the rising starts of the tennis world. Dimitrov has had a fantastic year that features a final in Brisbane and a win over Djokovic in Madrid. Pouille is a French youngster that had a solid win over American qualifier Alex Kuznetsov in the first round. Dimitrov defeated Falla in the first round. Both play similar games except Grigor has a little more variety than the Frenchman. But most Frenchman have the taste for flare, and Pouille is not an exception. He will hit big shots, but will he be able to outhit Dimitrov? I don’t think so. Not enough experience yet, but I like this kid in the future. Dimitrov in 4 entertaining sets.

Rafael Nadal vs. Martin Klizan: Nadal should have an easier time with Klizan in the second round than he did with Brands in the first round. Klizan beat the ageless Michael Russell in the first round when Russell retired. Nadal had a tricky encounter with Brands in the first round, dropping the first set. Klizan is a big lefty with some power and little movement. Ever since he beat Tsonga at the US Open last year, Klizan has been awful setting a 6 – 13 record on the year. Nadal should have no problems against him. Rafa in straights.

Fernando Verdasco vs. Janko Tipsarevic: Verdasco’s ranking has slipped in these past couple of weeks. But when I watched him play Ferrer in Rome and against Gicquel in the first round here, I saw glimpses of the old Verdasco. Its been a rough year for Tipsarevic who has had some poor losses these past couple of weeks, Verdasco’s backhand will be the key in this match. If he gets into too many rallies with Tipsarevic on the backhand side, he will be in trouble. But I look for Fernando to dictate with the forehand and pull off the upset. Verdasco in 4 sets.

Tommy Haas vs. Jack Sock: This should be a very interesting match with 2 contrasting style going up against each other. We have the 12 seed Tommy Haas, the variety man with the solid one hander. And then we have American youngster Jack Sock with the huge serve and forehand. Sock does present the type of game that could give Haas problems. He looked surprisingly comfortable in his first round against Garcia – Lopez. That being said, Lopez played an awful match but Jack took advantage of that and beat him to a pulp. This match will be an absolute grind for Haas. Sock has no chance of winning any backhand to backhand rallies. But if he can dictate with his forehand like he did in the first round, he will have a chance. I will take Haas in 5 based on experience and will wear down Sock with those backhand to backhand rallies.

John Isner vs. Ryan Harrison: There is a lot on the line for these 2 Americans. Both have had tough starts to the year and 3rd round appearance on their weakest surface would be a big boost for their confidence. There will be a lot of holding bc both have big serves. Harrison’s game is better for the surface with his grinding style. Isner likes the surface bc it give him more time to set up for his big shots. I was very impressed with Isner against Berlocq, who is a tricky player. He showed a lot more energy and emotion that I think will propel him through to the third round. Isner in 5.

Enjoy the tennis everybody!

French Open Preview – Day 3

Image

Here is a look at the featured matches of Day 3 at the French Open.

Novak Djokovic vs. David Goffin: This is a very interesting first round matchup than most would presume. Goffin is a young talent that has pushed top players in slams before. He made the round of 16 here last year losing to Roger in 4 sets. He also pushed Verdasco to 5 sets in the first round of the Aussie Open this year. But he has a sub par year at best and while this match will be entertaining, Djokovic will dominate all rallies from the baseline. I like Novak in straights.

Nicolas Mahut vs. Janko Tipsarevic: Its been a rough year for Tipsy but I like his chances against the journeyman Frenchman. If Tipsarevic can’t win this one, I don’t know what to say. Mahut does posses some firepower but shouldn’t give Tipsarevic any trouble. I will take Tipsy in straights.

Benoit Paire vs. Marcos Baghdatis: This could be one of the most entertaining first round match ups listed. Paire is playing some of the best ball of his career and I look for him to use the French crowd to his advantage. But Baghdatis is full of tricks as well. Should be a very close match with some long baseline rallies. I will take Paire in 5.

Jack Sock vs. Guillermo Garcia – Lopez: The American qualifier! Big Jack Sock! Shout out to Kyle Riether, Dan Levine, and Jimmy Newton for this pick! I know this is their boy. And I love Jack in this match. His big serve should give Lopez trouble. Especially on Lopez’s backhand side when Sock is hitting his kick serve. I like Sock in 4 close sets.

There are is my preview for tomorrow. Hopefully the weather stays sunny in Paris! Enjoy the grind!