US Open Series: Back to hard times, but not before Ferrer, Rublev, Wozniacki enjoy last clay hurrah
With the Wimbledon encroaching deep into July, the return to the North American hard courts comes with untimely haste
Once upon a time, the fortnight that followed the Grand Slam of high summer, the culmination of the grass season at Wimbledon, would be a quiet affair.
But what used to be a welcome pause for breath and rest after the two contrasting Majors that packed June—Roland Garros’s orange clay and London’s green sward—is no longer a refuge from the tennis roadshow.
These days, there is an extra week between those headline-making Majors, yet that has simply opened the calendar for more grass tournaments designed to help players make that tricky transition. So now, many opt for two events between the Paris and London—some this year even went for three.
And what follows is the down-side to this grass generosity. With the All England Club encroaching deep into July, the return to the North American hard courts comes with untimely haste.
Hard road back to New York
Just seven days after Roger Federer lifted Wimbledon’s gold cup, the tour embarked on the long hard road to Flushing Meadows, beginning for the men in Atlanta.
Hot on its heels comes the only 500 tournament of the swing in Washington, followed immediately by the gruelling Masters double-header, Canada’s Rogers Cup and its cousin south of the border in Cincinnati. Those with enough stamina can even squeeze in Winston-Salem, which concludes the same weekend that the US Open begins.
The women’s hard-court path to Flushing Meadows is no less arduous, beginning as it does in China, with the Jiang Xi Open, before converging with the ATP tour in Washington—or heading to WTA Premier in Stanford—and the big Premier 5s in Canada and Cincinnati.
Yet many players hit the courts even before the US Series got under way. Remarkably, both calendars immediately offered up a brief clay swing for those whose feet love the grit—plus one last hurrah for grass in Newport. And for some, this chance to pick up valuable points and prizes has been especially memorable.
Young and old titles on ATP clay circuit
One of a rising generation of new stars, 19-year-old Andrey Rublev, won his first tour title in Umag, having picked up a lucky loser spot. He beat No27 Fabio Fognini and No34 Paolo Lorenzi to take himself into the top 50 for the first time, having made a quarter-final run in Halle, then an impressive run at Wimbledon, where he qualified through three rounds before playing back-to-back five-setters, losing the latter.
At the other end of the age scale, on the Swedish clay of Bastad, 35-year-old David Ferrer won his first title in almost two years, and it reduced him to tears. The former world No3 was playing at No46 after a tough season affected by Achilles problems, and he had made seven first-round exits this season alone. With his 27th title, he rose back to 33.
In Gstaad, Fognini won his first title of the year in his first visit to the Swiss tournament in 10 years: He lost in the final round of qualifying in 2007. Since making a poor start to a year during—and he was close to dropping from the top 50—he has become a father, made the semis in Miami, beaten Andy Murray in Rome, and is now up to 25.
As for the 500 tournament of this short swing through some of the most elegant resorts in Europe, the German Open in Hamburg witnessed surges for Philipp Kohlschreiber, boosted 11 places before retiring injured in the semis, and a rise of 42 places for Florian Mayer, a man returning from injury problems and nine first-round losses for just two wins until his quarter-final run in Halle—which he began at 134: He is now back to 59.
But the ranking winner on clay is Leonardo Mayer, back inside the top 50 for the first time since May 2016, after winning the Hamburg title as a lucky loser. He jumped 89 places.
The women’s tour has followed in the men’s clay footprints to deliver its own rankings boosts, notably this week for 21-year-old Katerina Siniakova, who claimed her second title of the year in Bastad, beating the in-form Caroline Wozniacki to rise 21 places into the top 40. And the week before, Kiki Bertens also won her second title of 2017, in Gstaad—going on to win the doubles, too.
As for Wozniacki, she became the first woman to reach 40 wins in 2017, marking the earliest she has reached 40 since 2011. On that occasion, she went on to reach No1 by year’s end.
John Isner revels in home soil return
The solitary grass tournament outside Wimbledon’s build up, in Newport, crowned John Isner for the third time, a victory that took him back into the top 20. But he did not stop there. With the move to the first hard-court tournament of the summer and of the US Open Series, in Atlanta, he returned to the top of the American tree with his fourth title.
He has reached the final in seven of the eight years of the tournament, and this 12th career title is his 10th on US soil. Little wonder, perhaps, that he intended to push on to the prestigious Washington 500, but he has taken the precaution of withdrawing to rest an injured knee.
Big guns look for boost in Washington
The American capital hosts a big-hitting field as many of the top names finally do make their return to prepare for the big events ahead.
The draw has four former champions and four top-10 players, with a dozen men ranking inside the top 30. World No7 Dominic Thiem is top seed in a 500 event for the first time, and already has wins over Murray, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic this year.
Meanwhile, Milos Raonic, the 2014 champion and No3 seed, has not won a title since the start of 2016—a run of 29 events—while No2 seed Kei Nishikori faces a similar scenario. The 2015 champion has reached six finals in the last 16 months without winning a title. What is more, he could face four-time champion Juan Martin del Potro in his second match, a man with a 14-1 record in Washington. However, the Argentine’s only title in over three and half years came in Stockholm last autumn.
Sharapova makes return in Stanford
While the headliner for Stanford is top seed Garbine Muguruza, making her first appearance since winning Wimbledon, the unseeded Maria Sharapova is sure to draw attention in her first tournament since Rome and her first hard-court event in North America since losing her first match in Miami in 2015. Playing with a wild card, she is drawn to meet Muguruza in the semis, and survived a three-set, two-hour challenge from the No80-ranked Jennifer Brady.
Another wild card is No2 seed Petra Kvitova who, like Sharapova, has only played three events since her return at Roland Garros from the attack on her playing hand at the end of 2016.
A name missing from the roster is Johanna Konta, whose first title came here last year. Indeed the only other top-12 woman in action this week is No2 Simona Halep in Washington. She cannot contend for the No1 ranking again until Toronto, and even then, she will need to go deep in Washington to be a real threat to Karolina Pliskova.
Summer stories away from court
The fortnight after Wimbledon is the one of the few short breaks during the northern hemisphere’s summer. No surprise, then, that it is a popular wedding choice:
· Former world No2 Agnieszka Radwanska married long-time boyfriend and hitting partner Dawid Celt;
· Two-time Grand Slam doubles champion and Olympic silver medallist Andrea Hlavackova married Fabrizio Sestini;
· Yanina Wickmayer married Jerôme Van der Zijl;
· Julien Benneteau and partner Karen were joined by 2-year-old son Ayrton for their wedding;
· Federer’s friend and coach Severin Luthi married his partner of 13 years, Claudia;
· Wimbledon finalist Marin Cilic was engaged to long-standing partner Kristina Milkovic in Dubrovnik.
Champions since Wimbledon
Bucharest, WTA International, clay: Irina-Camelia Begu beat Julia Goerges
Gstaad, WTA International, clay: Kiki Bertens beat Anett Kontaveit
Bastad, WTA International, clay: Katerina Siniakova beat Wozniacki
Nanchang, WTA International, hard: Shuai Peng beat Nao Hibino
Newport, ATP 250, grass: Isner beat Matthew Ebden
Umag ATP 250, clay: Rublev beat Lorenzi
Bastad ATP 250, clay: Ferrer beat Alexandr Dolgopolov
Hamburg, ATP 500, clay: Leonardo Mayer beat Florian Mayer
Gstaad ATP 250, clay: Fognini beat Yannick Hanfmann
Atlanta ATP 250, hard (USO Series): Isner beat Ryan Harrison
Week beginning 31 July:
Kitzbuhel ATP 500 (clay): defending champion, Lorenzi
Playing: Pablo Cuevas, Fognini, Lorenzi, Gilles Simon
Washington ATP 500 and WTA International (hard): defending champions, Gael Monfils/Wickmayer
Playing: Thiem, Nishikori, Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov, Alexander Zverev, Monfils, Lucas Pouille, del Potro, Nick Kyrgios
Playing: Halep, Kristina Mladenovic, Lauren Davis, Goerges, Ekaterina Makarova, Genie Bouchard, Sloane Stephens
Abierto Mexicano ATP 250 (hard): defending champion, Ivo Karlovic
Playing: Berdych, Sam Querrey, Albert Ramos-Vinolas, Karlovic, Lopez, Verdasco
Stanford WTA Premier (USO Series)(hard): defending champion, Konta
Playing: Muguruza, Kvitova, Madison Keys, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Sharapova
Week beginning 7 August
Rogers Cup ATP Masters (Montreal), WTA Premier 5 (Toronto) (USO Series): Defending champions, Djokovic/Halep
Playing: Murray, Nadal, Federer, Wawrinka, Cilic, Thiem, Nishikori, Raonic
Playing: Karolina Pliskova, Halep, Kerber, Muguruza, Svitolina, Wozniacki, Konta, Kuznetsova
Week beginning 14 August
Western & Southern Open, Cincinnati, ATP Masters and WTA Premier 5 (USO Series): Defending champions, Cilic/Karolina Pliskova
Playing: Murray, Nadal, Federer, Wawrinka, Cilic, Thiem, Nishikori, Raonic
Playing: Karolina Pliskova, Halep, Kerber, Muguruza, Svitolina, Wozniacki, Konta, Kuznetsova, Azarenka, Sharapova
Week beginning 20 August
Winston-Salem, ATP 250 (USO Series): Defending champion, Pablo Carreno Busta
Playing: Carreno Busta, Roberto Bautista Agut, Isner, Querrey, Cuevas
New Haven, WTA Premier (USO Series): Defending champion, Radwanska
Playing: Radwanska, Dominika Cibulkova, Mladenovic, Kvitova, Elina Vesnina, Bacsinszky
Week beginning 28 August
US Open, New York