Dog days of summer: Tennis heads back to hot, hard times – with kink in the road to clay

A catch-up of news, rankings, and the path to the US Open

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis
Stefanos Tsitsipas
Stefanos Tsitsipas is aiming for the top five this summer (Photo: Marainne Bevis)

The ‘dog days’, the hot sultry days that mark the slow transition from Wimbledon’s grass back to the hard courts of the North American US Open Series, send many in search of relief from the toil of playing two Majors in the space of a month.

The weather of high summer on both sides of the Atlantic is invariably perfect for those with time for Mediterranean vacations but it also demands remarkable dedication and fitness from those who opt instead to keep on keeping on.

For it will be a cold day in hell when there is a complete break in the tennis schedule, so there is plenty to keep fans and pundits on the ball and away from the sun loungers.

Even on the day that Wimbledon concluded with one of its most memorable finals on Sunday 14 July, three tournaments were beginning. There have been three more in this last week of July, and three more follow next week—all before the demanding double-headed Masters of Montreal and Cincinnati. And even in the brief days left before the US Open, there is another tournament in Winston-Salem—almost 600 miles distant from the Big Apple.

There is even room to squeeze in another brief clay swing, the third of the season, in some of Europe’s most picturesque spots, though this year, fans of the red stuff have endured perhaps the hottest and most sultry few weeks of the year. However, these five clay events simply put off the inevitable—a return to hot, hard courts for the first time since March.

Grass’s last hurrah

Newport, grass, 250: John Isner beat Alexander Bublik to claim a record fourth Hall of Fame Open title. It was just Isner’s second tournament back after breaking a bone in his left foot in April.

Clay calls, one more time

Umag 250: Dusan Lajovic beat qualifier Attila Balazs, to win his first title, after reaching his first final at the Monte-Carlo Masters in April.

Bastad 250: Nicolas Jarry also won his first title after beating Juan Ignacio Londero.

Hamburg 500: Final will feature Nikoloz Basilashvili vs Andrey Rublev. By reaching the finals, defending champion Basilashvili moved to an 11-match winning streak—he won as a qualifier last year.

Gstaad 250: Final will feature Cedrik-Marcel Stebe vs Albert Ramos-Vinolas.

Kitzbuhel 250: scheduled to play—Dominic Thiem, Lajovic, Fernando Verdasco, Pablo Cuevas.

The US Open Series: the build-up begins

Atlanta 250: Taylor Fritz plays Alex de Minaur for the title; with fellow semi-finalists Cameron Norrie and Reilly Opelka, all four are age 20-23.

Washington 500: big 48-man draw is topped by Stefanos Tsitsipas, Karen Khachanov, Daniil Medvedev, Kevin Anderson—all inside the top 12, with eight seeds ranked in top 20. But late withdrawals include Kei Nishikori, Gael Monfils, Denis Shapovalov.

In doubles, two headline teams will feature: Andy Murray with brother Jamie together for the first time in three years; and Tsitsipas with Nick Kyrgios. Elder Murray Jamie won the doubles title last year with Bruno Soares, with whom he has now parted ways.

Los Cabos 250 [not part of US Open Series]: scheduled to play, Fabio Fognini (defending), Guido Pella, Diego Schwartzman, Lucas Pouille

Montreal Masters: Both No1 Novak Djokovic and No3 Roger Federer will be absent in Montreal—both conserving energy after their gruelling Wimbledon final—which leaves defending champion and world No2 Rafael Nadal as top seed.

Cincinnati Masters: Last year, Djokovic beat seven-time champion Federer to become the first man to win all nine Masters titles. They will be favourites to take it to the wire again—if they are not drawn in the same half.

Winston-Salem 250: scheduled to play, Borna Coric, Basilashvili, Sam Querrey, Steve Johnson

The Zverev conundrum

After an outstanding 2017-18 swing—nine titles, including three at Masters level and the ATP Finals, plus two more Masters finals—the young German’s form slipped in 2019. He arrived in his home city of Hamburg with just one title from two finals this season, and five first-round losses.

After Wimbledon, his year-long coaching partnership with Ivan Lendl ended, and the current world No5 has made no secret of struggles with off-court management and personal problems.

After losing his first match at Wimbledon, he opted to return home for the clay 500 in the city of his birth rather than head to Washington, where he was two-time defending champion. However, he found himself in dog-fights, first in the quarters, where he came back from a set and break down to edge a semi-final place—his first in Hamburg since his first visit as a 17-year-old—and then failed to convert two match points on his way to a three-hour, three-set loss to defending champion Basilashvili.

It has been a familiar story this season, with recurrent hot-and-cold performances, and his confidence has clearly been drained by distractions away from the court. Now he could find himself overtaken by Tsitsipas in the rankings if the young Greek star replaces Zverev as Washington champion.

Tsitsipas and the risers

The charismatic Greek 20-year-old is at a career-high No6, and targeting the top five after starting last year at 91. Following his first big final in Barcelona last April, ranked 63, he went on to make his first Masters final in Toronto. So he does have big points to defend through Washington and Canada, but he has proved his worth in 2019 with a first Major semi in Australia, victory in Marseille and Estoril, and the finals in Dubai and the Madrid Masters.

Other players marking career-high ranks in the aftermath of Wimbledon:

o Khachanov is up to No8 with some solid runs at Roland Garros and Wimbledon.

o Medvedev is into the top 10 for the first time at No9.

o Fognini, who also hit No9, and with his quarter-final run in Hamburg, will return there.

o Basilashvili will match his career-high No16 if he defends his Hamburg title. A year ago, he was ranked 81.

o Lajovic rose to a career high 23 at the start of May, and is close to matching that after winning a career-first title in Umag.

o Fritz, married, a father, and just 21 years old, broke the top 30 after Wimbledon and is set for another high with his run in Atlanta.

o Jarry hit a new high of 38 by winning his first title in Bastad.

o Opelka will mark a career high of around 43 after his Atlanta performance.

o Ugo Humbert, age just 21, broke the top 50 for the first time with a fourth-round run at Wimbledon.

o Londero rose to 56 last week with his final run in Bastad and the fourth round at Roland Garros, having won his first title in Cordoba in February—all on clay.

o Bublik rose to a career-high 71 with his first tour-level final in Newport.

Other notable news

o Jarry was one of 13 first-time titlists this year, along with fellow Hamburg competitors Laslo Djere, Garin, who won in Houston and Munich, and Londero (Cordoba).

o Grigor Dimitrov slipped from the top 50 for the first time since October 2012, after sitting at a career-high No3 just 18 months ago, and being No5 less than a year ago. He missed a clutch of tournaments earlier this year with a shoulder injury, and lost confidence in the process. The latest blow came this week: He lost his opener in Atlanta to qualifier Kevin King, who scored his first tour-level win at the age of 28, leaving Dimitrov without a win since his third-round run at the French Open.

o The two Major champions of the year thus far, Djokovic and Nadal, became the first players to confirm their places at the ATP Finals, which will be held in London for the last time in November. Federer is next in line, aiming to reach the season finale for a 17th time.

o One of the greatest doubles players of his generation, Peter McNamara—three times a Major doubles champion with Paul McNamee, and winner of five singles ATP titles—died last week, age 64, after a battle with prostate cancer.

o The US Open has announced record prize money in excess of $57 million, with $3,850,000 for each of the singles champions. That record total is an 8% increase over the 2018 purse, with pay-outs for each round being the highest in the history of the four Majors.

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