Sunday, January 11, 2015

Decent Start to the 2015 American Campaign

Not a bad start to the new season from the American bunch highlighted by Venus Williams' victory in Auckland and the Hopman Final.  The ATP performance may not be as good as the WTA's, but there were some nice results at the lower tour events including a surprising start for Ryan Harrison and strong showings by the teenagers on the futures tour.

In the first week of the 2015 season, Venus Williams claimed her 46th title at the ASB Classic in Auckland.  The 34 year old upended fellow former World No.1, Caroline Wozniacki, 2-6 6-3 6-3.  With the victory, Williams is back up at No.18 on the WTA tour ranking.  Also in New Zealand, 21 year old Lauren Davis reached her first career semifinal coming back from 1st set deficient each time.  She defeated fellow Americans, Shelby Rogers and Sloane Stephens, as well as Pole Urszula Radwanska before falling to Williams.  CoCo Vandeweghe also made the quarterfinals.

At the WTA Brisbane, Varvara Lepchenko advanced to the semifinals (l. Ana Ivanovic).  The 4th ranked American took down promising teen, Madison Keys, who upset World No.10 Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) 7-5 6-2 in the first round.  Great result for Lepchenko, but from the 19 year old fans' perspective, a disappointment.  Many tennis enthusiasts expect great things from the Floridian including her new coach and three-time grand slam winner, Lindsey Davenport.  Also in the draw, Madison Brengle won a round over fellow qualifier Lesia Tsurenko (UKR).

In the first team competition of the year, John Isner and Serena Williams made the final of the Hopman Cup in Perth, Australia.  The 29 year old Isner, who replaced Jack Sock (hip surgery), went 3-1 with the lone loss coming at the hand of Canadian Vasek Pospisil.  Serena had rougher outings, losing to Eugenie Bouchard (CAN) and Agnieszka Radwanska (POL).  Her two wins against Italian Flavia Pennetta and Lucie Safarova (CZE) were a struggle.  In the final, the American duo lost the doubles 7-5 6-3 to make Poland a first time winner.  Congratulation to Agnieszka Radwanska and Jerzy Janowicz on making history.
Lucie Safarova
Vasek Pospisil
Vasek Pospisil
Vasek Pospisil

On the Junior Circuit, 15 year old Michaela Gordon beat fellow American Usue Maitane Arconada 7-6(5) 6-2 to win the G1 ITF Coffee Bowl title.

Michaela Gordon at Coffee Bowl

At the ATP 250 Brisbane International, Steve Johnson took down local favorite, Marinko Matsoevic, in three sets before succumbing to World No.5 Kei Nishikori of Japan in the second round. Denis Kudla and Rhyne Williams won three matches to qualify for the nearly $500K purse tournament, but fell to Jarkko Nieminen (FIN) and Aussie wildcard John Millman, respectively.  A good start for both players coming off illness/injuries in 2014 (Kudla - mono, Williams - shoulder/herniated disk).  On the other  hand, a disappointing debut for American No.2, Sam Querrey, who went down to Bernard Tomic 7-5 7-6(5).  It wasn't the loss that hurt, but the manner in which he lost.  Querrey had a chance to close out the first set on his serve, but instead, he lost three straight games.  However, the 27 year old fared better in doubles, reaching the semifinals with good friend Steve Johnson.

Ryan Harrison, who struggled mightily last year, decided to start his 2015 campaign on the challenger tour.  A decision that paid dividends as we saw him lift his first title in two years at the $50K Happy Valley challenger.  The highly touted 22 year old ended last season at 190, his lowest ranking since 2010, is now back working with Grant Doyle. With the victory, Harrison is expected to climb to roughly 160, still far from his career high of 43 achieved in 2012 but a step in the right direction.

Seven Americans chose to play their Australian warm up at the $75K Noumea challenger, likely influenced by the higher prize money and paradise setting of the French island, New Caledonia.  Bjorn Fratangelo and 18 year old Jared Doanldson qualified, but didn't advance far.  Bradley Klahn and Chase Buchanan were the only ones to make the quarterfinals of the ridiculously windy event.  Klahn broke into the Top 100 for the first time last year, but foot injury kept him from climbing higher than 63 in the ranking.  The 2010 NCAA champion hopes to get back to his career high and a successful qualification to the Aussie Open would be a good start.  In the doubles, Austin Krajicek and Tennys Sandgren won the title over fellow Americans Jarmere Jenkins and Bradley Klahn. The former college trio of Krajicek, Buchanan, and Jenkins are at or near their career best inside the Top 200 and will look to continue the climb.  Sandgren is seeking to bounce back from his post hip surgery slump and get his ranking back on track in 2015.

Back in the USA, teens showed promising start on the USTA Pro Circuit.  Four teenagers reached the quarterfinals or better at the $15K Los Angeles and $10K Plantation.  Taylor Fritz, Stefan Kozlov, and Nathan Ponwith upset their respective seeds in the LA futures.  Seventeen year old Fritz defeated top seed and 2012 Kalamazoo champion, Dennis Novikov, and later took down another UCLA standout in Mackenzie McDonald.  The Californian then reached his first career semifinal beating 16 year old Stefan Kozlov in a highly anticipated encounter.  Both players didn't play their best with Kozlov struggling on serve, but Fritz avenged his Kalamazoo loss 6-4 6-4.  The biggest surprise of the tournament was 16 year old Nathan Ponwith's comeback from 0-9 to upset second seeded Daniel Nguyen 0-6 6-4 6-0 in the first round.  The talented ballstriker recorded his second career futures quarterfinal, where he fell to Texan Mitchell Krueger who went on to take the title over Jason Jung.  In Plantation, wildcard Deiton Baughman reached his second career semifinal, first on clay.  A good start for the 18 year old whose goal is to make the US Open qualifying draw with his own ranking.

Highlights: Taylor Fritz vs Stefan Kozlov

Brian Baker, who was supposed to make his comeback this month, had another set back.  The 29 year old former junior No.2, whose career was derailed by multiple injuries, had another knee surgery.  He hadn't played since the US Open in 2013.  Wishing Brian a successful recovery!

Non American First Week Winners: 

Roger Federer - ATP Brisbane International
Stan Wawrinka - ATP Aircel Chennai Open
David Ferrer - ATP Qatar ExxonMobil Open
Maria Sharapova - WTA Brisbane International
Simona Halep - WTA Shenzhen Open

Congratulations to Roger Federer on his 1,000th career match win!


  1. Awesome coverage, Lang.

    Here's to a great year for the Americanos. What do you think of Isner's chances in the Aussie?

    1. It may sound crazy but I feel that Isner is better on slower surface. It gives him more time to set up his huge forehand. His return of serve is below avg. and I think he will have difficulty getting ball in play on the fast AO court. But his serve will keep him in matches. Depending on the draw, I can see him reach 3rd/4th round but at the same time I wouldn't be surprised if he loses early.