By Mike McIntyre
The Emirates Airlines U.S. Open Series officially gets underway with the level 250 event in Atlanta. While the major players will make their first hardcourt swing appearances in two weeks time at the Rogers Cup in Toronto, some smaller (and taller) fish will start accumulating points a bit earlier.
When I say taller I am definitely talking about John Isner who heads the field in Atlanta as the number one seed. Isner has become the hardest working player on the ATP Tour in recent summers and this year should be no exception. He has plenty of points to defend which must compel him to play such a heavy schedule, but it certainly seems to leave him weakened by the time the U.S. Open arrives at the end of August. At the age of 29 Isner is no kid anymore and if he truly wants to have his major moment he is going to have to ease up on the hours he spends out in the summer heat. Isner's success in 2014 has been limited to the early months of the season where he won his first event in Auckland and then reached the semi's at Indian Wells where he fell to Djokovic in three sets. He's the defending champ here in Atlanta and anything less than a repeat victory at this event will be seen as a disappointment.
Isner has a first round bye and then will face the winner between wildcard Robby Ginepri -who is still trying to salvage something of a once promising career - and Sergiy Stakhovsky of Ukraine. Gael Monfils of France is the number three seed and is also in the top-half of the draw. Monfils could win this thing or self-destruct in a dizzying array of cartwheels and Boris Becker inspired dives...you just never know with him.
Wimbledon doubles champs Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil are reunited together again since their big triumph. They are also both playing singles of course and Pospisil is the fourth seed and in the bottom-half of the draw. With his back seemingly no longer troubling him, the Canadian will look to gain some momentum as the Roger's Cup approaches where he has semi-final points to defend. Lots of pressure on the youngster who is fresh off a loss to Bernie Tomic in Bogota this past week.
Yen-Hsun Lu of Tapei is the seventh seed and in the bottom half as well. He is coming off a Challenger level tournament victory in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan. For him it will be a battle between his rising confidence and impending jetlag. Kevin Anderson, the second seed, is also one to watch. He lost the final a year ago to Isner and played very well last summer on the smaller American hardcourt events.
For those looking to cling to red clay for a little bit longer we have just the event for you in Switzerland. No Roger Federer this year as he does not need the extra ranking points nor is he testing out a new racquet. Federer was shocked in his opening match a year ago against Daniel Brands in a forgettable 65 minute match.
Mikhail Youzhny is the number one seed and defending champion in Gstaad. He is quite capable on clay as he is on all other surfaces. He's got some decent dirt-ballers such as Juan Monaco, Thomasz Bellucci and Federico Delbonis to content with in the top half of the draw.
In the bottom half the ATP World Tour welcomes back the self-proclaimed innocent Viktor Troicki who hopefully has learned his lesson about refusing to provide a blood sample when asked. He was fortunate enough to have his 18 month suspension reduced to 12 and to receive a wildcard for this event. He opens against sixth seeded Dominic Thiem from Austria.
Fernando Verdaso will try to get his season back on track as the fourth seed here in Gstaad. Other than winning a small tournament on green clay in Houston back in April, there has been little worth reporting from the thirty year old Spaniard so far in 2014.
Marcel Granollers is the second seed in the event and won this tournament in 2011.
Take the results from this tournament with a grain of salt. Clay court events are on their way out this year and a win here does not by any means translate to success at the final Grand Slam of the year in New York. These are players who are trying to pad their stats or bank accounts but clearly care little for what they may be able to accomplish at a major.
Ditto for Umag.
Number one seed Fabio Fognini will try to stick around a little longer than he did last week in Hamburg where he was defeated 6-4, 6-0 by the 150th ranked player in the world - Filip Krajinovic. A dismal effort from the defending champion to say the least. Fognini was a finalist here in Umag in 2013 and I would expect somewhat of a stronger effort this week as he tries to hold on to his current ranking of 15th in the world.
17 year old Alexander Zverev has received a special entry into the tournament due to his phenomenal effort last week in Hamburg where he reached the semi-finals before falling to David Ferrer. This kid has experienced the most prolific start to his career by a teenager since one Rafael Nadal did about ten years ago. He jumped 124 spots in the rankings up to his current of 161st in the ATP. Zverev started 2014 ranked in the 800s and won the Australian Open junior event. Looks like he's ready for the big leagues now.
In the bottom half of the draw the fans will no-doubt be pulling for Marin Cilic who won here in 2012. Tommy Robredo is the second seed and defending champion from a year ago. Every time I write anything negative about Robredo he goes on a serious run and manages to rediscover his top-twenty ranking and form. I'm done predicting anything for this guy, he is officially my kryptonite!
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