By Herman Wood
(July 28, 2015) ATLANTA, Georgia – Hotlanta indeed! Following the directions of ushers to take a seat on Tuesday in Atlanta potentially risked a trip to the burn unit! It certainly was not comfortable, even in the shade once the sun moved a bit at the Atlanta Open. Action heated up on the courts as well, with a number of young and experienced Americans in action. Steve Johnson got by Lukas Lacko 6-1, 6-7, 6-2, dropping a second set tiebreak 7-3. Austin Krajicek fell to Marco Baghdatis 6-4, 6-0, despite some creative engineering of his frame, reportedly playing with a broken frame for one point. Qualifier Denis Kudla sent wild card Ryan Harrison home for singles in three sets, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(5). Harrison tweeted later, “Fought hard today. Thank you @BBTatlantaopen for this opportunity to play. I will get better from this and always be back. #Bounceback” Eighteen year old Jared Donaldson took down fellow qualifier Somdev Devvarman 6-1, 3-6, 6-4. Donaldson is impressive if for nothing else the ability to seriously launch a ball out of the stadium. Interstate 75 is a possibility!
Australia’s Sam Groth had all he could handle with 17 year old American Frances Tiafoe. It was a draw until the tiebreaker began for the first set. The veteran Groth got a service mini-break early and that took some steam out of Tiafoe. He certainly fought, but Groth kept blasting away. Fellow American and Georgia Tech team member Chris Eubanks rooted loudly for Tiafoe, encouraging him to keep fighting. The crowd was fully behind him, exhorting him as well. He got a bit discouraged after dropping the tie break 7-3 and gave up an early break. Soon, the racquet was thrown and the crowd got a bit quiet. The statistics reflected a very even match, but all Groth needed was one tiebreak and one break point converted. He made it hold up for a 7-6(3), 6-4 win. Tiafoe won’t find much comfort in the statistics, but he only had one break chance and couldn’t convert it and that was really the difference.
Singles wrapped up for the day with a more mature American, Mardy Fish, who will be calling it a career after the US Open, taking on last year’s finalist – Dudi Sela. Sela won over the Atlanta crowd last year with fine play and gracious humor. The crowd appreciated fine play all night, but tried to raise Fish, though there wasn’t as much to cheer for as they might have liked. Fish managed to hold his first service game, but it was a struggle. The struggle continued in his second service game, as he was broken by just generally loose play, spraying balls long. The game was certainly there, especially when the shot required a quick reaction, whether forehand or backhand. Fish flashed a 131 mph serve at one point, but Sela was more than ready, blunting the attack, blocking backhand after backhand back authoritatively. Fish managed to get the break back to level the set at four with the help of two net cords, but was promptly undone again, not able to finish points he had most certainly earned. Sela had to work, holding off a break point, but closed the set 6-4 in his favor. Fish apparently had an issue with his socks at some point and took advantage of a medical time out by Sela. Apparently, he gestured to Roddick, who simply removed his socks and sent them to Fish. That’s a bit more sharing than I think most people want to do with their doubles partner! After Sela had his wrist attended to, play resumed and stayed on serve. The length of rallies and level of play improved for both men, until Sela earned a break for 5-4 with a wild Fish forehand. During the changeover, Sela’s homeland flag of Israel came out on display in the stands and it seemed to inspire him. He served the set out, winning 6-4, 6-4. He was gracious afterward, signing and posing with fans. “If Mardy had played his best, he’d have kicked my ass!”
“If I’m going to play like that, it’s going to be pretty tough,” Fish said in talking about the positives he’d taken from the match. “It’s just it’s nice to finish on my own terms. The sport, my job, was taken from me so abruptly that it took me a long time to get my life back.”
Fish is scheduled to play his last two tournaments of his career in Cincinnati and New York.
I was also able to chat with Chris Eubanks, a 6-7 sophomore from Georgia Tech (about a mile from Atlantic Station). Eubanks graduated from Westlake High School, also here in Atlanta, and is the number 53rd ranked singles player in the NCAA. Eubanks played with American Donald Young in the doubles draw, beating Mate Pavic and Michael Venus 6-2, 3-6, 10-5 in the super tiebreaker. Wednesday he’ll play Radek Stepanek in singles. I asked how I would know if he were playing his best. “I’ll be getting my first serve in and making my forehand.” I responded that he had just described about ninety percent of American tennis players, whether on the tour or not. That drew a laugh. We also talked about on court demeanor and he shared how important it is that you have to be yourself on the court and express yourself in the way of your own choosing. Eubanks was very gracious with his time, though he was clearly there to support Tiafoe.
In other singles results, German Benjamin Becker got by fellow German Michael Berrer, 7-5, retired. In other doubles action, “Popsock”, Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock fell to Gilles Muller and Colin Fleming 6-4, 4-6,10-6. Eric Butyric and Artem Sitak took out Matthew Ebden and Adrian Mannarino 6-2, 6-0. Play continues on Wednesday with the evening matches focusing on doubles. Fish and Roddick return to action, taking on Murray and Lu. The Bryan Brothers have big serving Groth partnered up with fellow Australian Chris Guccione.