AO Observations


By Scoop Malinowski

Saw three players wearing primarily all white – Shuai Zhang (Nike), Belinda Bencic (Yonex) and Matthew Ebden (Fila).

Pink seems to be the dominant color this year for Nike, with Kyrgios, Dimitrov, Sela, Nadal heavily pinking out.

Former no. 1s to re-unite. Peng Shuai and Su-wei Hsieh will play doubles together again this week. Together both reached no. 1 in 2014 after winning two major titles together in Paris and Wimbledon. Peng played the US Open last year with Hlackova, now partnered with current no. 1 Chan and Hsieh played with Niculescu at US Open.

44-year-old Leander Paes talked about retiring a year ago but he’s still persevering. Paes and Raja Purav played three Challengers at the end of 2017 (winning two) and will try again in Melbourne. They meet Basilashvili and Haider-Maurer in the first round.

Danny Nestor, also 44, is also still at it, now with the semi-retired Jonathan Ehrlich. Nestor, like Paes is ranked around 50 in the world, which is not a good ranking to get main draw entry into smaller events. Nestor opens up against Albot and Chung.

Francesca Schiavone has decided to cancel her retirement. Saying she’s inspired by the success of Federer and other over 30 players, the Italian will continue her career this year. She is currently ranked in the 90s after losing first round to fellow Roland Garros winner Ostapenko.

Ryan Harrison is playing doubles with Vasek Pospisil. Donald Young is playing with Tiafoe. Querrey and Johnson resume their partnership. Fognini is now with Granollers. Isner is not in the doubles.

A big win that went under the radar yesterday was junior star Marta Kostyuk beating WTA no. 27 Peng Shuai (32 years old) in straight sets. The Ukrainian teen is only 15 and ranked 522 in the world. Just a couple of years ago I saw her playing at Eddie Herr. Kostyuk plays with “both hands”, not right or lefty, according to the AO website. It was Kostyuk’s first ever WTA main tour draw match.

First time in history? Casper Ruud and Diego Schwartzman both won their 1R matches 11-9 in the fifth set and now both will play each other in the second round.

The oldest man in the draw, Ivo Karlovic (turns 39 next month), won his first rounder vs Laslo Djere in straight sets. Dr. Ivo’s ranking has dropped to 79 in the world and he has a third round in Melbourne 2017 points to defend. Ivo lost second round last year in Paris and first round at both US Open and Wimbledon.

Victor Estrella Burgos may be the greatest fighter in ATP history. He fought until the age of 33 to make his first Grand Slam appearance and to finally break the top 100. Against Nadal last night, Estrella was down 1-6 0-5 with Nadal serving. After six deuces, Estrella would not give up and he finally broke Nadal for 1-5 though he was broken the next game and lost the third set 1-6. At the end, Rafa and Estrella had a long embrace and you can clearly see how much Rafa respects Estrella’s career and his fighting spirit. He was hugging and patting Estrella as if he won. Estrella started his own line of clothes over the off-season and it’s called VE (Victor Estrella) Deportiva. It has a nice color and design which I would wear before the pink Nike attire.

34 year old Malek Jaziri won his five-setter vs Italian Caruso. The Tunisian veteran keeps on truckin’ in his impressive journeyman career which gets very little attention or accolades.

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  • Michael in UK · January 15, 2018 at 6:21 pm

    I think all of that was news to me Scoop, terrific piece, thank you.
    Here in UK I’ll be trying to catch some of De Minaur v Berdych on Eurosport before reluctantly going to work!

  • Dan Markowitz · January 15, 2018 at 7:04 pm


    What happened with Harry? Was he yelling at Dudi or at the Israeli fans supporting Dudi? Rhino has cleaned up his act on the court behavior-wise, but I thought it’d re-surface with a blown gasket at some point. Did Dudi take offense?

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 15, 2018 at 7:22 pm

    ESPN showed a few highlights of Harrison vs Sela. Harrison yelled / roared really loud after winning a point to win a game. it was excessive. As if Sela or the Israeli fans lit his fire. I read on a tennis blog that the Israeli fans were rough on Harrison. And it’s sort of a custom every year for Sela to play on an outer court in the first rounds in Melbourne and all the Israeli fans go to support him. And they placed Sela vs Harrison on a court that was too small for the big crowd, it was next to Seppi’s match which was a bigger court. Sela vs Harry should have been on Seppi’s court. So it was a crowded, pumped up atmosphere. And Harrison must have been provoked by the pro Sela fans. Harrison has kept his composure for over a year now so you have to blame the fans. Harrison looked really pissed off and extra fired up when he finally closed it out. He had that angry mean face. They shook hands and Sela was nice but he waved his arm like why are you acting like this? They had words at the net post, a little back and forth but nothing happened. They parted. Then Harrison went over and high fived his dad and coach or physio type guy who was standing right behind his chair. Harrison looked really jacked up and intense. I think the Israeli fans more so then Sela provoked the Harry Beast to rear it’s head. But it was all positive rage, no negative. Good thing he didn’t lose, he might have really snapped. I think Harrison looked good and channeled the rage positively to win a very tough match. Sela served for the match but Harrison broke and reeled off four straight games to steal the set.

  • Dan Markowitz · January 15, 2018 at 9:45 pm

    Is it mandatory that whenever Shapie is playing, ESPN has to show her match? She’s destroying Tania Maria and instead of showing Qball v F Lo, they’re sticking with Sharpie’s match. Kind of silly. I know there aren’t many female Fed’, Nadal’s or Djoko’s, in fact there aren’t any besides Serena, but can’t they let Sharpie win a few matches before they show her entire match?

  • Duke Carnoustie · January 15, 2018 at 10:42 pm

    Yes I believe Scoop is accurate, it looked as if Sela was saying what was your problem and Harry let the fans get to him. I saw similar behavior at RG one year when Sock lost to Lajovic and the Serbian fans got to him. The Americans I think feel it is unsporting. Bagghdatis’ Cypriot fans are similar as well.

  • Duke Carnoustie · January 15, 2018 at 10:58 pm

    I watched the second set of this Zverev match and I am not impressed. It’s like last year at the Open that Zverev just can’t roll through these first matches. I think it must be mental

    Amazing scenes on the outer courts as Nicolas Kicker blows a two-set lead on Jordan Thompson, then holds off the Aussie in the fifth!

    How about this Lorenzo Sonego, who knocked out Tomic to qualify. Sonego was up two sets and 6-1 in the 3rd-set breaker over Haase. The Dutchman won 7 straight points and it’s now in the 4th set. Can this journeyman recover from blowing 5 match points?

  • Duke Carnoustie · January 15, 2018 at 11:20 pm

    Sonego was up 5-2 in the 4th and served at 5-3 and blew two more match points! Haase is still in this.

  • Duke Carnoustie · January 15, 2018 at 11:34 pm

    Sonego wins it.

    Meanwhile I say the winner of Djoker-DY will win the tournament!

  • Duke Carnoustie · January 15, 2018 at 11:39 pm

    Tough draw for Jared Donaldson. He’s getting clobbered by Ramos-Vinolas and looks awful in this pink outfit.

    Meanwhile, Bouchard is up a set?!

  • Duke Carnoustie · January 15, 2018 at 11:57 pm

    American tennis is back! Tennys Sandgren and Tim Smyczek each win their first sets! Plus either Kudla or Johnson will advance.

  • catherine · January 16, 2018 at 2:27 am

    Routine wins in WTA

    Simona t/b first set, ran out easily.

    Bouchard bt Oudin

    Petko leading 3rd set v Kvitova who has struggled in Australia, below par healthwise I think.

    Kerber obviously felt sorry for fellow German Anna-Lena Friedsam, 6-0 6-4.

  • catherine · January 16, 2018 at 2:52 am

    Aiava, who lost to Simona is a very promising player.

    Fashion note – whoever at adidas thought that black is a suitable colour for tennis under hot sun ? Simona is entirely in black and Angie’s green and black isn’t terrific idea either on so many levels.
    Black absorbs heat, white reflects. Everyone should wear white. Flattering too.

  • catherine · January 16, 2018 at 3:15 am

    I tell a lie – Simona was in red for her match.
    Notably cool handshake at the net. Wonder why ?

    Petko/Kvitova go tiebreak third set. Petra should serve it out.

  • catherine · January 16, 2018 at 3:44 am

    Petko wins 10-8 t/b ! Petra can go off and have a good rest now.
    Andrea’s press conference should be good. And she should write a book about the match. Or a poem.

    Is it my imagination or is the ball bounce higher than usual this year ?
    Be interesting to see how Barty’s slice game works on it.

  • Dan Markowitz · January 16, 2018 at 5:35 am


    What’s happened to SteveJo? Both Sock and he have really hit skids. Nice win for Kudla who has come back from the near dead. Maybe you were right when you said you didn’t like the way the Gambill-JD practice session was going. I wonder how long Donaldson will stick with Gambill as his coach after this straight-set loss to Ramos. The Spaniard is tough, but losing in straights is no bueno.

    Good win for Sandgren, but Chardy is no longer a near-top player. I heard Cahill on ESPN say that he had talked to Andre and Andre said if Djoko can win a couple of rounds (he has to beat Monfils in Rd 2), watch out, he can win it all.

    What happened to the Aussie Golden Boy De Minaur? He lost in 4 sets to Berdy and only won one game in the last two sets! Just goes to show you, you can’t anoint an 18 year old, 5-11 weighing a buck fifty as the next Hewitt when he just does well in Brisbane and Sydney. Kokkanaikis also is out in Rd 1.

  • catherine · January 16, 2018 at 5:43 am

    Uh huh —- Simona has an ankle injury. Same last year.

    Kudos to Kvitova in that match – she didn’t give up and she didn’t retire although I’m she must have felt like it. Unfortunately the only videos I can find are unwatchable so can’t say any more.

    Garcia was looking good.

    On men’s side – can’t see Stan lasting the distance if every match turns out like his first.

  • catherine · January 16, 2018 at 8:10 am

    Finally found decent highlights Kvitova/Petro – both played well – great vocal crowd involvement :)

    Petra sounded upbeat afterwards. No excuses.

  • catherine · January 16, 2018 at 8:13 am

    I mean Petko of course.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 16, 2018 at 8:21 am

    Sharapova is box office and a far bigger name than Q Ball and you know that ESPN is politically correct and will try to show as much women as men. They did show a little of Querrey and it looked like he was dominating F Lo who looked dispirited. Sam will be dangerous for Fed maybe if they get that far.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 16, 2018 at 8:27 am

    Duke, the Israeli fans have a track record of getting over animated, to put it kindly, and they sometimes do go over the line. Harrison’s fire and fury are completely acceptable in this situation. We know he has been very well behaved over the last few years and this was an isolated incident so you have to suspect it was the Israeli fans who provoked the situation. Which is unfortunate because as I have said here many times, Sela is a super nice, friendly, engaging likable guy. Nico Kicker was another guy who showed a lot of fury and fire vs Thompson. The Argie blew a two set lead and then was down 0-2 in the fifth but then dug deep and flipped his emotional adrenaline switch and used passion and fire and fury to win 6-3 in the fifth. Kicker was yelling loudly Vamos and Allaiz and was very animated and pumped up after every big point but I didn’t notice he was provoked by the Aussie fans who are generally very fair and sporting in the right way.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 16, 2018 at 8:29 am

    Duke, Zverev’s confidence is down now, he’s not done well for months. But he survived Fabbiano who is tough like a mini bull out there ripping that little forehand that explodes off his racquet. Fabbiano could have won two of those sets but Zverev dug deep. Good win for him and a much needed win where he overcame adversity.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 16, 2018 at 8:30 am

    I read Sonego was up two sets and 6-1 in the third set breaker and lost the set! If true that’s crazy. At least he somehow regrouped to win. Haase is a tough, pretty dangerous player.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 16, 2018 at 8:34 am

    Johnson has got off to a bad start this year, bad losses accrue and he’s lost confidence. Last year was a bad year for him too, his ranking tumbled from the 20s to the 40s after he trained his tail off in the 2016-2017 off season. When you train so hard and dedicate with the diet and you don’t get the results you feel you deserve, you lose confidence and I think that’s where Johnson is at now. Last year was a big disappointment and this year is a continuation.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 16, 2018 at 8:38 am

    Cmon, Berdych is a heavyweight and Deminaur is just a welterweight. To get a set from Berdych at this point is very good. Hewitt’s first Aussie Open he lost to Bruguera.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 16, 2018 at 8:40 am

    Fed’s white and pink stripes outfit is one of his flashiest ever. With the black socks and pink black shoes, Fed looks sharper than ever. Didn’t like that weird, embarrassing interview after with Will Ferrell. Hollyweird freaks like Ferrell do not do tennis any favors.

  • catherine · January 16, 2018 at 9:00 am

    Quotes from Petrovic:

    ‘Sometimes you have to hit your head against the brick wall until it breaks down’.

    ‘I didn’t feel anything. I just existed. I have no feelings whatsoever about this – in a good way’.

    ‘I didn’t even think about what I was supposed to do with the strokes or how I was going to serve. I just thought about not thinking’.

    (correction to previous post – of course there was no tiebreak)

  • Chazz · January 16, 2018 at 9:11 am

    Harrison is entertaining, the guy is so fierce as we saw when he snapped 4 racquets in half in a minute. I would not want to provoke him.

    These Americans are in big slumps and badly need to turn things around in their upcoming tournaments – Sock, Johnson, Donaldson, Tiafoe.

    It was great to see that Smyczek got a win even if he got a lucky draw against another WC.

    R2 doesn’t really stand out to me as having great matchups other than Shapo-Tsonga, Medvedev-Chung, Giorgi-Barty, Osaka-Vesnina. R3 is where things will start to get really good.

  • Dan Markowitz · January 16, 2018 at 9:13 am

    When you look at the American Young Gun foursome of Tiafoe, JD, Fritz and Kozlov, now 20 and JD 21, for two of them to lose in Qualis and the other two in First Round without winning a set, you have to ask if the expectations are too high for these guys? Will any be Top 20 players or seriously contend for slams?

  • Chazz · January 16, 2018 at 9:23 am

    Dan, I think 3 of those – Tiafoe, JD and Fritz, and maybe add Escobedo in the mix – they all have shown flashes of being able to hang with the big boys in the past couple years. You could say they had upward trajectory given their ages, but they all seem to have taken a step back at some point. I don’t think any of them are over 21 so there’s still time.

  • catherine · January 16, 2018 at 9:51 am

    Chazz –

    Barty v Giorgi could be an upset. Ashleigh took three sets to beat Sabalenka and Kerber had no problem with Ash in Sydney. I don’t get the feeling she’s ready for the next big step. Maybe like some of the younger guys.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 16, 2018 at 9:54 am

    It’s a good subject to explore. Why has the US NEXTGEN group stalled in progress? Fritz lead the brigade, qualifying in Australia Open 2016 but he lost in the first round in five sets to Sock. Then lost at US open 1R to Sock also in five sets. Tiafoe lost in fie sets at US open to both Fed and Isner. maybe if Fritz and Tiafoe won those matches, all four of them, we’d be having a different discussion. This year will be a very important one and it will tell us a lot about where the careers of these players will go. The fact that Paul Koz Fritz JD, Mmoh Tiafoe Opelka are all off to slow starts this year is not the most promising sign.

  • Duke Carnoustie · January 16, 2018 at 10:52 am

    Well you guys know with SteveJo that his dad passing had a huge effect on him, you saw that last year at RG. It was also that he had to spend another month or so in Europe for SW19 after that and being in such a sad move. SteveJo said that he wasn’t worried about results so much last year as opposed to just getting through the season.

    What I saw from the arts of the match I saw is that SteveJo didn’t have his usual fire; he knows Denis well and gave Denis a hug. Once SteveJo regains his fire, he will be back in top 30, top 25, he is getting married this year to a longtime girlfriend, I believe, and that will help his stability. He’s a very solid, family-oriented SoCal guy; I think he’ll be fine and the fall season on hardcourts here could be his time.

    Donaldson got smoked in Milan last year and his confidence is down, you can tell by his comments. He lost a tough one to Pouille (?) at the USO that he felt he should have won. I don’t think Gambill is the guy to help him; Gambill only knows fitness training and JD needs a coach to help him with variety since his strength is his unorthodox game.

  • Duke Carnoustie · January 16, 2018 at 10:56 am

    Gotta admire Sandgern grinding it out in his career. Wawrinka had a tough fight with Berankis. Sandgren should take a set at least and maybe has a chance to push the recovering Stanimal to five.

    You guys saw on the previous thread that I set my over-under on games for DY at 8? He got 7!

    How about Kiki Mladenovic?! Will she ever win again? And she may be in Melbourne for some time if Domi Thiem makes a run.

  • Dan Markowitz · January 16, 2018 at 12:03 pm

    When Mac Mac is your sole young American making it into the 2nd Rd of the Aussie O, it’s not a good sign.

    Who suffered the worst loss of Rd 1? Borna Coric who went down in SS to Millman? Izzie who went down in 4 sets to Ebden? Kevin Anderson losing in 5 to Edmund? Pouille losing in 4 sets to Bemelmans, Kohlschreiber losing to Nishioka, Sock losing in 4 to Sugita, Batista-Agut losing in SS to Verdasco, or Raonic losing in 4 to Lacko.

    That’s a lot of upsets, but I’d have to go with Izzie, Kohly and Milos as all the biggest upsets.

  • Chazz · January 16, 2018 at 12:12 pm

    I would say Pouille losing to a journeyman 30 year old ranked #118 is by far the biggest upset. Anderson and Kohlschreiber losses weren’t big upsets. Edmund has been playing great and Nishioka is currently sub-100 but only because of the injury.
    Pre-injury he was around #50.

  • Duke Carnoustie · January 16, 2018 at 1:11 pm

    I saw that Bautista Agut had won 20 straight Slam first-rounders so I’ll give him a pass.

    Pouille losing to Bemelmans was such a shocker also when you consider that he recently crushed Darcis – a better Belgian player – to give France the Davis Cup. Maybe Belgium should have used Bemelmans vs. him.

  • Duke Carnoustie · January 16, 2018 at 1:13 pm

    Chardy really is on the tail end of his career to lose decisively to Sandgren. Feel bad for him because he could never be a Davis Cupper or Olympian even though he got to No. 25 in the world with so many good French players out there. He is married to a beautiful woman so he has that going for him.

  • Leif Wellington Haase · January 16, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    On the state of the “US men’s armada,” first the good news– there is quality depth in US men’s tennis for the first time since the early to mid-1980s…fifteen US men in the top 130 in the world, give or take, and thirty in the top 300, basically the Challenger cutoff. And lots of talent steadily coming up the ranks, Chris Eubanks and J.C. Aragone standing out for me.

    Describing the “old guard,” brevity is best. Isner looks done, sadly; Steve Johnson is an overachiever (all-slice backhand only works so long); though sports shouldn’t be taken too seriously, Jack Sock is fortunate, after that dismal AO performance, that tennis is an afterthought for Americans.

    Tennys Sandgren deserves enormous kudos for perseverance and overcoming injuries and self-doubt, but it’s hard to win on tour playing ten feet behind the baseline on every point. Smyczek is a consummate professional on a tremendous run…call it the “Bogie” run after Alex Bogomolov Jr., who came out of nowhere late career (literally off the teaching court) to pile up points and $s, but getting back to 70-80 in the world will be Smyczek’s reward, and a just one.

    Querrey is the only real factor among the older players, and more likely as a spoiler than a Grand Slam winner, as his career has amply shown.

    On to the under-21’s or so, whom I’ve seen play in person at least three times in the past six months.

    –For me, Opelka has the highest upside, even though there is an equally good chance he flames out altogether without even making the top 50. Much like the other younger Americans, he has technical flaws, but you can’t teach seven feet and if he irons out the serve a bit he will be unbreakable. Moves remarkably well, hits the ball a ton, and had a couple of decent Challenger wins early this season after a truly dreadful conclusion to 2017.

    Opelka’s focus and commitment are his main issues. One example from last fall: in Las Vegas, tiebreaker against Liam Broady, a player he should beat handily, 5-all, close line call on the sideline on a shanked return, and Opelka is complaining about the (non)call while the point is still being played, even though he has an easy winner. Misses the sitter, loses the match. The good news: he’s got terrific coaches through the USTA and his future is truly what he wants to make of it.

    Most of the other young Americans have something in common: they have a technically flawed stroke (or two), usually their backhand. Not that this is a deal-breaker even for getting into the Top Ten (see Fish, Mardy), but you’d better have some other attribute to compensate, and I’m not sure they do. Tiafoe has a suspect backhand. So does Fritz, and getting married as a teenager and having a kid is unorthodox, all the more in terms of a successful tennis career. Mmoh’s backhand, which is brilliant for taking pace off the ball on returns, is a plus at the Challenger level and a liability at the tour level, where one needs more of an attacking option. Mmoh is a tremendously hard worker however with solid coaching which will pay dividends. Players have learned to neutralize Escobedo’s lethal forehand and he’s not consistent enough elsewhere to compensate. Donaldson’s game is in some ways all quirks, but his serve is still his main stumbling block: it lacks enough power and variety. And Kozlov simply doesn’t have any single weapon that is big enough to compete consistently, though he is sharper technically and tactically than most of his American peers.

    A shout-out for Mackie MacDonald: he has done everything possible in the past couple of years to maximize his potential: improved his serve, bulked up in the right way, improved the depth of his groundstrokes, become tactically sounder. (Practicing with Federer hasn’t hurt.) Unlike most of the other Americans, his technical foundation is rock-solid (volley could still improve, but that is true for most of the singles players on tour) and he is training like a seasoned pro.

    If he stays healthy Mackie will be in the top 100 by mid-year and while I think his build is too slight to crack the top 25 (see also Noah Rubin) many felt the same about Goffin, who after years of bad draws and tough losses has outperformed expectations.

    Pity he has to play Dimitrov in R2.

  • catherine · January 16, 2018 at 1:39 pm

    Apropos of absolutely nothing to do with this conversation – I noticed Simona H is not wearing adidas, supposedly because her agent(s) asked for too much money. Considering the exposure she will get at the AO with bonuses no doubt built in it looks as though both parties have shot themselves in their respective feet.

    Or maybe Simo just didn’t like the designs. Or she found out that certain other players get more than she does.

  • Dan Markowitz · January 16, 2018 at 1:59 pm

    Very nice overview of the American NextGen’s Leif. I disagree with you over Opelka having the brightest future. I know his height and his groundies for his size are elite, but I’ve rarely seen the guy pull off a win in a big match for him. Maybe he’s still young and raw for that, but Opelka seems to me to be a guy who will always fall far behind Izzy in his tracks.

  • Duke Carnoustie · January 16, 2018 at 4:41 pm

    Yeah count me out on Opelka. I just don’t see it. Maybe he can become a top-50 servebot but if has the most potential, it’s a sad state of affairs.

    I’m not a believer in MacDonald, either.

    Call me crazy but I think Fritz can get his act together. Tiafoe will do better eventually as well. Escobedo I think will be passed by.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 16, 2018 at 5:05 pm

    Opelka is far more accomplished at the same age as Isner. Isner did nothing in junior majors but Opelka won Wimbledon and Herr. Opelka has already beaten Anderson and a few other ATP players but he did it a year and a half ago and has been pretty quiet at the ATP level since then. Still he has a few years to develop and adapt to the ATP main tour level grind. He has huge upside and can be better than Isner as he moves better, and hits better returns.

  • Dan Markowitz · January 16, 2018 at 6:47 pm

    Saying Opelka can be better than Izzie is a big ask, the guy is #207 at age 20 and last year he went a whopping 1-8 on the pro tour, but he did beat two Top 20 players, Jaziri and Escobedo. This year, he’s already beaten Berankis, but he lost in first round of Aussie O Qualis to Christian Harry.

    Comparing players to Izzie is tough because Izzie was a late bloomer. I mean he didn’t even win the NCAA championships like Mac Mac and SteveJo both did. But you could make an argument that Izzie, SteveJo and Mac Mac are reason alone that more top juniors should play college for at least a couple of years. So far JD, Tiafoe and Fritz have not been as good. And neither have The Koz, Noah R or MMmoh or Opelka. Maybe they should go to college and build their competitive chops and their bodies instead traveling the world and getting their butts kicked for the most part on the pro tour.

  • Andrew Miller · January 16, 2018 at 6:49 pm

    Querrey…a slam SF and two slam QF in his last six slams.

  • Andrew Miller · January 16, 2018 at 7:00 pm

    Hard to tell. Sometimes something clicks for a player. Tommy Paul last summer seemed ready to obliterate the narrative putting on quite a show. Steve Tignor said the issue is consistency. Regardless of the talent level of the us men, ranging from good to ridiculously high potential, they are inconsistent.

    I wouldn’t write anyone off. I’d say Querrey has proven he’s the only us player with the consistency necessary to make it to the quarters or better at a slam, which Isner has not shown for over six years. I’d say a few players seem to have enough game and fortitude to possibly make the second week in the future.

    This is a pretty big deal in this era of big four ownership of slams. We’re going on thirteen years here and only a few players have broken through for a slam.

    Del Potro. Cilic. Wawrinka. And that’s it! Wawrinka is probably the biggest deal, given he pulled everything together at a relatively late age. But even Wawrinka has a game out of this world – enormous shot making off the ground.

    I think the tour will open up a bit and it will be more like the women’s tour, with more new winners every year. I’m not confidant that the Australian will be the place, but the players can prove it.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 16, 2018 at 7:08 pm

    Well Dan, it’s a tough call. Most of the players mentioned are ranked between 100-200 and the breakthrough can come any week. A week or two of good runs could blast their rankings up. Estrella took his beatings for a decade and a half but he finally made it. These young Americans are all right there, right on the cusp, and they have all shown impressive qualities. But the weekly beatings could take a toll. All these players have the belief they can make it and they are better than NCAA elites. This is an important year for the whole group. They all desperately want to keep up with each other, no one wants to fall way behind. Hopefully one will really smash through to lead the pack. Thought that would be Fritz.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 16, 2018 at 7:12 pm

    Querrey is the top American right now, he’s pulled ahead of Sock and Isner and Johnson. The question is will Courier tap Q to play singles. Remember, Courier watched Q’s horror show at Petco Field in San Diego when Isner choked a set and break lead in the singles to James Ward who has pretty much flopped since that career win. USA vs Serbia could be to save Courier’s job as USA has not achieved anything in Davis Cup under Courier despite a solid roster of talent.

  • Andrew Miller · January 16, 2018 at 8:16 pm

    Solid roster? I’d argue Courier wasn’t left with a solid roster. Mac had two top ten players and one of the world’s best doubles teams of all time and won Davis Cup with them. I don’t think Courier has had that, yet. He may yet. I think that’s what he’s hoping for, two reliable top fifteen players and a doubles champion.

  • Leif Wellington Haase · January 16, 2018 at 8:47 pm

    A couple of additional thoughts on the Isner-Opelka comparison, and on evaluating future potential in general.

    Isner is almost 33. When he was Opelka’s age, 20, he didn’t have a ranking. He was, and is, an overachiever, because apart from his serve Isner’s game coming out of college was a work in progress at best.

    I remember him struggling through Challengers and Futures in places like Shingle Springs and Yuba City in California when his footwork was painful and he could barely keep a groundstroke in the court. He didn’t crack the top 100 until he was almost 23, and he wasn’t a regular in the top 100 until he was 24.

    So in one sense Opelka is far ahead. In another, seen in the most promising light, he has a lot more to develop, given that he is bigger, faster, stronger, and more athletic than Isner. I’m not sure he has the drive, and I’d say the portents so far aren’t especially favorable. On the flip side, his coach, Dustin Taylor, is one of the best in the business. But Opelka is very young by any estimate and I’d wait three or four years, should he keep playing, before making any definitive judgment. That’s the blessing of having attributes that are hard to teach: height, speed, coordination, and power.

    Watching and playing tennis for fifty years—I’ve had a string of epiphanies–no doubt like many on this list, in retrospect mostly watching another stage in the remarkable evolution of the power baseliner…Connors-Rosewall, the first time I saw the Arias forehand; the moment I knew serve-and-volley was a doomed tactic for mere mortals (watching Agassi and Phillipoussis, among others, return serve); Nadal counterattacking on clay; Nick Krygios hitting a forehand, and many others.

    The reason I rate Opelka’s potential so high is that seeing him, for me, was one of those paradigm-change moments: a seven-footer who could, in theory, serve like Karlovic while running and returning like a top-level ATP pro…who could outserve the big servers and be the peer of the best power baseliners. With a wingspan and a margin for error, given the difficulty of breaking his serve, to choose to win points at the net as well.

    To be, in short, the Kevin Garnett of tennis—a super-athletic big man. There hasn’t yet been one of these yet in tennis, and it may not be Opelka, but I think it is the next stage in the evolution of the game.

    Except for a few players destined obviously for the top—a McEnroe, Sampras, Federer, Sascha Zverev—most young players make a first surge into the top 100 and then fall back, because making the leap from 110 to 65> and staying there is the hardest leap in the rankings.

    The second time around, they are defending points, nursing injuries, the locker room knows their game, etc. There’s an analog in every sport, with golf and baseball the most obvious comparisons.

    How the players handle the almost inevitable first drop back in the ranking tends to be the key to their long-run success. Isner, Steve Johnson, Querrey, arguably Donald Young, and even Harrison (who stayed down a long time) have done a pretty good job mounting the second charge across this minefield, others (Klahn, for instance) have not.

    Most of the young guns have just made the first leap, have recently fallen back, or are on the cusp of making their move. That’s why this year, as Scoop says, is so critical because it will give a much better sense of who is able to complete the “N”-shaped trajectory that defines so many tennis careers.

  • catherine · January 17, 2018 at 1:45 am

    Well – back to the action: out goes Shapo, Nishioka, Bencic, Pav, and Wozniaki struggled 3 sets v Fett.

    I was surprised about Bencic – after how she was being talked up.

    Now I’m waiting for Julia G – following her decade long pilgrimage to get past 4th round in a GS.

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