Around the World: July 23

Monday, July 23, 2012 /by

Picby Pete Bodo

Afternoon, everyone. It's time to take a quick trip around the tennis world and check the news of the past week. We'll go the thumbs up/thumbs down route this time.

The pending Olympic games have not had an enormous impact on the events of the week, although the events of the week might have a noticeable impact on the Olympics (more on that later).

Let's face it, the most celebrated gladiators of tennis aren't all the eager to depart Wimbledon and jump right onto a hard court in the humid U.S. or a clay court in summery Europe—especially not when it's a mere ATP 250, or WTA International event. 

Like the two weeks immediately preceding Grand Slam events, the past two weeks were a time during which the small fry, players with ground to make up, and game competitors on the cusp of a breakthrough—or looking to suck it up and boost their rankings—took their chances. I'm not going to give thumbs up to every winner; I'll just pick the most worthy player on each tour and add them to odds and ends that make up most of this space.

ThumbsupJuan Monaco gets our thumbs up for this week on the ATP side, narrowly edging out Andy Roddick, who won in Atlanta, and Thomaz Bellucci, who upset top-seeded Janko Tipsarevic in Gstaad.  

I wouldn't underestimate Roddick's achievement in winning the unofficial "U.S. Nationals." (All the top Americans play in Atlanta, and the lack of big foreign stars gives them a good shot at claiming the ultimate bragging rights. John Isner was the top seed, Roddick No. 4.) And we know that Tipsarevic has become a regular steady-eddie when it comes to holding his place in the second half of the Top 10 (a discipline to which the mercurial Bellucci thus far can only aspire). Thus, the Brazilian's coup was a fine win by an standard. 

However, Hamburg was an ATP 500 (the other two were 250s), and Monaco's win over resurgent former No. 2 Tommy Haas before the latter's ga-ga home crowd ensured him a place in the Top 10 for the very first time in his career. The Argentinian city of Tandil now has two men in the Top 10; the other one is Juan Martin del Potro. Monaco also was a finalist last week in Stuttgart (where he lost to Tipsarevic), and the back-to-back finals pushed him over the top. As the elated Monaco said of his newfound status: "It's a dream come true. I will always remember this great week because it's very important for me and my team."

The 28-year-old is now 31-10 on the year, and keep in mind that this isn't the first time he's been on a nice little roll. He had a terrific spring (how about those back-to-back-to-back wins in Miami over Gael Monfils, Roddick, and Mardy Fish?) that came crashing down on him thanks to an ill-timed ankle injury at Monte Carlo—on the red clay where he is most effective.

Monaco bounced back strong, though, and now heads to the Olympics. Although he fares better on clay (he earned all six of his career singles titles on the surface), the success that similarly talented David Ferrer enjoyed at Wimbledon this year ought to give Monaco hope.

"To change the courts is not going to be easy for me, but I have five days for practice (before the Olympics) to be with the guys there," said Monaco. "So, let’s see how it goes."

ThumbsupSteve Johnson is a 6-foot-2 throwback in any number of ways, starting with the fact that he chose to stay in college for his full term instead of bolting for the pro tour at the first possible opportunity. Johnson also is an old-fashioned iron man who was 32-0 as the top singles player for the University of Southern California Trojans this year. He ran his winning streak to 72 collegiate matches a few weeks ago when he won his third consecutive NCAA singles championship (a record he shares with Ham Richardson, a Tulane University player who did it in the early 1950s).

As a player, Johnson is in the same mold as was Team USA Olympic men's coach Jay Berger and any number of other players whose games look herky-jerky and conspicuously lack power. But Johnson is a tough, shrewd competitor who simply loves the challenge and finds ways to outmaneuver his opponents—as he did to Donald Young this week in Atlanta before losing a very close match (two tiebreakers) to fellow American Jack Sock. Johnson is No. 362; I think he'll be Top 75 by this time next year.

ThumbsupPolona Hercog made one of those magical journeys from the pits of despair to the peaks of elation last week and, as I'm a sucker for a good story, she gets the WTA tournament thumbs up for this week—even if Dominka Cibulkova's win over Marion Bartoli at Carlsbad was a resonant and had greater Olympic implications.

PicHercog, a 21-year-old Slovenian, was in deep trouble when she showed up in Bastad, Sweden, to defend the only title she'd ever won. She hadn't won a match—never mind a title—in two-and-a-half months, was sidelined off and on with a back injury, and her ranking had slipped down to a full 50 places to No. 86. As if the pressure of defending your title, what with that giant target on your back, wasn't concerning enough.

But Hercog found her game just in time, with solid wins over No. 2 seed Julia Goerges and No. 4 Mona Barthel—both German Olympians. And Hercog spotted her final-round opponent Mathilde Johansson seven games to start the final. But instead of folding, Hercog persevered and worked her way back into the match. She eventually found herself leading 5-1 in the third, with a match point. But Johansson saved it and then astonishingly closed to 5-all.

Hercog kept it together, again, and won. "It was a lot of fighting today and a lot of ups and downs," she said afterward. "I'm very happy to win. Second year in a row is amazing. . ."Bastad has some kind of magic power for me, I guess!"

Don't you just love a good old-fashioned seaside shoot-out?

ThumbsdownPhilipp Kohlschreiber is the top seed in Kitzbuhel this week, and I'm assuming that like many of the American lads in Atlanta last week, he's pulling in some serious appearance money. His value ought to be high, given that he had an excellent Wimbledon (he lost in the quarterfinals to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga), improved his ranking to No. 24, and has to be counted among the long-shot contenders at the upcoming Olympics.

But therein lies the rub. What's he doing playing on clay in Kitzbuhel—an event that isn't even over before the Olympic tennis event at Wimbledon begins? Earlier today I wrote a post for ESPN on how Roddick might have damaged his chances at a singles medal when he chose to play Atlanta (on hard courts) last week, and Kohlschreiber is jeopardizing his hopes to an even greater degree, what with the Olympic event on grass.

To add insult to Olympic injury, Kohlschreiber is the only German entere in the men's singles event. Either this guy doesn't really care much about Olympic medals and experiencing the Games, or he likes thoses things—but not as much as he likes the appearance money and ranking points he can scoop up with a win off-site.

And here's the kicker: the No. 2 seed (and only other Kitzbuhel entrant who's ranked inside the Top 40) is Kohlschreiber's German countryman, Florian Mayer, who was ranked just one place below the top seed when they both entered the event. Mayer isn't even playing in the Olympics. So much for the vaunted German nationalism I cited the other day.

ThumbsdownThe International Olympic Committee continues to reject pleas to hold a moment of silence during the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics to honor the memory of the 11 Israeli athletes slain at the Munich games 40 years ago by members of the Palestinian Black September terrorist group. Okay, this isn't specifically tennis news, but the IOC's stance in the face of a very public campaign (backed by, among others, U.S. President Barack Obama) only gets more and more baffling.

The IOC claims that the opening ceremony is no place for a statement that could be interpreted as "political." Good grief, if the decision to observe a moment of silence for athletes slain by terrorists while trying to live up to the Olympic spirit can be called "political," I no longer have a functional definition for that word. And what does that make all this medal counting, and marching around waving your nation's flag?

ThumbsupVenus Williams, the five-time Wimbledon champion, and Andy Murray, the no-time Wimbledon champ but recent finalist will be among those taking a turn jogging with the Olympic torch today. The torch has already been to the Channel Islands, Stonehenge, and Murray's native Scotland, but he'll be carrying it toward Wimbledon, not Betty Hill or some godforsaken, monster-occupied loch. One of their fellow torchbearers today will be Patrick Stewart, the Brit who played Jean-Luc Picard, captain of the USS Enterprise-D, on the wildly popular cult TV show, Star Trek

You got a smart remark on that, post it below. But that's it for me. Beam me up, Scotty!

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