Pity Roger Federer. After years of thinking about making the switch to a new racquet, he finally tries one out and what happens? He runs into a heavy-hitting left-hander on clay. This time it was Federico Delbonis rather than Rafael Nadal, but the result was familiar. I guess some things are tougher to change than others.
Federer will try the new stick again this week, and that’s the important part of this story. Rather than setting up a “farewell tour,” as some fans speculated when he added Hamburg and Gstaad to his summer schedule—and you say the media writes him off?—Federer seems committed to doing what he can to bring his current slide in the rankings to a halt. Changing racquets is no small thing for a player about to turn 32. This week, Federer will take his “experimental” Wilson frame back home to Switzerland, where he’ll play the clay event there for the first time in nine years.
While the game hasn’t rested in Europe this summer, it’s just beginning to stir again on this side of the Atlantic. The U.S. Open Series, now sponsored by Emirates Airlines, makes its modest kickoff today with two events. The women are in Stanford, while the men will brave whatever the weather brings them in Atlanta. Here’s a preview of this week's draws, and what we might see as the sport starts to head west again.
Crédit Agricole Suisse Open Gstaad
$540,684; 250 ranking points
Draw is here
Federer went from a 90-inch racquet head to a 98 in Hamburg. Theoretically, this should give him some more power; the downside, of course, is a possible loss of precision. Bigger frames can also be harder to get around with one-handed backhands like Federer’s. He says the change wasn’t the main reason for his loss to the sub-100-ranked Delbonis, but he also admitted that he's still getting the timing down. In the matches that I watched from Germany, Federer overhit some easy forehands and had more than his share of shanks in general—he said it was a “difficult week” overall. It’s hard to say if the bigger sweet spot will allow him to make any significant changes to the way he plays, but from what I saw Federer was trying to take his backhand earlier and attack with it.
The next step in the experiment—Federer hasn’t committed to changing sticks permanently—will come in Gstaad, against either Daniel Brands or Federer's friend and countryman Marco Chiudinelli. Brands, who took a set from Nadal at the French Open, can obviously be dangerous. The other seeds on Federer's side are Juan Monaco, Mikhail Youzhny, and Roberto Bautista Agut. The latter, a 25-year-old Spaniard, is ranked a career-high No. 48 at the moment.
The bottom half should also make the locals happy, as Federer’s Davis Cup doubles partner, Stan Wawrinka, is the top seed there. Before his early flame-out at Wimbledon, Wawa was wowing us on clay. He’ll start with the winner of Kenny de Schepper vs. Daniel Gimeno-Traver.
Also here: Janko Tipsarevic, the third seed. He's in Wawrinka's half.
Already out: Sergiy Stakhovsky, who has lost four straight matches since beating Federer at Wimbledon.
Scheduled tomorrow: Federerico Delbonis. He may have jumped 49 spots in the rankings this week, but he only gets a day off. The Hamburg runner-up plays Thomaz Bellucci.
Bank of the West Classic
Draw is here
What’s the best way to put the year's most controversial handshake behind you? If your name is Agnieszka Radwanska, it’s to fly across an ocean and a continent and get an early start on the U.S. hard-court season. The Polish workhorse, fresh off her semifinal run/crushing disappointment at Wimbledon, is the top seed in Stanford. She’ll try to improve on a mediocre Stateside summer in 2012, when she failed to get past the quarterfinals in four events. In 2013, her American campaign will begin against either Mallory Burdette or Francesca Schiavone.
But Aga’s first challenge may come in the semifinals, where she’s scheduled to play Jamie Hampton, who beat her in Eastbourne last month. This is obviously prime time for Hampton, the 23-year-old who is at a career-high No. 29, with no points to defend until after the U.S. Open. So far in 2013, she has shown that she can play on clay (round of 16 in Paris) and grass (runner-up at Eastbourne); now she’ll get a shot on her native surface. Not that there’s any pressure or anything, Jamie.
The top seed in the bottom half is Sam Stosur. The Aussie’s ranking is down to No. 13, she hasn’t made it past the quarters anywhere this year, and the last time she played in Stanford, in 2011, she lost in the opening round to Sabine Lisicki. But you would think the 2011 U.S. Open champ would like it in California. Sam will start with the winner of Goerges vs. Govortsova.
Also here: Cibulkova, Cirstea, Urszula Radwanska, Lepchenko, and Madison Keys. Along with Hampton, the latter is the other young American woman to watch at the moment. The 18-year-old Keys will start against Magdalena Rybarikova.
Speaking of Americans on the rise, what happened to last year's version, Christina McHale? The seemingly reliable New Jerseyan, who split from the USTA to return to her former coaches in 2012, is down to No. 94 and has won just one match since May. She’ll open against Ula Radwanska.
BB&T Atlanta Open
$546,930; 250 ranking points
Draw is here
It’s time for the Americans to make their move—against each other. Ten of the 28 men entered in the Atlanta main draw are native sons. Though in a true sign of the times, only two of the tournament’s eight seeds are from the U.S.
Still, the man at the top of the draw, John Isner, is a local. The post-Wimbledon hangover period has traditionally been Isner’s time to sneak in a few wins: He’s a two-time champion in Newport, and two-time runner-up in Atlanta. This year he’ll start against the winner of Alejandro Falla and Christian Harrison, a 19-year-old wild card.
But it’s the top seed in the bottom half, Kevin Anderson, who may be the favorite to win the tournament. The South African is now ranked one spot ahead of Isner, at No. 21, a career high for him. Unfortunately for Big Kev, he may have to open against the Even Bigger Ivo, Karlovic, who beat him over the weekend in Bogota. Karlovic will start against a qualifier in Atlanta; the winner plays Anderson.
Also here: Mardy Fish, who will play his second event of 2013 (the other was in Indian Wells). He’s had his anxious moments over the last couple of years, but he should feel comfortable in Atlanta, a tournament he won in 2010 and 2011. Fish starts against another American, Michael Russell.
Surprisingly high seeds: For all of the Yanks in the draw, two Euros are seeded 3rd and 4th. That would be Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Igor Sijsling of the Netherlands, respectively. Each is near his career high in the rankings.
First-round matches to watch: Jack Sock vs. Santiago Giraldo; Ryan Harrison vs. Marinko Matosevic. The Next American Man watch begins again.