First Ball In, 7/15: Grateful Dred

Wednesday, July 16, 2014 /by
Dustin Brown saved two match points to upset Fernando Verdasco and reach the round of 16 in Hamburg. (Tennis Championships am Rothenbaum Facebook Photo)
Dustin Brown saved two match points to upset Fernando Verdasco and reach the round of 16 in Hamburg. (Tennis Championships am Rothenbaum Facebook Photo)

The red clay in Hamburg came tinged in home-colored hues on Wednesday.

On a day in which seven seeds were eliminated, including defending champion and second seed Fabio Fognini, the black, red and, gold flag was flying high. Four Germans—17-year-old Alexander Zverev, Dustin Brown, Tobias Kamke, and Philipp Kohlschreiber—scored victories to reach the round of 16.

Bouncing around the court with exuberance, Brown fought off two match points in a third-set tiebreaker to outduel ninth-seeded Fernando Verdasco, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (8).

Wild card Zverev backed up his first career ATP victory on Tuesday by surprising fifth-seeded Mikhail Youzhny, 7-5, 7-5. Despite serving just 35 percent with in the second set, Zverev beat the Russian in key backhand exchanges, attacked the mid-court ball, and competed with the confidence of a player who knows he belongs. Zverev’s victory is the first time a 17-year-old has defeated a Top 20 opponent in an ATP match since a 17-year-old Richard Gasquet upset No. 11 Nicolas Massu in the 2004 Portugal Open. The 2013 junior World No. 1 looks like a player with a slew of firsts ahead.

Brown's flashy shot selection and splashy attire—he took the court sporting red headphones, a canary shirt, blue wrist bands, orange shoelaces, and a kaleidoscopic necklace matching the bracelet on his right wrist—provides almost as much swirling color as a Jackson Pollock painting. Mixing in biting serve winners with dabs of drop shots and the occasional sneak serve-and-volley on second serve, Brown did his best to blot rhythm right out of points.

It's as if Brown plays for a dual purpose: Winning the point and entertaining the crowd in the process. That's one reason why the 104th-ranked German with the thick thatch of dreds is a fan favorite despite the fact he started the week with a .371 career winning percentage. Brown will never be a percentage player—his wristy forehand and tendency to chip approaches off that side, kamikaze net rushes, and whimsical pursuit of magic aren't built for the grind—but that's part of his exhilarating appeal. He's a showman with the guts to go for it regardless of score or consequence  Banging a cross-court backhand to save the first match point, Brown erased the second with a serve and volley.

Sometimes, it looks like Verdasco is so reticent to hit a second serve on a pivotal point that he's content to kick in his first serve at three-quarter speed as a coping mechanism to prevent pressure. Verdasco, who served 70 percent with no aces and five double faults, decelerated on a double fault into net to hand Brown a second match point. The underdog converted it, and will face 78th-ranked Spaniard Pablo Andujar for a quarterfinal spot.

*****

Seedless in Sweden

Bastad is a seaside resort destination, but it hasn't been a holiday haven for seeds. A day after top-seeded Alize Cornet made an ignominious mark as the first No. 1 seed in tournament history to fall in the first round, the draw is now devoid of seeded players. No. 3 seed Camilia Giorgi, sixth-seeded Annika Beck, and seventh-seeded Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor were all ousted.

That leaves No. 54 Kaia Kanepi and No. 61 Mona Barthel as the highest-ranked women still standing.

*****

No Second Chance

In his classic book, How to Play Better Tennis, Hall of Famer Bill Tilden wrote: "It is wrong to hit at your toss—you should always toss at your swing."

Maria Teresa Torro-Flor must have been tossing with tremors by the end of the 6-2, 6-0 shellacking she absorbed from Julia Goerges. The 94th-ranked German won 10 of 11 points played on Torro-Flor's second serve, converting six of seven break points to set up a second-round match with another Spaniard, Silvia Soler-Espinosa. Since winning her maiden WTA title in Marrakech last April, Torro-Flor has suffered seven first-round setbacks.

*****

OOP Analysis

See Thursday’s Order of Play for Bastad and Istanbul here, and for Bogota and Hamburg here.

Bastad

Julia Goerges vs. Silvia Soler-Espinosa: Their first clay-court meeting in seven years pits Goerges' power against Soler-Espinosa's consistency. The Spaniard is quicker around the court and will want to extend points and make the match about movement. Goerges, who has won both of her titles on clay and was a Roland Garros mixed doubles finalist last month, required just 57 minutes to breeze through round one and must impose the first strike in rallies. Soler-Espinosa spent over two hours on court rallying past Swedish wild card Sofia Arvidsson.

Istanbul

Shahar Peer vs. (8) Karolina Pliskova: The 6'1" Pliskova's serve is the biggest shot on the court: She permitted Peer just six games in their lone meeting in Monterrey last April. The 47th-ranked Czech will try to dictate play off both serve and return and force Peer to defend. The counter-punching Peer must put plenty of balls in play to try to coax errors from a sometime streaky opponent. Peer, a former world No. 11, has endured a horror-show season with 11 opening-round exits this year.

Hamburg

(12) Gilles Simon vs. (7) Philipp Kohlschreiber: The Frenchman has controlled this match-up, winning four of five matches because he's comfortable closer to the baseline and will drive the ball down the line off both wings. This is their first clay-court meeting, and though Kohlschreiber sometimes gives up too much ground on dirt, he can play heavier topspin to try to push Simon back, and will have plenty of support from the home crowd. Four of Kohlschreiber's five career titles have come at home, including the Dusseldorf championship on clay last May. Simon has not beaten a Top 30 opponent since conquering No. 8 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Metz final last September.

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