First Ball In, 7/17: An Octet of Observations

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Bernard Tomic, back in January, when he last reached the quarterfinals of a tournament. (AP Photo)

We’re at the quarterfinal stage of this week’s quartet of tournaments. As such, I offer you an octet of observations:

1. Nearly half of the elite eight in Hamburg are wild card entrants. David Ferrer, taking a late entry into the event, was given one as the top seed; Tobias Kamke and Alexander Zverev round out the wild bunch. The two Germans will play each other in Friday’s first match.

2. Zverev, just 17 years old, has been the big story this week, beating Mikhail Youzhny and Santiago Giraldo during an unlikely run. His win over Youzhny was the first time a 17-year-old beat a Top 20 player in over a decade on the ATP. The last player Zverev’s age to reach an ATP quarterfinal? Rafael Nadal.

But I’ve been keeping my eye on Dusan Lajovic. The 24-year-old, who will play Leonardo Mayer for a spot in the semis, has quietly moved inside the Top 75 and is now 14-12 on the season. The Serb has won a match at each major this year, and he took three at Roland Garros before running into the crushed-brick wall that is Rafa. Between that learning experience and the pressure he faced in the deciding match of last year’s Davis Cup final (where he lost to the Czech Republic’s Radek Stepanek), Lajovic and his lovely one-handed backhand should have plenty to draw upon as he continues to work his way into later rounds of tournaments.

3. Speaking of wild cards, Bernard Tomic—a “WC” in so many ways—is into the last eight in Bogota. It’s the first quarterfinal Tomic has reached since early January, when he reached the final in Sydney. His latest downward spiral began shortly after that, with his first-round retirement at the Australian Open (against Nadal) preluding double-hip surgery and, most recently, a split with longtime agency representation IMG. Tomic, currently ranked No. 124, will need a strong summer to avoid playing U.S. Open qualifying—or asking for a wild card.

4. Tomic’s opponent is Vasek Pospisil, who has also struggled since January. The Canadian didn’t win a match in the next four months; it took him until Queen’s Club to end an eight-match skid. Somehow, that led to a title run at Wimbledon—in doubles, with first-time partner Jack Sock. Pospisil hopes to have the singles ship righted by the Rogers Cup, where he reached the semifinals last year (losing to countryman Milos Raonic). Pospisil and Tomic have never played each other.

5. The WTA one-upped the ATP in the young guns department this week, as 16-year-old Ana Konjuh reached the quarterfinals in Istanbul. (Want to feel old? Konjuh was born in 1997—on December 27, to be precise.) Konjuh is already up to No. 139 in the world rankings and will face Elina Svitolina, practically a veteran at age 19.

Here, Konjuh during her win over Kristyna Pliskova, who at 22 is gearing up for the seniors’ tour:

6. I’m curious to see the turnout in Istanbul if top seed Caroline Wozniacki fails to reach the final. A crowd favorite, the popular Dane was a staple at the WTA Championships, which were held in Istanbul the past three years. The supportive fans in Turkey were applauded and appreciated by those watching around the world,  and it was with a tinge of melancholy that the year-end championships were relocated to Singapore.

Will the fans come and see players outside the top tier compete? From what I’ve seen online, it’s a fair question to ask, but I want to reserve judgment until the weekend.

7. We wrap things up in Bastad, which amazingly lost all of its seeded players by the quarterfinal stage. In fact, only one seed—No. 6 Annika Beck—even reached the second round. Maybe Serena Williams, who pulled out of the event last week, knew something we didn’t.

8. Look for Kaia Kanepi to officially snap out of her year-long funk with a tour title this weekend. The world No. 54 has posted some strong wins in 2014—over Jelena Jankovic at Wimbledon, and Carla Suarez Navarro in Brisbane—but has lacked consistency. Yet the Estonian entered Bastad on a nine-match winning streak, all clay-court matches in ITF-level events. At any level, that’s consistency, and when a big server like Kanepi gets into a groove, she can be difficult to stop. Mona Barthel wil try to do just that in the quarterfinals.

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