First Ball In, 7/22: The Week in Preview

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 /by
Jack Sock heads to Atlanta's hard courts with a Wimbledon doubles title in his possession. (AP Photo)
Jack Sock heads to Atlanta's hard courts with a Wimbledon doubles title in his possession. (AP Photo)

You might call this week the ATP’s version of a slow dissolve. As it progresses, the last vestiges of European clay, in Umag and Gstaad, mix with the first sighting of a U.S. hard court, in Atlanta. By next Monday, both tours will start new scenes in the States. Here’s a look at what we might see in this last, transitional week, when thoughts of next month's U.S. Open begin to push aside memories of Wimbledon.

*****

BB&T Atlanta Open

Atlanta
$568,805; 250 ranking points
Hard courts
Draw is here

Some day, if the early events in the U.S. Open Series run out of title sponsors, at least one of them might want to rename itself the John Isner Invitational. This is the big Southern man’s time to make his money and earn his ranking points. He’s the top seed, and the only player in the Top 15 in the field. He also leads a highly American-centric draw; 11 of its 28 entrants are from the U.S.

Atlanta did have a slightly more international appeal before Richard Gasquet pulled out on Saturday, and his countryman Gael Monfils followed him home on Monday. This didn’t sit well, obviously, with tournament director Eddie Gonzalez, who said he wouldn’t be inviting the Frenchmen back. As it stands, Isner’s highest-ranked competition will come from second-seeded Kevin Anderson and fourth-seeded Vasek Pospisil.

Already gone: Hometown boy Donald Young, to Dudi Sela, 6-3, 6-0, in the first round.

Player of interest: Jack Sock. Will his Wimbledon doubles title do anything for his singles game, or attitude? He starts against Alejandro Gonzalez, and is in Isner’s half.

*****

Crédit Agricole Suisse Open Gstaad

Gstaad, Switzerland
$574,679; 250 ranking points
Clay
Draw is here

Gstaad officials must gaze across the ocean with some envy at the Atlanta event: I’m guessing they would love to have that kind of local-talent overload. The tournament did land two Swiss players—unfortunately, their names are Yann Marti and Henri Laaksonen, not Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka. Federer, apparently, has no new equipment to try out, as he did here last year.

Mikhail Youzhny is the top seed, Marcel Granollers No. 2, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez No. 3, and Fernando Verdasco No. 4.

Returning: Viktor Troicki, from a suspension for refusing to take a blood test last year. Troicki was given a wild card into the event, and recorded a good win over Dominic Thiem in the first round.

*****

Vegeta Croatia Open

Umag, Croatia
$574,679; 250 ranking points
Clay
Draw is here

How has Croatia done in the attract-the-locals sweepstakes? With four players out of 28, it can’t match Atlanta’s American haul. But it has outdone the Swiss in terms of interest. Marin Cilic, the country’s biggest star, and Borna Coric, it’s biggest future star, are both here. The 17-year-old Coric, who won his first-round match, looks primed to follow Alexander Zverev's lead and make some teenage noise this week.

In non-Croatian news, top-seeded bad actor Fabio Fognini skates from thin ice onto red clay here. At the other side of the draw is the man who beat him in the Umag final last year, Tommy Robredo.

*****

Baku Cup

Baku, Azerbaijan
$250,000; WTA International
Hard courts
Draw is here

The U.S. Open Series starts next week in Stanford, Calif., for the women, but they’ve already moved to hard courts in Baku, where the first round has been played. The top two seeds, Sorana Cirstea and Elina Svitolina, both won, but No. 3 and 4, Magdelena Rybarikova and Kurumi Nara, are out.

Of interest: Donna Vekic and Kristina Mladenovic. Each has played well lately, and each won their openers. Vekic, while she seems to have been around for years, just turned 18 three weeks ago. The kids, it seems, are still all right.

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