First Ball In, 7/31: Big Man on Little Court

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John Isner was not happy being relegated to the second show court in DC, where he lost to Steve Johnson. (AP Photo)

It used to be that John Isner only seemed unhappy when he was overseas. Get him in the USA, and he was a fish back in water. Now it may not be enough for the U.S. No. 1 to play in his home country. Yesterday, after his loss to fellow American Steve Johnson in D.C., Isner said he wasn’t pleased being exiled to the second show court.

“I don’t like playing out there,” Isner told reporters afterward. “I just think I deserved to play on [center] court. Simple as that. I like my chances on center court, but he beat me fair and square.”

I suppose you can credit Isner for honesty, and he is the country’s top-ranked male player. But he has also never won this tournament, and he was only the No. 5 seed this year. According to AP, the Citi Open, in part to please international TV broadcasters, put three higher seeds, Tomas Berdych, Milos Raonic, and Kei Nishikori, in the three prime stadium court slots. Officials gave Isner and Johnson the option of taking the 10 P.M. spot there, or moving to an earlier time on another court; they opted for the latter. Tennis tournaments, even those in the U.S., are always run as international events; they get their money from all over the world.

The main problem with Isner complaining is that it was clearly something that he let bother him. Home soil, foreign soil, big court, small court, as a tennis player you have to know that the conditions aren’t always going to be exactly as you'd like them to be.


Injury Time

Injuries seem to come in bunches in tennis, don’t they? After a pleasantly healthy Wimbledon, the U.S. summer hard-court season has been hit with two major withdrawals in the last two days. Rafael Nadal announced on Wednesday that he won’t defend his titles in Canada and Cincinnati after hurting his right wrist in practice this week. On Thursday, Li Na followed up by pulling out of those two events, as well as the U.S. Open, to rest a bad knee. 

For Rafa, that means surrendering 2,000 points and falling farther behind Novak Djokovic at No. 2; it could also mean falling behind Roger Federer at No. 3 at some point. Nadal continues to practice forehands, with his left wrist, and still hopes to play the Open itself. On the bright(er) side, you can still say, as you could with his back injury earlier this year, at least it’s not his knees.

For Li Na, a season that began with so much promise has now completely unravelled. She started it at a career-high ranking of No. 2, she won the Australian Open, and she reached her first final in Miami. But that would also be her last final, as she lost early at the French Open and Wimbledon, and split with the coach who had helped spur her rise over the last three years, Carlos Rodriguez. Now she won’t play the final major of the year at all. Li turned 32 this year and has talked intermittently about retirement. Each climb back up the mountain will get harder from here.


Happier Return

Speaking of 32-year-olds climbing back up mountains, Serena Williams played her first match yesterday since she couldn’t put a serve in the court at Wimbledon. She says she feels better, and she looks it. Playing without her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, in the stands, she knocked back a pretty stiff first-set challenge from big-serving Karolina Pliskova, and then ran away with the second set. Serena has gotten off the mat countless times since she won her first U.S. Open 15 years ago. Is she ready to do it again? Who would count her out?


'Merica, in Hiding

On Monday, Madison Keys played in D.C.; Tuesday it was Sloane Stephens; Wednesday it was Taylor Townsend. All three are promising young U.S. woman, but none of them were broadcast on any TV channel or Internet stream. The Tennis Channel, a U.S.-based network, was at the event all three days, but didn’t show a point of any of their matches. I know there are contractual reasons for this, but there was also a bizarre, these-players-aren't-really-here quality to the situation. The only silver lining, I guess, is that all three women lost.


OOP Analysis

See Thursday’s Order of Play in D.C. here, Stanford here, and Kitzbuhel here.

The day began with a surprise that, in a way, was really just more of the same. In Kitzbuhel, David Goffin beat top seed Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-3, 7-5. I won’t say Goffin “upset” him, because, counting Challengers, the Belgian has now won 34 sets in a row.

Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. Kirsten Flipkens: A lot of top names have departed D.C., which makes this one more meaningful. Despite the time that these two late-20-somethings have spent on tour, they’ve never played.

Lleyton Hewitt vs. Milos Raonic: Rusty has had success against Raonic in the past by keeping the ball low and making him bend. Can the aged Aussie cut him off at the knees again? 

Tomas Berdych vs. Vasek Pospisil: Czech in name versus Czech in blood. Pospisil leads their head to head 1-0.

Garbine Muguruza vs. Daniela Hantuchova: Is 30 really the new 20? We’ll know more when the Slovak veteran takes on the Spanish newbie.

Victoria Azarenka vs. Venus Williams: The match of the day is the last of the day, as these two Slam champs and former No. 1s face off in the evening session in Stanford. Believe it or not, Venus has won all three matches, and all six sets, they’ve played.

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