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CHAMPIONSHIP POINT: Alcaraz falls to Musetti in Hamburg

July is usually the tennis-season equivalent of halftime, as the top players take a few weeks off and prepare to make the transition from British grass to American asphalt. This year the transition feels a little more seamless, with the clay courts of Europe serving as a mid-summer bridge between the two halves of the schedule. On Sunday, Carlos Alcaraz lost to Lorenzo Musetti in a final-round thriller in Hamburg, while Casper Ruud edged Matteo Berrettini in Gstaad.

This week the WTA’s No. 1 joins the party: Iga Swiatek is the first seed at her home event in Warsaw, while the tour’s No. 2, Anett Kontaveit, headlines in Prague. Meanwhile, on this side of the pond, the U.S. hard court swing gets underway in Atlanta. Top American Taylor Fritz is out of the draw, but so far Nick Kyrgios, and a lot of highly-ranked U.S. players, remain.

Here’s a look ahead at 2022’s second-half kickoff.

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Six of Isner's 16 career singles titles are from Atlanta.

Six of Isner's 16 career singles titles are from Atlanta.

Atlanta Open (ATP)

Atlanta

$708,530; ATP 250

Hard court

Draw is here

Click for Atlanta tickets at TicketSmarter

Officially, the US Open Series began last week in Newport, but that tournament is a better fit for a (so far imaginary) post-Wimbledon series on grass. Atlanta, with its hard courts, high heat, and U.S.-centric field, feels more like the start of Open season.

Of the 28 players in the draw, nearly half—13—are from the States. That includes six of the top eight seeds: Reilly Opelka (1), John Isner (2), Frances Tiafoe (4), Tommy Paul (5), Jenson Brooksby (6), and Brandon Nakashima (8). The other two seeds are Australian: Alex de Minaur at No. 3 and Nick Kyrgios, whose Wimbledon runner-up points don’t count yet, at No. 7.

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In 2016, Kyrgios triumphed on his event debut with a final-round win over Isner.

In 2016, Kyrgios triumphed on his event debut with a final-round win over Isner.

This tournament should give us an early preview of how some promising players may fare during the hard-court season ahead. Opelka, Tiafoe, Paul, Brooksby, Nakashima, De Minaur and Kyrgios have all seen their stocks rise at various points over the last 12 months, and this should be a prime part of the season for each of them. But it’s another Yank, Isner, who should probably be favored this week. The 37-year-old has won this tournament six times; last year he beat Nakashima in the final.

Returning: Sebastian Korda

First-round matches to watch:

  • Paul vs. Jack Sock
  • Brooksby vs. Benoit Paire

Potential second-round match to watch:

  • Kyrgios vs. Thanasi Kokkinakis

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Swiatek has won 46 of the 50 matches she's played in 2022 entering her home tournament.

Swiatek has won 46 of the 50 matches she's played in 2022 entering her home tournament.

BNP Paribas Poland Open (WTA)

Warsaw

$251,750; WTA 250

Red clay

Draw is here

You know you’ve made it when you get a tournament moved to your hometown. For the second edition of the Poland Open, the location has switched to Warsaw, which happens to be where Swiatek, the most dominant player of 2022 so far, hails from. Even better, the surface, clay, is one that the Roland Garros champion has yet to lose on this season. Swiatek, who will start against fellow Pole Magdalena Frech, is the field’s only Top 40 player.

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Much has changed for Alcaraz since capturing his maiden ATP title a year ago in Umag.

Much has changed for Alcaraz since capturing his maiden ATP title a year ago in Umag.

Croatia Open (ATP)

Umag, Croatia

$700,000; ATP 250

Red clay

Draw is here

Alcaraz and Musetti played one of the matches of the year on Sunday in the Hamburg final, one filled with all-court shotmaking, a fierce comeback from Alcaraz, and a refusal to cave by Musetti, who converted his sixth match point to win his first ATP title.

So far, the 20-year-old Italian and the 19-year-old Spaniard are still in the Umag draw; Alcaraz is the top seed, Musetti No. 8. In between are a few other representatives of the Next Next Gen, all born in the 2000s—20-year-old Jannik Sinner, 19-year-old Holger Rune, and 21-year-old Sebastian Baez.

If Atlanta is a preview of the next few months in men’s tennis, Umag might give us a sneak peak at the next decade.

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Kontaveit is coming off her second runner-up effort of the year in Hamburg. How will a quick switch to hard courts suit her?

Kontaveit is coming off her second runner-up effort of the year in Hamburg. How will a quick switch to hard courts suit her?

Prague Open (WTA)

Prague

$251,750; WTA 250

Hard court

Draw is here

While Warsaw looks backward to clay, Prague looks forward to hard courts. Which is probably not a bad thing for the top-seeded Kontaveit. After a disastrous few months—she won one match from April through the first week of July—the Estonian got back on track by making the final on clay in Hamburg. Now she’ll have a chance to make the surface transition before heading to North America. Following her in the seed list are defending champion Barbora Krejcikova, 2020 runner-up Elise Mertens, and recent giant-killer Alizé Cornet.

Potential second-round match to watch:

  • Kontaveit vs. Karolina Muchova

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Thiem has twice contested the Kitzbuhel final, tasting victory on his most recent appearance three years ago.

Thiem has twice contested the Kitzbuhel final, tasting victory on his most recent appearance three years ago.

Generali Open Kitzbuhel (ATP)

Kitzbuhel, Austria

$700,000’ ATP 250

Red clay

Draw is here

Kitzbuhel has taken a couple of big withdrawal hits in the last 24 hours. The top two seeds, Ruud and Berrettini, who just played the final in Gstaad, have pulled out. That leaves Roberto Bautista Agut as the highest seed, followed by Aslan Karatsev and Albert Ramos-Viñolas.

Players of Interest:

  • Dominic Thiem, who is starting to remember how to win matches again; and Cristian Garin, who will look to build on his surprise quarterfinal run at Wimbledon.