Thanks to JC Aragone, the brainchild behind this week’s Altec/Styslinger Foundation Exhibition at one of Miami’s most luxurious private courts, nearly all of America’s best male tennis players—and lone Pole Hubert Hurkacz—are shaking off the rust that surely accumulated during the past several months.
The eight-man event, operating under the Fast4 format, features Sam Querrey, Tennys Sandgren, Reilly Opelka, Steve Johnson, Mackenzie McDonald, Brandon Nakashima, Hurkacz and Aragone. It’s undoubtedly the best batch of American men gathered since the coronavirus flipped the tennis world upside down in early March.
In the day’s first match, Tennys Sandgren and his E11EVEN Vodka hat (one of the events sponsors) made quick work of former Virginia Cavalier standout Aragone. Sandgren hasn’t appeared to miss a beat during the extended hiatus, showcasing his all-court game and exceptional movement to outclass Aragone, 4-1, 4-1.
First round winner and current world #55 @TennysSandgren sat down with @GreatShotPod after his win over tourney organizer JC Aragone.— Cracked Racquets ® (@CrackedRacquets) June 29, 2020
????: @Tennis/@TennisChannel #AltecStyslingerExo pic.twitter.com/3gYiURVRdh
In the second match of the day, Sam Querrey squeaked past Mackenzie McDonald, 4-3 (5), 4-2. It's hard not to feel for McDonald, as the 25-year-old was just sinking his teeth into much needed match play before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. McDonald battled a nasty hamstring injury for most of 2019 (a tough setback for someone who relies so much on quickness) and while he played well, it was the seasoned veteran who came up with big serves and clutch groundstrokes on the big points.
After Querrey’s victory, rising star Nakashima “upset” world No. 29 Hurkacz, 4-3, 4-1. The word upset is in parentheses, because if you have been following Nakashima’s rapid rise through the ATP Futures and Challenger circuits, the result is unsurprising. Nakashima, coached by Pat Cash, pairs his gladiator-like stoic demeanor with one of the game’s most promising two-handed backhands. Nakashima rarely misses a groundstroke, and always lets his racquet do the talking.
“I thought it was a good performance today,” Nakashima said. “With Pat we’ve been working on adding a bit more variety to my game, we’ve been working on my transition game a lot.”
In the final match, Opelka survived a tough test from Johnson, saving five set points in the process. Johnson probably should have closed out that first set, but the rust reared it’s ugly head during the pressure points, as Johnson double faulted one of his chances away. According to sources involved in the Southern California tennis scene, Johnson may have taken the most time off of any of the top pros. In the second set, Opelka broke Johnson with a fortunate let cord winner on a deciding deuce point. Opelka would win, 4-3 (8), 4-1.
I thought I played well, it was really hot today,” Opelka said. “We’ve been working on my return a lot, playing around and trying some new things. My return always limited me in the past but now I’m in a lot more points since I’m making a lot more returns.”
In Tuesday’s semifinal round, Sandgren will face off against Nakashima while Opelka will try his luck against Querrey, an opponent he has tremendous respect for.
“Sam is really long,” Opelka said. “He can reach my slider down the T that most players can’t reach, I’ve always struggled against him, he’s a great athlete.”
All is not lost for the competitors who went down Monday, as a consolation draw will also be played out.