It’s the close of the grass court season at the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, Rhode Island. You’ll normally see your fair share of seeds getting taken out early in this tournament as motivation is sketchy in this swing before the opening of the North American hard court season in the Summer. 2014 was a bit out of the ordinary for Newport as only one seed fell in the opening round. Prior to last year, at least three seeds had lost their opening match every year since 2010 with four seeds going out early in both 2012 & 2013. The top seed hasn’t always done well here with the #1 only making two trips to the Finals in the past decade. The good news for John Isner, the #1 seed this year, is that both times it was Isner who made the Final in 2011 & 2012. He won the title both times. An interesting note is that a wild card has made the Final in three of the last four years with Nicholas Mahut in 2013 & Isner in 2011 winning the title.
Let’s open with a look at this year’s wild cards and what they could do in the draw.
Haas is continuing to work his way back from injury as he has now played five matches, all on grass, with a 2-3 mark this season. He opens against 5th seeded Adrian Mannarino. Mannarino has been just average this grass court season at 4-4. His best results came at s-Hertogenbosch where he made the semis. Mannarino has been in the main draw in Newport each of the past two seasons and has failed to get past a 2nd match. Haas makes his first appearance at this tournament since 2011, his only visit to the Hall of Fame Championships. This is a winnable match for Haas & the draw sets up nice for the winner to at least get to the quarter finals. Give me Haas as a wild card with a chance to run deep this week and Mannarino as one of the seeds who could go home early.
Tomic doubles up as a wild card and seeded player this week. As the #3 seed, he’ll open against countryman John Patrick Smith. Getting back on-court should be a welcomed distraction for Tomic who made headlines after Wimbledon with a post-match tirade against Tennis Australia. As expected, that earned him a boot off the Australian Davis Cup squad that will be in action this week. So Tomic takes his talents stateside instead. The big question will be his state of mind following the Tennis Australia scuffle. Smith is still a novice on grass & stands without a main draw win at the ATP level on the surface. He does boast a big serve though and with Tomic’s motivation surely a big question this week, don’t look past this one as a potential upset spot.
Rubin’s name won’t be known to most, but he’s a talent. The American teen won the Wimbledon Juniors Title in 2014 and only recently turned pro in June. He’s had just one match at the ATP level, playing as a wild card last Fall at the U.S. Open where he lost in straight sets. He’ll play Tatsuma Ito to open and that could be a fairly even match-up if nerves don’t get to Rubin. Ito has the vast experience edge of course, but grass isn’t his best surface. This will be a good test for Rubin who simply needs to get more matches against pros to up his game. Rubin has been working on the Futures tour the last few weeks, but all on hard courts. Rubin will have some confidence from making a Final at one of those Futures tourneys, but this might be too big a task yet to ask him to score his maiden ATP win here.
Planting The Seeds
As mentioned, the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships have been a place where having a number next to your name isn’t conducive to a long stay in Newport. We’ve already covered the three seed Tomic & five seed Mannarino as two candidates for early ousters, here are the rest:
#4 Jack Sock
Sock wouldn’t normally be on my list, but due to the match-up this warrants a look. He’ll face Radek Stepanek to open as the Czech used a protected ranking spot to get in this draw. Stepanek at his best is a very good serve & volley guy on this surface. He doesn’t have a ton of match play this season, but he played Bedene to five sets at Wimbledon and is always tricky. Sock had a disappointing Wimbledon, losing to Sam Groth in his opener. He also broke a finger on his left hand which may have added to his poor play that day. Newport was good to him last year with a semifinal run, really his only good results on grass to this point. I’m not sure how much Sock will look to push this week with the finger injury, so Stepanek might be one of those guys who can sneak through here and make some noise in this very winnable quarter of the draw.
#6 Sam Querrey
Querrey had a nice little run on the grass in England with a trip to the Nottingham Final highlighting his stay. Still, Newport has never seen to be a tournament that he carries a heavy interest in. In his past three trips in 2010, 2012 & 2013, Querrey dropped out by his second match. Twice, he was the top seed when he lost early. That includes last year to Smyczek. He’ll open against a qualifier who may have a lot more motivation to push in this opening round match. I think Querrey could be a definite upset candidate in R1.
#8 Tim Smyczek
The American has not had a great season and that form has carried over onto grass. He is just 1-3 since the surface switch with his only win over James Ward at the Nottingham Challenger. He lost here in the 1st round to qualifier Austin Krajicek last year and he’ll draw another qualifier this year. There is good talent in that pool and I would monitor the match-up in this one as Smyczek could definitely be an upset victim.
Quick Draw McGraw
A quick breakdown of the quarters for this week’s 250 level tournament in Newport. John Isner leads the 1st quarter as the top seed. It’s an interesting quarter with 5th seed Adrian Mannarino on bottom. You have him pitted against wild card Tommy Haas and you also have American Ryan Harrison in this section. Isner is 15-4 at this tournament with two titles, but he has failed to get past the semis the past two years. His play on grass this season has been good, but not great. I fancy the winner of that Haas-Mannarino R1 encounter to get through this quarter.
The 2nd quarter is led by 3rd seed Bernard Tomic with 7th seed Steve Johnson opposite of him. A trio of young Americans will be worth watching here with Jared Donaldson & Austin Krajicek facing off in R1. The winner takes on Tomic or his fellow Aussie John Patrick Smith. Krajicek broke an eight match losing streak in Winnetka, but has been well off his game this year. Donaldson is the one to watch. Johnson could have a shot to work through this quarter. He does own a win over Tomic on grass already this year, so a better attitude might have him in position for a semifinals run.
The third quarter is led by #4 Jack Sock and #8 Tim Smyczek. Some interesting floaters like Falla and Lacko are included in this quarter. Falla is always tricky, so he could be the nonseed to watch here. The winner of the Sock-Stepanek 1st round match looks like the front runner in this quarter, but in-all, things look very wide open.
The 4th quarter has #2 seed Ivo Karlovic and 6th seed Sam Querrey. Karlovic to me looks like the guy to back this week. He had a solid 4th round run at Wimbledon which came on the heels of a semifinal run in Halle. Karlovic made the Final last year in Newport, losing to Hewitt in three sets. He has a nice early draw with Marchenko first and then Jaziri or a qualifier. All eyes will be on floater Dustin Brown in the Querrey portion of this draw.
Brown of course remains the media darling for knocking off Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon. Brown opens against a qualifier and then could meet Querrey. Brown might be a sheik choice to do some damage this week, but his history says these smaller tournaments maybe don’t give him the same boost as the bright lights of a Wimbledon or Weber Open in Halle. By draw though, he could win a few rounds. I still like Karlovic in this quarter.
AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO….
This could wind up being big serve vs. big serve if seeds hold for #1 to meet #2. But Newport rarely goes that. I do like Karlovic in the bottom of the draw to be in the mix for the Finals. Up top, I think that is where you’ll see a bit more upheaval. I think out of Haas, Tomic and Johnson you might see one of them grab the other Finals spot. Something is pointing me to Haas even though he could easily lose in R1.