Pig-pourri: ATP Atlanta Preview

isner

Isner Seeks a 3-peat in Atlanta

 

It’s the first stop for the Summer hard court swing in the U.S. as the ATP tour stops in Atlanta. John Isner is your two-time defending champion at this event. This is definitely one of the former University of Georgia player’s best events. He has made the Finals in four of the five years that this tournament has been held. He has made it at least to the semifinals every year of its existence. Americans have ruled the roost for the BB&T Atlanta Open with Mardy Fish winning the first two yers, Andy Roddick the third and then Isner the past two. Speaking of Fish, he’s back! Fish announced via Twitter this week that he will play Atlanta, Cincinnati and then the U.S. Open before calling it a career. Fish has played just one ATP-level match in the past two years, so it will be interesting to see what he has left in the tank during his farewell tour.

Your top eight seeds for this week are Isner, Vasek Pospisil, Jack Sock, Adrian Mannarino, Marcos Baghdatis, Steve Johnson, Gilles Muller & Benjamin Becker. Both Mardy Fish & Radek Stepanek are using their protected ranking to enter into Atlanta this week. Wild cards include Ryan Harrison, Frances Tiafoe & Christopher Eubanks. Tiafoe’s name has been out there as one of the potential “next generation” stars in American tennis. At 17, Tiafoe is still getting his feet wet. This will be his third ATP level main draw of the year. So far, he’s lost in the 1st round in Nice & at the French Open in his other two tries. In searching for his maiden ATP level win, he finds himself against big serving Sam Groth this week. Eubanks is a sophomore at Georgia Tech. He’s 6’7″, but hasn’t quite grown into his body at just 165 pounds. So despite the height, the true power he might have is not quite there on a consistent basis. Eubanks had failed in qualis twice in Atlanta in 2012 & 2013, so this will be his first ever ATP level match. It does not figure to be easy either as he goes against veteran Radek Stepanek who had a nice run in Bogota this past week.

Also, keep an eye on the qualifiers in Atlanta, especially top seed Denis Kudla who is coming in with some good momentum from Wimbledon. Kudla has a tricky final qualifier against Matosevic, but he’s playing as well as he has in his career. It’s time for him to translate that grass court success to other surfaces and become a consistent performer. If he can get to the main draw & get good placement, he might have a chance to do some damage. Qualifiers & wild cards generally grab an unexpected win or two in this tournament with a WC or qualifier making the quarters three of the last four years.

Now, let’s take a look at this week’s seeds and their potential for the week.

Seeds
As a 250 level event, you always have to monitor the seeds where upsets happen. In 2014, only top seed John Isner made the semifinals. A lot of that carnage came after the opening match though for the seeds as only 2nd seeded Kevin Anderson fell in his 1st match. In 2013, two seeds were dumped in their 1st matches of the Atlanta Open. Three seeds did make the semifinals that year; #1 Isner, #2 Anderson & #7 Lleyton Hewitt. Back in 2012, three seeds were stunned in their 1st matches. Seeds 1,4 & 8 made the semis that year with one unseeded outside in Gilles Muller. In 2011, half the seeds were done after their 1st matches with two seeds making the semis. And in the first year of the tournament in 2010, there were four seeded upsets in their 1st matches with three seeds making the semis.

So what do we make of the past history of this event? Treat it as you would any 250 level event. Some seeds will be keyed in to play. Isner has done extremely well at this tournament, while other seeds may want nothing to do with the heat & humidity in the ATL. Let’s take a look at the seeds this week & what you might expect from them early & late at the Atlanta Open.

#1 John Isner
Isner is 16-3 at this event. His draw isn’t the most simplistic though as he has #6 Steve Johnson running opposite of him in his quarter. He could potentially go up against Radek Stepanek in his 1st match. Stepanek will have had great practice to go up against Isner’s serve after nearly knocking off Ivo Karlovic in Bogota. Stepanek could be one of the guys who struggles with the switch from the altitude & cooler temps in Bogota to the roasting conditions in Atlanta. Expect Isner to keep his streak intact and at least get to the semis.

#2 Vasek Pospisil
Right away, you have to highlight Pospisil as a potential flameout candidate in Atlanta. He is 1-1 at this tournament with 2014 the only time he played here. He lost in the 2nd round to Dudi Sela. He comes in at less than 100% health. He’s nursing a bone bruise in his right wrist that he suffered during his quarter final run at Wimbledon. He has not played a match since then. Pospisil will face either Malek Jaziri or Yen-Hsun Lu who is 4-3 lifetime at this tournament.

#5 Marcos Baghdatis is in the other portion of this quarter and comes in off a rough 1st-up loss in Bogota. Nonseed Sam Groth could also be a tough out in this quarter if he gets some rest after a whirwind couple of weeks. I’m not a big fan of Pospisil running deep this week. I think he’ll look foremost to see how much his wrist will allow thim to do and will be happy to get a match or two under his belt. I’d be surprised he if wins more than a match this week.

#3 Jack Sock
Sock is switching from grass to hard courts after playing Newport in the post-Wimbledon stretch. Sock played well here last year making the semifinals before losing to Isner, so the conditions won’t surprise him. This could be a big Summer for Sock leading up to the U.S. Open, so all matches should matter for him. He’s ranked just inside the Top 40, but has room to gain points with every tournament he’s played in this U.S. Open build-up.

He has Harrison or a qualifier first-up which could be tricky, but it is a must-win given the lack of form for Harrison in general at this level. Harrison can be dangerous though when motivated and has two semifinal runs in Atlanta in 2013 & 2011.  Becker is the 8th seed in the bottom of the quarter with some interesting floaters like Fish & Bogota semifinalist Michael Berrer. All-in-all though, this is a quarter where Sock should push through if he’s at his best.

#4 Adrian Mannarino
The big thing for Mannarino will be how he handles the switch in conditions from Bogota to Atlanta. He had a stellar run in Bogota that ended up with a spot in the Final. The Frenchman has never played in Atlanta. His first match will be against the winner of Soeda vs. Dolgopolov. I’ve got Mannarino on upset alert in that one. While Soeda isn’t in great form, he did make the semis in Atlanta back in 2012. Dolgopolov is a human game of Roulette from week to week. He has never played Atlanta, but has played well on hard courts at-times. Dog & Mannarino played a tense three set match in Stockholm last Fall on an indoor court that saw the Frenchman win in a third set tie break. Dog could definitely push a tired or DGAF Mannarino after his Bogota run. The top half of the quarter has Gilles Muller who has enjoyed this tournament with an 11-3 mark. More on him later. As for Mannarino, I don’t expect him to do much this week. I think he may go down in his first match.

#5 Marcos Baghdatis
Baghdatis goes one of two ways this week. He can rebound from a tough loss in his opener in Bogota last week where he choked a break lead in the 3rd set against local Colombia player Alejandro Gomez. Or we could see the inconsistency that has plagued him the last few years crop up, making him a sheik pick to be upset this week. His opener is against a yet-to-be determined qualifier. The quali pool in Atlanta has some good talent, so the match-up will bear watching. If he gets through R1, he could face Sam Groth or American Frances Tiafoe. Groth would obviously be the tougher opponent, but Tiafoe has the talent and a win at this level could boosth is confidence 1000%. It’s difficult to pick Baghdatis to do much after last week and some lackluster play on hard courts at this level. I think Baggy could get to R2, but I don’t think he’ll go any further.

#6 Steve Johnson
An absolute cracker for the 1st round with Johnson facing Lukas Lacko. It will be their 2nd meeting in the last month as they faced off at Wimbledon in the first round. In that one, Johnson battled back from down two sets to stun Lacko in five. This time, you’ve got Lacko who has played well at this event with a pair of quarter final runs, including last year. Johnson is 1-2 in Atlanta, losing his 1st match last year to Sam Querrey. Johnson has not segued into this portion of the season all that well in the last few years, so Lacko will have a chance to knock him off right away. If Johnson survives R1, he would face Berankis or Smyczek. Watch Berankis in this quarter. I’m not envisioning Johnson being around for more than two rounds.

#7 Gilles Muller
This is a guy to watch this week. Muller has enjoyed this surface in Atlanta with an 11-3 record. It is his 1st year back in Atlanta though since 2012 when he lost in the Final to Roddick. He faces Donald Young first-up who is just 2-8 in his last ten matches. He would then get a qualifier in the 2nd round, so this part of the draw sets up well for the big server. With Mannarino in the bottom of this quarter off a long week in much different conditions in Bogota, this could set up well for Muller to get to the semis.

#8 Benjamin Becker
Becker is in a tough spot with a resurgent Michael Berrer first up and then potentially against Mardy Fish or Dudi Sela. Fish in particular will have large crowd support as he makes his farewell performances on-tour this Summer. Berrer played well in Bogota, but the expectations on the switch to heat and humidity should be tempered this week for him. Becker was a surprise semifinalist in Atlanta last year and he could win a few this week. Sela is one to watch out for in Becker’s quarter as he could take advantage of Fish to open and did make the Final last year. For me, Becker likely stops in R2 or the QFs against Sock.

Quarters Quick Picks
Isner Quarter
Darkhorse: Lacko
QF Pick: Isner over Lacko

Sock Quarter
Darkhorse: Sela
QF Pick: Sock over Sela

Mannarino Quarter
Darkhorse: Dolgopolov
QF Pick: Muller over Dolgpolov

Pospisil Quarter
Darkhorse: Lu
QF Pick: Lu over Groth

AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO…
Obviously, this is John Isner’s stomping grounds and you’d be a fool to pick against him this week. I do however see some guys who can match him pound for pound in the weapons department like Sock & Muller who I think could stop him. For longshots, the mercurial Alexandr Dolgopolov & Yen-Hsun Lu are two names worth watching this week. They’ve got that boom or bust feel. I’ll give the “home court” edge to Isner, but I think Muller is going to be the man who could be opposite him in the Final where they’ve met twice before at this tournament. Isner won both, but they were extremely competitive. In fact in their career head-to-head, they have played seven tie breaks in eleven sets. Keep in mind Muller won the last meeting at the Australian Open this year in straight sets.

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