2015 ATP Atlanta (BB&T Atlanta Open) Weekend Qualifying Wrap: Americans and Veterans Prevail
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
Qualifying rounds 1 and 2 were completed over the weekend at the 2015 BB&T Atlanta Open. The side courts were utilized for qualifying (grandstand, Court 1, and one of the practice courts), as stadium court was used for the Commodores concert Saturday night and now after finishing touches the showcase court is ready for use for play on Monday when the main draw begins.
The conditions played a major factor in the match results, as it was blisteringly hot and sunny over both days, with only the occasional breeze making things more hospitable for players, officials, and spectators alike. All of the players who battled hard in their matches, win or lose, serve as a testament to the grit and will required to reach the ATP level in professional tennis, as all the qualifying participants certainly hope to reach that level, or get back to it.
On Saturday two of the young gun Americans, Jared Donaldson and Tommy Paul won hard fought matches, while 15 year old Trent Bryde shocked in his round 1 qualifying win, and Reilly Opelka didn’t have as much luck as his three fellow Americans and fell in defeat.
Donaldson maintained his composure, and confident attitude against Gastao Elias on grandstand, the first set lasted over an hour, though things were comfortably on serve up to 4-4. At that point Donaldson generated a break point and three deuce points against the Elias serve, only to fail to convert, and face a break point of his own at 4-5 serving, that game likewise going to three deuces before Donaldson held on.
The young American and his more experienced Portuguese rival both played high quality tennis overall, showing deft touch. Donaldson, given his background on fast surfaces was the more aggressive player, coming to net more often, while Elias moved well and imparted spin on the ball, given his background on clay. The first set went to a tiebreak, and serve proved relatively meaningless in that tiebreak with a total of five minibreaks created. Eventually Elias won three points in a row to get it to 6-3, and though he needed three set points, he did close out the first set.
Donaldson was disappointed but resolute as he battled back, perhaps helped by superior conditioning for the American summer weather. He broke Elias for 3-1 in set 2, and after saving a break point that would have given the break away in the next game, he would sail through the set without facing another breakpoint, closing it 6-3, after failing to convert three break point chances 4-1 up.
Set three took a similar path as the previous two sets, play was calm and on serve until Elias got broken easily for 4-3 Donaldson, Donaldson would have two break points in the next game to go up 5-3, and then Elias was mentally and physically beaten at that point, getting broken on Donaldson’s third match point of the game the result finishing 6-7(5) 6-3 6-3. One thing to note is both players served poorly in terms of first serve % and the number of double faults they posted, but still generally held their serves.
Prior to that match Tommy Paul beat what is ranking wise the second best player in his American high school recruiting class, Walker Duncan 6-3 7-6(9) in a little over an hour and a half. Duncan had a lot of fans in the stands as he’s a local player and a future Georgia Bulldog, but the fans certainly respected the play of Tommy as well, and overall it was an exciting atmosphere for a round 1 qualifying match.
Both players started very tight and their serves were not up to ATP quality by any measure, Duncan especially as he posted just one ace and six double faults in the match. Duncan, who made efforts to get the crowd into the match and on his side, started out the stronger of the two players, as he had a break point at 2-3. However when he had a chance to put the point away and go up 4-2, he slipped and fell on the court instead, and after that the momentum entirely shifted to Paul’s favor.
The Jersey boy decked out in Nike apparel broke Duncan in the next game as Walker totally went off the boil and seemed to check out mentally. From 2-3 Duncan lost the next four games rather routinely, and after the first set it looked like he might be headed for the showers rather quickly.
However, to his credit the teenager fought back and pulled himself back into the match. Paul, who is a good mover and plays good defensive tennis, would have improved his chances by being more aggressive and moving up the court, as Duncan’s big hitting, including a powerful forehand, started to do damage in the second set, as he kept the errors down, unlike set 1. Duncan’s impressive power got him a break for 2-1, but he would give up that break serving 3-2, and from there things were straightforward on serve until 5-5.
The end of the second set is where things got rather hairy, and the match was hanging in the balance, Paul got broken again and Duncan had a chance to serve out the set and force a third set, a third set he may well have won, but with his poor serve he couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity. Paul broke and forced a tiebreak and though Duncan would have two more set points, Paul finally advanced on his 4th match point, taking it 11-9 after multiple minibreaks of serve.
Paul is a talent but needs to add weapons to his game to compliment his defense and strong footwork while Duncan has firepower from the baseline but must improve his serve and work on playing with controlled aggression, rather than just aggression. Still on hard courts at least, they both showed signs of promise, and it will be interesting to see how they develop.
Trent Bryde, 15, joined ranks with Felix Auger Aliassime, a 14 year old Canadian, as notable young teens to win against major pro opponents. Bryde shocked veteran journeyman Catlin Gard 7-6(4) 6-2 as Gard was 5-2 up in the first set and collapsed from there, winning just three more games the rest of the match.
Shuichi Sekiguchi is making his move at this BB&T Atlanta Open, and his wins over the weekend have moved him one match away from qualifying for his first ATP main draw tournament. The Japanese player has a game similar to his national counterparts, and many Asian men’s players. He’s a speedy counterpuncher who relies on moving his opponents around the court, but lacks the size and strength to impose himself, and thus has to stick to the baseline, and rallies over big serves. This approach worked deceptively well against the big American young gun Reilly Opelka, who is built similar to players such as John Isner and Kevin Anderson. Opelka, with is tall frame, is a big server, and has a powerful forehand to go with that, but his footwork was lacking, and he struggled to adjust his body around the court as Sekiguchi absorbed his power and moved the ball around.
Opelka failed to generate a break point until the last game of the match and appeared to be bothered by pain in his shoulder/neck throughout, as he kept rolling his head and shoulder and wincing while toweling off. Sekiguchi broke at 3-2 in set 1 (the set finished 6-4), and then one final time for 5-4 in set 2, as he saved two break points, likely caused by nerves, and served out the match 6-4 6-4.
In other Saturday results doubles specialist Treat Huey beat Ryan Haviland 7-6(8) 6-3, Yuichi Sugita joined Sekiguchi as Japanese winners, Sugita advancing over local favorite Kevin King 6-4 3-6 6-3 as King put up a hard fought in front of friends and family. Evan Song blitzed Takanyi Garanganga 6-4 6-1, Evgeny Korolev survived a surprisingly close match with Antonio Ruiz-Rosales 6-2 2-6 7-6(3), and Andrew Carter got an automatic walkover vs. Matias Castro.
Sunday saw the qualifying seeds take to the courts and most of them performed well. #1 qualies seed Denis Kudla rolled past Bryde 6-1 6-1 in what was a great learning example for the teen, Marinko Matosevic beat Carter 6-3 6-2, as he tries to find form and snap his run of poor results, Guido Pella was skillful against Song 6-2 7-6(5) as the difference in ranking showed, and Sugita played a better match than Saturday and got past the still maturing Paul 6-3 6-3. American Austin Krajicek also played a great match, while Evgeny Korolev continued to show rust, Krajicek winning 6-3 6-3.
Two seeds fell in defeat however, Matt Ebden struggled in the heat and Sekiguchi upset him 7-5 5-2, conditioning explaining the upset, and Jared Donaldson played an extremely hard fought match and toppled J.P. Smith, an opponent he had lost two twice previously this year, 6-7(5) 7-6(3) 6-4. The match was close throughout, and Donaldson has twice engineered clutch comebacks in his matches.
In regards to Donaldson, he’s not only a clutch, and talented tennis player, he also comes across as a true class act on and off the court. Respectful to opponents, ball kids, and the officials, and very accommodating with fans, including a family that is a bit of a legend at the BB&T Atlanta Open as they are the spirit of the tournament. After his win over Smith, Donaldson was approached by the famous group that I’ve cataloged previously on this site as the young man is a huge fan of John Isner, loudly declaring it to anyone within earshot during matches, and the girl simply supports young American men on the rise, formerly Ryan Harrison, and now Jack Sock (and of course Donaldson).
He posed with them for photos, autographed their items, and went above and beyond, as he handed out his sweatbands and headbands for the kids, who reacted with glee. He then kindly posed for a group photo, and quipped back “Jack Sock, not me?” when the girl said her favorite player was now Sock, and Donaldson overheard, resulting in laughter from everyone. Simply put it’s great to see a young talent have such a humble and friendly attitude, and it should serve him well and win him many new fans.
In the other interesting match of the day Somdev Devvarman beat another former University of Virginia player Treat Huey 7-5 6-3. The first set was long, though the points themselves were quick, but eventually Huey’s serve and volley game couldn’t stand up to Devvarman’s superior ground game as the Indian advanced to final round qualifying. Eight players remain in qualies, and are competing for the final four qualifying spots on Monday.