2015 ATP Atlanta (@BBTAtlantaOpen) Preview and Prediction
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
Tennis Atlantic is pleased to have live coverage all week from the BB&T Atlanta Open, the first stop on the Emirates Airlines US Open Series, and an ATP 250 hard court event located in downtown Atlanta, Georgia at the live/work/play community of Atlantic Station. This American heavy field features young guns, and a variety of accomplished veterans all looking for an ATP title, ranking points, and prize money. Here is a preview
BB&T Atlanta Open
ATP World Tour 250
Atlanta, GA, USA
July 27-August 2, 2015
Prize Money: $585,870
Top 4 seeds (who all recieve first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: John Isner (19)
2: Vasek Pospisil (29)
3: Adrian Mannarino (27)
4: Jack Sock (35)
One top 20 player in what should be a rather wide open week with a lot of hard court specialists in the draw.
First round matchups to watch:
Dudi Sela vs. Mardy Fish
Mardy Fish has officially announced he will retire at the 2015 US Open after a lengthy absence from the ATP tour due to both a heart condition and anxiety disorder. Atlanta is the first tournament on his summer goodbye to American fans on US soil, and his first match in Atlanta, where he won the first two titles (2010 and 2011) will come against defending finalist Dudi Sela, a fellow veteran.
Fish played an exciting and long three setter in Indian Wells, losing to Ryan Harrison in a third set tiebreak, but otherwise hasn’t played an ATP singles match since 2013. Sela qualified for ATP Nottingham and won a challenger some time ago, but otherwise has been playing a light schedule, and may be rusty. Both players are comfortable here, and Fish will certainly have a shot to get out of the first round if Sela comes into this match unprepared.
(8)Benjamin Becker vs. Michael Berrer
Two Germans will battle, and both are well past 30 and nearing the end of their careers. Becker, 34, has a 2-1 h2h edge over his 35 year old rival though he’s in poor form since injuring his back at Roland Garros (where he reached the third round). Besides third round results at the AO and French, Becker has had a rough season, as his powerful serve and forehand baseline game may well be declining with age after having a great 2014, which included a semifinal in Atlanta.
Berrer is retiring at the end of the year but has had a great send off season. The German is 33-16 in tournament matches and comes off the semifinals in Bogota where he played great serve and volley tennis. He also upset Rafael Nadal in Doha this year, the win of his life, and appears to be playing with joy and passion in his final season. Berrer should be the favorite, pending Becker’s health, but he had to put in effort in Bogota and given the altitude difference and condition changes, he may be dealing with fatigue.
(7)Gilles Muller vs. Donald Young
Former Atlanta finalist Gilles Muller will face Atlanta native Donald Young in what should prove to be an interesting Monday evening match. Muller has had a solid season at 32 years of age. The big serving veteran has two ATP semis (Sydney and Den Bosch) along with four ATP quarterfinals on his resume this year, and has proven himself across the surfaces, though his serve and volley game excels on quick ones. This is his first tournament since Wimbledon, but he seems to enjoy Atlanta and I expect his form to be good entering the tournament.
Young is in poor form as he returns home, the European portion of the season was tough on his spirits and he hasn’t won an ATP main draw match since Indian Wells. The talent has always been there for DY, but I’m not sure playing at home particularly improves his game, and thus Muller is a strong favorite to advance into round 2.
Sam Groth vs. (WC)Frances Tiafoe
Formerly top junior, and now an ATP young gun on future star watch, Frances Tiafoe gets a deserved wild card on US soil for a hard court tournament. Tiafoe turned pro in the spring at 17 and promptly went on to earn the USTA French Open Wild card. Since his stint on clay he hasn’t played a ton of matches and his form hasn’t been great, but he should be pumped up and have his game face on for a match against big serving ATP regular Sam Groth.
Groth has risen into the top 70 and has had a fantastic ATP season, he has helped Australia reach the Davis Cup semis, has two ATP quarterfinals on his record, and also a solid challenger tour record with a couple of titles. His serve is massive and he’s improved other parts of his game as he’s still a serve and volleyer by style. Tiafoe has a lot of talent and has a bright future ahead, but Groth’s rocket of a serve should dent his hopes of winning this match, as the more experienced Aussie is likely to get through.
2x defending champion John Isner gets a bye, and he’ll face the winner of Christopher Eubanks/Radek Stepanek in round 2. Eubanks is a star on the Georgia Tech tennis team and gets a wild card for his local ATP event. He’s a big player size wise and may well have an ATP future ahead of him while Stepanek comes off the quarterfinals in Bogota (and doubles final) but has struggled since returning from injury this year. The Czech veteran plays an effective serve and volley style, and he likely gets past Eubanks, but Isner should prove to be too much for him in the next round. He had a decent grass court season (quarterfinal at Queens and Wimbledon third round) and always enjoys coming back to the US to play on hard courts. He’s had some bad losses this year but he’s still a top 20 player.
An All-American quarterfinal is likely for Isner, as #6 seed Steve Johnson is in a section that slates him to face Lukas Lacko round 1, and Ricardas Berankis/Tim Smyczek round 2 Johnson beat Lacko at Wimbledon as the Slovak is in poor form, and Stevie J is clearly happy to be back on North American hard courts, his best surface where he has posted three ATP quarterfinals already this season. Smyczek who had a good start to the year has been in awful form as of late and will be looking to improve his play here, Berankis comes off of a challenger final, and may be fatigued, thus this section plays into Johnson’s racquet.
#3 seed Jack Sock gets a bye and will face Ryan Harrison or a qualifier in round 2, Sock with his big forehand captured the ATP title in Houston this year and also comes off the semis in Newport. He’s excelled since returning from hip surgery this season and will have a solid chance to repeat his run to the semifinals. Harrison has been stuck in the challenger trap most of this season though he had a rare run of form to the semis in Acapulco back in the spring. He recently reached a challenger semifinal in Winnetka, but Sock will be a clear favorite against the former young gun American, as their careers have diverged in recent years.
Sela/Fish and Berrer/Becker is the section below Sock, Berrer is likely a slight favorite unless fatigue gets him down, Becker’s health remains a question, and Sela/Fish will have rust, but Fish with his talent level could actually reach the quarters. Regardless Sock is a strong favorite to reach the semis out of his section, as his abilities far outweight any of the alternatives.
Wimbledon quarterfinalist Vasek Pospisil is playing his first tournament since his shocking run there, as the Canadian with his big serve and aggressive game hasn’t had a particularly strong season, but Wimbledon was a revitalization for his career, and we may be seeing Vasek 2.0 in Atlanta, The Canadian will open with the Malek Jaziri/Rendy Lu winner as those two streaky baseliners will battle. Jaziri reached the quarters in Bogota while Lu reached the quarters in Nottingham for his best result as of late. Lu will likely deal better with the hot, difficult conditions, and if he catches form he could also trouble Pospisil, though Vasek is the favorite.
Groth/Tiafoe, likely Groth, will face Marcos Baghdatis or a qualifier in round 2. The 30 year old Baghdatis has been fighting hard to stay in shape and build up his game back to what was top 15 level tennis with his quick strike offensive baselining. That said, he struggled in a loss in Bogota to an unknown Colombia and hasn’t posted good results on hard courts as of late, though he greatly enjoyed the short grass court season. Baghdatis could struggle in these conditions and don’t count a qualifier out, I have Groth upsetting him in round 2 with his steady serve to fill another quarterfinal sport.
Bogota finalist Adrian Mannarino is in terrific form (19-8 on hard courts in 2015), and hasn’t lost an opening round match since London Queens, that said the Bogota matches likely wore him down with his finesse game and he’s extremely vulnerable to an upset by Go Soeda, a defensive Japanese baseliner, or more likely the talented shotmaker and speedy magician Alexandr Dolgopolov. Soeda isn’t in great form, while Dolgopolov has two quarterfinals, and one ATP semifinal this year, as he continues to demonstrate his streaky talent. A fresh Mannarino could well take this title, but on paper Dolgopolov has the advantage, pending his fitness and acclimation to the sport at its top levels. His ranking of 76 severely undersells his ability to play top 20 tennis at its peak.
Muller/Young or a qualifier will await Dolgopolov/Mannarino in the quarters, Muller have a great shot at reaching the semis as either opponent looks beatable and Dolgo is vulnerable to big servers who can match his aggression.
Isner d. Johnson
Sock d. Berrer
Muller d. Dolgopolov
Pospisil d. Groth
Isner is 3-1 against Johnson and all of their meetings have come since 2014, both have been in only somewhat decent form but Isner in Atlanta tends to rise up to some of his best tennis, and thus I have him through
A fresher Sock should advantage over a tired Berrer, and Muller likely has an edge consistency wise with his serve against Dolgopolov, who can lose momentum quickly. Overall it’s an open field but experienced and steady seeds will have the advantage to go deep into the week.
Muller d. Pospisil
Isner beat Sock in Atlanta last year and has a 4-1 overall h2h edge, both have talent, and Sock is likely the future American #1, but h2h Isner’s huge serve and consistent blows seem to bother Sock and throw him off his game.
Muller is 2-0 against Pospisil in the h2h and won a great match against him this year on grass in Den Bosch, it went to a third set tiebreak, but Muller held his nerve, and given his previous Atlanta results I have a feeling he will do the same to setup an all big serving final.
Isner d. Muller
If this is the final we get, there is some h2h history as Isner beat Muller Twice in Atlanta, both times in three sets, and one more time in Memphis before Muller beat Isner this year at the AO (3-1 h2h). Atlanta tends to favor big servers, and tall players normally feature in the final, thus former champ and defending champ Isner, and former finalist Muller are realistic picks. Isner simply loves Atlanta and always finds the energy to do well during the key summer hard court season, with that in mind I’m going with him to win his third tournament in a row in Atlanta.