Isner, Kudla, Muller, and Baghdatis Reach 2015 BB&T Atlanta Open Semifinals
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
Two Americans and two ATP World Tour European veterans reached the semifinals of the 2015 BB&T Atlanta Open, here is a recap of the action, and what to look forward to today.
John Isner showed signs of knee soreness but he still put up a fantastic performance against Lithuanian ball striker Ricardas Berankis. Berankis, who lost 7-6(5) 6-4, didn’t play poorly, but he simply lacked the physical stature to be able to deal with big John’s serve, and he didn’t put enough variety in his game to really shake Isner up.
In the first set zero break points were faced by either player as they held steady but Berankis lost just one point in the tiebreak to go down 4-2, and after that the result was practically sealed as Isner served his way to capturing the first set. Berankis lacked the power to keep Isner back and the match was always the on the American #1’s racquet, presuming his knee was ok and he had mobility. Berankis continued to lose steam dealing with Isner’s diving kick serve, and after failing to break on Isner’s first service game of the second set, with two break point chancs gone, he got broken on his own in the next game to go 2-1 down. From there the result was again predictably sealed as Isner held his serve in dominant fashion the rest of the way, including a love hold in the final game to post another quality result in Atlanta. Isner finished with 19 aces and won well over 70% of his service points, including 84% on first serves.
Denis Kudla moved to 17-2 at all levels since he started working with coach Billy Heiser (of Tim Smyczek fame), Kudla is playing at a career best presently, and it showed against Israeli veteran Dudi Sela in a brisk 7-5 6-0 win. Sela started slow, going 5-1 down in the blink of an eye, and he never really recovered as you got the vibe he lacked the power needed to bother Kudla’s groundstrokes and he was never really fit going into the match. Kudla suffered a collapse as it went back to 5-5 from 5-1, but he recovered and won the next two games, including a break of serve to take the first set 7-5.
In the second Sela generated no break points and was promptly bageled in a mere 22 minutes, his final statline showing just 1 ace in what was a miserable performance for him, and a fantastic one for Kudla, who by virtue of being a qualifier, has won two more matches than any other player left in the Atlanta field.
In the night matches, Gilles Muller continued to have a dominant week in Atlanta under the radar. The big serving veteran has yet to play a difficult match as he beat Go Soeda 7-5 6-1 in just over an hour. Surprisingly, Muller is routinely breaking serve this tournament in his matches, though he normally struggles to generate breaks statistically. Muller hit 16 aces, and was an amazingly perfect 27/27 on first serve points. He faced just one break point and broke three times on his own as Soeda was under pressure on serve all through the first set, and finally wilted under it. He faced break points (x2) at 2-3, then three more, that were also set points at 4-5, only to be broken serving 5-6. He failed to win another game from 1-1 in the second set.
Marcos Baghdatis put on a fantastic performance against the #2 seed Vasek Pospisil winning 6-4 7-6(5). Baghdatis dominated the flow and pace of the match more than the scoreline would suggest, but Pospisil was a pesky customer who wasn’t easily closed out.
The aggressive offensive baseliner Baghdatis roared out to a 5-1 lead after an extremely long first service game for Pospisil. Vasek was struggling with his serve, and after fending off four break points, he caved on the fifth, then caved again to go down 3-0, a double break. However Baghdatis seemed to lose focus and wasn’t playing with the steady aggression that built up his lead, he had three break point/set points at 1-5, and couldn’t convert as Vasek played great up against the wall. He was then broken after two more set point chances in another long service game. Pospisil generated his first break points in this game and finally broke on his third chance in the game, holding with ease to go to 4-5.
With his final chance to close the set out looming, Baghdatis upped his service speed and did what he needed to do to take the first set. Even with the shift in momentum towards a more balanced match, he did get it done on set point #6 for a 6-4 set.
The second set was far more competitive and the match looked like it might go a third set, Pospisil had broken out of his haze, and Baghdatis was starting to post more errors with is aggressive game. With his serve not as much of a weapon, and Pospisil serving better, Baghdatis had to fight to win the groundstroke battle, as he saved the lone break point chance of the set serving 1-2. From there, not another game in the match would even go to deuce.
In what was a close tiebreak Pospisil was 5-4 up at one point, but then Baghdatis reeled off three points in a row, with a fantastic volley coming forward, and an incredible forehand passing shot winner that buzzed Pospisil. Baghdatis took the breaker 7-5, and with a passioate scream reached the semifinals. Throughout the tournament the veteran has been passionate, fired up, and incredibly motivated, looking to get the crowd into the match and fuel himself with fist pumps, and energetic shouts, as he’s cemented himself as a fan-favorite.
Fish/Roddick Fall in Doubles
In doubles the Mardy Fish/Andy Roddick pairing finally lost the plot, falling 7-5 6-2 to professional doubles specialists Eric Butorac and Artem Sitak in the late match. Chris Eubanks and Donald Young extended their surprising doubles success 4-6 7-6(5) 10-2 against Austin Krajicek/Nick Monroe, as the GA Tech product is earning some meaningful ATP experience this week.
Isner vs. Kudla, Muller vs. Baghdatis in Saturday Semifinals
Four players who are all in excellent form and have more or less dominated this tournament will meet in the semifinals, while in doubles Eubanks/Young will look to pull off a miracle against the world #1 Bryan Brothers, and Butorac/Sitak will face Fleming/Muller, as Muller pulls double duty on the day.
Isner and Kudla will be meeting for the first time, which is as surprising to me as Muller and Baghdatis also meeting for the first time, the former being American circuit regulars, and the latter being ATP veterans.
Isner’s serve has been utterly dominant this week, though knee swelling could be an issue, while Kudla has been great from the ground and has hit the ball with a lot of pop. He’s playing the tennis of his career, and he should have enough power and the physique to bother Isner, but it’s still Isner in Atlanta on an outdoor hard court, and it’s hard to see how he’s going to lose a pair of tiebreaks in a match. The key for Kudla will be to stay aggressive on return, hold his serve, and go for a break, because Isner is simply too good in breakers.
Baghdatis, who already chopped down Sam Groth with his massive serve, will get to deal with Muller’s in a match that should feel a bit like groundhog day for him. Muller has been on fire on serve and coming to net, but he’s also found it rather easy to break serve this week. Baghdatis is playing some of his best tennis of the season and seems passionate, motivated and fit, but Muller still poses a difficult ask as his clean ball striking and baseline play isn’t the best matchup. Muller will likely jump on his serve enough to squeak out the match as we should be looking at a lot of holds in the semifinals.