Tag Archives: American Tennis

5 reasons You Should Watch This Year’s French Open

Professional tennis has not enjoyed nearly the same viewership in recent years as major team sports such as football or basketball. General sports fans are typically unaware of anything happening in the sport unless it appears as a top story on ESPN. That being said, what tennis lacks in viewership, it is more than capable of making up in story lines and intrigue. With the French open just about to begin, the tournament offers numerous aspects that all fans can appreciate. Here are five reasons all sports fans should pay attention to this years French Open.

Upsets

It’s no secret that the clay court season has not started out well for the two top players in the world. Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic (numbers one and two respectively) have been bounced before reaching the final of both Mutua Madrid and Rome. In both tournaments Murray was beaten by an unseeded player, losing to Borna Coric in Madrid and Fabio Fognini in Rome. The fact that the top players are vulnerable opens the door for several other players looking to contend. Among these names are Kei Nishikori, Juan Martin Del Potro, and Stanislas Wawrinka.

The New Class

Over the past decade, the top four players in the world have monopolized grand slams. In fact, a player named Murray, Djokovic, Federer, or Nadal has only won a major five times since 2006. This may be about to change due to the new crop of talented young players looking to usurp the world’s best. Two guys that have had success so far this spring are Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev. Thiem made it to the final of Madrid (losing to Rafael Nadal) and got to the semi-final of Rome (losing to Novak Djokovic). Zverev has defeated an impressive array of opponents this spring including Marin Cilic, Thomas Berdych, Stan Wawrinka, John Isner, and Novak Djokovic. This is a pretty solid list considering three of these players are former grand slam champions. Zverev is coming off his first ever masters 1,000 tournament win after defeating Djokovic in Rome. Both of these players along with others such as Nick Kyrios, Lucas Pouille, and Jack Sock are ready to make it big in the second major of the year.

Wide Open Draw

In years past, the big four have reigned supreme in the men’s draw and Serena Williams has owned the women’s side. This year things are a little different. As mentioned before, both Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are struggling which means almost anyone in the top 25 has a chance to make a deep run.

On the Women’s side Serena Williams is out, Sharapova didn’t make the cut after returning from her suspension, and Angelique Kerber (number one in the world) has also played some poor matches as of late. In addition, the red clay slows the ball down which takes away the advantage of power hitters. This could work out well for quicker and more defense oriented players such as Agi Radwanska or Carla Suarez-Navarro.

Americans On Clay

Does anybody out there want an underdog to root for? If so, cheer for any of the American Men’s tennis players at the French Open. American men have had a traditionally difficult time on the clay. In fact, nobody has even made it close to a final from the good ole USA since Andre Agassi won it in 1999. Americans typically struggle on the slower surfaces like clay since their games are usually predicated on big serves and aggressive ground strokes which are both neutralized by the dirt. The surface makes pace easier to return and favors players that grind and continue to get the ball back in play. America’s best hope in this tournament is most 14th seeded Jack Sock. Sock has the same style of play as most Americans but moves better than some of the taller guys like Isner or Querrey.

American women have had significantly more success on clay, however, most of that success belongs to one player: Serena Williams. In Serena’s absence it’s up to 11th seeded Venus Williams, 13th seeded Madison Keys, and 20th ranked Coco Vandewegh to carry the torch. Venus who is of course the sister of Serena as well as a former grand slam champion looks to build on her recent major success and get back on top while Keys and Vandewegh are both looking for their first major titles. The mix of former champion and young up-and-comers means there is still plenty of hope that an American woman can win the tile even without Serena.

History

Possibly the most grand of all the reasons to watch the French open this year is Rafael Nadal. Nadal, who has been king of clay for most of his career is looking to build on what already is an astounding legacy by adding yet another title. He already holds the record for most French open titles all-time with a one win lead over Max Decugis (Amateur era) and three wins over Bjorn Borg (Open era). Nadal already owns a spot among the greatest ever, but it would be that much sweeter to have an even ten titles.

This year’s French Open promises to be an exciting event complete with drama, fanfare and entertainment. With match play scheduled during odd hours do to the European time difference, and a less than reliable TV schedule in the United States, general sports fans don’t often pay attention to the French Open. However, if there was any year to start paying attention, it may be 2017.

What We Learned From Madrid

The Mutua Madrid Open which serves as the warmup to Roland Garros concluded this past weekend. When the red dust settled, it was Rafael Nadal left taking a bite out of the trophy. While this tournament does not play any real bearing on the French Open, it can be used as an interesting preview of what we can expect to see. It also gave us some early headlines leading into the open.

Top Seeds Pressed Early

The Madrid tournament was not great for top seeds. Many of the sports more notable players struggled in the early rounds, some were even bounced in their first match. Gael Monfils (15), Marin Cilic (7), Jack Sock (14), Lucas Pouille (13), and Stan Wawrinka (3) all lost the first match they played. Kei Nishikori (6), Novak Djokovic (2), and Rafael Nadal (5) all had to battle through three set matches to advance through round one. If this is any indication of things to come, Roland Garros is going to be wild.

Americans Still Bad On Clay

It has been four years since Denis Kudla famously tweeted “Americans on clay. We are not that bad.” Sadly, it turns out Americans are still pretty bad on clay. This unfortunate reality was on full display in Madrid as only two out of four Americans in the draw won their first round match and none made it out of the second round.

Even though some of the more competitive Americans such as John Isner, Sam Querry, and Steve Johnson were not in the tournament, it is still no excuse for the poor showing. To make matters worse, top American Jack Sock was knocked out by Nicholas Mahut of France in the first round. This is not a good way to go into the French for a player expecting to be a contender for major titles this season.

The two Americans that did win their first round matches were lucky loser Jared Donaldson who defeated Adrian Mannarino, and Ryan Harrison who defeated former top 25 player Bernard Tomic of Australia.

Young Players Ready To Emerge

While Madrid was rough for many of the established players, it served as a break out for some of the younger players on tour. Alexander Zverev won three matches including victories over Marin Cilic and a straight set win against Thomas Berdych. Much like Zverev, Croation sensation Borna Coric also had some big wins. Most notably, his straight set dismantling of world number one Andy Murray. Coric got knocked out by eventual runner up Dominic Thiem in the semi-final round. Speaking of Thiem, he had the best tournament of all the younger players culminating in a finals appearance. At just 23 years old, Thiem has already established himself as a top player so it was no surprise to see him advance through the draw. Nonetheless, the result is still a positive step to making a deep run at a major.

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Andy Murray – photo by Ian Dick

Djokovic And Murray Still Struggling

Just one year ago, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic met in the final of the Madrid tournament. This year, neither of them made it to the final, and each of their losses were in straight sets. Murray and Djokovic will enter the French Open as the number one and two seeded players respectively. However, they look more vulnerable to an early exit than they ever have in the last five years.

Rafa Is Back

The biggest story of the tournament was obviously Rafael Nadal emerging victorious to win his third straight title. Ever since the Australian Open in which he made the finals, Nadal has been brilliant. Now that clay court season is officially in full swing, he has once again become the champion who won nine French Opens. In Madrid, Nadal cruised past Djokovic in the semi-finals and then dispatched Thiem in the final with relative ease. In fact, the only set Nadal dropped was in his first match vs. Fabio Fognini.

Based on the results of the Mutua Madrid Open, Roland Garros should be extremely entertaining. Between Murray and Djokovic struggling and a lot of young players on the rise, look for potential upsets and tons of great matches.

Sandgren Earns French Open Wildcard

Every year, one lucky American male tennis player is selected to receive a Wild Card entry to the French Open main draw. The Wildcard represents a huge opportunity for a player to by-pass the qualifying rounds and go straight into the draw. This year, the honor goes to 25 year old Tennys Sandgren.

The road to Roland Garros has not been an easy one for Sandgren. The former Tennessee Volunteer turned pro after his sophomore college season in 2011 after helping the Volunteers win SEC titles in consecutive years. Since then, he has played mostly challenger events and major qualifying tournaments. In fact, Sandgren has played in the qualifying rounds of 12 major tournaments but never been able to make it to a main draw until now.

To make things even more difficult, Sandgren suffered a torn labrum in 2014 and had to have hip surgery. In 2015 he had shoulder and wrist issues that also hindered his play.

Fast forward to 2017, and Sandgren has earned a bid to his first ever major tournament by accumulating the most points in the USTA wildcard challenge. Sandgren ended up with 135 points after winning the $75,000 USTA Pro Circuit Challenger in Savannah (St. Joseph’s/Chandler Savannah Challenger) and reaching the final of the ATP $100,000 Challenger in Sarasota, Fla.

“I finally feel like I’m in a good spot and thankfully I’ve been able to stay healthy,” said Sandgren. “To be able to play a full schedule and feel strong and ready to go is a big deal for me. I am trying to take advantage of that.”

To make things even sweeter, his win in Savannah also gives him a career high singles ranking of 114th in the world. This is especially impressive considering that last year he was at certain points ranked outside of the top 300.

The wildcard entry represents an incredible opportunity for Sandgren to take his game to the next level and gain more of a following. When asked just what it means to have this chance, Sandgren said “It’s such a great opportunity at the French and I really want to pull from this experience and maybe snag a couple of wins. I want to go and compete and give it my best effort. To do that and be able to get a few wins would be pretty spectacular.”