Friday, July 20, 2012

BB&T Atlanta Open – Thursday’s wild ride of tennis, without rain but with photos

Because some of Wednesday’s matches were rained out, Thursday’s tennis started early at the BB&T Atlanta Open, at 1 instead of 4 PM, and all three courts were utilized. Although I wasn’t supposed to be at Atlantic Station yesterday, I was called into action for my fourth consecutive day of volunteering as a scorekeeping, and also got the opportunity to renew my court monitor role (from last year) for a couple of hours, during which I witnessed a two great doubles matches on the Grandstand Court.

Andy Roddick under the watchful eye of his coach Larry Stefanki

As usual, despite having to hurriedly type & post yesterday morning’s blog entry, I arrived early for my shift and was rewarded with a chance to catch Andy Roddick practicing on the Grandstand Court with Ryan Harrison. Both players had their coaches with them: Roddick’s is Larry Stefanki, whom I recognized; I assume that the other was Grant Doyle. Roddick, who’s still in the draw as the #3 seed, was the one in charge of the session, and directed the 20 year-old Harrison to serve to his backhand: “intermix first and second serves, but don’t tell me” (e.g. which it will be).

Roddick practicing backhand returns

After watching for a little while and taking these pictures, I headed to the Stadium Court where the first match was to be the fading American veteran James Blake versus Australia’s Matthew Ebden, who had more success initially as a doubles player (and won last year’s Atlanta event while paired with Alex Bogomolov Jr. – but now finds himself ranked #82 in the world in singles, coming off a career high of #69 in May). With Magdi Somat in the chair, Ebden took the early lead, breaking Blake’s second service game to lead 3-1. But a couple of games later, Blake broke right back to 3-4 and the two traded holds into a tiebreaker, which the American won 8-6.

Unfortunately I was unable to watch and score all of the first set on Stadium because I was called into duty as a court monitor on Grandstand before 2 PM. When I arrived, Atlanta’s Donald Young and his South African partner Raven Klaasen (ranked #88 in the world in doubles, he hit some terrific volleys and overheads) had already taken the first set 6-2, and were on-serve 5 games into the second. It remained that way until Young was broken at 5-all, giving their opponents and the BB&T Atlanta Open’s #2 seeded doubles pair – American Scott Lipsky and Mexico’s Santiago Gonzalez – a chance to serve for the second set. But the latter pairing (ranked #71 in the world) was unable to hold their serve, allowing Young and Klaasen to take the second set, and the match 7-6 (5).

Next up on Grandstand was the top seeded doubles pair from Great Britain Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins, ranked #64 in the world vs. France’s Nicolas Mahut (a singles player fresh off his second round Wednesday night loss to Roddick) and the Czech Republic’s Lukas Dlouhy, a doubles specialist that was ranked as high as #5 in the world just 2 years ago despite his rather slow serve. Although the latter pair earned an early break, they were unable to hold it, eventually losing the first set to the Brits in a one-sided tiebreaker and then getting rolled (2-6) in the second. It’s unfortunate that – even though I’m on the court, right behind the chair umpire (who was Jack Garner) – I was unable to get any pictures while in my official role. I did manage to get a picture of the British pair after I was relieved of my duties, but only because Hutchins stuck around to hit some practice serves after the match.

Great Britain's Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins

The next scheduled match on Grandstand was to be Harrison-Ebden vs. the third seeded pairing of the Philippines’ Treat Conrad Huey and Great Britain’s Dominic Inglot, but since Ebden had just won a three set match over James Blake, who was exhausted by the heat, the start was delayed from 4 to 5:30 PM. Since I was now ‘free’, I returned to the scorekeeper’s tent above the Stadium Court where the tournament’s two-time defending champion (American) Mardy Fish was playing Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller, a semi-finalist at last year’s event. I got there just in time to see Fish break back to 4-all, after losing his previous service game; he then held and broke Muller for a second straight time to win the first set 6-4.

Gilles Muller serves to Mardy Fish

I have to admit that I was starting to get fatigued and, honestly, even a bit tired of watching so much tennis this week. However, I’m glad that I stayed with it long enough to see a rather bizarre occurrence: at 2-all, 30-all, Fish serving, Muller hit a drop shot that Mardy scrambled forward to his left to retrieve, only to slide, slip and fall in the doubles alley and into the Corona sign and net post. Fortunately, he managed to miss banging his head as James Blake had done (breaking his neck!) on the clay court in Rome while practicing with Robby Ginepri in 2004.

Fish slides for a drop shot, slips and injures his ankle

Both his opponent Muller and chair umpire Steve Ulrich rushed to Fish, who was sprawled on the court for some time before returning to his seat to meet with a trainer at approximately 4:45 PM. Amazingly, Fish was able to return to the court, erase the break point and hold his serve to lead 3-2 in the second. But he had another visit from the trainer on the changeover and, after watching Muller’s first serve (an ace) of the next game, Fish retired the match. Mardy, who has chronic ankle problems, apparently injured his ankle such that he couldn’t continue … so we’ll have a new Atlanta champion in 2012.

Steve Johnson serving (to Jack Sock)

Next up on Stadium Court was a hard fought, tight battle between two of the tournament’s three wild card entries, both Americans: Jack Sock and Steve Johnson, the winner to likely face the tournament’s #1 seed and two-time finalist John Isner. It was a two set affair, both went to tiebreakers, and both were won by the same tally (7-5) by Sock. Johnson had a chance to even the match in the second set tiebreaker, leading 5-4 and serving, but failed to convert, losing the next 3 points in a row, and the match.

Sock serving (to Johnson)

Some 'housekeeping': Ebden-Harrison won their doubles match in two sets; Brits Fleming-Hutchins received a walkover into the semi's (their would-be opponent of Mulller-Bogomolov Jr. retired, since Muller made his second straight Atlanta quarterfinal), and Sock will face Isner, who won a surprisingly close 3-set match (I didn't stay for it) over a qualifier from Belgium named Ruben Bemelmans, currently ranked at a career high of #125 in the world, in a match that was delayed for 25 minutes when a Stadium Court light circuit breaker overheated (I guess this week’s rain kept it from happening earlier in the tournament).

Thursday's crowd to watch former UGA 'star' John Isner

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