The North American summer hardcourt series kicked off Monday in Atlanta where big men John Isner, Sam Querrey and Kevin Anderson stand tall in a modest field. But the real fun begins next week with Top 10 players like Milos Raonic, Tomas Berdych and Grigor Dimitrov taking the court in D.C. And then it’s back-to-back Masters events in Toronto and Cincinnati in August before week off to make final preparations for the final Slam of the season, the US Open. Yes, time sure flies, doesn’t it?
So here’s what’s to come with the top marquee players:
Federer (2): Aug 4 – Toronto, Aug 10 – Cincinnati
Nadal (2): Aug 4 – Toronto, Aug 10 – Cincinnati
Djokovic (2): Aug 4 – Toronto, Aug 10 – Cincinnati
Murray (2): Aug 4 – Toronto, Aug 10 – Cincinnati
Wawrinka (2): Aug 4 – Toronto, Aug 10 – Cincinnati
Dimitrov (3): Jul 28 – Washington, Aug 4 – Toronto, Aug 10 – Cincinnati
Ferrer (2): Aug 4 – Toronto, Aug 10 – Cincinnati
Raonic (3): Jul 28 – Washington, Aug 4 – Toronto, Aug 10 – Cincinnati
Berdych (3): Jul 28 – Washington, Aug 4 – Toronto, Aug 10 – Cincinnati
Isner (5): Jul 21 – Atlanta, Jul 28 – Washington, Aug 4 – Toronto, Aug 10 – Cincinnati, Aug 17 – Winston Salem
Jul 21 (Atlanta)
Isner, Anderson, Querrey
Jul 28 (Washington)
Berdych, Raonic, Dimitrov, Monfils
Aug 4 (Toronto)
Nadal, Djokovic, Murray, Federer, Ferrer
Aug 10 (Cincinnati)
Nadal, Djokovic, Murray, Federer, Ferrer
Aug 17 (Winston Salem)
Isner, Robredo, Pospisil, Janowicz
Aug 25 (US Open)
Aside from Isner – who never misses a chance to play and American event – there’s really nothing of note with the scheduling. A decade ago there seemed to be twice as many events here in the U.S., but as American tennis continues to languish ATP tournaments like L.A., Indianapolis, Long Island, New Haven have disintegrated leaving just a one event per week schedule, which makes things easier to follow at the expense of lost draw for the players.
And after many years, though, the opportunity for the lower ranked players to go deep in these events is finally on the upswing. As we saw in Paris (Ernests Gulbis) and at Wimbledon (Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov, Nick Kyrgios), for a variety of reasons (age, injury, the rise of new wave, etc) the Big Four are no longer the dominant force they once were. Gone are the days when you could write in 3 if not all 4 of the Big Four in the semis. So I have to think we will see more inroads made by this new blossoming crop of youngsters and we should expect more final weekend surprises.
That said, the hardcourt favorites are the usual cast of characters.
1) Novak Djokovic
Clearly he’s the man to beat this summer. After his Wimbledon triumph and recent wedding, I expect Novak to be locked in on a strong run down the homestretch. Unless he gets injured or just slips into a funk, I don’t see anyone wrestling the top ranking away from him. Djokovic’s won his last four hardcourt Masters events including Indian Wells and Miami, so odds are he’ll be favored in every single match from here until the end of the year. And with good reason: hardcourts are his best surface.
2) Rafael Nadal
Aside from his incredible 2013 summer, the North American hardcourts haven’t been particularly kind to Nadal and his troubled knees over the years. Now 28, the Spaniard stares down a 3-tournament title defense next month at Toronto, Cincinnati and then the US Open. I think he’ll be very lucky to win one and with no more clay left this season the French could very well end up as the last title he wins in 2014. But if he can get the MPH’s on his serve up and maybe get some good draws, some timely injuries, he’s never one to count out.
3) Roger Federer
Despite the Wimbledon loss, he has to be feeling good about where he is right now. He’s about to be 33 I know, but he’s healthy, he’s adjusted to the new larger racquet and he’s brimming with confident again. The problem for Roger is there are just more guys out there right now who can beat him on hardcourts (as opposed to grass for instance) than there were a year ago. He’ll have to have some more Wimbledon-like serving day to be playing on the final weekend I think.
4) Andy Murray
I asked this before, have we seen the best of Murray? After that great run with Ivan Lendl, will we see Murray contend again with the Djokovics, Nadals and Federers? It’s hard to say but I guess now we’ll find out. Hardcourts have always been a great surface for Murray and at 27 he’s still in his prime like his good friend and rival Djokovic. I just don’t know if he has the belief and motivation anymore. Not only hasn’t he won a title since Wimbledon last year, he hasn’t beaten a Top 10 player all year!
5) The Vets – Ferrer, Berdych, Tsonga, Wawrinka, Isner, Anderson
Of the experienced “veterans” group, maybe someone like Berdych could have a good run, though I don’t like him much if it gets too hot. Wawrinka should also do well as he tries to return to the US Open semifinals. Tsonga, though, has been a mystery like Murray. Ferrer is slipping on the hardcourts. Isner and Anderson have the game to put up good results but I fear they’ll be exhausted (especially Isner) from overplaying by the time they get to New York. Marin Cilic, maybe Richard Gasquet can surprise. And hopefully Juan Martin Del Potro can return in time for New York.
6) The Youngsters – Raonic, Dimitrov, Nishikori, Kyrgios, Thiem, Pospisil, Sock, etc…
To me Raonic is the top guy to watch this summer among the young guns. The Canadian will be focused on his runner-up defense in Toronto where he’ll be the star attraction. But with his serve, if the courts are quick – they usually are – then Milos could really have a big summer and potentially be a guy in the last four in New York. After Milos, just a notch below I put Dimitrov and Nishikori. And I expect Dimitrov and Nishikori to make a lot of noise as well. I’ll also be keen to see if Kyrgios can get some main draw wildcard spots after his breakthrough Wimbledon. I can’t wait to see more of the kid.
So that’s what’s ahead of us in the next six weeks culminating with the US Open champion. Who will it be? Will it be a former Slam winner or do we end the Slam calendar how we started it by crowing another first time Major champion?
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