Thursday Topspin: Underdog Days

It isn’t 2006 anymore: Both Nikolay Davydenko and Ivan Ljubicic were in action yesterday, and both are headed home early.  Davydenko lost in straight sets to Kevin Anderson, never even earning a break point chance against the South African.  Ljubicic fell to qualifier Paolo Lorenzi, which must be at least partly due to lingering health issues.

Holding out hope for a return to mid-2000’s form is James Blake, who squeaked into the second round against American qualifier Michael Russell.  Blake had to win it the hard way, taking tiebreaks in the second and third sets.  He’ll next face the Brazilian lefty Thomaz Bellucci, a matchup that gives him a decent shot at getting through to the third round.

Bad day for Americans: Russell was representative of the U.S. qualifiers.  Robert Kendrick had to retire midway through his match against Igor Kunitsyn; Donald Young fell to Denis Istomin, and Ryan Sweeting failed to follow up on his strong showing at Indian Wells, losing to Xavier Malisse.

In fact, the only American besides Blake to win yesterday was Alex Bogomolov, who needed three sets to get by Victor Hanescu.  That’s a solid win for the resurgent Bogie, who will try to do his best Donald Young impression tomorrow when he faces Andy Murray.

More upsets: It wasn’t a good day for favorites.  Going by sportsbook odds, 9 of yesterday’s 16 matches were upsets, and one of the 7 non-upsets was the no-brainer contest between Juan Martin del Potro and Ricardo Mello.

Perhaps the most disappointing loss was Bernard Tomic’s failure to get past Pablo Andujar.  Tomic lost serve after going up 40-0 at 5-6 in the third set.  Andujar was a fantastic draw for the Aussie, as he’s a clay court specialist with very little success on hard courts.

One last result that catches my eye is Marsel Ilhan’s 6-2 6-1 victory over Tobias Kamke.  The decision isn’t a big surprise; sportsbooks had the match about even.  Whenever I’ve watched Ilhan, he’s been very streaky–the sort of guy who will win a match 7-6 0-6 6-1.  Outside of a few good challenger results, this is the first time he’s dismantled someone in the top 100 since he beat Pablo Cuevas 6-2 6-2 in the Miami first round last year.

On the card: Lots of good stuff on the schedule today.  Both American 18-year-olds will be playing: Ryan Harrison takes on Rainer Schuettler in the night session, and Jack Sock plays Carlos Berlocq this afternoon.  As I mentioned yesterday, it’s a big opportunity for Sock.  He might have drawn the weakest hard-court player in the field.

Many more young stars are in action today, as well.  Kei Nishikori takes on Jeremy Chardy; sportbooks give the Japanese a slight edge, while my projections put the match exactly even.  Richard Berankis draws Feliciano Lopez, and Grigor Dimitrov, straight from a comfortable trip through qualifying, will face Sergiy Stakhovsky.

Doubles draw: Without Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the doubles field isn’t nearly as headline-grabbing as that of Indian Wells.  There are still plenty of top players involved.

Murray and Novak Djokovic are teaming up, and they face a possible second-rounder with Max Mirnyi and Daniel Nestor.  For that to happen, Mirnyi and Nestor will have to win their opener against Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco.

Sadly, last week’s champions Malisse and Alexandr Dolgopolov aren’t reuniting, though both are in the draw.  Dolgo is teaming with Nicolas Almagro, and Malisse is paired with Jamie Murray.  Dolgo and Almagro are set for a second-round match with the Bryans; the American duo will start their tournament against the wild card team of Harrison and Sock.

One more: Much later today–it will be Friday in China–there’s a great match at the Pingguo challenger.  Uladzimir Ignatik and Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, two fast-rising youngsters, face off in a quarterfinal.  Stebe is attempting to reach his third consecutive challenger semifinal is as many weeks, while Ignatik will try to beat the German for the second time.  These are both guys who you can expect to see in the top 100 within another year or two.

At the rate Stebe is climbing, he could get there by fall.

See you tomorrow!

7 thoughts on “Thursday Topspin: Underdog Days”

  1. “As I mentioned yesterday, it’s a big opportunity for Sock. He might have drawn the weakest hard-court player in the field”.

    As I followed this match, I had the distinct feeling that Berlocq had read your preview. Something certainly motivated him!

  2. Now that Jack Sock’s lost in the 1st round along with Young and Sweeting, Harrison again seems to be the best hope for US men. But the recent US player development teams doesn’t haven’t been very good at helping promising players reach the top. Are they missing information of what it takes?
    Coaches keep stats on their players to help them decide what improvements are needed, and national player development programs no doubt have data on their group of young players, but the criteria and statistics are not public knowledge. Tennis may be the only sport for which this is true.
    Since their stats haven’t helped them do a good job, can you think of other measurable criteria to analyze? Someone should suggest looking at different stats to use as benchmarks.
    Rick Devereux

    1. I suspect that the problem isn’t looking at the wrong stats … something about the player development system too heavily favors players who are able to succeed early, often because they’re tall with big serves. Maybe the USTA gets too excited about six-foot guys who are winning 14s when they should be looking more at long-term potential.

      Despite Sock’s loss yesterday, I actually think the pendulum is swinging in the right direction. Sock, Kudla, and especially Harrison are doing quite well for their age, and none fit the one-dimensional Querrey mold.

      Also Rick, did you get my e-mail response the other day?

  3. I was astonished that Harrison defeated Raonic at Indian Wells. I would have thought only a top 10 player was likely to do that, in the Canadian’s present form. That alone suggests to me that Harrison has a very bright future.
    When a young player (in any sport) begins to shine, results tend to be patchy at first. In chess (admittedly a very different kind of sport) many people know that Bobby Fischer played the “Game of the (20th) Century” when he was 13, brilliantly beating a top grandmaster with the black pieces. Fewer know that he finished the tournament 8th out of 12 players, and only won one other game while losing 4 and drawing 5.
    It’s a little early to expect Harrison to win consistently, but expect to see more and more excellent performances from him.

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