US Open Qualifying: Wednesday Notebook

Today was the second half of the first round at U.S. Open qualifying.  For my notes on several Tuesday matches, click here.

In ten hours and almost as many matches, I covered a lot of ground today–I’ll have to be brief in much of the following.

Thomas Schoorel vs Stefano Galvani

The young Schoorel has had a breakthrough year, reaching a few main draws and consistently going deep in challengers.  It’s no secret why: He booms a massive lefty serve and couples it with an equally devastating forehand.  His slice backhand can also be a weapon.  All of that was on display today, but it wasn’t enough.

He looks like a sulky teenager, slumped down as if he’d rather not be so tall.  Even his assets (serve, forehand) were erratic, and his one-handed backhand was embarrassing–I wouldn’t be surprised if half of his non-slice backhands were errors.  Someone with Schoorel’s weaponry shouldn’t lose many points on serve, and he was challenged in nearly every service game.

Some of the credit for that must go to the veteran Stefano Galvani.  Galvani is a classic counterpuncher, compact and steady, with good control over his serve.  He learned early on that Schoorel would fall apart by the fifth or sixth shot of the rally (if he made it that far), and that earned him the straight-set win.

Gianluca Naso vs Thomas Fabbiano

What a contrast this one was.  I only saw the first several games, but it was enough to get a feel for the match.  Naso is tall, well-built, and Italian to the core.  His game is nothing like Fabio Fognini’s, but his way of handling himself on court is very similar: He’ll hit great shots and look good–if he needs to go off balance or hit a weak reply, he often doesn’t bother.  It’s not a great strategy to reach the next level, but it’s fun to watch.

I saw Naso a few years ago in qualifying; he’s better now, with the same asset, a huge forehand that he’s willing to hit anywhere, no matter how far he has to run around it.  Like the Fognini-esque style, it’s a little silly, but it’s beautiful to watch.

Naso’s younger compatriot, Thomas Fabbiano, is more like Galvani.  Smaller, compact, and (theoretically) consistent, he’ll hit defensive shots and look less stylish smashing two-handed backhands.  In the short time I watched, I didn’t see many positives in his game, except for an unusual fluency mixing up a good slice and a strong two-hander.

Cedrik-Marcel Stebe vs Igor Sijsling

Stebe has rocketed up the rankings this year.  While most of his success has come on clay (including a couple of recent wins over Davydenko), he did beat Ryan Harrison in a tough five-setter to qualify at Wimbledon.  Whatever worked for him on grass wasn’t on show today.  I wanted to fall in love with Stebe’s game, but Stebe’s game was in love with unforced errors.

Sijsling is someone I’ve seen before–the typical veteran of challengers and qualifying rounds, with a few big weapons but without the consistency to win tour-level matches.  He didn’t do anything particularly well–all I have in my notes is that he kept Stebe deep, which is probably what the German wanted anyway.

I looked hard for what has made Stebe so successful.  It’s the backhand–he can hit a two-hander from anywhere, to anywhere.  For a left-hander, that creates some interesting angles.  His forehand is solid as well, but both shots landed behind the baseline way too much to make today’s match interesting.

Facundo Bagnis vs Marius Copil

I was drawn to this one to see Bagnis, a 21-year-old Argentine who has had success on clay this season, but it was Copil who was worth sticking around for.  This was probably the best match I saw all day, getting to 5-5 in the third set before Bagnis handed his opponent the match.

Copil has a big game, especially for someone so young (he turns 21 in October), highlighted (of course) by the serve.  Both offerings pushed Bagnis well behind the baseline, and the topspin second serve was the best I’ve seen so far this week.  He hasn’t yet learned how to follow up the serve and big groundstrokes–he was awkward on the rare occasions he came forward–but against a laid-back opponent like Bagnis, that was ok.

Bagnis is another lefty, but doesn’t seem to take advantage of that in any way, especially on the serve.  The best skill he showed today was return of serve, and against Copil, that’s saying something.  Bagnis frequently had to return second serves above his head, and usually pushed them back deep.  As long as he was reasonably comfortable, he could hit solid groundstrokes all day long, but he isn’t quite steady enough (yet) to succeed with that kind of passive game at the ATP level.

Mischa Zverev vs Bastian Knittel

The less said about this one, the better.  I only watched it because there was little else on offer.  Zverev was a joke.  He has so much talent, but I can’t remember the last time I saw someone look so apathetic in US Open qualies.  I think he was looking past this match (and possibly the rest of the season) and forgot that he needed to occasionally land the ball inside the court to advance to the next round.

Knittel was more spirited and aggressive, but the older player showed little evidence of belonging anywhere near the top 100.  His groundstrokes on both wings were oddly jerky, suggesting that against a more aggressive opponent, he won’t be able to keep up.

Laurynas Grigelis vs Adam Kellner

The Lithuanian Grigelis is the youngest non-American (and youngest direct entry) player in the qualifying draw, but there’s no doubt he belongs.  He comprehensively outplayed Kellner from just about every angle except for noise and girth.  The first word in my notebook concerning Kellner is “ouch.”

Kellner hits with a lot of power and little control.  His first serve percentage was well below half for the set-plus I saw today, and any groundstroke he tried to put near a line had about the same chance of going in.  Like Zverev and Stebe, he did more to lose the match than his opponent did to win it.

All that isn’t meant to detract from Grigelis.  The Lithuanian’s groundstrokes are fantastic, especially a backhand that he likes to direct up the line.  He still has some physical development coming, and once the serve catches up to the rest of his game, he could give Richard Bernakis a challenge for the top-ranked player from Lithuania–and I think highly of Bernakis as well.  I hope to see Grigelis against a stronger opponent this week to get a better sense of his current level.

Charles-Antoine Brezac vs Daniel Kosakowski

I wasn’t expecting much from the American wild card Kosakowski, but especially after he played his way into the match, he showed that he belongs at this level.  He lost the match 6-2 6-4, which understates how tight the second set was.

One remarkable thing about Kosakowski is that he almost never hit a slice.  Maybe five in a set and a half.  Instead, he hit one-handers from everywhere, including defensive positions that would push almost everyone else to the slice.  Yet he got those shots back.  His groundstrokes are nothing like Denis Kudla’s, but the overall game plan is the same–put a mediocre serve in the box, then slug away.  In the second set, that often worked.

Brezac is a challenger-tour warrior, and proved too steady and too smart for the American today.  He was equally prepared to slug it out from the baseline–if anything, he made a mistake by playing Kosakowski’s style.  On the rare occasions he moved forward, he looked very good, with some of the prettiest touch volleys I’ve seen this week.  While the focus was on the young American, Brezac played like someone who could spend a couple of years in the top 100, though he has yet to crack the top 200.

Vasek Pospisil vs Chris Guccione

This was something of a disappointment.  I had never seen Guccione before, and for whatever reason, expected something more than Karlovic-lite.  Gooch hit his share of aces and volley winners, but lost enough points on serve that I’m shocked he was only broken once.  For a tall lefty known for his serve, I don’t see what the fuss is about.

Pospisil is nearly as tall, and his serve is as good.  He made a good impression a couple of weeks ago by beating Chela and playing Federer well in Montreal, and while Guccione didn’t bring out that level of play, he showed a much more well-rounded game than his opponent.  As was the case with Grigelis, I hope I can see Pospisil play someone more interesting.

James Ward vs Michael Yani

Ward was on my radar because, according to my hard-court ranking system, he’s the best player in the qualifying draw.  According to how he played today, I’m wrong.  The Brit beat Wawrinka and Querrey at Queen’s club, and reached the final in the last two challengers he played.  Clearly there was another level he didn’t bring out on court today.

In this match, Ward looked hopelessly one-dimensional, hitting big (but erratic) serves, thinking about moving forward but unsure how to do so, slicing way more than he had to (including several forehands!) and shanking more forehands than the wind could explain.  As I did with Stebe, I looked hard for what has worked for Ward, and I couldn’t figure it out.

All Yani had to do was play steady, and that’s his forte.  (I wrote about him two years ago, as well.)  He has no weapons to speak of, but he fights hard and mixes things up.  That’s often enough to qualify, as it was for Yani in 2009.

8 thoughts on “US Open Qualifying: Wednesday Notebook”

  1. Economical, informative summary. Your eye for what’s in a player and a match are as good as I’ve seen, and your expression the best.

    Love reading these.


  2. Thanks for this. Very interesting observations, and nicely put.

    I agree with you about Schoorel. I really like him as a player, he seems to have more in his locker than your average big serving giant who offers little else in other areas of the court. He obviously prefers clay, and it’s understandable why, he can afford more time to really wallop the ball into all areas of the court, and he moves better on that surface. His lacklustre performances on other surfaces will improve and it’ll come with a higher ranking and more top-level experience. Though I think how quickly he gets there will have quite a big bearing on how far he can go.

    Stebe is another interesting one. He seems a lot more of an all-rounder and should be better suited to playing on all the surfaces than Schoorel. Stebe excels in defence though, and it’s questionable how far this will get him, but you do see the occasional flashy winner from him that comes from nowhere. Mainly though, you will see a lot of well-constructed points that requires a lot of patience. The biggest problem I see with his game is his second serve. Far too many double faults, and when you are serving at 46% (1st serves) and not protecting your second serve, it is no surprise why you double fault frequently and get broken. He can go very far though, and I think playing the big boys on the ATP Tour has dazed him a bit, but this defeat will bring him back to earth, and we’ll see him in the top 100 very soon.

    I’m very impressed with Laurynas Grigelis at the moment, he seems to have moved on from that moody teenager I saw play Davis Cup against GB. He showed flashes of his potential there, and he can really accelerate through the ball off the ground. Big future for him.

    Pospisil, the Canadian, for me is the most exciting ‘youngster’ in the world. He’s had his fair share of time rising through the rankings, but I fancy him to qualify here, and have a good crack at the main draw. He seems to have a lot of fight in him, and the serve will really help him get out of trouble consistently. Ground game needs some polishing, but I’m expecting big things from Vasek.

    James Ward seems far too inconsistent at the moment. One week we see a brilliant run from him, and then the next he flops. Sure, after Queen’s he lost to Tipsarevic and Llodra in tight-ish matches, both good grass-court opponents. But then he makes the Lexington final, and wins Vancouver. Then he loses here… seems far too inconsistent for me to be much higher than he is now.

    Another big result for me, was Fischer beating Paire, 12 months ago, Paire qualified and made the second round, now he crashes out to an Austrian journeyman, who he should have beaten. He’ll see a considerable drop in his ranking in a couple of weeks, and I start to question his mettle.

    Excellent as always Jeff.

    1. Thanks. I wish I had stuck around to see Paire. The French Federation seems to have something in common with the USTA — always lots of French players coming up, but the ones they pick as the “rising stars” (Paire, Rufin) are iffy choices.

  3. Wow, Mischa Zverev is really hitting the skids.

    Schoorel and Ward disappointing but don’t write them off too early for the rest of the season. I think indoors they will be highly dangerous.

    Pospisil now on my radar so thanks!

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