US Open Series Begins: Atlanta Recap, Stanford Preview

The US Open Series, which encompasses the seven North American tournaments from late July to the start of the final Grand Slam of the season, is in full swing with the ATP BB&T Atlanta Open concluding on Sunday and the WTA Bank of the West Classic starting on Monday.

Many of the top men’s players skipped the Atlanta event, but several of the biggest American players – including top-seed Jack Sock and three-time champion John Isner – entered the draw.  Sock was knocked out in the quarterfinals by fifth-seeded Kyle Edmund of Great Britain, but Isner made another strong run to the finals.  Isner faced fellow American and good friend Ryan Harrison in the final, and defeated the fourth-seed in two tiebreakers for his second consecutive ATP title (Isner won the grass court tournament in Newport, RI immediately after Wimbledon).  Harrison was able to break Isner in the second set, snapping Isner’s ridiculous streak of 75 consecutive service holds, but the University of Georgia star immediately broke back and held on for his fourth title in Atlanta.

Unlike the men’s event, the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford has several top names on the women’s tour.  Wimbledon winner Garbine Muguruza is the top seed, with other top 50 players including #14 Petra Kvitova, #16 Madison Keys, #23 Coco Vandeweghe, and #43 Catherine “Cici” Bellis among the top eight seeds.

Looking at the draw in Stanford, the top four seeds will receive a bye into the second round, but there are still some intriguing matchups during the first two days of action.

In what is likely the most anticipated match of the first round, Maria Sharapova faces American Jennifer Brady, who made it to the second week at the first Grand Slam of the year in Australia.  Sharapova received a wildcard into the main draw at Stanford, and is making her first WTA appearance since playing three clay court events prior to the French Open.  She did not receive entry into either the main draw or the qualifying rounds at Roland Garros, and suffered a hip injury that caused her to miss the grass court season.  She has played in World Team Tennis earlier this month, and did write a great piece for the Players’ Tribute website last week where she thanked her fans and professed that she missed the game while she was out with her suspension and then her injury.  It will be very interesting to see how many fans are pulling for the Russian, and how many will be rooting for Brady, who played for Stanford’s rival UCLA in college.

Another Wimbledon champion is in the women’s draw, as Girls’ Singles winner Claire Liu faces another American, Nicole Gibbs, in the first round.  The 17-year-old is currently the top-ranked junior player in the world, and has made the finals at two straight Junior Grand Slam events.  Gibbs has had an injury-filled 2017 season, which has given her plenty of time to update her Tennis Channel blog, as she documented her entire season for the series “My Tennis Life” alongside doubles pro Sam Groth.

In a great first round tilt, eighth-seeded Bellis faces France’s Alize Cornet, who is just one spot below the 18-year-old American in the current WTA rankings.  Bellis is the youngest player inside of the top 50, and has skyrocketed up the rankings this season.  Bellis resides nearby, and considered attending Stanford before turning pro after a third-round loss to eventual champion Angelique Kerber at last year’s US Open.  She made the third round at the French Open this year, losing a tight three-setter to #6 Caroline Wozniacki, and was bounced in a tough first-round draw at Wimbledon by Victoria Azarenka, who was unranked after missing a year due to having her first child.  Although she is shorter and has a slighter build than most of the top women’s players, Bellis has worked on her strength and fitness this year, and her results and climbing ranking are proof that the hard work is paying off.  She is definitely on the list of potential sleepers at this year’s US Open, and a strong run during the US Open Series could get her into the top 32 and a seed in next month’s Grand Slam.

The Bank of the West leads the women into next week’s Premier Event in Toronto, while the men will have this week in the Series off before beginning in Montreal on August 4th for the Rogers Cup (both men’s and women’s tournaments next week are called the Rogers Cup and are alternated between Montreal and Toronto – the men played in Toronto last year while the women were in Montreal).  All of the top men, besides Novak Djokovic who is out for the remainder of the season, have entered the Montreal event, and only Serena Williams is missing out of the top 20 in Toronto.

There is a men’s event this week, but it is no longer a part of the US Open Series.  The Citi Open, held in Washington, DC, will see several of the top men’s players take the courts in another warm-up event.  Dominic Thiem is the top seed, with Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov, Alexander Zverev, Gael Monfils, Lucas Pouille, Jack Sock, and Isner all in the field.  The Citi Open is the only second-tier, “500-level” event held in the United States, and was a part of the US Open Series until 2015, when they pulled out due to a dispute over television coverage (or lack of on ESPN).

After the Rogers Cup, the men and women will head to Cincinnati for another Masters/Premier event.  Most players will skip the events held the week prior to the US Open, as the men will head to Winston-Salem, NC and the ladies will play at New Haven, CT.

This year’s US Open Series is the first since its inception in 2004 that will not offer the top three male and female players a chance to boost their prize money at the final Grand Slam.  In previous years, the players who did the best during the five weeks were eligible to win an extra $1 million if they also won the US Open.

Written by: Adam Belue (@albinomamba44)

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