Young Guns Podcast: French Open Review

The French Open officially finished on Sunday with world No. 1 Novak Djokovic lifting the trophy to complete his career Grand Slam. There were plenty of impressive performances at the second slam of the year, with multiple Young Guns battles as well. This week’s podcast discusses the notable matches of French Open and features a discussion with a friend and fellow tennis fan about the player we all love to hate, Nick Kyrgios.

 

Will the grass be greener for the ATP Young Guns?

There’s two Masters 250 tournaments being played this week in Germany and the Netherlands, with a total of five ATP Young Guns participating. Let’s take a look at each of the Young Guns playing this week and who has the best chance for a great first impression on this year’s short-but-sweet grass season.

Mercedes Cup – Stuttgart, Germany

Denis Kudla

Kudla, currently ranked No. 56, will be participating in an ATP tour level grass tournament for the first time since 2014.

The 23-year-old American opted to play two Challengers last year prior to Wimbledon. Kudla had great success at his warmup Challengers in Great Britain last year, making the finals at Surbiton and winning his fifth Challenger title in Ilkley.

After a solid grass warmup at the Challengers in Great Britain, Kudla had his best Grand Slam performance since during pro in 2012. Ranked No. 105 at the time, Kudla made it to the fourth round, beating three Top 100 players (including Young Gun Alexander Zverev) before succumbing to Marin Cilic in four sets.

 

Kudla’s best Grand Slam results have come at Wimbledon. He’s made it to the second round twice and the fourth round last year. Kudla’s already showing some promise for a repeated deep run at Wimbledon in 2016. He played a Challenger in Manchester last week after a first-round exit at the French Open. Kudla made it to the semifinals before falling to veteran Yen-Hsn Lu.

Lucas Pouille 

Pouille is seeded eighth at the Mercedes Cup, after climbing to a career-high No. 29 on Monday.

The 22-year-old Frenchman has been one of the most surprising Young Guns in 2016 and looks to continue his solid season with his first grass tournament of the year.

In 2015, Pouille opted to play the Ricoh Open instead of the Mercedes Cup. Perhaps he’s looking to erase the painful memories of being obliterated by world No. 339 Marco Chiudlinelli — a player ranked a staggering 245 spots behind the Frenchman at the time — in the first round of qualifying.

In fact, Pouille didn’t qualify for any main-draws of the grass warm up tournaments in London and Nottingham in 2015. Although he did make the main-draw of Wimbledon, he was trounced by then-No. 14 Kevin Anderson in four sets.

I talked about Pouille’s improvements in his break out 2016 season in another article, so I hope with these noticeable tweaks to his game he finally preforms on grass, a surface that seems to elude him.

Dominic Thiem

Thiem is having undoubtedly the best season of all the Young Guns, most recently making it to the semifinals of the French Open and breaking into the elusive Top 10. At a career-high ranking of No. 7, Thiem is seeded third for his second consecutive Mercedes Cup.

Clay is Thiem’s best surface, which is why its unsurprising that grass gives him difficulty. Grass courts play the complete opposite of how clay does, in terms of speed, bounce height and skid. While clay slows down the ball and provides a high ball bounce with minimal skid, grass keeps the ball skidding low and quickly.

Thiem’s heavy topspin game doesn’t translate well onto grass and it shows in his results on the tricky surface. Thiem has yet to make it past the second round of Wimbledon, which he has done at every other Grand Slam thus far.

While Pouille shied away from a repeat nightmare loss at the Ricoh Open, Thiem has come back to the same event to avenge his mind-blowing and humiliating loss to then-No. 502 Mischa Zverev (Alexander Zverev’s brother) in straight sets. At the time of this wildly unexpected loss, Thiem had been ranked 30th.

Let’s hope that Thiem’s momentum from the past six months can garner some decent grass court results for the first time in his career.

Taylor Fritz

World No. 65 Fritz only played one grass court event last year at Nottingham, which was his ATP Tour tournament debut. He received a wildcard into the tournament and despite being ranked No. 761 at the time, he shocked then-No. 66 Pablo Correno Busta in straight sets. 

Fritz in Stuttgart with Philipp Kohlschreiber. Source: Tennis Tour Talk.

Fritz has had large success on hard courts, winning the US Open boy’s title in 2015 as well as three Challengers. Grass court speed is closer to hard court, but the bounce is very high and predictable unlike grass. I haven’t seen much of Fritz’s game and he doesn’t seem to have much playing experience on the surface, so I’m not expecting much from him results wise.

Ricoh Open – s’Hertogenbosch, Netherlands

Bernard Tomic 

Tomic is the second seed at the Ricoh Open, a tournament which he has not played at previously. The world No. 23 is looking to continue his strong results on grass, which have included making the Wimbledon quarterfinals in 2011 as well as the fourth round in 2013.

Tomic is having an underwhelming season so far, amassing a meh 15-13 record. Prior to the French Open, where he lost in the second round to Young Gun Borna Coric, the Australian had dropped four first-round matches in a row. He seems to be lacking the intensity and focus that brought him into the Top 20 for the first time in January after a stellar 2015 campaign.

The controversial player  quite enjoys playing on grass, so much so that he contemplated skipping the clay season entirely (which he basically did with all those early exits) to focus on his grass court preparations.

In March, Tomic considered it an advantage for him to be playing on grass during Australia’s Davis Cup tie against the United States. It’s evident that Tomic feels the most comfortable on the quick surface, which is extremely compatible with his flat, penetrating ground strokes.

Hopefully Tomic’s favorite surface can revive him for the second half of 2016, since he’s looking like a zombie out on the court lately.

Looking Ahead 

Overall, I see the most potential in Kudla, Thiem and Tomic for the grass season.

I’m most interested to see if Thiem will thrive under his new ranking or the pressure and hoopla surrounding it will negatively affect his game. I wouldn’t determine this by the grass season though, as most players have trouble adjusting to the surface after such a long clay court season. Thiem particularly has played a considerable amount of matches on clay (25) this year, which could potentially make adjusting to grass court even harder.

I’ll have to wait until he gets back onto the hard courts in North America to see if he has the staying power of a Tomas Berdych, or he if starts to plummet into obscurity like Grigor Dimitrov.

 

 

 

 

 

Tiafoe, Halys on the horizon of becoming Young Guns

There are currently 15 ATP Young Guns, with two new additions being added this week — American Bjorn Fratangelo and Russian Karen Khachanov.

22-year-old Fratangelo joins the Young Guns family ranked at No. 99, moving four places up from last week to break into the Top 100 for the first time in his career.

Khachanov moved up 10 spots to a career-high ranking of No. 98. The 20-year-old has already had a major Top 20 win in his career, as he defeated then-No. 17 Roberto Bautista Agut in Barcelona.

With Fratangelo and Khachanov joining the Top 100, that leaves 25 aspiring players aged 23 and under ranked within the Top 200. Let’s take a look at who has the most potential for breaking into the Top 100 in the second half of the season.

Frances Tiafoe 

American Tiafoe has already made headlines before, as his dramatic rise through the rankings garnered a lot of attention. The 18-year-old started January 2015 ranked 1142 and within 10 months he broke into the Top 200. He also earned a wildcard into The French Open and the U.S. Open, unfortunately falling in the first round both times. Perhaps the quickest ascent in the rankings in years, Tiafoe has shown the potential to be a mainstay in the Top 100… Even Brad Gilbert thinks so.

Tiafoe, currently ranked No. 175,  has already beaten several Top 100 players and pushed others to the brink. The 6-foot-2 teenager breezed past Sam Groth 6-3, 6-3 at a Challenger in Texas.

He followed that up by overcoming current Young Gun Taylor Fritz (then ranked No. 80) at his first career Masters 1000 tournament in Indian Wells. After defeating Fritz at their first ATP tour level match, he nearly overcame then-No. 18 David Goffin, narrowly losing in a third-set tiebreak. Tiafoe also defeated then-No. 81 Donald Young at a Tallahassee Challenger where he made it to the finals, before following to fellow teenager Quentin Halys.

Tiafoe’s quick success on the tour is due to his size (he’s a strong 6-foot-2) and his speed and explosiveness. His aggressive movement translates into his quick-strike style of play, where he looks to dominate points early and close points out at the net. Once Tiafoe adds more variety into his game, he’ll be able to regularly compete with the more consistent players within the Top 100.

Quentin Halys

Frenchman Halys moved up 10 spots in the rankings to hit a career-high No. 144 on Monday. The 19-year-old is familiar with Tiafoe, as they’ve played twice at Challengers since turning pro with Halys taking both of the matches.

Since turning pro in 2014, Halys has posted some solid results. He’s won four titles so far, three of them being Futures and his first Challenger in Tallahassee.

Halys started 2016 with a wildcard to the Australian Open. He didn’t squander the opportunity to play in the main draw of a Grand Slam, as he overcome No. 78 Ivan Dodig in four sets. Halys was ranked No. 187 at the time of his first career Grand Slam win, but unfortunately had to face eventual-champion Novak Djokovic in the next round.

After receiving a wildcard at the French Open for the second consecutive year, Halys won his first round match over former Young Gun Hyeon Chung. Unfortunately the Frenchman lost his second round match to No. 27 Pablo Cuevas, but did push him to two tiebreak sets.

Like Tiafoe, the Frenchman is quite tall with a frame of 6-foot-3. Halys’ strengths are his serve, his aggressive, flat forehand and his ability to charge the net and close out points. Not a lot of players are comfortable at the net, or will willingly come in to finish off the point, but Halys’ success in doubles gives his game more variety than most (he’s currently ranked No. 378 and won the 2014 French Open boys’ doubles title).

While Tiafoe is already on Gilbet’s radar, I expect Halys to find success within the Top 100 as well. Who do you think is more likely to break into the Top 100 first, Tiafoe or Halys?

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t blink… It’s almost grass court season!

While Dominic Thiem plays the biggest match in his career so far at the French Open, the other ATP Young Guns have taken their talents to the grass courts for the short-but-sweet grass season before Wimbledon.

After suffering a first round, straight set loss to Dusan Lajovic at the French Open, world No. 53 Denis Kudla didn’t waste any time getting onto the grass courts. He participated in the Aegon Manchester Trophy, a Challenger tournament where he was the top seed. While in Manchester, the 23-year-old American showed off his tweener skills and visited the Manchester City Football Grounds.

 

World No. 93 Taro Daniel also took the court at a Challenger in Furth, Germany after losing in the second round of Roland Garros to Stan Wawrinka. Daniel was the top seed at the tournament, but unfortunately he fell in the second round to unseeded Thiago Monteiro. However, Daniel didn’t let his unfortunate loss stop him from enjoying the sights in Germany, or enjoying some pho after an evidently tough one year apart from it.

18-year-old Taylor Fritz showed that love doesn’t always mean nothing to tennis players by proposing to his girlfriend, junior tennis player Raquel Pedraza in front of the Eiffel Tower. 

After a first-round exit at the French Open, the world No. 67 seemed overjoyed to be on grass at the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart, Germany.

Fans can also catch ATP Young Guns Bernard Tomic and Alexander Zverev in action at the Ricoh Open in S-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands. 

Kyrgios’ discontent with Australia grows deeper

Nick Kyrgios made a shocking decision to withdraw from the Olympics in Rio, but not for the same reason as his compatriot Bernard Tomic did in early May.

In a statement posted on his website, the Australian No. 1 said the lack of support from the Australian Olympic Committee drove him to finalize his decision about not competing for Australia.

Earlier in May, Kyrgios fired out several tweets aimed at Olympic Chief in Mission Kitty Chiller after she made remarks about the 21-year-old’s behavior possibly embarrassing Australia.

 

Kyrgios also took to his Facebook page to ask his followers for support for his Olympic nomination.

After releasing his notification of withdrawal from the Olympics, Kyrgios also re-posted a fans message on his Instagram page, that implicated Chiller as the one to blame for him backing out.

Saw this on Facebook, ehh whatever….

A post shared by ^Nicholas Kyrgios^ (@k1ngkyrg1os) on

Check out my take on whether I agree or disagree with Kyrgios passing on his first chance at representing Australia at the Olympics.

Kyrgios scoffs at Cash’s advice

World No. 19 Nick Kyrgios didn’t take too kindly to former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash’s advice. The current bad boy of tennis took to his Twitter to express his discontent toward Cash’s words of wisdom.

Kyrgios is infamous for using Twitter to start feuds with others, especially those from his home country Australia. Watch my take on what Kyrgios’ reaction says about his current state of mind.

Young Gun meets Big Four in French Open semifinal

ATP Young Gun Dominic Thiem will be facing Novak Djokovic, a member of the legendary Big Four.

Djokovic is no stranger to the semifinals at a Grand Slam, as Friday’s match will be his 29th final four appearance. For the 22-year-old Austrian, this is his first career Grand Slam semifinal showing, making the June 3 match the biggest of his career.

Thiem is undoubtedly feeling some nerves ahead of his third meeting with the world No. 1, but he also has a lot to celebrate regardless of the outcome. After defeating 12th-seeded David Goffin in the semifinals, the Austrian clinched a Top 10 ranking, moving up from No. 15 to No. 7. He’s the youngest player to make the French Open semifinals since Juan Martin Del Potro (miss you, Delpo) in 2009. He’s also won the second most matches (next to Djokovic) in 2016.

The 29-year-old Serbian leads the duo’s head-to-head 2-0, most recently defeating Thiem on hard court in Miami. The 13th-seed has yet to push the French Open finalist to a third set in any of their previous meetings, but I predict that although Djokovic will take the match, Thiem won’t go down in straight sets.

As I discussed in my last article, Thiem seems to have a weakness when it comes to converting break points. When the pair met in Miami, the Austrian squandered a staggering 14 break points. Thiem needs to a do a better job of capitalizing on these opportunities, especially against an extremely solid player like Djokovic who doesn’t give his opponents even an inch in the match.

Thus far at the French Open, Thiem has only defeated one opponent in straight sets. He’s won three matches from one set down. Thiem needs to recognize his tendency to play loosely in the first set and how he is often starting from behind. If the Austrian hopes to push Djokovic, who in comparison has only lost one set all tournament, he needs to get out to an early jump; possibly convert some early break points and take the first set.

The conditions in Paris also give Djokovic an edge. The Serb has played in 12 French Opens and is use to how the rain affects the court speed. While Thiem has played some of his best matches on clay (defeating Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer on the dirt) he lacks the shot variety that Djokovic possesses. The No. 1 seed could exploit Thiem with drop shots, as he did to No. 7 seed Tomas Berdych in his quarterfinal match.

Djokovic has been so extremely dominant over the past five years that his 2016 European clay court swing was actually a tad underwhelming. Yes, he made two finals out of the three Masters 1000 tournaments on clay, but he lost to Andy Murray in Rome, which was almost like seeing a unicorn. Djokovic had never lost to Murray on clay, and the Brit isn’t exactly known for his stunning clay court play either. The Serb also suffered an embarrassing first-round defeat to ATP Young Gun Jiri Vesely in Monte Carlo.

If there’s any time in Djokovic’s seemingly unwavering dominance for Thiem to strike, it’s now. The Serb had considerably his worst European clay court season in the past years, whereas Thiem has beaten two Top 10 players on the red dirt.

Handling the inevitable pressure that comes with playing on one of the biggest stages in the tennis season is Thiem’s No. 1 concern. If he can get past the jitters and nerves of his first Grand Slam semifinal and the fact he’s playing a legendary opponent, he has the weapons and ability to execute a win over the 11-time Grand Slam champion, or at least take a set off of him for the first time.