Can you tell me what is better than watching world class tennis players play tennis with each other and with celebrities to raise money for a good cause? Nothing! Ok, well they are some things but this is pretty high up there. Now I normally spend most days at the BNP Paribas Open but was able to sneak away to watch the K-Swiss Desert Smash held at the stunning La Quinta Resort (a short distance from the tournament) which raises money for the charity, Variety.
The day started out with a pro am tournament in the morning which then led to the exhibition matches featuring pros like Jack Sock, Sam Querrey, Fernando Verdasco, Bryan Brothers, Mardy Fish and Novak Djokovic. The event was packed with people sitting around the stadium court watching some fun filled tennis.
There’s little intro needed for this year’s US Open. On the men’s side, we’ve had three different Grand Slam winners to start the year for the first time since 2005. Can Andy Murray join the game’s elite as a Grand Slam champion? Will we see another unexpected run to the title like Juan Martin Del Potro in 2009? Can Novak Djokovic regain his form from last season? Will Roger Federer earn himself his 18th Grand Slam title and further strengthen his claim as the game’s best? All of these questions are going to be answered in the next couple weeks in the Big Apple. I hope you’re as excited as we are for the US Open to start!
With all these great storylines and great players gunning for the title, it’s easy to overlook the great action that’s going to start the tournament in the first couple rounds. True tennis fans say that some of the most exciting tennis to watch of the whole tournament is on the outside courts during the first week. Many tennis enthusiasts purchase a grounds pass for the early rounds instead of forking out the greenbacks for a premium seat on one of the stadium courts, where they see some lower ranked guys battle their hearts out for precious rankings points and prize money. Let’s take a look at some early round matches to keep an eye on, as well as some predictions for the rest of the tournament…
1st Round Upset Special:
Nicolas Almagro (11) vs. Radek Stepanek: I like Almagro, especially because he’s consistently a tough competitor, week in and week out. However, I see this as a tricky matchup for the feisty Spaniard. Stepanek makes his living coming forward to the net and giving big hitters little rhythm, carving them up and chopping them down. Almagro‘s even been a victim in the past, as Stepanek has beaten him both times they’ve played. Grab the popcorn and watch this one, as Almagro will scratch and claw but ultimately will get frustrated by Radek’s aggressive play…Stepanek in 4.
1st Round To Watch:
Juan Martin Del Potro (7) vs. David Nalbandian: It’s an all-Argentine matchup between two great baseliners. Del Potro looks to be finding his form of late, earning himself a bronze medal at the Olympics after taking down Djokovic and pushing Roger to the brink in the semis. Nalbandian is always a threat on the hard courts, and is 3-1 all-time against Del Po. Look for some hard hitting action, with Del Potro coming out on top…Del Potro in 4.
Potential 2nd Round Matchups To Watch:
Mardy Fish (23) vs. Nikolay Davydenko: This is just too intriguing of a matchup to pass up. Mardy usually plays well during the summer hard court season, but has been pretty average so far this year. Davydenko had two easy wins of Dolgopolov and Mayer (both top 25) last week in Cincinnati, but then retired to Djokovic after dropping the first set 6-0. This match is more about the unknown, about which Nikolay and Mardy we are going to see. I think this match goes the distance, and Mardy rides the wave of the New York crowd to victory…Fish in 5.
Alexandr Dolgopolov (14) vs. Marcos Baghdatis: I want to watch this one just for the personalities, as two of the most likable players on tour potentially face off (check out this funny glimpse into the life of Alexandr at the Australian Open). These are two of my favorite players on tour, both in their game styles and personalities. Dolgopolov won a title in Washington DC, but since then has had two bad first round losses in Toronto and Cincinnati. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of form both these guys are in…I say Dolgopolov in 3.
Dark Horse: John Isner (9)
Big John once again has turned in a solid performance during the US summer hard court season. He’s 18-3 since his first round exit at Wimbledon, with three top 10 wins (Tipsarevic, Tsonga, and Berdych) and two titles in Newport and Winston-Salem. I think he’s poised for a breakout at the Open, with a favorable draw and the New York crowd ready to support him the whole way. A couple other interesting stats for the ex-Georgia Bulldog…he’s leading the tour in aces this year with over 750, and he’s 6-2 against the top 10 this year, including wins over Djokovic in Indian Wells and Federer in Davis Cup. Look for Isner to make his way through his section, riding the wave of the American crowd into the semifinals.
Finals Prediction: Roger Federer (1) vs. Juan Martin Del Potro (7)
I think it’s going to be a 2009 US Open final rematch! Roger is the best in the world and he’s going to continue to prove it. He’s got a great draw to get to the quarters, and then I think he takes down Murray in the semis in one of the best matches of the tournament. I think Del Potro gets hot and goes on a run. The Del Potro/Djokovic quarterfinal will be the match of the tournament, with Del Po prevailing in 5 sets, and then riding that wave of momentum to his second career Grand Slam final. Once they both get there, I’m going to say…Roger in 4!
Thanks for reading!
Our next featured Tennis Warehouse Playtester is Troy. Troy can be seen on many playtests of heavier racquets and is a fan of racquet customization. He is the Information Product Coordinator at Tennis Warehouse and a certified Master Racquet Technician. Check out his interview below.
Racquet of Choice: In the process of switching from the Wilson K Factor KBlade 98
String of Choice: Volkl Cyclone 17
Shoe of Choice: Nike Air Court Ballistec 2.3 / Asics Gel Resolution 3
Apparel of Choice: Quiksilver
When/Why did you start playing tennis?
I started playing tennis when I was about 19, which was about 6 years ago. I found tennis after finishing my football career, during which I played one season at a Div. 3 college in the Los Angeles area. I had been playing football since I was 8, baseball since I was 4 and basketball since I was 10. I had competed year-round in these three sports throughout my childhood and high school years. After my glory days had past in these sports, I needed something to compete in, something that was foreign and challenging. One of my buddies from high school who was the varsity tennis captain and a pretty solid player took me out to the courts with him one day about 6 years ago. Since that day tennis has become something that I am somewhat addicted to.
Who inspires you to play tennis?
The tennis players who make it look easy and natural. Watching tennis at the highest level, especially live, has been inspirational to me. I loved hanging out at the practice courts at Indian Wells a few years ago, where I was able to watch all of the top pros up close. I have a fond memory of watching Federer practice, and I got to sit about 20 feet from the baseline; for a second I felt like I was dreaming. I enjoy watching the Cal Poly players up close; analyzing their good habits and tendencies helps me play better. Watching the local Santa Maria Open and getting to talk to the top players, such as Roman Borvanov, helped me to see tennis from their perspective and realize that at the professional level, the smallest adaptations make the world of a difference. More than anything else I am inspired by watching those who play with class and respect for the game, and in my opinion no one does that better than Nadal. He never makes excuses when he loses a match and seems to me as a very humble person.
What is your favorite shot to hit and why?
My favorite shot to hit is the two-handed backhand cross court. My forehand is my most natural shot and I can get a lot of variety from it, but I have worked a lot in the past couple years on making my two-handed backhand stronger and more consistent. In the past most opponents would try to break down my backhand, but I feel I am able to hold my ground off that side more often, and even hit a few winners with it.
What racquets have you used (not tested) during your tennis career?
My very first racquet was a Head that was really lightweight and stiff. I don’t remember the name of it, but I bought it from a sporting goods store and I don’t think it was a model that was ever carried here at Tennis Warehouse; hence it wasn’t high-quality. When I discovered Tennis Warehouse and I decided to get serious about my tennis, I bought the Dunlop M-fil 200. I used the M-fil 200 for a couple years before I decided to switch to the Dunlop M-fil 300, looking for a little more pop out of the racquet. I was using the M-fil 300 for about a year and then I started working at Tennis Warehouse. Once here, I became fond of the Wilson K Factor KBlade 98 after testing it out and messing around with lead tape customization. I used the KBlade 98 for roughly the past 2 years. Now that the KBlade is being discontinued I have been looking at switching. I have been playing with a few racquets that play similar to my KBlade and I am customizing them to my liking to find what will be a good transition for me.
If you could compare your game style to a pro’s (past or present), who would it be and why?
Rafael Nadal, of course! No, actually I would say that I play more like his fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco for the simple fact that we can both be pretty sporadic with our shot selection and overall results. I have been working on becoming more offensive in the past year or so, which has made my play quite a bit more inconsistent. I feel that is something that I am going to have to experience to get to my ultimate goal. I would like to make my transition game more like Mardy Fish’s in that he really owns the net when he comes in off a good approach or serve.
What has been your favorite match you have ever watched (live or on TV)?
Blake and Agassi in the Quarterfinals of the 2005 U.S. Open (on TV). This match was inspiring to me because it was right when I started playing tennis and it possessed the magic of playing late into the night under the lights in Flushing Meadows. Tied with this match was the 2009 Australian Open semifinal between Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco. I still love watching the highlights from this match. Two lefty Spaniards battling it out for five sets was amazing, that was until Verdasco double-faulted on match point.
Do you have pre-match meals you like to eat before a tournament?
My go-to is peanut butter, banana and honey on wheat toast.
What has been your most memorable tennis match (win or lose)?
It was a match I played in junior college against our rival school, Santa Barbara City College. I had to play in the three spot of our singles line-up because we had a player sit out due to injury. I was usually playing in the four or five spot, so I knew playing up would be tough. On the other hand I felt I had nothing to lose because I was the underdog anyway. We had the longest match from all six singles matches, and for the third set everyone was watching us. I pushed the third set to a tiebreak and ended up winning the match 11-9 in the third set tiebreaker. The guy I played was a much better player than I was at the time, but I played tough and luckily found a way to get the win.
Have you had any injuries? For how long? How did you deal with them?
While playing in junior college I suffered a pretty severe ankle sprain during a dual match in the beginning of the season. It took about two weeks of rehab, which consisted of icing it a few times a day, doing ultrasound therapy, and sticking my ankle in a hydrotherapy whirlpool. Besides that I had an inflamed tendon in my right forearm, that was likely caused by bad technique on my two-handed backhand. This happened about a year ago and it bothered me a lot at the time because I was working hard at making my backhand stronger and by overusing my right arm, which is my non-dominant hand, I injured it. In a sense it was a blessing in disguise because after all it helped me to learn better technique when hitting my two-handed backhand by transferring my weight and hitting the ball out in front.
What is your favorite part of being a TW playtester?
Obviously it is pretty cool to be able to try out new equipment that hasn’t been released yet. But more than just using the fresh gear, I enjoy being on the playtest team with such fun and downright good people. We usually have a blast while shooting videos and I have some great memories amongst us testers, in and outside of work.
Who is your favorite TW playtester to hit/play with?
It was Danny Castro before he parted ways, being that he was kind of like a mentor that I tried to shape my game after. I would have to say Jose is my main practice partner because we have spent many hours together on the court battling it out. As his serve has become bigger, my return has become a little better!
Who is the TW playtester that gives you the most trouble?
Chris Edwards always keeps me on my toes. He displays his many years of experience over me as he anticipates my shots well and takes control of the net with authority. Mark Boone is always tough as well, in the sense that he plays human backboard pretty well. Also my forehand cross court doesn’t bother him as much since his forehand is on that side as well (he’s a lefty too).
What has been your favorite review and why?
I have a special place in my memory for the Gamma Tour 340x. I felt I was playing well at the time, but also it was the first racquet that I was able to start hitting my two-handed backhand coming back from injury. Overall I miss some of the old reviews where we filmed in the great outdoors under the California sun.
Please check back next week when we feature another playtester in another installment of, “Meet the Playtesters.”