Freshly Strung

What We’ve Learned From The Hard Court Season So Far

By Richard Pagliaro

The road to the US Open has been a wild ride of break-out performances and unpredictable results.

Here’s what we’ve learned from the American summer hard-court season so far.

Love him or loathe him, you cannot ignore Nick Kyrgios, who remains one of the most entertaining—and enigmatic—tickets in the game.

The 24-year-old Kyrgios is a bundle of contradictions.

He can alternate between apathetic attitude, tremendous tweener creativity and F-bomb spewing, racket-smashing craziness—sometimes within the course of the same match. But when he’s fully engaged, the explosive Aussie not only assaults the back wall with his wrecking ball serve, he breaks down the barriers between athlete and audience.

Kyrgios capped his quarterfinal, semifinal and final victories in Washington, D.C. with collaborative called shots. Asking a fan in the front row to call his serve direction on each match point, Kyrgios took crowd sourcing to new levels earning a new legion of fans in the process of winning Washington, D.C. in an audacious performance. 

“I’ve had people behind me, backing me, and they never lost faith in me even when I lost faith in myself,” Kyrgios said after collecting his sixth career title. “It’s great to get the win, but I’ve proved to myself and the people backing me that I can still produce at the highest level.”

The American summer has been hijacked by recharged Australians.

Kyrgios conquered sixth-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas and 10th-ranked Daniil Medvedev in succession to capture his second ATP 500 title of the season, raising his 2019 record vs. Top 10 opponents to 5-1—the best winning percentage vs. the Top 10 on the ATP Tour.

Alex de Minaur arrived in Atlanta mired in a slump that saw him suffer opening-round exits in five of his prior eight tournaments.

The Sydney champion caught fire downsizing big-serving Americans Reilly Opelka and Taylor Fritz capturing his second title of the season.

The 2018 Washington, D.C. runner-up, the speedy de Minaur relishes the American fast track as he showed stopping Frances Tiafoe at the 2018 US Open and pushing Marin Cilic to five sets.

American No. 1 John Isner, who was runner-up to Roger Federer in Miami earlier this year, returned to the winner’s circle with his fourth career Newport title but fell short in his Atlanta title defense falling to fellow towering American Reilly Opelka. The 6’11” Opelka has handed Isner three of his nine losses this season—with all 10 sets decided in tie breaks—and will return to Flushing Meadows empowered by his first title at the New York Open in February.

Young Americans have rocked the summer sound track suggesting an American anthem could be coming to New York.

Buffalo, N.Y. native Jessica Pegula powered to her maiden title in Washington, D.C. armed with an assist from new coach David Witt, Venus Williams’ ex-coach.   

Fifteen-year-old Coco Gauff followed up her rousing run to the Wimbledon round of 16 qualifying for the Washington, D.C. main draw. And though she fell in the first round, Gauff partnered 17-year-old buddy Catie McNally to their first WTA doubles title. Team “McCoco” vow to reunite later this month at the US Open. McNally already possesses some of the sharpest net skills on the Tour, which she showed bursting through to her first WTA singles semifinal at the Citi Open.   

To appreciate the dynamic talent and depth of American women’s tennis these days just look at the Washington and San Jose draws.

Seventeen-year-old Amanda Anisimova, who reached the Roland Garros semifinals in June, was one of two American quarterfinalists in San Jose. The Freehold, N.J. native should be seeded threat and a major fan favorite in Flushing Meadows. San Jose also gave us the return of 2017 US Open semifinalist Coco Vandeweghe and the maiden title for Zheng Saisai.

Taylor Fritz has quietly produced the best summer of his career The 21-year-old Californian, who swept Sam Querrey to win his first ATP title in Eastbourne, arrives in Montreal having won 13 of his last 16 matches. Fritz imposed his first-serve, first-strike attack toppling top-seeded Fabio Fognini en route to the Los Cabos final where he fell to giant killer Diego Schwartzman. Fritz’s run ensures he will be seeded at the US Open for the first time.

While world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer will both sit out the Rogers Cup in Montreal, 12-time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal returns to defend his title. If Nadal goes deep in Montreal, look for him to skip Cincinnati setting up the prospect of a Wimbledon final rematch between Djokovic and Federer in the Queen City.