The Summer of Jeff

2009 US Open Men’s Qualifiers

Posted in tennis by Jeff on August 30, 2009

I spent most of the last week at the National Tennis Center watching men’s US Open qualifying matches. I saw almost all of the guys who ended up qualifying. Here are some tidbits about each one.  Their country and current ATP ranking is in parenthesis.

Giovanni Lapentti (ECU – 182)

I saw Giovanni’s first-round match against Nicolas Mahut.  Mahut is a smart player, but simply couldn’t keep up with Lapentti on the ground.  Lapentti looked to have a solid all-around game, but without any one facet that stands out.  It’s tough to imagine him ever breaking the top fifty, or presenting much of a threat in the main draw.  His first-round matchup is with Simon Greul.  If he makes it through that one, he’ll get Roger Federer.

Donald Young (USA – 185)

Young didn’t get a wild card into the main draw, but he managed to fight his way in anyway.  I saw his first-rounder with Marco Crugnola.  Crugnola (ranked #199) looked to me like the better player, but neither competitor looked particularly strong mentally.  Young choked less, and he went on to beat Guillermo Olaso (who I was impressed with, incidentally) and Lukas Rosol.  He gets Tommy Robredo in the first round, and I can’t imagine it’s worth speculating what would happen after that.

Michael Yani (USA – 248)

I hadn’t heard of Yani before this week, and just happened to see most of his qualifying-round match against Peter Luczak.  Luczak is currently ranked #78 (more on him in a bit), so I was surprised that this match was close at all.  Yani looked as good as anyone I saw all week.  Big serve, nice forehand, but most of all, rock-solid consistent throughout the match.  He got better as each set progressed and put away Luczak with relative ease in a second-set tiebreak.  I’ll be rooting for him, but probably not for long, since he gets Sam Querrey in the first round.

Carsten Ball (AUS – 154)

The tall, big-serving lefty got his big break this summer, reaching the finals in LA.  But he just barely made it into the main draw.  I saw his second-round match against South African Rik De Voest, a player I like a lot.  It was a choke-fest that went to a third-set tiebreak.  De Voest played better but choked more, included a disaster in that final tiebreak.  Ball is one-dimensional, but Ivo Karlovic can tell you that one dimension can get you a long way in this game.

Ball draws another qualifier, Argentine Juan Pablo Brzezicki.  I didn’t see Brzezicki so I don’t have anything to say about him.  As the Aussie showed in LA, the booming lefty serve is a threat to anyone.  But…if he beats Brzezicki, he’ll get Novak Djokovic.  Maybe next year.

Jesse Witten (USA – 270)

I didn’t see Witten in this year’s qualies, but I’ve seen him several times in the past.  He’ll always be a favorite of mine thanks to a late-night outer-court match a few years ago against Paul Goldstein.  It went five sets and Witten was entertaining for every minute of it.

He’s a fun player to watch, but he’s eked every last bit of performance out of his game.  He beat Go Soeda, Stephane Bohli, and Alexander Peya to get this far.  Not a bad week, and he may yet make Igor Andreev work to get to the second round.

Somdev Devvarman (IND – 161)

I saw parts of two of Devvarman’s matches this week–a relatively easy win against Alex Bogolomov Jr. and then a three-setter against Igor Sijsling.  Devvarman has an interesting game, mostly based on speed and consistency.  He hits his groundies with a ton of topspin, often dropping them short, but never letting his opponent get into a rhythm with a consistent depth.  That tactic was certainly driving Bogomolov nuts.

Most impressive was Devvarman’s straight-sets dispatching of Jerzy Janowicz, the big-serving 18-year-old from Poland.  The Indian may have the best shot of all the qualifiers to make some noise in the tournament.  He gets Frederico Gil in the first round, then a probable matchup with Philip Kohlschrieber.  Even after that, it’s likely Radek Stepanek in the third round.  Devvarman shouldn’t be favored in any other those contests, but he’s a legitimate threat.

Alejandro Falla (COL – 159)

I’ve seen the Colombian in qualifying for several years running.  He’s great fun to watch, running down every ball and driving his opponents crazy with seemingly impossible lobs.  He draws Tommy Haas in the first round, which isn’t a particularly good matchup for Falla, who appears every bit as emotionally unstable as the German.

Marsel Ilhan (TUR – 230)

Before this week, I didn’t know they played tennis in Turkey.  As it turns out, Ilhan is not only his country’s top-ranked player, but also the only Turk in the top thousand.  I saw parts of all three of his matches, and frankly I’m surprised he has gotten this far.

On Wednesday, he faced 17-year-old American wildcard Ryan Harrison, a big server with tons of potential.  Harrison took the second set 6-0 before losing the feel for his serve and going down two breaks in the final set.  Ilhan served for the match at 5-2 but did some faltering of his own before eventually winning 7-5.  He beat a cranky Frenchman, Sebastian De Chaunac, 7-6 7-6 in the second round before easily dispatching Ricardo Mello Saturday.

As might be inferred from the performance against Harrison, Ilhan isn’t the most consistent player.  He’s a typical big serve/forehand package with somewhat unorthodox groundstrokes.  They get the job done, though–I can’t remember the last time I saw more groundies drop right on the baseline than Ilhan placed there against Mello.  He did seem to get stronger as the week progressed; perhaps he’s gotten more comfortable playing on a relatively big stage.  He has a chance to make a mark next week, with Christophe Rochus in the first round, followed by the winner of Isner-Hanescu.

Peter Luczak (AUS – 78)

Luczak was unlucky in that he did make the cut (around #104) when the US Open entry list was determined, but lucky in that he made the main draw anyway after losing in the final round of qualifying.  He lost to the aforementioned Michael Yani, and he was flat-out outplayed.  I don’t have much to say about Luczak–he looked like a solid player, especially from the baseline, but he couldn’t do enough against Yani.  He gets Victor Troicki in the first round, a winnable match that he probably won’t win.

Michael Berrer (GER – 120)

I watched most of Berrer’s first-rounder against Sam Warburg, and I am now a fan of his.  He suffered from a smattering of bad calls toward the end of the third set, and after one exchange with the umpire, he yelled, pleadingly: “What is your mission?!”  Warburg was hurting, and that’s the only reason Berrer got through the match in what turned out to be an easy third-set tiebreak.

That said, I liked Berrer’s game.  He mixes things up and seems to have a good idea of how to use his lefthandedness to his advantage.  I don’t see him having much more success than he has already enjoyed, but he’s definitely a guy I’ll try to watch again.  In the first round, he’ll face…

Horacio Zeballos (ARG – 76)

Zeballos is an exciting young player, an aggressive lefty with a potentially huge one-handed backhand.  I watched him play circles around Sergei Bubka in the second round.  He then qualified easily against Stefan Koubek.  Zeballos looked to be a little erratic–perhaps that’s the youth speaking–but he’s got a big, big game and much of the inconsistently stemmed from his willingness to go for big shots.  This is a guy we’ll be hearing more about.

Zeballos-Berrer will be a fun first-rounder, and perhaps Berrer can make it a tight one with his veteran wiles.

Josselin Ouanna (FRA – 103)

Ouanna is one of two qualifiers (the other is Thomaz Belluci, more on him later) who are ranked higher than their first-round opponents.  Ouanna draws Rajeev Ram, an American having a breakout season.

I saw Ouanna’s third-rounder on Saturday against the fiesty Brazilian Julio Silva.  Silva’s a tough guy to play: He looks and often acts like a counterpuncher, but he’s got a surprisingly big serve.  It took Ouanna three sets to beat him, but no one watching the match could’ve doubted which player had the better chance in the main draw.

Ouanna is a big man who pummels his serve.  I didn’t watch the entire match but I saw multiple games in which the Frenchman put three aces down the T.  He plays a lot like Tsonga, with some of Tsonga’s flaws as well: The only reason the match went as deep as it did is that he would miss some easy balls, and occasionally the backhand just deserted him for a game or two.  Despite that, I’d give Ouanna the slight edge over Ram.

Thomaz Bellucci (BRA – 68)

Bellucci’s ranking skyrocketed thanks to winning Gstaad earlier this summer, but not in time to make the US Open main draw.  While he had to get in the hard way, he made it look easy, not dropping a set, never pushed farther than 6-4 against a couple of dark-horse threats in Grigor Dimitrov and Scoville Jenkins.

Bellucci is yet another lefty.  He’s tall and uses it to his advantage, whipping groundstrokes when you think he’ll just barely get a racquet on the ball.  He looked shaky for much of the first set against Dimitrov and occasionally against Jenkins, but the difference in ability level was too great for it to matter much.  Like Zeballos, Bellucci is a name we’ll be hearing for years to come, probably associated with numbers a lot smaller than 68.

As mentioned above, Belluci is technically the favorite in his opening match against Yen-Hsun Lu, who is ranked #71.  I saw Lu at Indian Wells this year–he’s a talented player and a blast to watch, but I suspect he won’t have enough answers to give Bellucci much of a challenge.


The other qualifiers are:

  • Peter Polansky (CAN – 200)
  • Marco Chiudinelli (SUI – 160)
  • Dieter Kindlmann (GER – 219)
  • Juan Pablo Brzezicki (ARG – 188)

I didn’t see any of those guys play.  Kindlmann is likely to have a short stay in New York.  He takes on Nikolay Davydenko in the second match tomorrow.  Aside from Brzezicki, who faces Ball in the first round, Chiudinelli has a relatively easy path, facing Potito Starace to open the tournament.

There you go — 1,700 words on a bunch of guys who probably won’t be in the tournament come Saturday.

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