Greetings from Washington, D.C! I arrived here on Saturday, along with Jeff, to take in the first few days of qualies.
We got in on the late side, and didn’t get to see much on the first day, but I did see 19-year-old Tereza Smitkova cement a win over journeywoman Petra Rampre. After that, I saw Tornado Alicia Black (more on her later) take out Louisa Chirico, and Taylor Townsend win a three-setter against Alexandra Mueller.
One of the fun parts about spending time at smaller tournaments is that the players tend to mingle with the crowds more than in the larger tournaments. There isn’t much space for them to train, so you walk by Mad Dog Matosevic hopping on one leg outside the players’ lounge, or Bernard Tomic practicing footwork with a rope ladder laid out in front of the media center.
My favorite random encounter from this weekend was seeing Richard Gasquet walking through the grounds on his cell phone. Naturally, he’s very recognizable, so fans kept stopping him to ask him to take pictures with them. Although he was clearly trying to focus on the phone call, he gamely put down the phone each time and smiled for photos with every fan who approached him. I was really impressed with how nice he was about it.
Today, the final battles for spots in the main draw took place. First on Center Court, 17-year-old Jared Donaldson (you might need to look at his ATP head shot) easily took out Sekou Bangoura. You might remember Donaldson from his ZooTennis piece, which he wrote after being invited to train with Roger Federer for a few weeks in December in Dubai. He is also unique in that he is an American who basically moved to Buenos Aires (the linked Sandra Harwitt article calls him a lefty, but he is actually right-handed) to train there, while many other young players from outside the United States leave their home countries to train at academies in Florida.
It’s nearly impossible to predict which prospects will go on to have successful pro careers, but Donaldson is not a bad bet. He looks incredibly solid off both wings, with an especially strong backhand that reminded me of David Ferrer’s. He gets more pace on it, being at least 6’2″.
Next up on Center Court, a Margin of Error Podcast favorite, Sam Groth, fell in straight sets to Robby Ginepri. Newly-minted into the top 100 for the first time in his career thanks to some great results on grass these last few weeks, Groth is mostly known for his gigantic serve, which was actually a bit terrifying from this vantage point:
Groth is also known for muttering profanity at the back of the court between points, likely striking fear in the heart of every ballkid who is tasked with handling his towel.
It wasn’t all bad news for Groth. With Grigor Dimitrov withdrawing from the tournament with an illness, Groth will get into the main draw as a lucky loser.
(Oh, and here: Jeff wrote some haikus about Sam Groth! You should read them.)
The next match I took in was Taylor Townsend’s straight sets defeat of 19-year-old Czech Tereza Smitkova, who made a splash at Wimbledon just a few weeks ago, making the fourth round as a qualifier. The lefty Townsend, who has long been lauded as a top US prospect, has really matured game-wise in the last year or so, and looks ready to win some tour-level matches in the near future.
As for Smitkova, she serves big, but the other parts of her game were not working very well in either of the matches I saw of hers. She’s an intriguing player, given her Wimbledon run, but I’m not convinced about her future prospects.
One of the most enjoyable players I watched this weekend was 16-year-old Tornado Alicia Black, who easily took out Emily Webley-Smith today. I can’t believe how well she plays from the baseline. Her forehand is absolutely gorgeous, and she gets consistently excellent depth on both sides. Her footwork is great, she defends well, she rarely makes loose errors, and she seems to know exactly how aggressive she is capable of playing.
The only problem (and it’s a big one) is her serve. Unfortunately, her first serve is no better than an average WTA second serve. Her second serve is practically the level of a recreational tennis player. Hopefully, she will spend the next few years working hard on that. It would be a terrible shame to see such an incredible talent get wasted by not developing an adequate serve.
I, along with Lindsay and Jeff, will be bringing you more coverage from D.C. this week. Stay tuned!