The sultry days of late summer are laid-back, but in tennis the operative concept is laid-up. That’s just part of the reason this hard-court season could be the most unpredictable in recent memory.
Novak Djokovic lit the fuse on this issue when he retired during his quarterfinal match at Wimbledon last month, then declared that he’s done for 2017 because of nagging pain in his right arm and elbow. Andy Murray, still clinging to the No. 1 ranking that he deserves only by virtue of mathematics, has played poorly all year and was prevented from defending his Wimbledon title partly because of a tricky hip injury.
This is a time of year when No. 9 Kei Nishikori and No. 10 Milos Raonic tend to shine. But Nishikori, who often has been sidelined, had his summer plans interrupted by yet another injury (back) heading into Wimbledon and lasted just two rounds at the grass major. Raonic, injured off-and-on, has handed opponents four walkovers in the past 12 months.
In Atlanta, four promising American acolytes were stacked up in conventional slots in the draw. No. 348 Christopher Eubanks defeated Fritz in the battle of wild cards, while No. 8 seed Jared Donaldson dispatched No. 83 Ernest Escobedo. Eubanks than eliminated Donaldson, only to fall to a player who once was viewed by some as the potential savior of the U.S. game, Ryan Harrison.
The European newbies are restless as well. In the ongoing event in Kitzbuhel, 21-year old Austrian wild-card Sebastian Ofner has backed up his upset of top-seeded Pablo Cuevas by making the semis. Add that to the wins compiled in recent weeks by Rublev, Karen Khachanov and even Kyle Edmund, who upset top-seeded Jack Sock in the third round in Atlanta.
Young and old alike seem eager to make hay while the sun shines, before those two thunderheads called Federer and Nadal bear down on them starting next week in Montreal.