The North American summer hard-court season is well underway. Last week saw Kei Nishikori claim the ATP Washington title and this week the top players on the men’s tour are in action in Montreal where Novak Djokovic is the favorite (source: bet365). As the players on tour prepare for the 2015 US Open many tennis fans will be keen to see which of the top picks to win the final Grand Slam of the calendar year are on form. However, besides Djokovic, Nishikori, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Andy Murray there are some other hard courters that tennis fans should be aware of.
One peripheral threat is Richard Gasquet of France.
Currently ranked 13th in the world, Gasquet is perhaps best known for making the Wimbledon semifinals on two occasions. However he can’t be overlooked on the hard court surface, keeping in mind that in 2013 he made the US Open semifinals. Furthermore, twice has Gasquet made the championship final of the Canadian Masters, first in 2006 and then again in 2012. Although he is more than just adept on both clay and grass, half of Gasquet’s titles have been won on the hard court, including one in Montpellier this season.
Mikhail Youzhny is another strong hard courter who, on his day, poses as a serious threat to players in the Top Ten. The Russian, now 33 years old, has slumped in the last year. However in Montreal this week he qualified for the Masters Series event and then defeated Victor Troicki in the first round, a much higher ranked player.
Does the Russian’s play in Canada mean that Youzhny is getting back to his old form? Only time will tell but if he is playing near his best then he will command the attention of anyone that he’s up against. Youzhny made the US Open quarters in 2013 and he made the semifinals in both 2010 and 2006. Six of the Russians ten titles during his career have come on the cement and, accordingly, it’s not surprising to see him doing damage on the surface in Montreal.
Gilles Muller is another player that has enjoyed some success on the hard court surface. Although hardly a household name for most tennis fans, Muller is certainly no slouch when it comes to winning matches on the ATP Tour’s most common surface.
Many might remember his impressive run at the 2007 US Open, an event where he plowed through three rounds of qualifying and then took out Tommy Haas, Nicolas Almagro, and Nikolay Davydenko in the main draw before losing to Federer in the quarters. But additionally Muller also made the fourth round of both the 2011 US Open and the 2015 Australian Open. Although he is not known for any late round success (he has no titles to date at the tour level), Muller has won eight hard court challenger events in his career and three times has he made a tour-level final.
Bernard Tomic is another player that might surprise some people in the month ahead. The Australian’s best Grand Slam to date remains Wimbledon 2011, an event that he made the quarterfinals in. However Tomic’s only tour titles so far have all come on the hard court surface. For instance, he recently defended a 250-series title in Bogota, Columbia. Furthermore, Tomic won ATP Sydney in 2013, another 250-level hard court event. It seems like Australian tennis fans keep waiting for ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ to maximize his potential but at least at this point he does appear to have a little bit of momentum following his success in South America.
Other important hard court players outside of the very top echelon of men’s tennis include Marin Cilic, Juan Martin del Potro, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The former two are both previous US Open champions from last year and 2009 respectively. In regard to Tsonga, he made the Australian Open final back in 2008 and last season he won the Canadian Masters in Toronto. None of the three players appear poised to win the 2015 US Open but, should they find their A-games, they have the proven ability to go toe-to-toe with anyone on tour.
In regard to over-rated players, Milos Raonic appears to be one. The Canadian may have won all six of his titles on the hard court surface during his career but lately he has not been at his best. For instance, he’s already out of the Canadian Masters and there have not been many major highlights in 2015. Likewise, 17th ranked Grigor Dimitrov appears as though he needs to regroup following recent losses to Steve Johnson, Muller, and Jack Sock.
The summer hard court series includes the Canadian Masters, the Cincinnati Masters, some lesser events in the states, and then the 2015 US Open. While most will be looking for a Djokovic vs. Murray final from Flushing Meadows, it’s hard to forget how topsy-turvy last year’s event in Flushing Meadows went – with Marin Cilic winning the title as a 125 to 1 pre-tournament longshot (bet365). Things don’t always go as expected and, for that reason, tennis fans will want to be aware of the peripheral favorites that we’ve just examined.