Watch List: John Isner begins long road to U.S. Open
The Watch List spotlights the must-know storylines for the upcoming week in tennis. Five lower-level events are spread out on clay and hard courts this week, and the U.S. Open Series kicks off with a men's hard court event in Atlanta.
America's No. 1 John Isner begins his non-stop tour through the North American hard courts as the top seed at the ATP 250 event in Atlanta. Isner, ranked No. 12, has entered every U.S. Open Series event leading up to the U.S. Open and he has 1,250 points — nearly half of his total — to defend over the next eight weeks. After Atlanta he'll head to the Citi Open, Rogers Cup, Cincinnati, Winston-Salem, the U.S. Open and then Davis Cup duty in Chicago. Despite the commitments, Isner said he'll take it week-to-week.
"I feel fresh," Isner told reporters last week. "I haven't played as much as I have in the past. I came home after the French Open and I've had some time since Wimbledon. I think last year I was entered in every event as well. I did extremely well, but I got a little bit nicked up in Cincinnati and then I wasn't able to compete in Winston‑Salem. Things could happen along the way, but as of right now I plan to enter into every event."
Isner is the defending champion in Atlanta, having saved championship points last year against No. 2 seed Kevin Anderson to win the title. Rounding out the top four seeds are Gael Monfils and Vasek Pospisil. Jack Sock, who is coming off winning the Wimbledon doubles with Pospisil and beating Isner en route to his first ATP semifinal at Newport two weeks ago, is also in the draw.
The big news in Gstaad this year is the tournament's decision to grant a wild card to Viktor Troicki. The Serb finished his 12-month ban for refusing to take an anti-doping blood test last week and with just 20 points to his name on the rankings board, he's now down to No. 842. He will need to be granted wild cards into Challenger events as well as ATP Tour-level events, and Gstaad gave him a spot in the main draw. The decision by a tournament to give a main draw wild card to a player banned for anti-doping violations in his first tournament back has already raised eyebrows and faced criticism. Troicki has drawn 20-year-old Dominic Thiem in the first round. A year ago, Thiem was ranked outside the top 250. As if Troicki needed a reminder of how quickly the tour can change in a year.
The top four seeds are defending champion Mikhail Youzhny, who returns as the top seed, Marcel Granollers, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Fernando Verdasco.
What will Fabio Fognini do this week? Last week he broke a racket and dropped an ethnic slur in an opening-round loss in Hamburg. This week he's the top seed in Umag, where he made the final last year before losing to this year's No. 2 seed Tommy Robredo. Last week's teenage sensation, 17-year-old Alexander Zverev, received special entry into the main draw, and if he beats Albert Montanes in the first round he'll play Fognini. But the one to watch for the title is No. 3 seed Marin Cilic. The Croat always plays well at home, making the final in 2011 and winning the title in 2012.
The WTA takes a backseat this week, with two low-level tournaments in Asia and no top 25 players in action. Last year Elina Svitolina became the first teenager to win a tournament in 17 months when she won her maiden title in Baku. Now she's the highest-ranked WTA teenager as she tries to defend her title. No. 29 Sorana Cirstea is the top seed.
The inaugural tournament in Nanchang is the first international sporting event held in the Jiangxi province. The WTA 125K Series event (the lowest level of WTA tournaments) secured two of China's biggest stars as its top two seeds, Peng Shuai and and Zheng Jie.