Damien Kayat previews selected round of 32 matches coming your way from the ATP Tour's Hall of Fame Open.
2021 ATP Tour
ATP 250 Series
Hall of Fame Open
International Tennis Hall of Fame, Newport,
Selected Round of 32 Matches- 12th July
Tennys Sandgren 13/20 | Joao Sousa 12/10
29-year-old American is Tennys Sandgren one of the more enigmatic figures in men’s tennis. He can lose ten consecutive matches and then suddenly take down a top 10 opponent. He won his first title in Auckland in 2019. You would have thought that this could be the springboard for a more sustained period in the world’s top 50. You would have been wrong. He would lose his next nine consecutive matches. He tested positive for Covid in November and his 2021 season has been severely derailed. His year-to-date win-loss record stands at 5-10. That included a horrendous clay-court run where he won just one of five matches. His grass-court form is somewhat better, stacking up at 2-2. A previous quarterfinalist in this event, Sandgren has proven himself an accomplished grass-court player in the past. He reached the 4th round here in 2019. This is a man with Grand Slam pedigree. He somehow conspired to lose seven match points against Roger Federer in the 2019 Aussie Open quarterfinal. This could be the ideal low-key springboard event for the American.
Sandgren’s form is positively radiant in comparison with opponent Joao Sousa. He has only won one match this season out of ten main draw appearances. Joao Sousa has actually reached as high as 28 in the world rankings. He has won three titles (though the last of those came on the clay of Estoril in 2018). He actually enjoyed a decent 2019, reaching two ATP semi-finals in the process. But the last two years have been positively dreadful for the dogged clay-court specialist. He ended a covid-disrupted 2019 with a 1-9 win-loss record. Sousa’s career record on grass is unspectacular at 14-21. That being said, he did reach the 4th round of Wimbledon in 2019. This event is exactly the sort of sleeper tournament that Sousa thrives on. He is a proud competitor and I expect him to put up a decent fight here.
Verdict: Sandgren in three at 29/10
This will be their first tour-level meeting. They have met twice in qualifiers before, sharing the spoils at one win apiece. These two have both enjoyed fairly abject campaigns and this desperation should result in a thrilling tussle. I ultimately have to side with Sandgren due to his superior form and grass-court nous. These two both like protracted rallies and don’t tend to push the envelope too much in terms of aggression. I think a three-set Sandgren win could be the play at 29/10.
Steve Johnson 21/20 | Denis Kudla 74/100
This all-American clash should prove a fascinating duel. Steve Johnson endured a slow start to the season after returning from injury. He lost five consecutive matches before a surprising 3rd round run at Roland Garros. It seems as if the 31-year-old is slowly turning the corner in terms of form. He will obviously love returning to the Newport grass-courts. He won the last of his four career titles here in 2018 (he actually reached three finals in 2018, winning two titles). Johnson is a historically adept grass-court player (he also won the Nottingham title in 2016). He will look to rejuvenate his career with a strong showing this week. But first he will need to overcome a cunning grass-court operator in Denis Kudla.
28-year-old Denis Kudla is your stereotypical journeyman pro. He’s certainly not going to be bothering the Grand Slam conversation at any stage. But the American has shown an affinity for grass-courts throughout his career. It would have been interesting to see his career play out in a parallel dimension, where more grass-court events were played. Kudla made it to the final of this year’s Nottingham Challenger before reaching the quarterfinal of yet another Challenger event held in Nottingham. He then made it through Wimbledon qualifying and cruised to the 3rd round. He ultimately went out at the hands of eventual champion Novak Djokovic (no shame in that). But it once again highlighted his ability to perform on this surface: his career best Grand Slam result was a 4th round Wimbledon run in 2015.
Verdict: Steve Johnson to win at 21/20
These two know each other well, dating all the way back to 2011. Johnson handsomely leads the head-to-head 5-1, though they are actually 1-1 in terms of main draw meetings. Kudla actually won their last encounter at the 2018 Aussie Open. Kudla would seem like the fashionable pick given his recent form. But I’m inclined to go for the ‘horses for courses’ approach. Johnson has played brilliantly in Newport and I think he could thrive this week.