The Tennis Handsomes

Smash It Up

Smash It Up
Credit: dbking

What do you do this morning if you’re a young American stuck in Europe? First, remove your beret. The French Open is over, but Wimbledon is two weeks away. If you fly home, you won’t even have time to unpack your bags before you have to come right back. So you do what everyone else is doing: You head over to England and try to get into one of this week’s grass court tournaments to get used to the slick stuff before Wimbledon starts.

With our American men, the pickings are slim. Of the two Association of Tennis Professionals grass court events this week (Queen’s Club and Halle), only four American men appear in the draws. At Halle, 24-year-old Tim Smyczek is our lone flag bearer. Don’t expect much here; Smyczek played the qualifying tournament for a spot, and might be maturing into a healthy career as tennis journeyman unheard of by anyone other than the likes of me.

In London, where the field is twice as big, we find three American men and much more intrigue. Sam Querrey (he of the recently infected umbilical cord and perpetually unrealized potential) has a pretty good draw. He won this tournament in 2010, and should at least have a shot at the quarters this year. Bobby Reynolds, a 29-year-old journeyman forging a career path for the Smyczeks of the world, made it through the qualifiers here, and Andy Roddick is back, after winning Queens four times in the past. On grass, Roddick’s serve should win him a few matches, and even though this year’s record doesn’t bode well for another major win, if Roddick has any surprises left in his career, they might appear here.

As for the women, has it really come to this? Other than Sloane Stephens’s run in Paris, what I’m most excited about is Melanie Oudin’s streak of winning qualifying tournaments. You heard me—qualifying. These are the draws to win a spot in a real tournament.

After qualifying for the French Open, Oudin, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist at 17 and no. 269 in the world at 20, had to then qualify to play in Nottingham last week. Nottingham is a Challenger Tour event—tennis minor leagues. Can you imagine having to play a qualifying tournament to make it into a minor league event, only to lose to Heather Watson, England’s no. 3 female player, in the first round? If you ask me, that’s more reason to smash your racquet through a Perrier advertisement than Novak Djokovic had yesterday.

Oudin continued her qualifying dominance at Birmingham this week. There’s little chance she’ll make the main draw for Wimbledon, so she’s essentially warming up in Birmingham just to play yet another qualifier tournament (i.e., Wimbledon’s) next week.

You’d think, with this much qualifying play under her belt, Oudin would actually be qualified to take things to the next level. Doesn’t always work that way. After Djokovic smashed his Perrier sign yesterday, he started winning the match. Maybe Oudin should move past the qualifiers and take aim at on-court advertisements.

Nic Brown is the author of the novel Doubles and the story collection Floodmarkers. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Harvard Review, and Epoch, among many other publications. He is currently the John and Renee Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi. More by Nic Brown