By E.J. Crawford
The Emirates Airline US Open Series annually features five weeks of the best hard-court tennis in the world. Read below to see how the Series unfolds week by week in 2016.
Week 5: Connecticut Open and Winston-Salem Open
The 2016 Series officially wound to a close with the Connecticut Open in New Haven, Conn., and the Winston-Salem Open in North Carolina, drawing down with a dramatic finish in the former and intra-country classic in the latter.
Agnieszka Radwanska made up a 180-point deficit in the Series standing with a victory in the Nutmeg State, capped by a 6-1, 7-6 victory over Elina Svitolina in the Connecticut Open final. With that, the world No. 4 edged Bank of the West Classic champion Johanna Konta for the 2016 women’s Series title.
Radwanska did not drop a set en route to her first New Haven title, posting victories over rising star Jelena Ostapenko, Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens and two-time defending champion Petra Kvitova before topping Svitolina in the finale.
Pablo Carreno Busta had a much more difficult road to the title in Winston-Salem, but the payoff was sweet: his first career tour title. The 16th seed received a bye past the first round, then ousted Jan-Lennard Struff and No. 3 seed Pablo Cuevas in a pair of tight two-setters. From there, he defeated No. 12 seed Andrey Kuznetsov and surprise semifinalist John Millman to set up a title-match tilt against fellow Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut.
The two men played to a near standstill over the course of three taught sets before Carreno Busta closed out the No. 2 seed, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4.
In doubles, Sania Mirza picked up her second title of the Series season, this time teaming with Monica Niculescu to defeat Chia-Jung Chuang and Kateryna Bondarenko, 7-5, 6-4, in New Haven. The Winston-Salem doubles title went to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Henri Kontinen, who fought off six match points in the second set to pull out a 4-6, 7-6 (6), [10-8] victory over Leander Paes and Andre Begeman.
The final week of the Series season also decided the men’s champion, with Kei Nishikori emerging from a packed field to claim the crown.
Week 4: Western & Southern Open
The narratives were playing out perfectly. Angelique Kerber was one victory away from winning the Western & Southern Open title and securing the world No. 1 ranking and the top seed for the US Open. Andy Murray was a single win from wrapping up a perfect summer leading into Flushing Meadows – titles at Queen’s Club, Wimbledon, the Olympics and Cincinnati.
Then the upstarts came to play. Though in this case, Karolina Pliskova and Marin Cilic were upstarts more by seed than reputation. The 15th seed and defending women’s Series champion upset Kerber to capture the biggest title of her career, and the 12th seed and 2014 US Open men’s singles champion upended Murray for the first Masters 1000 title of his – and his second biggest title overall, after the win in Flushing.
It was an impressive week from both Pliskova and Cilic, who beat of host of top players en route to the titles.
Pliskova knocked off rising star Jelena Ostapenko and world No. 32 Misaki Doi in her opening two rounds before taking out three consecutive Top 10 players – No. 7 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova in three sets in the quarterfinals before easy wins over No. 3 Garbiñe Muguruza, 6-1, 6-3, and Kerber, 6-3, 6-1.
Cilic began his road to the title with straight-sets victories over Viktor Troicki and Fernando Verdasco, then rallied to oust No. 6 Tomas Berdych in three sets. He benefitted from a walkover in the quarterfinals when Borna Coric retired in the second set, then outlasted Grigor Dimitrov, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, in a rain-delayed semifinal that ended at 1:30 a.m. He was back on the court 15 hours later to knock off Murray, 6-4, 7-5.
The Cincinnati doubles delivered the drama as well. Shortly after splitting as a team, Sania Mirza and Martina Hingis faced off in the women’s doubles final, with Mirza and Barbora Strycova topping Hingis and CoCo Vandeweghe, 7-5, 6-4.
No. 4 seeds Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo won the Western & Southern Open men’s doubles crown, defeating Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau, 7-6, 6-7, [10-6].
Week 3: BB&T Atlanta Open
The next generation of ATP stars staged a coming-out party at the 2016 BB&T Atlanta Open. In the end, none shined brighter than 21-year-old Nick Kyrgios.
Kyrgios was one of three players 21 or younger to advance to Atlanta’s final four, joined by 20-year-old Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan and 18-year-old Reilly Opelka of the United States, with fellow American teen Taylor Fritz making a run to the quarterfinals.
The lone veteran to advance to the weekend was three-time defending champion John Isner, but the 31-year-old could not crack Kyrgios in a final played in sweltering conditions, falling, 7-6, 7-6. The victory was the second career title for Kyrgios – he also won Marseille earlier this year – and his first Series crown.
With the win, the mercurial Aussie vaulted into a tie for second in the Series standings with Kei Nishikori, trailing only Rogers Cup winner Novak Djokovic, and improved to a career-best No. 16 in the world rankings.
Kyrgios’ title was the final triumph in a breakout week for the tournament’s young guns. And the biggest splash of all was made by the 6-foot-11 Opelka. The 2015 Wimbledon boys’ singles champion had never before won an ATP match prior to Atlanta, but he eliminated world No. 28 Kevin Anderson and No. 53 Donald Young en route to the semis and pushed the 6-10 Isner to three sets in the tallest matchup in tour history. Following his run in Peachtree City, Opelka leapt from No. 837 to No. 395 in the world.
Nishioka, meantime, went from No. 98 to No. 85 and Fritz from No. 60 to No. 56; the 18-year-old American is the youngest man in the Top 100.
In the Atlanta doubles final, the Argentine pair of Andres Molteni and Horacio Zeballos topped Swedes Johan Brunstrom and Andreas Siljestrom, 7-6, 6-4, for their first tour doubles crown.
Week 2: Rogers Cup
Novak Djokovic is back where he has spent most of the last two seasons: in the winner’s circle.
The world No. 1 shook off a stunning third-round loss to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon with a title triumph at the Rogers Cup in Toronto. Djokovic defeated No. 3 seed Kei Nishikori, 6-3, 7-5, in the final for his first Emirates Airline US Open Series tournament crown since 2012, when he also won the Rogers Cup. Djokovic has also won now 30 Masters 1000 titles – the most of any man.
The victory completed an impressive week for the four-time Rogers Cup champion, who did not drop a set in five matches and secured the championship with consecutive wins over world No. 8 Tomas Berdych, No. 14 Gael Monfils and No. 6 Nishikori. Djokovic, who also plans to play later this summer in Cincinnati – the only of the nine Masters 1000 events he’s never won – also claims the early lead in the Series Bonus Challenge standings as he pursues his second overall Series title and his first since 2012.
In Montreal, Simona Halep wrapped up a standout week of her own by winning her first Rogers Cup championship and first Series tournament title since claiming the New Haven crown in 2013. She defeated Madison Keys in the final, 7-6, 6-3. The 21-year-old American was bidding for the biggest title of her burgeoning career.
Halep improved to No. 3 in the world with her title in Montreal – Keys improved to a career-best-matching No. 9 – and edged in front of Johanna Konta for the overall Series lead in the Bonus Challenge standings, with two of four women’s tournaments complete. (Konta won Stanford last week; Cincinnati and New Haven are still to come.) Halep’s road to the Rogers Cup title included victories over 2015 Series champion Karolina Pliskova, world No. 11 Svetlana Kuznetsova and No. 2 Angelique Kerber.
Halep nearly pulled off a Montreal sweep but fell in the doubles final, along with partner Monica Niculescu, to No. 4 seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina, 6-3, 7-6. In the Rogers Cup men’s doubles final, No. 3 seeds Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo topped No. 2 seeds Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares, 6-4, 6-4, for their first Rogers Cup crown.
Week 1: Bank of the West Classic
Johanna Konta introduced herself to the tennis world at the 2015 US Open, qualifying for the main draw and knocking off No. 9 Garbiñe Muguruza and No. 18 Andrea Petkovic to reach the fourth round.
Eleven months later, the British standout has again starred on this side of the pond, defeating fan favorite Venus Williams, 7-5, 5-7, 6-2, to win her first WTA title at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, Calif. With the victory, Konta denied Venus her 50th career tour title and staked herself to an early lead in the 2016 Series standings.
It was a well-earned title for the 25-year-old, who rose to a career-best No. 14 in the world in Monday’s rankings. In addition to the victory over Venus, the event’s top seed, Konta defeated No. 2 seed Dominika Cibulkova in the semifinals and posted second- and third-round wins over Julia Boserup and Zheng Saisai, respectively. As the No. 3 seed in Stanford, Konta earned a first-round bye.
Konta is now in the driver’s seat for the 2016 Series women’s title. She collected 70 points in the Bonus Challenge standings for her Bank of the West victory and is entered in all three remaining Series women’s events, giving her a good chance to pad her advantage and to double her points for the season – which she can do if she earns points in three or more Series events.
The doubles title in Stanford went to the American duo of Raquel Atawo and Abigail Spears. The longtime partners, the No. 2 seeds in Stanford, defeated No. 3 Darija Durak and Anastasia Rodionova, 6-3, 6-4, for their second Bank of the West crown.