Steve Johnson retained his title in Houston. He dodged a banana skin in his opener against Ernesto Escobedo, but upped his level of performance after that and impressively beat Frances Tiafoe, top-seeded John Isner and Taylor Fritz in the semis. His big forehand and backhand slice combo caused havoc with his opponents all week, as it did for Tennys Sandgren in the final. Johnson is actually getting married this week, so it is happy days right now.
We were robbed of a mouth-watering clash between Kyrgios and Verdasco after there little twitter spate which resulted in the Spaniard blocking Nick a few weeks back! Verdasco lost to Denis Kudla and Kyrgios fell to injury and Ivo Karlovic in the quarters. Second seed Sam Querrey lost his opener to Guido Pella (who along with Fritz and Tiafoe were my bigger priced bets last week). Pella had chances to beat Sandgren in the quarters but tightened up in the second and third sets with the winning line in sight.
Pablo Andujar (remember him??) has always been a useful operator on clay. An elbow injury meant he saw a year on the sidelines, returning to action in October last year. Having won the challenger event in Alicante the previous week, he calved his way through the draw in Marrakech to make it ten straight wins.
Andujar beat second seed Kyle Edmund in the final, the Brit making his first appearance in a tour final here. Edmund’s forehand had been on song all week but Andujar had far too much consistency and moved his opponent round well, showing his experience on the surface. Edmund had not dropped a set all week, that included a fine victory over Richard Gasquet in the semis. There were early losses for Albert Ramos Vinolas (1), Kohlschreiber (3), Haase (5), Paire (6) and Dolgopolov (7). ‘The Dog’ was making his first appearance since the Oz Open.
Another operator, Elise Mertens won the third title of her career and her second of the year having already won in Hobart. The Oz open semi-finalist has a habit of being underrated and this proved the case in Lugano. The second seed beat the weather (part of the event got played indoors) and whatever was put in front of her. A gruelling Saturday that saw her play two matches totalling over five hours in singles shows her consistency and mentality. Tough wins against Marketa Vondrousova, Mona Barthel and Vera Lapko set up a final against the ever-improving Aryna Sabalenka. The Belarussian had been in great form en route, having hammered Hercog, Giorgi and Voegele. Just that extra little bit of consistency is required but she is getting there. Lapko had a breakthrough week, with the 19-year-old making her first semi-final appearance.
Anna Karolina Schmiedlova was quoted as saying “This was my first WTA win in almost two years—I mean, not the tournament, but a match, so I was really happy that I passed the first round, and now that I could get a trophy”. Injury and confidence have blighted her confidence over the last few years, a few ITF titles aside. She was showing real potential as a youngster, she is still only 23 now having said that. She had understandable nerves against Lara Arruabarrena but got over the line 6/2 6/4. Arruabarrena had been in decent form all week, failing to drop a set and comfortably beat Johanna Larsson on the way. But AKS stepped it up in the last two rounds against Ana Bogdan and then the Spaniard. This event, like Marrakech and Lugano, was interrupted by the rain.
Andy Del Potro