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ATP Tennis – Update on the players from Atlanta Open

Australia’s Nick Kyrgios withdrew from the Atlanta Open. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP) /

By Ricky Dimon

There have been a whole host of notable withdrawals from the Atlanta Open, which is not a surprise since it’s an ATP 250 tournament shortly following a Grand Slam (Wimbledon) and right before two Masters 1000 events and another slam (U.S. Open).

Wimbledon runner-up Nick Kyrgios (knee) on Tuesday night and top seed Reilly Opelka (hip) on Wednesday were the latest casualties.

However, this event has always been about supporting the next generation as much as it has been about six-time champion John Isner’s domination. Since the Atlanta Open moved to its current venue at Atlantic Station in 2012, it has annually awarded a main-draw wild card to a local college standout from either Georgia or Georgia Tech. No other tournament does the same.

Georgia Tech’s Andres Martin made the most of his chance on Tuesday night, upsetting Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-3, 6-2. Martin follows in the footsteps of fellow Georgia Tech star and Atlanta native Christoper Eubanks, who reached the quarterfinals as a wild card in 2017. Reigning NCAA singles champion Ben Shelton (Florida), who lived in Atlanta for 10 years, also got a wild card this week and joined Martin in the second round by picking up his first ATP victory–6-2, 7-5 over Ramkumar Ramanathan.

Steve Johnson, who is replacing Opelka as a lucky loser, earned his first ATP win at the 2012 Atlanta tournament. That same year Jack Sock reached an ATP quarterfinal for the first time.

“As you see today, the local wild cards both got wins,” Kyrgios said following his withdrawal. “It’s an exciting event; it starts careers here.”

Professional careers, of course. Shelton and Martin have been honing their skills at the college level for several years, just as Atlanta mainstays Isner (Georgia) and Johnson (Southern California) did more than a decade ago. Wimbledon semifinalist Cameron Norrie and the recently retired Kevin Anderson–a Wimbledon and U.S. Open runner-up–also went the college route.

“The level of college tennis is just ridiculously high,” Martin assured. “I think people sleep on college tennis a little bit. College tennis is a great transition to the pros.”

“I think that sometimes college tennis doesn’t get the respect it deserves,” Shelton added. “There are a lot of great players, and as we see so many guys who went to college are breaking through to the top 20 or the top 10–recently Cam Norrie making the semifinals of a slam. There are definitely some differences in the professionalism and the ability of players to back up win after win after win, but I think the level in college tennis is pretty high.

“I’m just a college guy out here having fun.”

Sooner rather than later–perhaps very soon–it won’t be all fun and games for Shelton and other college stars. The grind of climbing up the rankings on the pro tour will begin in earnest, and if his deal becomes as real as advertised, Shelton–like many others–can look back on Atlanta as where it all began.

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.