John Isner, Tommy Haas, Mardy Fish, and Fernando Verdasco are among the missing this weekend. Fish pulled out before the tournament started, Verdasco came to Memphis long enough to pose for a few pre-tournament pictures, Isner bailed out of the doubles after losing in straight sets in singles in the first round, and Haas, a former champion, pulled out Thursday night before his second-round singles match, which would not have started until nearly 11 p.m. The field was touted as "the very best in history." On paper, maybe it was. Having "11 of the top 30 men in the world" doesn't mean much if half of them don't play or lose in the early rounds.
Also gone are former runner-up Milos Raonic and 2010 champion Sam Querrey, high seeds who lost on the court. Raonic looked unbeatable at times against young Jack Sock, serving four aces or near aces in one game, before hitting a double fault and three easy forehands into the net in his next service game and eventually losing in three sets. Sock, sliding along the baseline like Novak Djokovic and tearing the soles of his shoes apart in the process, came back Thursday night to beat his doubles partner James Blake, who looked at times like the Great American Tennis Hope he was ten years ago. Also living up to their billing were brothers Mike and Bob Bryan, who crushed Haas and his partner 6-1, 6-1 in the opening round and played music in the Racquet Club Pub the next night.
But a doubles team, even one as consistently good as the Bryans, can't carry an ATP tennis tournament in Memphis in February in a stadium with 4,000 seats and two side courts. Neither can the women's tournament, which is sponsorless this year and features semifinal match-ups that leave even hard-core fans scratching their heads even as they marvel at the caliber of play. Recognizable names are what sells, and, unfortunately, this tournament has been jinxed much too often. First prize for the men is $291,800, and for the women $40,000. If top-seed Marin Cilic is upset, as he nearly was this week when he faced several match points, the finals could be a "who's that?" event.