The 2014 U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships are underway from River Oaks Country Club in Houston, where defending champion John Isner looks to become the first player since Andy Roddick in 2002 to win back-to-back titles at the ATP World Tour 250 series event.
Despite being forced to retire from his first match at the Australian Open back in January, 2014 has been a strong year for the 28-year-old American, who won a singles title in Auckland, New Zealand to begin the season and recently made a run to the semifinals at Indian Wells last month. As a result, Isner is all the way up to a career-best No. 9 in the ATP rankings.
During his run to the round of 16 at the 2014 Miami Masters late last month, Isner talked about representing American men's tennis, per Miami Herald's Bill Van Smith:
The state of U.S. tennis is not the greatest it has ever been. That’s for sure. We have seen times where you have three U.S. guys in the top 10, something like that. Or 10 guys in the top 50. It’s crazy.
But it’s not like that now. You know, I can’t really say why. It’s really none of my concern to worry about the rest of the guys. Just focus on myself.
The 6'10" star enters this week's tournament as the overall top seed in the men's singles draw but will face stiff competition from a field of familiar opponents.
Last year's finalist Nicolas Almagro is the No. 3 seed and has been placed in Isner's half of the draw, meaning the two top 20 players could potentially meet in the semifinals.
Sporting News broke down Isner's biggest threat this spring:
Spain's Nicolas Almagro is back looking to go one better than 2013. Almagro is without a title since May 2012, and each of his 20 finals at ATP level have been on clay. Unlike Isner, Almagro has struggled to make an impact this year after returning from a shoulder injury that kept him out of the Australian Open.
Meanwhile, another Spaniard, world No. 14 Tommy Robredo is the No. 2 seed at the bottom of the draw. Although Robredo lacks familiarity with this event, the 31-year-old is an accomplished clay-court player, with 11 of his 12 career ATP singles titles having been won on the surface.
Almagro and Robredo's compatriot, Fernando Verdasco concludes the top four seeds. The 30-year-old has played 11 ATP finals on clay, winning three of his five singles titles on the red stuff.
Sixth-seeded Juan Monaco and seventh-seeded Lleyton Hewitt are dark horses to win this year's tournament. Monaco defeated Isner in the 2012 final and Hewitt won back in 2009.
With the tournament underway, let's get you up to speed on the latest results and scores from Houston.