2013 ATP Houston and Casablanca Previews
Steen Kirby, TennisEastCoast.com
The ATP clay season fires up with a pair of 250s: one in Houston, Texas, and the other in Casablanca, Morocco. Quite a difference in scenery this week between the two, but there’s similar field quality. On a side note, this week is the one year anniversary of my first postings at TEC. It has been a pleasure and I plan to continue for a long time to come.
US Men’s Clay Court Championships
ATP World Tour 250
April 8-April 14, 2013
Prize Money: $455,775
Top 4 seeds (who all receive 1st round byes)
1: Nicolas Almagro
2: Tommy Haas
3: Juan Monaco
4: Sam Querrey
Houston seems to have a stronger field on paper than previous years, though the form of the players does make a huge difference.
First round matchups to watch:
Gael Monfils vs. James Blake
Monfils has dropped out of the top 100 and has not played a tournament since February. He is also on a three match losing streak, but now as the season turns to clay he hopes to be fit and really needs to rack up some points on the dirt. Blake is the veteran who has experienced a bit of a career resurgence, back in the top 100 and making the 3rd round in Miami.
With all that on the line, Monfils should still be the favorite simply because Blake is not a clay courter but Le Monf is terribly unpredictable right now. They have a split h2h (2-2) but last met in 2010 and also split on clay with Blake winning the last meeting in 2007 and Monfils winning a 5 setter at the French Open in 2006.
(wc) Rhyne Williams vs. Guido Pella
This is a matchup that we could be seeing for years to come as a pair of 22-year-old talents will have their first meeting. Pella, the Argentine, is excellent on the clay and is looking to get into the top 100 with a good showing here. He only has a 2-6 record this year but last year he tore up the Challenger circuit clay court events while Williams is 1-3 at the ATP level but is splitting his time with challengers.
American players have had success in Houston in the past such as Ryan Sweeting and John Isner. Williams will have home nation support, but Pella is better on the surface and will likely be the favorite.
(wc) Steve Johnson vs. (6) Fernando Verdasco
Another American looking for a good showing is Steve Johnson, at a career high ranking of 130. Johnson is not known for his clay court prowess. But he also gets the home nation fans in his corner and he gets a seriously struggling Fernando Verdasco, who has been beset with injury issues this year and is on a 4 match losing streak. Verdasco is the better player in general and the better player on the surface, but not right now. This match should be on upset alert.
(5) John Isner vs. Ryan Harrison
Isner is a defending finalist in Houston and is off playing Davis Cup in Boise this weekend where he continues to struggle, but he will face one of the players who is struggling more than him. Ryan Harrison is just 1-5 in his last 6 matches and is in danger of dropping out of the top 100. When a couple of Americans in a funk meet, at least one of them has to win and the result should be interesting either way. Harrison beat Isner back in Sydney this year but that was on a different surface and Isner was struggling with some injury issues.
Nico Almagro will face the Blake/Monfils winner, a match he should advance from, and in the quarters could face a pair of qualifiers or a pair of Italians, Flavio Cipolla or Paolo Lorenzi. Lorenzi’s the most likely opponent in what could be a competitive match.
Sam Querrey, also coming off DC duty, will face the Williams/Pella winner and if he does face Pella he could have some trouble. The winner could face Verdasco/Johnson, Somdev Devvarman or Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo in the quarters.
Hot stuff Tommy Haas will look to continue his excellent form onto clay and will face Ricardas Berankis or Jesse Levine. On a note about how fortunes can so quickly change, Haas played the qualifying in Houston last year (ranked 137/did not qualify) and now he is the number 2 seed and in the top 15.
In the quarters, Haas could face Isner/Harrison, a qualifier, or Jack Sock. Given that Haas has American citizenship, this quarter is teeming with Americans.
Juan Monaco is playing DC for Argentina and actually managed to win a match, snapping his losing streak. Unfortuantely, he still hasn’t won an ATP tournament match this year) will face Josselin Ouanna or Tim Smyczek and the winner could face the seeded Michael Russell, who lives in Houston, a qualifier, Martin Alund or Lleyton Hewitt. Ouanna, formerly considered a French up and comer, has not done anything special this year while Alund notably made the semis in Sao Paulo and had a solid Golden Swing in South America.
Dark Horses: Martin Alund and Guido Pella
Though this is a small tournament I went two dark horses because both Alund and Pella have excellent chances to go deep in Houston. Alund should beat Hewitt and get past Russell and then he could face Smyczek/Ouanna or Monaco, none of whom are playing that well right now, his run likely ends in the semis though.
Pella may upset Querrey after beating Williams and if he does the rest of the section is not spectacular either with Verdasco/Johnson/Devvarman/RRH all possible opponents still his run also likely ends in the semis.
Almagro d. Pella
Haas d. Alund
Almagro will likely only be troubled by Lorenzi and he also beat Pella in Buenos Aires this year, while Haas should be able to make the semis without issue.
Haas d. Almagro
From qualifying last year to champion this year—that is how I have it for Tommy Haas. He is 3-0 against Almagro and just beat him in Indian Wells.