2014 ATP @BrisbaneTennis Preview & Picks
Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast
The 2014 ATP season will fire up with a strong trio of ATP 250 events, all on hard courts, in Brisbane, Doha and Chennai, most of the top players will be in action and it is a fresh start to the year for everyone, here is to a tremendous year of tennis in 2014!
Brisbane International Presented by Suncorp
ATP World Tour 250
December 29-January 5, 2014
Prize Money: $452,670
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Roger Federer (6)
2: Kei Nishikori (17)
3: Gilles Simon (19)
4: Kevin Anderson (20)
4 top 20 players and a seed cutoff at 34 gives Brisbane a quality field, though perhaps not as strong as earlier years. This is a joint event with the WTA.
First round matchups to watch:
(WC)James Duckworth vs. Jarkko Nieminen
The player the Aussies affectionately call ‘Ducky’ gets a wild card here, as he had a quality 2013 and is close to his career high ranking (132). He went 3-7 at the ATP level last year and had some good results in challengers. This test against Jarkko the Flying Finn Nieminen will not be easy though, as Nemo generally plays well on Australian hard courts and won the last event he played in 2013, a challenger in November. All of this means good vibes for 2014, as he is now 32 and a wily veteran. I expect Nieminen to win this, perhaps in straights, as he routined Duckworth 2 and 2 in Sydney on hard courts in 2012. However, Ducky could surprise and get revenge for that, as his game has improved since then.
Marinko Matosevic vs. Julien Benneteau
Marinko Matosevic had a poor 2013, going an abysmal 18-25 at the ATP level and dropping out of the ATP top 60, but he did get a h2h win against Julien Benneteau last year and he has a chance to make up points at home in Australia during the month of January. Benneteau remained in the top 40 and went 27-25 in 2013 at the ATP level, but he struggled at the end of the year and at 32 it remains to be seen if his level of play will drop with age. This match could go either way as they both traditionally play well on Australian hard courts, but I will go with Matosevic to grab the win.
(7)Dmitry Tursunov vs. Sam Querrey
Dmitry Tursunov was one of the best comeback stories of 2013 as the Russian posted a tremendous 31-21 ATP record and returned to the top 30. His match against Querrey will, in my opinion, be the most interesting first round match in Brisbane as Querrey went in the opposite direction in 2013, barely hanging on to a top 50 ranking and suffering an abdominal injury during the Asian swing that ended his year on a sour note. Whether he will come back roaring or stumble into the year remains to be seen and though they haven’t met since 2008, Tursunov has a 2-1 h2h edge, with all their meetings on hard courts. I’ll tip Tursunov to advance. At least Querrey is in great shape and form, and the Russian is not.
Marin Cilic vs. Denis Istomin
Marin Cilic will be under a lot of pressure in 2014 as a controversial doping suspension and subsequent appeal ruined the entire second half of his tennis year as he only played once after Wimbledon, losing in the second round of the Paris Masters. Denis Istomin remained in the top 50, going 32-30 with streaks of quality play followed by slumps. If Cilic is not too rusty and is prepared well, he should win this, but Istomin played well last year during the Australian swing and he has points to defend here, meaning his motivation should be strong, I’ll go with Cilic, but this is another hard to pick matchup.
(WC)Nick Kyrgios vs. Matt Ebden
The young Aussie hope Nick Kyrgios will be sure to attract a lot of fanfare in Brisbane, but his compatriot Matt Ebden played tremendously at the end of 2013, catching fire and rolling on the challenger circuit after a rough early 2013. Kyrgios is now in the top 200 while the more experienced Ebden is just inside the top 70 and both have flashes of talent. Clearly, Kyrgios has more potential for career growth and could be a future top 10 player but it remains to be seen if he is at that level yet, making this another hard match to predict.
Roger Federer has changed racquets, hired Stefan Edberg as his coach, and his wife has another child on the way. Thus, a lot has changed in the offseason, as the Swiss maestro suffered one of his worst years ever in 2013 which featured some shockingly bad losses and struggles across all surfaces and in the big slam and masters events. He also dropped out of the top 5. His comeback effort starts in Brisbane, against the Nieminen/Duckworth winner in what should be a good match and he will meet one of Querrey/Tursunov/Matosevic/Benneteau in the quarters, another match I expect him to get out of. I do think his form will be improved and he has a renewed serious focus to his tennis.
Kevin Anderson had a great 2013, going a tremendous 37-23 and establishing himself as a top 20 player. The South African plays well on hard courts and he will seek to recover after a terrible second half of the year where he seemingly ran out of gas, winning just 3 of his final 11 tournament matches. He will open with wild card Sam Groth or a qualifier and meet one of Igor Sijsling/Nicolas Mahut/Adrian Mannarino/Jeremy Chardy in the quarters, most likely Sijsling in my opinion. Anderson has a relatively easy draw. That and good form should allow him to reach the semis without much difficulty.
Kei Nishikori flirted with the top 10 in 2013 and went a very nice 36-19 on the ATP level with 1 ATP title. He also plays well on Australian hard courts, but his year was plagued by streaks of inconsistent play and his opening match against Kyrgios/Ebden does have a bit of upset potential, though unlikely. Assuming he gets past that, he should most likely face a test against Grigor Dimitrov, the defending finalist from Brisbane. The Bulgarian has to beat Robin Haase and Istomin/Cilic to reach the quarters and Nishikori beat him indoors in Shanghai last year, but I myself think Dimitrov is the favorite to reach the semis from this section. Grisha is pushing for the top 20 and went 37-23 with 1 title on the ATP tour in 2013.
29 year old Gilles Simon was a decent 36-24 at the ATP level with 1 title in 2013, but he didn’t have any break through showings and was consistent more than anything. He has quarterfinal points to defend here as he opens with a qualifier, and then a big test should come against the fighting Aussie Lleyton Hewitt, who played great for parts of 2013 and has already said he has no plans to retire in 2014. Hewitt opens with a qualifier and then Feliciano Lopez/Mikhail Kukushkin, and assuming he can win both those matches, he has a nice shot at upsetting Simon and reaching the semis. However, Simon will be the favorite because he beat Hewitt twice in 2013 and is 4-0 career against him, and match-wise, his pushing game is a great style against the counterpunching Hewitt.
Dark Horse: Marin Cilic
It is unusual for an established player like Marin Cilic to be a dark horse in an ATP 250 event, but after a wacky 2013 and no clue on his form, along with being unseeded and having a tough draw, he qualifies. He could come out roaring trying to prove the critics and doubters wrong if he can beat Istomin, Dimitrov and most likely Nishikori in order to make the semis. Against Hewitt/Simon in the semis, he would also have a good shot.
Federer d. Anderson
Dimitrov d. Hewitt
Federer beat Anderson in their only head to head meeting in Paris this past year and I think he will come out strong and make his way to the final.
Dimitrov, who lost his only meeting with Hewitt last year, on grass, will also be ready to roll in 2014 and I also have him tipped to make the final to match up against the player he is compared to most often, Roger Federer.
Federer d. Dimitrov
Big Fed vs the player formerly known as Baby Fed. Their only head to head meeting came in Basel this past year with Federer winning a competitive match. I expect the same result here.