2015 ATP Brisbane Preview and Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The first ATP event of 2015 will once again be the Brisbane 250 tournament on hard courts in Brisbane, Australia. The opening tournament of the Emirates Australian Open series features a strong field that includes 3 top 10 players. Here is a preview of all the action on the men’s side of the joint ATP/WTA event. Niall Clarke has a preview of the WTA side of the tournament coming up.
Brisbane International presented by Suncorp
ATP World Tour 250*
January 4-January 11, 2015
*denotes joint ATP/WTA event
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Roger Federer (2)
2: Kei Nishikori (5)
3: Milos Raonic (8)
4: Grigor Dimitrov (11)
All eight seeds are top 25 players, as Brisbane is a loaded 250 level event.
First Round matchups to watch:
Martin Klizan vs. Jurgen Melzer
Martin Klizan had a great 2014 season that saw him finish the year back in the top 40, the Slovak won an ATP title, and went 25-14 overall at the ATP level. He finished the year with a notable victory over Rafa Nadal to reach the semis in Beijing, and he also had a top 10 win over Kei Nishikori in 2014. The powerful ball striker will take on the declined veteran Melzer for the first time, Melzer fell out of the top 100 in 2014, and only reached one ATP semi, and one ATP quarterfinal all year. The former world number 8 is still a tactically wise lefty who is a tough out in matches, but at 33, this may well be his last season on tour if his results don’t pick up. Expect Klizan to advance as he is a player on the rise.
Sam Groth vs. Lleyton Hewitt
The 27 year old Groth cemented himself as a top 100 player in 2014, and he will be defending quarterfinal points in Brisbane. Groth won a challenger title, reached a few challenger finals and an ATP semifinal in 2014, playing a mix of ATP and challenger level matches. He will take on a player who has always absorbed big serving pace well in the legendary counterpuncher Lleyton Hewitt, who remains in the ATP top 50 at almost 34 years of age. Hewitt is defending his Brisbane title this week, and he won two ATP titles in 2014, in route to a positive 20-16 record on tour. Hewitt and Groth have never played before, and we’ll see what kind of shape Hewitt is in to start the season, that said he usually get himself hyped to play on home soil, and he should be able to fend off Groth, perhaps in a pair of tiebreaks.
(8)Julien Benneteau vs. (WC)Thanasi Kokkinakis
Julien Benneteau remains in the hunt for an elusive first ATP title, as the French veteran, who at the age of 33 remains at a career high ranking of 25 will start off his season in Brisbane against the young gun Aussie wild card Kokkinakis. Benneteau went 26-24 in 2014 with one ATP final, a challenger title, and some great results at the Masters level including a semifinal appearance in Cincy and a pair of quarterfinals in Shanghai and Indian Wells. Kokkinakis currently sits at 150 in the world, and the 18 year old will be looking to have a breakthrough season, much like his countryman Nick Kyrgios had in 2014. Kokkinakis primarily played on the challenger tour last year, but did win a couple of ATP main draw matches and his lanky game is clearly improving onto what should be bigger and better stages in 2015. Benneteau will be favored but I’d give Kokkinakis a really good chance to grab a win over a veteran ATP competitor on home soil.
Bernard Tomic vs. Sam Querrey
Bernard Tomic enters 2015 claiming to have a renewed focus and commitment to his tennis as he seeks to reach his potential after years of underachieving. He’s still just 22 and has time to make his move into the tennis elite. He won an ATP title last year, along with reaching a final and a semifinal in route to a 17-15 record at the ATP level. He will face the American Querrey who he has beaten twice before, once on grass in 2013, and once on hard courts in 2012. Querrey returned to the top 40 after a solid 2014 that saw finish 28-21 at the ATP level. Sam found success on the challenger circuit, winning 3 consecutive ATP challenger titles, and that in particular seemed to improve his confidence last season. Now back at the ATP level on a full time basis in 2015, the competition will be stiffer and he will need to win matches like this one against Tomic to maintain, and perhaps improve upon his current ranking. This is a toss-up match for me between a pair of players who can play great tennis, or totally fall apart, depending on their emotions.
Last year’s finalist Roger Federer will be seeking to claim yet another ATP title to add to his illustrious resume, the 33 year old Swiss will be mounting a renewed challenge for the number one ranking in 2015 after winning 5 titles and going an incredible 73-12 last season. Federer will open his 2015 campaign against a qualifier or Aussie wildcard John Millman, who is more talented than his current ranking of 156 would suggest. That said, I fully expect to see a Federer vs. Gilles Simon quarterfinal matchup. Simon will open with Aussie wild card James Duckworth who he has a 1-0 h2h record with. After the challenger level Duckworth, Simon should face the quick Finnish veteran Jarkko Nieminen who has a history of playing well in Australia. Nieminen opens with a qualifier, and is 2-3 in his career against Simon. Simon had an inconsistent 2014, but he had some good results at the end of last season (Shanghai final, Tokyo semis) and is most likely to reach the quarterfinals in this section. Barring a monumental upset, Federer should defeat Simon for the fifth time in a row and reach the semifinals. Last year Federer dispatched Simon in a pair of tiebreaks in the Shanghai final.
Former Brisbane finalist Grigor Dimitrov is looking to cement himself in the top 10 in 2015. Dimitrov will open with Jeremy Chardy or Andrey Golubev for the opening match of his season. Chardy, who has the game to score big wins from time to time, may give Dimitrov a test, but the Bulgarian should make the quarterfinals to face off with most likely either Klizan or 7 seed Alex Dolgopolov. Dolgopolov is a former Brisbane finalist, and he opens with Carlos Berlocq who is more comfortable on clay. Dolgo had a solid 2014 until he suffered a knee injury, and we’ll see what sort of physical shape he is in for the first part of 2015. Klizan vs. Dolgo looks to be a great second round matchup, and I could see either one reaching the quarterfinals. That said, Klizan was more consistent late in 2014, and I’m going with him over a talented but erratic Dolgo who wasn’t the same in 2014 since injuring his knee. Look for Klizan (or Dolgo) to test Dimitrov as well but Dimitrov should prevail and reach the semis, he’s 2-1 in his career against Dolgo including a win at Wimbledon last year, he has never played Klizan.
Kei Nishikori has reached the semis for two straight years in Brisbane and he reached the top 5 for the first time in his career last season. He won 4 ATP titles last year, and reached a Masters and a slam final, both for the first time in his career. He will open against Aussie Marinko Matosevic, or American Steve Johnson. He beat Johnson once last year on grass, and beat Matosevic three times last year, to extend his h2h record against him to 5-0 in his career. I expect a healthy and motivated Nishikori to get himself to the quarters, and then take out one of Benneteau/Kokkinakis/Tomic/Querrey in the quarters. All of those opponents would be challenging, in a stacked section of the draw but Nishikori should handle any of them, I favor Tomic to get through to the quarterfinals on home soil, given he tends to play his best in January during the AO series.
Milos Raonic cemented himself as a top 10 player in 2014 by playing consistent, reliable tennis. He only won one title, but he reached two finals, including a Masters final and reached the quarterfinals or better in all but one Masters 1000 level event. The Canadian number one will open with a qualifier or Mikhail Kukushkin, and after that is likely to face either Hewitt, or 5 seed Kevin Anderson, with Groth, or a qualifier also options. Anderson and Hewitt have split h2h meetings, but Anderson won the most recent one last season, he plays a similar gamestyle to Groth, but his is more well rounded and developed. It’s hard to go against Hewitt in Australia, but I’m favoring a Raonic vs. Anderson quarterfinal with Raonic advancing. Both guys player a similar serve and forehand heavy style, but Raonic does it better so he should get himself through to the semis.
Dark Horse: Martin Klizan
There are other dark horse options like Tomic, Hewitt, Simon, and Johnson but if anyone is going to prevent the semifinals from featuring all seeded players it is most likely to be Klizan, who has shown the ability to win big matches and has the game to trouble Dimitrov if he can get past Melzer and Dolgo. A semifinal to open the season would be a big boost for Klizan.
Federer d. Dimitrov
Nishikori d. Raonic
Federer has won both h2h meetings, last season and the year before, indoors in Basel, against Dimitrov, and he has done so without dropping a set. Though Dimitrov is improving, they play similar tennis and Federer does it at a normally superior level, so barring a shock, Fed should advance to the final.
Nishikori and Raonic have a budding rivalry at this point, they met four times last year, with Nishikori going 3-1 in those meetings, including two great matches in the Tokyo final and US Open round of 16. Raonic is a good player but Nishikori returns well enough, along with being able to generate enough power to stay on the court with the Canadian and he seems to have the matchup edge, thus I expect to see him in the final.
Nishikori d. Federer
Federer is 3-2 overall against Nishikori and comfortably defeated him in their last two meetings, including at the World Tour Finals. That said, Nishikori won the only outdoor hard court meeting in Miami, and I’m going with a judgment call favoring the younger Nishikori to pull this off and show he’s going to be challenging for big four status in 2015. The Brisbane final is likely to be excellent given the strength of the field and the relative balance of the draw.