2015 ATP Sydney and Auckland Preview and Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The week before the Aussie Open, the final ATP tuneups will take place at 250 level events in Sydney and Auckland, and both hard court tournaments are up for grabs with a lot of rising players and second tier names gunning for ATP ranking points and a coveted ATP title, additionally, Nick Kyrgios, Juan Martin Del Potro, Nicolas Almagro, Ernests Gulbis, and more are making their 2015 debuts.
Apia International Sydney
ATP World Tour 250*
January 12-January 17, 2015
*denotes joint ATP/WTA event
Top 4 seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Fabio Fognini (19)
2: David Goffin (22)
3: Philipp Kohlschreiber (24)
4: Julien Benneteau (25)
A very balanced field in Sydney this week, none of the seeds are super formidable, so the unseeded players have great chances at putting up good results.
First Round matchups to watch:
Sergiy Stakhovsky vs. (WC)Juan Martin Del Potro
Juan Martin Del Potro is making (yet another) long awaited return in Sydney, hoping that his wrists and all his over physical ailments are sorted out as he begins his effort to return to the top 10 and become a force on the ATP tour again. The tennis world has missed the tower of Tandil, and he has a winnable opening match against Sergiy Stakhovsky, Stako was crushed by Novak Djokovic after beating a no name wild card in Doha, and though he has had flashes of playing above his ranking, he’s a journeyman. It’s also worth noting JMDP is the defending champion, not that that really means much right now. This is an incredibly difficult match to predict but I have Del Po winning on a coin flip.
(6)Pablo Cuevas vs. Nicolas Almagro
Nicolas Almagro is another top player making his return from injury this week, he hasn’t played since the clay court season last year and he opens with dirtballer Pablo Cuevas, who is currently on a nine match win streak, though all those wins came on clay. Almagro got a couple of matches in at the Abu Dhabi exo, so he won’t be entirely rusty, and given this is hard courts, I have him advancing after shaking off some rust.
Andreas Seppi vs. Vasek Pospisil
Seppi found form and snuck into the semis in Doha, though he didn’t face any highly ranked opponents there while Pospisil is making his 2015 debut in Sydney. He went 19-23 in 2014 with an ATP semi and an ATP final as his best results. That said he spent part of the season hampered by a back injury, and his form picked up late in the year, he’s clearly a capable talent, and I feel Seppi may be somewhat fatigued going into this match, with that in mind, I have Pospisil evening up the h2h at 2-2 and winning this match. The hard courts in Sydney should suit the Canadian.
Nick Kyrgios vs. Jerzy Janowicz
Breakthrough star Nick Kyrgios will be making his home soil debut in Sydney against Hopman cup champion Jerzy Janowicz in a highly anticipated contest. Kyrgios has been hampered by a lingering shoulder injury that forced him to skip the Hopman cup, and his physical condition has question marks here, but that said the crowd will be behind him, and he always seems to play his best tennis when the bright lights are on. Kyrgios is favored and the Wimbledon quarterfinalist will have every chance of getting a win. That said, Janowicz is trying to reboot his results in 2015, after a relatively poor 2014, and he won’t roll over lightly, this is a hard match to pick, but I’m favoring the experienced Janowicz, as Kyrgios will likely need more time to adjust than he will.
Top seed Fabio Fognini is in awful form, he clowned around yet again in the Hopman Cup, and he finished 2014 in a slump as well. I have Fognini crashing out against Stakhovsky/Del Potro in his first match, and potentially we could see a Del Potro vs. Almagro quarterfinal in a battle of players returning to the tour. Standing in Almagro’s way, assuming he beats Cuevas, is a qualifier or Denis Istomin, Istomin didn’t do anything special in Doha as he was crushed by Tomas Berdych, but he is 3-0 in his career against Almagro, and that with the rust factor perhaps makes him a slight favorite to reach the quarters and meet Del Potro/Stakhovsky/Fognini. Given the rust factor I have Istomin through to the semis over Del Potro, but it’s anyone guess who will make the semis quite honestly.
Julian Benneteau fell to Thanasi Kokkinakis in the opening round of Brisbane, his poor showing means it appears he is likely to go against the Seppi/Pospisil winner, and that’s the result I have as well. Kyrgios/Janowicz are likely to await Pospisil/Seppi in the quarterfinals, Benjamin Becker, a grinder who fell to Simone Bolelli in Doha, is also in this section and opens with Leo Mayer, who much prefers clay. I have Pospisil over Janowicz in the quarterfinals in this section, JJ may be somewhat fatigued from the Hopman and they have never met before, but again this a very hard section to predict this early in the season with so few matches to judge players by.
Chennai semifinalist David Goffin has a great chance this week to do well, but he’ll need to defeat the dangerous shotmaker Simone Bolelli in round 2, assuming Bolelli defeats the struggling Marinko Matosevic in round 1. If Goffin beats Bolelli/Matosevic, Martin Klizan is likely to await in the quarters. Goffin has one h2h victory against Klizan at a challenger and the Slovak made the quarters in Brisbane, with wins over Alex Dolgopolov and Jurgen Melzer before losing to Grigor Dimitrov. Klizan-Goffin should be a great match as long as Klizan beats a qualifier and Pablo Andujar/Qualifier. It’s hard to predict but I have a hunch Klizan will overpower Goffin and reach the semis.
Philipp Kohlschreiber, who lost his opening match in Doha, will open with former Sydney champ Bernard Tomic or a qualifier, Tomic beat Sam Querrey and Thanasi Kokkinakis in Brisbane and made the quarterfinals, and with Kohli out of form, while Tomic will be motivated on home soil, the Aussie should advance to the quarters. He’s likely to face a big server at that stage, Gilles Muller, a Chennai quarterfinalist, faces Sam Groth, a Brisbane quarterfinalist, in the opening round, expect a lot of aces in that one and I have Muller facing Sam Querrey in round 2. Querrey is 3-1 in his career against his first round opponent Jeremy Chardy and is looking to bounce back from an early loss in Brisbane. Chardy lost to Grigor Dimitrov in round 2 of Brisbane. I have Muller over Querrey for a spot in the quarters, and then Tomic reaching the semis by defeating Muller.
Dark Horse: Vasek Pospisil
I have the Canadian number two taking the title this week, given how up in the air this tournament is. He has basically no points to defend after the Australian Open, until the Fall, given he struggled at that point last season, and will be looking to pad his ranking at events like this. I feel he’s due for his maiden ATP title.
Pospisil d. Istomin
Klizan d. Tomic
Istomin has a h2h win against Vashy but I feel the Canadian is a better player right now, Klizan beat Tomic last year on clay, and again I feel like his form is better than the Aussie.
Pospisil d. Klizan
These two have never met and either one could take the title but intuition has me favoring Vashy.
ATP World Tour 250
Auckland, New Zealand
January 12-January 17, 2015
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
*1: David Ferrer (10)
2: Ernests Gulbis (13)
3: Roberto Bautista Agut (15)
4: Kevin Anderson (16)
*5: Tommy Robredo (17)
*Ferrer withdrew and Robredo takes over his seedline as the technical five but the proper number 1 seed.
Auckland had a strong field lined up but Doha champ Ferrer, along with defending champ John Isner, and the exciting Gael Monfils all pulled out before the start of the tournament, making this week a rather slim week on the ATP tour in terms of big names. Still, Auckland has plenty of second tier talent in the tournament field.
First Round matchups to watch:
Dominic Thiem vs. Jan-Lennard Struff
A pair of rising players will duel under the Auckland sun in this one. Thiem is opening his 2015 season, which will be his first as a regular top 40 ATP player, in New Zealand, while Struff comes off recording a solid victory over Philipp Kohlschreiber in Doha. He fell to Dustin Brown in the next round, which to some extent shows his inconsistency but the talent is there for both players in this matchup they just need to put it all together to be successful. Thiem is favored but Struff will have his chance, and this matchup is harder to predict than many expect, that said I favor Thiem in 3 sets.
Tommy Robredo now headlines the top of the draw, the Spaniard should face limited opposition in route to the quarterfinals, as his draw features a qualifier or Kiwi wildcard Michael Venus in round 2, and then most likely Rendy Lu, a quarterfinalist in Chennai, in the quarters. Lu opens with Juan Monaco, who won the doubles title in Doha with Nadal but has struggled mightily in singles for quite a while, and then is slated to face the winner of Albert Ramos/Paolo Lorenzi, who would both prefer to be playing on clay. Ramos can occasionally put together a decent showing but Lu should get through to the quarters as well, as he looks to defend his final points from last year. Robredo is 3-1 against Lu in his career and beat him last year but I’m going with Lu to make the semis in an upset, he has played well in Auckland before, he will clearly be motivated, and he has form going in, unlike Robredo who made three ATP finals last year, but failed to win one.
Roberto Bautista Agut, a semifinalist in Chennai, opens with Adrian Mannarino or Federico Delbonis in round 2, given Mannarino is the more comfortable hard court player and comes off a challenger semifinal showing on hard courts, he should get to round 2, but RBA is superior in that matchup and the Spaniard is on track for the quarterfinals. In the quarters, Santiago Giraldo is his most likely opponent, Santi had a great season by his normal standards in 2014 as he compiled a 32-27 overall record with an ATP final, three semis and a Masters quarterfinal as his best results. The shotmaking Colombian will face a qualifier, then a qualifier or Kiwi wild card Jose Statham in round 2. RBA beat Giraldo twice last year in straight sets, and he most likely will do so again, but if this matchup comes to fruition it will still be worth watching given the talented shotmaking and aggressive approaches of both players.
Ernests Gulbis opens his 2015 season in Auckland, the charismatic Latvian was 41-21 in 2014 with two ATP titles and a grand slam semi at the French as his best results, he performed well across surfaces, and that is why he’s now a regular top 15 player. Gulbis shouldn’t drop a set before the quarterfinals given his opposition is a qualifier or Thomaz Bellucci, a formerly top player who much prefers clay and similar to Monaco hasn’t put up a big result for quite some time now. His opposition in the quarters is most likely to be Donald Young or Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, GGL beat Young twice last year, and he comes off a decent run of form as he won a pair of matches and reached the quarters in Chennai. Garcia-Lopez will need to beat young Argentine dirtballer Diego Sebastian Schwartzman, and Young has a qualifier as his round one opposition. Young was 18-21 at the ATP level last year with one ATP semi as his best result. I see a Gulbis vs. Garcia-Lopez quarterfinal with Gulbis advancing. The h2h favors Ernie 2-1 but they haven’t met since 2013.
Kevin Anderson appears to be struggling as he was dumped by qualifier Lukasz Kubot in his opening match in Brisbane. He will face the Struff/Thiem winner, and if it is Thiem, he does have a 2-0 h2h with both matches taking place last season working in his favor. As a result, even though I don’t feel particularly confident I have Anderson through the quarters, with Thiem/Struff also having a great shot at posting the same result. The section above this one is the best in the draw, wild card Borna Coric, who beat Robin Haase in Chennai, will face Pablo Carreno Busta in round 1, and I have the youngster earning another ATP win given PCB much prefers clay. Steve Johnson, who played Kei Nishikori tough in Brisbane and also won a match there, will face off with Portugese number one Joao Sousa, the American should advance and face off with Coric in a battle of rising young players. Coric should test Johnson, but I feel he’s more battle tested, and his experience at the ATP level will win him the day, even if Coric has more natural talent and potential. This is a tough section with a lot of rising talent (Thiem/Struff/Johnson/Coric), and in my own bracket I have Johnson over Anderson (1-1 h2h in 2014) to reach the semifinals.
Dark Horse: Dominic Thiem
Anyone from that section full of rising talent I previewed above can be a dark horse this week, with the non-seeded Thiem, similar to the non-seeded Coric, getting the actual designation this week. I’m going with Thiem because he has more experience than Coric and he’s done well in ATP tournaments before (finalist in Kitzbuhel). If he can get past Struff, and reverse his poor h2h record against Anderson, which is entirely doable, he will have a winnable quarterfinal with Johnson or Coric, and a potential semifinal with his former mentor Gulbis. Ernie and Dominic know each other well and share coaching teams, so it would almost be a battle of brotherly love, and given Gulbis can be inconsistent, that’s also a winnable match in a very open Auckland draw.
Bautista Agut d. Lu
Johnson d. Gulbis
RBA just beat Lu in a quality quarterfinal contest in Chennai, and the result should be the same (I also favor him against Robredo). Gulbis would still likely be favored to make the final, but Johnson is 2-0 in his career against him with both wins coming on hard court. The American seems very motivated and has a great chance to at least reach his first ATP final, and potentially win his first ATP title this week in Auckland.
Bautista Agut d. Johnson
RBA beat Johnson three times last year, and that’s why I have him down as the winner this week, there are at least six different players who could take the title this week depending on form and motivation and Bautista is my selection.