2015 ATP Rio and Marseille Previews and Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The highest valued clay court event on the Golden Swing, Rio, takes place this week, as it is in its second year of existence as a 500 level event. In France, a very strong 250 in Marseille, part of the European indoor tournaments, takes place, and thirdly ATP World Tour Tennis will continue stateside in the USA in Delray Beach, a 250 outdoor hard court event, as the ATP has a lot of variety this week in terms of players and venues.
Rio Open Presented by Claro
ATP World Tour 500*
Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
February 16-February 22, 2015
*Denotes joint ATP/WTA event
Top 4 seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Rafael Nadal (3)
2: David Ferrer (9)
3: Tommy Robredo (17)
4: Fabio Fognini (26)
It’ll be the strongest clay court golden swing field, but still in it’s second year Rio only got three top 20 players and two top 10 players for a 500 level event that is more back than front loaded.
First Round matchups to watch:
(1)Rafael Nadal vs. Thomaz Bellucci
Bellucci, a Quito semifinalist, comes off a round 1 loss in Sao Paulo, and now will have to face Rafael Nadal, who has never taken a set off of previously (0-3, all losses coming in slams). Nadal is the defending champion who should be happy to return his tennis to clay, the surface where he is the greatest player of all time on. The home crowd should support the Brazilian, at least to some extent, and this match is mainly interesting as it’s a form test for Nadal, Bellucci isn’t the weakest possible R1 opponent, and with Nadal having looked very shaky since he last played clay we will begin to get an idea where Rafa is at, now playing on his best surface. I don’t see a path to victory for Bellucci in this one, but we will see if he can take a set at least.
(6)Pablo Cuevas vs. Nicolas Almagro
Cuevas took the title in Sao Paulo, and will either be fatigued or in excellent form going into this tournament. In that tournament, he beat Almagro in 3 sets, and he’s 3-0 in his career against him. Almagro’s run in SP ended in the quarters but he does seem to be improving, and this a chance for him to have another week of success if he can reverse the result against Cuevas. Given this was a close contest, a fresher Almagro should prevail this time and reach round 2.
Federico Delbonis vs. Diego Schwartzman
Delbonis, 24, has been struggling for a while, as he crashed out in round 1 in Sao Paulo, where he was the defending champion, and he’s slipped down the rankings, while Schwartzman lost to Fabio Fognini in 3 sets, in the second round of SP. The 22 year old seemingly has more promise than Delbonis, and this match is interesting because it’s a match up of two of the promising Argentine dirtballers from a similar generation. Schwartzman should win but it could go either way
(8)Martin Klizan vs. Dusan Lajovic
Klizan and Lajovic have 1-1 clay court h2h, Lajovic has been in good form as of late, he was a consecutive quarterfinalist in Quito and Sao Paulo, while Klizan is 2-2 on clay in 2015, as he’d had an up and down time on the golden swing. This match between two of the few non Spanish Europeans that took part in the Golden Swing should match Klizan’s power against Lajovic’s quarter coverage, and it’s hard to predict but with Lajovic playing well recently and improving, I have the Serbian into round 2 in a small upset of the seeded Klizan.
Unless Nadal is injured or something else strange occurs, he should work his way into form on clay and beat Bellucci, Carlos Berlocq, and Almagro/Cuevas in order to reach the semifinals. Berlocq will need to beat Pablo Carreno Busta to reach round 2, while the Almagro/Cuevas winner will face Albert Montanes or Maximo Gonzalez, and they are both better than those opponents. Almagro shockingly beat Nadal last year on clay, and since then both players have suffered injuries. You never know if lightning could strike twice but the h2h that strongly favors Nadal speaks for itself, as all of these players are simply a step slower and behind Nadal on clay.
Fabio Fognini comes off a round 2 loss in Sao Paulo and will face Jiri Vesely in his opening match in Rio. The Italian continues to struggle and Vesely, who lost to the eventual champion Pablo Cuevas in 3 sets in round 1 of SP, may be able to pull off the upset. I personally have Fognini through and feel he will also defeat Pablo Andujar in round 2 assuming Andujar defeats Paolo Lorenzi. Andujar trails Lorenzi 3-4 in the h2h, all of their meetings have come on clay, and they both come off round 1 losses in SP (to Lajovic and Schwartzman respectively). Fognini is 4-0 on clay against Andujar in his career. Klizan/Lajovic are likely quarterfinal opponents for Fognini (or another player such as Vesely), with Delbonis/Schwartzman the round 2 opponent for Klizan/Lajovic. I have Lajovic over Fognini in the quarterfinals, for the simple reason he’s in better form right now, though they have never met.
David Ferrer, who is known to do well on the Golden Swing, opens with his countryman Daniel Gimeno-Traver, a qualifier, and then should face Thiemo De Bakker, another qualifier, assuming the former top junior Dutchman beats wild card Guilherme Clezar. De Bakker is in great form having previously reached the round of 16 in Sao Paulo as a qualifier, falling to eventual finalist Luca Vanni in 3 sets. He then qualified in Rio with a pair of straight set wins. De Bakker pushed Ferrer to three sets in Doha earlier this season, wilting late, and I’m sure he’d love another chance to notch an upset, but it’s still likely that Ferrer will advance to the quarterfinals no matter whom he plays in round 2. In those quarters, watch out for Santiago Giraldo, who found a bit of form and reached the semis in Sao Paulo last week, which is his best result in a while. Giraldo should defeat slumping vet Juan Monaco, who has lost five straight, and then Marco Cecchinato, a qualifier, or Jarkko Nieminen, to reach the quarterfinals. Ferrer is 3-0 and has never dropped a set against Giraldo, and I don’t expect that to be any different now, so it should be Ferrer as one of the semifinalists in Rio this week.
Tommy Robredo will open with Elias Ymer, the young Swedish wild card, and then has Albert Ramos or Andreas Haider-Maurer on deck. Ramos has a h2h win on clay and he’s more accomplished so it should be Robredo-Ramos round 2, and then Robredo, who lost to Nicolas Almagro in Sao Paulo, into the quarterfinals. Possible opponents or most likely Robredo in the quarters are Leo Mayer, Blaz Rola, Joao Souza or Facundo Arguello. Mayer, a SP quarterfinalist should beat Rola, and Souza, a semifinalist in SP, should beat Arguello. Souza just beat Mayer in 3 sets, but I have a feeling that result was an aberration in Sao Paulo, and the Argentine will defeat the Brazilian this time. Mayer beat Robredo on clay last year (in 3 sets), and I have him in the semifinals in Rio this year by virtue of beating Robredo, who still seems a bit rusty this season, while Mayer is likely improving. It’s not an easy pick but Ferrer vs. Mayer in the semis is my selection.
Dark Horse: Joao Souza
The Brazilian wild card has a chance at the semifinals, qualifier Facundo Arguello is an opponent he should be favored against, and then Mayer, his likely round 2 opponent, he just beat in Sao Paulo. With home fan support he beats Mayer, a win over Robredo is also possible for the semis. Players like Jiri Vesely could also serve as dark horses this week, but I’m sure home fans would love to see the local player have a surprise week.
Nadal d. Lajovic
Ferrer d. Mayer
Nadal comfortably defeated Lajovic last summer at the French Open, and he’s a cut above anyone he may face in the semis this week. Mayer beat Ferrer in 3 sets in the Hamburg final last summer, that said Ferrer is normally the better player on clay and he should also reach the final this week.
Nadal d. Ferrer
Nadal has normally dominated Ferrer in the clay court h2h, right now anything could happen with Nadal, but if he’s been good enough to reach the final, he should be in the form needed to outhit and outsmart Ferrer once again for a consecutive Rio Open title.
ATP World Tour 250
February 16-February 22, 2015
Top 4 seeds (Who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Milos Raonic (6)
2: Stan Wawrinka (8)
3: Ernests Gulbis (13)
4: Roberto Bautista Agut (16)
Marseille has an excellent field for a 250, in fact it’s the strongest tournament on the ATP tour this week, all of the seeds are top 30, and two top 10 players are here in action.
First Round matchups to watch:
Dominic Thiem vs. Joao Sousa
Thiem has a prior win (2014 AO in 4 sets) over Sousa, and he trashed a slumping Ernests Gulbis in Rotterdam before falling to Sergiy Stakhovsky in round 2, while Sousa reached the semis in Montpellier, and fell in 3 sets to Gilles Simon in Rotterdam. Thiem’s form is rather hard to predict, but he’s struggled against most quality opponents this year as the win over Gulbis was his first of the season, while Sousa has won 5 matches this season and is at his best indoors. With that in mind, though Thiem has more potential long term, Sousa should score a small upset in this one.
(6)David Goffin vs. Jerzy Janowicz
Goffin has been struggling this season, having failed to come anything close to his form in the second half of 2014. The Belgian fell to Gilles Muller in Rotterdam, while Janowicz was ill and pulled out of the tournament after reaching the Montpellier final. This result will depend a lot on how Janowicz is feeling, but with a week off I would expect him to be somewhat back to normal, and with a prior head to head win last year over the Belgian, in addition to better recent results, Janowicz should get past the seeded Goffin.
Paul-Henri Mathieu vs. (WC)Benoit Paire
Mathieu qualified in Rotterdam and once again suffered a mental lapse that cost him the match against top 15 player Grigor Dimitrov. He fell in 3 sets in that one, as his mental fortitude has always hampered his career results. Paire won the Bergamo challenger indoors last week for his best result in many months on tour. The formerly promising young Frenchman with a gifted backhand will try to outwit the veteran PHM, but I personally feel it will be Mathieu that wins this, with Paire’s fatigue a factor. PHM is the more well rounded competitor, and Paire is as weak as him in the mental department.
Rotterdam semifinalist Milos Raonic opens with Luca Vanni or Simon Bolelli in round 2, almost assuredly Bolelli, given Vanni is in South America on the golden swing and got an SE into this tournament, if he plays it with a difference in surface and while fatigued Raonic just dispatched Bolelli in Rotterdam round 2, and that trend should hold and see Raonic into the quarterfinals against Gael Monfils. Monfils, a Rotterdam quarterfinalist, has a surprisingly terrible record in Marseille (1-6 in his career), even though it’s indoors and on home soil, but with a qualifier and Andrey Kuznetsov or Andrey Golubev standing in his way, he still should reach the quarters before falling to Raonic, who has proven to be too strong as of late for all but the elite players in the game, with his consistent dosage of big serves and powerful forehands that wears players down.
Roberto Bautista Agut will open with Robin Haase or Vasek Pospisil in round 2, most likely Pospisil. RBA beat Vasek twice last season and fell to Monfils in Rotterdam, while Vashy upset Philipp Kohlschreiber before losing to Andy Murray. That should be a high quality contest in round 2 and it could go either way, but I have Bautista Agut through to the quarterfinals as his seed rank would suggest. The section below RBA is stacked with the unpredictable Goffin/Janowicz or Sousa/Thiem, I have Sousa over Thiem, and Janowicz over Goffin, then Janowicz over Sousa, just as what happened in Montpellier a couple of weeks ago. That Montpellier contest went three sets so Sousa reversing the result is quite possible, and any of these four could reach the semis. With RBA having a 1-0 h2h record over Janowicz, with a win last year in Miami, I have the Spaniard into the semis to meet Raonic. This is a difficult section to predict however.
Rotterdam champ Stan Wawrinka, who played well to win his first 500 level title last week, will open with the PHM/Paire winner, PHM could prove trouble if Wawrinka is fatigued, but you can’t exactly trust the Frenchman with a knack for mental collapses against top competition, and with that in mind Wawrinka should still reach the quarterfinals. If his opponent is Paire, he will be playing his best friend in the second round. The section above Wawrinka is also difficult to predict, Sergiy Stakhovsky reached the quarterfinals in Rotterdam, and he opens with the 8 seed Lukas Rosol, Rosol is struggling and he has just a 1-3 h2h against the outspoken Stako, so Stako should get through with the unpredictable but talented JL Struff his matchup in round 2. Struff opens with a qualifier, and he is on a losing streak of four matches currently, but he has had some of his best successes as a pro indoors and he is 4-0 against Stakhovsky in the h2h. Both these players are hard to predict but I have Wawrinka beating Struff for a spot in the semifinals in my own bracket.
Defending champ Ernests Gulbis is in terrible form, as he has been for months, he’s seeded third, but I have Jeremy Chardy beating a qualifier, and then dispatching the Latvian number one to reach the quarterfinals. Chardy isn’t in great form and the h2h is 3-1 Gulbis but Gulbis has lost five straight dating back to last season and he’s not even playing top 70 level right now regardless of his ranking. Gilles Simon, a Rotterdam semifinalist, is the main beneficiary of this weakest quarter of the draw, The 5 seed has a qualifier, and then Borna Coric/Denis Istomin standing in his way before the quarterfinals. None of those opponents should prove to be an issue, and Simon should defeat Chardy as well (he did so in Rotterdam R2 just last week) to get into the semifinals. Simon was the champion in Marseille in 2007.
Dark Horse: Paul-Henri Mathieu
The French veteran isn’t the only possible dark horse this week (non seeds Thiem/Sousa/Janowicz could all perhaps reach the semis or better), but he presents the most intriguing possibility of a run. The talent is still there and he plays his best indoors these days, but his results as usual are going to depend on his mental fortitude. PHM is a player who would have been top 5 and perhaps reached a slam final or more with the right sports psychologist, but rather he’s had a second tier career, and flashes of his ability are still possible in weeks like this, with the seeded player Wawrinka likely to be fatigued and perhaps less focused on the 250 level event this week. Beating Wawrinka would be a monumental upset, but if he does there is no one but Gilles Simon that would truly stand in PHM’s way before the semifinals, and Simon is beatable. It’s not likely but Mathieu is a possible finalist this week.
Raonic d. Bautista Agut
Simon d. Wawrinka
Raonic beat RBA at the end of last season and he’s been trustworthy and consistent when it comes to beating non elite players, he has to be the favorite for the title this week coming off the semis in Rotterdam given this is another indoor hard court tournament. Simon is actually 2-1 on hard courts against Wawrinka and beat him last season in a strange three set contest, with that factored in with the fatigue considerations, Simon should be the favorite to reach the final this week.
Raonic d. Simon
Milos beat Gilles twice last year, and given the surface and recent results, Raonic should be crowned champion in Marseille.