2015 ATP Barcelona and Bucharest Preview/Prediction
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The European spring journey continues for the players of the ATP world tour with clay court events in both Barcelona, Spain, and Bucharest, Romania, with Barca a 500 series event, and Bucharest, one of the few ATP events in Eastern Europe, a 250.
Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell
ATP World Tour 500
April 20-April 26, 2015
Prize Money: €1,993,230
Top 8 seeds (top 16 seeds receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Kei Nishikori (4)
2: Rafael Nadal (5)
3: David Ferrer (7)
4: Marin Cilic (10)
5: Feliciano Lopez (12)
6: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (14)
7: Roberto Bautista Agut (16)
8: Ernests Gulbis (18)
Four of the top 10 will be playing in Barcelona, and the top 8 seeds are all top 20 players for a strong 500 level field.
First round matchups to watch:
Alex Dolgopolov vs. Joao Sousa
Dolgopolov has played relatively well in the past few weeks, but he remains a streaky highlight reel generator, he’s the favorite against the streaky Portuguese player Joao Sousa, who can struggle for weeks, but puts together a great tournament from time to time. Both these players hit the ball relatively hard from the ground, and they are solid movers, thus creating an interesting matchup, I have Dolgo winning in straights but upset potential is there.
Victor Estrella vs. Dominic Thiem
Thiem is the favorite without a doubt, but don’t count the veteran Estrella out, as he’s known for the ability to put up the occasional heroic performance. He’s a great mover, while Thiem, though he rounded into form in Miami, lost his opening match in Monte Carlo on clay, and has been unpredictably poor this year. Estrella retired in his last match in Monte Carlo against David Ferrer, so his physical condition is in question. As I said, I expect Thiem to prevail, but it’s still an interesting matchup.
Benoit Paire vs. (Q)Jaume Munar
Benoit Paire, who used to be considered a young gun, will take on one of the unheralded young guns coming onto the tour slowly but surely, 17 year old Spaniard Jaume Munar, who qualified to reach the main draw. Munar just recently turned pro, and was a former top 5 junior who reached the French Open Junior final in 2014, I’m interested to see what he can do against the technically talented but mentally weak Paire, who has a world class backhand, but a futures level forehand. It’s a winnable matchup for sure, though Paire has played well on the challenger tour in 2015.
Fernando Verdasco vs. (Q)Andrey Rublev
Former Barcelona champion Fernando Verdasco will take on the player Munar lost to in that RG junior final in 2014, Andrey Rublev, a more recognizable young gun who won ATP matches in both Delray Beach and Miami, and then qualified to reach the main draw here. At 17, the combustible Rublev may be less mentally stable than even Verdasco, but he has all the weapons to make this a match, and he could at least take a set. Verdasco of course has the world class forehand and he reached the semis in Houston, along with a round 1 loss to Grigor Dimitrov in Monte Carlo. Once again, look for the favorite to win but the challenger to put up a more competitive contest than expected.
Kei Nishikori snapped Rafael Nadal’s chokehold on this tournament last year, as the defending champion, who is also ranked higher than the king of clay, will begin his clay court season in Barcelona and work on keeping his ranking trending upwards. It should be a relatively easy start for Nishikori, who went 10-2 on clay last year, as he will open with Pablo Carreno Busta or Teymuraz Gabashvili, both of whom have struggled in 2015. After that, Nishikori could get a shotmakers match with Alex Dolgopolov in the round of 16.
Dolgo will need to beat Sousa, and then defending finalist Santiago Giraldo, who has struggled in 2015 to set that up. Giraldo has their lone clay h2h win, but is 1-3 in the overall h2h, and he comes off quarterfinals in Houston, while Dolgopolov won a round in Monte Carlo before losing to the in-form Gael Monfils in a close contest. Regardless, Nishikori beat Giraldo in the final here last year, and he is a perfect 3-0 with no sets dropped against Dolgopolov, including a win this year in Acapulco against the man from Ukraine.
In the quarters the road is unlikely to get easier for Nishikori to defend his title, as Pablo Cuevas and Roberto Bautista Agut are the primary contenders in the section below. Cuevas won an ATP title on clay in Sao Paulo earlier in the year, and is making his European debut this year, he should be able to ease past either the struggling JL Struff or the struggling Roberto Carballes Baena, a wild card in the second round. RBA won a pair of matches in Monte Carlo, and appears to be playing a bit better than he was earlier this year, where deficiencies in his game were evident. He will open with most likely Thomaz Bellucci, one of the dangerous non-seeds in this draw who beat RBA on clay in Davis Cup last year.
Bellucci will need to beat qualifier Yuichi Sugita in round 1, and is a poor 3-6 on clay in 2015, that said, hes a streaky player who can catch form, so though I picked RBA to face off with Cuevas, Bellucci has a chance here. In that match between Cuevas-RBA, I’m going with an upset and have Cuevas into the quarters, he makes his living on clay and his game has steadily been improving over the past few months.
As for the match between Cuevas-Nishikori, Nishikori has a h2h win on clay, and he’s the better player, nothing indicates to me he will struggle presently, even though he hasn’t been red hot, and I don’t think Cuevas will have the weapons and skill needed to win that matchup, thus putting Kei into the semis.
4 seed Marin Cilic, who reached the quarters in a Monte Carlo surprise, will open with the Estrella/Thiem winner, if he struggles, Thiem could very well pull an upset and give him trouble, however his solid play in Monte Carlo gives me the confidence to say he will win that, given Thiem has likewise been erratic this season, and one would have to think Cilic, who is coming off of injury, can only improve as he gets more matches under his belt.
Casablanca champ Martin Klizan could stop Cilic in his tracks in the third round though, Klizan will need to beat Juan Monaco, who cooled down in Monte Carlo, and lost in the second round after previously showing good form. Monaco should defeat the struggling Alejandro Gonzalez however in round 1. What bodes well for Cilic’s chances is he’s 3-0 against Klizan, but they have never met on clay, and that’s a swing matchup to me, but I’m picking Cilic to go into the quarters.
Cilic/Klizan/Monaco/Thiem are almost certain to face either Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Tommy Robredo in the quarters, as the section below Cilic is a weaker one. Robredo will face either Joao Souza or Mikhail Kukushkin, neither of whom are in good form, in round 2, while Tsonga has Marinko Matosevic or Marcel Granollers, two more out of form players. Tsonga is 3-2 this year, while Robredo won a pair of matches in Monte Carlo but has overall not played that great this year, it’s a hard match to pick, but Tsonga has more upside potential, and thus I’m going with him to reach the quarters and face Cilic in a rematch of their Monte Carlo match that Cilic won, given that result, a Nishikori vs. Cilic semifinal seems most likely in the top half.
Rafa Nadal is the undisputed king of Barcelona with a 42-2 record at the tournament, and 8 titles, but he lost here last year and right off the bat he has a chance to get revenge against the player he lost to, Nicolas Almagro, who opens with journeyman Paolo Lorenzi in round 1. Nadal comes off the semis in Monte Carlo, where he did well against all of his opponents except the world number 1 Djokovic, while Almagro was last a quarterfinalist in Casablanca. Nadal beat Almagro in Miami 4 and 2, and as I said should be hungry for revenge, so I really don’t expect that to be much of a match, given that the performance Almagro turned in 2014 was once in a lifetime.
Look for Nadal against Verdasco/Rublev in round 3, the seed is Fabio Fognini, but his singles game is challenger level right now (1-6 since reaching the Rio final), and Verdasco is solid enough to win especially given the 3-1 h2h. Verdasco of course shocked Nadal in Miami, and he will do his best to try do it again, however, on clay the advantage should swing further towards Nadal, and thus he should be able to reach the quarters at one of his best events.
Feliciano Lopez will player either qualifier James Ward or Marsel Ilhan, though he’s not elite on clay, he still should be good enough to win that round 2 match and setup a match with either Leo Mayer or Albert Ramos/Pablo Andujar. Ramos has been in good form in the past few tournaments, while Mayer has been struggling. Ramos leads the h2h with Mayer 3-2, but Mayer beat him in Sao Paulo this year.
Andujar has beaten Ramos before as well and they are similar ball spinning dirtballers as an aside and Ramos has been in better form, giving him the edge. I have Ramos beting Mayer, and then Lopez to reach the quarters, Ramos has a 2-0 h2h edge with Lopez, and he is a better clay court player, so given the surface, the lower ranked Spaniard has to be the favorite. Nadal has beaten Ramos twice before in Barcelona, and he should do so again to reach the semis.
David Ferrer will face wild card Albert Montanes, a journeyman veteran, or Ricardas Berankis, a former top junior turned journeyman, in the opening round. He has never won in Barcelona but he’s reached the final four previous times, and he comes off a quarterfinal loss to Nadal in Monte Carlo. Ferru has been peak this season and I expect him to blow past Montanes/Berankis and also Nick Kyrgios, the 16 seed, to reach the round of 16. Kyrgios is returning to tour from a back injury, and has limited experience on clay. In fact, the young gun may well lose to qualifier Thiemo De Bakker, or fellow young gun wild card Elias Ymer in round 2, De Bakker has been reliable in ATP qualifying this season an seems breakthrough ready. I have Ferrer beating Montanes, and De Bakker to reach the round of 16.
12 seed Philipp Kohlschreiber is the favorite for the quarterfinals in the weakest section of the draw. The wheels have come off for the 8 seed Ernests Gulbis, who badly needs to be back gaining confidence and form with his new coaching team on the challenger tour, rather than continuing to self-destruct at the ATP level. He was a cacophony of errors in a blowout loss in Monte Carlo, and I don’t see the bleeding stopping against the Munar/Paire winner, though it could. The 17 year old Munar actually has a realistic path to the third round, but I have it Paire vs. Kohlschreiber, after Kohli beats Andrey Kuznetsov, who will face Marton Fucsovics, a qualifier, in round 1. Kuznetsov qualified in Monte Carlo, while Kohli is 2-2 in his last four matches, and won a round in Monte Carlo.
Paire and Kohli have a 2-2 h2h, though Paire won the last two meetings, and Paire has a dark horse chance to reach the quarters if his game is on, he qualified in Monte Carlo and has played well at the challenger level, as mentioned. No matter if it’s Kohlschreiber or Paire in the quarters, Ferrer should reach the semis, he’s 2-0 against Kohli on clay (8-2 overall), and 3-0 overall against Paire.
Dark Horse: Benoit Paire
Albert Ramos, who I have reaching the quarters, is another dark horse candidate, but Paire gets the official designation because his run would be less likely, but more interesting. He has all the talent and the tools, but with his weak mental approach to the game, he slipped down the rankings, and now newly focused he seems to be working his way back, a run to the quarters in a weak section would be a great way to announce to the rest of the tennis world that he’s back in the game.
Nishikori d. Cilic
Nadal d. Ferrer
Cilic famously won the US Open final over Nishikori, but Kei won their clay court meeting in Barcelona, and he’s an overall 5-3 h2h leader, given the fact Nishikori is stroking the ball, while Cilic is just returning from injury, Kei is the fave.
Nadal just beat Ferrer in Monte Carlo, and almost always has, so again he’s the pick.
Nadal d. Nishikori
This is the matchup just about everyone wants this week, and I have a feeling they will get it, Nadal has a 7-0 h2h on his side, though their only clay court meeting was basically a draw as Nishikori took the first set and then hurt himself and had to retire midway through the third set in Madrid. He also has all the positive history in Barca on his side, and home fans, but Nishikori has been rising while Nadal has been in decline over the past 18 months, and Nishikori is now ranked higher than the Spanish veteran. Both players are pure ball strikers, while Nadal hits with tons more spin of course, and both fly movement wise, it’s a more even matchup than the h2h would suggest, but I feel like Nadal, who showed signs of improvement in Monte Carlo, will find a way to get it done and take the title this week.
BRD Nastase Tiriac Trophy
ATP World Tour 250
April 20-April 26, 2015
Prize Money: €439,405
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Gilles Simon (13)
2: Gael Monfils (15)
3: Ivo Karlovic (22)
4: Lukas Rosol (33)
Three top 30, and six top 40 players are in the Bucharest field, which is solid given how big Barcelona is on the other side of Europe.
First round matchups to watch:
(6)Viktor Troicki vs. Daniel Gimeno-Traver
Troicki is more accomplished than Gimeno-Traver, who just reached his first ATP final in Casablanca and he has a 5-0 head to head edge (3-0 on clay including 2-0 last year), but still DGT playe some surprisingly good tennis to reach that Casablanca final, and should have some positive momentum. Troicki is an even 2-2 in his last four, and that pretty much sums up his 2015 season thus far, some good results with losses mixed in, and he’s still looking to do better. He should win, but an upset is possible.
Borna Coric vs. Sergiy Stakhovsky
Stako crushed a listless Coric in Zagreb 2 and 4 earlier this season, but Coric has been improving since that loss, and he comes off a tough loss to Alex Dolgopolov in 3 sets in Monte Carlo. Stako lost to Tomas Berdych and is 1-3 in his last four, though he was playing some of the best tennis of his career earlier in the year. Given this is clay, Coric should win, but who knows if that h2h will hang over his head.
(7)Jiri Vesely vs. Diego Schwartzman
Vesely and Schwartzman, two young guns, have never met, and both can play their best tennis on clay. Vesely snapped an atrocious losing streak an reached the semis in Casablanca, but he promptly lost in Monte Carlo to Juan Monaco, while Schwartzman qualified and lost to Jeremy Chardy in the opening round. Vesely is favord, and more accomplished, but DSS has a great chance and I have him winning this matchup personally.
Ivan Dodig vs Andreas Haider-Maurer
AHM is nearly a top 50 player now, as the Austrian journeyman has been outdoing himself, primarily on clay, this year. Dodig, who has won twice, and lost twice to the Austrian, is still languishing just inside the top 100, though he has the skill to be much better than that. AHM is 4-2 in his last six, while Dodig is playing his first tournament since a gut wrenching loss to David Ferrer in an Indian Wells thriller. Dodig showed flashes of renewed top 50 ability in that match, and it will be intriguing to see if that shows up in Bucharest,even with AHM the favorite.
Three time champ Gilles Simon is likely to get an interesting opening match with Janko Tipsarevic, who gets a wild card for this tournament, his second since returning to the tour after a lengthy injury layoff. Tipsarevic will need to beat a qualifier, but if the reaches the second round, just as he did in Houston, he’ll have a shot at upsetting Simon for just the third time in what would be their eleventh meeting. The clay h2h is 1-1, but Simon leads 8-2 in the overall h2h, and given form, Simon will be a strong favorite. Simon is 6-3 in his last three tournaments, and has only lost to top 10 players (Ferrer x2 including Monte Carlo, and Nadal) in that span. Look for Simon to beat another Serb, Viktor Troicki, who he has a 5-0 h2h with, in the quarters. Troicki will need to beat DGT and the struggling Denis Istomin or a qualifier.
3 seed Ivo Karlovic isn’t the favorite to reach the semis in his section, that would be Borna Coric most likely, presuming he can beat Stakhovsky. While he isn’t going to be used to the Karlovic serve, as one would expect, clay slows it down to some extent, and thus it’s Dr. Ivo’s worst surface, and the one Coric is most likely to beat him on. Below Coric/Stakhovsky/Karlovic is Vesely/Schwartzman, along with former champ Florian Mayer, and Malek Jaziri. Mayer won his comeback match against Mikhail Youzhny in Monte Carlo before losing to Marin Cilic in 3 sets, and given he played pretty well, I have him beating both Jaziri an Schwartzman to setup a quarterfinal with Coric. It will be youth and form against experience, and wit, as funky flo is a difficult player to deal with given his wonky, tactically smart gamestyle. I’m going with the youth and talent of Coric to shine through at this 250, and have him reaching the semis.
Monte Carlo semifinalist Gael Monfils, who beat both Roger Federer and Grigor Dimitrov in the rich man’s paradise will start his Bucharest campaign against a player in terrible form, either the should be retired Mikhail Youzhny, or the challenger player Marius Copil awaits. Even if he’s fatigued, as it seems he was in his Monte Carlo semi, I still expect him to win that. Either AHM/Dodig or Simone Bolelli/Andrey Golubev await in the quarters. Given this is clay, Bolelli should prevail over Golubev. Bolelli and AHM have a 1-1 h2h, but Bolelli lost to Victor Estrella in Monte Carlo and is playing poorer than AHM at the moment, so I have a Haider-Maurer vs. Monfils quarter, with Monfils advancing unless he injures himself or is too tired to stand.
Former champ Lukas Rosol will open against Dusan Lajovic or a qualifier, with Guillermo Garcia-Lopez likely in the quarters. Rosol beat GGL in the 2013 final and he comes off a round 1 loss in Monte Carlo. GGL was shocked by Lamine Ouahab in Casablanca and is on a two match losing streak, in fact hes just 2-5 since winning the Zagreb title. GGL will need to snap that losing streak an beat a qualifier, then Steve Darcis/Marcos Baghdatis to reach the quarters. In an interesting stats note, Baghdatis hasn’t won a clay match since 2012, and Darcis, though he’s a serve and volleyer, is actually relatively solid on the surface. GGL is 3-1 against Darcis, and thus he’s still the fave even with his struggles. Rosol is streaky and very unreliable, but I’m going with the h2h and have him beating GGL for a spot in the semis.
Dark Horse: Borna Coric
Coric could take the title this week, Stakhovsky, a serve and volleyer, Karlovic, a big server, and possibly Mayer, a funky finesse technician all present unique matchup challenges, but Coric has a well rounded game, and the youthful energy to confront ech challenge and at least reach the semis. The reliability, yet blandness of Simon, is its own frustrating challenge, and he’s had such success at the tournament before, but you never know with Gillou, and likewise, Monfils, or anyone else on the bottom half is beatable if Borna plays well and his opponents do not, we could well see a teenage ATP champion this week.
Simon d. Coric
Monfils d. Rosol
As mentioned, Coric will need to be patient against Simon, and I’m not sure he can manage that quite yet, in their Marseille h2h meeting, Coric struggled at the start, took the second, but then lost in three, plus he should be more fatigued, thus I give Simon the edge.
Monfils won a Davis Cup match against Rosol, and this tournament is on his racquet given how well he played in Monte Carlo, if he shows interest, he should be a near lock to reach the final, as nobody is near his level on the bottom half.
Simon d. Monfils
Simon beat Monfils in Marseille this year, and also won their clay court meeting (5-1 h2h), they play what is one of the highest average rally length matchups in tennis, and though Monfils should win Bucharest this week given his level, I don’t trust him enough, and I’m going with the more reliable Simon, especially given the h2h, and the win this year.