2015 ATP Washington D.C. (@CitiOpen) Preview and Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The next ATP 500 series event is the joint ATP/WTA hard court tournament in the American capital city Washington D.C. Most of the ATP players from the first stop of the North American hard court Summer in Atlanta will be making the trek up to D.C., joined by a host of other big names, as many of the top players begin their US Open prep.
ATP World Tour 500*
Washington D.C., USA
August 3-August 9, 2015
Prize Money: $1,508,815
*denotes joint ATP/WTA tournament
Top 8 seeds (top 16 seeds receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Andy Murray (3)
2: Kei Nishikori (5)
3: Marin Cilic (8)
4: Richard Gasquet (13)
5: Kevin Anderson (14)
6: Grigor Dimitrov (16)
7: Feliciano Lopez (19)
8: John Isner (18)
9 of the top 20 players in the world on the ATP side are in playing in D.C. this year as it’s one of the best fields they have ever had for this tournament, headlined of course by the three top 10, and two top 5 names in the draw, Murray, Nishikori, and Cilic.
First round matchups to watch:
Ricardas Berankis vs. Yen-Hsun Lu
Berankis is 6-2 in his last eight hard court matches and comes off of the quarterfinals in Atlanta where he lost to eventual champion John Isner. He’s once more been spending time on the challenger tour this year but he’s still always had the talent to do better than that. Lu, the steady baseline ball striker, suffered a tough round 2 loss to Vasek Pospisil in Atlanta and his form is somewhat questionable. Lu is predictable and ranked slightly higher, but Berankis will have his chances to advance from this competitive contest.
Donald Young vs. (WC)Tommy Haas
Donald Young, a loser of six straight, will take on the wild card Tommy Haas who is still working on his injury recovery tour (2-4 record since returning to tour). Haas is aging but always a talent, and Young appears entirely devoid of confidence at the moment, though he’s playing on his favored North American hard courts. Haas hasn’t played a hard court match since March 2014, but he will have a good chance of advancing from this match regardless.
Alexander Zverev vs. (Q)Yoshihito Nishioka
A battle between young guns, Zverev, 19, is just 1-4 in ATP level hard court matches this year but he’s a respectable 9-5 below that level, qualifying for both Marseille and Miami this year. The German much prefers clay and recently reached a semi in Bastad. The 18 year old Nishioka, who combines speedy footwork with solid power for his small frame has a much stronger hard court record of 16-9 on the year and came through qualifying with a pair of solid wins. The Delray Beach quarterfinalist Nishioka is better on this surface, and thus look for him to beat his young rival.
Dudi Sela vs. Hyeon Chung
The 19 year old Chung is another of the young guns in the DC draw this year, but he’s struggling, just 1-5 since reaching a hard court challenger final in South Korea. Sela, the Israeli veteran who lacks power in his game but rallies well, comes off quarterfinals in Atlanta and should be used to the hot conditions. Chung has a lot of talent, but I’m not sure he’ll be able to outwit the wise Sela.
Andy Murray is the top seed, and he’s a fantastic 44-7 on the season with a very strong hard court record to go with that. This year only Gilles Simon and Borna Coric have beaten him outside of the top 10, and with that in mind the in-form Murray is a strong favorite to go as far as the final here. Murray’s first match is sure to come against a veteran, either Benjamin Becker or Teymuraz Gabashvili. Gabashvili hasn’t played since Wimbledon but was in good form on the challenger tour prior to that, while Becker won his first match in a while in Atlanta but still may not entirely be healthy. I have Becker winning round 1 but losing to Murray, setting the UK #1 up with a match against Berankis/Lu for a spot in the quarters.
14 seed Pablo Cuevas gets a bye but he’s just 2-4 on hard courts this year, and rarely plays hard court matches in general as he’s a clay court specialist. Murray is 2-0 against Becker, and beat Berankis, who I have reaching round 3, in the 2013 Australian Open, overall he honestly shouldn’t drop a set en route to the quarters.
Atlanta champion John Isner was serving up aces and firing winners as he dominated the field in his title run, and presuming he doesn’t have too much fatigue he should continue that in D.C. on the same surface. Isner is twice a finalist in Washington and should have no trouble against Nicolas Jarry/Victor Estrella in round 2. Jarry is a clay court specialist but gets a wild card, while Estrella is merely an average player on hard courts. From there Isner is likely to face Atlanta semifinalist Vasek Pospisil, presuming Pospisil can physically recover from a grueling tournament in which he suffered cramping in the heat. Pospisil defends final points this year and will face Young/Haas round 2, Haas could trouble him, but I see Isner reaching the quarters and knocking him out. Pospisil is 2-1 against Isner but all of their matches have been close and Isner seems to have the form edge. Both players are big servers, but if Isner continues to win tiebreaks like he did in Atlanta that’ll be the difference.
Richard Gasquet should be in upset alert in his first match however, as Gilles Muller, the big serving veteran, is in excellent hard court form and could shock him. Muller, a semifinalist in singles and finalist in doubles in Atlanta, will face a struggling Malek Jaziri round 1 and has to win that before facing Gasquet. He also holds a 2-1 hard court record over the Frenchman, and presuming he’s not fatigued I have Muller upsetting Gasquet and then beating Jack Sock to reach the quarters. Sock struggled in the Atlanta heat and played poorly there but he’s still an American hard court talent with his dangerous forehand. His play in Atlanta aside he should beat Ruben Bemelmans/Marinko Matosevic in round 2, as Matosevic finally qualified and reached a main draw. Bemelmans has a solid hard court record but almost all of it comes below the main tour level and Matosevic has a h2h edge, his awful form this year aside. Sock should beat Bemelmans/Matosevic and then lose for a second time this year to Muller, as he also lost in a third set tiebreak in Indian Wells.
Grigor Dimitrov will have an easy round 2 match, as Atlanta finalist Marcos Baghdatis is nursing a leg injury, while qualifier Guido Pella prefers clay. It’s hard to predict that round 1 match, but regardless Dimitrov, who is a rather pedestrian 9-6 on hard courts this year, should first be tested in round 3 against either Steve Johnson or Bernard Tomic, both of whom could upset him. Tomic, the Bogota champion, will face Johnson in round 2, presuming Stevie J beats Lukas Lacko for the second week in a row. Their match in Atlanta went to three sets. Tomic is always hard to predict and he lost to Johnson on grass this year, but judging from his play in Bogota I have him reaching round 3 and then upsetting Dimitrov, who he is 0-2 against. Dimitrov simply seems to be in a malaise this year, and I feel Tomic is actually playing better.
Kei Nishikori is 17-5 on outdoor hard courts in 2015 and a solid 38-9 on the year overall, he may struggle in the heat but I still see him advancing past Ryan Harrison in his first match, presuming the qualifier Harrison beats James Duckworth. Nishikori has twice beaten Harrison this year as he simply does what Harrison does better from the baseline, along with being quicker. Kei should be on a minor upset alert in round 3 however, as Denis Kudla is in the form of his career and is on track to face him. Kudla, a semifinalist in Atlanta, has been on fire since he hired Billy Heiser as his coach, and appears to be fully committed to playing his best tennis. Denis, who is from D.C., should roll past Blaz Rola, then upset the seed Leonardo Mayer, who prefers clay (5-4 on hard courts in 2015), before facing Nishikori. Kei has a lone h2h win over Kudla, and Kudla is sort of a poor man’s Nishikori, still the heat factor may sway the match in the American’s favor. I don’t have him winning it, but I do see him coming close, though Nishikori is a quarterfinalist in my bracket.
Former finalist Viktor Troicki is in good form but he could have some trouble against the massive server Sam Groth in round 2. Troicki beat Groth this year on grass though, and the Aussie will need to defeat Thomaz Bellucci, who comes off of European clay where he posted solid results, in round 1. I have Troicki over Groth, and then past another great server, Feliciano Lopez, to reach the quarterfinals. Lopez comes off a semifinal on Gstaad clay, but he’s just 7-5 on hard courts this year, and could struggle in the hot conditions. The Spanish lefty will open with either Lleyton Hewitt or qualifier J.P. Smith as Hewitt continues his farewell tour against his in-form countryman. It’s hard to predict how Hewitt will do, but I still see him slipping past Smith before losing to Lopez. Hewitt is 4-1 against Lopez but he’s not the same player he once was. Troicki beat Lopez this year on clay, and otherwise has been in better form all season.
Marin Cilic, the defending US Open champion, has hardly played any hard court tennis this season, but his form has been improving steadily since returning from injury, and he appears to be back in top 20ish form in the least. Cilic should advance with relative ease over Sela/Chung but Sam Querrey could trouble him in the third round. Cilic is 3-0 against Querrey, but Querrey has been in good form while playing World Team Tennis for the local Washington Kastles. He’s actually an awful 1-6 on outdoor hard at the ATP level this year but he should beat Go Soeda/qualifier Darian King to reach round 3. King is making his ATP main draw debut at 23, while Soeda comes off a quarterfinal result in Atlanta. Look for Querrey over Soeda, and then Cilic past Querrey to secure a quarterfinal berth.
Big servers dominate the section above Cilic’s, as Kevin Anderson and Ivo Karlovic are seeded. Anderson is an excellent 11-4 over his last 15 matches (and 15-8 on hard courts this year). Presuming the South African is healthy and can maintain the form that nearly saw him upset Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon, he should dispatch Nishioka/Zverev and setup a meeting with Karlovic in round 3. Dr. Ivo was reportedly “crammed into a coach seat” on a flight to D.C. but hopefully he can stretch out against 2012 Champion Alexandr Dolgopolov/Tim Smyczek. Dolgo beat Smyczek this year in Delray (2-0 h2h), and though he comes off a tough loss in Atlanta, Smyczek is in atrocious form and thus the Ukrainian has the edge. Dolgo has two previous hard court h2h wins over Ivo but he lost to him in a close Wimbledon 5 setter this year, and Karlovic was a Newport finalist and Bogota semifinalist in recent weeks, showing his good form. Prior to that he also reached the quarters in Den Bosch and the semis in Halle.
Anderson is 3-1 against Karlovic in the h2h and their styles are very similar, with both using big serves to setup the rest of their game, except two or three tiebreaks as being a strong possibility, but Anderson is higher ranked and should reach the quarters by doing the same thing, at a higher level.
Dark Horse: Gilles Muller
I have the big serving Muller, who also has crisp volleys and returned better than he usually does in Atlanta, dealing with hot conditions once more and reaching yet another ATP semifinal in D.C., getting farther than that will be a tough ask, but the veteran has a great chance to continue to post good results and earn ranking points this week. He’ll have to upset Gasquet and likely Tomic/Dimitrov to get that far, but it’s a doable result given how much pressure he places on his opponents to hold their serves.
Murray d. Isner
Murray, one of the best pure returners in the game, is 4-0 against Isner, and though it should be a close match it’s hard to justify anyone but Murray reaching the semifinals in the first section this week.
Muller d. Tomic
If we do get a Muller vs. Tomic quarter, rather than Gasquet (6-4 on outdoor hard in 2015), Dimitrov or another name, Muller has the decided edge as he leads the h2h 4-0 and beat Tomic this year in Sydney. It’s a tough section to predict, but Muller has been impressive as of late and I see him making a shock run to the semifinals.
Cilic d. Anderson
Cilic is 5-1 against Anderson and though they aren’t that far apart in terms of ranking, Cilic has never lost to Kev on a hard court. Look for the Wimbledon quarterfinalist to follow up that result with a semifinal in D.C.
Nishikori d. Troicki
Nishikori is 4-1 against Troicki and has two wins against him this year, suggesting a matchup mismatch more than anything else. If Kei gets this far, he should reach the semis.
Murray d. Muller
Cilic d. Nishikori
Murray is 3-0 against Muller with two wins against him this year, same as was true against Isner, he’s one of the bets returners in the game and can neutralize big servers. Regardless of who faces in the semis, he’s a clear favorite for the final, and in fact the title itself.
We could have a rematch of the US Open final in the semis as Nishikori holds a 5-3 edge over Cilic in their rivalry, but Cilic has won all three of his matches on outdoor hard court (twice at the US Open). It’s hard to predict either way, but I feel Cilic is grooving into form and the conditions will favor him to reach the final.
Murray d. Cilic
Murray is 10-2 against Cilic, and thus Nishikori would actually have a better chance to upset him in the final, regardless, look for Murray to claim his fourth ATP title this year, which would also be his first on hard courts. The absence of Djokovic and Federer makes this his tournament to lose as he preps for the US Open.