2016 ATP Chennai Preview and Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The ATP World Tour’s only stop in India takes place in Chennai to start the season, it’s a 250 on hard courts.
Aircel Chennai Open
ATP World Tour 250
January 4-10, 2016
Prize Money: $425,535
Top 4 seeds (Who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Stan Wawrinka (4)
2: Kevin Anderson (12)
3: Benoit Paire (19)
4: Roberto Bautista Agut (25)
Three top 20 players in Chennai as it has the weakest field of the tournaments this week.
First round matchups to watch:
(WC)Andrey Rublev vs. (Q)Somdev Devvarman
The Russian teenager Rublev was a poor 6-11 in his first ATP matches last season, but he went a solid 20-12 below the ATP main draw level and has tremendous potential if he can get his game under control. We could see a breakthrough from him this season.
Devvarman qualified and remains the top Indian tennis player, the 30 year has struggled to get himself up to the ATP tour level and stay there, he’s a solid ball striker but lacks weapons, and when the wheels come off he has trouble winning matches. Playing on home soil should help him, but the more talented Rublev should be the favorite.
(5)Guillermo Garcia-Lopez vs. Taro Daniel
GGL had his best year on tour in five years as the all-courter went 31-25 in 2015 and played quality tennis that threatened the best players when his shotmaking game was on point. Thus he’ll be the favorite in this one, but Taro Daniel, who finished 2015 strong with a challenger tour final, and title, could upset the apple cart.
Daniel remains talented but inconsistent, at 22 he’s in the top 100, but went just 1-5 at the ATP main tour level last year and 61-23 below that. The Japanese-American prefers clay, but he can hold his own on hard courts, and could test GGL if the Spaniard is rusty to start the season.
Luca Vanni vs. Jan-Lennard Struff
Vanni was one of the great stories of the 2015 season, at 30 years old the Italian journeyman reached the ATP level, and the top 100, for the first time, going 4-9, and 36-24 below that main draw level, a career year. Now Luca is expected to back that up with more main draw wins, and he could get one against J.L Struff who was a horrible 4-18 at the ATP main draw level last season, and struggles being mentally tough when it counts. Struff has plenty of talent, but until he works on his mind he’ll struggle.
Three-time and defending Chennai champion Stan Wawrinka should blitz his way to the quarterfinals as the Swiss will open with the Rublev/Devvarman winner. Garcia-Lopez is his likely quarterfinal opponent, as the Spaniard will face Nicolas Almagro or qualfier Ante Pavic in round 2. Almagro is still fighting to get back to the top 20 player he was, and he went 18-20 at the main tour level last season, he should get past Pavic, a 26 year old journeyman. Almagro and GGL have a 5-5 h2h presently.
Wawrinka is 4-0 on fast surfaces against Garcia-Lopez and his 55-18 record last year was his most ever wins on tour. Given his history in Chennai, look for the momentum to continue for Stan the man in a backhand battle with Garcia-Lopez as he’ll reach the semis.
The pressure is on Benoit Paire to maintain his top 20 ranking as the Frenchman broke out of a malaise and made good on his tremendous talent last season with a 64-27 mark in tournament matches. Paire remains erratic and exciting, should he continue to maintain his focus, look for him to defeat either Santiago Giraldo or Lukas Rosol in his first match. Rosol and Giraldo both underperformed on the ATP tour last year and need to show quick improvement to avoid an even worse decline in their rankings, which both sit outside of the top 50 now. Rosol should beat Giraldo, but fall to Paire.
#6 seed Gilles Muller poses a threat to burst through his draw section with big serving and crisp volleys. Muller went 34-25 in a great year at the tour level for the tall 32 year old. He should get past Russian teen Karen Khachanov in round 1 as Khachanov has talent but limited ATP experience (3-4 in his career). After that he should have no trouble with a qualifier, either Jozef Kovalik or Thomas Fabbiano. Kovalik is making his ATP main draw debut at 23, while Fabbiano has never won an ATP match at 26, someone will win their first ATP main draw match in that one.
Muller and Paire are 1-1 in the h2h, but Paire’s strong finish to last season and superior talent suggests to me he should have an edge to advance to the semifinals, though staying focused is important against a server of Muller’s caliber.
Big serving South African Kevin Anderson had a career best 46-24 ATP mark last season and he’ll look to maintain his top 15 ranking with a good tournament result here. Anderson should have little trouble against his first opponent, either Ramkumar Ramanathan or Daniel Gimeno-Traver. DGT is poor off of clay, and Ramanathan is a talented 21 year old Indian still looking to make his ATP main draw move. He’s been a solid challenger level player, and I see him winning his round 1 match on home soil before falling to Anderson and his serve.
Anderson and fellow big server Vasek Pospisil are on a track to meet in the quarterfinals. Pospisil improved last season with a 28-25 mark overall and he’s better on hard courts than his first round opponent Aljaz Bedene, who fell to Pospisil in Valencia last fall. Vasek will face the Vanni/Struff winner in round 2, and he’s the best player talent wise in his section. Anderson should prove too much for Pospisil in the quarterfinals as I’d be surprised to see the lanky South African stumble before the semis.
Former Chennai finalist Roberto Bautista Agut is the highlight of a field that features five Spanish players in the main draw. RBA has had just over 40 wins his previous two ATP seasons and is a consistent competitor these days just below an elite level. He could be tested in his first match against the John Millman/Evgeny Donskoy winner, but his hard court ball striking is above their level. Millman is a talent but he was just 5-9 at the main tour level last year and hasn’t quite made his ATP move yet, and is running out of time at 26. Donskoy has struggled to get back to ATP main draws at 25 but the Russian also has talent.
RBA vs. Borna Coric is the likely quarterfinal matchup. The Croatian teenager had a solid 35-30 season, with a vast majority of his matches coming at the ATP main draw level. Coric is here to stay as a young talent and it will be interesting to see how his game will improve this season. Struggling veteran Marcel Granollers is his first opponent, Granollers isn’t at his best on hard courts. After that it will be either Rajeev Ram or Austin Krajicek. Both Krajicek and Ram experienced ATP success last year, and Krajicek made improving strides in 2015, however Ram, as an Indian, should have an edge at home soil with his serve and volley game.
Coric should test RBA but given this surface and a 2-0 h2h in favor of the Spaniard I have Bautista Agut reaching the semis.
Dark Horse: Gilles Muller
If the veteran Muller serves well on this surface he could well win the entire tournament, Paire and Wawrinka is a challenging path to the final but both could be vulnerable to upsets. Wawrinka went 3-0 against Muller last season with every match featuring a tiebreak.
Wawrinka d. Paire
Anderson d. Bautista Agut
Wawrinka is 5-1 against Paire and has won the last three meetings against his best friend on tour, it’s simply not a good matchup for the Frenchman, and Wawrinka should be focusing in on his game early in the season. RBA had a h2h win over Anderson in 2013, but the South African has established a gap between him and players like Bautista on this surface in that span of time, and he’s on pace to reach a hard court final.
Wawrinka d. Anderson
Wawrinka is 4-3 on hard courts against Anderson and won their last meeting at the 2015 US Open. It’s a close matchup with a small margin of error, but given Wawrinka’s history in Chennai he’s the favorite to defend his title.