2016 ATP Doha Preview and Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The richest stop on the ATP tour this week is in glitzy Doha, Qatar as many of the top players will stop off in the Middle East for a hard court 250 before heading down under and continuing their Australian Open preparations.
Qatar ExxonMobil Open
ATP World Tour 250
January 4-9, 2016
Prize Money: $1,189,605
Top 4 seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Novak Djokovic (1)
2: Rafael Nadal (5)
3: Tomas Berdych (6)
4: David Ferrer (7)
Doha is quite top heavy with four top 10 players, and then a big drop off in ranking as the top seeds should be at an advantage this week.
First round matchups to watch:
Fernando Verdasco vs. (WC)Malek Jaziri
Verdasco had his worst year in quite some time on the ATP Tour in 2015 going 24-26 as the Spanish lefty appears to be burning out at 32. This year is crucial for his career, and if he gets off to a poor start he may not be sticking around main draws for long as he’s dropped to #49 in the world.
To get himself back in form he’ll need to win matches like this against the wild card Jaziri who was a mediocre 12-20 at the ATP tour level last year, but still had his best ever year on tour and showed flashes of shotmaking ability well above his journeyman status and ranking of #103 presently. Verdasco should win this but he could be rusty.
(8)Leonardo Mayer vs. (Q)Benjamin Becker
Mayer has a hard court h2h win against Becker, but this match is far closer than the respective rankings of these veterans would suggest. Mayer has been average on hard courts historically, and Becker, when healthy, can serve and attack effectively to post quality results. The German struggled with back problems last year, and at 34 he’s not getting any younger. Mayer is the favorite but the qualifier continuing his good form for an upset would not shock me.
Martin Klizan vs. (Q)Kyle Edmund
Klizan is ranked in the top 50 but he was below .500 at the tour level last year and was relatively unimpressive on hard courts. The Slovak still has the ability to hit with power, but he struggles with consistency and keeping the ball in play. Edmund is a rising young Brit who is just outside the top 100 at 20. He’s 2-12 in his career at the ATP main draw level, but you have to assume those results will start turning the corner soon, and they could do so in this match.
(6)Andreas Seppi vs. Ricardas Berankis
The Italian veteran Seppi, who plays with a lot of variety in his game, has won two close matches with Berankis, and on this surface this match has some intrigue to start the season. Seppi started the year off hot last season, but crumbled down the stretch and finished just 26-25 overall, while securing a ranking inside the top 30. Berankis remains talented but underachieving at 25, he had a career high 12 tour level match wins last year, but still finished under ,500 at that level. The undersized ball striker could catch Seppi by surprise if he’s rusty, but the seed is the favorite.
After an incredible 2015 where he posted an 82-6 record, and won almost every marquee tournament, Novak Djokovic is going for an even better encore act in 2016. He can start the year off right by adding another trophy to his storage unit of trophies with a title in Doha. The world #1 will open with the exciting Dustin Brown, who qualified and would love an opening round upset of epic proportions. Brown has been able to play a considerable number of ATP matches over the past two seasons, and though he was under .500 against last year, you never know what you’re going to get with his serve and volley game. Djokovic should advance however and then ease past the Verdasco/Jaziri winner.
The Becker/Mayer has the inside track to post an early ATP quarterfinal as their round 2 opponent will be either Pablo Andujar or Paolo Lorenzi, both of whom prefer clay. After Brown, nobody should be able to stop Djokovic before the semis, and I have Mayer in the quarters before falling to Djokovic.
Tomas Berdych should also be untroubled before the quarterfinals, he’s defending finals points from last season at this tournament. Berdych is 6-0 in his career against his opening round opponent Sergiy Stakhovsky, the Ukrainian unable to handle his baseline power after a 20-25 ATP main draw record last season. Berdych went 57-22, his most wins ever in an ATP season. Berdych should ease past Damir Dzumhur or Marco Cecchinato in round 2, with Dzumhur a better hard court player than the Italian.
Look for Berdych to face another serve in volleyer, Feliciano Lopez, in the quarterfinals. Flopez ended 2015 with a 32-26 record, one that was comparable to his 2014, along with a top 20 ranking. The Spaniard will face his countryman, journeyman Daniel Munoz de la Nava in round 1, and then the Klizan/Edmund winner. Presuming the Spanish veteran can continue his hard court success from previous seasons, it’ll be a Berdych vs. Lopez quarterfinal with Berdych holding a 4-3 hard court h2h edge, and having won the previous two meetings. Berdych can play bad matches at times but he’s the favorite for the semis.
2014 Doha champion Rafael Nadal is looking for a 2016 that is far better than his 2015, where he lost more matches (20) than he had in any previous ATP season. Nadal showed signs of turning the corner, after playing below top 10 level for parts of last season, when he finished strong on the Fall swing. This tournament is another form check for Rafa in advance of the Australian Open, in regards to how vulnerable he is to an upset. His first opponent, countryman Pablo Carreno Busta, is not the type of upset him, though PCB showed improvement on hard courts in 2015. Nadal should also cruise past either Robin Haase or qualifier Aslan Karatsev. Karatsev has limited ATP experience, while Haase once more disappointed at the ATP level with a sub .500 record in tour matches.
Nadal should be pleased with his draw as the Berankis/Seppi winner is also a good matchup for his defensive baseline game in the quarterfinals. Berankis/Seppi will face either Marsel Ilhan or Andrey Kuznetsov in round 2. Both players were poor at the ATP level last season. Nadal over Seppi is the most likely result in the quarters. Nadal is 6-1 in the career h2h vs. Seppi.
David Ferrer had his fewest ATP losses since 2012 when he posted a 53-16 record in 2015, and continued to defy his doubters with another top 8 season at 33 years old with his grinding style of play. Ferru is the defending champion and opens with journeyman Ilya Marchenko in his first match. Teymuraz Gabashvili or Simone Bolelli will be his round 2 opponent. Gabashvili is 2-0 on hard courts against the shotmaker Bolelli, who had a better ATP record than the he did in 2015. Both can play great tennis, and have their peaks and valleys. I have Bolelli winning his first match and then falling to Ferrer who he is 0-6 against. Ferrer is 2-1 against Gabashvili.
#7 Seed Jeremy Chardy could trip up in round 2 if he doesn’t tune his game up after drubbing local wild card Mubarak Shannan Zayid in round 1, who is at a level below most ATP hitting partners. Albert Ramos and Paul-Henri Mathieu will vie for the right to face him round 2, as Ramos was stronger at the ATP level last season but Mathieu with his baseline ball striking can play crafty veteran tennis at times. Presuming Ramos top spin is working he should test Chardy who was an even 28-28 last season. Chardy usually operates under the radar in tournaments and I do have him reaching another quarterfinal in subtle fashion.
Ferrer will be looking for revenge against Chardy after losing to him at the 2015 US Open. Ferrer dominates the overall h2h 7-2 and should extend that to 8-2 in reaching the semifinals, though Chardy’s deceptive game could surprise.
Dark Horse: Ricardas Berankis
It would be a good showing for the unseeded Berankis to get past Seppi and Ilhan/Kuznetsov to reach the quarterfinals and get an upset shot at Nadal. Berankis has always had the talent and this needs to be a breakthrough year for him, similar to the type of success David Goffin, a player of similar style and stature, was able to have last season.
Djokovic d. Berdych
Nadal d. Ferrer
Nadal won both his meetings against Ferrer last season and Djokovic is 6-0 against Berdych over the past two seasons, thus both of the top seeds have a clear edge to reach the final. It’s also worth noting that Nadal just beat Ferrer in a hard court exo in Abu Dhabi, an exo that he won.
Djokovic d. Nadal
The tournament organizers would love this final and they will probably get it. The h2h is 23-23 between the legends but Djokovic swept Nadal last year (4-0) and has also won the last four hard court meetings. Nadal knows how to beat the world #1, and he still has enough belief to do it, but Nadal would need to play a flawless match to defeat Djokovic.