2016 ATP Auckland Preview and Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The remaining pair of ATP 250 warm-up tournaments prior to the Australian Open take place this week in Auckland, NZ, and Sydney, Australia. Both are on outdoor hard courts and feature fields that could lead to some surprising results.
ATP World Tour 250
Auckland, New Zealand
January 11-January 17, 2016
Prize Money: $463,520
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: David Ferrer (7)
2: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (10)
3: John Isner (11)
4: Kevin Anderson (12)
Auckland has an improved field compared to last season with eight top 25 players, hopefully a strong field will continue to grow interest in tennis in NZ.
First round matchups to watch:
(7)Ivo Karlovic vs. Vasek Pospisil
A battle of big servers likely to feature at least one tiebreak. Karlovic is making his 2016 debut after a strong 2015 season where he reached multiple quarterfinals or better on hard courts. The 36 year old continues to be a tricky opponent with his sidewinding serve. Pospisil lost last week in the opening round of Chennai and looks to do better here. The younger Canadian is likely to start 0-2 heading into the AO however, as Karlovic is a tough out.
(8)Roberto Bautista Agut vs. Jiri Vesely
The defending champion Vesely faces 2014 semifinalist Bautista Agut in this cracking hard court match. Vesely is unseeded but the 22 year old is nearly into the top 40 and 4x reached an ATP quarterfinal or better in 2015. The Czech slumped late last season, and looks to get back on track now after a 1-2 result in Hopman Cup singles. RBA reached the quarterfinals in Chennai and appears to be primed for another good week.
(6)Fabio Fognini vs. Joao Sousa
A gut check match for Fognini, who beat Sousa in China late last year. Fabio had a strong finish to last season on hard courts, displaying shotmaking prowess, but his talent has never been in doubt and his focus has continually been a disappointment. Fognini should be the favorite here, Sousa is a good attacking baseliner however, and reached a remarkable four ATP finals last year, capturing one title.
Four-time Auckland champion David Ferrer should be able to cruise to the quarterfinals past Steve Johnson/Matthew Barton, as Johnson dropped his opening match in Brisbane last week, and Barton is making his ATP debut after years on the challenger tour. Ferrer was shocked in Doha by Illya Marchenko, and could run into trouble in the quarterfinals if Benoit Paire can find form.
The Chennai semifinalist continues to rise. Paire should ride his backhand to a win over wild card Michael Venus, and then beat the Guillermo Garcia-Lopez/Lukas Rosol winner. Paire just beat Rosol in Chennai, where GGL was a quarterfinalist. Paire is 2-1 against GGL, but 0-3 against Ferrer. Having never faced him on a fast surface, I’m going with Paire’s form to upset Ferrer and reach the semifinals.
Kevin Anderson sustained a knee injury that forced him to withdrawal from Chennai and now he’ll have to defend semifinal points in Auckland. The South African is in for a tricky quarterfinalist test against the Karlovic/Pospisil winner, as long as he can brush off injury concerns to beat either Pablo Andujar or qualifier Robin Haase in round 2.
Anderson is 1-1 against Karlovic on hard courts, but given the knee concerns for Anderson, I have Karlovic reaching the semifinals. Karlovic/Pospisil faces Jack Sock/Victor Estrella in round 2. Sock struggled in Hopman Cup play for Team USA, he remains talented and rising, but his form is in question. Karlovic is 3-0 on fast surfaces against Sock.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga went 19-8 in the summer and fall hard court seasons in 2015, after a slow start returning to tour from an injury. The Frenchman is back in the top 10, now as an experienced campaigner, and with his health back, the fan favorite should be able to continue his attacking brand of tennis into 2016. Tsonga is set to face a German in round 2, Benjamin Becker has qualified for both Doha and Auckland already this year, while Philipp Kohlschreiber remains a talented veteran, reaching an ATP quarterfinal or better more than a half dozen times, though he had erratic results as well. The 2008 Auckland champion should defeat Becker but fall to Tsonga, given the Frenchman’s dominant 8-0 h2h record.
Tsonga’s difficult section should continue in the quarterfinals. The Fognini/Sousa winner will be favored over either qualifier Thiemo De Bakker or Albert Ramos. Either could trouble Tsonga, but given his 3-0 h2h over Fognini, he should be the favorite to reach the semifinals.
Rounding out the semis should be two-time champion John Isner. The American #1 is bidding for the top 10 after a strong season on hard courts last year (a title, a final, and a masters semi). Isner will need to serve past either his good friend Sam Querrey, or Chennai semifinalist Aljaz Bedene in round 2. Querrey is capable of decent hard court results, while Bedene continues to show improvement but may be suffering from fatigue.
The RBA/Vesely winner is the likely quarterfinal opponent for Isner, with just Donald Young or local wild card Finn Tearney standing in their path round 2. Tearney is making his ATP debut, the former Pepperdine NCAA player has risen up the challenger ranks, while Young remains an unpredictable competitor.
Isner is 2-0 in the h2h against RBA, though both their matches went three sets. Isner should be the superior player and setup a semifinal meeting with Tsonga.
Dark Horse: Jack Sock
Like Vesely, Sock went just 1-2 in Hopman Cup singles, however he could find his way into the semifinals or better if he can get past Karlovic/Pospisil in round 2, and likely a hobbled Anderson in the quarters. Facing big servers is always a tough ask on hard courts, but Sock has the ground strokes to compete, and this looks to be a good year for him. I wouldn’t put it past the American to find form and impress this week.
Karlovic d. Paire
Isner d. Tsonga
Karlovic has a hard court h2h win over Paire, while Isner is 3-1 against Tsonga, and has winning history in Auckland. Ferrer or Paire could just as well reach the final, but I’m backing big servers.
Isner d. Karlovic
Karlovic leads Isner 2-1 on hard courts, but it’s a close matchup of players with similar styles. Expect tiebreaks, with Isner’s sweeping forehand against Karlovic’s net game. This sets up to be a good week for Isner, who opted to start the season in Auckland.