2017 ATP Rio de Janeiro Preview and Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The Golden Swing on South American red clay has its marquee event this week, as it’s time for some tennis Brazilian style in Rio de Janeiro. It’s a 500 level event, and here is your preview, with predictions.
Rio Open Presented by Claro
ATP World Tour 500
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
February 20-26, 2017
Prize Money: $1,461,560
Top 4 seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Kei Nishikori (5)
2: Dominic Thiem (8)
3: Pablo Cuevas (22)
4: Pablo Carreno Busta (25)
Compared to last week’s Rotterdam 500 Rio isn’t near as strong, but it’s still an improvement on the previous two weeks of 250 level stops on South American clay.
First round matches to watch:
(1)Kei Nishikori vs. Thomaz Bellucci
Nishikori has suffered three losses this season compared to nine wins, but it still seems like he’s underperforming his ranking. Even coming off a run to the final in Buenos Aires, it’s expected Kei will be able to defeat the big hitting home hero Bellucci, but the h2h is 1-1, Bellucci isn’t bad on clay, and he should be fresher. I’ll go with Nishikori to win, but I have Bellucci taking a set.
Alexandr Dolgopolov vs. (6)David Ferrer
The aging Ferrer leads the h2h 8-3, but Dolgopolov comes off the title in Buenos Aires and has won two of their last three meetings. Ferrer has been in terrible form this season, posting just three wins, compared to three losses. The shotmaker Dolgopolov is erratic in his own way, having struggled for months before winning in Buenos Aires. Dolgo tends to struggle off of long, tiring weeks of tennis though, giving Ferrer an opportunity to kickstart his 2017 with a quality win.
After reaching the final in Buenos Aires, Nishikori will big once more for a title on South American clay. After taking on Bellucci in what should be a rowdy match, another Brazilian, Thiago Monteiro should follow. Monteiro opens with Gastao Elias after reaching the quarterfinals in BA. Nishikori is simply a better player than either Brazilian, his quarterfinal should be against Portugese #1 and BA quarterfinalist Joao Sousa. Sousa opens with qualifier Roberto Carballes Baena (2-1 h2h), with the winner of Casper Ruud and Brazil’s Rogerio Dutra Silva to follow. The young Ruud is talented enough to win in round 1 over the journeyman RDS, but Sousa should reach the quarters before falling to Nishikori just like what happened last week on clay in BA.
I have an all-Spanish quarterfinal in the second part of the draw, Former Rio champion Ferrer will face either Carlos Berlocq or Horacio Zeballos in round 2 after battling Dolgo. Berlocq stunned Ferrer at home in BA, but the fan-favorite journeyman is 34, and after reaching the BA semifinals he should be fatigued. I have Ferrer getting revenge over Berlocq in round 2. Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta should have another good week. PCB opens with Joao Souza and after semifinals in BA, he should reach at least the quarterfinals in Rio with a win over either Gerald Melzer or defending Rio finalist Guido Pella, who is struggling. Now a solid part of the ATP’s top 30, Carreno Busta should reach consecutive semifinals with a win over Ferrer.
45-13 on clay over the last two seasons, Austria’s Dominic Thiem is journeying over from Europe to take part in his first clay court tournament of 2017. Thiem reached the quarters in Rotterdam, but has performed below lofty expectations thus far. He’ll open with struggling veteran Janko Tipsarevic, another Serbian, Dusan Lajovic, should follow for Thiem, presuming Lajovic does away with a struggling Facundo Bagnis. Thiem’s first difficult match should come against Paolo Lorenzi/Federico Delbonis or Diego Schwartzman in the quarters. The Italian veteran Lorenzi opens with Federico Delbonis, Diego Schwartzman or Renzo Olivo will follow. The 35 year old Italian was a finalist in Quito, and although he’s struggled against Delbonis in recent matchups, I have him notching a slight upset and then falling to DSS, who isn’t playing poorly at all, and should beat Olivo in round 1. Thiem should edge Schwartzman in the quarters.
Defending champion Pablo Cuevas isn’t playing his best tennis, but young qualifier Arthur De Greef likely hasn’t developed enough to beat him in round 1. Cuevas should then do away with qualifier Nicolas Kicker (or qualifier Marco Cecchinato). In the quarters Albert Ramos, 4-2 in his last two clay court tournaments, is likely to be on the other side of the net. Ramos opens with Stephane Robert, he’ll then face a veteran, either Fabio Fognini or Tommy Robredo in round 2. Robredo just beat Fognini last week in BA, given he did so in straight sets, I have him winning for the second week in a row before falling to Ramos. Despite Cuevas 4-1 h2h edge over Ramos, Ramos is in better form and I have him reaching the semifinals.
Dark Horse: Diego Schwartzman
I wouldn’t count an Argentine or Brazilian player to make a run this week, and Schwartzman is my dark horse pick. Lorenzi and Thiem are not easy early round opponents, but both are beatable, and Thiem may be fatigued. Schwartzman has shown he has a well-rounded game and can play his best tennis on clay, if he finds his groove he could make a mark this week like Berlocq and Dolgopolov did last week.
Nishikori d. Carreno Busta
Ramos d. Thiem
Nishikori has lost six straight ATP finals and badly needs to win one for his own confidence, he should edge past PCB. I have Ramos finding more success against a likely tired and vulnerable Thiem. Ramos won their only h2h match (on a hard court), which should give the Spaniard confidence.
Nishikori d. Ramos
Nishikori has lost on clay to Ramos before, but he’s won more often than not in this matchup. and as mentioned, badly needs an ATP title.