2015 ATP Basel and Valencia Preview and Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
Two weeks are left in the 2015 ATP Season as the tour stops for a 500 level tournament in Basel, and a 250 level tournament in Valencia, both on indoor hard courts.
Swiss Indoors Basel
ATP World Tour 500
October 26-November 1, 2015
Prize Money: €1,575,295
Top 8 seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Roger Federer (3)
2: Stan Wawrinka (4)
3: Rafael Nadal (7)
4: Kevin Anderson (12)
5: Richard Gasquet (11)
6: John Isner (14)
7: Marin Cilic (13)
8: David Goffin (17)
A host of top 20 players invade Basel as the final ATP 500 of the season boast a top notch field for a 500 level tournament. Basel has gone above and beyond the home heroes Federer and Wawrinka in terms of attracting tennis talent.
First round matchups to watch:
Philipp Kohlschreiber vs. (Q)Jerzy Janowicz
Janowicz came through qualifying and is 8-3 in his last three indoor hard court tournaments, he also a h2h indoor hard court win over the veteran Kohlschreiber. Peppo is 7-2 in his own right since the US Open though and has posted two ATP semifinal showings this Fall. Big hitting will collide with quality ball striking and with both players in good form it should be a high quality contest. I see Kohlschreiber surviving this early test.
(4)Kevin Anderson vs. Borna Coric
Anderson rolled past the young gun Coric in Winston-Salem this year but the Croatian is returning to the scene of one of his best ever wins, as he beat Rafael Nadal in a shocker here last year. Anderson has two ATP quarterfinals this fall and continues to play some great fast surface tennis. Coric is just 1-3 in his last four matches and could badly use a confidence boosting win. This one should be closer than expected but Anderson should serve too well for Coric to notch an upset.
(6)John Isner vs. Ernests Gulbis
Ernests Gulbis has plenty of talent but he’s endured yet another awful and disappointing season.With that said, things may be turning around for the Latvian #1, as he reached his first ATP semifinal of the season in Vienna and snapped a long losing streak. Isner lost to Gulbis in Vienna last week and he’s looking to avenge that three set defeat with methodical serving. Given his 2-1 overall h2h on hard courts and Gulbis lack of consistency I look for the American #1 to avoid getting upset again.
(2)Stan Wawrinka vs. Ivo Karlovic
Home hero Stan Wawrinka needed a third set tiebreak to get past the big serving Ivo Karlovic in Cincy this year, but he leads the overall h2h 5-1 and he’ll have the crowd behind him for this tricky opening round match. Nobody likes to play Karlovic given how well he serves and he does have two ATP quarterfinals this Fall. With that said, Wawrinka’s form and motivation should be good enough to win a tiebreak or two and advance.
Six time Basel champion Roger Federer always plays well at his home tournament and has been fantastic this season when not facing the top 3 (excluding his shocking early loss in Shanghai to Albert Ramos). Federer could have an interesting round 2 match against the Kohlschreiber/Janowicz winner, but otherwise I look for him to get through to the semifinals unscathed. Federer is 2-0 against his round 1 opponent Mikhail Kukushkin, a journeyman, and 10-0 in the h2h against Kohli, though the German has tested him this season. In the quarterfinals the Swiss Maestro is likely to face David Goffin, his understudy. Goffin isn’t in great form but he opens with a struggling Andreas Seppi, and then either Viktor Troicki, or more likely qualifier Adrian Mannarino, both of whom are struggling as well. Federer is 2-0 against Goffin and they met in the final of Basel last year.
Anderson and Isner should be on a collision course to meet in the quarterfinals, if young talents with firepower don’t derail them. After Coric, Anderson will face either Henri Laaksonen or Donald Young and he should roll through that one given his superior talent and form. Isner has a more difficult test with Stockholm finalist Jack Sock likely to await him in round 2. Sock will need to beat fellow American Denis Kudla first, and Isner of course has to beat Gulbis. Kudla has won the past three meetings against Sock, even though Jack has surpassed him in terms of ranking and career accomplishments. Sock has an ATP quarterfinal and his second career ATP final already on his resume this Fall and is in the midst of a career year. Given the fact he played in both the singles and doubles finals in Stockholm, Kudla upsetting a tired Sock wouldn’t surprise me, and I give Isner an edge to get past Sock regardless (4-1 h2h).
Isner has won the last five meetings against Anderson and though it should be a tight quarterfinal contest, I give the American #1 the edge to survive in tiebreaks and reach the semifinals.
Stan Wawrinka has never reached the finals in Basel and his draw doesn’t get any easier after Karlovic as the dangerous shotmaker Alexandr Dolgopolov should await him in round 2. Dolgo faces qualifier Dusan Lajovic and is likely to snap a five match losing streak since reaching the Cincy Masters semis this summer. Dolgo has a 2-1 h2h edge over Wawrinka, who can get erratic at times and play well below his ranaking (while Dolgo can play like a top 10 player). With that said, given the Ukrainians poor form as of late I favor Wawrinka (or Karlovic) to reach the quarters. There, Stockholm semifinalist Richard Gasquet should be waiting and he may well be the favorite to reach the semifinals after going through a path of Jiri Vesely and most likely Dominic Thiem in rounds 1 and 2. Thiem has hit the skids since reaching the semis in St. Petersburg and faces qualifier Robin Haase first up. Both Gasquet and Thiem have very technically sound games and it should be a must-see match in round 2 if they meet.
I look for Gasquet to continue his good form and oust the Tokyo champion Wawrinka at home. once more denying him a shot at the Basel trophy. Gasquet beat Wawrinka on grass this year at Wimbledon and each player features an elite backhand.
Rafael Nadal got a relatively benign path to the quarterfinals, The Spaniard, who is 7-2 since the US Open with an ATP final and semifinal on hard courts, opens with Lukas Rosol first up. Rosol famously shocked him at Wimbledon, but he’s failed to repeat that type of result on a consistent basis, and though he comes off the quarterfinals in Vienna I don’t see lighting striking twice. A seemingly healthy Nadal badly needs late season points to boost his ranking and should give it his all after another rough season by his standards. Grigor Dimitrov, a quarterfinalist in both Stockholm and Kuala Lumpur, is another player with the talent to trouble, and in fact, oust Nadal, but given his flat season and recent form, I don’t see that happening. Dimitrov, who is now working with Franco Davin as his coach, played better in Stockholm last week but is still playing well below his abilities. Nadal is 6-0 in the h2h against Dimitrov, who opens with Sergiy Stakhovsky round 1.
Marin Cilic has been on fire since the US Open and he was given perhaps the easiest path to the quarterfinals of any of the seeds. The Moscow champion is 10-3 this Fall and is finally back playing near to the level he was at when he won the US Open title, before he suffered an injury that messed up the first half of his 2015 season. Cilic is playing above his current ranking and should blitz Marco Chiudinelli and Moscow quarterfinalist Teymuraz Gabashvili (who opens with a struggling Leonardo Mayer) in his first two matches. Fatigue could play a factor in his performance, but he has such an easy early path that I see him getting through.
On a hard court Cilic has the game to give Nadal fits, but with both players in good form, I give Rafa an edge due to the fact he should be fresher for their match, either way it’s an interesting section.
Dark Horse Ivo Karlovic
Jack Sock is likely too gassed to make a run in this one, so I’m going with Karlovic as my dark horse this week. All it takes is Dr. Ivo winning a couple of tiebreaks and he could slip past Wawrinka and bust the bottom half of the draw wide open. At 36 he’s a remarkable 36-23 on the season with an ATP title, an ATP final, and a handful of ATP semifinals as well. Karlovic has already beaten Tomas Berdych, Novak Djokovic, and Milos Raonic this season, and he’s looking to add Wawrinka (and possibly Gasquet’s) name to that list.
Federer d. Isner
Nadal d. Gasquet
You can’t really predict Federer not to reach the final here no matter what happens with the other section. The tournament organizers surely want a Federer vs. Nadal final, and I feel they are going to get it this time. Presuming Wawrinka goes out, Rafa (or Cilic) have a big edge to make the final. Gasquet has a famous mental block against Rafa.
Federer d. Nadal
Nadal has a matchup edge with Fed generally speaking, but indoors and with Federer in much better form this season the Swiss should take his seventh Basel trophy.
ATP World Tour 250
October 26-November 1, 2015
Prize Money: €537,050
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: David Ferrer (8)
2: Feliciano Lopez (16)
3: Bernard Tomic (18)
4: Fabio Fognini (22)
Basel is understandably much stronger this week but Valencia has still gathered some fan favorites and three top 20 players.
First round matchups to watch:
Joao Sousa vs. Gilles Muller
Joao Sousa has lost three straight but he did reach the final in St. Petersburg and he’s at his best in these indoor hard court 250s where he often gets on a hot streak and rides it to a final. The Portugese ballstriker will go up with the consistent serve and volleyer Gilles Muller. You know what you’re going to get with Muller, but he’s had a fantastic season and has two ATP quarterfinals and a semifinal on his resume this fall (7-3 record). You never know with Sousa, but Muller should continue to serve well and volley crisply for a win.
(7)Roberto Bautista Agut vs. (WC)Nicolas Almagro
Fan favorite Spaniard Nico Almagro is trying his best to return to the ATP level after injuries, while his countryman Roberto Bautista Agut looks to continue the energy from his best result of the season in Moscow, where he reached the final last week. Almagro won a round in Stockholm last week and RBA could be feeling fatigued, making this match worth watching, but more than likely RBA will be too consistent and advance.
Steve Johnson vs. Martin Klizan
Steve Johnson is nearly into the top 30 now and he’s in the midst of a career year o nthe ATP World Tour. Johnson is favored in this match after reaching his first ever ATP final in Vienna, and he’ll try to follow up that run with a solid win over the power hitter Klizan, who posted a semifinal in Metz not long ago. Klizan is very inconsistent but when he’s at his best it’s hard to deal with his powerful ground strokes. Johnson should be favored but I’m not certain he’ll win this.
David Ferrer is a three time champion in Valencia and he badly wants to clinch his ATP World Tour finals spot at home. The Spanish veteran is 50-12 this season and just captured his fifth title this year in Vienna. He also has a title in Kuala Lumpur this Fall and he’s tearing up the indoor hard court circuit. Nick Kyrgios, a semifinalist in Kuala Lumpur, and a quarterfinalist in Tokyo, will do his best to stop him, presuming Kyrgios beats a qualifier in round 1. That should be a difficult test for a possibly fatigued Ferrer, and Kyrgios has the firepower to win it, but Ferrer’s fight and consistent groundstrokes should help him advance.
Look for Jeremy Chardy or Vasek Pospisil to fall victim to that trademark Ferrer fight in the quarterfinals. Pospisil opens with a struggling Santiago Giraldo while Chardy faces Aljaz Bedene. They both should win those matches, and Chardy has been in better form (reached the quarters in Stockholm) thus I have him beating Pospisil. Though to his credit, the Canadian has had tough draws recently. Ferrer is 7-2 against Chardy in the h2h but Chardy shocked him at the US Open this year when Ferrer wasn’t 100% healthy. Ferru will get his revenge and reach the semis this week.
Shanghai quarterfinalist Bernard Tomic lost early in Stockholm but he should be a near lock for the quarterfinals this week, with only Pablo Cuevas/Pablo Carreno Busta in his way. Tomic is inconsistent and that’s something either Muller/Sousa or Benoit Paire should take advantage of. Paire opens with a qualifier and has been playing with renewed passion this season. The Frenchman has a challenger and an ATP final since reaching the second week of the US Open. With that said, he could well be fatigued from those runs. I have Muller beating Sousa, Paire, and the junkballer Tomic to reach the semifinals as a dark horse. The conditions in Valencia should suit his game.
Feliciano Lopez has a terrible record in Valencia and he could well go down in defeat once more at the hands of Johnson/Klizan. The 34 year old has an ATP final this Fall in Kuala Lumpur, but his poor record here has me favoring Klizan to sneak into the quarterfinals thanks to a lucky draw, even though it looks harsh. Fernando Verdasco also has a good draw, needing only to beat Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (6-2 h2h) and a qualifier to reach the quarterfinals. GGL did reach the Shenzen final but both Spaniards could badly use a positive result right now as they are struggling. Verdasco beat Klizan at Wimbledon this year, but the Spaniard is in the midst of his career decline and Klizan should find a way to dark himself to a win.
Beijing semifinalist and Vienna quarterfinalist Fabio Fognini seems to have found that rare moment of consistent top 20 play, and he’s not going to want to share that bliss with either a qualifier or the struggling Thomaz Bellucci in round 2. Fognini should make it to consecutive ATP quarterfinals, and he’ll have a great shot to knock off fellow ball striker RBA in the quarters (5-2 h2h). RBA faces Marcel Granollers/Andrey Rublev in round 2, presuming he defeats Almagro.
Dark Horse: Gilles Muller
If Muller plays within himself and relies on his trademark style he should at least draw some crowds, and at the best manufacture a late career masterpiece and find a way to win an ATP title in Valencia. Like Karlovic, Muller’s serve and volleying leaves little room for error, and he faces a beatable field if he’s allowed to do things his way.
Ferrer d. Muller
Fognini d. Klizan
Fognini is the stronger player in his section, and he’s faced Klizan in big matches before. Ferrer tends to play well against serve and volleyers.
Ferrer d. Fognini
Look for Fognini to catch fire and beat down anyone in his path, that is except for Ferrer, who strikes the ball well and should be able to challenge everything Fognini does well. The Spaniard is motivated and that has to be part of the equation when it comes to taking the title. Ferrer jut got past Fognini indoors in Vienna.