Milos Raonic scored his second career win over Roger Federer, as the Canadian upset the Swiss legend 6-4 6-4 in Brisbane. Federer was suffering from the flu this week, and it showed, even though he reached the final. Raonic had that extra edge when needed to hold serve and grab a break in both sets, and he’s continuing to improve his bid for the top 10 with his 8th career ATP title.
Raonic needed three sets over Ivan Dodig, but his straight set wins over Lucas Pouille, and Bernard Tomic prepared him well for the final. Not much is new with Raonic’s game, but when he serves and returns as well as he did this week, he’s hard to stop.
A flu ravaged Federer still played well against Tobias Kamke, slipped past Grigor Dimitrov in three sets, and handled Dominic Thiem in straights. Dimitrov choked under pressure, while a subdued Federer was somewhat more aggressive than usual.
Henri Kontinen and John Peers beat Aussies Chris Guccione and James Duckworth in the doubles final.
Novak Djokovic will head into the Australian Open as a heavy favorite after his blistering warm-up run in Doha. The Serbian superstar and world #1 won his sixth consecutive tournament dating back to last season, and captured his first ever title in Doha with a thumping 6-1 6-2 win over Rafael Nadal. Djokovic has owned Nadal in recent years, and though the Spaniard played well before the final, he could only watch in awe as his game was dismantled from the start, later going on to compliment Djokovic’s performance.
Novak beat Dustin Brown, Fernando Verdasco, Leonardo Mayer, and Tomas Berdych as well this week, all without dropping a set, as he was rarely tested in Qatar.
Nadal lost his third ATP final in a row, but he still clawed his way past Pablo Carreno Busta in three sets, Robin Haase, Andrey Kuznetsov, and first time ATP semifinalist Illya Marchenko in the semifinals. Marchenko had the run of his life this week, scoring wins over David Ferrer, Teymuraz Gabashvili, and Jeremy Chardy with sharp, powerful baseline play. Things appear to be on the upswing for both players, and Nadal appears to be improving on hard courts.
The Lopez brothers, Feliciano and Marc, beat Philipp Petzschener and Alexander Peya in the doubles final.
Stan Wawrinka won his fourth ATP Chennai title (third in a row) with a resounding win over first time ATP finalist Borna Coric 6-3 7-5. We’ll be seeing more from Coric, as the 19 year old won three setters over Marcel Granollers, Roberto Bautista Agut, and improving semifinalist Aljaz Bedene. He also beat Austin Krajicek in round 2 this week.
Wawrinka was simply the toast of the town with routine straight set wins over Andrey Rublev, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, and Benoit Paire before the final. He too looks to be a threat heading into the Australian Open as well, and could challenge Djokovic like he has in the past in Melbourne.
Oliver March and Fabrice Martin defeated Krajicek/Paire in the doubles final.
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.
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.
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.
Semis 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.
Final 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.
Becker and Edmund progress in ATP Doha Qualifying Adam Addicott, Tennis Atlantic
The ExxonMobil Open will see world No.1 Novak Djokovic start his 2016 campaign. Prior to the main draw, 16 players battled against each during the qualifying tournament for four places in the main draw.
Spearheading the field was Spanish world No.72 Inigo Cervantes. The Spaniard ended 2015 on a high after winning the ATP Challenger Tour finals in Brazil. Despite the positive end to last year, Cervantes suffered a first round upset at the hands of Bosnia’s Mirza Basic.
After dropping the opening set, the former junior world No.6 battled back to upset the top seed 3-6, 6-2, 7-5. Basic’s reward was an encounter with German 7th seed Dustin Brown, who defeated Czech Republic’s Marek Michalicka in his opening match. Brown, who defeated Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon last year, edged his way past the Bosnian in two close sets (6-4,7-5) to reach the main draw.
Brown wasn’t the only German success in the qualifying tournament. Second seed Benjamin Becker overcame two close matches to progress to the main draw. After a slow start to his campaign, Becker defeated former world No.70 Flávio Cipolla 3-6,6-3,6-1, in his first match. In the following round he played veteran player Michael Berrer. Last year at the Qatar tournament Berrer stunned Rafael Nadal in the first round. Becker ensured that there was no chance that Berrer would create another shock in the tournament after he defeated the 35-year-old 5-7,7-5,7-5.
British tennis star Kyle Edmund booked his place in the main draw without dropping a set. The 20-year-old is currently ranked #102 in the world, three places below his career high. Last year he won three Challenger titles and was part of the winning Davis Cup team. Edmund booked a final showdown with Moldova’s Radu Albot after defeating Italy’s Andrea Arnaboldi in his opening match. During the 74-minute encounter, Edmund held eight of his nine service games during his 6-2, 6-4 win over Albot.
Finally Russian world No.195 Aslan Karatsev produced wins over the fourth and fifth seed to reach the main draw. In the first round he stunned Belgium Ruben Bemelmans 6-3, 6-3, to book a second round meeting with Lukas Lacko. After an early stumble in the match where he went down 0-3 to Lacko, the Russian maneuvered his way back to win 6-4, 6-4. The 22-year-old is yet to play in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament, however, last year he won his first challenger title in Kazan (Russia) at the age of 21.
Main draw matches for the qualifiers
(Q) Dustin Brown vs. (1) Novak Djokovic
(Q) Benjamin Becker vs. (8) Leonardo Mayer
(Q) Kyle Edmund vs. Martin Klizan
(Q) Aslan Karatsev vs. Robin Haase
All of the qualifiers have winnable opening round matches except for Brown, who will need to produce a long highlight reel to stun Djokovic in his first match of the season.