32 year old Argentine veteran Juan Monaco won his eight ATP title overall, and his first since 2012, when he defeated Jack Sock 3-6 6-3 7-5 for his second ATP Houston title. Monaco was ranked outside of the top 100, and hasn’t been much of a factor on the ATP tour in quite some time, but he found form on a familiar clay court surface to earn wins over Gerald Melzer, Benoit Paire, Sam Querrey, and Feliciano Lopez, along with Sock. A rather tough path for just an ATP 250. It will be interesting to see if Monaco can stay in the top 100 this year, and make further waves throughout the clay court season.
Sock is now 0-2 in finals this season, but he did beat Matt Barton, Marcos Baghdatis, and American #1 John Isner in the semifinals. His win over Isner will further aid his chances of becoming the top ranked American by the year’s end.
The legendary Bryan Brothers won their sixth ATP Houston title as they defeated Victor Estrella and Santiago Gonzalez in a close match that was decided 10-8 in a third set tiebreak.
19 year old Borna Coric still has the rest of the season to claim his first ATP title before he leaves his teenage years. The young Croatian was foiled by Federico Delbonis 6-2 6-4, as the top 50 dirtballer captured his second career ATP title, the other came in 2014.
Delbonis demonstrated his superior clay court prowess and form when he defeated Thiemo De Bakker, Pablo Carreno Busta, and Albert Montanes, along with Coric, without dropping a set throughout the week.
Coric only had to win a pair of matches, as he defeated Paul-Henri Mathieu and Jiri Vesely, battling hard and pulling off a pair of clutch wins. He’ll now have to jetset to Monte Carlo for a round 1 match on a bigger stage.
Maximo Gonzalez and Guillermo Duran beat Marin Draganja and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi in the doubles final. Their win further adds to what a fantastic week it was for Argentine tennis, as Argentines really shined on clay.
Cervantes is pushing for the top 50 and has more ATP wins this year than he had prior to this year in his entire career. The Spaniard has a semifinal on clay in Sao Paulo this year, and could make another run to get into the top 50 in this tournament. Vesely has lost four straight and is just 1-7 this year. The young Czech has talent, but he appears to be off the rails right now. This tournament represents a great chance for him to steady himself, but I have Cervantes notching the slight upset.
Facundo Bagnis vs. (WC)Lamine Ouahab
Bagnis is a remarkable 25-5 on clay this year with three challenger titles, and he should win comfortably. With that said, Ouahab is simply a must watch player when he’s near a TV camera. The 31 year old Algerian/Moroccan dominates the Morocco tennis tour and has won two out of the three futures events in the country this year. He’s an out of shape clay court specialist who reached the Casablanca quarterfinals last year, and has never broken the top 100. His shotmaking abilities, and slice and dice play is remarkable, his physical conditioning much less so. Bagnis will win, but Ouahab will bring joy.
2014 champion and top seed Guillermo Garcia-Lopez will face Nicolas Almagro in round 2 most likely, presuming the Spaniard dispatches Radu Albot in round 1. Almagro has a clay court final this year and has won his last three meetings against GGL. Neither player is demonstrating good form right now, but Almagro seems better positioned to reach the quarterfinals.
I have Cervantes defeating Vesely, and then qualifier Nikola Mektic to reach the quarters as well. Mektic has been good on the challenger tour as of late, but Cervantes should be better on clay. Mektic opens with local wild card Reda El Amrani. Cervantes just beat Almagro in Indian Wells, thus I have him pulling off another upset to reach the semis.
Borna Coric was good on clay last season (18-8), and he’ll have his first ATP match on the surface in Marrakech. The teenager is one of the title favorites and he’ll start his bid against either Simone Bolelli or Taro Daniel. It’s been an average year for Coric on tour but with both Bolelli, and Daniel, struggling, he should reach the quarters. Bolelli has lost four straight, while Daniel has lost five straight.
Look for a Coric vs. Albert Ramos quarterfinal. The spin maestro Ramos is solid on clay and 3-2 in his last five matches. Neither Maximo Gonzalez or Daniel Munoz-De La Nava should have the ability to defeat him in round 2, and Paul-Henri Mathieu is a difficult, but winnable round 1 match given this is clay. Ramos beat Coric at the AO this year, and given Coric’s shaky recent play, I have Ramos reaching the semis to face Cervantes .
Joao Sousa went 14-9 on clay last year, but is a very poor 3-8 overall this season on the ATP tour. The #2 seed is in danger of falling to Bagnis (or Ouahab) in round 2. Like Garcia-Lopez, I have Sousa getting upset early and the unseeded Bagnis reaching the quarterfinals.
Spaniards Albert Montanes and Daniel Gimeno-Traver look set to compete for the other quarterfinal spot. Montanes is 7-5 on clay this year and a recent challenger semifinalist while Gimeno-Traver is 5-3 on clay. Montanes opens with qualifier Franko Skugor, a doubles specialist who has been surprisingly good at singles this year, while DGT faces Teymuraz Gabashvili, the #5 seed, who hasn’t won a match in his last four outings. Montanes has an ever so slight 4-3 edge over DGT on clay, and thus I have him reaching the quarters. Bagnis is 2-0 against Montanes, and thus I have him in the semis.
Federico Delbonis is 11-7 this year and should breeze past Thiemo de Bakker to reach his third ATP quarterfinal this season. The Dutchman opens with Amine Ahouda, a local wild card.
Sao Paulo finalist Pablo Carreno Busta opens with Evgeny Donskoy, who he just defeated in Indian Wells. Donskoy just won a challenger in Israel on hard courts. His clay game isn’t as sharp, and thus PCB is the favorite. After that, PCB should defeat either Denis Istomin or Lorenzo Giustino to reach the quarterfinals. Giustino qualified, while Istomin just won his first ATP match of the season in Miami. PCB is better on clay than Istomin. Delbonis beat Carreno Busta twice last year on clay, and should move to 4-0 in the h2h.
Both Cervantes and Bagnis appear set to reach the semifinals and beyond. Cervantes has to beat Vesely and GGL/Almagro, while Bagnis needs wins over Sousa, and most likely Montanes, a very doable path for these rising clay courters.
Semis Ramos d. Cervantes
Delbonis d. Bagnis
Ramos is 2-0 against Cervantes and more experienced, Delbonis and Bagnis split meetings last year, and prior to that Delbonis had a 2-1 h2h edge. It should be a close battle, but Delbonis has more ATP experience and I have him winning.