The five ATP 250 level hard court stops in the run-up to the Australian Open saw five different players claim titles and find form during the first portion of the 2019 season. Here is your look at all of January’s ATP action.
Roberto Bautista Agut claimed a 9th career ATP title defeating Tomas Berdych 6-4 3-6 6-3 in the final, after stunning world #1 Novak Djokovic 3-6 7-6(6) 6-4 in the semifinals, one of the best wins of his career. The Spaniard also claimed wins against Matteo Berrettini, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, and Stan Wawrinka.
It was a great comeback tournament for Berdych who beat Philipp Kohlschreiber, Fernando Verdasco, Pierre Hugues Herbert and Marco Cecchinato. David Goffin and Herbert won the doubles title over Haase/Middelkoop.
Kevin Anderson is a dark horse for the Australian Open title and he was the player to beat in India, capturing the Chennai title 7-6 6-7 7-6 over fellow big serving veteran Ivo Karlovic. Gilles Simon, Jaume Munar, and Laslo Djere also fell to Anderson as he didn’t drop a set until the final. Karlovic, the oldest top level player on tour, defeated Felix Auger Aliassime, Evgeny Donskoy, Ernests Gulbis, and Steve Darcis, a veteran on the comeback trail.
Home heroes Bopanna and Sharan defeated Bambridge/O’Mara in the doubles final.
Kei Nishikori came through as the favorite in Brisbane, defeating rising Russian Daniil Medvedev 6-4 3-6 6-2 in the final. Nishikori didn’t drop a set prior to the final, racking up wins against Denis Kudla, Grigor Dimitrov, and Jeremy Chardy. Medvedev’s path to the final was defeating Andy Murray, Milos Raonic, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, three capable and crafty veterans.
Marcus Daniell and Wesley Koolhof beat Ram/Salisbury in the doubles final.
Sydney native Alex De Minaur triumphed at home for his maiden ATP title. The Demon edged tour veteran Andreas Seppi 7-5 7-6 for his 5th straight match win. ADM defeated Dusan Lajovic, Reilly Opelka, Jordan Thompson, and Gilles Simon to reach the final, he didn’t drop a set all week.
The veteran Seppi was happy to find form in what was a challenging tournament for him. Jeremy Chardy, Martin Klizan, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Diego Schwartzman were his victims on the week in some nip and tuck matches.
Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares defeated the Colombians Cabal/Farah in the doubles final.
Tennys Sandgren has a lot of points to defend in Melbourne, but he enters the AO in great form after claiming his first career ATP title. Sandgren won Auckland without dropping a set this week. Sandgren blitzed past Cam Norrie who grew up in Auckland. Max Marterer, Marco Cecchinato, Leonardo Mayer, and Philipp Kohlschreiber were all defeated by Sandgren.
Norrie defeated Benoit Paire, Joao Sousa, Taylor Fritz and J.L. Struff to reach the final. Ben McLachlan/ Jan-Lennard Struff defeated Klaasen/Venus in the doubles final.
Auckland Raised Cam Norrie Seeking 2019 ATP Auckland Title Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The 250 in Auckland is New Zealand’s only ATP event, it’s preceded by the WTA ASB Classic at the same venue. with both tournaments serving as prep for the Australian Open. With the early rounds complete, who will prevail in the final?
The young American Fritz battles the Auckland raised Brit Norrie in a big match for both players. Fritz has knocked off two big servers, Marius Copil and compatriot John Isner (the top seed) to reach the quarters. Norrie upset Benoit Paire and Joao Sousa to reach this point. Norrie will have home support, but Fritz should be slightly favored if his game can stay consistent.
Both players had easy paths to this point, PCB got a walkover against David Ferrer, while Struff beat Laslo Djere with a retirement and then Jose Statham, who had upset Hyeon Chung in the previous round. PCB is the better player and should be in good shape to advance from this match.
Leonardo Mayer vs Tennys Sandgren
Both players needed to find form and will be pleased with their results thus far. Mayer upset Steve Johnson and Matteo Berrettini, while Sandgren defeated Max Marterer and Marco Cecchinato. This should be a competitive match, with the experienced Mayer a slight favorite.
Two skilled veterans, Kohli hasn’t dropped a set in wins against Bradley Klahn and Ugo Humbert, and he dominates the h2h against the Italian. Fognini barely beat Peter Gojowczyk, and I expect Kohlschreiber to reach the semis from this matchup.
Carreno Busta d. Fritz
Kohlschreiber d. Mayer
This is PCB’s tournament to lose, Kohlschreiber has great history in Auckland though and is also favored to reach the final.
Whether at an exhibition or at the ATP level, Roberto Bautista Agut continued his roaring start to 2018 with his second career title in Auckland. He upset Juan Martin Del Potro 6-1 4-6 7-5, beating the Tower of Tandil by the narrowest of margins. RBA also won a close match in the semis, beating Robin Haase in a third set tiebreak in one of the matches of the season (already). He also beat Michael Venus, Steve Johnson, and Jiri Vesely on the week.
Juan Martin Del Potro posted impressive wins over Denis Shapovalov, Karen Khachanov, and David Ferrer, winning six straight sets before his defeat at the hands of RBA. He looks set to challenge at the Australian Open. Ferrer also found some much needed form in Auckland.
Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic defeated Max Mirnyi and Philipp Oswald in the doubles final.
Qualifier Daniil Medvedev rose up and won his maiden ATP title 1-6 4-6 7-5 over fellow young gun Alex De Minaur in Sydney. Despite home support and a one set lead, De Minaur succumbed to Medvedev’s groundstrokes in the end. The Russian won both his qualifying matches with ease, dispatched Philipp Kohlschreiber easily, then defeated Jared Donaldson in 3, Paolo Lorenzi in 2, and then Fabio Fognini in 3 sets.
De Minaur continued his incredible breakthrough to start 2018, he slayed Fernando Verdasco, Damir Dzumhur, Feliciano Lopez, and Benoit Paire to reach the final. Only Paire took a set off of him prior to the final. Both finalists will be trendy picks in Melbourne.
Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo beat J.L. Struff/Viktor Troicki in the doubles final.
2018 ATP Auckland Preview and Predictions: Sock and Isner Tune Up in Auckland Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The hard court ATP 250 in Auckland comes on the heels of a successful week of WTA tennis at New Zealand’s marquee tennis event of the season. Americans make up three of the top four seeds as Jack Sock, Sam Querrey, and John Isner lead the field alongside Juan Martin Del Potro. Here is your look at the draw.
Sock had a hip ailment at the Hopman Cup and went 1-2 for in singles play. After 37 wins last year he has points to defend as he won the Auckland title last season. Presuming he’s fit Sock should begin against Peter Gojowczyk, who opens with qualifier Tim Smyczek. Smyczek had a great run at the challenger tour level to end 2017 but Gojowczyk comes off quarters in Doha. Regardless Sock is talented enough to reach the quarters.
Doha finalist Andrey Rublev takes on fellow next gen star Stefanos Tsitsipas, I’m backing the Greek player because he should be fresher and he showed good form, reaching the quarters in Doha. Robin Haase takes on another young gun, Casper Ruud who tends to be at his best on clay. The Dutchman comes off quarters in Pune but I have Tsitsipas winning this quarter before falling to Sock.
Roberto Bautista Agut faces Michael Venus first up, Brisbane finalist Ryan Harrison or Steve Johnson will follow. Johnson is in poor form, and Harrison should be fatigued so RBA is the favorite to reach the quarters. Jiri Vesely is struggling but he should beat qualifier Radu Albot before falling to Querrey. I’ll back RBA over Querrey in the quarters. Querrey is starting his season after a career 2017 where he won 35 matches.
Del Potro will face the dangerous Denis Shapovalov first up, presuming Shapovalov beats Rogerio Dutra Silva. A healthy Del Potro showed he’s a serious contender last season and he should reach the quarters defeating Shapovalov. Karen Khachanov opens with Yuichi Sugita, while Guido Pella, a semifinalist in Doha, takes on Pablo Cuevas. Khachanov is my pick for the quarters in this open section, with JMDP reaching the semis.
Veterans Isner and David Ferrer highlight the third section of the draw, Ferrer should defeat Yibing Wu, while Isner faces Hyeon Chung or Brisbane quarterfinalist Kyle Edmund. It’s not an easy draw for Isner but I have him beating Chung, and Ferrer or Joao Sousa/Donald Young to reach the semis.
Any of these 4 guys could take the title, but I’m not sure about Sock’s hip (or his desire to make a run in Melbourne superseding this tournament). Del Potro has the most upside so I’ll pick him to take home the title.
Sock and Muller Claim Rare ATP Titles in Run Up to Melbourne Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
Jack Sock rose to a career high top 20 ranking with his second career ATP title. The 24 year old American continued his red hot start to the 2017 season by claiming the championship in Auckland, where he reached the final last year. Sock’s win over Joao Sousa was a thrilling contest ending 6-3 5-7 6-3. Sock went up a set thanks to great returning and looked set to win in straights, but Sousa fought back for a late break with some tremendous shotmaking. Sousa would then go up a break in the third, but he surrendered two further breaks in the third set to hand Sock the hard fought trophy.
Sousa beat Albert Ramos, Brydan Klein, Robin Haase, and Marcos Baghdatis to reach his eight career ATP final, dropping to a 2-6 career record in those finals.
Sock moved to a 2-5 career ATP final record thanks to wins over Ryan Harrison, Jeremy Chardy, and Steve Johnson. Three of his four match wins this week came in three sets, as the Auckland crowd certainly enjoyed watching him battle.
Marcin Matkowski and Aisam Ul-Haq Qureshi defeated Jonathan Erlich and Scott Lipsky in the doubles final.
Gilles Muller won his first ever ATP title at 33 years of age with a 7-6 6-2 victory over Britain’s Daniel Evans. Muller started the Sydney tournament as one of the best players to never win a title, and ended it as a very happy ATP champion. Muller was 0-5 in previous ATP finals, but Evans, playing in his first ever ATP title at age 26, wasn’t up to the task of dismantling his effective serves.
Muller dropped sets against Alexandr Dolgopolov, and Matthew Barton before going on to defeat Pablo Cuevas, and Viktor Troicki in straight sets. Evans had three set contests all week, defeating Thiago Monteiro, Marcel Granollers, Dominic Thiem, and Andrey Kuznetsov. His one hand backhand continues to improve and he appears set to secure his place on the ATP stage in 2017. His win over Thiem was one of the best of his career, as he outlasted the Austrian late in the match.
Dutch pairing Wesley Koolhof and Matwe Middelkoop defeated Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares in the doubles final.
2017 ATP Auckland Preview and Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
It’s time to preview and predict New Zealand’s only ATP tournament, the ASB Classic. The Women’s version of this ran all last week.
ATP World Tour 250
Auckland, New Zealand
January 9-14, 2017
Prize Money: $450,110
Top 4 seeds (Who all receive first round byes) (ATP rankings in parentheses)
1: Roberto Bautista Agut (14)
2: John Isner (19)
3: David Ferrer (21)
4: Jack Sock (23)
For a pre-slam 250, Auckland has one of the better fields it’s had in recent years.
First round matches to watch:
(8)Marcos Baghdatis vs. Adrian Mannarino
Mannarino just took a challenger title to start the year while Baghdatis was injured in his first match in Doha. Both players prefer to attack rather than defend with their tennis, Mannarino continues to alternate between challengers and the tour level with success. He’ll be the favorite in this match presuming he’s still fresh enough.
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez vs. (Q)Ryan Harrison
Harrison qualified and is 2-1 to start his season. He’s never lost to Garcia-Lopez (3-0 in the h2h), and the Spaniard is on a seven match ATP losing streak dating back to last season. Harrison spent most of his time at the challenger level last year, going 11-11 in ATP matches. He’s just inside the top 100, and could use a good run in a 250 like this to get back to tour level.
Chennai champion Roberto Bautista Agut has won Auckland before, and although Jiri Vesely isn’t the easiest round 2 opponent, presuming the Czech ousts Horacio Zeballos, RBA should still be fresh enough with the first round bye to prevail and reach the quarters. Mannarino should be opposite him, after Baghdatis, Dustin Brown or qualifier Michael Mmoh. Mannarino has lost twice at the tour level against RBA, so the Spaniard should be the favorite to reach the semifinals. Brown could also serve and volley his way to surprise success.
David Ferrer struggled in Brisbane as his decline has continued thus far in 2017. Ferrer will face qualifier Finn Tearney, a local favorite, or Robin Haase. He should win that to reach the quarterfinals opposite Albert Ramos/Joao Sousa. Facundo Bagnis and qualifier Brydan Klein are also in this section. Sousa had a down season last year (25-33 record) and is making his 2017 debut, the h2h favors Ramos beating Sousa and Klein, then falling to Ferrer in the quarters. Ramos also made the quarters in Chennai.
John Isner will kick off his 2017 season against Malek Jaziri or Diego Schwartzman. Isner posted a down 35-21 record in 2016, and will be looking to get off to a better start, most likely against Schwartzman. Fellow Yank Steve Johnson looms in the quarters, Johnson will face Stephane Robert, then most likely another veteran, Yen-Hsun Lu in round 2. Lu first has to face Karen Khachanov, another player who won a match to open his season. Johnson is good enough to beat Robert and Lu/Khachanov, but I don’t think he’ll get past Isner’s serve this time, and I have Isner reaching the semis and moving his 4-2 h2h edge against Johnson to 5-2.
Hopman Cup finalist Jack Sock went 3-1 in singles matches at the exhibition, and presuming he’s fresh and focused, he should do well in Auckland. Sock showed off his great hard court game, and his powerful forehand in Perth. He should ease past Harrison/GGL, and then win against Feliciano Lopez, who he beat in the Hopman Cup. Lopez faces Kiwi Michael Venus in round 1, with Jeremy Chardy or Artem Sitak to follow. The veteran Spaniard went 30-24 last year, while Sock went 37-22 over the same span. It should be a good week for Americans in New Zealand.
It wouldn’t shock me at all if the unseeded Mannarino got past Bautista Agut in the quarters and went as far as winning the tournament. Strange results tend to happen in tournaments held before slams, and Mannarino could use the ranking points.
Semis Ferrer d. Bautista Agut
Sock d. Isner
Ferrer has beaten RBA twice, and I think he wants and needs to make this final more than his countryman. Ferrer has had success in Auckland, and I see him fighting harder than most players in this field to get back on top. Sock has beaten Isner twice in three attempts since 2015. Isner had a clear edge in the years prior, but Jack is improving, while John has declined just a bit.
Final Sock d. Ferrer
If Sock plays like he did in the Hopman Cup he’ll be a worthy recipient of his second career ATP title. This pairing have a split h2h, but Sock won in the Auckland semis last season to reach the final.
Viktor Troicki returned to the site of his last ATP title and experienced a healthy version of deja vu as he repeated as Champion in Sydney. Troicki got off to an awful start as the underdog against Grigor Dimitrov, but Dimitrov imploded in the match, Troicki winning by a score of 2-6 6-1 7-6(7). Dimitrov was firing on all cylinders in the rallies early on, but practically broke himself early in the second set, losing control in that set, and then failing to finish off the third set tiebreak as Troicki continued to fight hard, saving a match point in the third.
The result for Dimitrov is yet another disappointment from the former top 10 player, he does start the season with a quarterfinal, and a final however. Prior to the final he had wins over Pablo Cuevas, an in-form Alexandr Dolgopolov in three sets, and Gilles Muller in straights.
Troicki not only avenged his defeat the week prior to Dimitrov, he also beat Tommy Robredo, Nicolas Mahut, and Teymuraz Gabashvili, the latter two players taking three sets to dispatch. Gabashvili was playing in his first ever ATP semifinal, after home favorite Bernard Tomic tanked his quarterfinal match and retired due to lack of interest after losing the first set.
Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares defeated Rohan Bopanna and Florin Mergea in the doubles final, a matchup that pitted two of the top teams in the sport.
Roberto Bautista Agut won his third career ATP title, and he was aided by his opponent Jack Sock suffering from the flu. RBA got off to an easy start, and it wasn’t difficult after that, as he won 6-1 1-0 ret. with Sock unable to continue with how poorly he was feeling. The Spaniard starts the season 6-1 with a quarterfinal, and a title, prior to the Australian Open, as his hard court game looks to be in great form.
Sock had a fantastic week regardless, he upset long-time Auckland stalwart David Ferrer in the semifinals, and also recovered from an opening set breadstick to defeat Kevin Anderson in a three set quarterfinal. Prior to that he defeated Victor Estrella and Vasek Pospisil without dropping a set, as it’s clear the American is trying to make his move for the top 15 this season. He could struggle in Melbourne however if he’s still feeling unwell.
Bautista Agut beat Jiri Vesely and Donald Young without incident, and then, like Sock, defeated players ranked above him, as he worked past John Isner in three sets, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the same fashion. RBA looks to be making his move to return ot the top 20 soon.
Mate Pavic and Kiwi Michael Venus beat Eric Butorac and Scott Lipsky in straight sets to capture the doubles final, giving home fans the excitement of a home player capturing a title.
The qualifying competition for the men’s ASB Classic encountered a problem before proceedings got underway. Last week the organizers admitted that they was short of participants for the 16-player draw. Fortunately the crisis was resolved with the additional of five alternate players.
Headlining the field was world No.66 Robin Haase. 2016 is the fifth year that Haase has competed at the tournament but he has only been able to win one main draw match at the event (2011 against John Isner). In the first round of qualifying he faced American doubles specialist Eric Butorac. Despite playing in his first singles match since May, Butorac started the match well with a 3-1 lead before Haase battled back to win 6-4, 7-5 in less than an hour.
In the final round Haase faced fifth seed Duck-hee Lee. The South Korean enjoyed a easy first round encounter against Colombian doubles specialist Robert Farah Maksoud, winning 6-1, 6-2. Last year Hee claimed five Futures titles. Haase proved too strong for Lee as he won 6-1, 6-3, after only 45 minutes on the court.
Another Dutch triumph in Auckland occurred for Thiemo de Bakker. De Bakker opened up his campaign with a 6-2, 6-2, win over Australia’s Greg Jones. After grabbing his opening win, Bakker faced Croatian seventh seed Mate Pavic. Pavic defeated 2011 French Open doubles finalist Juan Sebastián Cabal (6-2, 6-4) in his opening match. It was a tough start to his final match after Bakker dropped the first set in exactly 30 minutes. Despite the slow start, the Dutchman battled back to win 4-6, 6-2, 6-3. Bakker, who is a regular feature on the Challenger tour, will now be bidding to win his first main draw match on the ATP World Tour since the Rio Open in February last year.
World No.299 Matthew Barton will play in his first ATP World Tour main draw after his duo of triumphs. In the opening round Barton played Australian compatriot Artem Sitak. Sitak is a doubles specialist ranked 43rd in the world. Sitak proved troublesome for Barton during the first set before he dominated the second set to win 7-6(8), 6-0. It was expected that Barton would experience a tricky second match against second seed Denis Kudla. Kudla defeated Trey Huey in straight sets during his first match. Incredibly Barton trailed 2-0 at the start of the match before winning 12 consecutive games top stun the second seed 6-2, 6-0.
Finally Germany’s Benjamin Becker dropped only seven games during his qualifying campaign. In the first round, he dismissed alternative entrant Scott Lipsky 6-3, 6-1. Lipsky is best known for winning the 2011 French Open mixed doubles title with Casey Dellacqua. Then in the second round he played South African-born Brit Cameron Norrie. Norrie achieved a career ranking high of 637th in 2014. The inexperienced Brit was no match for Becker as the German took the match 6-1, 6-2, in under an hour.
Barton opens against American Steve Johnson, Haase has a winnable match against dirtballer Pablo Andujar, De Bakker faces another Spaniard, Albert Ramos, and Becker will face his countryman and Davis Cup teammate Philipp Kohlschreiber.
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.
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.
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.
Semis 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.
Final 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.
It was a tremendous week for young gun Jiri Vesely in Auckland, the Czech qualified without dropping a set (wins over Thomas Fabbiano and Lucas Pouille), and then beat Thomaz Bellucci, top 15 player Ernests Gulbis (in 3 sets), Donald Young, Kevin Anderson, and finally Adrian Mannarino in the final 6-3 6-2 to win his maiden ATP title. Neither Vesely nor Mannarino had ever contested an ATP final, and it was a new experience for them both, that said the 21 year old Vesely is the player that fans are most excited about, as he is making his move and has now broken into the top 40 in the world. It will be interesting to watch what he does this season.
Mannarino had a great week as well, he will be at a career high ranking inside the top 40 when the new rankings come out. The eclectic Frenchman beat Federico Delbonis, an ill Roberto Bautista Agut, and lucky loser Alejandro Falla without dropping a set, then he defeated another lucky loser, Pouille, in the semis to reach the final, needing three sets as the two traded winners in an exciting match. The draw was entirely blown up in Auckland this week, but the tennis was still exciting, and it’s nice to see some lesser known names have great results at the ATP level.
Raven Klaasen and Leander Paes won the doubles title over Dominic Inglot and Florin Mergea.
Viktor Troicki continued his admirable comeback, and captured his second career ATP title in Sydney. The title is his first since 2010 and he was contesting his first final since 2011. The Serbian beat fellow qualifier Mikhail Kukushkin who was contesting just his third career ATP final. With the 6-2 6-3 victory over Kukushkin in the battle of a qualifiers Troicki has very nearly returned to the top 50 in a short span of time since his comeback to the tour, and he is a motivated, tenacious player at this point in his career, having found renewed spark and fire.
Troicki qualified with wins over Enrique Lopez-Perez, Nicolas Jarry and Stefano Travaglia. In the main draw he upset Martin Klizan, and then needed three sets to oust Pablo Andujar and Simone Bolelli. He beat Gilles Muller, another comeback king, to reach the final.
Kukushkin beat Christopher O’Connell, Denis Kudla and JP Smith to qualify, then beat Denis Istomin, Pablo Cuevas, Juan Martin Del Potro and Leonardo Mayer without dropping a set to reach the final. Kukushkin has never been able to have consistently sustained success in his career, but he is a talented player and perhaps he can have a career year this year.
Rohan Bopanna and Daniel Nestor beat Jean-Julien Rojer/Horia Tecau to win a much more predictable doubles final.