Rafael Nadal dispatched Kei Nishikori 6-4 7-5 to once again win the title in Barcelona. The Spanish #1 is in great form having returned to red clay, and he’s proving himself as a resilient star on the ATP tour. The top seed beat Marcel Granollers, Albert Montanes, Fabio Fognini, and Philipp Kohlschreiber, along with Nishikori without dropping a set this week, and he’s playing like a buzzsaw on the clay.
Nishikori reached his second straight final with wins over Thiemo De Bakker, Jeremy Chardy, Alexandr Dolgopolov, and Benoit Paire, all without dropping a set. He’s been great in Barcelona, and has 19 wins compared to four losses on clay over the last two seasons.
The Bryan brothers beat Pablo Cuevas and Marcel Granollers for the doubles title, a big win for the veteran team.
Fernando Verdasco won his first ATP title in two years with a Monday victory in Bucharest over Lucas Pouille. Pouille was playing in his first career ATP final after defeating Dusan Lajovic, Ivo Karlovic, Paolo Lorenzi, and Federico Delbonis. He beat Lorenzi after dropping the first set.
Verdasco struggled for a win against Aldin Setkic, but found momentum to defeat Radu Albot, Robin Haase, and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez to reach the final. He’s back into the top 60, and could use more wins to get his game back to a Grand Slam level .
2016 ATP Bucharest Preview and Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The smaller ATP tournament this week is the 250 stop in Bucharest, Romania, one of the few ATP stops in Eastern Europe. Here is a look at the field, and predictions for the action.
BRD Nastase Tiriac Trophy
ATP World Tour 250
April 18-24, 2016
Prize Money: €463,520
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Bernard Tomic (21)
2: Ivo Karlovic (30)
3: Federico Delbonis (36)
4: Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (38)
A lack of top clay courters means Bucharest is one of the most open ATP tournaments this season, and a lot of players have a tremendous chance to earn ranking points.
Bernard Tomic is a miserable 4-11 on clay over the last three seasons, and thus even though he’s the top seed, either Andrea Arnaboldi, or Robin Haase will be gunning to defeat him in his opening match. The qualifier Arnaboldi is in a good position to trouble Tomic, but I have either Paul-Henri Mathieu, or Fernando Verdasco dispatching him in the quarterfinals. Verdasco is facing qualifier Aldin Setkic, and is currently in danger of slipping outside the top 100, after formerly being a top 10 player. PHM faces qualifier Radu Albot, after reaching the quarterfinals in Casablanca. Verdasco is 5-0 against PHM, and thus I have him reaching the semifinals, after defeating Tomic on clay.
Defending champion Guillermo Garcia-Lopez will face either Kyle Edmund or Lukas Rosol in round 2. The power hitter Rosol has been shaky on clay in recent years but he won the title in Bucharest in 2013. Edmund is surprisingly good on clay for a British player. GGL should be good enough to win his third clay court match of the season and reach the quarterfinals over Rosol/Edmund.
Rio finalist Guido Pella should slip past journeyman veteran Adrian Ungur, and then get past most likely Daniel Gimeno-Traver to reach the quarterfinals. DGT opens with Adrian Mannarino, a poor clay courter. DGT recently qualified in Monte Carlo and can have his moments on clay, but Pella is the better dirtballer. Pella has a h2h win over GGL, but given his previous success in Bucharest, I have it Verdasco vs. Garcia-Lopez in an all Spanish semifinal.
Ivo Karlovic is 0-5 this season, and 1-4 on clay over the past two seasons. In short, the veteran Croatian is a poor clay courter, in terrible form. Thus, he’s the #2 seed, but he should go out to either Lucas Pouille, or Sao Paulo semifinalist Dusan Lajovic in his first match. Pouille has upset wins over David Ferrer and Richard Gasquet in recent weeks, thus the Frenchman should burst into the quarterfinals. Veteran Paolo Lorenzi has a great chance to earn an ATP main draw win over Diego Schwartzman, DSS has been rather disappointing this year, even on clay. After DSS, Lorenzi should face Taro Daniel, presuming Daniel dispatches qualifier Michael Linzer in round 1. Pouille has the edge over Lorenzi in the quarterfinals.
Federico Delbonis won the Casablanca title, and he could add another ATP title to his resume this week in Bucharest. He’s the best clay courter in his section, as he’ll open with Illya Marchenko or Dudi Sela, with either Marcos Baghdatis or Damir Dzumhur likely to follow in the quarters. Baghdatis is normally not well suited for clay but he was a quarterfinalist in Houston, and he opens with a struggling Marco Cecchinato. Dzumhur opens with Marius Copil, a recent clay court challenger semifinalist. Dzumhur is 7-0 against opponents not named Milos Raonic in recent weeks, and thus I have him defeating Baghdatis, before falling to Delbonis in an engaging quarterfinal.
Besides Delbonis or GGL, the title is likely to go to a dark horse, and Pouille is a strong possibility. This talented Frenchman has a great forehand, is solid on clay, and has been on a steady upward trend in recent years. He’s not as flashy, or consistent, as some of the other young guns, but he is leading the next generation of French tennis.
Garcia-Lopez d. Verdasco
Delbonis d. Pouille
Though Verdasco is 3-0 against GGL on clay, GGL is simply a better player these days, and he has a chance to sneak himself into an ATP final out of relative obscurity.
Delbonis has never faced Pouille, that match is worthy of the final, but I have the Argentina winning his second title in recent weeks so thus he has to advance.
Delbonis d. Garcia-Lopez
This isn’t an easy tournament to predict, but Delbonis showed he can play consistent clay court tennis at the 250 in Casablanca, and he’s due for another title.
The last time a qualifier reached the last eight of the Barcelona Open was Stan Wawrinka at the 2005 tournament. Since then, many have tried and all of them have failed. Spearheading this year’s bid for the qualifiers will be the two highest ranked players from the qualifying draw.
German top seed, Jan Lennard-Struff, booked his place in the main draw without dropping a set. The world No.115 kicked-off his clay court season at last week’s Napoli Challenger where he suffered a shock first round loss to world No.325 Gianluca Mager. Struff recovered from his Italian disappointment by dismissing Spanish wildcard Pedro Martinez Portero in his first match at Barcelona. Awaiting him in the second round was French 11th seed Edouard Roger-Vasselin, a player who he has lost to twice in 2015. Struff ensured that he wouldn’t succumb to a trio of defeats to the Frenchman by winning 7-6(5), 6-2. During his Barcelona triumph against Roger-Vasselin, Struff won 81% of his first service points (25/31).
Following the top seed into the Barcelona main draw will be Russian second seed Karen Khachanov. Earlier this month, the 19-year-old reached a career ranking high of 135th and has already reached a Challenger final this year in Jonkoping, Sweden. Khachanov’s route to the main draw was one of the toughest. After seeing off India’s Ramkumar Ramanathan in three sets, he faced clay court specialist Marco Trungelliti. Aided by seven aces in the match, Khachanov required two hours and 20 minutes to defeat the Argentine 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (4), to reach his first ATP main draw since Chennai.
Czech veteran Radek Stepanek eased his way into the Barcelona main draw. The 37-year-old produced back-to-back straight sets wins over wildcard Gerard Granollers and former French Open boys’ champion Christian Garin. Stepanek has enjoyed success in Barcelona during his career. In 2005 he reached the semifinals of the tournament before losing to Rafael Nadal. This year will be his eighth appearance in the main draw of the event.
The lowest ranked player to triumph in the two rounds of qualifying was Argentine world No.245 Pedro Cachin. Notching up only two main draw victories in 2016, the 21-year-old stunned third seed, Jozef Kovalik, 6-4, 7-5, in the first round. The unexpected win set Cachin up with a meeting against 10th seed Pedja Krstin, a player who won his maiden Challenger title on Mexican clay earlier this year. The Serbian was no match for Cachin, who won 79% of his service points to defeat Krstin 6-1, 6-2, in exactly an hour to reach his first ATP main draw.
Franko Skugor demolished his first round opponent to set up a showdown against Renzo Olivo. The sixth seed required only 49 minutes to race past France’s Yannick Jankovits (6-0, 6-2). Facing Olivo in the second round, the world No.148 encountered a much more testing match. After failing to save one out of only two break points he faced during the match, Skugor dropped the second set before taking the match in three sets – 6-2, 3-6, 6-2. Barcelona will be his fourth appearance in an ATP main draw this year.
The final qualifier was Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics, who coincidentally reaches his first main draw on the ATP Tour since his appearance at last year’s Barcelona tournament. His qualifying campaign began with a marathon match against Andrey Rublev, which lasted six minutes shy of the three-hour mark. Fucsovics had three match points in the second set, but failed to convert any of them. Saving 13/15 break points throughout the match, the Hungarian clinched the win 7-6(5), 6-7(5), 6-3. In his final qualifying match, the Hungarian recovered from a second set blip to win 6-2, 3-6, 6-2, against Spain’s Jordi Samper-Montaña.
First round matches
Q Marton Fucsovics HUN Vs Ernests Gulbis LAT
Q Radek Stepanek Vs Santiago Giraldo
Q Franko Skugor Vs Inigo Cervantes ESP
Q Pedro Cachin ARG Vs Ivan Dodig CRO
Q Jan-Lennard Struff GER Vs Alexander Zverev GER
Q Karen Khachanov RUS Vs Aljaz Bedene GBR
Michael Linzer will play in his first ATP main draw after causing the biggest upset of the qualifying draw at the BRD Năstase Țiriac Trophy in Bucharest, Romania.
The 26-year-old, who has won five Futures titles on clay last year, recovered from a set down to stun Bosnian top seed Mirza Basic in the opening round of qualifying. Ranked almost 140 places below Basic, Linzer clinched the two-and-a-half-hour match, 3-6, 7-6(3), 6-4. He also endured a close second round match against Farrukh Dustov, a player who is yet to win back-to-back matches in a tournament this year. Dustov continued this disappointing trend after Linzer took the match 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-4, to reach the main draw in Bucharest. The win elevates the Austrian to 266th in the world, 30 players below his 2012 career high. Since 2010, Linzer has won 16 Futures titles on clay.
Bosnian tennis fans still had something to cheer about after Aldin Setkic stunned second seed Maximo Gonzalez 0-6, 7-6(5), 6-1, in the final round of qualifying. Setkic saved 11/16 break points and won 57% of his first service points to seal the big win. The win over the world No.135 isn’t the biggest victory for the Bosnian. Last year he defeated world No.114 Dustin Brown at a Challenger tournament. Similar to Linzer, the 28-year-old will now play in his maiden ATP main draw.
The highest ranked player to successfully qualify was third seed Radu Albot. The Moldovan started his qualifying bid with a 6-4, 6-2, win over French wildcard Florian Valsot. The win took him to a second round meeting with German fifth seed Tobias Kamke. Converting 4/6 break points and 58% of service points, Albot claimed the win 6-4, 6-2. Albot, who reached a ranking high of 85th last year, will be hoping to end his run of first round losses. In three out of his four previous tournaments, the 26-year-old has fallen at the first hurdle.
The fourth and final qualifier is Italy’s Andrea Arnaboldi. The world No.171 has only managed to win three main draw matches this year with his best performance being a quarter-finalist at the Jonkoping Challenger in Sweden. He will now have a chance of increasing his winning number after defeating compatriot Federico Gaio 6-1, 6-4, without dropping serve.
First round matches
Q Michael Linzer AUT Vs Robin Haase NDL
Q Aldin Setkic BOS Vs Fernando Verdasco ESP
Q Radu Albot MOL Vs (8) Paul-Henri Mathieu FRA
Q Andrea Arnaboldi ITA Vs Taro Daniel JPA
Barcelona continued it’s trend of not creating new champions as Kei Nishikori repeated in the Catalan heartland over surprise finalist Pablo Andujar 6-4 6-4. Nishikori only had one difficult three setter all week, as he rolled past Teymuraz Gabashvili and Santiago Giraldo, overcame Roberto Bautista Agut with a breadstick third set, and then dispatched Martin Klizan to reach the final. Even with the large field of players, he was clearly a cut above the rest this week, and continues in his quest to have top 4 Roland Garros seeding.
Pablo Andujar boosted his ranking back up to 42 with a run to the final. The unseeded 29 year old, nicknamed Picasso, reached his first 500 level final (3 250 titles on clay, and an additional three 250 level finals on clay). Pablo beat his compatriot Albert Ramos in round 1, and then got past Leo Mayer in 3 sets, to setup a match against another Spaniard Feliciano Lopez. He won that one, and then upset Fabio Fognini, and David Ferrer in consecutive matches, without dropping a set to reach the final, in a remarkable week for him. Fognini had previously beaten Rafael Nadal for the second time this season, as he continues to struggle.
Henri Kontinen and Marin Draganja beat Jamie Murray/John Peers for the doubles title in three close sets.
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez won a nailbiting final over Jiri Vesely, who was playing for his second ATP title of 2015 (and the second of his young career), 7-6 7-6. The veteran Spaniard used his variety to get the win and has nearly returned to the top 30 in the rankings, with his second ATP title of the season (won Zagreb). GGL has now added three titles to his trophy case over the past two seasons, and appears to be having a late career resurgence.
GGL beat Lorenzi Giustino, Marcos Baghdatis, and Lukas Rosol without dropping a set, and then upset Gael Monfils in a three set battle reach the final. Vesely came out of the 7 seed slot in the draw and beat Diego Schwartzman, Malek Jaziri, Ivo Karlovic, and Daniel Gimeno-Traver, an in-form player who upset Gilles Simon in the previous round, to reach the final with a three set win. Vesely is rapidly improving, all be it inconsistently, and he’s a force to be reckoned with these days on tour.
Romanians won the doubles title, but it wasn’t their normal top doubles players, as the underdog team of Marius Copil and Adrian Ungur beat Artem Sitak/Nick Monroe for the title.
Tennis Atlantic 2015 ATP Draw Challenge Week 14 (Barcelona and Bucharest) Staff, Tennis Atlantic
Up to 750 points are up for grabs this week in the pair of European clay court events, Barcelona is a 500, and Bucharest is a 250.
2015 Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell Predictions
Steen Kirby’s picks
Round 2 matches: Nishikori vs. Gabashvili, Dolgopolov vs. Giraldo, Cuevas vs. Struff, Bellucci vs. Bautista Agut, Cilic vs. Thiem, Monaco vs. Klizan, Robredo vs. Souza, Granollers vs. Tsonga, Gulbis vs. Paire, Kuznetsov vs. Kohlschreiber, Kyrgios vs. de Bakker, Montanes vs. Ferrer, Lopez vs. Ilhan, Ramos vs. Mayer, Fognini vs. Verdasco, Almagro vs. Nadal Round of 16 matches: Nishikori vs. Dolgopolov, Cuevas vs. Bautista Agut, Cilic vs. Klizan, Robredo vs. Tsonga, Paire vs. Kohlschreiber, de Bakker vs. Ferrer, Lopez vs. Ramos, Verdasco vs. Nadal Quarterfinals; Nishikori vs. Cuevas, Cilic vs. Tsonga, Kohlschreiber vs. Ferrer, Ramos vs. Nadal Semifinals; Nishikori vs. Cilic, Ferrer vs. Nadal Final; Nishikori vs. Nadal Champion; Nadal
Niall Clarke’s picks
Round 2 matches: Nishikori vs. Carreno Busta, Dolgopolov vs. Giraldo, Cuevas vs. Carballes Baena, Bellucci vs. Bautista Agut, Cilic vs. Thiem, Monaco vs. Klizan, Robredo vs. Kukushkin, Granollers vs. Tsonga, Gulbis vs. Paire, Kuznetsov vs. Kohlschreiber, Kyrgios vs. Ymer, Montanes vs. Ferrer, Lopez vs. Ward, Ramos vs. Mayer, Fognini vs. Verdasco, Almagro vs. Nadal Round of 16 matches: Nishikori vs. Dolgopolov, Cuevas vs. Bautista Agut, Cilic vs. Klizn, Robredo vs. Tsonga, Paire vs. Kohlschreiber, Kyrgios vs. Ferrer, Lopez vs. Mayer, Verdasco vs. Nadal Quarterfinals; Nishikori vs. Bautista Agut, Klizan vs. Tsonga, Kohlschreiber vs. Ferrer, Mayer vs. Nadal Semifinals; Nishikori vs Tsonga, Ferrer vs. Nadal Final; Nishikori vs. Nadal Champion; Nishikori
Jeff McMillan’s picks
Round 2 matches: Nishikori vs. Carreno Busta, Dolgopolov vs. Giraldo, Cuevas vs. Struff, Bellucci vs. Bautista Agut, Cilic vs. Thiem, Monaco vs. Klizan, Robredo vs. Souza, Granollers vs. Tsonga, Gulbis vs. Paire, Kuznetsov vs. Kohlschreiber, Kyrgios vs. Ymer, Berankis vs. Ferrer, Lopez vs. Ilhan, Ramos vs. Mayer, Fognini vs. Verdasco, Almagro vs. Nadal Round of 16 matches: Nishikori vs. Dolgopolov, Cuevas vs. Bellucci, Cilic vs. Monaco, Robredo vs. Tsonga, Gulbis vs. Kohlschreiber, Kyrgios vs. Ferrer, Lopez vs. Ramos, Verdasco vs. Nadal Quarterfinals; Nishikori vs. Cuevas, Monaco vs. Robredo, Kohlschreiber vs. Ferrer, Lopez vs. Nadal Semifinals; Nishikori vs Robredo, Ferrer vs. Nadal Final; Nishikori vs. Nadal Champion; Nishikori
Joe Craven’s picks
Round 2 matches: Nishikori vs. Carreno Busta, Dolgopolov vs. Giraldo, Cuevas vs. Struff, Bellucci vs. Bautista Agut, Cilic vs. Thiem, Monaco vs. Klizan, Robredo vs. Kukushkin, Granollers vs. Tsonga, Gulbis vs. Paire, Kuznetsov vs. Kohlschreiber, Kyrgios vs. de Bakker, Berankis vs. Ferrer, Lopez vs. Ilhan, Andujar vs. Mayer, Fognini vs. Verdasco, Almagro vs. Nadal Round of 16 matches: Nishikori vs. Dolgopolov, Cuevas vs. Bellucci, Cilic vs. Monaco, Robredo vs. Tsonga, Paire vs. Kohlschreiber, Kyrgios vs. Ferrer, Lopez vs. Mayer, Verdasco vs. Nadal Quarterfinals; Dolgopolov vs. Bellucci, Monaco vs. Tsonga, Kohlschreiber vs. Ferrer, Lopez vs. Nadal Semifinals; Dolgopolov vs. Monaco, Ferrer vs. Nadal Final; Dolgopolov vs. Nadal Champion; Nadal
Chris de Waard’s picks
Round 2 matches: Nishikori vs. Carreno Busta, Dolgopolov vs. Giraldo, Cuevas vs. Struff, Bellucci vs. Bautista Agut, Cilic vs. Thiem, Monaco vs. Klizan, Robredo vs. Kukushkin, Granollers vs. Tsonga, Gulbis vs. Paire, Kuznetsov vs. Kohlschreiber, Kyrgios vs. Ymer, Berankis vs. Ferrer, Lopez vs. Ilhan, Ramos vs. Mayer, Fognini vs. Verdasco, Almagro vs. Nadal Round of 16 matches: Nishikori vs. Dolgopolov, Cuevas vs. Bautista Agut, Cilic vs. Monaco, Robredo vs. Tsonga, Paire vs. Kohlschreiber, Kyrgios vs. Ferrer, Lopez vs. Ramos, Verdasco vs. Nadal Quarterfinals; Dolgopolov vs. Cuevas, Cilic vs. Tsonga, Paire vs. Ferrer, Ramos vs. Nadal Semifinals; Dolgopolov vs. Cilic, Ferrer vs. Nadal Final; Dolgopolov vs. Nadal Champion; Nadal
Nadal and Nishikori are both expected to do well, Nadal is the favorite, and Dolgopolov could surprise.
Round 2 matches; Simon vs. Tipsarevic, Qualifier vs. Troicki, Karlovic vs. Coric, Mayer vs. Schwartzman, Garcia-Lopez vs. Darcis, Lajovic vs. Rosol, Bolelli vs. Haider-Maurer, Copil vs. Monfils Quarterfinals: Simon vs. Troicki, Coric vs. Mayer, Garcia-Lopez vs. Rosol, Haider-Maurer vs. Monfils Semifinals; Simon vs. Coric, Rosol vs. Monfils Final; Simon vs. Monfils Champion; Simon
Niall Clarke’s picks
Round 2 matches; Simon vs. Tipsarevic, Istomin vs. Troicki, Karlovic vs. Coric, Jaziri vs. Vesely, Garcia-Lopez vs. Baghdatis, Lajovic vs. Rosol, Bolelli vs. Haider-Maurer, Youzhny vs. Monfils Quarterfinals: Simon vs. Troicki, Coric vs. Vesely, Garcia-Lopez vs. Rosol, Haider-Maurer vs. Monfils Semifinals; Simon vs. Vesely, Garcia-Lopez vs. Monfils Final; Simon vs. Monfils Champion; Simon
Jeff McMillan’s picks
Round 2 matches; Simon vs. Tipsarevic, Istomin vs. Troicki, Karlovic vs. Coric, Mayer vs. Schwartzman, Garcia-Lopez vs. Darcis, Qualifier vs. Rosol, Bolelli vs. Haider-Maurer, Copil vs. Monfils Quarterfinals: Simon vs. Troicki, Karlovic vs Schwartzman, Garcia-Lopez vs. Rosol, Bolelli vs. Monfils Semifinals; Simon vs. Karlovic, Garcia-Lopez vs. Monfils Final; Simon vs. Monfils Champion; Simon
Chris de Waard’s picks
Round 2 matches; Simon vs. Tipsarevic, Istomin vs. Troicki, Karlovic vs. Coric, Mayer vs. Schwartzman, Garcia-Lopez vs. Darcis, Lajovic vs. Rosol, Bolelli vs. Haider-Maurer, Copil vs. Monfils Quarterfinals: Simon vs. Troicki, Coric vs. Mayer, Garcia-Lopez vs. Rosol, Bolelli vs. Monfils Semifinals; Simon vs. Coric, Garcia-Lopez vs. Monfils Final; Simon vs. Monfils Champion; Simon
Everyone is predicting an All-French final, while opinions are mixed on Borna Coric.
2015 ATP Barcelona and Bucharest Preview/Prediction Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The European spring journey continues for the players of the ATP world tour with clay court events in both Barcelona, Spain, and Bucharest, Romania, with Barca a 500 series event, and Bucharest, one of the few ATP events in Eastern Europe, a 250.
2015 ATP Barcelona Preview
Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell
ATP World Tour 500
April 20-April 26, 2015
Prize Money: €1,993,230
Top 8 seeds (top 16 seeds receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Kei Nishikori (4)
2: Rafael Nadal (5)
3: David Ferrer (7)
4: Marin Cilic (10)
5: Feliciano Lopez (12)
6: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (14)
7: Roberto Bautista Agut (16)
8: Ernests Gulbis (18)
Four of the top 10 will be playing in Barcelona, and the top 8 seeds are all top 20 players for a strong 500 level field.
First round matchups to watch:
Alex Dolgopolov vs. Joao Sousa
Dolgopolov has played relatively well in the past few weeks, but he remains a streaky highlight reel generator, he’s the favorite against the streaky Portuguese player Joao Sousa, who can struggle for weeks, but puts together a great tournament from time to time. Both these players hit the ball relatively hard from the ground, and they are solid movers, thus creating an interesting matchup, I have Dolgo winning in straights but upset potential is there.
Thiem is the favorite without a doubt, but don’t count the veteran Estrella out, as he’s known for the ability to put up the occasional heroic performance. He’s a great mover, while Thiem, though he rounded into form in Miami, lost his opening match in Monte Carlo on clay, and has been unpredictably poor this year. Estrella retired in his last match in Monte Carlo against David Ferrer, so his physical condition is in question. As I said, I expect Thiem to prevail, but it’s still an interesting matchup.
Benoit Paire vs. (Q)Jaume Munar
Benoit Paire, who used to be considered a young gun, will take on one of the unheralded young guns coming onto the tour slowly but surely, 17 year old Spaniard Jaume Munar, who qualified to reach the main draw. Munar just recently turned pro, and was a former top 5 junior who reached the French Open Junior final in 2014, I’m interested to see what he can do against the technically talented but mentally weak Paire, who has a world class backhand, but a futures level forehand. It’s a winnable matchup for sure, though Paire has played well on the challenger tour in 2015.
Fernando Verdasco vs. (Q)Andrey Rublev
Former Barcelona champion Fernando Verdasco will take on the player Munar lost to in that RG junior final in 2014, Andrey Rublev, a more recognizable young gun who won ATP matches in both Delray Beach and Miami, and then qualified to reach the main draw here. At 17, the combustible Rublev may be less mentally stable than even Verdasco, but he has all the weapons to make this a match, and he could at least take a set. Verdasco of course has the world class forehand and he reached the semis in Houston, along with a round 1 loss to Grigor Dimitrov in Monte Carlo. Once again, look for the favorite to win but the challenger to put up a more competitive contest than expected.
Kei Nishikori snapped Rafael Nadal’s chokehold on this tournament last year, as the defending champion, who is also ranked higher than the king of clay, will begin his clay court season in Barcelona and work on keeping his ranking trending upwards. It should be a relatively easy start for Nishikori, who went 10-2 on clay last year, as he will open with Pablo Carreno Busta or Teymuraz Gabashvili, both of whom have struggled in 2015. After that, Nishikori could get a shotmakers match with Alex Dolgopolov in the round of 16.
Dolgo will need to beat Sousa, and then defending finalist Santiago Giraldo, who has struggled in 2015 to set that up. Giraldo has their lone clay h2h win, but is 1-3 in the overall h2h, and he comes off quarterfinals in Houston, while Dolgopolov won a round in Monte Carlo before losing to the in-form Gael Monfils in a close contest. Regardless, Nishikori beat Giraldo in the final here last year, and he is a perfect 3-0 with no sets dropped against Dolgopolov, including a win this year in Acapulco against the man from Ukraine.
In the quarters the road is unlikely to get easier for Nishikori to defend his title, as Pablo Cuevas and Roberto Bautista Agut are the primary contenders in the section below. Cuevas won an ATP title on clay in Sao Paulo earlier in the year, and is making his European debut this year, he should be able to ease past either the struggling JL Struff or the struggling Roberto Carballes Baena, a wild card in the second round. RBA won a pair of matches in Monte Carlo, and appears to be playing a bit better than he was earlier this year, where deficiencies in his game were evident. He will open with most likely Thomaz Bellucci, one of the dangerous non-seeds in this draw who beat RBA on clay in Davis Cup last year.
Bellucci will need to beat qualifier Yuichi Sugita in round 1, and is a poor 3-6 on clay in 2015, that said, hes a streaky player who can catch form, so though I picked RBA to face off with Cuevas, Bellucci has a chance here. In that match between Cuevas-RBA, I’m going with an upset and have Cuevas into the quarters, he makes his living on clay and his game has steadily been improving over the past few months.
As for the match between Cuevas-Nishikori, Nishikori has a h2h win on clay, and he’s the better player, nothing indicates to me he will struggle presently, even though he hasn’t been red hot, and I don’t think Cuevas will have the weapons and skill needed to win that matchup, thus putting Kei into the semis.
4 seed Marin Cilic, who reached the quarters in a Monte Carlo surprise, will open with the Estrella/Thiem winner, if he struggles, Thiem could very well pull an upset and give him trouble, however his solid play in Monte Carlo gives me the confidence to say he will win that, given Thiem has likewise been erratic this season, and one would have to think Cilic, who is coming off of injury, can only improve as he gets more matches under his belt.
Casablanca champ Martin Klizan could stop Cilic in his tracks in the third round though, Klizan will need to beat Juan Monaco, who cooled down in Monte Carlo, and lost in the second round after previously showing good form. Monaco should defeat the struggling Alejandro Gonzalez however in round 1. What bodes well for Cilic’s chances is he’s 3-0 against Klizan, but they have never met on clay, and that’s a swing matchup to me, but I’m picking Cilic to go into the quarters.
Cilic/Klizan/Monaco/Thiem are almost certain to face either Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Tommy Robredo in the quarters, as the section below Cilic is a weaker one. Robredo will face either Joao Souza or Mikhail Kukushkin, neither of whom are in good form, in round 2, while Tsonga has Marinko Matosevic or Marcel Granollers, two more out of form players. Tsonga is 3-2 this year, while Robredo won a pair of matches in Monte Carlo but has overall not played that great this year, it’s a hard match to pick, but Tsonga has more upside potential, and thus I’m going with him to reach the quarters and face Cilic in a rematch of their Monte Carlo match that Cilic won, given that result, a Nishikori vs. Cilic semifinal seems most likely in the top half.
Rafa Nadal is the undisputed king of Barcelona with a 42-2 record at the tournament, and 8 titles, but he lost here last year and right off the bat he has a chance to get revenge against the player he lost to, Nicolas Almagro, who opens with journeyman Paolo Lorenzi in round 1. Nadal comes off the semis in Monte Carlo, where he did well against all of his opponents except the world number 1 Djokovic, while Almagro was last a quarterfinalist in Casablanca. Nadal beat Almagro in Miami 4 and 2, and as I said should be hungry for revenge, so I really don’t expect that to be much of a match, given that the performance Almagro turned in 2014 was once in a lifetime.
Look for Nadal against Verdasco/Rublev in round 3, the seed is Fabio Fognini, but his singles game is challenger level right now (1-6 since reaching the Rio final), and Verdasco is solid enough to win especially given the 3-1 h2h. Verdasco of course shocked Nadal in Miami, and he will do his best to try do it again, however, on clay the advantage should swing further towards Nadal, and thus he should be able to reach the quarters at one of his best events.
Feliciano Lopez will player either qualifier James Ward or Marsel Ilhan, though he’s not elite on clay, he still should be good enough to win that round 2 match and setup a match with either Leo Mayer or Albert Ramos/Pablo Andujar. Ramos has been in good form in the past few tournaments, while Mayer has been struggling. Ramos leads the h2h with Mayer 3-2, but Mayer beat him in Sao Paulo this year.
Andujar has beaten Ramos before as well and they are similar ball spinning dirtballers as an aside and Ramos has been in better form, giving him the edge. I have Ramos beting Mayer, and then Lopez to reach the quarters, Ramos has a 2-0 h2h edge with Lopez, and he is a better clay court player, so given the surface, the lower ranked Spaniard has to be the favorite. Nadal has beaten Ramos twice before in Barcelona, and he should do so again to reach the semis.
David Ferrer will face wild card Albert Montanes, a journeyman veteran, or Ricardas Berankis, a former top junior turned journeyman, in the opening round. He has never won in Barcelona but he’s reached the final four previous times, and he comes off a quarterfinal loss to Nadal in Monte Carlo. Ferru has been peak this season and I expect him to blow past Montanes/Berankis and also Nick Kyrgios, the 16 seed, to reach the round of 16. Kyrgios is returning to tour from a back injury, and has limited experience on clay. In fact, the young gun may well lose to qualifier Thiemo De Bakker, or fellow young gun wild card Elias Ymer in round 2, De Bakker has been reliable in ATP qualifying this season an seems breakthrough ready. I have Ferrer beating Montanes, and De Bakker to reach the round of 16.
12 seed Philipp Kohlschreiber is the favorite for the quarterfinals in the weakest section of the draw. The wheels have come off for the 8 seed Ernests Gulbis, who badly needs to be back gaining confidence and form with his new coaching team on the challenger tour, rather than continuing to self-destruct at the ATP level. He was a cacophony of errors in a blowout loss in Monte Carlo, and I don’t see the bleeding stopping against the Munar/Paire winner, though it could. The 17 year old Munar actually has a realistic path to the third round, but I have it Paire vs. Kohlschreiber, after Kohli beats Andrey Kuznetsov, who will face Marton Fucsovics, a qualifier, in round 1. Kuznetsov qualified in Monte Carlo, while Kohli is 2-2 in his last four matches, and won a round in Monte Carlo.
Paire and Kohli have a 2-2 h2h, though Paire won the last two meetings, and Paire has a dark horse chance to reach the quarters if his game is on, he qualified in Monte Carlo and has played well at the challenger level, as mentioned. No matter if it’s Kohlschreiber or Paire in the quarters, Ferrer should reach the semis, he’s 2-0 against Kohli on clay (8-2 overall), and 3-0 overall against Paire.
Dark Horse: Benoit Paire
Albert Ramos, who I have reaching the quarters, is another dark horse candidate, but Paire gets the official designation because his run would be less likely, but more interesting. He has all the talent and the tools, but with his weak mental approach to the game, he slipped down the rankings, and now newly focused he seems to be working his way back, a run to the quarters in a weak section would be a great way to announce to the rest of the tennis world that he’s back in the game.
Cilic famously won the US Open final over Nishikori, but Kei won their clay court meeting in Barcelona, and he’s an overall 5-3 h2h leader, given the fact Nishikori is stroking the ball, while Cilic is just returning from injury, Kei is the fave.
Nadal just beat Ferrer in Monte Carlo, and almost always has, so again he’s the pick.
Nadal d. Nishikori
This is the matchup just about everyone wants this week, and I have a feeling they will get it, Nadal has a 7-0 h2h on his side, though their only clay court meeting was basically a draw as Nishikori took the first set and then hurt himself and had to retire midway through the third set in Madrid. He also has all the positive history in Barca on his side, and home fans, but Nishikori has been rising while Nadal has been in decline over the past 18 months, and Nishikori is now ranked higher than the Spanish veteran. Both players are pure ball strikers, while Nadal hits with tons more spin of course, and both fly movement wise, it’s a more even matchup than the h2h would suggest, but I feel like Nadal, who showed signs of improvement in Monte Carlo, will find a way to get it done and take the title this week.
Troicki is more accomplished than Gimeno-Traver, who just reached his first ATP final in Casablanca and he has a 5-0 head to head edge (3-0 on clay including 2-0 last year), but still DGT playe some surprisingly good tennis to reach that Casablanca final, and should have some positive momentum. Troicki is an even 2-2 in his last four, and that pretty much sums up his 2015 season thus far, some good results with losses mixed in, and he’s still looking to do better. He should win, but an upset is possible.
Borna Coric vs. Sergiy Stakhovsky
Stako crushed a listless Coric in Zagreb 2 and 4 earlier this season, but Coric has been improving since that loss, and he comes off a tough loss to Alex Dolgopolov in 3 sets in Monte Carlo. Stako lost to Tomas Berdych and is 1-3 in his last four, though he was playing some of the best tennis of his career earlier in the year. Given this is clay, Coric should win, but who knows if that h2h will hang over his head.
(7)Jiri Vesely vs. Diego Schwartzman
Vesely and Schwartzman, two young guns, have never met, and both can play their best tennis on clay. Vesely snapped an atrocious losing streak an reached the semis in Casablanca, but he promptly lost in Monte Carlo to Juan Monaco, while Schwartzman qualified and lost to Jeremy Chardy in the opening round. Vesely is favord, and more accomplished, but DSS has a great chance and I have him winning this matchup personally.
Ivan Dodig vs Andreas Haider-Maurer
AHM is nearly a top 50 player now, as the Austrian journeyman has been outdoing himself, primarily on clay, this year. Dodig, who has won twice, and lost twice to the Austrian, is still languishing just inside the top 100, though he has the skill to be much better than that. AHM is 4-2 in his last six, while Dodig is playing his first tournament since a gut wrenching loss to David Ferrer in an Indian Wells thriller. Dodig showed flashes of renewed top 50 ability in that match, and it will be intriguing to see if that shows up in Bucharest,even with AHM the favorite.
Three time champ Gilles Simon is likely to get an interesting opening match with Janko Tipsarevic, who gets a wild card for this tournament, his second since returning to the tour after a lengthy injury layoff. Tipsarevic will need to beat a qualifier, but if the reaches the second round, just as he did in Houston, he’ll have a shot at upsetting Simon for just the third time in what would be their eleventh meeting. The clay h2h is 1-1, but Simon leads 8-2 in the overall h2h, and given form, Simon will be a strong favorite. Simon is 6-3 in his last three tournaments, and has only lost to top 10 players (Ferrer x2 including Monte Carlo, and Nadal) in that span. Look for Simon to beat another Serb, Viktor Troicki, who he has a 5-0 h2h with, in the quarters. Troicki will need to beat DGT and the struggling Denis Istomin or a qualifier.
3 seed Ivo Karlovic isn’t the favorite to reach the semis in his section, that would be Borna Coric most likely, presuming he can beat Stakhovsky. While he isn’t going to be used to the Karlovic serve, as one would expect, clay slows it down to some extent, and thus it’s Dr. Ivo’s worst surface, and the one Coric is most likely to beat him on. Below Coric/Stakhovsky/Karlovic is Vesely/Schwartzman, along with former champ Florian Mayer, and Malek Jaziri. Mayer won his comeback match against Mikhail Youzhny in Monte Carlo before losing to Marin Cilic in 3 sets, and given he played pretty well, I have him beating both Jaziri an Schwartzman to setup a quarterfinal with Coric. It will be youth and form against experience, and wit, as funky flo is a difficult player to deal with given his wonky, tactically smart gamestyle. I’m going with the youth and talent of Coric to shine through at this 250, and have him reaching the semis.
Monte Carlo semifinalist Gael Monfils, who beat both Roger Federer and Grigor Dimitrov in the rich man’s paradise will start his Bucharest campaign against a player in terrible form, either the should be retired Mikhail Youzhny, or the challenger player Marius Copil awaits. Even if he’s fatigued, as it seems he was in his Monte Carlo semi, I still expect him to win that. Either AHM/Dodig or Simone Bolelli/Andrey Golubev await in the quarters. Given this is clay, Bolelli should prevail over Golubev. Bolelli and AHM have a 1-1 h2h, but Bolelli lost to Victor Estrella in Monte Carlo and is playing poorer than AHM at the moment, so I have a Haider-Maurer vs. Monfils quarter, with Monfils advancing unless he injures himself or is too tired to stand.
Former champ Lukas Rosol will open against Dusan Lajovic or a qualifier, with Guillermo Garcia-Lopez likely in the quarters. Rosol beat GGL in the 2013 final and he comes off a round 1 loss in Monte Carlo. GGL was shocked by Lamine Ouahab in Casablanca and is on a two match losing streak, in fact hes just 2-5 since winning the Zagreb title. GGL will need to snap that losing streak an beat a qualifier, then Steve Darcis/Marcos Baghdatis to reach the quarters. In an interesting stats note, Baghdatis hasn’t won a clay match since 2012, and Darcis, though he’s a serve and volleyer, is actually relatively solid on the surface. GGL is 3-1 against Darcis, and thus he’s still the fave even with his struggles. Rosol is streaky and very unreliable, but I’m going with the h2h and have him beating GGL for a spot in the semis.
Coric could take the title this week, Stakhovsky, a serve and volleyer, Karlovic, a big server, and possibly Mayer, a funky finesse technician all present unique matchup challenges, but Coric has a well rounded game, and the youthful energy to confront ech challenge and at least reach the semis. The reliability, yet blandness of Simon, is its own frustrating challenge, and he’s had such success at the tournament before, but you never know with Gillou, and likewise, Monfils, or anyone else on the bottom half is beatable if Borna plays well and his opponents do not, we could well see a teenage ATP champion this week.
Simon d. Coric
Monfils d. Rosol
As mentioned, Coric will need to be patient against Simon, and I’m not sure he can manage that quite yet, in their Marseille h2h meeting, Coric struggled at the start, took the second, but then lost in three, plus he should be more fatigued, thus I give Simon the edge.
Monfils won a Davis Cup match against Rosol, and this tournament is on his racquet given how well he played in Monte Carlo, if he shows interest, he should be a near lock to reach the final, as nobody is near his level on the bottom half.
Simon d. Monfils
Simon beat Monfils in Marseille this year, and also won their clay court meeting (5-1 h2h), they play what is one of the highest average rally length matchups in tennis, and though Monfils should win Bucharest this week given his level, I don’t trust him enough, and I’m going with the more reliable Simon, especially given the h2h, and the win this year.