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.
Veterans Djokovic, Berdych, and Wawrinka Contesting 2019 ATP Doha Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The 2019 ATP 250 in Doha, Qatar has Novak Djokovic as the star attraction (including a pairing with brother Marko for doubles), but resurgent veterans Stan Wawrinka and Tomas Berdych are still gunning for the title and have advanced to the quarterfinals. What will the rest of the tournament hold?
Both of the seeds advanced to the quarterfinals, with world #1 Djokovic heavily favored against Georgian #1 Basilashvili. Both players have dropped sets this week, with Djokovic’s lost set to Marton Fucsovics a massive surprise. Presuming he’s motivated Djokovic should be too good in this matchup though, after beating Damir Dzumhur and Fucsovics. Basilashvili defeated Albert Ramos and Andrey Rublev.
Tennis fans would love to see a revitalized Wawrinka making waves on tour. The Swiss veteran has a great shot against steady baseliner Bautista Agut after he upset Karen Khachanov in straights and followed that upset with a win against Nicolas Jarry. RBA has been solid, dropping just 5 games in each match (wins against Matteo Berrettini and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez). Wawrinka should be highly motivated though and I have a feeling he’ll rise to the occasion and notch an upset.
Dusan Lajovic vs Marco Cecchinato
Wins against Adrian Mannarino and Ricardas Berankis have lifted Lajovic to the quarters while Marco Cecchinato eased past Sergiy Stakhovsky and then got a walkover into the quarters. Cecchinato is still learning the ropes on hard courts, and though he’s very talented, Lajovic should have a slight edge.
Both of these players have been disappointing lately, Berdych has been injured and considered retirement, but now he’s come back and earned wins against crafty veterans Philipp Kohlschreiber and Fernando Verdasco. PHH hopes to improve as a singles player this year and a stunning win against a listless Dominic Thiem, followed up by a three set tiebreak win against Max Marterer, will give him a lot of confidence heading into this matchup. Berdych is hard to read right now but he should be favored if he’s fit.
Djokovic d. Wawrinka
Berdych d. Lajovic
This is Djokovic’s title to lose, but if he loses interest Wawrinka or RBA will benefit. I expect Berdych to make a run to the final at this point and fall just short, in what would be a huge result for him.
Frenchmen Simon and Monfils Start 2018 With ATP Titles Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
Nick Kyrgios claimed ATP title #4 and his first ever in Australia defeating Ryan Harrison 6-4 6-2. Kyrgios overcame questions about the fitness of his leg early in the week, he needed three sets against Matt Ebden, Alexandr Dolgopolov, and Grigor Dimitrov. Despite the shaky start, Kyrhios improved as the week went on and really pressed the gas pedal when he needed it to start the season. Kyrgios continues to be a player of much promise, and now he heads to the Australian Open brimming with confidence, back in the ATP top 20, and hopefully fit.
Harrison continued his resurgence at age 25, he dropped sets against Leo Mayer and Yannick Hanfmann but won the third set with ease in both matches, then he defeated Denis Istomin and surging young Aussie Alex De Minaur, winning that match in three sets by taking a second set tiebreak and a 6-4 3rd set. Harrison reached 2 ATP finals last season and he’s already halfway to that number in the first week of 2018.
Henri Kontinen and Australia’s own John Peers beat Leo Mayer/Horacio Zeballos in the doubles final.
Gael Monfils won his first title since 2016 with a comprehensive 6-2 6-3 victory against young gun Andrey Rublev in the Doha final. Monfils got a walkover in the semis against Dominic Thiem, and despite dropping sets to Paolo Lorenzi and J.L. Struff, he seemed to kick the cobwebs off his game pretty quickly, defeating Peter Gojowczyk in straights in the quarters and then taking it to Rublev, who’s shotmaking was erratic when it mattered most. Monfils only made one final last year so he’s already matched that in 2018.
Rublev reached a second career ATP final and picked up 2018 where he left off in 2017. The young Russian found his range against Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, Fernando Verdasco, Borna Coric, and Guido Pella, winning tough matches against both Verdasco and Pella. He’s now a trendy dark horse at the Australian Open.
Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic beat Jamie Murray/Bruno Soares in the doubles final.
33 year old Gilles Simon turned back the clock and had his best week on tour in quite some time, taking home the title in Pune 7-6 6-2 over in-form South African Kevin Anderson. It’s Simon’s first title since 2015 and gives him renewed hope and confidence in his tennis after winning just 16 matches last year. Simon beat Tennys Sandgren, Roberto Bautista Agut, Ricardo Lara, and top seed Marin Cilic, that semifinal win coming in three sets as he was a brick wall against Cilic’s powerful groundstrokes.
Simon isn’t the most exciting player to watch, but he was impenetrable against some big hitters, Anderson being one of them. Kev beat Thiago Monteiro, Mikhail Kukushkin, and Benoit Paire, dropping sets to Kukushkin and Paire but still reaching the final. It’s Anderson’s first final since last year’s US Open.
Robin Haase and Matwe Middelkoop beat Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Simon in the doubles final, denying Simon a coveted double title result.
2018 ATP Doha Preview and Predictions: Next Gen Stars Thiem, Coric, Rublev Lead Weakened Doha Field Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The ATP 250 in Doha on hard courts to start the season is normally the ritziest 250 on tour but with most notably Novak Djokovic’s absence it plays host to one of the weaker fields it’s had in recent memory. ATP Next Gen stars Dominic Thiem, Borna Coric, and Andrey Rublev are presented with a great chance to make a run. Here is your full preview, with predictions.
Having cemented himself in the top 5, Thiem leads the Doha field and will open with Evgeny Donskoy. Thiem needs to focus on keep himself fresher in 2018, and he’s also going to be playing with a target on his back all season. That said, he has the game to put away Donskoy and either Malek Jaziri or Aljaz Bedene, Jaziri tends to step up his play in the Middle East, Bedene, who is back representing Slovenia, had a great 2017 though and should be opposite Thiem, falling in round 2.
French veteran Richard Gasquet opens with one of the oldest players on tour, Victor Estrella, he’ll then get another young gun in this draw, Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, or veteran Florian Mayer in round 2. The Greek won 4 matches on the main tour last year and will be looking for a big scalp to start the season, that said Gasquet is good enough when fit I have him defeating everyone into the semifinals, including Thiem in the battle of backhands.
Another veteran hoping for a good 2018 is Tomas Berdych, the Czech won 35 matches but hoisted no titles in 2017 was forgotten for much of the season. He’s better than J.L. Struff, and either Paolo Lorenzi or wild card Gael Monfils though. Monfils had yet another season derailed by injury last year, shutting down after the US Open, he hopes to be fit to start 2018.
Serbia’s Viktor Troicki faces ATP debutante Matteo Berrettini, while his countryman Filip Krajinovic takes on Peter Gojowczyk. Krajinovic had an incredible 2017 winning 71 matches in total (only 5 on the main tour) and reaching the ATP Paris Masters final. After tearing up the challenger tour look for Krajinovic to rise defeating Troicki and Berdych to reach the semifinals.
Pablo Carreno Busta had a career year in 2017 but it still doesn’t seem like he’s appreciated enough. PCB has transformed into an all court performer, but despite his top 10 ranking he’s an underdog against Coric in his opening match. Coric is a talent but posted a below .500 tour record in 2017, PCB should defeat Coric and either Nikoloz Basilashvili or Thomas Fabbiano to reach the quarterfinals.
Russia’s young gun Rublev is my choice to reach the semifinals, Rublev just beat PCB in Abu Dhabi and his path is Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, then a veteran, either Fernando Verdasco or Dudi Sela, before facing PCB or Coric in the quarters (most likely).
The section with Albert Ramos as the highest seed is the weakest part of this draw, Ramos faces Guido Pella in a toss-up contest, Spanish veterans Feliciano Lopez and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez will square off, qualifier’s Mirza Basic and Stefano Travaglia are favored against Andreas Haider Maurer and local wild card Jabor Al-Mutawa respectively. Lopez did not have a great year last year but he still should be favored to survive and reach the quarters where he should defeat Ramos.
I’ll take Gasquet’s guile and shotmaking to take home the Doha title over the young gun Rublev, this is a pretty open field so anything could happen, but look for this contingent to get off to a good 2018.
Djokovic, Dimitrov, and Bautista Agut Start 2017 As Champions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
Novak Djokovic claimed his second consecutive, and second overall Doha title in a nip and tuck 6-3 5-7 6-4 victory over world #1 Andy Murray. Djokovic showed he’s going to make a push for the world #1 early this season in his comprehensive victory over Murray. The new knight Murray played well in the match, but faltered late, and proved it’s still difficult for him to defeat Djokovic when the Serbian is at his best.
Djokovic’s path to the title featured routine wins over J.L. Struff, Horacio Zeballos, and Radek Stepanek. Fernando Verdasco was his semifinal opponent and gave the Serbian all he could handle. Djokovic was a set down and faced five match points in the second set tiebreak before capturing it and going on to win the third set. Verdasco’s weaknesses mentally in clutch situations let him down once again.
Murray showed he’s still a cut above the rest of the ATP tour, posting wins over Jeremy Chardy, Gerald Melzer, Nicolas Almagro, and Tomas Berdych without dropping a set. Murray had a few signs of rust, but he looks healthy and focused as his next stop will be Melbourne, where he’s often the bridesmaid, but never the bride.
Jeremy Chardy and Fabrice Martin beat Vasek Pospisil and Radek Stepanek for the doubles trophy.
Grigor Dimitrov won his first ATP title in three years as the 25 year old defeated Kei Nishikori 6-2 2-6 6-3 in a fantastic singles final. Dimitrov played his best tennis in well over a year as he was firing accurately from both wings and pushing the Japanese #1 around for much of the match. Dimitrov returned well to get his breaks when needed, and maintained his high level of play in the clutch moments of the match.
Dimitrov also defeated top 10 players Dominic Thiem and Milos Raonic in his quarterfinal and semifinal matches respectively for his best results in years. He also defeated Steve Johnson and Nicolas Mahut in early round action.
Nishikori for his part got off to a solid start, defeating Jared Donaldson, Jordan Thompson, and Stan Wawrinka before falling in the final. Wawrinka was disappointing in his semifinal match, while Nishikori showed he’ll be a dark horse threat in Melbourne.
For Dimitrov, a renewed push for the ATP top 10 will be in order if he can maintain this high level of play. He’s certainly not an opponent anyone wants to draw at the Australian Open.
Australian young guns Thanasi Kokkinakis and Jordan Thompson eased past Sam Querrey and Gilles Muller in the doubles final, to the delight of the local crowd.
Roberto Bautista Agut earned his fifth career ATP title with a 6-3 6-4 victory over young gun Daniil Medvedev, who at age 20 was taking part in his first ever ATP final. RBA was one of the tournament favorites from the start, and he got off to a hot start, easing past Rogerio Dutra Silva. In round 2 Mikhail Youzhny was in control, a set and a double break ahead, but Youzhny suffered an epic collapse and RBA won in three sets, going on to defeat Benoit Paire in straights in the semifinals.
The young Medvedev made the best of a favorable draw, defeating Thiago Monteiro, Rendy Lu, and Jozef Kovalik without dropping a set. He then came back from a set down to score a close victory over veteran Dudi Sela. After starting 2016 on the futures tour, you’ll certainly be seeing more of this young Russian on the ATP tour in 2017.
Indian pairing Rohan Bopanna and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan defeated Purav Raja and Divij Sharan in an all Indian doubles final at India’s only ATP World Tour tournament.
2017 ATP Doha Preview and Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The other top tier 250 this week takes place in Doha, Qatar, where three top 10 players make their Aussie Open preparations. Here is a preview, with predictions.
Qatar ExxonMobil Open
ATP World Tour 250
January 2-7, 2017
Prize Money: $1,237,190
Top 4 seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Andy Murray (1)
2: Novak Djokovic (2)
3: Tomas Berdych (10)
4: David Goffin (11)
The world’s top two have decided to start their 2017 seasons in Qatar, as this is once again a lucrative and strong 250.
First round matches to watch:
Malek Jaziri vs. (7)Philipp Kohlschreiber
A match between a pair of veterans. Kohli is 3-0 in his career against the local favorite Jaziri but the German had a disappointing year on hard courts going just 9-8 on the surface in 2016. Jaziri reached the top 60, in large part due to his strong results at the challenger level. The Tunisian went 27-15 on hard courts and would love an upset win to start his year. Kohli is the clear favorite though.
Andrey Kuznetsov vs. (5)Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Kuznetsov posted a career best 29-21 record in 2016 and reached the ATP top 50. The now 31 year old Tsonga went 38-17, including a solid 19-9 hard court record. Tsonga should be in good enough form and fitness heading into this matchup to defeat the Russian with aggressive play, but this still not an easy first round matchup.
World #1 Andy Murray, newly knighted, started his season in Abu Dhabi at an exhibition, and will open with veteran Jeremy Chardy, who he has a great h2h with, in round 1, with the Kohlschreiber/Jaziri winner likely in the quarters. dirtballer Gerald Melzer opens with veteran Paul-Henri Mathieu, while two more veterans, Nicolas Almagro and Paolo Lorenzi are also in this section. Almagro is 4-0 in the h2h against Lorenzi, but the Italian had a career year in 2016, making huge strides on hard courts. This isn’t a difficult section for Murray, who likely slides past Kohlschreiber to reach the semifinals.
The Tsonga/Kuznetsov winner will get Facundo Bagnis or shotmaker Dustin Brown in round 2, Tsonga should be safe to advance until he runs into Tomas Berdych in the quarters. Berdych opens with qualifier Alessandro Giannessi, a 26 year old with limited ATP experience. His Czech counterpart Jiri Vesely should follow in round 2, as wild card Anil Yuksel is making his ATP main draw debut. The 23 year old Vesely remains a talent but he was a rather pedestrian 21-20 at the tour level last year. Berdych went 40-21, with 22 of those wins coming on outdoor hard courts in 2016. Berdych leads Tsonga 8-2 in the h2h, and should be the favorite to reach the semifinals.
Novak Djokovic went 67-9 in 2016, despite his great successes on the season, he surrendered the world #1 ranking at the end of the season, and now has something to fight for in 2017. Djokovic’s early path is routine as Jan-Lennard Struff, and Horacio Zeballos/Florian Mayer aren’t likely to be more than hitting partners for the Serbian. Marcos Baghdatis has a 2-1 h2h against fellow veteran Radek Stepanek. Stepanek came through qualifying and their match should be fun to watch if you’re a fan of attacking tennis. Baghdatis went 26-23 in 2016, while Stepanek, now 38, went 33-15 overall, with a majority of his wins coming on the challenger tour level. Baghdatis is favored to win in round 1, with qualifier Mohamed Safwat or wild card Arthur De Greef to follow. The 26 year old Safwat has limited ATP experience while De Greef is playing just his third career ATP match at age 24. De Greef prefers clay, so Safwat should fall to Baghdatis in round 2, with Djokovic winning his quarterfinal against Baghdatis.
David Goffin looks hungry to renew his success in 2017 after a 51-25 record in 2016. Goffin should ease past Robin Haase in round 1, with either Fernando Verdasco or qualifier Vasek Pospisil to follow. Pospisil had a terrible 2016, going just 9-22 at the tour level, and thus his ranking his dropped outside of the top 100. Verdasco went just 29-26 for his part in 2016, but should be slightly better than Pospisil to start the season. Goffin over Verdasco is my pick to reach the quarters. Veteran Ivo Karlovic, now 37, went 32-24 in 2016, while his first round opponent Illya Marchenko broke through at the ATP level in 2016 posting a 26-28 record overall. Karlovic’s serve should be enough to get him past his round 1 match, and into the quarters after he defeats 20 year old Karen Khachanov, who opens with local wild card Mubarak Shannan Zayid. Khachanov reached the ATP level in 2016 with a 50-27 record overall. Goffin over Karlovic is my pick for the quarters.
Dark Horse: Karen Khachanov
Goffin, Djokovic, Murray, and Berdych/Tsonga look safe to reach the semifinals, but of those four spots, Goffin is the most vulnerable to an upset. Khachanov made big strides in 2016 and Karlovic is beatable if his first serve percentage is off. Getting past Karlovic and Goffin won’t be an easy path, but perhaps the Russian can make some headlines to start the season.
Semis Murray d. Berdych
Djokovic d. Goffin
It’d be an unlikely result if the world #1 and #2 fail to reach an ATP final to start the season, as they prepare for the Aussie Open.
Final Murray d. Djokovic
Murray triumphed over Djokovic late in 2016, and for now I have to predict that momentum will continue in this tough to predict matchup.
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.
David Ferrer had slipped down to number 10 in the world before the start of Doha but he captured his first ATP title in eleven months in the desert paradise over an in-form Tomas Berdych 6-4 7-5. Ferrer got off to a strong start, and though Berdych gave him a push in both sets, the Spaniard remained the frontrunner throughout the match and never let Berdych garner enough momentum to take it to a third set.
It was a great week for the Spanish number 2, he survived a stern test from qualifier Thiemo De Bakker in round one, defeating the tiring Dutchman from a set down, before dispatching his countryman Fernando Verdasco and Dustin Brown in straight sets. He was pushed to three tough tiebreaks against the big serving Ivo Karlovic, who reached the semis by shockingly vanquishing world number one Novak Djokovic in the quarters, but prevailed in a third set breaker to reach the final. Djokovic seems to struggle against players whose biggest weapon is their serve, and Karlovic used it masterfully in their quarterfinal match, he passed the 9,000 career aces mark in his career this week in Doha, and is one of the greatest servers the game has ever seen.
Berdych crushed all opposition en route to the final. He earned routine wins over Denis Istomin, Blaz Kavcic, Richard Gasquet, and Andreas Seppi, who snuck into the semifinals partially due to the fact Rafael Nadal was shocked by career journeyman Michael Berrer of Germany, who is retiring at the end of the season, in round 1. Nadal looked to be in control in the first set, but Berrer employed a much more aggressive approach in the next two sets, and the Spaniard played sloppy listless tennis against the inspired German, losing in 3 sets.
Nadal found more success in doubles this week, as he usually does in Doha, his team up with one of his best pals on tour, Juan Monaco, earned them yet another Doha title, this time over Austrians Julian Knowle and Philipp Oswald.