2016 ATP Houston Preview and Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
Fayez Sarofim & Co US Men’s Clay Court Championship
ATP World Tour 250
Houston, TX, USA
April 4-10, 2016
Prize Money: $515,025
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: John Isner (13)
2: Benoit Paire (22)
3: Feliciano Lopez (23)
4: Jack Sock (24)
A seed cutoff outside of the top 50, and no top 10 players makes Houston a rather average 250 tournament.
First round matchups to watch:
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Victor Estrella vs. Hyeon Chung
The veteran Estrella and the young gun Chung are just one place apart in the rankings, and both looking to snap long losing streaks by returning to clay. Estrella has lost last four matches, while Chung has lost his last three. Estrella has a clay title this year (Quito), while Chung has yet to play a match on the surface. Chung has a long, and lucrative career ahead, but Estrella will likely edge him out in this match.
(8)Paolo Lorenzi vs. (WC)Tommy Paul
The 2015 French Open junior champ Tommy Paul is an American who has skills for clay, and has demonstrated them already this year with a 10-1 record below the ATP level on the red stuff. Lorenzi is nearly a full time clay court specialist, the 34 year old Italian is 12-5 on both challenger and ATP clay this season, a season that has been a good one for him thus far. Paul qualified in Miami, and could challenge Lorenzi, but the Italian should be the favorite .
2013 champ John Isner is 0-2 on clay this year thus far, and he dropped his opening match in Miami as well. All of this does not bode well for the American #1 and fellow American Denis Kudla would love a second round upset after defeating qualifier Mischa Zverev, though Zverev has a great shot at reaching round 2. Isner could go down, but I have him finding a way to reach the quarters.
Estrella/Chung or Lorenzi/Paul will also be in the quarters, with Lorenzi as the favorite, as he should beat Estrella after beating Paul. I have Isner over Lorenzi given the talent discrepancy.
Defending champion Jack Sock is just 7-6 this season, but he should get past fellow American Frances Tiafoe, or qualifier Matthew Barton in round 2. Barton is on a seven match winning streak right now, and is likely slightly better than Tiafoe on clay.
2014 champion Fernando Verdasco looks set to have a good tournament, he’ll open with a blast from the past in the form of qualifier Carlos Berlocq, with either Diego Schwartzman or Marcos Baghdatis to follow. Schwartzman is good on clay, but Verdasco’s experience should win the day if he keeps his game together. Sock has a h2h win over Verdasco, and at this point in their careers is a better player, thus he should be the one to face Isner in the semis.
Benoit Paire is a poor 7-9 on the season, and has just one win in his last four matches. He’s the #2 seed, but it’s going to be a tough match against former champion Juan Monaco in round 2, presuming Monaco beats challenger level player Gerald Melzer, who hasn’t been on tour in a few weeks, though he has three challenger titles to his name this season. Given Monaco has played so sparingly and is just 2-4 this season, Paire likely slips into the quarterfinals, poor form aside.
Sam Querrey, twice a finalist in Houston, opens with the exciting Dustin Brown, and is 12-6 on the season. He should defeat Brown and either Benjamin Becker or Michael Berrer, a recent challenger champion, to reach the quarters. From there I have him defeating Paire for a spot in the semifinals.
Feliciano Lopez, like Paire, has been poor this season and is just 8-7. The veteran Spaniard has an easy draw that will see him face either Lukas Lacko or Dmitry Tursunov first up, with Steve Johnson or Tim Smyczek likely to follow. Neither Tursunov or Lacko have been playing well as of late, Smyczek qualified and won a pair of matches in Miami. He opens with qualifier Nicolas Kicker, and rarely plays on clay. Johnson is looking to hand Donald Young his fifth loss in a row, he won five matches on clay last season, but given the surface, Lopez has the edge.
Dark Horse: Gerald Melzer
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Houston is relatively lacking in unseeded dark horses, and Melzer hasn’t been active on tour in weeks. With that said, when he was active the Austrian was playing well, and he’s a clay court specialist. Gerald needs to defeat a struggling Juan Monaco, and a struggling Benoit Paire to reach the quarterfinals, which would be a nice showing for him.
Sock d. Isner
Querrey d. Lopez
Sock has lost twice to Isner on clay, but he won their last meeting overall, and I feel he’s in slightly better form right now to repeat as champion in Houston. Querrey beat Lopez in Houston last year, and that should be a guide for him to do it again given superior form, although Lopez also has a h2h edge.
Sock d. Querrey
Sock beat Querrey in a nip and tuck final last year, and I have the young American scoring a repeat title in Houston.