Busy Month on ATP Tour Sees Federer Claim Title #100, Monfils Return to Form Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
After Novak Djokovic claimed the Australian Open title, the ATP season roared into February with multiple 500 level events and a number of 250s on clay and hard courts across the globe. Here is your look at all the action for the month that was.
Veteran Jo-Wilfried Tsonga won an all French final in this indoor 250 6-4 6-2 against Pierre-Hugues Herbert. The veteran beat Gilles Simon, Jeremy Chardy and Radu Albot in consecutive matches to reach the final, overall he defeated four French players to win the tournament. PHH upset Denis Shapovalov and Tomas Berdych to reach the final.
Bulgaria’s only ATP event was won by the in-form Daniil Medvedev 6-4 6-3 against Marton Fucsovics. Fucsovics had a breakthrough after upsetting Andreas Sepi and getting a walkover against Roberto Bautista Agut in the quarters (then edging Matteo Berrettini in the semis). Medvedev got past Gael Monfils in the semis and prior to that he scored wins against Robin Haase and Martin Klizan in consecutive matches. Medvedev’s win helped him reach the top 15, he’s now 1-1 in ATP finals this year.
On clay in Argentina home hero and wild card Juan Ignacio Londero won his first ever ATP title prevailing against Guido Pella 3-6 7-5 6-1 in a huge moment for him. Londero’s breakthrough pushed him to a new career high in the top 70 and he beat clay courters Nicolas Jarry and Federico Delbonis most notably to make the final. Pella had a good month edging Paolo Lorenzi, Diego Schwartzman, Albert Ramos, and Pablo Cuevas to reach the final in what was a tough path for a 250.
ATP New York
The first ATP 250 in the States this year saw Reilly Opelka lift his first title in three sets 6-1 6-7 7-6 against maiden finalist Brayden Schnur, a Canadian. Opelka also upset top American John Isner, while Schnur edged Sam Querrey in the semis. Opelka’s powerful serve was a difference maker and he should be a factor in Indian Wells and Miami coming up.
ATP Buenos Aires
The 250 on clay in Buenos Aires resulted in Marco Cecchinato’s third career ATP title 6-1 6-2 against home player Diego Schwartzman. Schwartzman upset Dominic Thiem and also beat Aljaz Bedene and Albert Ramos to reach the final. Cecchinato beat Christian Garin, Roberto Carballes Baena, and Guido Pella to reach the final, three accomplished clay courters. This was a great result for Cecchinato outside of Europe.
Gael Monfils returned to form winning his 8th career title 6-3 1-6 6-2 against fellow veteran Stan Wawrinka. It was a thrilling moment played in good spirits and filled with joy for both players who have overcome injuries and adversity to return to the top of the game. Monfils 500 level title included wins against Daniil Medvedev, and David Goffin. Wawrinka upset Milos Raonic, Denis Shapovalov, and Kei Nishikori before falling short in the final. Both players would love to contend at the slam level again.
The Rio 500 on clay was the top event on the Golden Swing and Serbia’s Laslo Djere claimed his first title 6-3 7-5 against young gun Felix Auger-Aliassime. FAA played well but Djere was the player of the week, as he upset Dominic Thiem and also claimed wins against clay courters Casper Ruud and Aljaz Bedene to reach the final. FAA defeated Fabio Fognini, Christian Garin, Jaume Munar, and Pablo Cuevas to reach the final, showing his all court talent that is set to make him a top 20 player in the near future. Djere broke into the top 40 with the win, the tournament was filled with upsets.
Young gun Stefanos Tsitsipas found form and got past Mikhail Kukushkin 7-5 7-6 in the final after defeating David Goffin, and Sergiy Stakhovsky in the late rounds to reach the final. Kukushkin upset Denis Shapovalov and Andrey Rublev before getting a winnable semi against Ugo Humbert. This indoor hard court 250 saw some early round upsets but in the end the #1 seed Tsitsipas won his second career title.
Radu Albot made history, winning his first career title and breaking into the top 60 with a 3-6 6-3 7-6 win against Dan Evans in a battle of journeymen in the Delray 250 hard court final. Evans edged John Isner in the semis and upset Frances Tiafoe in round 1 while Albot got past big servers Ivo Karlovic and Nick Kyrgios before nipping Americans Steve Johnson and McKenzie McDonald to reach the final.
Roger Federer won his 100th career title at the Dubai 500 6-4 6-4 on hard courts against the in-form Stefanos Tsitsipas. Federer found form late in the tournament after dropping sets against Philipp Kohlschreiber and Fernando Verdasco in the first two matches. Marton Fucsovics and Borna Coric were his quarterfinal and semifinal opposition, while Tsitsipas had a relatively easy path until Gael Monfils was his semifinal opponent and he prevailed in that match in a third set tiebreak. The young Greek played well but Federer was just too good.
The Acapulco 500 was won by the struggling big server Nick Kyrgios 6-3 6-4, as he defeated Alexander Zverev in a battle of talented finalists. Kyrgios was focused on the week, edging John Isner in the semis, Rafael Nadal in the second round, and Stan Wawrinka in the quarters while Zverev had a smooth path that included Alex De Minaur in the quarters and Cam Norrie in the semis. Kyrgios has always had the talent to be an elite player, if he can keep this form he will contend in both upcoming Masters tournaments, but that can’t be predicted.
ATP Sao Paulo
Argentina’s Guido Pella won his first ATP title, winning the 250 on clay to close the Golden Swing 7-5 6-3 against Christian Garin. Pella edged Laslo Djere in the semis, while Garin upset Ruud. Pella didn’t have the toughest draw (Roberto Carballes Baena and Marco Trungelliti) but it was still a massive accomplishment to win his first title.
Qualifier Roberto Carballes Baena defeated Albert Ramos in a three set tilt 6-3 4-6 6-4 to capture his maiden ATP title on the clay of Quito, Ecuador. Carballes Baena defeated Federico Gaio, Paolo Lorenzi, Nicolas Jarry, and Andrej Martin after qualifying, dropping sets in his final three matches but prevailing each time.
His countryman Ramos, the more experienced of the finalists, defeated Roberto Quiroz, Gerald Melzer, and Thiago Monteiro, his win over Monteiro coming in three sets.
Jarry and Hans Podlipnik-Castillo, both hailing from Chile, defeated Austin Krajicek and Jackson Withrow in the doubles final.
Lucas Pouille, who captured a career high three ATP titles in 2017, captured his first of 2018, 7-6 6-4 over countryman Richard Gasquet. Pouille benefited from a retirement in the semifinals when trailing against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, as Tsonga injured his knee up a set and 5-5 in set 2. Carlos Taberner and Benoit Paire both lost to Pouille in straight sets.
Gasquet showed good form yet again on home courts, he beat Daniil Medvedev, Pierre-Hugues Herbert, Damir Dzumhur and David Goffin. The wins over Herbert and Goffin coming in three sets.
British brothers Ken and Neal Skupski defeated Hugo Nys and Ben Mclachlan in the doubles final.
Both Mirza Basic and Marius Copil had a shot at their maiden ATP title, and Basic came out ahead. The Bosnian edged Copil 7-6 6-7 6-4 in the final, after upsetting both Philipp Kohlschreiber and Stan Wawrinka to reach the final. Basic, a qualifier, also defeated Florian Mayer and Max Marterer in the main draw. Basic was on the ropes in his opening round qualifying match against local player Alexander Lazov, and dropped a set against Marterer as well, but improved throughout the entirety of the week. He was rock solid on serve against Wawrinka and finally got the upper hand.
Copil defeated Robin Haase, Blaz Kavcic, Gilles Muller, and Jozef Kovalik to reach the final, not dropping a set in those four victories.
Deep French Field Including Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga Feature at ATP Montpellier Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The first of the numerous ATP tournaments in France, Montpellier is a 250 on indoor hard courts. Here is your full preview, with predictions.
David Goffin comes off success in Davis Cup and will face Gilles Simon in the opening round, presuming Simon beats a qualifier. I’ll go with Simon in an upset, given home court advantage, Goffin’s likely fatigue, and Simon’s good form to start the year. David Ferrer is another veteran in good form, he’ll face Karen Khachanov, Ricardas Berankis/Julien Benneteau will follow. Simon over Ferrer is my pick in the quarters.
Richard Gasquet played well in Davis Cup, he has a tough opening match against Daniil Medvedev, with Pierre-Hugues Herbert/qualifier to follow. Gasquet is still my pick ot reach the quarters, opposite Damir Dzumhur. Dzumhur will face Calvin Hemery/Ruben Bemelmans in the second round.
Lucas Pouille struggled to start the season, he should beat a qualifier, but his countryman Benoit Paire should be tricky in the quarters. Paire opens with Mischa Zverev, John Millman/Yuichi Sugita will follow. Paire is my pick over Pouille in the quarters given the current form of both players.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has a great shot in his section of the draw, Nicolas Mahut/Dustin Brown will be his first opponent, Andrey Rublev should be his quarterfinal opponent. Rublev opens with Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Stefanos Tsitsipas/Jeremy Chardy will follow. Tsitsipas could make a run, but Rublev seems to be better at this point in time. Tsonga is my pick to reach the semis.
Dimitrov Completes Memorable Run in Sofia, Estrella wins third straight Quito Title Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
Grigor Dimitrov is now 14-1 in 2017, and after two ATP titles already this season, he’s on the cusp of a top 10 ranking. The Bulgarian #1 had a memorable run in Sofia, playing in his nation’s only ATP tournament for the first time. With home fans united behind him, Dimitrov continued his aggressive ball striking and in-form serving en route to a 7-5 6-4 victory over an overwhelmed David Goffin in the final. The title is number six in Dimitrov’s still young career, and by far the most special for him. Having found his focus, the Bulgarian looks sure to do damage on bigger stages in the weeks to come, such as the two ATP spring Masters tournaments in North America.
Dimitrov got off to a shaky start against Jerzy Janowicz and was in danger of making an early exit, but he won that match in three sets, and proceeded to buzzsaw past Viktor Troicki and surprise semifinalist Nikolosz Basilashvili, a rising Georgian player who lost every game of the first set, and a couple of games into the second set before winning his quarterfinal match over Martin Klizan in three sets .
Goffin dropped sets against Radu Albot and Roberto Bautista Agut, with a straight set win against countryman Steve Darcis inbetween them, however he showed some great tenacity this week and is also flirting with a top 10 ranking. Should the Belgian continue to win the matches he’s supposed to win, he’ll be in the top 10 again.
Serbians Viktor Troicki and Nenad Zimonjic beat Mikhail Elgin and Andrey Kuznetsov in the doubles final.
Victor Estrella hails from the Dominican Republic, but when he’s found a second home in Quito, Ecuador, where he has taken all three of his career ATP titles, and won all three editions of the Ecuador Open. His third triumph at altitude came in a nip and tuck final against fellow veteran Paolo Lorenzi, that he finally won in a third set tiebreak 6-7 7-5 7-6, saving a match point in that tiebreak. Lorenzi had his chances at a second career tour level title at age 35, but the Italian faltered from a set and a break ahead. Estrella saw a chance to get back into the match, and took it, looking fit and fresh even after three close sets at 36 years old.
Estrella’s other difficult match in Quito came against Ivo Karlovic, as he won two out of three tiebreaks to prevail. He got off to a slow start in the tournament, dropping a set to Andrej Martin, but after getting past Martin and Karlovic, he slipped past Federico Gaio and big hitter Thomaz Bellucci, defeating Bellucci in two tiebreaks. Lorenzi looked more solid all week until midway into the second set of the final. The Italian challenger legend scored ATP wins over Matt Ebden, Rajeev Ram, and Albert Ramos without dropping a set.
James Cerretani and Philipp Oswald beat Julio Peralta and Horacio Zeballos by virtue of a retirement in the second set to take the doubles title.
Coming off a disappointing result in Davis Cup, not much was expected from the young Alexander Zverev, but the German triumphed against a host of accomplished ATP veterans to claim his second career ATP title at the age of 19. Zverev had to battle all week in Montpellier, as his only straight set victory came in the final against veteran Richard Gasquet 7-6 6-3. Zverev dropped sets against Aljaz Bedene, Jeremy Chardy, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga before winning the third set in all of those matches to reach the final.
Gasquet played well in wins against Malek Jaziri and Benoit Paire, Kenny De Schepper tested him in between those matches, but in the end the Frenchman with the magical backhand reached yet another ATP final in his accomplished career. After a run to the final on home soil, Gasquet looks set to return to the top 20 soon.
The Zverev brothers claimed double joy in Montpellier, taking home the doubles title over France’s Fabrice Martin and Daniel Nestor. Along with it being rare to claim an ATP singles and doubles title on the same day, the Zverev brothers are the first brother pairing in a while to take a doubles title, besides the Bryan twins.
Playing at home in France should give Paire a clear advantage in this matchup, but he’s known to lose his focus, and the young Russian Khachanov needs to start winning matches like this if he’s going to cement himself at the tour level in the coming months. Khachanov has a bright future, but in the short term Paire’s firepower should be enough.
Daniel Evans (6)Mischa Zverev
After a tough weekend in the Davis Cup, Evans travels to France to take on an in-form Zverev on what should be a quick indoor hard court. Both Zverev and Evans have been playing at career bests early in 2017, but Zverev should be fresher, and his serve and volleying should be a difficult matchup for Evans.
After a miserable start to the season, top seed Marin Cilic badly needs to gain some momentum in this 250. Both Dustin Brown and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez are struggling, so Cilic should at least make the quarterfinals, most likely to face Feliciano Lopez, presuming Lopez beats a qualifier and Paire/Khachanov. Paire vs. Lopez isn’t easy to predict, but I have Lopez serve and volleying having a matchup edge. Cilic leads Lopez 4-2 in their h2h, and thus I have Cilic reaching the semifinals.
Three-time and defending Montpellier Champion Richard Gasquet comes off Davis Cup play, and jetlag may play a factor, but he should defeat Malek Jaziri or a qualifier, and then Mischa Zverev in the quarterfinals. Home favorite Quentin Halys or Illya Marchenko will face Zverev or Evans in round 2, with Zverev as the favorite, up until he faces Gasquet, who should win their match with superior groundstrokes and reach the semifinals.
An impressive 6-2 to start the season, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga should delight home fans with a victory over Pierre-Hugues Herbert or a qualifier, and then another win over most likely Fernando Verdasco, presuming Verdasco defeats a qualifier and the winner of Daniil Medvedev/Tobias Kamke. Medvedev retired in his last match over the weekend, and may not be fit, despite his talent. Tsonga is better than the fellow aggressive veteran Verdasco at this venue.
Alexander Zverev struggled in Davis Cup play, but neither Borna Coric nor Aljaz Bedene are in good form themselves, which means Zverev should be opposite either Jeremy Chardy or Chardy’s countryman Paul-Henri Mathieu, the defending finalist, in the quarterfinals. Chardy opens with dirtballer Marcel Granollers, while PHM will face a qualifier. Chardy isn’t playing great at the moment, but at home in France I still have him upsetting Zverev, who seems a bit out of sorts.
The unseeded Frenchman Paire could also be trouble, but the young Zverev’s funk is Chardy’s gain as the unseeded Frenchman doesn’t have an overly difficult path to the semis, as long as he finds the mojo on his serve and stays in matches.
Semis Gasquet d. Cilic
Tsonga d. Chardy
Cilic and Gasquet have split meetings, but the venue and form favors Gasquet. Tsonga has a h2h edge over Chardy and should be the better player.
Final Tsonga d. Gasquet
A close 5-4 h2h doesn’t provide much insight into who would win this final, but Tsonga should be fresher, and that alone gives him a slight edge.
Richard Gasquet successfully defended his Montpellier title, taking a third trophy at the French tournament, and showing no signs of back problems in the process. Gasquet had a relatively easy path, but had to survive a tough semifinal match against Dustin Brown, where he was 1-6 0-3 down, before the wheels came off for the streaky Brown, and Gasquet ended up winning in three.
It was an all French final, as the veteran Paul-Henri Mathieu posted his best result in some time to reach the final, falling 7-5 6-4 to Gasquet. PHM beat Elias Ymer, Benoit Paire, and then John Millman in three sets, and Alexander Zverev in a tough two setter to reach the final. Zverev posting his best ever ATP result by reaching the semis.
Gasquet beat powerful ball strikers Ernests Gulbis, and Marcos Baghdatis, in addition to Brown.
Mate Pavic and Michael Venus beat the Zverev brothers, Alex and Mischa, to win the doubles title.
Victor Estrella surprisingly repeated as champion in Quito. The 35 year old upset Thomaz Bellucci 4-6 7-6(5) 6-2, as he ground down his opponent, for a second career ATP title.
Estrella beat Guido Pella, Andrej Martin, Renzo Olivo, and Albert Ramos en route to the final, losing just a set to Olivo. Bellucci needed three sets against Pablo Carreno Busta in the quarters, beat Albert Montanes prior to that, and surviving Paolo Lorenzi in a three set semifinal. Lorenzi scored his first ever top 20 win when he defeated Bernard Tomic in the quarterfinals.
Carreno Busta and Guillermo Duran played doubles for the first time together and captured the title, defeating Bellucci and Marcelo Demoliner in the final.
Roberto Bautista Agut continued his streak as the hottest Spanish player right now with his second ATP title of the season in Sofia. He’s the first ever champion of the Bulgarian tournament as he defeated Serbia’s Viktor Troicki 6-3 6-4. RBA only had three matches this week, as Filip Krajinovic granted him a walkover, and then Adrian Mannarino and Gilles Muller in the quarters and semifinal to reach the final.
Troicki reached his second final of the season, dropping just one set in his first three matches. He handled Daniel Brands and Philipp Kohlschreiber with ease, and then had to battle past Martin Klizan in 3 sets.
Wesley Koolhof and Matwe Middelkoop defeated Philipp Oswald and Adil Shamasdin in the doubles final, saving match points in the process. It was a tense week for the Dutch tandem.
2016 ATP Montpellier Preview and Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
After the Australian Open the ATP World Tour will have two events in Europe, in France, and Bulgaria, along with a clay court Golden Swing event in Ecuador. The European events are 250s on indoor hard court, while the event in Quito, Ecuador is on high altitude clay.
Open Sud de France
ATP World Tour 250
February 1-7, 2016
Surface: Indoor hard
Prize Money: €463,520
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Richard Gasquet (9)
2: Marin Cilic (13)
3: Gilles Simon (15)
4: Benoit Paire (18)
A strong French contingent gives Montpellier a solid field for a 250.
Ernests Gulbis has lost three straight and continues to be in terrible form dating back to last season. The Latvian used to be a top ATP player, but he’s lost his way yet again, and is in danger of slipping down to the Challenger level once more. The French wild card Halys is a rising star who won a round in Melbourne and fell to Novak Djokovic in round 2. He lacks experience, but has plenty of skill, and has a nice shot at an upset win in this match.
John Millman vs. (WC)Julien Benneteau
Millman reached the third round in Melbourne and upset Gilles Muller in the process. He’s another underachieving talent in this draw, while Benneteau is still recovering from injury and trying to return to ATP caliber play. Given their recent form Millman should have an edge.
Richard Gasquet missed the opening month of the season due to a back injury but presuming he’s not too rusty the two-time Montpellier champion has a clear path to the semifinals. Gasquet will open with the Gulbis/Halys winner with one of Lukas Lacko/Marcos Baghdatis/Denis Istomin/Taro Daniel awaiting in the quarterfinals. Both Istomin and Daniel are 0-3 to start the season, so one of them will earn their first ATP win of 2016. Lacko recently made a challenger semi, but Baghdatis likely has an edge to slip into the quarterfinals as an aggressive striking veteran.
Baghdatis is 3-0 in the h2h against Gasquet, and he could pull an upset, but the Frenchman’s positive history at this venue makes him the favorite.
Gilles Simon has never reached the final in Montpellier, but his recent form in Melbourne makes him a threat to capture the title. Simon took two sets off Novak Djokovic and reached the fourth round. The counterpuncher will open with Steve Darcis or a qualifier, and most likely awaits Joao Sousa in the quarterfinals. Sousa is a bit of an indoor hard court specialist, and reached the third round in Melbourne. The Portugese #1 opens with Ruben Bemelmans of Belgium, with Nicolas Mahut or J.L. Struff up in round 2. Both Struff and Mahut are capable of indoor success, but Sousa should be the favorite.
Simon leads Sousa 2-1 in the h2h, and we could see an all-French semifinal vs. Gasquet.
Marin Cilic has suffered a pair of disappointing losses to start the season, including a third round defeat in Melbourne. The Croatian is looking to get back on track against Alex Zverev or Luca Vanni. Cilic should be untroubled by Zverev, and Borna Coric is his likely quarterfinal opponent. Coric opens with Michael Berrer, who he trails 0-2 in the h2h. Cilic’s countryman already has an ATP final under his belt this season, though he has lost three straight matches. Berrer opted not to retire after a career year in 2015, and his serve and volley game is a throwback.
The Coric/Berrer winner gets Niko Basilashvili or a qualifier in round 2. Cilic pummeled Coric last year in Shanghai, and matchup wise he should be able to power his way into the semis.
Benoit Paire is 3-3 with a semifinal to start the season, the former Montpellier finalist will open with either a qualifier or veteran Paul-Henri Mathieu. He’s on track to have the toughest quarterfinal against Gael Monfils, a two-time Montpellier champion. Monfils has Millman/Benneteau, after a qualifier in round 1, in his path to the quarterfinals. The Australian Open quarterfinalist lost to Paire last season, but his good form to start the year suggests he’ll avenge that loss and put his exciting tennis into the semifinals.
Sousa could run the table like he did last year in Valencia, and St. Petersburg, reaching the final or perhaps capturing the title. His ball striking has a way of finding form on indoor hard courts, and Simon and Gasquet have proven themselves to be beatable.
The legend of Victor Estrella continues to grow, the 34 old won his maiden ATP title in Quito, becoming the first Dominican player to capture an ATP title. Estrella is set to soar past his previous career high ranking of 65 after winning a thrilling three setter with top seed, and top 15 player Feliciano Lopez 6-2 6-7 7-6. Estrella was up a break in the third set, and surrendered it, but he held his serve and got the match to a tiebreak, where he seized a crucial advantage over the Spaniard and took it 7-5. Estrella over the past 15 or so months has been the most inspiring story in tennis, and is a testament to hard work and never giving up on your dreams. He has received little support and considered dropping tennis due to financial difficulties given the lack of support from his undeveloped federation. He was the definition of journeyman until 11 months ago when he broke into the top 100 for the first time. Since them, he’s established himself at the ATP level and also done well in his first Slam main draws.
Estrella began his run this week with a win over Andre Ghem, after that he beat Renzo Olivo, and upset 4 seed Martin Klizan to reach the semis, all without dropping a set. In the semis, he held on against Bellucci, who gave the match away in straights. ATP 250 events often receive criticism for field quality, and so much of the attention in the tennis world gets focused on the top 10 and the Masters and Slam level events, but if you ask me, Estrella and his story are what pro tennis is all about, he’s certainly not the most physically gifted or technically skilled player on tour, but with heart, and drive, he has gotten himself this far on tour, and the run doesn’t appear to be likely to end anytime soon. This is a sport where the grittiest, most dedicated players can post good results, and this was a magical week for Victor Estrella.
As for the top seed Lopez, he remains a Spaniard without a clay court title, Feli beat Alejandro Gonzalez in straights, Dusan Lajovic in 3 sets, from a set down and staring triple break point in the face in set 2, and Fernando Verdasco in a pair of tiebreaks, as Verdasco was unable to convert his chances in that match and mentally collapsed under pressure. His slice and serve was generally effective this week en route to the final.
Estrella pulled double duty in Quito this week, as he and his partner Joao Souza reached the doubles final, however it was Germans Gero Kretschmer and Alexander Satschko that took the doubles title in the end.
Richard Gasquet claimed his third career Montpellier title thanks to a retirement from an ill Jerzy Janowicz. Janowicz would have been bidding for his maiden ATP title but he simply wasn’t physically able to contest this match, retiring after 3 games. Gasquet staved off Lucas Poulle in straights, avoiding a third set against the young gun, and then beat Denis Istomin and Gael Monfils to reach the final. Monfils was also struggling with an undisclosed illness.
Janowicz had a great week, in fact already showing considerable improvements to his game after a dismal 2014. The Polish number one saved six match points against Dustin Brown to advance in 3 sets, and then also beat Benoit Paire in 3 sets to reach the quarters. Janowicz showed clutch play and steady improvement as he beat Gilles Simon in straights and Joao Sousa in 3 sets, with a third set breadstick in his final competitive match, and it’s a shame the final never took place.
Artem Sitak and Marcus Daniell beat Dominic Inglot and Florin Mergea, the top seeds, to win the doubles title, Sitak and Daniell are the first New Zealand pairing to win an ATP doubles title in decades.
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez won his second career indoor hard court title in Zagreb, upsetting the favored, and in form Andreas Seppi, who has been off to a hot start in 2015. GGL and Seppi were neck and neck in the first set, and GGL clawed back a minibreak to take the first set, in the second, it was likewise close, but Seppi played a poor service game at 3-4 to get broken, and GGL served the match out after that for a 7-6 6-3 victory. It was close but GGL had fewer errors in his game and won the longer rallies, as he continues to post up and down results with his diverse game.
Garcia-Lopez demolished Damir Dzumhur in round 2, then beat Viktor Troicki in a close 3 set contest, and fellow veteran Marcos Baghdatis in the semifinals 4 and 4. Baghdatis had previously saved a match point to defeat Ivo Karlovic in round 2, and was perhaps fatigued from having three previous three set wins (over Toni Androic, Mikhail Youzhny and Karlovic) to reach the semifinals.
Seppi didn’t have any easy matches this week, he needed 3 sets against Robin Haase, James Ward, and Ricardas Berankis, that match decided in a tight third set tiebreak, and then he won a first set breaker and went on to breadstick Marcel Granollers for a straight set win in the semifinals. Outside of Berankis, and perhaps Igor Sijsling, all of the quarterfinalists in Zagreb this week were veteran players (Baghdatis, Youzhny, GGL, Troicki, Seppi, Granollers). Seppi already has an ATP final, an ATP semi (Doha) and the second week of a Slam (the AO) on his resume and it’s just now the second week of February as he has been on a tear as of late.
Home fans in Croatia had something to cheer about as Marin Draganja, a Croat, along with his partner Henri Kontinen of Finland beat Fabrice Martin and Purav Raja to capture the Zagreb doubles title. Croatian legends Ivan Ljubicic and Goran Ivanisevic were on hand to celebrate with the Zagreb winners this week, in a nice moment at the end of the tournament.
2015 ATP Montpellier, Zagreb and Quito Previews/Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The traditional European indoor 250 level events in France and Croatia will be on the tennis calendar this week, with players fresh from the Australian swing. In addition, a new event in Ecuador is making its debut on the ATP 250 series this week. It starts off the South American clay court golden swing.
2015 ATP Montpellier Preview
Open Sud de France
ATP World Tour 250
February 2-February 8, 2015
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Gael Monfils (19)
2: Gilles Simon (20)
3: Philipp Kohlschreiber (24)
4: Richard Gasquet (28)
A balanced field that is made up almost entirely of Europeans, as is to be expected. The seed cutoff is inside the top 60.
Struff and Nieminen have both had success at the ATP level indoors, and this should be a quality contest between two great ball strikers. Nieminen reached the third round in Melbourne, and appears to be in slightly better form, so I’d give him an edge to advance, but either of these players is a dark horse threat in the tournament overall.
(6)Denis Istomin vs. Malek Jaziri
Istomin went 0-3 in January, though two of his losses came to in-form players Tomas Berdych and Andreas Seppi as he hasn’t had the best draws. Jaziri remarkably reached the third round in Melbourne, and he’s now working with Marin Cilic’s coach, former ATP great Goran Ivanisevic, on a part time basis. Ivanisevic recently discussed in this interview that Jaziri had previously not put in much effort in regards to practicing, having a coach, working on his fitness, and so forth. Ivanisevic believes Jaziri can move beyond journeyman status with renewed effort and focus, and it will be interesting what he can do here in Montpellier, I have him upsetting the seeded Istomin.
(5)Jerzy Janowicz vs. Dustin Brown
Brown has twice beaten Janowicz indoors (at the challenger level), and JJ reached the third round in Melbourne before falling to Feliciano Lopez (scoring a notable win over Gael Monfils en route). I would expect Janowicz to win this match indoors over the erratic highlight maker Brown, but it should be a quality contest, and perhaps go 3 sets.
Defending champ Gael Monfils opens his title defense against Marsel Ilhan or Kenny De Schepper, I don’t expect Monfils to be bothered so he should slide into the quarterfinals against the Struff/Nieminen winner, with Tatsuma Ito or a qualifier also options in this section. I see Nieminen getting through to the quarters, and Monfils is 4-0 against him, including 2-0 in Montpellier, so he should be favored heavily to reach the semifinals.
Richard Gasquet appears to be on track for a huge clash with young Frenchman Lucas Pouille. Gasquet, who went 4-2 in January, and has a strong record with two titles and a final last year in Montpellier, could be ousted by the rising Pouille, who has started to come into his own after floating around with wild card status for a while on tour. Pouille has a gifted forehand, while Gasquet of course has that magical backhand, so the clash of styles should be quality. Pouille nearly took out Gael Monfils in Australia and he was a semifinalist in Auckland, still it’s a tough ask to pick him over the much more established Gasquet, who has such a good record here, so Gasquet into the quarters is the pick. Pouille opens with Alexander Kudryavtsev in round 1. Expect Gasquet against the Jaziri/Istomin winner in the quarters, with Dudi Sela, who reached the third round in Melbourne shockingly, and a qualifier also options in this open section. If Sela and Jaziri end up facing off in round 2, there could be some interesting political implications.
Gilles Simon has reached the semis multiple times, but never the final here, and he’s yet another well known Frenchman playing on home soil after the AO. Simon had an up and down January, but he should have little trouble against Andreas Beck/Edouard Roger-Vasselin in round 2, and his first test should come against Janowicz in the quarters. Benoit Paire and a qualifier are also options, and the formerly promising Paire, failed to even qualify for the Aussie Open, as his career has taken a nose dive after knee problems. Janowicz is 1-0 indoors against Simon, but I see that result reversing itself if they meet again, Simon’s pushing should frustrate Janowicz into enough errors to gift him the match.
Philipp Kohlschreiber, who appeared to be playing much better in Melbourne than he has been for quite some time, opens with a qualifier or the veteran Paul-Henri Mathieu in round 2. I expect Kohli, barring a blast from the past for PHM, to reach the quarters, and then take out one of Joao Sousa/Laurent Lokoli/Tobias Kamke/Vincent Millot in the most open section of the draw. Kamke isn’t playing well right now, so Sousa, who has also had indoor success, and reached the third round in Melbourne, should reach the quarters but fall to the German at that stage.
Pouille would need to defeat Gasquet, but the ceiling for this talented young Frenchman is quite high, as he seems to be the next great player hailing from that country to burst onto the ATP scene. Pouille has all the shots, it’s just going to be a matter of him gaining experience at the highest level, and working on things like his shot selection and fitness. Should he upset Gasquet, he certainly has a chance to get to the semis and play Monfils with a chance for revenge. He’s an enjoyable player to watch no matter how far he goes here.
Monfils beat Gasquet three times last year, including in the Montpellier final, so he should have an advatage going into a possible semifinal encounter. By picking Kohli over Simon i’m going against the h2h by a sizeable margin (Simon 2-0 indoors, 4-0 on hard courts) and both have been known to be inconsistent at times, it’s a hard pick to make, and the reason why I’m going with Kohli is because he played well against Tomic in Australia and seems motivated to better himself.
Final: Monfils d. Kohlschreiber
Monfils has had success here before, and additionally he’s 4-0 on indoor hard against Kohli, thus he has to be the favorite to take the title in Montpellier, though you never really know with his form.
PBZ Zagreb Indoors
ATP World Tour 250
February 2-February 8, 2015
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Ivo Karlovic (27)
2: Adrian Mannarino (36)
3: Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (37)
4: Gilles Muller (42)
One of the weaker fields for a tour event this year most likely, it’s truly wide open in Zagreb. Marin Cilic was supposed to headline but he pulled out of this tournament still recovering from injury.
First Round matchups to watch:
Borna Coric vs. Sergiy Stakhovsky
One of the home favorites who the crowd will be rallying behind in Zagreb, the young Croat Coric went just 1-3 in January, and will be looking to improve on his record this month, boosted by home cooking and home soil. If he is to have a 2015 season where he gets inside the top 50 and stays there, he will need to win matches like this one against Stakhovsky, he’s a better player than the Ukrainian number two who plays splotches of good tennis mixed in with a lot of journeyman results. To add to the intrigue, Stakhovsky won the title in 2008 here. That said, without weather being a factor, and with crowd support, Coric should rise to the occasion and win this one.
Ivo Karlovic could get a tough test right off the bat against Marcos Baghdatis, who reached the third round in Melbourne shockingly, and is a former champion here. Baghdatis will need to beat wild card Toni Androic to get to round 2. Karlovic and Baghdatis split meetings in 2008, I’ve been impressed by Baghdatis over the past month, and I have him through to the quarterfinals. The Coric/Stakhovsky winner will have a shot at the quarters, with Blaz Kavcic and Mikhail Youzhny also in this section. Youzhny is a former champion in Zagreb as well, but he’s playing incredibly poorly right now, he’s 2-0 against Kavcic but both their meetings were competitive, so I have Kavcic through to round 2 in an upset, and then Coric over him for a spot in the quarters, with Baghdatis eventually making the semis.
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, who reached the second week of Melbourne, just his second week 2 appearance in singles in a slam, opens with Damir Dzumhur/qualifier. The dangerous name here is Sydney champion Viktor Troicki, who has been rising back up the rankings since returning to tour, and should be able to feast on a weak draw like this. GGL is good enough to reach the quarters, but Troicki should demolish a qualifier, then Go Soeda/qualifier to setup a meeting with him, and then I have Troicki winning that match to reach the semifinals.
Auckland finalist Adrian Mannarino will face Igor Sijsling or a qualifier in round 2, that’s not going to be an impressive match, but Mannarino should reach the quarters to meet perhaps Croatian Ivan Dodig. Dodig seems to be improving and his first match against countryman Mate Delic is winnable. Likewise he’s better than Marcel Granollers or Jurgen Melzer presently on an indoor hard court, though Melzer did qualify in Melbourne surprisingly. Melzer is 2-0, with two 3 set wins in his career against Dodig, one of which came indoors. Dodig is my pick for the semis in this section as I have him taking out Mannarino.
Gilles Muller, who reached the round of 16 in Melbourne, will open with Ricardas Berankis or Lukas Lacko, Lacko has had success here before but Muller is serving well right now so he should comfortably make the quarterfinals. Lurking in this section is Andreas Seppi, a quarterfinalist in Melbourne, and semifinalist in Doha who has really been hitting his shots well this past month. Seppi opens with a struggling Robin Haase, then has Antonio Veic or James Ward in his way, that shouldn’t be much of a contest, and I have Seppi, who is 2-1 indoors against Muller, through to the semifinals in a tight contest.
Dark Horse: Marcos Baghdatis
When it comes to an unseeded player who can have a surprising result, Baghdatis fits the bill, if he makes the semis, a match against Troicki will be difficult but winnable and likewise Muller/Seppi are beatable all be it tough in a potential final. Baghdatis is seeking a career resurgence in his later years and winning an ATP title would be a massive step towards that.
Baghdatis is 4-1 in his career, and 3-1 on indoor hard against Troicki, that said I feel the Serbian has been the better player, and playing better tennis as of late, so I still have him through.
Seppi is 4-1 against Dodig on hard courts in his career, and with how well he played in January, signs are good that he will reach the final. He just beat Dodig in Doha.
Final: Seppi d. Troicki
Seppi beat Troicki once on hard courts, and this is a difficult match to predict, however I have the Italian winning the ATP title here off of his good momentum and balanced approach over the past month.
Ecuador Open Quito
ATP World Tour 250
February 2-February 8, 2015
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Feliciano Lopez (14)
2: Santiago Giraldo (32)
3: Fernando Verdasco (33)
4: Martin Klizan (34)
Just one top 20 player in the field for this tournament, but it’s full of an interesting set of clay courters really and lots of Latin American flair at this maiden event.
Feliciano Lopez, who did well in Melbourne is the marquee name here, he had a poor January before the AO and had to drag himself into the second week, but he appears to be playing better tennis at the moment, and will shift onto clay against Alejandro Gonzalez or Facundo Bagnis. I have Lopez over Gonzalez (who beat Bagnis twice on clay last year) for a spot in the quarters, with 7 seed Dusan Lajovic in line to take the other spot. Lajovic will need to avoid upsets against Luca Vanni, and qualifier/Gonzalo Escobar but he’s got a really lucky seedline here with no serious competition. Expect Lopez over Lajovic in the quarters.
Fernando Verdasco, who reached the third round in Melbourne, will also be shifting his powerful game to clay, his first match will come against either a qualifier or Andreas Haider-Maurer, and then veteran clay courters are in the section below him competing to meet him in the quarterfinals. Joao Souza will face Alejandro Falla in R1, and Paolo Lorenzi will face Adrian Menendez Maceiras. Souza is 3-1 on clay against Falla, and Falla has been struggling so I have Souza into round 2, I have Lorenzi over AMM (3-0 including 2 wins last year in the h2h). Then I have the Brazilian into the quarterfinals, Lorenzi has won their last three meetings, but Souza has won twice on clay against him and appears to be playing slightly better right now. Verdasco should take out Souza and reach the semis.
Santiago Giraldo, who got off to a rough start in 2015, will face veteran Spaniard Albert Montanes or young Argentine Facundo Arguello in round 2. Even with Giraldo just 1-2 in 2015, he beat an aging Montanes last year on clay, and twice overall, and he’s 4-1 in the career H2H so he should be heavily favored to reach the quarterfinals here (Arguello has only played one tournament match this year and it was a bad loss in a clay court challenger). Awaiting Giraldo should be Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci, Bellucci will face formerly established Ecuadorian player Giovanni Lapentti in round 1, and then the Horacio Zeballos/Austin Krajicek winner. Though Zeballos capable of random bursts of form, Bellucci is the relatively more accomplished name and he should get to the quarters here. Bellucci bested Giraldo twice last year, and hasa a 4-1 clay h2h against him, so he may be the favorite, but I feel this pair have careers going in the opposite direction right now, with Giraldo having a breakthrough 2014, and Bellucci seemingly stagnated around the top 100. In my own bracket I have Giraldo in the semis.
Martin Klizan opens with Daniel Gimeno-Traver or wild card Marton Fuscovics in round 2. Klizan is one of the rare European players that isn’t playing in Europe this week, and instead prefers his tennis South American style. Klizan should reach the quarters, and the inspiring veteran story Victor Estrella should await him. The unsung grinder Estrella faces a qualifier, then stagnated Russian Evgeny Donskoy, or a qualifier in round 2. Klizan is more accomplished and skilled than Estrella, but in these conditions Estrella will certainly have a shot at the semis, I put Klizan through in my own bracket though.
Bellucci is the type of player who could acquire a burst of form, and streak his way into perhaps an ATP title. He has an easy path before Giraldo in the quarters, and Giraldo is in a beatable condition right now, especially given the favorable H2H. Likewise Klizan/Estrella are beatable opponents on a good day for him and this entire field is beatable given it’s not that strong.
Verdasco and Lopez have pretty much split h2h meetings and it could go either way, that said, Lopez gives me the feeling that he’s setup to not win the title here, and Verdasco has the game to be able to take him out.
Giraldo has won clay win against Klizan, and the altitude should help him, it could go either way but Giraldo should be slightly favored.