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.
Roger Federer Reclaims #1 with Rotterdam Title, Dominic Thiem Takes Buenos Aires Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
Kevin Anderson took the title in New York, he’s joined this week in the ATP winner’s circle by Roger Federer and Dominic Thiem. Both tournament favorites took care of business in Rotterdam and Buenos Aires respectively.
Roger Federer improved to 12-0 on the season and reclaimed world #1 in Rotterdam. Federer becomes the oldest player to ever hold the #1 ranking, that result coming after beating home player Robin Haase in three sets in the quarterfinals.
Federer dominated Grigor Dimitrov 6-2 6-2 in a forgettable final. He was tested more by both Phillip Kohlschreiber and Andreas Seppi earlier in the tournament. Federer eased past Ruben Bemelmans in the opening round. The result in Rotterdam is Federer’s third championship at the venue.
Dimitrov defeated Yuichi Sugita, Filip Krajinovic, Andrey Rublev, and David Goffin en route to the final. Goffin had to retire after being hit in the eye with a tennis ball that deflected off of his racquet. Despite Dimitrov having a good tournament overall, his complete inability to compete with Federer in the final is likely to linger in his mind in the weeks to come.
Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut beat Olivier Marach and Mate Pavic in the doubles final.
Dominic Thiem won a second career title in Buenos Aires. Thiem came through unscathed against Aljaz Bedene in the final, winning 6-2 6-4. Horacio Zeballos, Guido Pella, and Gael Monfils also fell at the hands of Thiem’s racquet as the Austrian didn’t drop a set this week.
Bedene has backed up his great 2017 with a run to the final. Bedene defeated Jiri Vesely, Albert Ramos, Diego Schwartzman, and Federico Delbonis. He dropped sets against Ramos and Delbonis but cemented himself as a dangerous player on clay in the tournaments to come.
Argentines Andres Molteni and Horacio Zeballos defeated Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah to give home fans joy in the doubles final.
Roger Federer, Grigor Dimitrov, and David Goffin Headline 2018 ATP Rotterdam 500 Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The 2018 edition of the ATP 500 indoor hard court stop in Rotterdam begins tomorrow and Roger Federer’s quest for the world #1 ranking is the biggest story of the tournament. Should Federer win the title, as he’s predicted to do, he’ll get a trophy and his #1 ranking back, defying all the doubters from years past. Grigor Dimitrov, and David Goffin are some of the players that could derail Federer this time. A big week of tennis awaits, here is your full preview with predictions.
Qualifier Ruben Bemelmans has the bad luck of drawing Federer first up, Karen Khachanov has a pair of quarterfinals to start the season, and should be Federer’s round 2 opposition. Khachanov will face Philipp Kohlschreiber in the opening round. Despite falling in the semifinals of Sofia, Stan Wawrinka should be two Dutch players early, Talloon Griekspoor and Robin Haase/Thiemo De Bakker to reach the quarters. Federer will be a heavy favorite in that quarterfinal between Swiss stars.
Success in Davis Cup should propel Alexander Zverev into the quarterfinals. Zverev faces veteran David Ferrer, then Joao Sousa/Andreas Seppi in the second round. Montpellier finalist Richard Gasquet will take on his countryman, Pierre-Hugues Herbert, with Daniil Medvedev/Gilles Muller to follow. I’ll give the young gun Medvedev the edge in round 1, but Gasquet falling to Zverev is my quarterfinal pick.
Grigor Dimitrov should be the favorite against Yuichi Sugita, and Filip Krajinovic/Felix Auger Aliassime in the early rounds. I’ll back Andrey Rublev to upset Montpellier champion Lucas Pouille, and then Damir Dzumhur/Marius Copil to reach the quarters opposite Dimitrov. Pouille and Copil should be tired, and both Dzumhur and Rublev are coming off solid quarterfinal runs in Montpellier. Dimitrov is my pick to reach the semis.
Tomas Berdych and David Goffin look to be on a collision course in the third section of the draw. Berdych opens with a struggling Mischa Zverev, Sofia quarterfinalist Viktor Troicki or Davis Cup hero J.L. Struff will follow, with Berdych favored against either. Goffin reached the semis in Montpellier and takes on Benoit Paire. Paire has played well to start 2018 but Goffin should be better, I’ll go with qualifier Martin Klizan to upset Feliciano Lopez before falling to Goffin in round 2. I’ll back Berdych over Goffin in a competitive quarterfinal.
This event seems tailored made for both Federer and Dimitrov to do well and face off in the final. Federer has #1 waiting for him at the end of the week and I doubt he’ll surrender this chance to take it.
Harrison wins First ATP Title in Memphis, Dolgopolov Breaks Slump with Buenos Aires Triumph Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga won his biggest tour title since the 2014 Canadian Masters with a 4-6 6-4 6-1 victory against David Goffin in the final of Rotterdam. The Frenchman moved well and played attacking tennis after early struggles against Goffin. Besides the final, he didn’t drop a set all week as he beat young gun Stefanos Tsitispas, Gilles Muller, Marin Cilic, and Tomas Berdych, three big hitters in a row to reach the final. Tsonga was much more agile than his opponents, and also more aggressive when it counted this week.
Goffin did not have an easy week, but remarkably made his second straight ATP final with wins over Andrey Kuznetsov, Robin Haase, Grigor Dimitrov, and Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Haase and Dimitrov both took a set against him, the win over Dimitrov was impressive given that the tired Bulgarian had defeated him in the Sofia final just a few days prior. Herbert, normally at his best in doubles, surprisingly reached the semfinals, emerging from a strong field to once again demonstrate he has plenty of talent for singles, but hasn’t always put it together.
Ivan Dodig and Marcel Granollers defeated Wesley Koolhof and Matwe Middelkoop in the doubles final, preventing the home fans from enjoying the Dutch pairing winning the doubles title at home in Holland.
It’s been a long road for the former ATP young gun Ryan Harrison. After years in the challenger wilderness, he has broken through once again at the ATP level, and he did so in a memorable way, defeating Nikoloz Basilashvili for his first ever ATP title 6-1 6-4. Harrison has improved his control of his emotions, is playing more aggressively, much more tactically, and mashing his forehand well. It showed against Basilashvili, and all week in Memphis.
Harrison hasn’t dropped a set in 10 matches, he entered Memphis with a challenger title under his belt, and quickly blazed past Konstantin Kravchuk, Sam Querrey, Damir Dzumhur, and Donald Young to reach the final, having improved his game even from a solid 2016, and added new quirks since emerging on tour years ago as a teenager.
Georgia’s #1 Basilashvili has now made two career ATP finals, he also didn’t drop a set on Memphis slow hard courts. He’s now 7-2 in his last two tournaments after wins against Jordan Thompson, Ivo Karlovic, Matt Ebden, and Mikhail Kukushkin. This week in Memphis we were treated to great performances by a pair of rising players.
Brian Baker and Nikola Mektic prevented Harrison from pulling off a brace, as the American/Croatian pair defeated Harrison and fellow Yank Steve Johnson in the doubles final.
ATP Buenos Aires
A loser of five straight finals heading into his match against Alexandr Dolgopolov, Kei Nishikori presumed he’d end the day as an ATP champion for the first time in a year. The human highlight reel Dolgopolov came to play though, his shotmaking pressured a passive Nishikori, and ended in an upset 7-6 6-4 victory for Ukraine’s #1. Nishikori played not to lose against a player ranked outside of the top 50, and in the process dropped his sixth straight ATP final. Dolgopolov had won just one match in months, but now leaves Argentina in great form that could allow him to return being a regular ATP top 30 player.
Dolgopolov played his best tennis in at least a year and now has three ATP titles in his career. Dolgo defeated Janko Tipsarevic, Pablo Cuevas, Gerald Melzer, and Pablo Carreno Busta without dropping a set. His results were extra impressive given he usually prefers fast surfaces over clay given he’s a flat hitter. Nishikori dropped sets against Diego Schwartzman and Carlos Berlocq, with a routine win over Joao Sousa inbetween, he did make the final, but he never seemed that comfortable on court in Buenos Aires.
Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah beat Santiago Gonzalez/David Marrero to win the doubles final.
2017 ATP Rotterdam Preview and Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
One of the strongest ATP 500 level tournaments of the year will take place once again in Rotterdam, as many of the ATP World Tour’s best have included a stop in Holland on their 2017 spring tour calendars. Here is a preview, with predictions of all the action.
ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament
ATP World Tour 500
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
February 13-19, 2017
Surface: Indoor Hard
Prize Money: €1,724,930
Top 4 seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Marin Cilic (7)
2: Dominic Thiem (8)
3: David Goffin (11)
4: Tomas Berdych (12)
Despite a lack of top 5 players, Rotterdam boasts seeds that are all ranked in the ATP top 20, and nearly all of the opening round matches feature quality ATP caliber contests, the winner will not have had an easy road to the title.
First round matches to watch:
(1)Marin Cilic vs. Benoit Paire
Cilic will have to lean on a 2-1 h2h edge against his French opponent, as he’s endured a miserable start to his season, with just one win in three matches. Despite being the top seed, he drew a difficult opponent in Paire, who has enough weapons to upset higher ranked players, and this time is entering Rotterdam in good form, after reaching the semifinals in Montpellier. Cilic is the favorite, but I’ll go with Paire to continue his good form. The Croatian #1 has looked lost in matches thus far in 2017 and Paire won’t let him find rhythm.
Viktor Troicki vs. Richard Gasquet
Gasquet has won his last two matches against Troicki but they have split the h2h 2-2, and Troicki isn’t in bad form, coming off of the quarterfinals in Sofia. The Montpellier finalist Gasquet may be fatigued entering Rotterdam, which would give Troicki a shot, but otherwise the French veteran’s shotmaking should allow him to advance.
(5)Grigor Dimitrov vs. Mischa Zverev
A first time between this pair, Dimitrov is red hot and on the cusp of entering the top 10 after winning his second title of the season at home in Sofia. Zverev lost his opening match in Montpellier, and looked to be back down to earth after a run to the quarterfinals in Melbourne. Dimitrov is a clear favorite given his red hot form, but if he’s fatigued, Zverev’s serve and volley could flummox him.
Alexander Zverev vs. (2)Dominic Thiem
After three straight wins by Thiem, Zverev finally got a victory at the end of last year against his fellow young gun. The young German is 6-1 on tour to start the season, as he took the title in Montpellier, showing no signs of frustration after his struggles in Davis Cup play. Thiem has lost two straight matches and has been somewhat pedestrian so far in 2017, presuming Zverev isn’t out of gas, despite being lower ranked, he should be the favorite.
The winner of Cilic/Paire will draw a young gun, either Russia’s Karen Khachanov or Croatia’s Borna Coric. Coric hasn’t won a match since last Summer, while Khachanov hasn’t played his best either, that sets up Paire to defeat Khachanov and reach the quarterfinals, opposite Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Tsonga, a semifinalist in Montpellier, is slated to face 18 year old Stefanos Tsitsipas, a Greek talent who is making his ATP main draw debut, with most likely Sydney champion and Sofia quarterfinalist Gilles Muller to follow. Muller opens with Dutch wild card Tallon Griekspoor, age 20, who is also making his ATP main draw debut. Tsonga should beat the young Greek, Muller, and Paire to reach the semifinals, putting him one match away from his former best result in Rotterdam, where he was finalist in 2011. Tsonga is 3-0 in the h2h vs. Paire, and 2-1 vs. Muller at the tour level.
The Gasquet/Troicki winner will take on former champion Tomas Berdych, presuming Berdych puts away qualifier Marius Copil, who plays a poorer version of his style of tennis. Berdych leads Gasquet 8-7 in the h2h, and has won the last two meetings, however, Gasquet is likely in better form, and thus I have the Frenchman prevailing to reach the quarterfinals. Defending champion Martin Klizan opens his title defense against Fernando Verdasco. Klizan trails Verdasco in the h2h, but finally found a bit of form, reaching the quarterfinals in Sofia last week. Klizan likely wins in round 1, but the winner of Philipp Kohlschreiber/Lucas Pouille will be a tough opponent in round 2. Kohlschreiber may not be totally fit, while Pouille hasn’t played well this season, thus I have Klizan reaching the quarterfinals before falling to Gasquet.
The winner of Zverev/Thiem will face a veteran, either Gilles Simon or Nicolas Mahut, Simon has a h2h edge over Mahut, while Zverev is in the best form of this section, setting him up to at least reach the quarterfinals. Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez hasn’t played great thus far in 2017, but he gets the best draw of any player in the tournament. Qualifier Pierre-Hugues Herbert is his first opponent, with qualifier Evgeny Donskoy or Marcel Granollers to follow. Lopez should ease past Donskoy in round 2, before falling to Zverev in the quarterfinals.
Sofia finalist David Goffin is likely to get a rematch of that final with Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals. Dimitrov faces lucky loser Denis Istomin or qualifier Aljaz Bedene after facing the older Zverev brother, while Goffin opens with Russia’s Andrey Kuznetsov, who is struggling, with Robin Haase or Florian Mayer to follow. Given Dimitrov just beat Goffin in Sofia, and before that Melbourne, Dimitrov is the favorite to reach the semifinals from this section.
Fellow Frenchman Gilles Simon could make a run from the bottom half, but Paire has the most upside here. He has a winnable match against Cilic, and a path to the quarterfinals. Tsonga is a tough opponent, but he’s also not unbeatable, and this is a great chance at ranking points for the mercurial Paire.
Semis Tsonga d. Gasquet
Dimitrov d. Zverev
Tsonga has won his last three contests against Gasquet, it should be a close contest if they meet in the semis, but Tsonga’s aggressive play likely gives him an edge.
Despite a 2-1 h2h lead for Zverev, Dimitrov has been playing top 5 caliber tennis this season. Fatigue should weigh on both players equally, but it’s hard to pick against Dimitrov’s positive form right now.
Final Dimitrov d. Tsonga
Despite Tsonga leading the h2h 4-0, Dimitrov is simply playing better, and should finally be able to overcome his opponent in this potential final.
Martin Klizan won his fourth career ATP title in a surprise over Gael Monfils 6-7(1) 6-3 6-1. Monfils was in control of play until the wheels came off, and his mental weakness once again reared its ugly head in an ATP final.
The hard hitting Slovak won all but one of his matches in three sets this week and an unexpected champion at the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. He beat Tommy Robredo in three sets, Marcos Baghdatis in straights, and then both Roberto Bautista Agut and Nicolas Mahut after dropping the first set in a tiebreak. Grit and fight was the story of the week for him.
Monfils beat Ernests Gulbis, slipped past Borna Coric in three sets, and then defeated Alex Zverev and Philipp Kohlschreiber to reach the final.
Mahut and Vasek Pospisil defeated Philipp Petzschner and Alexander Peya in the doubles final as it was a strong week for Nico Mahut.
Dominic Thiem won his fourth career ATP title and continued his rise up the ATP rankings with a surprise result in Buenos Aires. Thiem won a nip and tuck three set match over Nicolas Almagro 7-6(2) 3-6 7-6(4). The young Austrian #1 stunned Rafael Nadal in a third set tiebreak in the semifinals as he went toe to toe with the king of clay and came out on top in the pressure points.
Thiem also beat Pablo Carreno Busta, Gastao Elias, and Dusan Lajovic in BA this past week. Nicolas Almagro reached his first ATP title since early 2014 with wins over Albert Montanes, Federico Delbonis in 3 sets, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and David Ferrer, the latter two were upset wins.
Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah beat Inigo Cervantes and an in form Paolo Lorenzi to win the doubles title.
Kei Nishikori dropped just one set this week as he won his fourth career title in Memphis. The Japanese #1 has dominated the southern tournament, and he took out teenage finalist Taylor Fritz 6-4 6-4. Fritz reached an ATP final in just his third career ATP tournament as an 18 year old. The American has a well rounded game, both defensively and offensively, and he got off to a 3-0 lead against Nishikori, only to surrender the first set, and then get broken in the second set and lose the match in straights.
Nishikori beat Ryan Harrison, Mikhail Kukushkin, and Sam Querrey this week, dropping that lone set to Querrey. Fritz beat young gun Michael Mmoh, Steve Johnson, Benjamin Becker in a third set tiebreak, and Ricardas Berankis in three sets as well to reach the final. Fritz is the first American to reach an ATP final after just three career events and has a bright future ahead. He’s nearly into the top 100, with barely any ranking points to defend.
Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Santiago Gonzalez beat Johnson/Querrey to retain the doubles final.
2016 ATP Rotterdam Preview and Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The first ATP 500 event of the season takes place indoors in Rotterdam as the winter European indoors swing rolls on.
ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament
ATP World Tour 500
February 8-14, 2016
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Surface: indoor hard
Prize Money: €1,597,155
Top 4 seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Richard Gasquet (10)
2: Marin Cilic (13)
3: Gilles Simon (15)
4: David Goffin (16)
The lack of top players is rare for Rotterdam, as this is one of the weaker tournament fields they have had in recent years.
First round matchups to watch:
(8)Viktor Troicki vs. (Q)Andrey Kuznetsov
The Sofia finalist Troicki is 10-3 to start his season, and he’ll run into an in-form Kuznetsov in a tough opening match. Kuznetsov reached the second week of the Australian Open, and also had a quarterfinal in Doha, though his low ranking means he still had to qualify for this 500. Presuming he’s not too fatigued, Troicki is a favorite, but Kuznetsov winning would not be a surprise.
(4)David Goffin vs. Marcos Baghdatis
Goffin is a potential tournament champion, but he’s never beaten Baghdatis on hard courts (0-3), and Marcos comes off the quarterfinals in Montpellier, suggesting he’s in decent form. The Belgian #1 is playing his first tournament since reaching the second week of the Australian Open, and a win here would swell his confidence.
(6)Roberto Bautista Agut vs. Joao Sousa
Sousa beat RBA in the Valencia indoors final last season, but RBA is in the form his life early in 2016, and looks to be tough to derail. Sousa is just 2-3 to start the season, and needs to get some wins going, while RBA has two ATP titles, and a second week in Melbourne on his resume. The Spaniard’s clean ball striking is a competitive match for Sousa’s game, and if rested suitably, the Spaniard likely prevails.
(5)Gael Monfils vs. (Q)Ernests Gulbis
Two talented but unpredictable players. Gulbis has sunk so low once again that he had to qualify, while Monfils lost in his opening Montpellier match. Monfils talent and skill set will likely overcome Gulbis power, but Gael could lay an egg in this one and let the Latvian earn a key ATP match win.
Vasek Pospisil vs. (WC)Alexander Zverev
Fresh off a fantastic run to the Montpellier semifinals, Zverev opens with the big serving Pospisil. Vasek is just 1-3 to start the year, while Zverev demonstrated a skillset beyond his years over his last few matches. Training and preparation could cause Zverev some headaches, but if he’s ready he’s the favorite.
Top seed and Montpellier champion Richard Gasquet appears to be in good form after a back injury. Gasquet was a somewhat surprising champion in his first tournament back on tour, and he has a draw that could see him make a good run in consecutive weeks on European indoors. Serve and volleyer Nicolas Mahut, or Teymuraz Gabashvili will be his opponent after countryman Jeremy Chardy in round 1 (3-0 h2h). Troicki/Kuznetsov, or Guillermo Garcia-Lopez/Hyeon Chung await in the quarterfinals. Chung’s struggles to start the year aid GGL’s quest at the quarters, while Kuznetsov is a possible dark horse, and Troicki is somewhat of a wild card given his possible fatigue from Sofia.
A Gasquet vs. Troicki ATP titleist quarterfinal is a clear possibility. Troicki has a 2-1 hard court h2h over Garcia-Lopez, Gasquet vs. Troicki is split 2-2, with Gasquet a slight semifinals favorite.
Goffin/Baghdatis will most likely decide the quarter below, with Tommy Robredo vs. Martin Klizan the other option for quarterfinalist. Klizan comes off the semis in Sofia, but should be fatigued, while Robredo is looking to kickstart his season here. Goffin’s rise up the rankings, and improved all court game, should allow him to deal with Klizan’s power or Robredo’s spin.
RBA/Sousa decide Lukas Rosol vs. Jiri Vesely. Rosol’s form isn’t great, but Vesely has to win a match this season. RBA should ease past a potentially big bomber in Rosol. RBA has a career h2h of 2-0 vs. Goffin, but with fatigue likely to play a factor, a Gasquet vs. Goffin semifinal is the likely top half outcome, delighting local fans.
Marin Cilic should whip up on Denis Istomin. Istomin hasn’t won in 2016, and Cilic has a 6-1 h2h record against him. Gilles Muller should setup a matchup between big servers in round 2, unless Andreas Seppi shocks him. Muller reached the semis in Sofia, while Seppi is another player in need of a win. Cilic should outplay Muller.
#7 seed Benoit Paire, and tour veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber, likely decide the quarter above Cilic. Both one-handed backhanders. Paire opens with potentially tricky qualifier Ivan Dodig, while Kohlschreiber, a quarterfinalist in Sofia, should drub a rusty Julien Benneteau. Paire and Kohli have split meetings on hard courts 2-2, Kohlschreiber’s better recent results give him an edge. A Kohli vs. Cilic semi probably favors a motivated Cilic to power his way into the semis.
Monfils vs. Gulbis is also in this section, and the winner will face Borna Coric or Thiemo De Bakker. Coric has lost four straight since reaching the final in Chennai, and could be dealing with nerves or poor health, while De Bakker is playing at home after time abroad. Presuming Monfils avoids an implosion he is most likely to reach the quarterfinals.
Gilles Simon bookends the draw with Monfils, he was an early loser in Montpellier, and looks to be smarting for a better start to his season. Zverev vs. Simon is a veteran vs. young gun battle, but Zverev’s fatigue likely favors a Simon vs. Monfils quarterfinal. Simon’s 4-1 h2h record over Monfils gives him an edge to advance.
Both Kuznetsov, and Zverev, have struggled to play engaging, consistent tennis in their young careers, but a lot of what they have learned appears to finally be taking hold in match play. Kuznetsov’s proven himself already this season, while Zverev appears primed for a first ATP final soon. Zverev has to get past Simon, while Kuznetsov has seeds Troicki, Garcia-Lopez, and Gasquet.
Goffin d. Gasquet
Simon d. Cilic
Gasquet and Goffin have never met, but form and fitness should favor Goffin, in what could be the most intriguing match this month, a possible battle for #10. Simon has a clear edge over Cilic in the head to head, and Marin has struggled to excel and close when it mattered this season.
Gilles Simon won their grass court meeting, and he could well walk home with the title. Goffin appears to have finished a cut above the top 15 at times this season though, and the undersized ball striker needs to take advantage of weaker ATP fields like this.
Stan Wawrinka survived some tough matches, including a three set final against Tomas Berdych, to win his first 500 level title in Rotterdam, which is also his first title at that tournament, and his second ATP title of the season. Wawrinka had to claw his way back from a set down against Berdych, as he was broken in the opening set, after failing to break Berdych in the previous game. Wawrinka broke Berdych once in the second set, and twice in the third set to win the match, as Berdych served under 40% first serves in set 2. Wawrinka was much stronger on serve throughout the match, which means Berdych had fewer chances to grab leads throughout the match. It went back and forth but the elite Wawrinka’s mental fortitude shown through to topple the defending champion. The final scoreline was 4-6 6-3 6-4.
This week Stan was the man, beating Jesse Huta Galung in 3 sets, and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in 3 sets, and then he improved and beat Gilles Muller and MIlos Raonic, a pair of huge servers, in straight sets, with the win against Raonic coming in two tiebreaks. JHG and GGL gave it their best shots as underdogs, and Raonic was again impressive on serve, leaving Wawrinka often flailing on return, but his rallying wasn’t good enough to pull off a sustained victory, as Wawrinka survived trial by fire and never faded this tournament.
Berdych, who continues to make deep runs in tournaments so far this season, came close to defending his title, the Czech beat Tobias Kamke without dropping a set, an in form Andreas Seppi in 3 sets, and Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon in routine straight sets. It was a much easier path for Berdych to the final, but perhaps that didn’t prepare for an opponent of Wawrinka’s caliber, once again, under pressure the top Czech folded. Notably Simon upset Andy Murray in a total beatdown in the quarterfinals.
Dutchman Jean-Julien Rojer won on home soil with his partner Horia Tecau, they beat the lucky loser team of Jamie Murray and John Peers, who are off to a great start with their season, in the doubles final.
Kei Nishikori won his third consecutive title in Memphis, he was the top player throughout the week, though a host of competitors gave their best shot trying to defeat him. The last to try was Kevin Anderson who fell to Nishikori 6-4 6-4 in the final.
Nishikori scored wins over three Americans this week, all in three sets, he beat Ryan Harrison first, then Austin Krajicek, who won his second and third career ATP main draw matches in Memphis (over Mikhail Kukushkin and Ivo Karlovic) as a qualifier, and last but not least over Sam Querrey, who he defeated 7-5 in a third set tiebreak, after Querrey had upset his friend John Isner in the quarters in two tiebreaks.
Kevin Anderson also had to beat some US men to reach the final, the South African number one, who has had a good start to his season, beat Sam Groth in straights, then defeated Steve Johnson in straights, and surprise semifinalist Donald Young in 3 sets, coming back from a set down. It was Young’s best result in months as he upset Bernard Tomic in 3 sets in the quarterfinals.
Young also had great success, all be it without a trophy, in doubles this week, as and his partner Artem Sitak fell to Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Santiago Gonzalez, who won their first doubles title as a pairing, both players are accomplished doubles specialists, and they formed a new partnership this season.
Sao Paulo was the place for unheralded players to have success on tour this week, Pablo Cuevas won his third ATP title over the past two seasons, as the Uruguayan will be at a new career high top 30 ranking when the new ATP rankings are released. Cuevas won a third set tiebreak in the final, defeating qualifier Luca Vanni 6-4 3-6 7-6 for the title.
Vanni was perhaps the biggest story on the ATP tour this week, he had never before won an ATP main draw match at the age of 29. The Italian will also be at a career high ranking, as he has never before been ranked in the top 140. Vanni took over Feliciano Lopez’s spot in the draw, as the Spaniard withdrew before the start of the tournament, he beat fellow qualifier Thiemo de Bakker in 3 sets, and then beat Dusan Lajovic in 2 tiebreaks, and Joao Souza in 3 sets to reach the final.
Cuevas beat Jiri Vesely in 3 sets, in a close match, then Facundo Bagnis via retirement, and Nicolas Almagro in 3 sets to reach the semis, at that stage he beat Santiago Giraldo in straights to reach the final, in a tournament full of grinding, close 2 and 3 set matches.
Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah beat Paolo Lorenzi and Diego Sebastian Schwartzman in the doubles final, as doubles specialist pairings had success on the ATP World Tour this week.
2015 ATP Rotterdam, Memphis, Sao Paulo Previews and Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The traditional Rotterdam 500 level indoor hard tournament takes place this week, along with the US indoor tournament in Memphis, and the clay court event in Sao Paulo, which got switched around on the calendar this year. Both of those tournaments are 250 level events. Here is a preview of all the action as indoor tennis heats up and the Golden Swing rolls on.
2015 ATP Rotterdam Preview
ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament
ATP World Tour 500
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
February 9-February 15, 2015
Top 4 seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Andy Murray (4)
2: Milos Raonic (6)
3: Tomas Berdych (7)
4: Stan Wawrinka (9)
A stacked field with 6 of the top 15, there are also a host of unseeded and lower seeded players who can play great on hard courts as Rotterdam has yet again attracted a fantastic field for a 500 level event.
Vasek Pospisil vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber Pospisil hurt himself again in Australia, and he hasn’t performed as well historically indoors as he has on outdoor hard, but even still he’s a difficult opponent for the veteran Kohlschreiber in round 1. The German comes off a loss to Joao Sousa in Montpellier. He’s yet to win consecutive matches this season as his form has been up and down, that said Kohlschreiber should be the better performer indoors and having played more matches of late should help him advance to round 2.
(8)Gilles Simon vs. Joao Sousa Many would presume the Portugese number one Sousa is better on clay, but in fact he’s had some of his best career results on hard courts at the ATP level, and especially indoors. The veteran Simon comes off a loss to Jerzy Janowicz in the quarterfinals of Montpellier and has yet to do anything notable in 2015. Sousa faded against Janowicz in the semis of Montpellier and fatigue could well play a factor but he’s 5-3 in 2015, all on hard courts and none of his losses were poor, so I’m going with the upset and picking Sousa to reach R2.
(3)Tomas Berdych vs. Jerzy Janowicz The defending Champion has a difficult match scheduled in round 1, as you rarely see an early round match with both players in such great form. Berdych of course reached the semifinals at Australian Open with a notable win over Nadal, and before that he had reached the final of Doha by demolishing all opponents in his wake (including Richard Gasquet and Andreas Seppi). Janowicz is already showing signs of improvement in 2015, after a dismal 2014. He’s reached the final of Montpellier and he also reached the third round at the AO (notably beating Gael Monfils in 5). History favors Berdych though. The big hitting Czech is 3-0 in the h2h, including a win last year in Rotterdam over the big hitting Pole, and though all of those matches were tight three set encounters, Janowicz has fatigue working against him, and retired due to illness in Montpellier, while Berdych should be fresh, thus he should survive the upset alert.
(5)Grigor Dimitrov vs. (Q)Paul-Henri Mathieu
Dimitrov lost their only h2h meeting in straights (2012 Basel indoors) and he comes off quarterfinals in Melbourne. Mathieu, the mentally shaky veteran, beat Jurgen Melzer to qualify after pushing Philipp Kohlschreiber to 3 sets in Montpellier. Mathieu is a bit of an indoor hard court specialist these days, and it’s not an easy matchup for Dimitrov, I still expect him to advance but it could go three sets.
David Goffin vs. Gilles Muller Goffin, who hails from just over the border in Belgium, and is nearly playing in a home event, (like the Luxembourger Muller is a fellow Benelux), has yet to catch fire in 2015 after his rise in 2014 into a consistent ATP player. D Goff is just 3-3 in 2015 and has yet to beat a player with a top 50 ranking. Muller, who can do a lot of damage with his cracking serve indoors was shown the door by Ricardas Berankis in Zagreb in 3 sets after reaching the second week in Australia. Muller has kept himself busy thus far this year, having played every week on tour, but his gamestyle doesn’t lend himself to exhaustion, and with Goffin yet to put the pieces together this year, I’m going with an upset and have Muller into round 2. They have never met, and we’ll see if Goffin can keep his game under control under assault from Muller’s steady dose of serve and volleying.
AO finalist Andy Murray, who has won the title here before, opens with qualifier Nicolas Mahut, then the Pospisil/Kohlschreiber winner. Mahut isn’t too dangerous so Murray should be safe in that one. Murray has never played Kohli indoors, and he beat Pospisil last year in Vienna. As well he has started his season, I don’t expect the UK number one to have any problems reaching the quarterfinals to setup a meeting with most likely the Sousa/Simon winner. Julian Benneteau, who has indoor success, and Jeremy Chardy, are also possible opponents, but all the same Murray can’t really complain about his path to the semifinals. He demolished Sousa in Melbourne and has only lost once in a dozen meetings against Simon. I have Sousa into the quarters with wins over Simon and Benneteau. Sousa denied Benneteau a maiden ATP title in Kuala Lumpur indoors in 2013, taking the title himself.
Berdych/Janowicz will face Robin Haase/Andreas Seppi in round 2. Berdych beat Seppi in Doha, and the Italian, who is on a tear so far in 2015, is likely to be fatigued from his current final, and possible title in Zagreb. Haase continues to be pedestrian, so Berdych should get past Seppi for the quarters and setup a meeting with perhaps Roberto Bautista Agut. RBA opens with young gun German WC Alex Zverev, and then Gael Monfils or fellow French qualifier Edouard Roger-Vasselin are on deck. Monfils reached the semis in Montpellier while suffering from an undisclosed illness, and his health is uncertain at the moment. With that in mind, I’m playing it safe and putting RBA through even though Monfils beat him last summer in Cincy. RBA is 3-3 in 2015, but he was also ill in January and isn’t a bad indoor hard court player. Berdych and RBA have a split 2-2 h2h, with all meetings taking place since 2013, and Berdych won their only indoor meeting. That match could be close but Berdych has looked great against all but top tier competition in 2015 and he has points to defend so I expect to see him as a semifinalist this week.
Milos Raonic is making his debut in Rotterdam. The AO quarterfinalist will face Lukas Rosol or Simone Bolelli in round 2, after qualifier Andrey Kuznetsov in round 1. Bolelli, who is actually a grand slam champion now after winning the doubles title in Melbourne, has been in better form than Rosol, so he should advance to face Raonic. Raonic has appeared immune to losing to all but top 10 players on hard court as of late so he shouldn’t have any trouble banging his way to the quarterfinals. Raonic doesn’t have a difficult path to the semifinals either, as Ernests Gulbis is the seed in his section, and Gulbis has not looked good so far this season. The Latvian will likely be happy to be back indoors though and should be favored against his best pal and former hitting partner Dominic Thiem of Austria. Thiem actually beat Gulbis in 5 last year at the US Open but Thiem has appeared to be out of sorts and out of shape thus far in 2015, so now is a good time to see him on the other side of the net if you’re Gulbis, who will be looking to build his confidence. In round 2 for Gulbis/Thiem it’ll be Sergiy Stakhovsky or Marcel Granollers, two of the weaker players in this field. Stakhovsky lost in round 2 of Zagreb to Mikhail Youzhny, while Granollers reached the semifinals before falling to Seppi. With Granollers in better form I have him through against both Stako and Gulbis. The hard court h2h between Gulbis and Granollers is 1-1. Raonic should demolish whoever his quarterfinal opponent is and reach the semis.
Stan Wawrinka, who reached the semis in Australia will open with Dutch wild card Jesse Huta Galung, from there expect Wawrinka to beat Guillermo Garcia-Lopez yet again, after winning in 4 sets over him at the AO. GGL is in the Zagreb final (beat Viktor Troicki notably) and may take the title there, he opens with Denis Istomin who luckily reached the quarters in Montpellier. GGL won their only indoor meeting, and should get into round 2, but I don’t expect him to have much left in the tank for for Wawrinka at that stage. Wawrinka is slated to face Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals, assuming he can get past Mathieu, and then the Goffin/Muller winner. Muller/Goffin could be trouble, but Dimitrov is still the more talented player so he should be favored. Dimitrov demolished Wawrinka on grass in their last h2h meeting but given current form, the fact this is indoors, and a 2-1 overall h2h Wawrinka should be able to get himself to the semis here and avenge that loss.
In a tournament where the top seeds should be filling out the quarterfinals and beyond, Muller represents the best chance for an unseeded breakthrough (given Janowicz’s likely fatigue). With his dangerous serve, and the fact this is a tournament close to his home. Muller plays tennis with narrow margins, when his serve is clicking he can win a bunch of matches, and when he has even a slight dip in form he’ll struggle against journeymen, but if he does start to click, he could perhaps beat Goffin, Dimitrov, and who knows, even Wawrinka if Stan has an off day, to reach the semis, it’s not likely but the chance is there on this surface.
Predictions Semis: Murray d. Berdych
Wawrinka d. Raonic
In what would be an AO rematch, Berdych is good indoors but we saw how well Murray played in their recent matchup, so the Brit has to be favored. Top 10 players Raonic and Wawrinka have a chance to meet for the fourth time here, I’m going with Wawrinka based on a gut feeling that he will be able to return well enough to beat Raonic, given he’s won all three previous meetings in that manner, but it is nearly a pure toss-up and I wouldn’t be surprised to see either of these names in the final given their excellent form so far this season.
Final: Murray d. Wawrinka
This match has always been a close one, Murray has a 6-3 hard court h2h edge, with Wawrinka having won their last meeting (US Open 2013). Again this is a super hard pick to make and both would be deserving champions. I’ve been really pleased with what I’ve seen from Murray since last Fall, and given that I feel he’s back, I have him as the champion this week of a stacked Rotterdam event.
Memphis Open ATP World Tour 250 Memphis, Tennessee, USA February 9-February 15, 2015
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Kei Nishikori (5)
2: Kevin Anderson (15)
3: John Isner (18)
4: Alexandr Dolgopolov (24)
In it’s second year as a 250 level, ATP only event, Memphis has three top 20 players, and a relatively quality international contingent to go with most of the top and up and coming US men.
First Round matchups to watch:
(WC)Jared Donaldson vs. (WC)Stefan Kozlov Two players who have been pegged as future leaders in US men’s tennis will meet early on in their careers as wild cards on US soil in Memphis. Donaldson, 18, just won the Maui challenger title, his first career Challenger title, after going on a tear of 17 match wins in a row last season. Kozlov, 17, who had more success at the junior level, reaching two junior grand slam finals last season (Wimbledon and the AO) won the Maui doubles title partnering with Donaldson. Both are at career high rankings (Kozlov nearing the top 400 and Donaldson inside the top 180). Donaldson at this point in his career is perhaps slightly ahead of the development curve compared to the younger Kozlov, and his recent form would make him the favorite, but I’m not sure the result of this match will mirror how their careers are going to turn out.
AO quarterfinalist Kei Nishikori has won this title twice in a row and he’s going for a three-peat this year. Malek Jaziri or a qualifier will be his first opponent, Jaziri, who has actually played well this year so far (reached the third round in Melbourne), got himself in hot water again after retiring from a set up against Denis Istomin in Montpellier. The stated reason was an “elbow injury” but Israeli player Dudi Sela had setup a meeting with the Tunisian in the next round, and Jaziri has withdrawn before to avoid facing an Israeli player. Jaziri also pulled out of doubles against an Israeli opponent in Montpellier, and this PR debacle of a situation is going to cloud him for quite some time, especially if he continues to not directly come out and address it. All the same expect to see Nishikori in the quarters, and perhaps get a rematch of last years final against Ivo Karlovic. The big serving Croat will need to defeat Lukas Lacko, who was awful in Zagreb last week, and then the Mikhail Kukushkin/qualifier winner. Kukushkin, who reached an ATP final in January in Sydney, is a rather streaky player, as is Karlovic, who lost his opening contest in Zagreb against Marcos Baghdatis in 3 sets. Kukushkin and Karlovic have never played, I’m simply picking Karlovic because of previous success and the quarterfinalist here is a toss-up. Regardless, expect Nishikori to blaze through to the semis.
John Isner has never played as well in Memphis as he has in most other US events, that said the American number one has Ivan Dodig or Teymuraz Gabashvili on his plate in round 2. Gabashvili played pretty well in the Dallas challenger, reaching the semifinals, while Dodig lost his second match in Zagreb to Marcel Granollers. This matchup could go either way, but given Gabashvili is already in the US, I have him into round 2, before falling victim to Isner. Benjamin Becker, who had his best result at a Grand Slam in a decade when he reached the third round in Melbourne this year is in this section as well as a potential quarterfinal opponent for Isner. Becker could potentially vanquish both parts of “Quisner” , as his round 1 opponent is Sam Querrey who is 0-3 in 2015. Look for Becker, who serves as well as Querrey, but is a superior ball striker and mover, to get into the quarterfinals after beating most likely Donaldson in round 2. This isn’t a bad draw for one of the young American wild cards, but more likely will serve as a learning experience with a round 2 loss against a more experienced player. Isner has a 3-0 h2h against Becker but they haven’t met since 2009 and Becker has played, perhaps the best tennis of his career into his 30s over the past 6 months or so, with that in mind, I have Becker as a surprise semifinalist this week.
Kevin Anderson reached the second week in Melbourne, and should expect to be matched serve for serve in his first match in Memphis, that is if Aussie Sam Groth, who reached the third round Melbourne, can defeat baseliner Rendy Lu in round 1. Both Groth and Anderson have had both good and bad results in 2015, and it’s a tough match to pick. Anderson, given his ranking and similar style of player, is in most cases better than Groth on the return and equal to him on serve, so the South African number one should get through with likely tiebreak sets. Groth has improved his return but Anderson was already a step ahead. American Steve Johnson has a great shot at a good result here, if he can beat Dudi Sela, and Marinko Matosevic/Dustin Brown, he’d setup a quarterfinal meeting with most likely Anderson. Johnson has yet to lose an opening round match in 2015, as he continues to show signs of improvement in his game. Brown was a point away from beating possible champion Jerzy Janowicz in Montpellier, but all the same I expect Johnson over Matosevic in round 2. Anderson is 3-0 against Johnson, including two wins last year and a win in straights this year in Auckland, with that in mind, the matchup favors Kev and he should reach the semis, even with a tricky path.
Alex Dolgopolov, who was injured in Australia with a leg problem could face Bernard Tomic in round 2, assuming the Aussie, who reached the second week in Melbourne, beats Igor Sijsling, who comes off the quarterfinals in Zagreb. Tomic is 7-3 in 2015 and appears to be focused and in the groove right now, you never know how long that will last, but he still should be the favorite to reach the quarterfinals at least here, with Dolgo in questionable physical condition and always unpredictable. Tomic and Dolgo have played some awesome h2h matches, with Tomic winning their most recent encounter last year in Sydney, and also a 5 setter at the 2012 AO (Dolgo had won three previous hc meeting before that one for a 3-2 hard court h2h edge), This is a must see match if it takes place, with talented shotmaking a given. Tomic should actually have an easier time in the quarters, Donald Young is an option, Adrian Mannarino is the 8 seed, and a pair of qualifiers are also here. This is a section a qualifier could get out of (Denis Kudla, and Thanasi Kokkinakis are potential qualifiers) but without knowing who the qualifiers will be, I have Mannarino into the quarters with wins over Young and a qualifier. Mannarino reached the final in Auckland last month and comes off a round 1 loss to Sijsling in Zagreb, while Young was a quarterfinalist in Auckland. Tomic should reach the semis out of this section that isn’t overly difficult.
Tomic should make the semis as a non seed given his draw, and one of Anderson/Johnson/Groth is also quite beatable, Tomic is 3-0 on hard courts against Anderson, including a win indoors last year in Stockholm, and thus he should be an a finalist this week if his play holds true to its current form. As usual the talent is there but the question is can Bernie remain focused and implement the game plan and discipline needed to translate that into results on a week to week basis?
Semis: Nishikori d. Becker
Tomic d. Anderson
Nishikori and Becker played one of the best regular ATP tour matches of the season last year in Tokyo, Nishikori won in a third set tiebreak, clawing back from a set down, as Becker was throwing his entire arsenal at Nishikori (and previously Nishikori beat Becker last year in Memphis). The Japanese number one should win, but this pair produce some great tennis on a consistent basis and it’s still worth watching.
As mentioned above, Tomic has a demonstrated edge against Anderson, and thus he should take advantage of his draw and make the final.
Final: Nishikori d. Tomic
Nishikori was a cut above Tomic in the Brisbane quarterfinals this year, given how that match went, I don’t expect this one to go any better, Nishikori is a strong favorite to win his third ATP Memphis title.
The 24 year old Lajovic remains poised to a breakthrough at the ATP level, though his ranking is stuck in the 60-90 no mans land right now. Meanwhile the veteran Andujar will be pleased to return to clay court tennis this week, as hard courts have once again not been kind to him this year. Lajovic pushed possible Quito champion Feliciano Lopez (a current finalist) to 3 sets in the quarterfinals, very nearly knocking him out with a 1 set lead and break point chances in the second. Andujar has experience and he’s higher ranked but I’m going with an upset and placing Lajovic into the second round, as I feel he has the ability to win this.
(8)Martin Klizan vs. Thomaz Bellucci
Bellucci beat Klizan last year in Sao Paulo, and comes off the Quito semis, where he dropped a tough match to Victor Estrella. The home player with have crowd support against the Slovak Klizan, who also lost to Estrella by a wider margin in the quarterfinals of that same event. Bellucci should be favored at home but his mentality is always a question mark, either way this should be a rowdy contest.
(5)Pablo Cuevas vs. Jiri Vesely
Cuevas had a fantastic year on the red stuff last year, going 47-9 on clay across all levels of tournament action with a pair of ATP titles to reach a career high ranking just inside the top 30. Now he will seek to repeat that showing, or even one up it this year, starting his ATP clay tournament calendar in Sao Paulo. In his first match on clay in 2015 he will face the young Czech Jiri Vesely who just won his maiden ATP title last month in Auckland. Vesely is also no slouch on clay, as he went 18-10 on the surface under the same standard as Cuevas. Vesely likely has more raw ability, but I have the experienced Cuevas, who plays some of his best tennis in these conditions, through to round 2.
Feliciano Lopez is seeking to binge his way through the Golden Swing and maintain, if not improve on his career high ranking inside the top 15. The current Quito finalist and possible champion will have his first match in SP against Juan Monaco, a former doubles partner, or a qualifier (young gun Elias Ymer and a host of second tier dirtballers are possible qualifiers). Monaco was once in the same position Lopez is in now, having reached a career high ranking of 10 in 2010, but it’s been all downhill from there for the declining Argentine, so even if he’s fatigued Flopez should flow his way into the quarters, while Monaco could struggle with a qualifier in round 1. Lopez could play a rematch of a strange, but quality semifinal match with his fellow Spanish Armada member Fernando Verdasco in the quarters. The Quito semifinalist has a qualifier first up and then the Lajovic/Andujar winner. This section presents a great chance for Lajovic to post consecutive quarters if Verdasco is exhausted. Otherwise I’m going to repeat what I picked last week, and put Verdasco into the semis, even though I was wrong on that in Quito. It was a close match and Lopez will have to play one extra match (and stay in Quito an extra day) compared to Verdasco. Something like that is enough to swing a result.
Leonardo Mayer. who went 19-10 on clay last year with an ATP title and final on the surface, both career bests, is another player that is happy to see the ATP tour return to clay. Mayer will face Spanish vet Albert Ramos or Brazilian WC Guillherme Clezar in round 1. Mayer is a cut above Ramos, and Ramos is more accomplished than Clezar, so expect Mayer to reach the quarters by defeating Ramos. Mayer vs. the Bellucci/Klizan winner is the most likely quarterfinal in this section. I favor Bellucci over Pablo Carreno Busta, assuming PCB beats Joao Souza, another Brazilian. Souza comes off a round 1 loss in Quito, while PCB will be making his 2015 clay debut after posting a 24-15 record on the surface last season in tournament play. Bellucci-PCB should be a good R2 match for a 250, with Bellucci has a home favorite. Mayer and Bellucci have a split h2h, when it comes to the slated quarterfinal (2-2), and Mayer has been better in recent career results, so I have Leo into the semis against Verdasco.
Tommy Robredo, who won this tournament in 2009 when it was in a different location, will open with Blaz Rola or Nicolas Almagro in round 2. Almagro is a three time former champion at the Brasil Open, and he’s 4-1 against Robredo on clay in his career. He’s played just a handful of matches since coming back from injury, but he looked healthy and improving in Melbourne (lost to Kei Nishikori in round 1), while Robredo is coming off his own injury and hasn’t completed any tournament matches this year. Rola hasn’t done anything special as of late, and I expect Almagro to keep improving against him, then get Robredo at a good time for that matchup to happen, and take him out as well to make the quarterfinals. At that stage Cuevas/Vesely could be his opponent, or defending champ Federico Delbonis who opens with a qualifier. Delbonis went 14-10 on clay last year in what was a breakthrough season into the top 60 for him. He has a lot of points to defend, and he’s not been gifted a lucky draw, as I feel Cuevas is superior on the surface, and will be the one to reach the quarters, though any of him, Vesely or Cuevas reaching the quarters wouldn’t shock me, as it’s a stacked section. Cuevas just beat Almagro in Sydney on HCs and has one previous H2H win against him, so for that reason I’m going with another (slight) upset and putting the Uruguayan number one into the semis from this stacked section.
Fabio Fognini is returning to clay in SP and looking to get his singles career back on track, having returned the Golden Swing he did so well in last year. Fogna will face his countryman Paolo Lorenzi or Diego Schwartzman in round 2. Lorenzi comes off quarters in Quito, while Schwartzman is ready to make his move to the next level, after an incredible 21-2 record on clay last year at the non ATP level (22-3 overall as he played almost entirely challengers to get into the top 70). I have the 22 year old making his move and defeating both Italians, Lorenzi and Fognini to reach the quarterfinals. SP is the type of tournament where rising players can have a shot to announce themselves to the tennis world, and Schwartzman is due. Fognini has been in crisis mode since the US Open and Schwartzman is good enough to at least give him a quality match, and given the current state of Fogna’s form, defeat him. Schwartzman also has a great chance at the semis, the only other seed left would be Santiago Giraldo, the Colombian who had a great year last year, dropped a bad match to Albert Montanes in Quito. He opens with WC Kimmer Coppejans, and should win, but I have Argentine grinder Carlos Berlocq beating him, given the 4-2 overall h2h in round 2. Berlocq went 18-6 on clay last year and beat Schwartzman in 3 sets to win a challenger title on clay (Porto Alegre). A quarterfinal between this is a bit of a coin flip but I have the experienced Berlocq into the semifinals against Cuevas.
I have the unseeded Berlocq in the semis this week as well, but Schwartzman gets the dark horse tag because he’s a young gun, and he could win his first ATP title this week if he rises to the occasion. Should he get through Lorenzi, Fognini and Berlocq/Giraldo, all accomplished veterans, Cuevas/Almagro/Robredo or some other player are all beatable semifinal opponents as Schwartzman would likely need to beat a bunch of veterans just to reach the final this week. It’s a relatively open tournament field and Verdasco/Mayer/Lopez aren’t unbeatable either in a possible final.
Predictions Semis: Mayer d. Verdasco
Cuevas d. Berlocq
Mayer should be fresher than Verdasco or Lopez, and you have to believe he can maintain the high level of play we saw from his last season, especially on his favorite surface.
Cuevas-Berlocq is another judgement call but Cuevas has won the last four clay court h2h meetings, so he should be favored.
Final: Mayer d. Cuevas
Mayer was slightly better last season and has a 2-1 clay h2h edge, this is a hard tournament to predict, but I have Mayer winning another ATP title, this time in Sao Paulo.