2014 ATP Beijing, Tokyo Previews & Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast
Two star studded events on the ATP Tour this week as the Asian Swing kicks into full gear. Both are 500-level events on outdoor hard courts, and almost every top 20 player will be in action this week.
ATP World Tour 500
September 29-October 5, 2014
Prize Money: $2,500,470
Top 8 seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Novak Djokovic (1)
2: Rafael Nadal (2)
3: Tomas Berdych (7)
4: Marin Cilic (9)
5: Grigor Dimitrov (10)
6: Andy Murray (11)
7: Ernests Gulbis (13)
8: John Isner (15)
Perhaps the best non-Masters level field on the ATP tour this season. Beijing is stacked with top players from top to bottom.
First Round matchups to watch:
(5)Grigor Dimitrov vs. Fernando Verdasco
Verdasco has a lone h2h win on clay, last year, against Dimitrov, but he will be an underdog regardless against the higher ranked Bulgarian. Dimitrov played reasonably well at the US Open and he should be eager to finish the fall swing strong, still in the hunt to make the World Tour Finals top 8 at the end of the year. I don’t think Verdasco will trouble him much, but it should be an entertaining match.
(6)Andy Murray vs. Jerzy Janowicz
Murray has a 2-1 h2h advantage over Janowicz, and he should have an edge in their first outdoor hard court meeting as well. He comes off the title in Shenzhen, and hopefully will be fresh enough to deal with the hard-hitting Pole, who played pretty well in Metz and perhaps is turning the corner with his form after a poor season overall. This should again be a high quality match, and I feel Murray is too solid to lose this one; Janowicz will need to keep the error count down to have a chance.
(8)John Isner vs. Santiago Giraldo
Isner has two h2h wins over Giraldo, but both ATP matches went three sets. Giraldo showed signs of great tennis in Shenzhen, where he reached the semifinals. Isner is a positive 6-1 in his last 7 matches, all on hard courts and thus he’s still the favorite for this one. Expect some big hitting in what should be a great watch, probably going 3 sets.
Mikhail Youzhny vs. (WC)Viktor Troicki
These two have met often since 2009: Troicki has 2 hard court wins, while the overall h2h is tied at 3-3. Viktor has been on a tear since returning to the ATP tour and he is playing motivated, passionate, and entertaining tennis right now. He has dictated play with his serve, which was untouchable for periods in Shenzhen, where he qualified and reached the second round. Troicki is an incredible 23-5 this year while Youzhny is an abysmal 14-19. Youzhny is higher ranked, but Troicki has to be the favorite here and he should win this one.
(3)Tomas Berdych vs. (WC)Feliciano Lopez
A match with some great upset potential: I have Lopez defeating Berdych because the Czech is struggling, while Lopez seems to be in good form and he has a h2h edge, including two wins this year one of which came on hard courts in Toronto. The hard court h2h is 3-1 in favor of Lopez and Berdych is on a two match losing streak. This is a great style contrast between his heavy hitting and Lopez’s quality net play.
(2)Rafael Nadal vs. Richard Gasquet
Nadal is returning to tour in Beijing against Gasquet, who has never beaten him before in over a dozen h2h meetings. Gasquet is struggling, and Nadal’s form is uncertain given he’s coming off an injury and should have some rust. However, he’s played some exhibitions and should advance given the H2H differential. The fact Gasquet is a round one opponent for the number two seed, and isn’t a seeded player himself demonstrates the quality of the Beijing draw.
Four-time and defending champion Novak Djokovic opens with Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Novak is 6-0 against GGL, so even if it’s an entertaining match, he should get through to face Lukas Rosol or Vasek Pospisil. Neither Vashy nor Rosol are in great form, but they are players with talent who can play very well at times. Look for an exciting Djokovic vs. Dimitrov quarterfinal.
After Verdasco, Dimitrov should face Kuala Lumpur finalist Julian Benneteau, who opens with KL quarterfinalist Pablo Andujar. Dimitrov has a lone marquee win over Djokovic in Madrid last season, but since then, Novak has won two meetings, both in slams, including a four setter at Wimbledon this year. Djokovic also has two hard court h2h wins, once in 2013 and once in 2012, both in straight sets.
Given Novak’s perfect 19-0 record in Beijing, he should get through to the semifinals.
US Open champ Marin Cilic, a two-time finalist in Beijing, opens with Chinese wild card Yan Bai, then will face the Joao Sousa/Teymuraz Gabashvili winner. The Metz finalist, Sousa, is looking to continue playing well but Cilic should safely make the quarterfinals to face Murray/Janowicz. The winner of that match will face Pablo Cuevas or Mikhail Kukushkin, Cuevas played reasonably well in Kuala Lumpur while Kukushkin was playing the Asian Games in Korea. I favor Cilic over Murray given the fatigue factor, Murray having played some tough matches in Shenzen.
Nadal/Gasquet will face Ivo Karlovic or Peter Gojowczyk in round 2. That will be an easier opponent than their round 1 match, and unless Nadal is really rusty he should reach the quarters to face most likely Ernests Gulbis, a semifinalist in Kuala Lumpur. Ernie opens with a struggling Fabio Fognini before the Martin Klizan/Leo Mayer winner. Nadal is 6-0 against Gulbis and 3-0 on hard courts, including a win this year in Doha.
With that record in mind, Nadal should be a safe pick for the semifinals.
The Berdych/Lopez winner will face the Youzhny/Troicki winner. Troicki has a great chance to sneak into the quarterfinals, though Lopez could also be formidable. Isner/Giraldo potentially await at that stage, with Shenzhen finalist Tommy Robredo also a possibility. Robredo faces Andreas Seppi again this week; he beat him in 3 sets in the Shenzen quarterfinals and this time faces him in round 1, with Isner/Giraldo to follow.
Given the fatigue factor, I have a Troicki vs. Isner quarterfinal penciled in. Troicki is 3-1 against Isner, with a 1-1 outdoor h2h record and has a chance to sneak into the semis, but I’m going with Isner based upon gut feeling.
Dark Horse: Viktor Troicki
As I mentioned above, Troicki has a great shot at the semifinals this week. He will need to blitz past Youzhny and sneak past Lopez/Berdych and Isner/Robredo/Giraldo, but those are all winnable matches if he serves well and comes up with some big shots, he seems on the precipice of an ATP-level revival.
Djokovic d. Cilic
Nadal d. Isner
If Cilic plays like he did at the US Open and Djokovic stumbles, he could very well take the title this week, but given the fact Djokovic is 10-0 against Cilic with 3 wins this season, albeit in close contests, he should still have an edge. Nadal’s form is hard to judge coming off the injury, but he’s 4-0 against Isner and I’m sure he’ll be motivated, so I have him in the final this week.
Djokovic d. Nadal
Given this is a hard court and Nadal is coming off an injury layoff, Djokovic should remain perfect in Beijing and take his fifth title here. He beat Nadal in the final last year.
Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships
ATP World Tour 500
September 27-October 5, 2014
Prize Money: $1,228,825
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Stan Wawrinka (4)
2: David Ferrer (5)
3: Milos Raonic (6)
4: Kei Nishikori (8)
5: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (12)
6: Roberto Bautista Agut (17)
7: Kevin Anderson (19)
8: Alex Dolgopolov (23)
Though outshone by Beijing, Tokyo sports five of the top fifteen players and should also feature a lot of quality action this week.
First Round matchups to watch:
(8)Alex Dolgopolov vs. Jack Sock
Dolgopolov is playing his first match back since knee surgery, and he had to skip all of the tournaments this summer. Sock is playing his first match since the US Open and this is the first head-to-head matchup between the pair. Sock has posted his best results on hard court this year, including one quarterfinal and one semifinal on the surface. Dolgo had a strong early start to the year but he should be rusty going into this one. It’s hard to predict and Dolgopolov is the more talented, and higher ranked player, but I have Sock advancing given the rust factor. Dolgo is known to past erratic performances and a knee injury isn’t the easiest thing to come back from right away.
(4)Kei Nishikori vs. Ivan Dodig
Nishikori, who just won Kuala Lumpur, is bidding to win his second Tokyo title in front of the home fans and keep his momentum going. Dodig, meanwhile, is looking to string some wins together and garner some of his own momentum, improving on his poor record of 1-5 in his last six matches. I’m mainly interested to see how Nishikori will play coming off of Kuala Lumpur. Dodig has beaten him once before, last year in Basel, and we’ll see if he can catch the top Asian player sleeping, This match has just a bit of upset potential, though I have Nishikori through.
(7)Kevin Anderson vs. Dominic Thiem
Thiem is looking to avenge his loss to Anderson at the Aussie Open at the start of the year, and he has had a meteoric rise since that meeting. Now in the top 50, he is bidding to follow up his strong showing at the US Open with a good fall swing. Anderson is as always a solid big serving, strong hard court competitor. Thiem will have a reasonable chance at pulling this off, but I have Anderson through. He’s too reliable and consistent to lose this one.
(3)Milos Raonic vs. Bernard Tomic
Milos Raonic appears to be in excellent form, and as the finalist in Tokyo the previous two seasons is looking to do one better and capture the title this year. Tomic isn’t the easiest first round opponent by any means though, and he could pose a threat to the Canadian number one if he can get on a hot streak. He lost a poor match in Kuala Lumpur though and I don’t see that being likely, so Raonic should get through in straight sets.
(6)Roberto Bautista Agut vs. Gilles Simon
Bautista Agut has a great chance to get back into form in Tokyo. It starts with Simon, who has been poor all season and lost a bad match in Shenzen last week to Ricardas Berankis, showing signs he might be injured. RBA has struggled a bit as of late, but hopefully he will grab a rather comfortable win here.
Stan Wawrinka should roll past Tatsuma Ito in his opening match. Jarkko Nieminen could prove to be a tough test in round 2, assuming the Finn who made the semifinals in Kuala Lumpur can beat Benjamin Becker, who reached the quarterfinals in the same tournament. I fully expect Stan the Man to get into the quarterfinals and most likely play Sock, as the other options, Dolgopolov, Andrey Golubev and qualifier Pierre-Hugues Herbert are far from imposing at present. All in all, Wawrinka has a reasonable route to the semifinals for a 500-level event.
The Nishikori/Dodig winner will play Donald Young or Go Soeda in round 2. Since Nishikori comfortably handled DY at the Aussie Open this year, I don’t expect that one to be much of a contest. It should be Nishikori vs Anderson/Thiem in the quarterfinals, as qualifier Rajeev Ram and Jeremy Chardy, the other options in this section, are both not playing that well at the moment. The semifinalist should come down to whether Nishikori is fatigued enough to lose or not. I’m going to garner he’s not and he’s certainly going to be motivated given he’s playing on home soil. Anderson will have a chance but I have Nishikori in the semifinals of my own bracket.
David Ferrer suffered another bad loss in an early round match, this time to Viktor Troicki in Shenzhen, and he is looking to rebound against his compatriot Marcel Granollers. He could be on upset alert again against Steve Johnson in round 2, assuming the much improved American gets past Hiroki Moriya. Still, unless the American serves lights out, Ferrer should get through to the quarterfinals. In the quarters, it should be Ferrer/Johnson against one of RBA/Simon or Gilles Muller. Muller is a dangerous big server when he gets hot, and he opens with Argentine Federico Delbonis. I have RBA in the quarters of my own bracket but it’s a difficult pick, and I also have him over Ferrer into the semis. Ferrer beat him twice last year, but he’s in a bit of a funk right now and I think RBA will capitalize on that.
The Raonic/Tomic winner will face Edouard Roger-Vasselin or Jurgen Melzer in round 2. Melzer and ERV are both struggling, so it should be a routine path to the quarterfinals for Raonic. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga should be Raonic’s opponent in an exciting quarterfinal matchup. Jo has to defeat Michal Przysiezny and the Taro Daniel/Denis Istomin winner to reach that stage. Raonic beat Tsonga this year on clay after two previous losses on hard and grass respectively. Given the form factor, I have Raonic through to the semifinals in 3 sets.
Dark Horse: Gilles Muller
It’s highly unlikely that a non-seed will reach the quarterfinals, but Muller has the best chance. He will need to defeat the RBA/Simon winner, but given their recent form, that’s doable if he serves well. After that, Ferrer/Johnson are also susceptible to defeat.
Wawrinka d. Nishikori
Raonic d. Bautista Agut
Kei beat Stan at the US Open in 5 sets recently, but prior to that, Wawrinka had won both their head to head meetings. Given Nishikori played a weeks worth of tennis in Malaysia the previous week, that should be enough to swing this match in Wawrinka’s favor.
I like Raonic over RBA or Ferrer, given how well he has played on hard courts both recently and this season as a whole.
Wawrinka d. Raonic
Two top players should meet in the Tokyo final, and I have Wawrinka over Raonic, given the 2-0 hard court h2h record and 3-0 overall h2h including a win on clay this season. Raonic will have a chance at taking this title too, and both guys have had a bit of a layoff but they should be ready to perform this week.