Golden Swing Concludes With 2018 ATP Sao Paulo featuring Gael Monfils and Fabio Fognini Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The ATP 250 tournament in Sao Paulo, Brazil concludes the clay court golden swing in South America. A host of South American dirtballers will be joined by Gael Monfils, Fabio Fognini, and Albert Ramos in the hunt for an ATP title.
Top seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas has not had a great golden swing and really needs to get past Thiago Monteiro (or Guilherme Clezar) in the second round. Monteiro has had some unlucky results lately, and likely loses round 2 to Ramos. Chile’s Nicolas Jarry reached semis in Rio and has had a solid golden swing. He should keep it up against Dusan Lajovic, then defeat Guido Pella or Corentin Moutet in round 2. I’ll back Jarry over Ramos in the quarters given Jarry just beat Ramos in Rio.
Gael Monfils has posted 2 quarters and a semi in his golden swing efforts. He’ll open with Thomaz Bellucci or Horacio Zeballos. Presuming Monfils wins that and reaches the quarters he’ll face either Rogerio Dutra Silva or Nicolas Kicker. Kicker opens with a fading Victor Estrella, Dutra Silva faces Tennys Sandgren. I’ll back Monfils over both Brazilians (Bellucci and RDS) to reach the semis.
Fabio Fognini reached semis in Rio and should get past Renzo Olivo/Joao Domingues in his first match. Federico Delbonis should follow in the quarters. Delbonis faces a potentially unfit Roberto Carballes Baena in round 1. Gerald Melzer or veteran Guillermo Garcia-Lopez will follow. Fognini vs. Delbonis could decide the tournament champion in the quarters. I’ll go with Fognini to reach the semis.
2016 ATP Sao Paulo Preview and Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The last call on the golden swing on South American clay is Sao Paulo, Brazil, as a host of dirtballers descend to do battle.
ATP World Tour 250
Sao Paulo, Brazil
February 22-28, 2016
Prize Money: $436,220
*denotes joint ATP/WTA event
Top 4 seeds (Who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Benoit Paire (22)
2: Thomaz Bellucci (32)
3: Pablo Cuevas (45)
4: Federico Delbonis (46)
First round matchups to watch:
(7)Nicolas Almagro vs. (WC)Thiago Monteiro
The three time Sao Paulo champion Almagro is nearly back into the top 50, and he’ll open finish his golden swing campaign with an opening match against the wild card Monteiro. The 21 year old Brazilian stunned Jo-Wilfried Tsonga for a top 10 win in Rio in his ATP debut, and also has some good challenger results this year. Almagro is a heavy favorite, but opponents will be wary of Monteiro on clay for a while after his performance against Tsonga.
(5)Albert Ramos vs. Pablo Carreno Busta
The first meeting between these Spanish dirtballers. The spin maestro Ramos should be the favorite since Carreno Busta has lost three straight, but this should be a high quality clay court contest.
Top seed Benoit Paire went 19-9 on clay last season, and is playing on the surface for the first time this season after a run to the semifinals in Marseille on home soil. Paire will face Dusan Lajovic or Luca Vanni as the Buenos Aires quarterfinalist Lajovic seeks to avenge his loss last year to Vanni in Sao Paulo. Paire could take his check and lose early, but skill wise he should be able to reach the quarterfinals.
Qualifier Gastao Elias of Portugal has a good chance to pull a round one upset over Pablo Andujar. The #8 seed hasn’t won a match in 2016, while Elias has had success in qualifying and on the challenger circuit. Santiago Giraldo has the inside track to beat Marco Cecchinato, and then slip past Andujar or Elias in this open section to reach the quarters himself.
Giraldo has a h2h win on clay over Paire, who could be jet lagged, given Benoit’s inconsistency, I have the Colombian veteran reaching a surprising semifinal.
Rio champ and Buenos Aires quarterfinalist Pablo Cuevas is the defending champion, and he’ll open with either Facundo Bagnis or Paul-Henri Mathieu. The qualifier likely has a slight edge over the French veteran on clay, and if Cuevas isn’t too exhausted, he should continue his good form and reach another quarterfinal.
Almagro/Monteiro will face Daniel Munoz-De La Nava or qualifier Maximo Gonzalez in round 2. Almagro should be able to ease past either player to reach the quarterfinals. Both have struggling as of late.
Cuevas is 4-0 against Almagro in the h2h, and has been in far better form as of late. Almagro will have a great shot at a semi given the fatigue factor, but look for Paire or Giraldo vs. Cuevas/Almagro semi in Sao Paulo.
Quito finalist Thomaz Bellucci rarely plays well on home soil, and struggled in Rio, but he still is a better player on clay than either Taro Daniel or Roberto Carballes Baena, and thus he should advance into the quarters. Carballes Baena has a clear h2h edge over Daniel, though he’s a lucky loser.
Ramos/Carreno-Busta are Bellucci’s likely quarterfinal opponent. Ramos/Carreno-Busta will face Brazilian wild card Guilherme Clezar, who has a challenger final this year on clay, or Daniel Gimeno-Traver, who reached the Rio quarters as a qualifier. I have Ramos over Clezar, and them Ramos over Bellucci for a spot in the semis. Bellucci beat Ramos on clay last year, but the home soil factor gives the Spaniard an edge in this case.
Federico Delbonis was the 2014 champion in Sao Paulo, and he has a great draw if he can repeat that performance this year. He’ll open with a fellow Argentine, either Diego Schwartzman or Horacio Zeballos (2-0 in the h2h against Schwartzman), and the Rio quarterfinalist then will most likely face Paolo Lorenzi. The Italian veteran is 6-3 on clay in recent ATP tournaments, and opens with qualifier Blaz Rola, with Marcel Granollers or Inigo Cervantes to follow. Cervantes could upset the veteran Granollers, but Lorenzi should prove too much.
Delbonis has won his previous three meetings against Lorenzi, including one last week in Rio, giving him an edge for the semis.
Giraldo isn’t in the best of form, even with his attacking game and strong forehand, but he is a benefit of a rather open top half of the draw. His first three matches are winnable, and a match against either a tired Cuevas, or a somewhat shaky Almagro could result in a win as well, giving him a dark horse shot at an ATP final.
Semis Cuevas d. Giraldo
Delbonis d. Ramos
Cuevas has a h2h edge over Giraldo, Ramos and Delbonis are split on clay 2-2, but Delbonis has been in better recent form, and he’s a former champion.
Final Delbonis d. Cuevas
Cuevas has won his last two meetings on clay against Delbonis and just beat him in Rio, but I have that result reversing itself, because if Cuevas reaches the final, he’s likely to be out of gas.
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.