2014 ATP Houston @MensClayCourt, Casablanca Previews
Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast
The ATP world tour begins again on spring clay with a pair of 250s in Houston and Casablanca.
Both possess very competitive fields this year.
Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship
ATP World Tour 250
Houston, Texas, USA
April 7-April 13, 2014
Prize Money: $ 474,005
Top 4 seeds (Who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: John Isner (9)
2: Tommy Robredo (14)
3: Nicolas Almagro (20)
4: Fernando Verdasco (29)
A large Spanish contingent buoys the Houston field as 4 of the top 8 seeds are Spaniards, and three top 20 players is nice for a 250 event.
First Round matchups to watch:
Alex Bogomolov Jr. vs. Sam Querrey
Querrey continues to slide down the rankings, now outside the top 70, and he will be desperate to stop that skid in Houston against Bogomolov, who is a pedestrian journeyman who has mostly been playing challengers for a while. Both players are 1-2 in their last 3 matches, though Querrey has been playing better competition, and the h2h favors Bogomolov 3-2, with no meetings on clay, as Bogo beat Qball in Memphis this year in 3 sets last meeting.
Querrey looks for revenge and this match is a tossup between poor players at the moment.
Alejandro Gonzalez vs. (WC)Marcos Baghdatis
Marcos Baghdatis showed some signs of life in Miami where he reached the third round, and he gets another wild card here in Houston, as he has been getting at most of these US tournaments so far. He will face off for the first time against the Colombian Gonzalez, who currently has a 5 match losing streak on clay while formerly being good on the surface (posted a 41-19 record on clay last year, a career year of for him at the challenger level almost exclusively).
Baghdatis has not won a tournament match on clay since the 2012 French Open, and both players are looking to find some form. It appears Baghdatis career is winding down to be honest, and I think Gonzalez will probably return to some form and win this match.
Defending champion John Isner will face either Rhyne Williams, who defends semifinal points here, or the big server Dustin Brown in his first match. Isner beat Williams in Delray this year in 3 sets, their only meeting and both players are in so-so form. I expect Isner to make his way to the quarters regardless.
It should be Isner vs. 7 seed Lleyton Hewitt, another former Houston champion, in the quarters, as the 2009 Houston champion will face a qualifier in round 1 and Bogomolov/Querrey in round 2. Hewitt has been struggling since late January and I’m not sure he’s entirely healthy. If he doesn’t lose in the first couple of rounds, Isner should be able to take him out even with the 2-5 negative H2H record, including 1 win on clay by Hewitt in 2010.
Isner won their last meeting in the 2013 Atlanta semis in 3 and has upward trajectory.
The struggling Nicolas Almagro will look to find some form in Houston, where he defends finalist points, as he will face his countryman Daniel Gimeno-Traver or local resident Michael Russell in round 2. Almagro is 5-1 on clay against DGT and even though he has lost 3 straight on the dirt, he should make his way to the quarterfinals. Almagro will face one of Ivo Karlovic/Jack Sock/Benjamin Becker/qualifier in the quarters, as Ivo or the qualifier will be the favorite to reach the quarters. Sock is hopeless on clay from what I remember, and Becker is 0-6 against Karlovic in his career including 0-2 on clay. Ivo has a rather lucky draw but he should fall to Almagro given his 0-3 h2h record against the Spaniard.
Tommy Robredo, who is 5-3 on clay this year, will face off with Santiago Giraldo or Matt Ebden in his first match, as Giraldo comes off Davis Cup, but could give the Spaniard a good clay court battle if he’s fresh enough. Their h2h is 1-1 and Robredo won the only meeting on clay in 2011 in 3 sets with a final set tiebreak.
Santi is 4-4 on clay this year, but I think Robredo will get to the quarters. Robredo’s quarterfinal opponent is a bit of a tossup, as Feliciano Lopez, the 5 seed, will face Baghdatis/Gonzalez in round 2 to decide it. Feli will be playing his first clay court tennis of the year but his reasonable form should allow him to reach the quarters before falling to Robredo who he is 0-4 career against including 0-2 on clay.
Their lasting meeting came in 2009, and their last clay meeting was in 2007.
The semifinalist from the section above the Robredo section will be interesting. Cases can be made for 4 seed Fernando Verdasco, former champion Juan Monaco, who was a semifinalist last year, and even the very hot Steve Johnson, who just won the La Gosier challenger on hard courts. Problem is, Johnson is another American who is rather hopeless on clay. Verdasco will face Johnson or Denis Kudla in round 2. Stevie J is 4-0 career against Kudla, and just beat him in Le Gosier, however if Johnson is tired coming off a quick turnaround, and the fact this is clay, Denis could get him back. They have never met on the surface before.
Regardless, Verdasco who has lost 2 straight matches, and will be playing for the first time on clay this year, probably makes the quarterfinals to do battle with Monaco. Monaco has to beat Indian Davis Cup hero Somdev Devvarman, who will be traveling in from Korea from that and should be jetlagged, then a qualifier or Donald Young to reach that point. Pico has also lost 2 straight and is 2-4 on clay this year but should he make the quarters, his 5-2 h2h clay court record against the Spaniard will be a big plus in his favor. That said, their last four clay court meetings were split 2-2 and Verdasco won the last meeting at the 2011 French.
Given Monaco has been struggling this year, I expect Verdasco to survive.
Dark Horse: Daniel Gimeno-Traver
Hard to see a non-seeded dark horse do something with this draw, but it has happened before, and a steady dirtballer like DGT is a prime selection. After a competitive Russell in the first round and even though his h2h with Almagro is a pitiful 1-5 on clay, Nico has been struggling. If he catches him out of sorts, he has a chance to reach the quarters. DGT took a set off Nico in Buenos Aires this year, losing 6-1 5-7 4-6. From there, he has an outside shot at the semis against Isner most likely, as Karlovic/qualifier isn’t the toughest clay court opponent.
Semis:Isner d. Almagro
Robredo d. Verdasco
A rematch of last years Houston final, Isner beat Almagro in straights, and I think he would do so again if form is any indication. Almagro has one other clay win in Davis Cup 2012, and an overall split h2h of 2-2 across all surfaces.
Robredo is 4-0 on clay against Verdasco, while struggling against him on faster surfaces, in a somewhat strange head to head, their last meeting on clay occurring 3 years ago, given current form, I think Tommy will slide past all comers into the final.
Isner d. Robredo
They met twice in 2010, and both times on hard courts, with the h2h 1-1. This is a hard pick, as both players have had streaks of great play, and then gaps of poor tennis in between, and really it depends on which guy will come to play. Isner is playing in the states, he likes the Houston Har-Tru clay, which is very different from European red clay, and he’s probably in slightly better form if he stays healthy.
I have him winning this one in 3 sets.
If you’re looking for Nemo, he’s in Casa.
Grand Prix Hassan II
ATP World Tour 250
April 7-April 13, 2014
Prize Money: € 426,605
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Kevin Anderson (19)
2: Gael Monfils (25)
3: Benoit Paire (33)
4: Marcel Granollers (36)
Just one top 20 player for the Casablanca 250, but the players themselves are capable of playing above their rankings and are recognizable names. It should also be noted that world number 27 Gilles Simon is attempting to qualify here, assuming because he refused a late wild card and opted to do so to get more match practice. Not really sure the reason, but he is a very strong qualifier should he get through.
First Round matchups to watch:
Tobias Kamke vs. Pablo Carreno Busta
Kamke performed admirably in a rare Davis Cup call up for team Germany, going 1-1 in singles with a win against Benneteau and a loss against Tsonga. He will have to do a quick turnaround and a surface change to clay as he will face the formerly rising Spaniard Carreno Busta, who has been really struggling as of late and has seen his stock cool off. PCB has lost 5 straight matches and is a miserable 1-8 this year, but he has played all of them at the ATP level. Credit to him for trying to match his game with the best. He will hope to find his game against at the site of his first career ATP main draw level victory, Casablanca, where he reached round 2 as a qualifier last year. He was an overall 43-12 on clay last year, which includes mostly futures and challengers and knows his way around the surface.
He should be a slight favorite against the journeyman German, who should be fatigued.
Teymuraz Gabashvili vs. Carlos Berlocq
Gabashvili is back in the top 60 at the age of 28–in fact–59, which ties a career high for him that came back in 2009. He will face off with the Argentine Berlocq, known for his expressive grunting and stamina. His h2h record is 2-0 against the Argentine, though both meetings came at 2005 challengers a long time ago. They were both on clay, however, and both players are good on the surface, as they both posted winning records on it last year.
Berlocq is 2-2 on the surface this year and this match is a bit of a toss up, but I give Gaba a slight edge to advance.
(5)Joao Sousa vs. Igor Sijsling
Sousa, who is seeded here, should be able to take care of Sijsling without problem, but this is a good form test match for the improving Portugese number 1, as Sijsling has lost 2 straight and isn’t his strongest on clay. Sousa is 2-2 on the surface this year and reached the third round of Miami last, as he has rekindled some form after struggling at the start of the season.
This is their first meeting and I expect a straight set result.
Kevin Anderson, who had his best year on clay ever in 2013, going 11-5 on the surface including a final here in Casablanca, is the top seed. He faces Victor Hanescu or wild card Hicham Khaddari in round 2 and should be on his way to face one of two qualifiers or Federico Delbonis/Filippo Volandri in the quarters.
Wherever potential qualifier Gilles Simon lands will be a big influence on this draw, even with the Frenchman struggling, and should he qualify and land in this section, he has a shot at the quarters. That being said, Delbonis is 7-3 on clay this year and was a finalist in Sao Paulo. He continues to improve and has a good draw here, thus I expect an Anderson vs. Delbonis quarter.
Marcel Granollers is in awful form, and might become a doubles specialist soon if it continues. He has lost 4 straight, is just 1-7 in his last 8 matches, and went just 1-4 on clay during the golden swing in South America. He will probably be an underdog in his first match against Albert Ramos, Ramos just needing to beat wild card Lamine Ouahab, who is probably more famous for switching his nationality from Algerian to Moroccan because of the tennis federation support than anything else, to reach round 2. Ramos is 10-6 on clay this year and has consecutive clay challenger semifinals on his résumé. I expect him to make the quarters against PCB/Kamke or Robin Haase/Aleksandr Nedovyesov. Haase is good on clay and will be looking to return to form, while Nedovyesov comes off Davis Cup duty against Switzerland, and will likely be fatigued. However, he’s in good enough form and good on clay.
Any of those 4 players would be more than pleased to find some form and make the quarters.
Gael Monfils is his usual unpredictable self: After struggling In Miami, he came up big for France in Davis Cup, winning a deciding fifth rubber. He had such a strong start to 2014, only to go 1-3 in his last 4 ATP matches. He’s certainly good on clay, but the questions are is he healthy, fresh, coming off DC, and focused, as “personal problems” and injuries have dogged him on and off. He will face Jiri Vesely or Leo Mayer first up, as Vesely comes off DC duty and will be traveling a long way from Japan. Thus, his first opponent will probably be Mayer, who has a clay court final this year in Vina Del Mar. Assuming Monfils doesn’t have something strange occur, It should be a Monfils vs. Sousa/Sijsling in the quarters. However, there are another 2 qualifier spots in that section, and should Simon land there, assuming he qualifies, he himself has a good shot at the quarters. Don’t forget that Sousa is solid and probably makes it regardless, given the poor form of Simon.
Benoit Paire will be playing for the first time since January in Casablanca. The talented Frenchman with the gifted backhand, who is just competitive on clay but not elite by any standard, will face the aging defender Albert Montanes or Le Gosier challenger finalist Kenny De Schepper in round 2. He will probably be rusty, and Montanes has a shot at the quarters. Or maybe Paire will pull through.
In the section above, Gabashvili/Berlocq or Guillermo Garcia-Lopez/Mikhail Kukushkin await in the quarters. GGL is struggling, having lost 4 straight on clay, and Kukushkin comes off Davis Cup duty and will probably be fatigued, along with the surface change.
Dark Horse: Albert Ramos
The formerly top 40 Spaniard has a great draw that should put him in the semifinals. After the journeyman Ouahab and the ice cold Granollers, any of Haase/Nedovyesov/Kamke/PCB he should be favored against and he will at least be competitive against Anderson/Delbonis/Simon in the semis.
Delbonis d. Ramos
Sousa d. Montanes
Delbonis lost to Anderson on clay in 2012, but he’s improving and I like him as an upset selection to win the title or at least make the final. he is 2-2 career on clay against Ramos, and won their last meeting in 2012 in Madrid.
I think Sousa will upset Monfils, even though I’m totally gambling on that pick, and Sousa or Monfils will be a favorite over Montanes or someone else in the semis. Paire could find form, perhaps, or maybe GGL/Berlocq.
Rest assured, it’ll be competitive.
Delbonis d. Sousa
Delbonis beat Sousa on clay this year in what would be the second career ATP final for them both. They would both be vying for their second career ATP title, as Delbonis won Sao Paulo this year. Given the 1-0 h2h and the current form, I like Delbonis as champion.