2017 WTA Doha Preview, Predictions Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
The WTA resumes normal duty after the Fed Cup with the Qatar Total Open. Angelique Kerber and Karolina Pliskova are the top two seeds of a stacked field. Here is a run down of the draw for the upcoming Premier event
Kerber came into 2017 as the defending Australian Open Champion and World number one. She was the best player in the world last season, but her poor start to 2017 has seen her slip to second in the rankings. Her fight to claw back to that illustrious position starts in Doha where she will receive a first round bye. The top seed will face wither Irina Begu or Daria Kasatkina in the second round to kick off her tournament. Kasatkina stunned Kerber in Sydney earlier in the season, so the German will be gunning for revenge should they meet in Doha. Timea Bacsinszky comes into Doha off the back of a long Fed Cup weekend against the French. The Swiss faces the in form St.Petersburg runner-up Yulia Putintseva in the first round, a match that could provide an early upset. Monica Puig or Laura Seigemund will meet the winner. It could very well be that the seventh seed exits early, leaving the door open to a surprise quarter finalist. Putintseva’s recent form makes her the favourite if Bacsinszky should fall. Kerber vs Kasatkina will be close but I see the German edging into the quarter finals and beyond.
Prediction: Kerber def. Putintseva
Radwanska Doha 2016
Agnieszka Radwanska looks to kick off some good form this week in Doha. The Pole has not enjoyed the best of start to her season, but her form could change with a title here. Like the other top seeds, she receives an opening round bye, but her tournament could start with a blockbuster clash with Caroline Wozniacki in round two. The Dane leads 9-6 in their head to head, but Radwanska won their last match comfortably. The bottom half of this section has two qualifiers as first round opponents for Roberta Vinci and Elena Vesnina. It is likely they will meet in the second round with Vesnina holding the 5-3 head to head advantage. With Radwanska having won their previous two meetings, it is likely she will face Vesnina in the quarter finals. The Pole should be too tricky for the Russian and will go on to meet Kerber in the semi finals.
Prediction: Radwanska def. Vesnina
Dominika Cibulkova headlines the third section as the third seeded player in the draw and one of the tournament favourites. The Slovak also has a bye into the second round where she will likely face Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. This will be a heavy hitting affair, but Cibulkova has the advantage of being the higher ranked player and winning the head to head. Barbora Strycova is another player who is coming off a busy Fed Cup weekend and she enters Doha as the eighth seed. The Czech faces a local wildcard in round one before meeting either Sam Stosur or Anastasija Sevastova in round two, both tough tests in very different ways. That said it is difficult to see past Strycova setting up a clash with Cibulkova in the quarter finals. Interestingly, for two players who have been at the top of the game for a long time, they have only met once which Cibulkova won in three sets. It is a good clash of styles, but I expect the Slovak to edge it
Prediction: Cibulkova def. Strycova
Karolina Pliskova enters Doha as the favourite to the take home the title. She is the most in form of the top players, but she has a tough draw ahead of her. After an opening round bye, she could face Caroline Garcia in the second round. The Frenchwoman holds an head to head advantage over the Czech, but Garcia could easily lose to her qualifier opponent in round one. Garbine Muguruza has not reached the heights of her French Open win last year, but a good run in Doha will go a long way towards re-capturing that form. She has a good draw to the quarter finals with Cagla Buyukakcay in the opening round, then Shuai Zheng or Timea Babos in the second. It looks good for a Pliskova vs Muguruza quarter final where the Czech has been dominant. Garcia could upset the odds, but it is likely Pliskova advances to the final four.
Prediction: Pliskova def. Muguruza
Radwanska def. Kerber
Pliskova def. Cibulkova
Radwanska vs Kerber is one of those matches that could go either way. They are both primarily counter-punchers, but Radwanska offers slightly more variety and that could be the difference. Pliskova vs Cibulkova will offer a different style of match as they will trade blows. Pliskova is the more consistent of the two and has the better serve.
Pliskova def. Radwanska
There is something about Pliskova that screams that she will have a big year in 2017, and I believe she will add another title to her collection in Doha.
2016 WTA Doha Preview, Predictions @QatarTennis Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
The tour moves from Dubai and Rio to the capital of Qatar for the Qatar Total Open in Doha. The tournament was founded in 2001 and the winners include Justine Henin, Martina Hingis and Monica Seles, as well as two-time winners Victoria Azarenka, Anastasia Myskina and Maria Sharapova.
Qatar Total Open
Location: Doha, Qatar
Prize money: $2,517,25
Date: February 21st– 27th
Top eight seeds who receive a BYE (Ranking)
Angelique Keber (2)
Simona Halep (3)
Agnieszka Radwanska (4)
Garbine Muguruza (5)
Petra Kvitova (8)
Belinda Bencic (9)
Lucie Safarova (10)
Carla Suarez Navarro (11)
No Serena and no Maria Sharapova here, but otherwise a strong field.
First round matches to watch
(9) Karolina Pliskova vs Margarita Gasparyan:
Two of the tour’s brightest young talents have been pitted together in the opening round.
Pliskova has not really ‘got going’ this year but she is still a hugely dangerous. With her power and serve she can beat anyone on any day, but her movement still remains a problem.
Many people have high expectations of Gasparyan this year as the Russian attempts to breakthrough the ranks. Gasparyan has the rare trait of using a one handed backhand and can produce big winners from that wing.
With Pliskova not in the best of form it might be worth looking at this match as a potential upset. It will also showcase two of the tours best young talent’s in their first meeting.
Kiki Mladenovic (Photo: Christopher Levy for TennisAtlantic.com)
Barbora Strycova vs Kristina Mladenovic
Can Mladenovic avenge her doubles partner by defeating the in form Strycova in Doha?
Both players are known for their variety but they go about their games in different ways. Mladenovic is more attack orientated whilst Strycova is more of a counter puncher.
The Czech is the more in form of the two but her feisty characteristics means she can go off the rails at any time. It should be a fascinating contest with plenty of variety. The Frenchwoman leads the head to head 2-0.
(13) Caroline Wozniacki vs Ana Konjuh
Teenager Konjuh will face former world number one Wozniacki in a potential upset of a round one tie.
The Croatian is seen as one of the brightest prospects on tour and with Wozniacki not playing her best tennis, an upset might be on the cards.
The Dane has won their previous two meetings comfortably, can she make it a hat trick?
For the first time since the Australian Open triumph we will see Kerber in a tour event. The German’s success in Melbourne propelled her to number two in the world rankings and therefore has earned the top seeding for this event. Kerber will receive an opening round BYE before meeting Saisai Zhang or Varvara Lepchenko in round two. Elina Svitolina is scheduled for round three but the Ukrainian has not been at her best this season despite a good week in Dubai. A second round clash with Eugenie Bouchard could be interesting in the Canadian is near her best.
Petra Kvitova’s start to 2016 has left a lot to be desired but as we know, she can turn it on at any time. The Czech could use Doha as a launching pad for the season, but she has a tough round two awaiting her against the winner of Mladenovic vs Strycova. The door could be open for one of them to make the quarter finals with the ever unpredictable Svetlana Kuznetsova projected for round three. The Russian will play Julia Goerges in a rematch of the German’s demolition in Dubai so there could be an early exit for the two time grand slam champion.
Muguruza is another big name that has made a poor start to the season. The Spaniard has not looked right this year and has considered taking a small break to refresh. Is it pressure or is it something else? Either way the 22 year old could be in for another early exit with Nao Hibino or Yaroslava Shvedova scheduled to meet her in round two. Sara Errani, fresh off winning the Dubai title, might fancy her chances in taking advantage of an early Muguruza exit providing she is not too tired. The Italian faces Tsvetana Pironkova in round one before meeting Madison Brengle or Timea Babos in round two. A good chance for Errani to make the last eight.
Belina Bencic suffered an early exit last week so should be fairly fresh heading into Doha. The Swiss star could face dangerous American Coco Vandeweghe in round two with Pliskova projected for the third round. The Czech however has a tough draw with Gasparyan and the winner of Andrea Petkovic vs Ekaterina Makarova awaiting the winner. All four players are capable of making round three and potentially causing a lot of problems for Bencic.
The Pole will enter Doha as one of the favourites to take home the title. She has a fairly kind round two with Annika Beck likely to meet her there. The German is a solid player but will unlikely have the weapons to pose a big rest. Jelena Jankovic is projected for round three which could be an interesting clash. Sabine Lisicki or Moncia Niculescu could throw a spanner in those works however.
Defending champion, Safarova, will return to action to defend the title she surprisingly won 12 months a go. The Czech has struggled with injuries so will likely be slightly rusty when she returns to the court. Lucie Hradecka will likely welcome her compatriot back but Roberta Vinci might end her run in round three. The Italian has been in good form since ending Serena’s calendar year grand slam dreams in New York and will be the favourite to advance to the quarter finals. Lesia Tsurenko in round one is a tough prospect however.
Halep is another big name trying to find form this week but she could find it difficult against Caroline Garcia in round two. The Frenchwoman has had a solid start to the season but has yet to make a major breakthrough. Will Doha be her week? Caroline Wozniacki is the projected round three opponent but the Dane could struggle with Konjuh and Daria Gavrilova. The seeds are favourites to meet in the third round but the banana skins could open up the draw.
Carla Suarez Navarro is the other seed in this section that will receive an opening round BYE. The Spaniard will likely meet Donna Vekic in round two with Timea Bacsinszky in line for a round three. However the Swiss is not in the same form as she was last season so could lose early to Bethanie Mattek Sands in round one or Anna Schmiedlva/Yulia Putintseva in the second round.
2015 WTA Doha Preview & Predictions Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
After a week full of surprises, the WTA reaches Mexico, and Qatar for the tournaments held in Acapulco and Doha.
Can Karolina Pliskova build on her good form?
The Qatar Total open was first established in 2001 due to the increasing popularity of women’s sport in the country. The Khalifa International Tennis Complex has also hosted the Season ending Championships from 2008 to 2010.
Previous champions include the likes of Justine Henin, Martina Hingis and Monica Seles, as well as two-time winners Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova. The defending champion is Simona Halep who will not return this year to defend her crown.
Qatar Total Open
Location: Doha, Qatar
Prize Money: $731,000
Date: February 23rd- February 28th 2015
Top 4 seeds who receive a first round bye (Ranking)
1. Petra Kvitova (3)
2. Simona Halep (4) *withdrawn*
3. Caroline Wozniacki (5)
4. Agnieszka Radwanska (8)
5. Ekaterina Makarova (9)
A strong draw with all the seeds being top 20 players, and some dangerous unseeded players to look out for. Unfortunately Simona Halep withdrew from the tournament, so Ekaterina Makarova is handed a BYE as the next highest seed, and Carla Suarez Navarro is now the final seed.
First round matches to watch
(9) Carla Suarez Navarro vs Garbine Muguruza
Looking through the draw this is one of the matches that really stands out to me. The ninth seed Carla Suarez Navarro faces doubles partner Garbine Muguruza in what should be a close contest between two friends. The Spanish pair met in Dubai in a close match where Muguruza came out on top from a set down. Muguruza played a lot of tennis last week, and suffered a close loss to fellow rising star Karolina Pliskova in the semi finals. Therefore it’s unknown where the 21 year old is at mentally and physically. Suarez Navarro has been a fairly constant top 20 player for a while now, and possesses a unique shot in the WTA, a one-handed backhand. This match-up is very hard to predict as they both know each other’s game, and playing a friend can often lead to awkward matches. Muguruza has the higher peak level, so if she is playing well she should blow Suarez Navarro off the court, but if Muguruza is tired and/or not in good form, expect the world number 13 to be too consistent for the youngster.
(8) Angelique Kerber vs (WC) Victoria Azarenka
A few years a go this was a match at the season ending championships. Fast forward to 2015, and these two players have both exited the top 10 and will meet in the opening round in Doha. In fact their last meeting came at the tour championships in 2012, which Azarenka came through in three tight sets. Kerber hasn’t beaten Azarenka in a straight tennis match with her only victory coming via a walkover. Azarenka’s struggles with injuries have seen her fall down the rankings, but she’s still hugely dangerous to any player in the world despite not being in the form that saw her reach the summit of the rankings. Kerber hasn’t shown her best form this year and that has seen her fall outside the top 10 for the first time in a while. So with all that in mind, I can easily see the number eight seed taking an early exit at the hands of the former world number one. Expect the Belarusian to use her return and precise ground strokes to move the German around the court, and see out a tight two set or three set victory.
Sam Stosur vs Lucie Safarova
We have quite the round one line-up In Doha, and this match between two experienced players is yet another one to watch. Stosur is 3-5 in 2015 if you count the Fed Cup, and has been unable to put together back to back victories this year. Oddly enough, one of those three victories came against Safarova in Sydney. Safarova played her best tournament of 2015 last week, reaching the quarter finals in Doha before falling to fellow Czech Karolina Pliskova. However, Stosur is Safarova’s pigeon with the head to head being 9-3 in favour of the world number 25. The Aussie has struggled to handle the powerful lefty strokes across court from the Czech, which plays the ball right into the weaker side of Stosur’s game. With that said, if Stosur brings the form which won her the US Open in 2011, she could easily claim her second straight victory over Safarova.
Top seed Petra Kvitova headlines a strong top half that could see the world number four face plenty of dangerous players. There are some potentially dangerous qualifiers who could be drawn into this section, but that is the least of the Wimbledon champion’s worries. Rising stars Karolina Pliskova and Garbine Muguruza find themselves drawn in this quarter, both of whom are capable of advancing very far in the tournament. After all, they met in the semi finals of Dubai last week, which Pliskova won in 3 close sets. The Spaniard’s form and fitness will be in question after that epic battle last week, so she’ll have to overcome them and her doubles partner Suarez Navarro if she is to set up a rematch with Pliskova.
Kvitova should make the quarter finals at least with a BYE to round two, where she shouldn’t face much trouble. I will play it safe and say Suarez Navarro overcomes a tired Muguruza and Pliskova to set up a quarter final with Kvitova. The Spaniard has the game to trouble big hitters with her crafty slice and good movement. Kvitova is perhaps the biggest enigma on tour. Her game is huge yet wildly inconsistent, making her matches very hard to predict.
Quarter number two features the two newest editions to the top 10, Ekaterina Makarova and Andrea Petkovic. Makarova gets an opening round BYE, but faces a tough round two against Stosur or Safarova. With the head to head so much in favour of the Czech it’s hard to look past her making round two and setting up a clash of the lefties. I believe Makarova is the better player at the moment and she’s definitely in the better form this year, so despite the 2-1 head to head in favour of Safarova, I will back the Russian to make the quarter finals. I believe Petkovic will be there waiting for Makarova at this stage. The German will rematch Zarina Diyas in round two, who she lost to in Dubai. However, I don’t see that upset happening again this week.
Caroline Wozniacki was bumped to second seed status with the withdrawal of Simona Halep, which meant she was moved to the bottom section of the draw. The Dane’s reward will be a potential round two clash with Alize Cornet who will face a qualifier in round one. Wozniacki hammered the French woman in straight sets last week and has a 6-1 head to head record against her, so expect a fairly easy ride to the quarter finals for the former world number one. Her quarter final opponent will likely be either Angelique Kerber, Victoria Azarenka,or Elina Svitolina. The young Ukrainian was perhaps the person who benefited the most from Halep’s withdrawal, as she went from drawing Suarez Navarro to drawing a qualifier in round one. There are some dangerous qualifiers in the draw, but Svitolina is a consistent player and it’s hard to see her getting upset in round one.
Kerber or Azarenka in round two will be one of the most interesting matches of the tournament, with experience facing youth. I have a sneaky feeling Azarenka will beat Kerber, and use her experience to get past Svitolina and make the quarter finals. There she will meet Wozniacki in a rematch of their Australian Open encounter. Azarenka came out on top that day, but I believe the Dane will extract revenge for that loss in a three set match here.
Fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska is the projected semi final opponent of Caroline Wozniacki, but with a somewhat resurging Venus Williams, and dangerous players such as Sabine Lisicki, and Barbora Zahalova Strycova, it’s going to be tough for the Pole. Radwanska will receive a first round bye, before meeting Pennetta or Kuznetsova in round two. The Russian leads the head to head 5-1, but the Italian won their most recent meeting. Both players started the year fairly poorly, but Pennetta did well in Dubai so I will pick the Italian to take it. Radwanska leads the head to head 4-3 against her, but Pennetta got the better of the Pole in their two 2014 meetings. Despite that, Radwanska is overall the better player and should make the quarter finals here. There I believe she’ll face Venus Williams, who I predict will get past Casey Dellacqua and Zahalova Strycova. Venus Williams vs Radwanska will likely be a tight affair, with both looking to impose their different styles on the match. However, Venus isn’t in the form she showed at the beginning of the year so I feel Radwanska might just grind her down.
Predictions: Semi Finals:
Kvitova def. Makarova in 3
Wozniacki def. Radwanska in 3
Wozniacki def. Kvitova in 3
I predicted Wozniacki last week, and it didn’t happen. But going through the draw, I simply have her winning this one. Either way, I feel the winner of the Azarenka-Wozniacki match will win the tournament.
Gabashvili shocked Verdasco at the Aussie Open last year and the Spaniard will be looking to avenge that loss in the opening round of Doha. Gabashvili reached a career high ranking in 2014 at 52 in the world but he still finished a sub .500 19-25 on the season at the ATP level with his best results being a trio of ATP quarterfinals. Gaba has always been a journeyman and is far less accomplished than Verdasco who went 26-20 on the year with one ATP title and a pair of ATP semifinals his most notable results in 2014. Even with that h2h upset, Verdasco is favored to advance and I expect him to do so.
(5)Philipp Kohlschreiber vs. Jan-Lennard Struff
Kohli finished the year 37-25 with one ATP title in 2014. It wasn’t his best season on tour, but the German veteran held his own and finished the year in the top 25 yet again. Struff broke into the top 50 for part of 2014, and the German who is seven years younger than his countryman reached three ATP semifinals in 2014. Struff is talented across surfaces, but has yet to reach the consistency level needed to keep himself as a full time competitor on the main tour. He will have a shot at upsetting Kohli here, and this is a toss-up match for me.
Simone Bolelli vs. Benjamin Becker
Bolelli had a resurgent season in 2014, finishing up in the top 60, which was powered by four challenger titles. The Italian found himself last season after starting the year outside the top 300 and is back to being a full time ATP competitor. Becker is another veteran who had a resurgent season in 2014. He peaked at a career high of 35 in the world, and finished ranked inside the top 40. He went 27-26 at the ATP level last year reaching an ATP final and two ATP semifinals. He finished the year strong with semis in Tokyo and a trio of quarterfinal appearances in Kuala Lumpur, Basel, and Vienna. The two veterans have never met, and this match could go either way. I’m picking the powerful ball striker Becker myself.
Doha paid big bucks to convince the world number one Djokovic to start his 2015 ATP campaign off in the Middle Eastern nation. Novak will be making his debut in Qatar and faces his countryman Dusan Lajovic first up. Given Lajovic and Novak are Davis Cup teammates, they should be very familiar with each others games. I don’t expect the top Serb to have any trouble with his countryman, and he also should ease past Sergiy Stakhovsky in round 2, assuming Stako avoids a shock defeat to Qatari wild card Jabor Mohammed Ali Mutawa, who doesn’t even have an ATP ranking. In the quarters, Novak should cruise past the big serving Ivo Karlovic, with the hard hitting Lukas Rosol, or the crafty veteran Mikhail Youzhny, who opens with a qualifier, also options to reach the quarters. Youzhny had a very poor 2014 that saw him drop out of the top 40 with an 18-23 record. Rosol peaked inside the top 30 in 2014 but finished the year just 1-9, Karlovic has beaten him twice before including last fall in Basel. Karlovic and Djokovic haven’t met since 2008, and surprisingly Karlovic has won both hard court meetings, but that was quite some time ago.
David Ferrer had a down season in 2014, though he still won an ATP title and finished 54-24 on the season. Ferrer is in danger of dropping out of the top 10 for the first time in almost five years. At 32 he may be slowing down but I still expect the hard working Spaniard to beat a qualifier, and then Verdasco or Gabashvili. He has won the last seven meetings against Verdasco including both meetings in the fall of 2014 without dropping a set. He was upset by Gabashvili on clay last year but that would once again be a very unlikely result. Look for a Ferrer vs. Kohlschreiber or Struff quarterfinal, as one of the Germans just needs to be the exciting but inconsistent Dustin Brown, or dirtballer Paolo Lorenzi in round 2. Ferrer is 6-0 against Kohli since 2009, so I tip him to reach the semis, Struff could also challenge but Ferrer would have to be favored.
2014 Doha champ Rafa Nadal will be defending his title with the cloud of his appendix surgery in the off-season hanging over him. Nadal was dominated by Andy Murray in the Abu Dhabi exhibition a couple of days ago, looking to be in very poor form, but still he won’t have to face an opponent the caliber of Murray in his route to the semifinals. He opens against a qualifier, then will face Ivan Dodig or wild card Mohamed Safwat of Egypt in round 2, Dodig is looking to get himself back to a consistent ATP level, but it is still unlikely he has enough game to get past even a rusty Nadal. In the quarterfinals, the toughest opponent for Nadal would be either 8 seed Leo Mayer, who plays his best on clay, or the Italian veteran Andreas Seppi who declined in 2014, posting a sub .500 24-30 record. Joao Souza, another clay courter, and Tunisian wild card Malek Jaziri are also options. Jaziri plays some of his most inspired tennis when in the Middle East, but he’s still a career journeyman. Look for Mayer, who had a breakthrough 2014, and reached the top 30 in the rankings with an ATP title and a 28-20 record, to reach the quarterfinals before falling to Nadal who is 4-0 in his career against him.
Tomas Berdych, who won an exhibition in Thailand to start off his 2015, opens with Denis Istomin in round 1. Istomin is a tough opponent for the number 3 seed in a 250 level event, but that said Berdych is 3-0 in his career against the Uzbek number one, and has a superior skillset, so he should advance. Look for Berdy to also cruise past Juan Monaco or a qualifier in round 2, before facing off with Bolelli/Becker or Richard Gasquet/Pablo Andujar in the quarterfinals. Gasquet fell from the top 20 in 2014, while Andujar finished inside the top 45 and took an ATP title. I expect the 2013 Doha champion Gasquet to defeat Andujar. Bolelli or Becker could give him trouble, but he’s 5-0 in his career against Bolelli, and 2-0 against Becker, so past results are very much in his favor. Berdych won his only meeting against Gasquet in 2014, but they have split their last four hard court meetings 2-2. Given Berdych performed better last year, and recently, I expect the Czech to get through to the semifinals.
Becker will have a tough path if he is going to put up a good result to start the year in Doha, given his first match is against Bolelli, who could be a dark horse in his own right, and then Gasuet/Andujar and almost certainly Berdych. That said if he can pull off three big wins, he would be in the semis against Nadal or a weaker opponent with a punchers chance to reach the final. I’d also consider JL Struff a dark horse this week.
Semis: Djokovic d. Ferrer
Berdych d. Nadal
Djokovic has won seven consecutive meetings against Ferrer, including both meetings last year, and I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t win the matchup again.
Berdych hasn’t beaten Nadal since 2006, and has been dominated by the Spaniard in almost every head to head meeting, that said I have a hunch Rafa still has some ailments and may not even want to play all the way through to the final.
Final: Djokovic d. Berdych
Djokovic beat Berdych both times last year and the total set score in those meetings was 24-6, thus Novak has to be a heavy favorite to win the Doha title in his debut.
2015 ATP Chennai Preview
Aircel Chennai Open
ATP World Tour 250
January 5-January 11, 2015
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Stan Wawrinka (4) 2: Feliciano Lopez (14) 3: Roberto Bautista Agut (15) 4: David Goffin (22)
Three top 20 players highlight the Chennai field, as all of the seeds are ranked within the top 50 in the world. Chennai isn’t near as star studded as the other two events on tour this week, but it’s far from a weak tournament.
First Round matchups to watch:
Borna Coric vs. Robin Haase
The 18 year old Coric reached the top 100 in 2014 and after primarily posting great results on the challenger tour, he qualified for the US Open, reaching the second round, and upset Ernests Gulbis and Rafael Nadal in Basel, en route to the semifinals. Haase finished 2014 strong with a challenger title, but he still finished ranked outside the top 80, and Coric will have a great shot at an upset win over an ATP regular. The match could go either way but I’m going with Coric to rise to the challenge and get himself to round 2.
Peter Gojowczyk vs. Alejandro Falla
Falla beat Gojowczyk in Halle last year, but the 31 year old Colombian appears to be in a decline as he finished 2014 ranked outside the top 80, and went just 11-17 at the ATP level. Gojo meanwhile is rising, at 25, he’s at a career high ranking of 79 and he will be looking to play more ATP main draw level matches in 2015. The German won 2 challenger titles, posted an ATP semifinal in Doha, and qualified for the USO and AO. His best results have been on hard courts, and he appears poised for a breakthrough. I favor him to dispatch the Colombian veteran to reach round 2.
Tatsuma Ito vs. (WC)Ramkumar Ramanathan
The 20 year old Indian Ramanathan, who (almost) exclusively played challengers and futures in 2014, shocked the tennis world last year by qualifying in Chennai and defeating his higher ranked, and more accomplished countryman Somdev Devvarman to reach the second round. This year he gets a wild card, and he’ll have another chance to surprise against Tatsuma Ito, who is ranked just inside the top 100. Ito finished the year with a challenger final and he’s had most of his success at that level. Ito shocked Stan Wawrinka in Tokyo last year, for the best win of his career, but he rarely plays up to that level, I expect Ito win but Ramanathan will certainly have the crowd behind him.
Defending and two time champ Stan Wawrinka will take the first step to trying to retaining his top 5 ranking in Chennai, where he will start his 2015 campaign after a breakthrough 2014 that saw him win a Grand Slam and a Masters Title, along with reach the top 5 for the first time in his career. He will have a target on his back, most likely against Coric, in round 2, but barring another shocking upset, he should get through to the quarterfinals where 8 seed Gilles Muller, or perhaps Igor Sijsling/Edouard Roger-Vasselin/Elias Ymer, a wild card, await. Muller had a resurgent 2014 that saw him return to the top 50 after winning five challenger titles. Sijsling and ERV had pedestrian years in 2014, and Ymer has yet to emerge, even though he’s a young talent, so I expect a Wawrinka over Muller quarterfinal. ERV is a defending finalist, and he faced Wawrinka in that final, he has a lot of points to defend this week.
David Goffin reached the top 25 for the first time in his career in 2014, going on an incredible tear in the second half of the season to finish the year 25-15 with two ATP titles. He also reached the final in Basel and won four challenger titles. Goffin won’t be near as much of an underdog this season, and will be taking on a full time ATP schedule one would expect. His first match should be a win against a qualifier or Ricardas Berankis, a formerly promising young star who has yet to live up to his potential. After that, I expect Goffin to cruise to the semis, whether he faces fellow young gun Jiri Vesely, who opens with a qualifier, or Marcel Granollers/Andreas Haider-Maurer. Granollers went just 19-28 at the ATP level last year, and along with AHM, he plays his best tennis on clay. Vesely is at a career high ranking of 66, and went 16-17 at the ATP level last year. The 21 year old hasn’t done as well for himself as Goffin has though so I expect the Belgian to win their first career meeting.
Feliciano Lopez, burst into the top 15 in 2014, and at 32 years old, going on 33, he posted a 39-26 record with 1 ATP title, an ATP final and two Masters semifinals. The left handed Spaniard, whose tennis lived up to his popular appearance in 2014, will open against Lukas Lacko, or a qualifier in round 1, and I expect him to get through to the quarters and dispatch most likely Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, the five seed, at that stage. GGL will need to beat the Ramanathan/Ito winner, along with a qualifier in round 1. GGL finished 25-26 in 2014, with an ATP title but he slumped hard at the end of the year, finishing 0-5 after the US Open. He has the ability to play skillful, and exciting tennis, but he struggles with consistency. He should be good enough to win his first couple of matches but I favor Lopez to reach the semis.
Roberto Bautista Agut broke through to the top 15 in 2014, and will now be gunning for the top 10 in 2015. He went 45-23 with 2 ATP titles last year and performed well across surfaces. He’s a former finalist in Chennai and assuming he can beat Gojowczyk/Falla for a winning start in 2015, he should be able to ease through to a semifinal against Lopez by defeating Rendy Lu, the six seed. Lu opens with Indian favorite Somdev Devvarman, a wild card, and assuming he wins, will face the Pablo Carreno Busta/Alejandro Gonzalez winner.
Coric has the talent to make a breakthrough, and if Wawrinka wilts under the pressure of expectations, as happened at times last year, he could pull off another top 5 upset. If he does that, Goffin, who he lost to in Basel, would be a tough semifinal opponent (and that’s if he wins the quarterfinal match), but even the semis would be a great result for the teenager.
Semis: Goffin d. Wawrinka
Bautista Agut d. Lopez
I’m projecting an upset in the semifinals, as I feel Goffin will shock Wawrinka, it’s just a hunch but I have a feeling Stan won’t be able to live up to expectations as the biggest star at this tournament, while Goffin will have a less stressful tournament.
Lopez beat RBA in Toronto last year, but I feel RBA is a slightly better player, and given he’s had success in Chennai before, I put him through to the final my bracket.
Final: Bautista Agut d. Goffin
Any of the top four seeds could take the title in Chennai, but I’m going with RBA because he’s 2-0 in his career against Goffin, and has the forehand to deal with the crafty Belgian. Goffin is also likely to be more fatigued at this stage, and no matter who wins, Chennai looks to be a very interesting way to start off the 2015 season.
There’s nothing worse than that feeling when you’ve been caught in a fib by Mom.
The Mom in this case is US Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez.
Veteran Freelancer Sandra Harwitt is the Helen Thomas of the tennis press (before the White House correspondent lost it). Today, she mentioned to Fernandez–almost in passing–that Stephens was playing in Doha. In fact, she’s scheduled tomorrow against Petra Cetkovska.
Fernandez countered, “You sure Sloane’s in Doha? She had a wrist injury”. El Capitan was clearly caught off-guard by the news. After all, she has been quite busy for the last week.
As you may remember, Stephens decided against participating in the Fed Cup tie due to a wrist injury two weeks ago.
Diplomatically-yet-not-so-cryptically, she added the following:
I respect and I admire my team’s decision to play Fed Cup over Doha.
It’s tough. There’s tournaments every week, there’s points to be won every week. Fed Cup comes not very often.
So, if you can make this a priority, I think it’s incredible and I think you get a lot out of it. As a player, it’s some of my fondest memories.
But I understand the challenges. And that was one of Venus’ challenges.
You have to make a decision on what’s your priorities and what’s important to you.
Don’t you hate it when Mom talks like that? She didn’t scold you, but she did. Just a little bit.
Steve Fogleman is Editor of TennisEastCoast.com, a Mid-Atlantic based tennis website. He is in Cleveland, Ohio covering the Fed Cup tie between USA and Italy for Tennis Panorama News.
2014 ATP Doha (@QatarTennis) Preview & Picks Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast
The 2014 ATP season will fire up with a strong trio of ATP 250 events, all on hard courts, in Brisbane, Doha and Chennai. Most of the top players will be in action and it is a fresh start to the year for everyone. Here is to a tremendous year of tennis in 2014!
Qatar ExxonMobil Open
ATP World Tour 25)
December 30-January 4, 2014
Prize Money: $1,096,910
8 Seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses):
1: Rafael Nadal (1)
2: David Ferrer (3)
3: Andy Murray (4)
4: Tomas Berdych (7)
5: Richard Gasquet (9)
6: Philipp Kohlschreiber (22)
7: Ernests Gulbis (24)
8: Fernando Verdasco (30)
The considerable prize money and the quality venue have attracted five top 10 players to Doha to start off their ATP season.
First round matchups to watch:
(4)Tomas Berdych vs. Ivo Karlovic
A tough opening round match for Tomas Berdych, who went 54-25 but didn’t win an ATP title in 2013. Ivo Karlovic owns a 3-2 h2h advantage against him and he won their only meeting last year indoors in Basel. The Croatian went 15-13 with 1 title at the ATP level in 2013 and dealt with injuries and adversity to post that mark. Berdych, by virtue of his much higher ranking and level of accomplishment still has to be the favorite, but he could be shocked again by Dr. Ivo.
Daniel Brands vs. Nikolay Davydenko
Brands went 24-23 at the ATP level in 2013 and broke into the top 60 for the first time. His great year featured a run to the semis in Doha as a qualifier last year and he has a lot of points to defend against the defending Doha finalist, Davydenko. Davydenko struggled in 2013, posting an even 22-22 ATP record. Davydenko is outside the top 50 and is also under a lot of pressure to defend points. Their h2h is split at 1 each but they have never met on hard courts, and this match is nearly impossible to predict, but I’ll give Brands a slight edge unless Davy finds his Doha 2013 form.
(2)David Ferrer vs. Alexandr Dolgopolov
Ferrer is 6-1 career h2h against Dolgopolov across all the surfaces, but their matches always tend to be entertaining and both are under pressure to perform in 2014. Ferrer continued his dogged play and intense tournament schedule, which helped him reach number 3 in the world, a career high in 2013. He will have to keep that up in 2014 though, as his 60-24 record with 2 ATP titles will be tough to repeat. To be fair, in 2012 he posted an even better record with 7 titles, so though he played better in 2012 statistically, his ranking improved in 2013.
Dolgopolov, meanwhile, took a huge step backward in 2013, and is nearly out of the top 60 now as the 25 year old went 24-27 at the ATP level. He struggled badly with severe slumps throughout the year and it is really hard to predict his 2014. I’m not bullish on his chances in this match, though.
Rafa Nadal will open his ATP season against Lukas Rosol, as the world number 1 can pad his ranking early in this part of the year (which he didn’t play in 2013). Rosol shocked Nadal at Wimbledon, but I don’t expect that to happen again as Rafa should set up a match against Malek Jaziri/Tobias Kamke in round 2 and a quarterfinal match against most likely Ernests Gulbis. Gulbis is also looking to keep improving in 2014, as he put together a quality 2013. The Latvian number 1 opens with a qualifier and then Dani Gimeno-Traver/Lukasz Kubot in round 2. I don’t think he will beat Nadal, however.
Berdych/Karlovic will play a qualifier or Ivan Dodig in round 2. Dodig is one to watch as he played well in 2013 and can put together quality tennis when he gets hot. The winner of that section will face Philipp Kohlschreiber most likely, as the German, who will looking to have a better 2014 than 2013, faces Pablo Andujar in round 1 and then a qualifier in round 2. This section is stacked with interesting players and matchups.
Ferrer/Dolgopolov will face Davydenko/Brands and then most likely Richard Gasquet, in the QFs. Gasquet had a great 2013, posting a 50-23 record with 3 ATP titles (one of them being Doha where he is the defending champion). Reeshy will play wild card Karim Hossam in round 1 and Santiago Giraldo/Gael Monfils in round 2. Monfils continued to struggle with injuries in 2013 but does have a history of success in Doha. It is just a matter of his form and his body holding up as to whether he can make a run. Gasquet went 2-0 against Ferrer in 2013, with both matches on hard courts, and Gasquet seems to have figured out a way to defeat him.
Andy Murray, coming off back surgery after an interesting 2013 in which he won Wimbledon but also because of the injury dropped out of the top 3 for now, will face Qatari wild card Mousa Shanan Zayed and then Michal Przysiezny/Florian Mayer in round 2. Murray played in the big exhibition in Abu Dhabi along with Ferrer and Nadal, so he does have some match play in and looks a bit rusty but fit. His quarterfinal opponent is most likely to be Fernando Verdasco or Joao Sousa. Verdasco plays Filippo Volandri in round 1 while Sousa, who had a breakthrough 2013 and captured an ATP title, opens with veteran player Victor Hanescu. Sousa/Verdasco vs Murray should be a good match.
Dark Horse: Gael Monfils
The Frenchman posted a 33-22 record in 2013 and is twice a former finalist in Doha, though he has never won the title. If he is healthy and in good form he certainly has the talent to defeat Giraldo, Gasquet and Ferrer in order to reach the semis, making him a dangerous dark horse to watch.
Nadal d. Berdych
Gasquet d. Murray
Nadal should cruise as he hasn’t lost to Berdych since 2007 and they have played a ton including 5 times in 2013.
I think Berdych will survive to reach the semis, though. Murray beat Gasquet once in 2013 on Miami hard courts, but that match went 3 sets. With Murray still recovering his form after the surgery, and Gasquet having a good record in Doha, I think Reeshy will knock him off.
Nadal d. Gasquet
Nadal has never lost to Gasquet as a professional player, and they have played many times. I expect the world number 1 to continue his tremendous play.
2 seed Richard Gasquet captured his 8th career ATP title with a 3-6 7-6 6-3 win over veteran Nikolay Davydenko in a week of nail-biting matches for the Frenchman.
Gasquet’s on a Tear heading into Melbourne Park
In addition to coming back from a set down to defeat Davydenko, he also had to come back from a set down in the 2nd round against Grega Zemlja after beating Jan Hernych in the 1st round. He then dispatched Lukas Lacko with ease in the quarters before meeting surprise semi finalist Daniel Brands of Germany, a qualifier, who defeated Gael Monfils in the quarters along with 5 seed Jeremy Chardy in the 1st round, 7-5 7-5. Even though it wasn’t always easy, he got the job done in Doha.
For “Kolya” Davydenko, it was a week of turning back the clock and rekindling the form he had in previous years, but had not shown in a while. He beat fellow veteran Victor Hanescu in the first round, then 4 seed and countryman Mikhail Youzhny, handed a double breadstick to surprise quarter finalist Simone Bolelli and shockingly upset top seed David Ferrer 6-2 6-3. Davydenko faced just 5 break points all week up until the final and had won all his matches in straights, but Gasquet proved to be too much and he fell just short.
In the doubles, Germans Christopher Kas and Phillip Kohlschreiber beat Julian Knowle and Filip Polasek.
The three maiden ATP events of the year will be getting underway shortly and hopes and dreams begin anew for the world’s top male tennis pros as they set out on a new year of competition.
Brisbane Official Site
ATP World Tour 250
December 30-January 6, 2013
Prize money $436,630
Brisbane, a joint ATP/WTA event, boasts the strongest field of the tournaments this week. Many of the best players like to start their year and their preparation for the Australian Open in Australia.
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes)
1: Andy Murray
2: Milos Raonic
3: Gilles Simon
4: Alexandr Dolgopolov
1st round matchups to watch:
(wc)Lleyton Hewitt vs. Radek Stepanek
Home favorite Lleyton Hewitt comes off a bit of a flat year in 2012 and could use some mojo in this early part of the season while playing at home. The bad news for him is that he drew fellow wily veteran Radek Stepanek, who helped lead the Czech Republic to glory in the Davis Cup and is likely still buzzing from that. It could be a washout match or a battle depending on the form of both players.
Julien Benneteau vs. Jarkko Nieminen
“Benny” Benneteau and “the flying Fin” Nieminen are both streaky veterans who have played very well in this early part of the season before. In fact, they met in the ATP Sydney final last year where Nieminen triumphed for his lone ATP title of 2012. Both guys will have an axe to grind in this one.
Defending Champ Murray
Andy Murray made his way from an exhibition in Dubai down to Brisbane and will be looking to defend his title. He’ll open with Tatsuma Ito or a qualifier (Brisbane has a very strong qualifying draw). Then he’d meet the winner of Hewitt/Stepanek or the 8 seed Martin Klizan, who will be looking to continue strong play after a breakthrough year in 2012. Klizan opens with Denis Istomin.
The hopefully in form Dolgopolov will get a tricky match against the winner of Nieminen/Benneteau and whoever gets through that likely faces 5 seed Kei Nishikori. Nishikori opens with the highest ranked Australian player, Marinko Matosevic.
Milos Raonic will look to bring his big game against the winner of Brian Baker/Grigor Dimitrov and then could face 7 seed Jurgen Melzer, David Goffin, or Aussie Matt Ebden (who got a wild card). It looks to be a good draw for the Canadian.
Gilles Simon will open with Alejandro Falla or a qualifier and then could face 6 seed Florian Mayer or more likely Marcos Baghdatis, who is always dangerous on hard courts, even while unseeded.
Marcos Dark Horse
Dark Horse: Marcos Baghdatis
Baghdatis did not have a great year in 2012 but he has a record of success on hard courts and a draw that looks good if he does not trip up. He opens with rising Aussie youngster Ben Mitchell, a wild card, followed by the winner of Mayer/Giraldo. After that, he’d be looking at 3 seed Simon in the quarters. All those matches are winnable.
Murray d. Nishikori
Raonic d. Baghdatis
Murray d. Raonic
You never know with Murray, but he should be able to retain his title unless Raonic really comes to play.
Chennai Open Official Site
Aircel Chennai Open
ATP World Tour 250
December 31-January 6, 2013
Prize Money: $385,150
Chennai will not get as much attention as the other events this week, but it still boasts a strong field with the top four seeds all ranked in the top 20.
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes)
1: Tomas Berdych
2: Janko Tipsarevic
3: Marin Cilic
4: Stanislas Wawrinka
Tomas Berdych will kick off his 2013 season against either Jan Hajek or wild card Somdev Devvarman, and would thne do battle vs. 7 seed Yen-Hsun Lu, Blaz Kavic, Roberto Batista-Agut or Lu’s first round opponent, Matthias Bachinger.
Marin Cilic opens with Sergiy Stakhovsky or a qualifier and then could face 5 seed Benoit Paire, Flavio Cipolla, Dudi Sela, or a qualifier.
Janko Tipsarevic, who along with Berdych played in the Dubai exhibition, will face either Andrey Kuznetsov or Edouard Roger-Vasselin then likely draws 8 seed Go Soeda, Evgeny Donskoy, a qualifier or Guillaume Rufin.
Stan Wawrinka opens with Igor Sijsling or a qualifier and afterward another Dutchman, Robin Haase. Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia is also a possible opponent.
Dark Horse: Aljaz Bedene
The 23 year old Bedene has had most of his success at the challenger level but will be looking to have a breakthrough year in 2013, as he is ranked inside the top 100 at 86. He benefits from a good draw, facing Joao Sousa in the 1st round and probably Robin Haase after that. The Chennai field is very top heavy, so it isn’t likely that a dark horse will emerge, but Bedene could be it.
Berdych d. Cilic
Tipsarevic d. Wawrinka
Berdych d. Tipsarevic
All four of these guys have had success at this event before, but Berdych looks like the man to beat. Tipsarevic, who came up short in the final last year, will likely do so again.
Qatar ExxonMobil Open
ATP World Tour 250
December 31-January 6, 2013
Prize Money $1,054,720
Doha is usually a stellar event, but was weakened by the withdraw of Rafael Nadal and the fact Roger Federer isn’t playing at this event this year. It will still feature some great tennis in the oasis of the desert.
Top 4 seeds
1: David Ferrer
2: Richard Gasquet
3: Phillip Kohlschreiber
4: Mikhail Youzhny
First round matchups to watch:
Rumors of his death are greatly exaggerated
Gael Monfils vs (wc)Mousa Shanan Zayed
The last time injury-plagued Monfils took the court in an ATP event, he lost to world number 436 Patrik Rosenholm in Stockholm. Following that loss, in which he was obviously struggling with his injury he called it a season and now plans to start the year anew. His ranking has dropped precipitously to 77 and he faces another local wild card player in the 1st round. If Monfils is even close to 80% for this match he should cruise, but if he is still having issues another upset could occur.
Ferrer Will Be There
David Ferrer, another player who participated in the Dubai exo, will open with a qualifier, then Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo or another qualifier. Then he could face 8 seed Pablo Andujar, another fellow Spaniard Albert Ramos, Lukas Rosol or Paolo Lorenzi.
Mikhail Youzhny opens with fellow tour veteran Benjamin Becker and then could face more vets in the form of Victor Hanescu or countryman Nikolay Davydenko. 7 seed Feliciano Lopez is waiting in the wings and will open with Lukasz Kubot then Simone Bolleli or Daniel-Gimeno Traver in a field heavy with Spanish players.
Richard Gasquet opens with a qualifier followed by a dangerous Grega Zemlja, or Fabio Fognini. After that he is likely to face 6 seed Viktor Troicki but could also meet Bjorn Phau, Lukas Lacko or Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.
Phillip Kohlschreiber finished 2012 in a bad slump after upsetting John Isner at the US Open. He’ll look to get back in the groove against Ivan Dodig, followed by the winner of Monfils/Zayed. The winner of that will likely face the big serving Jeremy Chardy, who opens with a qualifier and then a wild card.
Dark Horse: Jeremy Chardy
Chardy is a pretty decent hard court player and gets a really lucky draw– having to face only a qualifier and an unknown local wild card in his first two matches before probably dueling Kohlschreiber or possibly Monfils. Those last two are a couple of guys who are in unsure form at the moment. If he plays well enough he could find himself in the semis or even the final.
Ferrer d. Lopez
Gasquet d. Chardy
Ferrer d. Gasquet
Ferrer shouldn’t have much trouble grabbing the title here as Gasquet is another inconsistent player.
And with that it was a pleasure previewing the first ATP events of the year, I’m also looking into doing some stuff on challengers once those start up.