Denis Kudla, 2019 US Open (Photo: TennisAtlantic.com)
Dangerous @DenisKudla Advances to First @USOpen R3, Set to Face @DjokerNole Tomorrow Steve Fogleman in Flushing Meadows
American Denis Kudla took a giant step forward in his tennis career on Thursday at the US Open in New York, advancing to the 3rd round of America’s Open in four sets against the red hot Dusan Lajovic, 7-5, 7-5, 0-6, 6-3. The win earns Kudla a date with Novak Djokovic on a stadium court tomorrow and questions have arisen about the Serb’s shoulder after last night’s match.
This match was all Kudla in the first and second sets, but Lajovic dug deep and won the third set at love. Kudla did a hard reset and erased memories of the third set to win an extremely competitive fourth set and final game at 5-3 as Kudla needed five match points to close it out.
Denis Kudla, 2019 US Open (Photo: TennisAtlantic.com)
“I mean the first two sets, I played really solid and had a lot of opportunities maybe to win those at 3 and 3,” Kudla said. “It was there I knew he was still trying to find his game. He’s beaten me three times before so I know his level wasn’t it’s highest and I needed to take advantage, but out of 3 out of 5 sets you have a chance to find your game.”
Denis Kudla, 2019 US Open (Photo: TennisAtlantic.com)
Kudla admitted he played “a little sloppy” in the third and Lajovic ran away with the set.
“I was like, O.K., I’ve got to dig in,” Kudla said of the fourth set. “It was 5-3, 40-love and then I just got super tight” before winning the match on his fifth match point.
Kudla said he watched the Djokovic match yesterday, and he’s not too worried about any weakness on the part of the world #1. “Even if he’s on one leg, he’s still tough.”
Kudla also spoke of the desire to play the best players early. “You want to play the top guys early,” he said. “That’s when they’re the most vulnerable. You play them in the quarters and semis, that’s when these guys are five matches deep playing some unreal tennis and it almost feels like it’s impossible.”
Impossible is not the word I’m thinking when assessing Kudla’s chances tomorrow.
Veterans Djokovic, Berdych, and Wawrinka Contesting 2019 ATP Doha Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The 2019 ATP 250 in Doha, Qatar has Novak Djokovic as the star attraction (including a pairing with brother Marko for doubles), but resurgent veterans Stan Wawrinka and Tomas Berdych are still gunning for the title and have advanced to the quarterfinals. What will the rest of the tournament hold?
Both of the seeds advanced to the quarterfinals, with world #1 Djokovic heavily favored against Georgian #1 Basilashvili. Both players have dropped sets this week, with Djokovic’s lost set to Marton Fucsovics a massive surprise. Presuming he’s motivated Djokovic should be too good in this matchup though, after beating Damir Dzumhur and Fucsovics. Basilashvili defeated Albert Ramos and Andrey Rublev.
Tennis fans would love to see a revitalized Wawrinka making waves on tour. The Swiss veteran has a great shot against steady baseliner Bautista Agut after he upset Karen Khachanov in straights and followed that upset with a win against Nicolas Jarry. RBA has been solid, dropping just 5 games in each match (wins against Matteo Berrettini and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez). Wawrinka should be highly motivated though and I have a feeling he’ll rise to the occasion and notch an upset.
Dusan Lajovic vs Marco Cecchinato
Wins against Adrian Mannarino and Ricardas Berankis have lifted Lajovic to the quarters while Marco Cecchinato eased past Sergiy Stakhovsky and then got a walkover into the quarters. Cecchinato is still learning the ropes on hard courts, and though he’s very talented, Lajovic should have a slight edge.
Both of these players have been disappointing lately, Berdych has been injured and considered retirement, but now he’s come back and earned wins against crafty veterans Philipp Kohlschreiber and Fernando Verdasco. PHH hopes to improve as a singles player this year and a stunning win against a listless Dominic Thiem, followed up by a three set tiebreak win against Max Marterer, will give him a lot of confidence heading into this matchup. Berdych is hard to read right now but he should be favored if he’s fit.
Djokovic d. Wawrinka
Berdych d. Lajovic
This is Djokovic’s title to lose, but if he loses interest Wawrinka or RBA will benefit. I expect Berdych to make a run to the final at this point and fall just short, in what would be a huge result for him.
ATP Lyon Features Shotmakers Dominic Thiem, Jack Sock, and Gael Monfils Tuning Up for Paris Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The 250 on clay in Lyon, France features an engaging field of talents including Jack Sock, and John Isner, top seed Dominic Thiem, and fan favorite Gael Monfils. Here is your full preview with predictions of the Open Parc ARA.
Dominic Thiem will begin his title quest against Roberto Carballes Baena or a qualifier, Carballes is no pushover but Thiem has put together a solid season on clay and should ease past that match and a quarterfinal contest against one of Calvin Hemery/Corentin Moutet/Guillermo Garcia-Lopez/Adrian Mannarino to reach the semifinals.
Jack Sock has a tough section featuring his countryman Taylor Fritz (or Matt Ebden) up first, with Dusan Lajovic or Joao Sousa likely to follow (Horacio Zeballos and a qualifier are also here). Both Sousa and Lajovic have had success on clay this year, and I’ll back Lajovic to beat Zeballos, Sousa, and Sock to reach the semis.
John Isner will take on Federico Delbonis/Radu Albot in his first match, Delbonis has a solid chance of tripping him up, but I’ll back Isner into the quarters opposite Max Marterer. Marterer is playing better than home hero Gael Monfils, and potential second round opponents Cam Norrie/qualifier, but Isner should have the edge with his kick serve in the quarters.
I’ll back faded veteran Gilles Simon to beat a qualifier then upset Hyeon Chung to reach the quarterfinals on home clay. I have John Millman defeating Nicolas Kicker and Gregoire Barrere/Mikhail Kukushkin to reach the quarters, with Simon winning that quarterfinal.
Semis Thiem d. Lajovic
Isner d. Simon
I’ll back Isner to serve his way into the final, but Thiem is the heavy favorite to win the tournament unless he tanks in preparation for a deep run in Paris.
Seeds Triumph as Dusan Lajovic, Tatsuma Ito Qualify in Moscow
Adam Addicott, Tennis Atlantic
Serbian Dusan Lajovic and Japan’s Tatsuma Ito sailed into the main draw of the Kremlin Cup after coming through three rounds in a draw which consisted of 20 Russian players.
One of the most noticeable Russian players was Dimitry Tursunov. The 32-year-old was playing his first competitive match for over a year after being sidelined from the tour due to Plantar fasciitis (inflammation of a thick band of tissue that runs across the bottom of your foot). In the first round, he won his first singles victory since June 2014 after beating 19-year-old Daniil Medvedev in three close sets, winning 9-7 in the final set tie-break. The reward for Tursunov was a showdown with top seed Lajovic. The former world No.20 was unable to continue his run as Lajovic eased to the victory (6-3, 6-4). After losing to the top seed, Tursunov has reportedly set a deadline for his career.
In the final round Lajovic faced German fifth seed Tobias Kamke. Kamke dropped just three games in his first two qualifying matches (two to Alexandr Lgoshin and one to Phillip Davydemnko). The Serbian survived a tough match by saving eight out of nine break points. Kamke had an opportunity to take the first set 6-4, but failed to take advantage of it. The failure by Kamke hampered him for the rest of the match as Lajovic won four consecutive games to take the first set before opening up an early lead in the second to swiftly take the match 7-5, 6-3, after an hour and 35 minutes.
Second seed Ito reached the main draw after overcoming a duo of Russian opponents (in the first round Estonia’s Vladimir Ivanov retired in the second set due to injury). In the second round Ito survived a scare against world No.1025 Richard Muzaev after getting off to a sluggish start. Muzaev has won eight Future titles in his career (two singles and six doubles). After the poor start, Ito took the match 1-6, 6-2, 6-1. In the last round he played Russian world No.560 Alexander Vasilenko who stunned eight seed Peda Krstin in the second round. Ito was two points away from losing the second set as the Russian unexpectedly moved ahead 5-2. Vasilenko was, however unable to stage the upset as Ito clawed his way back to take the match in straight sets – 6-1, 7-6 (4).
Spanish sixth seed Pere Riba progressed to his second ATP main draw of the year after upsetting Russian third seed Konstantin Kravchuk in the final round 6-3, 6-4. Throughout the three-match draw, the Spaniard didn’t drop a set. In the two earlier rounds, he defeated Alexey Vatutin and Mikhail Ledovskikh. Last month Riba reached his first tournament final this year at the ATP Sibiu Challenger in Romania where he lost to Adrian Ungur.
The only successful result for the home nation was fourth seed Aslan Karatsev. During the early stage of the draw he defeated fellow countrymen Vladimir Polyakov and Fedor Chervyakov. His final match was against another yet another Russian player, world No. 336 Mikhail Elgin. The 34-year-old defeated Bosnian eighth seed Aldin Setkic, 7-6 (3), 6-3, to reach the final round. After a slow start to the match, where he trailed 1-3, Karatsev regained his focus to ease to a 6-4, 6-3, win over Elgin to move to his first ATP main draw for two years.
First Round Matches
Dusan Lajovic SRB – Robin Haase NED (Lajovic leads the H2H 1-0 after beating Hasse in a 2013 Italian Challenger).
Pere Riba ESP – Pablo Cuevas URU (Cuevas leads 4-0, however, they havn’t played each other since 2011).
Aslan Karatsev RUS – Mikhail Youzhny RUS (Youzhny leads 1-0 , St. Perersburg 2013)
Tatsuma Ito JPA – Marsel Ilhan TUR – first meeting
ATP Rome qualifying for 2015 was stacked as numerous players who regularly feature in ATP main draw competition were forced to enter the qualifying tournament to try and earn a place in the Masters main draw.
While ATP regulars such as Denis Istomin, Daniel Gimeno-Traver, Jurgen Melzer, and Pablo Carreno Busta failed to qualify, Alex Dolgopolov and Thomaz Bellucci were the highlights of the qualification field. Dolgopolov, who has slipped to 73 in the rankings, after formerly being a top 20 player, defeated Roberto Marcora, and then Federico Delbonis without dropping a set. Martin Klizan, a beatable opponent, awaits him in round 1.
Bellucci, who qualified in Madrid, and reached the quarters in Istanbul as well, will open with another qualifier, Diego Schwartzman, in the main draw. He defeated Alejandro Gonzalez with a bagel, and then beat Ivan Dodig, who continues to struggle, in straight sets. Schwartzman, a semifinalist in Istanbul, beat Andrey Kuznetsov, then scored a minor upset over Benoit Paire in three sets, as he won the first and third sets.
A pair of Italians qualified on home soil in Rome, Andrea Arnaboldi, a 27 year old ranked just outside the top 200 with extremely limited ATP experience upset Mikhail Kukushkin in round 1, in three sets, and then beat his countryman Stefano Napolitano on Rome’s famed red clay to qualify. He’ll have a tough opponent in the form of David Goffin in round 1 of the main draw. Thomas Fabbiano, a 25 year old who is also just outside the top 200 in the rankings, added to the home fan’s delight as he qualified with an upset victory over young gun Andrey Rublev. Fabbiano in fact scored a pair of upsets as he beat Joao Souza in the previous round. His first round opponent Richard Gasquet will be a big step up however.
Last but not least, Dusan Lajovic and Marsel Ilhan both joined the main draw. Lajovic, a 24 year old Serb nearing the top 70, beat Marco Cecchinato, an Italian, and then upset Borna Coric, as the young guns have not fared well in Rome thus far. He won both of those matches without dropping a set, and he’ll look to improve his clay court record in the main draw now, as he will face the accomplished Juan Monaco. Ilhan, the great Turkish hope, did one better than his loss in the final round qualifying of Madrid, as he defeated Gianluca Mager to qualify, and prior to that, he upset the in-form Daniel Gimeno-Traver in straight sets. Ilhan has a very winnable round 1 match with Adrian Mannarino next up.
2015 ATP Rio and Marseille Previews and Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The highest valued clay court event on the Golden Swing, Rio, takes place this week, as it is in its second year of existence as a 500 level event. In France, a very strong 250 in Marseille, part of the European indoor tournaments, takes place, and thirdly ATP World Tour Tennis will continue stateside in the USA in Delray Beach, a 250 outdoor hard court event, as the ATP has a lot of variety this week in terms of players and venues.
2015 ATP Rio Preview
Rio Open Presented by Claro
ATP World Tour 500*
Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
February 16-February 22, 2015
*Denotes joint ATP/WTA event
Top 4 seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Rafael Nadal (3)
2: David Ferrer (9)
3: Tommy Robredo (17)
4: Fabio Fognini (26)
It’ll be the strongest clay court golden swing field, but still in it’s second year Rio only got three top 20 players and two top 10 players for a 500 level event that is more back than front loaded.
First Round matchups to watch:
(1)Rafael Nadal vs. Thomaz Bellucci
Bellucci, a Quito semifinalist, comes off a round 1 loss in Sao Paulo, and now will have to face Rafael Nadal, who has never taken a set off of previously (0-3, all losses coming in slams). Nadal is the defending champion who should be happy to return his tennis to clay, the surface where he is the greatest player of all time on. The home crowd should support the Brazilian, at least to some extent, and this match is mainly interesting as it’s a form test for Nadal, Bellucci isn’t the weakest possible R1 opponent, and with Nadal having looked very shaky since he last played clay we will begin to get an idea where Rafa is at, now playing on his best surface. I don’t see a path to victory for Bellucci in this one, but we will see if he can take a set at least.
(6)Pablo Cuevas vs. Nicolas Almagro
Cuevas took the title in Sao Paulo, and will either be fatigued or in excellent form going into this tournament. In that tournament, he beat Almagro in 3 sets, and he’s 3-0 in his career against him. Almagro’s run in SP ended in the quarters but he does seem to be improving, and this a chance for him to have another week of success if he can reverse the result against Cuevas. Given this was a close contest, a fresher Almagro should prevail this time and reach round 2.
Federico Delbonis vs. Diego Schwartzman
Delbonis, 24, has been struggling for a while, as he crashed out in round 1 in Sao Paulo, where he was the defending champion, and he’s slipped down the rankings, while Schwartzman lost to Fabio Fognini in 3 sets, in the second round of SP. The 22 year old seemingly has more promise than Delbonis, and this match is interesting because it’s a match up of two of the promising Argentine dirtballers from a similar generation. Schwartzman should win but it could go either way
(8)Martin Klizan vs. Dusan Lajovic
Klizan and Lajovic have 1-1 clay court h2h, Lajovic has been in good form as of late, he was a consecutive quarterfinalist in Quito and Sao Paulo, while Klizan is 2-2 on clay in 2015, as he’d had an up and down time on the golden swing. This match between two of the few non Spanish Europeans that took part in the Golden Swing should match Klizan’s power against Lajovic’s quarter coverage, and it’s hard to predict but with Lajovic playing well recently and improving, I have the Serbian into round 2 in a small upset of the seeded Klizan.
Unless Nadal is injured or something else strange occurs, he should work his way into form on clay and beat Bellucci, Carlos Berlocq, and Almagro/Cuevas in order to reach the semifinals. Berlocq will need to beat Pablo Carreno Busta to reach round 2, while the Almagro/Cuevas winner will face Albert Montanes or Maximo Gonzalez, and they are both better than those opponents. Almagro shockingly beat Nadal last year on clay, and since then both players have suffered injuries. You never know if lightning could strike twice but the h2h that strongly favors Nadal speaks for itself, as all of these players are simply a step slower and behind Nadal on clay.
Fabio Fognini comes off a round 2 loss in Sao Paulo and will face Jiri Vesely in his opening match in Rio. The Italian continues to struggle and Vesely, who lost to the eventual champion Pablo Cuevas in 3 sets in round 1 of SP, may be able to pull off the upset. I personally have Fognini through and feel he will also defeat Pablo Andujar in round 2 assuming Andujar defeats Paolo Lorenzi. Andujar trails Lorenzi 3-4 in the h2h, all of their meetings have come on clay, and they both come off round 1 losses in SP (to Lajovic and Schwartzman respectively). Fognini is 4-0 on clay against Andujar in his career. Klizan/Lajovic are likely quarterfinal opponents for Fognini (or another player such as Vesely), with Delbonis/Schwartzman the round 2 opponent for Klizan/Lajovic. I have Lajovic over Fognini in the quarterfinals, for the simple reason he’s in better form right now, though they have never met.
David Ferrer, who is known to do well on the Golden Swing, opens with his countryman Daniel Gimeno-Traver, a qualifier, and then should face Thiemo De Bakker, another qualifier, assuming the former top junior Dutchman beats wild card Guilherme Clezar. De Bakker is in great form having previously reached the round of 16 in Sao Paulo as a qualifier, falling to eventual finalist Luca Vanni in 3 sets. He then qualified in Rio with a pair of straight set wins. De Bakker pushed Ferrer to three sets in Doha earlier this season, wilting late, and I’m sure he’d love another chance to notch an upset, but it’s still likely that Ferrer will advance to the quarterfinals no matter whom he plays in round 2. In those quarters, watch out for Santiago Giraldo, who found a bit of form and reached the semis in Sao Paulo last week, which is his best result in a while. Giraldo should defeat slumping vet Juan Monaco, who has lost five straight, and then Marco Cecchinato, a qualifier, or Jarkko Nieminen, to reach the quarterfinals. Ferrer is 3-0 and has never dropped a set against Giraldo, and I don’t expect that to be any different now, so it should be Ferrer as one of the semifinalists in Rio this week.
Tommy Robredo will open with Elias Ymer, the young Swedish wild card, and then has Albert Ramos or Andreas Haider-Maurer on deck. Ramos has a h2h win on clay and he’s more accomplished so it should be Robredo-Ramos round 2, and then Robredo, who lost to Nicolas Almagro in Sao Paulo, into the quarterfinals. Possible opponents or most likely Robredo in the quarters are Leo Mayer, Blaz Rola, Joao Souza or Facundo Arguello. Mayer, a SP quarterfinalist should beat Rola, and Souza, a semifinalist in SP, should beat Arguello. Souza just beat Mayer in 3 sets, but I have a feeling that result was an aberration in Sao Paulo, and the Argentine will defeat the Brazilian this time. Mayer beat Robredo on clay last year (in 3 sets), and I have him in the semifinals in Rio this year by virtue of beating Robredo, who still seems a bit rusty this season, while Mayer is likely improving. It’s not an easy pick but Ferrer vs. Mayer in the semis is my selection.
Dark Horse: Joao Souza
The Brazilian wild card has a chance at the semifinals, qualifier Facundo Arguello is an opponent he should be favored against, and then Mayer, his likely round 2 opponent, he just beat in Sao Paulo. With home fan support he beats Mayer, a win over Robredo is also possible for the semis. Players like Jiri Vesely could also serve as dark horses this week, but I’m sure home fans would love to see the local player have a surprise week.
Semis: Nadal d. Lajovic
Ferrer d. Mayer
Nadal comfortably defeated Lajovic last summer at the French Open, and he’s a cut above anyone he may face in the semis this week. Mayer beat Ferrer in 3 sets in the Hamburg final last summer, that said Ferrer is normally the better player on clay and he should also reach the final this week.
Final: Nadal d. Ferrer
Nadal has normally dominated Ferrer in the clay court h2h, right now anything could happen with Nadal, but if he’s been good enough to reach the final, he should be in the form needed to outhit and outsmart Ferrer once again for a consecutive Rio Open title.
Thiem has a prior win (2014 AO in 4 sets) over Sousa, and he trashed a slumping Ernests Gulbis in Rotterdam before falling to Sergiy Stakhovsky in round 2, while Sousa reached the semis in Montpellier, and fell in 3 sets to Gilles Simon in Rotterdam. Thiem’s form is rather hard to predict, but he’s struggled against most quality opponents this year as the win over Gulbis was his first of the season, while Sousa has won 5 matches this season and is at his best indoors. With that in mind, though Thiem has more potential long term, Sousa should score a small upset in this one.
(6)David Goffin vs. Jerzy Janowicz
Goffin has been struggling this season, having failed to come anything close to his form in the second half of 2014. The Belgian fell to Gilles Muller in Rotterdam, while Janowicz was ill and pulled out of the tournament after reaching the Montpellier final. This result will depend a lot on how Janowicz is feeling, but with a week off I would expect him to be somewhat back to normal, and with a prior head to head win last year over the Belgian, in addition to better recent results, Janowicz should get past the seeded Goffin.
Paul-Henri Mathieu vs. (WC)Benoit Paire
Mathieu qualified in Rotterdam and once again suffered a mental lapse that cost him the match against top 15 player Grigor Dimitrov. He fell in 3 sets in that one, as his mental fortitude has always hampered his career results. Paire won the Bergamo challenger indoors last week for his best result in many months on tour. The formerly promising young Frenchman with a gifted backhand will try to outwit the veteran PHM, but I personally feel it will be Mathieu that wins this, with Paire’s fatigue a factor. PHM is the more well rounded competitor, and Paire is as weak as him in the mental department.
Rotterdam semifinalist Milos Raonic opens with Luca Vanni or Simon Bolelli in round 2, almost assuredly Bolelli, given Vanni is in South America on the golden swing and got an SE into this tournament, if he plays it with a difference in surface and while fatigued Raonic just dispatched Bolelli in Rotterdam round 2, and that trend should hold and see Raonic into the quarterfinals against Gael Monfils. Monfils, a Rotterdam quarterfinalist, has a surprisingly terrible record in Marseille (1-6 in his career), even though it’s indoors and on home soil, but with a qualifier and Andrey Kuznetsov or Andrey Golubev standing in his way, he still should reach the quarters before falling to Raonic, who has proven to be too strong as of late for all but the elite players in the game, with his consistent dosage of big serves and powerful forehands that wears players down.
Roberto Bautista Agut will open with Robin Haase or Vasek Pospisil in round 2, most likely Pospisil. RBA beat Vasek twice last season and fell to Monfils in Rotterdam, while Vashy upset Philipp Kohlschreiber before losing to Andy Murray. That should be a high quality contest in round 2 and it could go either way, but I have Bautista Agut through to the quarterfinals as his seed rank would suggest. The section below RBA is stacked with the unpredictable Goffin/Janowicz or Sousa/Thiem, I have Sousa over Thiem, and Janowicz over Goffin, then Janowicz over Sousa, just as what happened in Montpellier a couple of weeks ago. That Montpellier contest went three sets so Sousa reversing the result is quite possible, and any of these four could reach the semis. With RBA having a 1-0 h2h record over Janowicz, with a win last year in Miami, I have the Spaniard into the semis to meet Raonic. This is a difficult section to predict however.
Rotterdam champ Stan Wawrinka, who played well to win his first 500 level title last week, will open with the PHM/Paire winner, PHM could prove trouble if Wawrinka is fatigued, but you can’t exactly trust the Frenchman with a knack for mental collapses against top competition, and with that in mind Wawrinka should still reach the quarterfinals. If his opponent is Paire, he will be playing his best friend in the second round. The section above Wawrinka is also difficult to predict, Sergiy Stakhovsky reached the quarterfinals in Rotterdam, and he opens with the 8 seed Lukas Rosol, Rosol is struggling and he has just a 1-3 h2h against the outspoken Stako, so Stako should get through with the unpredictable but talented JL Struff his matchup in round 2. Struff opens with a qualifier, and he is on a losing streak of four matches currently, but he has had some of his best successes as a pro indoors and he is 4-0 against Stakhovsky in the h2h. Both these players are hard to predict but I have Wawrinka beating Struff for a spot in the semifinals in my own bracket.
Defending champ Ernests Gulbis is in terrible form, as he has been for months, he’s seeded third, but I have Jeremy Chardy beating a qualifier, and then dispatching the Latvian number one to reach the quarterfinals. Chardy isn’t in great form and the h2h is 3-1 Gulbis but Gulbis has lost five straight dating back to last season and he’s not even playing top 70 level right now regardless of his ranking. Gilles Simon, a Rotterdam semifinalist, is the main beneficiary of this weakest quarter of the draw, The 5 seed has a qualifier, and then Borna Coric/Denis Istomin standing in his way before the quarterfinals. None of those opponents should prove to be an issue, and Simon should defeat Chardy as well (he did so in Rotterdam R2 just last week) to get into the semifinals. Simon was the champion in Marseille in 2007.
The French veteran isn’t the only possible dark horse this week (non seeds Thiem/Sousa/Janowicz could all perhaps reach the semis or better), but he presents the most intriguing possibility of a run. The talent is still there and he plays his best indoors these days, but his results as usual are going to depend on his mental fortitude. PHM is a player who would have been top 5 and perhaps reached a slam final or more with the right sports psychologist, but rather he’s had a second tier career, and flashes of his ability are still possible in weeks like this, with the seeded player Wawrinka likely to be fatigued and perhaps less focused on the 250 level event this week. Beating Wawrinka would be a monumental upset, but if he does there is no one but Gilles Simon that would truly stand in PHM’s way before the semifinals, and Simon is beatable. It’s not likely but Mathieu is a possible finalist this week.
Predictions Semis: Raonic d. Bautista Agut
Simon d. Wawrinka
Raonic beat RBA at the end of last season and he’s been trustworthy and consistent when it comes to beating non elite players, he has to be the favorite for the title this week coming off the semis in Rotterdam given this is another indoor hard court tournament. Simon is actually 2-1 on hard courts against Wawrinka and beat him last season in a strange three set contest, with that factored in with the fatigue considerations, Simon should be the favorite to reach the final this week.
Final: Raonic d. Simon
Milos beat Gilles twice last year, and given the surface and recent results, Raonic should be crowned champion in Marseille.
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.
2014 ATP Clay Court Season In Review Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast
In review: The 2014 ATP Clay Court Season
After Kitzbuhel concluded last week, the clay court calendar portion of the 2014 ATP season came to an end. With that conclusion, we can now review which players performed the best, and which players underachieved on the dirt this season. Clay courts comprise a large portion of the ATP calendar so there is a much larger sample size to draw from compared to, say, the grass court season.
27 year old journeyman Argentine Leonardo Mayer has transformed himself into a top 30 player this season and his best results have come on clay. He posted 18 wins on the surface compared to just 10 losses this season at the ATP level and scored wins over household names David Ferrer, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Joao Sousa and Tommy Robredo on the surface; he also pushed top 6 player Tomas Berdych to three sets in Oeiras.
He reached his first career final in Vina Del Mar, but fell short against Fabio Fognini there, and he finally got his maiden title in Hamburg over Ferrer in 3 sets. Winning that final set tiebreak ended a long journey to the top 30 for Leo and he remains an under recognized and underappreciated Argentine player. With Del Potro perpetually injured and Nalbandian now retired, Argentine will have to look to the likes of Mayer to carry Davis Cup and national hopes for a while. He reached the third round of the French Open and had quarterfinal appearances in both Oeiras and Nice to round out his best results on clay for 2014.
Honorable mentions for clay court surprise: Carlos Berlocq, Santiago Giraldo, Kei Nishikori, Roberto Bautista Agut
Carlos Berlocq joins his countryman Mayer as a surprising player this season. He won an ATP title for the second year in a row, this time coming in Oeiras where he upset and outlasted Tomas Berdych. The loud and flamboyant dirtballer also posted quarterfinals in Nice and a semifinal in Bastad to compliment his win in Oeiras. This highlights an overall 16-9 record on clay at the ATP level for 2014. He tends to get overmatched in the masters level and grand slam events but against a 250 level field he often flourishes. Notable opponents he defeated this year on clay include Andreas Seppi, Milos Raonic, Ferrer and Lleyton Hewitt at the French, along with the aforementioned Berdych.
Santiago Giraldo, a shotmaking Colombian with a huge forehand, has also had some of the best success of his career this season. He went 19-11 on clay and though he did not win a title, he reached the final in Barcelona, his second career final, along with semis in Houston and Vina Del Mar, and a pair of quarterfinals in Madrid and Stuttgart. Giraldo beat top players Tommy Robredo, Andy Murray, Nicolas Almagro, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga this season. Giraldo joins Mayer as a first time top 30 player after success on clay.
Kei Nishikori had an underappreciated clay court season this year, partially due to the fact that he had to battle injuries during that portion of the season, He played just three tournaments but posted a 10-2 record in them with a title in Barcelona and a final in Madrid, where he took a set off Nadal but had to retire during the third set of the match. He had top tier wins over Roberto Bautista Agut, Marin Cilic, Ferrer, Ernests Gulbis, and Raonic among his 10 overall and should he be able to stay healthy he has shown himself to be a threat on clay.
Bautista Agut is the last player I’ll discuss. He went 12-5 on clay and won his first title on the surface in Stuttgart over Lukas Rosol. Success on clay has helped him reach the top 20 for the first time in his career and he beat Robredo, Fernando Verdasco, and Fognini this year on the surface. RBA doesn’t play prototypical Spanish tennis but he’s still a top performing Spaniard on red clay.
Biggest upset: ATP Barcelona quarterfinals: Nicolas Almagro d. Rafael Nadal 2-6 7-6(5) 6-4
The powerful Spaniard Almagro had been outclassed by his much more successful countryman Nadal eight previous times on clay. Finally, Nico was able to get a victory against perhaps the greatest clay courter of all time. The first set was a routine affair, but Almagro fought back hard and Rafa played poorly, resulting in Nadal’s first loss on clay after winning the first set in over six years. Nadal had his chances to close out the match in the second, and didn’t face break points himself, but he couldn’t convert and the tiebreak went against him, giving Almagro an opening he took advantage of by winning a decisive fifth and final break in the third set to seal the victory. Nadal struggled to win his service points, and at the time, many were deeply worried about how he was playing going into the French Open. The fact Rafa did win the French perhaps makes this victory by Almagro look even more improbable and top quality, given Rafa showed his career wasn’t in serious decline yet.
Clay court breakthroughs: Dominic Thiem, Alex Zverev and Dusan Lajovic
A trio of young players found maiden ATP success on clay, while new Austrian number one Dominic Thiem was a mere 12-8 on clay at the ATP level. He went 4-0 in qualifying matches on the surface and won multiple main draw matches in Barcelona, Madrid and Hamburg. He finally reached his first career ATP final on home soil in Kitzbuhel and appears very close to his first career ATP title. Thiem had notable wins over Radek Stepanek and Stan Wawrinka this year on clay.
Alex Zverev, a teenager, notably made the semifinals in Hamburg, a one off showing but clearly a sign of things to come for the young German. Zverev had wins over Mikhail Youzhny and Giraldo en route. I have a feeling Thiem vs. Zverev may develop into a clay court rivalry in the future. Both players have things to work on but we could have a Germany vs. Austria French Open final come 2018 or beyond.
Dusan Lajovic established himself as a top 70 player with a strong clay court season. He also established himself as the Serbian number 2 behind Djokovic and should feature on their Davis Cup team for quite some time. He went 14-11 in both ATP main draw action and qualifying on clay this season and along with quarters in Hamburg and Bastad, he reached the round of 16 at the French Open, his best ever result in a major. He didn’t beat many top names this season but he still proved he can grind out matches to increase his ranking.
Clay Court Disappointments: Tommy Robredo, Stan Wawrinka, Gilles Simon, Joao Sousa and Andreas Seppi
The well-liked veteran Spaniard Robredo went just 15-12 this year on clay after going a tremendous 25-10 on the surface in 2013. His age may finally be catching up with him as he reached just one final, one semi and one quarterfinal this season along with posting seven early round exits. Once he finishes this season he will have a lot to think about going into to 2015.
Wawrinka did not have a terrible clay court season, but he underachieved after high expectations were placed on him after winning his first grand slam in Australia at the start of the year. He won Monte Carlo, but that was the only highlight of his 6-3 clay court season. He had a trio of surprising early exits in Madrid, Rome and the French Open, and next season he will have much to gain during the clay court portion of the year. He posted a 43-17 record on clay over the previous two seasons before this one and has the ability to do much better than he did in 2014.
Veteran Frenchman Gilles Simon has struggled to stay healthy in 2014 and he had a disappointing clay court season that has contributed to his fall from the top 30. He won consecutive matches in a clay court tournament just twice this season and failed to beat any players ranked above him on the surface. He also had bad losses to Teymuraz Gabashvili, Lukasz Kubot and Pablo Andujar. He was a subpar 8-9 on the surface overall in 2014. ‘
After a breakthrough 2013, top Portugese player Joao Sousa was a disappointing 7-13 on clay in 2014, struggling against ATP level competition on the surface. He reached one quarterfinal and one final but suffered ten opening match exits and eleven early round exists overall with multiple losses to players ranked below him. Sousa will need to improve considerably and adjust his game if he hopes to be more successful on clay in the future.
After struggling on clay in 2013, Italian veteran Andreas Seppi did so again in 2014. He is just 18-22 on the surface over the past two seasons and was 11-12 this season. He failed to reach a semifinal in any clay court tournament this year.
First time winners: Federico Delbonis, David Goffin and Pablo Cuevas
23 year old Argentine Federico Delbonis won his maiden title in Sao Paulo and has been successful on clay overall this season, posting an 18-13 ATP record. He later made a final in Nice, semifinals in Casablanca and a quarterfinal in Stuttgart to complement his Sao Paulo victory. Delbonis also showed his prowess on the red stuff last season when he reached the final in Hamburg and he should be a name to watch in many clay court tournaments to come.
David Goffin snagged a maiden title in Kitzbuhel at the tail end of the clay court season after getting red hot on the ATP Challenger Tour prior. Goffin, who had that run to the fourth round as a qualifier at the 2012 French Open, and has seen his once promising career fade from the spotlight since then, returned to the challenger tour to find his game and hopefully he will be able to keep himself at the ATP level this time. Goffin is undersized and many players were able to hit him off the court at the top level but perhaps he has rediscovered a path to success for himself given the limitations of his physical stature.
Lastly, Pablo Cuevas, who has overcome multiple knee and shoulder injuries and built his ranking back up to ATP status from the challenger tour, won his maiden title at 28 years old in Bastad, then followed it up with a title in Umag a couple of weeks later. Cuevas makes his living on clay and has been rapidly improving as of late. He pushed Fernando Verdasco to five sets at the French Open and has wins over Robredo, Fognini, Seppi, Sousa, and Verdasco this season. Cuevas’ rise is a testament to his tenacity and the work he has put into his game.