2017 ATP Quito Preview and Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The ATP Golden Swing on South American clay kicks off on the high altitude courts of Quito, Ecuador for a 250 stop drawing a good number of the ATP’s clay court specialists. Here is a preview, with predictions for the Ecuador Open.
ATP World Tour 250
February 6-12, 2017
Prize Money: $482,060
Top 4 Seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Ivo Karlovic (19)
2: Albert Ramos (30)
3: Paolo Lorenzi (43)
4: Thomaz Bellucci (67)
Just one top 20 player is playing in Quito, making this quite an open field early in the season.
First round matches to watch:
Daniel Gimeno-Traver vs. (WC)Janko Tipsarevic
The 32 year old Tipsarevic has started the season in red hot form, going 10-0 at the Challenger tour level. After being awarded a wild card in Quito, he’ll face fellow veteran Gimeno-Traver, who also used to be ranked higher than he is now. Tipsarevic isn’t as solid on clay usually as the dirtballer DGT, but given his great form, he should win this match, and perhaps make a deeper run in this 250.
Veteran Victor Estrella looks set to reach the quarterfinals, given his first two opponents will be a struggling Andrej Martin, and Ivo Karlovic, who is poor on clay, given the red dirt absorbs his powerful serves. Four dirtballers are in the section below VEB, Joao Souza faces qualifier Federico Gaio, while Gerald Melzer will face #6 Horacio Zeballos. None of these players are in great form, but Zeballos over Gaio is my pick to reach the quarters. Given Estrella leads Zeballos in the h2h, the Dominican #1 is my pick to reach the semifinals.
Thomaz Bellucci has struggled to start the season, this gives Janko Tipsarevic a great opportunity to defeat him and DGT to reach the quarterfinals. Santiago Giraldo should defeat Benjamin Becker, who is poor on clay, and then I have him defeating Renzo Olivo, after Olivo dispatches Emilio Gomez. Olivo has been solid below the tour level, but Giraldo is more experienced in ATP matches, and should play better at a high altitude. I have Tipsarevic defeating Giraldo to reach the semifinals.
A solid clay courter at the ATP level, Albert Ramos should be good enough to defeat qualifier Alejandro Falla or Alessandro Giannessi in his first match. 22 year old Thiago Monteiro has a favorable draw, opening with wild card Giovanni Lapentti, followed by either qualifier Roberto Carballes Baena, or Rogerio Dutra Silva. The matchup between RCB and RDS is a toss-up, but Monteiro is my pick for the quarterfinals, before falling to Ramos.
Paolo Lorenzi is coming off of Davis Cup duty and should face qualifier Agustin Velotti in round 2, presuming Velotti defeats Matthew Ebden, who is poor on clay. Fatigue could play a factor for Lorenzi, but otherwise he should reach the quarterfinals and face an Argentine, either Nicolas Kicker or Guido Andreozzi. Alexandr Dolgopolov is also in this section, but he’s been struggling for a while, and a win over serve and volleyer Rajeev Ram in round 1 likely isn’t enough to give him a boost on clay, a surface he’s hit and miss on. Lorenzi over Andreozzi is my pick in the quarters.
The formerly top 10 Tipsarevic has endured a rash of injuries, but is on the cusp of returning to the top 100. He has a shot at reaching 300 career tour wins this season, after posting seven last season. The draw in Quito makes the title ripe for the taking, and if the Serbian can find his form on clay, he could leave the tournament as champion.
Semis Tipsarevic d. Estrella
Ramos d. Lorenzi
Ramos should be fresher than Lorenzi, while Tipsarevic’s form gives him a slight edge over Estrella despite having lost their only h2h match. Ramos has won his last two matches against Lorenzi (2-2 h2h). Estrella is bidding for a third straight title in Quito, and that adds yet another wrinkle to a potential semifinal clash with Tipsarevic.
Final Ramos d. Tipsarevic
It’s hard to predict a champion in Quito, but on clay, Ramos is as good of a pick as any from this field of 28.
Player Field for 2015 BB&T Atlanta Open Rolled Out on Media Day Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
On a hot summer day at Atlantic Station in the heart of downtown Atlanta, the 2015 BB&T Atlanta Open, led by tournament director Eddie Gonzalez, held court for media day and announced nearly the entire player field for the upcoming edition of the tournament, held July 25-August 2nd at Atlantic Station, where it has been held since 2012, with new things being added to the location each year.
Before getting to the player field it’s worth mentioning that various dignitaries were on hand from BB&T Atlanta Open sponsors BB&T, Lexus, Prince Tennis. This was along with official charity partner the YMCA, and stalwarts in support of tennis in the southeast and in Atlanta from both the USTA southern section, and the recreational Atlanta Lawn Tennis association (ALTA).
Tournament Director Eddie Gonzalez talks about the 2015 Open at Atlantic Station
Lexus is bringing in the fuzzy ball SUV, a Lexus NX wrapped in the felt of a tennis ball, for this years tournament, along with sponsoring the perfect serve display, where fans can test the power of their serves much like the pitching machines you see at baseball games. Prince is the official sponsor of the sport court, a 36 foot court designed to encourage especially the youngest fans at the BB&T Atlanta Open, and Atlantic Station to get in the game and enjoy themselves with a hitaround.
As for the players who will be testing their own serves and taking to a larger court, Georgia Tech head men’s tennis coach Kenny Thorne was on hand and pleased with the fact that his own singles #1 Christopher Eubanks, a 6-7 Atlanta native who just completed his first year with the Yellow Jackets men’s tennis team, will have the honor of starring in college night on Tuesday evening as he has been selected as one of the main draw wild cards. Eubanks is currently in Halle, Germany working as a hitting partner with Donald Young, and will be training with DY over the summer on the road to Atlanta and the Emirates US Open Series in July.
Along with Eubanks, another young American talent, the celebrated Marylander Frances Tiafoe is the recipient of a main draw wild card, Tiafoe, who recently turned pro this spring as a 17 year old, won the USTA French Open wild card due to his strong play on the pro circuit, and now he is sure to feature on the US Open Series, hoping to score a big upset or two.
Besides Eubanks and Tiafoe, pretty much the entire American men’s tennis contingent will be taking part in the 2015 Open, including young American Jack Sock, Steve Johnson, Ryan Harrison, Tim Smyczek, the aforementioned Young, two-time and defending champion John Isner, a local favorite, and Mardy Fish, who will once again attempt a comeback, now age 33. The world #1 doubles team the Bryan Brothers will be the top seeds of a very strong doubles field that should also include recent French Open doubles champion Ivan Dodig.
2011 Singles Champion Mardy Fish
Fish, like Isner, is a two-time champion in Atlanta, and the other big announcement today was the fact that himself, and his good friend Andy Roddick, another former Atlanta Open champion, and long time American #1 will be taking a one-off wild card to compete in the doubles tournament this year. Roddick will also face Tiafoe in an exhibition of the most notable representative of American tennis recent past, and a player of its promising future. Last year Fish and Roddick had similar plans in the summer, but they were prevented from following through as Roddick hadn’t re-entered the drug testing program after retirement within enough time to be sanctioned to play ATP tennis again. Given the popularity of both Americans they are sure to fill the stands for their doubles match.
The international contingent that has made plans to take part in the Open hails from as close as our neighbors to the north, as Canadian Vasek Pospisil will look to excel in singles, and also in doubles with his aforementioned partner Sock, and as far away as Cyprus and Israel, as ATP veterans Marcos Baghdatis, a former slam finalist, and Dudi Sela, the defending finalist and Israeli #1 are both taking part.
Other veterans besides the ones mentioned above include Gilles Muller, a former finalist in Atlanta, Janko Tipsarevic, a former top 10 player on the comeback trail from injury, serve and volley specialist Radek Stepanek, and Benjamin Becker, a German who played his college tennis at Baylor and has strong American ties.
Rounding out the field are highlight generating players Adrian Mannarino, and Alex Dolgopolov, who have unique styles of play, and former finalist Kevin Anderson, who might as well be an honorary American given his ties to college tennis and more, though he hails from South Africa by birth. Mannarino is currently having a career year, as he beat French Open champion Stan Wawrinka in Miami this year, while Dolgopolov is looking to recapture the form that saw him become a threat to the game’s elite in years gone by.
One more main draw wild card is still hanging out there, and other changes could take place in the singles and doubles field of the ATP 250 event, but one thing is for sure, the BB&T Atlanta Open will offer world class tennis, and world class funJuly 25-August 2nd at Atlantic Station. The Open is the first stop on the Emirates US Open Series as well and for more information, including how to purchase your tickets please visit http://www.bbtatlantaopen.com
David Goffin Interview Highlight of 2015 ATP Munich Wednesday Marc Imperatori for Tennis Atlantic
Goffin won and we snagged an interview with him (photo credit: Marc Imperatori)
Yesterday was my last day at the BMW Open. Four R2 Singles matches, all R1 Doubles matches as well as Pablo Andujar vs. Joao Souza, the only remaining R1 match, were scheduled. The real magic happened on court 1 with three consecutive exciting matches. I had an interview with the winner of the last one, David Goffin. You can read it further down.
You´ve got to love the atmosphere there. A small court that has stands behind and in front of the players´ benches. In close matches there are people standing all around the court to get a view on the match. Then there´s all the noise from the music played on centre court during changeovers or between matches. It all adds to a great “outside court” atmosphere.
The opening match was a battle between two clay-court specialists, Joao Souza (Brazil) and Pablo Andujar (Spain). The latter reached the final in Barcelona by beating Ferrer and Fognini. Souza on the other hand should be well known for his Davis Cup epics: Two days after winning against Carlos Berlocq in 5 hours, he came back from 2 sets down, saved several match points just to lose 13-15 in the fifth set against Leonardo Mayer in more than 7 hours (in the Brazil-Argentina WG Round 1 tie). In this match both players showed their abilities on the red dirt. Andujar was extremly consistent from the baseline by hitting with great depth and angles as well as constantly serving on the line. It was very hard for Souza to deal with that, so he had to go for big shots especially with his forehand. That was spectacular to watch at times and worked out pretty well. Yet, Andujar was just too solid. He only needed to save a break point in his second service game, while Souza was break point down in five of his ten service games, getting broken once in each set. Therefore Andujar won 6-4, 6-4. The Spaniard retired against Gerald Melzer in his match on Thursday.
In the following match Janko Tipsarevic from Serbia faced the Dominican tennis hero Victor Estrella Burgos. Tipsarevic did not participate in any tournament in 2014 and played his third tournament after his comeback in Munich, having had a 3-2 record going into this match. Estrella Burgos, who beat Dominic Thiem & Marin Cilic last week in Barcelona as well as Viktor Troicki in R1 here, was really on fire early in the match. He was hitting rocket forehands, top spin volley and even backhand winners and therefore got a quick 5-2 lead on serve. During the changeover the umpire let the courts remade which made the Dominican livid. He lost nine consecutive points but eventually served it out to win the first set 6-4. In the second set the two players dominated on serve. At 4-4 Estrella Burgos created a break opportunity, saved by a big serve of Tipsarevic. In the following tie-break the latter was playing extremly well whereas Estrella Burgos hit some unforced errors. Therefore Tipsarevic won the breaker 7-1.
In opposite to the previous set, this one started with three breaks, two of them by the Serbian. Both held their serves and especially Tipsarevic played much more aggressive than early on in the match, going for a backhand down the line very often. Thus he had the opportunity to serve for the match at 5-4. He started and ended the game with a double fault. It must be said that the other three points were high-quality. In the next game he had two break points to serve for the match once again. Estrella Burgos was able to save both of them with offensive tennis and win the game to go up 6-5. In the next game the Serbian had to hold his serve to stay in the match. In this stage VEB was hitting rocket forehands just like in the beginning of the match. Being match point down the first time Tipsarevic once again hit a great serve, the second time he hit an error. Hence Estrella Burgos won 6-4, 6-7(1), 7-5.
Estrella-Tipsarevic was a quality contest (photo credit: Marc Imperatori)
In the quarter-final he will meet Roberto Bautista-Agut. The Spaniard easily dispatched Radek Stepanek by winning 6-0, 6-3.
In the last match on this court David Goffin fought past Simone Bolelli 7-6(5), 6-7(4), 6-1. All in all this match was a mixture of fantastic rallies paired with unforced errors. Anyway, it was quite spectacular. Neither player was troubled on serve in the first set. Then Bolelli won some of the mentioned great rallies to be 4-1 up on serve in the tie-break. Then the unforced errors by Bolelli appeared in addition to very consistent baseline play by Goffin. The latter won five straight points and eventually the set.
In the second set Bolelli seemed to have a letdown and got broken but immediately broke back. Goffin then had another break point opportunity in the third game but once again, both players won their service games to enforce another tie-break. Just like in the first set Bolelli was redlining his game in the beginning and got a 4-1 lead. This time he only lost the next two points and won the second breaker 7-4. In the last set David Goffin showed why he´s on the verge of breaking into the Top 20 again. His great movement and counter-punching lead to breaking Bolelli´s serve in the fourth game. In the following game the Italian had a break point to even it out but Goffin saved it by a well-timed net attack after a long rally. From then on Goffin was too good for Bolelli who kind of lost confidence. The Belgian broke again and served it out to love.
Q: Congratulations. As a spectator it was really great to watch your match, many nice rallies. What do you think about your performance?
DG: It was hard because the conditions are different than two days ago. It´s cooler today. The courts are slow and it was tough to move, so I did the maximum to win and I´m really happy because in January I lost against Simone in Sidney. He´s a great player and I think it´s a great performance to win against him today.
Q: You mentioned the match in Sidney. Today he caused a lot of trouble, too. What makes it so tough to play against him?
DG: Yeah, it´s because he has so much power. When he hits the ball, it´s tough for me to control it. His forehand is really strong. His serve, too. I had to serve really well and I was really solid. I waited for a good moment to break him in the last set. So it was a really solid match mentally.
Q: You had injury problems this year. At the Davis Cup you couldn´t play the first rubber. How do you feel now?
DG: Now I´m feeling better. I had some problems with my rip, just after Marseille. Then it always takes a few weeks to get better, but now I have no more pain.
Q: Good to hear! Last year you had a great run. You won two tournaments and many challenger titles, too. You were full of confidence. Today, you sometimes seemed more passive. Is it because you have less confidence now?
DG: No, I think I´m playing really good in practice but today it was tough conditions, tough to move. Simone is really aggressive so it´s tough to be aggressive for me. So maybe that´s why I was more passive today but I´m gonna try to be more aggressive next round.
Q: It changed a lot for you when you won all the titles in the last 6-8 months. Do you feel more pressure now, being almost a Top 20 player?
DG: Yeah, I´m #21 this week. I´m seeded now in tournaments like ATP 250s. Of course it´s pressure but it´s a good pressure. I have to play my game, even if I´m #21 or #40 or #50 I don´t care. I have to play my best tennis. If I´m playing well I think the result will come. I just have to focus on the way I play.
Q: What are your goals for 2015? Do you have specific goal or are you looking from tournament to tournament?
DG: No, I´m gonna try to win another tournament, maybe …
Q: This week?
DG: Why not? It should be good. Like I said, I´m really happy to be back on clay. I can win points at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, so I´m gonna try to break the Top 20 for the first time. And then at the end of the season, I´ll see if I´m Top 20 or not.
Q: The last question: What do you think about your next opponent, Philipp Kohlschreiber?
DG: I played him twice, I think, and I won twice but it´s a different tournament. He´s playing at home. He´s always has a good level when he´s playing in Germany. I think he won the tournament twice. He loves the tournament, it will be a tough match for me.
As you can see in the quarterfinals David Goffin will face German No.1 Philipp Kohlschreiber. He beat Alexander Zverev 6-2, 6-4. In the post-match presser he was talking about the youngster´s game. Kohlschreiber was fully aware of Zverev´s potential. However, he also admitted that it was easy for him to dominate points due to Zverev´s court position far behind the baseline.
I also asked Kohlschreiber about David Goffin (and Simone Bolelli). He mentioned their encounter in Kitzbühl where the Belgian prevailed in straight sets. Goffin´s constant and well-placed shots as well as his great movement and returning ability made Kohlschreiber not really sound like he is keen on having to play against him.
Scores from Wednesday and Thursday
Wednesday (ATP Doubles) Peya/Soares d. Stakhovsky/Troicki 5-7 7-5 10-4
Paes/Stepanek d. Struff/Thiem 6-1 6-7 10-5
Murray/Rojer d. Klaasen/Rosol 7-5 6-2
Junaid/Shamasdin d. Fleming/Marray 6-3 2-6 16-14
Mayer/Moser d. Becker/Meffert 6-3 6-2
Begemann/Knowle d. Cermak/Vesely 7-6 6-4
Alex Zverev/Mischa Zverev d. Brown/Petzschner 6-4 6-4
Jamie Murray/Peers d. Estrella/Souza 6-3 6-2
Thursday Murray d. Mischa Zverev 6-2 6-2
Rosol d. Stakhovsky 7-5 6-2
Thiem d. Fognini 6-3 6-0
Gerald Melzer d. Andujar 4-1 ret.
Peya/Soares d. Paes/Stepanek 6-2 6-1
Andy Murray/Rojer d. Junaid/Shamasdin 6-2 6-2
Begemann/Knowle d. Mayer/Moser 6-0 6-4
Zverev/Zverev d. Jamie Murray/Peers 3-6 6-3 10-8
Tipsarevic upsets Tomic, Pospisil comes up short against Thiem 2015 ATP Munich Tuesday Marc Imperatori for Tennis Atlantic
Photo Credit: Marc Imperatori
In my report yesterday I mentioned the great weather in Munich. Somehow I officially jinxed it. Originally, play was scheduled to begin at 11 AM but the rain made it impossible to start until 3 PM. Thereafter it was still pretty cold which is why you´ll hear a lot about the conditions in the paragraphs below.
At 3 P.M. local time, four Singles main draw matches were played simultaneously. On centre court Lukas Rosol dismantled Florian Mayer 6-2, 6-2. Even though his season was average at best so far, the Czech played a fantastic match. He was very aggressive from the beginning (an early break certainly helped) and never let Mayer come back in the match. The body language was pretty obvious in this case. While Rosol seemed as focused and concentrated as against Nadal in his breakthrough win in 2012 at Wimbledon, Mayer looked like he didn´t really want to be out there in the cold. In the post match-interview Rosol revealed that he liked the conditions since it suits his big-hitting style. Also kudos to him for just wearing a t-shirt when the crowd was full of winter jackets! In R2 he will meet Sergiy Stakhovsky who beat lucky loser Mikhail Ledovskikh 6-0, 6-0 in 36 minutes.
Rosol was a cool customer (photo credit: Marc Imperatori)
Florian Mayer explained in a short press conference that he was very happy with the way he played in Monte Carlo & Bucharest after his long injury time-out. He stated that he´s absolutely pain-free at the moment and elaborated why he didn´t commit to the Madrid Masters next week. He´s not willing to waste his protected ranking for a tournament that´s pretty bad for him anyway because of the altitude.
On Court 1 Dominic Thiem beat Vasek Pospisil 5-7 6-4 7-6(9). In the first set Pospisil broke for the set by playing a very good return game. In the second set Thiem broke at 3-3 and never gave it back. In the third set Thiem broke Pospisil in the opening game and had break points to go up a double break. However, he got tight as he admitted in the post-match presser, failed to convert them and eventually lost his serve, too. In the decisive tie-break both player saved match points until Thiem hit a great backhand down the line passing shot to finally win the match.
Pospisil played a great clay match but still came up short (photo credit: Marc Imperatori)
In R2 his opponent will be “Nadal-killer“, and defending finalist Fabio Fognini. The Italian later won against Bastian Trinker, an Austrian lucky loser, 6-2 7-6. In yesterday´s report I claimed that Trinker lacked experience against ATP level players and that he had troubles when constantly set under pressure. After watching today´s match against Fognini I stand by my opinion. After less than 30 minutes Fognini was up 6-2 2-0. Trinker broke back from 40-0 down in the fourth game of the set because Fognini was a bit more sloppy and Trinker himself started to be more confident. Yet, the Italian was too good for him and was never really in trouble.
Fognini scored a comfortable result (photo credit: Marc Imperatori)
On court 2, Janko Tipsarevic won a close encounter against Bernard Tomic 5-7 6-1 7-6(3). After being a break down in the second set Tomic more or less tanked the rest of set 2 including a beautiful monologue in which he promised to himself to never come back to this “fucking town“ of Munich again, even if they offered him money. Apparently he didn´t like to play in the cold. In the third set Tomic showed how much he changed in 2015 by upping his level again to play as well as in the opening set. At 5-4 he even had match point on Tipsarevic´ serve though the Serbian saved it with a great backhand winner down the line. Tomic may be upset now for staying too passive in this point. In the tie-break Tipsarevic got an early mini-break and dominated from then on. Tipsarevic´ opponent is Victor Estrella Burgos who already won his R1 match yesterday.
On court 3 Radek Stepanek defeated Farrukh Dustov by retirement. It must be said that Stepanek was leading 6-1, 4-1 anyway. With Roberto Bautista-Agut waiting in the next round, Stepanek will need to play his very best in R2.
In the next match on centre court (after Rosol vs. Mayer) we experienced another Germany vs. Czech Republic battle. Even though”battle“ might be slightly exaggerated. This time the German, Philipp Kohlschreiber, outplayed the Czech, Jiri Vesely, 6-1 6-2. In the post-match press conference Kohlschreiber said that he was surprised by how well he played today. Additionally, he admitted that the conditions favoured him a lot more than Vesely. Kohlschreiber´s tactical approach to use angles instead of power and to keep the ball in play instead of going for too much worked out very well. When asked about his next match against Alexander Zverev, Kohlschreiber praised Zverev´s talent and game.
Kohli was positive in press (photo credit: Marc Imperatori)
In another R1 match of the day Mischa Zverev (Alex´ older brother) edged his fellow countryman Jan-Lennard Struff out 7-6, 3-6, 6-4. In opposite to yesterday Zverev had to play with more depth and be more aggressive than against Gombos. From what I saw he still played consistent tennis from the baseline with some variety and also he attacked in the right moment. Apparently this was enough to win the match. Mischa Zverev´s next opponent is no other than Andy Murray.
Zverev had a strange return position against Struff (photo credit: Marc Imperatori)
In the remaining R1 match between Simone Bolelli and Dustin Brown, Bolelli won 6-1 7-6(2). The Italian will now face David Goffin, a player who impressed me very much in the training sessions and is my pick for reaching the final from the bottom half.
Pablo Andujar vs. Joao Souza as well as all doubles matches were shifted to tomorrow.
2015 ATP Munich Preview Steen Kirby and Marc Imperatori, Tennis Atlantic
Completing the trio of ATP World Tour events this week is the clay court event in Munich, with the strongest field of all tournaments this week. Alongside Estoril and Istanbul, Tennis Atlantic is pleased to have on-site credentialed coverage for the week from Marc Imperatori, who will be reporting on all the action from Bavaria, so keep checking the site for that, in the meantime, here is the preview.
2015 ATP Munich Preview
BMW Open by FWU AG ATP World Tour 250 Munich, Germany April 27-May 3, 2015 Prize Money: € 439,405
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Andy Murray (3)
2: Gael Monfils (15)*
3: Roberto Bautista Agut (16)
4: David Goffin (21)
*Monfils withdrew and was replaced by a lucky loser
All 8 seeds are top 30 players, as Munich has the strongest field by ranking this week.
A good form test for funky Flo Mo, still working his way back from injury, he has beaten Rosol on clay before at a challenger, but he’s lost two straight matches now in Monte Carlo and Bucharest, and will be looking to regain positive momentum on home soil. Rosol is just 1-2 on European clay this year, and is also badly in need of a win in this matchup. It’s hard to predict, but I have Mayer winning myself.
(6)Bernard Tomic vs. (WC)Janko Tipsarevic
Tomic is favored against Tipsarevic, who is also working his way back from injury, that said, Janko has a good chance at an “upset” in this one, Tomic is not a clay court player, and if Tipsarevic was even at half of his peak level he would be the favorite. They have never played before, and Tipsarevic is 2-2 since his comeback, while Tomic lost in round 2 of Monte Carlo. He’s had a reliable season so far, in fact the bets of his career in terms of consistency, but his play in Monte Carlo was worrisome, and I have Tipsarevic in an upset in this one, as he seems to be improving in every match he plays back on tour.
Kohli won a 4 setter against Vesely at the French in 2013, when Jiri was still a raw youngster, now though he’s reached his second career ATP final, coming off last week in Bucharest. His form has been incredibly streaky this season, where he is either winning matches (Auckland, Bucharest) or losing back to back to back (AO-Miami). That said, his form seems to have picked up with clay, while Kohlschreiber has not had a good season, and at 31 he may be slowing down. He did reach the quarters in Barcelona, and perhaps the ace in his pocket in this matchup is he’s a two time champ, so he knows the venue and plays well here. I expect three sets, and Kohlschreiber to edge out a fatigued Vesely in the end.
Newlywed Andy Murray is making his European clay debut in Munich as the top seed, and I’d expect him to defeat German JL Struff or qualifier Mischa Zverev in his opening match. After that, Rosol/Mayer or Sergiy Stakhovsky/lucky loser Mikhail Ledovskikh will also be underdogs against him in the quarters. Stako is not a clay courter, and the lucky loser will have a chance to defeat him, that said, I have Murray over Mayer in the quarters.Of note, though Murray is 2-0 on clay against Flo, Mayer actually beat Murray when he was coming back from back surgery in 2014 in Doha, only this time it’s Mayer coming back from an injury. Overall, with this 250 level event, Murray shouldn’t drop a set before the semis, as it’s an easy draw for him.
3 seed Roberto Bautista Agut will open with Farrukh Dustov, who hasn’t played in a bit, or qualifier Radek Stepanek a fading veteran, like Murray, I’d expect him to get off to an easy start against a weak opponent probably Stepanek, and then have more of a test in the quarters with either Tipsarevic/Tomic, or Viktor Troicki/Victor Estrella. Estrella continues to impress given his age, he beat Dominic Thiem and Marin Cilic in Barcelona to reach the round of 16, and also won a round in Monte Carlo, while Troicki has lost two straight matches. Troicki has a h2h win on indoor hard over Estrella, but I have VEB winning and then beating Tipsarevic as well to reach the quarters, before falling to the Barcelona quarterfinalist RBA who is 4-2 in last two clay court tournaments with a pair of top 30 wins. The seeds should hold and a Murray-RBA semi is likely.
2 seed Gael Monfils withdrew with a knee injury, and thus qualifier Gerald Melzer will take his place. Melzer is likely to matchup with Barcelona finalist Pablo Andujar who made a shock run to the final there (7-4 on clay in 2015), depending if Andujar is tired, and we’ll know based off of how he plays against the struggling Joao Souza, he should reach the quarters, and he’s likely to face Fabio Fognini, who he routined in the Barcelona quarters at that stage. Fognini beat Nadal in Barcelona (for the second time this year), but he’s been pedestrian all season against players not named Nadal, not to mention incredibly erratic. That said he was a finalist here last year so he’s had success, and thus should beat lucky loser Bastian Trinker, and then the Vasek Pospisil/Dominic Thiem winner. Thiem has talent, and he’s done well on clay, but he’s struggling right now, and thus look for Fognini to win, and also beat a fatigued Andujar to reach the semis.
David Goffin will face qualifier Dustin Brown, or Simone Bolelli in his opening match, Bolelli beat Goffin this year on hard courts, and he reached the quarterfinals in Bucharest, while Goffin will seek to improve his clay prospects in just his second tournament on the surface this season. That will be a tough match to pick, and I have Bolelli going through to face the Vesely/Kohlschreiber winner, as Kohli should beat Alex Zverev/Benjamin Becker in round 2, a battle of the German young gun against a veteran German.
Kohli is 2-0 against Bolelli on clay, and given his previous success here, I have the veteran German into the semis.
Bolelli has a chance to reach the final presuming he can upset Goffin, Kohlschreiber/Vesely, and perhaps Monfils (or Fognini/Thiem) in the semis. He just lost to Monfils in Bucharest, and would have to flip the script to do that, that said he’s a talented shotmaker who can have good runs of success on clay, consistency has been his primary issue.
Semis: Murray d. Bautista Agut
Kohlschreiber d. Fognini
Murray has never played RBA on clay, that said, even though clay is his worst surface, the Spaniard hasn’t been a world beater as of late and thus I’d give a consistent Murray, who has been great against all but elite players the edge.
Kohli has a 2-1 h2h against Fognini, and their clay court h2h is split 1-1, Fognini may be in better form, but he’s terribly unreliable, and Kohlschreiber tends to play well in Munich, thus I have him through.
Final: Murray d. Kohlschreiber
Look for Murray to get his first clay court title this week with the withdrawal of Monfils, he beat Kohli in a thriller at RG last year, and he’s outperformed the German in terms of level of play this season.
ATP Houston Thursday, Sock upsets a struggling Bautista Agut, Giraldo outlasts Tipsarevic Jeff McMillan, Tennis Atlantic
Photo Credit: Jeff McMillan
Another warm day in Houston at the US Men’s Clay Court Championships began with an intriguing matchup between Jack Sock and the #2 seed Roberto Bautista-Agut. Sock had won the previous meeting between these two players just a few weeks ago in Indian Wells and he was looking to make it two straight vs the top 15 player but this time it would have to be on the Spaniard’s favorite surface.
His quest to do just that began positively with a break in the 3rd game of the match to go up 2-1. Sock kept his advantage all through the 1st set despite Bautista-Agut’s chances. The Spaniard was able to get into Sock’s service games, often getting to 0-30, 15-30, deuce and even had a few break points here and there but was unable to ever even the match. RBA seemed to be a tad timid on his footwork and was arriving to balls late, causing them to go into the net or go long. Killing his usual strength of consistency. Sock on the other hand was hitting his forehand hard and reliably which contributed to RBA’s lateness of getting to the shots. Sock served out the first set in style with some big serves and a rocket forehand winner to take it 6-4.
At the start of the 2nd set Sock hit a rough patch. He double faulted a couple times (9 times in total in the match, he would later say that the wind was an issue all match long) and had a very easy putaway forehand go into the net. Despite these hiccups he did not concede serve and that ended up being the key to the match, holding despite not serving or playing his very best at the beginning of the 2nd set. At 2-2 in the 2nd set there was a slight controversy with a ball mark and Bautista-Agut said something across the net to Sock and Sock said something back. Right after that Sock served two huge service winners and let out a loud bellow of “Yeah! Come on!” after each serve right at the direction of Bautista-Agut. This seemed to amp up Sock even more as he quickly got to 3 break points in the very next game on RBA’s serve. He did not convert on any of the 3 but at deuce RBA made a lazy backhand error and threw in a double fault on the 4th break point to give Sock a break, which he would not relinquish.
Determined to punch his way to the quarterfinals. Sock held serve the rest of the match with very little drama until 30-30 5-4 with Sock serving for the match. On that crucial point Sock hit a risky forehand chip and charged the net, the chip barely clipped the line on the sideline and he was able to finish the point off at the net. One more millimeter to the left and Sock would have faced a break point right there, but instead he had a match point, which he converted with a good kick serve. The young American will now go on the quarterfinals where he will face Santiago Giraldo who defeated Janko Tipsarevic.
Speaking of Giraldo vs Tipsarevic, that was the next match on center court. This was a highly anticipated match as everyone was very curious to see how Tipsarevic would fare vs. a top 40 player in Giraldo after his long layoff and how well he would respond after his long match on Tuesday. He answered the early questions very positively looking like he hadn’t missed a beat, playing aggressively and hitting the ball heavily. He broke early and took a 4-2 lead in the set. Giraldo would not back down however, He unleashed two consecutive rocket backhands in the next game, using his trademark easy power to set up a couple of break points of his own. Giraldo converted on the break and evened the set. From this point on in the set it was a very good back and forth battle with both players trading blows until the tiebreak. In the tiebreak a key point was at 2-1 with Giraldo up, a slice took a terrible bounce and Tipsarevic could not hit it back and Giraldo took the 3-1 mini-break lead. From this point on Giraldo played great and did not let Tipsarevic back into the tiebreak and took it 7-2 to the delight of a small section of Colombian tennis fans who screamed out “Santi!!” after every one of his positive points.
Giraldo rallied past Tipsarevic (photo credit: Jeff McMillan)
Early in the 2nd set Giraldo showed visible signs of frustration despite his lead. He sensed an opportunity to put Tipsarevic away early but until that point was not able to completely put the nail in the coffin. Tipsarevic’s level dropped considerably in the 2nd set, whether it was stamina related or not (after the match he would discuss his focus waning in the 2nd set). A weak forehand error into the net followed by a double fault gave Giraldo a break, one that he would not relinquish. Giraldo continued to connect sweetly on the backhand side, sending his laser shots to each corner of the court and Tipsarevic was unable to keep up and unable to make an impact of his own on Giraldo. The match came to its conclusion with a 7-6(2) 6-3 win for Santiago Giraldo. After the match I was able to catch up with Janko Tipsarevic.
Tipsarevic performed well in his comeback tournament (photo credit: Jeff McMillan)
In the first match of the evening session Fernando Verdasco defeated Hyeon Chung 7-6(5) 6-2. This match was my personal favorite of the day. It pitted a 31-year-old veteran vs. an 18 year old up and comer.
Chung and Verdasco thrilled fans with their match (photo credit: Jeff McMillan)
Chung’s game was impressive in person. His anticipation instincts are very apparent when you first watch him. Several times in the match he read Verdasco’s intentions perfectly and thwarted the Spaniard’s attempts at being wily. In the first set Verdasco appeared to have the game plan to make Chung play as he hit several balls back with little pace simply content to keep the rally going, seemingly testing the 18 year old’s ability. Chung was up for the challenge as he bossed several of the rallies, hitting winners down the line from both wings and keeping Verdasco scrambling. Verdasco did win his fair share of long rallies as well to counter Chung but it was very impressive that Chung was able hold his game and be so evenly matched with the Houston defending champion for so long. Chung also showed signs that he truly believed he could win. However late in the first set Verdasco changed tactics slightly, going for more on his shots and using his big forehand. He also started to bomb serves more often, two serves at 137 mph and one at 138 mph. Verdasco won the long titanic first set battle 7-6(5), one of the most enjoyable sets of tennis I have seen in person.
In the 2nd set Verdasco used his new tactics effectively, being more aggressive and keeping Chung more off balance. The Korean’s game dropped slightly as well which allowed Nando to dictate play more and more as the 2nd set went on. One tactic he was able to use effectively was drawing Chung out wide to his backhand side with the crosscourt lefty forehand, Chung had shaky footwork to that side and slipped often, almost guaranteeing the point for Verdasco each time he used that tactic. Verdasco cruised to a 6-2 2nd set which was a mild letdown after the high quality of the first set, but regardless the young Korean can be very proud of his efforts in Houston.
In the nightcap John Isner was stunned by Teymuraz Gabashvilli 6-2 7-6(2) in a result that almost nobody saw coming. This capped what was an amazing day for Gabashvilli as earlier in the day he paired with Berankis in doubles to stun the Bryan brothers. That opens up the draw significantly and it makes the rest of the tournament very very interesting. Huey/Lipsky beat Brunstrom/Young in the other doubles match on the day.
The Bryans were shocked in doubles (photo credit: Jeff McMillan)
2015 ATP Houston and Casablanca Preview/Prediction Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
After a pair of Masters level events, the ATP will return to regularly scheduled programming with a pair of 250s, as the clay court season kicks off with the event in Houston, where we will have onsite midweek coverage from our staff writer Jeff McMillan, and in Casablanca, the lone stop for the ATP World Tour on the African continent.
2015 ATP Houston Preview
Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship
ATP World Tour 250
Houston, TX, USA
April 6-April 12, 2015
Prize Money: $488,225
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Feliciano Lopez (12)
2: Roberto Bautista Agut (15)
3: Kevin Anderson (16)
4: John Isner (19)
Houston has four top 20 players, and the seed cutoff is the top 45, making it a solid 250 level event, as many players are delaying traveling across the pond and opting to stay in the states for an extra week.
First round matchups to watch:
Steve Johnson vs. Donald Young
Many consider this match to be a battle for the second slot on the US Davis Cup team, as Johnson has steadily been on the rise, and for that matter Young has had a good season himself. Their h2h is split 1-1, but they have never met on clay before. Young earned 3 wins in the two hard court masters events, and only lost to top 5 players Nadal and Murray, while Johnson won two matches in Indian Wells, but was ousted by Mikhail Kukushkin in Miami. On clay, this match is very much a toss-up, and I give the slightest edge to Young, though I would give Stevie J the edge on a hard court right now, Young has played relatively well all season against all but the top tier of players, while Johnson has been a bit more up and down.
Joao Souza vs. Jack Sock
In-form American Jack Sock will have an interesting test with Brazilian dirtballer Joao Souza. He’s higher ranked, and has greater raw talent than Souza, but as with almost every American male tennis player, he’s far more comfortable and better on hard courts and fast surfaces, compared to clay, a surface he only plays minimally on. Since turning pro, Sock is 7-5 on clay on the main tour level, which of course most notably points out he’s only played 12 ATP matches on clay in the past two seasons, for contrast, Souza has already played 8 matches on clay at the ATP level just this year, and if you include the challenger tour his total is 12.
In 2013 he went 35-24 on clay between ATP and challengers, and in 2014 he went 45-24 as the world number 70 is much more comfortable moving on the dirt. Sock is 5-2 since returning from hip surgery as he played quite well in the Masters events but his loss to Dominic Thiem in Miami exposed problems with his game, and given Souza already has an ATP semi and a quarterfinal on clay, I have him pulling off an upset ranking wise.
Feliciano Lopez reached a clay final earlier this year in Quito, but for a Spaniard, he’s never come close to being a clay court master like some of his peers. That said, Feli has cemented himself as a top 15 player these days and his game is overall dangerous with his slice serve and ability to cause his opponents trouble at the net. Lopez was upset in his opening match in Miami, but he didn’t play poorly in that one per say, and he also reached the quarterfinals in Indian Wells. Right off the bat, Lopez is likely to get a rematch of his opponent in the Quito final, Victor Estrella. The speedy Dominican will need to defeat big server Sam Groth, who is playing on his worst surface, in the opening round. The veteran Estrella is an inspiring story, and he outlasted Lopez in 3 sets in that Quito final, but he’s currently riding a three match losing streak, and all of his losses came to players ranked outside the top 40, thus I have Lopez through to the quarters in a match that should be easier than in Quito where history was on the line for Estrella.
Sam Querrey, who has reached a final here before, opens with Marinko Matosevic, a relatively poor clay court player. Matosevic has been awful all year (3-9 with four straight losses), so Querrey, who has continued to struggle with his mental toughness this season, should be safe for round 2 where Young/Johnson will present a challenge. I have the winner of Young/Johnson getting into the quarters from that match, so thus in my own bracket it’s Donald Young to face Lopez in the quarters. Young actually upset Lopez at the French last year (overall the h2h is 3-2 Young), but Feli seems to be the safer pick regardless to reach the semis.
4 seed John Isner comes off playing one of the best tournaments of his life in Miami, very much out of the blue, and the former champion is likely to be a threat in the lone star state. Since Davis Cup play, Isner is 6-2 with his only losses coming to the world number 1 Djokovic, and in Miami he beat top 15 players Dimitrov, Raonic and Nishkori in consecutive matches to reach the semis, a remarkable streak of wins. Isner played one of the best ATP matches of his career against Nishikori, and it seemed the disaster that was Davis Cup lit a fire under him and recommitted him to tennis. Isner should have little trouble with either Tim Smyczek or Temyuraz Gabashvili in round 2 (Gabashvili recently snapped a losing streak, while Smyczek is struggling but seems to play well in Texas), but Fernando Verdasco, the defending champ, and a streakily dangerous player, is going to be a tough opponent in the quarters. Dasco will need to defeat Paolo Lorenzi and an unnamed qualifier to get that far.
Verdasco and Isner have a 1-1 h2h on hard courts, and have never met on clay, Verdasco of course upset Nadal for a huge win in Miami, but then meekly bowed out to Juan Monaco in the next round, and his consistency is all over the place, with that in mind, Isner actually seems like the more reliable pick right now, and thus I have him into the semis, both players have big weapons to bring to the table, as Verdasco has his world class forehand and Isner continues to have one of the best serves in the game, that said I see Isner frustrating Verdasco with said serve, and Verdasco is known to have slip ups on his own serve that Isner can capitalize on.
Should Sock beat Souza, Roberto Bautista Agut will be his opponent, an opponent he just beat in Indian Wells in a three setter. RBA is just 2-3 in his last five and is struggling at the moment, thusly he seems to be the top seed most likely to be upset, by either Sock or Souza. RBA went 12-5 on clay last year at the ATP level, after going 8-7 in 2013, seemingly improving on the surface. With a limited sample to size to gather from, I’m picking Souza in an upset myself and have him into the quarters.
The section above RBA/Souza/Sock is most interesting, the seed is Santiago Giraldo, who has been unreliable this year after a career year in 2014, and the other spots are taken by a pair of unnamed qualifiers, and Janko Tipsarevic, who after making his doubles debut in Miami with Djokovic last week, is now returning to the ATP World Tour on the singles side. Tipsarevic has been out for over a year due to a tumor on his foot that was removed, and though he’s sure to be rusty and has aged, he still has the talent deep down of a top 10 player, as he used to play remarkable tennis against the best players in the world across surfaces. Giraldo, who had his best result of 2015 in Sao Paulo on clay (semifinalist) is the odds on fave to reach the quarters from here, though a qualifier or Tipsarevic could make a run, and in such a wide open section, it’s hard to pick who will reach the semis, but I have Giraldo over Souza myself (Giraldo 3-1 h2h edge, all matches on clay).
Kevin Anderson, another big server in this draw, will open with Federico Delbonis or Ricardas Berankis in his opening match, most likely Delbonis. Anderson is 2-0 against Delbo and beat him on clay in 2012 (along with a close win in Indian Wells a couple of weeks ago). That said, Delbonis is at his best on clay and will have a punchers chance. Delbonis has two clay court quarterfinals already on his resume this year while Anderson has played well this year, but has, as to be expected, never been a top tier clay court player. Similar to the Souza/RBA situation, given the sample size, I’m going with Delbonis in another upset over a seed as the Argentinian will be aiming for his third quarterfinal of the season.
Above Anderson/Delbonis is the section featuring Jeremy Chardy as the seed, and also Lleyton Hewitt, a former champion in Houston, as a wild card. Hewitt continues to struggle in his final season on tour, as the magic, and more seriously the reliability, appears to finally be fading for the former world number 1. Still, he should beat Go Soeda, a hard court player, in the opening round. I see Chardy going out to another unseeded player, Dusan Lajovic. The Serb has two clay court quarterfinals this year on his resume at the ATP level, and though he has lost three straight and retired in Miami, he again, much prefers clay. Chardy has not had a good season as he’s just 2-3 in his last five matches. Though he’s French, Chardy has never been better than a 50/50 proposition on clay. Look for Lajovic to beat Hewitt to reach the quarters and face Delbonis. Lajovic beat Delbonis at the French last year, but Delbonis is 3-1 overall in the h2h (the other three meetings on hard court) and I trust his tennis more at the moment, thus I have Delbonis in the semis.
I have Delbonis reaching the final as an unseeded player this week, and thus he gets the dark horse designation. He played well against Anderson at IW, and if he gets through that Lajovic/Hewitt/Chardy are all beatable, likewise in the semis, any of RBA/Souza/Giraldo/Tipsarevic are beatable. Given this is clay, he’d also have a shot to take the title in any hypothetical final that could be drummed up. The Argentina is unlikely to be a world beater, but at events like this he is perfectly talented enough to do well if he can keep his error count down and stay aggressive.
Isner d. Lopez
Delbonis d. Giraldo
Isner has been so impressive in IW and Miami that I have to pick him to beat Flopez if they meet, he scored a h2h win in their lone match on clay here in 2012 in three sets, and though Lopez has a 3-2 overall h2h lead, the matches have been relatively close. Given form, and the fact Isner plays his best on clay in Houston, this tournament setups up nicely for him.
Delbonis and Giraldo have never played before, Giraldo has tons of talent but something has been off with him this year and his game doesn’t seem reliable enough to reach an ATP final right now.
Isner d. Delbonis
Delbonis will get a test run for facing Isner with a match against Anderson in round 2, and that should help prepare him, should he reach the final and face the American #1, that said, Isner is playing great right now and thus I have him winning this match. Delbonis won a 3 setter against Isner on clay in France in their lone meeting last year but Houston clay is very different from European clay.
2015 ATP Casablanca Preview
Grand Prix Hassan II
ATP World Tour 250
April 6-April 12, 2015
Prize Money: €439,405
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (24)
2: Martin Klizan (41)
3: Jiri Vesely (49)
4: Marcel Granollers (50)
With only 1 top 40 player, Casablanca is almost certain to be one of the weakest ATP tour events this season, which is quite a shame given African, and Arab tennis in general could use a boost.
First round matchups to watch:
(WC)Lamine Ouahab vs. Robin Haase
This is quite an interesting round 1 matchup, Ouahab, who, no offense intended, is known to be one of the most physically out of shape players on tour (career high ranking 114 in 2009), but has plenty of skills with a racquet, will take on Haase who is the favorite. Haase had a terrible start to his season (0-7) but the Dutchman who is relatively adept on clay is 5-2 in his last 7 matches and seems to have turned the corner as he beat Stan Wawrinka in Indian Wells. Ouahab is also in good form, in fact he’s on a 15 match winning streak as he won three consecutive futures titles on clay in Morocco (F1, F2, F3). Though he failed to face any player to the level of Haase, that still bodes well for him, and of course the home fans will be behind the wild card, it’s worth watching no matter what happens, though I have Haase advancing.
(6)Andreas Haider-Maurer vs. Jan-Lennard Struff
Two unpredictable players will meet in this round 1 match, AHM, who lost to Struff on clay last year in Gstaad, has lost three straight but he was a surprise semifinalist on clay in Rio. and it’s by far his best surface. Struff is more versatile but has failed to catch fire at any tournament this season and is looking to break a pedestrian run of results. Both have enough clay court prowess to make this a quality match, and I give AHM a slight edge to advance.
PCB beat Berlocq in Rio this year, but overall the Spanish seed is very much struggling in 2015. He is reeling from four straight losses presently, including 2 on clay. Berlocq reached the semis on clay in Buenos Aires, and has had an up and down season. In theory, this is a great chance for PCB to kickstart his season, but I’m not sure that will happen, and Berlocq has at least even odds to advance into round 2.
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, the defending champion, will face off with the Haase/Ouahab winner. GGL is struggling with just two wins in his six matches, and this presents an opportunity for Haase to reach the quarters, I’m not picking it myself, but Haase vs. GGL strikes me as a 50/50 match. Albert Ramos is the main threat in the quarters, Ramos will need to beat Mikhail Kukushkin in the opening round, and then Daniel Gimeno-Traver/Malek Jaziri. Ramos is 4-3 in his last seven matches and is playing relatively well at the moment, given he’s a clay courter, he should be happy to return to his surface of choice. Kukushkin is inconsistent, thus I have him as unlikely to advance from that one. Jaziri is a local favorite from neighboring Tunisia but he prefers fast surfaces to clay, and the veteran DGT is favored, though he’s not playing that well either.
I have Ramos beating GGL in the quarters. He has a lone clay h2h win and he’s in better form at the moment.
3 seed Jiri Vesely is another player in poor form, but luck has shone on him, as he is likely to face a player in even worse form, Mikhail Youzhny, in his opening match. The declined Youzhny, who is nearing retirement, will face wild card Yassine Idmbarek, who is 28 and has never been ranked in the top 600. Honestly, if Youzhny loses that match, he should be announcing his retirement that very night, because that would be rock bottom. Even with Vesely on a seven match losing streak, I see clay treating him better than Youzhny, the streak has to end at some point, and Youzhny is the type of player to end it against. That said, it’s a great chance for a qualifier or Diego Schwartzman to reach the semifinals under the radar. DSS opens with a qualifier, and then Maximo Gonzalez or a qualifier. Though the young Argentine went just 1-3 on clay during the Golden Swing, I see him having a nice run, pending the qualifier, and reaching said semis, as Vesely is playing so poorly at the moment (Youzhny as well). DSS is a young gun and he’s due for a big result.
Martin Klizan will open with Andrey Kuznetsov or Dustin Brown, Kuznetsov has turned into a disappointment with his career thus far after showing signs of promise in years prior. Look for Klizan to reach the quarters, he’s had an up and down year and has failed to get much of a rhythm going, but even still he should be able to earn a win, he hasn’t lost an opening match a tournament since Sydney at the start of the season, but he’s never won consecutive matches in 2015. The Berlocq/PCB winner will play a big part in what happens with this section, but wild card Nicolas Almagro also lurks. Almagro is by far the most talented non-seeded player in the draw and it’s bad news for Klizan and also PCB/Berlocq he’s buried in this section, after opening with a qualifier. Almagro, a semifinalist in Buenos Aires and a quarterfinalist in Sao Paulo on clay, is 2-0 against Berlocq on clay and he beat Klizan in Barcelona last year on the surface. Thusly, Almagro should be one of the semifinalists this week if he plays up to par.
Marcel Granollers will open with Damir Dzumhur or a qualifier, even though he’s not playing well (5 straight losses), Granollers should still be able to win that and setup a possible meeting with Pablo Andujar, his countryman, in the quarters. Andujar, a two time champ here, opens with veteran journeyman Tobias Kamke of Germany, and then will have to face the Struff/AHM winner. Both of those players are threats, but given his previous Casablanca success Andujar is the favorite. Andujar retired in his last match at a challenger however and he has a six match losing streak ongoing (two of those losses coming on clay), thusly I have Haider-Maurer into the quarters myself, and I also have him defeating Granollers for a spot in the semis.
It’s quite strange to see Almagro as an unseeded wild card at a 250 level event, and I don’t see that situation lasting long. He should be the favorite to take the title this week quite honestly, as he is the most talented player in this field on clay, and the most accomplished, at a minimum he should reach the final out of the bottom section.
Semis: Ramos d. Schwartzman
Almagro d. Haider-Maurer
The two more accomplished players, in better form, should make the final, and Ramos-GGL in the quarters may well be the best match of the tournament.
Stan Wawrinka narrowly avoided his second shocking opening round match loss in a row, as he had to scrape past the gritty Carlos Berlocq 6-7(9) 7-5 6-2, on a windy afternoon at the Miami Open. Wawrinka opened the match in the same poor form that had seen him exit the Indian Wells masters tournament to underdog Robin Haase in his last match, and Berlocq clearly was spurred on by that previous upset, as he fully believed he could win the match, at least for the first two hours of it.
Berlocq staved off two match point chances to hold 2-2 in the first, and then shockingly broke Wawrinka for 4-3. Wawrinka would calmly, and easily break him back, evening the match up, but the Swiss couldn’t convert a set point chance 5-4 up, on the Argentine veteran’s serve to clinch the opening frame. Berlocq ball bashed his way to a first set tiebreak, and it was handled incredibly poorly by both players. Wawrinka had to save a multitude of set points, some of which were on Berlocq’s serve, and couldn’t convert his own, eventually letting the Argentine close it out 11-9, in an error filled, and sloppy first set. At the end of the set, Wawrinka sent his racquet on a ride enraged at having blown his chance at a routine victory against an underdog opponent, and guaranteed the need for three sets of tennis if he was to come back, which is never something a top player wants in the opening round.
Wawrinka got off to a good start in set 2, and broke Berlocq at love, as the Argentine was perhaps still delirious from his tiebreak triumph. He would recover, breaking back for 2-2. He later saved break points for a 4-3 lead, but Wawrinka would save a pair serving 3-4 to prevent the Argentine from having the chance to serve out the match. Berlocq would be broken on the third break point chance of the game at 5-5, and Wawrinka would eventually close out the second set 7-5 on his third set point chance, as it was a long and grinding game.
Come the third set, Wawrinka had the momentum, and the hopes of Berlocq began to fade, Wawrinka rushed out to a 5-1 lead, and though Berlocq would save a match point on his own serve, in what was a long game at 1-5, Wawrinka would close the match out on his fourth chance to do so, finishing 6-2, as the third set was still quite long, and more challenging than the scoreline would indicate for the Swiss number 2. All the same, he will be pleased with his tenacious victory, having mentally overcome the horrors of Indian Wells.
Joining Wawrinka in the third round is another player top player who has been prone to be upset this year, that being Spanish lefty Rafael Nadal, as he blitzed past his countryman, and occasional rival Nicolas Almagro 6-4 6-2.
Rafa was trademark quality in his opening match in Miami (photo credit Esam Taha)
The world #3 took on a somewhat on form Almagro in a tricky matchup. Almagro had to battle past Sergiy Stakhovsky in the 1st round, who’s in the form of his career, and staved off a massive collapse to do so. Nico himself has been finding his rhythm lately after the injury layoff, making a deep run in Buenos Aires before losing to Monaco in the semifinal. Nadal meanwhile has been looking like a shadow of his old self since returning from injury. Having said that he looked much better in Indian Wells, although he would lose to a Raonic that he would’ve likely put away a couple of years ago. Playing well in Miami would provide the Spaniard with a pivotal confidence boost entering the clay season.
The first set didn’t start off the way Rafa would’ve liked, piling on unforced error early on as he struggled to hold serve. Almagro meanwhile looked much sharper, getting nice pace on his forehands and placing the one-handed backhand well. However, completely against the run of play, Nadal would find a way to break Almagro to take a 2-1 lead, as the latter double faulted and missed a forehand sitter. Nadal would consolidate the break to go up 3-1. Nico would not be let down by the break and continue to put Nadal on the backfoot with some attractive attacking tennis, holding at love to keep the lead at a single break. Nadal still seemed a bit shaky with several shanks and uncharacteristic misses, but managed to hold serve to keep the lead at 4-2. Nico’s level at this point would start to deteriorate, committing error after error, but he still managed to hold.
At this moment in the match the tennis wasn’t of the highest quality. Almagro would sum that period of play by producing back to back double faults, falling into a 0-30 hole. He would regain his composure with some good serving and force Rafa to serve out the set at 5-4. Almagro would somehow keep himself in that pivotal game despite not playing his best tennis, and eventually generate double break point. Nadal however would step his game up, he had started to find his groove towards the tail-end of the 1st set. Both break points were be saved. Almagro would have another break chance but blew that as well. The set was be sealed with the point of the match. Nadal played incredible defense to keep himself in a point, that Almagro virtually won twice, before turning defense into offense with a blistering DTL forehand winner to freeze a stunned Almagro. The Miami crowd going wild at the beautifully played point.
Nico was feisty on the day but came up short (photo credit Esam Taha)
Almagro still had some fight left in him, he would hold with relative comfort to kick things off in the 2nd. Nadal would hold easily and it was clear to the crowd that the 4-time Miami Open finalist had elevated his level. Rafa was now hitting his spots and Almagro was having trouble dealing with the massive top spin the former generates. It didn’t surprise the crowd when Nadal broke a game later on double break point to go up 2-1. He would follow that with a quick love hold and generating break points again on Nico’s serve. Rafa would flash some of his doubles skills with some almost super-human reflexes at the net to generate those break points, leaving Almagro standing with his hand on his hips completely deflated. Nadal would get the break and put a firm grip on the set going up 4-1. Even when Nadal gifts Nico a couple of double faults, the latter found a way to not take advantage, this time he would miss a routine overhead smash. Nadal would serve at 5-2 to close out the match, and face little resistance from Almagro as he wrapped up a relatively routine 2nd round victory 6-4, 6-2.
Vamos! (photo credit Esam Taha)
After the match Nadal commented on his ankle in press, “I am well, no? I had just a little bit, how do you say, small torn in the beginning, so it was going to be tough. The day after I had pain, but after 2 days I improved 50% and stays the same. It’s not limiting my movements.” It appears Nadal is growing in confidence the more hard court matches he plays this season, as he was better here than in most of his Indian Wells matches.
Tomas Berdych, who may be on a track to face Nadal later on in the tournament, was also a winner today 6-3 6-4, as he had the early match against the South Korean teen Hyeon Chung, and adapted well to the conditions, and his unfamiliarity with Chung. The Korean young gun hung in there with the powerful Czech until he was broken to go down 4-2 in the first set, and though he responded boldly by breaking back, he couldn’t hold his serve in the next game, and eventually Berdych held to take it 6-3.
In the second set, Chung shockingly broke Berdych for 3-1, and was at one point 4-1 up, only to lose the plot, and find Berdych come back on him to even it up at 4-4. His inexperienced showed at that point, as he lost the next two games, and in fact five consecutive games from 4-1 in the second set, to lose the match in straight sets. He has a lot of raw potential, but it’s still going to be some time, and experience needed before he is a true threat to upset top 10 players like Berdych.
Tomas’s doppleganger, and most frequent opponent on the ATP Tour, Kevin Anderson, snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat 6-7 7-6 6-4 against Sam Querrey, a player he has struggled with before, and did for large parts of today. Though big Kev is ranked more than two spots higher than Querrey in the rankings, they were quite evenly matched on court. With big serving and powerful forehands the norm, Anderson saved a pair of break points in the first set, eventually forcing a tiebreak. Shockingly, both players saw their serve desert them in that tiebreak, but eventually Querrey would convert his second set point chance to take it.
In the second, Anderson had to break back Querrey twice, once 3-4 down, and the second time 5-6 down, when Querrey was serving for the match. The South African number 1, who rarely breaks his opponents serve, amazingly broke a choking Querrey from 0-40 in that final game of the second set. They went to another tiebreak, and Anderson continued his momentum, racing out to a 5-1 lead, that he never looked back from, finishing it off 7-3 to force a third set.
Querrey is severely lacking confidence in his game, and just like in Indian Wells where he lost a set and a break up against Sergiy Stakhovsky, he lost hope in the third, Anderson broke in the opening game, and then bludgeoned the American on serve to eventually close it out on his only match point chance 6-4.
We could see Anderson matchup with Andy Murray, playing at his personal training facility this week, later in the tournament. Murray dominated Donald Young yet again, 6-4 6-2. Murray had a minor slip up, after gathering a big lead 5-1 in the first, but otherwise Young was abysmally confident as he got ran off the court by the time the second set came around.
Austin Krajicek put up a valiant effort at an upset, but he would be the final domino that would confirm an 0-3 record for American men in day 4. Krajicek fell to Bernard Tomic 7-6 7-5, in a closely contested match, as Tomic had to work his way back into form from injury problems in Indian Wells, where he was a quarter-finalist. Other players into round 3 include Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (6-4 6-4 over J.L. Struff), Leonardo Mayer (6-4 7-6 over Jarkko Nieminen), Santiago Giraldo, who regained some form of his own, and snapped Robin Haase’s sudden momentum, with a 6-2 3-6 6-0 victory, and Dominic Thiem, who beat Feliciano Lopez for the second time in his career.
The Spanish slice server Flopez, who remains markedly improved as of late compared to his previous history, played a solid first set and got off to a strong start, but he failed to maintain his break of serve 4-2 up, and later he would be forced into a tiebreak, as Thiem would erase any chance at another break of serve. In that tiebreak, Thiem played brilliant tactically and technically, getting the one minibreak of serve he needed to go up a set. Lopez fought back, breaking to go up 4-2 in the second, and this time he fought off break point chances (two of them to be exact at 4-3), to eventually hold and force a third set. Lopez almost seemed fatigued in the third, as Thiem played some of his best tennis, and perhaps his best match of 2015, to score what is in fact the best win of the year for the Austrian young gun. He saved a trio of break point chances at 1-1 in the third, and never looked back, breaking for 3-1 and holding serve for a 7-6 4-6 6-3 victory. Thiem masterfully dealt with Lopez’s serve and volley aggressive, not getting rushed, or forcing his shots too much, his gameplan was executed to its peak, and he hit some masterful shots, especially passing shots, to the thrill of the crowd, in what was a high quality contest, with either player likely to beat many other players in the field, had they faced someone else.
All of the big names got through their 2nd round singles matches on Friday in Miami on the WTA side. Sloane Stephens beat fellow American Madison Keys in a slugfest 6-4 6-2, in what was a big win for her. Belinda Bencic beat Casey Dellacqua in an unexpected 3 set struggle 6-2 4-6 6-2, and Simona Halep ended, what would have been a cinderella run, from comeback kid Nicole Vaidisova 6-2 2-6 6-1. Still the Czech has to be pleased with her performance this tournament as a wild card, and taking a set off an elite WTA player bodes well for the rest of her season.
Sabine Lisicki beat her countrywoman Julia Goerges 7-6 6-7 6-4 in a matchup featuring power tennis at its best, Cici Bellis continued to make everyone feel old, as the 15 year old shocked a listless Zarina Diyas, the world number 32 in a mere hour 6-2 6-1. Italians Flavia Pennetta and Camila Giorgi both had the mojo to win, Pennetta 6-7 6-3 6-3 over Tsvetana Pironkova. and Giorgi more easily 6-3 6-2 over Alison Van Uytvanck. Garbine Muguruza was another seeded winner 6-1 6-3 over Sesil Karatantcheva, Ana Ivanovic avoided a collapse and slipped past American Irina Falconi 7-5 6-7 6-3. Ivanovic had three match points in the second set and served for the match. Victoria Azarenka destroyed Jelena Jankovic, who was likely fatigued, 6-1 6-1, Svetlana Kuznetsova relied on her experienced to beat Alison Riske 6-2 6-2 and Johanna Larsson upset Lucie Safarova 7-6 6-2, one of the few WTA upsets on the day.
The big doubles match of the day, and one of the biggest matches on the day in general, featured Novak Djokovic and Janko Tipsarevic, good friends and both leaders of Serbian tennis, teaming up to take on Robert Lindstedt and Jurgen Melzer. It was Tipsarevic’s first match back on tour in over a year, since more surgeries and a benign tumor in his foot kept him sidelined. The Serbian veteran baseliner was happy to be back on court, and not only seemed to relish playing with Novak, he also played well for himself, hitting some great shots, as did the world number 1. However, Lindstedt/Melzer play doubles much more often for a living, and their experience helped them to a 6-4 3-6 10-7 victory.
After the match, Novak did press, and here is what he had to say about his role in supporting his former top 10 countryman and friend, Tipsarevic.
“Yeah. It’s incredibly sad story with him in last 17 months. I know him for such a long time. We are great friends. His last official match was in October 2013, and ever since then he was suffering from injuries. Mostly from the heel that he had to operate I think two or three times. Along the way he also hurt some other muscles and joints. Just a very dreadful time for him. I tried to, as a friend and as a colleague, be close to him, to give him support, to let him know that I’m there and I wish him to have a speedy recovery and to come back as quick as possible. So the opportunity to play today with him was very special for me, really, as a friend and I cared very much to win this match today. I got very tight in the super-tiebreaker, I have to say, because it was a very tough match. We lost to two of the great, very good doubles players. But we talked after the match, and he appreciated the fact that he can actually play. Just feel that match play you know, have that sensation of how it feels and what it takes to be on the court. 17 month is a long time for injuries, and he’s also not young. You know, he’s now 31 this year, but he’s eager to play. He’s motivated. He feels 100% and he decided actually it’s better to skip this tournament in singles because he needed to a little bit more time to get in to it. Hopefully this doubles match today can help him. When he plays now in Houston after Miami he can perform his best. He can relax. He know, that’s the top 10. I really wish him that.”
Tipsarevic seemed to be pleased with his level of play, and given his general ease out there, I expect to see him fit, healthy, and perhaps causing some surprises the rest of the season, just like another Serb who made a recent comeback, Viktor Troicki did.
The other ATP doubles winners were Ryan Harrison/Rajeev Ram (1-6 6-4 10-4 over Eric Butorac/Sam Groth), and Nicolas Mahut/Edouard Roger-Vasselin (6-3 1-0 ret. over Viktor Troicki/Roberto Bautista Agut).
Martina Hingis and her partner Sania Mirza advanced over Bodgan/Melichar in WTA doubles 6-1 6-0, and in other scores, Babos/Mladenovic beat Date-Krumm/Pliskova 6-2 6-7 13-11, Dabrowski/Rosolska beat Medina/Tomljanovic 7-6 6-3, Hlavackova/Hradecka beat Aoyama/Voracova 7-5 4-6 10-5, and Makarova/Vesina, an all Russian pair, beat Krajicek/Zahlavova-Strycova 6-2 2-6 10-4.
Rain suspension adds to busy Saturday schedule in Crandon Park
The night matches were canceled due to rain in Miami, meaning the Saturday schedule is jam packed. Serena Williams, Aga Radwanska, and Caroline Wozniacki will all be action on stadium court in WTA singles, while top men’s players on stadium will be Novak Djokovic in the evening, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Grigor Dimitrov during the day.
Kei Nishikori will take to grandstand, as will top American John Isner, Venus Wiliams, and Milos Raonic, the Manitoba missile. American Jack Sock got pushed onto court 1, along with David Ferrer, talented shotmaker Alex Dolgopolov, and the Bryan Brothers.
Eugenie Bouchard, Gael Monfils, Borna Coric. Ernests Gulbis, and many other other intriguing, and fan favorite players have been pushed onto the outer courts given the tight schedule tomorrow.
As for matches in progress before the rain delay, Adrian Mannarino and Albert Ramos were locked in a struggle, one set each, before the rains came, and they will conclude with the third set of their match on Saturday. Two other WTA singles matches were also well underway at the time the rain struck, Heather Watson had dropped the first set to Angelique Kerber 7-5, and Sara Errani was on the verge of closing out Anatasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1 4-1.
Serbia, Czech Republic to Meet in Davis Cup Final; Netherlands, Britain, Australia Join World Group
World Group Semis:
Serbia d. Canada 3-2
Serbia got a pair of singles wins from Novak Djokovic and came from behind as Janko Tipsarevic won the decisive 5th rubber in straight sets over Vasek Pospisil, sending the home team into the final.
Canada’s Milos Raonic grabbed a singles win, and Canada won the doubles but it wasn’t enough as they lost twice on Sunday.
Czech Republic d. Argentina 3-2
The Czechs clinched on Saturday and they will have a shot to repeat as DC champions. Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek went 2-0 on Friday against Juan Monaco and Leo Mayer, then won the doubles over Berlocq/Zeballos to clinch 3-0. Horacio Zeballos and Leo Mayer won the 2 dead rubbers on Sunday over Lukas Rosol and Jiri Vesely.
World Group Playoffs
Spain d. Ukraine 5-0
Spain blanked Ukraine, with Fernando Verdasco and Rafael Nadal winning their singles rubbers, and Nadal/Marc Lopez winning the Saturday doubles to seal it.
Alex Dolgopolov and Sergiy Stakhovsky just couldn’t get it done for the away team and Lopez/Verdasco won the two dead singles rubbers.
Netherlands d. Austria 5-0
The Dutch make the big show as Robin Haase grabbed a singles win over replacement player Oliver Marach, along with a Saturday doubles victory with Jean-Julien Rojer over Julian Knowle and Marach to clinch.
Thiemo De Bakker beat Jurgen Melzer on Friday in the other singles, and the shutout was completed on Sunday as Jesse Huta Galung and De Bakker added wins.
Great Britain d. Croatia 4-1
Andy Murray got 2 singles wins and took part in a doubles win (with Colin Fleming) to almost singlehandedly take out a weakened Croatian team and send the Union Jack into the World Group, where Murray says he will participate.
Ivan Dodig did beat Dan Evans on Friday to even things at 1-1, but fell to Murray in the first singles rubber on Sunday and that was that.
Switzerland d. Ecuador 4-1
Stan Wawrinka and Marco Chiudinelli got the hosts off to a 2-0 start Friday before Wawrinka and Michael Lammer clinched the doubles point to secure their continued participation in the World Group.
Lammer got one of the dead rubber singles wins but Gonzalo Escobar got the other one to guarantee Ecuador got on the board.
Germany d. Brazil 4-1
Phillip Kohlschreiber and Florian Mayer got the hosts off to a 2-0 start, but Brazil kept the tie alive by winning the doubles point with Melo/Soares.
Daniel Brands beat Thomaz Bellucci in the first Sunday match to seal the result, however, and Mayer finished things off with a dead rubber win.
Australia d. Poland 4-1
Lleyton Hewitt and Bernie Tomic did a double punch to give the green and gold a 2-0 lead on Friday.
Poland pulled within 1-2 winning the doubles point, but Tomic beat Lukasz Kubot to clinch the result and send the Aussies back to the main group.
Belgium d. Israel 3-2
One of the more exciting ties this weekend, Steve Darcis was the key for Belgium as he beat Dudi Sela on Thursday and Amir Weintraub in the 5th rubber to clinch the tie.
Ruben Bemelmans went 1-1 in singles for the Belgians, losing on Thursday to Weintraub but beating Dudi Sela in the 4th rubber. Erlich/Ram won the doubles point for Israel.
Japan d. Colombia 3-2
Go Soeda beat Alejandro Falla in 4 sets to clinch a comeback victory for Japan. Kei Nishikori beat both Fall and Santiago Giraldo, while Soeda lost to Giraldo on Friday and Cabal/Farah won the doubles point for Colombia. This was close but Japan had more fight this time.
Murray Retains Brisbane, Tipsarevic Gets Over Hump in Chennai
Brisbane Official Site
Andy Murray was able to just slightly outmatch a skillful Grigor Dimitrov and retain the ATP Brisbane title in exciting fashion 7-6, 6-4, in a match closer than the scoreline would indicate.
Early on, it was clear the youngster Dimitrov had come to play as he was firing on all cylinders to a aggressive 3-0 1st set lead. Murray woke up a bit, though, and they preceded to trade holds through the first set until finally Dimitrov was serving for the opening set at 5-3. He failed to get the hold though as he finally showed cracks in his game. After Murray eked out a tough hold in the next game, they traded holds until the tiebreak in which Dimitrov’s game collapsed and Murray won without conceding a point.
In the 2nd set Dimitrov didn’t completely fade though, and in fact, continued to hold off of his powerful serve and hit the occasional nice winner on Murray, who was finally playing a bit more aggressive than he had in the 1st set. The experience of Murray came into play yet again though as he broke at the end of the set and took the match.
Even though he fell short in the final, Dimitrov finally capitalized on his talent and unique playstyle to make his first career ATP final. He did so by beating Brian Baker, upsetting 2 seed Milos Raonic, notching a win over 7 seed Jurgen Melzer in the quarters in straights, and coming back from a set down against the crafty Marcos Baghdatis in the semis 3-6, 7-5, 7-6. Baghdatis had beaten seeded players Gilles Simon and Florian Mayer to make the semis, both in straights.
Murray, for his part, wasn’t exactly lights out the whole tournament. He did get the job done, beating John Millman in 3 sets, Denis Istomin in straights and winning a set off a slightly injured Kei Nishikori before Nishikori was forced to retire early in the 2nd set. Nishikori had played a quite competitive match with Alexandr Dolgopolov in the quarterfinals, in which both guys played like flying darts around the court.
In the doubles, the unseeded Marcel Mello and Tommy Robredo beat Paul Hanley and Eric Butorac for the title.
Chennai Open Official Site
Last year’s runner up Janko Tipsarevic got over the hump this time and beat surprise finalist Roberto Bautista-Agut of Spain 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 to capture the Chennai final, in which the first set was competitive and in the latter sets the experience of Tipsarevic came into play.
Tipsy had previously gotten through Edouard Roger-Vasselin and Go Soeda in straights and then worked past surprise semi-finalist Aljaz Bedene 4-6, 6-2, 6-2. Bedene had upset Stan Wawrinka in the previous round.
For the usual challenger player Bautista-Agut, who will be at a career high ranking beyond the top 75 when the new ATP rankings come out, he reached his first career ATP final at the age of 24 and vastly improved upon his 3-10 record at the ATP level in 2012. He did win three challengers last year and qualified for the Aussie open.
To get to the Chennai final, he ripped through Blaz Kavic and Matthias Bachinger in straights, shocked top seed Tomas Berdych in 3 sets and then beat Benoit Paire in 3 sets to make the final. Paire had beaten Marin Cilic in 3 sets in the quarterfinals.
In the doubles, best friends Wawrinka and Paire rolled over the German pair of Andre Begemann and Martin Emmrich for the title.