Maximo Gonzalez and Franko Skugor Impress During Morocco Qualifying Adam Addicott, Tennis Atlantic
With the highest ranked player in the main draw being world No.37, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, this week’s Grand Prix Hassan in Morocco is a golden opportunity for the lower ranked players to gain valuable ATP points.
The qualifying draw of the tournament saw a big shock on its first day after top seed Kenny de Schepper crashed out to Croatia’s Nikola Mektic. The French world No.140 took the first set with ease before suffering a surprise 2-6, 6-2, 6-4, loss to Mektic. 27-year-old Mektic has never played in a Grand Slam tournament and has never won a Challenger tournament. Nevertheless, he continued his run in the second round against France’s Maxime Chazal, a player who reached a career ranking high of 327th earlier this year. Firing eight aces and winning 79% of first service points, the Croat defeated Chazal 7-6(6), 6-3, to reach his first ATP main draw since the 2015 Bucharest Open.
The highest ranked player to reach the main draw in Marrakesh was Argentine third seed Maximo Gonzalez. The 32-year-old, who achieved a ranking best of 58th in 2009, has only won three main draw matches this year. The Spaniard plays best on clay, with all of his 23 pro titles being won on the surface. After easing to a 6-1, 6-4, win over Gerard Granollers in the first round. He faced seventh seed Mathias Bourgue in the final round. The world No.144 was impressive against the Frenchman, winning 80% of his first service points during his 6-4, 6-2, triumph.
Franko Skugor reached his second ATP main draw of 2016 by stunning second seed Elias Ymer in the final round. Skugor, who dropped only two games in his first round match, was on the verge of going out after trailing 4-6, 1-3, to the Swedish player. Despite the slow start, the world No.156 staged an epic comeback to win 6-4, 4-6, 6-2. The loss means that Ymer has still only won two main draw matches on the tour this year. Meanwhile, Skugor will be bidding to grab his sixth main draw win of the season in Morocco.
The biggest surprise of the draw was Italy’s Lorenzo Giustino. The Italian is currently ranked 254th in the world and has won four titles on the Futures tour. In Marrakesh he was the only qualifier player to produce back-to-back wins against seeded players on his way to the main draw. After battling past fourth seed Kimmer Coppejans (5-7, 6-4, 6-3), he faced Russian fifth seed Andrey Rublev. Last month Rublev won the biggest title of his career after defeating Paul-Henri Mathieu in the final of the ATP Quimper Challenger. Despite Rublev’s recent surge in form, Giustino managed to grab the shock 6-4, 6-3, win.
First round matches
Q Nikola Mektic.CRO Vs WC Reda El Amrani MOR
Q Maximo Gonzalez ARG Vs Daniel Muñoz de la Nava ESP
Favorites Stumble in Marseille As Mischa Zverev and Julien Benneteau Shine During Qualifying Adam Addicott, Tennis Atlantic
Shocks galore occurred during the qualifying tournament at the 23rd Open 13 in Marseille, France. Only one of the eight seeded players was able to win back-to-back matches to qualify for the main draw.
The field was headed by world No.112 Marsel Ilhan. The Turkish players have endured a poor start in 2015 after producing just one win in his first five tournaments of the year. Initially the top seed started off well in Marseille with a 6-4, 6-2, win over wildcard Clément Larrière. The win set Ilhan up with a showdown against Germany’s Mischa Zverev. Recently Zverev teamed up with his younger brother Alex in the doubles to reach the final of the Montpellier Open. Zverev continued his momentum from Montpelier with a 7-5, 3-6, 6-1, triumph over Russian seventh seed Karen Khachanov. Despite being ranked 63 places higher in the rankings than Zverev, Ilhan blown away by the German. Zverev won 84% of his total service points and converted 4/8 break points to take the match 6-3, 6-1, in under 50 minutes.
Julien Benneteau put behind a challenging 2015 with back-to-back wins in his home country. The 34-year-old missed nine months of the tour last year due to persistent injury. In June he underwent an operation to treat a problem with his groin. He returned to the tour at the Noumea Challenger where he reached the quarterfinals. Since his encouraging start, Benneteau has suffered three consecutive first round defeats. The wildcard began his Marseille campaign with an impressive 6-1, 6-1, win over Italian sixth seed Thomas Fabbiano. Benneteau produces 9 aces and won 82% of his first serves during his opening victory.
Next for the 34-year-old was world No.207 Tristan Lamasine. Lamasine stunned Edouard Roger-Vasselin in two close sets during his first match. Similar to his win over Fabbiano, Benneteau was once again impressive on his serving throughout his second round match. The French veteran produced 11 aces, won 87% of his first serves and faced no break points during his 6-4, 6-4, win over the 22-year-old. Benneteau will now be bidding to win his first main draw match on the ATP Tour since the 2015 Sydney International.
The only seed to triumph was eighth seed Kenny de Schepper. Last week at the Montpellier Open he reached the second round as a qualifier before losing to Michael Berrer. Schepper eased his way past Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics (6-4,6-4) to face Peter Gojowczyk. The world No.194 defeated third seed Daniel Brands in straight sets in his first match. Schepper’s second round encounter was a two-hour battle as the Frenchman edged past his German opponent 7-6(0), 4-6, 6-4.
Completing the trio of French qualifiers was Vincent Millot. Milot kicked-off his qualifying campaign with an impressive win over second seed Ruben Bemelmans. Milot was a break down in the third set before fighting back to defeat the Belgian 6-0, 3-6, 6-4. Bemelmans is the highest ranked player that Milot has beaten since Colombia’s Santiago Giraldo at the ATP Open de Rennes last October. The 30-year-old was on course to face fifth seed Go Soeda, however, the Japanese player lost in three sets to unseeded David Guez. Milot’s record against Guez stood at 2-5 prior to their showdown in Marseille, however, he won their most recent encounter in the first round of this year’s Australian Open qualifying tournament. The world No.196 continued narrow the head-to-head between the two men as he battle to win 7-5,6-7(5),6-1, to reach the main draw.
First round matches
Q Vincent Millor FRA – Nicolas Mahut FRA
Q Kenny De Schepper FAR – Ernests Gulbia LAT
Q Mischa Zverev GER – WC Ramkumar Ramanathan IND
Q Julien Benneteau FRA – WC Alexander Vzerev GER
Struff enjoyed a brief first round match after his opponent, Serbia’s Miljan Zekic, retired whilst trailing 1-5. In the last round Struff faced world No.251 Jan Satral. Satral knocked out 7th seed Mirza Basic in the first round after two closely fought sets – 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4). This year Satral has won two Futures titles and his first ever Challenger title in doubles. Despite 155 places separating the two players, the final encounter was a tough match for the third seed. After taking the opening set comfortably, Struff trailed 2-5 in the second set and saved three set points before clawing his way back to 5-5. As the second set went into a tie-break, the German world No.96 experienced another problem. Satral rapidly opened up a 5-0 lead but failed to close the set out as Stuff staged another comeback to book his place in the main draw. Struff took the match 6-3, 7-6 (9) after an hour and twenty-four minutes.
France’s Kenny de Schepper joined Struff in the final after stunning Belgian top seed Ruben Bemelmans. De Schepper booked his in place in the final round of qualifying after beating Switzerland’s Marco Chiudinelli 6-4, 6-3. Meanwhile, Bemelmans received a first round bye. World No.121 De Schepper saved three break points as he brushed aside the top seed 6-3, 6-2. This was the second time in two weeks that De Schepper has beaten the Belgian. In the first round of the Mons Challenger in Belgium last week he defeated Bemelmans in three sets. The Frenchman comes to Austria high in confidence after reaching back-to-back Challenger semifinals in France and Belgium.
Japan’s Yuichi Sugita defeated Spain’s Jaume Munar (6-1, 6-2) in the first round to set up a clash with second seed Nikoloz Basilashvili. Leading into the qualifying tournament, Sugita has won 11 out of 15 matches played since the US Open. The 27-year-old won his first title of the year at the Bangkok Challenger last month. During his 86-minute match against Basilashvili, Sugita broke the Georgian player four times as he took the match 6-3, 7-5, to move into the first round of the tournament for the first time in his career.
Finally 19-year-old Austrian wildcard Lucas Miedler qualified for the first ATP main draw in his career. During his junior career, Meidler won the 2014 Australian Open boys’ doubles title. This year Meidler has already won 11 Futures titles on the doubles circuit. During the qualifying tournament, Miedler came from a set and a break down in the first set to defeat Italian 8th seed Riccardo Bellotti 3-6, 6-4, 6-4. In the final round he played 35-year-old fourth seed Michael Berrer. Berrer has recently confirmed that he has delayed his retirement plans after enjoying a promising 2015 season where he beat Rafael Nadal in January and reached his first ATP semifinal in three years in Colombia. Despite being ranked 400 places lower than Berrer, Meidler faced no break points as he stunned the German 6-4, 6-4.
First Round Matches
Yuichi Sugita Vs Lukas Rosol – Rosol has beaten Sugita once before which was in 2010 during the qualifying rounds of the US Open.
Jan-Lennard Struff Vs Sergiy Stakhovsky – This will be their seventh meeting with Struff leading 6-1. They have played each other twice in 2015. Struff won in the Orleans Challenger, but Stakhovsky won in the second round of the Marseille Open.
Leading them into the main draw was world number 141 Kenny De Schepper. The 28-year-old eased himself past two French players in his quarter. In the first round, he came through two close sets against Hugo Nys. Nys is ranked 439th in the world and won one Futures title in Egypt earlier this year. Following his triumph over Nys, Schepper faced fifth seed Constant Lestienne for a place in the main draw. Lestienne achieved a landmark in his career earlier this year by qualifying for his first ATP main draw at the Estoril Open in Portugal. During the 71-minute match, Schepper didn’t drop his serve as he eased to the 7-5, 6-3, win.
In the main draw Schepper faced another qualifier, Édouard Roger-Vasselin. Roger-Vasselin dropped eight games to book his place in his fifth main draw at the tournament. Since 2010 he has claimed just one victory in the main draw of the tournament, which was against Federico Delbonis in 2013. Throughout qualifying he beat New Zealand’s Michael Venus before crushing Enzo Couacaud in the final round. Playing 20-year-old Couacaud, Roger-Vasselin cruised to the 6-1, 6-1, win in less than an hour.
Despite the two being regulars on the tour for some time (Roger-Vasselin in 31 and Schepper in 28), this was their first meeting. With 27 places separating the two players, their first round match was a close encounter. Roger-Vasselin booked his place in the second round after edging out his countryman 6-4, 7-6(2). During the match a costly drop of service in the third game of the match resulted in Schepper losing the first set. The second set was a closer encounter with both players matching each other until 6-6. The closeness suddenly faded away at 2-2 in the tie-break when Roger-Vasselin claimed five consecutive points to take the match. This is his first main draw win in an ATP 250 event since Newport in July.
The third French qualifier was Vincent Millot. The 29-year-old won his first Challenger title in four years earlier this year in Granby. During qualifying Millot eased his way past little known player Tom Schönenberg (world No.694) to set up a showdown with countryman Maxime Teixeira. After a slow start to the match where he was trailing 1-3 in the first set, Millot clawed his way to win 7-5, 6-4.
In the main draw Millot faced another French player, 7th seed Adrian Mannarino. Mannarino is currently ranked 39th in the world and has reached the final at two ATP tournaments (Auckland and Bogota). Millot was unable to cause a shock in Metz as he lost in straight sets, 6-2,7-5.
The only exception to the French qualifier list was Germany’s Mischa Zverev. In his final qualifying match he played fellow countryman Daniel Brands. Brands, who reached a ranking high of 51 in 2013, were sidelined from the tour during 2014 due to mononucleosis but has won 2 Future titles in 2015. Zverev endured tricky match against Brands as he took it 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.
Throughout 2015 Zverev has played the majority of matches in the qualifying stages. Prior to this week the 28-year-old has played 14 main draw matches, winning five of them. Despite this he continued his winning streak from qualifying into the main draw as he defeated Pablo Carreño Busta in the first round. The German took the match 6-2,6-7(3),6-1, to set up a second round showdown with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
There was a double French celebration during the qualifying round of the Generali Open in Austria. The tournament is the final clay court event on the 2015 ATP Tour calendar.
Headlining the qualifying field was French world No.111 Paul-Henri Mathieu. The Frenchman entered the competition in impressive form following his successful run in Bastad, Sweden last month where he reached the quarter-final as a qualifier. In the main draw he produced wins over Jeremy Chardy and Ernests Gulbis. During the Kitzbuhel qualifying rounds, he beat Czech Republic’s Marek Michalička to set up a showdown with Spanish teenager Jaume Munar. The 18-year-old recently receive a wild-card entry into the ATP Hamburg German Open and reached the second round due to his opponent retiring. During his time in Hamburg, Munar demonstrated some impressive play to justify his wild-card, however he was unable to tame Mathieu in Austria. The top seed eased himself to a 6-4, 6-3, victory.
Accompanying Mathieu in the main draw will be his fellow countryman Kenny De Schepper. After two straightforward wins in the first two matches of qualifying, the 28-year-old endured an epic encounter against Spanish second seed Albert Montanes in the final round. Leading up to Kitzbuhel the Spaniard has lost to players ranked lower than him in the four previous tournaments. De Schepper was on the brink of exit as Montanes had two match points in the second set but failed to convert them. His failure was a catastrophe as Kenny valiantly battled to take the second set in the tie-break before edging his way to the win 3-6, 7-6 (4), 7-5.
Jan-Lennard Struff’s troublesome 2015 received a boost following his 6-2, 7-5, win against Jozef Kovalík. The German has played 22 main draw matches this year, but has only won 5 of them. Before his win over Kovalik, Struff defeated world No.197 Jordi Samper-Montana and Austrian wild-card Lenny Hampel. This is the second time this year that the German has produced three successive wins at the same tournaments. The first was at the ATP Heilbronn Challenger in Germany, where he reached the semi-final.
Finally, Brazilian world No.302 Rogerio Dutra Silva stunned sixth seed Carlos Berlocq to reach his second successive ATP Main draw. The Brazilian knocked out 4th seed Norbert Gombos in the first round followed by local player Pascal Brunner in the second. Despite a second set blip in which Silva trailed 4-0, the underdog held his nerve as he battled to the shock 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (3) victory after two hours and 40 minutes.
Rogerio Dutra Silva vs. Santiago Giraldo: Giraldo leads the head-to-head 3-2. Their most recent meeting was in the first round of Houston this year where Giraldo won 6-2,6-2. Despite playing five previous meetings, in the past seven years they have only played each other twice.
Jan-Lennard Struff vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber: They have played each other three times since 2014 with Struff leading the head-to-head 2-1 due to Kohlschreiber retiring in one of their matches. Their latest meeting was at the start of the year in Doha where Struff won in three sets. They are also Davis Cup teammates for Germany.
Kenny de Schepper – Paul-Henri Mathieu: This is the first meeting between the two Frenchmen, Mathieu’s strong recent form likely gives him an edge.
Former Champ Mahut Among Qualifiers at ATP Den Bosch 2015 Adam Addicott, Tennis Atlantic
Less than 24 hours after Stan Wawrinka’s impressive win over Novak Djokovic in the final of the French Open, the last round of qualifying got underway at the Topshelf Open in s-Hertogenbosch. The start of the competition saw two shock first round exits for the two highest ranked players, Chung Hyeon and Lucas Pouille, which paved the way for the lower rank players to book their place in the main draw.
The highest ranked player to survive the three qualifying rounds was 4th seed Tatsuma Ito who didn’t drop a set throughout the three rounds. In the final round Ito was up against Czech veteran Jan Hernych. The 35-year-old reached the final round after beating 8th seed Paul-Henri Mathieu in three sets. Hernych was however unable to produce another shock against the Japanese player as Ito took it 6-4, 6-4. In both sets the Czech took the lead by breaking Ito but failed to consolidate either of the breaks. The vulnerability of Hernych’s serve was problematic throughout as his rival battled to break him on five separate occasions.
Nicolas Mahut maintained his recent solid form with a three sets win over Kenny de Schepper. Prior to the tournament, the Frenchman beat Ernests Gulbis to reach the third round of the French Open, his best result at Roland Garros since 2012. The run also elevated 19 places back into the top 100. The match was however far from straightforward for the former Den Bosch champion as Schepper forced Mahut to recover from a set down during the match which lasted almost two hours. Mahut gradually took the match 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. De Schepper reached the main draw as a lucky loser.
Illya Marchenko endured a tough test against shock third round rival Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi from Pakistan. Qureshi is a doubles specialist and hasn’t qualified for the main draw of any singles tournament since the ATP Helsinki Challenger back in 2009. Despite his lack of participation in singles tournaments, the Pakistani player reminded many of why he has been ranked as high as 125 in the world by recovering from a set and 0-3 down to force proceedings into a final set. Unfortunately the fairy tale ending for the Pakistani failed to happen as Merchenko battled to win 6-4, 6-7(6), 7-5. A big win for the Ukrainian in both a physical as well as a mental way.
Finally, Marco Chiudinelli gave Swiss tennis fans yet another reason to celebrate as he completed the list of qualifiers. The Swiss player began qualification with a sensational straight sets victory over second seed Lucas Pouille, dropping just four games. He then beat wildcard Thiemo de Bakker in three sets to set up a final round showdown against world number 143 Pierre-Hugues Herbert. After being blown away in the first set by the Frenchman, Chiudinelli worked himself back into the match to win 1-6, 6-4, 6-1. It’s just the second tournament of 2015 for Marco.
(Q)Tatsuma Ito vs. Ričardas Berankis
Ito leads the head-to-head 2-0. He has beaten Berankis twice in 2014 in the final round of the Wimbledon qualification tournament and during the second round of qualification in Brisbane.
(Q)Nicolas Mahut vs. (WC)Lleyton Hewitt
Since 2008 they have played each other on three different surfaces (grass, clay and hard-courts). Hewitt leads the head-to-head 2-1, however, Mahut won their most recent meeting at the 2013 Newport Open which was on grass.
(Q)Marco Chiudinelli vs. Benoit Paire
(Q)Illya Marchenko vs. Mikhail Youzhny
(LL)Kenny de Schepper vs. Jurgen Melzer
Machado upsets Sousa, Gasquet, Kyrgios make strides Estoril Open 2015 Tuesday Manuel Traquete for Tennis Atlantic
Tuesday at the Estoril Open featured the end of the first round of the main draw, a total of 8 matches in 3 different courts.
The day started on a negative note for the Portuguese contingent with crowd favorite and 2-time quarterfinalist at this tournament Gastao Elias losing in 3 tight sets to Kenny de Schepper. In his post-match presser, Gastão mentioned his inability to hurt De Schepper with his shots and move him around as his biggest shortcoming and highlighted the two break points he squandered at 1-1 in the third set as the deciding moment of the match, with De Schepper riding the momentum from there. The man from Bordeaux will now face his countryman Richard Gasquet, who blew out Marinko Matosevic in the second set after a very tight opening set; asked about how he’s feeling on court after a prolonged absence due to injury, Gasquet said he’s feeling good but that he has no expectations of winning this tournament, where he was a finalist twice before, since he’s not ready to win titles yet.
On court 3, Pablo Carreno Busta’s consistency from the baseline proved too much for the inexperienced Lestienne, who kept leaking errors on his way to a 3-6 1-6 defeat. Carreno Busta will now face Tommy Robredo in the second round. Next on court 3, the 2009 and 2010 champion Albert Montanes survived a tough 3-set battle against Martin Fischer to book a date with Gilles Muller in the second round. Another Spaniard advancing was Nicolas Almagro; the holder of 12 claycourt titles put in a very strong serving performance to defeat Stephane Robert in straights even if the rest of his game wasn’t really firing, which it will need to be in order to beat Leonard Mayer in the second round. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez also prevailed over countryman Roberto Carballes Baena, with unexpected ease considering the former’s efforts last week and how close this matchup had been in the 2014 Casablanca semifinal. This time around though, Carballes Baena simply couldn’t defend against Garcia-Lopez’s superior serving and ballstriking skills and the Spaniard’s quest for back to back ATP titles will continue against the second seed of the tournament, Kevin Anderson.
In the battle of the two highest ranked Portuguese players ever on center court (career high #35 for Joao Sousa and #59 for Rui Machado), it was the underdog who prevailed, with a gutsy, aggressive performance, while Sousa once again failed to live up to the pre-tournament hype and accused the pressure of playing in his home tournament again. Machado will now take on Croatian upstart Borna Coric, looking to reach his second QF at this event after doing so back in 2010.
The day ended with what will likely go down as the most memorable match of the 2015 Estoril Open, featuring Albert Ramos and Nick Kyrgios. The young Aussie got off to a fast start, breaking Ramos in the second game of the match and serving his way to a 6-3 first set win. In the second set, Ramos remained unable to return Kyrgios’s monster serves, but he somehow managed to stave off break points (including what looked like virtual match points at 5-5) and then faced with defeat at 5*-4 down in the tiebreak he managed to string two points on Kyrgios’s serve to force a decider. In the 3rd set, Kyrgios’s serve lost some potency and Ramos scored an early break and never really looked like being broken back until 5*-4, where, with his back against the wall Kyrgios produced an excellent return game to avoid elimination. He then had two match points of his own with Ramos serving at 5-6, but a terrible miss on a FH sitter on the second match point seemed to spell the end for Kyrgios who then threw away the next few points with bad errors to go into the tiebreak and get himself an early minibreak down.
That was when things really got real; Kyrgios threw the ball into the stands in frustration and he had already got two code violations, a third one would have resulted in a game penalty and thus outright losing the match. But the umpire didn’t give him the infraction, leading to Ramos practically begging him to do so for about 5 minutes, with the Portuguese crowd booing him for trying to get Kyrgios defaulted. To no avail, as he completely lost focus, the tiebreak and the match, being booed off the court as he exited the tournament, while Kyrgios goes on to face Krajinovic in the second round. I asked Kyrgios some questions in his press conference after the match, which you can find here
Tomorrow, 4 round of 16 matches will be played, with Almagro and Leo Mayer starting a day in what must be considered a clash of two title candidates; Mayer is the current Hamburg champion and always a threat on the red clay, while Almagro’s career achievements on the surface speak for themselves despite his bad start to the year post-injury. Almagro won their two previous encounters on clay, but those happened when the Spaniard was at the peak of his career and Mayer yet to hit his stride, while the roles are now practically reversed and the Argentine must be considered the favorite in this battle of one handed backhands.
The winner of this clash will face the winner of another one handed backhand clash between Gasquet and De Schepper; when asked by me what he needed to do to beat his countryman, who he’s never faced before, Gasquet said he had to ‘play well’ and while that sounds like an incredibly generic and cliché answer, it’s hard to argue that if Gasquet plays well he should win easily against his much lower ranked countryman, who’s simply not comfortable at all on the red clay.
The 1 seed of the tournament, Feliciano Lopez, will open up against Robin Haase and while the rankings would suggest an easy Lopez victory the truth is the Spaniard is quite prone to early losses in smaller events and he has lost both matches he’s played on clay against Haase so this one is far from a given. The winner of this match will face the winner of the first ever night session match in a Portuguese ATP event, between Nick Kyrgios and Flip Krajinovic; the edge seems to be with the Aussie in this one, but he could well be tired after his battle against Ramos today and Krajinovic has the weapons to make it difficult on a good day.
Coric, Haase, and Muller advance to round 2 @EstorilOpen Monday Manuel Traquete for Tennis Atlantic
Monday at the Estoril Open saw the last round of qualifying being played, as well as the beginning of the singles main draw.
The last of qualifying brought a lot of disappointment to the Portuguese players and fans as both Pedro Sousa and Frederico Gil lost in very close matches, faltering in the deciding stages. Sousa led in both sets against 22yo Constant Lestienne, but his terrible play on big points – including no points won on serve in the deciding set tiebreak – cost him dearly and it’s the Frenchman who advanced to the main draw, where he will face Pablo Carreno Busta on Tuesday afternoon.
Lestienne d. P. Sousa 7-5 7-6(3)
As for the 2010 finalist of this event, Gil, he won the first set and was up 4-2 in the decider before getting broken back and then getting broken from 40-15 up in the last game to give away the match in what turned out to be another disappointment result in his attempt to return to the level he once reached before illness derailed him. His conqueror, Martin Fischer, will be facing Albert Montanes in round 1 of the main draw.
First seed Kenny de Schepper and fourth seed Roberto Carballes Baena secured very comfortable, one-sided wins and advanced to the main draw as well; De Schepper will open up against home favorite Gastão Elias, who reached the quarterfinals of this event in 2013 and 2014, while Carballes Baena will take on his countryman and newly crowned Bucharest champion Guillermo Garcia Lopez.
De Schepper d. David Vega Hernandez 6-2 6-2
Carballes Baena d. Gerald Granollers 6-0 6-3
As far as main draw action is concerned, Robin Haase opened up the proceedings against Ricardas Berankis; it was a very tight affair throughout, with plenty of momentum swings and players getting tight on key junctures but in the end the Dutchman managed to book a round 2 date with the tournament’s #1 seed Feliciano Lopez, though not before another trademark tiebreak loss in the second set.
Filip Krajinovic had little trouble disposing of Alejandro Gonzalez with his bigger serve making the difference in a match that featured a lot of long, tightly contested rallies; the Serb will now face either Nick Kyrgios or Albert Ramos in round 2.
Krajinovic d. Gonzalez 6-3 6-3
In what was perhaps the most anticipated match of the day, 18yo Borna Coric beat Jeremy Chardy in relatively straightforward fashion, avenging his Australian Open loss to the same opponent; as is often the case, Chardy hit his fair share of blistering winners but those were heavily outnumbered by the borderline ridiculous unforced errors; the young Croatian didn’t need to do anything all too special, the baseline consistency that we’ve come to associate with him was more than enough to prevail over Chardy’s inconsistent/erratic ballstriking. Next up for Coric is the winner of João Sousa vs Rui Machado, meaning that he must be feeling good about his chances of making yet another ATP quarterfinal.
Coric d. Chardy 6-2 6-4
Coric overcame Chardy on the day (photo credit: Manuel Traquete)
In the final match of the day on Center Court, 20yo Portuguese hope Frederico Silva took on Gilles Muller in a rare battle between two lefties. In the first set, Silva conceded an early break and was powerless against Muller’s fantastic serve, but he fought back in the second set, taking advantage of a dip in Muller’s serving level to sneak a break and level the match. He seemed to carry that momentum into the third set and got an early break chance, but after squandering it with a missed second serve return he checked out from the match mentally and it was all Muller until the end. Though this a very rare claycourt winner for the Luxembourgian, his run might well not be over with Fischer/Montanes looking like beatable opponents in the next round.
Muller d. Silva 6-3 3-6 6-1
Muller won the battle of the lefties (photo credit: Manuel Traquete)
On Tuesday, Kenny de Schepper and Gastão Elias will open up the proceedings at 1pm on court 2; it’s a match where, given the surface and his history of good performances at this event, the Portuguese player has to be considered the favorite, though De Schepper’s huge serve always gives him a shot on a great day despite his general shortcomings on the clay; after that, Bucharest champion Guillermo Garcia-Lopez will face Roberto Carballes Baena and although form and ranking suggest Garcia Lopez should win, it won’t be easy for him to get going again after such a great week in Romania, it is after all rare for players below the very top to string consecutive great weeks of tennis and there’s bound to be a physical and emotional letdown after winning a title. Not only that, but when these two faced last year in the Casablanca semifinals Carballes Baena pushed eventual champions Garcia-Lopez to the very limit; considering that, the good form Baena showed during the qualifying tournament and the challenge that it will be for Garcia-Lopez to back up a title run last week, an upset could very well be on the cards in this one.
Court 2 action will finish with Nicolas Almagro, who’s still trying to comeback to his pre-injury level, taking on Stephane Robert. Despite his unimpressive form, Almagro has to be considered the huge favorite here; Robert’s most memorable career moment was an unbelievable comeback from 0-2 down in sets against perennial top 10 player Tomas Berdych in the 2011 French Open, but aside from that one result clay has never proved a happy hunting ground for him
On court 3, Pablo Carreno Busta will take on qualifier Constant Lestienne; the Spaniard is the obvious favorite but he’s not immune to upsets against lower ranked players as we’ve seen multiple times in the past year, not to mention that due to the way he plays he’s always vulnerable to opponents playing good quality attacking tennis. Lestienne must feel he’s in with a chance to spring an upset here. After that match, the 2009 and 2010 champion of this event, Albert Montañes, will take on Martin Fischer; Montañes is heavily declined and a mere shadow of the player who claimed back-to-back titles on Portuguese soil – even beating Roger Federer in the semifinals of the 2010 tournament – but should still have the edge in this contest.
On center court, Richard Gasquet will make a long-awaited return from the injury he sustained against Michael Berrer in Indian Wells; though there might still be some question marks about his health and especially match fitness, the draw was quite kind to him, pairing him up with Marinko Matosevic in round 1, a player who is notorious for his lack of success on clay. Even if he’s still rusty, the 2007 and 2012 finalist (lost to Djokovic and del Potro) should make it through to round 2. At 4pm, the all-Portuguese clash between Sousa and Machado will take place; while Machado was once, not too long ago, the highest ranked Portuguese player of all-time, he’s nowhere near that level currently and Sousa has surpassed him in pretty much every regard and is the clear favorite for tomorrow, though Machado is not without his chances, especially if he can repeat the level he showed last year at this tournament.
The last match of the day will be between young Aussie Nick Kyrgios and Albert Ramos from Spain; Kyrgios turned 20 years old on Monday and he will be looking to celebrate his birthday with his first clay win of the year, but it will be a tough ask against a seasoned claycourter like Ramos. Kyrgios has of course the much bigger game of the two players, but clay is not his best surface and he’s bound to still be a bit rusty after returning only last week from the injury sustained during his round 2 match against Dimitrov in the California desert, and there are plenty of question marks regarding his form, especially considering his match against Ymer last week in Barcelona wasn’t shown on television or streamed.
The last direct acceptance is Enzo Couacaud, ranked 235th. Former world #51 Daniel Brands came through qualifying and will face Couacaud in the first round.
First round match-up to watch
Enzo Couacaud – (Q) Daniel Brands
A tough draw for both. Couacaud impressed last week by trashing Nicolas Mahut and reaching the semi-final as a wildcard at Cherbourg, which saw him almost crack the top 200 for the first time. Brands is slowly but surely recovering from his lengthy lay-off, but he has to come through qualifying every time, which is costing him a lot of energy. I would give Brands the edge in this match-up, but it will be an interresting encounter.
Top seed Farrukh Dustov will try to recover from his upset loss in the first round of Cherbourg last week. Although his tournament win in Wroclaw, which saw him make the top 100 for the first time is likely to have had an impact on that. He should be able to reach the quarterfinal here, where it’s hard to predict who he will face, considering it’s a stacked section. Benoit Paire, Daniel Brands, Maxime Authom and Jurgen Zopp all have a chance to pull it of, although Paire has to be marked the favorite in his current form.
I can see #5 seed Ilya Marchenko coming through here. His competitors haven’t shown steady form, while he has been consistent from the start of the year, playing to his potential. He will likely face off with #3 seed Andreas Beck for a spot in the semi-final, but the German hasn’t been looking great lately. #2 seed Kenny De Schepper has been up and down so far this year, and despite him probably being marked the slight favorite in a match-up with Marchenko, I suspect it will be the other way around in reality.
2015 Kolkata, Kyota and Cherbourg Challenger Previews & Predictions Chris De Waard, Tennis Atlantic
Another week of clayless tennis on the Challenger tour, with tournaments taking place in India and France on hardcourt and on carpet in Japan.
Emami Kolkata Open 2015
ATP Challenger Tour
23-28 February 2015
Prize Money: $50,000
Seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: James Duckworth (112)
2: Alexander Kudryavtsev (129)
3: Ruben Bemelmans (144)
4: Somdev Devvarman (153)
5: Luke Saville (161)
6: Radu Albot (165)
7: Alex Bolt (167)
8: Kimmer Coppejans (183)
The last direct acceptance is Miki Jankovic, ranked 402nd.
First round match-up to watch
(4) Somdev Devvarman – Ramkumar Ramanathan
Last week’s New Delhi winner might be in trouble here against his almost ten-years-younger countryman. It is yet to be seen if one good week against relatively weak opposition is going to break Devvarman’s slump and Ramanathan showed last year that he can handle Devvarman. In Chennai, Ramanathan won 4-6 6-3 6-4 and he has a good shot at pulling it off again here.
As I have mentioned in my recap, it’s dangerous to back top seed James Duckworth at the moment. He started a slump in sight of the top 100 and it’s hard to predict when he gets his mind straight again. His countryman Alex Bolt might trouble him enough in the quarterfinal to take him out, for example. In the second section Ruben Bemelmans has been displaying good form as of late, which should take him to the semi-final here, taking out his countryman Kim Coppejans in the quarterfinal in the process.
Yuki Bhambri is the most dangerous player here, despite being unseeded. He seems to really struggle with Devvarman, so if he can avoid him in the semi-final I can see him taking down the title. In the quarterfinal he potentially faces second seed Alexander Kudryavtsev again, whom he took out in the first round last week. I can’t see anyone other than one of these three going through to the final, with Bhambri as the favorite to do so.
Bemelmans d. Duckworth
Bhambri d. Saville
Bhambri d. Bemelmans
This would be a rematch of the New Delhi semi-final of last week, when Bhambri won 4-6 6-3 7-5.
Shimadzu All Japan Indoor
ATP Challenger Tour
23 February – 1 March 2015
Prize Money: $50,000
Seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Go Soeda (82)
2: Tatsuma Ito (94)
3: Yuichi Sugita (131)
4: John Millman (149)
5: Hiroki Moriya (158)
6: Ze Zhang (180)
7: Michal Przysiezny (185)
8: Benjamin Mitchell (212)
The last direct acceptance is Yusuke Watanuki, ranked 505th. 38 year old Takao Suzuki received a wild card. The oldtimer played his first Challenger in 1992 and reached his career high ranking of #102 in 1998.
First round match-up to watch
(5) Hiroki Moriya – Matthew Ebden
Ebden has been regaining some form after his enormous losing streaks of last year, but is still far from the level that saw him reach the top 70 a year ago. However, his two meetings against Moriya in 2013 ended in two easy straight set victories, so perhaps he will take confidence from that. Moriya isn’t in good shape himself either, losing in the first round of all four of his Challengers this year, two weeks ago in Launceston even to a player ranked outside of the top 1000.
It’s hard to look past top seed Go Soeda here. He lives for these Asian events, and especially in Japan, he is really strong. The seed in his half, Michal Przysiezny, is potentially very strong on this rapid surface, but in his current state he is a long shot. In the second section #6 seed Ze Zhang has an excellent opportunity to reach the semi-final, especially considering #3 seed Yuichi Sugita has been struggling with his form and injuries.
I suspect this will come down to an encounter between #4 seed John Millman and #2 seed Tatsuma Ito for a place in the final. Millman has been out for a couple of weeks with injury, so he might be struggling in the early stages of the tournament, but he has been in excellent form lately and I actually think he can make the top 100 this year. Nevertheless, the Japanese tend to have these events on lockdown, so Ito surely won’t go down easily. If anyone can do it, it’s Millman, however, as he closed off 2014 by winning a Challenger in Yokohama. They have played each other twice in 2013, splitting the matches, with Ito winning in five sets at the Australian Open, while Millman won in straight sets at Brisbane. In 2012 they faced each other three times on the Challenger circuit, with Ito winning all the encounters.
Soeda d. Zhang
Millman d. Ito
Millman d. Soeda
Challenger La Manche – Cherbourg
ATP Challenger Tour
23 February – 1 March 2015
Prize Money: €42,500
Seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Kenny De Schepper (103)
2: Steve Darcis (115)
3: Andreas Beck (117)
4: Farrukh Dustov (118)
5: Nicolas Mahut (119)
6: Benoit Paire (121)
7: Norbert Gombos (124)
8: Niels Desein (155)
The last direct acceptance is Tristan Lamasine, ranked 230th.
First round match-ups to watch
(1) Kenny De Schepper – David Guez
Upset alert. These two faced each other in the final qualifying round of Marseille last week and Guez triumphed, 6-2 2-6 6-3. He continued his form into the main draw, where he pushed world #35 Jeremy Chardy to three sets, 6-4 3-6 2-6. All in all, I would say there is about a 50% chance we will lose the top seed in the first match.
(3) Andreas Beck – Taro Daniel
Daniel is related to the previous story as well, losing to De Schepper in the second qualifying round, 7-5 6-3. This will be his first Challenger of the year, trying his luck in ATP qualifying events before, but only succeeding in Montpellier. Beck hasn’t been very successful either in his prior tournaments this year, making this another possibility for a seed to bomb out in the first round.
Given De Schepper’s first round draw, he isn’t a solid bet to go far here. Benoit Paire is in his quarter, so even if he does make it to the quarterfinal stage, he is likely to go out against his flamboyant countryman. Paire reached second rounds at Montpellier and Marseille, together with taking down a Challenger in Bergamo, so he looks to have regained a big chunk of his pre-injury form. In the bottom section, Farrukh Dustov will show if he can perform in back to back weeks after winning the Wroclaw Challenger and reaching the top 100 for the first time. Nicolas Mahut is also still a competitor to take into account.
Second seed Steve Darcis looks like the safest bet to reach the final. He lost to an on-fire Dustov last week, and only very nearly, but is unlikely to encounter that kind of opposition until the final. However, Daniel Brands qualified into this event and potentially faces Darcis in the quarterfinal, which could be very dangerous if the German brings his pre-injury form. In the other section, Niels Desein has an excellent opportunity to build on his first Challenger title in Glasgow and reach the semi-final.