2014 ATP Shenzhen & Kuala Lumpur Previews, Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast
The ATP tour will begin the Asian swing with a pair of 250 level tournaments. The first is a new tournament in Shenzhen, China, on outdoor hard court that begins three weeks of ATP tournaments in China. Shenzhen replaces the indoor hard court Bangkok tournament on the calendar. Meanwhile, Kuala Lumpur continues its traditional calendar spot with indoor hard court action from the East Indies.
ATP World Tour 250
September 22-September 28, 2014
Prize Money: $590,230
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: David Ferrer (5)
2: Andy Murray (12)
3: Richard Gasquet (21)
4: Tommy Robredo (22)
A solid field for the maiden 250 event. Four household names as the top seeds and all eight seeds are quality ATP players both in and out of form. As an aside, keep an eye out for Viktor Troicki. He’s been red hot since returning to professional tennis and he has a chance to qualify here. Formerly a solid ATP player, he’s a dangerous lurker in the draw if he qualifies and could go on a tear.
First Round matchups to watch:
(7)Vasek Pospisil vs. Teymuraz Gabashvili
Pospisil is looking to finish his tumultuous season strong while Gabashvili is looking to continue to build one of the best seasons in his career. Vashy lost in the opening round of the US Open, but he won a match in Davis Cup play on indoor hard, and he is looking to avenge his loss at the French Open this season to Gabashvili. The veteran grinder reached the third round of the US Open and is looking to get his ATP record back to .500 on the year with a solid fall swing. Given the talent discrepancy and the hard court surface, I think Pospisil will survive and get into round 2.
(5)Gilles Simon vs. Ricardas Berankis
This one has some upset potential if a talented but underachieving Berankis can show up, or if Simon fails to show, as he often has this season. The Frenchman surprisingly reached the fourth round of the US Open but he’s just .500 at the ATP level this season and only 9-8 on hard courts. He has losses to considerably lower-ranked players Marius Copil, Marc Gicquel, Gabashvili, Lukasz Kubot, and Pablo Andujar this season, and Berankis would love to add his name to that list.
The Lithuanian number one, who is beloved in his home nation, is an overall positive 13-6 on hard courts this season, with a majority of his matches and his wins coming on the challenger circuit. He won a challenger on hard courts before the US Open and nearly qualified for that tournament. He also has an ATP quarterfinal appearance on his resume and has always been right on the cusp of making a name for himself as an ATP regular, though he is yet to do so. The formerly talented junior should give Simon trouble, and though I am going with Gilles in my own bracket, there is, as I mentioned, some serious upset potential here.
The usually consistent David Ferrer will open with a qualifier in round 2, then should ease into the quarterfinals against, most likely, 6 seed Santiago Giraldo. Giraldo opens with a qualifier, and then wild card Egor Gerasimov or a qualifier, in his first two matches. Giraldo has had a good season overall but he’s lost six straight matches, all on hard courts. Even with that poor form, the level of competition makes me believe he will reach the quarterfinals only to get rolled by Ferrer, who has beaten him three times previously, including once this season on clay without dropping a set. Gerasimov is not a bad hard court player for what it’s worth, but he is making his ATP debut and has no experience with this level of competition.
Tommy Robredo, who is a solid 14-7 on hard courts this season, should open with the big serving Sam Groth for his first match. Groth must beat his countryman James Duckworth to reach round 2, but he’s fully expected to do so. I could see Groth giving Robredo trouble, but Tommy likely advances in two or three tiebreak sets into the quarterfinals. There, we could get a rematch of an excellent US Open clash featuring Robredo against Simone Bolelli. Bolelli has had an excellent comeback season and he’s an underrated player with lots of shot-making talent. His first match will be against pedestrian Aussie Matt Ebden, and his second should be against the out of form Andreas Seppi, his countryman and Davis Cup teammate, assuming Seppi avoids defeat against Maximo Gonzalez in round 1. Bolelli was beating Robredo for the first half of the US Open match before Robredo came back and won in 5, and in this case I have Bolelli pulling off an upset in the best of 3 sets format and reaching the semifinals. Their overall h2h is 3-2 in favor of Robredo with matches on indoor hard, hard and clay since 2007.
Andy Murray has no points to defend this Fall and he’s fighting to get back into the top 10, perhaps sneaking into the World Tour finals at the end of the year. He made non-tennis headlines by backing Scottish independence before their historic vote on the matter last week, and he will look to get back to making positive tennis headlines against Somdev Devvarman or Xin Gao, a Chinese wild card. The 20 year old Gao has little experience, while the inconsistent hard court player Devvarman is also of little threat, so Murray should safely reach the quarterfinals. Murray should face Simon/Berankis in the quarterfinals, though Lukas Lacko/Evgeny Donskoy are also options. Donskoy, formerly considered a rising young gun, has stagnated into an inconsistent hard court challenger level player, while Lacko has been a chronic underachiever for years. It’s a toss-up section for the quarters but Simon likely has the edge. Murray and Simon have met 13 times and Murray has won the last 12 meetings, including a 3 setter in Acapulco on outdoor hard this season. I think it’s clear who will reach the semifinals: Murray. As an aside, if Berankis sneaks into the quarters, he and Murray played an entertaining Aussie Open match a couple of years ago that Murray won.
Richard Gasquet is in danger of being bounced early. He will likely open with Gilles Muller, who has beaten him the last two times they played. Muller opens with Marco Chiudinelli and that should be a routine match. It’s hard to judge the Frenchman’s form and he hasn’t had the best of seasons. Though he is 14-8 on hard courts, I’m picking the underappreciated Muller to go through to the quarterfinals. Look for Gasquet/Muller to face Pospisil/Gabashvili in the quarters, Federico Delbonis and Juan Monaco are the other players in this section, and they are quite poor on hard courts presently. When it comes to a semifinalist out of this section, Pospisil is 2-1 against Gasquet, with all three meetings taking place on hard courts between this season and last, while Muller is 1-0 against Pospisil though that match was on clay. I feel Vashy struggles with big servers, so I like him over Gasquet in the quarters, but I have him losing to Muller if that is the matchup. My own bracket has Muller in the semis.
Dark Horse: Gilles Muller
The big server continues to impress as an underdog, and he lost a close match to top 15 player Tsonga in Metz. He has a great chance to do well on outdoor hard, and I have him making the semis, as mentioned going through seeds Gasquet and Pospisil en route. I also have Bolelli in the semis and he’s also unseeded, so he also deserves dark horse status.
Ferrer d. Bolelli
Murray d. Muller
Ferrer is 5-0 against Bolelli and beat him this season on clay at the French, while Murray is 2-0 career against Muller. Look for the top two seeds to reach the final.
Murray d. Ferrer
Murray has a decided career edge against Ferrer on hard courts, 5-0 against him on outdoor hard, and that should be extended as I believe Murray is focused and primed to perform right now.
ATP Kuala Lumpur
Malaysian Open, Kuala Lumpur
ATP World Tour 250
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
September 22-September 29, 2014
Prize Money: $910,520
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Kei Nishikori (8)
2: Ernests Gulbis (13)
3: Leonardo Mayer (25)
4: Julien Benneteau (29)
Though Kuala Lumpur has nearly twice the prize money on offer compared to Shenzen, the field is far weaker with just two top players participating.
First Round matchups to watch:
Rajeev Ram vs. (WC)Omar Jasika
The journeyman serve and volleyer Ram will do battle with US Open junior champion (singles and doubles) Omar Jasika, another Aussie young gun who is 17 years old and will be making his ATP main draw debut in Kuala Lumpur as a wild card. Nobody is sure what to expect from the inexperienced left handed Aussie right now, but perhaps he could surprise and win his debut. Ram is a serviceable player and he is certainly beatable on a good day.
(8)Nick Kyrgios vs. Marinko Matosevic
The young Kyrgios will take on his compatriot Matosevic, who is 10 years his senior. Kyrgios performed well in Davis Cup for team Australia, while Matosevic is just 8-9 on indoor hard courts since 2010. We have not really seen Kyrgios play indoors, at least at the ATP level, but he has a game designed well for it, with his big serve and forehand combo. This will be his last tournament of the season no matter what, as per a statement, he is burned out right now both physically and mentally after an excellent debut season on the ATP tour. With that in mind, Matosevic may roll over him. It’s really hard to predict what will happen, and I might be reading too much into it, but pronouncements like that don’t sound good at all.
(WC)Filip Krajinovic vs. (WC)Taro Daniel
Two young players who have rapidly improved their games and rankings this season, Krajinovic has earned his wild card with a tremendous 39-17 record between ATP, Challenger and Davis Cup play across both hard and clay court surfaces. Daniel is 30-25 this year across surfaces and has played primarily at the challenger level. It is hard to fathom who will win this match and Krajinovic retired in his last match at a challenger in Turkey after playing and winning a pair of Davis Cup singles rubbers. Krajinovic is a favorite with the oddsmakers and I think he wins this one in 3 sets.
US Open finalist Kei Nishikori will open with the Ram/Jasika winner and should smoothly reach the quarterfinals to face Matosevic/Kyrgios. A Nishikori-Kyrgios quarterfinal would be must see tennis but with the question mark about Kyrgios right now, I have Nishikori into the semifinals without dropping a set.
Kyrgios/Matosevic will need to defeat Go Soeda/qualifier to reach the quarters.
Leo Mayer has a breakthrough year, but he is just 5-3 on hard courts this season, and almost all of his big results have come on clay. He is likely to go out early, and his first match will come against Jarkko Nieminen/qualifier in round 2. Nieminen is unreliable because he’s aging, but he’s always been a good player indoors and thus I have him in the quarters over Mayer. Look for Nieminen/Mayer to face one of Malek Jaziri/Michal Przysiezny/Gregoire Burquier/Pablo Andujar in the quarters.
Burquier is an intriguing case: He is just 1-8 since Wimbledon, but he is making his ATP main draw debut nonetheless, at age 30, after spending years grinding away at the futures and challenger level. He has put up some good challenger level results indoors, while Andujar is just 5-15 since 2010 on indoor hard courts. Meanwhile, Przysiezny is an absolutely pathetic 2-19 at the ATP level this season, and he’s just 1-6 on indoor hard. He broke a long losing streak that stood at 15 ATP main draw matches with a win in the first round of Metz where he qualified, perhaps finally finding some decent form. Jaziri is a superior 32-27 overall between the ATP and challenger tour levels, and he’s 29-13 on indoor hard since 2010. He also reached the final of a hard court challenger in Turkey the previous week. If he’s not exhausted, he is the favorite for the quarters but this section is a true toss-up between four weak players.
Ernests Gulbis, who hasn’t won consecutive matches at any tournament since reaching the semifinals of the French Open (4-5 record since), will be looking to extend his 19-6 record indoor hard courts between this year and last year. The top Latvian, who is still contending for a spot in the World Tour Finals, along with Nishikori, Ferrer and Murray, who are all in action this week, will open with a qualifier, then perhaps Bernard Tomic in the quarterfinals. The rejuvenated Aussie, who thus far is 20-15 on the year between ATP main draw action and qualifying, opens with Pierre-Hugues Herbert, who was shocked in Metz by Przysiezny in round 1. I’d expect Tomic, assuming his hip is healthy, to handle the big server and slide into round 2 against Benjamin Becker or Metz finalist and defending champ Joao Sousa. Sousa is a good player indoors and he is in form, having played some excellent tennis in Metz, but he appeared gassed in his final there and jetlag should further ruin his chances of reaching the quarterfinals. Becker has lost three straight matches but he has a good serve and should be good enough indoors to dispatch Sousa and meet Tomic who he is 3-0 career against, including a win this year on clay. Becker has never played Tomic on hard courts, though, and given the form and talent difference, I have Tomic through. Tomic has a lone win against Gulbis on clay in 2012, and given Ernie’s shaky form at the moment, I have Bernard in the semifinals as an underdog pick.
Julian Benneteau has lost two consecutive finals in Kuala Lumpur, as he always plays well in Malaysia outside of finals. The veteran Frenchman is on a three match losing streak and is just 1-4 on indoor hard this year, but I do think he gets past the Krajinovic/Daniel winner and reaches the quarterfinals to face one of Ivan Dodig/Hiroki Moriya/Pablo Cuevas/Jurgen Melzer. Dodig has another chance at a good week with this draw, but he played poorly in Metz. I predict he beats the challenger level Moriya, and I also have him getting past Melzer/Cuevas simply because Cuevas isn’t that great on hard courts and Melzer is continually-struggling-but-formerly-good on indoor hard. It’s a tough section to call, and Krajinovic is also a threat here, but I have Benneteau over Dodig for the semifinal spot.
Dark Horse: Bernard Tomic
There are at least three choices for dark horses this week. Jarkko Nieminen could very well make the semis, but he would surely lose to Nishikori/Kyrgios, one would think. Jaziri, Dodig and Krajinovic/Daniel can also make believable cases to do well, but Tomic has the most talent of the bunch and if he’s healthy and focused he could reach the final and maybe even win the tournament. Becker/Sousa and Gulbis aren’t easy outs, but they are beatable at the moment, and Benneteau or someone else are not threatening potential semifinal opponents.
Nishikori d. Nieminen
Tomic d. Benneteau
Nishikori ought to dominate everyone in the field this week if he plays anything like he did in New York.
I’m trusting Nieminen to find some of his former talent indoors and make a run this week. I went through the opportunities for Tomic, and Benneteau simply plays well in Malaysia, though I question his form.
Nishikori d. Tomic
Nishikori has a lone win on grass over Tomic and that was a close match, but since that match took place two years ago Nishikori has risen to top 10 heights while Tomic has struggled with consistency and focus. On indoor hard, the advantage is in Kei’s favor and this is his tournament to lose. He’s far and above the best player in the tournament field.