Top seed Albert Ramos should be skilled enough on clay to defeat Amine Ahouda and J.L. Struff/qualifier to reach the quarters. At that point he should meet either his countryman Pablo Andujar, who comes off a challenger title, or Alexandr Dolgopolov. Both Dolgo and Andjuar are returning from injuries, and they open with qualifiers. I’ll go with Ramos over Andujar in the quarters.
Philipp Kohlschreiber is in good form as he takes on out of shape shotmaker Lamine Ouahab. Nikoloz Basilashvili takes on Matteo Berrettini in the other contest in this section. Kohlschreiber, presuming he’s fresh enough, should win it over Berrettini to reach the quarters. Robin Haase and Joao Sousa are options in the quarters, I’ll back Sousa over a qualifier and Haase/Mirza Basic before falling to Kohli.
Kyle Edmund has struggled in his return from injury thus I have him losing to Jiri Vesely in the opening round. I’ll back Andreas Seppi over Radu Albot and Vesely to reach the quarters coming off of Davis Cup. Paolo Lorenzi is my dark horse this week, he feasts on 250’s on clay like this and his path of Mischa Zverev, and Marton Fucsovics/Malek Jaziri is not overly imposing. Lorenzi over Seppi is my pick in the quarters.
The strongest section of the draw features Benoit Paire vs. Gilles Simon, with Paire as my choice. Roberto Carballes Baena vs. Max Marterer, Thomas Fabbiano vs. Richard Gasquet, and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez vs. a qualifier. Gasquet has struggled badly as of late but I’ll stick with him against Fabbiano and Garcia-Lopez. Paire should beat Marterer and Gasquet to reach the semis.
Semis Ramos d. Kohlschreiber
Paire d. Lorenzi
I’ll go with Paire this week in a really open field. Kohlschreiber should be facing fatigue, while Ramos and Lorenzi may not be sharp enough.
Cervantes is pushing for the top 50 and has more ATP wins this year than he had prior to this year in his entire career. The Spaniard has a semifinal on clay in Sao Paulo this year, and could make another run to get into the top 50 in this tournament. Vesely has lost four straight and is just 1-7 this year. The young Czech has talent, but he appears to be off the rails right now. This tournament represents a great chance for him to steady himself, but I have Cervantes notching the slight upset.
Facundo Bagnis vs. (WC)Lamine Ouahab
Bagnis is a remarkable 25-5 on clay this year with three challenger titles, and he should win comfortably. With that said, Ouahab is simply a must watch player when he’s near a TV camera. The 31 year old Algerian/Moroccan dominates the Morocco tennis tour and has won two out of the three futures events in the country this year. He’s an out of shape clay court specialist who reached the Casablanca quarterfinals last year, and has never broken the top 100. His shotmaking abilities, and slice and dice play is remarkable, his physical conditioning much less so. Bagnis will win, but Ouahab will bring joy.
2014 champion and top seed Guillermo Garcia-Lopez will face Nicolas Almagro in round 2 most likely, presuming the Spaniard dispatches Radu Albot in round 1. Almagro has a clay court final this year and has won his last three meetings against GGL. Neither player is demonstrating good form right now, but Almagro seems better positioned to reach the quarterfinals.
I have Cervantes defeating Vesely, and then qualifier Nikola Mektic to reach the quarters as well. Mektic has been good on the challenger tour as of late, but Cervantes should be better on clay. Mektic opens with local wild card Reda El Amrani. Cervantes just beat Almagro in Indian Wells, thus I have him pulling off another upset to reach the semis.
Borna Coric was good on clay last season (18-8), and he’ll have his first ATP match on the surface in Marrakech. The teenager is one of the title favorites and he’ll start his bid against either Simone Bolelli or Taro Daniel. It’s been an average year for Coric on tour but with both Bolelli, and Daniel, struggling, he should reach the quarters. Bolelli has lost four straight, while Daniel has lost five straight.
Look for a Coric vs. Albert Ramos quarterfinal. The spin maestro Ramos is solid on clay and 3-2 in his last five matches. Neither Maximo Gonzalez or Daniel Munoz-De La Nava should have the ability to defeat him in round 2, and Paul-Henri Mathieu is a difficult, but winnable round 1 match given this is clay. Ramos beat Coric at the AO this year, and given Coric’s shaky recent play, I have Ramos reaching the semis to face Cervantes .
Joao Sousa went 14-9 on clay last year, but is a very poor 3-8 overall this season on the ATP tour. The #2 seed is in danger of falling to Bagnis (or Ouahab) in round 2. Like Garcia-Lopez, I have Sousa getting upset early and the unseeded Bagnis reaching the quarterfinals.
Spaniards Albert Montanes and Daniel Gimeno-Traver look set to compete for the other quarterfinal spot. Montanes is 7-5 on clay this year and a recent challenger semifinalist while Gimeno-Traver is 5-3 on clay. Montanes opens with qualifier Franko Skugor, a doubles specialist who has been surprisingly good at singles this year, while DGT faces Teymuraz Gabashvili, the #5 seed, who hasn’t won a match in his last four outings. Montanes has an ever so slight 4-3 edge over DGT on clay, and thus I have him reaching the quarters. Bagnis is 2-0 against Montanes, and thus I have him in the semis.
Federico Delbonis is 11-7 this year and should breeze past Thiemo de Bakker to reach his third ATP quarterfinal this season. The Dutchman opens with Amine Ahouda, a local wild card.
Sao Paulo finalist Pablo Carreno Busta opens with Evgeny Donskoy, who he just defeated in Indian Wells. Donskoy just won a challenger in Israel on hard courts. His clay game isn’t as sharp, and thus PCB is the favorite. After that, PCB should defeat either Denis Istomin or Lorenzo Giustino to reach the quarterfinals. Giustino qualified, while Istomin just won his first ATP match of the season in Miami. PCB is better on clay than Istomin. Delbonis beat Carreno Busta twice last year on clay, and should move to 4-0 in the h2h.
Both Cervantes and Bagnis appear set to reach the semifinals and beyond. Cervantes has to beat Vesely and GGL/Almagro, while Bagnis needs wins over Sousa, and most likely Montanes, a very doable path for these rising clay courters.
Semis Ramos d. Cervantes
Delbonis d. Bagnis
Ramos is 2-0 against Cervantes and more experienced, Delbonis and Bagnis split meetings last year, and prior to that Delbonis had a 2-1 h2h edge. It should be a close battle, but Delbonis has more ATP experience and I have him winning.
My first day ever at Roland Garros. My first day ever at a Slam. A dream come true for a tennis fanatic like me.
The weather forecast was poor, and in fact we had a lot of showers that due to high winds, blew over relatively quickly.
I had some personal favorites to watch and none of them disappointed me: win or lose if you give everything on court and you are nice with fans at the end of the match you will have my appreciation.
The most expected match of the day was probably Hyeon Chung-Jared Donaldson and the American young gun trashed his opponent. It has to be said that Chung was probably tired and surely not enough trained on clay but Donaldson played a superb attacking tennis. I think I watched the match near to Chung’s father, a Korean man dressed with a suit cheering for him (today was Chung’s birthday). Donaldson d. Chung 6-0 6-1
I was looking forward to watch the talent of Lamine Ouahab and he didn’t disappoint me: from the very first games firing sick winners and untouchable dropshots. He was up a break in the third set against the Colombian veteran Alejandro Falla, and missed by 2 centimetres a break point for *4-1 then he collapsed due to tiredness: in last game he only served and volleyed. Falla d. Ouahab 6-3 3-6 7-5
On the same court Taro Daniel and Dustin Brown played an intense match with Dreddy playing his usual great to watch no margin tennis and Daniel being very solid from baseline, in the end also here the more consistent player, Daniel, won the match. Daniel d. Brown 6-3 5-7 7-5
Filippo Volandri and Alex Zverev won both a first set tiebreak and an easy second set but at least Austin Krajicek fought until the en against Volandri, an Italian veteran, while Horacio Zeballos tanked especially the last game serving on 6-7 0-5. The Argentinean ripped his T-shirt on 6-7 0-4 and kept on playing without changing it. Zverev d. Zeballos 7-6 6-0, Volandri d. Krajicek 7-6 6-1
I was curious to watch the 16 year old Corentin Moutet as I had a good impression from him last year during an Under 18 ITF event in Italy and he performed quite well in last months ITF Pro Tour. He disappointed me because he played with very childish attitude, complaining with himself after every point and was on the verge of crying. He even got a penalty point after he destroyed his racquet. His tennis is quite good considering his age but the attitude is surely to be improved. Michael Berrer d. Moutet 6-2 6-2
The most epic match of the day was Luca Vanni- Adrian Ungur. I watched the first games and Vanni was playing extremely well as he went two breaks up. He won the first set and I came back for the second set tiebreak where he played horrible tennis from 3-3. The third set was full of drama. The rain stopped the match a couple of times and both players could not convert easy chances with opponent serving 15-30. Until the first rain break I would have picked Ungur to win the match as Vanni looked quite fatigued but especially after the second break Vanni played very aggressive. Ungur lost the match because he framed 3 shots when serving 40-15 on 14-15. The players were cordial towards each other on court, trusting each other on calls and applauding the great shots of their opponent. The funniest moment of the day was when Vanni served on 6-6 third set, he won the point and he went for return: he thought he was 1-0* up in the final tiebreak but was just 15-0 because at RG they don’t have final set tiebreak and he didn’t know. Everyone laughed. Vanni d. Ungur 6-4 6-7 16-14
I watched the end of the match between Luke Saville and Farrukh Dustov with Australian players close to me (Daria Gavrilova and Thanasi Kokkinakis): was amazing to see them cheering so much…and they helped! Saville managed to win from break down in third set. Saville d. Dustov 3-6 7-6 6-4
I am from Italy and I have to say a lot of Italians played solid matches today: Volandri, Thomas Fabbiano, Marco Cecchinato, Matteo Viola, Andrea Arnaboldi…just Roberto Marcora lost to Elias Ymer who is a great young talent and played an aggressive match.
Another possible epic match was Mathias Bourgue against Brydan Klein but when I arrived on 7-7 third set Bourgue failed to convert two break points and after that Bourgue started cramping and Klein held and broke for the match. Klein d. Bourgue 3-6 6-2 9-7
Award for loudest cheering of the day is for Constant Lestienne’s fans: I didn’t manage to watch a single point of that manage but I could hear his fans from every court.
I loved every single moment there (well, apart from the 10 euros hotdog menu!) and I can’t wait to go again tomorrow.
2015 Roland Garros Men’s Qualifying Preview and Predictions Chris de Waard, Tennis Atlantic
The start of the Roland Garros men’s main draw is nearing, but first we will have 128 players competing in the qualifying draw, who will be battling it out for sixteen coveted spots in that main draw.
2015 RG Men’s Qualies Predictions
Top 16 seeds (of 32 total)
1: Hyeon Chung
2: Alexander Zverev
3: Facundo Bagnis
4: Blaz Rola
5: Dustin Brown
6: Luca Vanni
7: Norbert Gombos
8: James Ward
9: Alejandro Gonzalez
10: Kimmer Coppejans
11: Alejandro Falla
12: Adrian Menendez-Maceiras
13: Guido Pella
14: Aleksandr Nedovyesov
15: Tobias Kamke
16: Austin Krajicek
First round match-ups to watch:
(4) Blaz Rola – Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo
Ramirez Hidalgo is 37, but has only improved since the start of this year. Almost out of the top 250 in February, he now is ranked inside of the top 200 again after two semi-finals and two quarterfinals on the Challenger circuit. He is also exactly the type of player Rola might struggle with at this moment. Rola is coming off bad losses against world #515 Rogerio Dutra Silva and #250 Giovanni Lapentti in his last two tournaments.
This is the biggest chance of one of the highest seeds getting knocked out. Brown has been struggling the entire year, first one the main tour and recently even at the Challengers. Daniel knew a rocky start to the year, changing his schedule in an attempt to become more capable on hardcourts, but ever since switching back to clay his results have improved, with the highlight being his title at Vercelli last month.
(11) Alejandro Falla – Lamine Ouahab
Ouahab very nearly made the cut and it will be interesting to see how he will perform here. He is obviously infamous for only bringing his best tennis when he plays in Morocco, repeating that this year with three Futures titles, a Challenger title and a quarterfinal at the ATP 250 of Casablanca, where he beat world #24 Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the second round.
(14) Aleksandr Nedovyesov – Yuki Bhambri
An unfortunate draw for Nedovyesov, drawing a Bhambri who is arguably playing the best tennis of his career, after struggling with injury for a long time. Bhambri comes off a clay final in Samarkand, where he lost to Teymuraz Gabashvili.
Edmund has shown good consistency on clay in recent times, reaching three Challenger quarterfinals in a row, but it’s clear that it’s not his best surface. This is not the case for Melzer, who just comes off a dream run at the ATP 250 event of Munich, where he beat #42 Pablo Andujar (by retirement), #44 Dominic Thiem and took a set off #26 Philipp Kohlschreiber in the semi-final.
18-year-old top seed Hyeon Chung is currently ranked #69 and came into the qualifying event after missing the entry deadline due to a misunderstanding from the Korean tennis association, with the Roland Garros organization making a very unique exception in handing him a wildcard. Naturally, Chung is the big favorite to qualify, with perhaps Nikoloz Basilashvili being the only player that can threaten him on a good day.
The second section knows a similarly big favorite in Alexander Zverev, also 18. Up until recently this might not have been the case due to Zverev’s results being seriously lacking, but recently he has really picked up his game. This saw him winning the Heilbronn Challenger and entering the top 100 last week. He faces Horacio Zeballos in the first round, who is a shadow of his former self and lost 6-4 6-2 to Zverev in the first round last week. The other players in this section don’t have clay as their favorite surface and perhaps Marius Copil is the only one who can threaten Zverev, in the final qualifying round.
Third seed Facundo Bagnis has been playing on green clay in the United States in the lead-up to Roland Garros, with very mixed results. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him go out against one of Renzo Olivo, Andrea Arnaboldi or Denis Kudla in the final qualifying round. Arnaboldi and Kudla face off in a very interesting first round clash, in which Arnaboldi has to be marked the slight favorite, despite Kudla being the seeded player (#30).
The fourth quarter is a highly interesting one, with a bunch of players who could go through. As said, Rola and Ramirez Hidalgo face off in the first round, but Roberto Carballes Baena, Elias Ymer and Thiemo de Bakker are placed in this section as well and might be more likely than fourth seed Rola to go through, with De Bakker coming off a final in Bordeaux last week. Although the Dutchman is highly inconsistent and might well return to mediocrity this week. Carballes Baena plays Peter Gojowczyk in the first round, but the German is just coming back from a lengthy injury lay-off and it’s far from certain if he is healthy enough to be a factor here. Carballes Baena might just have the consistent game to come through this section.
To qualify from this quarter: (1) Chung, (2) Zverev, Arnaboldi and Carballes Baena
As mentioned, fifth seed Brown has a horror draw against Daniel, with the Japanese clay court specialist actually being the slight favorite in their match. The main draw spot will highly likely be reached by someone in the top section, with Marton Fucsovics also being in the mix. The bottom section is headed by Michal Przysiezny and is unlikely to produce someone who can threaten the three candidates from the top half.
Sixth seed Luca Vanni has been one of the revelations this season, making a breakthrough out of virtually nowhere at Sao Paulo, where he reached the final and almost took down the title, but eventually fell to Pablo Cuevas after a long battle. He has a tricky opening round against Adrian Ungur, but should come through and reach the main draw after beating the highly unpredictable Andrey Golubev in the final qualifying round.
Seventh seed Norbert Gombos heads a section that could go either way. Outside of him, Yoshihito Nishioka and Guilherme Clezar all have a fair shot at qualifying as well. #23 seed Farrukh Dustov is in atrocious form at the moment and is unlikely to play a role. Given that Gombos and Clezar aren’t in the best form of their lives either, this might be a golden opportunity for 19-year-old Nishioka to come through.
The eighth section is very hard to predict, with a wide variety of players having a shot at going through. James Ward and James McGee don’t have clay as their best surface, with with highly unpredictable players like Christian Lindell, Christian Garin and Daniel Munoz-De La Nava being their competition, being solid might just prove to be enough.
To qualify from this quarter: Daniel, (6) Vanni, Nishioka and (28) Munoz-De La Nava
Ninth seed Alejandro Gonzalez heads this section, but he comes off a demolition job in the first qualifying round of Rome, where he lost 6-2 6-0 to Thomaz Bellucci. The other seed here, Albert Montanes, seems to be heading towards retirement, which makes this an interesting opportunity for Andre Ghem or Antonio Veic, who face off in the first round. With Ghem being the more consistent of the two, this might be a golden opportunity for the 32-year-old to qualify for his first Roland Garros, although Gonzalez will still be the favorite to go through.
Tenth seed Kimmer Coppejans is hard to ignore in the next section, playing the tennis of his life. Last month he reached two Challenger finals on clay, winning one of them and it’s unlikely that anyone in his section will trouble him. Radu Albot might come close, but he is more at home on hardcourts.
As mentioned, eleventh seed Alejandro Falla faces off against cult hero Lamine Ouahab in the first round. If we pretend that Ouahab is a normal player this is a draw from heaven for him, if he beats Falla he is projected to play Niels Desein/Maxime Authom and Rui Machado/Alexander Kudryavtsev, but since Roland Garros isn’t played in Morocco it’s just as likely he will lose 6-2 6-2 to Falla. Nevertheless, given that this section has no other stand-out favorite, I might as well let my hopes guide me and predict him to go through.
Closing this quarter is a section headed by Adrian Menendez-Maceiras, the 29-year-old Spaniard who is making an unexpected rise and is playing the tennis of his life, nearing the top 100. Based on recent form I have to go with Gerald Melzer, however, who is also a lot more at home on clay than Menendez-Maceiras. Nicolas Jarry, Potito Starace and Kyle Edmund are dangerous outsiders in this section.
To qualify from this quarter: (9) Gonzalez, (10) Coppejans, Ouahab and Melzer
Thirteenth seed Guido Pella has been in more than excellent form, taking down titles in San Luis Potosi and Sao Paulo, plus reaching a final and semi-final in Heilbronn and Santos, making him the big favorite to advance from this section. Pella has an interesting rivalry with Facundo Arguello, the other seed here and the only one who could potentially threaten him, with their head to head being 3-3. They have met twice this year, remarkably with Pella taking the first meeting 6-4 6-3 and Arguello the second one 6-2 6-3. Nevertheless, Pella should be marked the favorite.
The next section might go between two unseeded players, Yuki Bhambri and Jason Kubler, with Bhambri having the edge. Bhambri is severely underranked after coming back from injury, which he showed by reaching the Samarkand final last week. He is a favorite against fourteenth seed Aleksandr Nedovyesov in the first round and against the other players in this section as well, which includes Jurgen Zopp and Matthias Bachinger.
Fifteenth seed Tobias Kamke heads the by far weakest section of this draw, which also includes Evgeny Donskoy, Iliya Marchenko and Somdev Devvarman. Not only is Kamke on an eleven-match losing streak, none of the other players is strong on clay. Normally Pere Riba would be the favorite here, but he hasn’t played all year due to injury and is far from certain to be match fit. No matter who goes through, he will likely be a very easy opponent in the first round of the main draw.
The final section should be a prey for Marco Cecchinato, who won the Turin Challenger two weeks ago and is in excellent form. He has a very favorable draw against players who don’t favor clay, with the only competition perhaps coming in the final qualifying round, where he is projected to face Austin Krajicek or Filippo Volandri, both of whom will be a solid underdog against Cecchinato.
Jack Sock continued his hot streak since returning to the ATP tour, and won his maiden ATP title in a rain delayed final over Sam Querrey 7-6 7-6. The match began with a sloppy first set that got delayed midway through after a pair of breaks, one for each player. Upon the resumption of the match, Sock and Querrey battled to a tiebreak, and though Querrey was 5-3 up at one point and had three set point chances in the breaker, Sock would be the one to take it 11-9 on his second set point chance.
In set 2 Sock saved a break point in the opening game, and broke back Querrey 3-4 down later on. Sock would have a match point at 5-6 in the second set on Querrey’s serve, but couldn’t convert. However once they got to the tiebreak, Sock was the superior mover, and shotmaker and came up with some quality shots to comfortably take it 7-2. As to be expected, Sock was mentally tougher than Querrey when it mattered, though he posted 11 double faults (Querrey had 6) and generally it was a close match.
On the week, Sock was simply on fire, he got past Joao Souza in 3 sets in the opening round, then beat Roberto Bautista Agut, and Santiago Giraldo, both solid clay court players in straight sets. In the semis he got past Kevin Anderson with a tiebreak and a break of serve. The young American is rising and is playing like a top 20 player right now. This was also his maiden ATP final.
Querrey posted his best result of the season and reached his first ATP final in three seasons with a retirement win over Marinko Matosevic, a 3 set win over Steve Johnson, and then an upset of Feliciano Lopez in straight sets. In the semis he shocked Fernando Verdasco, a favorite to take the title, in 3 sets. As often happens in Houston, the har-tru surface played differently than red clay, and thus produced some surprising results.
Ricardas Berankis and Teymuraz Gabashvili, an alternate pairing, pulled off some huge upsets to win the doubles title over Treat Huey and Scott Lipsky. They beat the Bryan brothers and also Lindstedt/Melzer in earlier rounds.
The 2015 Grand Prix Hassan II, as to be expected given its weak field, produced some surprising results, and that culminated with Martin Klizan winning his third career ATP title over maiden finalist Daniel Gimeno-Traver, a journeyman veteran. Klizan improved to 3-0 in ATP finals with a 6-2 6-2 drubbing of DGT, the 29 year old simply couldn’t handle the powerful game of Klizan, and he didn’t help his own cause by failing to convert all 7 break point chances he had during the match.
Klizan, the 2 seed, had to survive Dustin Brown in a third set tiebreak in his first match, but improved as the week went on, defeating Nicolas Almagro in an upset in the next round in 2 sets, and then Damir Dzumhur in 3 sets, as he clawed back from a set down. Though he fell in the semis, it’s still perhaps the best result of Dzumhur’s career.
DGT beat Malek Jaziri, and then Mikhail Kukushkin, Lamine Ouahab, and 3 seed Jiri Vesely, the latter in a close 3 set battle, as Vesely was aiming to make his second ATP final of the season but came up just short. Ouahab is also a remarkable story, the out of shape veteran, and former world class junior player, upset both Robin Haase and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (who was the top seed and defending champion), in straight sets, as his wacky, drop shot centric style of play flummoxed his opponents. Ouahab was a clear fan favorite with local fans, the Algerian turned Moroccan is 22-1 on home soil this year, with all of those matches coming on clay.
Rameez Junaid and Adil Shamasdin beat top seeds Rohan Bopanna and Florin Mergea in the doubles final. It’s their first career doubles title together, and overall the second for Shamasdin and the first for Junaid.
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.