Tennis Atlantic’s 2016 @ITA College Tennis Conference Power Rankings Jeff McMillan, Tennis Atlantic
With the first ITA computer rankings of the year being released this week, I figured it was time to break out my own Conference Power Formula Rankings again. It is the same as last year except for a slight adjustment that punishes conferences less for having unranked teams. The rankings of every team are taken to determine how many points they add to the conference’s overall total which is then divided by the number of teams in each conference. The lower the score the better.
The point totals look like this:
17-75 same as ranking
Unranked team: 85
So as you can see. The point totals reward top 10 teams with negative numbers and reward top 16 teams. Below the top 16, the numbers are self-explanatory. Without further ado, here are the conference rankings based on overall strength.
Having 3 unranked teams hurts the Big Ten, however having 8 teams within the top 43 is a boost.
1 North Carolina, 2 Virginia, 5 Wake Forest, 25 NC State, 35 Florida State, 46 Virginia Tech, 47 Notre Dame, 54 Duke, 57 Georgia Tech, Miami, Clemson, Boston College, Louisville
This is the most interesting score to see. The ACC has 3 top 5 teams and yet still finishes last among the power 5 conferences. This is due to the gap from 5 to NC State at 25 and also only having 5 teams within the top 45. 5 unranked teams does not help either.
Non power 5 conferences with more than 2 ranked teams
2016 Australian Open Men’s Qualifying Preview and Predictions Chris De Waard, Tennis Atlantic
2016 Australian Open Men’s Qualifying Preview and Predictions
The start of the Australian Open main draw is nearby, but first we will have 128 players competing in the qualifying draw, who will be battling it out for sixteen much wanted spots in that main draw.
Top 16 seeds (of 32 total)
1: Luca Vanni
2: Ruben Bemelmans
3: Tim Smyczek
4: Alejandro Falla
5: Jan-Lennard Struff
6: Lukas Lacko
7: Marsel Ilhan
8: Go Soeda
9: Michael Berrer
10: Radu Albot
11: Edouard Roger-Vasselin
12: Yuichi Sugita
13: Tatsuma Ito
14: Kimmer Coppejans
15: Dustin Brown
16: John-Patrick Smith
First round match-ups to watch:
(1) Luca Vanni – Daniel Evans
A tough draw for the top seed against the highly volatile Evans. Once a promising youngster on the verge of the top 100, Evans fell off majorly due to motivation and injury struggles, but recovered himself somewhat last year and finds himself in the top 200 again. However, he knew a poor start to the year, losing 7-5 6-4 to world #500 Dayne Kelly in the first round of the Happy Valley Challenger. Vanni did a lot better, beating #107 Jan-Lennard Struff before barely falling to #45 Aljaz Bedene in the main draw of Chennai, 5-7 6-3 6-4. Vanni desperately needs the points, as he is unlikely to defend his final in Sao Paulo of last year.
Saketh Myneni – Ramkumar Ramanathan
Something that is rarely seen outside of India, an all Indian clash. 21-year-old Ramanathan made a big run at Chennai to start the year, which saw him rise 42 ranking spots and almost crack the top 200 for the first time at #206. He beat Daniel Gimeno-Traver and Alexander Kudryavtsev before falling to Bedene with almost the same scoreline as Vanni, 6-7(5) 6-4 6-3. Myneni is mainly strong in tournaments on the Asian continent, so all things considered Ramanathan has to be favored here.
Ramkumar Ramanathan is love, Ramkumar Ramanathan is life.
A coin toss match-up between contrasting players. While Golubev is mostly known for his wasted potential, Kravchuk is a hardworking and humble professional who is making small steps every year and might be one of those players who reaches the top 100 for the first time in his thirties.
The first section is immediately a hard one to predict. The winner of Vanni – Evans might play Luke Saville next, the man who last year came back from two sets down and saved a match point to beat Vanni in the final qualifying round of Wimbledon. In the other half seventeenth seed Bjorn Fratangelo is a dangerous candidate, who faces Frank Dancevic in the first round.
At first sight the second section seems to be going down to the seeds, Ruben Bemelmans and Blaz Rola. However, both had a poor start to the season. In relation to that I would pick 23-year-old Gerasimov as another candidate. He very nearly beat Mikhail Youzhny, the eventual winner, in the quarterfinal of the Bangkok Challenger
The third section is headed by Tim Smyczek, who had a legendary Australian Open run last year, nearly beating Rafael Nadal in the second round. Only after five sets, 6-2 3-6 6-7(2) 6-3 7-5, did the 14-time Grand Slam champion prevail. Smyczek stole the hearts of tennis fans worldwide even more by displaying amazing sportsmanship deep in the fifth set. Unfortunately, he couldn’t build on it tennis wise, seeing his ranking slip considerably throughout 2015 and dropping out of the top 100. Him and Aslan Karatsev are the favorites in this section. Karatsev qualified into Qatar and nearly beat world #66 Robin Haase in the first round, 6-5 6-1 7-5.
The fourth section should be decided between the seeds, Alejandro Falla and Thomas Fabbiano. Fabbiano had a dream run at Chennai, beating world #38 Gilles Muller in the second round as a qualifier, before losing 6-4 7-5 to #19 Benoit Paire. 32-year-old veteran and former top 50 player Falla has played seven Australian Open main draws, but had a poor 2015 and dropped out of the top 100. He started 2016 in excellent fashion, however, reaching the final of the Noumea Challenger, where he lost in three sets to #47 Adrian Mannarino.
To qualify from this quarter: (1) Vanni, Gerasimov, Karatsev and (4) Falla.
The first section is likely to be decided in the second round between Jan-Lennard Struff and Radek Stepanek. Stepanek is 37, but feels refreshed after putting last year’s injury struggles behind him and has to be given a slight edge over Struff, who doesn’t seem able to make the step to regular ATP tennis. Stepanek hammered world #76 Dusan Lajovic in the first round of Brisbane before losing against #19 Bernard Tomic in a spectacular encounter: 7-6(6) 4-6 7-6(4).
The second section features Ramanathan, but I don’t think he will be able to carry his Chennai form over to Australia. This leaves the volatile Lukas Lacko as the favorite on paper, but my pick is Marius Copil. Copil qualified last year as well and beat Pablo Andujar in the first round, before losing to Stan Wawrinka in the second.
Marsel Ilhan heads the third section, but has a tough opening round against Aleksandr Nedovyesov. Ryan Harrison is the other seed in this section and someone who makes it impossible to predict what he is going to do. Young Australian Bradley Mousley might make a big run here and beat Harrison, but I suspect Ilhan will be too much for him.
The final section is absolutely stacked and practically impossible to predict. Among the seeds Go Soeda and Jared Donaldson there are also Maximilian Marterer, Alexander Kudryavtsev, Peter Gojowczyk and Frances Tiafoe who all could very well qualify. It’s anyone’s guess.
To qualify from this quarter: Stepanek, Copil, (7) Ilhan and (21) Donaldson.
He is the talk of the town currently, 18-year-old Taylor Fritz. And with good reason, he is taking the tennis world by storm with spectacular results on the Challenger tour, most recently winning the Happy Valley Challenger to start the year. He might face the top seed in this section in the second round, which will be quite the clash of generations, as Michael Berrer is 35 and turned pro when Fritz was only 1. Other players here are Mischa Zverev, Andrea Arnaboldi and Norbert Gombos, but I am riding the Fritz train.
The second section is relatively weak outside of the two seeds, Radu Albot and Daniel Brands. On these slower outdoor courts you have to give an edge to Albot, but it isn’t a big one. It would be a surprise if one of the other players qualifies.
The third section is likely to be heading towards a generational clash of Frenchman in the final round. 24-year-old Pierre-Hugues Herbert would be up against 32-year-old Edouard Roger-Vasselin. While Herbert is on the way up, Roger-Vasselin is on the way down, so it would be a must win for Herbert if he wants to make a push towards the top 100, something that really has to happen at his age. He had a very short stay last year, but dropped off again very fast.
The fourth section is another one of those hard to predict sections. Seeds Yuichi Sugita and Dennis Novikov have just as big of a chance as unseeded Ante Pavic, Farrukh Dustov and James Ward. As I said regarding one of the previous sections, it’s anyone’s guess.
To qualify from this quarter: Fritz, (10) Albot, Herbert and Ward.
Headed by Tatsuma Ito, the first section also features veteran Brazilian Andre Ghem, who faces fellow veteran Adrian Menendez-Maceiras in the first round. Ito doesn’t have an easy first round draw himself either, going up against Marton Fucsovics. Fucsovics had a good start of the year, reaching the semi-final of Happy Valley, while Ito got hammered 6-3 6-2 by Chiudinelli in the first round of Bangkok, so Fucsovics is my pick to beat Ito and go on to qualify as well.
This might be an excellent opportunity for my countryman Igor Sijsling to start off the year on a good note, having suffered through a disastrous 2015. The top seed in this section is Kimmer Coppejans, but he hasn’t shown good form in a while and might be ripe for the picking. Karen Khachanov and Grega Zemlja face off in the first round and are the two other candidates to qualify.
The third section is headed by crowd favorite Dustin Brown. He is his own biggest opponent when it comes down to it, but his draw is comfortable. He should only be threatened by the winner of Golubev – Kravchuk in the final round of qualifying.
And to close it off the final section, headed by John-Patrick Smith. A big chance for the Australian to qualify, being placed in a fairly weak section. His fellow seed Elias Ymer is his biggest and perhaps only threat. The 19-year-old Swede has been on a bad run lately, but can find confidence in knowing that he managed to qualify into all four Grand Slams last year.
To qualify from this quarter: Fucsovics, (28) Sijsling, (15) Brown and (16) Smith.
Johnson (@SJohnson_89), Haas (@TommyHaas13) Headed Back to Newport @TennisHalloFame Championships
NEWPORT, R.I., March 26, 2015 – ATP World Tour veteran and former world No. 2 Tommy Haas will compete in the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, R.I. this summer. Joining Haas in the player field will be American Steve Johnson, a two-time NCAA singles champion who has established himself well inside the world top-50 ranked players in just two seasons on tour. The Hall of Fame Tennis Championships will be held July 11 – 19 on the grass courts at the International Tennis Hall of Fame. It is the first stop on the U.S. summer swing for pro tennis, and the only ATP World Tour tournament played in New England.
“Tommy Haas and Steve Johnson are dynamic players who always bring a lot of energy to a tournament, and we know the fans will enjoy seeing them compete in Newport,” remarked Tournament Director Todd Martin.” Tommy has made history around the world with his spectacular career. He never fails to impress fans with his perseverance and skill on court. Steve is steadily building his career and has had tremendous results in the past couple of years. They are two great players to start off our field with, and we’re looking forward to welcoming them back to Newport to kick off the pro tennis summer season in the United States.”
Tommy Haas has been one of the top players on the ATP World Tour since late 1996. Over the span of his career, he has won 15 titles and was ranked world No. 2. In addition, he won the Olympic Silver Medal in 2000. He has made it to the quarterfinals of all four Grand Slam tournaments, and he advanced to the semifinals at the Australian Open three times and Wimbledon once. Over the span of his career, Haas has made a successful comeback from significant injuries on multiple occasions with exceptional results. After reaching a career high ranking of world No. 2 in May 2002, he missed the entire following season, and then steadily climbed back in the rankings, returning to world top-10 in 2007. He again missed more than a year of competition in 2010 and 2011, returning to reach world No. 11 in 2013. Haas has been out this season due to a shoulder injury, but is training to make a comeback before Newport.
Steve Johnson is currently ranked world No. 43 and is the No. 3 American player. He was the NCAA Singles Champion in 2011 and 2012, when playing for the University of Southern California. He has posted consistently strong results in his first two years on the ATP World Tour. He reached a career high of world No. 37 at the end of the season last year, a result of having advanced to five quarterfinals, as well as the semifinal at Delray Beach. This season, Johnson has been a quarterfinalist at Auckland, Memphis, and Delray Beach. He advanced to the third round at the Australian Open before falling to then world No. 5 Kei Nishikori in four sets.
Additional players for the tournament will be announced in the coming weeks. The tournament has a history of attracting up and coming stars as well as veteran players known to be grass court aficionados. Champions in recent years have included Lleyton Hewitt, Nicolas Mahut, and John Isner.
2015 ATP Rotterdam, Memphis, Sao Paulo Previews and Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The traditional Rotterdam 500 level indoor hard tournament takes place this week, along with the US indoor tournament in Memphis, and the clay court event in Sao Paulo, which got switched around on the calendar this year. Both of those tournaments are 250 level events. Here is a preview of all the action as indoor tennis heats up and the Golden Swing rolls on.
2015 ATP Rotterdam Preview
ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament
ATP World Tour 500
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
February 9-February 15, 2015
Top 4 seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Andy Murray (4)
2: Milos Raonic (6)
3: Tomas Berdych (7)
4: Stan Wawrinka (9)
A stacked field with 6 of the top 15, there are also a host of unseeded and lower seeded players who can play great on hard courts as Rotterdam has yet again attracted a fantastic field for a 500 level event.
Vasek Pospisil vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber Pospisil hurt himself again in Australia, and he hasn’t performed as well historically indoors as he has on outdoor hard, but even still he’s a difficult opponent for the veteran Kohlschreiber in round 1. The German comes off a loss to Joao Sousa in Montpellier. He’s yet to win consecutive matches this season as his form has been up and down, that said Kohlschreiber should be the better performer indoors and having played more matches of late should help him advance to round 2.
(8)Gilles Simon vs. Joao Sousa Many would presume the Portugese number one Sousa is better on clay, but in fact he’s had some of his best career results on hard courts at the ATP level, and especially indoors. The veteran Simon comes off a loss to Jerzy Janowicz in the quarterfinals of Montpellier and has yet to do anything notable in 2015. Sousa faded against Janowicz in the semis of Montpellier and fatigue could well play a factor but he’s 5-3 in 2015, all on hard courts and none of his losses were poor, so I’m going with the upset and picking Sousa to reach R2.
(3)Tomas Berdych vs. Jerzy Janowicz The defending Champion has a difficult match scheduled in round 1, as you rarely see an early round match with both players in such great form. Berdych of course reached the semifinals at Australian Open with a notable win over Nadal, and before that he had reached the final of Doha by demolishing all opponents in his wake (including Richard Gasquet and Andreas Seppi). Janowicz is already showing signs of improvement in 2015, after a dismal 2014. He’s reached the final of Montpellier and he also reached the third round at the AO (notably beating Gael Monfils in 5). History favors Berdych though. The big hitting Czech is 3-0 in the h2h, including a win last year in Rotterdam over the big hitting Pole, and though all of those matches were tight three set encounters, Janowicz has fatigue working against him, and retired due to illness in Montpellier, while Berdych should be fresh, thus he should survive the upset alert.
(5)Grigor Dimitrov vs. (Q)Paul-Henri Mathieu
Dimitrov lost their only h2h meeting in straights (2012 Basel indoors) and he comes off quarterfinals in Melbourne. Mathieu, the mentally shaky veteran, beat Jurgen Melzer to qualify after pushing Philipp Kohlschreiber to 3 sets in Montpellier. Mathieu is a bit of an indoor hard court specialist these days, and it’s not an easy matchup for Dimitrov, I still expect him to advance but it could go three sets.
David Goffin vs. Gilles Muller Goffin, who hails from just over the border in Belgium, and is nearly playing in a home event, (like the Luxembourger Muller is a fellow Benelux), has yet to catch fire in 2015 after his rise in 2014 into a consistent ATP player. D Goff is just 3-3 in 2015 and has yet to beat a player with a top 50 ranking. Muller, who can do a lot of damage with his cracking serve indoors was shown the door by Ricardas Berankis in Zagreb in 3 sets after reaching the second week in Australia. Muller has kept himself busy thus far this year, having played every week on tour, but his gamestyle doesn’t lend himself to exhaustion, and with Goffin yet to put the pieces together this year, I’m going with an upset and have Muller into round 2. They have never met, and we’ll see if Goffin can keep his game under control under assault from Muller’s steady dose of serve and volleying.
AO finalist Andy Murray, who has won the title here before, opens with qualifier Nicolas Mahut, then the Pospisil/Kohlschreiber winner. Mahut isn’t too dangerous so Murray should be safe in that one. Murray has never played Kohli indoors, and he beat Pospisil last year in Vienna. As well he has started his season, I don’t expect the UK number one to have any problems reaching the quarterfinals to setup a meeting with most likely the Sousa/Simon winner. Julian Benneteau, who has indoor success, and Jeremy Chardy, are also possible opponents, but all the same Murray can’t really complain about his path to the semifinals. He demolished Sousa in Melbourne and has only lost once in a dozen meetings against Simon. I have Sousa into the quarters with wins over Simon and Benneteau. Sousa denied Benneteau a maiden ATP title in Kuala Lumpur indoors in 2013, taking the title himself.
Berdych/Janowicz will face Robin Haase/Andreas Seppi in round 2. Berdych beat Seppi in Doha, and the Italian, who is on a tear so far in 2015, is likely to be fatigued from his current final, and possible title in Zagreb. Haase continues to be pedestrian, so Berdych should get past Seppi for the quarters and setup a meeting with perhaps Roberto Bautista Agut. RBA opens with young gun German WC Alex Zverev, and then Gael Monfils or fellow French qualifier Edouard Roger-Vasselin are on deck. Monfils reached the semis in Montpellier while suffering from an undisclosed illness, and his health is uncertain at the moment. With that in mind, I’m playing it safe and putting RBA through even though Monfils beat him last summer in Cincy. RBA is 3-3 in 2015, but he was also ill in January and isn’t a bad indoor hard court player. Berdych and RBA have a split 2-2 h2h, with all meetings taking place since 2013, and Berdych won their only indoor meeting. That match could be close but Berdych has looked great against all but top tier competition in 2015 and he has points to defend so I expect to see him as a semifinalist this week.
Milos Raonic is making his debut in Rotterdam. The AO quarterfinalist will face Lukas Rosol or Simone Bolelli in round 2, after qualifier Andrey Kuznetsov in round 1. Bolelli, who is actually a grand slam champion now after winning the doubles title in Melbourne, has been in better form than Rosol, so he should advance to face Raonic. Raonic has appeared immune to losing to all but top 10 players on hard court as of late so he shouldn’t have any trouble banging his way to the quarterfinals. Raonic doesn’t have a difficult path to the semifinals either, as Ernests Gulbis is the seed in his section, and Gulbis has not looked good so far this season. The Latvian will likely be happy to be back indoors though and should be favored against his best pal and former hitting partner Dominic Thiem of Austria. Thiem actually beat Gulbis in 5 last year at the US Open but Thiem has appeared to be out of sorts and out of shape thus far in 2015, so now is a good time to see him on the other side of the net if you’re Gulbis, who will be looking to build his confidence. In round 2 for Gulbis/Thiem it’ll be Sergiy Stakhovsky or Marcel Granollers, two of the weaker players in this field. Stakhovsky lost in round 2 of Zagreb to Mikhail Youzhny, while Granollers reached the semifinals before falling to Seppi. With Granollers in better form I have him through against both Stako and Gulbis. The hard court h2h between Gulbis and Granollers is 1-1. Raonic should demolish whoever his quarterfinal opponent is and reach the semis.
Stan Wawrinka, who reached the semis in Australia will open with Dutch wild card Jesse Huta Galung, from there expect Wawrinka to beat Guillermo Garcia-Lopez yet again, after winning in 4 sets over him at the AO. GGL is in the Zagreb final (beat Viktor Troicki notably) and may take the title there, he opens with Denis Istomin who luckily reached the quarters in Montpellier. GGL won their only indoor meeting, and should get into round 2, but I don’t expect him to have much left in the tank for for Wawrinka at that stage. Wawrinka is slated to face Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals, assuming he can get past Mathieu, and then the Goffin/Muller winner. Muller/Goffin could be trouble, but Dimitrov is still the more talented player so he should be favored. Dimitrov demolished Wawrinka on grass in their last h2h meeting but given current form, the fact this is indoors, and a 2-1 overall h2h Wawrinka should be able to get himself to the semis here and avenge that loss.
In a tournament where the top seeds should be filling out the quarterfinals and beyond, Muller represents the best chance for an unseeded breakthrough (given Janowicz’s likely fatigue). With his dangerous serve, and the fact this is a tournament close to his home. Muller plays tennis with narrow margins, when his serve is clicking he can win a bunch of matches, and when he has even a slight dip in form he’ll struggle against journeymen, but if he does start to click, he could perhaps beat Goffin, Dimitrov, and who knows, even Wawrinka if Stan has an off day, to reach the semis, it’s not likely but the chance is there on this surface.
Predictions Semis: Murray d. Berdych
Wawrinka d. Raonic
In what would be an AO rematch, Berdych is good indoors but we saw how well Murray played in their recent matchup, so the Brit has to be favored. Top 10 players Raonic and Wawrinka have a chance to meet for the fourth time here, I’m going with Wawrinka based on a gut feeling that he will be able to return well enough to beat Raonic, given he’s won all three previous meetings in that manner, but it is nearly a pure toss-up and I wouldn’t be surprised to see either of these names in the final given their excellent form so far this season.
Final: Murray d. Wawrinka
This match has always been a close one, Murray has a 6-3 hard court h2h edge, with Wawrinka having won their last meeting (US Open 2013). Again this is a super hard pick to make and both would be deserving champions. I’ve been really pleased with what I’ve seen from Murray since last Fall, and given that I feel he’s back, I have him as the champion this week of a stacked Rotterdam event.
Memphis Open ATP World Tour 250 Memphis, Tennessee, USA February 9-February 15, 2015
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Kei Nishikori (5)
2: Kevin Anderson (15)
3: John Isner (18)
4: Alexandr Dolgopolov (24)
In it’s second year as a 250 level, ATP only event, Memphis has three top 20 players, and a relatively quality international contingent to go with most of the top and up and coming US men.
First Round matchups to watch:
(WC)Jared Donaldson vs. (WC)Stefan Kozlov Two players who have been pegged as future leaders in US men’s tennis will meet early on in their careers as wild cards on US soil in Memphis. Donaldson, 18, just won the Maui challenger title, his first career Challenger title, after going on a tear of 17 match wins in a row last season. Kozlov, 17, who had more success at the junior level, reaching two junior grand slam finals last season (Wimbledon and the AO) won the Maui doubles title partnering with Donaldson. Both are at career high rankings (Kozlov nearing the top 400 and Donaldson inside the top 180). Donaldson at this point in his career is perhaps slightly ahead of the development curve compared to the younger Kozlov, and his recent form would make him the favorite, but I’m not sure the result of this match will mirror how their careers are going to turn out.
AO quarterfinalist Kei Nishikori has won this title twice in a row and he’s going for a three-peat this year. Malek Jaziri or a qualifier will be his first opponent, Jaziri, who has actually played well this year so far (reached the third round in Melbourne), got himself in hot water again after retiring from a set up against Denis Istomin in Montpellier. The stated reason was an “elbow injury” but Israeli player Dudi Sela had setup a meeting with the Tunisian in the next round, and Jaziri has withdrawn before to avoid facing an Israeli player. Jaziri also pulled out of doubles against an Israeli opponent in Montpellier, and this PR debacle of a situation is going to cloud him for quite some time, especially if he continues to not directly come out and address it. All the same expect to see Nishikori in the quarters, and perhaps get a rematch of last years final against Ivo Karlovic. The big serving Croat will need to defeat Lukas Lacko, who was awful in Zagreb last week, and then the Mikhail Kukushkin/qualifier winner. Kukushkin, who reached an ATP final in January in Sydney, is a rather streaky player, as is Karlovic, who lost his opening contest in Zagreb against Marcos Baghdatis in 3 sets. Kukushkin and Karlovic have never played, I’m simply picking Karlovic because of previous success and the quarterfinalist here is a toss-up. Regardless, expect Nishikori to blaze through to the semis.
John Isner has never played as well in Memphis as he has in most other US events, that said the American number one has Ivan Dodig or Teymuraz Gabashvili on his plate in round 2. Gabashvili played pretty well in the Dallas challenger, reaching the semifinals, while Dodig lost his second match in Zagreb to Marcel Granollers. This matchup could go either way, but given Gabashvili is already in the US, I have him into round 2, before falling victim to Isner. Benjamin Becker, who had his best result at a Grand Slam in a decade when he reached the third round in Melbourne this year is in this section as well as a potential quarterfinal opponent for Isner. Becker could potentially vanquish both parts of “Quisner” , as his round 1 opponent is Sam Querrey who is 0-3 in 2015. Look for Becker, who serves as well as Querrey, but is a superior ball striker and mover, to get into the quarterfinals after beating most likely Donaldson in round 2. This isn’t a bad draw for one of the young American wild cards, but more likely will serve as a learning experience with a round 2 loss against a more experienced player. Isner has a 3-0 h2h against Becker but they haven’t met since 2009 and Becker has played, perhaps the best tennis of his career into his 30s over the past 6 months or so, with that in mind, I have Becker as a surprise semifinalist this week.
Kevin Anderson reached the second week in Melbourne, and should expect to be matched serve for serve in his first match in Memphis, that is if Aussie Sam Groth, who reached the third round Melbourne, can defeat baseliner Rendy Lu in round 1. Both Groth and Anderson have had both good and bad results in 2015, and it’s a tough match to pick. Anderson, given his ranking and similar style of player, is in most cases better than Groth on the return and equal to him on serve, so the South African number one should get through with likely tiebreak sets. Groth has improved his return but Anderson was already a step ahead. American Steve Johnson has a great shot at a good result here, if he can beat Dudi Sela, and Marinko Matosevic/Dustin Brown, he’d setup a quarterfinal meeting with most likely Anderson. Johnson has yet to lose an opening round match in 2015, as he continues to show signs of improvement in his game. Brown was a point away from beating possible champion Jerzy Janowicz in Montpellier, but all the same I expect Johnson over Matosevic in round 2. Anderson is 3-0 against Johnson, including two wins last year and a win in straights this year in Auckland, with that in mind, the matchup favors Kev and he should reach the semis, even with a tricky path.
Alex Dolgopolov, who was injured in Australia with a leg problem could face Bernard Tomic in round 2, assuming the Aussie, who reached the second week in Melbourne, beats Igor Sijsling, who comes off the quarterfinals in Zagreb. Tomic is 7-3 in 2015 and appears to be focused and in the groove right now, you never know how long that will last, but he still should be the favorite to reach the quarterfinals at least here, with Dolgo in questionable physical condition and always unpredictable. Tomic and Dolgo have played some awesome h2h matches, with Tomic winning their most recent encounter last year in Sydney, and also a 5 setter at the 2012 AO (Dolgo had won three previous hc meeting before that one for a 3-2 hard court h2h edge), This is a must see match if it takes place, with talented shotmaking a given. Tomic should actually have an easier time in the quarters, Donald Young is an option, Adrian Mannarino is the 8 seed, and a pair of qualifiers are also here. This is a section a qualifier could get out of (Denis Kudla, and Thanasi Kokkinakis are potential qualifiers) but without knowing who the qualifiers will be, I have Mannarino into the quarters with wins over Young and a qualifier. Mannarino reached the final in Auckland last month and comes off a round 1 loss to Sijsling in Zagreb, while Young was a quarterfinalist in Auckland. Tomic should reach the semis out of this section that isn’t overly difficult.
Tomic should make the semis as a non seed given his draw, and one of Anderson/Johnson/Groth is also quite beatable, Tomic is 3-0 on hard courts against Anderson, including a win indoors last year in Stockholm, and thus he should be an a finalist this week if his play holds true to its current form. As usual the talent is there but the question is can Bernie remain focused and implement the game plan and discipline needed to translate that into results on a week to week basis?
Semis: Nishikori d. Becker
Tomic d. Anderson
Nishikori and Becker played one of the best regular ATP tour matches of the season last year in Tokyo, Nishikori won in a third set tiebreak, clawing back from a set down, as Becker was throwing his entire arsenal at Nishikori (and previously Nishikori beat Becker last year in Memphis). The Japanese number one should win, but this pair produce some great tennis on a consistent basis and it’s still worth watching.
As mentioned above, Tomic has a demonstrated edge against Anderson, and thus he should take advantage of his draw and make the final.
Final: Nishikori d. Tomic
Nishikori was a cut above Tomic in the Brisbane quarterfinals this year, given how that match went, I don’t expect this one to go any better, Nishikori is a strong favorite to win his third ATP Memphis title.
The 24 year old Lajovic remains poised to a breakthrough at the ATP level, though his ranking is stuck in the 60-90 no mans land right now. Meanwhile the veteran Andujar will be pleased to return to clay court tennis this week, as hard courts have once again not been kind to him this year. Lajovic pushed possible Quito champion Feliciano Lopez (a current finalist) to 3 sets in the quarterfinals, very nearly knocking him out with a 1 set lead and break point chances in the second. Andujar has experience and he’s higher ranked but I’m going with an upset and placing Lajovic into the second round, as I feel he has the ability to win this.
(8)Martin Klizan vs. Thomaz Bellucci
Bellucci beat Klizan last year in Sao Paulo, and comes off the Quito semis, where he dropped a tough match to Victor Estrella. The home player with have crowd support against the Slovak Klizan, who also lost to Estrella by a wider margin in the quarterfinals of that same event. Bellucci should be favored at home but his mentality is always a question mark, either way this should be a rowdy contest.
(5)Pablo Cuevas vs. Jiri Vesely
Cuevas had a fantastic year on the red stuff last year, going 47-9 on clay across all levels of tournament action with a pair of ATP titles to reach a career high ranking just inside the top 30. Now he will seek to repeat that showing, or even one up it this year, starting his ATP clay tournament calendar in Sao Paulo. In his first match on clay in 2015 he will face the young Czech Jiri Vesely who just won his maiden ATP title last month in Auckland. Vesely is also no slouch on clay, as he went 18-10 on the surface under the same standard as Cuevas. Vesely likely has more raw ability, but I have the experienced Cuevas, who plays some of his best tennis in these conditions, through to round 2.
Feliciano Lopez is seeking to binge his way through the Golden Swing and maintain, if not improve on his career high ranking inside the top 15. The current Quito finalist and possible champion will have his first match in SP against Juan Monaco, a former doubles partner, or a qualifier (young gun Elias Ymer and a host of second tier dirtballers are possible qualifiers). Monaco was once in the same position Lopez is in now, having reached a career high ranking of 10 in 2010, but it’s been all downhill from there for the declining Argentine, so even if he’s fatigued Flopez should flow his way into the quarters, while Monaco could struggle with a qualifier in round 1. Lopez could play a rematch of a strange, but quality semifinal match with his fellow Spanish Armada member Fernando Verdasco in the quarters. The Quito semifinalist has a qualifier first up and then the Lajovic/Andujar winner. This section presents a great chance for Lajovic to post consecutive quarters if Verdasco is exhausted. Otherwise I’m going to repeat what I picked last week, and put Verdasco into the semis, even though I was wrong on that in Quito. It was a close match and Lopez will have to play one extra match (and stay in Quito an extra day) compared to Verdasco. Something like that is enough to swing a result.
Leonardo Mayer. who went 19-10 on clay last year with an ATP title and final on the surface, both career bests, is another player that is happy to see the ATP tour return to clay. Mayer will face Spanish vet Albert Ramos or Brazilian WC Guillherme Clezar in round 1. Mayer is a cut above Ramos, and Ramos is more accomplished than Clezar, so expect Mayer to reach the quarters by defeating Ramos. Mayer vs. the Bellucci/Klizan winner is the most likely quarterfinal in this section. I favor Bellucci over Pablo Carreno Busta, assuming PCB beats Joao Souza, another Brazilian. Souza comes off a round 1 loss in Quito, while PCB will be making his 2015 clay debut after posting a 24-15 record on the surface last season in tournament play. Bellucci-PCB should be a good R2 match for a 250, with Bellucci has a home favorite. Mayer and Bellucci have a split h2h, when it comes to the slated quarterfinal (2-2), and Mayer has been better in recent career results, so I have Leo into the semis against Verdasco.
Tommy Robredo, who won this tournament in 2009 when it was in a different location, will open with Blaz Rola or Nicolas Almagro in round 2. Almagro is a three time former champion at the Brasil Open, and he’s 4-1 against Robredo on clay in his career. He’s played just a handful of matches since coming back from injury, but he looked healthy and improving in Melbourne (lost to Kei Nishikori in round 1), while Robredo is coming off his own injury and hasn’t completed any tournament matches this year. Rola hasn’t done anything special as of late, and I expect Almagro to keep improving against him, then get Robredo at a good time for that matchup to happen, and take him out as well to make the quarterfinals. At that stage Cuevas/Vesely could be his opponent, or defending champ Federico Delbonis who opens with a qualifier. Delbonis went 14-10 on clay last year in what was a breakthrough season into the top 60 for him. He has a lot of points to defend, and he’s not been gifted a lucky draw, as I feel Cuevas is superior on the surface, and will be the one to reach the quarters, though any of him, Vesely or Cuevas reaching the quarters wouldn’t shock me, as it’s a stacked section. Cuevas just beat Almagro in Sydney on HCs and has one previous H2H win against him, so for that reason I’m going with another (slight) upset and putting the Uruguayan number one into the semis from this stacked section.
Fabio Fognini is returning to clay in SP and looking to get his singles career back on track, having returned the Golden Swing he did so well in last year. Fogna will face his countryman Paolo Lorenzi or Diego Schwartzman in round 2. Lorenzi comes off quarters in Quito, while Schwartzman is ready to make his move to the next level, after an incredible 21-2 record on clay last year at the non ATP level (22-3 overall as he played almost entirely challengers to get into the top 70). I have the 22 year old making his move and defeating both Italians, Lorenzi and Fognini to reach the quarterfinals. SP is the type of tournament where rising players can have a shot to announce themselves to the tennis world, and Schwartzman is due. Fognini has been in crisis mode since the US Open and Schwartzman is good enough to at least give him a quality match, and given the current state of Fogna’s form, defeat him. Schwartzman also has a great chance at the semis, the only other seed left would be Santiago Giraldo, the Colombian who had a great year last year, dropped a bad match to Albert Montanes in Quito. He opens with WC Kimmer Coppejans, and should win, but I have Argentine grinder Carlos Berlocq beating him, given the 4-2 overall h2h in round 2. Berlocq went 18-6 on clay last year and beat Schwartzman in 3 sets to win a challenger title on clay (Porto Alegre). A quarterfinal between this is a bit of a coin flip but I have the experienced Berlocq into the semifinals against Cuevas.
I have the unseeded Berlocq in the semis this week as well, but Schwartzman gets the dark horse tag because he’s a young gun, and he could win his first ATP title this week if he rises to the occasion. Should he get through Lorenzi, Fognini and Berlocq/Giraldo, all accomplished veterans, Cuevas/Almagro/Robredo or some other player are all beatable semifinal opponents as Schwartzman would likely need to beat a bunch of veterans just to reach the final this week. It’s a relatively open tournament field and Verdasco/Mayer/Lopez aren’t unbeatable either in a possible final.
Predictions Semis: Mayer d. Verdasco
Cuevas d. Berlocq
Mayer should be fresher than Verdasco or Lopez, and you have to believe he can maintain the high level of play we saw from his last season, especially on his favorite surface.
Cuevas-Berlocq is another judgement call but Cuevas has won the last four clay court h2h meetings, so he should be favored.
Final: Mayer d. Cuevas
Mayer was slightly better last season and has a 2-1 clay h2h edge, this is a hard tournament to predict, but I have Mayer winning another ATP title, this time in Sao Paulo.
A lot of people were interested to see how Ryan Sweeting’s comeback at Challenger level would play out, but he clearly wasn’t ready to be competitive just yet, losing 6-3 6-0 to qualifier Nicolas Meister in the first round. Meister, however, would proceed to profit hugely from all seeds in the top half going out, making it all the way to the final without facing one. Meister beat fellow qualifier Takanyi Garanganga, who took out top seed Denis Kudla, in the quarterfinal and James McGee in the semi-final.
In the bottom half Ryan Harrison went through yet another disappointing loss, falling to Dennis Novikov in the first round. Jared Donaldson went on a great run, taking out second seed Bradley Klahn in the semi-final to reach the final without dropping a set. In the final Meister wasn’t a match for him either and got easily dispatched by Donaldson, outside of a small hiccup when he went up a double break in the second. Donaldson took down his first ever Challenger title after a 6-1 6-4 victory. Donaldson is now ranked inside of the top 200 for the first time, rising 73 spots to #178. Meister posts a new career high ranking just outside of the top 300 at #302.
The doubles draw held some controversy, as Wayne Odesnik and Michael Shabaz blatantly tanked the super-tiebreak of their second round match, giving absolutely no effort. See for yourself, it starts at the one hour mark and gets particularly ridiculous at 5-3, as Odesnik simply hits the ball to the ground and the team proceeds to get aced twice in a row http://new.livestream.com/ATP/royallahainachallenger2015stadium/videos/75406462
The tournament started off with a miracle that sent purists into a state of delight, as Enrico Becuzzi and Paolo Lorenzi entered the doubles draw as alternates, getting paired to Sam Barnett and Kevin Kim in the first round. Becuzzi and Barnett are the two most famous amateur players trying to make it as professionals, but as in their singles match two years ago, Becuzzi triumphed here as well, 6-1 6-4. In the second round they fell 6-1 6-2 to Martin Cuevas/Guido Pella. Another tanking controversy occured with Andre Ghem and Gerard Melzer, who blatantly gave away their doubles match in a 6-2 6-0 loss. In the singles draw Lorenzi got upset by Gerald Melzer in the second round, 6-4 3-6 6-3. Profiting from Lorenzi going out was Gastao Elias, who beat Melzer in the next round and went on to reach the final after beating Jordi Samper-Montana in the semi-final. Samper-Montana beat Kevin Kim in the first round, who was playing on a presumably bought wild card due to pairing up in doubles with the wealthy Barnett, considering the 36 year old Kim is unranked and has been effectively retired since 2012.
In the bottom half #7 seed Daniel Gimeno-Traver annihilated #2 seed Victor Estrella-Burgos 6-0 6-4 in the quarterfinal, after which he beat Facundo Bagnis 6-4 6-7(5) 6-3 for a place in the final against Elias. Another long three set match followed, with Gimeno-Traver once again coming out on top, 6-3 1-6 7-5. With that result Gimeno-Traver recaptured a spot inside of the top 100, rising 21 spots to #89. Elias rose 17 spots to #126.
Hong Kong Challenger
Quite remarkably not a single seed in the top half survived the first round. Top seed Ricardas Berankis fell to Saketh Myneni, #4 seed Jimmy Wang to Di Wu, #6 seed Yuichi Sugita to Matthew Ebden and #8 seed Hiroki Moriya to Niels Desein. None of them could really build on the upset, as the semi-finalists were Kyle Edmund and Yoshihito Nishioka. Edmund won their match 7-6(2) 6-0. In the bottom half #2 seed Tatsuma Ito did live up to his seeding, beating Hyeon Chung 6-4 6-0 for a place in the final. Both men didn’t drop a set on their way to the final, but Edmund clearly was the better player, comfortably beating Ito 6-1 6-2. Edmund rose to a career high ranking of #148, rising 44 spots. Ito marginally improved with three spots, landing at #86.
2015 Australian Open Week 2 Men’s Preview, Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
It’s been an exciting week at the Aussie Open on the men’s side. Many of the names we expected to see in the second week like Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka are still very much in it to win it, while Roger Federer is the biggest name to already have packed his bags in Melbourne. The round of 16 onward will feature competition between the top tier players and a group of rising challengers looking to topple them. Here is a look at the round of 16 matchups which will begin tonight if you’re in the USA.
Novak has had little in the way of slip ups through his first week of matches, cruising past Aljaz Bedene, Andrey Kuznetsov and Fernando Verdasco without dropping a set. Verdasco brought some of his best tennis to the table at times in their third round encounter but even still it wasn’t consistent enough to seriously threaten the world number one.
Muller continues his fantastic comeback results, as he is one of the great storylines of the AO this year. The big serving Luxembourger has had his serve and volley game clicking all week. He beat Pablo Carreno Busta in three sets, dominated proceedings against the seeded Roberto Bautista Agut and beat him in four sets, then kept a steady hand against fellow big server John Isner and took him out in straights, as a frustrated Isner could barely get a racquet on Muller’s serve at times.
The pair have never met before, though both are veteran players, and trouble could lurk for Novak given he can struggle against big servers. Muller’s game is rather limited but in order to beat him, Novak will need to keep his focus the entire match, as a momentary slip up for a break of serve, or in a tiebreak could spell ruin for him. Novak had trouble with Verdasco’s serve when he was pumping it in at upwards of 130 MPH, and Muller is going to bring the hammer here, but I still think the world number one will find a way to win, perhaps dropping his first set of the tournament in this one.
(8)Milos Raonic vs. (12)Feliciano Lopez
It should come as no surprise to see Raonic in the second week. The Canadian number one has looked impenetrable on serve in his first trio of matches and has avoided even the slightest bit of pressure. The Canadian number one put a chokehold on Ilya Marchenko, Donald Young, and surprise third round participant Benjamin Becker, never dropping a set, and never giving up more than three points to his opponent in any of the three tiebreak sets he has played this week. The revitalized veteran Becker took out the seeded Julian Benneteau, and then clawed his way back into the match from two sets against Lleyton Hewitt on home soil to win in five sets, a shocking result that was an enjoyable match to watch.
Lopez, on the other hand, has to have surprised even himself to make the second week. He came into the tournament in an awful slump, and he’s back playing top 15 caliber tennis after the first week. It wasn’t easy for the Spaniard though, he was tested by Denis Kudla who was up 2 sets to 1 at one point, and later had match points late in the fifth set. The clean ball striking of Kudla produced some incredible highlights but Lopez’s lefty serve and touch at the net eventually won the day. He overcame fatigue to win that round 1 match 10-8 in the 5th set. Against Adrian Mannarino in round 2 he was down 2 sets to love but he clawed back and won the third set tiebreak, after which the wheels came off for Mannarino and he would retire midway through the 4th set. He put up his best showing of the week against Jerzy Janowicz in round 3. The Pole came into the match in good form but Lopez slammed the door on him, winning in three sets with a pair of tiebreak wins, as he had that little bit of edge to put him through. Janowicz had reached the third round by taking out Gael Monfils in five sets, as the acrobatic Frenchman played two entertaining five set matches this week, coming back from 2 sets and a break down against Lucas Pouille, his countryman, and then falling to Janowicz.
Lopez beat Raonic last year in Canada on hard courts, and he’ll at least have a chance in this one after how well he played against Janowicz, but I personally don’t see how Raonic will lose this one with how well he’s been playing. His serve is like Thor’s hammer at the moment and Lopez is going to face more pressure on his. It should be a close match but assuming Raonic takes advantage of the opportunities that arise, he should pull through.
Wawrinka remains one of the favorites to take the title, yet again, this year. He controlled proceedings against Marsel Ilhan and Marius Copil through the first two rounds, not dropping a set, then fought off a good effort from fleet footed veteran Jarkko Nieminen without dropping a set. He hasn’t been fully perfect, but like Djokovic, that hasn’t been necessary for him. Wawrinka hasn’t faced anyone that has put serious pressure on him, and he’s been able to play matches at a lower intensity than his peak so he’s rested going into the business end of the tournament.
Garcia-Lopez took out Peter Gojowczyk in a fourth set retirement, then didn’t drop a set against Alejandro Gonzalez (who vanquished Fabio Fognini in round 1), and Vasek Pospisil, who was carrying an injury into the match. This was always going to be an open section, and GGL was the one who took advantage, even though he entered the tournament in pedestrian form. This is the second time in his career he’s reached the second week of a Slam.
Wawrinka was upset by GGL at the French Open last year, and this is chance for revenge. Given this is the AO on hard courts, I expect Wawrinka to dominate and win this match comfortably. GGL is a talented shotmaker but I don’t see him having the consistency and the stamina to keep up with Wawrinka here, the Swiss doesn’t appear to be messing around right now.
(5)Kei Nishikori vs. (9)David Ferrer
Nishikori faced quality opposition in the first week, and pulled through against them, as he continued to play like a top 10 player. The Japanese number one took out Nicolas Almagro in straights, Ivan Dodig in four sets, and Steve Johnson in four sets to solidify himself as one of the last 16 men in the tournament. Dodig and Johnson raised their levels of play for a set or so, but simply couldn’t maintain against Nishikori, who was always able to refocus and start firing his shots on all cylinders again. Credit goes to Stevie J for reaching the third round, as he took out Kyle Edmund and Santiago Giraldo.
Ferrer has had momentary lapses in all of his matches so far, but long term he sorted himself out and got through in four sets. He beat Thomaz Bellucci, Sergiy Stakhovsky and Gilles Simon in this fashion. He dropped the first set against both Bellucci and Stakhovsky, and the third set, from 2 sets to love up, against Simon, but none of the challengers could maintain their level against Ferrer’s tenacity.
Nishikori won this top tier matchup four times last year, as I discussed in my week 1 preview, and I expect four or five sets in this meeting. The path to victory for Ferrer here is narrow and will involve simply surviving Nishikori’s shotmaking through the first few frames and getting the match deep into a fourth or fifth set where Ferrer’s steadiness and fitness should help him out. Nishikori on the other hand needs to avoid going for too much, and overhitting against Ferrer. The winner of this match will be the one who takes control of the rhythm and flow and plays at their pace and style.
Berdych is another top player who reached the second week without much of a sweat, under the radar he cruised over Alejandro Falla, Jurgen Melzer, and Viktor Troicki without dropping a set, as his game is clicking and he’s been dominant in the rallies in every match.
Tomic appears to be enjoying himself and staying focused in his home slam. The young Aussie beat Tobias Kamke and Philipp Kohlschreiber in 4 sets, then his big serving countryman Sam Groth in 3 sets to reach week 2. Tomic played poorly against Kamke for a good bit of the match, spewing errors off his racquet, and he was flummoxed by the shots that Kohli was throwing at him at times in that match, but perhaps it bodes well for him that he found a way to win those matches, along with fight off the Groth serve that had vexed both Filip Krajinovic and another young Aussie, Thanasi Kokkinakis, in the first two rounds. Kokkinakis played a thrilling five setter against Ernests Gulbis to reach the second round, He bageled Gulbis in set 2, then got breadsticked himself in set 3, saved match points in set 4, and finally won it 8-6 with a late break in set 5, as his intensity and performance rose to the occasion when the pressure was on.
Berdych is appropriately favored in this match, and he is likely to win it given he’s 7-1 in 2015 and hasn’t dropped a set in any of this wins this season. That said Tomic will have the home support, and he’s doing well when under pressure right now, so he should at least take a set, and perhaps if Berdych has a mental lapse, he can shock the Aussie tennis world and reach the last 8. Berdych in 4 sets is the safe pick though.
Nadal has had a strange odyssey in week 1, in the first and third rounds, he was in control and bossed around both Mikhail Youzhny and Dudi Sela without dropping a set, but in round 2, he was ill, and seemingly dizzy with stomach and fever problems and got pushed to the brink against American journeyman Tim Smyczek, a stalwart of the USTA Pro Circuit. Smyczek looked like a pushover in the first frame, and the match appeared routine but he stormed back to take the second set, and then the third set in a tiebreak to go up two sets to one. Nadal, who was clearly struggling and playing poorly at this point managed to raise his level enough to take the fourth set, and then they held serve in the fifth as Nadal was selectively retrieving balls, while Smyczek was throwing everything he had left in the tank at the Spanish number one. Nadal would eventually win the day 7-5 in the fifth, while Smyczek was complimented for his sportsmanship, allowing Rafa to replay a point due to fan interference 6-5 30-0 up, serving, in the fifth set. Tim is one of the nicest players on tour and he’s fun to watch, so hopefully this great effort, where he truly looked to be enjoying himself on court, bodes well for him having further success in 2015, I’d quite enjoy to see him do well at the ATP level.
Anderson has surprisingly dominated down under, and he’s another one of the big servers through to the second week, he beat Diego Sebastian Schwartzman in 4 sets, Ricardas Berankis in 3 sets, and Richard Gasquet in 3 sets to reach week 2. Gasquet had set points and was up breaks in multiple sets but he wilted under relentless pressure from Anderson.
Nadal should win this, he’s simply the better player, but after the situation against Smyczek there are still serious questions about Rafa’s condition right now. Over time Nadal has played himself into form in matches, but against Anderson he will finally be facing an opponent who should push sets deep, and consistently be able to hold his serve, giving Nadal less margin for error if his form slips and he gets broken on serve. The key for Anderson will be to get off to a fast start, and in a perfect world, get two sets to love up before Nadal can find himself, but it’s a bold guess to say Anderson will do that, so Nadal in 4 sets is the pick, Anderson probably salvages a tiebreak at some point.
Murray is playing his best tennis since his back surgery at the end of 2013. The UK number one rolled over Yuki Bhambri, Marinko Matosevic, and Joao Sousa without dropping a set, as he was simply too strong for players of that caliber. Bhambri and Sousa both pushed him for a set and clearly put in effort but the result was never in doubt.
Dimitrov has faced some headaches in his path the second week, Dustin Brown was no trouble at all in round 1, as he won that contest in straights, but Lukas Lacko pushed him to four sets, and Marcos Baghdatis danced with him for a full five sets in rounds 2 and 3. The match against Lacko was relatively routine except for a long second set tiebreak that Lacko won 12-10 after saving multiple set points, the Slovak would fade thereafter however. Against an aggressive Baghdatis, spirited by his rowdy fans, Dimitrov was looking for answers for a large portion of the match. He dropped both the first and third set against Baghdatis, who was cracking winners and moving up the court on both wings, taking his chances when possible. The former AO finalist showed shades of his former self but he doesn’t have as much stamina and consistency as he used to, and eventually Dimitrov sorted himself out and got through in five sets 6-3 in the fifth as Baghdatis last real chance to win the match was in the fourth set, that he also lost 6-3. This was another classic Baghdatis slam match regardless and was a joy to watch if you like attacking tennis. Dimitrov was pushed on his back foot and forced to moonball at times. It should be noted that Baggy made the third round by upsetting a listless David Goffin in round 2, after winning in 5 sets against Teymuraz Gabashvili.
The match between Murray and Dimitrov is one of my two most anticipated clashes of the fourth round (the other is Ferrer vs. Nishikori). These are two talented and motivated stars who will be dueling just to make the quarterfinals. This should be a physically grueling contest, and with Dimitrov coming off a taxing five setter, while Murray has sprinting all over the court against his first three opponents, the advantage in physicality and stamina goes to Murray, one of the fittest players in the sport. Dimitrov has raw shotmaking ability and he can stretch Murray using angles, bringing him forward and so forth, but I feel like Murray will wear him down and win this in four or five sets, taking advantage of perhaps just a lone break of serve in a set, or a minibreak in a tiebreak to get himself through. The level of these two players is very close, but I’m very encouraged by what I’ve seen from Murray this tournament, and less so by Dimitrov.
Nick Kyrgios vs. Andreas Seppi
Two players that myself, and many others did not expect to be still in it at this stage in the tournament. Kyrgios showed signs of injury in his round one win in five sets over Federico Delbonis, but got progressively better against Ivo Karlovic and Malek Jaziri. Kyrgios went from hunched over and barely holding against Delbonis to ripping serves and smashing forehands against Karlovic and Jaziri. Karlovic who before the match was serving lights out, didn’t play as well as expected and Kyrgios was in control most of the contest. Jaziri was coming off of a four setter with Mikhail Kukushkin and a five setter with Edouard Roger-Vasselin and he didn’t have near the fitness level to compete.
Seppi, one of the stories of the tournament who is off to a roaring start in 2015, having already done better with his results than in all of 2014, won the essential fifth set against Denis Istomin, in a match that was guaranteed to go five like an Italian opera, and then won in 4 sets against Jeremy Chardy. All that was good, but then it went from a good tournament to an amazing one for Seppi, who is perhaps on his way to reclaiming the Italian number one designation from a slumping Fabio Fognini. Seppi shocked Roger Federer 6-4 7-6 4-6 7-6 in what is certain to be one of the biggest upsets of the 2015 season. Federer played very poorly and had limited depth on his shots, he almost appeared limp wristed at times and was simply massaging the ball into play while Seppi was going for the lines, and connecting on his shots, mixing in offense, defense and good old fashioned counterpunching. Most people had Seppi as good as done by the time it went to a fourth set tiebreak, but he hung in it, and hit an incredible, once in a lifetime passing shot past Federer on a match point to minibreak and earn himself the greatest win in his career. Seppi redlining against an inhibited Federer was enjoyable to watch and he’s the most surprising name to have reached the second week.
Kyrgios beat Seppi at the USO last year, but that said, who knows if Kyrgios is fully 100%, though he looks fine at this point, and this is an inspired tenacious Seppi, who is well out playing his 2014 form. A lot of people don’t see this being close, but I feel Seppi actually has a shot if he can deal with Kyrgios serve and make him rally, he’s still the underdog but he’s thrived in that situation with the crowd against him and I’m picking the upset and putting Seppi through to the quarterfinals. The crowd will be loving this match, as Kyrgios is incredibly popular in his home country, while Seppi is a likable player.
Quarters: Djokovic d. Raonic in 4
Wawrinka d. Ferrer in 4
Nadal d. Berdych in 3
Murray d. Seppi in 3
Djokovic could be tested with how well Raonic is playing, but even if it goes five, Novak has the experience and has dealt with a lot more of these massive matches. I’m comfortable at this point going with Wawrinka over Ferrer or Nishikori, as much as I’m tempted to revise my week 1 pick and put Nishikori through, I’m going to stick to my guns and have Ferrer reaching the quarters, either way Stan seems a cut above the pair right now.
My reasoning for Berdych over Nadal in my original predictions was that I wasn’t sure if Nadal was going to be really struggling coming into this, though he was ill against Smyczek, you can’t really classify him as “struggling” right now and given the H2H, even with Berdych looking like a tough customer in the first week, Nadal now has to be the favorite to reach the semis from this section. He’s eliminated enough doubt in my mind to put him that far through at this point.
I would go with Murray over Kyrgios or Seppi, Kyrgios would perhaps be a tougher opponent given it would mean a hostile crowd and a Laver night session, not to mention his aggression and skill set, but Murray is playing really well right now, and I just don’t see him losing to either of those players, especially Seppi. The competition is getting tougher but I don’t see that scaring Murray.
Semis: Djokovic d. Wawrinka in 5
Murray d. Nadal in 4
Given the form of both players, and the result of previous contests, I can almost guarantee that Djokovic vs. Wawrinka will be a Laver night session five setter, and go over four hours. Both players will need to give 110% as neither appears to be giving much away in the first week, they both have their weaknesses and showing no mercy is going to be essential. Novak still seems like the better “finisher” of the two, and that’s why I have him through as much as I want to believe Wawrinka can recapture the magic of last year and win again. This probably ends up 7-5 or 9-7 in the fifth set. For what it’s worth I’d have Djokovic through to the final against any other possible opponent here, and Wawrinka likewise, as they are the two players most likely to actually win the title in my opinion. Unless they wear each other out, the tournament winner should come from the top half of the draw.
I’m comfortable going with Murray over Nadal, or any other possible opponent left, even more so than I was at the start of the tournament. He’s played up to the level I thought would be needed for him to get through to the final, and he avoids Federer now, this is a slightly easier path than I expected and Murray should get himself to another slam final.
Sticking with my original pick, not having Federer in the final means it’s still a valid proposition, and as much as I personally want Murray to win this to silence the critics and prove he’s back, Djokovic or Wawrinka over Murray has to be the pick here. Djokovic on hard court at the AO has generally shown himself to be superior and the only real chance for Murray here is if he plays lights out and Novak is playing on a half full tank going into the match because Wawrinka (or Nishikori/Raonic etc.) has wounded him.
Where the tournaments on the main tour last week had a lot of surprises and qualifiers making a deep run, the Casablanca Challenger followed a similar pattern. After the second round only one seed was left in the tournament, #3 Adrian Ungur. And that also didn’t last long, as he got blasted off the court by wild card Lamine Ouahab, 6-2 6-2. Ouahab can pretty much be described by the video below, where he hits an extremely casual half volley. As a really talented juniors player he was #4 in the world and beat Rafael Nadal in straight sets at Wimbledon, but after that he became an out of shape journeyman, leaving people to wonder what could have been.
#1 seed Albert Montanes lost 6-3 7-5 to qualifier Guillaume Rufin, while #2 seed Daniel Gimeno-Traver didn’t even get that far, losing 6-4 6-7(4) 6-4 in the first round to another qualifier, Laslo Djere. This set us up for a very special semi-final line-up, featuring the two qualifiers Rufin and Djere, wild card Ouahab and a player who entered the tournament on a protected ranking, Javier Marti. Rufin managed to push Ouahab around for one set before running out of steam, with Ouahab eventually prevailing 3-6 6-2 6-1. Marti easily beat Djere 6-1 6-3 in the other semi-final.
In the final Ouahab went off to an incredible start, going up 6-0 3-0*. After that, Marti was able to play himself into the match, violently pumping himself up with a lot of screaming after his won points. Ouahab went up 4-3 40-15*, 5-4* and eventually 6-3* in the tiebreak, but he couldn’t seem to close it out, with Marti getting back to six all. However, Ouahab squeezed out two spectacular points to close out the match and claim his first Challenger title since 2006! We can only hope this marks the beginning of a late career revival for the 30 year old, as he jumps 241 spots on the ranking, landing at #345. Marti improved 291 spots, rising to #498. The 23 year old has been struggling with injury for a long time, let’s hope he can stay healthy this time around.
Top story of the first qualifying round was Benoit Paire. The former world #24 returned from a knee injury at the Hopman Cup and faced Elias Ymer in the first round, which ended in an absolute trashing, with the 18 year old Swede winning 6-0 6-4. Another former top 70 player, Matthew Ebden, missed 3 MP in his loss to #24 seed Matthias Bachinger, losing 6-4 6-7(7) 6-3. As if dropping 200 ranking spots over the course of a year wasn’t enough suffering for Ebden. Two other familiar names, Michal Przysiezny and Jurgen Zopp, were involved in a marathon match, with Przysiezny winning 4-6 6-3 9-7. Disappointing was Ryan Harrison’s loss, who had just won a Challenger and was looking to be on an upswing again, but fell to countryman Wayne Odesnik, 6-3 7-6(4).
Home player John-Patrick Smith took out German hope Alexander Zverev 7-6(8) 6-4, while James McGee kept his hopes on qualifying for his second Grand Slam alive by beating #12 seed Norbert Gombos, 1-6 6-3 6-2. Yuki Bhambri beat #15 seed Evgeny Donskoy in a long match, 4-6 6-1 8-6. Nikoloz Basilashvili, who reached the second round at Doha, lost in a similar match to Mate Delic, 3-6 7-6(4) 8-6.
In the second qualifying round Tim ”Golden Set” Puetz managed to beat top seed Damir Dzumhur, who reached the third round of the main draw last year. 6-2 4-6 8-6 was the score, in favor of the man who got handed a golden set in the qualifying draw of the US Open 2013. Second seed Jurgen Melzer very nearly got past Daniel Munoz-De La Nava, 2-6 7-6(2) 7-5. 35 year old Czech Jan Hernych won a marathon match against his fifteen years younger countryman Adam Pavlasek, 6-7(3) 6-3 14-12. Another oldtimer, Michael Russell, took out #21 seed Thiemo de Bakker 4-6 6-3 7-5. The man who beat Nadal in Doha, Michael Berrer, fell to Ruben Bemelmans, 3-6 7-5 6-3. Marius Copil beat Philipp Petzschner 6-3 3-6 8-6.
In the final qualifying round there was an interesting match lined up between two 18 year olds going for their first Grand Slam main draw, Elias Ymer and Hyeon Chung. Ymer won it relatively comfortably, 7-5 6-3. Jurgen Melzer won the most anticipated match of the final qualifying round against Steve Darcis, 7-6(6) 1-6 6-4. It’s a shame that Darcis had such an unfortunate draw, as he could have caused problems in the main draw. Golden oldies Russell and Hernych managed to get through comfortably in straight sets. Marius Copil qualified for his first Grand Slam main draw by beating Omar Jasika, 7-6(5) 6-2. The same goes for Yuki Bhambri, who beat Chase Buchanan 6-4 6-3. Lukasz Kubot didn’t make it, falling 6-2 6-2 to Iliya Marchenko.
The full list of qualifiers is as followed, with their main draw opponent in parentheses:
Aljaz Bedene (#1 seed Novak Djokovic)
Elias Ymer (Go Soeda)
Jimmy Wang (#19 seed John Isner)
Laurent Lokoli (Andreas Haider-Maurer)
Tim Puetz (Donald Young)
Iliya Marchenko (#8 seed Milos Raonic)
Marius Copil (Pablo Andujar)
Matthias Bachinger (Pablo Cuevas)
Jan Hernych (#30 seed Santiago Giraldo)
Kyle Edmund (Steve Johnson)
Jurgen Melzer (Victor Estrella Burgos)
Tim Smyczek (Luke Saville)
Yuki Bhambri (#6 seed Andy Murray)
Alexander Kudryavtsev (Marinko Matosevic)
Michael Russell (#20 seed David Goffin)
Ruben Bemelmans (#23 seed Ivo Karlovic)
In my opinion Ymer, Puetz, Copil, Melzer and Smyczek have an excellent opportunity to advance even further, with Lokoli, Bachinger, Hernych and Kudryavtsev being in there with an outside chance. One of the others winning would be a huge surprise.
LONG BEACH, Calif., (Jan. 17, 2015) – Steadiness and experience have gone along way for Frederik Nielsen this week at the USTA Pro Circuit $15,000 Long Beach Futures Tournament taking place at the El Dorado Park Tennis Center.
The 31-year-old 2012 Wimbledon doubles champion and No. 6-seeded singles player this week, Nielsen of Denmark held off 2014 NCAA singles runner-up Alex Sarkissian from Glendale, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, to advance to Sunday’s final.
Nielsen, who avenged a 2013 loss to Sarkissian at the Aptos Challenger in their only career meeting, will play qualifier Takanyi Garanganga of Zimbabwe in the 11 a.m. final.
Garanganga battled to the very end against hometown favorite Jason Jung of Torrance, pulling out the close 6-7 (2), 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory over the No. 3 seeded former University of Michigan star.
The average age of the four players Nielsen beat this week was an average age of 19.5, including Martin Redlicki (19), Mackenzie McDonald (19), Stefan Kozlov (16) and Sarkissian (24).
Sarkissian held a 4-2 lead with Nielsen serving in the second set, and had two break points to go ahead 5-2 and serve out the match. But Nielsen stayed steady and held on to win the game and eventually the set.
“At the start of the match I felt like he was a step ahead of me and he was playing better than me and faster than me,” Nielsen said. “I started slicing and slowing the pace down.”
He added: “Physically I feel amazing, and mentally I feel tough. All and all I’m very happy with where I’m at.”
Nielsen has made some time for some sight-seeing this week and has been enjoying the picture-perfect 72-degree sunny weather this week. On Friday, he saw the sunset and views of the Pacific from the Griffith Observatory, and on Saturday evening he was headed to the Santa Monica Pier for dinner.
He surprised many with his 6-0 win in a third set against Kozlov in the quarterfinals on Friday. “I think it’s very tough to evaluate him now because of his age,” Nielsen said of Kozlov. “He’s only 16 years old and it’s outrageous his composure and how impressive he handles everything. I do feel he let me play a little too much on my terms and that he may have some physical limitations over the next couple of years. But he’s very mature and he’s a great fighter. I’m just glad I was able to beat him now.”
USTA League Captain’s Appreciation Day is Sunday, Jan. 18, beginning at 10:30 a.m. The tournament is free and open to the public.
2015 Australian Open Week 1 Men’s Preview and Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
2015 Australian Open Men’s Preview
January 18-February 1, 2015
Prize Money: $40,000,000
It’s one of the more open Grand Slam draws in a while when it comes to the Men’s Aussie Open. The traditional “big four” of Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, and Murray are all competing for the title, while other names could also put up great showings including defending champion Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, and Milos Raonic. Here is a preview of all that could take place down under come Monday.
Top 8 seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Novak Djokovic (1)
2: Roger Federer (2)
3: Rafael Nadal (3)
4: Stan Wawrinka (4)
5: Kei Nishikori (5)
6: Andy Murray (6)
7: Tomas Berdych (7)
8: Milos Raonic (8)
Notable players missing in the draw include US Open champion Marin Cilic, former finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, former top 10 player Tommy Haas, Juan Martin Del Potro, who came back last week but needs to rest his wrist again and pulled out of the draw, and young American Jack Sock, who are all injured.
RBA reached the round of 16 last year, his best result ever in a slam, and even with his top 15 seeding he likely won’t be pleased by his round 1 opponent Dominic Thiem. Thiem appears to be struggling with his fitness early in the season, as he was sick and lost weight in the offseason, thus RBA will be a favorite, but the young Austrian still has talent, and given RBA crashed out of Auckland with flu like symptoms, he may also not be feeling so hot himself. RBA should advance but it’s not a lock by any measure.
(12)Feliciano Lopez vs. (WC)Denis Kudla
Lopez lost his opening match in Chennai, and played poorly in both the Abu Dhabi and Kooyong Exos in preparation for the AO. He’s a top 15 seed but his form appears to be awful, and the USTA WC winner Kudla will have a chance of grabbing an upset win in this one. Lopez is the more talented player but he recently lost to lower ranked players Aljaz Bedene and Jordan Thompson, thus I’m making a gutsy pick and going with Kudla to advance. He’s 4-2 in 2015 and his form appears to be reliable enough to win this one.
One of the few R1 matches to watch that has any sort of h2h record: Querrey won a 4 setter over Pospisil on grass at Wimbledon in 2012, and Vasek is defending his best ever result in a slam, as he reached the third round here last year before injuring his back. Both players played well at times last year but only Pospisil has won a match this season, as he beat Andreas Seppi in Sydney. I give Vasek a slight edge to advance but this match is almost a pure toss-up.
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez vs. Peter Gojowczyk
GGL appears to be in poor form going into this match, as he has lost a pair of matches to lower ranked players, given he slumped at the end of last season, the German Gojowczyk will have a good chance to advance. He’s a talented player who hasn’t reached his potential yet, having mostly played challenger level tennis, and I expect this one to go four or five sets as well.
(5)Kei Nishikori vs. Nicolas Almagro
The h2h for this matchup is split 1-1, and both times they met at the ATP level, the match went a full three sets. Nishikori is playing under the pressure of being the top Asian player in the Grand Slam of Asia-Pacific while Almagro is returning from injury and still has rust. Nishikori is favored to advance and likely will, but it’s not the easiest R1 match-up for a number 5 seed in a slam and we could be looking at a four or five setter. Also watch out if this is a day match for Nishikori possibly wilting in the heat.
Victor Estrella vs. (Q)Jurgen Melzer
The almost 35 year old Estrella will face off with the 33 year old Melzer in round 1. Estrella is making his Aussie Open debut, as he reached a career high ranking inside the top 70 in 2014 and got himself into the main draw by the end of the season. Melzer once reached the second week in Melbourne but he struggled mightily last season and his ranking dropped low enough he had to qualify to get into the main draw. Both these guys are at the twilight of their careers, though Melzer has accomplished considerably more in his, and this will be a fun match to watch veterans do battle. Estrella isn’t a pushover on hard courts, but given Melzer is more talented and apparently rounding into some form, I have him winning this one.
A match between players who won ATP titles in Sydney and Auckland last week, which is quite rare in terms of occurrence, both are in great form, but given they won those titles as qualifiers, are likely very fatigued going into the AO. Vesely is a promising young gun who just broke into the top 40, while Troicki is a passionate competitor who has had a tremendous comeback. This match could be great, but at the same time, if they meet during the day in difficult conditions, I would almost expect a retirement if the match starts swinging one way or another depending on the physical condition of the players coming into the match. It’s a hard pick with all that in mind, but I feel Troicki is actually the better player right now, and I have him winning this one.
(26)Leonardo Mayer vs. (WC)John Millman
A match with great potential for an upset, Mayer is a top 30 player but he is far superior on clay than on hard courts, and though he made the semifinals in Sydney, I still think the Aussie wild card Millman will notch the upset. Millman is a talented player who is 11-1 in his last twelve tournament matches, with that lone loss coming to Roger Federer. Given this is hard courts, and Millman will have support from the home crowd, he should feed off that and use it to fuel him to a victory.
(11)Ernests Gulbis vs. (WC)Thanasi Kokkinakis
Gulbis has lost three straight tournament matches going back to least season and he struggled mightily in his only warm up test this year against Jiri Vesely in Auckland. He rarely plays well at the AO and he will be facing a home young gun player in Kokkinakis. The lanky Kokkinakis lost to his countryman Bernard Tomic in the second round of Brisbane in his only tournament tune up. Once again Gulbis is a top 15 seed, but upset potential exists depending on the type of form the Latvian is in. I’m not over confident in Kokkinakis but he’s due for a big win and I have him through to round 2 in my own bracket.
The only time this pair met, on clay in 2012, it went 3 sets, and though Dimitrov reached the quarters in Brisbane, he wasn’t super impressive there. Brown is an erratic player who play lights out tennis on rare occasion, and otherwise is a challenger level player, I still feel Dimitrov will win, possibly in straight sets, but I don’t feel enough people are looking at this matchup as one to watch. If Dreddy shows up playing like a human highlight reel, and Dimitrov gets off to a slow start, we could at least be looking at a four or five setter. Expect some talented shotmaking by both players here.
(25)Jeremy Chardy vs. Borna Coric
Chardy, a former quarterfinalist here, will take on the confident young gun Coric who is 1-2 in his ATP tune up matches this season, while Chardy is 2-2. Coric has a lot of talent but his pedestrian performance against clay courter Pablo Carreno Busta in Auckland demonstrates he’s far from reliable at this stage in his career, thus Chardy, the veteran Frenchman, is probably a slight favorite. This one could go either way depending on which Coric shows up, but I personally have Chardy going through to round 2.
The four time Australian Open champion Djokovic will open with an in-form Aljaz Bedene who qualified for the AO after reaching the Chennai final, then should get another easy match against Andrey Kuznetsov/Albert Ramos before a likely third round meeting with former AO semifinalist Fernando Verdasco. Verdasco, who comes off a pair of wins in the Kooyong exhibition, will need to defeat journeymen James Ward and Go Soeda/qualifier Elias Ymer to get that far. Ymer is a promising young Swede and he should beat Soeda but I don’t feel he has enough ability to beat Verdasco. Djokovic is 3-1 against Verdasco on outdoor hard courts in his career and I don’t see any particular reason why Novak won’t make the second week based upon his potential draw. Bedene is in great form but he’s played so much tennis as of late Novak should wear him down.
The RBA/Thiem winner will face Gilles Muller or Pablo Carreno Busta in round 2. The big serving Muller comes off the semis in Sydney and he’s 5-2 in 2015. With that in mind, given the surface, and RBA in questionable form coming off illness, I’m calling an upset in this section and putting Muller through to the third round. He’s had a great comeback over the past year and he’s due for a solid slam result. Muller/RBA/Thiem will face most likely John Isner in round 3. Isner has a good draw if he doesn’t lay an egg here, with qualifier Jimmy Wang, and qualifier Laurent Lokoli or Andreas Haider-Maurer on tap in the first two rounds. Isner is 3-0 in his career against Muller, with all of those wins coming on hard courts and given their similar styles of play, with Isner being better at the one two serve/return combo, the American should make the second week, even with poor history in Melbourne. If RBA were to be fit and healthy and get to the third round, I would have him beating Isner but that’s a big if.
Milos Raonic, who comes off the final in Brisbane, will be trying to break through in a slam this year, and he should at least make the second week, as his path is qualifier Ilya Marchenko, Donald Young or qualifier Tim Puetz, and one of Julian Benneteau/Benjamin Becker/Lleyton Hewitt/Ze Zhang to get to the round of 16. Raonic is 2-0 against Auckland quarterfinalist Young, while Benneteau should beat Becker, who he is 2-0 against, with Becker not having won a match in 2015. Lleyton Hewitt is struggling but he’s still a strong favorite against the Chinese wild card Zhang and given Benny won their H2H meeting last year, I expect home hero Hewitt to be ousted in round 2, and a Benneteau vs. Raonic third round match. Raonic is 3-1 in his career against Benneteau, and in good form, so he should reach the round of 16.
The Lopez/Kudla winner is slated to face Blaz Rola, or Auckland finalist Adrian Mannarino. Mannarino has been in great form in 2015, but Rola has talent and they are similar level players as a general rule. With Mannarino likely fatigued, even with Rola in poor form, I have a Kudla vs. Rola round 2 matchup, with a great opportunity for third round points for the winner. Kudla and Rola have never met, but Kudla is playing better tennis right now, so I have him into round 3 in my own bracket. Jerzy Janowicz, or Hiroki Moriya, who took Del Potro’s place in the draw as a lucky loser will face Gael Monfils or wild card Lucas Pouille in round 2. Pouille was a semifinalist in Auckland as a lucky loser while Monfils hasn’t had any match prep before the AO. I expect Pouille to be fatigued, but he did play some great tennis in Auckland, so perhaps that match will stretch out, that said I have Monfils over Janowicz in round 2. Monfils beat JJ last year, and I feel that style matchup favors the acrobatic Frenchman, after that Monfils should beat Kudla/Rola or someone else in round 3 to reach the round of 16 from this section. Janowicz has been decent this year, but not good enough to get past round 2.
The defending champion Stan the man will face Marsel Ilhan in his first match on his quest to repeat as the champion. After Ilhan it will be qualifier Marius Copil or Pablo Andujar, and then most likely Jarkko Nieminen or a qualifier in round 3, in what is very weak early draw for Wawrinka, as he should face little in the way of tough competition. Nieminen, who qualified in Sydney, will need to dispatch Andrey Golubev, and then Pablo Cuevas or qualifier Matthias Bachinger to reach the third round. Cuevas much prefers clay, so Bachinger, who is 5-1 in 2015, will also have a nice chance at round 2, but regardless Wawrinka should defeat Nieminen in round 3, as he comes off taking the Chennai title and is in great form. Also look for an in form Copil to defeat Andujar, the Romanian is 6-1 in 2015 and qualified by beating Aussie teen Omar Jasika in straight sets.
Fabio Fognini is slated to face Alejandro Gonzalez in round 1, the Italian is seeded 16th but has been playing well below the level of a top 50 player for quite some time. Thus Gonzalez, even though he prefers clay, may have just enough ability to notch an upset victory, given that unlike Fognini, he’s known for fighting hard in matches. The winner of Fognini/Gonzalez will face Garcia-Lopez/Gojowczyk in round 2, and I have Gojowczyk getting into the third round as a surprise. At that stage, expect the Pospisil/Querrey winner to defeat him, or another opponent, to reach the round 16. The winner of Pospisil/Querrey is slated to face Alex Dolgopolov or dirtballer Paolo Lorenzi in round 2. With Dolgopolov coming off an injury, though he should still defeat Lorenzi, who mostly plays hard court tournaments to collect a check. Dolgo has great talent but with that injury in mind, Pospisil/Querrey, most likely Pospisil should beat him, and eventually reach the second week. It’s possible Dolgopolov may withdrawal, and it’s a shame he’s not healthy because otherwise this would be a great draw for him all in all, if he withdraws and one of the lucky losers replaces him, I still favor that LL over Lorenzi.
Nishikori/Almagro will face Ivan Dodig or Joao Souza in round 2, with neither of those players being in particularly impressive form, I expect Nishikori to setup a round 3 encounter with American Steve Johnson. Johnson, an Auckland quarterfinalist, has qualifier Kyle Edmund first up, and then Santiago Giraldo or qualifier Jan Hernych, with Giraldo in poor form right now (He was rolled over in his first Auckland match) Johnson has the advantage, as he’s also more accomplished than Edmund. Nishikori beat him in Brisbane, and I expect the same result, with Nishikori making the round of 16.
Doha champ David Ferrer will face the laggard Thomaz Bellucci, with Dusan Lajovic or Sergiy Stakhovsky on deck, Ferrer is a near lock for the fourth round, as his third round opponent is most likely Gilles Simon, who appears to be struggling with a knee injury. Simon has had AO success before, and he still should reach the third round as the legendary choker Robin Haase, and then the Stephane Robert/Marcel Granollers winner are his path, with Granollers in awful form in his own right. Overall this section is weak and Ferrer is far superior to anyone else here.
Nadal is another player that is in terrible form going into the AO, but he has a round 1 opponent who is in even worse shape than he is, that being the veteran Russian Mikhail Youzhny. Youzhny has four career hard court wins against Rafa but none since 2008, he’s lost four straight matches going back to last season. Even though Nadal is 4-4 in his last eight with losses to the likes of Michael Berrer in Doha, Martin Klizan in Beijing, and Borna Coric in Basel, he still should beat Youzhny given this is a slam. After Youzhny, Nadal will face qualifier Tim Smyczek or Luke Saville, an Aussie wild card. In the third round, Lukas Rosol, who famously beat him at Wimbledon, is a possible opponent but I personally have JL Struff getting through to that stage instead to be Nadal’s opponent. Struff opens with Israeli veteran Dudi Sela, Sela hasn’t played any warm up events in 2015, while Struff is 2-2 in 2015 with wins over solid competitors Philipp Kohlschreiber, and Dominic Thiem. Rosol faces Kenny De Schepper first up, the Frenchman qualified and won a round in Auckland, while Rosol is on a four match losing streak.there may be some upset potential there but De Schepper is a one dimensional player built around his serve so I’m not sure he has enough to win. Struff beat Rosol last year on grass, and given current form, I have Struff over Rosol as I mentioned earlier. I’m deeply tempted to pick Struff over Nadal, but that would be quite a shocking pick, and I’m not confident enough to make it. Smyczek should defeat Saville as he’s the more accomplished veteran and plays some of his best tennis at the AO, Saville has yet to win a match in 2015 while Smyczek has won four and has more confidence.
The fourth round opponent for Nadal/Struff/Rosol is most likely to be either Auckland semifinalist Kevin Anderson, or Richard Gasquet, who made the quarterfinals in Doha. Anderson faces off with Argentine Diego Sebastian Schwartzman in round 1, Schwartzman much prefers clay, so it is almost certain to be Anderson against Igor Sijsling or Ricardas Berankis in round 2. Berankis has had some success in Australia, while Sijsling qualified in Sydney, I favor Berankis getting through over the one dimensional Sijsling. His match with Anderson is quite interesting, he is 2-0 in the h2h record with both those matches taking place at the challenger level, and Anderson may have some level of fatigue, with that in mind I’m going with an upset and placing Berankis in the third round. Richard Gasquet should safely defeat Carlos Berlocq, and then either Blaz Kavcic or home Aussie James Duckworth to reach the third round. Duckworth and Kavcic played a legendary match at the 2013 Australian Open, Kavcic won in five sets, 10-8 in the fifth, and had to get an IV after the match because it was played in white hot conditions. Kavcic qualified in Doha, and Duckworth made the quarters in Brisbane most recently, with home support, I feel like Ducky will get through to round 2. Expect Gasquet to take out Berankis in round 3 to reach the round of 16.
Doha finalist Tomas Berdych will face Alejandro Falla in round 1, then the winner of Estrella/Melzer, Berdych should safely reach the third round and face either Troicki/Vesely or the Millman/Mayer winner at that stage. I’m predicting a great tournament for Millman, as I have him beating Mayer, and then a fatigued Troicki/Vesely in round 2 to reach round 3, before falling to Berdych, who occasionally has lapses in form, but appears to be in good form.
The Gulbis/Kokkinakis winner is slated to face Filip Krajinovic/Sam Groth in round 2, Groth has a great shot at the third round, he plays well at home in Australia and Gulbis isn’t in great form here, while Kokkinakis still hasn’t fully matured, while the big serving, one dimensional Groth made the quarters in Brisbane. I have a Groth vs. Bernard Tomic third round matchup slated, Tomic just beat a struggling Kohlschreiber who has lost three straight, in Sydney and he is likely to face him again in the second round. Assuming Kohli beats Paul-Henri Mathieu and Tomic beats Tobias Kamke. Tomic and Groth have yet to play each other, but with Tomic being more well rounded and normally playing well on home soil, Bernard should reach the round of 16 to face off with Berdych.
Four time AO champ Federer will open with Rendy Lu, who is a solid hard court player but doesn’t have near enough weapons to take out the Swiss, who most recently won the Brisbane title. Federer is likely to face Simone Bolelli in round 2 as Bolelli faces a slumping Juan Monaco in round 1. Though he recently made the quarters in Sydney, it’s highly unlikely Federer will face any trouble in his first two matches. In round 3 it will be Chardy/Coric or Denis Istomin/Andreas Seppi as the opponent for Federer. Seppi and Istomin have a back and forth h2h history and Seppi leads it 2-1 on hard courts with a pair of Grand Slam wins that went five sets. The recent Doha semifinalist Seppi should beat Istomin who hasn’t won a match in 2015. Chardy beat Seppi at the 2013 AO and I feel he will do so again before losing to Federer who he famously beat on clay last year but is 0-2 against otherwise.
The fourth round opponent for Federer is most likely to be Ivo Karlovic, Karlovic upset Novak Djokovic in Doha and reached the semifinals. If his serve is clicking, he should defeat qualifier Ruben Bemelmans, then dirtballer Federico Delbonis or Nick Kyrgios, the promising young Aussie who seems to be struggling with a shoulder injury. Kyrgios probably has enough talent to beat Delbonis on a hard court, but with an injury, Karlovic should defeat him as Kyrgios may have trouble reading the Croats serve. Tommy Robredo has an abductor injury but he plans on playing anyway. The Spaniard will face Edouard Roger-Vasselin in Round 1 and perhaps Mikhail Kukushkin, who was a finalist in Sydney, in round 2. Kukushkin would need to defeat Malek Jaziri. I have Kukushkin into the third round before falling to Karlovic. ERV could also upset Robredo but the Frenchman isn’t playing well right now so I’m not risking it in my own bracket, even with Robredo less than 100%.
Andy Murray, who hasn’t lost a match in 2015 (Hopman Cup and Abu Dhabi exo singles) faces qualifier Yuki Bhambri, then qualifier Alexander Kudryavtsev or Marinko Matosevic in his first two matches. I don’t expect much trouble for the three time former AO finalist in the first two rounds, especially given Matosevic is slumping. Brisbane quarterfinalist Martin Klizan could be trouble in the third round though. Klizan, who opens with Tatsuma Ito, has been in great form recently, and his round 2 opponent will be either Aussie wild card Jordan Thompson or Joao Sousa. Thompson is a promising young player who took Jerzy Janowicz the distance last year at the AO, but I don’t feel he has matured enough to deal with the powerful shotmaker Klizan. Murray and Klizan have never met, but it will be a high quality third round matchup if it takes place, and isn’t likely to be straight sets. Murray has been in good form since the second half of 2014 and he is working hard to get back into the top 5. Given Murray is best at defense and returning the ball, while Klizan is a bit of a ballbasher, the matchup favors Murray.
Murray/Klizan are set to face either the Dimitrov/Brown winner or David Goffin in the round of 16. Goffin, a semifinalist in Chennai, who has played some high quality tennis since the second half of 2014, will need to beat qualifier Michael Russell who continues to grind away on tour, then Marcos Baghdatis or Teymuraz Gabashvili to reach the third round. I expect him to do so and set up a highly anticipated clash with Dimitrov, that should have basically even odds. However, Dimitrov beat Goffin at last year’s US Open and is 4-0 overall against him in the h2h. That h2h record gives me enough reason to pick Dimitrov to reach the round of 16. Dimitrov’s path to round 3 is Brown, and Lukas Lacko or Maximo Gonzalez in round 2.
Dark Horses (one for each quarter of the draw): Gilles Muller, Peter Gojowczyk, Bernard Tomic, and David Goffin
Muller has a potential path to the round of 16. He will need to beat an inconsistent Bautista Agut, and Isner, who can tire and do poorly in slams, to get there. I don’t see him having a shot against Djokovic, but a second week showing for a player who has a great comeback story from injury is still inspiring.
Gojowczyk has a great path to the third round, and could also make the round of 16. To do that he will likely need to defeat Pospisil/Querrey but that is a doable proposition given they aren’t known for being the most reliable players.
Tomic could even reach the quarterfinals, but on home soil he should at least be good enough for the round of 16. The seeds in his section, Gulbis and Kohlschreiber, are both in poor form and he would face Berdych in the round of 16. He must be pleased with his draw as he seeks to prove to his home country that’s he’s truly serious and committed to being successful at the top level of tennis.
Goffin will have his big test against Dimitrov in round 3. If he can pull that upset off, he can also make the second week, and this is still a good draw for him to make a run.
Djokovic d. Isner
Raonic d. Monfils
Wawrinka d. Pospisil
Ferrer d. Nishikori
Berdych d. Tomic
Nadal d. Gasquet
Murray d. Dimitrov
Federer d. Karlovic
Isner has won twice against Novak on hard courts, and the Serb does tend to struggle with big servers, but Novak plays some of his best tennis at the AO and thus should advance, perhaps dropping a set or two. Monfils is 2-0 in his career against Raonic but I feel the Canadian is clicking right now, and he’ll be able to pull through in a best of five sets format. Monfils tends to get distracted at points in matches, and if Raonic can maintain his serve that should be enough.
Wawrinka was slated to meet Pospisil last year at the AO but Vashy hurt his back and had to withdraw. Wawrinka is the better player, and though Vashy may trouble him, I don’t expect an upset. Ferrer-Nishikori should be a great matchup and I could see it going either way. Nishikori has an overall h2h edge but on outdoor hard courts they are split 2-2, and Ferrer won the only time they met in Australia back in 2013. Ferrer is one of the fittest players on tour and appears to be in great form. I have a feeling if this is a daytime match, that Nishikori, who struggles with heat, could be negatively impacted, and that will be enough of a difference to give Ferrer the edge.
Berdych has beaten Tomic in consecutive years at Wimbledon, and on a hard court. Berdy should be favored and anything is possible but Berdych is likely to overpower Tomic. Nadal could lose to Gasquet depending on his health, and form, but Rafa has destroyed Gasquet every time they have met including three times since 2013. With that in mind, I have to play it safe and pick Nadal into the quarters.
Murray is 3-0 against Dimitrov on an outdoor hard court, and 4-2 overall in the h2h. They tend to play exciting, competitive matches yet I feel like Murray has more motivation right now and is playing better recently thus I have him through. Federer has won his last six meetings against Karlovic and given he looked good in Brisbane, I don’t expect him to have any trouble reaching the quarterfinals.
Picking the rest of the way
Quarters: Djokovic d. Raonic
Wawrinka d. Ferrer
Berdych d. Nadal
Murray d. Federer
Djokovic is 4-0 against Raonic. he tends to struggle against big servers, but still I don’t feel Milos has enough game to beat him. Wawrinka-Ferrer is a highly anticipated matchup in my estimation, Nishikori-Wawrinka likewise, the business end of the tournament will put a lot of pressure on Wawrinka as he seeks to defend his title, but I feel he’s talented enough to beat Ferrer as he has the last three times they have met.
Berdych hasn’t beaten Nadal since 2006 and always plays poorly against him, but even though I feel Rafa will be weakened enough to lose this match, it’s a random guess, and I would never pick Berdy over Nadal in a neutral situation, but something appears wrong with Nadal. Federer is 2-1 against Murray at the AO alone, and both players have had success against each other, again this match could go either way, but I’m backing a motivated Murray who appears to want to prove the doubters wrong and get back into the Grand Slam discussion.
Semis: Djokovic d. Wawrinka
Murray d. Berdych
Wawrinka and Djokovic have played multiple classic matches, and I have Novak winning this one given the 16-3 overall h2h and the fact Novak is 5-1 since 2013 in their h2h meetings. Wawrinka shockingly beat Djokovic last year here, 9-7 in the 5th en route to the title and five sets is certainly possible, but I feel the winning trend will return again in favor of Djokovic.
Berdych actually has a 6-4 h2h edge against Murray and he won their last two meetings in 2013. That said, I still feel Murray is the better player and will get through given current form.
Final: Djokovic d. Murray
Murray went 0-4 against Djokovic last year and is 0-3 against him in Australia, including losing two finals. With that in mind, Djokovic is a clear favorite to win yet another AO title.