Japanese Favorites Kei Nishikori, Taro Daniel, and Yoshihito Nishioka Target 2018 ATP Tokyo Title Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
Both home and international talent feature at the ATP 500 Japan Open in Tokyo. Here is your look at all the upcoming action from Japan’s only ATP World Tour tournament.
Marin Cilic had a strong hard court summer, but he’ll get a tough start to the Asian swing as his section begins with J.L. Struff, and is then set to feature Jeremy Chardy/Damir Dzumhur in round 2, and a tough quarterfinal opponent, between Stan Wawrinka/Taylor Fritz or Denis Shapovalov/Hyeon Chung. Wawrinka has come back into form and I’ll back him against Fritz, a semifinalist in China last week, and Shapovalov/Chung, with Cilic still favored to advance from his section.
Milos Raonic will be favored in section 2, the big serving Canadian faces a struggling Adrian Mannarino first, with either Robin Haase or qualifier Yosuke Watanuki up in round 2. I’ll back qualifiers Daniil Medvedev and Martin Klizan to win their first round matches, with Klizan, a finalist in St. Petersburg, defeating Steve Johnson, and Medvedev edging #4 seed Diego Schwartzman. Raonic over Medvedev is my pick for the section.
Kevin Anderson will be favored in his first two matches against Matt Ebden and Frances Tiafoe/Max Marterer. Ebden has played well enough to suggest he has a shot against Anderson but he’s still the underdog. Nick Kyrgios should be favored against Shenzhen champ and home favorite Yoshihito Nishioka, and I’ll give him the edge, if focused and fit, against Richard Gasquet. Gasquet opens with Denis Kudla and he’s not in great form, Anderson over Kyrgios is my quarterfinal pick.
Kei Nishikori‘s section has him starting out against countryman Yuichi Sugita, he should win that and also defeat Benoit Paire/Nicolas Jarry in round 2. Metz champ Gilles Simon has a tough match with Alex De Minaur, a semifinalist last week, first up. Simon should win that and also upset Stefanos Tsitsipas (or Taro Daniel), as his form is better than the young Greek. Nishikori over fellow veteran Simon should be the outcome of section 3.
I’ll back Kei at home against a host of bigger hitters, while Cilic or Raonic should be equally favored to emerge from the top half. This is a tough tournament to predict but Nishikori has the most at stake and should fight the hardest to win.
Novak Djokovic dominated the China Open once more, as the world #1 didn’t drop more than 3 games in a set and thumped his rival Rafael Nadal 6-2 6-2 in the final. The Serbian superstar was simply untouchable on the week in the Chinese capital as he handled Simone Bolelli, Ze Zhang, John Isner, David Ferrer, never surrendering more than 5 games total in any match. Going into the final tournaments of the season, Djokovic will be a clear favorite everywhere he participates.
Rafael Nadal also has to be pleased with his week in Beijing, it wasn’t as smooth as Djokovic, but he posted a solid hard court effort with straight sets wins over Di Wu and Vasek Pospisil, a three set win over Jack Sock, and a straight set win over rival Fabio Fognini, as Fognini’s winning streak against Rafa was snapped. It’s been a rough season for the popular Spanish lefty, but perhaps he can stay in-form for the rest of his Fall tournaments.
Pospisil and Sock won the doubles title together over the veteran pairing of Daniel Nestor and Edouard Roger-Vasselin.
Stan Wawrinka was the top seed, and took advantage of that in Tokyo, as the draw opened up, and the Yonex sponsored Swiss posted a far better result than last seasons early round exit. Wawrinka beat his best friend Benoit Paire 6-2 6-4, as the Frenchman with a magical backhand continues his career year with yet another ATP final.
Stan was the man against Radek Stepanek in round 1, then he avenged his loss last year in Tokyo to Tatsuma Ito in three sets, sent American Austin Krajicek home 6-3 6-4, and scraped past Gilles Muller in two sets and a tiebreak to reach the final, surviving inconsistent play at times, as he was clutch when it mattered.
Paire upset the seeded Grigor Dimitrov with a third set breadstick, then got past Marcos Baghdatis and Nick Kyrgios in three with his trademark effortless style. In the semifinals he stunned home hero Kei Nishikori, coming back from an opening set breadstick, and winning in three, after three previous third set wins. The win over Nishikori, with an injured ankle no less, is perhaps the biggest of Paire’s career, and if he can keep this up mentally, he certainly has the talent to reach the top 15 and be a threat in the bigger tournaments.
Raven Klaasen and Marcelo Melo beat Colombian’s Robert Farah and Juan Sebastian Cabal to go home with the doubles trophy.
2015 ATP Beijing and Tokyo Previews and Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
ATP World Tour 500*
October 5-October 11, 2015
Prize Money: $2,700,510
*denotes joint ATP/WTA tournament
Top 8 seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Novak Djokovic (1)
2: Tomas Berdych (5)
3: Rafael Nadal (7)
4: David Ferrer (8)
5: Milos Raonic (9)
6: John Isner (13)
7: David Goffin (15)
8: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (16)
Half of the top 10 and a good portion of the top 20 are in Beijing, in what is one of the strongest China Open fields ever.
Millman beat Robredo this year at Wimbledon, and the qualifier leads the h2h 2-0 against the Spaniard, including a hard court win in Sydney back in 2013. Robredo is in good form though as he reached the semifinals in Shenzen, and prior to that, the quarterfinals in St. Petersburg. Robredo looks to continue his good Fall season thus far with a win in this one, but Millman found form in qualifying and will have a chance in this one if Tommy ends up being fatigued.
(6)John Isner vs. Dominic Thiem
The big serving Isner lost to the ball striker Thiem on clay this year in Nice, and has a solid shot at avenging that loss on a much faster surface in Beijing, that should favor his aggressive style of play. Thiem is 4-2 in his last six matches and reached the semis in St. Petersburg though, while Isner has been known to struggle after the US Open historically. I’d expect Isner to win this, but it should be an entertaining encounter.
(7)David Goffin vs. Andreas Seppi
Two of the best ball strikers in the game will face off as Goffin continues to try to make a push for the top 10 before the year is out. The Belgian didn’t lose an opening round hard court match all Summer and he should be favored against Seppi, who is playing for the first time since winning a pair of US Open matches. Goffin is a heavy favorite, but Seppi will try to spoil his hopes.
Fognini is 3-2 in the h2h against Klizan and both players look to be in good form as Klizan’s power matches up against Fognini’s ball striking and shotmaking. The Italian is 5-1 in his last 6 matches and will try to stay focused, while Klizan is 10-3 in his last few tournaments and comes off of the semifinals in Metz. Given this is a hard court surface and Klizan is notably more consistent, I’ll go with the Slovak to pull of a minor upset in this one.
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez vs. Ivo Karlovic
GGL is 3-1 in the h2h over Karlovic and has a shot at taking the title in Shenzen after reaching the final with a win over Marin Cilic. The Spanish veteran is 5-2 in his last seven matches, while Karlovic comes off of a quarterfinal loss in Malaysia to Nick Kyrgios. The big server is always dangerous on this surface and could take advantage of a fatigued GGL to pull off the upset.
Five time Beijing Champion Novak Djokovic, the world #1, will begin his quest for a fourth straight China Open title against qualifier Simone Bolelli. Bolelli is in good form but should lack the consistency to test Novak, from there look for Djokovic to crush qualifier Denis Istomin, who opens with Chinese wild card Ze Zhang, and then beat John Isner in the quarterfinals, presuming Isner beats Thiem and Robredo/Millman. Isner beat Robredo in Beijing last year at the same round of 16 stage. Djokovic should buzzsaw himself to the semis.
Kuala Lumpur champion David Ferrer continues his quest to secure a World Tour Finals top 8 berth, and opens with Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci in round 1. Ferrer improved as he went along in Malaysia and should win that one and a match against the winner of Aljaz Bedene/Lukas Rosol to reach the quarterfinals. Bedene is in relatively good form and leads Rosol 2-0 in the h2h. The Czech is struggling to some extent. Ferrer is almost certain to meet Milos Raonic in the quarterfinals, Raonic opens with a struggling Viktor Troicki, and then will serve it up against Rendy Lu/Adrian Mannarino. Mannarino retired in his last match, while Lu has also struggled to stay healthy. Ferrer is 4-0 against the St. Petersburg champion Raonic and thus I have him finding a way to reach the semifinals.
Shenzen finalist and possible champion Tomas Berdych should continue his winning streak and defeat dirtballer Pablo Cuevas in round 1, after that, he’ll also be a favorite against Garcia-Lopez/Karlovic in what could be a rematch of the Shenzen final. In he quarters, Goffin vs. Berdych is an intriguing matchup. Goffin has a difficult draw with Seppi and Fognini/Klizan in his first two matches. Berdych is 1-0 in the h2h against Goffin, but I’m bullish on the Belgian’s form right now, and I have him upsetting an inconsistent Berdych to reach the semifinals. Of note, Karlovic has a good record against Berdych, so if he gets through that could spell trouble.
Rafael Nadal should win his first couple of matches, even on a hard court surface in a down year for the Spanish lefty. Di Wu, a local wild card, is his first opponent, and then he’ll face Vasek Pospisil most likely in round 2, presuming Vasek defeats Victor Estrella. Pospisil comes off of the quarterfinals in Kuala Lumpur. Nadal should have a difficult quarterfinal against most likely Metz champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (Tsonga opens with Andreas Haider-Maurer). After AHM, Tsonga should face off with young American Jack Sock in round 2. Sock, who opens with Teymuraz Gabashvili, is in good form but Tsonga has been in vintage form as of late and I’d favor him over both Sock and Nadal to reach the semifinals.
Klizan has to beat Fognini, and then would need to upset Goffin and Berdych, but he beat Nadal in Beijing last year and he has the talent to post those kind of results. The seeds should excel here, but Klizan is most likely to spoil the party.
Semis Djokovic d. Ferrer
Tsonga d. Goffin
Djokovic should cruise his way into the final no matter who he faces in the semis, Tsonga is 3-2 against Goffin and I feel his form is slightly better at the moment, giving him an edge.
Final Djokovic d. Tsonga
I’d be shocked if Novak didn’t win this title, he has an unblemished record in Beijing and no one is strong enough to stop him right now.
The Kuala Lumpur finalist Lopez is 2-0 in the h2h against Sousa and has been in excellent form over his last few tournaments. The serve and volleyer should be a favorite in this one, but the St. Petersburg finalist Sousa would love to spoil his good form. Sousa is a quality ball striker and will try to push Flopez back, I have Lopez winning this but it’s an interesting style contrast.
(5)Kevin Anderson vs. Gilles Muller
Anderson is 2-1 in the h2h against Muller, both big servers tend to play a large number of tiebreaks and this match is unlikely to be any different. Muller reached the quarterfinals in Metz and he’s had a solid season, but Anderson has stepped up big this year and the US Open quarterfinalist has a great chance to make a run in Tokyo. Muller is good, but Anderson is better, and the South African should demonstrate his superior abilities in this one.
(8)Grigor Dimitrov vs. Benoit Paire
Paire leads the h2h 2-1 against a struggling Dimitrov (2-2 in his last four matches), and if the Frenchman can find form and consistency, he could notch a quality upset in this one. He wasn’t healthy in St. Petersburg, and retired in his first match, but he reached the second week of the US Open and he certainly has all the shots to win this one. I still make Dimitrov a slight favorite, but this matchup has an upset written all over it.
(4)Richard Gasquet vs. Roberto Bautista Agut
Gasquet and RBA have a 1-1 h2h record, and RBA is 5-2 in his last tow tournaments. It hasn’t been a great season for the Spaniard, but he appears to be rounding into solid form. Gasquet, a US Open quarterfinalist, had a solid summer overall and looks to continue that in the Fall. He’s a better all around shotmaker than RBA and I’d consider him the favorite in this intriguing matchup.
A battle of unseeded players with talent on hard courts. Johnson has beaten Tomic twice this year, but both those matches were close and Bernie hasn’t lost an opening round match since his loss to Johnson in Washington. Stevie J is on a three match losing streak and this win would be a huge confidence boost for the American. Regardless of the h2h, I have Tomic as the favorite.
(2)Kei Nisihkori vs. Borna Coric
Coric acquired a seven match winning streak on clay after his opening round US Open loss, but now he’s going into the lions den that is Tokyo to face home favorite Kei Nishikori in front of what should be a sold out, and rowdy Japanese crowd. The young talent is in good form, but Nisihkori played well in Davis Cup play for team Japan and has his sights set on the title here in Tokyo. It’s not the easiest opening match to start with, but Nisihkori should get through.
Stan Wawrinka was injured in Metz, and his first round opponent Radek Stepanek leads the h2h against him 5-1. With that said, Wawrinka is a better player at this point in their careers and with Stepanek not in great form, Stan the man should still get out of the first round. Last year, Wawrinka fell to Tatsuma Ito in Tokyo, and he could get a rematch in round 2, if Ito defeats Yoshi Nishioka, another of the local Japanese wild cards. Nishioka is more talented than Ito and has a brighter future ahead, but their round 1 match is a bit of a tossup. A healthy Wawrinka should reach the quaterfinals, but Lopez could trouble him there. After Sousa, he’ll face Matt Ebden/Austin Krajicek in round 2, both of those players are qualifiers and Ebden plays well in Asia. Wawrinka leads the h2h with Lopez 4-2, but I favor Lopez form at the moment and thus I have him upsetting the #1 seed.
Metz finalist Gilles Simon opens with qualifier Mikhail Youzhny, and then should advance from that to face Jiri Vesely, presuming the Czech defeats Yasutaka Uchiyama. Vesely, a quarterfinalist in Shenzen, is in good form, but Simon’s consistency should likely help him reach the quarterfinals. Muller/Anderson has the edge to reach the semis though, in round 2 it should be Anderson vs Jeremy Chardy/Sam Groth. Groth lost in Kuala Lumpur round 1, and all four players in this section are big hitters. I have Anderson over Simon for a semifinal spot. Anderson leads the h2h with Simon 2-0.
Nishikori didn’t have much luck with his draw, even as the home favorite. After Coric, the two-time Tokyo champion has to face either Alex Dolgopolov or Sam Querrey, and then Shenzen semifinalist Marin Cilic most likely in the quarterfinals. Dolgopolov hasn’t been healthy recently, and Querrey is struggling, both are dangerous, and Cilic has a rivalry with Nishikori, along with bidding to reach the World Tour Finals. Cilic opens with qualifier Donald Young, then will face Tomic/Johnson in round 2. Young is in good form since the US Open. Given Nishikori leads the h2h with Cilic 6-3, and 4-1 since 2013, along with being at home, I still expect Kei to go into playstation mode and reach the semifinals at least.
Gasquet/RBA will face Albert Ramos or Nick Kyrgios in round 2, most likely the dangerous floater Kyrgios. The Kuala Lumpur semifinalist has already played Gasquet five times, and he trails the h2h 1-4, thus Gasquet should beat him for the fourth time this year to reach the quarterfinals. Dimitrov/Paire faces Marcos Baghdatis or Fernando Verdasco in round 2, Dimitrov is vulnerable and that makes his round 2 match intriguing, but I still see him getting past Baghdatis to reach the quarterfinals. Gasquet should then stomp him for a spot in the semis.
You can’t count the volatile but talented Australian to catch fire and serve and smash his way through Gasquet and potentially Dimitrov to reach the semifinals. There are other dark horses like Paire, Sousa, and Baghdatis/Verdasco but he has the highest peak potential right now.
Semis Anderson d. Lopez
Nishikori d. Gasquet
Anderson leads the h2h with a likely tired Lopez 3-0, Nishikori should roll at home.
Final Nishikori d. Anderson
Kev will have a chance, but Tokyo is Nishikori’s to lose, he peaks here as playing in Japan is like another slam for him.