The attention in Indian Wells might be focused on the likes of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. There is however another story which often goes untold, that is the story of the qualifiers.
48 players battled against each other for just 12 places in the main draw. The qualifying competition saw a series of shocks with the top two seeds, Yuichi Sugita and Austin Krajicek, failing to qualify for the main draw. Qualifying for the main draw is a big achievement for the lower ranked players on the tour but how did they fair on the main stage in the first Masters event of 2016?
Renzo Olivo continued his positive start to the season with a hard fought three sets win over Italy’s Salvatore Caruso followed by a much more impressive straight sets triumph over top seed Sugita at Indian Wells. The 23-year-old hasn’t won a title since 2012 but has enjoyed a reasonable start to this year. After qualifying for his maiden Grand Slam draw in Melbourne, where he defeated Jiri Vesely in the first round, the Argentine defeated Fernando Verdasco to reach the quarterfinals of the Ecuador Open. Playing in his maiden Masters main draw match in Indian Wells, Renzo faced experienced Frenchman Nicolas Mahut. He was no match for the world No.44, losing 6-2, 6-4.
Another surprise qualifier was France’s Vincent Millot. Prior to this week, the 30-year-old hasn’t played in the main draw of a Masters tournament since the 2011 Monte Carlo Masters. The world No.166 ended his Masters drought wins over wildcard Nicolas Meister followed by American second seed Krajicek. Millot fired seven aces and saved 3/3 break points to defeat the second seed 6-3, 6-4, to reach the main draw. The Frenchman continued his run in the main draw with a comprehensive 6-1, 6-3, win over wildcard Mackenzie McDonald to grab his first ever win in the main draw of a Masters tournament. The Frenchman’s dream run was ended in the second round by seventh seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Tsonga produced nine aces in his 7-5, 6-1, win over the world No.166.
Continuing the French delight was Pierre-Hugues Herbert, who was the highest seed to successfully reach the main draw in California. The top-20 doubles player eased through qualifying with a straight sets win over Benjamin Mitchell before coming through a more testing 6-3, 7-6(3), triumph over 14th seed Mischa Zverev. The run is not surprising considering the Frenchman’s start to the year. He achieved his best Grand Slam performance at the Australian Open by reaching the third round as a qualifier. He continued his promising form by winning the Bergamo Challenger in Italy last month.
Herbert’s first round opponent was another qualifier, Slovakia’s Jozef Kovalík. Kovalik reached the main draw after outlasting Ecuador’s Giovanni Lapentti 7-5, 4-6, 6-4, in a match that lasted over two hours. The first round match between the two qualifiers, which was their first meeting on the tour, saw a thrilling encounter. Kovalik had three opportunities to win the match in straight sets but failed to convert after being edged out 9-11 in the second set tiebreak. Despite the best efforts of the Frenchman, Kovalik held his nerve to clinch the victory 6-4, 6-7(9), 7-6(5). The Slovakian faced Austrian talent Dominic Thiem in the second round. Thiem has already won two ATP titles this year in Argentina and Mexico. Impressively Kovalik gave Thiem a tough match before going out 7-6(4), 7-6(3), in what was a very admirable performance from the world No.182.
Michael Berrer has happy memories of Indian Wells. Prior to this year’s tournament, the German has won four main draw matches at the event. The German has never won more than two main draw matches at any other Masters tournament in his career. Berrer continued his Indian Wells record with back-to-back wins over Jonathan Eysseric and 13th seed Andrey Rublev to book his placed in the main draw of the tournament for the sixth time in his career. Drawn against Juan Monaco in the first round, who is on the comeback from a wrist injury, the 35-year-old edged his way to a 7-6(5), 5-7, 6-4, win. Berrer’s run came to an end in the second round after losing 6-2, 6-4, to 21st seed Jack Sock.
Peter Polansky’s use of a protected ranking to enter the qualifying draw paid off. Defeating Irish 22nd seed Jame McGee in the first round, he faced El Salvador’s Marcelo Arevalo. After dropping the opening set, the Canadian battled back to win 3-6, 6-3, 6-2. The 27-year-old has played 12 main draw matches at Masters tournaments in his career, losing nine of them. Unfortunately for Canadian fans his losing streak increased to ten after he suffered a straight sets defeat to Fernando Verdasco in the first round.
Marco Trungelliti’s 2016 continued on a positive note after he defeated 9th seed Edouard Roger Vasselin 7-6(4), 6-4, to reach his first Masters main draw. The 26-year-old already achieved a breakthrough earlier this year by winning his first grand slam main draw match against Kovalik. Facing Russia’s Andrey Kuznetsov, he subsided 6-4, 6-4.
Regarding the American interest in the qualifying tournament, five home players successfully navigate their way to the main draw. Headlining them was Tim Smyczek, who had to fight his way past two talented American teenagers to progress to the main draw. After edging past Michael Mmoh 7-6(2), 2-6, 7-5, in the first round, he battled past French Open Boys’ champion Tommy Paul in another two-hour marathon. The reward for Smyczek was a first round match against former US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro, who is playing in only his second tournament since returning to the tour from injury. He was no match for the Argentine, crashing out 6-4, 6-0.
Ryan Harrison enjoyed a more straightforward route to the main draw. At the Indian Wells tournament in 2010, Harrison won his first main draw match in a Masters event against Taylor Dent. In the qualifying event at this year’s tournament, he cruised past Matthew Barton and Jason Jung in straight sets to reached the main draw for the seventh consecutive year. Since 2010, Harrison hasn’t lost in the first round and he continued that tradition with a 6-3,7-6(3), triumph over Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic. The second round saw a clash between him and tenth seed Marin Cilic, a player who he defeated two weeks ago at the Acapulco Open. Lightning failed to strike twice after Harrison succumbed 6-4, 6-3, to the Croat.
Alexander Sarkissian breezed past Sekou Bangoura in his opening qualifying match before experiencing a scare against Mitchell Krueger in the second round. The 25-year-old trailed 5-7, 0-2, before clawing his way back to win 5-7, 6-4, 6-4. In his first main draw match in a Masters tournament, the Californian-based player endured a nightmare after losing 6-2,6-0 to Josh Millman.
Bjorn Fratangelo dropped a total of nine games during his qualifying campaign. The 2011 French Open Boys’ champion eased his way past Joshua Milton before producing an impressive 6-3, 6-2, victory against Czech veteran and 15th seed Radek Stepanek. The next test was Russia’s Teymuraz Gabashvili, a player who reached the semifinals at the Sydney International earlier this year. Playing for a chance to grab his maiden main draw win on the ATP Tour, the American displayed some of his best tennis to clinch the victory 6-4, 6-4. His chance for a second ATP Tour match win seemed impossible with a second round encounter against world No.1 Novak Djokovic. As the odds mounted against him, Fratangelo stunned the tennis world when he took the first set against Djokovic after just 35 minutes of play. Becoming the fifth player this year to take a set off the world No.1, Frantangelo failed to claim one of the biggest shocks in Indian Wells history after Djokovic swiftly restored order to win 3-6, 6-1, 6-2. Despite losing, the American recieved high praise from the ten-time Grand Slam champion.
“All credit to Bjorn on playing a great match, but I wasn’t feeling comfortable at all on the court,” Djokovic said after the match.
“I was just trying to find a way, trying to hang in there and make it through.”
“He deserved every point he got. He played a great match, especially in the first set.”
Finally, 2014 Wimbledon Boys’ champion, Noah Rubin, impressed many during his qualifying campaign. Facing Dennis Novikov for a place in the main draw, he eased his way past 7-5, 6-3. Rubin’s schedule leading up to the Masters tournament has been extremely diverse with him playing a Futures, Challenger and ATP 250 tournament. The tournament selection might seem a bit unauthorized but it has done wonders to the Americans confidence. Unfortunately for the young player, he was edged out in the first round by the much more experience Rajeev Ram, losing in two tiebreakers.
Andrej Martin Survives A Scare During Qualifying At Ecuador Open 2016 Adam Addicott, Tennis Atlantic
Top seed Andrej Martin was forced to work hard for a place in the main draw during Qualifying At the Ecuador Open
Martin is currently ranked 148th in the world and is a regular feature on the Challenger tour. The Slovakian has already played in three Challenger tournaments this year, losing in the first round of the first two before reaching quarterfinals in Rio de Janeiro. He kicked-off his qualifying bid with a 7-5,6-4, win over home favorite Emilio Gomez. After his convincing first round win, Martin encountered a stern test against French seventh seed Calvin Hemery in the final round. Hamery is ranked 229th in the world and his opening win over Austria’s Bastian Tinker was his first match win on the tour this year. Dropping the opening set after 26 minutes, Martin battled back to win 2-6,6-2,7-5, after an hour and 50 minutes.
Martin is one of two Slovakian players to successfully qualify for the main draw in Ecuador. Jozef Kovalik upset fourth seed Franko Skugor on his way to the main draw. The world No.251 required exactly two hours to defeat Skugor 6-4,3-6,6-4 in the first round. Kovalik was on course to play sixth seed Jordi Samper-Montana in the final round, however, the Spaniard was stunned by Colombia’s Eduardo Struvay in straight sets. In 2015 Struvay achieved a career high of 185th and won two gold medals at the Central American and Caribbean Games. Kovalik encountered tough resistance from the Colombian but managed to pull off a 7-6(2), 6-4, victory after converting his fifth match point.
The first player to secure his place in the main draw was Argentina’s Renzo Olivo. The 23-year-old recently made his Grand Slam debut at the Australian Open where he won three qualifying matches before upsetting Czech Republic’s Jiri Vesely in the first round. Olivo breezed past France’s Jonathan Eysseric 6-3, 6-1, in the first round. Eysseric is known best for reaching the final of the 2007 French Open boys’ draw. The reward for Olivo’s first round win was a meeting with compatriot Juan Ignacio Londero. Olivo had a 3-1 winning head-to-head record going into the match and he was able to increase it in Ecuador. Despite falling behind 0-2 in both sets, Olivo managed to claw his way back on both occasions to win 6-3, 7-5, booking his place in the main draw.
Finally, Joao Souza produced a duo of wins over home players to become the highest seed to reach the main draw in Quito. After reaching a ranking high of 69th in April last year, the Brazilian has fallen to 149th in the world. During qualifying Souza enjoyed a 6-3,6-4, win over wildcard Iván Endara. Souza continued his winning momentum by defeating Roberto Quiroz 6-4, 6-3. Quiroz is a former junior world No.7 and has recently been studying in America at the University of Southern Carolina.
First round matches for the qualifiers
Kovalik will battle Spanish veteran Albert Montanes, Martin faces another Spanish veteran, Marcel Granollers, Olivo faces wild card Alejandro Gonzalez, and Souza has a winnable contest against Argentine Facundo Arguello.
2015 ATP Acapulco, Dubai, and Buenos Aires Preview/Prediction Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
A pair of 500 series events on hard courts this week are the highlight of the ATP calendar, as most stars will take to the courts in Mexico or Dubai, meanwhile, the ATP Golden Swing on clay concludes in Buenos Aires, with those who prefer the dirt taking their talents to Argentina for the 250 level event.
2015 ATP Acapulco Preview
Abierto Mexicano Telcel
ATP World Tour 500*
February 23-February 28, 2015
Prize Money: $1,414,550
*denotes joint ATP/WTA event
Top 4 seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Kei Nishikori (5)
2: David Ferrer (9)
3: Grigor Dimitrov (11)
4: Kevin Anderson (15)
The seed cutoff is 40 (Benjamin Becker), and 4 of the top 20 are participating in this 500 level event this week.
Estrella is in tremendous form at the moment, he won the Morelos challenger on hard courts in Mexico, after winning his maiden ATP title in Quito. Lu, the steady veteran baseliner, reached the quarters in Delray, with an upset win over Kevin Anderson. I have Estrella winning this matchup given how well the veteran is playing right now, but it could go either way.
Bernard Tomic vs. Adrian Mannarino
Both players come off semifinals in Delray, Tomic beat Viktor Troicki en route later losing to Donald Young, while Mannarino beat Lu, and also Denis Kudla, before falling to eventual champion Ivo Karlovic. Tomic should be favored as he’s in better recent form and has won consecutive matches in every tournament he’s played this season (12-5 ATP record in 2015), expect a quality contest all the same though.
Kei Nishikori opens with a qualifier, and then the Estrella/Lu winner, Estrella is a dangerous opponent right now, but the top 5, and normally consistent Nishikori, should reach the quarterfinals with Sam Groth/Alex Dolgopolov his most likely opponent. The winner of Groth/Dolgopolov, will face Robin Haase or Rio semifinalist Andreas Haider-Maurer in round 2. Dolgo was a quarterfinalist in Delray, and I give him a slight edge to beat Groth, and then Haase to reach the quarters here. Nishikori, who won the title in Memphis, and has made quarterfinals or better at every tournament this season (10-2 ATP record), is 2-0 in the h2h against Dolgo, with both wins coming on hard court, so I favor Asia’s top player over the unpredictable Dolgopolov for a spot in the semifinals.
Kevin Anderson, a finalist last year, will open with fellow big server Dustin Brown. Though Anderson lost early in Delray, he was a finalist in Memphis, and I have him getting through Brown, and Steve Johnson to reach the quarters. Johnson hasn’t lost in the opening round of any tournament this year (9-5 ATP record including consecutive quarterfinals in Delray and Memphis). Johnson will open with Ivan Dodig, who has been thus far unable to return to his previous top 40 form this year. Anderson already has 2 wins against Johnson this year without dropping a set in Memphis and Auckland, and that’s why he’s the quarterfinal favorite.
Viktor Troicki, who lost to Tomic in Delray, has a reasonable chance at another quarterfinal showing, he opens with Mexican wild card Daniel Garza, who has some of the worst physical conditioning I’ve ever seen in a professional tennis player. After that, Troicki is likely to face Santiago Giraldo. Giraldo is 2-0 against Troicki, including a hard court win, but he retired in his last match in Rio, and given the surface, with Troicki already having an ATP title, and a quarterfinal on his resume this year, the Serbian should be favored. Troicki beat Anderson once three and a half years ago in Washington, and that match could go either way but with Anderson having previous success here, I have him into the semifinals over Troicki.
Rio champion David Ferrer opens with Igor Sijsling, who continues to struggle having lost three straight, even if Ferrer is a bit worn down, he only has one loss on the season, with two ATP titles (Doha and Rio), and with that in mind he should roll past Sijsling and then Marinko Matosevic or Marcel Granollers to reach the quarters. Matosevic has struggled this year (2-5 ATP record), while Granollers has a lone good showing this year in Zagreb (semifinals) I have Ferrer over Granollers in my bracket. Ferrer is 3-1 on hard courts against him, though Granollers won their last meeting in Tokyo.
The Tomic/Mannarino winner is a possible quarterfinal opponent for Ferrer, but watch out for 8 seed Benjamin Becker as well. Becker, who comes off a round 1 loss in Memphis, and is 2-4 on the year, opens with Tobias Kamke, a fellow German. Becker is 3-0 against Tomic, though they have never met on a hard court surface, I personally have Tomic into the quarters against Ferrer in my own bracket. Ferrer is 2-0 against Tomic, with both meetings on hard courts, and he has never dropped a set against the Aussie, still fatigue may be a factor, giving Tomic a shot at the semis.. In my own bracket I’m going with Ferrer, who has had an under the radar solid season already and isn’t presently showing signs of decline. Ferrer was only pushed to 3 sets once last week in Rio.
Defending champ Grigor Dimitrov has failed to impress this year, the Bulgarian number one opens with Filip Krajinovic in round 1, he should get through that, but Donald Young should give him a round 2 test, unless fatigue is a factor. Young, a finalist in Delray, and semifinalist in Memphis, opens with a qualifier, and he has two previous hard court wins against Dimitrov, but Dimitrov has also won twice on hard courts, with three of their four hard court meetings going 3 sets. Dimitrov hasn’t played like a top 10 player thus far but given his previous success here, and Young’s fatigue, I have Dimitrov into the quarterfinals.
Ivo Karlovic, the Delray champion, has an interesting draw, in theory he should comfortably reach the quarterfinals, given his opponents, Teymuraz Gabashvili and Dusan Lajovic or a qualifier, are not exactly hard court superstars, but at his age, one has to wonder if he will be fatigued, creating an opening for a qualifier, or one of those other two players to reach the quarterfinals. I don’t trust Karlovic’s fitness and thus I have Gabashvili through, and also I have him over Lajovic, who may fall to a qualifier, to reach the quarterfinals. Gabashvili has lost three straight, while Lajovic has lost two straight and he’s normally poor on hard courts. All the same Dimitrov has a relatively easy draw for a 500 level event, and should ease his way into the semifinals.
Viktor Troicki is a possible semifinalist this week, but I give Tomic the official designation because he’s been consistent this year, which is a surprising thing to say, given he used to not be, and if Ferrer is fatigued, he has a shot to score a top 10 win and get himself to the semis, where Dimitrov, a beatable opponent, is most likely to await. Dimitrov is 2-0 against Tomic in the h2h, but Tomic has had a good season and he seems due to reach a final, though I’m not predicting it, the possibility is there.
Semis: Nishikori d. Anderson
Dimitrov d. Ferrer
Nishikori just beat Anderson in Memphis, and should do so again, meanwhile, Dimitrov is 0-2 against Ferrer on an outdoor hard court but given the fatigue factor, I have Dimitrov regaining form and reaching the final this week thanks to a lucky draw.
Final: Nishikori d. Dimitrov
Nishikori is 2-0, with both wins coming on hard courts, against Dimitrov, given his solid season, he should win his second ATP title of the year in Acapulco as the top seed.
Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
ATP World Tour 500
February 23-February 28, 2015
Prize Money: $2,082,605
Top 4 seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Novak Djokovic (1)
2: Roger Federer (2)
3: Andy Murray (4)
4: Tomas Berdych (8)
The seed cutoff is 20 (David Goffin), as Dubai has a very top heavy field, with 4 of the top 10, and 8 of the top 20 participating.
First round matchups to watch:
(1)Novak Djokovic vs. Vasek Pospisil
Djokovic beat Pospisil in their only meeting, a competitive contest last year in Beijing, and the Australian Open champion should once again advance to round 2 at a tournament he has won four times prior, however the young Canadian has game and this isn’t the easiest of round 1 matchups for the world number 1, Pospisil is 2-2 over his last four, and may be able to at least push the sets deep here.
Simone Bolelli vs. (Q)Lucas Pouille
One of the numerous matchups this week slated between in-form players, Bolelli has two ATP quarterfinals on his resume this year, most recently he reached the quarters in Marseille by upsetting top 10 player Milos Raonic in 3 sets. Pouille has risen to the occasion this year as well, the young Frenchman qualified with a pair of wins, and he was also a semifinalist in Auckland this year. Bolelli should be favored given his experience, and good recent form, but look for Pouille to test him, in a match that could go either way.
Baghdatis is 2-0 against Goffin, and most recently crushed him at the Australian Open, in a poor showing for the Belgian. Baghdatis has gotten his 2015 off to a strong start with a challenger final, a a third round showing in Melbourne, and a semifinal in Zagreb. Goffin meanwhile has not played as well this season, compared to last, he hasn’t posted better than a quarterfinal, and he’s just 2-4 over his last six matches, most recently he retired in Marseille against Dominic Thiem. With that in mind, though Goffin is much higher ranked, look for Baghdatis to move to 3-0 in the h2h and notch an upset to reach round 2.
Andreas Seppi vs. Richard Gasquet
Two players who have started the season in good form, Seppi has an ATP final (Zagreb), an ATP semifinal (Doha), and a second week appearance at the Australian Open on his resume thus far, resulting in an overall 11-5 ATP record this year, while Gasquet is 7-2 with a title in Montpellier on his resume. The shotmaking, tactically agile veterans have met five times previously, most recently back in 2012, and Gasquet is 4-1 in those meetings, with his lone loss coming on clay. Gasquet should be favored here but Seppi cannot be counted out, he’s improved his game considerably it seems this season, compared to previous seasons, and this match should at minimum not be a routine affair.
Fernando Verdasco vs. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez
This should be quite a high quality contest, Verdasco, who won the last hard court meeting between these Spaniards in 2012 is a slight favorite. He’s had a somewhat average season thus far with a 6-4 ATP record. Dasco took his talents to the golden swing for a couple of tournaments and is now back on hard courts while GGL has been off to a hot start in 2015 sticking to the hard courts. Garcia-Lopez won Zagreb, and already has 10 wins on the season (contrasted with 4 losses, two of which came at the racquet of top 10 player Stan Wawrinka in competitive contests). I personally have GGL winning this one, his play has been quite impressive thus far, and he is outperforming Verdasco right now.
Djokovic should be able to roll to the semifinals here, after Pospisil, Andrey Golubev or qualifier Fabrice Martin await, and then it should be Feliciano Lopez in the quarters. Lopez has generally lived up to his high ranking thus far this season (6-3 on the year), and he should defeat James Ward and Marsel Ilhan or Alex Zverev, but I give him little chance against Novak who he is 0-5 in his career against. The only time he took a set was in their Dubai 2011 meeting. On an interesting note about Martin-Golubev, Martin broke a seven match losing streak dating back to last season to qualify and he beat Borna Coric notably in those qualies, while Golubev is just 1-5 this season with four straight losses. Perhaps the recent boost to Martin’s confidence will get him through to round 2. Zverev should be the one to face Lopez, as he just beat Ilhan in Marseille qualifying a week prior.
Tomas Berdych, who has been solid this season with two ATP finals (Doha and Rotterdam), and of course that semifinal at the Australian Open on his resume already, opens with Jeremy Chardy, a quarterfinalist in Marseille. Berdych is 2-0 against Chardy, and does what the Frenchman is best at, better than he does, so I have little doubt it will be Berdych, who has made two consecutive finals here into round 2 against the Bolelli/Pouille winner. That should be a quality contest, and if Bolelli his Berdych’s round 2 opponent, the Italian has beaten the Czech twice before (2-3 h2h), so he may be able to do some damage, but once again the confidence pick should be Berdych as a quarterfinalist at least in Dubai.
Look for Berdych to face Sergiy Stakhovsky in that quarterfinal, the Ukrainian is playing some of the best tennis of his career at the moment, he opens with Lukas Rosol, who he just dispatched in Marseille (the Czech is just 1-7 over his last 8 matches dating back to last season), and then will face Denis Istomin or Ernests Gulbis. Both players are in awful form, Istomin is just 2-6 on the year, with three straight losses, while Gulbis is yet to win a match this season (0-4), with no sets won in his previous two losses against Dominic Thiem and Jeremy Chardy. Given Gulbis is the moodier player compared to Istomin, I have Istomin through, and then Stako to take him out comfortably. Stako has just one opening round loss this year, and he made the quarters in Rotterdam and the semis in Marseille consecutively, notably knocking off Stan Wawrinka in Marseille. Stako is 2-2 on a hard court against Istomin, but form favors him strongly. Given Berdych has a higher ranking, more accomplishments, a 3-0 h2h, and a better skillset than Stako, look for a Djokovic vs. Berdych semifinal this week.
Since 2009, only Djokovic, and Roger Federer, a six time Dubai champion, and the defending champion, have won the title here in the UAE. Federer will open his quest to repeat as champion against struggling veteran Mikhail Youzhny, who is a shell of his old self. Federer is an incredible 16-0 against the Russian over his career, and Youzhny is just 2-5 over his last seven matches dating back to last year. Federer could be tested a bit more against the Garcia-Lopez/Verdasco winner. If it’s GGL, as I have in my bracket, Federer is 3-0 against him, and should be able to make it 4-0 in reaching the quarterfinals. Federer is 5-0 against Verdasco if that is his opponent, and would make it 6-0.
Look for Seppi/Gasquet in the quarters for Federer, Roberto Bautista Agut is also an option here. RBA opens with Dominic Thiem, who he has already beaten twice this season, including last week in Marseille where he reached the semis. This is a difficult section to predict, RBA is 1-0 against both Seppi and Gasquet, but I feel like both of those players are outperforming the Spaniard right now and thusly I have Gasquet in the quarterfinals of my own bracket, with any of those 3 players having a case to make it that far. Gasquet has never beaten Federer on a hard court (0-7 including a Dubai loss) so Fed should reach the semis. If Seppi is his quarterfinal opponent, that would of course be a reprisal of the Italian’s shocking victory in Melbourne, but even still I would pick Federer to get his revenge and reach the semis.
Andy Murray, a one time finalist in Dubai who has played well thus far this season, opens with Gilles Muller, another in-form unseeded player to watch. Murray is 1-0 against Muller who reached the second week in Melbourne, and has an ATP semi and two ATP quarterfinals already on his resume this year. Murray, the AO finalist, most recently made the quarters in Rotterdam where he was upset by Gilles Simon. After Muller tests Murray, expect him to also take out Joao Sousa, who faces wild card James McGee in the first round. The journeyman McGee is an odd wild card selection, but all the same Murray is 4-0 against Sousa including a win this year at the Australian Open. Sousa has lost three straight matches though he has an ATP semifinal on his resume this year (Montpellier).
Murray could face Marcos Baghdatis in the quarters, after Goffin, it would be Malek Jaziri or Philipp Kohlschreiber for him in round 2. Jaziri tends to peak for these events in the Arab world but after a good showing at the Australian Open he’s in terrible form with three straight losses, most recently in Delray at the hands of Bernard Tomic. Kohlschreiber has lost two straight and is just 2-5 on the season, but even still I favor him over Jaziri. That said Baghdatis is playing much better than Kohli right now and has a 2-0 h2h record on hard courts, pointing to the Cypriot to reach the quarters.The aggressive Baghdatis has two previous hard court wins against Murray, who has won their last two hard court meetings for a 2-2 overall hard court h2h, and they almost always tend to play competitive contests, especially on fast surfaces, but Murray is likely to have more left in the tank these days and thus I have him into the semifinals.
The Cypriot appears to be motivated, fitter, and striking the ball much better in 2015, having experienced a bit of a career resurgence as of late when many thought he was near retirement. In my mind he’s the favorite to at minimum reach the quarterfinals, and Murray is beatable, as he’s proven before, so semis are a possible outcome for him this week, which would be remarkable given he entered this top heavy, 500 level event as a wild card.
Semis: Djokovic d. Berdych
Federer d. Murray
Djokovic has never lost to Berdych on a hard court, in a ton of meetings, including the 2013 Dubai final, and with that in mind, I don’t see any reason to pick against a Djokovic vs. Federer Dubai final this week given prior history and present form.
Federer has won three straight hard court meetings against Murray and he tends to play exceptionally well in Dubai, giving him the slight edge to reach the final this week.
Final: Djokovic d. Federer
Federer won their last hard court meeting in Shanghai, and their last Dubai meeting in 3 sets last year, but Djokovic played tremendous in Melbourne, and I still have to pick him on an outdoor hard court almost every time. This matchup could go either way, both players know each other well, and know how to beat the other, so it’s a really difficult prediction all the same, with my gut favoring the world number 1.
Argentina Open presented by Buenos Aires Ciudad
ATP World Tour 250
Buenos Aires, Argentina
February 23-March 1, 2015
Prize Money: $500,550
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Rafael Nadal (3)
2: Tommy Robredo (18)
3: Pablo Cuevas (23)
4: Fabio Fognini (28)
For a 250 event, with a pair of 500s also on the calendar the same week, Buenos Aires is actually quite solid, with Nadal headlining and a host of clay courters joining him on the undercard. Everyone in the field this week has taken part in one or more previous Golden Swing events (Quito, Sao Paulo or Rio)
First round matchups to watch:
(7)Pablo Andujar vs. Nicolas Almagro
Andujar is a seed, but Almagro is 3-0 in the h2h, including 2-0 on clay. Almagro has gone 2-2 on the Golden swing thus far with both of his losses coming in three setters against Pablo Cuevas. Andujar is 1-2, and isn’t playing that well right now, with that in mind the 2011 BA champ Almagro should advance to round 2 with a win in this all-Spanish encounter.
Rafael Nadal, a semifinalist in Rio, will face Albert Montanes or a qualifier in round 1. Nadal is 5-0 against Montanes with all meetings coming on clay, and his veteran Spanish counterpart has never taken a set against him. Next for Nadal is likely to be the winner of Federico Delbonis vs. Thomaz Bellucci. Bellucci, who just lost to Nadal in Rio, will face Paolo Lorenzi in round 1. The h2h is 1-1 and both players have lost three straight matches, but I give Bellucci, the more skilled player, the slighest of edges in that one. Delbonis has Pablo Carreno Busta in round 1, he lost an incredible quarterfinal match against Fabio Fognini in Rio, saving more than a half dozen match points before falling in a third set tiebreak. Before that, Delbonis was struggling, and likewise PCB has been up and down, he beat Carlos Berlocq, before losing to Nadal in Rio. I have Delbonis as a quarterfinalist yet again this week, given the home soil advantage, and then Nadal should take him out to reach the semis. The h2h between Delbonis and Bellucci is 3-2 in favor of Delbonis with all meetings coming on clay, and all of them being close encounters. Nadal is 1-0 against Delbonis with that win coming on clay in 2013.
Rio finalist Fabio Fognini, who found some of his best form in months to reach the final there, notably upsetting Nadal, will open with Diego Sebastian Schwartzman or Carlos Berlocq. I have Fognini beating Berlocq in round 2, after Berlocq wins the all Argentina round 1 battle. Fognini had started the season just 1-3, but as mentioned he put much more effort into his tennis in Rio, and though unpredictable, has be favored to reach the quarterfinals, though fatigue may factor in.
Jiri Vesely, the 6 seed, has a nice chance at a run this week, he opens with Blaz Rola, who has just two wins on the season (though on of them came in an upset of Leo Mayer last week in Rio), and then would face a qualifier in round 2. Vesely is 0-3 since winning the Auckland title, but he pushed Fognini to 3 sets in Rio, and his other golden swing loss was to Pablo Cuevas, who ended up taking the title in Sao Paulo, both of those losses coming in 3 sets. Vesely, though mentally fragile, is playing better than recent results would suggest, and presuming his fitness is ok, I actually have him winning that rematch with Fognini in the quarters. It was a low quality, and up and down encounter when they played last week in Rio, and by this point, Fognini should be fatigued from all the tennis he’s had to play over the past week and a half, with that in mind, the advantage swings to Vesely to reach the semis. Don’t count a qualifier out here either.
Tommy Robredo, the 2009 champion, will face Jarkko Nieminen or Renzo Olivo, a wild card, in round 2. The veteran Nieminen isn’t that impressive on clay right now, while Olivo is actually 8-2 over his last 10 matches, a mix of Quito qualies, and the Santo Domingo challenger. With a retirement, and a loss to eventual champ Victor Estrella, the only two losses Olivo has had in weeks, I have him notching an upset on home soil to setup a meeting with Robredo. Olivo shockingly upset Robredo in Bastad last year on clay, and Robredo has been in poor form all season, with just a 1-2 record on the year, with a retirement, and a loss to the much lower ranked Andreas Haider-Maurer in Rio. With that in mind, I’m backing Olivo to reach the quarterfinals with a pair of upsets over ATP veterans, on home soil in BA.
Olivo/Robredo are most likely to meet the Andujar/Almagro winner in the quarters, I presume Almagro will be able to defeat wild card Horacio Zeballos or Albert Ramos in round 2. Ramos should beat Zeballos, he’s 1-2 on the Golden Swing thus far, but Almagro is the most talented player of the bunch and should beat Olivo in the quarters to reach the semis in what would be a good week for him.
Pablo Cuevas opens with Guido Andreozzi or a qualifier, Andreozzi, a wild card, has been plying his trade on hard courts, rather than clay this year, and the qualifier will have a good chance, all the same Cuevas, the Sao Paulo champ, and a quarterfinalist in Rio who pushed Nadal to 3 sets, should have no trouble reaching the quarters given his good form. In another all-Argentine battle, Juan Monaco (2-1 clay court h2h) should have enough ability to take out Maximo Gonzalez, who hasn’t won an ATP main draw match in a while. Monaco, a Rio quarterfinalist should face the top ranked Argentine Leo Mayer in round 2. Mayer retired in his last match and is just 1-2 on the Golden Swing, but I still see him beating the veteran French journeyman Stephane Robert, who hasn’t played on clay since the French Open last year. Monaco and Mayer have never met on clay, but with Monaco in slightly better form, I have Pico into the quarters, and then Cuevas beating him for a spot in the semis. Monaco is 5-0 on clay against Cuevas, but they haven’t played since 2011, and Cuevas has been a far superior player as of late.
The unseeded Nicolas Almagro is also a dark horse, but the home player Olivo could have the most eye catching week in Buenos Aires. As mentioned if the in-form wild card can score upset wins over Nieminen, and Robredo, he would be in the quarters, and should be find a way to beat Almagro or another player, he would find himself in his first ever ATP semifinal this week, which I’m sure the home crowd would appreciate.
Semis: Nadal d. Vesely
Cuevas d. Almagro
Even with Nadal not playing top 5 quality tennis right now, I don’t see anyone in the field being able to take him out before the final, meanwhile Cuevas has dominated Almagro as of late, and should also be able to battle his way to the final this week
Final: Nadal d. Cuevas
He didn’t win Rio, but you still have to pick Nadal as the champion for almost every clay court tournament in which he is a participant. The king of clay has struggled thus far this season, but you have to feel failure to reach a final yet this year, will further motivate him to cap off the Golden Swing with good vibes, and an ATP title. Nadal just beat my favored finalist Cuevas last week in Rio in 3 sets, and his level should be good enough to take this 250 title as the top seed.