Halep Claims 10th WTA Title, Super Sara Wins Rio Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
The WTA tour stopped on opposite sides of the globe this week for events in Doha and Rio. The number one was the key number of the week as the top seed’s at both events ran out successful.
Top seed Simona Halep overcame the power of Pliskova to claim her 10th WTA title. The Romanian got it done in two tight sets 6-4,7-6(4) and as a result, she climbs back up to No.3 in the world.
Halep began the match well, countering the power of her opponent smoothly with great effect, and at 3-3 the world number four got her reward as she broke the Czech to love. From there, Halep went on to serve out the first set comfortably to wrap it up in 41 minutes.
The 2nd set, however, didn’t go as smoothly. Halep lost her serve early in the 2nd to go a break down, but the Romanian broke straight back to even it at 2-2. The players managed to hold serve until 3-3, which is when the chaos ensued. Halep looked to have the match sealed when she broke at 3-3, but Pliskova didn’t stop fighting and broke straight back. Halep re-established a break advantage by breaking the Czech again, but she failed to serve it out with Pliskova saving match point along the way. Halep would have another chance to serve it out at 6-5, but yet again she failed to convert a match point, and thus we were treated to a second set tie-breaker. Plsikova was the first to strike, getting the mini-break at 3-3; she wouldn’t win another point on serve. Halep broke back and gained the lead giving her the opportunity to serve out the match. Third time was the charm for Halep who converted on her third match point to take the Dubai crown.
“I’m very happy right now. I cannot explain in words how I feel,” Halep said post match. “It’s an amazing title for me. It’s very important for my career. I’m really happy and just want to enjoy this moment.
She added. “At the beginning of the tournament some people asked me if I felt pressure because I was the No.1 seed. I said no, because I wasn’t thinking about it, and I just wanted to go on court and play match by match, because everyone would play really well here. And I played with big players like Makarova, Pliskova, Wozniacki – she was No.1 two years. So it’s honestly just an amazing victory for me.”
Despite the tough loss, Pliskova can certainly hold her head up high. This week has been a landmark week for the young Czech as she reached her first Premier 5 final, and obtained a career high ranking of 13.
“I was trying to turn it around, but even if I won the second set, I don’t know if I would have won the whole match,” she said. “It would still have been hard because she doesn’t give up on any point. She runs really, really well, and it’s hard to kill the ball against her. She really gets everything back.”
“I lost, so I’m not really happy right now, but obviously I’m happy for the week and for the last two or three weeks I had. I had so many matches here and beat great players – I’m not disappointed.”
In the doubles, Timea babos and Kristina Mladenovic defeated Spanish pairing Garbine Muguruza and Carla Suarez Navarro 6-3,6-2 to take the title.
Go Like Hell.
Sara Errani has edged closer to the top 10 by ending the breakthrough run of Anna Schmiedlova to win yet another clay court title in Rio.
Schmiedlova had never reached a quarter final of a WTA event before this tournament, let alone a final, and in the first set she put the former Roland Garros finalist under all sorts of pressure. The youngster pushed it all the way to a tiebreak, but from this point it was all Errani. The top seed raced through the tiebreak 7-2, to give herself a set lead after 73 long minutes.
The Italian carried that form into the second set where she quickly raced into a 4-0 lead before closing the match out on serve, 6-1.
With this result, Errani has now won eight WTA titles, and she inches ever closer to re-entering the top 10. Next week, the Italian will climb 4 places to number 12 in the world, and with clay season just around the corner, Errani has kicked into form just at the right time.
“The first set was tough. We played more than an hour,” Errani said post match. “We were both fighting hard in that set – she was playing very well and not giving me anything, really. It was also the first time I played her so I needed some time to find my tactics. I was happy I managed to win that set, and in the second set things started going much more my way. I think I was just physically stronger in the end.”
“Winning a title is always special. This tournament was great and I leave with only good memories.”
Schmiedlova, like Pliskova, can leave in good spirits despite the loss. The world number 59 had a landmark week in Rio, and will be looking to go one further in her next attempt.
“She was moving really well and she’s a really great player,” Schmiedlova said. “I played some very good tennis in the first set – the second set was worse, but I’m so happy I was in the final.
“This week gave me a lot of confidence. I hope it helps me in my next tournaments.” The youngster added.
Ysaline Bonaventure and Rebecca Peterson won the doubles title after their final opponents Irina Begu and Maria Irigoyen retired after 3 games.
2015 ATP Rio and Marseille Previews and Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The highest valued clay court event on the Golden Swing, Rio, takes place this week, as it is in its second year of existence as a 500 level event. In France, a very strong 250 in Marseille, part of the European indoor tournaments, takes place, and thirdly ATP World Tour Tennis will continue stateside in the USA in Delray Beach, a 250 outdoor hard court event, as the ATP has a lot of variety this week in terms of players and venues.
2015 ATP Rio Preview
Rio Open Presented by Claro
ATP World Tour 500*
Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
February 16-February 22, 2015
*Denotes joint ATP/WTA event
Top 4 seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Rafael Nadal (3)
2: David Ferrer (9)
3: Tommy Robredo (17)
4: Fabio Fognini (26)
It’ll be the strongest clay court golden swing field, but still in it’s second year Rio only got three top 20 players and two top 10 players for a 500 level event that is more back than front loaded.
First Round matchups to watch:
(1)Rafael Nadal vs. Thomaz Bellucci
Bellucci, a Quito semifinalist, comes off a round 1 loss in Sao Paulo, and now will have to face Rafael Nadal, who has never taken a set off of previously (0-3, all losses coming in slams). Nadal is the defending champion who should be happy to return his tennis to clay, the surface where he is the greatest player of all time on. The home crowd should support the Brazilian, at least to some extent, and this match is mainly interesting as it’s a form test for Nadal, Bellucci isn’t the weakest possible R1 opponent, and with Nadal having looked very shaky since he last played clay we will begin to get an idea where Rafa is at, now playing on his best surface. I don’t see a path to victory for Bellucci in this one, but we will see if he can take a set at least.
(6)Pablo Cuevas vs. Nicolas Almagro
Cuevas took the title in Sao Paulo, and will either be fatigued or in excellent form going into this tournament. In that tournament, he beat Almagro in 3 sets, and he’s 3-0 in his career against him. Almagro’s run in SP ended in the quarters but he does seem to be improving, and this a chance for him to have another week of success if he can reverse the result against Cuevas. Given this was a close contest, a fresher Almagro should prevail this time and reach round 2.
Federico Delbonis vs. Diego Schwartzman
Delbonis, 24, has been struggling for a while, as he crashed out in round 1 in Sao Paulo, where he was the defending champion, and he’s slipped down the rankings, while Schwartzman lost to Fabio Fognini in 3 sets, in the second round of SP. The 22 year old seemingly has more promise than Delbonis, and this match is interesting because it’s a match up of two of the promising Argentine dirtballers from a similar generation. Schwartzman should win but it could go either way
(8)Martin Klizan vs. Dusan Lajovic
Klizan and Lajovic have 1-1 clay court h2h, Lajovic has been in good form as of late, he was a consecutive quarterfinalist in Quito and Sao Paulo, while Klizan is 2-2 on clay in 2015, as he’d had an up and down time on the golden swing. This match between two of the few non Spanish Europeans that took part in the Golden Swing should match Klizan’s power against Lajovic’s quarter coverage, and it’s hard to predict but with Lajovic playing well recently and improving, I have the Serbian into round 2 in a small upset of the seeded Klizan.
Unless Nadal is injured or something else strange occurs, he should work his way into form on clay and beat Bellucci, Carlos Berlocq, and Almagro/Cuevas in order to reach the semifinals. Berlocq will need to beat Pablo Carreno Busta to reach round 2, while the Almagro/Cuevas winner will face Albert Montanes or Maximo Gonzalez, and they are both better than those opponents. Almagro shockingly beat Nadal last year on clay, and since then both players have suffered injuries. You never know if lightning could strike twice but the h2h that strongly favors Nadal speaks for itself, as all of these players are simply a step slower and behind Nadal on clay.
Fabio Fognini comes off a round 2 loss in Sao Paulo and will face Jiri Vesely in his opening match in Rio. The Italian continues to struggle and Vesely, who lost to the eventual champion Pablo Cuevas in 3 sets in round 1 of SP, may be able to pull off the upset. I personally have Fognini through and feel he will also defeat Pablo Andujar in round 2 assuming Andujar defeats Paolo Lorenzi. Andujar trails Lorenzi 3-4 in the h2h, all of their meetings have come on clay, and they both come off round 1 losses in SP (to Lajovic and Schwartzman respectively). Fognini is 4-0 on clay against Andujar in his career. Klizan/Lajovic are likely quarterfinal opponents for Fognini (or another player such as Vesely), with Delbonis/Schwartzman the round 2 opponent for Klizan/Lajovic. I have Lajovic over Fognini in the quarterfinals, for the simple reason he’s in better form right now, though they have never met.
David Ferrer, who is known to do well on the Golden Swing, opens with his countryman Daniel Gimeno-Traver, a qualifier, and then should face Thiemo De Bakker, another qualifier, assuming the former top junior Dutchman beats wild card Guilherme Clezar. De Bakker is in great form having previously reached the round of 16 in Sao Paulo as a qualifier, falling to eventual finalist Luca Vanni in 3 sets. He then qualified in Rio with a pair of straight set wins. De Bakker pushed Ferrer to three sets in Doha earlier this season, wilting late, and I’m sure he’d love another chance to notch an upset, but it’s still likely that Ferrer will advance to the quarterfinals no matter whom he plays in round 2. In those quarters, watch out for Santiago Giraldo, who found a bit of form and reached the semis in Sao Paulo last week, which is his best result in a while. Giraldo should defeat slumping vet Juan Monaco, who has lost five straight, and then Marco Cecchinato, a qualifier, or Jarkko Nieminen, to reach the quarterfinals. Ferrer is 3-0 and has never dropped a set against Giraldo, and I don’t expect that to be any different now, so it should be Ferrer as one of the semifinalists in Rio this week.
Tommy Robredo will open with Elias Ymer, the young Swedish wild card, and then has Albert Ramos or Andreas Haider-Maurer on deck. Ramos has a h2h win on clay and he’s more accomplished so it should be Robredo-Ramos round 2, and then Robredo, who lost to Nicolas Almagro in Sao Paulo, into the quarterfinals. Possible opponents or most likely Robredo in the quarters are Leo Mayer, Blaz Rola, Joao Souza or Facundo Arguello. Mayer, a SP quarterfinalist should beat Rola, and Souza, a semifinalist in SP, should beat Arguello. Souza just beat Mayer in 3 sets, but I have a feeling that result was an aberration in Sao Paulo, and the Argentine will defeat the Brazilian this time. Mayer beat Robredo on clay last year (in 3 sets), and I have him in the semifinals in Rio this year by virtue of beating Robredo, who still seems a bit rusty this season, while Mayer is likely improving. It’s not an easy pick but Ferrer vs. Mayer in the semis is my selection.
Dark Horse: Joao Souza
The Brazilian wild card has a chance at the semifinals, qualifier Facundo Arguello is an opponent he should be favored against, and then Mayer, his likely round 2 opponent, he just beat in Sao Paulo. With home fan support he beats Mayer, a win over Robredo is also possible for the semis. Players like Jiri Vesely could also serve as dark horses this week, but I’m sure home fans would love to see the local player have a surprise week.
Semis: Nadal d. Lajovic
Ferrer d. Mayer
Nadal comfortably defeated Lajovic last summer at the French Open, and he’s a cut above anyone he may face in the semis this week. Mayer beat Ferrer in 3 sets in the Hamburg final last summer, that said Ferrer is normally the better player on clay and he should also reach the final this week.
Final: Nadal d. Ferrer
Nadal has normally dominated Ferrer in the clay court h2h, right now anything could happen with Nadal, but if he’s been good enough to reach the final, he should be in the form needed to outhit and outsmart Ferrer once again for a consecutive Rio Open title.
Thiem has a prior win (2014 AO in 4 sets) over Sousa, and he trashed a slumping Ernests Gulbis in Rotterdam before falling to Sergiy Stakhovsky in round 2, while Sousa reached the semis in Montpellier, and fell in 3 sets to Gilles Simon in Rotterdam. Thiem’s form is rather hard to predict, but he’s struggled against most quality opponents this year as the win over Gulbis was his first of the season, while Sousa has won 5 matches this season and is at his best indoors. With that in mind, though Thiem has more potential long term, Sousa should score a small upset in this one.
(6)David Goffin vs. Jerzy Janowicz
Goffin has been struggling this season, having failed to come anything close to his form in the second half of 2014. The Belgian fell to Gilles Muller in Rotterdam, while Janowicz was ill and pulled out of the tournament after reaching the Montpellier final. This result will depend a lot on how Janowicz is feeling, but with a week off I would expect him to be somewhat back to normal, and with a prior head to head win last year over the Belgian, in addition to better recent results, Janowicz should get past the seeded Goffin.
Paul-Henri Mathieu vs. (WC)Benoit Paire
Mathieu qualified in Rotterdam and once again suffered a mental lapse that cost him the match against top 15 player Grigor Dimitrov. He fell in 3 sets in that one, as his mental fortitude has always hampered his career results. Paire won the Bergamo challenger indoors last week for his best result in many months on tour. The formerly promising young Frenchman with a gifted backhand will try to outwit the veteran PHM, but I personally feel it will be Mathieu that wins this, with Paire’s fatigue a factor. PHM is the more well rounded competitor, and Paire is as weak as him in the mental department.
Rotterdam semifinalist Milos Raonic opens with Luca Vanni or Simon Bolelli in round 2, almost assuredly Bolelli, given Vanni is in South America on the golden swing and got an SE into this tournament, if he plays it with a difference in surface and while fatigued Raonic just dispatched Bolelli in Rotterdam round 2, and that trend should hold and see Raonic into the quarterfinals against Gael Monfils. Monfils, a Rotterdam quarterfinalist, has a surprisingly terrible record in Marseille (1-6 in his career), even though it’s indoors and on home soil, but with a qualifier and Andrey Kuznetsov or Andrey Golubev standing in his way, he still should reach the quarters before falling to Raonic, who has proven to be too strong as of late for all but the elite players in the game, with his consistent dosage of big serves and powerful forehands that wears players down.
Roberto Bautista Agut will open with Robin Haase or Vasek Pospisil in round 2, most likely Pospisil. RBA beat Vasek twice last season and fell to Monfils in Rotterdam, while Vashy upset Philipp Kohlschreiber before losing to Andy Murray. That should be a high quality contest in round 2 and it could go either way, but I have Bautista Agut through to the quarterfinals as his seed rank would suggest. The section below RBA is stacked with the unpredictable Goffin/Janowicz or Sousa/Thiem, I have Sousa over Thiem, and Janowicz over Goffin, then Janowicz over Sousa, just as what happened in Montpellier a couple of weeks ago. That Montpellier contest went three sets so Sousa reversing the result is quite possible, and any of these four could reach the semis. With RBA having a 1-0 h2h record over Janowicz, with a win last year in Miami, I have the Spaniard into the semis to meet Raonic. This is a difficult section to predict however.
Rotterdam champ Stan Wawrinka, who played well to win his first 500 level title last week, will open with the PHM/Paire winner, PHM could prove trouble if Wawrinka is fatigued, but you can’t exactly trust the Frenchman with a knack for mental collapses against top competition, and with that in mind Wawrinka should still reach the quarterfinals. If his opponent is Paire, he will be playing his best friend in the second round. The section above Wawrinka is also difficult to predict, Sergiy Stakhovsky reached the quarterfinals in Rotterdam, and he opens with the 8 seed Lukas Rosol, Rosol is struggling and he has just a 1-3 h2h against the outspoken Stako, so Stako should get through with the unpredictable but talented JL Struff his matchup in round 2. Struff opens with a qualifier, and he is on a losing streak of four matches currently, but he has had some of his best successes as a pro indoors and he is 4-0 against Stakhovsky in the h2h. Both these players are hard to predict but I have Wawrinka beating Struff for a spot in the semifinals in my own bracket.
Defending champ Ernests Gulbis is in terrible form, as he has been for months, he’s seeded third, but I have Jeremy Chardy beating a qualifier, and then dispatching the Latvian number one to reach the quarterfinals. Chardy isn’t in great form and the h2h is 3-1 Gulbis but Gulbis has lost five straight dating back to last season and he’s not even playing top 70 level right now regardless of his ranking. Gilles Simon, a Rotterdam semifinalist, is the main beneficiary of this weakest quarter of the draw, The 5 seed has a qualifier, and then Borna Coric/Denis Istomin standing in his way before the quarterfinals. None of those opponents should prove to be an issue, and Simon should defeat Chardy as well (he did so in Rotterdam R2 just last week) to get into the semifinals. Simon was the champion in Marseille in 2007.
The French veteran isn’t the only possible dark horse this week (non seeds Thiem/Sousa/Janowicz could all perhaps reach the semis or better), but he presents the most intriguing possibility of a run. The talent is still there and he plays his best indoors these days, but his results as usual are going to depend on his mental fortitude. PHM is a player who would have been top 5 and perhaps reached a slam final or more with the right sports psychologist, but rather he’s had a second tier career, and flashes of his ability are still possible in weeks like this, with the seeded player Wawrinka likely to be fatigued and perhaps less focused on the 250 level event this week. Beating Wawrinka would be a monumental upset, but if he does there is no one but Gilles Simon that would truly stand in PHM’s way before the semifinals, and Simon is beatable. It’s not likely but Mathieu is a possible finalist this week.
Predictions Semis: Raonic d. Bautista Agut
Simon d. Wawrinka
Raonic beat RBA at the end of last season and he’s been trustworthy and consistent when it comes to beating non elite players, he has to be the favorite for the title this week coming off the semis in Rotterdam given this is another indoor hard court tournament. Simon is actually 2-1 on hard courts against Wawrinka and beat him last season in a strange three set contest, with that factored in with the fatigue considerations, Simon should be the favorite to reach the final this week.
Final: Raonic d. Simon
Milos beat Gilles twice last year, and given the surface and recent results, Raonic should be crowned champion in Marseille.
2014 ATP Clay Court Season In Review Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast
In review: The 2014 ATP Clay Court Season
After Kitzbuhel concluded last week, the clay court calendar portion of the 2014 ATP season came to an end. With that conclusion, we can now review which players performed the best, and which players underachieved on the dirt this season. Clay courts comprise a large portion of the ATP calendar so there is a much larger sample size to draw from compared to, say, the grass court season.
27 year old journeyman Argentine Leonardo Mayer has transformed himself into a top 30 player this season and his best results have come on clay. He posted 18 wins on the surface compared to just 10 losses this season at the ATP level and scored wins over household names David Ferrer, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Joao Sousa and Tommy Robredo on the surface; he also pushed top 6 player Tomas Berdych to three sets in Oeiras.
He reached his first career final in Vina Del Mar, but fell short against Fabio Fognini there, and he finally got his maiden title in Hamburg over Ferrer in 3 sets. Winning that final set tiebreak ended a long journey to the top 30 for Leo and he remains an under recognized and underappreciated Argentine player. With Del Potro perpetually injured and Nalbandian now retired, Argentine will have to look to the likes of Mayer to carry Davis Cup and national hopes for a while. He reached the third round of the French Open and had quarterfinal appearances in both Oeiras and Nice to round out his best results on clay for 2014.
Honorable mentions for clay court surprise: Carlos Berlocq, Santiago Giraldo, Kei Nishikori, Roberto Bautista Agut
Carlos Berlocq joins his countryman Mayer as a surprising player this season. He won an ATP title for the second year in a row, this time coming in Oeiras where he upset and outlasted Tomas Berdych. The loud and flamboyant dirtballer also posted quarterfinals in Nice and a semifinal in Bastad to compliment his win in Oeiras. This highlights an overall 16-9 record on clay at the ATP level for 2014. He tends to get overmatched in the masters level and grand slam events but against a 250 level field he often flourishes. Notable opponents he defeated this year on clay include Andreas Seppi, Milos Raonic, Ferrer and Lleyton Hewitt at the French, along with the aforementioned Berdych.
Santiago Giraldo, a shotmaking Colombian with a huge forehand, has also had some of the best success of his career this season. He went 19-11 on clay and though he did not win a title, he reached the final in Barcelona, his second career final, along with semis in Houston and Vina Del Mar, and a pair of quarterfinals in Madrid and Stuttgart. Giraldo beat top players Tommy Robredo, Andy Murray, Nicolas Almagro, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga this season. Giraldo joins Mayer as a first time top 30 player after success on clay.
Kei Nishikori had an underappreciated clay court season this year, partially due to the fact that he had to battle injuries during that portion of the season, He played just three tournaments but posted a 10-2 record in them with a title in Barcelona and a final in Madrid, where he took a set off Nadal but had to retire during the third set of the match. He had top tier wins over Roberto Bautista Agut, Marin Cilic, Ferrer, Ernests Gulbis, and Raonic among his 10 overall and should he be able to stay healthy he has shown himself to be a threat on clay.
Bautista Agut is the last player I’ll discuss. He went 12-5 on clay and won his first title on the surface in Stuttgart over Lukas Rosol. Success on clay has helped him reach the top 20 for the first time in his career and he beat Robredo, Fernando Verdasco, and Fognini this year on the surface. RBA doesn’t play prototypical Spanish tennis but he’s still a top performing Spaniard on red clay.
Biggest upset: ATP Barcelona quarterfinals: Nicolas Almagro d. Rafael Nadal 2-6 7-6(5) 6-4
The powerful Spaniard Almagro had been outclassed by his much more successful countryman Nadal eight previous times on clay. Finally, Nico was able to get a victory against perhaps the greatest clay courter of all time. The first set was a routine affair, but Almagro fought back hard and Rafa played poorly, resulting in Nadal’s first loss on clay after winning the first set in over six years. Nadal had his chances to close out the match in the second, and didn’t face break points himself, but he couldn’t convert and the tiebreak went against him, giving Almagro an opening he took advantage of by winning a decisive fifth and final break in the third set to seal the victory. Nadal struggled to win his service points, and at the time, many were deeply worried about how he was playing going into the French Open. The fact Rafa did win the French perhaps makes this victory by Almagro look even more improbable and top quality, given Rafa showed his career wasn’t in serious decline yet.
Clay court breakthroughs: Dominic Thiem, Alex Zverev and Dusan Lajovic
A trio of young players found maiden ATP success on clay, while new Austrian number one Dominic Thiem was a mere 12-8 on clay at the ATP level. He went 4-0 in qualifying matches on the surface and won multiple main draw matches in Barcelona, Madrid and Hamburg. He finally reached his first career ATP final on home soil in Kitzbuhel and appears very close to his first career ATP title. Thiem had notable wins over Radek Stepanek and Stan Wawrinka this year on clay.
Alex Zverev, a teenager, notably made the semifinals in Hamburg, a one off showing but clearly a sign of things to come for the young German. Zverev had wins over Mikhail Youzhny and Giraldo en route. I have a feeling Thiem vs. Zverev may develop into a clay court rivalry in the future. Both players have things to work on but we could have a Germany vs. Austria French Open final come 2018 or beyond.
Dusan Lajovic established himself as a top 70 player with a strong clay court season. He also established himself as the Serbian number 2 behind Djokovic and should feature on their Davis Cup team for quite some time. He went 14-11 in both ATP main draw action and qualifying on clay this season and along with quarters in Hamburg and Bastad, he reached the round of 16 at the French Open, his best ever result in a major. He didn’t beat many top names this season but he still proved he can grind out matches to increase his ranking.
Clay Court Disappointments: Tommy Robredo, Stan Wawrinka, Gilles Simon, Joao Sousa and Andreas Seppi
The well-liked veteran Spaniard Robredo went just 15-12 this year on clay after going a tremendous 25-10 on the surface in 2013. His age may finally be catching up with him as he reached just one final, one semi and one quarterfinal this season along with posting seven early round exits. Once he finishes this season he will have a lot to think about going into to 2015.
Wawrinka did not have a terrible clay court season, but he underachieved after high expectations were placed on him after winning his first grand slam in Australia at the start of the year. He won Monte Carlo, but that was the only highlight of his 6-3 clay court season. He had a trio of surprising early exits in Madrid, Rome and the French Open, and next season he will have much to gain during the clay court portion of the year. He posted a 43-17 record on clay over the previous two seasons before this one and has the ability to do much better than he did in 2014.
Veteran Frenchman Gilles Simon has struggled to stay healthy in 2014 and he had a disappointing clay court season that has contributed to his fall from the top 30. He won consecutive matches in a clay court tournament just twice this season and failed to beat any players ranked above him on the surface. He also had bad losses to Teymuraz Gabashvili, Lukasz Kubot and Pablo Andujar. He was a subpar 8-9 on the surface overall in 2014. ‘
After a breakthrough 2013, top Portugese player Joao Sousa was a disappointing 7-13 on clay in 2014, struggling against ATP level competition on the surface. He reached one quarterfinal and one final but suffered ten opening match exits and eleven early round exists overall with multiple losses to players ranked below him. Sousa will need to improve considerably and adjust his game if he hopes to be more successful on clay in the future.
After struggling on clay in 2013, Italian veteran Andreas Seppi did so again in 2014. He is just 18-22 on the surface over the past two seasons and was 11-12 this season. He failed to reach a semifinal in any clay court tournament this year.
First time winners: Federico Delbonis, David Goffin and Pablo Cuevas
23 year old Argentine Federico Delbonis won his maiden title in Sao Paulo and has been successful on clay overall this season, posting an 18-13 ATP record. He later made a final in Nice, semifinals in Casablanca and a quarterfinal in Stuttgart to complement his Sao Paulo victory. Delbonis also showed his prowess on the red stuff last season when he reached the final in Hamburg and he should be a name to watch in many clay court tournaments to come.
David Goffin snagged a maiden title in Kitzbuhel at the tail end of the clay court season after getting red hot on the ATP Challenger Tour prior. Goffin, who had that run to the fourth round as a qualifier at the 2012 French Open, and has seen his once promising career fade from the spotlight since then, returned to the challenger tour to find his game and hopefully he will be able to keep himself at the ATP level this time. Goffin is undersized and many players were able to hit him off the court at the top level but perhaps he has rediscovered a path to success for himself given the limitations of his physical stature.
Lastly, Pablo Cuevas, who has overcome multiple knee and shoulder injuries and built his ranking back up to ATP status from the challenger tour, won his maiden title at 28 years old in Bastad, then followed it up with a title in Umag a couple of weeks later. Cuevas makes his living on clay and has been rapidly improving as of late. He pushed Fernando Verdasco to five sets at the French Open and has wins over Robredo, Fognini, Seppi, Sousa, and Verdasco this season. Cuevas’ rise is a testament to his tenacity and the work he has put into his game.
Cilic Wins 2nd Title in 3 weeks, Nadal Rolls in Rio, Gulbis Wins 5th
ATP Delray Beach
Marin Cilic has gone on an amazing run of dropping only 3 sets of tennis in 3 straight weeks of play where he won the title in Zagreb, reached the final in Rotterdam, and now won the title in Delray, 7-6 6-7 6-4 over Kevin Anderson in a match that lasted over 3 hours.
Cilic has been a man on a mission this year and his iron man globe-trotting performance has been beyond commendable.
In the final, he was broken serving for the match 7-6 5-3 up. Anderson would later save 4 match points in the second set tiebreak, but Cilic would get another break he needed in the third set to put the match away. With the win, he returns to the top 25 in the rankings, but he’s playing like a top 10 player right now.
The path to the final for Cilic, on which he didn’t drop a set, were easy wins over Benjamin Becker and Ryan Harrison, then a blowout win over Teymuraz Gabashvili and a routine win over John Isner.
For Anderson, it was a 3 set win over Tim Smyczek, a retirement against Ivo Karlovic, a 3 set win over Marinko Matosevic and a straight set win over surprise semifinalist Steve Johnson, a qualifier playing in his first career ATP semifinal.
The Bryan brothers defeated Frantisek Cermak/Mikhail Elgin in the doubles final, claiming their first title of the 2014 season.
ATP Rio De Janeiro
As expected, Rafael Nadal won the inaugural Rio Open title and dropped just 1 set all week, as he beat Alex Dolgopolov in the final 6-3 7-6.
Nadal destroyed Daniel Gimeno-Traver, Albert Montanes and Joao Sousa in his first three matches and then was pushed to the brink against Pablo Andujar, winning in a third set tiebreak 12-10, coming back from a set down in the process.
Dolgopolov, a surprise finalist who found form out of nowhere even though he certainly has the talent, beat Nicolas Almagro from a set down in 3 sets, did the same against Facundo Bagnis in a very tight match, and then followed that up by rolling over the empty tank Fabio Fognini, whose winning ways this month finally petered out in the quarterfinals. Lastly, he came up big to upset David Ferrer 4 and 4.
Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah are the doubles champions as they beat David Marrero and Brazilian Marcelo Melo in the doubles final.
Ernests Gulbis improved to 5-0 in career ATP finals as the Latvian won a mild upset against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6 6-4, denying Tsonga a third career Open 13 title.
Ernie won one of the best matches of the week first up against rival Roberto Bautista Agut in 3 sets and then beat Nicolas Mahut and Richard Gasquet on home soil to reach the final. He called himself the “master of getting nervous” in a post-match interview, but he didn’t seem that nervous this week.
Tsonga beat Nikolay Davydenko in 2 tiebreaks, then needed 3 sets against Edouard Roger-Vasselin and a straight set victory over JL Struff, as the rising German made his first career ATP semifinal this week.
The French team of Julian Benneteau and Edouard Roger-Vasselin won the doubles title against Paul Hanley/Jonathan Marray.
The ATP season rolls on with the brand new clay court 500 series event in Rio that is the crown jewel of the Golden Swing.
ATP Rio De Janeiro
Rio Open presented by Claro hdtv
ATP World Tour 500
Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
February 17-February 23, 2014
Prize Money: $ 1,309,770
Top 4 seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Rafael Nadal (1)
2: David Ferrer (5)
3: Fabio Fognini (14)
4: Tommy Robredo (17)
This new 500 series event draws two top 10 players in an otherwise typical Spaniard-laden golden swing draw.
First Round matchups to watch:
Leonardo Mayer vs. Albert Ramos
Mayer lost to Fognini yet again in Buenos Aires, this time in the second round, coming off the final in Vina Del Mar. Ramos found some form and reached the quarters in BA. This will be their fourth career meeting on clay and Ramos leads the h2h 2-1, but Mayer won their last meeting in Umag last year. Each of the matches have been straight sets and both players are playing reasonably well at the moment.
(4)Tommy Robredo vs. Pablo Carreno Busta
A rematch of an opening round match in Buenos Aires last week which Robredo won 6-4 6-4. PCB will be looking for revenge in Rio. Tommy comes off the semis in BA, while PCB is looking to improve. Robredo will be the favorite of course, but revenge may be in the cards depending on Robredo’s stamina.
(2)David Ferrer vs. Jeremy Chardy
Buenos Aires champ Ferrer will have a quick turnaround against BA quarterfinalist Chardy, who in fact has made 2 straight quarterfinal showings in Vina Del Mar and BA but has faltered against higher ranked competition both times. Ferrer is 2-0 on clay and 5-1 overall against Chardy, thus he should be able to take care of business.
Ferrer has had the occasional shock loss in the past year or so, and thus he can’t be penciled into round 2 quite yet.
Rafael Nadal is the marquee player cutting the ribbon on this new tournament and his first match will be against Daniel Gimeno-Traver, a fellow Spaniard. After that, it should be Nadal vs Robin Haase, who made the quarters in Buenos Aires. Haase opens with a struggling Albert Montanes, who hasn’t won a match since before the US Open last year, a 9 match losing streak. Haase did retire in his quarterfinal match in BA, though. Nadal vs one of Mayer/Ramos, Joao Sousa/Marcel Granollers will be the quarterfinal match to be expected.
Sousa is really struggling right now, and Granollers is also not in great form, giving Mayer/Ramos a great chance at a quarterfinal appearance. Nadal shouldn’t drop a set before the semis, even if his form isn’t great.
Robredo/PCB will take on a qualifier or Filippo Volandri in round 2 and one of them should advance to the quarters to face off with Pablo Andujar/Julian Reister/Guillermo Garcia-Lopez/Qualifier. Andujar comes off quarters in BA, while GGL comes off an opening round loss there. Reister is 0-4 this year. I expect a Robredo vs. Andujar quarterfinal.
Ferrer/Chardy will do battle with Federico Delbonis or Guilherme Clezar in round 2, and it should be Ferrer vs Santiago Giraldo in the quarters. Giraldo opens with a struggling Thomaz Bellucci, and then the winner of Juan Monaco/Horacio Zeballos. All of those players out of form, except the aforementioned Colombian who made the semis in Vina Del Mar and round 2 in BA, where he lost to Ferrer. That quarterfinal would be a rematch of their BA meeting. Monaco hasn’t won a match since before the US Open last year, but he has an undefeated h2h record against Zeballos (3-0). He has a great chance to finally get a win.
Fabio Fognini finally had his 10 match clay court winning streak snapped after he lost to Ferrer in the BA final, but still his form looks red hot, even if he may be running on fumes after playing Davis Cup, Vina Del Mar, Buenos Aires and now Rio in consecutive weeks. He gets a qualifier round 1, and then Pablo Cuevas/Alejandro Gonzalez in round 2. That isn’t the toughest competition and I can still see Fognini in the quarterfinals against Nicolas Almagro, who opens with Alex Dolgopolov and then a qualifier or wild card Joao Souza.
Almagro is 2-0 on clay against Dolgo and comes off the semis in BA, while Dolgopolov is 1-2 on clay this season.
Dark Horse: Pablo Carreno Busta
I picked him as my dark horse last week for BA, and the same applies. He has to get past Robredo, but if he does, he will be a favorite against Volandri/qualifier, with the most likely quarterfinal opponent being Pablo Andujar. That one is winnable, too, giving PCB a doable path to the semis.
Nadal d. Andujar
Ferrer d. Almagro
Nadal should cruise through all comers until the final.
I think Andujar sneaks into the semis past Robredo/PCB, as he does have 1 h2h win against Robredo on clay, who may be fatigued.
Nadal is 2-0 career against Andujar and 7-0 against Robredo, including 2 wins on clay, should he advance to the semis.
Ferrer should also have a routine path to the semis, and I have Almagro beating Fognini and ending up in the semis, as Fogna should be tired. Almagro will be looking for revenge for his loss to Fogna in Vina Del Mar that went 3 sets. Ferrer just thrashed Nico in BA 4 and 2, and has never lost to him before. I don’t expect much of a match with that one, either.
Nadal d. Ferrer
Ferrer has beaten Nadal just once on clay, in 2004, and Nadal has rolled in every time since, including four wins on clay last year against his fellow top countryman. The pick has to be Rafa to win the inaugural Rio Open.
August 2013 ATP Challenger Tour Recap: Carreno-Busta Continues Winning Ways
Rio De Janeiro Challenger (August 5-August 11, 2013)
Agustin Velotti took out the up and coming Blaz Rola for this clay court title. Velotti beat Eduardo Schwank in the semis, while Rola beat Emilio Gomez, who notably beat the tournament top seed Thiemo De Bakker.
San Marino Challenger (August 5-August 11, 2013)
Wild card Marco Cecchinato shocked a lot of people when he took care of Filippo Volandri in the final to take this challenger title on clay. Cecchinato took care of seeded players Jesse Huta Galung and Jiri Vesely before beating Jan-Lennard Struff in the semis. Volandri beat Daniel Gimeno-Traver in the semis.
Cordenons Challenger (August 12-August 18, 2013)
Pablo Carreno-Busta won yet another clay court challenger title, topping Gregoire Burquier in the final after defeating Pablo Lorenzi in the semis. Burquier beat Potito Starace in the semis.
Kazan Challenger (August 12-August 18, 2013)
Sergiy Stakhovsky found his game again after a post-Wimbledon hangover and won this hard court Russian challenger over Valery Rudnev after beating Alex Kudryavtsev in the semis. Rudnev reached the final by defeating Konstantin Kravchuk.
Meerbusch Challenger (August 12-August 18, 2013)
The Maserati challenger on clay was won by Jan Hajek in straights over Jesse Huta Galung, who continues his solid showing on the challenger tour this year. Hajek beat Miloslav Mecir in the semis while Huta Galung dispatched Pere Riba.
Bangkok Challenger (August 26-September 1, 2013)
Top seed Blaz Kavcic got back in the winner’s circle taking the title on hardcourts in Bangkok easily over Suk-Young Jeong. Kavcic beat Jimmy Wang in the semis while Jeong took care of Matt Ebden.
Como Challenger (August 26-September 1, 2013)
Pablo Carreno-Busta won his second title of the month, again on clay over the young Austrian Dominic Thiem. PCB beat Marco Crugnola, while Thiem beat Lorenzo Giustino.