2014 ATP Basel, Valencia Previews & Picks
By Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast
The ATP 500 series of tournaments will conclude for the year with a pair of indoor hard court tournaments in Switzerland and Spain as the fight for ranking points, prize money and the final two World Tour Final Spots continues. Both tournaments offer very enticing entry lists and possible matchups.
Swiss Indoors Basel
ATP World Tour 500
October 20-October 26, 2014
Prize Money: € 1,458,610
Top 8 seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Roger Federer (2)
2: Rafael Nadal (3)
3: Stan Wawrinka (4)
4: Milos Raonic (9)
5: Grigor Dimitrov (11)
6: Ernests Gulbis (13)
7: David Goffin (28)
8: Ivo Karlovic (30)
Basel boasts 3 of the top 5, 4 of the top 10, and 6 of the top 20 ATP players in the field this week, it’s a stellar field for a 500 level event.
First Round matchups to watch:
Jarkko Nieminen vs. Vasek Pospisil
A former finalist in Basel, Nieminen is likely to have trouble getting out of the first round this year because his opponent is the in-form Vasek Pospisil. It’s a battle between a young power baseliner and a speedy, defensively adept, veteran shotmaker. Nemo and Vashy have never met before and neither are playing poorly at the moment. In an unseeded contest that I see going to 3 sets, Pospisil should survive.
(3)Stan Wawrinka vs. Mikhail Kukushkin
Stan the Man is a home favorite and one of the stars headlining Basel, but he will need to be on upset alert against the in-form Kukushkin. Kuku reached the semifinals in Moscow and pushed top 10 player Marin Cilic to 3 sets. He also has wins over solid ATP competitors Tommy Robredo, Kevin Anderson, Fabio Fognini and Mikhail Youzhny in recent weeks, and he pushed Novak Djokovic to 3 sets in Shanghai. He may be a bit fatigued, but Wawrinka is entering Basel on a 3 match losing streak. I doubt motivation will be an issue for him as a home player, but if Kuku can provide some pressure against Stan here, he may well fold up shop early.
(7)David Goffin vs. Dominic Thiem
Goffin has already beaten Thiem three times this season on three different surfaces, and he is currently on a 10 match winning streak. Thiem, by contrast, has lost 4 of his last 5 matches, including most recently in the first round of Vienna. That said, Thiem is still a rising young gun with a lot of talent and two of the three previous head-to-head meetings went to a decisive third set. Goffin is a player on a tear right now, and should win this contest against a competitive opponent.
(6)Ernests Gulbis vs. Borna Coric
Another seed who should be on upset alert: Gulbis made the semis in Moscow, but his shoulder injury continues to be suspect, and it will be a quick turnaround physically for him in Basel. Coric is a driven, hungry, young player who is looking for marquee wins to make a name for himself, and taking out a top player like Gulbis would be huge for his confidence. The teenager is on a two match losing streak and he hasn’t exactly been winning a lot of matches against top competition, but with Gulbis being in suspect physical condition, anything is possible.
(2)Rafael Nadal vs. (Q)Simone Bolelli
It befuddles me why Rafa is still playing right now. He needs appendix surgery and has opted to put it off until the end of the year. Perhaps he really wants the appearance fee he will make for playing Basel. All that said, he is clearly in precarious physical condition, and he lost to Feliciano Lopez in Shanghai, his last match. Feli is an opponent he has dominated before, and I believe if Bolelli can put up any sort of competitive resistance, Nadal may be weakened enough for him to win this. Nadal has a 3-0 lead in the h2h, but Bolelli did grab a set off the Spaniard indoors in Rotterdam, and though it’s an iffy pick I have Bolelli winning this one, having come through the qualifying rounds with a pair of wins. Bolelli is a feisty enough player to not be intimidated by Nadal, and he has talent, so it seems like a reasonable pick.
Roger Federer begins his quest for a sixth title in Basel against Gilles Muller, who will likely give him a test but I do not see much upset potential there given how well Federer played in Shanghai, and the fact he leads the h2h 4-0. Denis Istomin or Jerzy Janowicz awaits the world number 2 in the second round. Both can be dangerous at times, but Fed is 5-0 against Istomin and has a h2h win over Janowicz on clay, so again he should advance into the quarterfinals.
Look for another Federer vs. Grigor Dimitrov match in Basel, this time in the quarterfinals. The Stockholm finalist opens with the young gun Alex Zverev, who is not as skilled indoors as he is on clay, and then will get the Pospisil/Nieminen winner. Vashy or Nemo could test a possibly fatigued Dimitrov, but I’m going to stick with the favorite through to the quarters. After that, it’s Federer over Baby Fed given it’s Basel, and Dimitrov would have put in a lot of matches in consecutive weeks by that point.
The Wawrinka/Kukushkin winner is likely to face Benjamin Becker in round 2, assuming the veteran German defeats qualifier Gastao Elias. Becker comes off quarters in Vienna and like Kukushkin, he is playing well. I see Becker beating Wawrinka if he emerges from that round 1 match with Kukushkin, and a Becker-Kuku match is a toss-up for me, giving a very slight edge to Becker, who I have making another quarterfinal this week. He made the quarters in Kuala Lumpur and the semis in Tokyo this Fall as well.
A weak quarter of the draw exists below the Wawrinka section, headlined by 8 seed Ivo Karlovic, who opens with a struggling Lukas Rosol. Karlovic comes off quarters in Vienna, while Rosol has lost four of his last five matches. Karlovic should be favored to reach the quarters, because his round 2 opponent will be either Federico Delbonis or Kenny De Schepper, a qualifier. De Schepper is in many ways a poor man’s Karlovic, relying almost exclusively on his powerful serve, but less effectively, and Delbonis was just defeated by Karlovic in Vienna. The Argentine clay courter has not proven himself to be a viable competitor indoors. Becker/Kukushkin should topple Karlovic to reach the semifinals, though Ivo has a 6-1 h2h edge over Becker. Becker beat him this year in Cincy, and I feel form favors him to advance.
The Nadal/Bolelli winner will face qualifier Pierre-Hugues Herbert or Edouard Roger-Vasselin. ERV is saddled with a five match losing streak at the moment and he’s been poorly for a while. Herbert, on the other hand, has done very well in the fall indoor events in Europe even while having to play the qualifying rounds. He qualified here in Basel and in Stockholm, where he won a match. If Bolelli gets through, I’d put Herbert into the quarterfinals by virtue of the fact he’s at his best indoors and mainly has struggled to live up to his potential throughout his career thus far.
If Nadal is notably weakened and loses early, this section will open up for the Coric/Gulbis winner, given Teymuraz Gabashvili, and Andrey Golubev, their possible round 2 opponents, are far from imposing. I have Gulbis into the quarterfinals, and then defeating Herbert just given the ranking discrepancy, but this is an incredibly hard section to predict and I could see it breaking a multitude of ways. Coric, Bolelli and of course Nadal could all make cases for why they should be the semifinalist in this section of the draw. It’s a shaky toss-up section and quarter based upon the health of Gulbis and Nadal, and the form of Herbert, Coric and Bolelli.
Goffin/Thiem will be in the drivers seat in the section above Gulbis. The winner of that match is likely to face Ivan Dodig, assuming he dispatches Marco Chiudinelli, and either Goffin or Thiem should be favored to reach the quarterfinals over the inconsistent Dodig, who can play really well at times, but then quite poorly in his next match. Look for Goffin to reach the quarterfinals here and continue his winning streak.
Milos Raonic lost his first match in Moscow, but he was likely still recovering from being ill, and he ought to be in good enough condition to beat Steve Johnson and Carlos Berlocq/Donald Young to reach the quarters. Johnson has a dark horse chance at being a quarterfinalist if Raonic is not up to par, but Raonic has a h2h edge. Given how well Goffin has played since Wimbledon, I have him in the semis over Raonic. Raonic is one of the four players left competing for the final two World Tour Final Spots. He’s on the outside looking in, though and he is the only one of the four (Berdych, Murray, and Ferrer) who is playing Basel this week, losing early in Moscow while Murray, Berdych and Ferrer all gained ground with a pair of titles and a final respectively, really hurting the Canadian’s chances.
Dark Horse: Benjamin Becker
It is quite possible that two non-seeds will reach the semifinals, and Becker is my pick to be one of them. The German has been consistent this fall and he plays well indoors on quicker surfaces. His late career resurgence should set him on a path to the semifinals to face Federer, who he is very unlikely to defeat.
Federer d. Becker
Goffin d. Gulbis
Fed and Goffin have to be favorites this week, unless Nadal, Dimitrov, Raonic or others like Becker, Pospisil or Kukushkin can exceed expectations and rise to the occasion. Both have been two of the most consistent performers this fall and they would be well-deserved to make the final.
Federer d. Goffin
It’s hard to pick against Federer in Basel. Goffin might be playing out his socks right now but Fed is a whole different level and he is also playing well right now.
Chris De Waard’s picks
Federer d. Kukushkin
Nadal d. Goffin
Nadal d. Federer
Valencia Open 500
ATP World Tour 500
October 20-October 26, 2014
Prize Money: € 1,496,095
Top 8 seeds (ATP Ranking in parentheses)
1: David Ferrer (5)
2: Tomas Berdych (7)
3: Andy Murray (10)
4: Feliciano Lopez (14)
5: John Isner (15)
6: Roberto Bautista Agut (16)
7: Kevin Anderson (17)
8: Gilles Simon (18)
Valencia has three of the current top 10, and all of the tournament seeds are top 20 players. This tournament is not as star-studded as Basel, but it is more balanced and competitive.
First Round matchups to watch:
Mikhail Youzhny vs. (Q)Thomas Bellucci
The defending champion, who also has another final in Valencia on his resume, is in danger of failing to advance out of the first round against an in-form Bellucci. Normally known for his prowess on clay, the veteran Brazilian has surprisingly found some late season form indoors and he has now won four of his last five matches, including a quality three set win over Feliciano Lopez in Vienna, where he made the quarterfinals. Youzhny was likewise a quarterfinalist in Moscow but he has had few impressive wins this season and didn’t have a difficult path to the quarters. Youzhny is 2-0 against Bellucci on hard courts in his career, but I’m going to go out on a limb and pick Bellucci to get an upset win over the seemingly fading Russian in a battle of the veterans.
(6)Roberto Bautista Agut vs. Santiago Giraldo
RBA, a finalist in Moscow, should be a heavy favorite over Giraldo, who has lost three straight matches. That said, both players are gifted shotmakers with strong forehands, and they tend to play well in a streaky manner. Both have had career years in many respects and I expect this to be an entertaining and underrated encounter, even if RBA gets through comfortably.
(8)Gilles Simon vs. Alex Dolgopolov
Simon is 8-3 since the US Open, and he of course made the Masters final in Shanghai, where he lost to Federer in a pair of tiebreaks. After struggling all season, the Frenchman has suddenly found a run of excellent play. Dolgo, by contrast, had a hot start to his season but since injuring his knee he has lost 3 straight matches to equal or inferior opponents in terms of talent and ranking, most recently to Adrian Mannarino in Stockholm. This has the potential to be a fantastic match because both guys bring a lot to the table, and the defensive grinding of Simon contrasts with the quick aggressive play of Dolgopolov. Dolgo leads the h2h, all on hard courts, 2-1, but Simon is playing much better right now and should advance, evening up the h2h in the process.
Hometown hero David Ferrer, who has won his local ATP tournament 3 times previously, opens with the veteran Italian Andreas Seppi in round 1. Ferrer played well and reached the final in Vienna last week, keeping up with his fellow competitors for one of the final two World Tour Finals spots. Assuming Ferrer doesn’t suffer another shockingly underwhelming result, he should get into round 2 to face his countryman Fernando Verdasco, who will take on Leo Mayer in round 1. Verdasco made the quarters in Stockholm and the two Spaniards have had contrasting careers of over and underachievement in many respects. Ferrer is 4-1 on hard court in his career against Verdasco and with the World Tour Finals and hometown pride at stake, he should reach the quarterfinals with RBA/Giraldo or Youzhny/Bellucci awaiting him. Assuming RBA is not overly fatigued, he is most likely to reach the quarters. Ferrer is 2-0 career against RBA, and I’d give him a very slight edge to reach the semis, though RBA has a case as well and it’s not cut and dried.
Shenzen and Vienna champ Andy Murray will open with a slumping Jurgen Melzer. Melzer is still capable of good tennis, but I don’t see him troubling Murray currently, given how well the Scot is playing this fall. Murray should also crush Albert Ramos or a tanking Fabio Fognini without any trouble as he pursues one of the final two World Tour Final spots available. The former Valencia champ could find himself in the quarters against Philipp Kohlschreiber, a semifinalist in Vienna. Kohli opens with a struggling Kevin Anderson, who appears ready for the season to be over, and then should face Martin Klizan in round 2, assuming Klizan defeats young American wild card Stefan Kozlov. Klizan pulled out of Vienna, but he was, of course, a semifinalist In Beijing, where he beat Nadal and Gulbis, and he could make a streaky run in Valencia as well. I’ll go out on a limb with my own bracket and put Klizan into the quarters over Kohlschreiber, but falling to Murray at that stage.
Stockholm champ Tomas Berdych, who has been playing very well this fall, should roll past Pablo Andujar and Joao Sousa/Dusan Lajovic before colliding with John Isner/Tommy Robredo in the quarters. Robredo made the quarters in Moscow, but Isner is 3-0 career against him, including 2-0 on hard courts, so he should be favored to win that round 1 battle. Isner/Robredo will face Guillermo Garcia-Lopez or Rendy Lu in round 2, both streaky players who are unlikely to put up much resistance. Berdych has won his last four meetings against Isner, including most recently in the Beijing quarterfinals. The Czech tends to do everything the American does as a strength, only better, and with more variety to his game. Look for Berdych to make another semifinal or better this week.
Feliciano Lopez was upset in Vienna, but he should get past round 1 on home soil against qualifier Norbert Gombos, and I’d also favor him over one of his countryman in round 2. Pablo Carreno Busta or Marcel Granollers. That said, Gilles Simon should be able to roll to the semifinals if he can defeat Dolgopolov, Jeremy Chardy or qualifier Malek Jaziri, who might put up some resistance, but Simon should be in the right form right now to get himself to the semis.
Dark Horse: Martin Klizan
Klizan seems to the non-seeded player who is in the right kind of form to make noise while having a good spot in the draw. If the Slovak can get past Kohli/Anderson in round 2, he would almost assuredly face Murray, who appears to be a very tough out right now, but he’s still more beatable than he’s been on previous occasions. I don’t see Klizan getting past the quarters, but the possibly is there if something goes wrong with Murray.
Murray d. Ferrer
Simon d. Berdych
Murray just beat Ferrer in Vienna. It was a close match, but still the result is likely to be the same a week later. Simon likewise just defeated Berdych recently in Shanghai and he’s 2-1 on indoor hard against the Czech in what has been a pretty even h2h history. Simon should be fresher than Berdych and that is why I give him the edge.
Murray d. Simon
Murray won a great 3 setter with Simon in Acapulco this year when both players were struggling to find their form. He’s totally dominated the h2h with the Frenchman, including a 7-0 record on hard courts because he’s a superior counterpuncher and returner compared to Simon, and has more weapons than the Frenchman when it gets down to it. Murray wants to play in front of the home crowd in London at the World Tour Finals and a title in Valencia would go a long way towards clinching him a spot.
Chris De Waard’s picks
Murray d. Ferrer
Simon d. Berdych
Murray d. Simon