Jack Sock continued his hot streak since returning to the ATP tour, and won his maiden ATP title in a rain delayed final over Sam Querrey 7-6 7-6. The match began with a sloppy first set that got delayed midway through after a pair of breaks, one for each player. Upon the resumption of the match, Sock and Querrey battled to a tiebreak, and though Querrey was 5-3 up at one point and had three set point chances in the breaker, Sock would be the one to take it 11-9 on his second set point chance.
In set 2 Sock saved a break point in the opening game, and broke back Querrey 3-4 down later on. Sock would have a match point at 5-6 in the second set on Querrey’s serve, but couldn’t convert. However once they got to the tiebreak, Sock was the superior mover, and shotmaker and came up with some quality shots to comfortably take it 7-2. As to be expected, Sock was mentally tougher than Querrey when it mattered, though he posted 11 double faults (Querrey had 6) and generally it was a close match.
On the week, Sock was simply on fire, he got past Joao Souza in 3 sets in the opening round, then beat Roberto Bautista Agut, and Santiago Giraldo, both solid clay court players in straight sets. In the semis he got past Kevin Anderson with a tiebreak and a break of serve. The young American is rising and is playing like a top 20 player right now. This was also his maiden ATP final.
Querrey posted his best result of the season and reached his first ATP final in three seasons with a retirement win over Marinko Matosevic, a 3 set win over Steve Johnson, and then an upset of Feliciano Lopez in straight sets. In the semis he shocked Fernando Verdasco, a favorite to take the title, in 3 sets. As often happens in Houston, the har-tru surface played differently than red clay, and thus produced some surprising results.
Ricardas Berankis and Teymuraz Gabashvili, an alternate pairing, pulled off some huge upsets to win the doubles title over Treat Huey and Scott Lipsky. They beat the Bryan brothers and also Lindstedt/Melzer in earlier rounds.
The 2015 Grand Prix Hassan II, as to be expected given its weak field, produced some surprising results, and that culminated with Martin Klizan winning his third career ATP title over maiden finalist Daniel Gimeno-Traver, a journeyman veteran. Klizan improved to 3-0 in ATP finals with a 6-2 6-2 drubbing of DGT, the 29 year old simply couldn’t handle the powerful game of Klizan, and he didn’t help his own cause by failing to convert all 7 break point chances he had during the match.
Klizan, the 2 seed, had to survive Dustin Brown in a third set tiebreak in his first match, but improved as the week went on, defeating Nicolas Almagro in an upset in the next round in 2 sets, and then Damir Dzumhur in 3 sets, as he clawed back from a set down. Though he fell in the semis, it’s still perhaps the best result of Dzumhur’s career.
DGT beat Malek Jaziri, and then Mikhail Kukushkin, Lamine Ouahab, and 3 seed Jiri Vesely, the latter in a close 3 set battle, as Vesely was aiming to make his second ATP final of the season but came up just short. Ouahab is also a remarkable story, the out of shape veteran, and former world class junior player, upset both Robin Haase and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (who was the top seed and defending champion), in straight sets, as his wacky, drop shot centric style of play flummoxed his opponents. Ouahab was a clear fan favorite with local fans, the Algerian turned Moroccan is 22-1 on home soil this year, with all of those matches coming on clay.
Rameez Junaid and Adil Shamasdin beat top seeds Rohan Bopanna and Florin Mergea in the doubles final. It’s their first career doubles title together, and overall the second for Shamasdin and the first for Junaid.
ATP Houston Thursday, Sock upsets a struggling Bautista Agut, Giraldo outlasts Tipsarevic Jeff McMillan, Tennis Atlantic
Photo Credit: Jeff McMillan
Another warm day in Houston at the US Men’s Clay Court Championships began with an intriguing matchup between Jack Sock and the #2 seed Roberto Bautista-Agut. Sock had won the previous meeting between these two players just a few weeks ago in Indian Wells and he was looking to make it two straight vs the top 15 player but this time it would have to be on the Spaniard’s favorite surface.
His quest to do just that began positively with a break in the 3rd game of the match to go up 2-1. Sock kept his advantage all through the 1st set despite Bautista-Agut’s chances. The Spaniard was able to get into Sock’s service games, often getting to 0-30, 15-30, deuce and even had a few break points here and there but was unable to ever even the match. RBA seemed to be a tad timid on his footwork and was arriving to balls late, causing them to go into the net or go long. Killing his usual strength of consistency. Sock on the other hand was hitting his forehand hard and reliably which contributed to RBA’s lateness of getting to the shots. Sock served out the first set in style with some big serves and a rocket forehand winner to take it 6-4.
At the start of the 2nd set Sock hit a rough patch. He double faulted a couple times (9 times in total in the match, he would later say that the wind was an issue all match long) and had a very easy putaway forehand go into the net. Despite these hiccups he did not concede serve and that ended up being the key to the match, holding despite not serving or playing his very best at the beginning of the 2nd set. At 2-2 in the 2nd set there was a slight controversy with a ball mark and Bautista-Agut said something across the net to Sock and Sock said something back. Right after that Sock served two huge service winners and let out a loud bellow of “Yeah! Come on!” after each serve right at the direction of Bautista-Agut. This seemed to amp up Sock even more as he quickly got to 3 break points in the very next game on RBA’s serve. He did not convert on any of the 3 but at deuce RBA made a lazy backhand error and threw in a double fault on the 4th break point to give Sock a break, which he would not relinquish.
Determined to punch his way to the quarterfinals. Sock held serve the rest of the match with very little drama until 30-30 5-4 with Sock serving for the match. On that crucial point Sock hit a risky forehand chip and charged the net, the chip barely clipped the line on the sideline and he was able to finish the point off at the net. One more millimeter to the left and Sock would have faced a break point right there, but instead he had a match point, which he converted with a good kick serve. The young American will now go on the quarterfinals where he will face Santiago Giraldo who defeated Janko Tipsarevic.
Speaking of Giraldo vs Tipsarevic, that was the next match on center court. This was a highly anticipated match as everyone was very curious to see how Tipsarevic would fare vs. a top 40 player in Giraldo after his long layoff and how well he would respond after his long match on Tuesday. He answered the early questions very positively looking like he hadn’t missed a beat, playing aggressively and hitting the ball heavily. He broke early and took a 4-2 lead in the set. Giraldo would not back down however, He unleashed two consecutive rocket backhands in the next game, using his trademark easy power to set up a couple of break points of his own. Giraldo converted on the break and evened the set. From this point on in the set it was a very good back and forth battle with both players trading blows until the tiebreak. In the tiebreak a key point was at 2-1 with Giraldo up, a slice took a terrible bounce and Tipsarevic could not hit it back and Giraldo took the 3-1 mini-break lead. From this point on Giraldo played great and did not let Tipsarevic back into the tiebreak and took it 7-2 to the delight of a small section of Colombian tennis fans who screamed out “Santi!!” after every one of his positive points.
Giraldo rallied past Tipsarevic (photo credit: Jeff McMillan)
Early in the 2nd set Giraldo showed visible signs of frustration despite his lead. He sensed an opportunity to put Tipsarevic away early but until that point was not able to completely put the nail in the coffin. Tipsarevic’s level dropped considerably in the 2nd set, whether it was stamina related or not (after the match he would discuss his focus waning in the 2nd set). A weak forehand error into the net followed by a double fault gave Giraldo a break, one that he would not relinquish. Giraldo continued to connect sweetly on the backhand side, sending his laser shots to each corner of the court and Tipsarevic was unable to keep up and unable to make an impact of his own on Giraldo. The match came to its conclusion with a 7-6(2) 6-3 win for Santiago Giraldo. After the match I was able to catch up with Janko Tipsarevic.
Tipsarevic performed well in his comeback tournament (photo credit: Jeff McMillan)
In the first match of the evening session Fernando Verdasco defeated Hyeon Chung 7-6(5) 6-2. This match was my personal favorite of the day. It pitted a 31-year-old veteran vs. an 18 year old up and comer.
Chung and Verdasco thrilled fans with their match (photo credit: Jeff McMillan)
Chung’s game was impressive in person. His anticipation instincts are very apparent when you first watch him. Several times in the match he read Verdasco’s intentions perfectly and thwarted the Spaniard’s attempts at being wily. In the first set Verdasco appeared to have the game plan to make Chung play as he hit several balls back with little pace simply content to keep the rally going, seemingly testing the 18 year old’s ability. Chung was up for the challenge as he bossed several of the rallies, hitting winners down the line from both wings and keeping Verdasco scrambling. Verdasco did win his fair share of long rallies as well to counter Chung but it was very impressive that Chung was able hold his game and be so evenly matched with the Houston defending champion for so long. Chung also showed signs that he truly believed he could win. However late in the first set Verdasco changed tactics slightly, going for more on his shots and using his big forehand. He also started to bomb serves more often, two serves at 137 mph and one at 138 mph. Verdasco won the long titanic first set battle 7-6(5), one of the most enjoyable sets of tennis I have seen in person.
In the 2nd set Verdasco used his new tactics effectively, being more aggressive and keeping Chung more off balance. The Korean’s game dropped slightly as well which allowed Nando to dictate play more and more as the 2nd set went on. One tactic he was able to use effectively was drawing Chung out wide to his backhand side with the crosscourt lefty forehand, Chung had shaky footwork to that side and slipped often, almost guaranteeing the point for Verdasco each time he used that tactic. Verdasco cruised to a 6-2 2nd set which was a mild letdown after the high quality of the first set, but regardless the young Korean can be very proud of his efforts in Houston.
In the nightcap John Isner was stunned by Teymuraz Gabashvilli 6-2 7-6(2) in a result that almost nobody saw coming. This capped what was an amazing day for Gabashvilli as earlier in the day he paired with Berankis in doubles to stun the Bryan brothers. That opens up the draw significantly and it makes the rest of the tournament very very interesting. Huey/Lipsky beat Brunstrom/Young in the other doubles match on the day.
The Bryans were shocked in doubles (photo credit: Jeff McMillan)
ATP Houston Wednesday: Anderson serves up a win over Delbonis, Querrey wins battle of the Yanks with Johnson Jeff McMillan, Tennis Atlantic
Photo Credit: Jeff McMillan
Today began my coverage of the 2015 US Men’s Clay Court Championships ATP 250 event in Houston, TX. The event is held at the pristine River Oaks Country Club right near the heart of the 4th most populous city in the United States. The canopy and hedging provide a nice relaxing atmosphere for the Har-Tru clay center court.
I arrived just in time to see Jeremy Chardy finish off Go Soeda 6-3 6-3. Chardy looked to be in complete control, really dictating each point with his forehand. He was not missing and was dragging Soeda all over the place. Chardy had a minor blip while serving for the match at 6-3 5-2 as he was broken after a few errors caused by a last gasp effort by Soeda. But the Frenchman did not allow that to derail his plans of winning in routine fashion as he promptly broke Soeda right back to clinch a date in the quarterfinals. After the match Chardy was asked by the on-court reporter what it was like to be ranked inside the top 40 in the world but only the 6th best player in your own country. Chardy remarked that “I am never able to play Davis Cup” with a slight laugh to indicate the difficulty of being a standout when one is a French tennis player.
Chardy advanced (photo credit: Jeff McMillan)
The next match on Center Court was Kevin Anderson vs Federico Delbonis. This was an interesting matchup and effectively a 50/50 match. Anderson being the much higher ranked player but Delbonis having more clout on clay.
The first set began in a shaky manner. Each player donated a break to the other very early in the set. Anderson looked off balance for much of the first few games, constantly hitting shots flat-footed, which caused several rather routine errors. Delbonis donated many of his own errors, which did not allow him to take advantage of Anderson’s sow start. At 3-4 in the first set with Anderson serving things got interesting. Down 15-30 in his service game, Anderson reared back and cranked his biggest serve of the match to that point at 140 mph. That immediately shifted some momentum to the side of the South African as he played a few strong points after that to even the set at 4-4. Delbonis felt the momentum going against him and tightened up a bit, making a few errors to give Anderson a break and a 5-4 lead. After a shaky start Anderson appeared to have righted the ship, as one would expect a top 20 player to do and looked poised to serve out the first set. However that assumption would turn out to be very wrong. Anderson played by far his weakest game of the match. He made three unforced errors and threw in a double fault for good measure to give away his chance to take the 1st set. Delbonis then held easily to go up 6-5. Anderson punched back yet again by serving four unreturned bombs to send the 1st set to a tiebreak, with momentum being effectively even.
In the tiebreak Delbonis would take his game up a notch. He found his forehand and painted the lines on a few occasions. Anderson double faulted once and started making backhand errors. Delbonis hit two great forehand winners from 5-4 up to tae the tiebreak 7-4.
Early in the 2nd set Anderson looked rigid and continued his double fault woes. However he managed to hold to start the set and that seemed to relax him as he then started playing some very solid points, dictating play from all around the court and was rewarded with an early break to go up in the set. Delbonis’s level was clearly dropping and he began to checkout of rallies, often dumping a backhand into the net on a seemingly routine balls. Anderson capped off the set with a break at love to give him his first 6-0 set win since 2011 (thanks to Jared Pine for this stat) ad to a 3rd set we would go.
Delbonis came out of the gates firing in the 3rd set, quickly taking a 30-0 lead on Anderson’s serve, knowing that a break would be massive for him to start the decisive set. However; missed service returns doomed him in his attempt to break. Anderson would go on to break Delbonis at love to go up 3-1 and it looked like it was the South African’s match to take. Anderson was sensing blood in the water and dropped two 141 mph serves in his service game as he attempted to consolidate the break. However; the big serves would not be of any consequence as Delbonis somehow found his backhand and hit a laser beam winner past Anderson to set up a break point which he would convert on his first attempt. The players would exchange service holds to make it 4-3 to Kevin Anderson. Delbonis would go up 30-0 in his service game but that’s when the wheels would fall off. Two consecutive double faults and a bad forehand error gave Anderson a break point, which Delbonis saved but could not save the game on Anderson’s 3rd break point. Serving at 5-3 up Anderson closed out the match in definitive fashion determined to not allow Delbonis yet another breath of life. Game set match Kevin Anderson 6-7(4) 6-0 6-3.
After the match I caught up with Delbonis for a brief interview. . He appears to be taking it easy this clay season, just hoping to get his game back on track and hopefully build for the future in this rebuilding phase of his career.
Anderson goes on to the quarterfinals where he will face off with Chardy.
The 3rd match of the day featured two well-known Americans, Sam Querrey vs. Steve Johnson. Querrey came out very solid, sticking to his game and being consistent with his shots. Johnson however came out very rocky, missing a lot of backhands and his usually reliable forehand was missing more often than not. Visibly frustrated, Johnson went for big shots late in the 1st set, apparently biding his time for the 2nd set. In the 2nd set Johnson fought through his struggles and began to play better. The players each held serve with relative ease until Johnson broke Querrey to go up 5-3. Serving for the set, Johnson cracked, reverting back to 1st set form he made errors and an unlucky net cord sealed the break for Querrey. In a surprise twist of fate Johnson dug deep and stole a break from Querrey to sneak out the set 6-4 against the tide of momentum.
The 3rd set would be an even more lopsided version of the first set. Johnson managed to win just 6 points in the entire set, the plot completely lost while Querrey just stayed the course. In this particular match Querrey appeared to be more poised and steady and in the end he was rewarded with his first career ATP win over Johnson (had been 0-4 in total sets previously) 6-1 4-6 6-0.
Talking to other media after the match Querrey said he is improving his play this year and is starting to “play good 2 out of every 3 weeks instead of only 1 out of every 3 weeks”. The next few days will show just how good this week will be for Querrey as he will face Feliciano Lopez in the quarterfinals who is coming off of a routine 6-3 6-3 dusting of Sam Groth.
The double scores were Brunstrom/Young over Devvarman/Singh 6-3 6-1, Lindstedt/Melzer over Daniell/Giraldo 6-4 6-1, Frystenberg/Gonzalez over Estrella/Souza 6-3 6-1, and the Bryan brothers over Tipsarevic/Petzschner in a thriller 5-7 6-2 13-11.
Check back tomorrow through twitter @tennisatlantic for more live updates, pictures, videos and even more interviews as the other 2nd round matches get underway!
Tennis Atlantic 2015 ATP Draw Challenge Week 12 (Houston and Casablanca) Staff, Tennis Atlantic
The clay season kicks off in earnest with a pair of 250 events in North Africa and the USA, as our analysts make their picks.
2015 US Men’s Clay Court Championships Picks
Steen Kirby’s Picks
Round 2 Matches: Lopez vs. Estrella, Young vs. Querrey, Isner vs. Smyczek, Arguello vs. Verdasco, Lajovic vs, Hewitt, Delbonis vs. Anderson, Giraldo vs. Tipsarevic, Sock vs. Bautista Agut Quarterfinals: Lopez vs. Young, Isner vs. Verdasco, Lajovic vs. Delbonis, Giraldo vs. Souza Semifinals: Lopez vs. Isner, Delbonis vs. Giraldo Final: Isner vs. Delbonis Champion: Isner
Chris de Waard’s Picks
Round 2 Matches: Lopez vs. Estrella, Young vs. Querrey, Isner vs. Smyczek, Chung vs. Verdasco, Chardy vs, Hewitt, Delbonis vs. Anderson, Giraldo vs. Tipsarevic, Sock vs. Bautista Agut Quarterfinals: Estrella vs. Young, Isner vs. Verdasco, Chardy vs Anderson, Giraldo vs. Sock Semifinals: Young vs. Verdasco, Anderson vs. Sock Final: Verdasco vs. Anderson Champion: Verdasco
Jeff McMillan’s Picks
Round 2 Matches: Lopez vs. Estrella, Johnson vs. Querrey, Isner vs. Gabashvili, Chung vs. Verdasco, Chardy vs, Soeda, Delbonis vs. Anderson, Giraldo vs. Qualifier, Sock vs. Bautista Agut Quarterfinals: Lopez vs. Johnson, Isner vs. Verdasco, Chardy vs Delbonis, Giraldo vs. Bautista Agut Semifinals: Johnson vs. Verdasco, Delbonis vs. Bautista Agut Final: Verdasco vs. Bautista Agut Champion: Verdasco
Fernando Verdasco is perhaps the favorite in Houston, but watch out for the big servers either Isner or Anderson.
Round 2 Matches: Garcia-Lopez vs. Haase, Gimeno-Traver vs. Ramos, Vesely vs. Youzhny, Bedene vs. Schwartzman, Haider-Maurer vs. Andujar, Mathieu vs. Granollers, Berlocq vs. Almagro, Kuznetsov vs. Klizan Quarterfinals: Garcia-Lopez vs. Ramos, Vesely vs. Schwartzman, Haider-Maurer vs. Granollers, Almagro vs. Klizan Semifinals: Ramos vs. Schwartzman, Haider-Maurer vs. Almagro Final: Almagro vs Ramos Champion: Almagro
Joe Craven’s Picks
Round 2 Matches: Garcia-Lopez vs. Haase, Gimeno-Traver vs. Kukushkin, Vesely vs. Youzhny, Gonzalez vs. Schwartzman, Haider-Maurer vs Kamke, Dzumhur vs. Granollers, Berlocq vs. Almagro, Brown vs. Klizan Quarterfinals: Garcia-Lopez vs. Kukushkin, Vesely vs. Schwartzman, Kamke vs. Granollers, Almagro vs. Klizan Semifinals: Garcia-Lopez vs. Schwartzman, Granollers vs. Almagro Final: Garcia-Lopez vs. Almagro Champion: Almagro
Chris de Waard’s Picks
Round 2 Matches: Garcia-Lopez vs. Ouahab, Gimeno-Traver vs. Ramos, Vesely vs. Youzhny, Gonzalez vs. Schwartzman, Haider-Maurer vs. Andujar, Dzumhur vs. Granollers, Carreno Busta vs. Almagro, Brown vs. Klizan Quarterfinals: Garcia-Lopez vs. Ramos, Youzhny vs. Schwartzman, Haider-Maurer vs. Dzumhur, Almagro vs. Klizan Semifinals: Ramos vs. Schwartzman, Haider-Maurer vs. Almagro Final: Ramos vs. Almagro Champion: Almagro
Jeff McMillan’s Picks
Round 2 Matches: Garcia-Lopez vs. Ouahab, Gimeno-Traver vs. Ramos, Vesely vs. Youzhny, Gonzalez vs. Schwartzman, Haider-Maurer vs. Kamke, Dzumhur vs. Granollers, Berlocq vs. Almagro, Brown vs. Klizan Quarterfinals: Garcia-Lopez vs. Ramos, Vesely vs. Schwartzman, Haider-Maurer vs. Granollers, Almagro vs. Klizan Semifinals: Garcia-Lopez vs. Schwartzman, Granollers vs. Klizan Final: Garcia-Lopez vs. Klizan Champion: Garcia-Lopez
Nicolas Almagro is the favorite in Casablanca this week.
2015 ATP Houston and Casablanca Preview/Prediction Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
After a pair of Masters level events, the ATP will return to regularly scheduled programming with a pair of 250s, as the clay court season kicks off with the event in Houston, where we will have onsite midweek coverage from our staff writer Jeff McMillan, and in Casablanca, the lone stop for the ATP World Tour on the African continent.
2015 ATP Houston Preview
Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship
ATP World Tour 250
Houston, TX, USA
April 6-April 12, 2015
Prize Money: $488,225
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Feliciano Lopez (12)
2: Roberto Bautista Agut (15)
3: Kevin Anderson (16)
4: John Isner (19)
Houston has four top 20 players, and the seed cutoff is the top 45, making it a solid 250 level event, as many players are delaying traveling across the pond and opting to stay in the states for an extra week.
First round matchups to watch:
Steve Johnson vs. Donald Young
Many consider this match to be a battle for the second slot on the US Davis Cup team, as Johnson has steadily been on the rise, and for that matter Young has had a good season himself. Their h2h is split 1-1, but they have never met on clay before. Young earned 3 wins in the two hard court masters events, and only lost to top 5 players Nadal and Murray, while Johnson won two matches in Indian Wells, but was ousted by Mikhail Kukushkin in Miami. On clay, this match is very much a toss-up, and I give the slightest edge to Young, though I would give Stevie J the edge on a hard court right now, Young has played relatively well all season against all but the top tier of players, while Johnson has been a bit more up and down.
Joao Souza vs. Jack Sock
In-form American Jack Sock will have an interesting test with Brazilian dirtballer Joao Souza. He’s higher ranked, and has greater raw talent than Souza, but as with almost every American male tennis player, he’s far more comfortable and better on hard courts and fast surfaces, compared to clay, a surface he only plays minimally on. Since turning pro, Sock is 7-5 on clay on the main tour level, which of course most notably points out he’s only played 12 ATP matches on clay in the past two seasons, for contrast, Souza has already played 8 matches on clay at the ATP level just this year, and if you include the challenger tour his total is 12.
In 2013 he went 35-24 on clay between ATP and challengers, and in 2014 he went 45-24 as the world number 70 is much more comfortable moving on the dirt. Sock is 5-2 since returning from hip surgery as he played quite well in the Masters events but his loss to Dominic Thiem in Miami exposed problems with his game, and given Souza already has an ATP semi and a quarterfinal on clay, I have him pulling off an upset ranking wise.
Feliciano Lopez reached a clay final earlier this year in Quito, but for a Spaniard, he’s never come close to being a clay court master like some of his peers. That said, Feli has cemented himself as a top 15 player these days and his game is overall dangerous with his slice serve and ability to cause his opponents trouble at the net. Lopez was upset in his opening match in Miami, but he didn’t play poorly in that one per say, and he also reached the quarterfinals in Indian Wells. Right off the bat, Lopez is likely to get a rematch of his opponent in the Quito final, Victor Estrella. The speedy Dominican will need to defeat big server Sam Groth, who is playing on his worst surface, in the opening round. The veteran Estrella is an inspiring story, and he outlasted Lopez in 3 sets in that Quito final, but he’s currently riding a three match losing streak, and all of his losses came to players ranked outside the top 40, thus I have Lopez through to the quarters in a match that should be easier than in Quito where history was on the line for Estrella.
Sam Querrey, who has reached a final here before, opens with Marinko Matosevic, a relatively poor clay court player. Matosevic has been awful all year (3-9 with four straight losses), so Querrey, who has continued to struggle with his mental toughness this season, should be safe for round 2 where Young/Johnson will present a challenge. I have the winner of Young/Johnson getting into the quarters from that match, so thus in my own bracket it’s Donald Young to face Lopez in the quarters. Young actually upset Lopez at the French last year (overall the h2h is 3-2 Young), but Feli seems to be the safer pick regardless to reach the semis.
4 seed John Isner comes off playing one of the best tournaments of his life in Miami, very much out of the blue, and the former champion is likely to be a threat in the lone star state. Since Davis Cup play, Isner is 6-2 with his only losses coming to the world number 1 Djokovic, and in Miami he beat top 15 players Dimitrov, Raonic and Nishkori in consecutive matches to reach the semis, a remarkable streak of wins. Isner played one of the best ATP matches of his career against Nishikori, and it seemed the disaster that was Davis Cup lit a fire under him and recommitted him to tennis. Isner should have little trouble with either Tim Smyczek or Temyuraz Gabashvili in round 2 (Gabashvili recently snapped a losing streak, while Smyczek is struggling but seems to play well in Texas), but Fernando Verdasco, the defending champ, and a streakily dangerous player, is going to be a tough opponent in the quarters. Dasco will need to defeat Paolo Lorenzi and an unnamed qualifier to get that far.
Verdasco and Isner have a 1-1 h2h on hard courts, and have never met on clay, Verdasco of course upset Nadal for a huge win in Miami, but then meekly bowed out to Juan Monaco in the next round, and his consistency is all over the place, with that in mind, Isner actually seems like the more reliable pick right now, and thus I have him into the semis, both players have big weapons to bring to the table, as Verdasco has his world class forehand and Isner continues to have one of the best serves in the game, that said I see Isner frustrating Verdasco with said serve, and Verdasco is known to have slip ups on his own serve that Isner can capitalize on.
Should Sock beat Souza, Roberto Bautista Agut will be his opponent, an opponent he just beat in Indian Wells in a three setter. RBA is just 2-3 in his last five and is struggling at the moment, thusly he seems to be the top seed most likely to be upset, by either Sock or Souza. RBA went 12-5 on clay last year at the ATP level, after going 8-7 in 2013, seemingly improving on the surface. With a limited sample to size to gather from, I’m picking Souza in an upset myself and have him into the quarters.
The section above RBA/Souza/Sock is most interesting, the seed is Santiago Giraldo, who has been unreliable this year after a career year in 2014, and the other spots are taken by a pair of unnamed qualifiers, and Janko Tipsarevic, who after making his doubles debut in Miami with Djokovic last week, is now returning to the ATP World Tour on the singles side. Tipsarevic has been out for over a year due to a tumor on his foot that was removed, and though he’s sure to be rusty and has aged, he still has the talent deep down of a top 10 player, as he used to play remarkable tennis against the best players in the world across surfaces. Giraldo, who had his best result of 2015 in Sao Paulo on clay (semifinalist) is the odds on fave to reach the quarters from here, though a qualifier or Tipsarevic could make a run, and in such a wide open section, it’s hard to pick who will reach the semis, but I have Giraldo over Souza myself (Giraldo 3-1 h2h edge, all matches on clay).
Kevin Anderson, another big server in this draw, will open with Federico Delbonis or Ricardas Berankis in his opening match, most likely Delbonis. Anderson is 2-0 against Delbo and beat him on clay in 2012 (along with a close win in Indian Wells a couple of weeks ago). That said, Delbonis is at his best on clay and will have a punchers chance. Delbonis has two clay court quarterfinals already on his resume this year while Anderson has played well this year, but has, as to be expected, never been a top tier clay court player. Similar to the Souza/RBA situation, given the sample size, I’m going with Delbonis in another upset over a seed as the Argentinian will be aiming for his third quarterfinal of the season.
Above Anderson/Delbonis is the section featuring Jeremy Chardy as the seed, and also Lleyton Hewitt, a former champion in Houston, as a wild card. Hewitt continues to struggle in his final season on tour, as the magic, and more seriously the reliability, appears to finally be fading for the former world number 1. Still, he should beat Go Soeda, a hard court player, in the opening round. I see Chardy going out to another unseeded player, Dusan Lajovic. The Serb has two clay court quarterfinals this year on his resume at the ATP level, and though he has lost three straight and retired in Miami, he again, much prefers clay. Chardy has not had a good season as he’s just 2-3 in his last five matches. Though he’s French, Chardy has never been better than a 50/50 proposition on clay. Look for Lajovic to beat Hewitt to reach the quarters and face Delbonis. Lajovic beat Delbonis at the French last year, but Delbonis is 3-1 overall in the h2h (the other three meetings on hard court) and I trust his tennis more at the moment, thus I have Delbonis in the semis.
I have Delbonis reaching the final as an unseeded player this week, and thus he gets the dark horse designation. He played well against Anderson at IW, and if he gets through that Lajovic/Hewitt/Chardy are all beatable, likewise in the semis, any of RBA/Souza/Giraldo/Tipsarevic are beatable. Given this is clay, he’d also have a shot to take the title in any hypothetical final that could be drummed up. The Argentina is unlikely to be a world beater, but at events like this he is perfectly talented enough to do well if he can keep his error count down and stay aggressive.
Isner d. Lopez
Delbonis d. Giraldo
Isner has been so impressive in IW and Miami that I have to pick him to beat Flopez if they meet, he scored a h2h win in their lone match on clay here in 2012 in three sets, and though Lopez has a 3-2 overall h2h lead, the matches have been relatively close. Given form, and the fact Isner plays his best on clay in Houston, this tournament setups up nicely for him.
Delbonis and Giraldo have never played before, Giraldo has tons of talent but something has been off with him this year and his game doesn’t seem reliable enough to reach an ATP final right now.
Isner d. Delbonis
Delbonis will get a test run for facing Isner with a match against Anderson in round 2, and that should help prepare him, should he reach the final and face the American #1, that said, Isner is playing great right now and thus I have him winning this match. Delbonis won a 3 setter against Isner on clay in France in their lone meeting last year but Houston clay is very different from European clay.
2015 ATP Casablanca Preview
Grand Prix Hassan II
ATP World Tour 250
April 6-April 12, 2015
Prize Money: €439,405
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (24)
2: Martin Klizan (41)
3: Jiri Vesely (49)
4: Marcel Granollers (50)
With only 1 top 40 player, Casablanca is almost certain to be one of the weakest ATP tour events this season, which is quite a shame given African, and Arab tennis in general could use a boost.
First round matchups to watch:
(WC)Lamine Ouahab vs. Robin Haase
This is quite an interesting round 1 matchup, Ouahab, who, no offense intended, is known to be one of the most physically out of shape players on tour (career high ranking 114 in 2009), but has plenty of skills with a racquet, will take on Haase who is the favorite. Haase had a terrible start to his season (0-7) but the Dutchman who is relatively adept on clay is 5-2 in his last 7 matches and seems to have turned the corner as he beat Stan Wawrinka in Indian Wells. Ouahab is also in good form, in fact he’s on a 15 match winning streak as he won three consecutive futures titles on clay in Morocco (F1, F2, F3). Though he failed to face any player to the level of Haase, that still bodes well for him, and of course the home fans will be behind the wild card, it’s worth watching no matter what happens, though I have Haase advancing.
(6)Andreas Haider-Maurer vs. Jan-Lennard Struff
Two unpredictable players will meet in this round 1 match, AHM, who lost to Struff on clay last year in Gstaad, has lost three straight but he was a surprise semifinalist on clay in Rio. and it’s by far his best surface. Struff is more versatile but has failed to catch fire at any tournament this season and is looking to break a pedestrian run of results. Both have enough clay court prowess to make this a quality match, and I give AHM a slight edge to advance.
PCB beat Berlocq in Rio this year, but overall the Spanish seed is very much struggling in 2015. He is reeling from four straight losses presently, including 2 on clay. Berlocq reached the semis on clay in Buenos Aires, and has had an up and down season. In theory, this is a great chance for PCB to kickstart his season, but I’m not sure that will happen, and Berlocq has at least even odds to advance into round 2.
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, the defending champion, will face off with the Haase/Ouahab winner. GGL is struggling with just two wins in his six matches, and this presents an opportunity for Haase to reach the quarters, I’m not picking it myself, but Haase vs. GGL strikes me as a 50/50 match. Albert Ramos is the main threat in the quarters, Ramos will need to beat Mikhail Kukushkin in the opening round, and then Daniel Gimeno-Traver/Malek Jaziri. Ramos is 4-3 in his last seven matches and is playing relatively well at the moment, given he’s a clay courter, he should be happy to return to his surface of choice. Kukushkin is inconsistent, thus I have him as unlikely to advance from that one. Jaziri is a local favorite from neighboring Tunisia but he prefers fast surfaces to clay, and the veteran DGT is favored, though he’s not playing that well either.
I have Ramos beating GGL in the quarters. He has a lone clay h2h win and he’s in better form at the moment.
3 seed Jiri Vesely is another player in poor form, but luck has shone on him, as he is likely to face a player in even worse form, Mikhail Youzhny, in his opening match. The declined Youzhny, who is nearing retirement, will face wild card Yassine Idmbarek, who is 28 and has never been ranked in the top 600. Honestly, if Youzhny loses that match, he should be announcing his retirement that very night, because that would be rock bottom. Even with Vesely on a seven match losing streak, I see clay treating him better than Youzhny, the streak has to end at some point, and Youzhny is the type of player to end it against. That said, it’s a great chance for a qualifier or Diego Schwartzman to reach the semifinals under the radar. DSS opens with a qualifier, and then Maximo Gonzalez or a qualifier. Though the young Argentine went just 1-3 on clay during the Golden Swing, I see him having a nice run, pending the qualifier, and reaching said semis, as Vesely is playing so poorly at the moment (Youzhny as well). DSS is a young gun and he’s due for a big result.
Martin Klizan will open with Andrey Kuznetsov or Dustin Brown, Kuznetsov has turned into a disappointment with his career thus far after showing signs of promise in years prior. Look for Klizan to reach the quarters, he’s had an up and down year and has failed to get much of a rhythm going, but even still he should be able to earn a win, he hasn’t lost an opening match a tournament since Sydney at the start of the season, but he’s never won consecutive matches in 2015. The Berlocq/PCB winner will play a big part in what happens with this section, but wild card Nicolas Almagro also lurks. Almagro is by far the most talented non-seeded player in the draw and it’s bad news for Klizan and also PCB/Berlocq he’s buried in this section, after opening with a qualifier. Almagro, a semifinalist in Buenos Aires and a quarterfinalist in Sao Paulo on clay, is 2-0 against Berlocq on clay and he beat Klizan in Barcelona last year on the surface. Thusly, Almagro should be one of the semifinalists this week if he plays up to par.
Marcel Granollers will open with Damir Dzumhur or a qualifier, even though he’s not playing well (5 straight losses), Granollers should still be able to win that and setup a possible meeting with Pablo Andujar, his countryman, in the quarters. Andujar, a two time champ here, opens with veteran journeyman Tobias Kamke of Germany, and then will have to face the Struff/AHM winner. Both of those players are threats, but given his previous Casablanca success Andujar is the favorite. Andujar retired in his last match at a challenger however and he has a six match losing streak ongoing (two of those losses coming on clay), thusly I have Haider-Maurer into the quarters myself, and I also have him defeating Granollers for a spot in the semis.
It’s quite strange to see Almagro as an unseeded wild card at a 250 level event, and I don’t see that situation lasting long. He should be the favorite to take the title this week quite honestly, as he is the most talented player in this field on clay, and the most accomplished, at a minimum he should reach the final out of the bottom section.
Semis: Ramos d. Schwartzman
Almagro d. Haider-Maurer
The two more accomplished players, in better form, should make the final, and Ramos-GGL in the quarters may well be the best match of the tournament.