2015 Ningbo, Brest, Bangalore, Las Vegas and Santiago Challenger Recaps Chris De Waard, Tennis Atlantic
The number one Asian Challenger specialist, Yen-Hsun Lu, was the top seed in this event and the clear favorite to take down the title. He knew no problems in his opening rounds, not dropping a set on his way to the semi-final. There he faced seventh seed Peter Gojowczyk, who comfortably cruised through his matches as well, beating Jordan Thompson 6-4 6-4 in the quarterfinal, the man who took out third seed Dudi Sela in the first round. Gojowczyk was able to trouble Lu for one set, but after that the outcome of the match was settled, 7-6(3) 6-3.
In the bottom half both Japanese seeds got upset in the first round. Fifth seed Yoshihito Nishioka got hammered by qualifier Daniel Masur, 6-1 6-2, while fourth seed Go Soeda lost 6-2 3-6 6-1 to Flavio Cipolla. Masur went on to reach the quarterfinal, where he lost 7-6(6) 6-0 to Franko Skugor, a remarkable scoreline. In the bottom section sixth seed Jurgen Zopp took out second seed James Duckworth 7-6(4) 6-3 in the semi-final, after which he beat Skugor as well for a place in the final, 6-4 7-6(6). In the final Lu was too strong, however, claiming his twenty-second Challenger title after a 7-6(3) 6-1 victory, a spectacular number. He also rose fourteen ranking spots to #77, while Zopp climbed fourteen spots as well, to #147.
Benoit Paire raised a lot of eyebrows when he entered this tournament on a wild card, given that he was the world #23. That didn’t mean he eased through the tournament, however. Only after 6-2 5-7 3-0 ret., 7-5 6-7(6) 6-3 and 7-6(6) 6-1 victories over respectively Maxime Teixeira, David Guez and Luca Vanni did he reach the final. There he met sixth seed Ivan Dodig, who took out Andrea Arnaboldi (the conqueror of second seed Nicolas Mahut in the first round) 6-3 7-5 in the quarterfinal, before overcoming Edouard Roger-Vasselin 4-6 6-3 6-2 a round later for a place in the final. There Paire pulled one of his vintage antics, pretty much tanking the match away after going up *5-1 in the first set, losing 7-5 6-1. Paire rose two ranking spots to #21, while Dodig made a big jump of twenty spots to #102.
Second seed James Ward went through a disastrous period after reaching the top 100 for the first time in July, losing ten matches in a row. In Bangalore he was able to recover in great fashion, however. He reached the semi-final without dropping a set, after which he overcame Daniel Nguyen in the semi-final after a tough encounter, 4-6 6-4 6-3. Top seed Adrian Menendez-Maceiras surprisingly dropped a set against qualifier Prajnesh Gunneswaran in the second round, but didn’t slip up again after that, beating third seed Saketh Myneni 6-4 6-4 for a place in the final. There Ward was too strong, with the Brit taking down his fourth Challenger title after a 6-2 7-5 victory. He rose sixteen ranking spots to #143, while Menendez-Maceiras dropped three spots to #140, since he noted the same result last year.
They really love their Challenger tennis in Bangalore.
Eighth seed Dennis Novikov continued his great form as of late, taking out top seed Austin Krajicek in the quarterfinal after a titanic battle, 7-6(2) 3-6 7-6(3). Another titanic battle followed in the semi-final against Grega Zemlja, but this time with another winner, as Zemlja won 4-6 6-2 7-6(5) to advance to the final. A great achievement, as he survived three-setters in all his matches, taking out Dustin Brown, Taylor Fritz and Blaz Rola in the first three rounds. In the bottom half Blaz Kavcic took out second seed Tim Smyczek in the second round, 7-6(5) 6-4. He took out sixth seed Jared Donaldson as well a round later, 3-6 7-5 6-1, before falling to seventh seed Thiemo de Bakker in the semi-final, 7-6(5) 4-6 6-4. Zemlja would play his fifth three-set match in the final, but this time he couldn’t win, as De Bakker took home his ninth Challenger title after a 3-6 6-3 6-1 victory. He rose twenty-four ranking spots to #117, while Zemlja rose twenty-eight spots to #175.
The tournament lost top seed Diego Schwartzman quickly, as he had to retire during his second round match against Maximo Gonzalez with the flu. Gonzalez beat seventh seed Andre Ghem a round later, 6-4 4-6 6-4, before succumbing to eighth seed Rogerio Dutra Silva in the semi-final, 6-3 0-6 6-3. Dutra Silva took out fourth seed Joao Souza a round earlier in an absolute epic, 4-6 6-3 7-6(6). In the bottom half countrymen Carlos Berlocq and Horacio Zeballos faced each other for a place in the final, with Zeballos prevailing in two tight sets, 7-5 7-6(5). Zeballos was impeccable on serve and rarely gave Berlocq room to breathe because of it. In the final Dutra Silva continued his remarkable run of form, which saw him climb 150 ranking spots from the start of the year already, and beat Zeballos 7-5 3-6 7-5 to claim his second Challenger title of the year and seventh overall. He rose twenty-seven ranking spots to #124, while Zeballos rose sixteen spots to #136.
Veteran Slate Qualifies for 2015 ATP Shanghai Main Draw Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
six of eight players from qualifying in the 2015 ATP Shanghai Rolex Masters Main Draw are veterans with plenty of ATP tour experience, as they will look to use that tour experience to help them pull off main draw upsets.
A pair of Asian players, Go Soeda of Japan, and Yen-Hsun Lu, a regular on ATP tour from Taiwan, made it through tough draws to qualify. Lu beat young Japanese speedster Yoshi Nishioka, and then Nicolas Mahut in three sets, while Soeda beat Fajing Sun, and then South Korea’s young gun Hyeon Chung in three sets.
Eastern Europeans also did well, Nikoloz Basilashvili will play, at least, his twelfth tour level match of the season after beating Shuichi Sekiguchi and the in-form Austin Krajicek, a Tokyo quarterfinalist, to qualify without dropping a set. Andrey Kuznetsov found success after coming up short in Beijing qualies. Kuznetsov beat Yecong He in three sets, and then dispatched Donald Young, though Young would go on to make the main draw as a lucky loser. Lastly, 33 year old Lukasz Kubot will play just his third ATP main draw level match this year after getting past a pair of Frenchman, Lucas Pouille and Pierre-Hugues Herbert to qualify. Herbert retired in his match, while the win over Pouille was an upset.
Potentially dangerous tour veterans Simone Bolelli and Albert Ramos complete the list of qualifiers. Bolelli, who also qualified in Beijing, beat Matteo Donati, his countryman, and Michal Przysiezny in a three setter to advance. Ramos defeated Zhizhen Zhang and Michael Berrer without dropping a set.
In the main draw, Lu will have a winnable match against Dominic Thiem, Kuznetsov draws Feliciano Lopez, Bolelli will face Vasek Pospisil in an even contest, Soeda has a tough match against David Goffin, Basilashvili will face an equally difficult tilt against Simon, Kubot faces American Jack Sock, Ramos takes on Sam Querrey, and Young should be favored against Victor Estrella.
Proceedings of the 2015 Cincinnati Masters tournament sparked international headlines, but for the wrong reasons.
A heated first round match between Thanasi Kokkinakis and Ryan Harrison overshadowed the entire competition. Leading into the match Kokkinakis was caught up in a media frenzy following Nick Kyrgios unorthodox on court comments In which he said that his teammate ‘banged’ Wawrinka’s girlfriend Donna Vekic. The controversial comment resulted in Kyrgios receiving a $10,000 fine. During his first round match, The Australian accused Harrison of sledging him about the incident and at two separate points the umpire had to step in to stop the match turning into a physical encounter. Harrison was quoted after the match saying “He’s 19. If he wants to get into it, I will bury him. Wawrinka should’ve decked Kyrgios, and I should deck that kid.” (per Ben Rothenberg)
Eventually Kokkinakis won the roller-coaster match 7-5,3-6,7-6(2) to set up a showdown against Marsel İlhan. In the final round the 19-year-old was on his way out of the match as his Tunisian rival won five straight games to open up a 3-0 lead in the final set. He was, however unable to maintain his dominance as Kokkinakis battled back to win 6-4, 2-6,6-4. Following his win, the rising star admitted that the recent incidents has been affecting him.
“Yeah, I didn’t get much sleep last night either. But, luckily enough, I recovered and I’m playing a tournament at the moment, so I’m trying to focus on that and I’m happy I found a way to get the win.” He said.
Top seed Benoit Paire crashed out of the qualification tournament following a shock loss to America’s 13th seed Denis Kudla. The Frenchman recently won his maiden ATP title in Sweden and has beaten Kudla earlier this year at the Monte Carlo Masters. Despite the odds being in Paire’s favour, it was the 22-year-old American that took control of the match as he broke his rivals serve four times to win 6-4,6-4. Out of seven entrants, Kudla in the only American player to successfully qualify for the main draw. Following his exit, Paire expressed his disappointment on his Instagram account. “Bad game today, but I tried until the end…. Training is needed as I prepare for the US Open”.
Alexandr Dolgopolov recovered from his first round exit at last weeks Rogers Cup by beating Santiago Giraldo in the final round. Dolgopolov, who is seeded lower than his Colombian rival, required almost two hours on court during his 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 win. The loss is a bitter disappointment for Giraldo, who recently announced that former world No.2 Alex Corretja has been hired as a consultant to him. The Ukrainian’s best performance so far in 2015 was a the semi-final appearance at the Nottingham Open in June. Dolgopolov has played in the main draw of the Cincinatti Masters on four previous occasions, losing in the first round at all of them.
Alexander Zverev continued his promising start to the US hard-court series with a three set win over big serving Denis Istomin. The German recently stunned world No.16 Kevin Anderson in the second round of the Citi Open where he reached the quarter-final. The impressive run elevated Zverev ten places up the rankings to 86th in the world, 12 places below his career high. During the qualifying tournament in Cincinatti, Zverev upset 7th seed Benjamin Becker in the first round before beating Istomin 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.
Yen-Hsun Lu recovered from a set down to beat former world No.8 Mikhail Youzhny 2-6, 6-2,6-4. Before his final showdown against the Russian, Lu defeated American rising star Stefan Kozlov. During his match against Youzhny, both players encountered problems with their service. In the final set the 32-year-old was broken three times compared to Youzhny who was broken four times. Lu is currently ranked 82nd in the world and has reached the quarterfinals at three ATP events in 2015 (Nottingham, Delray Beach and Chennai).
Wimbledon quarterfinalist, Vasek Popisil, produced a dominating performance after dropping the first set against South Korea’s Hyeon Chung. After dropping the first set in a close tie-break, the Canadian won 12 out of the next 15 games to progress into the main draw with the final score 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-0. Since his magical run at SW19, the Canadian has suffered minor trouble with a bruised wrist, but he has made steady progress on his return to action by reaching the quarter-finals in Atlanta and third round in Washington.
Completing the qualifying line-up is veteran player Nicolas Mahut who defeated American second seed Steve Johnson 6-2,6-4. Leading up to this week the 33-year-old has played in 45 main draw matches at Masters tournaments and currently has a disappointing win-loss of 14-31. The Frenchman has already won two titles this year. He was triumphant at the ATP Saint Brieuc Challenger and in ‘s-Hertogenbosch where he won the title as a qualifier. This is the second time in his career that he has won a ATP title as a qualifier.
Benoit Paire received a lucky loser spot into the main draw after Kei Nishikori pulled out due to a hip injury.
(LL) Benoit Paire v Gilles Muller – They have only place each other once before which in the second round of the Metz Open back in 2011. Muller won that match in straight sets. Paire is streaky in his form and Muller being good on hard courts likely gives him an edge.
(Q) Lu Yen-Hsun v David Goffin – The only previous match played was in Washington back in 2013 where Goffin won 6-4,6-4. This will be a match worth watching if you like clean ball striking.
(Q) Alexander Zverev v Borna Coric – Known as the battle of the teenagers, it will be a rematch of the 2013 US Open boy’s semi-final. Coric beat the German in three sets on his way to claiming the title. In the final he beat Thanasi Kokkinakis. This one could go either way, with both in solid form and possessing plenty of talent.
(Q) Nicolas Mahut v (WC) Jared Donaldson – first meeting, a nice chance for the young gun Donaldson to grab another main draw tour win here, Mahut is one of the weakest qualifiers.
(Q) Thanasi Kokkinakis v Fabio Fognini –first meeting, Fognini has yet to win a hard court match in 2015, Kokkinakis is likely stressed but I still him winning this one.
(Q) Vasek Pospisil v (Q) Denis Kudla – Pospisil has beaten Kudla twice. In 2011 Kudla retired in the second set at the Tiburon Challenger and in 2013 the Canadian won in three sets at Newport. This should be a big hitters battle, Kudla’s career best form in recent weeks should give him an edge.
A diverse field of qualifiers claimed their sports in the 2015 ATP Montreal, Rogers Cup main draw this weekend in what was a competitive qualifying tournament. The headliner was Ernests Gulbis, who may be coming out of what has been a season long slump, and beat both Blaz Rola and top qualifying seed Nicolas Mahut, the latter in a close three sets, to qualify. Gulbis was ranked as high as #10 in the world last year, and has six ATP titles, but he’s endured a dreadful season, and perhaps the summer will help regenerate him and his focus.
Along with Gulbis, young gun Hyeon Chung also made the main draw. The 19 year old Korean with a whippy backhand is in great form on the US Open Series thus far (3-1), and dominated both of his matches, the first against Kelsey Stevenson, and the second against Alejandro Gonzalez. Chung has a bright future ahead and we are likely to see him in many Masters main draws to come.
Like Gulbis, Alexandr Dolgopolov has endured a poor season, but the perpetual top 20 talent, who has now been on tour for a while, won a pair of tough matches over Dudi Sela and Alejandro Falla to qualify. Dolgopolov is 4-1 in his last five matches, and should serve as a dark horse threat on hard courts in the Montreal draw. He has two ATP quarterfinals on hard courts this year and also reached the round of 16 in Miami, pushing Novak Djokovic to three sets.
Two other veteran presences on tour also qualified, Yen-Hsun Lu used his baseline ball striking talents to easily dispatch David Volfson and Brayden Schnur, dropping jut three games in four sets of tennis. Mikhail Youzhny snapped a long losing streak, as the Russian surprisingly found form and whipped his one handed backhand to wins over J.P. Smith and Pierre-Hugues Herbert without dropping a set.
Lastly, two Americans qualified north of the border in Quebec as Donald Young snapped a cold streak and beat Rajeev Ram with ease after slipping past Edouard Roger-Vasselin in three sets. He will face off with his countryman Denis Kudla, who continued his fantastic form with routine wins over Ryan Harrison and James Duckworth, both of whom were challenging opponents on paper. Young is 6-1 against Kudla in the h2h, but Kudla clearly has an edge in form.
In the main draw Dolgopolov will have a punchers chance at an upset against Grigor Dimitrov, a fellow shotmaker, Gulbis faces one of his best friends on tour Dominic Thiem, Lu will have a chance to avenge his defeat to Vasek Pospisil in Atlanta and Youzhny faces a struggling Viktor Troicki in a winnable match.
2015 ATP Washington D.C. (@CitiOpen) Preview and Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The next ATP 500 series event is the joint ATP/WTA hard court tournament in the American capital city Washington D.C. Most of the ATP players from the first stop of the North American hard court Summer in Atlanta will be making the trek up to D.C., joined by a host of other big names, as many of the top players begin their US Open prep.
2015 ATP Washington D.C. Preview
ATP World Tour 500*
Washington D.C., USA
August 3-August 9, 2015
Prize Money: $1,508,815
*denotes joint ATP/WTA tournament
Top 8 seeds (top 16 seeds receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Andy Murray (3)
2: Kei Nishikori (5)
3: Marin Cilic (8)
4: Richard Gasquet (13)
5: Kevin Anderson (14)
6: Grigor Dimitrov (16)
7: Feliciano Lopez (19)
8: John Isner (18)
9 of the top 20 players in the world on the ATP side are in playing in D.C. this year as it’s one of the best fields they have ever had for this tournament, headlined of course by the three top 10, and two top 5 names in the draw, Murray, Nishikori, and Cilic.
First round matchups to watch:
Ricardas Berankis vs. Yen-Hsun Lu
Berankis is 6-2 in his last eight hard court matches and comes off of the quarterfinals in Atlanta where he lost to eventual champion John Isner. He’s once more been spending time on the challenger tour this year but he’s still always had the talent to do better than that. Lu, the steady baseline ball striker, suffered a tough round 2 loss to Vasek Pospisil in Atlanta and his form is somewhat questionable. Lu is predictable and ranked slightly higher, but Berankis will have his chances to advance from this competitive contest.
Donald Young, a loser of six straight, will take on the wild card Tommy Haas who is still working on his injury recovery tour (2-4 record since returning to tour). Haas is aging but always a talent, and Young appears entirely devoid of confidence at the moment, though he’s playing on his favored North American hard courts. Haas hasn’t played a hard court match since March 2014, but he will have a good chance of advancing from this match regardless.
Alexander Zverev vs. (Q)Yoshihito Nishioka
A battle between young guns, Zverev, 19, is just 1-4 in ATP level hard court matches this year but he’s a respectable 9-5 below that level, qualifying for both Marseille and Miami this year. The German much prefers clay and recently reached a semi in Bastad. The 18 year old Nishioka, who combines speedy footwork with solid power for his small frame has a much stronger hard court record of 16-9 on the year and came through qualifying with a pair of solid wins. The Delray Beach quarterfinalist Nishioka is better on this surface, and thus look for him to beat his young rival.
The 19 year old Chung is another of the young guns in the DC draw this year, but he’s struggling, just 1-5 since reaching a hard court challenger final in South Korea. Sela, the Israeli veteran who lacks power in his game but rallies well, comes off quarterfinals in Atlanta and should be used to the hot conditions. Chung has a lot of talent, but I’m not sure he’ll be able to outwit the wise Sela.
Andy Murray is the top seed, and he’s a fantastic 44-7 on the season with a very strong hard court record to go with that. This year only Gilles Simon and Borna Coric have beaten him outside of the top 10, and with that in mind the in-form Murray is a strong favorite to go as far as the final here. Murray’s first match is sure to come against a veteran, either Benjamin Becker or Teymuraz Gabashvili. Gabashvili hasn’t played since Wimbledon but was in good form on the challenger tour prior to that, while Becker won his first match in a while in Atlanta but still may not entirely be healthy. I have Becker winning round 1 but losing to Murray, setting the UK #1 up with a match against Berankis/Lu for a spot in the quarters.
14 seed Pablo Cuevas gets a bye but he’s just 2-4 on hard courts this year, and rarely plays hard court matches in general as he’s a clay court specialist. Murray is 2-0 against Becker, and beat Berankis, who I have reaching round 3, in the 2013 Australian Open, overall he honestly shouldn’t drop a set en route to the quarters.
Atlanta champion John Isner was serving up aces and firing winners as he dominated the field in his title run, and presuming he doesn’t have too much fatigue he should continue that in D.C. on the same surface. Isner is twice a finalist in Washington and should have no trouble against Nicolas Jarry/Victor Estrella in round 2. Jarry is a clay court specialist but gets a wild card, while Estrella is merely an average player on hard courts. From there Isner is likely to face Atlanta semifinalist Vasek Pospisil, presuming Pospisil can physically recover from a grueling tournament in which he suffered cramping in the heat. Pospisil defends final points this year and will face Young/Haas round 2, Haas could trouble him, but I see Isner reaching the quarters and knocking him out. Pospisil is 2-1 against Isner but all of their matches have been close and Isner seems to have the form edge. Both players are big servers, but if Isner continues to win tiebreaks like he did in Atlanta that’ll be the difference.
Richard Gasquet should be in upset alert in his first match however, as Gilles Muller, the big serving veteran, is in excellent hard court form and could shock him. Muller, a semifinalist in singles and finalist in doubles in Atlanta, will face a struggling Malek Jaziri round 1 and has to win that before facing Gasquet. He also holds a 2-1 hard court record over the Frenchman, and presuming he’s not fatigued I have Muller upsetting Gasquet and then beating Jack Sock to reach the quarters. Sock struggled in the Atlanta heat and played poorly there but he’s still an American hard court talent with his dangerous forehand. His play in Atlanta aside he should beat Ruben Bemelmans/Marinko Matosevic in round 2, as Matosevic finally qualified and reached a main draw. Bemelmans has a solid hard court record but almost all of it comes below the main tour level and Matosevic has a h2h edge, his awful form this year aside. Sock should beat Bemelmans/Matosevic and then lose for a second time this year to Muller, as he also lost in a third set tiebreak in Indian Wells.
Grigor Dimitrov will have an easy round 2 match, as Atlanta finalist Marcos Baghdatis is nursing a leg injury, while qualifier Guido Pella prefers clay. It’s hard to predict that round 1 match, but regardless Dimitrov, who is a rather pedestrian 9-6 on hard courts this year, should first be tested in round 3 against either Steve Johnson or Bernard Tomic, both of whom could upset him. Tomic, the Bogota champion, will face Johnson in round 2, presuming Stevie J beats Lukas Lacko for the second week in a row. Their match in Atlanta went to three sets. Tomic is always hard to predict and he lost to Johnson on grass this year, but judging from his play in Bogota I have him reaching round 3 and then upsetting Dimitrov, who he is 0-2 against. Dimitrov simply seems to be in a malaise this year, and I feel Tomic is actually playing better.
Kei Nishikori is 17-5 on outdoor hard courts in 2015 and a solid 38-9 on the year overall, he may struggle in the heat but I still see him advancing past Ryan Harrison in his first match, presuming the qualifier Harrison beats James Duckworth. Nishikori has twice beaten Harrison this year as he simply does what Harrison does better from the baseline, along with being quicker. Kei should be on a minor upset alert in round 3 however, as Denis Kudla is in the form of his career and is on track to face him. Kudla, a semifinalist in Atlanta, has been on fire since he hired Billy Heiser as his coach, and appears to be fully committed to playing his best tennis. Denis, who is from D.C., should roll past Blaz Rola, then upset the seed Leonardo Mayer, who prefers clay (5-4 on hard courts in 2015), before facing Nishikori. Kei has a lone h2h win over Kudla, and Kudla is sort of a poor man’s Nishikori, still the heat factor may sway the match in the American’s favor. I don’t have him winning it, but I do see him coming close, though Nishikori is a quarterfinalist in my bracket.
Former finalist Viktor Troicki is in good form but he could have some trouble against the massive server Sam Groth in round 2. Troicki beat Groth this year on grass though, and the Aussie will need to defeat Thomaz Bellucci, who comes off of European clay where he posted solid results, in round 1. I have Troicki over Groth, and then past another great server, Feliciano Lopez, to reach the quarterfinals. Lopez comes off a semifinal on Gstaad clay, but he’s just 7-5 on hard courts this year, and could struggle in the hot conditions. The Spanish lefty will open with either Lleyton Hewitt or qualifier J.P. Smith as Hewitt continues his farewell tour against his in-form countryman. It’s hard to predict how Hewitt will do, but I still see him slipping past Smith before losing to Lopez. Hewitt is 4-1 against Lopez but he’s not the same player he once was. Troicki beat Lopez this year on clay, and otherwise has been in better form all season.
Marin Cilic, the defending US Open champion, has hardly played any hard court tennis this season, but his form has been improving steadily since returning from injury, and he appears to be back in top 20ish form in the least. Cilic should advance with relative ease over Sela/Chung but Sam Querrey could trouble him in the third round. Cilic is 3-0 against Querrey, but Querrey has been in good form while playing World Team Tennis for the local Washington Kastles. He’s actually an awful 1-6 on outdoor hard at the ATP level this year but he should beat Go Soeda/qualifier Darian King to reach round 3. King is making his ATP main draw debut at 23, while Soeda comes off a quarterfinal result in Atlanta. Look for Querrey over Soeda, and then Cilic past Querrey to secure a quarterfinal berth.
Big servers dominate the section above Cilic’s, as Kevin Anderson and Ivo Karlovic are seeded. Anderson is an excellent 11-4 over his last 15 matches (and 15-8 on hard courts this year). Presuming the South African is healthy and can maintain the form that nearly saw him upset Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon, he should dispatch Nishioka/Zverev and setup a meeting with Karlovic in round 3. Dr. Ivo was reportedly “crammed into a coach seat” on a flight to D.C. but hopefully he can stretch out against 2012 Champion Alexandr Dolgopolov/Tim Smyczek. Dolgo beat Smyczek this year in Delray (2-0 h2h), and though he comes off a tough loss in Atlanta, Smyczek is in atrocious form and thus the Ukrainian has the edge. Dolgo has two previous hard court h2h wins over Ivo but he lost to him in a close Wimbledon 5 setter this year, and Karlovic was a Newport finalist and Bogota semifinalist in recent weeks, showing his good form. Prior to that he also reached the quarters in Den Bosch and the semis in Halle.
Anderson is 3-1 against Karlovic in the h2h and their styles are very similar, with both using big serves to setup the rest of their game, except two or three tiebreaks as being a strong possibility, but Anderson is higher ranked and should reach the quarters by doing the same thing, at a higher level.
I have the big serving Muller, who also has crisp volleys and returned better than he usually does in Atlanta, dealing with hot conditions once more and reaching yet another ATP semifinal in D.C., getting farther than that will be a tough ask, but the veteran has a great chance to continue to post good results and earn ranking points this week. He’ll have to upset Gasquet and likely Tomic/Dimitrov to get that far, but it’s a doable result given how much pressure he places on his opponents to hold their serves.
Murray d. Isner
Murray, one of the best pure returners in the game, is 4-0 against Isner, and though it should be a close match it’s hard to justify anyone but Murray reaching the semifinals in the first section this week.
Muller d. Tomic
If we do get a Muller vs. Tomic quarter, rather than Gasquet (6-4 on outdoor hard in 2015), Dimitrov or another name, Muller has the decided edge as he leads the h2h 4-0 and beat Tomic this year in Sydney. It’s a tough section to predict, but Muller has been impressive as of late and I see him making a shock run to the semifinals.
Cilic d. Anderson
Cilic is 5-1 against Anderson and though they aren’t that far apart in terms of ranking, Cilic has never lost to Kev on a hard court. Look for the Wimbledon quarterfinalist to follow up that result with a semifinal in D.C.
Nishikori d. Troicki
Nishikori is 4-1 against Troicki and has two wins against him this year, suggesting a matchup mismatch more than anything else. If Kei gets this far, he should reach the semis.
Semis: Murray d. Muller
Cilic d. Nishikori
Murray is 3-0 against Muller with two wins against him this year, same as was true against Isner, he’s one of the bets returners in the game and can neutralize big servers. Regardless of who faces in the semis, he’s a clear favorite for the final, and in fact the title itself.
We could have a rematch of the US Open final in the semis as Nishikori holds a 5-3 edge over Cilic in their rivalry, but Cilic has won all three of his matches on outdoor hard court (twice at the US Open). It’s hard to predict either way, but I feel Cilic is grooving into form and the conditions will favor him to reach the final.
Final: Murray d. Cilic
Murray is 10-2 against Cilic, and thus Nishikori would actually have a better chance to upset him in the final, regardless, look for Murray to claim his fourth ATP title this year, which would also be his first on hard courts. The absence of Djokovic and Federer makes this his tournament to lose as he preps for the US Open.
One of the strangest matches of the 2015 ATP World Tour took place today in Atlanta, as a cramping Vasek Pospisil pulled off a minor miracle to beat Yen-Hsun (Rendy) Lu 6-4 6-7(3) 6-4. Pospisil was suffering greatly in the brutal heat after the first set. In that first set he held his serve with ease, and broke Lu once for 4-3, going on to serve the set out 6-4 without facing a break point thanks to his booming serve and quality forehand.
In the second Pospisil was broken and went down 4-1 and 5-2, but Lu, who was steady from the baseline but too passive in rallies, had trouble closing the set out. Lu was broken for 5-4, and then Pospisil saved a set point to get it to 5-5. At this point signs of cramping began to show in Pospisil, with the 90 plus degree temps wilting him. The second set went to a close tiebreak but Lu took four straight points from 3-3 to take it. At this point it looked as if Vasek may well retire with the match at one set each, as he was struggling to move and serve.
However, after taking a bathroom break and getting out of the sun, the Canadian #2 seed decided to trudge on, and what unfolded was a dangerous, but tenacious third set. Pospisil amazingly got through four holds of serve without facing a break point, as Lu was totally thrown off his rhythm. The veteran appeared bewildered as to what to do to force Pospisil to throw in the towel, perhaps assuming Vasek would simply beat himself or retire, Pospisil saved three break points even while he felt like lying down on the court in agony to go up 5-4, at one point falling down on his serve and laying on the ground, along with feeling his shoulder cramping.
Pospisil’s serving was incredible and Lu frankly played a terrible third set against an opponent who looked like his soul melting in the heat. Lu was broken in the next game, going down 0-40 and with that, Pospisil shockingly advanced to the quarterfinals with a limp, though it’ll take an incredible recovery for him to be able to perform well in the next round.
One has to question whether Pospisil was wise for continuing on in a medical sense, but his fight was a classic ATP world tour performance. Stats wise he popped 24 aces and faced just five break points while Lu has to be kicking himself for squandering a chance at another ATP quarterfinal.
Veteran Marcos Baghdatis also showed tremendous fight as he joins Pospisil in the quarters, the Cypriot played an excellent first set against serve and volleyer Sam Groth and took it 7-5, after failing to break Groth from 0-40 at 2-2. Groth was clearly the player in worse form in the first set but his massive serve kept him in it, and he actually had three break point chances of his own at 3-4, which he likewise failed to convert with a poor ground game. Baghdatis would break for 6-5 at 15, and then serve the set out, as he appeared to be well on his way to a win.
Groth flipped the script in set 2 however as Baghdatis level of play dropped a bit, Marcos got broken after saving two break points to go 3-1 down, and Groth held serve after saving a break point to go up 4-1. The final game for 6-3 Groth was a battle, but the Australian did force a third set and seemed to have the momentum.
Baghdatis appeared to coming off the tracks going into the third, he got broken at love and nearly was broken again serving 0-2, but suddenly he flipped the script and engineered a surprising comeback. Groth was broken at 15 in the next game, throwing his hat to the ground, and from there he totally came off the rails, winning just one more game as Baghdatis broke and held once more to capture the match in a hard fought three sets. It’s always high risk tennis with Groth, and when his serve failed him, he lacked the game to compete with Baghdatis. Presuming he can recover from the three setter Baghdatis has played solid tennis through two matches.
Two more quarterfinalists were determined in routine fashion, Gilles Muller dispatched an exhausted Jared Donaldson 6-3 6-2, as he’s played excellent tennis this week, returning especially well, and Go Soeda took advantage of Adrian Mannarino’s fatigue and won 6-2 6-4, as Mannarino played poorly in both singles and doubles this tournament.
Georgia Tech’s Chris Eubanks also proved to be of no threat to veteran Czech Radek Stepanek, though hopefully it was a good learning experience for the soon to be Sophomore. In the other round 1 match, Ricardas Berankis saved two break points in the first set, and didn’t face any break points in the second as he beat Tim Smyczek 6-4 6-4, breaking at the end of the second to seal the win.
The Bryan Brothers rolled past Groth/Guccione 6-2 6-1 in the night session, as Mardy Fish and Andy Roddick joined them as winners 7-6(2) 6-4 over Lu/Marray. Additionally Krajicek/Monroe beat Daniell/Demoliner 13-11 in the third set tiebreak, Baghdatis/Jaziri beat Becker/Lacko 7-6(3) 6-3 as Marcos won twice on the day, and Huey/Johnson crushed Martin/Raja 6-1 6-3.
Isner to Begin Title Defense Thursday, Joined by Three Other Americans in Singles Matches
John Isner will begin his quest for a third consecutive Atlanta title as he’ll serve it up under the lights at Atlantic Station against the well-traveled veteran serve and volleyer Radek Stepanek. Isner dropped his last two hard court meetings against Stepanek and is on a two match losing streak, so he’s far from a lock to win.
The fifth professional meeting between Jack Sock and Denis Kudla will take place earlier on in the day, Sock, like Isner is higher ranked, and he comes off the semis in Newport but Kudla won their last two hard court h2h meetings and he’s been in excellent form in the past month.
Steve Johnson, the fourth American who will play singles Thursday will face Ricardas Berankis for the first time, and Benjamin Becker (34) will take on Dudi Sela (30) hoping to avenge his loss to Sela last year in the Atlanta semis. Prior to that Becker won four meetings and presuming his back is healthy he’s likely a small favorite.
Marcos Baghdatis will return to court for the third consecutive day as he and Jaziri will play Fleming/Muller, and the Bryans will be back at it against Huey/Johnson, as Johnson will have to pull double duty on the day.
Another scorching day in Atlanta was interrupted by afternoon rain showers, but they passed, and before 9 P.M. main draw singles and doubles play was completed, additionally final round qualies were completed and the qualifiers were placed into the bracket, setting up an exciting batch of matches for Tuesday.
Three main draw singles matches were complete on the day, the biggest of which was Go Soeda‘s 5-7 7-6(5) 6-3 victory over fan favorite Alex Dolgopolov. The match was interrupted by the rain in the first set, and after a lengthy delay after a pair of breaks of serve, both players returned to court and began holding their serves relatively easily.
Soeda, a defensive baseliner who feeds his opponents a steady diet of groundstrokes, lacked the weapons to bother Dolgopolov with his quick footwork, but Dolgopolov was struggling to keep his error count down, as he often does, and eventually on serve it went to 5-5. Dolgopolov would then save a key break point chance for Soeda and go up 6-5, and in the next game he broke on his second chance to do so in the game, and took the first set with a running start. .
Even up a set Dolgopolov’s body language didn’t seem confident or promising at this point, and it was visible he may have been struggling in the hot conditions. Soeda was a bit of a brick wall, and generally is hard to break down as he returned ball after ball side to side. Dolgopolov had more shotmaking prowess, especially with running forehand winners but the second set held true to form, Soeda saving a lone break point serving 1-2 as it went all the way to a tiebreak without another break point dangled before either player. Soeda was under pressure having to serve behind all set, and Dolgopolov at times looked like he might put the match away, but when it got to the tiebreak Soeda was the steadier player and took it 7-5, even after Dolgopolov hit a fantastic winner 4-6 down in the breaker.
Soeda had the momentum at this point and remained unfazed and unrattled as Dolgopolov began to slow down. The Ukranian’s quick strike serve generated more aces, but Soeda eventually read Dolgo’s shots and angles, forcing his opponent to become increasingly reckless. The break came for 3-1 in set 3, and Soeda never looked back, Dolgo had to save another break point serving 1-4, and Soeda held on with relative ease for a 6-3 3rd set. It’s the first ATP main draw win for Soeda since April, as Dolgopolov again demonstrated why his ranking has fallen out of the top 70. He has the talent but mentally and physically he struggles to maintain a consistent level throughout an entire match.
Joning Soeda in round 2 is another player who has always enjoyed playing in Atlanta, Gilles Muller. Muller was totally dominant as Donald Young continued to struggle, slumping to a 6-2 6-1 defeat. The loss was particularly bad as the match only last an hour and Muller is normally a player who struggles to break his opponents serve. DY was plainly flat while Muller was happy to work quickly in the heat.
Yen-Hsun (Rendy) Lu had an interesting time of it against Malek Jaziri in the first main draw match, winning it 6-1 7-6(12). Jaziri stumbled badly out of the gate, and appeared listless. His serve and his groundstrokes weren’t effective at all, and he appeared totally out of shape. Lu, a steady counterpunching baseliner who is solid from both wings was happy to let Jaziri stumble through a breadstick in 24 minutes, but the Tunisian didn’t give up so easily in the second set.
Jaziri went up a break 3-2, and served for a third set at 5-4, but plainly choked, getting broken at love under the pressure. From 5 all they held serve and went into a tiebreak where Jaziri had six set points and couldn’t convert a single one, including from 6-4 up. Lu needed three match points, but finally he got into round 2, escaping his streaky opponent in the nick of time, as Jaziri clearly let his nerves get the best of him against such a steady opponent.
Americans Krajicek, Donaldson, and Kudla qualify for the main draw
All four final round qualifying matchups were rather routine affairs as the heat seemed to be limiting many of the player’s fighting spirit after they fell behind. Austin Krajicek blitzed Yuichi Sugita 6-2 6-1, as Sugita played much worse than expected. Denis Kudla sent the slumping Marinko Matosevic packing 7-5 6-2. Matosevic continues to struggle to return to ATP quality form, while Kudla extended his positive momentum from Wimbledon.
Jared Donaldson beat Guido Pella as the young gun American has made another ATP main draw as a teenager, Pella’s 6-2 7-6(6) defeat demonstrated why he prefers clay as the more aggressive Donaldson was able to rattle him. Indian Veteran Somdev Devvarman also reached the main draw with a 6-3 6-3 over Shuichi Sekiguchi in just under an hour and a half. Devvarman is also showing good form and all of the qualifiers certainly deserve their spots in the draw.
Those spots are Kudla against Ryan Harrison in an All-American battle where he should be the favorite, the winner to face American Jack Sock, the #3 seed, the veteran Devvarman against the teenager Donaldson, and Krajicek against the veteran Marcos Baghdatis as he will look to pull off a big win against the formerly top 10 #5 seed.
Tuesday in Atlanta will feature one of the retiring greats of American men’s tennis, Mardy Fish, in a night session match against defending finalist Dudi Sela, and prior to that, one of the most promising American teenagers Frances Tiafoe against the big serving Sam Groth as American players will have the spotlight put on them. Tiafoe played a Monday night exhibition against the retired Andy Roddick and lost 6-3 6-4, Roddick’s big serve, even as a retiree, foiled hm, and Groth is even better at those same tactics.
Besides those late matches, the aforementioned Baghdatis-Krajicek match will take place, as it will be interesting to see how Baghdatis adapts to the 90+ degree noontime conditions, given that his fitness has previously been in question throughout his career. At the same time Lukas Lacko will face Steve Johnson, with Kudla vs. Harrison, Devvarman vs. Donaldson, and also an all-German veteran battle between Michael Berrer and Benjamin Becker completing the schedule for singles.
In doubles the marquee nightcap on Stadium is Mate Pavic/Michael Venus against Atlanta’s Donald Young and Christopher Eubanks. Additionally, Matt Ebden/Adrian Mannarino will face Eric Butorac/Artem Sitak and prior to that the defending champion pairing of Vasek Pospisil/Jack Sock will face Colin Fleming and the in-form Gilles Muller.
Look for a report on those matches after Tuesday night or Wednesday morning!
Grass court qualifying in two places, both 500 level events with two rounds of qualifying action, took place over the weekend, as some interesting names booked their place in the main draw.
ATP Halle Qualifying
In Halle, defending finalist Alejandro Falla is the strongest of the qualifiers. Last year Falla made a surprise run to that final and he’s also reached the 3rd round at Wimbledon previously in his career. The veteran lefty has a game built for grass and he comfortably defeated Janko Tipsarevic and Tim Puetz, without dropping a set, to qualify.
Another of the four qualifiers in total is lefty Jarkko Nieminen who beat Filip Krajinovic and Tatsuma Ito without dropping a set. Nieminen isn’t a grass court specialist by any stretch of the imagination but he’s fast on his feet and plays aggressively.
A pair of talented but underachieving players also qualified, Slovak Lukas Lacko, now 27,has an aggressive and powerful game built for grass and he beat two solid opponents, Peter Gojowczyk and Jurgen Melzer in three sets to qualify. Lacko faces Falla in round 1. 24 year old Ricardas Berankis upset Austin Krajicek in three sets, and Vasek Pospisil 6-3 6-3 to qualify. The undersized ball striker was a top junior but has been a bust as a pro.
Berankis will have a winnable round 1 match against Tommy Robredo in round 1, while Nieminen could also advance as he faces Alexander Zverev, a wild card, in round 1.
ATP London Queens Qualifying
Sixteen players participated in the qualifying competition at the Aegon Championships, which is held at the Queen’s Club in London.
Italian world number 56 Simone Bolelli was the top seed in the qualifying draw and experienced little trouble. After a straight sets win over Lucas Pouille in the first round, he faced France’s Edouard Roger-Vasselin. The Frenchman produced an impressive performance at the tournament last year when he reached the third round in the singles draw as well as the semi-final in the doubles. Bolelli however, experience no trouble as he dropped his service once on his way to winning 7-6 (4), 6-3.
In the main draw the Italian faces a tough encounter against Richard Gasquet. Bolelli has played Gasquet on five previous occasions and has lost all of them. Their most recent match was earlier this year at the Doha Open where Gasquet eased his way to a 6-3, 6-2, win. Gasquet could face pressure but I presume he’ll prevail.
Rendy Lu was pushed hard during his match against Denis Istomin. The second seed produced a straight sets win over the talented Luca Vanni in the first round whilst Istomin edged his way past Go Soeda. During the match there was only two breaks of serve, one each, as both sets went into tie-breaks with Lu winning 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5).
The reward for Lu is a first round showdown against top seed Andy Murray. He has beaten Murray once before which was in the first round of the 2008 Beijing Olympic games. Since then, Murray has won their two most recent encounters (both in 2013) without dropping a set. Murray should blast through the weaponless Lu to reach round 2.
The biggest surprise was the impressive run by 18-year-old wild card Jared Donaldson. The American knocked out third seed and fellow countryman Tim Smyczek in the first round to face Tobias Kamke. Kamke has experienced a disastrous 2015 so far with only one main draw win to his name. His sole win was against Vincent Millot in Montpellier last February. The misery continued for the German as Donaldson cruised to take the match 7-5, 6-3. Donaldson is currently at a ranking high of 152 in the world and won his first Challenger title in Maui at the start of the year.
Donaldson, the American number 12, will play America’s number 1 John Isner in the first round. Given Isner’s experience, he should win comfortably.
Finally hopes of a British winner in the qualification draw were ended after Paul-Henri Mathieu beat Brydan Klein during the battle of the wild card’s. The former world number 12 produced a three sets win over 4th seed Chung Hyeon in the first round. Mathieu, who hasn’t won a title since 2007, required just over an hour on the court to break the British world number 188 6-3,6-2.
Mathieu will play Stuttgart finalist Viktor Troicki in the first round. Troicki’s run to the final in Germany has clearly demonstrated that the Serbian is currently in impressive shape, especially with his serve. On the other hand, there will be questions about how tired he will be coming into Queen’s. The two players have been drawn to play each other on three previous occasions but none of the matches got completed with one of the retiring (Troicki twice and Mathieu once). Presuming Troicki doesn’t retire and keep up the trend, his superior form should win him the day.
2015 ATP Stuttgart and Den Bosch Previews and Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The grass season begins anew for 2015 with a pair of 250 level events. Stuttgart is switching to grass from clay this year, and Den Bosch in the Netherlands is a joint ATP/WTA event again this year. After a spring on the dirt, ATP World Tour stars will feel the blades of green grass under their feet. Stay tuned to Tennis Atlantic for on-site ATP Stuttgart coverage all week.
ATP World Tour 250
June 8-June 14, 2015
Prize Money: € 574,965
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Rafael Nadal (10)
2: Marin Cilic (9)
3: Feliciano Lopez (14)
4: Gael Monfils (16)
Stuttgart switching to grass gave them a stronger field than usual, Nadal is the top seed because he was ranked higher than Cilic at the time the seeds were drawn, though that has changed now with the new rankings. The seed cutoff is 28, as this is a strong field for a 250.
Rosol has a h2h win on grass in this matchup, Queen’s 2012, but that was a three set match. Rosol comes off a third round showing in Paris, while Baghdatis won a round at the grass Manchester challenger. Both of these guys are solid on the green stuff, as Rosol famously ball bashed to beat Nadal on this surface, and Baghdatis with his aggressive ball striking has shown his prowess before as well. I’d give Rosol a slight edge to advance with his power, but this one probably goes three sets again.
(WC)Tommy Haas vs. Mikhail Kukushkin
Tommy Haas is making his return from shoulder surgery one year since he last played a match on the ATP tour. The 37 year old remains an ageless wonder, and it was surprising after he elected to come back after another injury, in a career marked by injuries, rather than retiring. On home soil, and on grass, a surface his all court game is well suited for, he should feel comfortable, but one has to wonder how much he has left in the tank at this point in his career, coming off an injury. Kukushkin is struggling mightily, and has for most of the season, so he’s a beatable round 1 opponent.
Brown has a 2-1 h2h over the higher ranked Janowicz and he qualified without dropping set here, well recognized as a solid grass court player, as he beat Rafa Nadal on this surface in Halle previously. Janowicz, a former Wimbledon semifinalist has been struggling this season, but he will look to grass to kickstart his game. This should be a close match, but I’m going with Brown in an upset victory.
Stakhovsky with his serve and volley game can be lethal on grass, as his famous Wimbledon win over Roger Federer proved, Groth comes off of a title in the Manchester challenger, and with his massive serve, he’s likewise a dangerous player on a quick surface. This is their first meeting, and it’s a hard match to pick, I give Groth a slight edge to advance.
Rafael Nadal, struggling this season by his standards, will open with the winner of Baghdatis/Rosol in what could be a tricky opening round test on the heels of his quarterfinal defeat at the French Open. Nadal’s worst surface is grass, and he hasn’t played well on it since 2011. Rafa has a strong h2h record, including a grass win over Baghdatis (06 Wimbledon semis), while he is 1-1 on grass against Rosol, losing to at Wimbledon 2012, but winning in four sets in 2014 at the same venue. Rosol is likely to be a tougher opponent, but either way I could well see Nadal losing that, the winner is likely to face the Bernard Tomic/Tommy Haas winner in the quarterfinals. Haas/Kukushkin will face Tomic or JL Struff. Tomic is an excellent grass court player who was having a great season before he hit clay, his worst surface. I expect grass to be a rebound for him as he should beat Struff, Haase, and then Nadal to reach the semis. Nadal is not trustworthy on grass right now if you ask me, and Haas is just coming off of injury, so Tomic doesn’t seem like that bold of a pick to me.
4 seed Gael Monfils will open with Andreas Haider-Maurer or Max Marterer a 19 year old German wild card. Marterer will have a shot at a win if he can play on grass, as AHM is a clay courter, either way, Monfils should cruise into the quarters, but he will get a tough opponent there. Philipp Kohlschreiber routined Alex Dolgopolov today, and he will face the Janowicz/Brown winner. All three of these guys are dangerous on grass and given given Kohli has a 2-0 h2h over Brown, I have him facing Monfils in the quarters. Kohlschreiber has a poor h2h against Monfils overall, but one of his two wins came on grass, meaning this meeting should be exciting if it takes place. Monfils has been in pretty good form as of late, and I’m going with him to advance to the semis.
Marin Cilic will open with either Peter Gojowczyk or Matthias Bachinger in the opening round, both Germans enter via qualifying, Bachinger was a lucky loser, and Gojowczyk qualified without dropping a set. Gojo has always been a talented underachiever in my mind but Cilic, who is improving in form and reached the second week at the French, will be a strong favorite to reach the quarters. There he probably faces the Benjamin Becker/Andreas Seppi winner. 7 seed Dominic Thiem is the seed, and opens with qualifier Mischa Zverev. Thiem is extremely inexperienced on grass, and prefers clay, thus the veteran Zverev will have a shot in that one. Becker is an excellent grass court veteran, while Seppi’s all court game can be dangerous as well, I’m going with Becker to beat Seppi, and Zverev to reach the quarters, where he will likely fall to Cilic.
3 seed Feliciano Lopez, who had a remarkable season on grass last year and is at his best on the surface opens with the Groth/Stakhovsky winner, a difficult task. Lopez has been in very poor form on clay, and he’ll be under pressure to preserve ranking points now, I still think he wins that match, and beats Viktor Troicki or Borna Coric in the quarterfinals. Wild card Alex Zverev, the younger brother of Mischa and an ATP young gun more suited for clay, opens with qualifier Mate Pavic. Look for Pavic to beat Zverev, and Troicki to slip past the inexperienced young gun Coric on grass, then beat Pavic to reach the quarters.
The German with American ties, Becker, reached a grass court final last year in Den Bosch (a tournament he won in 2009), and if he can get past Seppi, Cilic could slip up in the quarters, and he could upset him as well for a spot in the semis. He’s not the only possible dark horse in the draw, but with his good serve and quality baseline game, the crafty veteran could impress.
Semis: Monfils d. Tomic Cilic d. Lopez
Tomic vs. Monfils could go either way, I’m going with Monfils based off of form though, Tomic winning this title wouldn’t surprise me. Cilic has a h2h win on grass over Lopez, his form is better, and he’s done better on fast surface h2h meetings.
It’s been a slow road back for Cilic, and Monfils has struggled to stay healthy as well. I’m finally comfortable picking Cilic to perform like the top 10 player he is capable of as he seems fit, and the rust is starting to fade. Look for him to win in Stuttgart this week.
ATP World Tour 250*
s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands
June 8-June 14, 2015
Prize Money: € 537,050
*denotes joint ATP/WTA event
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga*/(5) Ivo Karlovic (27)
2: David Goffin (15)
3: Roberto Bautista Agut (21)
4: Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (34)
*Top seed Tsonga pulled out after a run to the French Open semis, thus the 5 seed Ivo Karlovic becomes the 1 seed in terms of the draw.
Den Bosch isn’t as strong of a field as Stuttgart, but it’s not bad for a 250, the lack of a top 10 player makes this an open draw.
First round matchups to watch:
(WC)Lleyton Hewitt vs. (Q)Nicolas Mahut
A pair of veterans who are retiring soon, Mahut, the champion of this tournament in 2013, qualified with relative ease and he’s a solid grass court player with his serve and volley skills, while Hewitt is of course a legend who counterpunches at his best on grass, though he has played an extremely light schedule so far this year. These players met in the 2013 Newport final on grass, and Mahut prevailed in three sets, prior to that Hewitt won a pair of h2h meetings on other surfaces. It’s a tough pick in regards to the winner of this, Mahut has played more recently, and Hewitt is in serious decline at this point in his career, thus I’m going with Nico, likely in three sets.
(6)Adrian Mannarino vs. Rendy Lu
Mannarino’s versatile game is well suited for fast surfaces like grass, while Lu is a steady flat hitting baseliner who excels on fast surfaces, especially hard courts. Mannarino beat Lu this year in three sets at Delray Beach, and as the higher ranked player, he should be the favorite, having performed well on hard courts this year, that said, Lu can rise to the occasion at times though he lacks weaponry, and this should be a good match. I have Mannarino winning it.
The big serving Karlovic will face Ricardas Berankis or Tatsuma Ito in round 2, Ito qualified with ease, so I’d expect him to win that round 1 match, before falling to Karlovic who has been struggling mightily for a while, but should find some form on grass. 7 seed Fernando Verdasco should be the favorite in the top section, he opens with dirtballer Daniel Gimeno-Traver and I’d also expect him to get past Robin Haase, who beat Blaz Kavcic in straights today. Haase beat Verdasco at Wimbledon 2011, but he’s not exactly a top player these days, plus he tends to struggle on home soil under pressure. Verdasco has lost twice to Karlovic on grass, but given recent form, this time I’m picking him to advance to the semis.
Defending champion Roberto Bautista Agut will get a tough R2 match against Hewitt/Mahut, if Mahut advances, RBA should still have an edge, as he beat him in Den Bosch last year (in 3 sets). RBA hasn’t been a world beater as of late but I favor him to reach the quarters. The Mannarino/Lu winner should also reach the quarters, unless Benoit Paire or Marco Chiudinelli, one of the qualifiers, is a surprise. Chiudinelli qualified in just his second tournament of 2015, while Paire has limited abilities on grass, though his form has been improved as of late. I have Mannarino over Paire, and then RBA over Mannarino for a spot in the semis.
David Goffin will face the winner of Kenny De Schepper/Jurgen Melzer in round 2. De Schepper is a lucky loser, but he still should defeat Melzer, the struggling veteran, and he’ll have a good chance against Goffin as well, given his game isn’t as well built for grass, while De Schepper’s big serve should help him find success. The section above De Schepper/Goffin is interesting, Joao Sousa/Denis Istomin is a toss-up match, while Mikhail Youzhny was formerly good on grass, and will open with qualifier Illya Marchenko who has been in good form as of late. Sousa has been better than Istomin this year, but Istomin has a better record on grass. I have Sousa beating Youzhny in the second round, Youzhny has been in awful form this year, and even with that previous success on grass I don’t see him getting far. Goffin over Sousa is my pick in the quarters, he has a 2-1 h2h edge.
4 seed Guillermo Garcia-Lopez will face Marius Copil, the Romanian wild card defeated Jarkko Nieminen in 3 sets on Monday. GGL should defeat Copil, though he comes off an opening round shock defeat at the French, but the winner of Vasek Pospisil/Gilles Muller could trouble him in the quarters. Pospisil routined the poor playing Marinko Matosevic in straights on Monday, while Muller blitzed Turkish #1 Marsel Ilhan with a bagel. Muller with his big serve is a threat on grass, as he also volleys well, and I see him defeating both Pospisil, and Garcia-Lopez to reach the semis. GGL has been a streaky player but I don’t feel his game is clicking right now.
The veteran serve and volleyer plays some of his best tennis on grass, and he looked strong today in his match. He has a draw that should open up if he can defeat Garcia-Lopez, and he well could win this tournament, as I have him reaching the final at a minimum with wins over Pospisil, Garcia-Lopez, and Goffin.
Semis: Bautista Agut d. Verdasco
Muller d. Goffin
It’s a coin flip between RBA and Verdasco if they meet in the semis, a 1-1 h2h and both have been streaky on grass before, RBA is higher ranked, both have huge forehand, and I’m going with RBA in my own bracket. Muller should defeat Goffin given this is grass.
Going with a non-seed to take the title in Den Bosch, it’s happened previously and RBA lost to Muller in the AO this year. On a slick fast surface, Muller’s serve and volley should be a deadly combination, and I have the veteran winning a title this week.
2015 ATP Indian Wells Preview and Prediction Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
2015 ATP Indian Wells Preview
The first Masters event of the 2015 ATP World Tour Season is here, as it’s time for the celebrated, modern, BNP Paribas Open from the sweltering hard courts of the California desert in Indian Wells. I’m not as fond of Larry Ellison’s oasis in the desert as many fans and players are, but all the same the season is beginning to kick into high gear as all but a handful of the worlds best men’s tennis players will be battling for points, prize money and prestige over the next two weeks.
BNP Paribas Open
ATP World Tour Masters 1000
March 12-March 22, 2015
Prize Money: $5.381,235
Indian Wells put up even more cash this year, as prize money increased by over half a million dollars compared to 2014.
Top 8 seeds (All 32 seeds receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Novak Djokovic (1)
2: Roger Federer (2)
3: Rafael Nadal (3)
4: Andy Murray (4)
5: Kei Nishkori (5)
6: Milos Raonic (6)
7: Stan Wawrinka (7)
8: David Ferrer (8)
Notable players missing Indian Wells include a pair of top Frenchmen, Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who are joined in absence by David Goffin, Lleyton Hewitt, Leonardo Mayer, and Nicolas Almagro.
First round matchups to watch:
Jan–Lennard Struff vs. (WC)Thanasi Kokkinakis
Both players come off putting in hard work in the Davis Cup over the weekend. Kokkinakis helped lead Australia to a victory in their tie, while Struff put in a valiant effort but lost to Gilles Simon in 5 sets. Struff has a h2h win on clay, but he’s just 4-7 on the season in all competitive matches. Kokkinakis by contrast has been on the rise with a 12-5 record in the same span including three straight qualifications for ATP main draw events in Memphis, Delray Beach and Acapulco, all on hard courts. Struff should make this match closer than expected but the young gun Australian should prevail.
Kukushkin beat Pospisil at Indian Wells last year in straights, and he may be on track to do so again this year after two massive straight set wins over top 50 players Simone Bolelli and Andreas Seppi in Davis Cup over the weekend to help his nation clinch their tie. The unpredictable, and undersized ballstriker Kukushkin, who has an ATP hard court final on his resume this season (Sydney), snapped a four match losing streak with those Davis Cup wins. Pospisil by contrast went 1-1 in Davis Cup play, and has only won consecutive matches this year in one tournament, the Australian Open, resulting in an even .500 record. Pospisil certainly has the ability on this surface, but I’m endorsing the upset this time and picking Kukushkin to reach round 2.
Nick Kyrgios vs. (WC)Denis Kudla
Kyrgios, three years the junior of Kudla, should be able to beat the American wild card, but Denis has shown some good form at points this season, and Kyrgios is playing his first tournament since the Australian Open, having taken time off to recover from a back injury. Kyrgios is without a doubt the more talented player, but he will need to deal with the California weather conditions, and may have some rust in his game, so Kudla could give himself belief if he could strike while the iron is hot and get off to a confident start. All eyes will be on Kyrgios this year as he begins to play the Masters level full-time, and the journey this time around will begin with a young American on home soil, drawing even more attention the match. As we all know, Kyrgios feasts off the attention.
Querrey is 3-0, including 1-0 on outdoor hard against Stakhovsky, and that’s probably why he’s the bookies favorite for this one, but he’s been in terrible form but all but one tournament this season, with round 1 exits in every tournament but Memphis. Stako meanwhile had a top class month of February, reaching two 500 level quarterfinals in Rotterdam and Dubai, and a semifinal in Marseille sandwiched in between. The Californian Sam Q should be better adapted to the conditions, but I have Stakhovsky winning this one, perhaps quite comfortably. His game has been greatly improved this year overall based upon the two month sample size.
The American wild card Krajicek, who has had a career year in 2015, has another great shot at notching an upset over an ATP regular. Istomin happens to be in poor form, with just a 3-7 ATP record on the season. Krajicek by contrast qualified and reached the quarterfinals in Memphis, pushing Kei Nishikori to 3 sets, and also qualified in Acapulco. With the home crowd sure to be behind him, the former Texas A&M standout will still need to play his best to have a chance, but momentum, and venue favor him, and thus I have Krajicek, an unheralded American, into round 2 over Istomin.
Jack Sock vs. Yen-Hsun Lu
A battle of baselining ball strikers, the 22 year old American Sock is returning from hip surgery, and this is his first tournament of 2015. The 31 year old Lu has had a decent season with two ATP hard court quarterfinals (Chennai and Delray) on his resume. Lu is never going to wow or shock, his game simply is what it is, good but not great, and relatively weaponless but reliable. Sock by contrast has a gifted forehand but has had to work develop the other parts of his game to compliment that natural gift. He’s matured at the ATP level over time, when previously opponents were able to exploit his weaker backhand and poor fitness, and before the hip surgery was on an upward trend overall. This is really just a form test for Sock, and Lu, given how reliably bland he is, is actually not the best matchup for a player coming back from injury, because he is likely to be steadier than his opponent who will be feeling his way back into ATP level matches. Lu should advance, likely in 3 sets.
Three time, and defending Indian Wells champ Novak Djokovic will open with the winner of Jiri Vesely vs. Marcos Baghdatis, Vesely has been in awful form since winning his maiden ATP title, and a Baghdatis victory should extend his losing streak to six straight matches, as Vesely also lost in Davis Cup over the weekend. The Cypriot veteran has been in good form overall this year with no opening round exits in any tournament, and he’s also 2-0 in the h2h record. Djokovic is 4-0 on hard courts against Baghdatis (7-0 overall with the last meeting taking place in 2012), and shouldn’t have any issue reaching the third round, where his Davis Cup teammate Viktor Troicki is likely to be his next opponent. Troicki, who went 2-0 in Davis Cup most recently, and has an ATP title along with two quarterfinals on his resume should defeat dirtballer Albert Ramos, and 25 seed Julien Benneteau who has been in poor form in singles this year. Benny has a 2-0 h2h record on hard courts against Troicki but he has only won 1 match this season. Djokovic has dominated Troicki in the h2h, posting a 10-0 hard court record against the Serb who is two years his senior. I don’t expect Djokovic to drop a set before the round of 16.
16 seed Kevin Anderson likewise shouldn’t have too much competition going into the round of 16, Neither Federico Delbonis or Dusan Lajovic, his possible round 2 opponents are good hard court players. Anderson also had a good stroke of luck with the fact that the other seed in his section is 18 seed John Isner, the top American player. Isner, a former finalist at IW, has been in awful form this season, and suffered further blows to his confidence, and emotional well-being with two brutal Davis Cup losses in Glasgow that cost Team USA the tie. Isner is just 3-5 at the ATP level this year with egregious losses to James Ward most recently, and also Marinko Matosevic on home soil in Delray Beach, on outdoor hard.
I could see Isner losing to a qualifier (American Dennis Novikov or veteran Jurgen Melzer) in round 2, but if he does get through that match (he’s 1-2 on hard courts against likely round 2 opponent Melzer), a favorable h2h of 6-3 on hard courts against Anderson should at least give him hope, especially since he’s won the last four meetings between the pair. No matter, look for Anderson, who has an ATP final, and two ATP semifinals, all on hard courts, the most recent one coming in Acapulco, on his resume in 2015, to improve that h2h by 1 win, and setup a meeting with Djokovic.
David Ferrer has a flawless three ATP titles this season (Doha, Rio, Acapulco), and he has only lost one match on the season (to Kei Nishikori in Melbourne). He’s likely to get a rematch from Acapulco against 32 seed Bernard Tomic in round 3. Ferrer will need to defeat either Joao Sousa or Ivan Dodig in round 2 (Sousa in my bracket), while Tomic will need to beat Andreas Haider-Maurer or qualifier Borna Coric, most likely the qualifier Coric to set that up. Coric, who was coming off of Davis Cup duty, had to save match points to qualify for IW, and he was a semifinalist at the 500 level in Dubai. His match will Tomic will get a lot of attention, and it should be quality, but I feel Tomic is the more mature young gun, who is also in better form, and that along with being fresher should be enough to put the young Aussie over the young Croat. Tomic’s junkballing should also frustrate Coric.
As mentioned, Ferrer just beat Tomic in 3 sets in Acapulco, and prior to that Ferrer had won both their hard court meetings in 2 sets. The veteran Spaniard has been at his best thus far in 2015, and is a strong favorite to reach the last 16.
Marin Cilic, will begin his 2015 campaign in Indian Wells, coming off of a shoulder injury, and without any tournament play in 2015. The Croat, who had a major breakthrough in 2014, claiming the US Open title, his maiden slam, will get his first match against either Juan Monaco or Teymuraz Gabashvili. Gabashvili is on a four match losing streak, while Monaco has been in good form, all be it on South American clay. Cilic has a lone hard court h2h win 7 years ago against Monaco, and though rust is likely, and his form may be shaky, on a hard court surface, he should still be good enough to get past a declined Monaco. A more stern test is certain in the third round, as the Kokkinakis/Struff winner could be his opponent, or the unpredictable Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. First off, if Kokkinakis can get past Struff, and upset GGL, I feel his form will be good enough to also notch a top 20 win and upset Cilic, given the Croat number one is almost certain to be rusty. However, I also see GGL reaching the fourth round if he can beat Kokkinakis/Struff. GGL has beaten Cilic at Indian Wells before, and he has an ATP title among other good results this year. This is a hard to predict section, and in my own bracket I’m going with Garcia-Lopez over both Kokkinakis and CIlic to setup a round of 16 match with Ferrer, though either Cilic or Kokkinakis reaching the round of 16 would not shock me. I feel Kokkinakis may be emotionally spent from his Davis Cup triumph from 2 sets down, which was the key result that led to an Australian victory in the tie.
A one time finalist at Indian Wells, Andy Murray comes off doing a tremendous job in Davis Cup duty for team GB on indoor hard, having returned to the top 5 in the ATP rankings as well. Murray will have a difficult opening match against the Kukushkin/Pospisil winner, and should he show any signs of vulnerability, I could see Pospisil, or more likely Kukushkin pouncing and making it a match. Kukushkin has pushed Murray to three sets before, and as mentioned above, he was in peak form for Davis Cup while Murray has two h2h wins over Pospisil over the last two seasons, both close straight set matches. I’m not predicting an upset myself, but Murray’s opening match will be good viewing at minimum. Murray has had two early awful losses this year to Borna Coric in Dubai and Gilles Simon in Rotterdam, but his Davis Cup form was much better than those matches, and they are most likely aberrations rather than a worrying sign of things to come. Look for Murray to get past his third rounder as well, the seeded opponent would be Philipp Kohlschreiber, but Kohli is in poor form and really has been all year (3-6 on the season), most recently coming off Davis Cup play. American wild card Tim Smyczek has a nice chance at the third round, if he can get past ball striking grinder Benjamin Becker, and then upset Kohlschreiber. I have Becker in the third round in my own bracket, with wins over Smyczek and Kohlschreiber, his Davis Cup teammate. Becker most recently pushed Bernard Tomic to 3 sets in Acapulco. Murray should be untroubled by Becker or any other player though and reach the round of 16 this week.
14 seed Ernests Gulbis is in atrocious form. He hasn’t won a match in 2015, and he may be better off playing challengers to build his confidence at this point, rather than Masters events. I’m just about certain Gulbis will lose to either qualifier Daniel Gimeno-Traver, a veteran dirtballer, or Sam Groth in round 2. The big serving Groth has been steadily improving his game up to an ATP caliber level of play, and his rhythm on serve should frustrate a struggling Gulbis should they meet. With the qualifers placed, I’d place Groth into third round, with a shot at the round of 16, given that the other seed here is the 19 seed Fabio Fognini. Fogna has been in horrendous form on hard courts for months, and he most recently cost Italy their Davis Cup tie against Kazakhstan with a massive choke against challenger level player Alex Nedovyesov. I see Fognini struggling in a loss to either qualifier Mischa Zverev (who won the pre-qualifying tournament, then qualified) or Adrian Mannarino. Mannarino destroyed Fognini at the US Open last fall, and he posted an ATP semi in Delray, along with a final in Auckland as he’s an extremely streaky player to who can post big results and this lose consecutive matches early on in tournaments. Mannarino and Groth, which could be a very strange match for the third round of Masters event, have met twice prior, and split meetings on hard courts. Remarkably, I’d put Mannarino into the fourth round with a small edge in another difficult to predict section.
5 seed Kei Nishikori, who went 2-0 in Davis Cup play after reaching the final in Acapulco and winning Memphis in recent weeks, will open with the winner of Mardy Fish/Ryan Harrison. Nishikori beat Milos Raonic in Davis Cup, and appears to be streaking right now, having worked his way into the top 5, very much deserving that status. Fish/Harrison is one of the most over-hyped round 1 matches I’ve seen in quite some time, as it’s been given stadium 1 billing for Thursday. Fish hasn’t played a competitive tournament singles match since 2013, between psychological and health problems with his heart. Harrison meanwhile had one of the best results of his career with a run to the semifinals in Acapulco that included a win over top 15 player Grigor Dimitrov. I see no reason why Harrison wouldn’t routine Fish in a match that may end in a retirement, but Nishikori should beat him in round 2 and reach the third round, as he did in Memphis in 3 sets. As for his third round opponent, 28 seed Fernando Verdasco will face Dominic Thiem or qualifier James Duckworth in round 2. Duckworth is in great form, as he qualified after previously reaching a hard court challenger final in India. Still, Thiem is the superior talent and is likely to stave off the possible upset to setup a meeting with Verdasco. Verdasco and Thiem have never met, but Verdasco is perhaps slightly better at the moment, though his form has been very much average. Verdasco beat Nishikori in straights at the 2011 Aussie Open, but the tables have entirely turned since that match, and Nishikori is a much more complete player now, barring the conditions getting to him, I fully expect to see Kei into the round of 16.
12 seed Feliciano Lopez will open with Marinko Matosevic, whose form appears to be getting a bit better in recent weeks, or lucky loser Edouard Roger-Vasselin. I don’t expect Feli to have too much trouble reaching the round of 16 this week, as his third round opponent is most likely to be qualifier Thiemo De Bakker or Jarkko Nieminen in a weak section. Nieminen is decent, even at his age, on hard courts, while De Bakker, who is talented but a noted underachiever, appears to be near the cusp of a breakthrough back on the ATP stage, as he’s been doing well in ATP qualifying. Still, Lopez is better than every player in his section in terms of talent and form, and I have Lopez over De Bakker for a spot in the round of 16. The winner of Nieminen/De Bakker faces 20 seed Pablo Cuevas, who much prefers clay and comes off Davis Cup duty, in round 2. Interestingly for Lopez, he’s 0-1 against De Bakker on hard courts, and 1-3 against Nieminen likewise, he’s also had shock losses to Victor Estrella, Aljaz Bedene and Marsel Ilhan in 2015, all lower ranked journeymen (though he was sick against Ilhan in Dubai).
The three time former IW champion, Rafael Nadal, who seems to like the slow, high bouncing hard courts the venue offers up, will open up another hard court campaign against Igor Sijsling or qualifier Filip Krajinovic. Krajinovic surprisingly qualified on a hard court and has won three straight matches dating back to Davis Cup for Serbia, while Sijsling has lost four straight. I expect Nadal, who won a title on clay a couple of weeks ago in Buenos Aires, to cruise through to the third round no matter whom he faces in round 2. Rafa could get a bit of a contest from fellow lefty Donald Young at that stage. Young, who played poorly in Davis Cup, had a career month in February with an ATP final and an ATP semifinal in Delray and Memphis. He should be able to score wins over dirtballer Pablo Carreno Busta, and then a pedestrian Jeremy Chardy, who has been unfortunate to have some tough draws this season though his record is floating around .500 on the year. Nadal beat the American Young 6-1 6-3 at IW in 2008, though his hard court form has been shaky since this time last year (he hasn’t even reached a hard court semifinal since Miami 2014), he still should play well enough to get into the round of 16. Though Nadal isn’t really in the conversation for the champion of a hard court masters event right now, he’s still better than all but top 10 players on the surface as a general rule.
The section above Nadal featuring a pair of French seeds, Davis Cup hero Gilles Simon, and Richard Gasquet is intriguing. Simon should beat Tatsuma Ito or Malek Jaziri with ease (Ito should be favored over Jaziri given Jaziri has lost five straight matches while Ito has a challenger final and a challenger semi since the AO, and comes off of Davis Cup duty). While Gasquet is the favorite against one of two admirable veterans, qualifier Michael Berrer, or Victor Estrella. Berrer is retiring after this season, though the serve and volleying German has played well (beat Nadal in Doha, qualified for both Zagreb and IW), and Estrella comes off Davis Cup duty, and has won both his maiden ATP title (on clay), and a challenger title (on hard courts) this season. I have Estrella over Berrer, and then Gasquet over Estrella, though Estrella shocked Gasquet in Bogota on outdoor hard courts last season. Gasquet has two ATP quarterfinals and an ATP title this year, while Simon has a title and a semi. Gasquet leads the h2h with Simon on hard courts 4-1, and is more skilled and aesthetically pleasing than the defensively strong counterpuncher Simon. I expect a three setter, and while I picked Gasquet myself, a Simon win would not surprise me either.
6 seed Milos Raonic will get a chance at revenge if he faces Simone Bolelli in round 2, Bolelli beat him in Marseille this year (though Raonic won their meeting a week prior in Rotterdam). Bolelli has played well for points this year, but he played erratically, spraying errors in the Davis Cup for Italy over the weekend, and thus I don’t give him much of a chance against Raonic, though he should still beat Thomaz Bellucci, who struggled as well in Davis Cup for Brazil). The difference is Bellucci was playing on clay in his tie, and still played poorly, while Bolelli is superior on hard courts. Look for Raonic, who went for 1-1 in Davis Cup singles play for Canada over the weekend, to take out Santiago Giraldo or Alex Dolgopolov for a spot in the round of 16. Giraldo comes off Davis Cup duty, and hasn’t done much spectacular this year, while Dolgopolov is struggling compared to the form he was in this time last year. Dolgo will face qualifier Frank Dancevic before the 29 seed Giraldo who he has beaten twice on grass. Though Dolgo is unlikely to trouble Raonic, he has beaten Giraldo twice on grass and reached consecutive ATP quarterfinals in Delray Beach and Acapulco. Dolgo beat Raonic in the IW quarterfinals last year in their only meeting, but as mentioned, that was a vastly different Dolgo than his current self, and Raonic has proven himself to be reliable in the Masters series events against all but the top 10.
11 seed Grigor Dimitrov, who took part in an exo at Madison Square Garden in New York on Wednesday night, is going to have some trouble in his opening match, as he will face the Kyrgios/Kudla winner. Kyrgios, assuming his form is ok (as we will find out from his match against Kudla) has to be the favorite given Dimitrov has been poor in ATP matches this year, including recent losses to Gilles Muller in Rotterdam and Ryan Harrison in Acapulco. Dimitrov has been lacking killer instinct, and passion with his tennis this year, two things that Kyrgios has in excess, meaning the Bulgarian’s chances are slim in my mind against the teenage Aussie. Look for Kyrgios to also blow past his third round opponent, as Dustin Brown and Andrey Golubev are both journeymen, with Golubev coming off of DC duty, and 17 seed Tommy Robredo has very much struggled this season. Robredo beat Kyrgios at the 2014 US Open but he’s just 3-5 on the season, and age may well be catching up to him.
Roger Federer, a four time Indian Wells champion, the defending finalist, and most recently, the champion in Dubai, will open his 2015 IW campaign against Jerzy Janowicz or Diego Sebastian Schwartzman, as he stares down a challenging draw if he is to reach at least the semifinals. Janowicz , who has an ATP final this year and played excellent in Davis Cup duty for Poland over the weekend, played him well on clay in Rome in 2013, and appears to be in improved form compared to his play in 2014. Still, one has to expect Federer to find a way past the big serving Polish number one, given how well the Swiss is playing himself. After that, Andreas Seppi, who upset him at the Australian Open, is his likely round 3 opponent. Seppi will face a veteran in round 2, as Mikhail Youzhny and qualifier Victor Hanescu will battle for the right to face the 30 seed. Youzhny has a slight 2-1 hard court h2h edge over the Romanian, though both players who are 30+, are greatly declined from their heyday in the 2000s. Hanescu has been reduced to playing ATP qualies, while Youzhny has just two wins this year. Surprisingly, Youzhny is 4-0 against Seppi on hard courts, including a win last year in Cincy, and the Italian did not play well in Davis Cup, but still he’s had a solid year already in 2015, and with a second week showing in Australia and an ATP final on his resume this year, he has to be trusted to right the ship. Still, look for Federer to get his revenge, perhaps comfortably, and dispatch Seppi for a spot in the round of 16.
15 seed Roberto Bautista Agut faces a draw that will have him face the Istomin/Krajicek winner in round 1, and then one of Sock/Lu or Gilles Muller (who replaced Leo Mayer in the draw as a seed) in round 3. I have RBA over Krajicek rather comfortably, and then over Muller as well, as Muller, who has played well in 2015, should be favored over Lu or Sock, as his serve should disrupt their rhythm and overwhelm them. Muller is 3-3 in his career on hard court against Lu, and he won their most recent meeting last year. Muller beat RBA at the AO this year, and he has won both their hard court meetings, but it’s a competitive matchup and RBA has two ATP semifinals on his record this year. I feel these courts suit his game well.
7 seed Stan Wawrinka will open with a slumping Robin Haase or qualifier Alex Bolt, who is making his ATP main draw debut against the Dutchman. I have Bolt over Haase given that Haase is 0-7 in 2015, while Bolt has an ATP challenger final and semifinal on his resume already and scored to quality wins in qualifying. Wawrinka has a very easy draw, as his round 3 opponent will be most likely the talented but erratic ballbasher Martin Klizan. Klizan opens with dirtballer Pablo Andujar, and then will face 27 seed Lukas Rosol, who is in the midst of a six match losing streak. Klizan in the third round is mostly just the luck of the draw, rather than being particularly deserved, and I don’t see Wawrinka dropping a set before the round of 16.
9 seed Tomas Berdych has a much more challenging path to the fourth round, he will face the Querrey/Stakhovsky winner round 2, and though he’s 4-0 on hard courts against Stako, including a win this year in Dubai in 3 sets, playing an in-form opponent is still never easy. Berdych has made the semifinals or better at every single tournament he’s played a match in this season, but has no titles from that, which is why he’s been posting quality results under the radar. Berdych against Steve Johnson or 21 seed Ivo Karlovic in round 3 promises to be interesting. Karlovic has an ATP title (Delray), quarterfinal and semifinal on his record this season, and is playing well. Johnson, who played his college tennis at USC and is very much a southern California boy, has been much improved under the radar, already posting three ATP quarterfinals this year, the most recent of which came in Delray Beach, where his run was ended by Karlovic. Johnson, like Berdych, has been posting his quality results under the radar, but at Indian Wells his matches are sure to get attention, including his opening contest with veteran Marcel Granollers who he beat in 3 sets in Tokyo on hard courts last year. Johnson has beaten Karlovic twice before, even with that Delray loss, and he should be motivated to do perform at his best in California, with that in mind I have him reaching the third round to face Berdych who he has never played before. He’ll have an upset chance, but Berdych has been a tough opponent to face this year, and thus the battle tested Czech should reach the round of 16.
Dark Horses: Thanasi Kokkinakis, Mikhail Kukushkin, Nick Kyrgios, Steve Johnson
Teens Kokkinakis and Kyrgios, could, or should in the case of Kyrgios, reach the round of 16. As mentioned, Kokkinakis will need to beat Struff and Garcia-Lopez, then likely Cilic to setup a meeting with Ferrer, who is likely to be too much for him at this stage in his career. Kyrgios, the other half of “special-K’ from Down Under, has a path of Kudla, Dimitrov, and then Robredo/Golubev/Brown, to setup a meeting with Raonic, who I also think will be too much (Raonic beat him at both Wimbledon and the French last year), but who knows, Kyrgios is known to rise the occasion.
Kukushkin would need to shock Murray, after scoring perhaps a minor upset over Pospisil, but should be pull off that double, he could go as far as the quarterfinals as the rest of the section is very weak (Smyczek/Kohlschreiber/Becker round 3, Mannarino/Groth/Fognini/Gulbis round of 16). Johnson has the toughest road to the round of 16, as he would need to beat big servers Karlovic and Berdych to earn the right to face a very tough opponent in Wawrinka.
Djokovic isn’t his best against big servers but he’s 2-1 against Anderson and still should advance in straights, Ferrer is in great form, and has dominated GGL in the h2h record, Murray has a weak section and shouldn’t drop a set to his round of 16 opponent, Nishikori is 2-1 on hard courts against Lopez and in better form, Raonic as mentioned has the edge on Kyrgios, Nadal dominates Gasquet in the h2h as the Frenchman has a mental block against him, Wawrinka has won the last five meetings against Berdych on a hard court, including a win in the Rotterdam final this year, and thus should win again if they meet. Last but not least, Federer beat RBA twice last year on a hard court.
Quarters: Djokovic d Ferrer
Nishikori d. Murray
Raonic d. Nadal
Federer d. Wawrinka
No matter how well Ferrer is playing, Djokovic is a bit of an unstoppable force, and he has won their last six hard court meetings since 2012, it could well be a three setter, and I wouldn’t count Ferrer out but Novak has to be the intelligent pick. Murray was 3-0 all on hard courts, before losing to Nishikori at the World Tour Finals last year, but I see that matchup as a 50/50 type of decision, and Nishikori should be slightly fresher going into it, with that in mind I have Kei slipping through, perhaps in 3.
Nadal is 4-0 on hard courts against Raonic, but Raonic is one of those top tier hard court players that should very much give this current version of Nadal trouble, with that in mind, I have him earning his first h2h win in the matchup to reach the semifinals. Wawrinka has never beaten his celebrated countryman in 11 hard court meetings, though their matches have become closer and more competitive over time, Federer should be the favorite and I see no weaknesses in his game that suggest to me he’ll lose before the final.
Semis: Djokovic d. Nishikori
Federer d. Raonic
Nishikori of course shocked Novak at the US Open, but Djokovic won both their hard court meetings after that, and given a neutral venue such as Indian Wells, Djokovic has to be something like a 60/40 favorite. Nishikori has a strong enough game to generate chances, and pounce if Novak struggles, but the match is still on Novak’s racquet as to how it will go. Given I’m buying into the Serbian’s form, I have him reaching the final this week.
Federer is 5-1, including a win in the Brisbane outdoor hard court final this year, against Raonic, and he’s striking the ball and moving well, so I have a feeling no matter how well Raonic can play on his serve, Federer will return too well and have too much to go down in defeat before the final.
Final: Djokovic d. Federer
Federer upset Djokovic in Dubai, a fast low bouncing surface compared to IW, but Djokovic has won both their IW meetings, including a thrilling final last year, in three sets. The surface should favor his game against the more aggressive Federer, who likes the courts quick, even though it’s a razor call when these two meet. If you watched that Dubai encounter, it’s not that Federer was flawless, as Djokovic generated chances and could have won that match, but he simply didn’t play well enough in key moments to do so, and that was the difference. These two know each other well and it’s never a surprise when they battle in what are always world class matchups, it’s simply a matter of execution on a certain day, rather than skill or style, as to who the winner will be.