Costa do Sauipe (Brasil Open)
As expected, the only ATP tournament played in Brazil is full of clay court specialists. Carlos Moya comes back to play there after missing it last year; he is the top seed. He has an interesting first round match against Santiago Ventura, but he’s the favorite to go through to the second round. Agustin Calleri is in his quarter and that should be a great match if both get that far, though the Argentine would have to beat tough guys like Sergio Rotiman and Pablo Cuevas. In the second quarter, Igor Andreev is by far the biggest favorite even though Jose Acasuso’s in the same section. Two Brazilians are also in that same quarter with tough first round matches. Marcos Daniel faces Peter Luczak, who’s played a semifinal at the Brasil Open before and Bellucci faces Nicolas Lapentti.
In the third quarter, Potito Starace’s back after his ban for betting on tennis matches. In the same quarter, we’d have to mention both Fabio Fognini and Gustavo Kuerten, who will open against Carlos Berlocq. In the last quarter, the favorites are second seed Nicolas Almagro, who has a good draw, and Filippo Volandri; both of these players really good on clay. Nicolas Massu and Guillermo Coria are both in this quarter as well.
This year’s tournament should be really interesting, considering it will be the last time the three-time Roland Garros Champion Gustavo Kuerten plays the tournament in his own country. It’s also important to remember that the tournament might be played in another city (São Paulo) in 2009, so it might be the last year for the event in Costa do Sauipe. Also, none of last year’s semifinalists are playing at ths year’s event.
While Delray Beach is typically the week right after the Australian Open, it was pushed back two weeks this year and instead follows the First Round Davis Cup ties; in fact, the draw is full of players who will be arriving from all corners of the globe.
Headliner and top seed James Blake is already on his way from Austria and will arrive home in Florida to see quite an easy draw. He opens against compatriot Robert Kendrick, but despite the inevitable jetlag, it’s hard to see him not coming through this section of the draw.
In the second quarter, although Dudi Sela is the highest-ranked player and #4 seed, he will be coming off a disappointing Davis Cup tie in Israel and faces potentially formidable competition in Robby Ginepri (if he’s healthy from the neck/back problems that plagued him during the Australian season) and #8 seed Mardy Fish (if he brings his brain down to Delray Beach).
The third quarter of the draw is led by American seeds Sam Querrey and Vince Spadea. It’s likely that the two will play each other in the Quarterfinals.
The fourth quarter is probably the most interesting. Tommy Haas is the #2 seed and makes his first appearance of 2008 after missing the entire Australian season due to his recovery from another shoulder injury. Whether he is 100% fit to play and fully recovered remains to be seen. If he wins, he could face another interesting story in defending champion Xavier Malisse, still coming back from injury after missing most of last year, who has had great success in Delray Beach in years’ past – it is where he was finally able to claim his first ATP Title in 2005 after a dismal record in finals. Malisse has also played two other finals in Delray and has won the doubles title. Florian Mayer will be coming from Davis Cup duties in Germany, giving rising American Donald Young a chance to finally make a splash in an ATP tournament.
Marseille is by far the strongest event of the week, featuring more prize money and a field that includes three top 10 players in Novak Djokovic, Richard Gasquet, and new top 10er Mikhail Youzhny, all coming off of Davis Cup play this weekend.
Novak Djokovic heads the draw but his fitness is in question after retiring in today’s Davis Cup match. If Djokovic is fit, he should make the quarters where he would face the always tough Paul-Henri Mathieu in a very intriguing match. This little section also contains tough Frenchmen Michael Llodra, Marc Gicquel, and defending champion Gilles Simon. In the second quarter, Andy Murray returns after leaving his country high and dry in Argentina due to a “knee injury.” Also in this quarter, 2007 Brazil Open runner-up Juan Carlos Ferrero makes an interesting decision to play indoors instead of in Brasil on his beloved clay, and more tough Frenchmen including Nicolas Mahut and Sebastien Grosjean could be dangerous.
The third quarter of the draw is full of good players and potential title threats. Defending finalist Marcos Baghdatis, whose coach stepped down last week, faces a difficult second round match between either Ivo Karlovic and Feliciano Lopez, which should be an exciting encounter (not). Should Baghdatis make it through to the quarterfinals, he will likely face Youzhny in a rematch of an excellent quarterfinal match at this event last year. However, Youzhny has a tough opener in rising Croatian Marin Cilic, who has posted excellent results this year.
The stars of the fourth quarter are France’s top 2 players – Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who will be looking to meet in the quarterfinals, which would be an interesting rematch of their Australian Open Round of 16 match and quite a big deal in France. But first, Tsonga must get past Mario Ancic, a former top player who is trying to come back from various ilnesses and injuries. Also in this quarter, Robin Soderling returns to the tour after an extended injury break. Soderling will open against tough Fin Jarkko Nieminen, a semifinalist here last year.