Like last week, the upcoming ATP slate features two European tournaments on indoor hard courts and a South American tournament on outdoor red clay. Only one of the Big Four participated in last week’s action, but this week his archrival returns to the spotlight as well.
Rotterdam: Back in action for the first time since those consecutive five-setters in Melbourne, Federer prepares for a title defense closer to home soil. He often has produced his crispest tennis on indoor hard courts late in his career, and he finds himself near familiar victim Youzhny. Tested by rising star Raonic last year, Federer could meet another rising star in Jerzy Janowicz at the quarterfinal stage. Massive servers trouble him more than they once did, although Janowicz has looked less intimidating in the early events of 2013 than he did while reaching the Paris Indoors final last fall. Of further interest in this section is the first-round clash between doubles partners Benneteau and Llodra, both of whom should shine on this surface.
Continuing the French theme from Benneteau-Llodra, the second quarter lies in the shadow of two top-20 Frenchmen: the third-seeded Tsonga and the fifth-seeded Simon. No player of note would bar their routes to a quarterfinal, which their recently solid form suggests that they should reach. Both Frenchmen charted a course to the second week at the Australian Open, and Tsonga in particular excelled by extending Federer to a final set in their quarterfinal. His meeting with Simon should present a compelling contrast of styles, in which one would fancy the third seed’s chances on a surface that favors aggression.
Although both men enter the tournament unseeded, Tomic and Dimitrov offer the most notable storyline of the third quarter with the looming first-round clash between these two phenoms. Greatly celebrated for reaching the Brisbane final in January, the latter has not built upon that breakthrough but instead slipped back into the inconsistency that has slowed his progress. A hero on home soil again, Tomic recaptured much of the reputation that he lost with his 2012 antics by showing a more professional attitude to start 2013. Meanwhile, a strong week in Montpellier continued Gasquet’s strong start to the season and leaves him the favorite to reach the semifinal here. The fourth seed could repeat the Montpellier final against compatriot Benoit Paire in the second round.
Leaping from the lowest part of the draw is the first-round match between wildcard Gael Monfils and second seed Del Potro. While the former left Melbourne in mildly promising fashion, the latter fell well short of expectations in suffering a third-round exit to Jeremy Chardy. Del Potro can waste little time in recapturing his rhythm at a tournament where he finished runner-up to Federer last year, for Monfils’ two finals at the Paris Indoors prove his ability to succeed on this surface. Less likely to shine is the sixth-seeded Seppi, a player who prefers slow courts and lacks the firepower of either projected quarterfinal opponent.
Final: Tsonga vs. Del Potro
San Jose: In the last edition of this tournament, long a mainstay of Bay Area sports, Milos Raonic attempts to complete a title three-peat on the scene of his first trophy. Among the faster indoor hard courts on the calendar, San Jose will showcase a serve nearly unanswerable at its best. In the last two years, opponents struggled even to earn a break point against Raonic. Fresh from his Davis Cup heroics, last year’s top seed could repeat the 2012 final against Denis Istomin in the quarterfinals, or he might meet home hope Ryan Harrison in a rematch of a 2012 semifinal. Both of those men struggled to match Raonic hold for hold last year with their modest serves, and neither has taken a significant step forward since then.
Someone who can match the Canadian hold for hold, the third-seeded Sam Querrey seeks to continue building on his recent upward trend in the rankings. Returning to relevance midway through last year, Querrey plays his best on American soil and mirrored Raonic’s contributions last weekend by lifting Team USA past Brazil with two singles victories. He faces the possibility of consecutive matches against Australians, first the fading Lleyton Hewitt and then the surging Marinko Matosevic. Near his career-high ranking, the latter man will meet the teenage sensation Jack Sock, still in the process of refining his explosive serve and forehand.
If North Americans dominate the top half of the San Jose draw, a more European flavor emerges from the third quarter. Following his best season since his prime in the mid-2000s, Tommy Haas lurks near the edge of the top 20 after starting 2012 outside the top 200. Injuries and recurrences of his volatile temper hampered him in January, but expect his forecourt skills to flourish on a court where he can shorten points. Female fans would enjoy a quarterfinal between Haas and Fernando Verdasco, two slots below him in the rankings. Unfortunately for them, former finalist Ivo Karlovic might topple the Spanish lefty in the second round, although he lost to him here two years ago. Can wildcard Steve Johnson, who took Almagro to a fifth set at the Australian Open, build on that momentum to upset Dr. Ivo?
The only man in the ATP shorter than Karlovic, the second-seeded Isner needs to build momentum much more urgently than Johnson, for he defends finalist points at Indian Wells. Still the top-ranked American man by a small margin over Querrey, Isner withdrew from the Australian Open with a knee injury and looked unimpressive in Davis Cup last weekend. No player in his vicinity looks like a convincing dark horse, however, with the most notable resistance coming from Xavier Malisse. Otherwise, this section features a handful of promising-but-not-quite-there-yet figures like Vasek Pospisil and Evgeny Donskoy, the latter of whom defeated Youzhny in Melbourne.
Final: Querrey vs. Verdasco
Sao Paulo: In a draw that greatly resembles Vina del Mar last week, Nadal again shares a half with Jeremy Chardy amid a collection of players from South America and southern Europe. Few Spaniards have shown the determination to challenge Rafa on his favored red clay, and Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo should prove no exception. One of the few Spanish journeymen to defeat him on any surface, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez could meet the man whom he defeated in Bangkok at the quarterfinal stage, although Vina del Mar semifinalist Carlos Berlocq seems more plausible. Yet another Spaniard, the eighth-seeded Albert Ramos, opens against Garcia-Lopez.
Splitting his two Davis Cup rubbers in the United States, Thomaz Bellucci transitions back to his homeland and a friendlier surface for his traditional lefty game. The fifth-seeded Brazilian would meet Chardy in the quarterfinals with no legitimate threat between them. Fellow Brazilian Ricardo Mello, known better for his doubles success, received not only a wildcard but a winnable opening match as a reward for his victory over the Bryans in Davis Cup. Facing aging Federer-killer Volandri is Vina del Mar quarterfinalist Daniel Gimeno-Traver, who mustered some decent resistance to Rafa last week.
World #15 Monaco looked nearly certain to meet Nadal in the Vina del Mar final until the unheralded Guillaume Rufin upset him, only to issue a walkover a round later. At least the Argentine enjoyed accompanying Nadal through the doubles draw, which gave him plenty of opportunities to refine his clay skills before this second opportunity. A former top-10 player, Spanish veteran Tommy Robredo could become Monaco’s first opponent in a grinding match of counterpunchers who rarely miss. Cast from a similar mold is Robredo’s compatriot Albert Montanes, situated near the seventh-seeded Pablo Andujar. The latter must start the tournament on a high note to escape Santiago Giraldo, a Colombian who has upset much more notable players on clay before.
The key difference between the draws in Vina del Mar and Sao Paulo, Nicolas Almagro hopes to rebound from a memorable fortnight in Melbourne. While he reached an Australian Open quarterfinal, he may need time to forget his repeated inability to finish off Ferrer there and perhaps also to recover from a leg injury. Like Nadal, though, Almagro will find the clay accommodating to his ailing body, and he has won a set from Rafa on the surface before. Opening against surprise Vina del Mar champion Horacio Zeballos, he finds himself near the most dangerous unseeded player in the draw, David Nalbandian. The grouchy gaucho languishes in a semi-retirement from which he emerges just often enough to remain relevant, and a player lacking in fitness, confidence, or both would seem plausible prey. Nalbandian has tested Nadal severely before, even during his decline, but can he string together the solid efforts necessary to produce that tantalizing final?
Final: Nadal vs. Almagro
Check out the companion preview of the WTA Premier Five tournament in Doha, and return on Friday for the next entry in my column.
Tennis Canada nominates olympic representatives for London
By Melissa Boyd
Tennis Canada has announced the four players nominated for selection to the Canadian Olympic Team for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Daniel Nestor, Vasek Pospisil, Milos Raonic, and Aleksandra Wozniak will represent Canada in London. Raonic and Wozniak will play singles while Nestor and Pospisil will team up for doubles.
In singles, the Top 56 players in the world as of the June 11 rankings deadline receive direct entry into the tennis event provided they meet all other requirements set out for qualification. Raonic sits at No. 21 in the world while Wozniak’s third round appearance at the French Open lifted her to the exact cut-off point of No. 56. It will be the first Olympic Games for both.
“It’s something I’ve been dreaming since I’m a little girl, and my dream came true today,” Wozniak said. “It’s definitely a different atmosphere than playing in the Grand Slams and on the WTA Tour, something where you’ll be with the best athletes around the world in all different sports”.
For the doubles event, each of the Top 10 players receives direct entry with a compatriot of their choice. As the No. 1 doubles player in the world, Nestor has elected to play with first-time Olympic hopeful Pospisil. The duo holds a 2-0 Davis Cup record, including a pivotal win against Grand Slam champions Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram during Canada’s World Group play-off versus Israel last September.
London will represent the fifth consecutive time Nestor has represented Canada at the Olympic Games. At the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, he won gold with partner Sebastien Lareau marking the first, and only, tennis medal in Canadian history.
“I’m very proud to be in a position where I can represent my country and hopefully bring back another medal,” said Nestor. “It was quite a special feat winning Olympic gold in Sydney in 2000 and with the growth of tennis in our country, we all can have a chance to make Canada proud.”
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) will announce the full official list of entries on June 28 which will include the ITF places in singles and doubles. Additional nominations for players who did not make the rankings cut-off can be submitted to the ITF to be considered for ITF places.
“Congratulations to these four tennis players on joining the 2012 Canadian Olympic Team,” said 2012 Team Chef de Mission Mark Tewksbury. “I know you will give your everything to make Canadian fans proud in London.”
Powerhouse French too much for Short-Handed Canadians
The anticipation had been building for months following the announcement that Vancouver would host its first Davis Cup tie in 20 years. It also just so happened to be the biggest non-Rogers Cup tennis event to be held on Canadian soil in the last decade.
In the end, the Canada-France first round World Group tie lived up to the hype and delivered on expectations despite Milos Raonic being forced to withdraw from the much-anticipated reverse singles match up with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga because of pain in his knee.
Raonic played and won his singles match on Friday, defeating Julien Benneteau in straight sets, putting forth a virtually flawless performance to give Canada it’s only point of the weekend in a 4-1 defeat. Level at 1-1 after Friday’s singles, Canadian captain Martin Laurendeau substituted the in-form Raonic for Vasek Pospisil to play with Daniel Nestor for the crucial doubles point. In the end, the French pair of Benneteau and Michael Llodra played subliminal doubles to secure the second point for France and Canada was dealt a major blow when it was discovered that Raonic had tweaked his knee during the first set which would ultimately keep him out of Sunday’s reverse singles.
Frank Dancevic replaced Raonic against Tsonga in the first match on Sunday and acquitted himself more than admirably, playing inspired tennis that ignited the boisterous crowd at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre. Dancevic’s performance, perhaps his best since the former world no. 65 made a surprise run to the quarter-finals o f the Rogers Cup presented by National Bank in Montreal in 2007, just wasn’t enough against Tsonga who was also at the top of his game, hitting winners from seemingly everywhere on the court. The World no. 6 posted an impressive 6-4, 6-4, 6-1 win to propel France into the Davis Cup quarter-finals where they will play the United States on home soil. Tsonga said he was disappointed to miss out on the chance to play Raonic in this setting.
“For us it was a good surprise,” said Tsonga. “Milos (Raonic) is a good player, talented, and I was a bit sad to play against another guy, because I think it (would have been) a good confrontation with Milos.”
For his part, Dancevic thrived in his return to the Canadian Davis Cup squad and enjoyed every minute of playing in front of vocal, supportive fans.
“I felt the energy out there and I felt like I had a lot of momentum on my side,” Dancevic said. “I felt like anything could happen … and it came down to just a few important shots by him, especially in the second set. He painted the lines on a few forehands, hit some unbelievable down-line and cross-court one-hand backhands.”
Gael Monfils, who did not play Friday’s singles match against Raonic as originally anticipated, and Vasek Pospisil concluded the tie with an entertaining match that wowed the crowd featured more than one highlight reel shot from the always flamboyant Monfils. The Frenchman defeated Pospisil, Canada’s Davis Cup hero in 2011, 6-4, 6-4.
A total of 15,233 spectators attended the tie over the three days and certainly made themselves heard throughout the weekend and showed why Vancouver is the fastest growing tennis city in Canada. The Canadian team left with many lessons learned as they look ahead to their World Group playoff tie in September, but also proved they belonged among the top 16 Davis Cup countries in the world.
Around The Corner: Life Continues on the ATP World Tour
After a hectic two weeks of Grand-Slam action from Melbourne, life returns to normal on the ATP World Tour. There are three 250-level tournaments this week and while the pace will be perhaps less enthralling than what we’ve just witnessed in Australia, here are some of the big names we can look forward to watching.
Open Sud de France
Formerly held in Lyon in October of each year, the Open Sud de France has now relocated to Montpelier at an earlier date within the tennis season.
Tomas Berdych is the number one seed and will try to win his first ATP title since his victory in Beijing this past October. That was the only title the Czech won in 2011, but he had an incredibly solid year reaching the semi-finals of eight tournaments and the quarter-finals of seven others. That type of consistency has made Berdych a main-stay in the top-ten in recent years but success at the Masters 1000 and Grand Slam level have still mostly eluded him with the exception of his win at the Paris Masters in 2005 and his Wimbledon final in 2010.
Berdych has a very manageable quarter of the tournament with no major obstacles in his way and a first-round bye to ease him into the draw.
Richard Gasquet is the fourth seed and is also in the top-half of the draw and he will likely face Nikolay Davydenko in the second round. Despite Davydenko’s rapid drop in play these past two years, the Russian will still give Gasquet a good challenge and provide fans with an entertaining early round match.
In the bottom half of the draw, look for two Frenchman to navigate their way through to the semi-finals. Both Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon are the highest two seeds and also the most likely to ride the support of the French fans to a solid showing.
Canadian number-two singles player Vasek Pospisil will undoubtedly be keeping his eye on the French, as Canada is scheduled to host the French in the first round of the Davis Cup on February 10th in Vancouver. Pospisil opens against French wildcard Guillaume Rufin.
PBZ Zagreb Indoors – Croatia
It was a moment for Croatian tennis fans to relish a year ago in Zagreb when Ivan Dodig captured his first ATP title against Michael Berrer. While the chances of Dodig repeating are not necessarily favored, he is one of three Croats who could lift the trophy on the final Sunday.
Veteran Ivan Ljubicic holds the top seed and opens against Karol Beck. Ljubicic has won the event before and has the best chance of emerging from his quarter of the draw.
Beneath him can be found monster-server Ivo Karlovic who will also receive plenty of home-country support. Mikhail Youzhny will try to bounce back from a disappointing first round loss in Melbourne as he holds the third seed and is my pick to emerge from the top-half of the draw.
In the bottom half, we have Marcos Baghdatis and the previously mentioned Dodig in one quarter. In the final section of the draw, Alex Bogomolov Jr. is the surprised second seed and leads the weakest section of the tournament. In other words, look for Baghdatis or possibly Dodig to have a good route to the finals.
VTR Open – Chile
Providing some contrast to the two hard-court tournaments this week, we have the VTR Open which is played on red clay. Last year’s champion in Vina del Mar is Tommy Robredo but he is not entered in this year’s edition. Meanwhile Fernando Gonzalez holds the most career titles at the event with four. Gonzalez has taken a wildcard into the main draw as he has struggled since returning to the tour last year from hip and knee injuries he sustained in 2010.
Clay court expert Juan Monaco takes the pole position this year and opens with a first round bye. Albert Montanes who is seeded fifth will likely be Monaco’s main source of opposition in the top-half of the draw.
In the bottom section look for Thomaz Bellucci, who won the event in 2010, to challenge once again for the title and for second seeded Juan Ignacio Chela to advance into the draw as well.
Don’t feel bad if you are feeling the effects of a tennis-hangover as these smaller events begin. Nothing can really compare to two weeks of elite level tennis like we have just experienced. There is a lot to look forward to however, with the first round of Davis Cup action just two weeks away and then a month after that we will enjoy back-to-back Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells and Miami.