2014 ATP Barcelona, Bucharest Previews and Picks
Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast
The clay season rolls on with a mid-level 500 series event in Barcelona and the 250 in Bucharest.
Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell
ATP World Tour 500
April 21-April 27, 2014
Prize Money: € 1,845,585
Top 8 seeds (Who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Rafael Nadal (1)
2: David Ferrer (6)
3: Fabio Fognini (13)
4: Kei Nishikori (17)
5: Tommy Robredo (18)
6: Nicolas Almagro (20)
7: Jerzy Janowicz (21)
8: Alex Dolgopolov (22)
The top 16 seeds get first round byes, and Barca has a crowded field of players looking to break into that top 10 level, while not being very top heavy.
First Round matchups to watch:
(WC)Facundo Arguello vs. Ivan Dodig
The in-form Arguello, who is nearly into the top 100 now, received a wild card here and will face off with the struggling Dodig. Ivan, who, after a strong 2013 campaign has been a very poor 5-9 overall this year with 2 straight losses coming into this one, including a straight set drubbing at the hands of Pablo Carreno Busta.
Arguello is far and above a clay court specialist and he is 12-6 overall on the surface this year, mostly at the challenger level. He’s 0-3 career in ATP main draw matches and 0-1 this year as he lost in Buenos Aires R1, and this match is a good chance for him to win his first career ATP match. He won the Itajai challenger this year on clay. Dodig struggles on the surface, and I think Facu will grab an upset win.
Radek Stepanek vs. (Q)Dominic Thiem
The up and down Radek Stepanek will get a tough test against the rising Thiem, who yet again qualified for an ATP tournament main draw, the sixth time in seven tries this year for the Austrian who will be in the top 80 soon. He brings a lot to the table and already has 5 ATP main draw wins this year.
Steps could still pull through, but if he shows up struggling, Thiem should advance. I’m picking Thiem to do so.
Pablo Carreno Busta vs. (Q)Andrey Kuznetsov
An interesting matchup. PCB is ranked much higher, but Kuznetsov has a 2-0 h2h edge with both matches coming on clay. They are both young, talented players, though PCB has been more consistent and improved. As a result, his ranking is higher. Kuznetsov has had an up and down season with his best results being a pair of ATP quarterfinal showings, the most recent being in Casablanca as a lucky loser. PCB has had an uptick in results in the past 2 weeks after a very rough early part of the season. He reached the third round in Monte Carlo as a lucky loser and quarters in Casablanca before that.
Given current form, I’ll go with PCB but probably in 3 sets.
8 time Barcelona champ Rafael Nadal, who is an insane 40-1 in Barca, having won the last 3 titles here, opens with a struggling Nikolay Davydenko or Albert Ramos. He would then meet Arguello/Dodig or another Spaniard, Feliciano Lopez, in round 3.
Nadal is 4-0 career on clay against Feli and should be able to make his way to the semis, avenging the bitter taste of his shock quarterfinal loss in Monte Carlo to David Ferrer.
On an interesting trivia note, Davydenko is one of the very few players to have a positive H2H against Nadal as he leads the series 6-5 with their last meeting coming 2 years ago and his last win coming in 2011. Given Ramos is also in good form, I don’t think they will meet. I doubt Davy would really want to, as I’m sure it’d be nice for him to retire with that h2h lead record intact.
Nicolas Almagro retired in the third round of Monte Carlo with a foot problem and opens with Martin Klizan or Somdev Devvarman. Assuming he’s healthy, he should advance to face former Barca champion Fernando Verdasco in a Houston final rematch from a couple of weeks ago. Verdasco won that match, and I think he would do so again as long as he can get past Kenny De Schepper/Marsel Ilhan first.
Expect a Nadal vs. Verdasco quarter, in what is always a fun matchup.
The inconsistent but always entertaining Fabio Fognini, who lost in the third round of Monte Carlo with a third set bagel, opens with Santiago Giraldo/Igor Sijsling. Giraldo could prove to be trouble as Fognini is 2-1 career against Santi on clay. The Colombian last made semis in Houston. Fognini/Giraldo should be the third round opponent for Marcel Granollers/Thiem/Stepanek, as Dominic Thiem could make a run, or Casablanca champ Granollers in this interesting hard-to-predict section.
The seeds in the next section are struggling, as a way out of form Jerzy Janowicz has lost 6 straight matches, the latest indignity against pedestrian veteran Michael Llodra in Monte Carlo. Jerzy will face Mikhail Kukushkin/Jurgen Melzer in round 2.
Melzer played his first match back from injury this season, losing to Julian Benneteau in 3 sets in Monte Carlo. Kukushkin has lost 6 straight matches and whoever makes the third round out of there will be a weak competitor. Philipp Kohlschreiber is just 1-4 in his last 5 matches and faces qualifier Andreas Beck or Edouard Roger-Vasselin in round 2.
ERV is nothing special on clay, and Kohlschreiber is probably the quarterfinal fave regardless, but this is a super open section that depends on players in shaky form.
Four time Barca finalist David Ferrer, who made the semis in Monte Carlo and upset Nadal en route, will face Michal Przysiezny or Teymuraz Gabashvili in round 2 and then Dmitry Tursunov/Inigo Cervantes/Aleksandr Nedovyesov in round 3.
Ferrer should cruise to the quarterfinals, where he is most likely to face the 8 seed Alex Dolgopolov. Those two also play entertaining matches together. Dolgo faces Albert Montanes/Marc Lopez in round 2, then one of Ernests Gulbis/Dani Gimeno-Traver/Roberto Carballes Baena.
Dolgo just drubbed Gulbis in Monte Carlo and Ernie is struggling having lost 2 straight, while Carballes Baena gets a wild card by virtue of his semifinal run in Casablanca as a qualifier.
Kei Nishikori is playing for the first time on clay this season after going 8-4 on the surface last year. He’ll face Lukasz Kubot/Roberto Bautista Agut in round 2.
RBA/Nishikori is a real toss up match and I tip towards RBA to get through. Awaiting in round 3 are one of Benoit Paire/Andrey Golubev/Matteo Viola, with Paire still not having found his game since returning to the tour.
RBA/Nishikori seem like a lock for the quarters.
Awaiting them will be most likely either former champion Tommy Robredo or Marin Cilic. Robredo has been sub-par at points this year but he did reach the third round in Monte Carlo, and I expect him to be tested by Joao Sousa in his opening match, assuming Sousa beats Marinko Matosevic. Sousa comes off a 3 set loss to Fabio Fognini in Monte Carlo and continues to impress. Cilic was totally destroyed by Stan Wawrinka in Monte Carlo, and will face PCB/Kuznetsov in round 2 hoping to recover. As both players are accomplished clay courters, Marin should also be tested but is likely to prevail and get Robredo in round 3. Robredo and Cilic have a tied 2-2 h2h but have never met on clay.
I’ll lean towards Robredo making the quarters.
Dark Horse: Dominic Thiem
Giraldo, Melzer, Bautista Agut and Carballes Baena are all unseeded players who could post good results, but I’m going with Thiem as my official DH designation this week.
Stepanek and Granollers are both beatable veterans and this would place him in the third round against Fognini/Giraldo, who are also beatable on a bad day. Should he make that leap, Kohlschreiber/Janowicz/Melzer or whomever he might meet in the quarterfinals is absolutely beatable and he may even be a favorite against, meaning he could post is first career ATP semifinal this week as a qualifier.
Nadal d. Fognini
Ferrer d. Robredo
Even though Rafa has been off this season, given his record here and his potential opponents, I don’t see how he would lose before the final against someone like Fognini/Kohlschreiber/Thiem etc.
Verdasco has challenged him before but not on a consistent basis, thus I can’t really predict him to lose before the semis either. Ferrer, given his solid form and good past results here, should also make his way to the final Dolgo isn’t going to challenge him much on clay.
With Robredo/Cilic/Nishikori or someone else in the semis, Rafa should win.
Nadal d. Ferrer
Ferrer outfoxed Nadal in a very low quality match in Monte Carlo, but Rafa still entirely dominates the h2h including clay and he will be hungry for revenge. Given all their prior Barca finals, and all of the Nadal victories, I simply can’t pick against Rafa here.
BRD Nastase Tiriac Trophy
ATP World Tour 250
April 21-April 27, 2014
Prize Money: € 426,605
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Grigor Dimitrov (14)
2: Mikhail Youzhny (15)
3: Gael Monfils (24)
4: Gilles Simon (28)
Only 2 top 20 players in Bucharest and a bunch of out of form players makes this a wide open and lightweight event.
First Round matchups to watch:
Jeremy Chardy vs. Jiri Vesely
Not that much worth taking a look at in Bucharest early, but Jiri Vesely will have a punchers chance against Chardy, who is an even 4-4 in his last 8 matches having reached the second round in his last 4 events, including in Monte Carlo. Vesely is at home on clay, having gone 30-7 on the surface last year at primarily the challenger level, but he’s just 7-7 this year overall and retired in the second round of Casablanca in his last match.
Chardy will be a favorite, but an upset by the Czech wouldn’t surprise me.
Grigor Dimitrov, who comes off a third round loss in Monte Carlo after 2 close victories, will face Vesely/Chardy in round 2 and could get upset early if he continues to struggle. The winner is likely to face Andreas Seppi in the quarters, as the Italian opens with Carlos Berlocq then Sergiy Stakhovsky/wild card Patrick Ciorcila. Berlocq beat Seppi in Davis Cup on clay this year, but he’s just 3-3 on the surface this year, while Seppi is also 3-3 and comes off a third round loss in Monte Carlo.
Stakhovsky would have a chance at a dark horse run but he can’t be considered reliable on clay.
A struggling Gael Monfils, who after an amazing start early in the year is just 2-5 in his last 7 matches including a loss to Carreno Busta in Monte Carlo, will seek to get some rhythm going against a qualifier in round 2, and then one of Nicolas Mahut/qualifier/Adrian Mannarino/Marius Copil in the quarters. None of those other Frenchman are intimidating right now and Copil is in poor form, thus even if Monfils is well below his peak level he still should be able to make the semis.
Mikhail Youzhny, who is also struggling, coming off a round 1 loss to Seppi in Monte Carlo, faces Matt Ebden/Robin Haase in round 2.
Haase is nominally accomplished on clay but is in dreadful form himself–just 1-6 in his last 7 matches with 4 straight losses and 5 straight losses on clay. With all that being said, expect Youzhny in the quarters against most likely Thomaz Bellucci, as Bellucci needs to beat Denis Istomin and then Vasek Pospisil or a qualifier. Pospisil is 0-5 since returning from a back injury. Istomin retired in his last match in Monte Carlo and Bellucci has lost 3 straight himself, but at least has a record of being good on clay working in his favor.
The qualifier will have a great shot at the quarters in such an incredibly weak section, but otherwise Bellucci should be a favorite.
Yet another seeded struggler, Gilles Simon is an abysmal 4-8 this year and has lost 4 straight ATP main draw matches. He faces Victor Hanescu or Dudi Sela first. Having last made quarters in Casablanca, I think Hanescu probably reaches the quarters out of those 3 options, given he’s playing at home In Romania. Simon is a 3 time former Bucharest champion, however, and would love to right the ship where he has had success before.
Defending champion Lukas Rosol is a possible quarterfinal opponent. Rosol, who made the third round in Monte Carlo, needs to defeat Filippo Volandri and then Leo Mayer/Jarkko Nieminen. Nieminen has complained about being out of shape and has been in poor form recently while Mayer has lost 5 straight matches, all on clay.
Dark Horse: Lukas Rosol
I could easily see a scenario where none, one or just two seeds make the semis as players like Bellucci, Hanescu and potentionally Stakhovsky/Berlocq/qualifier could all make noise.That being said, the unseeded defending champion Rosol has a chance to repeat his title given the weak field.
After Volandri and Nieminen/Mayer, Hanescu/Simon are entirely beatable in the quarters and Rosol has a 2-0 career h2h against Hanescu, who I think makes it. After that, Bellucci/Youzhny most likely in the semis are beatable and same goes for Dimitrov/Seppi/Monfils in the final.
Dimitrov d. Monfils
Rosol d. Bellucci
I’ll go with the top seeds in the top half only because I can’t make a credible case for anyone else right now, unless Seppi beats Dimitrov.
Monfils is 1-0 against Grisha but they met in 2011 and he’s struggling right now with his consistency.
Bellucci is 2-0 including a win on clay last year against Rosol, but current form has me going with Rosol.
Rosol d. Dimitrov
They have never met before, and Dimitrov is clearly the “better” player, but I just have a hunch he won’t win this title and the honor will go to Rosol instead.
As long as he can hammer out holds of serve, eventually Dimitrov will crack under pressure.