2014 ATP Barcelona, Bucharest Previews and Picks

2014 ATP Barcelona, Bucharest Previews and Picks
Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast

Barcelona--Click here for tournament site

Barcelona–Click here for tournament site

The clay season rolls on with a mid-level 500 series event in Barcelona and the 250 in Bucharest.

ATP Barcelona
Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell
ATP World Tour 500
Barcelona, Spain
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.

Top Half:
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.

Bottom Half:
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.

Predictions
Semis:
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.

Final:
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.

Bucharest Official Site

ATP Bucharest
BRD Nastase Tiriac Trophy
ATP World Tour 250
Bucharest, Romania
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.

Top Half:
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.

Bottom Half:
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.

Predictions
Semis:
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.

Final:
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.

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Wawrinka Breaks Up Big Four Dominance Of Masters 1000 Events, Wins Monte Carlo

Wawrinka Breaks Up Big Four Dominance Of Masters 1000 Events, Wins Monte Carlo
Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast

Stan Wawrinka

Stan Wawrinka is the first Masters 1000 tournament champion not named Nadal, Djokovic, Federer or Murray since the 2012 Paris Masters won by Ferrer. He did so by beating his “big brother”, Roger Federer 4-6 7-6 6-2 in just his second career win against the most famous Swiss tennis player of all time, both wins oddly enough having come in Monte Carlo.

Stanimal Planet

Federer was strong early but Wawrinka was able to turn things around, and after winning the second set tiebreak in close fashion, he pulled away from a seemingly-exhausted Federer. He now has a Grand Slam and a Masters title this season, both the first of his career as he continues to cement himself as a top 5 player who can challenge the best in the game.

Wawrinka blitzed Marin Cilic, got a walkover against Nicolas Almagro, routined Milos Raonic and also David Ferrer this week as he didn’t drop a set until the final and looked much better compared to his near debacle in the Davis Cup tie for the Swiss.

Federer reached his second Masters final of the season in 3 tournaments as he defeated Radek Stepanek and Lukas Rosol in straights, then survived in 3 against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and won 7-5 6-2 over an out-of-sorts Novak Djokovic. That match was an upset, but Novak clearly wasn’t 100% and was being bothered by some sort of injury.

Djokovic’s Masters win streak was broken at 28 wins in a row with the loss.

One thing is for sure, it’s a great time to be a Swiss tennis fan.

The Bryans beat Ivan Dodig/Marcel Melo to win the doubles title and continue their dominance.

ICYMI: Spaniards Verdasco, Garcia-Lopez Win 1st Titles Since 2010 in Houston and Casablanca

ICYMI: Spaniards Verdasco, Garcia-Lopez Win 1st Titles Since 2010 in Houston and Casablanca
Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast

ATP Houston
Fernando Verdasco has participated in 6 ATP tournament finals since 2010, his last title, and he finally won one, defeating his good friend and fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro 6-3 7-6 to win the title in Houston.

Nando beat Americans Steve Johnson (in 3 sets) and Donald Young (in straights) before beating Santiago Giraldo in the semifinals to reach the final. Almagro beat Americans Michael Russell and Jack Sock in straights, then got a walkover against Sam Querrey in the semis.

Verdasco was prevented from winning both Houston trophies this week by the Bryans, who defeated him and his partner David Marrero to win the doubles final.

ATP Casablanca
Spaniards also dominated on the clay in Casablanca, as Guillermo Garcia-Lopez beat fellow Spaniard Marcel Granollers in 3 sets to win his first title since 2010. GGL beat Mikhail Kukushkin, Carlos Berlocq, and Benoit Paire without dropping a set, then defeated breakthrough qualifier Roberto Carballes Baena in the semis in 3 sets to reach the final.

Granollers beat Albert Ramos, Pablo Carreno Busta and Federico Delbonis to reach the final for his part. Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau won the doubles over Lukas Dlouhy/Tomasz Bednarek.

2014 ATP Monte Carlo Preview, Picks

2014 ATP Monte Carlo Preview, Picks
Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast

Monte Carlo

The clay court season will begin properly in Monte Carlo, where most of the top players will be competing in the third Masters 1000 event of the season. Some look to continue their momentum from spring, while others look to regain form on European red clay.

ATP Monte-Carlo
Monte Carlo Rolex Masters

ATP World Tour Masters 1000
Monte-Carlo, Monaco
April 13-March 20, 2014
Prize Money: €2,884,675

The Red Clay of Monte Carlo
Top 8 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)

1: Rafael Nadal (1)
2: Novak Djokovic (2)
3: Stanislas Wawrinka (3)
4: Roger Federer (4)
5: Tomas Berdych (5)
6: David Ferrer (6)
7: Milos Raonic (11)
8: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (12)

Notable absences include Murray, Haas, Nishikori and Gasquet for this non-mandatory Masters event.

It’s still a strong field.

First round matchups to watch:

(13)Mikhail Youzhny vs. Andreas Seppi
Youzhny is playing a tournament for the first time since Dubai and he’s a disappointing 3-5 this season so far, but he got a good first round draw in Andreas Seppi. Mikhail is 4-0 against the Italian veteran, which includes a win on clay. Seppi was 1-1 in Davis Cup singles play on clay last, and has been up and down this season sporting just a 5-9 record.

If Youzhny is rusty, Seppi could upset the seed, but otherwise Mikhail should find his way into round 2.

(12)Grigor Dimitrov vs. Marcel Granollers
An interesting matchup, in that ranking and level of play should favor Dimitrov and this looks like a reasonable round 1 match for him. But Granollers has a 2-0 h2h, with both matches taking place on hard court including one last year, and he’s into the final of Casablanca on clay after entering the event in very poor form. Granollers makes his living on the dirt, but he could be fatigued for this one coming off the long run in Casa, as Dimitrov looks to increase his ranking with more consistent deep runs in Masters 1000 tournaments.

He will need to win matches like this to do so.

(17)Alex Dolgopolov vs. Ernests Gulbis
When they met for their first and only time in Monte-Carlo 3 years ago, Gulbis romped 6-1 6-4, but with the Ukrainian number one having an 18-9 record this year, which includes a clay court final in Rio and wins over the likes of Nadal, Ferrer, Wawrinka and Fognini already. He has to be somewhat of a favorite in this matchup.

Gulbis is a solid 15-6 on the season for his part, and has wins over Del Potro, Dimitrov, Gasquet and Tsonga, thus he is also sporting some confidence. Both are fan favorite players with a lot of personality and flair. Fireworks have to be expected in this one and both are dangerous lurkers in the draw.

Top Half:
Top seed Rafael Nadal won 8 straight Monte Carlo titles from 2005-2012 before losing the final last year, and he has to be hungry to win MC Rolex Masters title number 9 this season. Rafa opens with a struggling Gilles Simon or a qualifier, and should ease his way into the round of 16 to face Youzhny/Seppi or perhaps Pablo Andujar/Edouard Roger-Vasselin.

I don’t expect Rafa to have much competition before at least the semis.

6 seed David Ferrer, who has failed to make the semis in either of his last two events (thus has seen his ranking slide), opens with Igor Sijsling/Jeremy Chardy and then should face Dimitrov/Granollers round 3 unless Jarkko Nieminen/qualifier have something to say about that.

Dimitrov-Ferrer would be an entertaining match up. Ferrer has a 3-1 h2h but Dimitrov won the last meeting on indoor hard last year and Ferrer has one win on clay in 2012.

A struggling Stan Wawrinka, who is just 5-3 in his last 3 events (IW, Miami, Davis Cup) looks to rebound on clay, a favored surface. The Swiss will get a rough round 2 matchup, however, as Marin Cilic/Fernando Verdasco will be his opponent. Verdasco is in the Houston final this week and will probably be exhausted, but an-in form Cilic has been good all year and is a dangerous unseeded player. Wawrinka is 3-0 on clay against Cilic and thus he’ll have to be the favorite, as Cilic is just 2-2 in his last 4 matches. Stan or Marin should have it a bit easier in the round of 16, as Houston finalist Nicolas Almagro/qualifier/Nicolas Mahut/Dominic Thiem await them. Almagro is accomplished but likely tired, and Thiem is maturing quickly but not quite at a top tier level yet.

Milos Raonic will need to get past Federico Delbonis/Rendy Lu to reach the round of 16. Delbonis comes off semis in Casablanca and is good on clay, giving him an upset chance against the Canadian, who is far more comfortable on a fast surface. Tommy Robredo/qualifier/Julian Benneteau/Jurgen Melzer await in the round of 16, as Benny, Melzer and Robredo are all struggling veterans. Robredo comes off an opening round loss on clay in Houston, Melzer hasn’t been healthy and has been rusty, and Benneteau had a Davis Cup debacle. The qualifier has a good chance at a surprise run. This is a rather weak section, even though it doesn’t look as such on paper.

Bottom Half:
Defending champion Novak Djokovic, who has won both Masters 1000s this year, opens with Benoit Paire or a qualifier. A match with the gifted Paire could be a treat, but I don’t think the Frenchman is quite up to snuff yet to challenge Novak in any manner.

Djoker should meet Kevin Anderson/Gael Monfils in the round of 16, though Ivan Dodig/qualifier are also options. Anderson was bounced in his first match in Casablanca and Monfils pulled out of Casa with a nagging injury sustained in practice and is unsure about being 100%.

If Gael is on, it could be trouble for the field, but Djokovic should be fine.

Tomas Berdych faces Robin Haase/Dmitry Tursunov and then most likely Dolgopolov/Gulbis in the round of 16, in what would be a big match of top class. Benjamin Balleret/Casablanca finalist Guillermo Garcia-Lopez are also options in this section. Berdych is 1-0 on clay against Gulbis and 4-0 overall against Dolgopolov, thus he should be the favorite to be the quarterfinalist out of this tough section.

Roger Federer, who normally doesn’t play MC, will face Ivo Karlovic/Radek Stepanek in a legacy round 2 matchup that he should cruise through. Jerzy Janowicz/a pair of qualifiers/Lukas Rosol await him in the round of 16. Janowicz is seeded but in abysmal form, thus watch out for Rosol or a qualifier to make a run.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga looks to boost his poor early season with some good results on clay, and he will open with Philip Kohslcreiber or Simone Bolleli in round 2. Kohli has lost 3 straight matches and is 1-2 against Tsonga on clay. I expect Jo to get through and earn himself a battle with Fabio Fognini most likely in the round of 16, though Joao Sousa, Roberto Bautista Agut or Vasek Pospisil could have something to say about that in a section that has many talented players. Fognini defends semifinal points here and was key for Italy in Davis Cup, but there have been questions about his health. Sousa is good on clay but lost in round 2 of Casablanca in a surprise, and RBA is one of the few Spaniards who does not favor clay over faster surfaces, though he has played well this season.

Dark Horses: Federico Delbonis and Ernests Gulbis
Delbonis is good on clay, as he won a clay court title this year in Sao Paulo and comes off the semis in Casablanca. If he upsets Raonic, he’d have a chance at the quarterfinals. Gulbis, meanwhile, can also play some clay court tennis but he must get past the seeds Dolgopolov and Berdych if he were to reach the quarterfinals.

Predictions:
Quarters:
Nadal d. Ferrer
Cilic d. Raonic
Federer d. Fognini
Djokovic d. Berdych

Nadal dominates Ferrer on clay, I have a feeling Cilic is slightly better than Raonic on clay, Fed express should roll through Forza Fognini and Djokovic has the edge, both mentally and physically, against Berdych.

Semis:
Nadal d. Cilic
Djokovic d. Federer

Nadal on clay beats almost everyone, especially in MC, and Djokovic has outclassed Fed recently. Given the surface, I expect that to continue.

Final:
Djokovic d. Nadal

Novak has won his last 3 meetings with Rafa, but Nadal is 3-1 in the last four matches on clay between the top two players in the world. Even with that, Novak won the title here last year against Nadal, and though it is hard to parse I’m going with the Serbian number 1 over the Spanish number 1.

2014 ATP Houston (@MensClayCourt) & Casablanca Previews #USClay

2014 ATP Houston @MensClayCourt, Casablanca Previews
Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast

Houston 2011 River Oaks Country Club

The ATP world tour begins again on spring clay with a pair of 250s in Houston and Casablanca.

Both possess very competitive fields this year.

mens clay court

ATP Houston
Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship
ATP World Tour 250
Houston, Texas, USA
April 7-April 13, 2014
Prize Money: $ 474,005

Top 4 seeds (Who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: John Isner (9)
2: Tommy Robredo (14)
3: Nicolas Almagro (20)
4: Fernando Verdasco (29)

A large Spanish contingent buoys the Houston field as 4 of the top 8 seeds are Spaniards, and three top 20 players is nice for a 250 event.

First Round matchups to watch:
Alex Bogomolov Jr. vs. Sam Querrey

Querrey continues to slide down the rankings, now outside the top 70, and he will be desperate to stop that skid in Houston against Bogomolov, who is a pedestrian journeyman who has mostly been playing challengers for a while. Both players are 1-2 in their last 3 matches, though Querrey has been playing better competition, and the h2h favors Bogomolov 3-2, with no meetings on clay, as Bogo beat Qball in Memphis this year in 3 sets last meeting.

Querrey looks for revenge and this match is a tossup between poor players at the moment.

Alejandro Gonzalez vs. (WC)Marcos Baghdatis
Marcos Baghdatis showed some signs of life in Miami where he reached the third round, and he gets another wild card here in Houston, as he has been getting at most of these US tournaments so far. He will face off for the first time against the Colombian Gonzalez, who currently has a 5 match losing streak on clay while formerly being good on the surface (posted a 41-19 record on clay last year, a career year of for him at the challenger level almost exclusively).

Baghdatis has not won a tournament match on clay since the 2012 French Open, and both players are looking to find some form. It appears Baghdatis career is winding down to be honest, and I think Gonzalez will probably return to some form and win this match.

Top Half:
Defending champion John Isner will face either Rhyne Williams, who defends semifinal points here, or the big server Dustin Brown in his first match. Isner beat Williams in Delray this year in 3 sets, their only meeting and both players are in so-so form. I expect Isner to make his way to the quarters regardless.

It should be Isner vs. 7 seed Lleyton Hewitt, another former Houston champion, in the quarters, as the 2009 Houston champion will face a qualifier in round 1 and Bogomolov/Querrey in round 2. Hewitt has been struggling since late January and I’m not sure he’s entirely healthy. If he doesn’t lose in the first couple of rounds, Isner should be able to take him out even with the 2-5 negative H2H record, including 1 win on clay by Hewitt in 2010.

Isner won their last meeting in the 2013 Atlanta semis in 3 and has upward trajectory.

The struggling Nicolas Almagro will look to find some form in Houston, where he defends finalist points, as he will face his countryman Daniel Gimeno-Traver or local resident Michael Russell in round 2. Almagro is 5-1 on clay against DGT and even though he has lost 3 straight on the dirt, he should make his way to the quarterfinals. Almagro will face one of Ivo Karlovic/Jack Sock/Benjamin Becker/qualifier in the quarters, as Ivo or the qualifier will be the favorite to reach the quarters. Sock is hopeless on clay from what I remember, and Becker is 0-6 against Karlovic in his career including 0-2 on clay. Ivo has a rather lucky draw but he should fall to Almagro given his 0-3 h2h record against the Spaniard.

Houston2011
Bottom Half:
Tommy Robredo, who is 5-3 on clay this year, will face off with Santiago Giraldo or Matt Ebden in his first match, as Giraldo comes off Davis Cup, but could give the Spaniard a good clay court battle if he’s fresh enough. Their h2h is 1-1 and Robredo won the only meeting on clay in 2011 in 3 sets with a final set tiebreak.

Santi is 4-4 on clay this year, but I think Robredo will get to the quarters. Robredo’s quarterfinal opponent is a bit of a tossup, as Feliciano Lopez, the 5 seed, will face Baghdatis/Gonzalez in round 2 to decide it. Feli will be playing his first clay court tennis of the year but his reasonable form should allow him to reach the quarters before falling to Robredo who he is 0-4 career against including 0-2 on clay.

Their lasting meeting came in 2009, and their last clay meeting was in 2007.

The semifinalist from the section above the Robredo section will be interesting. Cases can be made for 4 seed Fernando Verdasco, former champion Juan Monaco, who was a semifinalist last year, and even the very hot Steve Johnson, who just won the La Gosier challenger on hard courts. Problem is, Johnson is another American who is rather hopeless on clay. Verdasco will face Johnson or Denis Kudla in round 2. Stevie J is 4-0 career against Kudla, and just beat him in Le Gosier, however if Johnson is tired coming off a quick turnaround, and the fact this is clay, Denis could get him back. They have never met on the surface before.

Regardless, Verdasco who has lost 2 straight matches, and will be playing for the first time on clay this year, probably makes the quarterfinals to do battle with Monaco. Monaco has to beat Indian Davis Cup hero Somdev Devvarman, who will be traveling in from Korea from that and should be jetlagged, then a qualifier or Donald Young to reach that point. Pico has also lost 2 straight and is 2-4 on clay this year but should he make the quarters, his 5-2 h2h clay court record against the Spaniard will be a big plus in his favor. That said, their last four clay court meetings were split 2-2 and Verdasco won the last meeting at the 2011 French.

Given Monaco has been struggling this year, I expect Verdasco to survive.

Dark Horse: Daniel Gimeno-Traver
Hard to see a non-seeded dark horse do something with this draw, but it has happened before, and a steady dirtballer like DGT is a prime selection. After a competitive Russell in the first round and even though his h2h with Almagro is a pitiful 1-5 on clay, Nico has been struggling. If he catches him out of sorts, he has a chance to reach the quarters. DGT took a set off Nico in Buenos Aires this year, losing 6-1 5-7 4-6. From there, he has an outside shot at the semis against Isner most likely, as Karlovic/qualifier isn’t the toughest clay court opponent.

Predictions
Semis:Isner d. Almagro
Robredo d. Verdasco
A rematch of last years Houston final, Isner beat Almagro in straights, and I think he would do so again if form is any indication. Almagro has one other clay win in Davis Cup 2012, and an overall split h2h of 2-2 across all surfaces.

Robredo is 4-0 on clay against Verdasco, while struggling against him on faster surfaces, in a somewhat strange head to head, their last meeting on clay occurring 3 years ago, given current form, I think Tommy will slide past all comers into the final.

Final:
Isner d. Robredo
They met twice in 2010, and both times on hard courts, with the h2h 1-1. This is a hard pick, as both players have had streaks of great play, and then gaps of poor tennis in between, and really it depends on which guy will come to play. Isner is playing in the states, he likes the Houston Har-Tru clay, which is very different from European red clay, and he’s probably in slightly better form if he stays healthy.

I have him winning this one in 3 sets.

If you're looking for Nemo, he's in Casa.

If you’re looking for Nemo, he’s in Casa.

ATP Casablanca
Grand Prix Hassan II
ATP World Tour 250
Casablanca, Morocco
April 7-April 13, 2014
Prize Money: € 426,605

Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Kevin Anderson (19)
2: Gael Monfils (25)
3: Benoit Paire (33)
4: Marcel Granollers (36)

Just one top 20 player for the Casablanca 250, but the players themselves are capable of playing above their rankings and are recognizable names. It should also be noted that world number 27 Gilles Simon is attempting to qualify here, assuming because he refused a late wild card and opted to do so to get more match practice. Not really sure the reason, but he is a very strong qualifier should he get through.

First Round matchups to watch:
Tobias Kamke vs. Pablo Carreno Busta
Kamke performed admirably in a rare Davis Cup call up for team Germany, going 1-1 in singles with a win against Benneteau and a loss against Tsonga. He will have to do a quick turnaround and a surface change to clay as he will face the formerly rising Spaniard Carreno Busta, who has been really struggling as of late and has seen his stock cool off. PCB has lost 5 straight matches and is a miserable 1-8 this year, but he has played all of them at the ATP level. Credit to him for trying to match his game with the best. He will hope to find his game against at the site of his first career ATP main draw level victory, Casablanca, where he reached round 2 as a qualifier last year. He was an overall 43-12 on clay last year, which includes mostly futures and challengers and knows his way around the surface.

He should be a slight favorite against the journeyman German, who should be fatigued.

Teymuraz Gabashvili vs. Carlos Berlocq
Gabashvili is back in the top 60 at the age of 28–in fact–59, which ties a career high for him that came back in 2009. He will face off with the Argentine Berlocq, known for his expressive grunting and stamina. His h2h record is 2-0 against the Argentine, though both meetings came at 2005 challengers a long time ago. They were both on clay, however, and both players are good on the surface, as they both posted winning records on it last year.

Berlocq is 2-2 on the surface this year and this match is a bit of a toss up, but I give Gaba a slight edge to advance.

(5)Joao Sousa vs. Igor Sijsling
Sousa, who is seeded here, should be able to take care of Sijsling without problem, but this is a good form test match for the improving Portugese number 1, as Sijsling has lost 2 straight and isn’t his strongest on clay. Sousa is 2-2 on the surface this year and reached the third round of Miami last, as he has rekindled some form after struggling at the start of the season.

This is their first meeting and I expect a straight set result.

Top Half:
Kevin Anderson, who had his best year on clay ever in 2013, going 11-5 on the surface including a final here in Casablanca, is the top seed. He faces Victor Hanescu or wild card Hicham Khaddari in round 2 and should be on his way to face one of two qualifiers or Federico Delbonis/Filippo Volandri in the quarters.

Wherever potential qualifier Gilles Simon lands will be a big influence on this draw, even with the Frenchman struggling, and should he qualify and land in this section, he has a shot at the quarters. That being said, Delbonis is 7-3 on clay this year and was a finalist in Sao Paulo. He continues to improve and has a good draw here, thus I expect an Anderson vs. Delbonis quarter.

Marcel Granollers is in awful form, and might become a doubles specialist soon if it continues. He has lost 4 straight, is just 1-7 in his last 8 matches, and went just 1-4 on clay during the golden swing in South America. He will probably be an underdog in his first match against Albert Ramos, Ramos just needing to beat wild card Lamine Ouahab, who is probably more famous for switching his nationality from Algerian to Moroccan because of the tennis federation support than anything else, to reach round 2. Ramos is 10-6 on clay this year and has consecutive clay challenger semifinals on his résumé. I expect him to make the quarters against PCB/Kamke or Robin Haase/Aleksandr Nedovyesov. Haase is good on clay and will be looking to return to form, while Nedovyesov comes off Davis Cup duty against Switzerland, and will likely be fatigued. However, he’s in good enough form and good on clay.

Any of those 4 players would be more than pleased to find some form and make the quarters.

Bottom Half:
Gael Monfils is his usual unpredictable self: After struggling In Miami, he came up big for France in Davis Cup, winning a deciding fifth rubber. He had such a strong start to 2014, only to go 1-3 in his last 4 ATP matches. He’s certainly good on clay, but the questions are is he healthy, fresh, coming off DC, and focused, as “personal problems” and injuries have dogged him on and off. He will face Jiri Vesely or Leo Mayer first up, as Vesely comes off DC duty and will be traveling a long way from Japan. Thus, his first opponent will probably be Mayer, who has a clay court final this year in Vina Del Mar. Assuming Monfils doesn’t have something strange occur, It should be a Monfils vs. Sousa/Sijsling in the quarters. However, there are another 2 qualifier spots in that section, and should Simon land there, assuming he qualifies, he himself has a good shot at the quarters. Don’t forget that Sousa is solid and probably makes it regardless, given the poor form of Simon.

Benoit Paire will be playing for the first time since January in Casablanca. The talented Frenchman with the gifted backhand, who is just competitive on clay but not elite by any standard, will face the aging defender Albert Montanes or Le Gosier challenger finalist Kenny De Schepper in round 2. He will probably be rusty, and Montanes has a shot at the quarters. Or maybe Paire will pull through.

In the section above, Gabashvili/Berlocq or Guillermo Garcia-Lopez/Mikhail Kukushkin await in the quarters. GGL is struggling, having lost 4 straight on clay, and Kukushkin comes off Davis Cup duty and will probably be fatigued, along with the surface change.

Dark Horse: Albert Ramos
The formerly top 40 Spaniard has a great draw that should put him in the semifinals. After the journeyman Ouahab and the ice cold Granollers, any of Haase/Nedovyesov/Kamke/PCB he should be favored against and he will at least be competitive against Anderson/Delbonis/Simon in the semis.

Predictions
Semis:
Delbonis d. Ramos
Sousa d. Montanes

Delbonis lost to Anderson on clay in 2012, but he’s improving and I like him as an upset selection to win the title or at least make the final. he is 2-2 career on clay against Ramos, and won their last meeting in 2012 in Madrid.

I think Sousa will upset Monfils, even though I’m totally gambling on that pick, and Sousa or Monfils will be a favorite over Montanes or someone else in the semis. Paire could find form, perhaps, or maybe GGL/Berlocq.

Rest assured, it’ll be competitive.

Final:
Delbonis d. Sousa
Delbonis beat Sousa on clay this year in what would be the second career ATP final for them both. They would both be vying for their second career ATP title, as Delbonis won Sao Paulo this year. Given the 1-0 h2h and the current form, I like Delbonis as champion.

Nakagawa, Bellis Capture 18s Singles Titles At USTA International Spring Championships

Nakagawa, Bellis Capture 18s Singles Titles At USTA International Spring Championships

Naoki Nakagawa (JPN)

Naoki Nakagawa (JPN)

CARSON, Calif., (April 6, 2014) – At 5-all in a third-set tiebreaker, No. 2-seeded Naoki Nakagawa knew he had to play the final two points like he had been the entire match: “patient yet aggressive.”

And that’s exactly what the Bradenton, Fla., resident from Fukuoka, Japan, did on Sunday as he went the distance to beat top-seeded Francis Tiafoe to capture the Boys’ 18s singles title, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (5), on the final day at the 10th annual USTA International Spring Championships, an ITF level Grade 1 event played at the StubHub Center.

“I was really tight but I knew I had to go for it,” said Nakagawa, who took a second serve from the forehand side for a cross-court winner to go up 6-5 in the breaker. He then hit a powerful serve down the “T” that Tiafoe could only manage to hit into the net.

Tiafoe said he played an “unbelievable” game at 5-all to break Nakagawa’s serve and then had a chance to serve out the match. But Nakagawa returned some tough Tiafoe first serves to break back sending the match into a tiebreaker, the first time it’s gone that far in the event’s 10-year history. In fact, in the first nine Boys’ 18s finals before Sunday, only twice had a match gone to three sets.

“It could have gone either way,” said Tiafoe, the ITF world-ranked No. 7 player from College Park, Md. “I hit a bad second serve and for him to go for that at 5-all was pretty clutch, and you got to give that to him. Then he hits a big serve at match point so there’s nothing you can do there.”

Nakagawa, 17, is in his fifth year training at IMG Bolettieri Academy in Bradenton, Fla. He calls current world ATP Tour Top 20 player Kei Nishikori a good friend. “Yeah, we train together and sometimes I go to his house and we play games,” said Nakagawa.

Tiafoe headed straight for the desert two hours east after his match where he will take tomorrow off before his first match in the ASICS Easter Bowl. He said he won’t dwell on the loss for long, and that there is no pressure on him this coming week. “It’s not like it’s going to matter to me to play the Slams this summer,” he said. “It obviously hurts because I wanted to win but it’s not going to carry over to this week.”

In the girls’ 18s final contested at the same time, No. 5-seeded and 14-year-old CiCi Bellis of Atherton, Calif., made short work of 15-year-old and No. 9 Raveena Kingsley of Fulton, Md., 6-3, 6-0. Kingsley had beaten Bellis in their only prior meeting at the 12s USTA Spring Nationals back in 2011.

Catherine Cartan Bellis (USA)

Catherine Cartan Bellis (USA)

Kingsley, who trains out of the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md., had a tough three-set semifinal on Saturday and said she felt mentally and physically tired before the final. “And it’s my first Grade 1 final, so maybe that helped her confidence, that she’s been here before,” said Kingsley, who was coached by Frank Salazar all week.

Bellis was cheered on by her hitting partner and one of her coaches Jelena Pandzic, a former junior prodigy from Split, Croatia, who reached as high as No. 135 in the WTA World Tour rankings.

“I will rest the rest of today and maybe have a light hit tomorrow,” said Bellis, who turns 15 on Tuesday. “I really want to win the Easter Bowl. It’s going to be really hard because everyone in the draw is really good.”

In 2012, Bellis was a finalist in the Girls’ 14s at the ASICS Easter and last year she won the Girls’ 16s.

For a complete look at all the final draws, log onto the website at www.usta.com/isc.

SUNDAY’S FINAL SCORES

Boys’ 18 Singles

Naoki Nakagawa (2) (Japan) def. Francis Tiafoe (1) (College Park, MD) 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (5)

Girls’ 18 Singles

CiCi Bellis (5) (Atherton, CA) def. Raveena Kingsley (9) (Fulton, MD) 6-3, 6-0

—Steve Pratt

World Group DC Semifinals Set: Italy/Switzerland, Czech Republic/France

World Group DC Semifinals Set: Italy/Switzerland, Czech Republic/France
Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast

Davis Cup Official Site
It was a wild weekend of Davis Cup action, and upsets seemed possible, but in the end, all the favored teams advanced to the world group semifinals. Here is a review.

Czech Republic d. Japan 5-0
Radek Stepanek led the way as the Czechs whitewashed Japan, winning both singles rubbers on Friday in 4 and 5 sets respectively (Stepanek d. Tatsuma Ito, Lukas Rosol d. Taro Daniel) and then clinching the doubles with Rosol/Stepanek defeating Ito/Yasutaka Uchiyama for a 3-0 victory.

Rosol beat Uchiyama and Jiri Vesely beat Daniel in the dead rubbers to complete the sweet, as the defending DC champions earned a big road win and are into the semis again.

France d. Germany 3-2
France was nearly upset at home by an underdog German team that put up a good fight, but they managed to pull themselves together after an atrocious Friday singles to win a deciding fifth rubber.

Tobias Kamke upset Julien Benneteau, and Peter Gojowczyk played well above his normal level to defeat a struggling Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 5 sets, 6-8 in the fifth. Germany had 3 chances from there to clinch the tie, but never came close to doing so, as Benneteau/Michael Llodra beat Andre Begemann/Kamke in Saturday doubles, in 4 sets, and then Tsonga and Gael Monfils beat Kamke and Gojowczyk in the Sunday live singles rubbers to clinch the tie. Both Sunday singles matches were straight sets, and not particularly close, as Monfils was a big injection of energy for the French team, and Kamke and Gojowczyk returned to their normal level, along with being fatigued.

A French team strong on paper, they will face the Czechs in the semis at home.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iiW5Zjz1Dkw https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VyPG3FG5_40 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x71TpJ9qzBk

Italy d. Great Britain 3-2
In another near upset, Italy was put on the ropes by team GB but clawed back on Sunday for a big victory at home. Fabio Fognini was again the hero, as he won twice in singles, on Friday with a 4 set victory over James Ward, and on Sunday to keep the tie alive with a straight set drubbing of Andy Murray.

Andreas Seppi went 1-1 in singles, as he lost on Friday to Murray in straights, but clinched the tie with a straight set victory over Ward in the fifth rubber on Sunday. Colin Fleming and Murray won the doubles over Simone Bolelli and Fognini in 4 sets on Saturday to put team GB up 2-1 and a win away from clinching, but team GB was hapless from there on out.

Switzerland d. Kazahkstan 3-2
The Swiss very nearly choked in what would have been one of the biggest Davis Cup upsets in modern history, but they survived just like their French and Italian counterparts to prevail at home in Geneva.

Stan Wawrinka continued his string of poor play post Australian Open, as he lost in 4 sets to Andrey Golubev on Friday, and then lost the doubles with partner Roger Federer to Golubev/Aleksandr Nedovyesov on Saturday in 4 sets as well.

Federer was really the hero this time for Switzerland, as his two straight sets singles victories over Mikhail Kukushkin and Golubev on Friday and Sunday clinched the tie. Wawrinka kept it alive on Sunday with a 4 set victory over Kukushkin, credit to the Kazahks for battling hard in this one.

Switzerland hosts Italy at home in the semis.

Action Outside World Group:
Brazil and Colombia made their way to the World Group playoffs out of Americas Group 1, as Rogerio Dutra and Brazil beat Emilio Gomez and Colombia 3-1, and Santiago Giraldo and Alejandro Falla teamed up for Colombia yet again to defeat Victor Estrella and the Dominican Republic 4-1.

Asia/Oceania Group 1 World Group Playoff representatives will be India and Uzbekistan, as Somdev Devvarman led India to a 3-1 victory over South Korea, and Denis Istomin led Uzbekistan to a 3-2 victory over China, as Di Wu won twice for them but Ze Zhang couldn’t do the same in a super close, competitive tie that came down to a live fifth rubber won by Farrukh Dustov over Zhang in 5 sets.

In Europe/Africa Group 1 finals Marin Cilic and Croatia beat Jerzy Janowicz and Poland 3-1, as Janowicz was upset by the young and rising Borna Coric, Dudi Sela and Israel upset Blaz Rola and Slovenia 3-1, Sergiy Stakhovsky and his teammates gave Ukraine something to cheer for, as they beat Sweden 4-1, including a 13-11 final set victory by Stakhovsky over Johan Brunstrom in the first rubber and Lukas Lacko and Slovakia beat Dominic Thiem and Austria 4-1 to complete the world group playoffs participants.

In a couple of notable Europe/Africa Group 2 ties, Damir Dzhumhur and Bosnia beat Jarkko Nieminen and Finland 3-2 with a live fifth rubber, and Ricardas Berankis and Lithuania beat Rik De Voest and South Africa in the same fashion 3-2 with a live fifth rubber.