2014 ATP Clay Court Season In Review

2014 ATP Clay Court Season In Review
Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast


In review: The 2014 ATP Clay Court Season

After Kitzbuhel concluded last week, the clay court calendar portion of the 2014 ATP season came to an end. With that conclusion, we can now review which players performed the best, and which players underachieved on the dirt this season. Clay courts comprise a large portion of the ATP calendar so there is a much larger sample size to draw from compared to, say, the grass court season.

Biggest clay court surprise: Leonardo Mayer

27 year old journeyman Argentine Leonardo Mayer has transformed himself into a top 30 player this season and his best results have come on clay. He posted 18 wins on the surface compared to just 10 losses this season at the ATP level and scored wins over household names David Ferrer, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Joao Sousa and Tommy Robredo on the surface; he also pushed top 6 player Tomas Berdych to three sets in Oeiras.

He reached his first career final in Vina Del Mar, but fell short against Fabio Fognini there, and he finally got his maiden title in Hamburg over Ferrer in 3 sets. Winning that final set tiebreak ended a long journey to the top 30 for Leo and he remains an under recognized and underappreciated Argentine player. With Del Potro perpetually injured and Nalbandian now retired, Argentine will have to look to the likes of Mayer to carry Davis Cup and national hopes for a while. He reached the third round of the French Open and had quarterfinal appearances in both Oeiras and Nice to round out his best results on clay for 2014.

Honorable mentions for clay court surprise: Carlos Berlocq, Santiago Giraldo, Kei Nishikori, Roberto Bautista Agut

Carlos Berlocq joins his countryman Mayer as a surprising player this season. He won an ATP title for the second year in a row, this time coming in Oeiras where he upset and outlasted Tomas Berdych. The loud and flamboyant dirtballer also posted quarterfinals in Nice and a semifinal in Bastad to compliment his win in Oeiras. This highlights an overall 16-9 record on clay at the ATP level for 2014. He tends to get overmatched in the masters level and grand slam events but against a 250 level field he often flourishes. Notable opponents he defeated this year on clay include Andreas Seppi, Milos Raonic, Ferrer and Lleyton Hewitt at the French, along with the aforementioned Berdych.

Santiago Giraldo, a shotmaking Colombian with a huge forehand, has also had some of the best success of his career this season. He went 19-11 on clay and though he did not win a title, he reached the final in Barcelona, his second career final, along with semis in Houston and Vina Del Mar, and a pair of quarterfinals in Madrid and Stuttgart. Giraldo beat top players Tommy Robredo, Andy Murray, Nicolas Almagro, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga this season. Giraldo joins Mayer as a first time top 30 player after success on clay.

Kei Nishikori had an underappreciated clay court season this year, partially due to the fact that he had to battle injuries during that portion of the season, He played just three tournaments but posted a 10-2 record in them with a title in Barcelona and a final in Madrid, where he took a set off Nadal but had to retire during the third set of the match. He had top tier wins over Roberto Bautista Agut, Marin Cilic, Ferrer, Ernests Gulbis, and Raonic among his 10 overall and should he be able to stay healthy he has shown himself to be a threat on clay.

Bautista Agut is the last player I’ll discuss. He went 12-5 on clay and won his first title on the surface in Stuttgart over Lukas Rosol. Success on clay has helped him reach the top 20 for the first time in his career and he beat Robredo, Fernando Verdasco, and Fognini this year on the surface. RBA doesn’t play prototypical Spanish tennis but he’s still a top performing Spaniard on red clay.

Biggest upset: ATP Barcelona quarterfinals: Nicolas Almagro d. Rafael Nadal 2-6 7-6(5) 6-4

The powerful Spaniard Almagro had been outclassed by his much more successful countryman Nadal eight previous times on clay. Finally, Nico was able to get a victory against perhaps the greatest clay courter of all time. The first set was a routine affair, but Almagro fought back hard and Rafa played poorly, resulting in Nadal’s first loss on clay after winning the first set in over six years. Nadal had his chances to close out the match in the second, and didn’t face break points himself, but he couldn’t convert and the tiebreak went against him, giving Almagro an opening he took advantage of by winning a decisive fifth and final break in the third set to seal the victory. Nadal struggled to win his service points, and at the time, many were deeply worried about how he was playing going into the French Open. The fact Rafa did win the French perhaps makes this victory by Almagro look even more improbable and top quality, given Rafa showed his career wasn’t in serious decline yet.

Clay court breakthroughs: Dominic Thiem, Alex Zverev and Dusan Lajovic

A trio of young players found maiden ATP success on clay, while new Austrian number one Dominic Thiem was a mere 12-8 on clay at the ATP level. He went 4-0 in qualifying matches on the surface and won multiple main draw matches in Barcelona, Madrid and Hamburg. He finally reached his first career ATP final on home soil in Kitzbuhel and appears very close to his first career ATP title. Thiem had notable wins over Radek Stepanek and Stan Wawrinka this year on clay.

Alex Zverev, a teenager, notably made the semifinals in Hamburg, a one off showing but clearly a sign of things to come for the young German. Zverev had wins over Mikhail Youzhny and Giraldo en route. I have a feeling Thiem vs. Zverev may develop into a clay court rivalry in the future. Both players have things to work on but we could have a Germany vs. Austria French Open final come 2018 or beyond.

Dusan Lajovic established himself as a top 70 player with a strong clay court season. He also established himself as the Serbian number 2 behind Djokovic and should feature on their Davis Cup team for quite some time. He went 14-11 in both ATP main draw action and qualifying on clay this season and along with quarters in Hamburg and Bastad, he reached the round of 16 at the French Open, his best ever result in a major. He didn’t beat many top names this season but he still proved he can grind out matches to increase his ranking.

Clay Court Disappointments: Tommy Robredo, Stan Wawrinka, Gilles Simon, Joao Sousa and Andreas Seppi

The well-liked veteran Spaniard Robredo went just 15-12 this year on clay after going a tremendous 25-10 on the surface in 2013. His age may finally be catching up with him as he reached just one final, one semi and one quarterfinal this season along with posting seven early round exits. Once he finishes this season he will have a lot to think about going into to 2015.

Wawrinka did not have a terrible clay court season, but he underachieved after high expectations were placed on him after winning his first grand slam in Australia at the start of the year. He won Monte Carlo, but that was the only highlight of his 6-3 clay court season. He had a trio of surprising early exits in Madrid, Rome and the French Open, and next season he will have much to gain during the clay court portion of the year. He posted a 43-17 record on clay over the previous two seasons before this one and has the ability to do much better than he did in 2014.

Veteran Frenchman Gilles Simon has struggled to stay healthy in 2014 and he had a disappointing clay court season that has contributed to his fall from the top 30. He won consecutive matches in a clay court tournament just twice this season and failed to beat any players ranked above him on the surface. He also had bad losses to Teymuraz Gabashvili, Lukasz Kubot and Pablo Andujar. He was a subpar 8-9 on the surface overall in 2014. ‘

After a breakthrough 2013, top Portugese player Joao Sousa was a disappointing 7-13 on clay in 2014, struggling against ATP level competition on the surface. He reached one quarterfinal and one final but suffered ten opening match exits and eleven early round exists overall with multiple losses to players ranked below him. Sousa will need to improve considerably and adjust his game if he hopes to be more successful on clay in the future.

After struggling on clay in 2013, Italian veteran Andreas Seppi did so again in 2014. He is just 18-22 on the surface over the past two seasons and was 11-12 this season. He failed to reach a semifinal in any clay court tournament this year.

First time winners: Federico Delbonis, David Goffin and Pablo Cuevas

23 year old Argentine Federico Delbonis won his maiden title in Sao Paulo and has been successful on clay overall this season, posting an 18-13 ATP record. He later made a final in Nice, semifinals in Casablanca and a quarterfinal in Stuttgart to complement his Sao Paulo victory. Delbonis also showed his prowess on the red stuff last season when he reached the final in Hamburg and he should be a name to watch in many clay court tournaments to come.

David Goffin snagged a maiden title in Kitzbuhel at the tail end of the clay court season after getting red hot on the ATP Challenger Tour prior. Goffin, who had that run to the fourth round as a qualifier at the 2012 French Open, and has seen his once promising career fade from the spotlight since then, returned to the challenger tour to find his game and hopefully he will be able to keep himself at the ATP level this time. Goffin is undersized and many players were able to hit him off the court at the top level but perhaps he has rediscovered a path to success for himself given the limitations of his physical stature.

Lastly, Pablo Cuevas, who has overcome multiple knee and shoulder injuries and built his ranking back up to ATP status from the challenger tour, won his maiden title at 28 years old in Bastad, then followed it up with a title in Umag a couple of weeks later. Cuevas makes his living on clay and has been rapidly improving as of late. He pushed Fernando Verdasco to five sets at the French Open and has wins over Robredo, Fognini, Seppi, Sousa, and Verdasco this season. Cuevas’ rise is a testament to his tenacity and the work he has put into his game.

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Nadal Wins #9 in Paris, Maintains Control of #1 Ranking

Nadal Wins #9 in Paris, Maintains Control of #1 Ranking
Nadal
Rafael Nadal won his ninth French Open title and fourteenth Grand Slam title (now tied for second most all time with Sampras, behind Federer) on Sunday 3-6 7-5 6-2 6-4 over an erratic and ill Novak Djokovic.

Their seventh career slam final meeting was probably their least competitive and lowest quality. Djokovic played a good first two sets, but Rafa began to get a firm grip on the match.

Djokovic, who said he had been sick the past few days, struggled with erratic play and returned poorly in sets three and four, and though Djokovic was able to break back from 4-2 down in the fourth, he got broken in the last game on a double fault at 4-5 and lost the match.

Nadal, meanwhile, was struggling with back pain late in the match, and we may not see him again until Wimbledon.

Nadal also confirms control of the number one ranking with the victory and has room to expand his lead in the rankings post-grass season, while Djokovic continues to be looking for answers, having now lost his third straight Grand Slam final.

Earlier in the second week, Nadal drubbed Dusan Lajovic, David Ferrer and Andy Murray in consecutive matches, while Djokovic didn’t drop a set against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Milos Raonic. Djokovic also won in 4 sets against first time Grand Slam semifinalist Ernests Gulbis, who by virtue of his showing has now entered the top 10.

Gulbis upset Roger Federer and Tomas Berdych in consecutive matches to reach the semifinals. Murray returns to the top 5 by making the semis. Murray and Gulbis have to be very pleased with their French Open showings.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3M-Mmsr0_8 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDS-Mgh7wbg https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mor1RgzJCQg https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcb6aDdvw8U https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssy2poR4qGU https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XWDjdf0lcA

Julien Benneteau and Edouard Roger-Vasselin won a home title for the French as they got past Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez for the Mens doubles title.

—-Steen Kirny, Tennis East Coast

2014 @RolandGarros French Open Week 2 Men’s Preview, Picks

2014 @RolandGarros French Open Week 2 Men’s Preview, Picks
Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast

Roland Garros 2013

The round of 16 has (nearly) been set in Paris with a few new faces and many familiar names still in the running. Here is both a recap of the stirring action of the first week and a preview of what is ahead at Roland Garros 2014.

Rafael Nadal vs. Dusan Lajovic

To the surprise of hardly anyone, Rafael Nadal has again reached the second week of the French without dropping a set, as he routined Robby Ginepri, the young Dominic Thiem, and Leo Mayer, dropping fewer than 20 games in 3 matches. However, he was complaining about his back after the Mayer round 3 match and has it taped, which he said is affecting his serve. Given his opponent, Lajovic, doesn’t appear to be a formidable challenge he should be ok in this match but it could pose problems in the final potential three matches.

Lajovic has reached the second week of a slam for the first time in his career and he did so by beating Federico Delbonis, Jurgen Zopp and Jack Sock without dropping a set. This section was blown open because of Tommy Haas dealing with injuries that caused him to retire in the first round, and though Lajovic is having a career week, unless Nadal is truly hampered, I don’t see this being much more than Rafa in straights.

Kevin Anderson vs. David Ferrer

Big Kev rolled past two weak French opponents, Stephane Robert and Axel Michon, before getting a retirement against Ivo Karlovic, who upset Grigor Dimitrov in straights earlier in the week to reach the last of 16.

David Ferrer, meanwhile, crushed Igor Sijsling and a pair of Italians, Simone Bolelli and Andreas Seppi. Ferrer beat Anderson here last year in straights, and I expect a repeat of that. The veteran Spaniard should again reach the quarterfinals.

Guillermo Garcia-Lopez vs. Gael Monfils

GGL shocked the 3 seed Stan Wawrinka in 4 sets in the first round, as the Swiss meekly bowed out to the prowess of the all court Spanish veteran, who is having a great year at 30 years old.

He followed up the Wawrinka upset by beating Adrian Mannarino in 4 sets and avoiding a near choke from 2 sets to love up against Donald Young, breaking to win in 5, 6-4 in the fifth. Young did well to reach the third round and played well this week.

GGL had to claw for the victory.

Monfils, meanwhile, may still be dealing with an ankle injury but he beat Victor Hanescu in 4 and JL Struff in straights this week, then won a great circus match against Fabio Fognini in 5 sets. The two players yet again gave the French crowd a show, but it was Monfils who was more focused and with fewer errors.

Monfils is 2-0 on clay against GGL but they haven’t met since 2010. This one is a very hard pick, but I think GGL runs out of magic here and Monfils wins in 4 or 5 sets.

Richard Gasquet/Fernando Verdasco vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber/Andy Murray

These matches have yet to be completed, as they were played late and stopped because of darkness. Verdasco is 2 sets up against Gasquet at the time of writing, while Kohli and Murray are deadlocked at 7-7 in the fifth set.

It’s hard to make a prediction without seeing how these finish, but if I had to pick I’d go with Verdasco vs. Murray being the most likely final 16 matchup. I like Murray to reach the quarterfinals regardless. Gasquet has been fighting through back problems but didn’t drop a set against Bernard Tomic and Carlos Berlocq, but he will need to come back from 2 sets down against Verdasco. Verdasco beat Michael Llodra, then outlasted Pablo Cuevas in 5, coming back from 2 sets down (and avoiding a choke as his opponent ran out of gas after Verdasco had to serve to stay in the match).

Kohli beat Pere Riba and Denis Istomin in straights, then clawed back after dropping two straight sets to win the fourth and get it to 7 all against Murray in the fifth set. Murray beat Andrey Golubev in 4 and Marinko Matosevic in straights prior.

Again, hard to pick this section, but Murray or Verdasco are most likely to get through to the quarterfinals with Gasquet not near 100% and Kohli not reliable enough.

Tomas Berdych vs. John Isner

Tomas Berdych has looked good this week, with wins over Peter Polansky in straights and Aleksandr Nedovyesov in 4 sets, then a 4 set win over Roberto Bautista Agut that was easier than I thought it would be going in.

Isner beat Pierre Hugues Herbert, Mikhail Kukushkin and Tommy Robredo, the latter two in 4 sets. He hasn’t faced the toughest competition, given Robredo struggles against big servers on clay and hasn’t been the most in-form recently, but still it’s his best showing at the French ever.

Anything more is just gravy at this point. Berdych beat him at the French in straights in 2010 and given this is clay, Berd should win in 3 or 4 if he can match the serving and power of Isner and be better with his movement.

Ernests Gulbis vs Roger Federer

I expect a quality, entertaining match between these two. Both their prior clay meetings went 3 sets (ATP matches) and the h2h is 1-1, with both matches coming in 2010.

Gulbis reached the last 16 beating Lukasz Kubot in 4, Facundo Bagnis in straights and Radek Stepanek in the same manner. Fed beat Lukas Lacko and Diego Sebastian Schwartzman in straights before needing 4 sets to defeat Dmitry Tursunov.

Gulbis is in some fantastic form right now and is on a winning streak. However, this is Federer, and unless Gulbis plays with razor sharp focus, it’s hard to see him winning.

Fed in 5 is my pick simply because of consistency.

Milos Raonic vs. Marcel Granollers

Milos Raonic beat young guns Nick Kyrgios and Jiri Vesely in straights, then was put to the test against a surprisingly rejuvenated Gilles Simon, finally winning that one 7-5 in the fifth as his serve pulled him through.

Granollers got a retirement against Ivan Dodig, then notched wins over Alex Dolgopolov in 5 and Martin Klizan in 4. He came back from 2 sets down against Dolgo and he’s proven to be a fiery competitor this week, but Raonic is in form and he’s the better player, even on his weaker surface of clay.

They have never met before but I’m going with Raonic. His expected round of 16 opponent, Kei Nishkori, bowed out weakly to Klizan in round 1.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Novak Djokovic

Tsonga hasn’t beaten Djokovic since 2010 and he’s lucky to reach the last 16, as he got gifted with a good draw. The Frenchman beat Edouard Roger-Vasselin, Jurgen Melzer and Jerzy Janowicz all without dropping a set, as they all played poorly.

Djokovic beat Joao Sousa and Jeremy Chardy very casually before having a bit of a headache against Marin Cilic, dropping the third set and finally closing that one out in 4 sets. Djokovic in 3 or 4 is the pick.

Predictions

Quarters:
Nadal d. Ferrer
Monfils d. Verdasco/Murray/Kohlschreiber/Gasquet
Federer d. Berdych
Djokovic d. Raonic

Nadal could lose if his back is bad or something happens, but realistically have to go with Rafa.

I like Monfils simply because of the home crowd and he’s playing well even with the ankle being iffy. None of the possible opponents look unbeatable. I trust Fed over Berdych in best of 5 format, and Djokovic should outclass Raonic.

Semis:
Nadal d. Monfils
Djokovic d. Federer

Still like Djokovic over Fed and even though his health his iffy, Rafa has already beaten an (in form) Monfils twice this year and he’s 4-0 against him on clay. That makes it unrealistic for me to pick Le Monf any further.

Final:
Djokovic d. Nadal

I picked it at the start of the week, and with Nadal complaining about the back, even if Djoker isn’t perfect I think he now has a clear edge to win the title this week as long as he keeps to form.

2014 French Open Week 1 Men’s Preview, Predictions

2014 French Open Week 1 Men’s Preview, Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast

Roland Garros 2013

The pinnacle of the clay court season, Roland Garros in Paris is upon us. Here is a preview of the 2014 edition of the tournament, which is more wide open than in previous years.

Roland Garros
Grand Slam
Paris, France
May 25-June 8, 2014
Prize Money: € 11,552,000

Top 8 seeds
1: Rafael Nadal
2: Novak Djokovic
3: Roger Federer
4: Stan Wawrinka
5: David Ferrer
6: Tomas Berdych
7: Andy Murray
8: Milos Raonic

Of the ATP top 50, only the long-term injured Juan Martin Del Potro and Florian Mayer are out of the tournament.

1st round matchups to watch:

Dominic Thiem vs. Paul Henri Mathieu

The new Austrian number one is making his French Open debut against the crafty veteran PHM, who will be playing in front of a partisan French crowd. PHM has a habit for five setters in Paris (8 five set matches in his career at RG). He isn’t the player he once was and he could very well push Thiem the distance. PHM isn’t in any specifically notable form, and Thiem was poor this week in Nice, losing in 3 to Gilles Simon after nearly losing to Steve Johnson in 3 in the first round. Still, Thiem is talented and he has had a super year, qualifying for enough ATP tournaments that he was able to get direct entry for RG. I expect him to advance.

(32)Andreas Seppi vs. Santiago Giraldo

Seppi is seeded but Giraldo should be the favorite in this match as he has been in super form this clay court season. In consecutive weeks, he reached the semis in Houston, the final in Barcelona and the quarterfinals in Madrid as a qualifier. He retired in the first round after qualifying in Rome, though. Seppi is just 1-3 in his last four and hasn’t done anything special this season. He’s a reliable clay court vet and he could outlast Giraldo if the Colombian’s make or break attacking style of play comes up empty. Still, I expect Santi to get through and continue his good form, as working with former RG semifinalist Fernando Gonzalez seems to be paying off for him.

(3)Stan Wawrinka vs. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez

Wawrinka has had some up and down moments this season, but the Monte Carlo (and Australian Open) champion remains one of the top faves for the final. He will have perhaps a challenging test in the first round against the all- court Spanish vet GGL, who he is just 3-2 h2h against on clay. Wawrinka easily won a meeting last year, however, and the 2013/14 version of Wawrinka is a much improved player from the prior version. GGL won Casablanca and made the quarters in Monte Carlo but he has slowed down since, and taking a set off Wawrinka would be a success.

(Q)Damir Dzumhur vs.(26) Feliciano Lopez

The qualifier Dzumhur made his grand slam debut at the AO this year, where he reached the third round as a qualifier. He has a great chance to add more main draw wins to his career slam record this time, as Lopez is struggling, especially on clay. Feli is just 4-5 on the surface this year, while Dzumhur won a challenger on it this spring. Dzumhur is an underdog, but I think he will pull this off and knock the veteran Spaniard out in the first round.

(12)Richard Gasquet vs. Bernard Tomic

Gasquet hasn’t played any clay tournaments this season because of a back injury, while Tomic is still working back from a thigh injury. Both players should be in poor form and rusty, at least at first. All that said, Tomic has at least a puncher’s chance of upsetting Gasquet, even on clay, given he has seen more match practice. He took a set off Martin Klizan in Nice most recently. Someone has to win this match, and I’m not sure who, especially if Gasquet is rushing back because he’s French in Paris and isn’t truly ready to get back at it.

(15)Mikhail Youzhny vs. Pablo Carreno Busta

A tough match to pick, even with the ranking discrepancy: Youzhny has had a terrible season and is just 3-5 on clay this year, while PCB lost in the Dusseldorf opening round and isn’t in great form either, though he is good on clay. Depending on which version of these players shows up, we could be in for a 5 set war or a straight set drubbing. Youzhny has been so poor this season, intuition makes me want to pick PCB in 4.

Lukas Rosol vs. Jiri Vesely

Their only meeting was a 3 setter in a challenger last year on clay and the young Czech Vesely prevailed over his Davis Cup teammate Rosol. Now they meet on a larger stage and it’s a match to watch. Rosol is a competitive 7-4 on clay this season, while Vesely comes off semis in Dusseldorf where he found some good form. This one could go either way, but I lean towards the experience of Rosol to get through in 4 or 5 sets.

Nadal’s quarter:

Rafa has struggled all clay court season by his standards with just one, rather lucky, title coming in Madrid. He’s still the favorite for the title given he’s an 8 time champion here and has won the last four French Opens.

He faces USTA wild card winner Robby Ginepri first, then Mathieu/Thiem, and I’d enjoy a Thiem-Nadal battle in round 2. It could be a good form test for Rafa and a good gut-check match for the young Thiem. Round 3 should be a weaker match for Rafa, as the out of form Vasek Pospisil is the seed, while Teymuraz Gabashvili, Leo Mayer and qualifier James Duckworth are the other options. Gaba has had a career year, but he hasn’t been special recently, while Mayer comes off quarters in Nice. Nadal should be able to find his way into the round of 16 and hopes to not drop a set.

Houston finalist and Barcelona semifinalist Nicolas Almagro looks for revenge against Jack Sock, this time on favorable clay, in round 1, and then should face Steve Johnson (who faces qualifier Laurent Lokoli in round 1). Almagro is the 21 seed and beat Sock in Houston this year. A big test should come against 16 seed Tommy Haas, who has good history in Paris in round 3, a quarterfinalist last year. Haas could have some trouble as his shoulder has been bothering him all season and he retired in his last match in Rome. Haas is 3-0 against Almagro, but I have it as Almagro vs. Nadal in the round of 16. Haas faces Jurgen Zopp in round 1, then Nice finalist Federico Delbonis in round 2, assuming Delbonis beats Dusan Lajovic.

Defending finalist David Ferrer faces Igor Sijsling in round 1, then challenger star Simone Bolleli or qualifier Andrea Arnaboldi in round 2. Ferrer’s first real test should come against Giraldo in round 3, as after Seppi, the Colombian faces Lucas Pouille or a struggling Juan Monaco. Ferrer is 3- 0 against Giraldo and 2-0 on clay and his style matches well with the aggressive shotmaker. Ferrer should make the round of 16.

11 seed Grigor Dimitrov faces Ivo Karlovic, the finalist in Dusseldorf in round 1. Dimitrov beat Karlovic in Rome recently on clay and has a clay title in Bucharest and a masters semi on clay in Rome on his record this season. He should cruise into round 3 as his round 2 opponent is qualifier Andreas Haider-Maurer or Daniel Brands. This is Brands first tournament back since having Mono. Dimitrov, in fact, seems a safe favorite for the round of 16 as his round 3 opponent, one of Kevin Anderson/Stephane Robert/Axel Michon/Bradley Klahn are all entirely unimposing. It could be any of them in round 3, as that section seems like easy points.

Wawrinka’s quarter:

Wawrinka/Garcia-Lopez will face a very easy opponent on clay in round 2, in the form of Rendy Lu or Adrian Mannarino. Following that will be one of Dzumhur/Lopez/Donald Young/Dudi Sela in round 3. It’s a weak section and I’m picking Dzumhur for round 3, and Wawrinka easily in the round of 16.

A struggling 14 seed Fabio Fognini faces qualifier Andreas Beck before Benjamin Becker or Thomaz Bellucci in round 2. Fognini is terribly inconsistent right now, and if Bellucci could somehow find form I could see him in round 3.

For now I’m going with Fabio. 23 seed Gael Monfils continues to struggle to stay healthy, but plays well at RG and pulled out of Nice last week. He faces Victor Hanescu, then Albano Olivetti/JL Struff andthen probably Fognini.

I expect Monfils to defeat his fellow showman if he’s healthy, though that circus match could go either way. Fognini won a crazy 3 setter in Indian Wells this year against Monfils and also a 5 setter in the dark at the ’09 French (2-1 career on clay). They love to get in each other’s head.

Andy Murray made quarters in Rome, and though he isn’t a great clay court player, he may finally be turning the corner this season back into his top 5 form. With his first two opponents as Andrey Golubev and Marinko Matosevic/Dustin Brown, he still should make round 3 no matter what, as their is nothing notable to mention about any of those 3 on clay. In round 3, Murray could face Dusseldorf champion Philipp Kohlschreiber, who has been poor for stretches this season but found form the past two weeks, and could be tired but challenging none the less. Kohli faces Pere Riba then Sergiy Stakhovsky or Denis Istomin. Istomin has had a strong clay season with two quarters and a semi and he lost to Kohlschreiber in 3 in the Dusseldorf semis. Given Kohli should be tired and Istomin less of a possible challenge, I think Murray makes the round of 16.

Gasquet/Tomic faces Lleyton Hewitt or Carlos Berlocq in round 2, and I like the Estoril champion Berlocq to make the third round. Hewitt, Tomic and Gasquet are all rusty or outright struggling, though Hewitt can battle. 24 seed Fernando Verdasco isn’t in the best of form, but he has a weak section with with Michael Llodra first then Matt Ebden/Pablo Cuevas and a third round meeting with Berlocq would be up in the air. Berlocq won the only clay meeting last year in Bastad. I think he will reach the second week.

Federer’s quarter:

Fed returned from maternity leave and lost in round 1 in Rome to Jeremy Chardy, but he reached the Monte Carlo final and has a very strong comeback season. It’s hard to predict how he will do here. All that said, the 2009 champion should be able to ease into things against Lukas Lacko in round 1 and qualifiers Gastao Elias or Diego Sebastian Schwartzman in round 2. Federer should find round 3 to be a refreshing opponent as well as Dmitry Tursunov/Potito Starace/Filippo Volandri/Sam Querrey await, all poor on clay or way out of form. Fed should reach the round of 16 by virtue of his weak draw.

PCB/Youzhny will face Radek Stepanek/Facundo Arguello in round 2, and one of Ernests Gulbis/Lukasz Kubot/Julien Benneteau/Facundo Bagnis in round 3. Gulbis won the title in Nice and though he may be tired, I think he will get through, with PCB reaching round 3.

6 seed Tomas Berdych, a former semifinalist, will face Peter Polansky and then Somdev Devvarman or Aleksandr Nedovyesov in round 2. Berdych should be tested against Roberto Bautista Agut in round 3, however, as RBA has already beaten him on a hard court this year (2-1 overall h2h) and reached his first masters semi in Madrid on clay. The Spaniard has had a career year and I’m picking him to make the second week of his second straight slam and upset Berdych again. RBA must beat qualifier Paolo Lorenzi and Alejandro Falla/Benoit Paire in round 2. Paire has struggled all season.

Struggling 17 seed Tommy Robredo faces qualifier James Ward, and then probably Nice semifinalist Albert Montanes in round 2. Montanes must beat Kenny De Schepper first, and he has really struggled in the h2h against Robredo, so the higher ranked Spaniard should still make round 3, perhaps to face the boom or bust John Isner. Isner faces Pierre Hugues Herbert in round 1, then Nicolas Mahut or Mikhail Kukushkin. Isner and Robredo have never met on clay, and I just slightly lean Robredo.

Djokovic’s quarter:

The Rome champion Djokovic, who is looking to complete the career slam with an RG title, is the co-favorite this year. He faces Joao Sousa in round 1, then Jeremy Chardy or Daniel Gimeno-Traver and most likely Marin Cilic, who he has beaten this year in round 3. Cilic must beat Pablo Andujar and qualifier Miloslav Mecir/Tobias Kamke to get to that point. Expect Djokovic into the round of 16 having played 9 sets of tennis.

A semifinalist last year, 13 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga isn’t playing that well, but he gets a beatable opponent in the form of his countryman Edouard Roger-Vasselin in round 1. After that, he’ll see David Goffin/Jurgen Melzer in round 2. Tsonga is 3-1 against Melzer and Goffin hasn’t been good recently, so I still think Jo makes round 3.

In fact, I see Tsonga in the round of 16 simply because his round 3 opponent, one of Jarkko Nieminen/Michal Przysiezny/Victor Estrella/Jerzy Janowicz are weak. They are all in poor form, especially Polish players Przysiezny and Janowicz. I like Estrella to upset Janowicz in round 1 because Jerzy has been so poor recently.

Milos Raonic has had a strong, steady season: no titles and no finals but he comes off a semi in Rome and has four other quarterfinals this year. He opens with Nick Kyrgios who continues to improve but probably isn’t ready for peak red clay yet, then Rosol/Vesely in what is not the easiest round 2 matchup for such a high seed. 29 seed Gilles Simon has been terrible this year. He will face qualifier Ante Pavic round 1 and Alejandro Gonzalez/Michael Russell in round 2. His opponents are bad enough for him to get to round 3 to get blown out by Raonic.

Last but not least is the red hot Kei Nishikori, who won Barcelona and took a set off Nadal in the Madrid final before succumbing to injury. Three of his six (just 6!) losses this season have come against Nadal or Djokovic and he entered the top 10 for the first time in his career. Kei faces Martin Klizan, the Munich champion, first up and then Robin Haase/Nikolay Davydenko and one of Alex Dolgopolov/Albert Ramos/Marcel Granollers/Ivan Dodig in round 3.

As long as he’s healthy, expect Nishikori to blast through those opponents.

Dark Horses (1 per quarter): Santiago Giraldo, Carlos Berlocq, Roberto Bautista Agut, Kei Nishikori

Giraldo could make the fourth round were he to upset Ferrer and possibly the quarters if he really catches fire. Berlocq can make the second week and possibly the quarters should he beat Murray/Kohlschreiber. RBA could make the semis if he beats Federer, and Nishikori could make the final if he upsets Djokovic (and Federer/RBA).

Week 1 predictions (round of 16 matchups and picks)
Nadal d. Almagro
Dimitrov d. Ferrer
Wawrinka d. Monfils
Murray d. Berlocq
Bautista Agut d. Robredo
Federer d. Gulbis
Nishikori d. Raonic
Djokovic d. Tsonga

Almagro upset Nadal in Barcelona this year, one of those shock Nadal red clay losses this year that has made it unlike the others. Still, Nadal utterly dominates the h2h and this is best 3 out of 5 sets on clay, so I like Rafa to get through.

Ferrer is 2-0 on clay against Dimitrov and won in Monte Carlo in straights against him this year, but I just feel it’s Dimitrov’s time to break through and I’m putting him through.

Wawrinka is 3-2 against Monfils and has never met him on clay. As long as he plays ok, he should get past Monfils unless it’s peak Monfils, which is always possible.

I like Murray over Berlocq simply because of quality of play, while RBA beat Robredo in Madrid and I tip him to do so again here.

Federer should out-do a tired Gulbis, and Nishikori has been a little better than Raonic on clay this season. Milos could perhaps overpower him, something he failed to do so in Madrid losing in straights.

Djokovic should knife through Tsonga.

My Full Tournament Picks

Quarters:
Nadal d. Dimitrov
Wawrinka d. Murray
Federer d. Bautista Agut
Djokovic d. Nishikori

Nadal is 2-0 career on clay against Dimitrov and beat him at the AO this year in the best 3 out of 5 format. It could go 4 or 5, but Rafa probably has the edge.

Wawrinka is better on clay than Murray flat out.

RBA could beat Fed. It’s possible, but I can’t confidently pick it.

Djokovic should be tested by Nishikori, but I think he’s just too good for the Japanese number 1.

Semis:
Nadal d. Wawrinka
Djokovic d. Federer

Look for Nadal to get some AO revenge. He’s 5-0 on clay career against Stan.

Fed did beat Novak in Monte Carlo, but coming off the maternity leave, Djokovic is more match ready and has otherwise done well in the h2h.

Final:
Djokovic d. Nadal

A repeat of the Rome final. Nadal has all the history on his side, but I just feel Novak has the momentum and he will finally earn the career slam against a weakened Nadal, who still isn’t playing like his usual self.

The 8 Mousquetaires for Nadal; Bryans Stay in Running For Calendar Year Slam @RolandGarros

Nadal Roland Garros

The 8 Mousquetaires for Nadal; Bryans Stay in Running For Calendar Year Slam @RolandGarros

Rafael Nadal crushed David Ferrer again 6-3 6-2 6-3 to capture his eighth Roland Garros title and another Coupe des Mousquetaires. Nadal is also up to 12 career Grand Slam titles and 3rd on the all-time list. The match was not particularly notable or entertaining except for a couple of rowdy protestors including a streaker with a flare who ran on the court.

You could arguably say that Nadal took the title on Friday, when he beat Novak Djokovic in a slugfest five-setter, 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-7 9-7. Both men put everything on the line, but Nadal just had that extra amount of prowess that put him over the top. Nadal and Djokovic are simply the two best players in the game right now.

Ferrer made his first career slam final at 31 and finally got over the semifinal hump as he took out a listless Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 3 sets and previously beat Kevin Anderson and Tommy Robredo. Tsonga upset Roger Federer in 3 sets in the quarters, while Djokovic beat Phillip Kohlschreiber and Tommy Haas to make the semis. Nadal also beat Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka in straights in Week 2.

The Bryans continued to dominate doubles, winning another French over Michael Llodra and Nicolas Mahut. They are still in the running for a calendar year grand slam as they won the Aussie Open as well.

—Steen Kirby

Coming to SW19 Soon

Coming to SW19 Soon

Turns out the flared-up protester in Paris was none other than French Actor Lumiere, whose career took a tailspin after a long run as a candlestick in ‘Beauty and the Beast’. We hope he gets the help he needs. —Ed.

Steen Kirby’s 2013 French Open Week 2 Men’s Preview & Predictions #RG13

2013 French Open Week 2 Men’s Preview
Steen Kirby, TennisEastCoast.com

Roland Garros 2013

(June 1, 2013)– Roland Garros has dodged around rain showers and managed to make it through to the final 16 on the men’s side as very upsets have made almost everything go as expected rankings-wise in Paris.

Now to break down the round of 16.

Novak Djokovic, 2012 ATP Cincinnati

Novak Djokovic vs. Phillip Kohlschreiber

Djokovic hasn’t had too rough of a time in advancing through his first three matches. He didn’t drop a set against David Goffin, Guido Pella and Grigor Dimitrov. Goffin gave him the toughest match of the three, forcing 3 tight sets including a tiebreak. Pella and Dimitrov just proved overmatched, while Kohlschreiber has once again worked his way to the R16 under the radar. He beat hard-hitting Czech youngster Jiri Vesely in 4 sets, getting a walkover against Yen-Hsun Lu and then dispatching veteran Victor Hanescu. Kohlschreiber is a good player, and as I mentioned in the Week 1 preview, has beaten Novak at RG before, but I honestly don’t see that happening this year.

Tommy Haas

Tommy Haas vs. Mikhail Youzhny

Tommy Haas finally has a good slam run to go with his excellent late career ATP results. He did so by beating Guillaume Rufin, Jack Sock, who upset Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in R1, and another American, John Isner 10-8. That was another tough luck 5-setter for big John, who previously beat Ryan Harrison in 5 sets. Youzhny is a bit more of a surprise, though he was formerly a solid name on tour. He has lost luster in recent years and really wasn’t on many radars, yet still he grinded away against Pablo Andujar, Federico Del Bonis and an exhausted Janko Tipsarevic, who had beaten Fernando Verdasco in 5 sets in round 2 to reach the round of 16. Youzhny actually holds the head-to-head edge 4-3 in this one, including a win just this year on clay in Rome. Haas may be tired, but he has proven the doubters wrong before, and I say he grabs the win here as well.

Kei Nishikori

Kei Nishikori

Rafael Nadal vs. Kei Nishikori

Nadal has spent the most time on court (8 hours+) of any of the top 3 seeds and he has already dropped 2 sets, one to Daniel Brands in round 1 and the other to Martin Klizan in round 2. He did improve over Fabio Fognini, dispatching him in straights. The thing is, at least in the case of the Brands match, his opponent played very well and would have beaten plenty of other capable players, but not Nadal, and not on clay, as Nadal has improved his record to an astounding 55-1 in Paris. Now he will run into the Hope of Japan, Nishikori, who beat Jesse Levine and Grega Zemlja, then followed that up with a win over the Frenchman Benoit Paire. This is their first meeting on clay, but Nishikori has never beaten Nadal in 4 tries, and once again you just can’t go against Rafa at RG.

Gasquet

Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Richard Gasquet

Wawrinka was probably the biggest question mark going into the tournament. He has had a wonderful year in general, and a fine clay court season, but his health was in question. He has assuaged away those fears as he survived a late comeback push from Thiemo De Bakker to win in 4 sets and then beat Horacio Zeballos and Jerzy Janowicz (who has to be more than just a bit disappointed). Gasquet has avoided tons of fanfare and beat ‘antics enjoyer’ Sergiy Stakhovsky, Michal Przysienzy and Nikolay Davydenko all without dropping a set. These 2 have only met once back in 2006, so I wouldn’t read anything into that as they are almost fresh slates right now. I expect 5 sets and a knock-down-drag-out, but I’ll give a razor thin edge to Gasquet here.

Robredo

Tommy Robredo vs. Nicolas Almagro

Another left for dead veteran who has found renewed success: Robredo, who used to be one of the top Spanish players, beat Jurgen Zopp, then won grueling 5 set matches with Igor Sijsling and everyone’s favorite showman Gael Monfils. Monfils, of course, once again produced tremendous excitement in wins over Tomas Berdych and Ernests Gulbis, with Monfils-Berdych being worthy of a semifinal and one of the best round 1 slam matches in recent memory. Nico Almagro beat Andreas Haider-Maurer in 4 sets, Edouard Roger-Vasselin in straights and Andreas Seppi, also in straights. Almagro has to be seen as the fresher player. Furthermore, Almagro has beaten Robredo in all 5 of their meetings, including this year in Acapulco, and as much as I appreciate what Robredo has done to get this far, I have to go with Almagro.

Kevin Anderson vs. David Ferrer

Big South African Anderson beat Ilya Marchenko and Evgeny Donskoy, then toppled Milos Raonic in straights while Ferrer beat Marinko Matosevic, Albert Montanes, and surprise 3rd rounder Feliciano Lopez. The pair have never met on clay but have split a pair of hardcourt meetings, with Anderson winning their match at Indian Wells this year. Anderson is in good form, but so is Ferrer, and he hasn’t shown me any reason why I should go against picking him again.

Tsonga

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Viktor Troicki

Tsonga is one of the three Frenchman left and the one most likely to advance. He beat Aljaz Bedene, then routined a zapped Jarkko Nieminen before dispatching fellow Tri-colore Jeremy Chardy to improve his record in Paris. As a side, the first round match between Nieminen and Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu was also one of the better round 1 slam matches in recent memory. It was 5 sets of pure tennis. Perhaps the most surprising name left in the draw, Troicki has had RG success before, but he is ridiculously unpredictable and he put his game together this week to beat James Blake, Dani Gimeno-Traver in 5 sets and Marin Cilic. The head to head is actually tied at 3 all in this one, but Tsonga has won both clay meetings and since he hasn’t dropped a set, I’ll pick him to keep up that pace.

Gilles Simon vs. Roger Federer

Simon avoid a memorable choke against Lleyton Hewitt in the first round.Hhe promptly went down 2 sets against the veteran Aussie and was playing horrendous tennis before kicking it into gear and going up 5-1 in the 5th set after Hewitt looked like he was down for the count. From there, it began to unravel as he dropped game after game, and eventually had to break Hewitt again and serve out the match 7-5 in the 5th. He beat Paolo Cuavas in 4 sets after that and then Sam Querrey in another long 5 setter. Federer is on an opposite path, and is taking care of business like a machine right now rolling over Pablo Carreno-Busta, Somdev Devvarman and Julian Benneteau to reach the 4th round. Fed managed all that without dropping a set and in fact, only dropping 22 games in 3 matches. The head to head is only 3-2, but Federer crushed Simon in Rome recently, and he should do so again.

Predictions:

QFs

Djokovic d. Haas
Nadal d. Gasquet
Ferrer d. Almagro
Federer d. Tsonga

Haas blistered Djokovic in Miami in one of the biggest upsets of the year, but like Dimitrov, I don’t think he can pull it off again, especially on clay. Nadal may struggle a little bit, but a 10-0 h2h vs. Gasquet speaks for itself. Likewise Ferrer has just dominated Almagro, beating him 13 times to none. Federer is also looking like a machine right now and should win. All these matches could in fact be straight sets.

SFs

Nadal d. Djokovic
Federer d. Ferrer

Sticking with the original picks and as confident as I was to start with both of them: Nadal being a machine at RG in what some will call the championship match, and Federer having a clear edge over Ferrer.

Final

Nadal d. Federer

Still going with Nadal to win, but if Federer plays like he is now, this could be much closer than most people thought Federer almost has to be the 2nd favorite for the title now.

American Women Surge in Paris. The Men, Not So Much #RG13

American Women Surge in Paris. The Men, Not So Much #RG13

usopen 2011 Jamie Hampton

Jamie Hampton capped off an amazing Saturday for the women of American tennis, beating former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in straight sets. Hampton is now poised to crack the top 50 for the first time in her career, and crack it hard. This will be her first ever Slam Sweet 16, which you call the 4th round.

Bethanie Mattek Sands, Copyright 2012 TennisEastCoast.com

Prior to that, Bethanie Mattek-Sands punched her ticket to only her second Slam Sweet 16 in a victory over qualifier Paula Ormaechea.

Earlier yet, Sloane Stephens outlasted Marina Erakovic to earn a second consecutive spot in the Roland Garros.

And of course Serena will be there, too.

A full quarter of the field in the hunt to win it all at Roland Garros are Americans, and Venus Williams isn’t even one of them.

Even better, they won’t have to face a fellow American in the 4th round.

Hampton and Mattek-Sands surprised. Sloane and Serena did not disappoint. Stephens will face Sharapova, Serena will take out on Roberta Vinci, Mattek-Sands will play Maria Kirilenko and Jamie Hampton gets Jelena Jankovic.

There’s nothing sweet about the 4th round for the American men’s field. Not a single one will be dirtballing in Paris next week. In the final American singles match of the day, John Isner played some mean overtime (2 tiebreaks and an extended fifth set) but lost to Tommy Haas in the end.

In Haas, the Germans have a 35-year-old man in the Sweet 16. That doesn’t sound clean. But it’s better than the alternative.

The success of the American women will help ease the pain of an underwhelming performance by their male counterparts. Cheers to them and God Bless the men.

—S. Fogleman