Ricky Dimon

  • Approach Shots: Nadal rests, Djokovic hosts

    2009-05-04 11:32:35
    "Approach Shots" is Ricky's weekly look at what's ahead (or "approaching") on the ATP Tour. Every Sunday he'll preview all the tournaments scheduled for the upcoming week.

    Hey, Rafa, you think you're too good for the smaller 250-point tournaments this week?

    OK, you're right. You are.

    After winning Monte-Carlo, Barcelona, and Rome in consecutive weeks, Rafael Nadal is finally taking a break. That means by the end of this week, three players will have picked up a rare clay-court title.

    Novak Djokovic, runner-up to Nadal in both Monte-Carlo and Rome, is one of two Top 10 players in action and he is heavily favored to capture the first-ever winner's trophy in Belgrade, Serbia. Gilles Simon is the other representative of the Top 10, headlining a relatively strong field in Estoril. In Munich, would-be No. 1 seed Fernando Gonzalez pulled out with an ankle injury. If by "ankle injury" he means, "I've been winning too much and therefore playing too much tennis recently," then yeah.

    Estoril Open

    Where: Estoril, Portugal
    Surface: Clay
    Prize Money: 450,000 Euros
    Points: 250
    Top Seed: Gilles Simon
    Defending Champion: Roger Federer (not playing)

    Draw Analysis: It's no Masters Series event—not even a 500-point tournament—but the Estoril Open boasts by far the best field of the week. Although James Blake is in a serious slump at the moment, the top five seeds in Estoril are impressive: Gilles Simon, Nikolay Davydenko, David Ferrer, Blake, and David Nalbandian.

    The second quarter of the draw is definitely the toughest with both Ferrer and Nalbandian. Those two former Top 5 stars could do battle as early as the quarterfinals, and there is no reason to think that either man won't make it that far. Simon should be able to cruise past American Robert Kendrick in round one, but he would then get either Fabio Fognini or Gaston Gaudio. Fognini took Simon to three sets last week in Rome and Gaudio is coming off a Challenger title in Tunisia.

    The bottom half of the draw is far less imposing. Blake and Mardy Fish—like most Americans—are no fans of clay, Florent Serra won't strike fear into any opponent, and Nikolay Davydenko is still trying to bounce back from a long layoff. Keep an eye on unseeded threats in the bottom half, especially Juan Monaco, Juan Carlos Ferrero, and even Frederico Gil. It would not be shocking to see one unseeded finalist in Estoril.

    First-Round Upset Alert: Frederico Gil over (4) James Blake. This would only be an upset according to the seeds. In fact, I would not even be surprised if the official oddsmakers favor Gil in this one. Gil does most his damage on clay while Blake is nothing short of abysmal on the slow stuff. To make matters worse for the American, he has not even been playing well on hard courts this season. Gil reached the Casablanca semifinals last month and just last week made it to the Tunisia Challenger final before falling to Gaudio.

    Blake and Fish could both be out before the second round. Although Fish beat Igor Andreev in Rome and gave Fernando Verdasco a three-set test, he is almost as bad as Blake on clay. He is also going up against a rather tough opponent in Teimuraz Gabashvili, who does not mind the dirt.

    Momentum Builders (Players looking to continue recent good form): David Ferrer, Gaston Gaudio, Juan Monaco, Frederico Gil

    Slump Busters (Players hoping to resurrect their games): Gilles Simon, James Blake, David Nalbandian, Mardy Fish

    Semifinal Predictions: David Ferrer over Gilles Simon and Juan Monaco over Nikolay Davydenko

    Final Prediction: Ferrer over Monaco

    BMW Open

    Where: Munich, Germany
    Surface: Clay
    Prize Money: 450,000 Euros
    Points: 250
    Top Seed: Marin Cilic (No. 2 seed, but No. 1 seed withdrew)
    Defending Champion: Fernando Gonzalez (not playing)

    Draw Analysis: Rarely has a tournament title been more up for grabs than the one in Munich this week. Last year's champion Fernando Gonzalez just pulled out citing an ankle injury, otherwise he would have been the clear favorite; not only because he is the defending champ, but also because he is in great form. In fact the real reason he withdrew is almost certainly that he has been winning too much recently and therefore playing too much tennis in the buildup to the French Open.

    With Gonzo out, it's anyone's title to win. No. 2 seed Marin Cilic would be the clear favorite in this draw on a faster surface, but not on clay. Nicolas Almagro would normally be the clear favorite since this is on clay, but he has been slumping ever since winning a title on the dirt of Acapulco. Tomas Berdych is always dangerous due to his talent, but as is the case with Cilic, it's hard to imagine him winning a title on the slow stuff at this point.

    Is the door open for a surprise champion? Lleyton Hewitt won a clay-court title in Houston last month, Mischa Zverev reached the Rome quarterfinals last week, and Jeremy Chardy made it to the fourth round of the French Open last year and began this season in fine form.

    As for the draw itself? With no dominant players of any kind, it's borderline impossible to say that anyone got either a good draw or a bad draw. It's just that wide open.

    First-Round Upset Alert: With one seed (Gonzalez) already out and four other seeds facing to-be-announced qualifiers in the opening round, there is not much room with which to predict an upset. Don't be shocked, however, if Evgeny Korolev (ranked 84th) defeats Chardy (No. 40 in the world). Chardy enjoyed a surprising run to the French Open fourth round last year, but in general he is not a force on clay. Korolev recently made it to the Houston semifinals and because he goes for broke on almost every forehand, he is always a scary opponent.

    Potito Starace and Ernests Gulbis have some chance against eighth-seeded Igor Kunitsyn and No. 6 seed Nicolas Kiefer, respectively; but not good chances. Kunitsyn is solid on clay and neither Starace nor Gulbis—especially not Gulbis—is in good form at the moment.

    Momentum Builders (Players looking to continue recent good form): Mischa Zverev, Andreas Beck

    Slump Busters (Players hoping to resurrect their games): Tomas Berdych, Rainer Schuettler, Nicolas Kiefer, Julien Benneteau, Stefan Koubek, Mikhail Youzhny, Philipp Petzschner, Ernests Gulbis

    Semifinal Predictions: Nicolas Almagro over Simone Bolelli and Philipp Kohlschreiber over Lleyton Hewitt

    Final Prediction: Almagro over Kohlschreiber

    Serbia Open

    Where: Belgrade, Serbia
    Surface: Clay
    Prize Money: 450,000 Euros
    Points: 250
    Top Seed: Novak Djokovic
    Defending Champion: None (inaugural tournament)

    Draw Analysis: Djokovic had envisioned hosting an ATP tournament in Serbia for a while, and Serbian fans have to be ecstatic over the fact that the dream has become a reality. No matter that the field is definitely the weakest of the three this week. They have a tournament, and they have Djokovic himself.

    The Serbs cannot, however, be happy with how the draw played out over the weekend. All three of the directly-entered Serbs are in the same quarter of the draw. If Janko Tipsarevic wins his opener, he will face Djokovic in the second round (Djokovic and the rest of the top four seeds get first-round byes). Viktor Troicki, the No. 5 seed, is slated to do battle with either Djokovic or Tipsarevic in the quarterfinals. That means only one of Serbia's top three players can reach the semifinals. To make matters worse for Troicki, he has to go up against dangerous American Sam Querrey in the first round on Monday night.

    Also getting byes along with Djokovic and Karlovic are solid clay-court players Igor Andreev and Andreas Seppi. Rounding out the eight seeds are Troicki, Ivan Ljubicic, Arnaud Clement, and Christophe Rochus. Dangerous unseeded threats (other than Querrey and Tipsarevic) include Nicolas Massu, Wayne Odesnik, Guillermo Canas, Steve Darcis, and wildcard Marcos Baghdatis.

    First-Round Upset Alert: Steve Darcis over (7) Arnaud Clement. Darcis is a dismal 1-8 at the ATP level this season, but that is in part due to physical problems. The 5'10'' Belgian took to the Challenger circuit the past two weeks in order to find some form, and he appeared to do just that, reaching consecutive semifinals. Clement has been slightly better than Darcis this season, but the veteran Frenchman has won just a single match in the main draw of an ATP event since late February. Neither man is a clay-court specialist, but the surface should favor Darcis just a bit.

    Also keep an eye on Querrey vs. Troicki. By American standards, Querrey is actually decent on clay. Last season he made a shock appearance in the Monte-Carlo quarterfinals and he even took a set off Nadal in a clay-court Davis Cup singles rubber.

    Momentum Builders (Players looking to continue recent good form): Novak Djokovic

    Slump Busters (Players hoping to resurrect their games): Ivo Karlovic, Marcel Granollers, Guillermo Canas, Steve Darcis, Marcos Baghdatis

    Semifinal Predictions: Novak Djokovic over Andreas Seppi and Igor Andreev over Marcos Baghdatis

    Final Prediction: Djokovic over Andreev

    Comments and your own predictions are appreciated!

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As always very nice reading, Ricky!

Question: what has happened to Gulbis?
When I saw him last year I was quite sure he would be in the top-10 now...


supertilly , 5/4/09 11:44 AM

By the way.
After another Nadal win I found myself making a top-10 over the best clay court players in modern times. This is my list... What do you think?

1. Nadal
2. Lendl
3. Borg
4. Muster
5. Vilas
6. Wilander
7. Bruguera
8. Kuerten
9. Agassi
10. Ferrero

supertilly , 5/4/09 12:16 PM

Nice blog. I see you didnt open the prediction game this time; Im guessing youre intimidated by my super picks :D

orion , 5/4/09 1:17 PM

Hey, Rafa, you think you're too good for the smaller 250-point tournaments this week?

OK, you're right. You are.


very true

i reckon djokovic will take the serbia open. he definitely deserves a clay court trophy

Sib69 , 5/4/09 3:10 PM

I think if Rafa could've fit the new tour in, he would've. But he has played 3 weeks straight and if he is playing Madrid like he says, then he needs some rest. In the recent past, Rafa donated items for a Nole charity auction and Nole came and played in Rafa's charity event (Rafa & Iker Against Malaria) back in early December 2008. To me, that shows they support each others causes.

And Nole does deserve a clay court trophy. After all, he IS the second best clay courter out there!

fan4tennis , 5/4/09 7:22 PM

supertilly - I thought he would be a future No. 1 in the world. But nothing happened. He is just a headcase of epic proportions. Always will be. He will be out of the Top 50 when his French Open points come off and I would not be surprised if he never makes it back to the Top 50.

orion - I will have it. Before today, there were still too many lucky loser and qualifier unknown spots to adequately fill out a draw.

RickyDimon , 5/4/09 7:47 PM

lendl over borg????? and no roger federer in the list??? roger hasnt won rolland garros yet but i wud rate him higher than ferrero

vrael , 5/4/09 8:38 PM

when making a clay-court list like this one, you have to specify whether you are talking about how good a player is on clay PERIOD or how good he is on clay RELATIVE to other surfaces.

For example, Federer is not a good clay-court player, but is so good in general that he is by default very good on clay as well. Players like Muster, Coria, and Gaudio were unbelievable on clay and pretty much terrible on all other surfaces. Their inability to win on any other surface makes them even "better" on clay.

By the same token, I would not put Agassi on that list. He was just amazing in general. He was not good on clay specifically.

Sampras was "good" on clay simply because he was amazing at tennis. But in actuality, in relative terms, he was TERRIBLE on clay.

So basically its impossible to make a list without specifying what the list is about. Or we just need to make two different lists.

RickyDimon , 5/4/09 9:13 PM

Pfft, if the list doesn't include Federer I find it an insult to Nadal. I mean that is classifying him as a clay court player and not thinking of his general greatness at the moment. Of course, at the same time...I suppose you mean Nadal's general greatness just makes him good on hard/grass? If so, I suppose that list is pretty good.
Maybe Kuerten a little higher though. Lists always confuse my feeble minded nature.

Recordbreaks , 5/5/09 12:02 AM

I have the horrible feeling Nole will _not_ win the Serbia Open. Somehow he always seems to lose when no one expects him to.

stu , 5/5/09 1:53 PM

stu, I do have a horrible feeling, you're not very well today, I'm sending you worm regards from Serbia Open, and please, don't be afraid for our Novak, he doesn't need that at all, by the way, he'll win smoothly, and I'll be the first to let you know...

gordana , 5/5/09 2:33 PM

im quite new on this site, but im following tennis news and comments here for a quite some time... and i still cant understand some fans... ok, i get it, we all like this or that guy, but we shouldnt take every comment too personally, arent we? this question was strictly hypothetical! regards to all true fans of tennis!

marzipan , 5/5/09 3:02 PM


i agree with your observations but don't you think it's quite late for that now that the smoke of battle has already cleared?

danny , 5/5/09 3:38 PM


i dont know what u mean by "...don't you think it's quite late for that now that the smoke of battle has already cleared?"

marzipan , 5/5/09 3:54 PM

i mean, i know what u mean, but i dont see how that's applying to my post...explain, please.

marzipan , 5/5/09 4:06 PM

"I thought he would be a future No. 1 in the world. But nothing happened. He is just a headcase of epic proportions. Always will be. He will be out of the Top 50 when his French Open points come off and I would not be surprised if he never makes it back to the Top 50."

Always will be? You're dooming his career at the ripe old age of 21, Ricky? It's so disheartening to see a fan lose belief so quickly. How fickle, to jump off a bandwagon just as easily as you sprang on! Have you that little faith? Do you truly mean what you said - this player who has taken a set off the great Rafa Nadal, (twice, and once at Wimbledon) pushed an in-form Djokovic in the RG quarters, and then beaten him in straights on his favorite surfaces; just last week he took down almagro and a set off the highly talented Richard Gasquet....and you still don't believe he will remain within the top 50 by the end of the year? And wouldn't be surprised if he never came back?

Give me a break.

Jyocka , 5/5/09 7:06 PM

Jyocka - Yes. That is correct. And he is actually 20, not 21.

I don't lose hope easily. Trust mean. In fact this is really the first time I have ever almost entirely given up on a player. Like I said, I am not COMPLETELY writing him off. I said I won't be surprised if he ever makes it back in to the Top 50. I'm not GUARANTEEING he won't.

I have been following Gulbis on a weekly basis ever since the 2007 U.S. Open and watching him whenever possible. You can't just look at the scores and assume he is playing decent tennis. Just trust me when I tell you there is a very good reason why I am writing him off. You will see.

RickyDimon , 5/5/09 7:41 PM

Ricky,you know your tennis ;)

sisterofnight12 , 5/5/09 7:51 PM

Actually, you said you would not be surprised if he didn't make it back.

I suppose I will see; but neither of us (or anyone, for that matter) really knows what will happen; I too, along with a very loyal band of his fans have followed his match/match stats and watching when possible, and despite seeing his lowest moments, I simply wish to be support him and believe (whether it makes sense or not right now) that one day he will make it.

Jyocka , 5/5/09 7:57 PM

Yes, I said and I maintain that I won't be surprised if he never makes it back into the Top 50.

I'm glad there are people who still believe in him. There are plenty of reasons to take both sides. On your side is the fact that he is one of the most talented players. Like I said, when I saw him live the first time I thought he would be No. 1 in the world eventually. So yes, there are reasons to continue believing. But I'm no longer one buying into the hype.

We'll see. And unfortunately I think we are going to see pretty soon.

RickyDimon , 5/5/09 8:29 PM

He is a big mental case but these things can turn around very quickly. A new coach, a good tournament even a good match (remember safina) can change a lot in a player's head.

orion , 5/6/09 2:01 AM

orion - Gulbis has already had three breakout tournaments. He is in this funk AFTER his breakout. I don't see how another "breakout" will make anything different.

RickyDimon , 5/6/09 2:33 AM

What I meant was different players have different mental development patterns. He has at least 7-8 years to develop his confidence he just needs to find out how. Safina changed her coach and her results changed entirely for example. I dont think he can ever come close to no.1 but he can be a top 20 player.

orion , 5/6/09 3:05 AM

Could be, but I think it's all or nothing for Gulbis.

All being Top 5, possible Grand Slam runner-up or champion.

Nothing being permanently outside the Top 50.

Obviously I'm predicting the "nothing" outcome.

RickyDimon , 5/6/09 4:27 AM

orion - your Serbia picks are the most crazy yet!

RickyDimon , 5/6/09 5:49 PM

I think only Mayer is a long shot. The bottom half is a heaven for any player you must admit.

orion , 5/6/09 11:29 PM

Where is Nishikori? Is he injured?

orion , 5/9/09 12:42 AM

I think so, yeah. Nishikori is always injured. But I don't know what the problem is specifically.

He could be out of, what, the Top 500??? if he is not back in time to defend US Open points?

RickyDimon , 5/9/09 3:48 AM

very good analysys Ricky.
However, there were TOO many upsets and injuries (Andreev) so all those "dangerous" players were out in almost first or second round!!?
So, prediction in here apparently couldn't work. Except one: Djoker is gonna win it all.

Universon , 5/9/09 6:58 AM


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