“Approach Shots” is Ricky’s weekly look at what’s ahead on the ATP Tour.
He's back, baby.
For the first time since losing to Lukas Rosol in the second round of Wimbledon, Rafael Nadal is playing tennis. Like, an actual tournament. No, this is not a joke or misprint; this is the real thing.
First he pulled out of Toronto and Cincinnati. Then he pulled out of the U.S. Open. Then the entire Asian swing. Next Paris and the World Tour Finals. Just when it looked like he would be back for the start of the 2013 campaign, Nadal withdrew from the Abu Dhabi exhibition with a stomach virus (quotation marks around said condition are necessary, but we'll leave them out so as not to upset Rafa fans). Capping off the ever-growing list were Doha and the Australian Open.
As such, optimism should remain cautious until the fifth-ranked Spaniard strikes his first ball on Tuesday at the VTR Open (in doubles with Juan Monaco). But it's optimism nonetheless, because he has already been practicing for several days in Vina Del Mar and by all accounts he is good to go. Nadal will steal the vast majority of headlines this week, but the kickoff to February's hectic slate also features Janko Tipsarevic, Richard Gasquet, Marin Cilic, Gilles Simon, and Marcos Baghdatis.
Where: Vina del Mar, Chile
Prize money: $410,200
Top seed: Rafael Nadal
Defending champion: Juan Monaco
Draw analysis: Under any other circumstances, Nadal would be an overwhelming favorite and a virtual lock to cakewalk to the Vina del Mar title (not to mention the title of every other tournament on the Golden Swing). There is nobody in this field—except Monaco on a career-best day—who can stay with the Spaniard on a clay court when he is at or near 100 percent. Even in his current state, Nadal (who opens against either Guido Pella or qualifier Federico Delbonis) should coast through a top half of the draw that also includes Jeremy Chardy, Daniel Gimeno-Traver, and Tommy Robredo.
The bottom section may be wide open, in part because Monaco has also been dealing with injuries. That being said, the second-seeded Argentine defeated Florian Mayer in a four-set Davis Cup rubber last weekend and that should give him some confidence. Other final contenders—presumably bidding for the right to face Nadal in what would be a hugely-hyped title match—include Albert Ramos, Carlos Berlocq, Andrey Kuznetsov, and Filippo Volandri.
First-round upset alert: Andrey Kuznetsov over (8) Carlos Berlocq. Kuznetsov took the Challenger circuit by storm last season, doing most of his damage on clay. The 21-year-old Russian has struggled to find success on the ATP Tour, but he should be playing with confidence after beating Monaco in the Australian Open first round. These two faced each last fall on the indoor hard courts of Moscow, where Berlocq prevailed 1-6, 6-4, 6-3. The Argentine will be favored once again, but he is coming off an emotional Davis Cup win over Germany and a slight hangover could be in store.
Hot: Jeremy Chardy, Paolo Lorenzi, Andrey Kuznetsov
Cold: Rafael Nadal, Juan Monaco, Pablo Andujar, Nicolas Massu, Albert Montanes
Semifinal predictions: Rafael Nadal over Tommy Robredo and Juan Monaco over Albert Ramos
Final: Monaco over Nadal
PBZ Zagreb Indoors
Where: Zagreb, Croatia
Surface: Indoor hard
Prize money: 410,200 Euros
Top seed: Marin Cilic
Defending champion: Mikhail Youzhny
Draw analysis: In seven years of existence, the PBZ Zagreb Indoors has been won four times by Croats (twice by Cilic). Cilic is the top seed this time around and the favorite to capture a third title in front of his home crowd. The other former champion in the draw is Ivan Dodig, who could face his countryman in the semifinals. Dodig will have to bounce back quickly from a tough loss in the decisive fifth Davis Cup rubber on the road against Italy’s Fabio Fognini. Cilic could also be challenged by Baghdatis (in the quarterfinals) and Mikhail Youzhny (in the semis).
Absolutely anything could happen in the bottom half of the bracket, where Andreas Seppi leads the way as the No. 2 seed. Seppi has enjoyed success on every single surface throughout his career, but indoor hard is by no means his favorite. The crop of unseeded threats is strong, featuring Rosol (now of fame for two different reasons after last weekend’s Davis Cup doubles heroics), Robin Haase, and qualifier Philipp Petzschner. Seppi could open with Petzschner before running into Haase in the quarters. Rosol will likely have an all-Lukas affair against an in-form Lukas Lacko in round two.
First-round upset alert: Ivo Karlovic over (7) Grigor Dimitrov. Based on ranking as well as current form, Dimitrov should take care of business in this one. However, he is still the epitome of streaky at 21 years old and you never know what you are going to get from him on any given day. At the same time, Karlovic always has a chance in just about every match he plays thanks to his titanic serve. With bomb after bomb coming at him, Dimitrov will have to stay mentally tough if he wants to fend off the upset bid.
Hot: Andreas Seppi, Grega Zemlja, Aljaz Bedene
Cold: Mikhail Youzhny, Jurgen Melzer, Ivo Karlovic
Semifinal predictions: Marcos Baghdatis over Mikhail Youzhny and Andreas Seppi over Lukas Lacko
Final: Baghdatis over Seppi
Open Sud de France
Where: Montpellier, France
Surface: Indoor hard
Prize money: 410,200 Euros
Top seed: Janko Tipsarevic
2012 champion: Tomas Berdych (not playing)
Draw analysis: After a long weekend of Davis Cup drama, former Montpellier champion and original No. 1 seed Tomas Berdych withdrew from the field. That leaves Tipsarevic and Gasquet as title favorites.
Tipsarevic heads into this week with some question marks, as his last appearance ended via retirement against Nicolas Almagro in the fourth round of the Australian Open. The ninth-ranked Serb also missed his country's first-round Davis Cup victory over Belgium. Tipsarevic will benefit from an opening-round bye, but he could meet indoor hard-court force Michael Llodra in his opener and he is on a collision course for the quarterfinals with fellow Serb Viktor Troicki. Simon also headlines a bottom half of the bracket that includes eighth-seeded Benoit Paire, a Chennai semifinalist last month.
The two seeds with byes at the top of the draw will not have an easy time of things. Gasquet may have to face Monfils right off the bat and Nikolay Davydenko (who slid into a bye when Berdych withdrew) likely awaits Jarkko Nieminen. Paul-Henri Mathieu became the No. 9 seed and will go up against Sergiy Stakhovsky, who was initially scheduled to meet Davydenko. The only player with a particularly nice draw is Julien Benneteau, who is still in search of his first ATP title. Benneteau should be able to coast into the last eight before running into either Gasquet or Monfils.
First-round upset alert: Sergiy Stakhovsky over (9) Paul-Henri Mathieu. Stakhovsky would have had upset on his mind no matter what, and it’s debatable as to whether or not he would have had a better chance against Davydenko than Mathieu. Davydenko boasts a considerably higher ranking, but—when healthy—Mathieu is more consistent. The Frenchman, however, hasn’t been entirely healthy since 2009 and he retired from a recent semifinal match at the Heilbronn Challenger due to a back injury. Stakhovsky is in mediocre form at best, but anything could happen here.
Hot: Richard Gasquet
Cold: Viktor Troicki, Gael Monfils, Sergiy Stakhovsky
Semifinal predictions: Richard Gasquet over Jarkko Nieminen and Gilles Simon over Janko Tipsarevic
Final: Gasquet over Simon
Comments and your own predictions are appreciated!
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