• Nieminen, Benneteau back for more in Sydney

    1/5/13 9:55 PM | Ricky Dimon
    Nieminen, Benneteau back for more in Sydney One of two tournaments leading up to the Australian Open, Sydney features a field led by John Isner, Gilles Simon, Fernando Verdasco, and Andreas Seppi. 2012 finalists Jarkko Nieminen and Julien Benneteau are also making their returns.

    Both Jarkko Nieminen and Julien Benneteau are unseeded as they return to the Apia International, looking to build on last year's final performances. Although they aren't the favorites on paper this time around, Nieminen and Benneteau have the same chance of making it to next Saturday as almost everyone else in a wide-open Sydney field.

    John Isner leads the way as the No. 1 seed, but he has been dealing with a knee problem that forced him to withdraw from the Hopman Cup midway through the event. Second-seeded Gilles Simon is looking to bounce back from a quarterfinal Brisbane loss to Marcos Baghdatis. Both the third and fourth sees have some momentum. Andreas Seppi is coming off the best season of his career and Fernando Verdasco helped Spain win the Hopman Cup.

    Nieminen opens with a qualifier and would then face Simon in round two. A deep bottom half also includes Bernard Tomic (in the Simon-Nieminen quarter) and Brisbane finalist Grigor Dimitrov (in the third quarter of the bracket with Seppi and Marcel Granollers). Dimitrov will kick off his campaign against Fabio Fognini.

    Benneteau could not have asked for a better draw in the top section. Both Isner and No. 6 seed Radek Stepanek enter with more questions than answers. Verdasco, a potential semifinal opponent for either Isner or Benneteau, will likely begin in round two against Denis Istomin. No. 7 seed Jeremy Chardy and Feliciano Lopez are set for an intriguing first-round encounter.

    Another clash to watch is Granollers vs. Matthew Ebden, which is a rematch of a 2012 first-rounder that Ebden won in three sets.

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