Now that the first Grand Slam of the year is behind us, it is time to turn our focus to multiple locations and the resumption of the 250 level tournaments. The three stops this week include Vina de Mar, Chile, Zagreb, Croatia and Johannesburg, South Africa. While Nadal, Federer and many of the big boys are taking some time off, there are still some notable names in action this week.
The first clay court tournament of the year will be underway at the Movistar Open in Vina del Mar, Chile. Many of the usual names you would expect on the red dirt will be present, including Juan Monaco, Augustin Calleri, Jose Acasuso and Juan Ignacio Chela. As I was going through the draw I was half-expecting to see names like Mariano Puerta, or Gaston Gaudio, but no such luck. Mariano Zabaleta is making a return to the pro tour here after making his way through two tough qualifying matches. The thirty year old is trying to resurrect his once solid career after being plagued by injuries in 2008.
Look for top seeded Fernando Gonzalez to go deep in the draw, as he has won the tournament three times before – in 2002, 2004, and a year ago as well.
For those of Croatian ancestry or simply looking to avoid the outdoor elements, then the indoor hard court tournament in Zagreb is for you!Won a year ago by lucky loser Sergiy Stakhovsky , expect a more familiar name this time around. With the draw sprinkled with homegrown talent, the deck is heavily stacked in their favor. MarioAncic, Ivan Ljubicic, Marin Cilic, and Ivo Karlovic are all lurking in the draw. I would expect one of them to give the home crowd something to cheer about come next weekend.
A brand new stop on the tour this year is in Johannesburg. The draw is very weak with the exception of three bigger names who have made the journey; Jo-Wilfriend Tsonga, David Ferrer and Marcos Baghdatis. Tsonga leads the charge as number one seed, and I would not be surprised to see him face number two seeded Ferrer in the final. This could be a good opportunity for Baghdatis to put a few much needed wins under his belt or for a relatively unknown player to pick up some points and confidence. Rik De Voest is the strongest local hope with a wild card entry. Oddly enough a photo of Gael Monfils remains on the tournament website – perhaps a late withdrawal.