What to Watch in the ATP This Week: Bastad, Stuttgart, Newport Draw Previews
A day after the dust settled on the Wimbledon final, several notable men launch back into action at tournaments on clay and grass.
Top half: The apparently indefatigable Tomas Berdych surges into Sweden just days after his appearance in the Wimbledon quarterfinals. This spring, Berdych complained of fatigue caused by an overstuffed schedule, but a substantial appearance fee probably persuaded him to enter this small clay tournament. Not at his best on clay this year, the top seed should cruise to the quarterfinals with no surface specialist in his area. Viktor Troicki, his projected quarterfinal opponent, produced some encouraging results at Wimbledon but lacks meaningful clay credentials.
Much more compelling is the section from which Berdych’s semifinal opponent will emerge. The fourth-seeded Tommy Robredo, a surprise quarterfinalist at Roland Garros, will hope to repeat his victory over the Czech in Barcelona. On the other hand, Robredo cannot afford to dig the same early holes for himself in a best-of-three format that he did in Paris. A first-round skirmish between fellow Argentines Carlos Berlocq and Horacio Zeballos features two thorns in Rafael Nadal’s side this year. While Zeballos defeated the Spaniard to win Vina del Mar in February, Berlocq extended him deep into a third set soon afterward in Sao Paulo.
Bottom half: The most famous tennis player to visit Stockholm this month will not appear in the Swedish Open. Following her second-round exit at Wimbledon, Maria Sharapova accompanied boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov on a brief summer vacation before his appearance here. Dimitrov holds the fifth seed in a wide-open quarter as he aims to thrust an epic Wimbledon loss behind him. The man who stunned Novak Djokovic on Madrid clay this year has receded in recent weeks, and dirt devil Juan Monaco may test his questionable stamina in the quarterfinals. Two Italian journeymen, Filippo Volandri and Paolo Lorenzi, look to squeeze out all that they can from their best surface.
Probably the most compelling quarterfinal would emerge in the lowest section of the draw between Spaniards Nicolas Almagro and Fernando Verdasco. Like Berdych, Verdasco travels to Sweden on short rest after reaching the Wimbledon quarterfinals. Unlike Berdych, his result there astonished as he suddenly rediscovered his form in a dismal 2013, even extending Andy Murray to five sets. Verdasco can resuscitate his ranking during the weeks ahead if he builds on that breakthrough, and he has won five of seven meetings from Almagro on clay. Slumping recently after a fine start to the year, Almagro faces a potential early challenge against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.
Final: Robredo vs. Verdasco
Top half: Often at his best on home soil, the top-seeded Tommy Haas eyes a rematch of his meeting in Munich this spring with Ernests Gulbis. The veteran needed three sets to halt the Latvian firecracker that time. But Marcel Granollers might intercept Gulbis in the first round, relying on his superior clay prowess. In fact, plenty of quality clay tennis could await in a section that includes Monte Carlo semifinalist Fabio Fognini and Madrid semifinalist Pablo Andujar. All of these men will have felt grateful to leave the brief grass season behind them as they return to the foundation of their success.
Much less deep in surface skills is the second quarter, headlined by Jeremy Chardy and Martin Klizan. Despite his Australian Open quarterfinal when the season started, Chardy continues to languish below the elite level, which leaves this section ripe for surprises. Granted, Klizan took a set from Nadal at Roland Garros, an achievement impressive under any circumstances. He opens against Nice champion Albert Montanes, who once defeated Roger Federer on clay with a quintessential grinder’s game. Perhaps Roberto Bautista-Agut will have gained confidence from his four-set tussle with David Ferrer at Wimbledon, or Daniel Gimeno-Traver from his upset of Richard Gasquet in Madrid.
Bottom half: Never a threat at Wimbledon, Nikolay Davydenko chose to skip the third major this year to preserve his energy for more profitable surfaces. Davydenko will begin to find out whether that decision made sense in Stuttgart, where he could face fourth seed Benoit Paire in the second round. Both Paire and the other seed in this quarter, Lukas Rosol, seek to make amends for disappointing efforts at Wimbledon. Each of them failed to capitalize on the Federer-Nadal quarter that imploded around them. Another Russian seeking to make a comeback this year, Dmitry Tursunov, hopes to prove that February was no fluke. Surprising successes at small tournaments that month have not led to anything greater for Tursunov so far, other than an odd upset of Ferrer.
Another player who skipped Wimbledon, Gael Monfils looks to extend a clay resurgence from his Nice final and a five-set thriller at Roland Garros against Berdych. Two enigmatic Germans surround the even more enigmatic Frenchman, creating a section of unpredictability. Philipp Kohlschreiber returns to action soon after he retired from a Wimbledon fifth set with alleged fatigue. While compatriot Florian Mayer also fell in the first round, he had the much sturdier alibi of drawing Novak Djokovic.
Final: Haas vs. Paire
Top half: Not part of the US Open Series, this cozy grass event at the Tennis Hall of Fame gives grass specialists one last opportunity to collect some victories. Wildcard Nicolas Mahut could meet top seed Sam Querrey in round two, hoping that the American continues to stumble after an opening-round loss at Wimbledon. But Querrey usually shines much more brightly on home soil, winning all but one of his career titles there. A rising American star, Rhyne Williams, and doubles specialist Rajeev Ram look to pose his main pre-semifinal tests. Ram has shone in Newport before, defeating Querrey in the 2009 final and reaching the semifinals last year with a victory over Kei Nishikori.
Among the most surprising names to reach the second week of Wimbledon was Kenny De Schepper, who outlasted fellow Frenchmen Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet. De Schepper will try to exploit a section without any man in the top 50, but Igor Sijsling has played better than his ranking recently. The Australian Open doubles finalist defeated Milos Raonic and won a set from Tsonga on grass this year, while extending Robredo to five sets at Roland Garros. But Sijsling retired from Wimbledon with the flu, leaving his fitness in doubt.
Bottom half: Currently more dangerous on grass than anywhere else, Lleyton Hewitt reached the Newport final in his first appearance at the tournament last year. The former Wimbledon champion more recently upset No. 11 seed Stanislas Wawrinka at Wimbledon after defeating Querrey, Dimitrov, and Juan Martin Del Potro at Queen’s Club. Hewitt holds the fourth seed in Newport, where an all-Australian quarterfinal against Marinko Matosevic could unfold. A former Newport runner-up in Prakash Amritraj and yet another Aussie in Matthew Ebden add their serve-volley repertoire to a section of contrasting playing styles.
Meeting for the fourth time this year are two struggling Americans, Ryan Harrison and the second-seeded John Isner. The latter man aims to defend his Newport title as he regroups from a knee injury at the All England Club, but fellow giant Ivo Karlovic could loom in the quarterfinals. Just back from a serious medical issue, Karlovic opens against Wimbledon doubles semifinalist Edouard Roger-Vasselin. Potential talents Denis Kudla and Vasek Pospisil also square off, while Adrian Mannarino looks to recapture the form that took him to the brink of a Wimbledon quarterfinal.
Final: Querrey vs. Hewitt