Men’s Look Forward: Metz, St. Petersburg

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Copyright © 2015. No duplication is permitted without permission from Bob Larson Tennis.

Welcome to this week’s events, played in the quaint European hamlet of Afterthought.

We’re being silly, of course, but this week’s events really are afterthoughts. They’re indoor events in Europe just before everyone shifts to Asian hardcourts. So anyone who plays this week will, in another week, have to shift both surface and continent. Players tend to dislike such events. This week’s tournaments are no exception. We actually have four Top Ten players in action this week — a high number for a week of 250s: Stan Wawrinka, Tomas Berdych, Milos Raonic, and Gilles Simon — but of those four, only one (Wawrinka) played Davis Cup (Berdych in fact deliberately skipped it). And Raonic is still trying to get his form back. But the real indication of how players feel about weeks like this comes from the faint hint of appearance fees in the draws, because we have four of the Top Ten, but only one player from #11 to #19: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who of course is French, and likes playing in France, and likes indoor courts, so it’s not a chance he wants to miss.

Berdych is the #1 seed at St. Petersburg, with Raonic #2; apparently they like power in Russia. (Hm. That statement could have more than one meaning….) Then comes a big gap to #3 Dominic Thiem, who is just barely Top Twenty; he’s in Berdych’s half. #4 Roberto Bautista Agut is in Raonic’s half and has the last bye. Tommy Robredo, no fan of this surface, is #5 and in Raonic’s quarter; #6 Benoit Paire is in Bautista Agut’s (interesting that he didn’t play in France); #7 Joao Sousa is in Berdych’s, and #8 Mikhail Kukushkin is in Thiem’s. That gives us a cutoff for seeding right about at #50, so there aren’t a lot of strong unseeded players, but Berdych will open against either talented youngster Andrey Rublev or against Simone Bolelli, who will have just faced each other in Davis Cup; Paire starts against Jerzy Janowicz; and Robredo will open against Mikhail Youzhny (who, however, has fallen so hard that he needed a wildcard here), then either Marcos Baghdatis or Ernests Gulbis.

Wawrinka has top billing at Metz, with Simon #2 (the event has three French seeds, which by its standards is rather low). Tsonga is the #3 seed and in Wawrinka’s quarter; Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, who has an un-Spanish liking for fast courts, is #4. Philipp Kohlschreiber, despite a long Davis Cup weekend, for some reason took a wildcard to earn the #5 seed and is in line to face Wawrinka in the quarterfinal. Simon’s quarterfinal would be against another wildcard, #8 seed Fernando Verdasco. Tsonga will have to face his countryman, #7 Adrian Mannarino, while Garcia-Lopez is to take on #6 Martin Klizan. There aren’t a lot of strong unseeded players, naturally, but Klizan could face Vasek Pospisil in round two, and Verdasco opens against Alexander Zverev — assuming Zverev is fit; he bailed out of Germany’s Davis Cup tie at the last moment.

The Rankings

Once again we have a week when what comes off does not match what is coming on. At least they are all 250 point events. Coming off are Kuala Lumpur and Shenzhen. The Kuala Lumpur title went to Kei Nishikori, who beat long-injured Julien Benneteau. The semifinalists were Jarkko Nieminen and Ernests Gulbis. (Talk about a list of players who are struggling in 2015!) The Shenzhen title went to Andy Murray, over Tommy Robredo, with Santiago Giraldo and Juan Monaco semifinalists.

Of those eight, only Gulbis and Robredo are in action. It doesn’t matter to Murray; he’s safe at #3. It doesn’t really matter to Nishikori, either, since he’s safe at #6 — but he’s just barely behind Berdych, and with Nishikori losing points and Berdych adding them, that gap will get a lot wider. What that all adds up to is no movement at all in the Top Ten; Simon can get close to Raonic in the contest for #9, but he can’t pass him, and no one else will move.

Thiem could rise to around #17, but not higher. Bautista Agut might be able to make the Top Twenty. Robredo’s Top Thirty spot is in some danger. Benneteau will lose about a third of his remaining points and will probably be around #175.

Copyright © 2015. No duplication is permitted without permission from Bob Larson Tennis.