Men's Look Forward: Week of August 19
Posted on 8/18/2002 at 1:28 PM
Men's Look Forward: Long Island
Talk about backing off!
Last week at Indianapolis and Washington, there were two 56-draw tournaments: 112 men in action, with a total of more than a million and a half dollars in prize money. This week, 48 men will play for less than a third of that amount of cash.
And even that is an upgrade from last year. In 2001, Long Island was a 32-draw event. This year, it's gone to the 48-draw, sixteen-seeds-get-byes format. This even though it means giving people such as Stefan Koubek and Agustin Calleri byes. But it does mean that 16 more players get in that one last U. S. Open warmup. It appears that this is the smallest event on the ATP calendar with more than 32 players. (We can't guarantee that, because the calendar is always changing -- indeed, at the start of the year, Long Island was still listed as a 32-draw.)
The real irony, though, is how little difference it all makes. After all, the U. S. Open is going to pretty well overshadow any effects of this tournament -- especially since defending champion Tommy Haas is the only Top Ten player present; the #2 is Roger Federer, now down to #13. Defending finalist Pete Sampras, Alex Corretja, and Younes El Aynaoui round out the list of Top 20 players in the field.
Of course, that could be good news for some of the big names in the field: Tommy Haas, trying to get back on track after his long absence. He is the defending champion, and this is a good surface for him. (The flip side, of course, is his bad arm, which is getting steadily worse. He may have to choose between survival here and survival at the U. S. Open.) Pete Sampras, last year's finalist, has had most of his success lately on hardcourts; this is his one real chance to tune up for the U. S. Open. And tune up he needs to; while his #17 ranking is fairly safe this because he has a big point lead, he also has almost exactly half his points to defend at Long Island and the U. S. Open. Bad results at both could leave him around #35.
And then there is Roger Federer, who really needs to figure out what's wrong and start fixing it. He effectively blew off the summer, and it didn't cost him too much because he didn't have anything to defend. But he needs to get serious again now.
With the seeds all getting byes, there isn't much to say about first round matches. We'd pick only a half a dozen as noteworthy. Biggest of all, perhaps, is Richard Krajicek vs. Dominik Hrbaty. Krajicek has been doing pretty well in his comeback, but he's coming to his biggest test yet: The U. S. Open, his first Slam not on grass.
Also interesting is Paradorn Srichaphan vs. Fernando Meligeni, who last week faced Marcelo Rios in consecutive round and both gave him stern tests. Srichaphan is more of a hardcourt player, but he makes more mistakes than he should. Which is just what Meligeni likes to see.
Then there is Wayne Arthurs vs. Adrian Voinea. You know perfectly well what to expect from Arthurs. And Voinea likes upsetting players like that. This is a fairly neutral surface. It could be close.
Guillermo Coria will be taking on Jonas Bjorkman in another contrast of styles. Bjorkman's best hope to win is to get to net. But Coria will be happy enough to pass him.
Big serves will be the rule as Jan-Michael Gambill faces Julien Boutter. Gambill has the better groundstrokes -- but if Boutter can ride his serve to net, he can really hurt the slow-footed Gambill.
And just for pure contrast, how about big, strong Mardy Fish versus small, quick Olivier Rochus? If Rochus can beat Marat Safin, he can beat Fish. But he doesn't win those big ones all that often....
Come the second round, with everyone in play, we get a rather more varied list. Some of the more interesting prospects:
(4) El Aynaoui vs. Krajicek. Stylistic contrast to the limit: Clay-loving baseliner El Aynaoui vs. grass-loving netrusher Krajicek.
Srichaphan vs. (8) Lapentti. Srichaphan just had a spectacular result at Washington, and he likes this surface better than Lapentti. Though there is the question of how much gas he has left.
(5) Corretja vs. Arthurs. The clear advantage here is to Corretja, but if ever there has been a year for Arthurs to win this match-up, it's this. And it's another nice contrast in styles.
Coria (or Bjorkman) vs. (3) Sampras. Again, the stylistic contrast. Plus, if Coria comes through, youth versus experience.
(7) Chela vs. Golmard. Golmard is just back, but he seems to becoming back strong -- and he likes the surface better.
Gambill or Boutter vs. (12) Koubek. Um, you sure you didn't mean to seed Gambill, ATP? On this surface, either Gambill or Boutter would seem a match for Koubek.
Mantilla (or Massu) vs. (2) Federer. Mantilla's been a giant-killer this summer. And Federer isn't much of a giant right now....
The Rankings. We already mentioned that this event doesn't affect things much. The rankings after Long Island will be used to seed only three events: Tashkent, Bucharest, and Salvador. A few of the guys who are here may play those events -- but they will be few. (After all, that means playing four weeks straight if not more.)
In any case, the rankings are such that few top players have much on the line. Tommy Haas failed to make #2 at Indianapolis, but he's a strong enough #3 that his ranking is not in danger. Pete Sampras also should be safe at #17. Roger Federer could move up a little, but he has enough in his Optional Five that he'll have to do pretty well -- and pretty well is exactly what he hasn't been doing lately. Younes El Aynaoui also has his optional five full; he isn't going anywhere. Corretja can increase his point total -- but he's so far behind Sampras that he's unlikely to move above his current ranking. Thomas Johansson was a semifinalist last year, and he isn't playing because of injury. That might cost him a spot. That may be the only movement in the Top 15. There will, of course, be movement below #25 -- but that's almost impossible to predict.