Men's Look Forward: Madrid
Men's Look Forward: Madrid
So much for Required and Optional forcing the top players to turn out!
One of the key purposes of the Great 2000 Rankings Silliness was to push players to turn out at the thirteen events the ATP was willing to genuinely support. It works at some events. It's never done much for Monte Carlo, and the clay players still tend to skip Wimbledon.
Now Madrid is feeling the effects. In Roger Federer's case, it's all about scheduling: He has the #1 ranking in the bag for months to come, so he doesn't need Madrid -- and the week after Madrid is Basel, and he wants to do well at home.
Andy Roddick's problems are physical -- knee tendonitis.
Luckily for his hopes to make #2 at year-end, Lleyton Hewitt is also out, for personal reasons. As is Carlos Moya, with a shoulder problem, and Guillermo Coria is still hurt. That leaves Tim Henman as the #1 seed, and the only Top Five player in the draw. (Admittedly, this is the surface where Henman makes the most sense as top seed.) Andre Agassi is #2. Gaston Gaudio, his Masters Cup position clinched, isn't bothering to play indoors, so Marat Safin is #3. David Nalbandian is #4, and Nicolas Massu #5. Sebastien Grosjean still can't play (it appears he won't play again this year), so defending champion Juan Carlos Ferrero, the #13 player in the world at the time the seeds were set though ranked more than twice as high now, gets the #6 seed. Joachim Johansson is #7, Tommy Robredo #8, Andrei Pavel #9, Dominik Hrbaty #10, Jiri Novak #11. Nicolas Kiefer is out, so Juan Ignacio Chela is #12, Rainer Schuettler #13, Vincent Spadea #14, Fernando Gonzalez #15, and Paradorn Srichaphan is #16 because Gustavo Kuerten can't play.
In other words, nine of the Top 25 aren't here.
Still, with only a 48-draw, you get a pretty good field even if several top players are missing. As witness some of the guys who ended up in qualifying: Tomas Berdych (and he had to face Jarkko Nieminen in the first round; he did win that, and beat Olivier Rochus in the second). Filippo Volandri (though that's only fair, on an indoor court). Thomas Johansson. Mariano Zabaleta. Thomas Enqvist. And, of course, there are lots of good unseeded players in the main draw: Big servers like Ivan Ljubicic and Taylor Dent and Mario Ancic and Feliciano Lopez and Ivo Karlovic. Guillermo Canas, who has clearly announced that he is back, though he and Lopez are likely to be exhausted. Tommy Haas, who won this event while it was in Stuttgart. Mardy Fish, hoping to spring back from disappointing recent results. Youngsters like Florian Mayer and Robin Soderling and Rafael Nadal. Plus Sjeng Schalken, who will test his recovery from a debilitating virus, and Agustin Calleri, also making a comeback.
Noteworthy First Round Matches
This being an indoor event, the 16 seeds all get first round byes, and if you take out the six qualifiers, that leaves only ten first round matches where we knew both players when the draw came out. Ljubicic, Calleri, Canas, Schalken, Robby Ginepri, and David Sanchez are all awaiting the results of qualifying. Still, there is a fine match of talented youngsters in the contest between Robin Soderling and Florian Mayer, and a test of Spanish wildcards as Alex Corretja faces David Ferrer. More interesting still is the match between Tommy Haas, who seems to be approaching his 2002 form, and Xavier Malisse. Taylor Dent will face Mikhail Youzhny in a match pitting power against style. Mardy Fish and Mario Ancic will doubtless be trying to serve each other off the court. So will Ivo Karlovic and Feliciano Lopez. Shotmaking will count for much more in the match between Luis Horna and Hicham Arazi. Those who like contests between youngsters and grizzled veterans can expect to see one, literally, as Davide Sanguinetti takes on Rafael Nadal. And the age difference between Jonas Bjorkman and Fernando Verdasco is only slightly less.
This is a massively complicated week, because Madrid came off last week, meaning that, this week, players have twelve required and six optional events rather than the usual thirteen and five. So they will add a thirteenth required event, and subtract either their sixth optional event or what they are defending this week, whichever is larger. (And this is supposed to be simpler than Best 14?)
Simplifying dramatically, that means that most players can treat Madrid as simply an "add"; their points here will almost all go to increasing their totals. The exceptions are the players who did well at this time last year: Basel champion Guillermo Coria (who of course can't make up the points) and finalist David Nalbandian; St. Petersburg champion Gustavo Kuerten (another guy who isn't playing) and finalist Sargis Sargsian (who didn't make the main draw in Madrid), Stockholm champion Mardy Fish and finalist Robin Soderling.
What that means is that we won't see any movement for the Top Three: Roger Federer will remain #1, Andy Roddick #2, and Lleyton Hewitt #3. Below that, though, there will be movement. Coria will be losing enough points that Henman is sure to take over the #4 spot. Below that, it's more complicated. Andre Agassi could take the #6 spot from Carlos Moya, but he has to win Madrid to do it. Of course, he's won this event before, in 2002. But Agassi could also lose his #7 spot to Marat Safin if Safin can make the final. A semifinal would take Safin past Gaudio.
With Nalbandian having points to defend, there will be a real scramble for the final spot in the Top Ten. Nalbandian, Joachim Johansson, and Tommy Robredo are all pretty close together, with Andrei Pavel and Dominik Hrbaty not too far behind. Theoretically, most of these guys could even overtake Safin if he loses early (which, knowing Safin, is of course possible) and they win Madrid (which is less likely).
Below that, we really want to see the official rankings before we say anything certain.
In the long run, the single most important first round match is probably Sjeng Schalken's contest against a qualifier. Had Schalken not played again this year, he would have been eligible for an injury ranking in mid-February. As it is, he won't get one. So a bad result is likely to cost him potentially dearly.
The other big first rounder is Fish's contest with Mario Ancic, since Fish has more to defend than any active player here.
Tim Henman doesn't have much to defend this week, but Paris comes off next week, and that's 500 points. Take that away and he's no longer Top Five. His first really big test, given the surface and current form, is likely to be Joachim Johansson in the quarterfinal.
Andrei Pavel's situation is similar to Henman's, since he made the Paris final last year: An early loss could leave him not much above #30 in two weeks' time. He can effectively clinch an Australian Open seed here, but he probably needs to beat Juan Carlos Ferrero to do it.
And Ferrero has his own reasons for wanting to do well. He is, after all, the defending champion. Those points are off -- and it's dropped him to the very bottom of the Top 30. (Good thing he didn't win any matches at the Masters Cup last year, since he won't be returning.) He too wants to clinch an Australian Open seed, since he has big points to defend there. And this is Spain. He won't have a better chance any time soon. So that's surely the biggest match of the Round of Sixteen.
The winner of that is supposed to face #3 seed Safin. If Safin can win that, he's Top Eight.
Safin has other reasons to care about that. Since there is talk that Guillermo Coria might play the Masters Cup after all, that means that there might be only one spot left other than the six players who are near-certain to qualify directly (Federer, Roddick, Hewitt, Moya, Coria, Henman) or be in due to the Grand Slam wildcard (Gaudio). It's fairly certain that it's Safin's or Agassi's; David Nalbandian is just too far back, and everyone else is even worse off. For that matter, Safin and Agassi are in the same half, and seeded to meet in the semifinal. If that match comes off, they could be playing for the #8 Masters Cup spot.
Q. When you've played as few matches as you have over the last two, three months, did you ever lack motivation to go out and practice?
ANDY RODDICK: Motivation? No. I enjoy what I do. I enjoy what I do. You know, I've never been one to, you know, blow off practice or, you know, do anything like that.
You know, I'd be lying if I said I'm looking forward to practicing the next two days as opposed to playing here. That part is gonna suck...(2010 Aegon Championships)