Bob Larson's Preview July 22
Men's Look Forward: Week of July 22
Posted on 7/21/2002 at 6:56 PM
Men's Look Forward: Kitzbuhel, Sopot, Los Angeles
For years, people have been complaining about the Masters Series at Miami. Thirty-two seeds! Thirty-two byes!
We'd suggest looking at Kitzbuhel. Only sixteen seeds, and sixteen byes -- but look at the players getting some of those byes!
It's not really Kitzbuhel's fault. It's a big clay event -- but it's the last big clay event, the week before the Canadian Open. Players who want to do well at Toronto are generally practicing on hardcourts or playing at Los Angeles. A few others are drained off by Sopot. It's a tough situation for a tournament; events right before a surface shift or a time zone shift tend to be weak, and Kitzbuhel is both. The result is a draw with only two Top Ten players -- #1 seed Albert Costa and #2 Juan Carlos Ferrero. Guillermo Canas is #3, Andrei Pavel #4 -- and by the time you get to the bottom seeds, you're seeing non-Top Fifty players like Julien Boutter (seeded on clay!).
Ironically, Kitzbuhel's loss has not really been Los Angeles's gain. Los Angeles is extremely strong for a $400,000 event (the same things that hurt Kitzbuhel help it: It's the one chance to warm up for the big American events). But Lleyton Hewitt is out with a stomach ailment, and Marat Safin is not here, and Pete Sampras didn't come back, and Thomas Johansson (who has been constantly injured lately) is out with a knee problem. It's a good field -- Tommy Haas makes his return to the court as the #1 seed, Andre Agassi is #2, Sebastien Grosjean #3, Andy Roddick #4, and Gustavo Kuerten #5. Still, it's not what it was been last year.
And Sopot is definitely the odd tournament out. It has less money than Kitzbuhel, and it's just as remote from Toronto (in surface and in time zones), and the men even have to share the court with women. And we know how insulting that is to a lot of male players.
Let's look at each tournament in detail, starting with Kitzbuhel. It's one of those rare events where the first round really is pretty dispensable, with only a relative handful of well-known players not having gotten byes. Among the more noteworthy: Wayne Arthurs (everyone thinks of him in terms of his serve, but his clay results have been surprisingly good. His real problems have been on hardcourts), Guillermo Coria (who would surely have been seeded had he been able to play a full year), Markus Hipfl (obviously a local favorite), Karol Kucera, Alberto Martin, Nicolas Massu, Bohdan Ulihrach, and Fernando Vicente. Inevitably, these guys are rather scattered around the draw. There are a couple of good early contests, though: Kucera vs. Massu for the right to face #3 Canas and Vicente vs. Hipfl for the right to face #15 Boutter.
After that, things start to really get interesting. #1 seed Costa will face rising star Flavio Saretta. #16 Mantilla, who has been up and down this year, takes on Arthurs or Michael Kohlmann. #9 Marcelo Rios, just off injury and still looking for his first point-bearing win, faces the far less talented but also less flaky Lars Burgsmuller. #8 seed Alex Corretja, who suffered a mild muscle pull last week, will have to take on Ulihrach. #3 Canas faces the Kucera/Massu winner. #13 Agustin Calleri will go up against the suddenly-hot Andre Sa or Austrian Julian Knowle. #11 Stefan Koubek, Austria's #1 and best hope, is likely to face Adrian Voinea, who has become a real upset artist this year. #6 Gaston Gaudio shouldn't be too badly tested (assuming the past two weeks haven't timed him too much)
In the bottom half defending champion and #5 seed Nicolas Lapentti doesn't have it too bad (he'll face a wildcard or a qualifier), but #12 Mariano Zabaleta goes against another upset artist, Alberto Martin. #15 Boutter will have to face Vicente or Hipfl. #4 Andrei Pavel may well face the incredible retrieving machine Fernando Meligeni. #7 seed Rainer Schuettler's worst enemy may be the clay. #10 Juan Ignacio Chela, who will come in tired, is likely to be tested by Coria. #14 Hicham Arazi has been in a long funk. So has #2 Juan Carlos Ferrero. Ferrero can probably survive his early rounds -- but beyond that, it might get complicated.
In the Round of Sixteen, interesting matches include (1) Costa vs. (16) Mantilla, (8) Corretja vs. (9) Rios, (6) Gaudio vs. (110 Koubek, and -- just for sheer style, not upset potential -- (2) Ferrero vs. (14) Arazi.
At Los Angeles, with a stronger field and no first-round byes, you'd expect a lot more fireworks early on. Surprisingly, it didn't really work out that way. Four of the eight seeds -- #1 Haas, #3 Grosjean, #5 Kuerten, and #7 Malisse -- start against qualifiers (though even qualifiers might pose significant tests for Grosjean and Kuerten on hardcourts). #2 seed Agassi opens against Kenneth Carlsen, who doesn't much care for this surface. And the other three seeds face low-ranked opponents as well: #4 Andy Roddick goes against Hyung-Taik Lee, #6 Sjeng Schalken opposes Noam Okun, and #8 Max Mirnyi will face Cecil Mamiit.
The top first round matches, in fact, derive their interest almost from nostalgia. Michael Chang, who two years ago won this event and saw his ranking plummet when he failed to defend last year, will be back to make another try against Jan-Michael Gambill. Neville Godwin, whose ranking went through the floor when he lost at Newport, will have a last chance to rebuild it against Newport winner Taylor Dent. (If Godwin doesn't pick up some points here, he's going to be playing mostly Challengers for quite a while.) And Harel Levy, who had such a great first half of 2001 but who has hardly been able to take the court since, will also get a last chance to rescue his ranking against Robby Ginepri.
Come the second round, things get a lot more interesting. #1 seed Haas will likely face countryman Nicolas Kiefer, assuming Kiefer can beat wildcard Justin Gimelstob. Kiefer has been slumping dreadfully -- but Haas hasn't been playing. Could that be enough to make a difference?
#2 seed Agassi will face the Ginepri/Levy winner. #3 Grosjean might face countryman Michael Llodra, who came so close to a big result at Newport. #4 Roddick will face either Davide Sanguinetti, who earlier this year cost him a title, or prospect Brian Vahaly. #4 Kuerten will have another easy match, but #6 Schalken faces the Chang/Gambill winner. Schalken's best results have mostly been on hardcourts -- but so have Chang's, and Gambill is one of the most hardcourt-biased players on the ATP. That should be one of the best second-round matches, no matter who comes through.
#7 Xavier Malisse had one of his best-ever results at Wimbledon, but he's likely to face Taylor Dent, who also had a good Wimbledon and who went on to win Newport. And their strengths are utterly different: Dent the big serve and net attack, Malisse the baseline counterpuncher. This is another fine contest.
#8 Mirnyi will face either Paradorn Srichaphan or Vince Spadea. Spadea is rebuilding his results, and Srichaphan had an excellent time on hardcourts at the start of the year. And Mirnyi has trouble going deep in tournaments. This could be another wild match.
The quarters, if the seeds hold, would be Haas vs. Schalken, Roddick vs. Malisse (another serve vs. return contest), Mirnyi vs. Grosjean, and Agassi vs. Kuerten. Come quarterfinal day, it looks like the spectators, at least, can't lose.
Sopot seems to have taken a small step up the ladder this year, with Jiri Novak as the #1 seed and Carlos Moya as #2. Mikhail Youzhny, hot off his first career title, is the #7 seed. But it's a pretty weak low end: Jan Vacek as the #8 seed (or, rather, the #1 upset waiting to happen, this being clay). We also find Vladimir "What do you mean, what do I do after I serve?" Voltchkov here as a wildcard -- and he's in Vacek's section of the draw. Talk about a cheap way to the quarterfinal....
There are some interesting matches, even here. For example, David Ferrer, who just made the Umag final, is here as a special exempt and will face Christophe Rochus; the winner will get to face #3 seed and #1 magician Fabrice Santoro. Mariano Puerta (remember him?) made it through qualifying; he'll face #5 seed David Sanchez in the second round, assuming Sanchez makes it past Franco Squillari. #4 seed Dominik Hrbaty, of the endless low-grade slump, may well have his hands full with Albert Portas. And #2 seed Moya, who has to be exhausted, will open against Andreas Vinciguerra. #7 Youzhny, who opens against a wildcard, will probably face Paul-Henri Mathieu, who also opens against a wildcard, in the second round. That match has a strong air of the future about it.
Rankings An interesting name not at Sopot is Tommy Robredo, the defending champion, who will be taking a medium-large hit as a result, dropping to around #35. Also likely to suffer is finalist Albert Portas, who seems at last to have righted his ship, but rather too late.
Andre Agassi has to defend the Los Angeles title, but at least he has a decent chance of doing so. Pete Sampras, last year's finalist, isn't even trying. That will cost a lot of points, even if it doesn't cost him a ranking spot; with his recent results, he can't afford to skip tournaments like this! The player with the most on the line, though, is Kitzbuhel champion Nicolas Lapentti, who could fall out of the Top 25 if he does badly enough. The finalist last year was Albert Costa; his ranking is stronger, but this is also his last clay chance.