Men's Look Forward: Week of August 12
Posted on 8/11/2002 at 8:12 PM
Men's Look Forward: Indianapolis, Washington
Think of Indianapolis as a top athlete with cancer: It's in very good condition, but it still looks to be in trouble.
That, at least, is the organizers' theory. Indianapolis is, at least arguably, the strongest non-Masters series on the ATP. But it's being threatened with a schedule shift, and the organizers, both there and at Washington, think it's going to hurt their fields. They're probably right, too. On the present schedule, these two events are the last chance for players to kick up their rankings before the U. S. Open. Under the new schedule, they'll be stuck between the Canadian Open and Cincinnati.
So the best advice is probably, Enjoy this thing while you can. Indianapolis isn't really a deep tournament -- there are plenty of low-ranked players in the draw. But it's very strong indeed at the top, with the #1 seed being Lleyton Hewitt, Marat Safin at #2, Tommy Haas #3, Yevgeny Kafelnikov #4, and Tim Henman #5. That's the entire top five. It's only below that that the gaps start appearing, with Sebastien Grosjean the #6 seed, Younes El Aynaoui #7, and Xavier Malisse #8. By the time you get to the final seeds, you're looking at Arnaud Clement (#41 on last week's ranking list, which was used to set the seeds) and Fabrice Santoro (#42).
The top eight seeds get first round byes, so the big names won't be in action early in the event. But there are still some quite interesting early matches even so. Some of the ones we like include:
Montanes vs. (14) Rusedski. Young clay player vs. veteran grass lover. Just how fast is this surface, anyway?
Ginepri vs. Magnus Norman. Norman once again goes for the toughest available tournament (though this time he used a wildcard rather than injury ranking). The good news is, he got a relatively low-ranked opponent. The bad news is, Ginepri is quite fast, and if he plays within himself, he might punish Norman's rustiness.
(10) Mirnyi vs. Mathieu. Big power vs. young talent.
Kiefer vs. Pless. Kiefer seems to be slowly getting over his slump. Pless is a promising youngster. It may be a matter of who finds a way to lose.
(15) Clement vs. Bjorkman. Defence vs. Offence.
Philippoussis vs. (9) Schuettler. Power vs. speed and consistency. Philippoussis is clearly on his way back. Has he come far enough to handle the German? Philippoussis is sort of the Tragic Hero here: Big gifts and big flaws. Which will prove greater?
Arthurs vs. Hyung-Taik Lee. Arthurs is having very good results lately, but this isn't really his sort of surface. It is Lee's, even though he doesn't have the weapons Arthurs has.
Come the second round, we could see:
(1) Hewitt vs. Alberto Martin. Hewitt's had some trouble with Spanish players this year....
(7) El Aynaoui vs. Mantilla. If Mantilla can beat Hewitt on hardcourts, what will he do to El Aynaoui?
Ancic (WC) vs. Bjorkman. The kid has the serve. Kafelnikov has the experience -- but also the endless slump.
(8) Malisse vs. Dent. Los Angeles rematch, with strong contrast in style. This one should be good.
(16) Santoro vs. Arthurs (or Lee). Another one with big stylistic contrast.
The Round of Sixteen potentially looks like:
(1) Hewitt vs. (14) Rusedski
(12) Ljubicic vs. (5) Henman
(3) Haas vs. (13) Kratochvil
(10) Mirnyi vs. (6) Grosjean
(7) El Aynaoui vs. (11) Pavel
(14) Clement vs. (4) Kafelnikov
(8) Malisse vs. (9) Schuettler
(16) Santoro vs. (2) Safin
The way things are going lately, we'd expect maybe two of those matches to actually happen. But there are some fascinating contrasts there: Hewitt vs. Rusedski features the best returner in the game against one of the best servers. Ljubicic vs. Henman features a big serve but weak volleys against a relatively weak serve but great volleys. Mirnyi vs. Grosjean is big power vs. big speed. El Aynaoui vs. Pavel is all about style. And Santoro vs. Safin is all about Safin's head.
It's one of life's little mysteries why Washington is consistently weaker than Indianapolis. (Mysteries, or appearance fees?) The points, after all, are the same. So is the draw size. But the Washington organizers seem to go after a shorter, more selectively American list of players. So the top seeds are perhaps the two biggest American draws: Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick. Below that -- well, the #3 seed is Sjeng Schalken, who isn't even Top Fifteen. This is an event that chooses its inducements carefully.
Because the draws this week are so large (two 56-draws), we're seeing players ranked below #30 (Nieminen) getting first round byes, and players well below #50 (Srichaphan, Jan Vacek, Meligeni) getting seeded at Washington. That rather reduces the number of top-flight early-round matches. Many of the more interesting ones are interesting for "wrong" reasons. For instance, Vince Spadea vs. Jan Vacek features two players struggling out of slumps. Who can un-slump more successfully? Similarly, Lars Burgsmuller vs. Neville Godwin: Slumping clay player vs. horribly slumping grass player. Vicente vs. Olivier Rochus: What are they doing playing on hardcourts? Mamiit vs. Kucera: American vs. slumping clay player. Sluiter vs. Hrbaty: Solid grass player with weak results on other surfaces vs. better all-around player who is slumping. Vinciguerra vs. Pioline: Again, both slumping and looking to break out. Chang vs. Martin Lee: Slumping hardcourt player (though he just did well at Cincinnati, and won this event in 1996 and 1997) vs. slumping grass player. Golmard vs. (11) Gambill: Golmard is finally returning to the court. In this field, he probably should have been seeded, but his injury has cost him.
The second round features some rather better contests: Christophe Rochus vs. (7) Enqvist features speed and no power vs. power and no speed. Kucera vs. (13) Hrbaty may be dreadful, given how they're playing lately, but there is a lot of variety of shot there. (9) Gonzalez vs. Coria features two of Latin America's best young players. Chang vs. Gambill is another speed vs. power match, though obviously Gambill is playing much better right now.
In this field, the top seeds have perhaps a better chance of getting through just because of lack of opposition. If so, we would see:
(1) Agassi vs. (15) J. Vacek. Obvious blowout
(12) Vicente vs. (7) Enqvist. This section might be more interesting if the Rochus brothers come through and meet.
(4) Corretja vs. (13) Hrbaty. Corretja finally comes to hardcourts.
(9) Gonzalez vs. (6) Blake. One of the best Round of Sixteen matches in our book
(8) Nieminen vs. (10) Todd Martin. Youth and speed vs. age and savvy. Another good one.
(14) Srichaphan vs. (3) Schalken. Srichaphan has had good hardcourt results this year -- but Schalken is on the rise
(5) Rios vs. (11) Gambill. What sort of mood is Rios in?
(16) Meligeni vs. (2) Roddick. Can Meligeni get to enough balls to get into Roddick's head?
The Rankings. This is a bigger question than usual, with the U. S. Open coming up. Our preliminary cut is as follows:
Lleyton Hewitt is set as #1. Of course. Hewitt, in fact, is so strongly #1 that it now appears he could lose first round at the U. S. Open, and Safin could win it, and Hewitt would still be #1.
Safin is also safe at #2. His margin isn't as big; he could certainly lose his spot at the U. S. Open -- but not this week.
Tommy Haas is safe at #3 for this week, though he could lose the spot after Long Island comes off. But those rankings make no real difference.
The #4 spot, though, is up for grabs. Yevgeny Kafelnikov leads Tim Henman by 70 points and Andre Agassi by 100. Agassi made the Washington semifinal last year, Henman the Indianapolis quarterfinal, Kafelnikov lost his opening match. Kafelnikov has the inside track, but a title for Henman or Agassi could change the equation.
Albert Costa and Juan Carlos Ferrero should round out the top eight USO seeds; with Andy Roddick the defending Washington champion, he can only fall. And Sebastien Grosjean is just too far back.
Pete Sampras isn't playing, so he can't grab the #16 seed. It looks like Rainer Schuettler is probably safe at #24, though Fernando Gonzalez might have a faint shot at the position. It appears Max Mirnyi is #31 and James Blake #32. Several players have shots at them, though -- Jarkko Nieminen is only 59 points behind Blake, and Michel Kratochvil is 85 points back. We may not know who will get the last Open seed until Thursday or later.