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Men's Preview: Week of August 8 (Exclusive)
Men's Look Forward: Canadian Open
At last, a little sanity comes back to the rankings. This is the week get back up to eight Masters events. It's still one short of normal, but it's something we've seen before.
And speaking of "one short," that's what we're missing: The world's #1. Roger Federer, as previously announced, is not playing so he can rest his feet. It's an interesting decision; it gives him an extra week to rest and recover, but it also means that he has to come back in heat of Cincinnati rather than the (at least slightly) more mild conditions in Montreal.
Only three other members of last week's Top Twenty are missing, two of them definitely injured: 2000 champion Marat Safin is still resting his knee, and Joachim Johansson is out for the year after shoulder surgery. The other missing player is 2002 champion Guillermo Canas, who is still in drug testing limbo. (There seems to be a jinx on players who won this event in even years: 2004 champion Federer, 2002 champion Canas, and 2000 winner Safin are not playing, 1998 winner Rafter and 1996 winner Ferreira are retired; leaving 1994 titleist Andre Agassi as the only even-year champion in the draw, and he's gimpy. Whereas 2003 winner Andy Roddick, 2001 victor Andrei Pavel, and 1999 winner Thomas Johansson are all in the field).
Federer's absence lets Rafael Nadal take the top seed -- the first time he's had that seeding at a required event. Rather ironic that it comes away from clay -- hut of course it gives him the chance to show that he can win on something other than dirt. Lleyton Hewitt, who doesn't have anything to prove on hardcourts but who hasn't won a required event in years, is #2. Andy Roddick, seeded #3, is the most recent champion in the draw. Andre Agassi, after skipping last week, is scheduled to play as the #4 seed. Nikolay Davydenko, who has had all sorts of ailments this summer, is #5. Gaston Gaudio, who stayed on clay until this week and then claimed to be unfit to play, is #6 seed and obviously comes in with little hardcourt preparation. #7 seed Guillermo Coria has had event less, been in Sopot all week. #8 seed Mariano Puerta is also just in from Sopot, and his hardcourt results aren't likely to strike fear into many opponents. #9 seed David Nalbandian, on the other hand, is a fine all-surface player. #10 Tim Henman is a good hardcourt performer, but he's having a very disappointing year and lost much too soon in Washington. #11 Tommy Robredo is slowly improving his results on all surfaces, but he has yet to post a really spectacular hardcourt result. #12 Thomas Johansson is of course a former champion. #13 Ivan Ljubicic started the year well and faded. So has #14 Radek Stepanek. #15 Richard Gasquet has done nothing but improve from month to month -- but, like Nadal, he still has to show that he can do it on hardcourt. Fernando Gonzalez, whose approach to the game seems to spell hardcourts but whose results spell clay, is the #16 seed.
Which leaves quite a few big names unseeded: Carlos Moya, Paradorn Srichaphan, Sebastien Grosjean, Mikhail Youzhny, Andrei Pavel, Robin Soderling, Juan Ignacio Chela, Feliciano Lopez, Taylor Dent, Nicolas Kiefer, Nicolas Massu, Juan Carlos Ferrero, David Ferrer, Jiri Novak, Dominic Hrbaty, Greg Rusedski, Mario Ancic -- well, what can we say? It's a Masters Series. With only the most minor exceptions, everyone who can be here is here. Even Younes El Aynaoui is back, after not playing at the ATP level for some months.
Noteworthy First Round Matches
Obviously a very long list. Starting at the top of the draw:
(1) Nadal vs. Moya. Historically Carlos Moya has had the better hardcourt results (though he's had a lot longer to compile them). But he hasn't been playing very well since his shoulder injury. And Nadal did reach the final of his last hardcourt event, at Miami. Psychologically, this is very interesting, since Moya has been rather a mentor for Nadal.
Srichaphan vs. Grosjean. Two players whose rankings have fallen a lot lately. Srichaphan has been showing signs of life; Grosjean hasn't, really. But the Frenchman is probably a better player when he's at his best. On the other hand, Srichaphan probably likes hardcourts better.
Youzhny vs. (15) Gasquet. Youzhny has not been having a very good year, but he's much more accustomed to hardcourts.
(12) T. Johansson vs. Karlovic. If what happened at Washington is any indication, the outcome of this may depend on just how hot it is; Karlovic, by virtue of his size, seems to be very easily affected by heat.
C. Rochus vs. Pavel. Pavel is a former champion, but he has been struggling, and Rochus is having a career year.
Horna vs. (8) Puerta. Horna, strangely for a South American, seems to be at his best on hardcourts, and Puerta definitely isn't. History implies a high chance of an upset, especially since Puerta has been struggling even on clay since Roland Garros.
Soderling vs. (14) Stepanek. Stepanek is in a funk, and the surface may be better for Soderling anyway.
(9) Nalbandian vs. Chela. Two countrymen, with Nalbandian the better but more fragile.
Melzer vs. Berdych. Berdych seems at last to have come back to life. Melzer -- who knows?
(13) Ljubicic vs. Dent. Talk about a serving contest! Ljubicic has a bit more off the ground, so court speed could be important.
Kiefer vs. Massu. Two guys who have been slipping this year. The surface is better for Kiefer, and he has less to defend in the next month. Can Massu get his game together before his Olympics points come off next week?
(7) Coria vs. Ferrero. Juan Carlos Ferrero has definitely been getting his game back, but Coria continues to beat him like a drum. On the other hand, Ferrero gave himself time to practice on hardcourts, and Coria didn't.
Ferrer vs. Santoro. Can the Spaniard's speed offset Santoro's kitchen sink of shots? This is Santoro's best Masters: He has a career record of 17-8 in Canada, with a semifinal and four quarterfinals.
Novak vs. Andreev. Two guys who are happier on other surfaces. Novak has the edge in experience, Andreev probably in enthusiasm.
Hrbaty vs. (10) Henman. The surface favors Henman. But he really has to start playing better!
(16) Gonzalez vs. Mirnyi. If Gonzalez keeps the ball in the court, his passing shots will win this. Will he keep the ball in the court?
We already mentioned the peculiar nature of this week: Players will take off an optional event and add a required. And, almost without exception, it will be their seventh (or however-manyeth) optional event coming off. The only guys in the Montreal draw who are defending anything of significance are Rafael Nadal (who won his first title at Sopot a year ago) and Jose Acasuso (the Sopot finalist). A few others -- Marat Safin and Nikolay Davydenko among them -- played Sopot, but without doing anything.
Which means that, for all practical purposes, players will simply be adding points this week.
It's not going to matter much at the top. Roger Federer's #1 ranking of course is in no danger. Rafael Nadal should stay #2, and Hewitt #3. The one significant move in the Top Five is that Andy Roddick has a chance to blow past Marat Safin and take a firm grip on the #4 ranking.
Andre Agassi of course has the chance to regain the ground he lost when his Cincinnati title came off. It's pretty much a contest between him and Nikolay Davydenko for the #6 spot.
We will of course have quite a few players with Top Ten chances. David Nalbandian seems the most likely to move up, but we'll be in a better position to predict that around Wednesday, after we've presumably shaken out the clay-courters.
Given those rankings numbers, there aren't all that many of those. The biggest questions really resolve around how will various players perform. Can Nadal finally win a non-clay title? His path certainly isn't helpful: After facing Moya in the first, he has a fairly easy second round, but then Gasquet, then probably Thomas Johansson, then Roddick. Roddick himself should have an easy route to the quarterfinal, but there, he has to face either Nalbandian or Davydenko -- guys who can extend a rally much longer than Roddick wants it to last.
#2 seed Hewitt really came to life around this time last year, with the Cincinnati final (already off), the Long Island title, and the U. S. Open final. Even though he isn't defending at this time, he definitely wants to take advantage of his (really quite nice) draw: A qualifier, then probably Mario Ancic, then Gonzalez, then Henman or Coria, then Agassi or somebody.
Agassi himself wants to show that his title at Los Angeles was no fluke, and that he's still able to play long enough to win a big event. His opening match, against speedy Alberto Martin, may test his stamina, as may Vincent Spadea in the second. Still, his quarter is among the easiest in the draw -- the first seed he would face is the slumping Ljubicic, then Robredo or Gaudio. The really interesting question may be, If he does well, will he play Cincinnati also?
The other match we'd keep our eyes on is the Round of Sixteen meeting between Nalbandian and Davydenko. A win there would give Nalbandian real Top Ten chances.
A fuller version of this story is found in Pro Tour News, one of the sections of Bob Larson’s Daily Tennis. Details on how to subscribe are found elsewhere on this web site.
Andre Agassi forever