I've spent the afternoon looking at the Main Draw and have the following comments.
I'm going to break it down looking at each quarter:
It is fair to say the draw did not do Federer any favours in his quest for the Grand Slam. The top half is clearly the strongest and most competitive of the two halves in terms of clay court pedigree. This will be key in the later stages of the tournament because as it is clay is the most demanding surafce physically and if Federer harbours any hopes completing the Grand Slam he is clearly going to need to be in peak shape come finals time.
Federer's first real test should come in the form of Nico Massu in the third round. Massu has not been as threatening on clay this year as he has in previous years hence I don't expect Federer to have too many issues in dispatching him.
The next section houses both Berdych and Volandri and both are due to meet in the 2nd round. Neither it can be said are in form coming into the Open, Volandri has dropped significantly since his solid clay season last year and part of the reason IMO is the reliance on his backhand is being severly exposed by many players on tour. I'm expecting Berdych to have too much fire power for Volandri, and should set up a third round meeting with Kiefer.
The next section really comes down between Kiefer and Melzer, who both face off in the first round. On paper this could go either way, but one can not look past the 6-0 H2h Kiefer holds over Melzer, and what makes it more pressing is the fact that he has beaten him on most surfaces as well, with their most recent meeting being on clay this season.
The next section contains Ancic as the main seed, with Ginepri being the token seed. Ancic has been possibly the biggest improver on clay aside from Almagro this season, and this coming back from a fairly seriously back injury. QF appearance in Rome, followed by a SF appearance in Hamburg backs up my claim IMO. With Ginepri expected to fall in the first round against Montanes, look for a third round meeting against a "bolter" - Mayer has been flakey all season so it will be a toss up between both Montanes and qualifier Galvani IMO. Rising Chielan Capdeville should account for Rusedski first round and will give Ancic a tough examination in second round, but I expect Ancic to move through.
The final section has two of the second tier favourites behind Nadal and Federer in the form of Acasuso and Robredo, and I fully expect both of them to meet in the third round. Acasuso plays later Santoro later today and it is potentially a danger match for Chucho, we all know he can lose concentration at times and against Santoro the key is not be frustrated. The wildcard of that section is Vliegen, he has put in some solid performances this season on clay culminating in a finals appearance in Munich.
So the third round matches I forsee are as follows:
Federer v Massu
Berdych v Kiefer
Ancic v Montanes
Acasuso v Robredo
Of course a lot of these predictions is based on form shown this week. I will revisit this post once the third round rolls around as there is no point in me talking about the above predicted matchups given there is no certainty they will actually take place! I will post some thoughts on the specific matchups in due time.
But for an early prediction for this quarter: Federer to beat Ancic/Robredo.
Following from what I said above regarding this half of the draw we see some more top flight claycourters in this section of the draw, arguably this is THE most competitive quarter of the draw with players such as Nalbandian, Gaudio, Ferrero, Moya and Davydenko.
Starting off with the top section - Nalbandian and Tursunov are the seeds but similar to Ginepri I forsee Tursunov bowing out early giving Nalbandian a clear passage up to the 4th round. Nalbandian starts his campaign against Wawrinka, who has shown in patches of producing quality tennis but has failed to nail down any sort of consistency on tour. Nalbandian is an enigma when it comes to Grand Slams, he is notoriously a slow starter in the early round yet is the model of consistency when reviewing his GS record. Nalbandian has not lost a first round match in a GS since 2002, and is one of few current tour players who has made a GS appearance in all 4 SF's, which says more about his all round abilities. His form as been rock solid as well leading up to the Open, with a tournament win in Estoril and a SF appearance in Rome where he had Federer on the ropes being up a break in the final set but could not close. The only X factor in his campaign will be the personal issues he is dealing with at the moment, so from a betting point of view I would advise caution if backing him as a heavy favourite through the early rounds. He should account for the out of form Gasquet, a match which may have the hype given it is in France but expect it to be a fizzle with Richie coming back from a long terms injury layoff. I foresee a 3rd round meeting with Tim Henman, who finds his most demanding opponent most likely to be Jiri Novak in the second rd.
The next section does not have the big names but should be a third round matchup between local Seb Grosjean and rising Nieminen. Both should be trouble free as their stiffest opposition will be against players who have been inactive/out of form for a long period now in Pavel for Grosjean and Lapentti for Nieminen. As an immediate reference, Nieminen blitzed Grojean in Rome 1 & 2, but take that Grosjean performance with a grain of salt as the Frenchman looked disinterested that day and should they meet, Grosjean will have a raucous home crowd behind him, a true test for Nimienen's mental strength (refer to the Nadal v Grosjean match of last year if you don't believe me).
The next section is one I had most difficulty with. On paper this one is the easiest, I mean surely it will be the 2003 and 2004 RG champs facing off in the 3rd round? On closer examination maybe not... Gaudio started the European clay season strongly, with a SF appearance in Monte Carlo and far from being disgraced by Nadal taking a set off the kid before folding in the next two. But early exits to Malisse in Rome (somewhat expected given his poor record there over the years) and a 3 set loss to Simon in Hamburg, where he inexplicable blew a 4-1 final set lead to then lose the last 5 games. To make matters worse he lost both his round matched in the Team Cup against clay court giants in Vik and Kiefer. The thing with "GTrain" is, is that he is a confidence player, when he gets on a roll there are few in the world who can beat him on clay. But recent results suggests he will not bring that confidence into the Open, so the potential is there IMO to fade him in the early rounds. But the fact that he returns to his greatest career triumph should spur him on. I believe he will play Korolev in the second round, so am calling an "upset" of sorts in the first round when the big russian plays Seppi, another who seems to have tapered away on the clay season after a promising beginning to the year. How Seppi will handle the big serving Russian will be key in determing their first round match. Now onto Ferrero. He could not have asked for a more testing opening than young rising start Del Porto, who breezed through qualifying. I must admit I have not watched this kid play, so a potential bet on him against Ferrero would be based on reputation IMO, something I wouldn't advise, but he will sure to present some serious value. "Juanqui" has been somewhat disappointing thus far on Euro clay, he has not yet worked a way to overcome his growing compatriot Ferrer who has stopped him in 2 of the 3 Masters events. Having said all this, I still expect a third round meeting between the former champions.
The final section has both Carlos Moya and Davydenko, and I fully expect both to face off in the third round as neither really have huge hurdles to overcome before that. Davydenko IMO is the third favourite for this title, I personally have a love/hate relationship with this guy, on his day he can be deavastating, his consistency at the back of the court can grind most opponents down and his run last year was by no means a fluke. But on the flip side he has the tendency to come up with shocking performances. But a good omen for the Russian for this year's Open is that he has mirrored his victory in Austria in the week preceding the tournament.
So the third round matches I forsee are as follows:
Nalbandian v Henman
Grosjean v Nieminen
Gaudio v Fererro
Moya v Davydenko
Early prediction for this quarter: Davydenko to beat Nalbandian
My early "shocker" play is for Davydenko to beat Federer in the SF, but we can talk more about it should the matchup eventuate....
Now we move into the weaker section of the draw and consequently harder to predict the early rounds. As a result i see this half as the one presenting more value betting wise.
The first section has both Roddick and Ollie Rochus as the seeds. Roddick must be dreading his first round match, not so much because Beto Martin in an accomplished claycourter in his own right but more becuase of the ankle/foot injury he takes into this tournament. Incredibly if you are assessing this matchup in terms of recent results you would have to say Roddick is the favourite, as he boasts a QF appearance in his only European clay tournament in Rome. The h2h also favours Roddick 4-0 (including a win on clay) but Martin is a wily customer, he will know exactly what Roddick's injury situation is and will make sure he moves the American around the court. Roddick must be thinking of grass, so if he does decide to play the Open, you have to ask yourself will he want to exert himself to the full extent? I doubt it, hence expect Martin to go through. Sabau v Kindlmann is literally a toss of the coin job, the Romanian comes into the event with absolutely no form whatsoever and purely on the basis of Kindlmann having to go through the tough qualifying process i expect him to advance. Although clay may not be his favoured surface, Rochus comes into this tournament as one of the few players to have won a leadup tournament on clay, his one coming in Munich. I don't forsee him having any difficulties advancing to the 3rd round with players such as Vanek and Mahut only being in his way.
The next section is headed up by AO star Baghdatis and Stepanek. Book a third round appearance now for Stepanek, i don't forsee him having any difficulties with dispatching Llodra and one of the Italians as he has proven over the course of this season he is a man for all surfaces highlighted by his suprise final appearance in Hamburg. His methodical approach of S&V can cause problems. I'm not sure what to make of Baghdatis since the AO, he has not shown that spark he did earlier this year, and on a surface that doesn't suit him he has the potential to be an early round casualty, and I am leaning for that to happen against the drop shot dragon Portas in the first round, who has posted solid results in both Estoril and Barcelona. Neither Tipsarevic or Benneteau will pose any problems IMO to the winner of Baghdatis/Portas.
The next section is headed up by another one of those second tier favourites in Ferrer, who has proven himself over the course of the last year to be a very consistent player on all surfaces not just clay. He has a clear passage IMO not only to the third round but beyond that, a possible SF showdown with Nadal. Johansson being the other seed will have his work cut out against Christophe Rochus in the first round. ToJo is coming back from a serious eye injury so I'm not expecting him to do much here as he is another who will be looking forward to the upcoming grass season, so expect Rochus to take advantage, albeit he has not shown the form of last year. Hopefully he moves through, love to see him showcase his dropshot skills again
Hidalgo is one to look out for as well, he should account for Ascione in Rd 1 and has more form behind him this year to beat Rochus in a potential Rd 2 match.
The final section sees Verdasco and Ljubicic being the seeded players. Ljubicic will have his work cut out in the expected 2nd rd meeting against the local Simon and an upset in that match is not beyong the realms of possibilty. Ljubicic took care of him easily in Monte Carlo earlier in the season, but throw in a home crowd, anything is possible. Verdasco if he has his head screwed in whould account for two Argentians in rounds 1 & 2 being Chela and Monaco respectively. On his day he can be a dangerous player, but once he is up against someone consistent from the back of the court, the wheels seem to invariably fall apart for the Spaniard.
So the third round matches I forsee are as follows, one upset as well in Portas moving through:
Martin v Ollie Rochus
Portas v Stepanek
Ferrer v Hidalgo
Verdasco v Ljubicic
Early prediction for this quarter: Ferrer to beat Stepanek
The first section has both Blake and Monfils as the seeded players. Blake will only enjoy one victory over the winless Srichphan (on clay this season) as he will be fodder for the most in form claycourter behind Nadal and Federer, Nico Almagro. I expect Monfils with the home crowd behind him to overturn his recent loss to Murray in Hamburg and register a first round win, and have a clear passage to the 3rd round where he is expect to face Almagro.
The next section is headed by Haas and Gonzalez as the seeded players. Haas is coming into the Open on the back of 3 consecutive Rd 1 losses and is up against Schuettler who also has some doubt around him as he pulled out of Poertschach last week. I'm expecting the old head of Vicente to beat too smart for the pretty boy Waske, and given the doubt over both Haas and Schuettler see him a real chance to make the 3rd rd. Clearly the best match of Rd 1 will be between Gonzalez and Safin. After a SF appearance in Valencia in his first clay court tournament, Safin has failed to produce with a string of early exits in the Masters tournaments, losing to players who he simply should be beating. For this reason alone I have sided with Gonzo in this one. This will be the first time both meet on clay. Before last week I would have gone with Djokovic to beat Horna, but after his strong showing last week, the experience of the Peruvian will get him through to a Rd 2 clash with Gonzo IMO.
The next section is possibly the weakest one, with Hewitt and Hrbaty heading it up. Hewitt is in the same boat as Roddick, coming into the Open with an ankle injury and you have to believe his focus is also going to be in the upcoming grass season. To me this is simply a token appearance by Hewitt and I would be shocked if he made the 3rd Rd. Daniel has a real shot at a Rd 3 appearance as a result, he should get past local Montcourt and should he have to play Hewitt in Rd 2, we have the reference of last week to go by where he beat him in 3 sets. No reason why he can't do it again. Karlovic has also been somewhat of a suprise in this clay season, with B2b QF appearances in Barcelona and Munich. I'm expecting a Rd 2 meeting with Hrbaty and that could go either way.
The final section obviously has Nadal and Mathieu as the seeds. PHM's first round match has the potential to be a struggle (all his matches are) but I expect him to advance, all the way to a rd 3 meeting with Nadal. Vik v Serra should be one that goes to the frenchman.
So the third round matches I forsee are as follows:
Almagro v Monfils
Vicente v Gonzalez
Daniel v Karlovic
Mathieu v Nadal
Early prediction for this quarter: Nadal to beat Almagro
On to my outright bets, I have taken Davydenko and Ferrer.
My Predicted final: Nadal to beat Davydenko