Men's Look Forward: Rotterdam, Memphis, Costa do Sauipe

02-14-2005, 12:41 AM
Exclusive: Men's Preview, Week of February 14

Men's Look Forward: Rotterdam, Memphis, Costa do Sauipe

It's not often that Raemon Sluiter finds himself featured on a tournament web site as one of the stars of the event. It's even less often that he needs a wildcard to earn that distinction.

But then, this is Rotterdam, which -- since Indianapolis was forced out of its place in the summer hardcourt schedule -- may well be the strongest optional event on the entire schedule. Certainly it's well up there -- as witness the fact that it has no fewer than five Top Ten players, including Roger Federer himself. The irony is, all that strength doesn't really add up to a particularly tough field. The #1 pretender to Federer's throne -- certainly the top indoor player right now -- is Marat Safin, and he isn't here. Defending champion Lleyton Hewitt is off spending time with his New Cookie. Andy Roddick is playing in the United States. Carlos Moya is taking the week off. We have every other Top Ten player, including brand new-Top Tenner Joachim Johansson, but it remains to be seen what they can do to Federer. Certainly #2 seed Guillermo Coria isn't much of a threat indoors. #3 seed Tim Henman is more likely to be a factor. But the #4 seed is another Argentine, David Nalbandian. Johansson is #5. The #6 seed is Nikolay Davydenko, Dominik Hrbaty -- no fan of fast courts -- is #7. And Feliciano Lopez is #8.

There is plenty of strength among the unseeded players, though. Sebastien Grosjean could face Federer in the second round. Tomas Berdych could earn an Olympic rematch in the quarterfinal -- assuming he makes it past Robin Soderling. The top half also contains unseeded Nicolas Kiefer, Mario Ancic, Taylor Dent, and Olivier Rochus, who has been having the best year of his career on slow courts -- and who likes fast courts much better.

In the bottom half, we could have another Johansson/Johansson meeting, assuming Thomas can make it past Karol Beck. Rainer Schuettler and Juan Carlos Ferrero will face off in the first round -- a match that would have been impossible for most of last year. And Nalbandian will have to face Radek Stepanek, another guy who is off to the best start of his career. Hrbaty will have to face Ivan Ljubicic, with Andrei Pavel or Sjeng Schalken (another guy who needed a wildcard) waiting in the second round. And if Coria can make it past Sluiter, he'll be up against Igor Andreev or Paradorn Srichaphan.

Talk about a tournament where they really need to bring back bonus points!

At first glance, the Memphis draw looks like an exact rerun of the San Jose draw: There is Andy Roddick at #1, and he's supposed to face #6 seed Mardy Fish in the quarterfinal. It isn't until you get down toward the bottom that the differences become clear: Andre Agassi isn't here. Nor, obviously, did defending champion Joachim Johansson return. That leaves Tommy Haas as the #2 seed. Vincent Spadea is #3, Jiri Novak #4, Xavier Malisse enjoys the fruits of his Delray Beach title as #5, Fish is #6, Jurgen Melzer, who beat Andre Agassi as the #7 seed at San Jose, reprises his number; Max Mirnyi also repeats as the #8 seed.

Noteworthy floaters include American James Blake, Jan-Michael Gambill, and Robby Ginepri, plus Jonas Bjorkman and Thomas Enqvist of Sweden. Arnaud Clement, who has points from Marseille to defend this week, interestingly chose to come here rather than try for Rotterdam; given the usual respective strengths of the fields, that may have been smart, but now he's stuck taking on Roddick in the second round. If he gets that far.

You can probably guess what the draw at Costa do Sauipe is like. All those clay-courters who were playing in Chile and Argentina have now moved north to Brazil -- though quite a few have dropped out after two long weeks. Carlos Moya has elected not to play, so Gaston Gaudio is supposed to start his third straight week of clay action as the #1 seed (we'll see if he's up to it). Fernando Gonzalez, who pulled out of Buenos Aires, is back to take the #2 seed. Juan Ignacio Chela is #3, and Mariano Zabaleta, #7, gives us three seeded Argentines. Filippo Volandri at #4 is the top non-Latin American in the field. #5 David Ferrer is the highest of many Spaniards in the field, with Rafael Nadal and Albert Costa also seeded, at #6 and #8 respectively.

The Draw Gods made a bit of a mistake: They put Nicolas Almagro and wildcard Alex Corretja right next to each other, but one spot out of phase, so they can't meet until the second round. Other Spaniards in the field are (hold your breath) Alex Calatrava, Oscar Hernandez, Felix Mantilla, Alberto Martin, Albert Montanes, David Sanchez, and Santiago Ventura -- a total of 12 in a 32-player field! The top quarter, in fact, has six Spaniards, plus Gaudio and a qualifier. Argentina too looms large; in addition to the three seeds, we have Jose Acasuso, Agustin Calleri, Juan Monaco, and Special Exempt Mariano Puerta.

Noteworthy First Round Matches

The dilution of talent caused by having three optional events in one week, and two of them not very strong, naturally reduces the number of good matches. At Costa do Sauipe, perhaps the most interesting is the all-Argentine contest between #7 seed Mariano Zabaleta and namesake Mariano Puerta. Puerta at last seems to be back on his feet, and Zabaleta has fallen a bit off his game lately.

Also perhaps of some interest is the contest between Jose Acasuso and #6 seed Rafael Nadal. Acasuso has never really lived up to his abilities, but the potential is there.

At Memphis, we have a sort of a who-won't-even-get-the-chance-to-be-Davis-Cup-backup contest between Mardy Fish and James Blake, with Blake at last showing signs of life and Fish seeming to be slumping again. We'll also see Jan-Michael Gambill take on Jiri Novak on a surface that ought to favor the American -- if anything favors Gambill these days. And #3 seed Spadea will have to be on the ball right from the start, since he opens against Enqvist.

But the weakness of those two events is Rotterdam's strength. It has more great first rounders than not. Just marching straight down the draw, we have a pair of highly talented youngsters in Tomas Berdych and Robin Soderling, with Soderling being more experienced and probably happier on fast courts; Fernando Verdasco takes on Nikolay Davydenko in a match of guys who have had their best overall results on slower courts; Tim Henman faces Nicolas Kiefer in a contest of current and past Top Ten players; Mario Ancic and Taylor Dent will get to show off their serves; Feliciano Lopez will have to deal with the touch of Olivier Rochus; Thomas Johansson also faces a guy known for touch and speed in Karol Beck; Rainer Schuettler and Juan Carlos Ferrero will try to figure out which one of them is less messed up; Radek Stepanek tries to continue his fine 2005 against David Nalbandian; Ivan Ljubicic will try to bounce back from the Marseille final by taking on Dominik Hrbaty; and Sjeng Schalken will try to show to Andrei Pavel that his recent better results have been no fluke.

The Rankings

We hardly need tell you that Roger Federer's #1 ranking is not under threat this week. Not even close. But, with Lleyton Hewitt's Rotterdam title coming off, could he be under threat? Hewitt, after all, isn't playing, and Andy Roddick is.

It could be close, but it doesn't look as if it will happen. Hewitt loses a big title, but he has lots of sixth tournament points; they'll cover about half his loss. And Andy Roddick has very big fifth tournament points; he can't gain all that much. But a good result for Roddick could make thins quite interesting come Indian Wells and Miami.

Marat Safin is secure at #4.

Below that, things start to get very complicated. Guillermo Coria's title from Buenos Aires comes off this week, and given all his injuries over the last year, he doesn't have much of an optional points cushion -- and, recall, Coria elected not to play clay this week! Luckily for him, Carlos Moya was the Buenos Aires finalist. It still appears that Coria has to win a couple of rounds to stay at #5.

Tim Henman is a fair distance behind Moya, but he's playing, and he doesn't have much in the way of fifth event points. So he too could make life interesting for the guys above him.

Joachim Johansson is Top Ten for the first time, but he also has the Memphis title to defend. Rotterdam is bigger, so he actually has a chance to gain some points here -- though probably not enough to do any good. But he could also lose points, potentially falling right back out of the Top Ten.

In addition to Coria, Johansson, Hewitt, and Moya, two guys at Rotterdam have finalist points to defend: Juan Carlos Ferrero was the 2004 Rotterdam runner-up, and Nicolas Kiefer made the final at Memphis. Kiefer built up enough optional results last summer that it won't matter much to him. For Ferrero, though, it's the biggest result he has left; he really needs to do well this week.

Key Matches

If we did everything right, Joachim Johansson needs to earn more than 60 points this week to stay in the Top Ten ahead of Andre Agassi. His first round looks genuinely not too tough. In the second round, against Thomas Johansson (or Karol Beck), he'll likely be tested more. And he has to beat David Nalbandian to assure his Top Ten spot.

Big for other reasons is the Rotterdam second round between Roger Federer and Sebastien Grosjean. Grosjean has all his points in the first half of the year, and he really does like fast surfaces better than slow. This could have been an important opportunity for him to overcome his problems and his damaged ranking. As things stand -- maybe not.

Then there is the Ferrero situation. Every match he wins helps his ranking a little. But it's not an easy path: Schuettler, then Nalbandian or Stepanek, then probably Joachim Johansson, then Coria or Hrbaty or Ljubicic or somebody.

And speaking of Coria, our estimate is that he needs a quarterfinal to stay ahead of Moya (and needs to do as well as Henman to stay ahead of him). Coria really was lucky in his draw: Sluiter, then Srichaphan or Andreev. But Sluiter is vastly better at home than anywhere else, and Andreev and Srichaphan both like this surface better than Coria.

Andy Roddick's chances of getting back to #2 don't depend solely, or even largely, on Memphis; his fate will be determined largely by Indian Wells and Miami. But a win in Tennessee would help his chances. And it's a fairly nice draw for him: Hyung-Taik Lee, then perhaps Arnaud Clement, then Mardy Fish or James Blake, then Novak or Melzer, then Haas or Spadea or somebody.

And speaking of Spadea, he has his lone title at Scottsdale coming up. A good result here would give him a nice bit of insurance.

At Costa do Sauipe, we'll be interested to see how Fernando Gonzalez can spring back from whatever his problem was last week. His draw is very nice -- a qualifier, then a wildcard, then Albert Costa, then maybe Filippo Volandri. That could get him back the Top 20 ranking he just lost.

It will also be interesting to see how much energy Gaston Gaudio has left after winning two straight tournaments.

02-14-2005, 12:57 AM
"Noteworthy floaters include American James Blake"

#138 in the world and he'll drop much farther if he doesn't do well at Indian Wells.

If he even gets selected as the Davis Cup partner, it would be an insult to US tennis, Blake isn't even a top 10 American.

Patrick McEnroe needs to be fired for not even asking Agassi last year to play the final and some of his Blake selections among others in the past, which alienated better players like Dent.

02-14-2005, 01:19 AM
Agassi was probably asked privately and he said no. i suspect that Pat made a public to-do about asking Agassi this year bec he had already privately asked him and had already been told "Yes". so the whole act was just PR imo.

as for Blake being #138, i'm shocked that he is that low. whatever happened to injury-protected ranking? or was he already that low before he got injured :confused:

Blake won't be picked for Davis Cup except maybe as a practice partner (if he's lucky) so there's no need to get all hateful.

02-14-2005, 01:25 AM
No, McEnroe was quite clear last year in saying that he was going with "his" team, Fish and Roddick and the Bryans.

He should have publicly begged Andre to play in those conditions.

02-14-2005, 01:33 AM
i'm not disagreeing that he publicly said that.

i'm saying that it SEEMS as if he went public this year with his intention to ask Agassi when the truth is that he probably had already privately secured a "Yes". there's no way Pat would embarass himself going to the media if he wasn't already confident of Agassi's answer. (he would surely have learned from his brother who made a fool of himself by going to media confident that he could get Agassi and Sampras -- and they both turned him down).

and besides Agassi made it clear last year (publicly) that he was not interested in playing DC. not sure why he is doing it now other than for the accolades.

02-14-2005, 01:40 AM
No, Agassi played each tie except the last against Spain for John McEnroe because he was injured and Sampras played one tie, claiming injuries during the others, which I can't remember if that was true.

He only needed Agassi in the final and if he would have said from the beginning of the US and Spain getting in that they need Agassi and asked him publicly to play, I believe he could have got him to do it it and that's his job as the team's captain, to do whatever is necessary to field a winning team.

I've been very disappointed in McEnroe from the beginning when he was doing things like picking Blake over Gambill/Dent/Spadea for easy tie's, while those guys only get to play when the top players are injured against like Spain on clay in 100 degree weather, while Blake built his DC record that his groupies hype against Slovak juniors and Spaniards on grass, the last of which he should have another loss on his record, but lucky for him the rain cancelled it and he has one less loss than he should in DC.

02-14-2005, 01:51 AM
it's quite possible that your recall is better than mine. but i do remember John being bitterly disappointed at being refused by Agassi and Sampras. then he gave up the post and his brother started over with a young team.

i don't fault Pat for using Blake initially -- back then every young American was a possible candidate and Blake was as good a pick as any. but Pat hasn't been completely foolish bec he stopped using him soon enuf didn't he? i'm not sure why you think Blake has ANY chance of being picked now. :confused: :confused: