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Men's Look Forward: Acapulco, Dubai, Copenhagen

You have to give Copenhagen a lot of credit. Hundreds of thousands for prize money, but not one cent for appearance fees.

That's not stated, but it's clear from the draw, which has exactly two players who are in the Top Fifty: Jarkko Nieminen and Wayne Arthurs.

And yet, there are reasons for fans to turn out. Denmark's own Kenneth Carlsen is here as the #5 seed. Several good but injured players are also here -- Andreas Vinciguerra, Magnus Norman. And there are quite a few talented youngsters: Nieminen himself, Mario Ancic (the #7 seed), Martin Verkerk (not really all that young, but rising, and here as the #6 seed), Kristof Vliegen.

In a way, this is rather like a Challenger (some Challengers at the time of the indoor Masters Series or Davis Cup are almost this strong) -- but a Challenger as it ought to be: A proving ground for young players, a second chance for older players trying to get things together. And, just this once, the pay and the points are super-sized.

And there are some pretty good matches -- most of them, interestingly, in the first round. We'll just list those, and you can see where they lead in the second round.

First Round:

(1) Nieminen vs. O. Rochus. Two guys whose strength is speed, but who know indoor courts well. If the court is fast enough, this could be very interesting.

Melzer vs. Burgsmuller. Burgsmuller is last year's champion, but the points are already off, and he needs something to replace them if he's to get his ranking back to respectability. Melzer is much younger, just getting to the age where young talents start to blossom -- and he is showing signs of taking those big steps.

Gimelstob vs. Beck. Justin Gimelstob seems to have rediscovered himself, and this is a good surface for him. But Karol Beck has been climbing steadily if rather slowly, and he's younger and won't be jet lagged.

(5) Carlsen vs. Kratochvil. Carlsen seems finally to be back from injury. Kratochvil had a very solid stretch in late 2001 and early 2002, then wilted. But he has the skills to make trouble here if he can find his form.

Vliegen vs. (3) Kucera. Vliegen is here as a case of "delayed ranking effect": He had a big result prior to the Australian Open, and only now is it getting him into tournaments. Starting against the #3 seed isn't his first choice. But he'll get to show what he can do.

(8) Sluiter vs. Magnus Norman. Don't ask us what Norman thinks he's doing with all these indoor events he's playing. He should be on clay. But this is closer to home. And he'll have the advantage of being rested (if jet lagged). Sluiter just played the first Sunday match of his life. Will it make a difference?

Vahaly vs. Vinciguerra. Vahaly is just in from the U. S., but he likes indoors. Vinciguerra is one of those clay-loving Swedes. But he's also much better than his ranking, and he showed it in Davis Cup. Can he maintain that pace? The winner is likely to face Arthurs. On an indoor court, that will be a real test.

In this wonderful week of three different surfaces (DecoTurf at Dubai, clay at Acapulco, Indoor Hard at Copenhagen), all the non-clay-courters who skipped Copenhagen naturally headed for Dubai. This is quite a tournament, with last year's champion Fabrice Santoro unseeded, and Hicham Arazi needing a wildcard. It can also boast Goran Ivanisevic, who is making his ATP comeback (and why he didn't play Copenhagen is beyond us). The field features three Top Ten players (#1 seed Roger Federer, #2 Marat Safin, and #3 Jiri Novak), and all the seeds are (or were last week) Top 25: The #4 is Tim Henman, #5 is Rainer Schuettler (who is probably overseeded, but this is surely his sort of surface and conditions), #6 Sjeng Schaken, #7 Younes El Aynaoui (who should be a crowd favorite even if the court is a bit fast for him), and #8 Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

In such a draw, it's probably best to just look down the seed list for the big matches.

#1 seed Roger Federer looks to be about as safe as one can be in such a field -- assuming he has any energy left after playing nine matches, plus doubles, over the course of two weeks. He opens against Irakli Labadze, who made some noise at Memphis but is unlikely to manage it twice in a row, then countryman Ivo Heuberger (and who would have thought he would outlast ex-girlfriend Martina Hingis?) or a qualifier.

#2 Marat Safin has a rather similar first round against strong but erratic Alexander Waske. But the second round is much, much tougher. He'll face either fastcourt-loving Jonas Bjorkman, who seems well on the way to getting his singles game back together, or slowcourt-loving Tommy Robredo. Based on the women's results, we'd guess this court is playing fairly slow -- but slow or fast, Safin will meet an opponent who likes it.

#3 Jiri Novak, who is in Safin's half, will probably face his biggest test in the first round, when he faces Dominik Hrbaty. Especially since Hrbaty seems to be playing better this year than he has in a long time. After that, it's either Goran Ivanisevic or a qualifier. The good news for Ivanisevic is, it's best of three. The bad is, the qualifier will have had a lot more match practice lately.

#4 Tim Henman last week lost his first match of 2003 to Ivan Ljubicic. And guess who is in his draw this week? That's right, Ljubicic. But, this time, in the second round rather than the first; Henman will get to test his stuff against Attila Savolt first. There is also the question of Ljubicic's health; he's had to bail out of events for two straight weeks. But he'll open against a qualifier; maybe he won't have time to break down.

#5 Rainer Schuettler opens against up-and-coming Zeljko Krajan. The surface and the weather could be decisive there. You have to guess Schuettler will face Adrian Voinea next; Voinea opens against Max Mirnyi, and Mirnyi was just in his second career final. To add to Schuettler's joy, he's in Henman's quarter. His chances for a semifinal look pretty good.

#6 Sjeng Schalken has the Official You Can Register It In Print Absolutely Terrible Draw. For starters, he faces Mikhail Youzhny in the first round. And after that, it's defending champion Santoro (who opens against Stefan Koubek). Schalken might survive -- but how much energy will it take? And if he survives that, he'll have to deal with Novak.

If we didn't know better, we'd say the locals stacked the draw to favor Younes El Aynaoui. To begin with, he opens against the official Sacrificial Wildcard, Omar Bahrouzyan. last year, Bahrouzyan played one ATP match: At Dubai. He won one game. Other than that, he didn't even play a Challenger. Draw your own picture. The second round is only slightly tougher: Feliciano Lopez or a qualifier. Then -- Safin.

#8 Yevgeny Kafelnikov is also pretty well blessed: John van Lottum in the first round, then Jan Vacek or the fast-fading Hicham Arazi. (We don't know what's wrong with Arazi, but it's very, very wrong, whatever it is.) Then comes Federer. It should be an interesting set of quarterfinals.

Scheduled against these two modern-surface events we find Acapulco, the last -- and biggest -- event of the short spring clay season. It probably won't come as a big surprise if we tell you that this event features almost the same field as last week's tournament at Buenos Aires. The top two seeds are the same: Carlos Moya (last week's winner at Buenos Aires who is also the defending champion in Mexico) and David Nalbandian. The next two seeds are also the same, though they've switched order: Gaston Gaudio is #3 and Fernando Gonzalez #4. Juan Ignacio Chela and Gustavo Kuerten reprise their roles as #5 and #6 seeds; Marcelo Rios is here as #7, pushing Nicolas Lapentti down to #8. Still, it's close enough that we could almost refer you to last week's preview. We aren't going to repeat ourselves too much.

There are some pretty nice matches here, just as last week. Though, somehow, they seem to be a bit more spread out. In the first round, our list would start with Juan Ignacio Chela's match with Felix Mantilla. Mantilla has been hot this year; either could go far in this draw. Also interesting is Marcelo Rios's match with Franco Squillari; has Rios overcome his problems of last week? (The same might be asked of Gonzalez, who ended up withdrawing with an eye injury.) Also, Gaston Gaudio opens against David Sanchez, who now should be rested after his title run of two weeks ago.

The second round's highlight will probably be the match between Nalbandian and countryman Mariano Zabaleta. Also of interest will be the match between the Chela/Mantilla winner and Fernando Vicente or Alberto Martin.

The Rankings. This is the week San Jose 2002 comes off, meaning that Andre Agassi is going to pull yet closer to Lleyton Hewitt. But he won't overtake him yet. The real news will come lower down.

It looks like Carlos Moya, even though he's defending at Acapulco, is fairly safe; Roger Federer has a shot at him, but it will take an early Moya loss and a good Federer result to trouble him.

The points from Copenhagen are already off and won't affect anything.

Dubai winner Santoro, though, will find his Top 40 ranking in real peril if he loses early. He'll probably still be above #40, but with no assurance of staying there. The player he beat in the final, Younes El Aynaoui, is finally seeing his huge list of optional results wear a bit thin, so he too could lose a spot or two.

The player who is really toast, though, is Fernando Meligeni, last year's Acapulco finalist. An early loss could leave him not much above #100.

11,359 Posts
Yes... Copenhagen was the tournament that Henman played and won back in 2001, allegedly so he could get back into the feeling of winning finals and getting his confidence back. He beat such luminaries as Bastl, Ulihrach, Siemerink and the defending champion Vinciguerra in the final.
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