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http://www.tennisnews.com/news.php3?id=1960&orig=index


Give the ATP credit for this: It knows what the week after a Slam is supposed to be for. Specifically, not much.

In the entire ATP schedule, apart from the Slams, Masters Series, and Davis Cup, there are only two weeks where only one event is scheduled. The week before the U. S. Open (occupied by Long Island) is one. This is the other.

And the players respond accordingly. It's a long flight from Melbourne to Milan, and few who do well in Australia, or who expect to do well in Australia, are willing to fly this far. We have to wonder how well #3 seed Younes El Aynaoui will respond to jet lag, for instance. Or Australian Open doubles champion Fabrice Santoro.

What it all adds up to is an event with only one Top Ten player (Jiri Novak), and one other (Sjeng Schalken) in the Top 20.

Below that, though, things are pretty solid -- solid enough that Hicham Arazi, for instance, needed a wildcard. And solid enough that Thomas Enqvist is unseeded and facing #2 seed Schalken in the first round. If Enqvist is finally healthy, that could be quite a match.

Let's go over the draw, seed by seed.

The top seed is Jiri Novak, but he certainly can't feel too privileged by his slot. He opens against Radek Stepanek, who is almost like a three-years-younger version of Novak himself: They're both Czechs, they both had most of their early success in doubles but then made strides in singles; they've even played together. And they may again, in Davis Cup. The winner of that will get another tough assignment: Either Richard Krajicek -- on an indoor court, recall -- or fast-improving Nikolay Davydenko.

Down at the bottom of the draw, we mentioned that #2 Sjeng Schalken opens against Enqvist. That's a tough match to predict; much depends on how healthy Enqvist is. He was in pretty bad shape in Australia, but he'll have had two more seeks to recover. The winner faces either Martin Verkerk, who looks like he could be pretty good indoors, or Adrian Voinea, who prefers slower surfaces but who likes upsets.

There isn't much question about who got the best seed in this draw: It's #3 Younes El Aynaoui. Not a bad reward for his heroics in Australia. He opens against Andrea Gaudenzi, who needed a wildcard to get in and who is mostly a clay player anyway. After that, El Aynaoui faces a qualifier. Even jet lagged, his chances don't look too bad.

#4 Xavier Malisse faces tougher opponents, but the surface should help. Andre Sa, Malisse's first opponent, strikes us as a player who would loathe indoors, and the numbers seem to back that up; in six indoor evens last year, he never made it past the second round. After that, Malisse would face either a qualifier or Feliciano Lopez -- another player who is fairly good at upsets but who likes clay much better.

#5 seed Yevgeny Kafelnikov had surgery in the off-season, and hasn't looked like his old self this year. Of course, he didn't look like his old self in 2002, either, and he hadn't had the surgery then. But will another two weeks' recovery time have helped? He opens against a qualifier, then either Kristian Pless or Hicham Arazi. That Pless/Arazi match could be very interesting; Pless is not exactly the most level-headed guy, and Arazi has the shots to drive anyone nuts. In Kafelnikov's current form, though, either one might give him trouble.

#6 seed Fabrice Santoro will have had only a couple of days to make the flight from Melbourne, and he opens against defending champion Davide Sanguinetti. It's a big match for Sanguinetti, for whom this was his first-ever title -- at 29! But the Italian hasn't looked nearly as good this year. We can't guess how that will turn out. The winner will face either Kenneth Carlsen or Max Mirnyi. If Mirnyi can get all guns firing, he might be the actual favorite in this section. But he hasn't been doing very well lately.

Watch out for #7 seed Nicolas Escude, who may be the best indoor player in the draw. (At least if discount only healthy players Enqvist and Kafelnikov because of their injuries.) He has a very diverse draw: First Dominik Hrbaty, then the winner of the match between big-serving Ivan Ljubicic or hard-scrambling Olivier Rochus. Escude will surely have to bring out all his stuff, which is often a problem for him. But if he can make it through those opening rounds, watch out!

The final seed, #8 Jarkko Nieminen, also faces a lot of variety. First there is Michel Kratochvil -- for whom this should be a very good surface, but who is struggling right now. Then either (didn't we just say this?) big-serving Vladimir Voltchkov or clay-loving Anthony Dupuis. Nieminen, too, will need to have everything working.

With so many players still trying to find their games this year, it's likely to be a very unpredictable tournament.

The Rankings. We mentioned that Sanguinetti is the title-holder. Considering that he was just barely clinging to a spot in the Top 50 entering Melbourne, this is very big for him. An early loss could bump him to around #65 -- and he also has Delray Beach to defend soon, and the Copenhagen final in two weeks, and those won't be nearly such friendly settings.

Last year's finalist was Roger Federer, who isn't here; it appears that's going to cost him the #5 ranking. The semifinalists last year were Greg Rusedski, who will be falling a bit further, and Escude, who may fall a few spots but probably not much.

Someone, of course, will move up, but big changes are unlikely (even if Novak wins, e.g., he won't make it above #8). Beyond that, we'll just have to wait and see who does well.
 

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I hate, hate, hate that my main two players who are here are playing against each other in the first round :mad: That said, I'd love to see the match because I'm not sure how their games would match up.

I think Jarkko's going to win it, though. (The match, I mean.)

Will be an interesting tournament. Thanks, Eggy :)
 

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Why isn't Roger playing? Injury?
 

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Thanks TBE ;)

Would be an interesting match to see if any of the Czechs have to play Nikolai. A rehearsal before Davis Cup :D
 

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Thanks for the article Eggy! :) I'll be cheering for Olivier Rochus. His match against Novak at the AO was one of my favorite matches this year, at least part of it. :) Ooops, I seem to be developing an unhealthy preference for scramblers and retreivers. :eek: Or maybe I just like short guys. They have to be more resourceful because they can't rely on their serve, so their game tends to be more exciting for me.
 

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i'm surprised Younes isn't taking a rest! :eek: thanks Egg!
 
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