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Men's Look Forward: Week of July 28
Posted on 7/27/2003 at 7:52 PM

Men's Look Forward: Washington, Los Angeles, Sopot

Given the choice, we'd swap lives with Andre Agassi in a second. But there are occasional moments when we don't envy him. This is one of those weeks.

For years, Agassi has given his allegiance to two optional summer hardcourt events: Los Angeles and Washington. That didn't work this year; the ATP's new schedule moved Los Angeles back, and Washington forward, and Agassi had to choose.

He picked Washington. There are several good reasons for this. First and foremost is probably endorsement considerations. (We don't mean appearance fees; it's a case of common management.) But there are tennis reasons, too: He's been playing Washington longer. It carries more money. And it carries more points. The schedule shift that so hurt Indianapolis last week clearly benefits Washington. From being second fiddle to Indianapolis, it becomes the biggest event of the week.

Though, somehow, it doesn't seem to have helped the field much. Agassi headlines the event, but the only other Top Ten player is #2 seed Andy Roddick. The #3 seed is Paradorn Srichaphan, who has been on the fringes of the Top Ten recently though he looked pretty bad in the Indianapolis final, with Fernando Gonzalez #4, Yevgeny Kafelnikov #5, James Blake #6, Max Mirnyi #7, Nikolay Davydenko #8, Arnaud Clement #9, Tim Henman #10, Mardy Fish #11, Nicolas Massu listed as #12 (don't be surprised if he pulls out), Sargis Sargsian #13, Greg Rusedski #14, Mario Ancic #15, and Brian Vahaly #16. All seeds of course receive first round byes.

Few of the seeds look like they will face real threats early on. That doesn't mean we won't see upsets -- it's just that we won't see predictable upsets. Agassi, for instance, will face Ivo Heuberger or a qualifier. Heuberger just won two matches -- but that still leaves him with a 2-11 record in his last 11 tournaments. If Harel Levy can rediscover his old form, he might give #6 seed Blake a real tussle -- but Levy, so far, has not rediscovered his old form. The same is true of Thomas Enqvist, who will face Kafelnikov if he can beat a qualifier. The one truly dangerous floater, in our book, is Todd Martin, who will face Mardy Fish if he can beat Scott Draper first. (That's really a wild section of the draw: Fish and Kafelnikov would meet in the Round of Sixteen, and the two best floaters -- Enqvist and Martin -- are both in that sixteenth.)

The Round of Sixteen has more to commend it. #1 Agassi would face #13 Sargsian, which doesn't look like much of a problem. But #6 Blake faces #9 Clement in a match of guys who like hardcourts, move well, and aren't blessed with huge weapons. That's hard to call. #4 Gonzalez vs. #15 Ancic is a big power match, though not the only such. The match between #7 Mirnyi and #12 Massu could be good (Mirnyi likes things faster, Massu slower), except that Massu, if he shows up at all, will be just off the plane from Kitzbuhel. Based on current form, the match between #8 Davydenko and #10 Henman should go to Davydenko, but Henman is improving. #3 Srichaphan really ought to handle #16 Vahaly, but Srichaphan hasn't played as well this year as last. The match between #11 Fish, with his big serve, and #5 Kafelnikov, with his big ground game, should be quite good. And fans of big serves can see the two biggest servers in the game (according to the radar gun) when #14 Rusedski faces #2 Roddick.

The reason that Washington looks as weak as it does is probably competition from Los Angeles. Formally, Los Angeles is slightly weaker; the #8 seed at Washington is Davydenko (#33 on last week's list), while Los Angeles features #32 Vincent Spadea, but though both have two Top Ten players, Washington's two Top Ten players are Agassi and Roddick, while Los Angeles must content itself with Lleyton Hewitt and Sebastien Grosjean.

And yet, Los Angeles feels bigger. Washington has two Slam winners in Agassi and Kafelnikov (well, plus Mirnyi, the world's #1 in doubles, and some other doubles Slam winners). But Los Angeles has three seeded Slam winners: Hewitt, #4 seed Gustavo Kuerten, and #6 Marat Safin. It also has Michael Chang (unseeded, of course), and Wimbledon finalist Mark Philippoussis (seeded #5). The other seeds are #3 seed Sjeng Schalken, #7 Wayne Ferreira, and #8 Spadea. And, since it has only eight seeds instead of 16, Los Angeles has some much stronger unseeded players, including Jan-Michael Gambill (last year's finalist, though those points are now off), Nicolas Kiefer (well, he used to be a threat), Robby Ginepri, and Xavier Malisse. And some of those floaters are in fairly interesting spots. Kiefer opens against Nicolas Thomann, who beat him at Indianapolis; the winner plays Schalken. Malisse opens against #2 seed Grosjean, with the winner likely to face Ginepri. Gambill would face #1 seed Hewitt in the second round. Chang probably won't have much chance against Philippoussis in the second round, but he opens against a qualifier, so just maybe he'll be able to win one. (It's at least worth watching, because if Chang ever does win a match, it's likely to be the last of his career.)

The quarterfinals are all quite good: Hewitt versus Safin, Schalken vs. Spadea (admittedly that's likely to be the one the TV cameras skip), Kuerten against Philippoussis (talk about contrast), and Ferreira vs. Grosjean.

The field at Sopot is just plain strange. It's incredibly strong at the top, with three top ten players -- and then nothing. Juan Carlos Ferrero is the #1 seed, Carlos Moya #2, and Guillermo Coria #3 (though he'll be playing his third week straight). But the #4 seed is David Nalbandian, who is now barely Top 20 (though we suspect he was promised his appearance fee while his ranking was higher), and the #5 is Filippo Volandri. Rounding out the seeds are David Sanchez, Dominik Hrbaty, and Olivier Mutis. The rest of the field is what you'd expect at the last clay event before everyone shifts to hardcourts whether they want to or not. Though there are a few interesting floaters: Bohdan Ulihrach managed to qualify, so he's getting back in form; David Ferrer will be trying to rebuild his ranking; and Sweden's once-up-a-time-great clay one-two punch of Magnus Norman and Andreas Vinciguerra will again be trying to prove that they have something left.

The path to the semifinal (and a potential meeting with Coria) looks quite good for Ferrero; he starts against a wildcard, then a qualifier, then seed Hrbaty. #2 seed Moya's path is more complicated; he opens against Albert Portas, then probably countryman Galo Blanco. The real test, though, will be his rematch with Filippo Volandri in the quarterfinal; that is much the best of the quarterfinals. #3 seed Coria faces Victor Hanescu, then perhaps Christophe Rochus, then Olivier Mutis; assuming he can still move his legs (not clear after ten matches in the last two weeks), he could be good for the semifinal. #4 seed Nalbandian starts against Marc Rosset, who for some reason still insists on playing clay, then faces a tough opponent in Ferrer (or Ulihrach) in the second. He'll hit Sanchez in the quarterfinal. Just based on his draw, he seems the most likely to be upset.

Other interesting matches, not involving the high seeds, include Mutis's match with unseeded Voinea; if Voinea is healthy, he's probably the better of the two. Ulihrach's match with Ferrer also has promise. And the Magnus Norman versus Sanchez and Vinciguerra versus Galimberti matches are interesting just to see what shape the two Swedes are in.

The Rankings. The schedule shift we mentioned above produces a strange situation this week: A Masters Series (the Canadian Open) is coming off, and all the possible replacements are optional events, and at the low end even of the optional event ladder. That means we're going to see a lot of points evaporate off the books, not really to be replaced for another two weeks. It's a strange situation, and makes rankings predictions rather complicated. Next week, there will be only twelve required events on the books, rather than thirteen; it's not clear how the ranking system will "compensate" the players -- and the author didn't think of this until Sunday afternoon, meaning that the guys who actually wrote the ranking software won't be available (and it's what their code does, not what the ATP thinks it does, that's likely to count). So there is no guaranteed answer to what will pop up next week.

We know, of course, that Canadian Open champion Guillermo Canas will be falling. So will finalist Andy Roddick, and semifinalists Tommy Haas and Jiri Novak. Beyond that, it's hard to tell.

We can say that the #1 ranking is not on the line this time, even though it was last week. Anything that Andre Agassi earns is a bonus, while Ferrero will be replacing optional points with optional points, and Sopot isn't worth as much as Kitzbuhel was. And next week, Ferrero will have Masters semifinal points to defend. Unless Ferrero does something spectacular at one of the hardcourt Masters, Agassi is probably safe through the U. S. Open.
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