The men swing over to clay this week with 250 stops in Houston and Casablanca. Houston has always been a toss-up on the move from Miami into the clay court season with different champions each year since 2002. Feliciano Lopez runs out as your top seed this week in Houston. Roberto Bautista-Agut makes his Houston debut as the #2 seed. Kevin Anderson is the 3rd seed and 2013 Houston Champ, John Isner, is your 4th seed. Isner is the most well versed at this event among the seeds with 17 matches played and an 11-6 mark. To round out the seeds, it’s Santiago Giraldo, 2014 Champion Fernando Verdasco, Jeremy Chardy and Sam Querrey.
As a 250, you would expect a slew of upsets and history proves that to be true in Houston. Since 2011, at least two seeded players have dropped their 1st matches of this tournament. Seeds do normally find their way into the semifinals in Houston, but you can expect one surprise non-seeded semifinalist. That has been the case here since forever. I went back an entire decade to 2005 and at least one semifinalist was not a seeded player in each year. So let’s turn to the seeds to see who are the most prone to those early upsets.
PLANT THE SEEDS
#1 Felciano Lopez
Lopez is one of those guys who can be “care-free” in 250s. That’s a reason to put him on alert first-up. If he shows up ready, then he can roll. His first match could be a tough one though as he will face the winner of Estrella-Burgos v. Groth. We should expect Burgos here and he’s more than capable on clay. Add in that Burgos has beaten Lopez twice, including once earlier this season indoors on clay and you’ve got an upset possibility.
#3 Kevin Anderson
This is match-up based for me if Delbonis gets past Berankis in their opener. Delbonis would provide a very stiff test for Anderson on dirt. Delbonis acquitted himself nicely in the Golden Swing early this season with back-to-back quarterfinal showings in Rio & Buenos Aires.
#5 Santiago Giraldo
The Colomobian has been pretty average in 2015. Perhaps Houston is his catalyst again as it was in 2014. Giraldo made the semis last year and went on to make the Barcelona Final and the semis in Madrid after that. He will face a qualifier to open. There are some dirt rats stuck in qualifying still who could give him a run, so check the match-up.
#7 Jeremy Chardy
Chardy hasn’t played here since 2009 and seems hit and miss on dirt, especially in these some times care-free 250s. He opens with a tough assignment in Dusan Lajovic. The Serb retired from his match in Miami, but I don’t see anything that shows him ill-prepped for this week. If healthy, Lajovic is fully capable on dirt with some nice wins this season already against Verdasco & Andujar.
I see an outside shot that this goes as a quarter where an unseeded player can move deep. I think most of it centers around the 2nd round encounter with Lopez and presumably Burgos. Querrey is the seed on the bottom of the quarter. He opens with Matosevic. Donald Young and Steve Johnson face off in what could be a good encounter in the 1st round. The winner gets Querrey or Matosevic. That makes the bottom of the quarter wide open. If Lopez wins to start, I like him to go through here. If not, then it could legitimately be anyone who scoots through to the semifinals.
This one looks very competitive. Isner is the 4th seed up top and Verdasco is the 6th seed on bottom. Isner has a bye and then gets Smyczek or Gabshvili. The American found some solid form the last two weeks and has a track record of success here. I like him to be in the quarters. Verdasco has played fairly well the last couple of weeks, but still seems a bit of a rollercoaster ride each week. Lorenzi isn’t the easiest of 1st matches, but he whipped him in Ecuador earlier this season on clay. That was indoors, but with Verdasco looking to like these courts, I would expect him to make it through. The next round would then be against a qualifier. I would be a bit surprised not to see an Isner-Verdasco quarterfinal in this spot.
If I had to put my eggs into one basket on a quarter where an unseeded player would get into the semifinals, this is it. Anderson is the 3rd seed and as outlined, he could face Delbonis to open with a large possibility at an upset. Chardy is the other seed and faces Lajovic to open. The other first rounder is Soeda v. Hewitt. Hewitt was rusty on his return in Miami last week, but still battled deep into the third set before falling to Bellucci. Surprisingly, he is 7-3 all-time at this tournament, but just 1-2 the last two years in Houston. He could battle past Soeda, but I wouldn’t think he’s likely to advance further than that. I’m looking at Delbonis as the unseeded spoiler here with Lajovic as the other possibility if he’s fully fit.
This is an intriguing quarter with a lot of questions. Bautista-Agut is the 2nd set and he gets either Sock or Sousa as his 1st up. I’m not completely sold on the Spaniard in this spot. Up top, it’s 5th seed Santiago Giraldo. He is another one I am not completely sold on. The winner of his match with a qualifier takes on either Janko Tipsarevic or a qualifier. For Tipsarevic, it’s his first singles match since October 2013 due to a foot injury. He was always good for a battle on all-surfaces, but it’s hard to think a guy with that long a layoff will hit the ground running with much form. If he grabs one win here, I think that’s a big success for him. I can see upsets here, but it’s also a quarter where the seeds might just be better on this surface.
AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO …
If you couldn’t tell, this tournament looks like it could go in about a dozen different directions as far as the final outcome. Give John Isner a look this week as his confidence has been high the last two weeks on slower hard courts. If seeds hold in his quarter, I think the victor between Isner & Verdasco could emerge as the one to beat this week. For darkhorses, those two non-seeds I harped on, Burgos & Delbonis, bear watching. They do have the more difficult paths obviously, but often in this care-free type environment it is those players who effort better rather than those with a number next to their name that do some damage.