Pig-pourri: ATP Barcelona Preview

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Could This Be Rafa’s Week?



It’s the next stop in the build-up to the French Open as the ATP Tour parks the bus in Barcelona. Kei Nishikori is your defending Champion and top seed. Rafael Nadal is seeded 2nd with David Ferrer and Marin Cilic rounding out the top four. Nadal as with most clay court tournaments has been a stud in Barcelona. He is an eight time Champion at this event with a 42-2 mark. Nadal has owned the title in Barcelona since 2005 with just two other winners; Nishikori in 2014 & Verdasco in 2010. The best thing for Nadal this week is that Novak Djokovic won’t be playing. That means this should be a tournament he feels confident about winning. Ferrer is a four time finalist in Barcelona, but has lost his first match here the last two years. Cilic has played here just once and made the quarterfinals last year, losing to Nishikori. Of the remaining seeds filling out the top 16, 5th seeded Tommy Robredo & 6th seed Nicolas Almagro have the two best records in Barcelona. Robredo is 25-13 and Almagro is 24-11. It looks like this could be a very interesting early portion of the week of the seeds, so let’s plant those seeds!

PLANTING THE SEEDS
As we do every week, let’s take a look at how the seeds fare early in Barcelona. Last year. six seeded players dropped their 1st matches. In 2013, four seeds dropped their 1st matches. That numbers was just three in 2012 and three in 2011. So there will be some seeds who fall early, let’s take a look at those who are the most prone this week.

#8 Ernests Gulbis
It’s like charting the #1 song on the Top 40 for weeks upon end when you look for Gulbis to lose early yet again. His play has to dictate the same thing though as he won just a single game in getting crushed in the 1st round in Monte Carlo last week. Gulbis sounds positive about his coaching change, but the results just don’t appear anywhere close to happening just yet. Gulbis will face either Benoit Paire or qualifier Jaume Munar. Paire has played much better over the past month and could post a tough task for Gulbis. MAYBE this is the spot for Gulbis to secure his 2nd win of the season, but …

#11 Leonardo Mayer
Mayer is one of those guys who can sneak up on clay and be a contender, but most of those weeks happen at 250s. At this 500 level event, he’ll find stiffer competition right away. Mayer’s 1st up is either Andujar or Ramos. Andujar broke a six match losing skid in Casablanca and does have an edge on Ramos in their head-to-head meetings, but Ramos has performed better lately and in Barcelona. Both guys have had success against Mayer and have played him tough on most occassions. I think there’s a good chance Mayer falls here.

#13 Fabio Fognini
Fognini has never won a match in Barcelona at 0-5 all-time and will obviously be looked at as a prime candidate for an upset. Even more so in that he likely will face Verdasco to open. The Spaniard faces qualifier Andrey Rublev to open. Should Verdasco get by him, he gets a guy he has beaten three of four all-time meetings. None have come in the last four years though, but Verdasco usually plays well here at 15-9 all-time. The Spaniard has been playing everyone pretty tough lately, so I really like him to knock Fognini off if he gets the chance.

#14 Martin Klizan
Klizan not so unexpectedly got an early boot from Monte Carlo last week after winning in Casablance the week before. This week should give a truer representation of where Klizan is at and he’ll be put to the test early. He will face either Bellucci or Sugita. Bellucci would obviously be the tougher out as a better overall clay player than Sugita. If it’s Bellucci in this spot, Klizan will be pushed hard to earn the win.

#15 Santiago Giraldo
This one is match-up driven as Giraldo will have to face either Dogopolov or Sousa to open. Otherwise, Giraldo seems to jive with these courts. He made a surprising Finals run here last year and has made at least the 3rd round in all three years he has been here. The match-up to start though is going to be tough, so he’s on a small chance of an upset here.

#16 Nick Kyrgios
Kyrgios will return this week after missing a little over a month to rehab a nagging ankle injury suffered at Indian Wells. So you’ve got the Aussie playing his 1st clay court match, warning sign #1. And then you’ve got him seemingly more occupied with the ITF and their drug testing on him in the last week via some Twitter rants, warning sign #2. The plus side for Kyrgios is his 1st opponent will be the winner of De Bakker vs. Ymer. Kyrgios though is still very green at this stage of his career as far as playing ATP level clay matches with just three to his credit. All have come at the French Open with a 1-2 record. Kyrgios’ game should be too much against either opponent, but with some likely rust on the new surface, there is still a possibility of a quick loss.

QUICK DRAW McGRAW
Here’s a rapid fire look at the four quarters of the draw and what to expect this week. In the defending champ’s quarter, Kei Nishikori, should have an easy early ride to get his game going. Nishikori will face Carenno-Busta or Gabashvili first up. A win there and his 3rd round match would be tougher against Giraldo, Dologpolov or Sousa. That could be a trouble spot where Nishikori will need to be on his A game to win. The bottom of the quarter has Bautista-Agut as the 7th seed and Cuevas as the 10th seed. Both can be tough on their day on this surface and RBA did gain some form in Monte Carlo. Gut feeling is Nishikori doesn’t make it through here, so I would think Cuevas and RBA could swoop in to steal a semifinal spot. If not, look at Giraldo potentially again as a surprise although he’s going to have to earn each match.

The Cilic Quarter is seeded for a repeat of the Monte Carlo 3rd round match that saw Cilic beat Tsonga in straight sets. Cilic is seeded 4th this week, while Tsonga comes in as the 6th seed in the bottom of the quarter. Cilic was hitting the ball pretty well last week until he ran into Djokovic. This week, the early part of his schedule looks manageable with Burgos or Thiem first up. That won’t be easy, but it’s a match he needs to win. Klizan or Monaco could be waiting in the 3rd round. Monaco has to get by Alejandro Gonzalez first in the 1st round. Tsonga gets Matosevic or Granollers first up. That’s like to be Granollers which might cause a few tense moments, but given Tsonga’s recent play, he should get by. Tommy Robredo is the seed to watch in this part of the draw. He gets Souza or Kukushkin and then is seeded to face Tsonga. Don’t discount Robredo scooting in the quarters and he could feasibly run through this section if Cilic is unable to reproduct his form from last week.

In the Nadal Quarter, Rafa will be fighting through perhaps the entire Spanish Armada to get to the semfinals. He could face Almagro in the 2nd round, Verdasco in the 3rd and then Felciano Lopez or perhaps Andujar or Ramos in the quarters. The good news is he has dominated those players throughout his career, whether his form is the best or not. I’d look for him to get through. Verdasco for me would be the biggest danger man.

In the Ferrer Quarter, the Spaniard should be able to bust that two year losing skid with an easy early draw against Montanes or Berankis 1st and then Kyrgios, De Bakker or Ymer. Kyrgios’ serve could present some issues, but his lack of match play will probably suit the bulldog to wear down the Aussie overall. The top of the draw holds 8th seeded Ernests Gulbis and 12th seeded Phillip Kohlschreiber. Neither is in good form, but Kohlschreiber has had two good runs here the last two years. He’s made the quarters in 2014 and semis in 2013. If Ferrer falters anywhere, he seems the likeliest to jump into the semifinal mix.

AND THAT’s THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO ….
Since 2010, there have been three unseeded semifinalists in Barcelona. I don’t see a heavy probability that this year will yield #4. The seeds in this tournament are fairly strong on the surface. Even with Nishikori the top seed here, Nadal is considered the favorite. I don’t think that’s a slight given his draw. Nishikori has a tougher quarter and potential semifinal match-up just to get to a final. We may see another Nadal-Ferrer match-up with a Finals birth on the line this week. Up top, I think we’ll see a bit of a surprise in the Final. It will likely still be a seed, but I don’t think it will be Nishikori or Cilic. From the group of Robredo, Bautista-Agut or Cuevas, I think one may be the unexpected guy to slot into that spot. End of the day though, I think this is the week for Nadal to focus on getting his confidence close to 100% and collecting a trophy without Djokovic to worry about.

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