Pig-pourri: ATP Nice Preview

nice

It’s the last chance to tune it up before the French Open as the ATP tour hits Nice. This is a 250 level event and of course with it being the week prior to a Grand Slam, there are sure to be some head scratching results. The seeds are led by Gilles Simon. Simon may be a question mark this week due to a neck injury that forced him out of Rome last week. I would expect him to take part in the tournament to at least test the neck and see if he’ll be okay for Roland Garros. The 2nd seed is American John Isner. Isner has been playing reasonably well on clay since the European swing began and he could easily slide up the chart as the favorite for this week. 3rd seeded Ernest Gulbis is your defending Champion, but one of the most out-of-form players on tour. Gulbis still has just one win this season and won’t be expected by many to do much. That may make him dangerous in a week where anything goes. The 4th seed is Leonardo Mayer. This could also be a sneaky good spot for the Argentine. He made the quarters here last year and seems to score better results when the situation is less pressure packed as it will be this week. Rounding out the top eight seeds are Bernard Tomic, Nick Kyrgios, Jack Sock & Juan Monaco. It’s a pretty solid field and looks wide open. Let’s take a look at our weekly seed report.

Planting The Seeds
This is the 6th year that Nice has hosted this event. Over the course of the first five years, here is how seeds have fared in their opening maches:

2010: 4-4
2011: 4-2 (Two seeds withdrew)
2012: 5-3
2013: 3-3 (Two seeds withdrew)
2014: 7-0 (One seed withdrew)

Amazingly, last year all the seeds won their opening matches in Nice. As you can see though, that is usually far from the norm. In a topsy-turvy ATP season, I would expect we will not see all the seeds win their openers this week either and there is a chance some could withdraw ahead of the main draw. Here are the ones that look most prone to an upset.

#3 Ernests Gulbis
Give Gulbis credit, he has won sets in each of his last three losses, but he’s still not finding the winner’s circle. Gulbis is on a six match losing streak with a 1-11 record this season. He opens with either Dolgopolov or Stakhovsky. He is 2-1 against Dolgopolov with all meetings coming on clay. He is 3-2 against Stakhovsky with no career meetings on dirt. With neither of them in good form, perhaps this is Gulbis’ time to find a win. His ranking is due for some big hits if he doesn’t find the win column now, but it’s still very hard to not take a shot against him until he actually wins a match.

#6 Nick Kyrgios
Kyrgios fits the bill for me on questionable motivation this week. He lost last week in Rome to Feliciano Lopez in straight sets. It wasn’t a poor loss, but it might have been the culmination of a lot of tennis the two previous weeks. He’s had some rest from singles, but played doubles with Jack Sock in Rome and was still in action as of Sunday’s scheduled doubles final. He faces Kukushkin in his opener, a tough nut to figure. Kukushkin lost to an Italian local in qualifying in Rome last week and is 3-4 on dirt this season. He has played Nice twice, losing his first match to Delbonis in 2014. In 2012, he made the quarters. Kyrgios makes his Nice debut. Travel and a quick turnaround might be a slight stutter for Kyrgios, so give Kukushkin a chance in this one. This is one Kyrgios should win, but it could also be one of those odd results at a 250.

#7 Jack Sock
Although Sock has played well on clay of late, his first match opponent dictates that he could be an upset victim. Dusan Lajovic is the opponent. The Serb beat Sock in straight sets at last year’s French Open. I think Sock is a much improved player since that time on this surface, but this is still a surface where Lajovic has a great chance. Since Sock won a clay title in Houston, he’s 1-2 with two Masters losses to Simon and Tsonga. You can’t say either is a bad loss. Lajovic was good in the South American swing earlier this year, but has struggled for wins on clay in the Euro swing. He is 2-4 (including Houston). Sock has the experience edge in Nice having played through qualis and into the 2nd round here last year. I don’t think motivaiton is a question for Sock as a young player, but I do think Lajovic has the clay court game to match and this will be a 50-50 match in my mind.

#8 Juan Monaco
Monaco opens against a Frenchman, Benoit Paire. They have split a pair of clay court meetings in their careers with Monaco winning the most recent in 2013 in Hamburg. That same year, Paire beat Monaco in the Rome Masters. Both matches went three sets. Paire looked like he was back on the right track after making the 3rd round in Barcelona, but he’s failed to score a main draw win in two tournaments since then. He hasn’t done much in this tournament, losing both main draw matches he has made. This is his first appearance since 2012. Monaco has never played in Nice. He’s been consistent on clay during the Euro swing with a 4-4 mark. He’s lost to Wawrinka twice, Raonic and Klizan. This one could come down to motivation. A lot will expect that to be with the Frenchman on home soil, but that isn’t always the case. Still, this is a spot where Paire can sneak a win in if Monaco isn’t 100% motivated.

Needle in a Cash Stack
Being a 250 level event and the week before a Slam, this tournament has seen its fair share of surprise Finalists. Last year, it was two seeded player in Gulbis and Delbonis. That was the anomaly though. In 2013, a wild card and non-seed were in the Final and a non-seeded player has made the Final in four of the five years of this tournament’s existence.

So where do we find that non-seed this year? A quick look at some prospects.

Sam Querrey
Sure, clay isn’t Querrey’s bag, but he already has made a 250 Final on dirt in Houston this year. His part of the draw is home to a question mark at #1 in Gilles Simon and a 8th seed in Juan Monaco who might not be thoroughly motivated for the week. Querrey opens with a qualifier and then would work against Monaco or Paire. The toughest out to getting to the semis would likely be 4th seeded Leo Mayer.

Victor Estrella Burgos/Dominic Thiem
These two play each other in the 1st round. The winner could be one to watch. The winner faces either Kyrgios or Kukushkin. This is also the part of the draw with Gulbis, Dolgopolov and Stakhovsky. A semifinal run wouldn’t be out of the question for one of these guys as both have had their moments on clay. Burgos might be the better bet if he can squeeze by Thiem. He’s shown a shade more consistency this season.

Tournament Outlook
I’m sure you sensed my theme. Anything goes this week. Don’t dismiss the momentum a player can get going to the French Open from this week i.e. Ernests Gulbis in 2014. Of the seeded players, Mayer and Isner are the two that I can see doing some damage this week. Mayer could be helped by Simon’s injury status, while Isner legitimately has the best form of anyone in his half of the draw. This is one of those tournaments where you may need to monitor a couple days of action to see who is hot and/or has the “want to” this week to do well. Outside of Mayer and Isner whom I like, look to one of those non-seeds like Querrey, Burgos or Thiem to make some noise.

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