Pig-pourri: ATP Kuala Lumpur Preview

David Ferrer Hopes To Find Joy In Kuala Lumpur

The Malaysian Open has seen six different winners in its brief existence. It will be seven after this season with defending Champion Kei Nishikori not in this week’s field of 28. David Ferrer is the top seed in the draw with Feliciano Lopez, Ivo Karlovic and Grigor Dimitrov rounding out the top four seeds in Kuala Lumpur. The top eight seeds feature three players making their debut at this tournament in #3 Karlovic, #4 Grigor Dimitrov and #5 Jeremy Chardy. Ferrer is the seed with the most matches at this tournament with a 6-4 mark. He made the semifinals in both 2010 and 2012.

As with most 250-level events, seeds are prone to dropping their first matches. In the history of the Malaysian Open, at least one seed has dropped out in their first match of the tournament. In the last three years, a total of eight seeds have dropped their opening matches. With that in mind, let’s look at this week’s seeds and who might be headed for a quick exit. Time to plant those seeds.

Plant The Seeds
#4 Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov announced in the past week or so, that he is working with Juan Martin Del Potro’s former coach Franco Davin. This will be their first tournament together. It’s difficult to expect immediate results unless a coach-player relationship just absolutely clicks. Dimitrov may also wind up playing St.Petersburg finalist Joao Sousa in his opener. Sousa faces a yet to be determined qualifer in round one. Although both came a few years ago, Sousa has defeated Dimitrov twice. He shocked him in the opening round of the 2013 U.S. Open in a five setter and beat him on clay in a Futures event back in 2009. With Dimitrov yet to play a match since this year’s U.S. Open, he could definitely be caught cold.

#6 Jeremy Chardy
The Frenchman is right around a .500 player on indoor hard courts and he has yet to see any action since the U.S. Open either. He faces Alexander Zverev who played in Metz last week, losing a three setter to Fernando Verdasco. Chardy has often done very little in the early parts of this transition to indoor courts, so the young German will have an opportunity for a seeded scalp.

#7 Nick Kyrgios
You would figure the surface would favor the Aussie over Santiago Giraldo, but nothing seems certain for Kyrgios at the moment. The Aussie won their only career meeting at the Rogers Cup last year on an outdoor hard court, but it was close at tight at 7-6, 7-5. Giraldo has never done too well on indoor courts and is transitioning from playing clay in Davis Cup action a few weeks ago. Still, Kyrgios surprisingly has just two career ATP level matches on this surface and is 0-2. He bears putting on upset alert because of that and his seeming lack of focus since the whole Wawrinka incident.

#8 Vasek Pospisil
The Canadian won one and lost one last week in Metz. The loss to Martin Klizan in the second round wasn’t terrible, so he could be in line to win early this week. Pospisil will face a qualifier to open. The qualifying pool in Kuala Lumpur is pretty tame, but there are a couple of guys like Mischa Zverev and Michael Przysiezny who could be tougher outs than others. Check the match-up here.

Draw Preview
Quarter One: David Ferrer (1)
Ferrer got in some good prep for this surface by playing a pair of Davis Cup rubbers in Denmark. He won both and has performed decently at this tournament in the past. He has been sneaky good at this time of year. He should get a winnable first match against the winner of Radek Stepanek and a qualifier that will be slotted into the draw on Monday.

5th seed Viktor Troicki is opposite of Ferrer in this quarter. He opens against Radu Albot. Albot is no pushover as he took Sousa to three sets in St.Petersburg last week, so Troicki will need to be ready to go from the first ball in the opening round. The winner faces either Mikhail Kukushkin or doubles specialist Ramkumar Ramanathan who is in the singles draw as a wild card entry. Kukushkin should take that and then be a potential threat to advance to the quarterfinals.

Ferrer should have the motivation as he can still get into the Tour Finals at the end of the year with a strong run for the indoor swing. He currently occupies the final spot, ranked 8th heading into this week. Expect that to ignite the Spaniard with Kukushkin being the dark horse in this quarter.

Quarter Two: Grigor Dimitrov (4)
Your two seeds here would make for a good quarterfinal with Dimitrov as the #4 and Jeremy Chardy as the 6th seed. As laid out earlier though, both may be pressed not to crack and lose early. A beneficiary of either of those guys losing could be Joao Sousa. If Sousa isn’t bummed from losing the St.Petersburg final to Milos Raonic, he could do some damage here. Sousa flopped here last year, but won Kuala Lumpur in 2013. The Chardy-Zverev survivor takes on Sam Groth or Benjamin Becker. Becker is the better player on this surface and made the quarters in Kuala Lumpur last year. He look like a possible sleeper in this segment.

Dimitrov for me even amidst the below average season and coaching changes seems the likelier of the seeds to get through this quarter. Dimitrov generally has lost to only top tier players and big servers on this surface the last two years. In this quarter, he could avoid both and get through. Becker could certainly make a push in the bottom half though if the Bulgarian doesn’t click early

Quarter Three: Ivo Karlovic (3)
This looks like a really good draw for Dr.Ivo. Karlovic gets the winner of Alexandr Nedovyesov and Nikoloz Basilashvili in his first match. Karlovic hasn’t burned up the indoor circuit this year with just a 1-2 record, but he has traditionally been better on this end of the year swing. He should have a good shot here with the up and mostly down Nick Kyrgios opposite of him in this quarter. The seventh seeded Aussie has not played much on this surface and has to navigate past Giraldo first and then perhaps one of the more underrated indoor players on tour in Jarkko NIeminen.

The retiring Fin opens against Tatsuma Ito. NIeminen made the semis at this tournament a year ago and stands at 129-91 indoors during his career. This is the tail end of the 34-year old’s career with just a handful of tournaments left. It’s on a surface he prefers and that motivation factor we always look for should be sitting well with Nieminen. This could come down to Karlovic against Nieminen for a semifinal spot.

Quarter Four: Feliciano Lopez (2)
Lopez not so surprisingly hast not had great results on this surface. As a guy who likes to serve and come to the net, the usually quicker indoor conditions are not always conducive to that. He’s not totally lost on the surface though as a guy with a big lefty serve that is difficult to break down when it is working. He gets Rajeev Ram or a qualifier first up and that should give him a chance to get off with a win.

Opposite of him in this quarter is 8th seed Vasek Pospisil. Pospisil has a decidedly tougher path. His first rounder comes against a qualifier, but then he will face the winner of Nicolas Almagro vs. Marcos Baghdatis. Almagro has taken to clay Challengers lately to earn some rankings points, so he will be transitioning back to hard courts. Baghdatis played St.Petersburg and beat Ernests Gulbis in the first round before losing to Tommy Robredo. Baghdatis could be a big X-factor in this quarter of the draw.

I think Lopez should get by his first match and Baghdatis looks possible to upset the apple cart in the other part of the quarter. If it comes down to Pospisil against Baghdatis, the Cypriot has the confidence from beating him in Atlanta this summer.

Seeded players do find themselves in the mix more often than not in the business end of the Malaysian Open. Three seeds made the semis last year with one party crasher. 2011 has the last time at least half the semifinalists were not seeds. Only Joao Sousa in 2013 won the title as an unseeded player and just two unseeded players have made the finals in the history of the tournament. Look to Ferrer or Karlovic as the best bets this week. If an unseeded player runs the table, Sousa and Baghdatis are The Pig’s ones to watch.


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