Pig-pourri: ATP Chennai Preview

chennai open

ATP Chennai Preview
It’s a fresh start to the 2016 season as players begin their journey in Chennai, India. This ATP World Tour event is in its 21st year and has become one of the traditional opening week tournaments on tour with the others being held in Brisbane and Doha. The Aircel Chennai Open features a 28 player field with the top four seeds receiving byes in the opening round. This year’s field features nine players ranked inside the Top 50. The winner takes home $75,700 and 250 rankings points. 2015’s version of this tournament saw Stan Wawrinka take home the title for the third time in the last five seasons. He beat qualifier Aljaz Bedene 6-3, 6-4 in the final. In a press conference to promote the tournament, Wawrinka says this is one of his favorite stops of the season, “I’ve always enjoyed coming to Chennai. The tournament is a nice way to start the season, the fans are great and I like the atmosphere in the stadium.”

Seed Report
I feel the need, the need for seeds! The top seed traditionally does well in Chennai and can be expected to be around at the business end of the tournament. In the last five years, the top seed has been to the final four times and never failed to make at least the semifinals. The number one seed is 2-1 in finals in that same stretch. Seeds generally fare well in Chennai with the semifinals featuring at least three seeds in four of the last five years. 2013 was the exception with just two seeds making the semifinals.

Qualifiers have crashed the party a couple of times in that span. Qualifiers have twice made the semifinals or better since 2011, with last year seeing Bedene as a finalist. He was the first unseeded finalist since Somdev Devarrman made the 2009 final as a wildcard entry. As with most 250s, there are seeded upsets in the early going. Since 2011, at least two seeds have lost their first match in Chennai four of the five years, with at least one seed losing in their opener each year from 2011-2015. With that in mind, here is a look at this year’s top eight seeds.

1. Stan Wawrinka
The Swiss has the most experience at this event among the seeds with a 19-4 career mark at Chennai. He has won the title three times and will be looking for a three-peat this year. In his seven previous times playing this tournament, he has only failed to make the final twice.

2. Kevin Anderson
This is the big South African’s first trip to Chennai. He is currently ranked 12th in the world and might have a slight leg up after playing a pair of matches in the Abu Dhabi exhibition. He lost both in straight sets with the opening loss to Milos Raonic and then the second coming in two tie breaks to Feliciano Lopez.

3. Benoit Paire
The Frenchman makes his fourth trip to Chennai with a career mark of 5-3 here. His best showing was a semifinal finish in 2013. He did not play Chennai in 2015.

4. Roberto Bautista-Agut
RBA made the Chennai Final in 2013 and was a semifinal casualty to Bedene last year. He is 6-3 in three trips to India in his career.

5. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez
GGL has played Chennai five previous times with an 8-5 record overall. He lost last year in the quarterfinals to Bedene in three sets. He has only dropped his opening match on in five trips.

6. Gilles Muller
The power server is 4-3 in his career in Chennai. Last year was his first year back at the event since 2007. He made the quarterfinals in 2015, losing to eventual champion Stan Wawrinka.

7. Vasek Pospisil
The Canadian makes his first trip to Chennai since 2014. He is 3-2 in main draw matches in twp trips, having made it through qualifying his first year in Chennai. That was back in 2013. In 2014, he made the semifinals, but was aided by a retirement and wound up pulling out of the semifinal against Wawrinka due to a back strain.

8. Borna Coric
The talented teen rounds out the seeds at number eight. He plays this tournament for the second straight year. Coric went 1-1 last year with a second round loss to Wawrinka in straight sets. The 19-year-old has already talked big ahead of this week, saying he would look forward to a finals clash with Stan Wawrinka. Coric said he loves playing this tournament and hopes to win it within the next two years.

Out of that group, Paire, Pospisil and Coric look the most prone to that potential first-up upset.

The Quali-Fire
The weekly look at the field of players who are hoping to catch fire and get into the main draw by winning a few qualifying matches. The qualifying field is led by talented Swedish teen Elias Ymer. The 19-year-old was a direct entry into the event last year and won his opening round match against Igor Sijsling. Unfortunately, Ymer is out on day one as he was upset by Ante Pavic on Saturday in straights. The next highest ranked player in qualifying is Britain’s James Ward. He advanced to round two on Saturday. As usual, the qualifying pool is full of locals from India. Seven players from India made the qualifying field, led by the Flying Indian himself, Somdev Devvarman. Devvarman has moved on to round two via a 6-2, 6-3 win over N. Vijay Sundar Prashanth. The 16 player qualifying field will whittle down to four with those players gaining direct entry into the main draw.

Quarters Preview
First Quarter: Stan Wawrinka (1)
It’s not a totally straight forward quarter for the two-time defending champion, but it should be smooth enough. The seed opposite him in this quarter is Garcia-Lopez. While Wawrinka gets a first round bye, Garcia-Lopez goes up against a good young player in Taro Daniel from Japan. He will need to be focused to avoid an upset. The other two pairings in this quarter feature young Russian Andrey Rublev against a yet-to-be-determined qualifier and Spain’s Nicolas Almagro, also set to take on a qualifier. Almagro can be tricky on hard courts at times, but is coming off a very poor season in 2015. This will be a chance to grab a win and maybe more if he’s properly motivated. In the end, don’t expect anything but Wawrinka moving into the semifinals.

Second Quarter: Benoit Paire (3)
Paire won’t have it easy to open his 2016 campaign. He does get a bye, but will face the winner of Santiago Giraldo vs. Lukas Rosol in the opening round. That could be one of the better openers in this draw. Giraldo hasn’t played Chennai since 2010, but did make the quarterfinals that year. Rosol has better weaponry for hard courts, but does have trouble with consistency. If he can find it to start the year. then he could be a thorn in Paire’s side in the second round. Paire is definitely on early upset alert. They have split two career meetings with Paire winning on clay and Rosol on grass at Wimbledon in 2014. Opposite of Paire is sixth seeded Gilles Muller. Muller draws wild card Karen Kachanov and should prove to have too much power for the Russian. The winner there would move on to face a battle of opening round qualifiers who have not yet been inserted into the field. The Pig fancies an upset in this part of the draw with Muller the likely beneficiary, although a qualifier might have something to say about that.

Third Quarter: Bautista-Agut (4)
This is easily the toughest quarter of the draw. Bautista-Agut is in one half and 8th seed Borna Coric is in the other. Sprinkle in some dangerous floaters like Austin Krajicek, Rajeev Ram and Evgeny Donskoy and you’ve got the prospect of some good competition here. RBA gets the winner of Donskoy and John Millman. While both struggle with the consistency in their games off the ground, both could present a good opening challenge for the Spaniard. Coric gets no bye as he battles veteran Marcel Granollers. This is a match Coric cannot afford to lose. Granollers once upon a time could put a shock into higher ranked players, even on hard surfaces. Now, I think it should be rated a bad loss for the Croatian if it happens. The winner there gets one of the two Americans with Ram vs. Krajicek in the first round. That will be another potential landmine with both fully capable of beating a youngster like Coric despite the talent gap. Give the edge to Bautista-Agut in this quarter, but just barely and you know I’m always in line to fade Mr.RBA. I would not be shocked if someone like Krajicek or Ram slipped through here.

Fourth Quarter: Kevin Anderson (2)
Anderson should have a nice debut early in Chennai as he faces either Daniel Gimeno-Traver or Indian wild card Ramkumar Ramnathan. Neither should pose an issue for Anderson provided that his serve finds its usual level of power and placement. The seed in the other half of this quarter is Vasek Pospisil. The Canadian faces one of last year’s finalists, Aljaz Bedene, to open. Pospisil beat him last year in Valencia on an indoor surface, while Bedene won their first career meeting outdoors in Miami in 2014. Bedene has had some good moments on hard courts, so he’s got every right to believe he can win against Pospisil. That will be a popular pick for a seeded upset. The survivor of that one gets Luca Vanni or Jan-Lennard Struff in round two. There is definitely room for upheaval in this quarter as well. Given Anderson the nod here though with those two matches under his belt from Abu Dhabi. That could be a big help and he’s got a little better consistency overall than most in this quarter. Bedene may well be the X-factor again though.

Doubles Draw
American Rajeev Ram teams up with South African Raven Klaasen as the top seed in the doubles draw. This dangerous duo did not start teaming up until the summer grass court swing in 2015, but the results were positive. They made a Challenger final in Manchester and then won at the ATP level in Halle. They would get to another final in Kuala Lumpur and end the season with a quarterfinal run at the Paris Masters. Their strenght over this field will be familiarity with each other with several of the other top tandems in the draw having little to no experience with their partners. The bad thing for them is the draw which sees them go up against Gilles Muller and one of India’s legendary doubles players in Mahesh Bhupathi in the opening round. Bhupathi doesn’t play much on the tour at this stage of his career, but he’s still a solid player. That should be a cracker of an opening match.

The second seeds are doubles stalwart Leander Paes teaming with Spaniard Marcel Granollers. Granollers hasn’t played doubles in Chennai since 2010, but won the title that year with Santiago Ventura. Paes made the final last year with Klaasen as his partner and has won the doubles title here six times with the last coming in 2012 with Janko Tipsarevic. Keep an eye on the 6th seeds from New Zealand, Marcus Daniell and Artem Sitak. Last year, they won the Open Sud de France in Montpellier in one of their rair pairings together. They have played quite a bit with each other over their careers on tour however and are regular partners when New Zealand plays in Davis Cup action. Don’t sleep on Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Sanitago Gonzalez either, they are a quality team that won a title in Memphis last year and made two other ATP level finals.

AND THAT”S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO ….
This has become the Stanislas Q. Wawrinka Invitational in recent years and he looks the definite class of the field again. There are always times to question Wawrinka’s motivation, but this should not be one of those. Amongst the other seeds, Coric looks like a dark horse candidate, but has his work cut out for him. Second seed Kevin Anderson though is the non-sexy pick more likely to get to the final. In the end, the Stanimal should make it three straight in Chennai.

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