Pig-pourri: ATP Sydney Preview

ATP Sydney Preview
It is the final week of preparations for the season’s first Grand Slam. The APIA International Sydney features a 28 player field with 2013 champion Bernard Tomic leading the draw as the top seed. The winner in Sydney will gain 250 points in the rankings along with a check for $72,000. Last year, Viktor Troicki beat Mikhail Kukushkin 6-2, 6-3 for the title in a match-up of qualifiers. Troicki is back to defend his title this week as the tournament’s third seed.Kukushkin slipped into the main draw on Sunday with a thrilling three set win in the final round of qualifying.

Seed Report
Being a seed in Sydney can be hazardous to your chances of doing much this week. The top seed has struggled mightily here in the last five years with only Juan Martin Del Potro in 2014 winning the title. In three of the last five years, the top seed has lost his first match of the tournament. Seeds in general are a scarce commodity as this tournament progresses. In a five year span from 2011-2015, seeds have made the semifinals just six times and only been involved in the final twice. If you go back even further for a full decade, seeds have been involved in the final just half the time and won just once since 2010. Seeded players also struggle early with at least three seeds losing their first matches in Sydney in each of the last five years. Here is a look at his year’s top eight seeds:

1. Bernard Tomic
Tomic sports an 11-3 mark in Sydney with the one title back in 2013. Tomic has made the final in two of his last three trips to Sydney, but was a quarterfinal casualty last season to Gilles Muller. He heads into this week with some confidence after a fine run in Brisbane to the semifinals where he lost to Milos Raonic in two tiebreaks.

2. Dominic Thiem
This is new territory for the young Austrian as he makes his Sydney debut. He was okay in Brisbane in making the semifinals. He beat the players he should beat and scored an upset win over Marin Cilic. He looked woefully over-matched against Roger Federer in the semis as he lost 6-1, 6-4.

3. Viktor Troicki
Outside of Tomic, Troicki has had the best success in Sydney in his career of the remaining seeds. He is 10-3 with the 2015 title and a 2011 finals appearance. He was motivated to build his ranking last year, this year may be different. He went 1-1 in Brisbane last week, losing to Grigor Dimitrov in three sets in the second round.

4. Grigor Dimitrov
These 250 level events before Grand Slams are often very iffy for motivation for some players. Dimitrov would seem to fit that bill perfectly. He played decently in Brisbane with a quarterfinal loss to Federer. He did withdraw from the doubles competition where he had made the semifinals with Kei Nishikori as his partner. The reason was cited as shoulder soreness. Dimitrov could be one who doesn’t fully extend himself this week.

5. Andreas Seppi
The Italian is a regular visitor to this tournament with an 8-10 mark during his career. He has made the semifinals twice in Sydney, one coming back in 2006 and the other in 2013. Seppi is building his endurance after offseason hip surgery and he looked rusty in losing to Ricardas Berankis in his season debut in Doha. He offered up 19 break chances in that match. He’s definitely a candidate to be upset again this week.

6. Jeremy Chardy
The Frenchman is 3-4 in Sydney during his career with his best result coming when he made the quarterfinals in 2009. He has lost twice in his first match in Sydney in his last three trips. Last year, he lost in the second round to Gilles Muller.

7. Leonardo Mayer
The Argentine is 5-2 in two trips to the main draw in Sydney. He was a pleasant surprise last year as the 5th seed. Mayer made the semis before he was upended by Kukushkin. He looked decent in Doha this past week as he made the quarterfinals and lost to Novak Djokovic in straight sets.

8. Alexandr Dolgopolov
Dolgopolov has made the quarterfinals both years he has played Sydney previously. Dog was 3-1 in Hopman Cup action last week, beating the likes of Lleyton Hewitt and Jack Sock. He’s a difficult guy to predict week-to-week, but this could be a decent spot for him again to make some noise.

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. Qualifying in Sydney began on Friday, so the field is already whittled down to the final four players who will get direct main draw entry. American Alex Sarkissian was perhaps the most impressive as he knocked off Ernests Gulbis and Lukasz Kubot to get his spot in the main draw. He could be a dangerous floater despite his relative inexperience. German Maximillian Marterer is a surprise qualifier as he took out 8th seed Dami Dzumhur to open and then beat Aussie wild card Aleksandar Vukic who had beaten Sergiy Stakhovsky in the opening round of qualifying. The third spot goes to NIcolas Mahut who edged Dusan Lajovic 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-2 in the final round. The final qualifier is last year’s finalist Mikhail Kukuskin. He rallied from down a break late in the third set to beat Inigo Cervantes in a tiebreak.

Quarters Preview
First Quarter: Bernard Tomic (1)
In spite of his improved play to open the season, this draw is not easy for the Australian. After a bye, Tomic could see either fellow Aussie Jordan Thompson or Martin Klizan. Tomic is 1-1 against Klizan and has never played the 21-year-old Thompson. The bottom of the draw sees 7th seed Leonardo Mayer opposite of Tomic. Mayer has his own tough opener in round one against Temuraz Gabashvili. Gabashvili beat the Argentine last fall on an indoor hard court in three sets. The drawback for the Russian is that he’s never won a main draw match in Sydney. The winner there takes on Sam Groth or Federico Delbonis. Groth was a disappointing opening round loser in Brisbane to Hyeon Chung. He’s seeking his first main draw win here though. Groth and Gabashvili are danger men in this draw, but he talent is Tomic. If he is truly taking his game to a new level this season, this is a draw that he should advance through.

Second Quarter: Viktor Troicki (3)
The defending champion will face Tommy Robredo or John Millman to open in the second round. Shockingly, Millman has beaten Robredo all three times they have faced each other. It is Robredo’s scheduled 2016 debut after he ended 2015 early due to a foot injury. Millman could easily catch him flat in this spot. In the bottom of the draw, Seppi is seeded 5th and opens with Denis Istomin. They have played nine times with the Italian leading 6-3 including last year’s five set win at the Australian Open. Five of their last six clashes have come in Grand Slams and those five all went five sets. Use that for trivia somewhere in life. Before losing to Kukushkin in the opening round last year, Istomin had a string of three straight years in Sydney making the quarters or better. With Seppi still searching for form, this could be a spot for Istomin to spring an upset. The survivor there takes on Adrian Mannarino or fellow Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, who made it as a qualifier. This part of the draw looks primed for some upsets with Istomin, Millman and Mahut looking like potential dark horses.

Third Quarter: Grigor Dimitrov(4)
A big question mark at the top in this quarter is Dimitrov who reportedly is nursing a slight shoulder problem. That seems like something he is unlikely to push too much this week, so there is a chance he might even skip the event if his shoulder is truly not feeling well. Dimitrov has an advantageous draw with Pablo Cuevas or German qualifier Marterer as his opening foe. The top half of the draw sees the enigmatic 8th seed Alexandr Dolgopolov. He starts against Thomaz Bellucci, with the winner facing red hot American qualifier Alex Sarkissian or Simone Bolelli. Bellucci may give Dolgopolov a tough opener, but the Ukrainian should advance. Sarkissian is a big X-factor. He beat quality competition in qualifying and could stun here if he can stay hot. A lot of this quarter depends on Dimitrov’s effort level. Dolgopolov has the form, but you never know what you will get from week to week. Still, the qualifiers here do not seem ready for prime time.

Fourth Quarter: Dominic Thiem (2)
The Austrian gets an opening round bye and then a real tough opening match against Borna Coric or Gilles Muller. If Coric decides to go to Sydney after a long week in Chennai, look for him to flop out quickly and get some needed rest. Muller lost in disappointing fashion in Chennai, but could bounce back this week. Muller made the semis here last year. In the other half of the draw, Jeremy Chardy is the seed and he’s up against last year’s runner-up Mikhail Kukushkin. Kukushkin owns two wins over the Frenchman, but those came back in 2010. This is still a tough spot for Chardy and an upset is possible.

The winner there will take on the winner of Julien Benneteau vs James Duckworth in the opening round. Benneteau is working his way back from an injury riddled 2015 that saw him miss the majority of the season. He played last week in the Noumeau Challenger, but hasn’t won on tour since Sydney last year. It’s been a good tournament for him as the Frenchman has made the final once and the semifinals twice in his career. Duckworth has never won in Sydney, but did play Thiem tough last week in losing. This quarter also looks as if the seeds could go down. Muller, Kukushkin and even Benneteau could have a shot here.

Doubles Draw
The top seeds in Sydney are world number ones Jean Julien-Rojer and Horia Tecau. They will be looking to rebound after losing to Alexander Peya and Philipp Petzschner in the semifinals in Doha last week. Rojer-Tecau lost in the final last year in Sydney to Rohan Bopanna and Daniel Nestor. Sydney will also mark the 2016 debut of the Bryan Brothers who enter the tournament as the second seeds. The Bryans have won the title here three times, but not since 2013. The third seeds this week will be Marcelo Melo and Daniel Nestor. Nestor is looking for the three-peat in Sydney with his third different partner. He won the title in 2014 with Nenad Zimonjic and last year with Rohan Bopanna. The fourth seeds will feature the other half of last year’s title winners with Bopanna and Florin Mergea teaming up.

Rojer-Tecau have some dangerous floaters in their half with unseeded tandems feturing Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares along with Marcin Matkowski and Lukasz Kubot. They may have a tough time getting back to the final. In the bottom half of the draw with the Bryans and Bopanna-Mergea, Dominic Inglot and Robert Lindstedt will be an unseeded pair to watch. Inglot-Lindstedt made a semifinal run in Brisbane this past week. This could be a statement tournament for the Bryans who are coming off a subpar season. This is a wide open draw though where any of about six teams could win the title.

Whether it is lack of motivation, protecting their health or looking ahead to the Australian Open; top seeds in Sydney rarely end up taking part in the final mix. This is a great tournament to look at some longshots as last year’s final pitting two qualifiers showed. Among the seeds, Tomic and Dolgopolov have looked the best early in the season. Dark horses to monitor this week include Istomin, Muller, Mahut and perhaps Groth. When the trophy is lifted, don’t be shocked if a seed again is not the man hoisting it into the air.


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