Pig-pourri: ATP Rio Open Preview

RIOPREVIEWPIG

The Rio Open is just the second ATP 500 level tournament of the new season and the first on clay. David Ferrer is the defending champion and returns this year as the second seed behind Rafael Nadal.

ATP Rio Tournament Overview
The first ATP 500 tournament of the season on clay takes place this week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The tournament  is held on the eight clay courts of the Jockey Club Brasileiro, including a 6,200-seater main stadium court. This is just the third year that the Rio Open has been held and both previous winners are in this year’s field. Rafael Nadal won the inaugural version of the tournament in 2014 with David Ferrer winning last season over Fabio Fognini.

In the brief history of the Rio Open, seeds have done fairly well in avoiding early upsets. Only two seeds have failed to win their first round matches in each of the two years this tournament has been played. As the tournament weaves its way to the business end, seeds normally remain in the mix. In both 2014 and 2015, three seeds made the semifinals. Both years, the champion at the Rio Open has been a seed with Nadal winning as the top seed in 2014 and Ferrer as the second seed last year. With that in mind, here’s this week’s Seed Report.

Seed Report
1. Rafael Nadal
The top seed is 8-1 in Rio, making the semifinals or better both years. Nadal will be looking to at least match last year’s semifinal run. He comes in with okay, but not great form after losing in the semifinals last week in Buenos Aires.

2. David Ferrer
Ferrer is also 8-1 all-time at this event Like Nadal, Ferrer has also made the semifinals or better both years. He had a bit of rough luck in Buenos Aires last week. He was forced to play two matches in the same day due to a rain delay and it seemed to catch him. Ferrer lost to Nicolas Almagro for the first time in the semifinals after having to finish a three set match earlier in the day against Pablo Cuevas.

3. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
The Frenchman continues his unusual participation in the South American swing on clay. Normally, Tsonga is playing in Europe at this point in the season on the indoor hard court swing. This will be Tsonga’s first year playing Rio. Tsonga won one and lost one last week in Buenos Aires on his first foray on clay this season.

4. John Isner
Another odd inclusion as Isner also plays his second straight clay court tournament. The American will also be making his Rio debut this season. Isner was upset in his opener last week in Buenos Aires. It was a tight three set match against Dusan Lajovic that ended in a third set tiebreak. Isner showed more consistent on dirt last year, so he’s worth watching this week.

5. Dominic Thiem
The newly crowned Argentina Open champion will also be debuting this week in Rio. Thiem could be in for a rough go of it after a long week in Buenos Aires that ended with a thriling three set win over Almagro in the final on Sunday. His last two matches against Almagro and Nadal saw him on court for for over five hours. A quick turnaround could have him in trouble to find some energy early.

6. Jack Sock
The American is another first timer in Brazil. It has been a long layoff for Sock since the Australian Open, so he will be hoping to hit the ground running on clay. The good news for Sock is he appears fully healthy after some early issues with fitness due to illness.

7. Fabio Fognini
The 2015 runner-up has a 7-2 mark in Rio with a quarterfinal and finals appearance in two trips. The Italian has stumbled out of the gates this season and has not won since Auckland. He was upset by Federico Delbonis in his opener in Buenos Aires last week. As usual, you never quite know what to expect from Fognini.

8. Thomaz Bellucci
The Brazilian has played both years in Rio with a 2-2 record. His best result was the quarterfinals in 2014. He is off to a good start on clay this year with a finals appearance in Quito. Unfortunately, he has a difficult draw with Alexandr Dolgopolov to open.

The Quali-Fire
The final four spots in the main draw go to qualifiers Taro Daniel, Gastao Elias, Facundo Bagnis and Daniel Gimeno-Traver. Qualifiers have been a mixed bag in the two years that the Rio Open has been played. In 2014, three qualifiers won their opening round matches. Last year, only one qualifier survived round one. No qualifiers have made it past the second round, so this year’s crop isn’t likely to win more than a match.

Quarters Preview
First Quarter: Rafael Nadal (1)
With no byes, all seeds are in action in round one. Nadal may have some tough names in this quarter, but he’s dealt well with the majority of them. Nadal opens against fellow Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta. The lefty has beaten his countryman twice, including one this season on hard courts and last year at this tournament. Expect a tussle, but Rafa should have enough confidence from those wins to get through. A win could net him a shot against another Spaniard with Nicolas Almagro or Daniel Munoz de la Nava slated to get the winner of Nadal-Carreno Busta. Rafa should feel comfortable with a 13-1 mark against Almagro in their careers.

In the bottom of this quarter, the seed is Belluci as the number eight. He has a difficult opener against Dolgopolov who has beaten him in both career meetings, although both were on hard courts. That will still be a potential upset in round one. The winner there goes against either qualifier Taro Daniel or Inigo Cervantes. Cervantes won their lone meeting over three years ago on clay at the Seville Challenger. The Spaniard is 1-2 on clay this season with losses to Carreno Busta and Santiago Giraldo. Having never played in Rio, Daniel could have a leg up in the opener. The Bellucci-Dolgopolov winner looks like a likely quarterfinalist in this section.

Second Quarter: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (3)
Tsonga should have a chance to open strongly against Brazilian Thiago Monteiro, who is a wild card entry. Monteiro is a decent Challenger guy on this surface, but he hasn’t won an ATP main draw match on clay in his career. Tsonga should be fine. The winner will go against Pablo Cuevas or qualifier Facundo Bagnis. Cuevas made the quarters in Buenos Aires and is 3-2 in Rio.

In the bottom of the quarter, sixth seed Jack Sock has a hard first round match-up against Federico Delbonis. Without a clay court match under his belt, Sock could be prone to an upset if he cannot get off to a quick start. The survivor of that match advances to take on either Marco Cecchinato or Paolo Lorenzi. Cecchinato is another one who is solid on the Challenger circuit, but 0-6 in ATP main draw matches on dirt. Lorenzi has good results on clay with a semifinal showing in Quito and a quarterfinal run last week in Buenos Aires. He’s a dark horse in this quarter.

Third Quarter: John Isner (4)
An interesting quarter with Isner in one half and 7th seed Fabio Fognini in the other. Isner opens against Guido Pella. Pella can be tough on this surface and will likely get one of the usual Isner matches where the sets are decided late. An upset isn’t that far fetched. The winner moves on to play Santiago Giraldo or qualifier Gastao Elias. Giraldo is 0-2 in Rio, but faced tougher competition those two times. Still, Elias is a vet and took a set from Buenos Aires champ Dominic Thiem last week. The qualifier might sneak through here.

Fognini starts his campaign in Rio against Aljaz Bedene. That is a great match-up for the Italian who is 6-0 against Bedene. Should he advance, Fognini might be in line to play Juan Monaco. Pico gets Daniel Gimeno-Traver in the first. Monaco and Gimeno-Traver have split four career meetings with none since 2013. Monaco looked okay last week in Buenos Aires after being out for nearly six months due to wrist surgery. It might be tough, but Monaco should just edge that match. If it’s Monaco vs Fognini in round two, the Argentine has won three of four against the Italian and could find himself making a surprise run.

Fourth Quarter: David Ferrer (2)
Ferrer should have a chance to get rolling early as he starts with wild card Nicolas Jarry. That likely sets him up in round two where he could see Albert Ramos-Vinolas or Dusan Lajovic. The Spaniard won a tough straight sets mach in Quito against Lajovic earlier this season. Both have played here before, so expect another competitive match. The Serb played better last week and might find some revenge in this spot.

In the other half of the quarter, 5th seed Dominic Thiem opens against Pablo Andujar. The Buenos Aires champ may be fighting fatigue this week and Andujar won’t be an easy out. Wins for the Spaniard have been hard to come by, but his 4-2 mark in Rio says he could pull the upset if Thiem is gassed. The survivor gets Diego Schwartzman or Joao Souza. Schwartzman owns three wins against the Brazilian and has the confidence of an upset last week against higher ranked Alexandr Dolgopolov in clay in Argentina. Souza did seem to get a home boost last year here to make the quarterfinals, but his current form doesn’t point to that happening again this year.

Doubles Draw
It’s an old school reunion of Brazilians this week to form the top seeded tandem in Rio. Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares will partner up for the first time this season and first time since last March. The duo were regular partners for several season on tour, but parted ways a few years ago. They are expected to pair up for a few tournaments this season with an eye on building chemistry again for the Rio Olympics. Their half of the draw looks open to success with Pablo Cuevas and Fabio Fognini as the other seeds.

Regular partners Alexander Peya and Philipp Peztschner will also be in this half. They are in good form having made the final in Rotterdam this past week, but not must transition to clay. The most interesting team in this half other than Melo-Soares will be David Marrero and Pablo Carreno Busta. They made it into the field through qualifying. Marrero made the semifinals with Frank Moser last week in Argentina and Carreno Busta won his first-ever doubles title on clay in Quito, Ecuador earlier this season with Guillermo Duran. If their chemistry from qualis continues, they could be a surprise contender.

In the bottom half of the draw, the second seeds are Juan-Sebastien Cabal and Robert Farah. They are fresh off winning the doubles titles in Buenos Aires. They face experienced duo Marcus Daniell and Artam Sitak to open, but look the class of this half. The other seeds are fourth seeded American duo Jack Sock and Nicholas Monroe. They could be dangerous. That pair won an indoor title together last Fall in Stockholm. The most dangerous floaters could be Brazilians Marcelo Demoliner and Thomaz Bellucci. Those two teamed up to make the Quito final a few weeks back.

AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO….
It’s difficult to back Nadal as he still seems to have those patches where he can be beaten, even on his best surface. Still, the draw is friendly for him this week and fellow Spaniard David Ferrer also looks like a good bet for a deep run. Pablo Cuevas is one to watch as an unseeded surprise, while Americans Jack Sock and John Isner could be seeds who sneak through late if everything falls right for them.

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