The ATP World Tour swings through the Far East this week with a stop in Shenzhen, China. This marks the just the third year of the Shenzhen Open with defending champion Tomas Berdych leading the field of 28 singles players. The top four seeds round out with David Goffin, Richard Gasquet and Fabio Fognini all participating in this 250 level event. Both Goffin and Fognini are making their first appearances at this tournament, while Gasquet returns for the first time since the tournament’s inaugural run in 2014.
Last year, Berdych won the title as the top seed with a straight sets win over fourth seeded Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Surprisingly, there were no seeded upsets in the early rounds last year. In fact, the top six seeds all advanced to the quarterfinals with the top four making it to the semifinals. That was a bit of a contrast to 2014 when top seed David Ferrer was upset in his opener. He was one of two seeded players to drop their openers that year. Even so, two of the top four seeds made the semifinals in the tournament’s first year with three seeds overall in the semis. Second seed Andy Murray won the inaugural title in Shenzhen back in 2014.
With those numbers to crunch, let’s take a look at this year’s seeds and see who might be on the chopping block early in China.
1. Tomas Berdych
Berdych is chasing one of the eight spots for the year-end Tour Finals in London. He’s currently sitting as the odd man out at #9, trailing Gael Monfils by 155 points. That should be smaller as of Monday. That means even though it is just 250 points, the Czech can ill-afford not to at least get to the final this week. His game jived well with the conditions in Shezhen last year as he won all four of his matches here in straight sets. Berdych comes to Shenzhen after going 2-1 in St.Petersburg, his first action since mid-August due to appendicitis that caused him to miss the U.S. Open. He faces Mikhail Kukushkin or Lucas Rosol to open.
2. David Goffin
Goffin makes his debut in Shenzhen. The Belgian has rediscovered some decent form since his 1st round U.S. Open exit to Jared Donaldson. Goffin won in Davis Cup play earlier in the month and went 2-1 in Metz this past week, losing in the semifinals to Lucas Pouille. Goffin has been mediocre outdoors on this surface this summer, going 4-4. Goffin will get Malek Jaziri or Stephane Robert. Jaziri is trickier, but Goffin should be expected to win his opener.
3. Richard Gasquet
The Frenchman comes into the week ranked 17th and looking to end the year on an uptick in form. Injuries and inconsistency have seen Gasquet fall from the top ten this season and he is just 3-3 on tour since Wimbledon. He was par for the course for 2016 in Davis Cup action a few weeks ago with a win over Borna Coric in straights, but the a loss to Marin Cilic in straights that sent Croatia past France and into the Davis Cup final. With his form a bit sketchy still, he looks boom or bust here. He should have a nice go to start with a qualifier his opposition, either Luca Vanni or Andrew Whittington.
4. Bernard Tomic
The Aussie is another Shenzhen debutant. Tomic picked up a Davis Cup win on grass in September, but that is his lone match since flaming out in round one at the U.S. Open to Damir Dzumhur. Tomic was 6-4 on the summer hard court swing with the typical roller coaster results: a quarterfinal in Cincinnati, but but two first round exits at the U.S. Open and in Los Cabos. The draw could pit him against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in his opening match. The Spaniard faces “White Privilege” aka Ryan Harrison in round one. GGL is 0-1 against Tomic, but that match was way back in 2012. Even though Garcia-Lopez isn’t great on this surface, he could still be a tough out, especially if Tomic is bored with life. Harrison is 1-1 against Tomic, but the lone win was back in 2009 in a Futures event.
5. Alexander Zverev
Sascha comes in red hot after winning the St.Petersburg title over Stan Wawrinka. That was a much needed result for Zverev who stumbled after a nice semifinal finish in Washington, D.C. He lost in the first round in both Toronto and Cincinnati. Zverev would go out in round two of the U.S. Open to Daniel Evans. The trouble for Zverev could be the dreaded Championship hangover from making a Sunday title match. He’ll have to transition quickly to the outdoor conditions without the benefit of a bye. He faces Yoshihito Nishioka. The Japanese competes well on this surface and can definitely take advantage of any fatigue in Zverev’s game. If he doesn’t lose his opener, beware his second match as that is often the one where the hangover finishes its job.
6. Benoit Paire
Don’t Care Paire makes his first appearance at this tournament, fresh off a first match flameout in Metz this past week to Vincent Millot. Outside of a surprise quarterfinal run at the Citi Open, the Frenchman has been poor on outdoor hard courts this season. Paire is 8-10 on the surface in 2016. He has lost his opening match in 13 of the 26 tournaments he has played this year. Paire faces Nikoloz Basilashvili in round one. Flip a coin, it’s 50-50 on the year.
7. Fabio Fognini
The organizers in Shenzhen sure do love a circus. Paire and Fognini in the same tournament. The Italian is also playing the tournament for the first time and has not been in action since the U.S. Open. Outdoor hard courts have been a mixed bag at 6-6 for Fognini this season. He gets Dudi Sela to open. Sela beat him in their lone career meeting in 2012. The Israeli does his best on this surface and won a Challenger in this same city in March on an outdoor hard court. He will make life difficult for Fognini and an upset certainly is possible.
8. Jiri Vesely
The Czech made the quarterfinals at this tournament last year, but will need to prove his health as he hits the court this week. Vesely has been out since the U.S. Open, when he withdrew with a nagging forearm problem. When health, the 6’6″ lefty has the power to be successful on this surface. He gets Pablo Andujar to open. The Spaniard avoids wins on this surface like it was coated with the Zika virus. Andujar has just two wins on the surface since last August in nine matches. If the down time has allowed Vesely to heal, he should advance.
Quarter #1: Tomas Berdych (1)
It is an advantageous draw for the Czech with Vesely as the other seed in this quarter. Berdych really doesn’t look to have much to trouble him here. Kukushkin and Rosol are both in poor form, so even though they can be tough, he should avoid a first-up flop. If Vesely is healthy, this quarter should play out to seed the two seeds take on each other in the quarterfinals. Berdych has won both career meetings, but Vesely stretched Berdych to five sets at Wimbledon this year. That came after Berdych dumped Vesely out of Shenzhen last year in their first meeting in an easy straight sets win.
Quarter #2: Bernard Tomic (4)
This could be an intriguing quarter with Tomic and Zverev as the seeds. Tomic reasonably has a route to get to the quarters, while Zverev might face stiffer rests. If the St.Petersburg champ gets by Nishioka in his opener, he could see Thomaz Bellucci in round two. Bellucci faces Gastao Elias in round one. A win for the Brazilian would see him play Zverev for the fourth time. Zverev has won all four meetings, but Bellucci has taken a set each time. Form-wise, this should be Zverev making a deep run, but the quick turnaround concerns me. That said, it is harder to trust Tomic to get through in a small tournament like this. This quarter may go off the game plan and wind up with someone like Bellucci or Garcia-Lopez getting the semifinal slot.
Quarter #3: Richard Gasquet (3)
With Fognini as the other seed, this is Gasquet’s quarter to pillage if he is up for it. If Fognini doesn’t flop, the two seeds could meet in the quarters without much else in this part of the draw. There are three qualifiers, a Chinese wildcard and Dudi Sela to combat with, so the Italian could potentially win a couple here. Then again, it’s Fab Mode. Sela looks like a possible dark horse if Fognini fails in the top half, but it should be Gasquet getting through here if he has any motivation.
Quarter #4: David Goffin (2)
Goffin and Paire are the two seeded players in this quarter. Paire has the tougher road with Basilashvili to open and then either Janko Tipsarevic or Chinese wildcard Ze Zhang. Zhang beat Tipsarevic in August on this surface in straight sets. Conceivably from a talent perspective, Paire should have the edge in both rounds. In the brain department, he’s last and that means there is no telling what he will do. Paire does own a 2-1 mark against Goffin, so if it comes down to those two for a semifinal spot, who knows?
AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO …
It figures to be an interesting tournament with motivation often a bit questionable at this time of year and in these 250-level tournaments. Berdych has the most to play for, but I think Gasquet might have the best draw. If Zverev can avoid fatigue early, don’t discount him being in the mix as well. I do think this title goes to a seeded player.