2017 Apia International Sydney Preview

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Apia International Sydney
2016 Singles Champion: Viktor Troicki (2015)
2016 Double Champions: Jamie Murray & Bruno Soares
Surface: Outdoor Hard

Sydney Sensation: Viktor Victories

It’s that kooky week before a Grand Slam, but the summer season in Australia is a bit different than the other weeks prior to the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Most players have only a few matches under their belts so far if any, so they are looking for a bit of form heading to Melbourne. That means you should see a bit more effort from most, but of course nothing is ever certain in the weeks prior to a Grand Slam. To showcase how topsy turvy this week can be, the top seed has only won the title in Sydney twice since 2004. Lleyton Hewitt did it in 2005 and then Juan Martin Del Potro did the trick in 2014. Heads up Dominic Thiem.

Some tournaments just jive with players and this particular one has been a haven for Viktor Troicki the last two seasons. The Serb heads to Sydney as the two-time defending champion. He is the third seed this week with a 14-3 overall mark at the Apia International Sydney. His 2015 run was particularly impressive as he came through qualifying to claim the title. It was a poignant moment for the now 30-year-old who was coming off a half season suspension for doping. The title was Troicki’s first since 2010 and he now owns three ATP Tour titles with last year’s win here. Troicki heads into the week after splitting two matches in Brisbane last week, losing to Stan Wawrinka 7-6, 6-4 in the second round.

Thiem Leads Inexperienced Field

Dominic Thiem is this week’s top seed in Sydney. He has played just once at this tournament, going 0-1 last year. Thiem comes into the week after going 1-1 in Brisbane last week. He lost in the quarterfinals in three sets to Grigor Dimitrov. Pablo Cuevas slots in at #2 for this tournament with a 3-3 mark for his career in Sydney. Cuevas has never made it past round two. Sydney will once again serve as his debut spot to open the season for the third straight season. This is his first year as a seeded player in the field of 28. After Troicki as the third seed, it’s Pablo Carreno Busta playing Sydney for the first time in his career. PCB is also making his singles debut for 2017 this week. He started in doubles on Sunday, which should help him have some feel for the surface. The Spaniard enjoyed his best year as a pro in 2016, going 41-26 and winning his first two career ATP singles titles. Both came on hard surfaces.

The back half of the seeds is led by #5 Philipp Kohlschreiber. The German has played Sydney just once, losing his lone match in 2015. Kohlschreiber went 1-1 in Doha last week, losing a tough double tiebreaker match to Nicolas Almagro. The sixth seed is Gilles Muller, the second most experienced player at this tournament among the seeds. Muller is 6-3 in Sydney with back-to-back semifinal showings in 2015 and 2016. He dropped his 2017 opener to Jared Donaldson 6-4, 6-4 in Brisbane.

The seventh seed is Martin Klizan, who is 0-2 at the Apia International Sydney. He’s lost his first match in each of the last two seasons. The lefty dropped a competitive three setter to Aljaz Bedene to open his season in Chennai. Each set went to a tiebreak. The final seed is Marcel Granollers. The Spaniard is 2-3 at Sydney, but this is his first trip back since 2014. His best finish was a quarterfinal in 2013. Granollers also opened in doubles on Sunday in Sydney, so he will have some feel for the courts. This will be his 2017 singles debut.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Dominic Thiem (1)
Marcel Granollers (8)

Breakdown
Thiem has an advantageous draw as he gets one of two qualifiers for his first match. The survivor of Gastao Elias vs Aussie Christopher Connell will be the Austrian’s first foe in Sydney. That should afford him a chance to get a win to move to the quarterfinals. In the bottom of the quarter, Spaniards Marcel Granollers and Fernando Verdasco face off in what could be one of the better opening round matches. Verdasco had an excellent run to the semifinals in Doha last week, where he had eventual champion Novak Djokovic on the ropes with five match points the second set. The lefty couldn’t close the deal though, so it will be interesting to see how damaged he is mentally from that failure.

Granollers has beaten him three of four times, including their last meeting in Los Cabos last summer. The other match opposite the Spaniards pits Daniel Evans against qualifier Thiago Monteiro. Evans should be happy to leave the Hopman Cup setting where he went 0-3 last week to Roger Federer, Richard Gasquet and Alexandr Dolgopolov. This has been a rough surface for the Brit, so the Brazilian qualifier Monteiro poses a sizeable challenge.

This looks ripe for a seed to take with Thiem looking to obvious talent here, but that top seed bugaboo in Sydney is something that could easily sting the Austrian. He could use some confidence ahead of the Australian Open, so getting through to the semis would be a nice get for him.

Quarter #2 Seeds
Pablo Carreno Busta (4)
Martin Klizan (7)

Breakdown
I have a burgeoning man crush on Carreno Busta, I will admit that. Hard surfaces don’t seem too much for him and he’s really shown the last year that he can play on any surface at a good quality. He’s got a tough opener in store with either Mischa Zverev or a surging Nicolas Almagro first-up. Almagro looked rock solid in Doha last week, pushing Andy Murray in a tight two set loss after beating Paolo Lorenzi and Kohlschreiber. If it’s Almagro, his countryman leads the head-to-head 1-0 with that win coming on clay in Estoril last year. It was a tough three set match. Zverev beat PCB in their only meeting back in 2015 on an indoor hard surface in Metz, France. I won’t be surprised if PCB has trouble getting a W this week.

In the bottom half, Klizan has a tough match as well with Andrey Kuznetsov as his first rounder. Kuznetsov took a set off Jo-Wilfried Tsonga last week in Doha before losing. The two have met previously with Klizan winning in 2013 indoors and Kuznetsov on clay in 2011. Both of those were on the Challenger circuit. Kuznetsov is more than capable on this surface of providing an upset here. The winner gets Benoit Paire of wild card Alex De Minaur. With Paire making a deep run in Chennai to the semis, we could get a dose of “Don’t Care Paire” early. De Minaur is a talented 17-year-old who will have the home crowd on his side. He made his first ATP main draw in Brisbane last week after running through qualifying, where he beat Frances Tiafoe and Mikhail Kukushkin. He’s got game.

This quarter looks sticky for the seeds, although Carreno Busta could have a time of it, if he can escape that second round match against one of the two vets. I’m leaning towards an unseeded player getting to the semis in this quarter and I look at Almagro or Kuznetsov as the likeliest choices. Paire is a possibility, but it’s hard to trust him off a long week with a Grand Slam coming up next that should be more of a focus.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Viktor Troicki (3)
Philipp Kohlschreiber (5)

Breakdown
This sets up as the toughest quarter to me. Kohlschreiber opens against Fabio Fognini who of course is hit and miss on this surface, but capable of knocking out the German. Kohlschreiber leads the head-to-head 4-2, but Fognini won their last meeting in Moscow indoors last fall. Their only other hard court meeting went to Kohlschreiber at the Rogers Cup in 2012. The Italian is 2-3 all-time at this event, back for the first time since 2015. The winner there gets one of two hard hitting Aussie wild cards, Thanasi Kokkinakis or Jordan Thompson. That will present another challenge in that half of the quarter. Thompson may have the edge in the meeting of doubles champions from Brisbane. Thompson got in three singles matches in Brisbane, including wins against David Ferrer and Elias Ymer. Kokkinakis plays his first singles match since the Rio Olympics.

As for the other half, the two-time defending champ gets an opening bye and then awaits either Florian Mayer or Paolo Lorenzi. Both lost their openers in Doha in three sets and should provide a fun match in the first round. Mayer has played in Sydney several times before with a 4-5 mark, including a 2011 semifinals trip. This is his first time back since 2014. He has lost his first round match in Sydney three of five times. Troicki would probably prefer Lorenzi, even though he’s never played him. Mayer has beaten the Serb three times in four meetings, including last year on grass in Stuttgart.

This quarter is difficult to predict with some quality floaters in this part of the draw. I would be surprised if both seeds made the quarterfinal. Give Troicki a nod still due to his recent success in Sydney and I would not be shocked to see either Thompson or Kokkinakis opposite of the third seed for a shot at the semis.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Pablo Cuevas (2)
Gilles Muller (6)

Breakdown
This quarter has already seen its first action of the tournament as Nicolas Mahut defeated Thomaz Belluci in first round action yesterday. Mahut’s prize is a match against the second seed Cuevas. Mahut won their only career meeting last year on clay in Rome. Cuevas hasn’t been great on this surface, so there is definitely room for a seeded scalp for the Frenchman Mahut in that one. The top half sees Muller as the seed and he opens with a potential landmine in Alexandr Doglpolov. They have split two career meetings and neither owns a win yet in 2017. Dolgpolov carries a seven match losing skid on outdoor hard courts since last summer in Washington, D.C. You’d think Muller would have a slight edge.

The winner there gets either qualifier Matthew Barton or Kyle Edmund. Barton flashed a big serve in qualis with 27 aces combined in his two wins. Edmund did some nice things in a quarterfinal run in Brisbane last week. He took Stan Wawrinka to three sets in his loss in the quarters. Still, Barton has the court advantage having played already, while Edmund is making his first appearance in Sydney. This should be competitive.

Early Bird Specials

In looking at the potential for early seeded upsets in Sydney, the recent history shows that they will come and likely include multiple victims. Last year, two seeds lost their first matches in Sydney. Over the past four years, a dozen seeds have been dropped in their first matches with three or more in three of those four years. That of course also leads to plenty of open slots in the semifinals for unseeded players.

As for the potential of first-up upsets in 2017, I think you can make a legitimate case for any of the eight seeds falling in their first match. Troicki is perhaps the least likely, even if he has the tough draw against Mayer. Cuevas, Kohlschreiber and Klizan look the most prone to me and as outlined above, Carreno Busta could go down with a tough opener against Zverev or Almagro. I’d be surprised if the trend of at least three seeds losing in their first match didn’t continue this year.

Outsider’s Edge

Hey yo. If you’re looking for a tournament that has given plenty of hope and opportunity to unseeded players recently, the Apia International Sydney is that. Last year’s final between Troicki and Grigor Dimitrov was the first to have two seeds going at it since 2004 when Lleyton Hewitt (7) beat Carlos Moya (3). Over the last four years, unseeded players have been regular participants in the semifinals at this tournament. At least two have made the semis each of the last four years.

If you’re looking for noise makers this year, there’s plenty of potential. Verdasco is a threat to Thiem and Granollers in the first quarter if he can recover from his choke job against Djokovic. Kuznetsov, Zverev/Almagro and perhaps even Paire could threaten the seeds in the seond quarter. Barton/Edmund and Mahut have definite potential in the fourth quarter to keep Cuevas and Muller and from getting to the semis. I wouldn’t doubt that a couple unseeded players get to the semifinals again this year.

AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO …

Troicki certainly has the path to get to another title, but he will be tested. If he can escape his quarter, he could find his path to another title getting easier as the tournament moves on. The history of the top seed not winning here means I’d look past Thiem. Among the other seeds, Carreno Busta could be a contender if he survives the tough opener. Of the unseeded players who could find themselves perhaps in contention, Edmund is an obvious one to watch in a weaker quarter. And if Verdasco beats Granollers to open his campaign, then the lefty will definitely be one to watch.

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