The post-Australian Open swing goes indoors in Europe with Montpellier, France as one of two stops this week on the ATP World Tour. This tournament has been a haven from French champions since its inception in 2010. A Frenchman has hoisted the trophy five of six years with Richard Gasquet taking three of the last four titles. In three of the last four years, it’s been an all-French final in Montpellier with at least two French semifinalists in each of the tournament’s six years. There are seven Frenchman already in the main draw this year with another nine vying to get through qualifying. Expect the French to again have a lot ot say about who wins the title.
Davis Cup Hangovers
With Davis Cup play finishing up on Sunday, there are several plays in this field who will be making a quick transition to Montpellier. That includes Richard Gasquet. Gasquet is seeded third this week behind Marin Cilic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga with Alexander Zverev rounding out the top four seeds in the 28 player singles field. Both Gasquet and Zverev will be coming off of weekend Davis Cup duty. Rounding out the top eight seeds are Feliciano Lopez, Mischa Zverev, Marcel Granollers and Fernando Verdasco. Lopez and Zverev were also on Davis Cup duty, but only played doubles. Still, they don’t have the fortune of the first round bye like Gasquet and Sascha Zverev. That leaves them a bit vulnerable in round one with less time to adjust to the surface.
Quarter #1 Seeds
Marin Cilic (1)
Feliciano Lopez (5)
Cilic lost his lone match in Montpellier last year to Alexander Zverev in a difficult draw. This year, he has the opening bye again with either Dustin Brown or Guillermo Garcia-Lopez awaiting in round two. Cilic has had a poor start to the year with just a 1-2 record with losses to Jozef Kovalik in Chennai and Daniel Evans in round two at the Australian Open. Both Brown and GGL pose a risk for Cilic. The Spaniard is 3-1 against Cilic with Cilic’s lone win indoors back in 2008 at his home tournament in Zagreb. Brown’s quirky game would be a first time experience for Cilic and thus, could cause him some early hassle.
Lopez will get a yet-to-be determined qualifier to open. If he survives that, the second round looks pretty perilous with either Benoit Paire or Karen Khachanov in the way. Paire did make the final here in 2013, but has been a first round casualty two of the other three years he has played here. Khachanov has to face the dreaded DC turnaround after playing for Russia in Serbia over the weekend. He’s got plenty of talent to test Paire though, so an upset there is still possible. Don’t be surprised if this quarter gets blown up and an unseeded player sneaks through to the semis.
Quarter #2 Seeds
Richard Gasquet (3)
Mischa Zverev (6)
Gasquet’s biggest issue will be travelling from Tokyo from Davis Cup action. The good news is that Gasquet had what amounted to a practice session in his straight sets whipping of Taro Daniel on Friday. Getting the bye will definitely help him adjust. His first match will come against either Malek Jaziri or a qualifier. It should be a good early-go for Gasquet. Zverev also comes off Davis Cup duty. He played doubles and was trounced in a dead rubber on Sunday. That’s not good news and neither is playing Daniel Evans in round one. The only good thing for Zverev there is that Evans will likely be more gassed after playing two matches this weekend in Canada and then making the trip overseas.
I’d give the edge to Mischa then with less travel despite his poor showing on Sunday. Evans has a lot more to contend with and I believe this match is scheduled for Tuesday. The winner gets either Frenchman Quentin Halys or Illya Marchenko. Halys is a big hitter who could blow someone off the court, but his consistency has not been great. Zverev could have been done just enough favors here to sneak through to the quarters. All in all though, this looks like a nice draw for Gasquet.
Quarter #3 Seeds
Alexander Zverev (4)
Marcel Granollers (7)
Zverev comes in off a disappointing finish to Germany’s Davis Cup tie with Belgium. Sascha was beaten by Steve Darcis on Sunday to hand the Belgians the tie. The youngster now has to turn around from that disappointment quickly. He’ll face either Aljaz Bedene or Borna Coric in round two after an opening bye. Coric beat Sascha in their lone meeting at the Cincinnati Masters in 2015. He’s never played Bedene. It’s still advantage Zverev to me in these conditions, but if he’s got any sort of DC hangover, he could be in trouble.
Granollers has a difficult opener against Jeremy Chardy. They’ve split four career meetings with none coming since 2013. Both haven’t been great indoors, so it’s a toss-up. The winner will face either Paul-Henri Mathieu or a qualifier in round two. This part of the draw looks very open with a ton of questions. Zverev is certainly the most talented player in this quarter, but I fear the DC turnaround could be tough on him. He did make the semis here last year though, so at least the surface suits him.
Quarter #4 Seeds
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (2)
Fernando Verdasco (8)
Tsonga returns to Montpellier for the first time since 2010 when he made the semifinals. The draw looks advantageous with Pierre-Hugues Herbert or a qualifier first-up in round two. On the other side, Verdasco faces a still-to-be-determined qualifier in round one. The survivor goes up against either Daniil Medvedev or Tobias Kamke. Medvedev was forced out of his Davis Cup rubber against Novak Djokovic, so his status is very much up-in-the-air. That should please Verdasco who may have less to do in order to make a deeper run. The Spaniard is making his Montpellier debut. He’s at .500 for his career indoors. His big hitting style can do well here and a Tsonga-Verdasco quarterfinal looks quite possible. Tsonga holds a 4-2 edge head-to-head, but it was Verdasco who won in 2015 when they last faced in Cincinnati.
Early Bird Specials
Last year’s Open Sud de France produced five seeded upsets in their opening matches. That was a high over the past four years. In three of the last four years, at least two seeds have dropped out in their openers. Cilic, the Brothers Zverev and Granollers are the players that look to have the toughest tests. I think at least two of them could be checking out early.
Last year’s semifinals saw just one seed (Gasquet) along with a qualifier and two other unseeded players. That broke a string of two straigh years with all seeded semifinalists. With the Davis Cup switch up for some of these players, it could be another rough time for the seeds early on and that could leave the business end of the tournament open for some unseeded players. I look to the first quarter where Dustin Brown, GGL, Paire and Khachanov are very dangerous floaters. Even with the top seed in that quarter, I would not be surprised to see that quarter find an unseeded semifinalist.
AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO …
The Richard Gasquet Invitational looks primed for another potential encore performance. Gasquet was able to get in a match in Tokyo that should have his confidence back after his debacle against Grigor Dimitrov in Melbourne. If history holds, the two French players who look to have the best shot at contending here are Gasquet and Tsonga. Tsonga is 5-4 against Gasquet with a win last year coming via retirement at Wimbledon, their first meeting since 2013. They have split two career meetings indoors. With Tsonga in better shape this year, it’s possible he could end Gasquet’s reign. Either way, I think the champion here will be French, but it might just be Tsonga.