Wide Open Week On Tap in Portugal
The Millenium Estoril Open will be contested for the third year as the clay court season hits its stride. Last year’s champion Nicolas Almagro is back to defend his title as an unseeded player in this year’s draw. The tournament lost a little bit of its luster with 2015 finalist Nick Kyrgios forced to withdraw this week to attend the funeral of his grandfather. That leaves Pablo Carreno Busta as the top seed. He’s been solid in two trips to Portugal, going 7-2 and he made last year’s final. Richard Gasquet, Gilles Muller and wild card entry David Ferrer round out the top four seeds. Gasquet is perfect at 5-0 in Estoril, having won the first version of the tournament back in 2015.
The rest of the seeds include the week’s most intriguing entry in Juan Martin Del Potro as the fifth seed, followed by Joao Sousa, Kyle Edmund and Benoit Paire. Of the remaining seeds, only Paire has more than one win in Estoril. He made the semifinals last year. Both Del Potro and Sousa are making their Estoril debuts. Seeds have been a mixed bag in the short history of this tournament with a non-seed winning last year and the top seed failing to make the semifinals in either year.
Early Bird Specials
That makes this week tricky, especially with many of the players in the top eight either searching for form or as with Del Potro, making their first foray onto clay this season. With that in mind, he’s a look at those seeds and who may be in early peril. Only one seed lost in their first match in 2016. However, in the first year of the tournament in 2015, four seeds were knocked out in their first matches. That included that year’s top seed, Feliciano Lopez.
1. Pablo Carreno Busta
It might be easy to write off PCB’s chances of losing in his opener. He’ll face either Tommy Robredo or Evgeny Donskoy. Robredo is 3-0 against him, but none have come since 2014. Robredo also has not been in the best form in his return this season. Donskoy? The Russian is 0-2 against PCB, but played him extremely tough in both meetings and both were on clay. I think PCB will have a tricky opener, but his experience and a number of solid wins at this tournament should help him get through most likely.
2. Richard Gasquet
The Frenchman will get either qualifier Elias Ymer or Carlos Berlocq to open. He looked rusty in his first match since February as he lost to lucky loser Yuichi Sugita last week in Barcelona. That looked like a better loss with Sugita winning a few last week, but Gasquet will expect better. Ymer might be the more dangerous of the two potential opponents with qualifiers often having an early advantage due to match play. Gasquet is 4-0 against Berlocq, but their two clay matches at the French Open in 2012 and 2014 were pretty competitive. Keep Gasquet at about Defcon 3 on the upset chart in his opener.
3. Gilles Muller
Muller will battle either Paul-Henri Mathieu or Portugese Pedro Sousa in his first match. The big lefty made the quarters in his lone trip to Estoril in 2015. He is 1-1 on clay this season with a win over Robredo in Monte Carlo and a 7-5, 7-5 loss to Andy Murray in the next match. His big serve can somewhat neutralize the disadvantages he has otherwise on clay. Interestingly, Sousa beat Muller in their lone meeting. That came on clay at the Challenger level in 2012. He’s at home off a Challenger title recently on clay, so Muller should definitely watch out if that is the match-up.’
4. David Ferrer
Ferrer was taken down in Barcelona by Kevin Anderson in straight sets last week. His record on clay this season is now 0-3 with losses to Anderson, Alexandr Dolgopolov and Carlos Berlocq. In his prime, that would have been unthinkable. At age 35, it is clear that Ferrer is struggling from wear and tear and recent injuries. He will get either Denis Istomin or Frederico Ferreira Silva to open. Istomin hasn’t won a main draw match at this level since his miraculous Australian Open run. Silva is a 22-year-old Portugese wild card who has three tour wins. He is 0-2 lifetime at this tournament. If Ferrer is going to break his own five match losing skid, this might be the spot. Still, nothing has been easy for him, so curb your enthusiasm.
5. Juan Martin Del Potro
DelPo hits the courts for the first time since losing in Miami to Roger Federer. It’s also his first clay court match since last may in Madrid. He’ll face Yuichi Sugita to start. The same Sugita who scored his first ATP wins on clay in succession last week in Barcelona against Robredo, Gasquet and Carreno Busta. Sugita parlayed his lucky loser status into one of the best runs of his career, but I don’t think it’s something to expect him to repeat. There’s an outside shot that DelPo gets caught cold here, but my bet is the Argentine is properly prepped for dirt and gets the job done in round one.
6. Joao Sousa
Sousa faces qualifier Bjorn Fratangelo to begin his campaign in Estoril. Despite this being in Sousa’s home country, he’s lost both his previous matches here. Sousa is 5-5 in tour events on dirt this season, but just 1-2 over the last two tournaments. Fratangelo beat Gilles Simon last week in Budapest after coming through qualis and it’s reasonable to think he might have a shot here to KO Sousa.
7. Kyle Edmund
The Brit opens with Joao Dominques, another qualifier from Portugal. This is Domingues’ first time to get out of qualifying and into the main draw. Edmund is 2-2 on tour this season on this surface and also lost two matches on clay in Davis Cup play. Edmund isn’t bad on clay though against inferior competition. Two of his five career Challenger titles came on clay. The home crowd might give Domingues a boost, but I don’t know if it will be enough.
8. Benoit Paire
The Frenchman gets defending champion Nicolas Almagro in his opener. The Spaniard won their lone clash. It came on clay, but was way back in 2012 in Acapulco. Since making the Casablanca semifinals, Paire has lost to Tommy Haas and Horacio Zeballos on this surface. Almagro is 7-1 during his two trips to Estoril and this figures to be a popular upset pick. Given that Almagro isn’t in great form though, this is really a 50-50 call. Then again, it’s usually 50-50 if Paire brings his brain with him on each trip, so pick your poison.
Quarter #1 Seeds
Pablo Carreno Busta (1)
Benoit Paire (8)
Carreno Busta was placed into a strong quarter with the defending champion Almagro, Paire and a tough opener against either Robredo or Donskoy. PCB has been a pretty solid play on this surface during his rise in the rankings, but he’s coming in without the best form. Given the tough circumstances here, I would not be shocked if the top seed curse continues in Estoril. The Paire-Almagro winner seems the obvious pick to click if it’s not Carreno Busta. The winner of that match will take on Gastao Elias or Malek Jaziri in round two.
Quarter #2 Seeds
David Ferrer (4)
Juan Martin Del Potro (5)
If Del Potro hits the ground running on clay, this is really a very winnable quarter. If he gets by Sugita, then it’s either Ryan Harrison or Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Up top, Ferrer has a chance to get himself on track – yet that is anything but certain. I still have a hard time thinking this quarter doesn’t go to a seed as the likes of Istomin, Harrison, GGL and the Portugese Ferreira Silva don’t inspire thoughts of unseeded glory.
Quarter #3 Seeds
Gilles Muller (3)
Joao Sousa (6)
Another really wide open quarter with neither seed looking locked in recently. Sousa would be a smart selection if he had any success here in Estoril. If he gets by Fratangelo, maybe that gets the ball rolling. A win there would net him a date against either Taro Daniel or Renzo Olivo. Neither is playing terrible well, although Daniel has the slightly better form coming in. The Sousa-Fratangelo survivor may well run through this quarter, unless Muller serves his way through. I can’t rightfully say I have much confidence in anyone in this quarter, but I do lean to that Sousa-Fratangelo winner as the favorite to get to the semifinals.
Quarter #4 Seeds
Richard Gasquet (2)
Kyle Edmund (7)
I do expect more from Gasquet this week, so a first-up flop would be more surprising after he hopefully got his clay court feet under him with more prep time. Edmund doesn’t look like a bad back-up option to run through this quarter. His opener is winnable and then he might have to contend with Kevin Anderson. The tall South African is up against Italian qualifier Salvatore Caruso. Caruso has been crushing it in Futures play in his home country, but has shown very little when stepping up in level in Challengers. I’d be stunned if Anderson lost to him quite frankly. Gasquet-Edmund would be a nice quarterfinal here with the two splitting a pair of previous matches. The one last year in Antwerp was much more competitive and I would expect Edmund could at least push Gasquet to three like he did there. Anderson would be the under-the-radar guy here who might swoop in if all else fails.
Non-seeded players have played big in Estoril in its brief history with three of the right previous semifinalists being unseeded. That includes last year’s champion Almagro. He was actually the lone non-seed in the last eight and made it all the way through. In the first year of the tournament in 2015, five of the eight quarterfinalists were not seeded. Among this year’s field, Almagro ranks as an almost too-obvious choice to be involved in the business end of the tournament. I don’t really fancy him to make it as far as the semis due to a tough draw. For some reason Anderson is sticking out to me as a potential dark horse and Portugal’s own Pedro Sousa is a long shot, but a long shot with some intrigue due to past success against his possible second round opponent, Gilles Muller. Of course Sousa has to win his first round match first.
AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO ….
This is a difficult draw to pick a winner from, one of the tougher ones to me in recent memory due to the question marks for most of the seeds and lack of great form for the non-seeds. If the #1 seed jinx hits again here, I’d look to Gasquet as the logical second choice and Del Potro as the third … if he can fire out of the gates quickly. I still have a sneaking suspicion about Kevin Anderson though – must be the bourbon.