Top Teams Clash at Citi Open
As the hard court season moves into high gear, all the top doubles teams will be in action this week in Washington, D.C. Interestingly enough with the ATP’s convoluted rankings system for doubles and seeding, the top ranked team is not seeded #1 in D.C. Henri Kontinen and John Peers enter as the top seeds despite trailing Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo by over 2,000 points for the top spot in the rankings. Kontinen and Peers are however ranked higher in the individual doubles players’ rankings, so they get the nod as #1 with Kubot-Melo slotted in as the second seeds. Rounding out the top four seeds this week are Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares as the number threes and Atlanta champions, the Bryans Brothers, as the number four seeds.
Kontinen-Peers made the semifinals here last season. The Bryans are former four-time champions with their last Citi Open titles coming in 2015. Both Kubot-Melo and Murray-Soares are competing in D.C. for the first time. Kubot did team with Alexander Peya last year though to make the final. 2016 Citi Open champs, Daniel Nestor and Edouard Roger-Vasselin, are not competing together this year. ERV is teaming with Steve Johnson, while Nestor partners with Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi.
The top half of the draw with Kontinen-Peers and Murray-Soares as the seeds has plenty of danger in it. In addition to the Johnson-ERV combo, there are also the Zverev Brothers teaming up, Ivan Dodig and Mate Pavic as well as French Open champs Michael Venus and Ryan Harrison. Dodig-Pavic are hot coming in off the doubles titles on clay in Hamburg. Last week was the first time the two Croats had paired up since 2013. They have played five tournaments together in their careers and made the finals three times. There is obvious chemistry and danger for the other teams in this draw.
They open against the Zverevs and would need to beat Kontinen-Peers to get to the semifinals. Kontinen-Peers have been fairly mediocre since their Australian Open win, but do come in off a quarterfinal run at Wimbledon. Still, I expect them to be pushed in their part of the draw. Venus-Harrison stumbled last week in doubles continuing their off again, on again play outside of Grand Slams. Watch them this week, but Murray-Soares should feel okay with their draw that seems them open with Johnson-ERV and then possibly playing Venus-Harrison.
Bottom Half Features World’s Top Team
The bottom half of the draw is where you’ll find the surging Bryan Brothers and the world #1s, Kubot and Melo. Kubot-Melo look to have an advantageous draw, perhaps the best of the seeds. The 2017 Wimbledon champs opened Monday with a 7-5, 7-5 win over Dominic Thiem and Robert Lindstedt. As you can see above, they’re also the first team to qualify for the year-end Tour Finals. That speaks to what they’ve done already this season. Kubot-Melo now wait for either Grigor Dimitrov and Lucas Pouille or Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau in the quarterfinals. Kubot-Melo carry a 15 match win streak into the next round and they’ve also gone 12-2 on outdoor hard courts this season. They set up as the ones to beat despite their #2 seeding.
The Bryans did a nice job in Atlanta last week, but figure to face stiffer competition this week. That starts in round one where they face Nicholas Monroe and Jack Sock. Monroe-Sock are no strangers as they’ve already teamed up once this year in Miami, where they made the final against Kubot-Melo. It marks the 7th straight year that they have played at least one tournament together. It’s also interesting to note that Sock is playing doubles for a second straight week after teaming with his brother Eric in a first round loss last week in Atlanta. Sock has stayed with a lighter slate of doubles and still doesn’t appear interested in adding them back to his Grand Slam schedule, but is obviously dangerous with the right partner.
Keep the Bryans on upset alert in round one with the winners likely to control that quarter for a semifinal run. The winner plays either Rohan Bopanna and Donald Young or the aforementioned team of Nestor-Qureshi. Nestor-Qureshi played a little together last season, going 5-3. They are a bit intriguing in this part of the draw, but might need the Bryans out to have a big chance at running deep.
In the end, Kubot-Melo have a nice draw to get to the final and further solidify their spot at the top of the rankings. The other finals spot looks to come down to Kontinen-Peers, Dodig-Pavic or Murray-Soares. Doubles could use a 1 vs 2 in this one in what is a pretty good rivalry that no one is noticing. Kontinen-Peers beat Kubot-Melo on clay in Rome and then Kubot-Melo won one of several thrillers they played at Wimbledon, when they took down Kontinen-Peers 9-7 in a 5th set in the semifinals. Let’s put the rubber match on a hard court this week in D.C. to see who’s got whose number in 2017.
Mirza Partners Without Peng for D.C.
After announcing that she’ll team with Shuai Peng heading towards the U.S. Open, Sania Mirza goes off of that proclamation as she teams with Monica Niculescu this week at the Citi Open. Don’t read anything into it. This was planned as Mirza-Peng have planned on teaming up for the Rogers Cup and Western & Southern Open for their preparation for the U.S. Open. Mirza needed a partner and chose Niculescu whom she teamed up with in 2016 to win the New Haven doubles title. This will be just their third time teaming together and first since New Haven. Mirza is seeking her second title of the season this week. She hasn’t won since the opening week in Brisbane, where she paired up with Bethanie Mattek-Sands for the titles.
Niculescu is an interesting partner and an underrated doubles player. Don’t forget she just made the final at Wimbledon alongside Hao-Ching Chan. Niculescu won her 8th career doubles title earlier this season in Biel, Switzerland. She teamed with Su-wei Hsieh for that trophy. Last year, she won three doubles titles with three different partners, including Mirza of course in New Haven. They look to be the team to beat this week without a doubt.
They hold the top seed in D.C. this week in a fairly week draw. The second seeds this week are Shuko Aoyama and Renata Voracova. Aoyama-Voracova are teaming up or the first time in 2017 with their last tournament together coming last season in Nottingham on grass. They have had some success together in the past with a finals run on clay in Nurnberg last year and another in Auckland in 2015. Back in 2014, they won their lone title together in Tokyo. In this weak draw, they look the likeliest challengers.
Last Week’s Wrap/Rankings Update
There were familiar names in the winner’s circle on the three ATP World Tour stops last week. I already mentioned the Bryans winning in Atlanta and Dodig-Pavic taking the Hamburg titles. The third champions’ pair last week came in Gstaad in the form of Austrians Oliver Marach and Philipp Oswald. It was a nice presto change-o for Marach who switched from Pavic at Wimbledon to Oswald on clay. Marach flips partners again this week, pairing with Nikola Mektic in D.C. where they open with Kontinen-Peers.
There was only one really noteworthy move in the men’s doubles rankings last week and that was the Bryans moving up to number three. After winning in Atlanta, they slipped past Murray-Soares for the third spot. They stand just 75 points ahead of Murray-Soares heading to DC this week. The rest of the top eight spots in the race for London remained the same.
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