Fans and most top players get a breather from the clay dust this week. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any tournaments, of course; between the men and women, there are at least five underway as we speak. But the biggest names on both tours are resting up for the back-to-back Masters/Premier run through Madrid and Rome, which begins next Monday and deposits us on the doorstep of Roland Garros.
For those of you who don’t believe in breathers from tennis, here’s a look at what’s happening at two men's events, each of which is headlined by a player to watch this spring.
$526,960; 250 rankings points
Draw is here
Does Jo-Wilfried Tsonga qualify as a “big” name? Yes, he does, so I should amend my statement above to reflect the fact that the No. 5 player in the world is indeed in action this week. He’s the top seed in Munich. It’s not a bad move for the Frenchman to pick up some matches; the last time we saw him he was blowing a 4-2 lead in the second set to his lower-ranked countryman Gilles Simon in Monte Carlo. Tsonga will open with the winner between Michael Berrer and Tommy Haas. His half also includes, in descending order of seed, Cilic, Youzhny, and Baghdatis.
At first glance it came as a surprise to me that Feliciano Lopez would merit a second-seeding here, but the Other Spanish Lefty (Feli, now ranked No. 16, has recently switched places with No. 19 Fernando Verdasco, who is now the Other Other Spanish Lefty) has been playing some good ball. In Houston and Barcelona, Lopez probably should have beaten both Isner and Ferrer, respectively. But he didn’t; hence his continued Otherness.
Lopez begins with the winner of Cedrik-Marcel Stebe and Sergiy Stakhovsky. In his half are Bernard Tomic, winner over Olivier Rochus earlier today; Philipp Kohlschreiber; and Nikolay Davydenko, the defending champ. Can the aging but improving Lopez win a tournament like this? It would seem to be the logical next step, but it’s still a long shot. If Tsonga has any designs on the top four in the weeks ahead, this is the place to start showing what he can do.
Player to monitor: Tomic
Obligatory all-talent first-round match: Gulbis vs. Malisse
Motivated veteran: Davydenko. He hugged his complimentary BMW Cabriolet when he won last year; I'm sure he, or his wife, would like another.
Best-named first-rounder: Potito Starace vs. David “Not Geffen” Goffin
$526,960; 250 ranking points
Draw is here
OK, I’ll have to amend my earlier statement one more time, because Estoril’s top seed, Juan Martin del Potro, certainly qualifies as “big,” both in stature in the hopes and expectations that continually surround him. For two years we’ve waited for the Argentine to make his move back to the late stages of Grand Slams. We’re still waiting; we may always be waiting. He may not win everything, but del Potro is good for suspense.
This year the world No. 12 comes to Estoril as the defending champ, and he joins the clay swing after a month’s rest. Del Potro had a busy and generally successful run to start the season, and he finished it on a high note with two Davis Cup wins over Croatia. He’ll open with the winner of Pedro Sousa and Rui Machado. Also in del Potro’s half are Stan Wawrinka, Robin Haase, and Albert Montanes.
The second seed in Estoril is Richard Gasquet, a finalist here in 2007. He’ll start with Paola Lorenzi. In his half is fifth seed Dennis Istomin, as well as the Other Other Other Spanish Lefty, Albert Ramos. This would seem to be an opportunity for Gasquet; we’ll see what he makes of it.
Otherwise, Estoril may be most notable this time for its deep trove of superb names. In addition to the aforementioned Pedro Sousa, we also have Inigo Cervantes and Attila Balazs in attendance. My week has been made.