It’s getting to the point where we’re going to have to stop writing off the month of February. Instead of a post-Melbourne lull, we’ve had two worthy opening weekends of Davis Cup and Fed Cup, followed by the return of Rafael Nadal in Viña del Mar. The star power gets brighter this week, with Roger Federer returning in Rotterdam and the WTA’s Top 3, Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, and Serena Williams, leading a loaded field, and vying for the No. 1 ranking, in Doha. It’s almost enough to make you forget that the Rafa Return Tour rolls on in São Paulo, Brazil, where he’ll also be playing doubles with David Nalbandian.
From an American perspective, the only down note is that this week will also mark the final edition of the SAP Open in San Jose, a tournament which has been around, in various places and under various names, for more than a century.
Here’s a look ahead at those four tournaments.
Qatar Total Open (WTA)
$2,369,000; Premier 5
Draw is here
It’s tough to beat a 64-draw event with nine of the Top 10 women in the world (only No. 5 Li Na is MIA, due to an ankle injury she suffered in the Australian Open final). While Doha is a take-the-money-and-run kind of place when it comes to tennis, for the Top 3 there’s an added incentive for sticking around: Vika, Serena, and Maria can all finish the week No. 1.
Vika, who didn’t lose a match until late March last year, is the defending champion. Can she get on that kind of roll again? She’s in the better half of this draw; she’s scheduled to play Errani in the quarters and the winner of Radwanska and Kerber in the semifinals. I like her chances.
That leaves Serena and Maria on the same side. The former will become No. 1 for the first time since 2010 if she reaches the semifinals; the latter will take over for the first time since last summer if she wins the tournament and Serena and Vika lose early. Serena comes out of Australia nursing her own ankle injury, but she says she’s feeling no pain at the moment.
Also of interest:
—Can Petra Kvitova keep the good Fed Cup vibes alive for another week? She would get Serena in the quarters.
—How will Sloane Stephens follow up her Australian Open breakthrough, and the reflaring of her abdominal strain? She plays Anna Tatishvili first, and could get Sharapova in the third round.
—Mona Barthel, fresh off a title in Paris, beat teen qualifier Yulia Putintseva in her opener and will now face fellow German Angelique Kerber.
—Christina McHale opens against Vera Dushevina; the American, a pretty big story last spring, could use a win.
—Result of note: Ivanovic over Paszek 1 and 2
—Second-round match of note: Sharapova vs. Caroline Garcia. The young Frenchwoman nearly upset Maria in Paris two years ago.
ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament (ATP)
$1,696,163; 500 ranking points
Indoor hard court
Draw is here
Federer and Juan Martin del Potro, finalists in Rotterdam in 2012, have returned, though I’m not sure they’re dying to see each other on the other side of the net right now. That final, which Federer won 1 and 4, was one of eight times they played last year alone.
Unlike the four top seeds in Viña del Mar, Federer and del Potro won’t have the luxury of first-round byes in Rotterdam. Federer begins with Grega Zemlja, a 26-year-old Slovenian ranked No. 64. Del Potro has a less predictable, and perhaps tougher, opener against Gael Monfils. A first-rounder to watch, for sure.
—Grigor Dimitrov, who beat Bernard Tomic in three sets today. I watched some of the match between these two eternal up-and-comers, but didn’t get much of a feel for the play. It didn’t help that they were wearing matching outfits, and that there was virtually no one in the arena. Tomic looked pretty bummed at the end; here’s hoping his slide hasn’t begun. Dimitrov could play Nikolay Davydenko next. I’d like to see that one.
—Frenchmen Richard Gasquet and Benoit Paire, fresh off their uninspiring final in Montpellier (Paire lost), could face each other again in the second round. Is it time to put a buy recommendation on Reeshard yet? Or will it always be too soon for that? He plays Troicki first; Paire plays Baghdatis.
—The game’s newest young talented madman, Jerzy Janowicz, made some waves in an interview last week by calling Djokovic a phony and Federer stuck up. Perhaps fortunately for him, Jerzy is already out, to Victor Hanescu. He might have faced Federer in the third round.
Brasil Open (ATP)
São Paulo, Brazil
$455,775; 250 ranking points
Draw is here
Could Nadal be overdoing it to start? He followed up his three-set loss to Zeballos yesterday with a doubles final, he’s in both singles and doubles draws again this week, and he’ll play a third (singles only) event starting Feb. 25 in Acapulco. That's a fair amount of grinding and sliding to kick off a comeback.
For now, Rafa says he needs the work. He’ll open against the winner of Joao Souza and fellow Spaniard Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo. Also on his side are home-country favorite Thomaz Bellucci and fourth seed Jeremy Chardy, who threw in a dog of a match against Rafa in the semis in Chile. Hopefully he’ll want to make amends for that. The two top seeds on the other side are Almagro and Monaco, neither of whom have beaten Nadal on clay.
Is this a must-win for Rafa? No, especially with Almagro here. He’s never had success against Rafa, but Nico is a better player than anyone who was in Viña del Mar. It’s still mainly about playing matches for Nadal, but as he said yesterday, he wants to win.
—Also here: Nalbandian and Horacio Zeballos, both of whom are near Almagro in the draw.
SAP Open (ATP)
San Jose, USA
$546,930; 250 ranking points
Indoor hard court
Draw is here
Finally, we have the swan song for San Jose. This is the second-oldest tennis tournament in the States, behind only the U.S. Open (it's also older than the Aussie Open or French Open). It began life as the Pacific Coast Championships in Monterey in 1889 and will end it in 2013, eliminated, in a sign of the tennis times, in favor of a 500-level event in Rio de Janeiro.
As usual, it’s an American-heavy draw—Isner, Querrey, Sock, Harrison, Russell, Steve Johnson, and Bradley Kahn are all in attendance. As usual, a Canadian, Milos Raonic, is the favorite. The two-time defending champ is the top seed, and he’ll be a tough out on this final go-round on the SAP's slick indoor surface.