The Week in Preview: Basel, Valencia

Monday, October 21, 2013 /by
AP Photo
AP Photo

They’ve been to Oz, they’ve been to Asia, they’ve been to the States twice. But the ATP tour and its players never stray far from Europe for long. Naturally: That’s where the best of them come from these days. 

The tour has returned once again to the Continent, for its final, month-long homestretch. It began last week with 250s in Stockholm and Vienna, continues this week with 500s in Basel and Valencia, and closes with three biggies in a row, starting next Monday: The Bercy Masters 1000, the World Tour Finals in London, and the Davis Cup final in Belgrade. I had thought that there was a week added between Bercy and London this time around, but according to the ATP calendar, the top eight men will be working straight into November.

A few of those players get started this week, and they have more than just a title on their minds. The window to qualify for the year-end championships is closing fast. Here’s a look at the Basel and Valencia draws, and who has the most to gain and lose from them.

*****

Swiss Indoors Basel

Basel, Switzerland
$1,976,602; 500 ranking points
Hard courts
Draw is here

“Times have changed”: That’s what the Basel draw is telling us. Hometown hero and five-time champ Roger Federer is here, but he’s not at the top or the bottom of the brackets. This year he's the No. 3 seed, and he's buried two thirds of the way down, in the same quarter as his athletic progeny, Grigor “Baby Fed” Dimitrov. Father and son could meet for the first time in the quarterfinals.

Another sign of the changed times is that these matches are about more than just pride for Federer. He’s currently dueling with two other players in Basel, Stan Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet, for the final spots at the eight-man World Tour Finals. Fortunately for all of them, Andy Murray has already pulled out of that tournament, which means that if the cutoff were today, all three would make it. Federer has the most points to defend this week—he was a finalist here last year, while Gasquet reached the semis and Wawrinka went out in the first round. All three are within 30 ranking points of each other; the next player on the list, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, is 65 points behind them. Jo is idle this week.

Federer has already won his first-round match, in straight sets over Adrian Mannarino. Next up for him is the winner between Zeballos and Istomin; after that he could see Dimitrov, the winner in Stockholm last week. Wawrinka will start against Edouard Roger-Vasselin on Tuesday and is scheduled to face Andreas Seppi in the quarters. As for Gasquet, he’ll take on his countryman Michael Llodra first, and could meet Juan Martin del Potro in the round of eight.

Speaking of del Potro, while he’s a lock for London, he has his own agenda this fall. The top seed and defending champion in Basel, he played his best tennis of the season two weeks ago to reach the final in Shanghai. We’ll see if he can build on that. On the other side of the draw is second seed Tomas Berdych. The Birdman, who has spoiled a few Federer parties in the past, may get a chance to do it again in the semifinals.

Also here: Vasek Pospisil. The Canadian has been playing well, and might face Berdych in the second round. He beat the Czech in a third-set tiebreaker in Montreal this summer.

*****

Valencia Open 500

Valencia, Spain
$2,045,312; 500 ranking points
Indoor hard courts
Draw is here

Tournament owner Juan Carlos Ferrero must be wondering what it takes to pry a big name away from his rival event in Switzerland. Valencia is offering the same number of ranking points, and even more money, yet not only does Basel have Federer and del Potro, it was scheduled to host Ferrero’s countryman Rafael Nadal as well, before Rafa pulled out. It's enough to make you wonder if local boy David Ferrer would have stuck around Valencia if he didn’t also have a financial interest in the event.

The tournament has Ferrer, but it hasn't been helped by his draw: The Spanish No. 2 opens against the crowd-pleasing Gael Monfils—one of them will be gone in a hurry. But the news isn’t all bad; a lot of talent will be assembled inside Valencia's futuristic, Calatrava-designed, belly-of-a-whale tennis arena. Haas, Tomic, Paire, Gulbis, Isner, Simon, Youzhny, Fognini, Verdasco, Almagro, Janowicz, and Feliciano Lopez will all be in action.

One player who has already been swallowed by the whale is Janko Tipsarevic. The Serb retired after the third game today to Spain’s Marcel Granollers. Of those still left, Haas is the only man with a faint chance of qualifying for London (Ferrer, of course, is in). Whether or not he makes it, the German has had a season for the aged, if not the ages. Last week in Vienna, the 35-year-old won his second title of the year.

First-round matches to watch: Ferrer vs. Monfils; Gulbis vs. Isner; Tomic vs. Youzhny; Haas vs. Kohlschreiber

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