Quiet February begins to get a little noisier this week, as most of the top women return to action in top-dollar Doha, and the men get their first 500-level event of the month in Rotterdam. Here’s a look ahead at what we might see at those and two other men’s events.
Qatar Total Open (WTA)
$2,440,070; Premier 5
Draw is here
Last year Doha had drama of the highest order. Serena Williams came back to beat Petra Kvitova in the quarterfinals to reclaim the No. 1 ranking; two days later, the woman Serena passed at the top, Victoria Azarenka, beat her in three sets.
This time Williams and Azarenka, as well as Maria Sharapova, are not in the draw; Serena has a back problem, Vika has a foot problem, and Maria hasn’t made the trip to the desert in recent years. Yet the field remains, relatively speaking, loaded. The world’s new No. 2, Li Na, leads a draw that includes most of the Top 20. Two-and-a-half million dollars in prize money and a sizable amount in appearance fees tend to have that effect.
But while you can lead a tennis player to water, you can’t necessarily force her to drink. Sloane Stephens made the trip to Doha, only to lose in two dispiriting sets to 134th-ranked Petra Cetkovska on Monday. I’ll save the Sloane hand-wringing for another day, and just say that Cetkovska moves on to a possible third-round encounter with Li.
—Venus Williams beat Petra Martic today and will face Petra Kvitova next.
—First-round match to watch: Genie Bouchard vs. Bethanie Mattek-Sands
—Sleeper: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. She was the champ last week in Paris, and gets a lucky loser in the first round here.
—Already out: Skipping Fed Cup in Cleveland didn’t prove to be a help to Italy’s Flavia Pennetta and Roberta Vinci. They lost their openers on Monday.
—Already in: By virtue of the fact that she showed up, and Azarenka didn’t, Li Na ascends to No. 2, the highest ranking ever for an Asian player.
ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament (ATP)
$1,869,280; 500 ranking points
Draw is here
There are surprises at both ends of the brackets in Rotterdam. First, there’s the presence of Juan Martin del Potro and Andy Murray at the top and bottom. Until late last week, neither looked likely to attend. Del Potro was presumed injured, and Murray took a last-second wild card after Aussie champ Stan Wawrinka withdrew. Then there’s the seeding order; the Argentine is No. 1, the Scot is No. 2. I didn’t realize that del Potro is currently all the way up at No. 4 in the rankings, and Murray is all the way down to No. 6.
The third surprise is how tough del Potro’s opener is. He’ll have to face Gael Monfils, who was the champion in Montpellier last week, and is 12-2 on the season. But this is a tough draw—OK, I’ll go ahead and call it “loaded”—all around. Also in del Potro’s half are Tomas Berdych, Grigor Dimitrov, Tommy Haas, Jerzy Janowicz, and Ernests Gulbis. On Murray’s side there’s Jo-Wiflried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet, and Mikhail Youzhny.
It’s a hopeful yet experimental week for the top two seeds. Murray will be testing out his surgically repaired back, and del Potro will be doing the same with his unrepaired wrist.
First-round matches to watch: Del Potro vs. Monfils; Tsonga vs. Florian Mayer
First-round match that you blinked and missed: Philipp Kohlschreiber beat Sergiy Stakhovsky in 65 minutes on Monday.
U.S. National Indoor Tennis Championships (ATP)
$568,805; 250 ranking points
Draw is here
This is a troubled week for U.S. men’s tennis. The long-running ATP event in San Jose has absconded to Brazil, and its sister tournament in Memphis has dropped from a 500 to a 250. Kei Nishikori and Feliciano Lopez, ranked 16th and 26th, respectively, are the top seeds this year. They’re joined by the expected parade of American men: Sam Querrey, Donald Young, Tim Smyczek, Ryan Harrison, Michael Russell, and Jack Sock.
First-round matches to watch: Nick Kyrgios vs. Smyczek; Adrian Mannarino vs. Sock
Copa Claro (ATP)
$488,890; 250 ranking points
Draw is here
Rafael Nadal was scheduled to play in Buenos Aires, before a bad back and stomach flu kept him at home. Never fear, though, David Ferrer is here—he has to be playing somewhere, after all. And so is No. 2 seed Fabio Fognini, who is coming off a win last week in Chile. It almost seems like the less the Italian tries, the better he does. The Fog Man is the true embodiment of Stan Wawrinka’s “fail better” slogan.
Also here: Robredo, Almagro, Monaco, Haase, Chardy, Granollers, Dolgopolov