The Week in Preview: Feb. 3

Monday, February 03, 2014 /by
Gasquet, Cilic, Zeballos (AP Photo)
Gasquet, Cilic, Zeballos (AP Photo)

The men just passed two major milestones on the tour calendar: The year’s first Grand Slam, the Australian Open, and the first round of Davis Cup. This week the dust from those events will be allowed to settle, and nine of the world’s Top 10 will be allowed some rest. February, traditionally tennis’ quietest month until the majors are over in the fall, begins appropriately enough with three modest 250-level events on two continents. Here’s a look at each of the draws. The results may not be memorable, but it will be a chance for some slow starters to begin building momentum as the heart of the season approaches. 

*****

Open Sud de France

Montpellier, France
$527,000; 250 ranking points
Indoor hard courts
Draw is here

Richard Gasquet, the No. 1 seed in Montpellier, is the only player in the Top 10 in action this week. He’s also one of the tour’s late risers, having been upset in the third round in Australia by Tommy Robredo. This looks like the week for Gasquet to turn that around. He’s the defending champion in Montpellier, and he’s in a draw stocked with his lower-ranked countrymen. That includes the No. 2 seed, Gilles Simon, as well as Gasquet’s opening-round opponent, Paul-Henri Mathieu. Reeshard is a fan of the great indoors in general; three of his last four titles have come inside. But he may still be finding his feet after his coach, Ricardo Piatti, ended their successful partnership without warning at the end of 2013.

Also here:

—No. 3 seed Jerzy Janowicz, who will try to bounce back from a foot injury that plagued him through three matches in Melbourne.

—No. 5 seed Gael Monfils. He'll open the next act of La Monf's Flying Circus against Lukasz Kubot.

First-round battle of the French giants to watch: 6’8” Kenny de Schepper will face 6’8” Albano Olivetti.

*****

PBZ Zagreb Indoors

Zagreb, Croatia
$527,000; 250 ranking points
Indoor hard courts
Draw is here

Zagreb took a hit when it lost its highest-ranked entrant, Milos Raonic, to an ankle injury. That moves Tommy Haas, world No. 12, into the No. 1 position—even in this age of the aged, a top seeding is a rarity for a 35-year-old. A title would be the German’s 16th of his career; he’ll open against either Jesse Huta Galung or countryman Benjamin Becker.

At the other end of the draw is Haas' fellow old-timer, Mikhail Youzhny, still in the Top 15 at age 31. The Russian won in Zagreb two years ago, but is off to something of a slow start in 2014. He lost a five-setter in the second round of the Australian Open to Florian Mayer.

The man with the most to gain and lose in Croatia is native son Marin Cilic. He’s the defending champ here, but after his suspension last summer, he’s dropped far enough that he's only the fifth seed. Cilic won his opener over countryman Mate Delic, and could be heading for a third-round showdown with another Croat, Ivan Dodig.

—Also here: Sergiy Stakhovsky, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Radek Stepanek, Ivo Karlovic, Lukas Rosol

—Wild card to watch: Borna Coric is a highly-touted 17-year-old from Croatia and U.S. Open boys' champ; he’ll play veteran German Michael Berrer in the first round.

—Best-named opening-rounder: Blaz Kavcic vs. Igor Sijsling. They just edged out Jan-Lennard Struff vs. Lukas Lacko.

*****

Royal Guard Open Chile

Viña del Mar, Chile
$527,000; 250 ranking points
Clay
Draw is here

What tournament will have the biggest drop-off in interest from 2013 to 2014? I’d say Viña del Mar is the leading contender at the moment. A year ago, the sporting world briefly turned it eyes toward this little resort town, as Rafael Nadal returned to the tour after seven months away. This time Rafa is scheduled, back permitting, to make his clay debut next week in Buenos Aires.

So the world will probably not be turning its eyes to Viña del Mar. But a tournament will be played, one that marks the start of the South American swing. With Nadal’s presence and a new 500-level event in Rio in two weeks, this stretch is going to be a more significant part of the ATP season in the coming years. As for Viña del Mar itself, the setting on the sea may be more of a draw than the draw itself this time around. Fabio Fognini, Tommy Robredo, and Nicolas Almagro are the top seeds.

They’ll be joined by defending champ Horacio Zeballos—you remember him, right? The hefty Argentine lefty beat Nadal in the final here last year and reached a career-high No. 39 in March, but has since slid back to No. 67. Zeballos opens against well-named 20-year-old Chilean wild card Gonzalo Lama. Also returning is the player Nadal beat in his first match back, Federico Delbonis. He’s had a better 12 months than Zeballos and comes in as the eighth seed. 

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