The Week in Preview: Dubai, Rio, Marseille, Delray Beach

by: Steve Tignor February 15, 2016

Garbine Muguruza and Simona Halep need wins in their tour returns, while Juan Martin del Potro just needs to play. (AP)

When it comes to tennis, February has never had much of an identity. It’s the in-between month, the only one without a Grand Slam or a mandatory tour event. Sometimes, though, smaller can be better, or at least more intriguing. 

This past week gave us a little bit of everything: 18-year-olds Belinda Bencic, Taylor Fritz, Alexander Zverev and Daria Kasatkina challenged their elders; 22-year-old Dominic Thiem went a step better and beat them all; Venus Williams and Roberta Vinci, 35 and nearly-33, respectively, stood up for the old guard with titles of their own; and Martin Klizan saved match points on two occasions in his Rotterdam run. If that counts as a slow week, we’ve got a promising season ahead of us.

Can this week match it? Many of the top-tier women have gathered for a Premier event in Dubai, while the men are still scattered across three continents. But if there’s a sense of déjà vu at the ATP events, the tour is also welcoming back a new-old face: On Tuesday, in Delray Beach, Juan Martin Del Potro will play his first match in nearly a year. Here’s a look at what’s ahead for Delpo and the rest of the game.

*****

Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships (WTA) 

Dubai, UAE
$2,000,000; Premier
DecoTurf II
Draw is here

Dubai can offer the women $2,000,000 in prize money, but it doesn’t have the mandatory status to make everyone show up. Hence the pretty-good-but-could-have-been-better nature of this draw. No. 1 Serena Williams, No. 2 Angelique Kerber, and No. 6 Maria Sharapova all pulled out, leaving five members of the Top 10: Simona Halep, Garbiñe Muguruza, Carla Suarez Navarro, Petra Kvitova, and the newest member of that elite group, Belinda Bencic. 

While the tournament may lack star power, it doesn’t lack for story lines at the top. No. 1 seed Simona Halep and No. 2 seed Garbiñe Muguruza are returning to the tour after dismal early-round losses at the Australian Open. Each could use a win (or three), but each could have a hard time getting it: Halep will face either Ana Ivanovic or Daria Gavrilova in her opener, while Muguruza could play Elina Svitolina. With just 28 players, there’s not a lot of breathing room in this draw.

First-round matches to watch:

—Ivanovic vs. Gavrilova

—Bencic vs. Jelena Jankovic

—Karolina Pliskova vs. CoCo Vandeweghe. The American upset the Czech at Wimbledon last year.

*****

Rio Open (ATP)

Rio de Janeiro
$1,333,085; 500 ranking points
Clay
Draw is here

Double or nothing: This draw looks much the same as the one in Buenos Aires did last week, but there are twice as many ranking points on the line. Six of the top seven seeds —Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, John Isner, Fabio Fognini, and Thiem—have made the short trip from Argentina to Brazil. The one new face is a semi-surprising one: Jack Sock. Rather than try his luck in Memphis or Delray Beach, Sock has followed his fellow American, Isner, south. Like Isner, Sock has shown an un-American predilection, and knack, for dirt. He’ll start his South American swing against Federico Delbonis.

The two biggest stories in Rio will be Nadal and Thiem. The Austrian saved a match point to upset the Spaniard in a third-set tiebreaker in the Buenos Aires semis, before going on to win the tournament. Thiem will start back up in Rio against Pablo Andujar, and could face No. 2 seed David Ferrer in the third round. On the other side of the draw, Nadal opens against his countryman Pablo Carreño Busta, and might play another Spaniard, Nicolas Almagro, after that. Rafa dropped a set to Carreño Busta in Doha last month, but he has won his last seven sets against Almagro.

*****

Open 13 (ATP)

Marseille, France
$670,985; 250 ranking points
Indoor hard
Draw is here

Tomas Berdych and Stan Wawrinka won titles in Rotterdam in 2014 and 2015, respectively; this year each has waited a week longer to return to the tour after the Australian Open. There are 250 fewer points on the line in Marseille, but the draw isn’t much different than it was last week. Wawrinka and Berdych will be joined by Richard Gasquet, Marin Cilic, Gilles Simon, David Goffin, Gael Monfils, Benoit Paire, Ernests Gulbis, Vasek Pospisil, as well as the story of the week in Rotterdam, wild card Alexander Zverev. 

First-round match to watch: Pospisil vs. Nick Kyrgios

Possible second-round match to watch: Berdych vs. Zverev

*****

Delray Beach (ATP)

Delray Beach, Fla.
$514,065; 250 ranking points
Hard court
Draw is here

Like the women in Dubai, there are a few men here who could use a win. Top seed Kevin Anderson, a Delray Beach resident, and No. 3 seed Ivo Karlovic each had to retire in the first round at the Australian Open. No. 6 seed Steve Johnson is 2-3 so far this year; and No. 4 seed Grigor Dimitrov is ranked a too-low 27th. And then there’s Del Potro. He just needs a match; let the wins come when they may.

Also here: Bernard Tomic

First-round matches to watch: 

—Taylor Fritz vs. Tim Smyczek

—Denis Kudla vs. Del Potro

*****

Rio Open (WTA)

Rio de Janeiro
$250,000: WTA International
Clay
Draw is here

You won’t find many lower-profile top seeds at a tour event than 27-year-old, 44th-ranked Teliana Pereira. But at least she’s Brazilian. 

Also here: No. 4 seed Christina McHale and No. 3 Danka Kovinic. The 21-year-old from Montenegro reached a career-high No. 50 at the start of the month.

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