The Week in Preview: The Big Four Returns in Acapulco, Dubai

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Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer all return to the tour after nearly a month off. (AP)

It’s still technically February, but the tours—especially on the ATP side—will start to have that March feeling this week. Spring will come early, in the form of some Acapulco sunshine, and the long road to the Grand Slam season will also start a week early on the men’s side. Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer—a.k.a. the Big Four—all return to the tour after nearly a month off. 

*****

Abierto Mexicano Telcel (ATP)

Acapulco, Mexico
$1,491,310; 500 ranking points
Hard court
Draw is here

The sleepy old Mexican Open has steadily raised its profile over the last five years. It has men’s and women’s draws; has switched from clay to hard courts so it can serve as a transition to the season’s first Masters event, in Indian Wells; and it has become a 500-level tournament with a $1.5 million purse. 

But 2017 feels like a breakout for Acapulco. Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, the top two seeds, will be in the draw together for the first time after spending most of February on the sidelines. Their supporting cast will be nothing to sneeze at, either: Juan Martin del Potro, Nick Kyrgios, Dominic Thiem, David Goffin, John Isner, Borna Coric, Marin Cilic, Jack Sock and Mischa Zverev help round out this fine 32-player draw.

First-round matches to watch: Nadal vs. M. Zverev

Thiem vs. Gilles Simon

Isner vs. Steve Johnson

Cilic vs. Alexander Dolgopolov

Potential second-round match to watch: Djokovic vs. Del Potro

*****

Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships (ATP)

Dubai, UAE
$2,429,150; 500 ranking points
DecoTurf II
Draw is here

Federer, fresh off his Australian Open title, insists he’s not the favorite in Dubai this year. History says otherwise: He has liked the speedy courts here since 2003, when he won the first of his seven titles on them.

But the rankings, and the event’s solidly stacked 32-player draw, back Federer up. He’s only the No. 3 seed, behind world No. 1 Andy Murray and No. 3 Stan Wawrinka, and the field also includes Tomas Berdych, Gael Monfils and Marseille finalist Lucas Pouille. 

Federer could play Pouille in the third round, but the match to watch will be his possible semifinal against Murray. The Brit is No. 1, but the Swiss has won their last five meetings with the loss of just one set. On these courts, I think that does make Federer the favorite, after all.

*****

ALYA WTA Malaysian Open

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
$250,000; WTA International
DecoTurf
Draw is here

No rest for the WTA’s hottest player of the moment, and newest member of the Top 10, Elina Svitolina. After knocking off Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki on her way to a championship in Dubai on Saturday, the Ukrainian will make the long flight for Kuala Lumpur to defend her 2016 title. There she’ll be the No. 1 seed, ahead of Carla Suarez Navarro, Caroline Garcia and Peng Shuai. Will Svitolina regret this trip in a few weeks? Only time will tell.

*****

Abierto Mexicano Telcel (WTA)

Acapulco, Mexico
$226,750; WTA International
Hard court
Draw is here

The women can’t compete with the men’s star power, or prize-money power, in Acapulco. But there are things to watch for in this draw. How will surprise Aussie Open semifinalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni handle being a top seed? What’s in store for No. 6 seed Eugenie Bouchard, who opens against Alja Tomljanovic? And how about Daniela Hantuchova? The 33-year-old has taken a wild card, and will face Yanina Wickmayer.

First round for American fans to watch: Louisa Chirico vs. Shelby Rogers

*****

Brasil Open (ATP)

Sao Paulo, Brazil
$455,565; 250 ranking points
Clay
Draw is here

When the top tier’s away … Pablo Carreño Busta, it seems, will play. The Rio finalist comes to Sao Paulo as the No. 1 seed.

Also here: Norway’s Casper Ruud, the latest 18-year-old kid with a flashy forehand to make his mark. The rookie—who also joins tennis’ cool-name pantheon—was one point away from the Rio final. This week he’ll start against fellow teenager Akira Santillan of Japan.

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