Over the last three weeks, the men have taken a shot of Grand Slam tennis at the Australian Open, and chased it down with a week of team tennis during Davis Cup. Now it’s time to get back to their day jobs: i.e., the ATP tour.
It’s a gradual return to the grind. While the women spend the week preparing for their own team event, Fed Cup, the men scatter to three 250-level events, in Montpelier, Quito, and Sofia. After the opening bell in Melbourne, the quiet of February settles in, and the marathon to London begins. This may not be a month for casual fans, but there’s plenty for aficionados to see.
Here’s a look ahead at how this tennis-lovers month will get started.
Open Sud de France
$622,885; 250 ranking points
When it comes to staging indoor, down-season, 250-level events without any of the Big 4 on the marquee, France is the place to go. French fans tend to attend, especially when their countrymen are on the court, and there will be lots of them this week in Montpelier. Gilles Simon, Julien Benneteau, Pierre-Hugues Herbert, Richard Gasquet, Jeremy Chardy, Nicolas Mahut, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Benoit Paire, and No. 2 seed Lucas Pouille are all packed into this small draw of 28, along with a French wild card named Calvin Hernery.
The top seed is almost French, but not quite. After a disappointing early loss in Melbourne, Belgium’s Davis Goffin will try to get some of his late-2017 mojo back, as will the No. 2 seed, and recent Davis Cup hero, Pouille.
Wild card of interest: Benneteau. His farewell tour, as well as the last leg of the long-running Benneteau Title Watch, continues.
$501,345; 250 ranking points
He may only be seeded sixth. He may only be ranked 86th. He may only be 5’7, and 0-2 in ATP events so far in 2018. He may be 37 years old. But can anyone else be considered the favorite in Quito besides Victor Estrella Burgos? The diminutive Dominican has won three titles in his career, all of them in Quito, in 2015, 2016, and 2017. He’ll begin his (inevitable?) march to a fourth straight title against Thomaz Bellucci.
Also here: No. 1 seed Pablo Carreño Busta and No. 2 Albert Ramos-Viñolas are coming off a successful Davis Cup weekend in Spain. No. 3 seed Gael Monfils has already won a title this season, in Doha.
The question is, will any of them be a match for Estrella Burgos?
Diema Xtra Sofia Open
$622,886; 250 ranking points
Emotional scenes unfolded in Sofia last year, when Bulgaria’s own Grigor Dimitrov won the title. But it may have been a win-the-battle, lose-the-war type of situation for him: After a strong start to 2017, an overworked Dimitrov began to look increasingly burned out through the rest of the winter and spring.
So maybe it’s not such a bad thing that he’s giving his home-country a miss in 2018. Instead, Stan Wawrinka will take his place as the top seed; after surgery and an early exit in Melbourne, Stan could use a solid week and a few wins. This is a field that should offer opportunities for them: Adrian Mannarino is the No. 2 seed, and Gilles Muller is No. 3.
Qualifier to watch: Ernests Gulbis