Last Monday I wrote that February is one long, slow drift back to the game for the top players, as they recover from their efforts during the Australian swing and prepare for the rigors of the U.S. Masters events in March. This week, the last of the month, that drift will be complete on the men’s side when the last two hold-outs, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, make their tour returns in Dubai. Nothing so momentous will happen on the women's side. For the WTA, which reached its February pinnacle last week, also in Dubai, this will mostly be a time of rest before everyone gathers again in Indian Wells, and the first signs of tennis’s spring begin.
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The Week in Preview: Dubai, Acapulco, Sao Paulo
Looking ahead at five tour events, and the return of Djokovic and
Published Feb 24, 2014
Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships (ATP)
$1,928,340; 500 ranking points
Draw is here
Djokovic and Federer have essentially co-owned this tournament for the last decade. Going back to 2003, the Swiss has won it five times, the Serb four. As a money-soaked, non-Masters tournament in February, Dubai is rarely seen as a harbinger of anything. But in 2011, Djokovic beat Federer here and went on to finish No. 1; the following year, Federer won the event and was No. 1 by July. It seems that the well-stocked, 32-player draw in the desert can be a sign of things to come.
This time that draw is stocked well enough that Djokovic, ranked No. 2, and Federer, ranked No. 8, are in the same half. Juan Martin del Potro, who is currently No. 5, is the second seed here. There doesn’t appear to be much standing in the way of a Djokovic-Federer semifinal. Novak opens with Denis Istomin, plays the winner of Adrian Ungur and Roberto Bautista-Agut, and might face Mikhail Youzhny after that. Federer opens against Benjamin Becker, plays the winner of Radek Stepanek and Michael Russell, and could face Dmitry Tursunov after that.
Del Potro isn’t alone on the other side of the draw. With him are Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a finalist this weekend in Marseille, and Tomas Berdych, who is coming off a title in Rotterdam—it will be interesting to see if that rare tournament victory for the Czech helps him at all going forward.
A win for any of the top seeds would be welcome heading to the States. A loss for Djokovic, in particular, could feed a sense of trouble after his quarterfinal defeat in Australia.
Abierto Mexicano Telcel (ATP)
$1,454,365; 500 ranking points
Draw is here
By switching from clay to hard courts, the 500-level, dual-gender tournament in Acapulco has positioned itself as a convenient alternative to Dubai, especially for players who want to prepare in the same time zone as the upcoming event in Indian Wells.
With the shift, Acapulco has snagged one big name that used to appear in Dubai, Andy Murray. Like Federer, Murray is still a member of the Big 4 in spirit, but he isn’t one in ranking. His is currently No. 7, which means he comes here as the No. 2 seed behind David Ferrer. Either way, Murray could use a good run. He was troubled at his last tournament, in Rotterdam, where he dropped a set to Dominic Thiem and a match to Marin Cilic, and didn’t seem happy about any of it. Murray has also struggled over the years in Indian Wells, a trend he sounds determined to change this time around.
It won’t be easy. The Scot opens against Pablo Andujar, who had match points on Rafael Nadal this weekend in Rio. Also in Murray's half are Gilles Simon, Grigor Dimitrov, and Ernests Gulbis. How much will the latter have left after his semifinal in Rotterdam and title in Marseille over the last two weeks? If Gulbis is fit enough, he looks good enough to beat anyone right now.
As for Ferrer, he’ll also come in—as he tends to do—having played the last two weeks. In Acapulco, he’ll have to switch from clay to hard courts and navigate a land of giants. John Isner, Sam Querrey, Kevin Anderson, and Vasek Pospisil, all 6’4” and above, are in his half.
Best name: Tigre Hank. The Mexican wild card plays Querrey first.
Abierto Mexicano Telcel (WTA)
Draw is here
Acapulco is also the sight of a less-lucrative women’s draw, though it has still lured two of the stars of Oz, Dominika Cibulkova and Eugenie Bouchard. Each woman has struggled since, and each could use a few good matches on hard courts. Domi starts against Urszula Radwanska; Bouchard starts against Shahar Peer.
Also here: U.S. teen and 2013 U.S. Open girls’ runner-up Tornado Alicia Black, who is making her WTA debut as a wild card. She’ll play Bojana Jovanovski.
Brasil Open (ATP)
Sao Paulo, Brazil
$539,730; 250 ranking points
Draw is here
Pity the poor Brasil Open. Last year Rafael Nadal made the event part of his comeback tour, and won the first of his 10 titles in 2013 there. This time Rafa dropped it in favor of a brand new and much bigger tournament, with twice as many ranking points, in Rio.
That leaves Sao Paulo with Tommy Haas at the top of its draw in 2014. This is the third straight event where the German, suddenly in demand at age 35, has been the No. 1 seed—can he do what he failed to do in Zagreb and Delray and win it? The draw is a mine field of South American dirt-ballers: Cuevas, Zeballos, Pella, Monaco, L. Mayer, Bellucci, Giraldo, Souza, Delbonis, Alejando Gonzalez are the names that dot the brackets. The second seed is Spain’s Nicolas Almagro.
Brasil Tennis Cup (WTA)
Draw is here
As in Acapulco, this week's women’s event in Brazil, which is played on hard courts in Gustavo Kuerten’s hometown of Florianopolis, is a smaller affair than the men’s. Two Spanish women, Carla Suarez Navarro and Garbine Muguruza, are the top seeds. Muguruza, in particular, is someone to watch. The 20-year-old beat Caroline Wozniacki to reach the round of 16 in Melbourne. She’s played just one match since, a loss to Kimiko Date-Krumm in Pattaya City last month. This week Muguruza will start against Vania King of the U.S.