After six weeks of the bubble life, tennis is finally ready to leave the relatively safe confines of Australia and take its chances on the road again. Suddenly the tour schedules are beginning to look familiar again. The men are in Rotterdam and Buenos Aires this week, while the top women gather for the first leg of the WTA’s desert double in Doha. Someday, hopefully soon, fans will follow.
ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament (ATP)
$1,500,000; ATP 500
Indoor hard court
You might think a 500-level draw that lost Rafael Nadal to a bad back would be devastated, but Rotterdam still has a loaded look to it. A futuristic one, too. With Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Andrey Rublev and Felix Auger-Aliassime among the Top 8 seeds, this could be a sneak preview of what the Grand Slams will look like if and when the Big 3 ever exit the stage.
Of those Top 8, I’ll be most curious about Medvedev. Will he gain momentum from reaching the Australian Open final, or will his disappointing performance in that match set him back?
First-round matches to watch: Auger-Aliassime vs. Kei Nishikori; Andy Murray vs. Robin Haase; Stan Wawrinka vs. Karen Khachanov.
Qatar Total Open (WTA)
$565,000; WTA 500
The WTA returns to the Arabian peninsula for two events, in Doha and Dubai. Of the two, Doha, with a 28-player draw and a modest purse, is the smaller tournament this year. But in some ways that works to its advantage. With a strong, compact field, the good matches can start right away.
And the Qatar Total Open has a strong field. Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova, Aryna Sabalenka, Petra Kvitova, Jen Brady, and Victoria Azarenka are among the Top 8 seeds. Garbiñe Muguruza, Anett Kontaveit, Angelique Kerber, Jelena Ostapenko, Elena Rybakina, Madison Keys, Ons Jabeur, Maria Sakkari, Amanda Anisimova, and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova are among those not seeded. There’s no time to work your way into this one.
Who’s a player to watch? I’ll be interested to see how Sabalenka does in defending her title from 2020. How Muguruza bounces back after playing so well yet ultimately losing to Naomi Osaka in Melbourne. And how Rybakina, whose career had been taking off before the lockdowns, does now that the tour is back in something close to full swing.
First-round matches to watch: Azarenka vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova; Keys vs. Belinda Bencic; Brady vs. Kontaveit; Ostapenko vs. Kiki Bertens.
Argentina Open (ATP)
$411,940; ATP 250
Diego Schwartzman is the top seed, but is he the hometown favorite this year? For the moment, he may have to cede that status to his countryman Juan Manual Cerundolo, who spent the past week reaching the final of the Cordoba Open in his first career main-draw appearance. The world No. 335 will try to continue that run of stunning form against yet another Argentine, Federico Delbonis, in his first round in Buenos Aires.
The ATP’s Golden Swing tends to produce these types of minor miracles: Last year Pedro Sousa made the final in Buenos Aires as a lucky loser, and two years ago Laslo Djere won his first title in Rio de Janeiro. In 2021 some of the players to watch will be No. 2 seed Cristian Garin; No. 5 Albert Ramos-Viñolas, who made the final in Cordoba; No. 8 Frances Tiafoe, the lone American to try his luck on the South American dirt this year; and Brazil’s Thiago Monteiro, a lefty clay lover who has made solid strides in the last two years.
Open 6ème Sens Metropole de Lyon (WTA)
$235,238; WTA 250
Indoor hard court
As a 250, this is the week’s secondary WTA tournament. These days, though, players are happy to have a chance to compete anywhere they can, and Lyon has attracted a good crowd. Ekaterina Alexandrova, Fiona Ferro, Caroline Garcia, and Kiki Mladenovic are the Top 4 seeds.
First-round match to watch: Alexandrova vs. 18-year-old Danish up-and-comer Clara Tauson.