Over 40 years old, the Japan Open is one of two ATP 500 tournaments this week and can boast former winners such as Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Pete Sampras and Stefen Edberg amongst other notables.
2011 champion Andy Murray heads the field and will be full of confidence after finally breaking the grand slam hoodoo that has haunted him for so long. In his first outing since New York, he has a tough opening match in Gael Monfils who continues to improve since his return. Monfils often causes Murray trouble and actually defeated him last time they played in Paris 2010. Starting to become somewhat of the next Donald Young, Lukas Lacko is now on a eight match tour losing streak and faces in awkward clash with Albert Ramos. The Spaniard isn’t the most comfortable on hard courts but did pick up multiple scalps including Richard Gasquet on the first North American swing of the year. One of three Japanese wildcards, Yuichi Sugita faces Jeremy Chardy. After an impressive run in North America, Chardy moved into the top 30 but was unfortunate to run into an inspired Martin Klizan in the 3rd round. There also injury questions over Sugita after he retired against Jarkko Nieminen last week. Also a wildcard, Hiroki Moriya faces an exceptionally tough tie against seventh seed Stanislas Wawrinka. Moriya earned a shock win over Robin Haase last week and held Janko Tipsarevic to only a single break in each set so could at least give the Swiss a minor scare on this form.
In a repeat of their Bangkok semi-final, Janko Tipsarevic will face Gilles Simon. Tipsarevic will be hoping for revenge after Simon defeated him in straight sets last time but the now 1-5 record for the Serb does not make pleasant reading. St Petersburg champion Martin Klizan is a man in form and opens with a qualifier. Robin Haase is another slumping player and will have been disappointed to lose to Hiroki Moriya last week. He faces Viktor Troicki who hasn’t been in the best of form but is definitely the more accomplished hard court player – Haase has just two wins on the year on hard courts. Sixth seed Milos Raonic caps off the top half of the draw and faces an interesting tie against the experienced Radek Stepanek. Raonic’s serve should be ideal for these courts but so often his return game has been found lacking – he didn’t have one break point in his exit to Jarkko Nieminen in Bangkok.
Nicolas Almagro faces another Japanese wildcard in Tatsuma Ito. Ito is another who has struggled to make his mark on the main tour and has only two hard court wins all year, he did however push Fernando Verdasco to three sets last week. Almagro will be confident after helping his country to the Davis Cup final with a win over John Isner in Gijon. Much of the bottom half is riddled with qualifiers with Bernard Tomic, Marcos Baghdatis and Juan Monaco all drawn against one in the same quarter of the draw. Potential qualifying opponents include Grigor Dimitrov, Ivo Karlovic, Sergiy Stakhovsky and the in-form (although admittedly at Challenger level) Dmitry Tursunov.
The Kei Nishikori-Go Soeda tie ensures that Japan will have at least one entrant in the the second round here. Nishikori, now a top 20 player, has impressed in Kuala Lumpur and is currently competing in the semi finals. Soeda’s form at the top level has been so-so but much like fellow Japanese Yuichi Sugita, he did enjoy a good tournament in Chennai at the start of the year. Jarkko Nieminen is another who has impressed in his tournaments last week, currently in the semi finals having shocked the big serving Canadian Milos Raonic. Going by their current head to head record though, his opponent Tommy Robredo is not one the Finn will want to be facing. Nieminen has been victorious in just one of seven matches against the Spaniard, the only win coming in 2007 in Cincinnati. Whether you can judge that much from a head to head spanning ten years is difficult to say but it will definitely be in the back of Nieminen’s mind.
After a impressive three set victory over Alexandr Dolgopolov on a less favoured surface in Kuala Lumpur, Alejandro Falla should at least be in confident form here. He faces a fellow South American in Thomaz Bellucci, who leads the head to head 3-1 having defeated Falla in their last three encounters including a comeback in the Davis Cup from 2-0 down in sets. 2008 winner Tomas Berdych rounds off the draw as number two seed and will face the unpredictable Frenchman Benoit Paire. Having been defeated by Philipp Kohlschreiber in his last two tournaments (including a crazy 2-6 6-1 1-6 loss in Metz), Paire will be happy to see the back of the German but faces a man in great form. The US Open semi finalist’s two victories in Argentina helped Czech Republic make the finals of the Davis Cup, the first being an extraordinary five set win over a fellow competitor here in Juan Monaco.
Finals Prediction – Andy Murray defeats Kei Nishikori