One of three tournaments in the opening week of the new season, the Chennai Open in India provides competitors with the opportunity for 250 ATP points and much needed match practice before the Australian Open later in the month. Surprisingly, last year’s champion Milos Raonic has declined the opportunity to defend his title here, instead playing in Brisbane. His victory in the final over Janko Tipsarevic was notable due to the three tiebreak sets the two played out, with no breaks in 36 service games. While Raonic isn’t playing, recent champions Marin Cilic and Stanislas Wawrinka will compete, and are third and fourth seeds respectively.
Tomas Berdych heads the entrants at the tournament after accepting a wildcard into the tournament and will earn a first round bye due to his status as top seed. A potential all-Czech clash is on the cards in round two with Jan Hajek but Hajek must first see of Indian wildcard Somdev Devvarman. Devvarman had a fairly successful 2011 but is on the comeback trail after a shoulder injury ruined much of the 2012 season for him. In his last tournament of the year, he won two matches in the Charlottesville challenger and with a few more months of rehabilitation is hopefully in prime fitness to begin the year. The rest of Berdych’s quarter looks fairly weak with players who have made more of an impact on the Challenger Tour but struggled at a higher level. Despite five challenger titles in 2012 between them Blaz Kavcic and Roberto Bautista-Agut went a combined 9-25 at main tour level, with just three of those victories coming on hard courts. The edge should be with the Spaniard though, who has much more experience on the faster courts and owns an impressive victory over Andreas Seppi at Indian Wells. Mathias Bachinger and Yen-Hsun Lu have a bit more pedigree on ATP Tour level but Bachinger won just once on hard courts in 2012, in his very first match of the year against his potential round two opponent Bautista-Agut. Hsun-Lu is a much better hard court player and thrives in Asia, from which he picked up three challenger titles in 2012.
Marin Cilic looks to have a fairly comfortable route to the semi final and starts with either a qualify or Sergiy Stakhovsky. The Ukranian slumped a little this past year after a impressive 2010 and 2011, falling outside the top 100. In an Indian heavy qualifying draw, there are still some big threats that could cause Stakhovsky trouble in round one including Kenny de Schepper and Ruben Bememans. Another qualifier could most likely await Cilic in round three if he can navigate probably the most likely section for a shock. Last years quarter finalist Dudi Sela will be their first opponent but the Israeli’s late season form didn’t make for great reading. Sela was resigned to the Challenger tour and failed to qualify for two tournaments post-US Open. The unpredictable Benoit Paire will definitely bring intrigue to this tournament if he can bring his best tennis – though whether that can be shown on hard courts is debatable, as the Frenchman won just five times in fifteen attempts on hard in 2012. There are much worse opponents to start with than Flavia Cipolla though, whom Paire dropped just seven games to in victory at the Australian Open in 2011.
As with the top half of the draw, each section looks fairly straight forward with the highest seeded player heavily favoured to progress. If Stanislas Wawrinka can make it through a potentially tricky tie with Igor Sijsling (should the Dutchman defeat a qualifier) then the rest of quarter should post little threat to his chances of making the semi final. The other seed in the quarter, Robin Haase, has lost 11 first round ties since the French Open which includes his last six to the likes of Hiroki Miroya and Marinko Matosevic. Haase shouldn’t make it 12 against a home wildcard in Yuki Bhambri but it is hard to trust him were he to get to the quarter finals against Wawrinka. Aljaz Bedene and Joao Sousa are much more at home on the clay, although Bedene does have a hard court title in 2012 at Wuhan Challenger. However, the young Slovenian is yet to play a main draw match on the surface.
Similar players are in Janko Tipsarevic‘s quarter and there seems little to trouble him as he aims to go one better on last year. Potential first opponent Andrey Kuznetsov is yet to play a main draw match on hard courts after moving away from the beloved clay that helped his big climb up the rankings. The experience of Frenchman Edouard Roger-Vassellin may be too much for the Russian youngster who may well have issues attempting to adapt the court change. One of just two hard court victories all year from Roger-Vassellin came in Chennai where he defeated Eric Prodon. Another who has made noise on the Challenger tour and looks ready to step up is Evgeny Donskoy. He accrued a 20-4 record on hard courts on the year and picked up titles in Segovia and Astana as well as losing in the Penza final. His first round opponent Go Soeda impressed here and desperately needs to defend big points after a semi final appearance in 2012. Soeda notably defeated Stanislas Wawrinka and shows he has the potential to spring shocks at the smaller ATP tournaments as he did here and also in Atlanta but it would be extremely surprising if he manages to knock out Janko Tipsarevic to repeat his performance.
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