Alongside Sydney, the second ATP 250 tournament this week is the Heineken Open in Auckland, New Zealand. It provides a final opportunity for players to get match practice before the Australian Open. This tournament was previously a joint event but now sees the women play a week before the men. Former winners include Fernando Gonzalez and Juan Martin Del Potro in recent years while David Ferrer will be looking to tie Roy Emerson’s record of four titles at the tournament.
David Ferrer was beaten by an inspired Nikolay Davydenko in Doha last week but will still be favoured to take the title here. He owns a 3-0 record against potential second round opponent Benoit Paire while being 1-1 against Yen Hsun Lu although Lu’s victory was courtesy of retirement. Both players were in Chennai last week with differing fortunes – Lu exited in the first round while Paire was a semi finalist after coming back from a break down in the final set to defeat Marin Cilic. Paolo Lorenzi put up a surprisingly impressive performance in Doha last week, winning two matches and even handing out a bagel to Lukas Rosol. The Italian will be hoping for a similar result against Rosol’s namesake Lukas Lacko. Lacko was a quarter finalist in Doha, shocking Victor Troicki but was outclassed by eventual champion Richard Gasquet. Nonetheless, it was a good week for someone who couldn’t buy a win at the end of 2012. Thomasz Bellucci rounds off the quarter against David Goffin but the eight seed is probably the underdog against the highly rated Belgian. The Brazilian has had a busy off-season which included defeating Roger Federer in an exhibition match. Meanwhile, Goffin exited early last week but after slogging away on the Challenger Tour for much of the early part of 2012 any points he picks up here will be a bonus.
The rest of the top half of the draw is as yet undecided with three spots allocated to qualifiers as well as the bye for third seed Tommy Haas. Haas competed in the Hopman Cup last week and was unfortunate not to defeat Bernard Tomic given that he served for the match. His opening match could be a nightmare for commentators as Robin Haase could well face the German if he can see off a qualifier. Given Haase’s horrific form, this is not a given and the likes of Igor Sijsling and Victor Hanescu will fancy their chances if they can make it through the final qualifying round. Wildcard Gael Monfils and Jurgen Melzer also take on qualifiers in the opening round. If he makes it through, Monfils will be fairly confident of his chances having gone 3-0 in ATP World Tour matches against the Austrian, although none have been on hard courts.
Two of the big stories in 2012 surround the opening round match up in the bottom half of the draw. Jerzy Janowicz‘s run to the final of the Paris Masters was the first by an unseeded player for a very long time while Brian Baker‘s recovery from injury to making the top 100 was one of the feel good stories of the year. Baker failed to deliver in the latter part of the year but could shock a Janowicz who is yet to pick up a win on outdoor hard courts on the main tour level. With wildcard New Zealander Daniel King Turner or a qualifier waiting in round two, there is a great opportunity for one of these two to go deep in the tournament. A disappointing year has seen Olivier Rochus fall down the rankings but he has been given a wildcard due to his performance here last year where he was a losing finalist. A slumping Albert Ramos is an ideal opponent to begin with for the veteran Belgian. Sam Querrey awaits in the next round and will be an extremely tough opponent, the American went 22-12 on hard courts last year and began to show the form of 2009/2010 after finally recovering from the injuries that ruined his 2011.
After winning just three games (though there were some suggestions that he had enjoyed New Years a bit too much..) in his opening round match against Brisbane Martin Klizan will be hoping for more against Xavier Malisse this week. After a season that saw him take the ATP Newcomer of the Year award. Much like David Goffin, Klizan spent much of his time in Challengers early in 2012 and has a great chance to progress further up the rankings with a good performance here and later in Melbourne. Malisse ended the season badly, losing six of seven matches at the end of the season – with the only “win” being against Jo Wilfried Tsonga who retired very early on in their Valencia encounter. While the most recent encounter between Go Soeda and Santiago Giraldo was in 2009 it is still surprising to note the head to head between them favours the Japanese 3-0. Soeda was unable to match the semi final spot of last year in Chennai, being thwarted by Janko Tipsarevic once more the in the quarters. Meanwhile, Giraldo was out in the first round of Brisbane losing to Florian Mayer. Finally, Philipp Kohlschreiber rounds off the draw as second seed and starts against either Grega Zemlja or Alejandro Falla. Both players were ousted in week one by higher ranked Frenchmen. 2008 champion Kohlschreiber has a 5-0 record against these players combined (4-0 Falla, 1-0 Zemlja) and will most likely make it 6-0.
Prediction – David Ferrer defeats Sam Querrey