Once again, there is plenty of French interest and the withdrawal of Tomas Berdych after his Davis Cup exploits opens it up to any number of the home players to make a run at the title. The shuffling around of the draw now means that despite being fifth seed Nikolay Davydenko will be the recipient of an opening round bye. He and Jarkko Nieminen could face off in an intriguing second round tie should the Finn defeat a qualifier or lucky loser in round one. Both players have always performed well indoors but Nieminen doesn’t have a better chance to end his four match losing streak against the Russian. Paul Henri-Mathieu and Edouard Roger-Vasselin could make it an all French second round affair if they can defeat Sergiy Stakhovsky and Tatsuma Ito respectively. However, Mathieu withdrew from Heilbronn Challenger after the first set of the semi final two weeks ago.
Despite a third round exit at the Australian Open, Gael Monfils looks in decent shape and ready to make a charge up the rankings. If he defeats Ruben Bemelmans, for whom the majority of his success has been at Challenger level, there is match of the tournament potential in a second rounder with Richard Gasquet. With the biggest threat in his side of the half now out, Gasquet needs to be looking for a run to the final here to further solidify his status as a top 10 player. It is hard to see either of the Romanians, Adrian Ungur or Victor Hanescu, posing much of a threat while Gasquet has a 2-0 record over sometime doubles partner Julien Benneteau who looks a likely quarter final opponent.
The bottom half of the draw looks decidedly weak and should Gilles Simon have recovered from the marathon match against Gael Monfils in Melbourne then it would be a major shock if he didn’t make it out of his quarter. Eighth seed Benoit Paire struggled on hard courts last year and fellow Frenchman Adrian Mannarino had a stop-start year last year due to injuries although he began the year with a title in Noumea before having the misfortune to draw Juan Martin Del Potro in the opening round of the Australian Open. Placed alongside one of two qualifier spots in this quarter, Mikhail Kukushkin is in a prime position to be upset. The Kazakh looked rusty in his last outing at the Australian Open where Jurgen Melzer dropped just four games against him in a landslide victory.
The final quarter should see an all Serb quarter final between Janko Tipsarevic and Victor Troicki but you cannot count out Michael Llodra. The veteran Frenchman still performs in his home country excellently with a Marseille final and a Paris semi final to his name last year. Llodra kicks off against a qualifier for the right to play Tipsarevic. Meanwhile Troicki faces wildcard Lucas Pouille. The 18 year-old ended 2012 on a high note with two futures titles in Mexico and this year managed a victory in the opening round of Australian Open qualifying against the big serving Samuel Groth. Potential second round opponents Jan Hajek and Dudi Sela will need to hope for a massive off day from Troicki if either of them are to shock the Serb. Hajek has won just one of his last seven matches across Challenger and ATP Tour level while Sela has never fared all that well indoors – his best result last year was a quarter final in Loughborough and Helsinki challengers.