After a week off for Davis Cup, the ATP Tour returns with the beginning of the ‘golden swing’ in Viña del Mar, Chile. The VTR Open has been hosted in a number of different venues in its 19 year life, with Santiago hosting the tournament previously in 2010 and 2011 and also between 1993-2000. Home favourite Fernando Gonzalez holds the record for most titles at the tournament with four, though his 2008 victory was due to a walkover from Juan Monaco. Monaco will be hoping to repeat his 2012 success but will have his work cut out due to the return of Rafael Nadal.
After being forced to miss the Australian Open, Nadal finally looks ready to make his return to the tour on a surface that should be kinder to his body. With just five defeats on clay since 2005, the only thing stopping Nadal from a 51st career title has to be his own body breaking down once more. A qualifier or Guido Pella, 2012 Challenger Tour Finals Champion, awaits in the second round. Pella has yet to play a main draw match but had an impressive season at Challenger level where he picked up three titles in the main season to go along with his tour finals victory. Also in Nadal’s section are Albert Montanes, who has failed to kick on from an excellent 2010 but won two Clay challengers last year and Nicolas Massu. Now ranked outside the top 500, Massu is winding down his career and is struggling to get wins on the Challenger Tour these days. Another Spaniard is the other seed in this quarter – Daniel Gimeno Traver is another who can’t quite make the step up to main tour level but has always been dangerous at Challenger, picking up three clay titles in 2012. Traver begins with Joao Sousa, who put up a reasonable performance against Andy Murray at the Australian Open most recently but was defeated in straight sets.
In the top half, it is very difficult to see anything other than the first and third seeds meeting in their semi final. Jeremy Chardy has a kind draw on his way to a presumed meeting with Rafael Nadal. A qualifier or 16 year-old wildcard Christian Garin is first up for the Frenchman. Garin represented Chile in Davis Cup last year in a dead rubber against Simone Bolelli losing by a respectable 6-3 6-4 scoreline. Pere Riba and Tommy Robredo face off in an all-Spanish opening round tie. Both missed a great chunk of last year, with Riba’s last action on tour being in April at Casablanca. Paolo Lorenzi will be fairly content with the draw should he navigate an opening round qualifier. The Italian almost pulled off a major shock in Davis Cup against Marin Cilic, taking a 2-1 sets lead before falling in five.
Like the top half of the draw, the bottom half contains a lot of competent Challenger players yet struggle when it comes to main tour tournaments. Leonardo Mayer, Rogerio Dutra da Silva and Horacio Zeballos all took at least one clay challenger title last year while Filippo Volandri has 9 in his career and last year even took Nicolas Almagro to a third set in Sao Paolo. Also in this quarter are two Spaniards who played each other in a ATP final last year with Pablo Andujar taking the Casablanca title over Albert Ramos. Both players have shown that they belong at main tour level, at least on the clay. Andujar will be desperate to get back on the dirt, given his 10 match losing streak on hard courts.
Full of confidence after outlasting Philipp Kohlschreiber in Davis Cup action, Carlos Berlocq will be raring to go. The losing finalist last year could have hoped for a better draw than the talented youngster Andrey Kuznetsov. Before making the step to main draw during the indoor swing, the Russian went on a fifteen match winning streak at Challenger level where he took titles in Todi, Trnava and Lermontov. A quarter final in Umag and a 6-1 set over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga showcase more that Kuznetsov is a dangerous player who would be confident of going deep should he defeat Berlocq in round one. A possible quarter final with Juan Monaco, who defeated 7-6 6-1 6-1 at the Australian Open, should Kuznetsov make it there. Monaco looked to have been carrying an injury though so it will be intriguing to see how the match goes should it happen. Santiago Giraldo has been struggling since his return from an injury but it would be very surprising were Martin Alund to defeat him while Monaco can reverse his bizarre head to head with Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo should the Spaniard see off Guillaume Rufin in round one. Hidalgo has a 3-0 record over Monaco, although they have not played in the past 9 years!