The last North American tournament for a while kicks off the beginning of the road to the French Open. The Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championships. The tournament isn’t played on conventional European clay but nonetheless, Spaniards take up seeds 2-5 while defending champion John Isner leads the way as top seed.
Isner is back in the top 10 after a good run at Indian Wells but could fall back out if he fails to defend the title he won last year after defeating Nicolas Almagro in the final. Rhyne Williams or Dustin Brown await in round two. Brown often went well in clay Challengers in the past but has yet to play one match on the surface this year while Williams was a semi finalist at this event in 2013.
Lleyton Hewitt is the seed projected to face Isner in the quarter finals but given Hewitt’s lost to Martin Alund last year in the opening round, it doesn’t look so certain. Hewitt begins against a qualifier that could include Ryan Harrison and Thanasi Kokkinakis with Sam Querrey or Alex Bogomolov Jr. taking on the winner. Querrey fell down to American No.4 this week as his poor season continues. The 2010 losing finalist is 2-3 against the Russian although none of the matches have been on clay.
Nicolas Almagro lost in straight sets in the final last year but will have the chance to avenge his defeat to John Isner in a potential quarter final. He may face fellow Spaniard Daniel Gimeno-Traver in round two who begins his tournament against Michael Russell. The head to head stands at 1-1 with Russell’s win coming in three sets at this event in 2012. Almagro is 7-2 against Gimeno-Traver and has a win on clay this year against him.
Jack Sock hopes to be third time lucky against Ivo Karlovic when they meet in round one. Sock has yet to beat the Croatian and given his relative clay inexperience, it may be a tough ask. Sock won two matches on the surface last year, one of which was at this tournament over Bradley Klahn. The winner of this match plays either Benjamin Becker or a qualifier.
Juan Monaco is just 3-6 on the year in the tour play and will hope to find the form that saw him win the title in 2012. While it looks unlikely that he is a serious contender, a quarter final place isn’t out of the question. Somdev Devvarman plays little on the clay while Donald Young or a qualifier is far from a tough second round match for the winner.
It looks likely though that Fernando Verdasco will advance from this section. He suffered a shock loss to Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo here last year but had a decent clay court season aside from that in 2013. Losing to Thiemo de Bakker in his last outing is far from ideal but facing an American in either Denis Kudla or Steve Johnson provides a nice opportunity for Verdasco in his opener. Johnson won the Le Gosier title in Guadeloupe at the weekend but will need to make a quick adjustment to a different surface now.
Tommy Robredo is defending title points this week but has chosen to play in Houston rather than the place of his victory – Casablanca – this week. He will be amongst the favourites as second seed and will start against Matthew Ebden or Santiago Giraldo. It should be easy pickings for the Colombian who faces an opponent who rarely plays on clay and as such has no main tour victories to speak of in recent times.
Fifth seed Feliciano Lopez rounds off the seeds and begins against a qualifier with wildcard Marcos Baghdatis a potential second round opponent. He will face Alejandro Gonzalez who finally ended his winless run on the ATP Tour with victories in Miami and Indian Wells and now returns to his favoured clay.
SF: John Isner def. Nicolas Almagro
SF: Tommy Robredo def. Fernando Verdasco
F: Tommy Robredo def. John Isner
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