Sunday, April 15, 2007

TMS Monte-Carlo Main Draw

by Savannah

And the clay court season is under way. Interesting draw here at what is arguably one of the most beautiful venues on the tour. There doesn't seem to be a really bad seat in the place and most everyone comes to play. Not to mention many players get their residency requirements in during this event.

[1] FEDERER, Roger SUI vs BYE
LEE, Hyung-Taik KOR vs BJORKMAN, Jonas SWE
MOYA, Carlos ESP vs [13] YOUZHNY, Mikhail RUS

[12] FERRER, David ESP vs SIMON, Gilles FRA
BYE vs [6] DJOKOVIC, Novak SRB

Looks like they want to set up a Djokovic vs Federer showdown. Djokovic is one of the few men Federer has admitted to disliking so that would be interesting to see. On the way, there are some interesting matchups.

I'm sure Federer wants to come out taking names. The most exciting match in his quarter is Youzhny vs Moya. Moya can still pull some good tennis out of his butt and if he shows up this may be one of the more interesting first rounds matches. The winner should face the winner of Federer's second round match.

In Djokovic's quarter there are several nice matchups starting with Ferrer vs Simon. David Ferrer hasn't been playing well lately after doing pretty well last year. (Craig's note: he's been nursing a shoulder injury since Miami.) I'm sure he'd like to win this opening round match and go on to face either Benneteau or Balleret.

Tursunov vs Gaudio is my star match up in this quarter. Gaudio desperately needs a win. Tursunov should be fresh since he didn't play Davis Cup this go around. If Djokovic comes out playing the same level of tennis he played in Miami he should beat either of them in the second round. But this is clay. Let's see how patient Djokovic can be and how good his conditioning is.

[4] GONZALEZ, Fernando CHI vs BYE
MASSU, Nicolas CHI vs VOLANDRI, Filippo ITA
HENMAN, Tim GBR vs [16]FERRERO, Juan Carlos ESP

Another random draw where they put Gonzalez and Massu in the same quarter. Random draw, blah blah blah. Andreev vs Acasuso is a nice undercard. Gonzalez hasn't shown much since Australia and it'll be interesting to see him here on the dirt. If Acasuso comes to play Gonzalez will be facing him in the second round. Massu has been playing well of late but it's pick 'em in his match against Volandri.

Juan Carlos Ferrero vs Tim Henman should see Juanqui meet the winner of Massu/Volandri. This isn't an easy quarter for Gonzalez since everyone but Henman can play on clay. Tough section.

[11] GASQUET, Richard FRA vs VERDASCO, Fernando ESP

Gasquet, benched by Guy Forget for the deciding rubbers in Davis Cup play has seemed annoyed about suggestions he is the young gun left behind. I think that distinction goes to Monfils right now but I digress.

The Spaniards have a lot to prove after their dismal DC showing and I'm sure they want to send the message that it was all about the surface not them. Both Gasquet and Verdasco are loaded with talent rarely seen on a tennis court.

Stepanek should be facing Ljubicic in the second round but you never know with Monfils. He has been playing away from the main tour and we know he loves the dirt.

As I have often said clay is the great equalizer. What should happen isn't always what does happen. Another iffy section.

[5] ROBREDO, Tommy ESP vs BYE
CLEMENT, Arnaud FRA vs [WC] SERRA, Florent FRA
BECKER, Benjamin GER vs [WC] JOHANSSON, Thomas SWE
ALMAGRO, Nicolas ESP vs [10] BERDYCH, Tomas CZE

When it comes to Tommy see what I said above about the men who played on the Spanish Davis Cup team. Almagro wasn't on that team and he's going deep at Valencia. That may give Berdych an edge in their match, but just. Unless lighting strikes Becker should be meeting the winner of Almagro/Berdych.

I do give Thomas Johansson credit though. At least he tries, unlike the men from a certain country who develop mysterious injuries or fatigue when it comes to the early part of the clay season.

BYE vs [3] DAVYDENKO, Nikolay RUS

Nice section. Weakest links may be Soderling and the man who makes it via qualifying. The Swedes come here and play. For that they get my respect. Not an easy section for Davydenko.

[8] MURRAY, Andy GBR vs BYE

Let's see if Mouth Almighty has his charge ready for clay. Since Americans have an aversion to the red dirt it'll be interesting to see how Murray does here. Neither Mayer nor Gicquel are pushovers and Nalbandian just had a nice tuneup exhibition in Mallorca.

[15] NIEMINEN, Jarkko FIN vs SAFIN, Marat RUS
VLIEGEN, Kristof BEL vs [WC] MATHIEU, Paul-Henri FRA
CHELA, Juan Ignacio ARG vs VERKERK, Martin NED
BYE vs [2] NADAL, Rafael ESP

Vliegen vs Mathieu caught my eye here. Will we see Mathieu vs Safin Round 2? Will Marat decide it's worth his while to play well here? Who knows? But it's going to be fun.

Clay draws are more equal because the surface brings everyone to the same level. Clay favors the players who are patient, in good shape, know how to slide and know how to build points and think well on court. Vliegen made a nice statement during his interview on ATP Tennis. A point on hardcourt can be over in three shots he said. On clay you have a lot more balls coming at you and you have to wait for your opening.

Again I applaud the Swedes for playing here and yes I'm rubbing it in. Tennisheads know their preferred surface and that clay is not it. Yet they come. Because of the leveling effect of the dirt every player has a chance and they take theirs. It's insulting to the sport for the American men not to even try and play much before Rome and why Murray's performance here is something to pay attention to. Will Brad Gilbert have him ready for a deep run? With the ATP trying to downgrade this and all but a few of the big clay tournaments Murray going deep here would allow Gilbert to name his price almost anywhere and make what the LTA is paying him look like chump change. It would also put the lie to the talk that American's can't play on clay because there are no professional level coaches able to teach it. The talk about Americans just not wanting to learn I can't deny because in this case actions are speaking louder than words. Maybe Murray has an advantage over other Brits because he's trained in Spain. I'm by no means a big fan of Brad Gilbert but there is really no excuse for the American's to not even show up here and try.

This is always an exciting tournament and this year should be no different.

Let the games begin!


Craig Hickman said...

Savannah, you know I love you, but you're being unfair.

First off, Houston is considered part of the early clay court season and American men play there, as do South Americans and Europeans in pretty high numbers. And they have over the years. The notion that Houston is not a real claycourt event simply because it doesn't happen on the continent of Europe supports a Eurocentric bias I want no part of.

And two, American men take a break after Houston before Rome, much like many Europeans take a break after Wimbledon before coming to the US to play the hardcourt season. Why is it okay for them but not for us?

Double standard is why. Because Americans don't fare well at Roland Garros, we are constantly looking for reasons other than the obvious--we don't like clay, we don't play well on it, and it's really not that big a deal, really.

There is no insult to the sport whatsoever.

And speaking of Roland Garros. Roddick has never missed Roland Garros when he's been eligible to play it. Not even when he had a bum ankle last year which he sustained at a claycourt event leading up to it. The same can't be said for top players from certain countries over the years regarding Wimbledon or the US Open. (In fact, Roddick has got to be on some kind of Slam streak: when WAS the last Slam wherein he didn't compete?)

I understand the need for the American men to take a break after the first quarter of the year and I'll never criticize them for it. Grass and hardcourts have become the bread and butter for many of our top male players and they want to be rested so that they can play the tournaments before Canada and Cincy that many of the European players skip or stay in Europe to play more on the mini clay season that takes place AFTER Wimbledon (something I've never really understood, but again, don't see much discussion or criticism about.)

If Roddick were to go to Europe right now, he'd be there through July (or back to the states after an early-round dismissal in Monte Carlo and then back to Europe for Rome) and then back to to the US to begin the grueling hardcourt summer. When do you suggest he take a break?

That he goes for Rome and Hamburg, two TMS claycourt events that lead up to Roland Garros, is more than enough. In fact, in 2003, the week before Roland Garros Roddick WON St. Poelten against Davydenko in the finals (in straight sets), Roddick's first title that year, and most American "journalists" didn't cover the event and don't include it on Roddick's list of claycourt accomplishments. Now that's an insult, if you ask me.

And there was nothing mysterious about the hamstring he pulled this year in Miami against Murray which kept him out of Houston, an event he's never missed prior. The man was limping like an invalid the day after his Davis Cup match and had the Bryans not closed out the tie, he would NOT have played the fourth rubber in North Carolina.

Rafa skipped Davis Cup with his mysterious foot injury so he could prepare for defending all the points he amassed on clay, but, by and large, he gets a pass because we understand where his priorities lie at this point in his career.

The top American men, who did play Houston, and were eliminated by "real claycourters" much as they would have in Valencia or Monte Carlo, don't deserve such harsh words for choosing to skip one single TMS event in Monte Carlo so early in the European campgaign that it would negatively affect their efforts later in the season.

And there really ought not be THREE TMS events leading up to Roland Garros. Federer and Nadal only play two. Roddick only plays two. What's the difference? What gives?

So you're right, there is no excuse for American men to skip Monte Carlo and other small events before Rome. But there sure is one hulluva damn good explanation for it.