Despite the late withdrawals of box office names, Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka, the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament still boasts a decent field, with newly-minted ATP titlists, Grigor Dimitrov and Alexander Zverev hopping straight from their respective conquests in Sofia and Montpellier to the Dutch city.
First Quarter: Dangerous Draw for Struggling Cilic
Marin Cilic headlines the top quarter, but the struggling Croatian faces a tough battle to live up to his lofty ranking, as he is engulfed by real danger in that little section of the draw. The former US Open champion has done next to nothing in 2017, winning just one of his four matches on the tour. He lost in the opening round in Chennai to the unheralded Jozef Kovalik; fell in the second round of the Australian Open to Daniel Evans, before bowing out in the opening round in Montpellier to Dustin Brown.
While Cilic lost to Brown in Montpellier, Frenchman, Benoit Paire, who himself had not being in the best of forms, made it all the way to the semi-finals in the French city, before losing to Richard Gasquet. Paire will like his chances against Cilic in the opening round in Rotterdam. It doesn’t get any easier in the next round, as whoever comes through that takes on one of ATP young guns, Borna Coric or Karen Kachanov. The smart money should be on Kachanov, as Coric has only just returned from a knee injury. The Croatian is 0-3 in 2017.
Leading the other side of this quarter is Frenchman, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who should be untroubled against Greek wildcard, Stefanos Tsitsipas, but faces a potentially difficult one against Gilles Muller in the next round.
Quarter finals: Benoit Paire vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Semi-Finalist: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Second Quarter: Berdych Leads Packed Quarter
He may not have the numbers to show for it, but Tomas Berdych has made a decent start to the year, with a semi-final in Doha followed by a third round run at the Australian Open. His two losses have been against Andy Murray and roger Federer. That little opening to the campaign basically sums up the Czech star. He should get past Romania’s Marius Copil in his Montpellier opener, but there is real danger in the second round- no, not Federer, or Murray; but Richard Gasquet or Viktor Troicki. Gasquet played some good stuff in Montpellier before being overpowered by Alexander Zverev in the final, while Troicki has put together some good numbers in 2017. He reached the semi-final in Brisbane, and just last week, lost to the surging Grigor Dimitrov in the quarter finals in Sofia.
I think Gasquet will come through that tie and set up a tasty second round meeting with Berdych.
Last year’s champion- the dangerously erratic Martin Klizan is on the other side of this quarter, and he begins his title defence against his dangerously erratic left-handed mate, Fernando Verdasco in what could be one of the ties of the opening round. The winner moves on to a second round meeting with either Lucas Pouille or Philipp Kohlschreiber. Pouille has made a quiet start to the year- his cause not helped by a toe injury which forced him to retire midway through a second round encounter with Kyle Edmund in Brisbane. His Rotterdam opener against Kohlschreiber will be his first match since a shock Australian Open first round loss to Alexander Bublik.
Quarter Finalists: Richard Gasquet vs. Martin Klizan
Semi-Finalist: Richard Gasquet
Third Quarter: Dimitrov continues top 10 charge
Grigor Dimitrov continues his relentless quest for a return to the top ten in Rotterdam, and given the way he is scything through ATP draws, it is only a matter of time before the talented Bulgarian gets back into that elite bracket. He is certainly playing elite tennis at the moment!
Dimitrov picked up his second title of the season in Sofia last weekend- his first title on home soil. After a tricky start against Jerzy Janowicz, a match he had to come back from a set down, the 25-year-old was imperious in his home tournament, with the exception of a dramatic late hiccup against David Goffin in the final. Dimitrov opens his bid for a remarkable third title of the season against Germany’s Zverev, Mischa, not Alexander. Unlike the teenage Alexander, the 34-year-old Mischa is in the twilight of his career, but a late boom has already yielded a shock Australian Open victory over Andy Murray in 2017. The serving-and-volleying German always makes life awkward for today’s baseliners, but Dimitrov knows exactly what is coming, and it is unlikely that the in-form Bulgarian falls for the tricks of the German veteran.
Dimitrov should progress into a second round meeting with either Denis Istomin or Aljaz Bedene. Istomin, of course, is the man who took out Novak Djokovic in Melbourne before falling to Dimitrov in the fourth round. Istomin was handicapped by injury in that loss in Melbourne, and he will like another go at the Bulgarian, but still, you’ve got to back the man in form here.
David Goffin is the favourite to emerge as Dimitrov’s quarter final opponent, in what will be a rematch of their crazy Sofia final, but the Belgian must tread carefully against Andre Kuznetsov in the opening round. Should he escape that, he will play either Florian Mayer or Robin Haase for the right to take on Dimitrov (yeah?) in the last eight.
Quarter final: Grigor Dimitrov vs. David Goffin
Semi-Finalist: Grigor Dimitrov
Fourth Quarter: Thiem and Zverev meet in first round blockbuster
Dominic Thiem is the highest-ranked player in this quarter, but Alexander Zverev, the Montpellier champion, is the form player in the quarter. Problem is: Thiem and Zverev collide in a crazily tasty first round match-up. (Whoever does these draws!). Whoever wins this may be forgiven for assuming he is already in the semi-finals!
World number 8, Thiem may be the higher-ranked player, but he has not quite fired this year, and as bizarre as it may sound, the Austrian starts as the underdog against Zverev. Thiem won three of their four meetings in 2016, but he did lose the most recent reunion in Beijing. Crucially, Thiem’s three victories were on his favourite clay, while Zverev’s sole triumph was on the hard courts of Beijing.
The winner of this first round tie takes on Gilles Simon or Nicolas Mahut in the second round, while Feliciano Lopez looks the most formidable of all the possible quarter final opponents.
Quarter Final: Alexander Zverev vs. Feliciano Lopez
Semi-Finalist: Alexander Zverev
Jo-wilfried Tsonga vs. Richard Gasquet
Grigor Dimitrov vs. Alexander Zverev
Richard Gasquet vs. Grigor Dimitrov