Top two: At 1:00 PM today, Novak Djokovic will attempt to remain undefeated for the season, and Rafael Nadal will try to claim his first title of 2011. Neither will prove to be an easy task.
The top two players in the world last met two weeks ago, in the final at Indian Wells, where Djokovic won after dropping the first set. Today may be more favorable to Nadal, given the humid conditions in Miami and the confidence gained by a thorough drubbing of Roger Federer.
For all that, I have a hard time picking Nadal for the win. Djokovic has been so dominant this week as to be boring. A few bagels make news until they are so routine that you stop noticing. The Serbian hasn’t been pushed beyond 6-4 in any set, and has dropped only 18 games in five matches. Nadal has been impressive, as well, but the set he lost to Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals remind us that he’s human.
The oddsmakers give Nadal a slender advantage, suggesting he has a 53% chance of winning. I think Djokovic will triumph again–a short-lived victory, since their next meeting is likely to come on clay, where the percentages associated with Nadal will be much higher than 53%.
Challengers: In Barletta, the final will be contested today between Filippo Volandri and a surprise contender, Slovenian wild card Aljaz Bedene. Bedene is currently ranked outside top 400, and has a career high in the 200s. He is only 21, and appears to be coming back from an injury that kept him out of action for the entire second half of 2010. It’s been a solid run to get him to the final, including victories over Albert Ramos and Alessio di Mauro, neither one an easy opponent on clay.
The final at St. Brieuc involves another up-and-comer, 22-year-old Frenchman Maxime Teixeira, who will face the younger, more heralded Benoit Paire. Paire is hoping to inch a couple of spots closer to the top 100, while his opponent has more conservative goals. A win for Paire would move him to #115, while Teixeira, who started last week at #267 and also reached the final in Marrakech, could climb as high as #189.
Finally, the Barranquilla challenger will be between two Argentines, Facundo Bagnis and Diego Junquiera. Bagnis is yet another prospect, a 21-year-old who will break into the top 200 with his performance this week. Bagnis shut down the persistent Flavio Cipolla in the semifinals, while Junquiera needed three sets (and two tiebreaks) to win his match with second-seeded Horacio Zeballos.
Clay already: Once the yellow fuzz is settled in Miami, our attention will turn to the clay-court season, with 250-level events in Casablanca and Houston. The level of play will probably be higher in Casablanca, as more clay-courters will be there, but Houston is likely to host more intriguing matchups, for the very same reason.
The draws are already out; here are a few of the first-rounders in Texas:
- James Blake vs Carlos Berlocq. As we saw last week, Berlocq isn’t even an easy win on hard courts, and he’s had a ton of success lately in clay-court challengers.
- Ryan Harrison vs Zeballos. As I’ve said before, I’m not sure why Zeballos plays so much on clay; his game seems more versatile than that. In any event, he wins a lot of matches against better clay-courters than Harrison.
- Grigor Dimitrov vs Rainer Schuettler. This probably isn’t a good draw for Dimitrov. I suspect the Bulgarian could beat a lot of guys at this tournament, but Schuettler may be too consistent for him.
In a second-round qualifying match today, veterans Ivo Karlovic and Jose Acasuso will face off. Also in action: top qualifying seed Alex Bogomolov will play Nicholas Massu. Paul Capdeville is also in qualies, meaning that there could be a few dangerous guys coming out of qualifying, as well.
Bookmark it: A few days ago in the comments, Olivier called my attention to this site, which updates ATP rankings live. Very impressive. I’m already a frequent visitor.
See you tomorrow!