Saturday Topspin: All Figured Out

Backwards: Just when you think you have it all figured out, there’s a day of tennis like yesterday’s.  The upsets I suggested didn’t happen, and the automatic wins turned into disasters for the seeds.

At least Novak Djokovic is keeping things predictable.  He beat Denis Istomin 6-0 6-1.  The big question is not whether he can bagel James Blake in the third round, but whether he can bagel Blake twice.  For those of you keeping score at home, that’s four 6-0’s in seven matches, and three opponents who only managed a single game.  And Istomin, Viktor Troicki, and Ernests Gulbis are hardly unqualified to play at this level.

Center court: Before Djokovic took care of business, it was bad news for the big names.  Ivan Dodig was up a break on Robin Soderling in the third set before the Swede came charging back and escaped the upset.  He’ll live to see another day, meaning he gets to play Juan Martin del Potro, himself a narrow victor over Philipp Kohlschreiber.  At this point, Soderling can hardly be considered much of a contender for the title.

The shocker came a bit later, when Andy Murray fell to Alex Bogomolov.  I’m not sure whether this is better or worse than a loss to Donald Young; both make you wonder how much longer Murray can stay in the top 10.  Bogie is hardly a master returner, and Murray failed to win even 55% of first serve points.  I can just imagine him standing six feet behind the baseline, sending unforced errors in every direction.

Two more surprises: I didn’t think Pablo Andujar could beat Bernard Tomic; almost all of Andujar’s success has come on clay.  Once he beat Tomic, it was a no-brainer that he’d make easy picking for Fernando Verdasco.  Verdasco won the first set on schedule, then lost a second-set tiebreak and fell in the third.  It must have been very close, as there were only two breaks in the match, and Verdasco won more than half of the total points.

Then there’s Stanislas Wawrinka.  Marcel Granollers somehow bagelled him in about 20 minutes to open the match.  Stan made it interesting, winning a second-set tiebreak, but it Granollers eventually came out on top.  The last time Wawrinka lost a set at love was in April; the last time he was bagelled on a hard court was to Jurgen Melzer in the 2008 Olympics.

Today: I’m going to say it again: It looks like a fairly predictable day of tennis.  It can’t possibly turn out like yesterday, right?

Of the top few seeds, Rafael Nadal has the relatively tough draw, facing Kei Nishikori in the night session.  I can’t imagine Roger Federer will suddenly forget how to beat Radek Stepanek, or that Andy Roddick will stumble against Pablo Cuevas.

According to sportsbook odds, the tightest match of the day is Juan Ignacio Chela against the slightly-favored Feliciano Lopez.  The Vegas odds give Lopez about a 53% chance of winning; my system goes further and favors the Spainard to the tune of 63%.

The other “close” match is Florian Mayer vs. Albert Montanes.  Montanes is the seed; Mayer is the better hard-court player.  Sportsbooks say Mayer has a 60% chance of winning; I give him 65%.

Finally, Olivier Rochus will see if he can continue his current hot streaks, both in March and at Miami.  In last year’s second round, he defeated Novak Djokovic.  This year’s task is much easier: he faces Marcos Baghdatis, who hasn’t won a match since early Februrary in Rotterdam and lost his last set in Indian Wells to Somdev Devvarman at love.  Sportsbooks give the Belgian about a 40% chance of pulling the upset.

Challengers: This time, Cedrik-Marcel Stebe couldn’t beat Go Soeda.  Stebe still reached his third straight challenger semifinal, so his ranking will continue to climb.  In tonight’s final, Soeda faces Matthias Bachinger, another German having a solid 2011.  Bachinger is in his third challenger-level semifinal this year.

In Bath yesterday, Nicholas Mahut fell in the quarterfinals, while Dmitri Tursunov kept his comeback churning.  The Russian will face Brit wild card Daniel Evans today.

See you tomorrow!

Friday Topspin: Youth is Returned

Goodbye, Americans: Jack Sock had his chance, and he let it slip away.  The Miami draw gave him a great chance of racking up plenty of ranking points through a first-round matchup with Carlos Berlocq, a clay-court specialist.  Neither player made more than 55% of first serves, and Sock won barely half of his first-serve points.

It gets worse.  The American earned 13 break points, of which he only converted three.  I don’t want to be too hard on Sock–he’s 18 and ranked outside of the top 500, so it’s not like he came in with high expectations.  Yet, I’m sure he knows as well as the fans do that he was awfully close to a 1000-level win.

Measured by points, Sock outperformed his countryman Ryan Harrison, who fell 7-5 6-2 to Rainer Schuettler.  As in Sock’s match, the culprit was the first serve percentage: Harrison barely made half.  Schuettler is too consistent and too smart to lose when he gets all those second balls.

Youth, gone: It wasn’t a good day for other youngsters, either.  Grigor Dimitrov lost in straights to Sergiy Stakhovsky, and Richard Berankis failed to convert a second-set tiebreak and lost to Feliciano Lopez in three.

The result I’m happy to see is Kei Nishikori over Jeremy Chardy.  If nothing else, it tells us that Nishikori is able to successfully focus on tennis very shortly after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  Kei’s performance is the flip side of Sock’s and Harrison’s: He made 78% of his first serves, a figure that may have made the difference in a fairly close match.

As a reward for his hard work, Nishikori gets to face Rafael Nadal tomorrow.

One more: Just when you think Ivo Karlovic is unstoppable, he reminds you that the serve is fallible and the rest of his game will never save him.  Florian Mayer, who my hard court rankings place in the top 25, took down the Croat in straights, withstood 10 aces and took advantage of Karlovic’s weak return game.  Mayer won an astounding 86% of his own service points.

Today: Half of the seeds are in action, each facing one of Wednesday’s winners.  In a way, the second round of these 96-player events is less exiting than the first, because so many of the seconder-rounders seem to be lopsided.  Still, here are a few matches worth following today:

  • Milos Raonic vs Somdev Devvarman: Before Indian Wells, Raonic was hot; after, Devvarman’s the one with the momentum.  I suspect that Devvarman’s speed won’t play terribly well against the Canadian’s big game, meaning that the result will depend heavily on whether Raonic is able to bring the game that won him so many indoor matches.
  • Philipp Kohlschreiber vs Juan Martin del Potro: Last week, this was one of the highlights of the tournament, as Del Potro fought with stomach issues to defeat the German in two tiebreaks.  Kohlschreiber should feel like he has a chance here.
  • Thomaz Bellucci vs James Blake: Bellucci has yet to post many good results on hard courts, and Blake is unlikely to be fazed by the lefty spin off the Brazilian’s racquet.  It’s about a good a draw as Blake could have hoped for.
  • Mikhail Kukushkin vs Sam Querrey: If you’re looking for a possible upset, look no further.  Kukushkin is about an anonymous a player as you can be inside the top 100, yet he snuck by Jarkko Nieminen to reach the second round.  And as we’ve seen, Querrey has it in him to lose to almost anybody.
  • Igor Andreev vs John Isner: Another upset chance.  Andreev has a solid return game and, when he’s on his game, he’s remarkably resourceful on the court.  Not a very favorable first match for Isner.

As you can see, lots of good tennis today, especially if you’re willing to look past the lopsided matches on center court.

Stebe watch: Regular readers will have noticed that I’m obsessed with the progress of the young German Cedrik-Marcel Stebe.  Last week, he reached his second straight semifinal then lost 6-2 6-0 to Uladzimir Ignatik.  This week, in Pingguo, he got to the quarters, where last night, he faced Ignatik once again.

Apparently the German learned something: He beat Ignatik in three sets, winning the first and losing the second in tiebreaks.  In the semifinals, he’ll face top seed Go Soeda, who he defeated in the semifinals two weeks ago in Kyoto.

See you tomorrow!

Thursday Topspin: Underdog Days

It isn’t 2006 anymore: Both Nikolay Davydenko and Ivan Ljubicic were in action yesterday, and both are headed home early.  Davydenko lost in straight sets to Kevin Anderson, never even earning a break point chance against the South African.  Ljubicic fell to qualifier Paolo Lorenzi, which must be at least partly due to lingering health issues.

Holding out hope for a return to mid-2000’s form is James Blake, who squeaked into the second round against American qualifier Michael Russell.  Blake had to win it the hard way, taking tiebreaks in the second and third sets.  He’ll next face the Brazilian lefty Thomaz Bellucci, a matchup that gives him a decent shot at getting through to the third round.

Bad day for Americans: Russell was representative of the U.S. qualifiers.  Robert Kendrick had to retire midway through his match against Igor Kunitsyn; Donald Young fell to Denis Istomin, and Ryan Sweeting failed to follow up on his strong showing at Indian Wells, losing to Xavier Malisse.

In fact, the only American besides Blake to win yesterday was Alex Bogomolov, who needed three sets to get by Victor Hanescu.  That’s a solid win for the resurgent Bogie, who will try to do his best Donald Young impression tomorrow when he faces Andy Murray.

More upsets: It wasn’t a good day for favorites.  Going by sportsbook odds, 9 of yesterday’s 16 matches were upsets, and one of the 7 non-upsets was the no-brainer contest between Juan Martin del Potro and Ricardo Mello.

Perhaps the most disappointing loss was Bernard Tomic’s failure to get past Pablo Andujar.  Tomic lost serve after going up 40-0 at 5-6 in the third set.  Andujar was a fantastic draw for the Aussie, as he’s a clay court specialist with very little success on hard courts.

One last result that catches my eye is Marsel Ilhan’s 6-2 6-1 victory over Tobias Kamke.  The decision isn’t a big surprise; sportsbooks had the match about even.  Whenever I’ve watched Ilhan, he’s been very streaky–the sort of guy who will win a match 7-6 0-6 6-1.  Outside of a few good challenger results, this is the first time he’s dismantled someone in the top 100 since he beat Pablo Cuevas 6-2 6-2 in the Miami first round last year.

On the card: Lots of good stuff on the schedule today.  Both American 18-year-olds will be playing: Ryan Harrison takes on Rainer Schuettler in the night session, and Jack Sock plays Carlos Berlocq this afternoon.  As I mentioned yesterday, it’s a big opportunity for Sock.  He might have drawn the weakest hard-court player in the field.

Many more young stars are in action today, as well.  Kei Nishikori takes on Jeremy Chardy; sportbooks give the Japanese a slight edge, while my projections put the match exactly even.  Richard Berankis draws Feliciano Lopez, and Grigor Dimitrov, straight from a comfortable trip through qualifying, will face Sergiy Stakhovsky.

Doubles draw: Without Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the doubles field isn’t nearly as headline-grabbing as that of Indian Wells.  There are still plenty of top players involved.

Murray and Novak Djokovic are teaming up, and they face a possible second-rounder with Max Mirnyi and Daniel Nestor.  For that to happen, Mirnyi and Nestor will have to win their opener against Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco.

Sadly, last week’s champions Malisse and Alexandr Dolgopolov aren’t reuniting, though both are in the draw.  Dolgo is teaming with Nicolas Almagro, and Malisse is paired with Jamie Murray.  Dolgo and Almagro are set for a second-round match with the Bryans; the American duo will start their tournament against the wild card team of Harrison and Sock.

One more: Much later today–it will be Friday in China–there’s a great match at the Pingguo challenger.  Uladzimir Ignatik and Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, two fast-rising youngsters, face off in a quarterfinal.  Stebe is attempting to reach his third consecutive challenger semifinal is as many weeks, while Ignatik will try to beat the German for the second time.  These are both guys who you can expect to see in the top 100 within another year or two.

At the rate Stebe is climbing, he could get there by fall.

See you tomorrow!

Miami Projections

While Roger Federer still holds a very slight edge in my hard-court rankings, Novak Djokovic is the favorite to win in Miami.  My simulation gives the Serbian a 27.4% chance of winning back-to-back tournaments, while Federer comes in at 19.7%.

For more background on how I generate these projections, click here.  I’ve tweaked the system a bit since then; most notably, I discovered that my rankings were slightly underrating the chances of younger players and overrating those of older players.  I’ve adjusted my forecasts accordingly.


Player               R64  R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W 
(1)Rafael Nadal      100% 84% 76.8% 62.0% 48.8% 28.5% 14.3% 
Jeremy Chardy        50%   9%  5.2%  2.3%  0.9%  0.2%  0.0% 
Kei Nishikori        50%   8%  4.5%  1.9%  0.7%  0.2%  0.0% 
Feliciano Lopez      69%  43%  7.3%  2.7%  0.9%  0.2%  0.0% 
Richard Berankis     31%  12%  1.5%  0.4%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
(26)Juan I Chela     100% 45%  4.8%  1.4%  0.4%  0.0%  0.0% 
(21)Dolgopolov       100% 74% 40.0% 12.8%  5.8%  1.7%  0.4% 
Andreas Seppi        52%  14%  4.3%  0.7%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0% 
Mischa Zverev        48%  12%  3.7%  0.7%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0% 
Teymuraz Gabashvili  44%   9%  2.4%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Daniel Brands        56%  13%  3.6%  0.6%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
(15)JW Tsonga        100% 78% 45.9% 14.4%  7.5%  2.6%  0.6% 

Player               R64  R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W
(11)Nicolas Almagro  100% 87% 54.4% 25.3%  8.3%  2.7%  0.6% 
Federico Gil         61%  10%  2.8%  0.4%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Paul Capdeville   39%   4%  0.8%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Leonardo Mayer       35%  12%  3.6%  0.9%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
(WC)Ivo Karlovic     65%  30% 11.7%  4.2%  1.0%  0.2%  0.0% 
(20)Albert Montanes  100% 58% 26.7%  9.5%  2.5%  0.6%  0.1% 
(28)Ernests Gulbis   100% 91% 34.6% 17.1%  5.0%  1.3%  0.3% 
Carlos Berlocq       82%   8%  0.5%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(WC)Jack Sock        18%   1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Adrian Mannarino     72%  11%  3.5%  0.9%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
Ramirez Hidalgo      28%   0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(7)Tomas Berdych     100% 89% 61.4% 41.5% 17.4%  7.5%  2.3% 

Player               R64  R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W
(3)Roger Federer     100% 92% 80.4% 64.1% 50.0% 34.3% 19.7% 
Fabio Fognini        39%   3%  1.4%  0.4%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
Radek Stepanek       61%   5%  2.5%  0.9%  0.3%  0.1%  0.0% 
Sergiy Stakhovsky    56%  18%  1.8%  0.5%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Grigor Dimitrov   44%  11%  0.9%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(32)Juan Monaco      100% 70% 13.0%  5.5%  2.2%  0.6%  0.1% 
(22)Marcos Baghdatis 100% 85% 54.0% 18.1%  9.6%  4.0%  1.1% 
Blaz Kavcic          43%   7%  1.9%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Olivier Rochus    57%   8%  2.2%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Pere Riba            39%   6%  0.8%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Yen-Hsun Lu          61%  14%  2.2%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(13)Mikhail Youzhny  100% 81% 38.9%  9.7%  4.3%  1.4%  0.3% 

Player               R64  R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W
(10)Jurgen Melzer    100% 76% 37.0% 16.3%  4.8%  1.8%  0.4% 
Philipp Petzschner   64%  18%  3.9%  0.9%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
Florent Serra        36%   6%  0.9%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Janko Tipsarevic     57%  15%  6.5%  2.2%  0.5%  0.1%  0.0% 
Robin Haase          43%   7%  2.5%  0.7%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
(18)Marin Cilic      100% 78% 49.1% 26.4%  9.1%  4.0%  1.2% 
(25)Gilles Simon     100% 78% 34.7% 16.9%  4.7%  1.4%  0.3% 
(WC)Ryan Harrison    62%  17%  3.7%  0.9%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Rainer Schuettler 38%   5%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Pablo Cuevas         52%  10%  3.9%  1.1%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0% 
Michael Berrer       48%   6%  2.0%  0.5%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(8)Andy Roddick      100% 83% 55.3% 33.9% 13.5%  6.4%  2.3% 

Player               R64  R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W
(6)David Ferrer      100% 96% 65.3% 40.1% 18.5%  5.9%  2.5% 
(q)Robert Kendrick   49%   2%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Igor Kunitsyn     51%   2%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Somdev Devvarman     49%   6%  0.8%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Potito Starace       51%   8%  0.7%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(31)Milos Raonic     100% 86% 32.6% 16.0%  5.9%  1.6%  0.5% 
(23)Michael Llodra   100% 67% 26.5%  9.1%  2.6%  0.5%  0.1% 
Xavier Malisse       67%  25%  5.6%  1.2%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Ryan Sweeting     33%   8%  1.4%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Benjamin Becker      54%   9%  3.7%  0.6%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
Marcel Granollers    46%   8%  2.4%  0.4%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
(12)Stan Wawrinka    100% 83% 60.3% 32.1% 14.5%  4.5%  1.8% 

Player               R64  R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W
(14)Mardy Fish       100% 73% 40.4% 12.3%  5.5%  1.4%  0.4% 
Julien Benneteau     61%  18%  6.0%  0.8%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0% 
Gimeno-Traver        39%   8%  1.9%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Ivan Ljubicic        85%  39% 19.3%  4.8%  1.7%  0.3%  0.1% 
(q)Paolo Lorenzi     15%   1%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(17)Richard Gasquet  100% 60% 32.3%  9.5%  4.0%  0.8%  0.2% 
(29)Kohlschreiber    100% 16%  5.1%  2.2%  0.7%  0.1%  0.0% 
(PR)Del Potro        100% 83% 50.8% 38.6% 25.8% 11.5%  6.1% 
Richardo Mello       0%    0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Ivan Dodig           38%   5%  0.4%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Andrey Golubev       62%  12%  1.6%  0.5%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
(4)Robin Soderling   100% 84% 42.1% 31.0% 20.1%  8.5%  4.2% 

Player               R64  R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W
(5)Andy Murray       100% 99% 87.6% 65.1% 30.5% 18.9% 10.8% 
Victor Hanescu       55%   0%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Alex Bogomolov    45%   0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Santiago Giraldo     56%  21%  2.4%  0.6%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
Igor Andreev         44%  15%  0.9%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(30)John Isner       100% 65%  8.9%  3.5%  0.5%  0.2%  0.0% 
(24)Garcia-Lopez     100% 35% 15.9%  3.1%  0.5%  0.1%  0.0% 
Nikolay Davydenko    87%  61% 39.6% 15.1%  4.9%  2.3%  1.0% 
Kevin Anderson       13%   3%  0.8%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(WC)Bernard Tomic    68%  11%  1.8%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Pablo Andujar        32%   3%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(9)Verdasco          100% 86% 41.5% 12.0%  3.1%  1.1%  0.4% 

Player               R64  R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W
(16)Viktor Troicki   100% 77% 43.0%  5.9%  1.4%  0.4%  0.1% 
Tobias Kamke         51%  13%  3.3%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Marsel Ilhan      49%  10%  2.6%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Jarkko Nieminen      59%  22%  9.6%  0.8%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
Mikhail Kukushkin    41%  12%  4.1%  0.4%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
(19)Sam Querrey      100% 66% 37.4%  6.6%  1.9%  0.5%  0.1% 
(27)Thomaz Bellucci  100% 69%  8.5%  3.9%  0.8%  0.2%  0.0% 
(q)Michael Russell   31%   7%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(WC)James Blake      69%  25%  0.4%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Donald Young      47%   3%  1.1%  0.3%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
Denis Istomin        53%   0%  0.2%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(2)Novak Djokovic    100% 97% 89.7% 81.5% 55.9% 41.2% 27.4%

Wednesday Topspin: Young Sneaks In

Miami draw is set: All 96 players, including 12 qualifiers, are placed.  Matches begin with the first round of the bottom half of the draw in a couple of hours.

One of the few surprises out of qualifying was another strong effort from Donald Young.  Unseeded, he advanced into the main draw by beating Frank Dancevic, 6-1 1-6 7-5.  Young faces Denis Istomin today, setting up a possible second-rounder with Novak Djokovic.

Young is one of five Americans who made it through qualifying. Robert Kendrick, Michael Russell, and Ryan Sweeting were all seeded in the top 12, and they won the matches they were supposed to win.  Alex Bogomolov scored a minor upset with his three-setter over Simone Bolleli.  The only U.S. player to lose yesterday was Tim Smyczek, who put up another strong effort in forcing Olivier Rochus to a third set.

Rochus, you may recall, had a big tournament in Miami last year, beating Richard Gasquet in the first round and then shocking Djokovic in the second.  He’s coming off a challenger victory last week, and is in a relatively weak section of the draw.  He’ll open the tournament tomorrow against Blaz Kavcic; if he wins, he’ll face Marcos Baghdatis, and the winner of that contest is seeded for a third-rounder with Mikhail Youzhny.

The big picture: As was the case in Indian Wells last week, all the action was in one half of the draw.  This week, the bottom half is by far the more fluid of the two.  The top half seeds Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer for a semifinal matchup, and with the possible exceptions of Ivo Karlovic and Tomas Berdych in Nadal’s quarter and Andy Roddick in Roger’s, there isn’t much in their way.

The bottom half, despite featuring Djokovic, is much less likely to go as planned.  Juan Martin del Potro opens the tournament today against Ricardo Mello; if he wins, he faces Philipp Kohlschreiber (again!).  The winner of that match gets a third-rounder with Robin Soderling.  To say the least, this is not the draw Soderling would’ve hoped for.

Also in Soderling’s quarter are Gasquet, David Ferrer, and Milos Raonic.

Djokovic doesn’t have quite as hard going, at least until a possible quarterfinal with Andy Murray.  Other possibilities there are John Isner and Fernando Verdasco.

In a few hours, I’ll run predictions on the draw and post my forecast for the tournament.

A dozen Americans: There are a total of 12 U.S. players in the draw: the five qualifiers, the familiar four seeds, plus three wild cards in Ryan Harrison, James Blake, and Jack Sock.  Blake faces Russell today, while Harrison opens against Rainer Schuettler for a chance to face Gilles Simon.  Given the draw, I have a hard time seeing Ryan match his success from last week–both players are smart counterpunchers who will be able to outlast the youngster.

Sock, the youngest player in the draw, is the one who has been granted a big opportunity.  He faces Carlos Berlocq, a clay court specialist whose challenger-level success has gotten him inside the top 75.  Here’s an amazing bit of trivia: Berlocq hasn’t won an ATP main draw match on hard courts in five years.  The kicker: That last win was a 6-0 6-0 drubbing of a 16-year-old American wild card … in Miami.  That time, it was Donald Young.  Blake avenged Young’s loss by double-bagelling Berlocq in the following round.

New wild card: Turns out Raonic didn’t need his wild card after all; a last-minute withdrawal got him in to the tournament the old-fashioned way.  He’s the 31st seed, set to face Ferrer in the third round.  Karlovic was granted the newly-available ticket in, and he’ll face Florian Mayer tomorrow for a shot at Albert Montanes.

Enjoy the tennis, and remember to check back later today for my complete draw forecast!

Hard Court Singles Rankings, 3/21/11

About two weeks ago, I introduced my ranking system.  Much of the rationale is explained here.  The important thing to keep in mind is that the system is designed to be predictive–that is, it values the things that tend to correctly forecast the outcome of matches.

Since then, I’ve made a few tweaks under the hood.  For the most part, the changes don’t affect the rankings, they just adjust the differences between players to better reflect surface-specific skills.

Still, Roger Federer is hanging on at the top, though it’s so close that it should be considered virtually a tie.  My algorithm to predict the outcome of individual matches also takes head-to-head results into account, and given Novak Djokovic’s recent dominance, that algorithm now gives Djokovic the slight edge in a battle with Federer.

The real value, here, is a little further down the list, as this system is much better than the ATP rankings at measuring the skill level of players who are scoring big upsets and enjoying recent success.  To wit, Ivo Karlovic is up to #33 here, in part thanks to his giant-killing run last week.  Also, my system places Ryan Harrison at #71 and Donald Young at #82 for similar reasons.

I intended for this to be a top 100, but #101 is Somdev Devvarman, notable due to his string of upsets, which moved him all the way up from #147.

1   Roger Federer          8191 
2   Novak Djokovic         8076 
3   Andy Murray            4749 
4   Rafael Nadal           4654 
5   Robin Soderling        4205 
6   Juan Martin del Potro  4047 
7   Nikolay Davydenko      2853 
8   David Ferrer           2772 
9   Stanislas Wawrinka     2660 
10  Andy Roddick           2494 
11  Tomas Berdych          2268 
12  Gael Monfils           2088 
13  Marcos Baghdatis       1879 
14  Mardy Fish             1838 
15  Marin Cilic            1666 
16  Fernando Verdasco      1603 
17  Jurgen Melzer          1565 
18  David Nalbandian       1547 
19  Jo-Wilfried Tsonga     1475 
20  Ivan Ljubicic          1449 

21  Michael Llodra         1385 
22  Richard Gasquet        1367 
23  Florian Mayer          1335 
24  Milos Raonic           1308 
25  Mikhail Youzhny        1276 
26  Gilles Simon           1235 
27  Nicolas Almagro        1209 
28  Alexander Dolgopolov   1124 
29  Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 1038 
30  Philipp Kohlschreiber  1030 
31  Viktor Troicki         1020 
32  Juan Monaco            1011 
33  Ivo Karlovic            994 
34  Radek Stepanek          989 
35  Albert Montanes         974 
36  Tommy Robredo           885 
37  Samuel Querrey          840 
38  Lleyton Hewitt          835 
39  John Isner              834 
40  Ernests Gulbis          782 

41  Jeremy Chardy           780 
42  Feliciano Lopez         765 
43  Janko Tipsarevic        728 
44  Julien Benneteau        695 
45  Kei Nishikori           666 
46  Xavier Malisse          634 
47  Jarkko Nieminen         624 
48  Dmitry Tursunov         603 
49  Fernando Gonzalez       597 
50  Juan Carlos Ferrero     596 
51  Thomaz Bellucci         586 
52  Andrei Goloubev         513 
53  Andreas Seppi           484 
54  Benjamin Becker         482 
55  Michael Berrer          465 
56  Thiemo de Bakker        453 
57  Juan Ignacio Chela      450 
58  Olivier Rochus          444 
59  Pablo Cuevas            441 
60  Igor Andreev            430 

61  Fabio Fognini           427 
62  Philipp Petzschner      423 
63  Santiago Giraldo        417 
64  James Blake             416 
65  Sergey Stakhovsky       399 
66  Ivan Dodig              384 
67  Denis Istomin           382 
68  Michael Zverev          369 
69  Robin Haase             364 
70  Arnaud Clement          364 
71  Ryan Harrison           360 
72  Daniel Gimeno           350 
73  Marcel Granollers       346 
74  Leonardo Mayer          343 
75  Robby Ginepri           338 
76  Paul-Henri Mathieu      335 
77  Lukasz Kubot            332 
78  Daniel Brands           330 
79  Alejandro Falla         327 
80  Mikhail Kukushkin       320 

81  Dudi Sela               309 
82  Donald Young            304 
83  Victor Hanescu          296 
84  Teimuraz Gabashvili     295 
85  Grigor Dimitrov         280 
86  Florent Serra           277 
87  Lukas Lacko             276 
88  Horacio Zeballos        276 
89  Ryan Sweeting           273 
90  Adrian Mannarino        272 
91  Yen-Hsun Lu             271 
92  Kevin Anderson          269 
93  Rainer Schuettler       267 
94  Edouard Roger-Vasselin  266 
95  Richard Berankis        266 
96  Bernard Tomic           263 
97  Marco Chiudinelli       261 
98  Nicolas Mahut           261 
99  Simon Greul             259 
100 Frederico Gil           258 
101 Somdev K. Dev Varman    258

Tuesday Topspin: Qualifying for Miami

Back at it: Only a day after the tournament wrapped up in Indian Wells, the qualifying tournament in Miami is underway.  All 24 first-round matches took place yesterday, setting up the 12 qualifying battles for today.

A few Americans took advantage of the home soil to post good results.  Tim Smyczek, who qualified last week and took Philipp Kohlschreiber to a third-set tiebreak, knocked off another higher-ranked player, beating Dudi Sela 6-1 6-4.  Donald Young, himself coming off the biggest win of his career in Indian Wells, advanced past Arnaud Clement in three sets.

Less impressive were the youngsters wild-carded into qualifying.  Jordan Cox won only two games against Marinko Matosevic, and Alexander Domijan lost 6-2 6-3 to Julian Reister.

The upset of the day might have been Daniel Munoz-de la Nava’s 6-2 6-2 victory over Horacio Zeballos.  Munoz-de la Nava plays almost all of his matches on clay, and while Zeballos also spends plenty of time on clay, his game is more suited to faster surfaces.  I saw Zeballos at U.S. Open qualifying a couple of years ago, when he first broke through into the top 100.  It’s been disappointing that he hasn’t broken through since then–there’s no question he’s got the raw talent to do so.

Finally, Grigor Dimitrov got past Rik de Voest in a tight match, 6-4 7-6(2).  Dimitrov was in Europe playing challengers until this week, so it will be interesting to see if he can be a factor on the bigger stage.

Meteoric Milos: Milos Raonic rose to #34 in the ATP rankings with his third-round showing in California.  Assuming that Miami uses current rankings to determine seeds, it makes for some remarkable trivia.  When the Miami field was first determined, the tournament used the rankings of Feb. 7, where Raonic was #84.  That wasn’t good enough to make the cut–if he hadn’t been given a wild card, he would have been playing qualifying yesterday.

While the entry list is ranked far in advance, seedings are not.  And after the withdrawals of David Nalbandian, Gael Monfils, and Tommy Robredo, that makes Raonic the 31st-highest ranked player in the main draw.  That should give him a seed, despite not having the ranking to make the main draw just six weeks ago.

In the challengers: Cedrik-Marcel Stebe just keeps rolling.  At the Pingguo challenger, Stebe advanced to the second round by defeating Alexander Kudryavtsev, 7-5 in the third set.  Kudryavtsev was the 4th seed, ranked at a career high of #132.  Next he’ll face Harri Heliovaara of Finland; after that, it’s a possible quarterfinal matchup with Uladzimir Ignatik, who beat Stebe in last week’s semifinals.

Not all young stars were so lucky: Evgeny Donskoy, the Russian who has had so much success of clay of late, fell in the first round in Marrakech yesterday to Martin Klizan.  Klizan, a promising young player in his own right--he’s the 17th-ranked player under the age of 23–advanced to the second round easily, 6-2 6-2.

See you tomorrow!