Scouting Report: 30 Things To Watch In Cordoba, Montpellier & Sofia
An executive summary of what every fan should know about the coming week on the ATP Tour
The ATP Tour heads into the sixth week of its 2019 season with three ATP 250 events on deck. Lucas Pouille is the top seed at the Open Sud de France in Montpellier, Karen Khachanov headlines at the Sofia Open and Fabio Fognini leads the way at the Cordoba Open.
10 THINGS TO WATCH IN CORDOBA
1) Brand New Start: The inaugural Cordoba Open takes its place as the first ATP Tour clay-court event of the 2019 season and the opening leg of the month-long “Golden Swing” through Latin America. Argentina has the most players in the field, with nine athletes competing in their home country, but Italy boasts the top two seeds in Fabio Fognini and Marco Cecchinato.
2) Banner Year: World No. 15 Fognini posted a career year in 2018. Fognini set career-highs in 2018 with three titles, 46 wins, and a year-end ranking of No. 13. The Italian earned his 300th win overall on home soil at Rome. Fognini picked up his first title of last year during the Golden Swing, in Sao Paulo. Also, his third title of the year, at Los Cabos, was the first of his 8 titles to be won off of clay.
3) Check Him Out: World No. 19 Cecchinato is hot on Fognini’s heels in the rankings. Last year, Cecchinato won his first ATP Tour title at Budapest as a lucky loser, picked up a second title at Umag, and shocked Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals of Roland Garros. That specific win made him the first Italian Grand Slam semi-finalist since Corrado Barazzutti at 1978 Roland Garros.
4) Homeland Hero: On 11 June 2018, 5-foot-7 Argentine Diego Schwartzman rose to a career-high No. 11 in the ATP Rankings, but could only muster up 11 more match wins during the rest of the season. However, Schwartzman, who comes into Cordoba as the highest-ranked Argentine in the draw, has already posted a semi-final result in his first event of 2019, at Sydney.
5) Reign in Spain: Five Spaniards are playing the Cordoba Open main draw, led by No. 4 seed Pablo Carreno Busta. The World No. 23 retired from his second-round US Open match and withdrew from a number of events at the end of last year due to injuries. So far this year, he made the fourth round at the Australian Open before losing to Kei Nishikori in the new extended fifth-set tie-break.
6) One Year Removed: At this time last year, another Spaniard, Roberto Carballes Baena, was winning his first ATP Tour singles title in Quito. It was one of the eight titles which went to qualifiers last season, which made Carballes Baena the first Spanish qualifier to win a title in 12 years. He also became, at 24, the youngest Spanish titlist since Rafael Nadal at Barcelona in 2011.
7) Feats of Clay: A more seasoned Spaniard, Albert Ramos-Vinolas, lost to Carballes Baena in that Quito final. However, the former Top 20 player has made five career clay-court finals, including ATP Masters 1000 Monte-Carlo in 2017. He has the 15th-most clay-court match wins in the Top 100.
8) Final Exams: Each of the players seeded 5th through 8th at Cordoba made one clay-court final in 2018 – Nicolas Jarry at Sao Paulo, Malek Jaziri at Istanbul, Leonardo Mayer at Hamburg, and Guido Pella at Umag. However, none of them were able to emerge victorious in those matches.
9) Young Folks: In 2019, players born in 1998 or later are considered #NextGenATP, so Jaume Munar, who finished 4th at last year’s Next Gen ATP Finals, will not be back at Milan. The only player in the Cordoba draw who was born in 1998 or later is Brazilian wild card Thiago Seyboth Wild. The 18-year-old, born in 2000, won the US Open boys’ singles title last year.
10) Double the Argentines: The all-Argentine team of Maximo Gonzalez and Horacio Zeballos are the top seeds in the Cordoba Open doubles draw. This is just their fifth time playing as a duo, but they won a Challenger title in Santiago, CHI, in 2011, and made the semi-finals at Moscow in 2010.
10 THINGS TO WATCH IN MONTPELLIER
1) French Twist: Defending champion and World No. 17 Lucas Pouille heads the field at the Open Sud de France in Montpellier. Pouille, who won his only singles title of last year here, is one of seven Frenchmen competing in their home country, five of whom are in the seeded player list.
2) Leaping Lucas: After winning three titles in 2017, Pouille cracked the Top 10 for the first time on 19 March of last year. His run was short-lived, as he stayed at No. 10 for only two weeks, and he ended 2018 outside of the Top 30. 2019 has started with a rebound for the top-ranked Frenchman, as he made his first Grand Slam semi-final at the Australian Open and is back in the Top 20.
3) Homeland Heroes: Gilles Simon, Jeremy Chardy, Pierre-Hugues Herbert, and Benoit Paire are Pouille’s seeded compatriots. Of the four, Paire has come the closest to success at this event, having made the final in 2013 and reaching at least the quarter-finals in the last two years.
4) Strong Return: Wild card Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has also been successful at Montpellier, as the former World No. 5 has made the semi-finals each time he has entered, in 2010, 2017, and 2018. But each time, he fell in that round to the eventual champion; last year he did not convert two match points against Pouille before retiring due to a left hamstring injury. On the comeback trail after knee surgery in April 2018, Tsonga opens against the other French wild card, 20-year-old Ugo Humbert.
5) Belgium’s Best: After ending 2017 at a career-high No. 7, David Goffin missed four weeks due to an eye injury and five weeks due to a right elbow injury last season. The top-ranked Belgian is 2-2 this year after missing the last two months of last season, and currently sits just outside the Top 20.
6) O Canada: Denis Shapovalov accepted a wild card into the Montpellier field, as the 19-year-old still seeks his first ATP Tour final and title. World No. 25 Shapovalov is the second-highest-ranked #NextGenATP player behind World No. 12 Stefanos Tsitsipas, and the Canadian is the highest-ranked teenager on tour, three spots ahead of fellow 19-year-old Alex de Minaur of Australia.
7) Berd is the Word: Former World No. 4 Tomas Berdych is the only previous champion in the field other than Pouille. The Czech missed the second half of last year due to a back injury and has fallen to World No. 79, his lowest ranking in 15 years. But he has compiled an excellent 7-2 record in 2019, making the Doha final, as well as an 11th second-week showing at the Australian Open.
8) Happy at Home: No. 4 seed Simon has put together a hefty collection of titles in his home country. The former World No. 6 has won five of his 14 titles in France – twice at Marseille and three times at Metz, including last year. However, he is still looking for his first Open Sud de France final appearance. Simon is 7-7 at Montpellier, with his best showing being a 2012 semi-final.
9) 40-Love: Six-foot-11 Ivo Karlovic makes his Montpellier debut having set some recent records. The Croat, who turns 40 on 28 February, became the oldest champion in ATP Challenger Tour history when he won at Calgary, CAN in October. He made the Pune final in January to become the oldest player to reach a tour-level final since 43-year-old Ken Rosewall won at Hong Kong in 1977.
10) British Brothers: Siblings Ken and Neal Skupski will attempt to defend their Open Sud de France doubles title. Ken had won three titles previously, but it was younger brother Neal’s first ATP Tour doubles trophy. Neal then went on to win a second title in 2018, at Vienna with Joe Salisbury.
10 THINGS TO WATCH IN SOFIA
1) Top-20 Quartet: Three players aged 22 or under – World No. 11 Karen Khachanov, World No. 12 Stefanos Tsitsipas, and World No. 16 Daniil Medvedev – join 2016 champion and World No. 18 Roberto Bautista Agut as the Top 20 players heading the fourth edition of the Sofia Open.
2) Top of the Heap: No. 1 seed Khachanov posted 46 match victories and won three ATP Tour singles titles in 2018, including notching four Top 10 wins during his title run at ATP Masters 1000 Paris. The 22-year-old also picked up trophies at Marseille and in his birthplace of Moscow.
3) Greece is the Word: Last year, Tsitsipas became the first Greek player to be ranked in the Top 20, win an ATP Tour title (Stockholm), and play an ATP Masters 1000 final (Toronto). The 20-year-old’s rise has continued in 2019, as he made his first Grand Slam semi-final at the Australian Open. This result made him the youngest Grand Slam semi-finalist since Novak Djokovic at 2007 US Open.
4) Triple Crown: Medvedev, like his fellow 22-year-old Russian Khachanov, had a breakthrough season in 2018. Medvedev won his first three singles titles last year, and out of the eight times titles were won by qualifiers in 2018, he was the victor in two of those instances, in Sydney and Tokyo. He made the Brisbane final in the first week of this season before losing to Kei Nishikori.
5) Hot Streak: Inaugural Sofia champion Bautista Agut is 9-1 to start 2019. He opened the season by picking up his ninth ATP Tour singles title at Doha, ousting Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals for his second career victory over a World No.1. The Spaniard then made his first Grand Slam quarter-final at the Australian Open, having lost his previous nine fourth-round matches at majors.
6) The Champ Returns: Bosnian Mirza Basic came into Sofia last year ranked World No. 129 and had to navigate the qualifying to enter the main draw. He left Sofia as a first-time ATP Tour finalist and champion, becoming one of the eight qualifiers to win an ATP Tour singles title last year. Basic beat top seed and then-World No. 15 Stan Wawrinka for his career-best victory en route to the title.
7) Finals Countdown: Basic defeated fellow first-time ATP Tour finalist Marius Copil in last year’s championship match. Copil, who is also back in Sofia this year, advanced to a second final later in 2018, when he beat Top 10 players Alexander Zverev and Marin Cilic on the way to the Basel final. The Romanian then lost to Roger Federer as the Swiss star claimed his ninth Basel title.
8) Stan the Man: Wawrinka underwent two knee surgeries at the end of 2017, and his ranking dipped from the Top 10 at the start of 2018 to a low of No. 263 after the French Open. From that point forward, the former World No. 3 raised his ranking nearly 200 spots in the second half of last year. In Doha this year, Wawrinka beat Khachanov before losing to Bautista Agut in the quarter-finals.
9) Going Wild: 25-year-old Dimitar Kuzmanov and 17-year-old Adrian Andreev are Bulgarian wild cards making their fourth and second consecutive main draw appearances respectively in their home event. The third wild card went to former World No. 12 Viktor Troicki, who has made at least the quarter-finals in all three prior editions of the Sofia Open, including a finalist showing in 2016.
10) Dutch Treat: Robin Haase and Matwe Middelkoop are back to defend their doubles title, which was one of three titles the Dutchmen won together in 2018. Middelkoop has compiled an 8-1 record overall in Sofia, having also won the title in 2016 with another of his compatriots, Wesley Koolhof.