Action-packed week features Djokovic, Federer, and Nadal

Rafael Nadal is back on the court for his third Golden Swing tournament, but he won’t be stealing all of the headlines this time around. That’s because Dubai is taking place simultaneously, and it once again features an outstanding field led by Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

Rarely are eight of the Top 10 players in the world in action when neither a Grand Slam nor a Masters event is taking place, but that is the case for the final week of a furious February swing. Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer headline another outstanding Dubai field as they take the court for the first time in more than three weeks. Rafael Nadal continues his clay-court comeback tour in Acapulco, where he may face his toughest competition of the season in the form of No. 1 seed and defending champion David Ferrer.

Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

Where: Dubai, UAE
Surface: Hard
Prize money: $2,000,000
: 500

Top seed: Novak Djokovic
Defending champion: Roger Federer

Draw analysis: There was always going to be one especially tough quarter in Dubai because there are five seeded players who are clearly ahead of the rest of the field right now. It ended up being Tomas Berdych who had the misfortune of landing in the same section as fifth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Those two big hitters just faced each other in the Marseille final, which Tsonga won in three sets after saving a championship point in the second. Among those looking to derail a potential Tsonga-Berdych quarterfinal is Michael Llodra, who will collide with his fellow Frenchman in round one. A potential bottom-half semifinal is Federer vs. the Tsonga-Berdych winner, assuming Federer gets past either Janko Tipsarevic or Bernard Tomic in his quarterfinal.

Like the second-seeded Swiss, Djokovic has a decent draw at the top of the bracket. The Serb certainly won’t lose to compatriot Viktor Troicki and he won’t get surprised by Andreas Seppi this time like he did in the first two sets of their French Open thriller. Look for Djokovic’s semifinal opponent to be the winner of an opening-round showdown between Juan Martin Del Potro and Marcos Baghdatis.

First-round upset alert: Marcos Baghdatis over (4) Juan Martin Del Potro. Del Potro is in decent form, but he has played a ton of tennis the last two weeks (won the Rotterdam title) and he lost to Gilles Simon in Marseille while not looking 100 percent physically. Baghdatis, who also owns eight match victories this season, leads the head-to-head series 2-1 after taking their lone 2012 encounter in Sydney. This upset probably won’t come to fruition, but it’s definitely not out of the question. Also keep an eye on Tsonga vs. Llodra and Tipsarevic vs. Nikolay Davydenko.

Hot: Novak Djokovic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Andreas Seppi, Roberto Bautista-Agut, Daniel Brands, Bernard Tomic

Cold: Janko Tipsarevic, Mikhail Youzhny, Viktor Troicki, David Goffin, Tobias Kamke, Mikhail Kukushkin

Quarterfinal predictions: Novak Djokovic over Andreas Seppi, Juan Martin Del Potro over Daniel Brands, Tomas Berdych over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Roger Federer over Bernard Tomic

Semifinals: Djokovic over Del Potro and Federer over Berdych

Final: Djokovic over Federer

Abierto Mexicano Telcel

Where: Acapulco, Mexico
Surface: Clay
Prize money: $1,212,750
: 500

Top seed: Rafael Nadal
Defending champion: David Ferrer

Draw analysis: Acapulco has been the personal playground of Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro. The two Spaniards have split the last five titles, with Almagro triumphing in 2008 and 2009 before Ferrer’s reign began in 2010 (and one of Ferrer’s final victories came against his countryman). Now, however, Nadal is crashing the party and the 11-time Grand Slam champion has a draw that could propel him to the title. Nadal’s first two matches will likely come against qualifiers and his nearest seed is a slumping Thomaz Bellucci. It should get far more difficult in the semis, because the draw’s third section is loaded. It includes Almagro, Carlos Berlocq, Buenos Aires semifinalist Tommy Robredo, and Horacio Zeballos—who stunned Nadal in the Vina del Mar title match.

Ferrer should not have any trouble whatsoever at the top of the bracket, although the winner of a first-rounder between Benoit Paire and Paolo Lorenzi would not be a pushover in the quarterfinals. The defending champ is on course for a semifinal rematch of last Sunday’s Buenos Aires final with Stanislas Wawrinka—which Ferrer won in three sets. Wawrinka faces a tough early path that begins with Fabio Fognini and could feature David Nalbandian in round two.

First-round upset alert: Simone Bolelli over (8) Horacio Zeballos. Since his possible career-changer against Nadal, Zeballos has been a complete train wreck. He retired from his Sao Paulo opener and he lost to Aljaz Bedene right off the bat last week in Buenos Aires. The Argentine already has three first-round exits in 2013. Bolelli, a quarterfinalist in Doha and a semifinalist in Sao Paolo, is finally heating up following  a prolonged slump that lasted several years. Furthermore, the Italian leads the head-to-head series 2-0 after beating Zeballos in straight sets twice last season. This has upset written all over it.

Hot: David Ferrer, Benoit Paire, Paolo Lorenzi, Simone Bolelli

Cold: Jurgen Melzer, Thomaz Bellucci, Pablo Andujar, Andrey Kuznetsov

Quarterfinal predictions: David Ferrer over Paolo Lorenzi, Stanislas Wawrinka over Santiago Giraldo, Nicolas Almagro over Carlos Berlocq, and Rafael Nadal over Leonardo Mayer

: Ferrer over Wawrinka and Nadal over Almagro

Final: Ferrer over Nadal

Delray Beach International Tennis Championships

Where: Delray Beach, Florida
Surface: Hard
Prize money: $455,775
: 250

Top Seed: John Isner
Defending Champion: Kevin Anderson

Draw analysis: Delray Beach will be the forgotten tournament this week…and for good reason. Still, by no means does it have a poor field for a 250-point event. Five of the Top 23 players in the world are on hand for the last event in the United States before Indian Wells and Miami. In fact, the field is almost identical to that of last week’s 500-pointer in Memphis. Finalists Kei Nishikori and Feliciano Lopez are on course for a quarterfinal rematch in Delray Beach. Semifinalists Marinko Matosevic and Denis Istomin could face the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, respectively, in the second round.

But that is not necessarily bad news for top-seeded John Isner, who is trying to right the ship from an abysmal slump. Matosevic retired from his Memphis semi against Nishikori with a bone bruise, so Isner actually has a great draw through the quarterfinals (Isner’s nearest seed is Kevin Anderson, who has not played since the Australian Open due to an elbow injury). Sam Querrey, meanwhile, leads the way in an American-heavy third section of the bracket. It also includes James Blake, Ryan Harrison, and Querrey’s first-round opponent Michael Russell.

First-round upset alert: Alejandro Falla over (8) Xavier Malisse. Malisse leads the ATP head-to-head series 3-0, but Falla has gotten the best of his fellow veteran twice in the last four years at hard-court Challengers. Another Falla victory would not come as a surprise. The Colombian reached the San Jose quarterfinals and had a match point against Querrey to reach the semis, so he is clearly playing decent tennis. Malisse has not exactly been slumping in 2013, but a first-round retirement last week in Memphis is cause for concern.

Hot: Kei Nishikori, Feliciano Lopez, Marinko Matosevic, Denis Istomin, Igor Sijsling

Cold: John Isner, Ivo Karlovic, Matthew Ebden, Ryan Harrison, James Blake

Semifinal predictions: Kei Nishikori over Kevin Anderson and Sam Querrey over Denis Istomin

Final: Querrey over Nishikori

Comments and your own predictions are appreciated!

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