Umag SF previews and picks: Fognini vs. Monfils, Seppi vs. Robredo

Fabio Fognini will try to continue his incredible hot streak when he takes the Umag court against Gael Monfils for semifinal action on Saturday. Andreas Seppi and Tommy Robredo are also bidding for a place in the title match. Chris Skelton previews the action.

Gael Monfils vs. (3) Fabio Fognini

Heading into the Vegeta Croatia Open semifinals, Monfils should have plenty of confidence. He exorcised some clay demons on Friday against Albert Montanes, defeating the Spaniard on this surface for the first time. Monfils also defeated Fognini earlier this year on the clay of Nice, and he probably should have won their other clay meeting as well. In that match, at Roland Garros three years ago, the Frenchman won the first two sets before letting the last three inexorably slip away.

And yet Monfils probably enters this matchup as the underdog, considering his opponent’s torrid month of July. Fognini stands two victories from his third title in three weeks after entering the month without a single title in his career. Fatigue has not yet caught up with him from those achievements in Stuttgart and Hamburg, for he has advanced through each of his first two Umag matches in straight sets. On the other hand, Monfils may battle the aftereffects of his three-set epic against Montanes on Friday, a match that he appeared to control at multiple stages but closed out only by the tightest of margins.

Both men have exuded nonchalance bordering on carelessness throughout their careers, but each has curbed those tendencies more successfully this summer. Expect Monfils and Fognini to fade in and out of focus at various stages, so some momentum shifts could unfold. The surface edge goes to Fognini, although Monfils is equipped to wage a war of attrition from the baseline. Monfisl’ fitness and athleticism, combined with his firepower, should require Fognini to work hard to keep his winning streak alive.

Skelton pick: Fognini in 3

Dimon pick: Monfils in 3

Tommy Robredo vs. (2) Andreas Seppi

A Roland Garros quarterfinalist, Robredo has awakened from a three-match losing streak this week with three dominant wins. He has not lost more than five games to any of his opponents in Umag, conserving plenty of energy for the weekend. So has his opponent, who could not have envisioned a cozier route to the semifinals. Seppi received a bye and two retirements—one in the first set—hrough the first three rounds, which makes it difficult to judge his form.

In his third clay semifinal of the year, Robredo will seek revenge for a loss to Seppi in Estoril that marked their only meeting on this surface since 2005. The Estoril result surprised in view of Seppi’s struggles throughout the first half of 2013. Even on clay, his best surface, the Italian lost his first match at six tournaments. Grass paradoxically appeared to revive Seppi’s spirits, for he reached the second week at Wimbledon in his best result ever at the All-England Club.

These two European veterans have built their careers on the classic clay-court tennis that dominates this section of the circuit less than it once did. Cautious, patient baseline rallies will set the tone as each man tries to outmaneuver the other without resorting to low-percentage shots. Unlike the slicker clay in Gstaad, the more conventional clay of Umag should reward their playing styles and produce a high-quality semifinal.

Skelton pick: Robredo in 2

Dimon pick: Robredo in 3

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