Approach Shots: U.S. Open Series continues in D.C.

“Approach Shots” is Ricky’s weekly look at what’s ahead on the ATP Tour.

The Citi Open has gotta love non-Olympic years. While the field is depleted once every four installments of the tournament due to the conflicting schedule, three out four consistently boast outstanding fields. This is no exception, as Juan Martin Del Potro, Kei Nishikori, and Tommy Haas headline the entry list and are set to kick off their 2013 U.S. Open Series campaigns. Past champions Alexandr Dolgopolov and Radek Stepanek are also in the draw along with recent runner-up Marcos Baghdatis. Meanwhile, the ATP clay-court season comes to end in Kitzbuhel.

Citi Open

Where: Washington, D.C.
Surface: Hard
Prize money: $1,295,790
Points: 500

Top seed: Juan Martin Del Potro
Defending champion: Alexandr Dolgopolov

Draw analysis: Del Potro is back in action for the first time since Wimbledon and the Washington, D.C. draw did not do any favors for the No. 1 seed. Up first for the seventh-ranked Argentine is an Atlanta semifinalist, either Lleyton Hewitt or Ryan Harrison. Kevin Anderson, who finished runner-up to John Isner in Atlanta after holding two championship points, is a potential third-round opponent for Del Potro. Also in the top half of the draw is a resurgent Haas, who has been just about unbeatable of late for anyone except Novak Djokovic and Fabio Fognini. Haas finds himself in a more favorable quarter than that of Del Potro, although a possible quarterfinal clash against Grigor Dimitrov could be difficult. Elsewhere in the top half of the bracket, Mardy Fish’s return to tennis continues with an opening test against Matthew Ebden.

Coming off his first Atlanta title in his third final appearance at that event, Isner should have a great chance of maintaining momentum on his favorite surface as part of a weaker bottom half. The 6’9” American awaits either Alex Kuznetsov or Alex Bogomolov and his nearest seed is a slumping Dolgopolov. Nishikori’s nearest seed is a woefully out-of-form Baghdatis, so a tilt in the last eight between Isner and Nishikori is likely. The fourth semifinal spot in D.C. appears to be up for grabs, with No. 4 seed Milos Raonic in far from dominant form at the moment. This could be an opportunity for James Blake, who played well in Atlanta–where he ultimately succumbed to Isner in a quarterfinal that featured a pair of tiebreakers. Blake will face Marinko Matosevic before a potential date with a vulnerable Nikolay Davydenko.

First-round upset alert: (WC) Jack Sock over Igor Sijsling. Sijsling has earned 17 of his 30 career ATP-level match victories in 2013, but he suffered a bad loss to Michael Russell in the Newport quarterfinals and he has since lost opening matches in Bogota and Atlanta. While Sock is not exactly on fire at the moment, he is always dangerous on American hard courts. The 20-year-old captured a Challenger title in Winnetka earlier this month, so he is match-tough and should be playing with confidence. His serve-forehand combination makes him a threat to just about anyone on any given day.

Hot: Juan Martin Del Potro, Kei Nishikori, Tommy Haas, Kevin Anderson, John Isner, Ivan Dodig, Lleyton Hewitt, Grega Zemlja

Cold: Milos Raonic, Sam Querrey, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Nikolay Davydenko, Marcos Baghdatis, Mardy Fish, Ricardas Berankis, Radek Stepanek

Quarterfinal predictions: Juan Martin Del Potro over Julien Benneteau, Tommy Haas over Sam Querrey, Milos Raonic over Feliciano Lopez, and John Isner over Kei Nishikori

Semifinals: Del Potro over Haas and Isner over Raonic

Final: Del Potro over Isner

bet-at-home Cup Kitzbuhel

Where: Kitzbuhel, Austria
Surface: Clay
Prize money: 410,200 Euros
Points: 250

Top seed: Philipp Kohlschreiber
Defending champion: Robin Haase

Draw analysis: Robin Haase has won two ATP titles in his career…both in Kitzbuhel. He won’t be favored to make it three in a row, but a relatively wide-open draw will certainly give him a chance. And the Dutchman has a favorable one, opening against Guillaume Rufin in a section where seeds Fernando Verdasco and Carlos Berlocq are far from unbeatable. A potential semifinal opponent for Verdasco, Berlocq, or Haase is top-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber. The German is in a soft quarter of the bracket, where the few accomplished clay-courters are not playing well right now.

Austria’s best hope, of course, is No. 4 seed Jurgen Melzer. Following a first-round bye, the 32-year-old’s path to the title match could feature one clay-courter after another. After a likely opener with Andrey Kuznetsov, Melzer may face Nice champion and Umag quarterfinalist Albert Montanes. Meanwhile, three of the four qualifying slots are in Juan Monaco’s section. It remains to be seen, but right now Monaco appears to have great chance of easing into the last four at this event.

First-round upset alert: Daniel Brands over (5) Carlos Berlocq. Brands is by no means a consistent player, but he is big hitter who can get hot on occasion and that makes him dangerous against anyone. The 6’5’’ German tested Rafael Nadal at the French Open and he just upset Roger Federer in Gstaad (before promptly losing to Victor Hanescu). So far this month Berlocq has captured the first ATP title of his career in Bastad and has reached the third round in Hamburg. This could be a high-quality encounter in which Berlocq is the favorite but Brands can dictate play—so an upset is possible if his serve and forehand are working.

Hot: Fernando Verdasco, Carlos Berlocq, Daniel Brands, Victor Hanescu, Kenny De Schepper, Aljaz Bedene

Cold: Marcel Granollers, Horacio Zeballos

Semifinal predictions: Philipp Kohlschreiber over Fernando Verdasco and Juan Monaco over Jurgen Melzer

Final: Monaco over Kohlschreiber

Comments and your own predictions are appreciated!

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