Well, that was fast.
If it feels like the offseason did not last very long, it’s because it didn’t. In fact, the Davis Cup final was just last month. So were the World Tour Finals. It’s not even 2014 quite yet, but the 2014 tennis campaign is set to begin. And it will begin with a bang, as Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych, Stanislas Wawrinka, and Richard Gasquet are all entered in either Doha, Brisbane, or Chennai.
Qatar ExxonMobil Open
Where: Doha, Qatar
Prize money: $1,195,500
Top seed: Rafael Nadal
Defending champion: Richard Gasquet
Draw analysis: Get your popcorn ready for Nadal’s first match of the season. It may not be a competitive one, but it will generate headlines no matter what. That’s because first up for the world No. 1 is Lukas Rosol, the man who conquered him at Wimbledon in 2012. Rosol captured his first career ATP title last season in Bucharest, but other than that he has mostly been a disaster since his watershed moment against Nadal. A difficult draw for the top seed could feature Ernests Gulbis in the quarterfinals and Berdych in the semis. Berdych has a tough first-round matchup on his hands against Ivo Karlovic.
Speaking of rough draws, Gasquet’s title defense should begin with a virtual walkover past Egyptian wild card Karim Hossam before getting tricky. An all-French affair between Gasquet and Gael Monfils is likely for the second round before a possible rematch of a 2013 U.S. Open quarterfinal five-setter between Gasquet and Ferrer. Murray, who is taking his talents from Brisbane to Doha, finds himself in a friendly section in which he could meet Wimbledon quarterfinal opponent Fernando Verdasco in the last eight.
First-round upset alert: Ivo Karlovic over (4) Tomas Berdych. Berdych should be able to get through this one, but he knows to be wary of Karlovic. The 6’11’’ Croat (yes, one of the great offseason mysteries is that both Karlovic and John Isner grew an inch apiece according to the ATP website) is 3-2 lifetime against Berdych, with a pair of third-set tiebreaker wins in Basel (15-13 in 2007 and 7-2 this fall). If Karlovic’s serve is working, he is obviously presents extreme danger to anyone on any given day.
Hot: Rafael Nadal, Richard Gasquet, Joao Sousa, Michal Przysiezny
Cold: Andy Murray, Fernando Verdasco, Lukas Rosol, Florian Mayer, Nikolay Davydenko, Alexandr Dolgopolov
Semifinal predictions: Rafael Nadal over Tomas Berdych and Andy Murray over David Ferrer
Final: Nadal over Ferrer
Where: Brisbane, Australia
Prize money: $452,670
Top seed: Roger Federer
2013 champion: Andy Murray
Draw analysis: With Nadal out of Doha last season, Brisbane boasted top honors as cream of the crop. It pales in comparison to its fellow year-opener this time around, but it is at least getting a rare appearance from Federer. The 32-year-old Swiss has not played in this event since 2000, when it was held in Adelaide. His path appears to be a favorable one, with unseeded floaters like Lleyton Hewitt, Marin Cilic, and Denis Istomin on the opposite side of the bracket. Federer could run into Julien Benneteau in the quarterfinals and Kevin Anderson in the semis.
The other half is enticing, setting up nicely for Hewitt to make a run in front of his Aussie fans. He could meet Gilles Simon, who beat him in five sets at the 2013 French Open, in the last eight. Cilic, who returned briefly at the end of last season from a drug-related suspension, has an intriguing matchup with Istomin on his hands. Meanwhile, an all-Aussie showdown pits Nick Kyrgios against Matthew Ebden for the right to battle Kei Nishikori.
First-round upset alert: Sam Querrey over (7) Dmitry Tursunov. Tursunov is coming off a solid season that was—most importantly—free of injury. But who knows what kind of shape or mood the mercurial Russian will be in as we turn the page for a new year. This is a matchup between two ball-bashers who like to keep points short with huge serves and forehands. Querrey will be eager to start strong after a mostly disappointing performance in 2013.
Hot: Grigor Dimitrov, Dmitry Tursunov, Nicolas Mahut
Cold: Kei Nishikori, Gilles Simon, Kevin Anderson, Igor Sijsling, Marin Cilic
Semifinals: Roger Federer over Kevin Anderson and Lleyton Hewitt over Marin Cilic
Final: Federer over Hewitt
Aircel Chennai Open
Where: Chennai, India
Prize money: $459,140
Top seed: Stanislas Wawrinka
2013 champion: Janko Tipsarevic
Draw analysis: Chennai loves itself some Janko Tipsarevic, whose prolonged slump has continued with a late withdrawal from the tournament. On the bright side, Chennai also loves itself some Wawrinka, who is the top seed in singles and once again teaming up with Benoit Paire in doubles (they captured the 2012 title). So all is not lost. Additionally, top Indian player Somdev Devvarman has an opportunistic draw ahead of him. Devvarman opens with a qualifier before potentially going up against Marcel Granollers and then Paire. No. 2 seed and 2008 champion Mikhail Youzhny (who obliterated Nadal 6-0, 6-1 in the final that year) should cruise through a relatively soft bottom quarter of the bracket to face either Devvarman or Paire.
Wawrinka, the recipient of an opening-round bye along with Youzhny, Fabio Fognini, and Paire, awaits either Benjamin Becker or Julian Reister. The Swiss should not have any trouble until likely facing either Fognini or Vasek Pospisil in the semifinals. Pospisil is looking to build on a breakout 2013 campaign that has him seeded fifth in Chennai and in play for an Australian Open seed at No. 32 in the world.
First-round upset alert: Albert Ramos over (7) Edouard Roger-Vasselin. This one may not necessarily happen, but there is no other choice for an upset alert in the Chennai opening round. Ramos digressed a bit in 2013, currently registering at No. 83 in the world. The offseason did not come at a great time for Roger-Vasselin, whose fine form last season continued throughout the fall. He reached the Tokyo second round as a qualifier and made it to the semifinals in Basel.
Hot: Stanislas Wawrinka, Mikhail Youzhny, Fabio Fognini, Vasek Pospisil, Pablo Carreno Busta, Tim Smyczek, Jiri Vesely
Cold: Albert Ramos, Dudi Sela, Lukas Lacko
Semifinals: Stanislas Wawrinka over Vasek Pospisil and Mikhail Youzhny over Somdev Devvarman
Final: Youzhny over Wawrinka
Comments and your own predictions are appreciated!