Juan Martin Del Potro’s last comeback began in Delray Bech and his latest return to tennis will be hosted by the same event in 2017. The layoff is not as long this time around, as Del Potro led Argentina to the Davis Cup title this past November before opting for some extended rest. The 2009 U.S. Open champion is joined in an intriguing Delray Beach field that also includes Milos Raonic, Jack Sock, and Tommy Haas.
This year’s second 500-point tournament is taking place in Rio de Janeiro, where Kei Nishikori and Dominic Thiem headline the field. In Marseille, defending champion Nick Kyrgios will be challenged by Gael Monfils, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Alexander Zverev.
Where: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Prize money: $1,461,560
Top seed: Kei Nishikori
Defending champion: Pablo Cuevas
Draw analysis: Thiem is ditching hard courts in order to play on the red clay of South America—and not a moment to soon. From now through the French Open, the 23-year-old Austrian has a boatload of ranking points to defend. His preferred clay-court surface gives him a much better chance of defending at least some of those points, and his draw in Rio de Janeiro should also help. In by far the weakest section, Thiem will open against a rusty Janko Tipsarevic before possibly facing either Poalo Lorenzi or Federico Delbonis in the quarters. Potential semifinal opponents are Albert Ramos-Vinolas, Fabio Fognini, and defending champion Pablo Cuevas.
The marquee matchup of round one—given that this is in Brazil—will pit Nishikori against Thomaz Bellucci. Although Bellucci has never done much at this event, he reached the quarterfinals of the Rio Olympics last summer and pushed Rafael Nadal to three sets. In another tough first-round test, a slumping David Ferrer will go up against Buenos Aires finalist Alexandr Dolgopolov. Pablo Carreno Busta and Joao Sousa are also part of a strong top half of the bracket.
First-round upset alert: Federico Delbonis over (7) Paolo Lorenzi. Interestingly, Delbonis leads the head-to-head series 3-0 at the ATP level while Lorenzi is 3-0 on the Challenger circuit. Each of the Italian’s victories has come in either 2010 and 2011; Delbonis has since taken three in a row at Lorenzi’s expense dating back to the start of 2014. All three of the Argentine’s wins have come on the Golden Swing, including last year at this same Rio de Janeiro event via a 6-3, 6-0 second-round blowout. Delbonis hasn’t done anything in 2017, but he knows he has Lorenzi’s number now.
Hot: Kei Nishikori, Pablo Carreno Busta, Paolo Lorenzi, Victor Estrella Burgos, Carlos Berlocq
Cold: Dominic Thiem, David Ferrer, Stephane Robert, Tommy Robredo, Janko Tipsarevic
Quarterfinal predictions: Joao Sousa over Thomaz Bellucci, Pablo Carreno Busta over David Ferrer, Fabio Fognini over Pablo Cuevas, and Dominic Thiem over Federico Delbonis
Semifinals: Carreno Busta over Sousa and Thiem over Fognini
Final: Thiem over Carreno Busta
Delray Beach Open
Where: Delray Beach, Florida
Prize money: $534,625
Top seed: Milos Raonic
Defending champion: Sam Querrey
Draw analysis: Del Potro’s abbreviated but epic 2016 campaign started with a semifinal showing in Delray Beach and ended with a Davis Cup title for Argentina. The scheduled offseason did not provide enough rest for the oft-injured former world No. 4, so he skipped the Australian summer. Thus another comeback is beginning in Delray Beach, where Del Potro is 8-1 lifetime with a title in 2011. A well-rested seventh seed should be able to reach at least the semifinals this week, although an opener against Kevin Anderson and a possible quarterfinal date with Sam Querrey may not be easy. The top-seeded Raonic will likely coast into a big-serving semifinal showdown against either Del Potro or Querrey.
Ivo Karlovic must be happy to see something other than a No. 1 seed by his name this week. The 6’11’’ Croat recently had that distinction in both Quito and Memphis only to lose his opening match at each tournament. But even as the second seed that trend could continue because Karlovic has to go up against Memphis semifinalist Donald Young right off the bat. Jack Sock, the only seed in the bottom half of the bracket who is playing especially strong tennis at the moment, may not run into any serious trouble until the weekend.
First-round upset alert: Dudi Sela over (4) Sam Querrey. Querrey has done next to nothing since upsetting Novak Djokovic on his way to last summer’s Wimbledon quarterfinals. In addition to his uninspiring current form, the American must also deal with the pressure of having to defend 250 points from last year’s Delray Beach title. Coming off a blowout loss to Ryan Harrison in Memphis, he could be in trouble against Sela—who is a respectable 2-2 lifetime in the head-to-head series.
Hot: Milos Raonic, Jack Sock, Nikoloz Basilashvili, Donald Young
Cold: Ivo Karlovic, Sam Querrey, Santiago Giraldo, Borna Coric, Taylor Fritz, Tommy Haas, Kevin Anderson, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez
Semifinal predictions: Juan Martin Del Potro over Milos Raonic and Jack Sock over Donald Young
Final: Sock over Del Potro
Where: Marseille, France
Surface: Indoor hard
Prize money: 620,660 Euros
Top seed: Gael Monfils
Defending champion: Nick Kyrgios
Draw analysis: Kyrgios was simply unplayable on his way to last year’s Marseille title. The Aussie won five matches without dropping a set, including over Richard Gasquet, Tomas Berdych, and Marin Cilic. Kyrgios, though, was a different kind of unplayable this past week. He withdrew from Rotterdam to play in the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and he ended up not even participating in that. The world No. 15 has not taken the court since blowing a two-set lead over Andreas Seppi in round three of the Australian Open. Kyrgios should coast back into the quarterfinals this week, but he could have to beat Zverev and Tsonga just to reach the title match. Veteran Frenchmen Gilles Simon, Julien Benneteau, and Nicolas Mahut also find themselves in the bottom half of the bracket.
A much weaker top half features all kinds of unreliable performers. The top-seeded Monfils has been outstanding over the past year but has not played since the Aussie Open. Although Gasquet is in decent form, he got clobbered by Berdych in the Rotterdam second round. Lucas Pouille has been a disaster since last September, a month that saw him stun Nadal at the U.S. Open and win the Metz title. Benoit Paire can never be trusted. Thus the door could be open for an unseeded floater such as Jeremy Chardy, Robin Haase, or Daniil Medvedev.
First-round upset alert: Daniil Medvedev over (8) Benoit Paire. Medvedev already owns more than half of his career ATP-level match victories in 2017 (six of 11). Among the Russian’s results are a runner-up performance in Chennai and recent quarterfinal finish in Montpellier. Paire has been solid this season, too, with a 9-5 record. He should take care of business in this one, especially at home in France, but you never really know what he is going to bring to the table on any given day.
Hot: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Alexander Zverev, Daniil Medvedev
Cold: Lucas Pouille, Julien Benneteau
Semifinal predictions: Alexander Zverev over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils over Benoit Paire
Final: Monfils over Zverev
Comments and your own predictions are appreciated!