Outside of Grand Slams, it does not get any bigger than the next five weeks on the ATP World Tour. Prior to Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells and Miami, top players will be fine-tuning their games in Dubai and Acapulco…and to a much lesser extent in Sao Paulo.
Reigning Australian Open champion Roger Federer headlines the Dubai field along with Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka. Novak Djokovic, meanwhile, took a late wild card into Acapulco, thus joining Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, and Juan Martin Del Potro. Sao Paulo will be forgotten by comparison, but its title looks completely up for grabs with no one in the top 20 in the draw.
Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
Where: Dubai, U.A.E.
Prize money: $2,429,150
Top seed: Andy Murray
Defending champion: Stan Wawrinka
Draw analysis: Federer and Pouille enjoyed a well-publicized Dubai practice session during the offseason and now a head-to-head showdown could be in the cards in the same city. With Federer having not played since capturing the Aussie Open title and Pouille coming off a runner-up performance this past week in Marseille, they find themselves in the same quarter of a stacked Dubai draw. Neither one should have any trouble advancing to the last eight, although Federer’s opener against Benoit Paire could be tricky at times–“at times” likely meaning a couple of games. It is hard to see a highly-anticipated semifinal battle between Federer and Murray being denied by anyone in the top half of the bracket.
On the other side, Wawrinka, Gael Monfils, and Tomas Berdych should coast into the semis. At least on paper, the only seed whose weekend spot is in serious jeopardy is Roberto Bautista Agut. The Spaniard is 0-1 lifetime against first-round adversary Karen Khachanov and Fernando Verdasco likely awaits in the last 16. One of the more intriguing opening-round affairs pits Dan Evans against Dustin Brown.
First-round upset alert: Philipp Kohlschreiber over (8) Gilles Muller. Muller captured his long-awaited first career title in Sydney, but he is a mediocre 4-4 in his other four tournaments this season. Kohlschreiber, who is a decent 6-4 in 2017, is an impressive returner so he generally fares well against big servers. The German is 2-0 lifetime against Muller and 4-0 in total sets.
Hot: Roger Federer, Daniil Medvedev, Dan Evans
Cold: Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Florian Mayer, Jiri Vesely, Marcel Granollers
Quarterfinal predictions: Andy Murray over Philipp Kohlschreiber, Roger Federer over Lucas Pouille, Roberto Bautista Agut over Gael Monfils, and Stan Wawrinka over Tomas Berdych
Semifinals: Murray over Federer and Wawrinka over Bautista Agut
Final: Murray over Wawrinka
Abierto Mexicano Telcel
Where: Acapulco, Mexico
Prize money: $1,491,310
Top seed: Novak Djokovic
Defending champion: Dominic Thiem
Draw analysis: This is as good as it gets in Acapulco. Djokovic took a late wild card into the tournament to make the field even more eye-popping, and Martin Klizan sure wishes he hadn’t. Djokovic’s entry could spell similar bad news for Del Potro, who will likely go up against Djokovic in the second round if the world No. 2 gets past Klizan. A stacked top section is also home to Bernard Tomic, Marseille semifinalist Nick Kyrgios, and Delray Beach semifinalist Donald Young. As for the other quarter in the top half, Thiem may not be playing on his favorite surface but he is the defending champion of this tournament and his confidence must be restored thanks to his Rio title on Sunday. The 23-year-old Austrian, who will open against Gilles Simon, could face good friend and familiar foe David Goffin the last eight.
Nadal has an easier road at the other end of the bracket, although Mischa Zverev is no pushover in round one. After all, the veteran German recently took down Murray during his incredible run to the Aussie Open quarterfinals. Still, Nadal should cruise into the last eight before likely meeting Auckland and Delray Beach champion Jack Sock. The American is on fire but also relatively untested in 2017 aside from his Melbourne loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, so a showdown with Nadal in a battle to see can hit his forehand with more revolutions per minute would be good gauge of Sock’s true form. In the third section of the draw, seeds Marin Cilic (vs. Alexandr Dolgopolov) and John Isner (vs. Steve Johnson) have tough openers on their hands.
First-round upset alert: Steve Johnson over (8) John Isner. These two friends, Davis Cup teammates, and former college stars could not be more competitive against each other. The overall head-to-head series stands at 4-3 in favor of Isner. Their last three contests have ended in tiebreakers (two in final-set ‘breakers), four of their last six sets have required tiebreakers, and exactly half (nine of 18) of their sets have culminated in tiebreakers. Johnson has won two in a row at Isner’s expense via less than surprising scorelines: 7-6(7), 7-6(15) a summer ago in Washington, D.C. and 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(3) last month in Auckland.
Hot: Dominic Thiem, David Goffin, Jack Sock, Donald Young, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Mischa Zverev
Cold: Marin Cilic, Bernard Tomic, Martin Klizan, Adrian Mannarino, Stephane Robert, Borna Coric
Quarterfinal predictions: Novak Djokovic over Nick Kyrgios, Dominic Thiem over David Goffin, Marin Cilic over Steve Johnson, and Rafael Nadal over Jack Sock
Semifinals: Djokovic over Thiem and Nadal over Cilic
Final: Djokovic over Nadal
Where: Sao Paulo, Brazil
Prize money: $455,565
Top seed: Pablo Carreno Busta
Defending champion: Pablo Cuevas
Draw analysis: With Thiem going back to hard courts to defend his Acapulco title, Rio de Janeiro runner-up Pablo Carreno Busta is the No. 1 seed and has to be considered the title favorite. Carreno Busta’s Golden Swing already features a semifinal showing in Buenos Aires in addition to his Rio final appearance, so a continuation of that trend would take him to the winner’s trophy. Potential quarterfinal opponent Fabio Fognini and possible semifinal foe Pablo Cuevas may have other ideas. Cuevas’ relatively tough quarter of the bracket also includes Diego Schwartzman, Thomaz Bellucci, and Victor Estrella Burgos.
Carreno Busta booked his spot in the Rio title match after saving a match point in the semis against Casper Ruud, who earned a special exemption spot in Sao Paulo thanks to his amazing run last week. Ruud has a navigable path through the draw, possibly set to face Federico Delbonis in round two and Joao Sousa in the quarters. No. 2 seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas could eventually run into the winner of first-round showdown between Carlos Berlocq and Brazil’s own Thiago Monteiro.
First-round upset alert: Thomaz Bellucci over (6) Diego Schwartzman. Playing at home in Brazil for a second consecutive week, Bellucci had to face the No. 1 seed in Rio de Janeiro and upset Kei Nishikori right off the bat. A win over Schwartzman, of course, would be far less notable—and far more expected. The Argentine is in decent form and registers at career-high of 44th in the world, but a Brazilian crowd can never be discounted as a real factor when one of its own is on the court.
Hot: Pablo Carreno Busta, Albert Ramos-Vinolas, Victor Estrella Burgos, Jozef Kovalik, Casper Ruud
Cold: Pablo Cuevas, Joao Sousa, Inigo Cervantes, Guido Pella
Semifinal predictions: Fabio Fognini over Thomaz Bellucci and Albert Ramos-Vinolas over Federico Delbonis
Final: Fognini over Ramos-Vinolas
Comments and your own predictions are appreciated!