Welcome to Catching Up With Tennis Pulse; a weekly segment where we recap events from the previous week, and add more names to our growing list of victors and vanquished. Familiar foes, unusual challengers and established veterans all clash in an attempt to take home the latest decorative hardware. And we get to enjoy every minute of it. How could one possibly describe this experience?
Rio Open presented by Claro
An ATP 500 event, this clay-court tournament was conceived in 2014. Rafael Nadal claimed the inaugural trophy, with Dominic Thiem emerging victorious in 2017. The Austrian was a favorite to repeat, having just blazed through the Argentina Open without dropping a set.
Thiem was trounced in the quarterfinal 6-4 6-0 by eighth seed Fernando Verdasco. The Spaniard progressed to the final, where he encountered Diego Schwartzman. Despite a very aggressive attempt, Verdasco was unable to overcome the counter-punching defense of Schwartzman. The Argentine defeated his Spanish opponent 6-2 6-3 to win his second title (Istanbul 2016) and probably the biggest of his career. Schwartzman in fact did not drop a set the entire tournament, and will now rise to a career high ranking of No. 18.
Top seed Marin Cilic fell in the second round to Gael Monfils, who would then be defeated by eventual champion Diego Schwartzman in the quarterfinals. Spaniards Pablo Carreno Busta and Albert Ramos-Vinolas were also upset in the second round.
Open 13 Provence
The Marseille Open was without two of its stars, with top seed David Goffin suffering an eye injury at the Rotterdam open last week which saw him withdraw from Marseille. Three-time defending champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (2009, 2013, 2017) also suffered a left hamstring injury in Montpellier two weeks ago, prompting his withdrawal from Marseille. By doing so, the Frenchman would drop out of the top 30 for the first time in 10 years, falling to No.36.
Lucas Pouille was hoping to win his second title in three weeks, after his triumph in Montpellier. The rising star reached the final, but faced stiff opposition from youngster Karen Khachanov. The Russian had not dropped a set till that point, and he eventually prevailed over the Frenchman 7-5 3-6 7-5 in just under two hours.
This would be Khachanov’s second title, after claiming his maiden trophy at the Chengdu Open in 2016. En route to the final, he disposed of Czech danger-man Tomas Berdych 6-3 6-2 in a brilliant display of attacking tennis. Khachanov has the potential to pose a significant threat to the “old guard” and he is definitely one to watch out for in the years to come.
Stan Wawrinka suffered a setback at the Marseille Open, as he was forced to retire in his second round match 4-6 1-1(RET) against Belarus’s Ilya Ivashka. The three-time Grand Slam champion seemed adamant that it was not a new injury, claiming that he clipped his left knee during a forehand volley and felt the musculature go tense. This is the same knee which was operated on twice last summer, and the pain forced him to throw in the towel. Let’s hope Wawrinka takes the time to recuperate and return stronger than ever.
Delray Beach Open
The legion of recent NextGen ATP superstars have been a breath of fresh air. Alexander Zverev, while no longer considered a member, once spearheaded the movement less than 12 months ago. Zverev, Denis Shapovalov and most recently, Hyeon Chung have all left an indelible print in the history books. However, this week belonged to American Frances Tiafoe. The 20 year old played the best tennis of his young career, defeating German Peter Gojowczyk 6-1 6-4 to capture his first ATP title. In doing so, he also became the youngest American to win an ATP title since Andy Roddick did so at the age of 19 (Houston 2002).
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) February 25, 2018
En route to his maiden title, Tiafoe overcame world No. 9 Juan Martin del Potro, 2018 Australian Open semifinalist Hyeon Chung and Canadian sensation Denis Shapovalov. That’s an impressive collection of scalps. This victory will see Tiafoe rise to No. 61 in the ATP rankings. Additionally he will climb to second place in the ATP Race to Milan, which is used to determine the eight players who shall compete in this years Next Gen ATP Finals.
Defending champion Jack Sock was bundled out by compatriot Reilly Opelka in the second round, whereas John Isner was cut down by finalist Peter Gojowczyk in a tight three-setter. Gojowczyk now ranks at a career high of No. 51, and this run could give him the confidence required to make the later stages at future events.
Perhaps it’s due to the partially depleted field, but a new crop of challengers and champions have emerged this season. With Dubai and Acapulco upon us, one has to wonder if this trend shall continue. Rafael Nadal, Grigor Dimitrov, Alexander Zverev and other members of the top 10 all feature this week. One thing is certain, each man will attempt to build momentum heading into Indian Wells; the first ATP Masters 1000 event of the season.
Which top 10 player has the best chance of winning in Dubai or Acapulco this week? Is someone lurking in the shadows, patiently awaiting his window of opportunity? Leave your comments below and be sure to follow us on www.tennis-pulse.com for continued coverage of the 2018 ATP season.