We’ve turned the page and 2016 ATP play is underway where we’re focusing on tournaments in Doha, Qatar, in Brisbane, Australia, and in Chennai, India.
Doha is the richest of these three early ATP 250s with a purse of around $1.2 million. Djokovic is hoping to find some kind of form after a nice break from competitive tennis and avenge one of his only losses of 2015, to Karlovic in the Doha QF. Might be all the Serb needs to initiate a little more focus this early in the year. He cruised in his opening match v Dustin Brown 2 and 2. Djokovic waits for the winner of Verdasco v Malek Jaziri.
The bottom half of the draw had a hint of excitement earlier today as Nadal needed all three sets to dismiss fellow countryman Pablo Carrena Busta. Busta took the first in a TB, but then the bull found his victim’s target and won going away 3 and 1. Busta had the first set on his racket in the TB serving 6-3, but had to wait to close it out on Nadal’s serve, 7-5. Certainly, among the nine-time Roland Garros champ’s vulnerabilities, his serve might top the list.
Of course, this early in the season, many players don’t quite have their game faces on, so a little bump in unpredictability will be the norm. One of Nadal’s biggest tests in his half of the bracket, Ferrer, fell today to #94 Ukrainian Illya Marchenko. Other than some of that early season rust and dust, Nadal should find the final unharmed to face Djokovic. Nothing is certain, of course, in this first week of January, but count on a Doha final between those two.
Federer is the Brisbane defending champ, so he’s back in this comfort zone to find some repeat success. In Fed’s half of the draw, he faces the winner of the Dimitrov v Troiki match, the Bulgarian “upsetting” Simon in his opening tilt. That’s one QF. The other half of this top half has Cilic v Chung (nineteen year-old S. Korean talent) and Thiem v Kudla. I’ll just say Cilic, Chung and Thiem give you plenty of reasons to watch how this unfolds. Cilic is clearly the favorite, but rooting for these youngsters is a no-brainer.
The bottom half of that draw includes Nishikori, the second seed, along with Goffin, Raonic and Tomic. Certainly some early season tennis to watch as these men build some early confidence for 2016’s first major that begins in a couple of weeks.
Lastly, Chennai includes Wawrinka and Kevin Anderson as the top two seeds. Wawrinka will open his play v the eighteen year-old Russian Andrey Rublev who has shown promise. Wawrinka’s close friend Benoit Paire could likely be waiting for the Swiss top-seed in one SF. In the bottom half, Anderson will see challenges come from the likes of Coric, Bautista Agut, and Bedene, again some youngsters in there hoping to earn some ATP stripes.
The other point of interest was an article I read yesterday, published yesterday, that did some to confirm my commentary on Jan. 1. Djokovic is all in on the French Open and the Olympics. This plays-out how I outlined in my post: he probably wins AO unless ANYONE can step-up to his level, or even near it given that he might not be in top form (he probably will be); but, his focus is Roland Garros. After this huge winter/spring surge to win 1 or 2 majors, he then turns to Rio with Wimbledon as a possible appetizer. I said if he wins FO, which I suspect he will, winning WB is a stretch, especially since Rio is a top priority, as well.
Again, he could very well win 3 majors this year and Rio. 2015 was most startling because it showed Nole’s remarkably high level throughout the year, a rising trajectory, winning nearly without much challenge, especially late at the business ends of big tournaments; 2015 also showed us the rest of the tour’s international exhibit of tennis mediocrity.
The Serb’s play in 2016 will contain lulls, both in structure and in nature. The question is who will take advantage of this. Most of us have yet to really see evidence that his dominance will host such intermissions. His announcement sounds charitable and imperial. He has spoken. Carry on.