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Ferrer, Murray Highlight Acapulco's Debut on Hard Courts

Feb 24th 2014

Formerly a clay tournament, the ATP 500 event in Acapulco has shifted to hard courts in 2014.  This surface change makes Acapulco more relevant preparation for Indian Wells and Miami, the twin non-majors that follow it immediately.  A quick glance down the entry list shows how quickly it has changed from the province of Mediterranean and South American dirt devils to the terrain of heavy hitters.  Two top-10 men will appear in Acapulco, but their trips to the final are far from certain.

David Ferrer

Top half:  A title two weeks ago on South American clay might have revived David Ferrer’s spirits, but the top seed still does not look himself.  Ferrer fell meekly at the Rio de Janeiro tournament to Alexandr Dolgopolov, an opponent whom he has dominated.  Compatriot Feliciano Lopez has won six of their eight hard-court meetings and will aim for a seventh in the second round.  Ferrer also could face a player surging in confidence if Kevin Anderson regroups from an epic final in Delray Beach.  The South African giant defeated Ferrer at Indian Wells last year, and he could catch him off guard again following a similar change of surfaces.  Assigned a first-round clash with a Mexican wildcard, Sam Querrey should halt a losing streak that has lasted since the Australian Open before colliding with Anderson.

The cliché of picking on someone your own size rarely applies to Querrey’s compatriot, John Isner.  But it will in the first round of Acapulco when the top-ranked American faces Ivo Karlovic in a battle of monster servers.  The winner will set a course toward a quarterfinal with a frequently injured phenom in Vasek Pospisil.  Still early in his evolution, Pospisil already has proved that he can stand toe to toe with the ATP elite.  His 2013 campaign included not only triumphs over both Isner and Karlovic but upsets of Tomas Berdych and Richard Gasquet.  Still, Pospisil has not played since the Australian Open and withdrew from both of his 2014 tournaments with injuries.  He might find Rio runner-up Alexandr Dolgopolov a daunting test after Dolgopolov scorched past three top-20 opponents last week. 

Bottom half:  Another unpredictable player in sparkling form, Ernests Gulbis defeated two members of the top 10 to win the Marseille title last week.  His talent could have earned him more than five small titles, but Gulbis has yet to walk a walk that matches his talk.  Proclaiming his ambition to become world No. 1, as he did recently, will ring hollow unless he takes care of business in soft draws like these.  The same often has been said of Grigor Dimitrov when pundits likened him to Roger Federer, but Dimitrov has shown impressive signs of progress by reaching the Australian Open quarterfinal this year.  Both men own several marquee wins or near-wins against the best in the game, yet both can lose on any given day.  Dimitrov might be the more tested of the two with the streaky Marcos Baghdatis lurking.

The Acapulco second seed never would have appeared here if the tournament had stayed on clay.  Ahead of an exhibition in New York City against Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray looks to compile the match practice that he needs to mount solid runs at Indian Wells and Miami.  North America has witnessed much of Murray’s best tennis, while 2014 has not.  His uneven form while returning from a back injury has left him vulnerable to aggressive shot-makers on hot streaks.  Not normally known as such a player, Pablo Andujar could trouble Murray in his opener if he produces the fearlessness that earned him match points against Nadal in Rio.  American fans might hope for Tim Smyczek to ambush the woefully reeling Gilles Simon.

Dominika Cibulkova

Much overshadowed by the men’s event, although less so than in Rio, the Acapulco women’s event still offers a handful of intriguing storylines.  First and foremost are the fortunes of the top two seeds, Dominika Cibulkova and Eugenie Bouchard.  The bloom has not faded on their breakthroughs at the Australian Open, where Cibulkova reached her first major final and Bouchard her first major semifinal.  But it remains imperative to exploit that momentum in a sport where momentum can turn all too swiftly.  Neither woman has looked especially sharp since Melbourne, so this week offers them a chance to settle into a groove before the March mega-events. 

American fans also might wonder how Christina McHale will fare after an inconsistent start to the year.  McHale won a set from Caroline Wozniacki at the Australian Open and earned a victory over Alize Cornet in Sydney that looks much better in retrospect.  On the other hand, she was routed by Petra Kvitova and crumbled under the pressure of Fed Cup.  McHale’s opener against hard-serving French rising star Kristina Mladenovic ranks among the most interesting first-round matches in the draw.

And the opportunity to catch a glimpse of Kimiko Date-Krumm always should be welcomed.  Clinging to a toehold in the top 100, the 43-year-old star has won three main-draw matches this year.  She also challenged Cibulkova and Ekaterina Makarova, two women in strong form recently.  Date-Krumm shares a section with McHale and with the frustrating Julia Goerges, who might have turned a corner at her last tournament with her first semifinal since 2012