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Scene of Surprises: ATP Paris Preview

Oct 28th 2013

Much like the major hosted in Paris, the Masters 1000 tournament there has gained a reputation for unpredictable twists and turns.  The last tournament of the regular season catches some favorites weary and others with their eyes on the ATP year-end championships a week later.  A year ago there, David Ferrer claimed the first Masters 1000 title of his career.  Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Robin Soderling also scored breakthroughs there that they could not duplicate anywhere else.  Can someone emulate them this year?

Rafael Nadal

First quarter:  For the first time this year, Rafael Nadal enters a tournament as the world No. 1.  Despite his success across Paris at Roland Garros, Nadal never has claimed the title in Bercy.  His usual fall fade has revealed indoor hard courts as his least effective surface, where underdogs with explosive serves can upset him.  One of those gun-slingers lurks in the third round, last year’s Paris finalist Jerzy Janowicz.  While Janowicz lost to Nadal at the Rogers Cup this summer, his memories might inspire him.  Looking for any sort of inspiration is Richard Gasquet, whose form this fall has veered from one extreme to the other.  A third-round meeting between Gasquet and compatriot Jo-Wilfried Tsonga could determine which Frenchman ends his season here, and which travels to London for the World Tour Finals.  Gasquet has lost his last 17 sets against Nadal, but Tsonga defeated the Spaniard on a similar surface in London two years ago and has won half of his career titles on French indoor hard courts.    

Second quarter:  As he scans the Paris draw, Tomas Berdych may feel relieved that he does not need a deep run in Paris to reach the World Tour Finals.  A former champion at this tournament, Berdych will start the tournament against one of two men who inflicted painful losses on him this year.  While Gael Monfils upset him in a five-set thriller at Roland Garros, Vasek Pospisil snatched a final-set tiebreak from him in Canada.  Berdych will not bring much confidence to Paris, having lost four of his last seven matches.  One of those setbacks came at the hands of Milos Raonic, who has won both of his meetings with the Czech and could face him again in the third round.  Less intimidating is the prospect of reigning Paris champion David Ferrer.  The world No. 3 has produced respectable but not sensational tennis during the fall, and the burden of defending his title may weigh heavily on him.  Still, Ferrer should ease past ailing fellow counterpuncher Gilles Simon, and he has dominated both Raonic and Berdych.

Roger Federer

Third quarter:  A familiar foe might await Roger Federer in the Paris quarterfinal, should he dismiss a handful of fellow veterans before then.  Among them are two men who have won titles since the US Open, Tommy Haas in Vienna and Mikhail Youzhny in Valencia.  The 17-time major champion has dominated both of them throughout their careers, never losing a match to Youzhny and falling only once to Haas over the last decade.  In both of their 2013 meetings this year, though, the German won the first set before Federer regrouped to survive.  For the second straight year, the Swiss star fell in the final of his home tournament in Basel to Juan Martin Del Potro, but this week may offer him a chance for revenge.  The Argentine has surged from one success to the next this fall, so he should have more than enough momentum to blast past the rusty Marin Cilic and the nervy Grigor Dimitrov

Fourth quarter:  The smallest of windows to end the season at world No. 1 still hovers open for Novak Djokovic, but he has almost no margin for error.  Although he has won this title before, the Serb has suffered perplexing losses in many of his appearances, including upsets by Fabrice Santoro, Michael Llodra, and Sam Querrey.  Another big-serving American will hope that the fast indoor conditions can carry him past Djokovic, as they did in Cincinnati this summer.  John Isner has won both of their previous Masters 1000 encounters, but both of them came on American soil.  This Paris tournament witnessed one of Isner’s best results outside the United States, a semifinal two years ago after he upset Ferrer.  Djokovic has little to fear from the rest of this quarter despite the shot-making talent of his potential quarterfinal opponents.  He has won 11 consecutive matches from Stanislas Wawrinka and never lost a set to Nicolas Almagro, both players who prefer slower surfaces.  Nor do the unseeded players in this section impress, which makes the Djokovic-Isner battle all the more pivotal and intriguing.