By Ricky Dimon
Time flies when you’re having fun, and that means the clay-court swing is already upon us. Yes, three months of the tennis season have come and gone. Roger Federer fans are having a whole lot of fun, Rafael Nadal fans are having at least a little bit of fun, and fans of the world’s top two players (Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray) are having no fun of any kind.
All four of the aforementioned stars are expectedly resting this week, so titles in Houston and Marrakech are completely up for grabs. The four first-round bye recipients in Houston are the four players who just represented the United States in the Davis Cup quarterfinals last week in Australia. Jack Sock, John Isner, Sam Querrey, and Steve Johnson will be making quick turnarounds following their loss to the Aussies, but the good news is they do not have to play until Thursday.
U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship
Where: Houston, Texas
Prize money: $535,625
Top seed: Jack Sock
Defending champion: Juan Monaco
Draw analysis: Sock won the Houston title and finished runner-up last season, so this has to be considered one of his favorite events. In order to achieve more success, however, he will have to make an immediate transition from hard courts to clay while also recovering in the wake of long flights to and from the land Down Under. The top-seeded American is an outstanding 18-5 this year with titles in Auckland and Delray Beach and his draw is not a bad one, so there is some reason for optimism in addition to his past prowess in Houston. Sock will begin his week against 39-year-old Tommy Haas before a potential quarterfinal date with Feliciano Lopez. Johnson also finds himself in the top half of the bracket along with veterans Fernando Verdasco, Kevin Anderson, and Dustin Brown.
Like Sock, Isner is a past winner of this event (2013). He was also a runner-up in 2012 and a semifinalist last spring. But the 6’10’’ American has struggled this year and he is also coming off Davis Cup duty, so the bottom half of the bracket will be wide open among the likes of Isner, Querrey, Donald Young, Thomaz Bellucci, and a whole host of others. Isner likely awaits Leonardo Mayer in his second-rounder, while Querrey will start things off against one of two established clay-courters in veterans Horacio Zeballos and Rogerio Dutra Silva.
Quarterfinal picks: Feliciano Lopez over Jack Sock, Fernando Verdasco over Steve Johnson, Thomaz Bellucci over Sam Querrey, and Leonardo Mayer over Thiago Monteiro
Semifinals: Verdasco over Lopez and Bellucci over Mayer
Final: Verdasco over Bellucci
10sBalls Editors Note: Today was rain, rain, rain in Houston. Today is called a “washout”…. we pick Tommy Haas. Great Cinderella story. He is still a very very tough opponent.