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Ricky’s Tennis Preview And Picks For Events In Houston And Marrakech

Photo by @mensclaycourt via Twitter

Ricky’s preview and picks for this week’s events in Houston and Marrakech

 

By Ricky Dimon

 

We still have to wait just a little bit for Masters 1000 tournaments in Monte-Carlo, Madrid, and Rome to take center stage, but the clay-court swing is here. It begins in Houston and Marrakech, with Steve Johnson, Alexander Zverev, Fabio Fognini, and Kyle Edmund, among those in action. This week is, as they say, the calm before the storm.

 

 

U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship

Where: Houston, Tex.
Prize Money: $583,585
Top seed: Steve Johnson
Defending champion: Steve Johnson

 

Houston has a problem, and it is a lack of star power. That is always going to be the case for a 250-point event sandwiched in between a smorgasbord of Masters 1000 tourneys, but it is especially extreme this time. John Isner and Nick Kyrgios are injured, leaving Johnson—the two-time defending champion—as the top seed. You have to go all the way down to 42nd in the rankings to find the No. 2 seed, Jeremy Chardy. Cameron Norrie and Reilly Opelka, who are rarely seeded even at small tournaments, have first-round byes.

 

That means every quarter of this bracket is there for the taking, but the top half is especially soft. Opelka isn’t as dangerous on clay as he is on faster surfaces, and guys like Denis Kudla and Bernard Tomic rarely play their best on the slow stuff. Johnson has every reason to get back to the final, although Miami fourth-round performerJordan Thompson may have other ideas. On the other side of the draw, 2018 Houston runner-up Tennys Sandgren and veteran Pablo Cuevas could capitalize.

 

First-round upset alert: (WC) Bjorn Fratangelo over (8) Sam Querrey. The head-to-head series stands at 1-1, with Fratangelo having prevailed on clay (2016 French Open). That is hardly surprising, as Fratangelo loves the red stuff and Querrey would much rather face his fellow American on a hard court or grass. Querrey has slumped to 71st in the world.

Semifinal picks: Steve Johnson over Casper Ruud and Pablo Cuevas over Tennys Sandgren

Final: Cuevas over Johnson

 

 

Grand Prix Hassan II

Where: Marrakech, Morocco
Prize money: 524,340 Euros
Top seed: Alexander Zverev
Defending champion: Pablo Andujar

Edmund and Pablo Andujar played in the 2018 Marrakech final. They weren’t expected to be in it last season and they aren’t the favorites to get back there this time, either. Edmund has begun to regain his form with fourth-round results in Indian Wells and Miami, but he isn’t the player that was on display in the first half of last year. He also faces a difficult path, with a rising Ugo Humbert right off the bat, possibly Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in round two, potentially Laslo Djere in the quarters, and then likely Zverev in the semis.

 

The bottom half is similarly deep but with no clear favorite like Zverev. Fognini, Gilles Simon, Fernando Verdasco, Philipp Kohlschreiber, and perhaps Albert Ramos-Vinolas could all be in the mix. If the seeds hold to form, the SFs would pit Simon against Verdasco and Fognini against Kohlschreiber.

 

First-round upset alert: Thomas Fabbiano over (8) Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Herbert is solid on all surfaces, but clay should be his worst based on his style of play. Although Fabbiano has actually fared well enough on hards, he is at his best on the slow stuff. This a good opportunity for the Italian, who reached round three of the Australian Open and has remained in decent form.

Semifinal picks: Alexander Zverev over Kyle Edmund and Gilles Simon over Philipp Kohlschreiber

Final: Zverev over Simon

 

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.

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