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Ricky’s previews and picks for this week’s ATP 250s in Houston, Estoril, and Marrakech

Clay-court season is here! We are a week away from things really heating up at the Monte-Carlo Masters, but this week’s appetizer should be a good one. Houston, Estoril, and Marrakech take center stage on the ATP Tour, with Ben Shelton, Frances Tiafoe, Casper Ruud, Hubert Hurkacz, Gael Monfils, Dominic Thiem, and Stan Wawrinka among those taking the court.
U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship

Where: Houston, Texas  
Prize Money: $661,585  
Top seed: Ben Shelton 
Defending champion: Frances Tiafoe 

Clay in the U.S.—at least at the main tour—starts and ends with the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship. The draw is less American heavy than usual in Houston, with just four of the eight seeds hailing from the host nation. Shelton is No. 1 and has a good draw, but he is unproven on the crushed brick. Tomas Martin Etcheverry is by far the best clay-courter in the top half of the bracket but hasn’t done much of late mainly due to an ankle injury sustained during February’s Golden Swing. 

Tiafoe got the best Etcheverry in the 2023 Houston title match and they could face each other in the final yet again being on opposite sides of the draw. However, based on his current struggles it’s unlikely that Tiafoe makes a return trip to championship Sunday. Francisco Cerundolo and Denis Shapovalov could take advantage if Tiafoe loses early.

Quarterfinal picks: Ben Shelton over Brandon Nakashima, Tomas Martin Etcheverry over Juan Pablo Varillas, Thanasi Kokkinakis over Frances Tiafoe, and Francisco Cerundolo over Denis Shapovalov 

Semifinals: Etcheverry over Shelton and Cerundolo over Kokkinakis 

Final: Etcheverry over Cerundolo 

Estoril Open

Where: Estoril, Portugal  
Prize money: 579,320 Euros  
Top seed: Casper Ruud  
Defending champion: Casper Ruud 

Ruud and Hurkacz are the top two seeds and they are joined in a strong Estoril Open field by Monfils, Thiem, Lorenzo Musetti, and Arthur Fils. Ruud and Monfils are on course for a head-to-head showdown in the QFs, while Musetti vs. Fils could be last-eight contest on the other side of the draw. 

A couple of storylines that you should follow involve two players at polar opposite ends of the career spectrum. Portugal’s own Joao Sousa is retiring at the end of this event, so his final is likely to come against Fils in round one. As for 17-year-old Joao Fonseca, he started making a name for himself on clay in February. The Brazilian, who projects as a future star, could run into Hurkacz in the Estoril second round.

Quarterfinal picks: Casper Ruud over Gael Monfils, Daniel Altmaier over Richard Gasquet, Lorenzo Musetti over Arthur Fils, and Dominik Koepfer over Joao Fonseca 

Semifinals: Ruud over Altmaier and Musetti over Koepfer 

Final: Ruud over Musetti 

Grand Prix Hassan II

Where: Marrakech, Morocco  
Prize money: 562,815 Euros  
Top seed: Laslo Djere 
Defending champion: Roberto Carballes Baena 

The Grand Prix Hassan II pales in comparison to the other two tournaments. Case in point: Laslo Djere is the top seed in Marrakech; he would be the seventh seed in Houston and he also wouldn’t have a first-round bye in Estoril. On the other side of the coin, Wawrinka and Matteo Berrettini are looking to kick start their seasons and this is an event that pretty much anyone can win.

Both Wawrinka and Berrettini find themselves in the bottom half of the draw and they could meet in the semis. The Swiss’ path is wide open, but Berrettini has one of the toughest draws of anyone. He will face Alexander Shevchenko in the first round and if he wins the Italian could eventually meet Lorenzo Sonego in the QFs.

Quarterfinal picks: Flavio Cobolli over Laslo Djere, Facundo Diaz Acosta over Roberto Carballes Baena, Lorenzo Sonego over Alexander Shevchenko, and Stan Wawrinka over Sebastian Ofner 

Semifinals: Diaz Acosta over Cobolli and Wawrinka over Sonego 

Final: Wawrinka over Diaz Acosta

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