Juan Martin Del Potro is the highest ranked player in the Apia International Sydney event, a tournament that starts on Jan. 8th and one that is scheduled to conclude on Jan. 14th. The 250 level event on the ATP Tour is part of the warm-up to the 2012 Australian Open, a tournament which kicks off next Monday, Jan. 16th.
Del Potro, the world No. 11, has a bye through the first round in Sydney along with American John Isner, French player Richard Gasquet and Spaniard Feliciano Lopez.
If you were to project Del Potro's draw following his first-round bye you might put the Argentine against Ivan Dodig in the second round, Marcel Granollers in the quarterfinals and then Viktor Troicki or Lopez in the semifinals.
There are a few dangerous floaters in the Sydney draw including former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt. The Aussie received a wild card to enter the tournament, however, as bad luck would have it, he drew fifth-seeded Viktor Troicki in the first round. With the top four seeds receiving a bye to the second round, Troicki is the highest ranked player to play an opening round match and that poor luck might keep Hewitt scrounging for ranking points on tour.
Other players in the ATP Sydney draw include Marcos Baghdatis, Robin Haase, Gilles Muller and Radek Stepanek.
The week before a Grand Slam is a tricky time for the top players on tour and for making predictions. For certain players like Del Potro, Isner, Gasquet, Lopez and Troicki they want to get their matches in to make sure they are in form for the Australian Open. However, by making a run to the title and playing next Saturday, they risk not being at 100 percent when the event in Melbourne Park starts just a couple days later.
ATP 250 events in the week preceding a major are kind of like Week 16 NFL games for playoff bound teams: you'll take the win but you aren't risking your quarterback's throwing arm for it, not with more important games on the near horizon.
All things considered, I think Juan Martin Del Potro and Marcel Granollers will square off in the quarters in the top section of the draw. I liked Granollers' second half of the 2011 season which included two titles, including one on the hard-court surface (ATP Valencia).
My prediction is that either Del Potro or Granollers will win the top quarter in Sydney and that player, the winner of that quarter, will go on to win win the title in Sydney.