Predicting the Top Seeds' Chances at the 2014 US Men's Clay Court Championship
The 2014 Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men's Clay Court Championship began with four matches on Monday, April 7. This signals the official start of the clay-court season. John Isner comes in as the top seed, and he will try to become the first repeat champion in Houston since Andy Roddick won in 2001 and 2002.
It will not be an easy task for Isner. Clay has been his worst surface throughout his career; he has won just 50 percent of his matches on the surface.
Spaniards Feliciano Lopez, Fernando Verdasco, Nicolas Almagro and Tommy Robredo are all more comfortable on clay.
Others in the draw have had past success here. Lleyton Hewitt, Juan Monaco and Ivo Karlovic are all past champions. However, Karlovic has already been upset by Jack Sock 6-1, 6-4 in the first round.
Will Isner be the first player to defend his title at the U.S Men's Clay Court Championship in over 10 years, or will someone else be holding the trophy at the end of the week?
Let's look at the seeds with best chances to come out victorious this week.
The draw can be found here. (courtesy of atpworldtour.com)
Lleyton Hewitt (7)
Lleyton Hewitt will be looking to end a streak of second-round losses here in Houston. He has lost in his second match in each of his last four tournaments.
After receiving a favorable draw, look for Hewitt to end that streak here. He should have no problem in his first match against qualifier Peter Polansky.
Sam Querrey will be waiting for him in Round 2. The American is off to a slow start in 2014 at 7-10 and has never fared well on clay. He has won less than 40 percent of his matches on the surface.
After moving past Querrey, Hewitt will likely face John Isner. Isner is a tough matchup for anyone, but the Australian has been very successful against him. He leads their head-to-head matchups 4-2. The edge goes to Hewitt on clay, and I like him to upset the top seed.
His most likely opponent in the semifinals would be Nicolas Almagro. This is where I see Hewitt's run coming to an end.
Almagro comes in at just 6-5, but he is the better clay-court player at this point in their careers. The Spaniard won their only previous meeting on clay 6-1, 6-3.
Juan Monaco (6)
Coming into Houston, Juan Monaco has really struggled in 2014. His record stands at just 3-7.
Monaco has always played his best tennis during the clay-court season. However, even on clay his record is just 2-4 this year.
Luckily for Monaco, his first two matches are winnable.
Somdev Devvarman has very little experience on clay. His record on the tour stands at just 5-11 on the surface. Even in the challenger ranks his record was just 9-10 on clay.
He would then play the winner of the American clash between Donald Young and Ryan Harrison. Their combined record on clay is an abysmal 11-24.
Monaco will likely meet Fernando Verdasco in the quarterfinals. Verdasco has won their last two meetings, and with Monaco's struggles this year, Verdasco will be the one that moves on.
Feliciano Lopez (5)
Feliciano Lopez comes in with a 10-8 record on the year. Unlike the other Spaniards, clay has actually been Lopez's least successful surface. His big serve and power game are better suited on the faster surfaces.
He opens up against Robby Ginepri. The American is trying to make a comeback on the tour but has a win percentage under 30 on clay.
Lopez should be able to advance past Ginepri and Alejandro Gonzalez in his second match. Gonzalez came into Houston with just three wins in his ATP career.
Lopez would most likely meet Tommy Robredo next. This is where his run will come to an end. He has never beaten Robredo in his career, and Robredo is the superior player on clay.
Fernando Verdasco (4)
Fernando Verdasco comes in at just 5-6 in 2014. However, he has yet to play on clay.
The Spaniard should cruise through either Denis Kudla or Steve Johnson in his first match. Juan Monaco will likely be next.
Even though Monaco leads their head-to-head matchups 6-4, look for Verdasco to advance. He won their last two meetings, and Monaco has really struggled this year.
This would likely set up an all-Spaniard semifinal against Tommy Robredo. They have played each other very close over the years, but Robredo leads 6-5. Robredo also holds a 4-0 lead on clay, which is why I see Verdasco losing here.
Nicolas Almagro (3)
Nicolas Almagro made it to the finals here a year ago, and he has a favorable draw to make a deep run once again.
Neither Michael Russell nor Daniel Gimeno-Traver would give him much trouble. He has beaten Gimeno-Traver all four times since 2012.
Jack Sock helped Almagro by taking out the tricky Ivo Karlovic and does not have the clay-court game to compete with Almagro. He should beat Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo or Benjamin Becker as well.
The real challenge would come in the quarterfinals against John Isner or Lleyton Hewitt. I see Hewitt taking out Isner, which would be a better matchup for Almagro.
He has beaten Hewitt in straights in their last two matches and will continue that theme here. This would likely set up a finals matchup against either Tommy Robredo or Fernando Verdasco.
If he plays against Verdasco in the final, then I see him losing. Verdasco has beaten him three times in a row on clay and has a 6-3 edge overall.
My prediction has him squaring off against Robredo. If he faces Robredo, I like him to win the final. He holds a 5-1 lead in their head-to-head matchups.
Tommy Robredo (2)
Tommy Robredo is off to an 11-6 start this year and carries a win percentage just under 70 percent on clay.
The winner of Matthew Ebden and Santiago Giraldo won't be able to hang with him in his first match. Feliciano Lopez would likely be his next opponent, and he will improve his perfect record against him to 5-0.
This would likely set up a semifinal match against Fernando Verdasco. His narrow 6-5 edge over Verdasco would make you think it could go either way.
However, Robredo holds a 4-0 advantage on clay and will advance past his fellow Spaniard.
I have him meeting Nicolas Almagro in the final. Almagro has really had his number in their careers. He leads their head-to-head matchups 5-1. Robredo won their last meeting, but I see Almagro taking him down this time.
John Isner (1)
John Isner is the reigning champion at the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championship. He is off to a great start this year at 13-5. The American has reached a career-high ranking at No. 9.
However, this is by far his worst surface. He plays his best tennis on the faster courts. The clay neutralizes his serve and attacking game, which can be seen by his 33-33 record on the surface.
He should be able to advance past Dustin Brown in his first match, but Lleyton Hewitt provides a challenging test.
Hewitt leads their head-to-head matchups 4-2. His counterpunching style and great return of serve will be the difference in this one. On the slower surface, this matchup favors the Australian.
Isner will be out of Houston early this year. The drought of having a champion defend his title will continue at the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championship.
**All Statistics Courtesy of atpworldtour.com