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This week we have the first of consecutive Masters Series events. We start with Toronto and next week we’re in Cincinnati. Consecutive Masters events are tough on the players, especially on hard court in hot North American summers, so the results can be wildly unpredictable. Last year five of the top eight seeds reached the quarterfinals but the year before, only one did.

We need eight players for our fantasy team so let’s pick the quarterfinalists.

Toronto draw (hard court, first prize: $420, 000)

The first thing you’ll notice is that the prize money is about $133, 000 less than it is for European Masters events. Blame the weak U.S. dollar. And remember that this tournament rotates yearly between Montreal and Toronto.

Fernando Gonzalez reached the semifinals here two years ago but last summer he lost his first match in every hard court event and he’s 1-11 against Roger Federer, so Federer has a pretty easy path to the quarterfinals. But should I use him? I used him in Hamburg, the French Open, and Wimbledon, so I can only use him twice more. I’ll use him for the U.S. Open but he’s reached the finals at Madrid the past two years and remember that Madrid will pay $133, 000 more to the winner than Toronto. I’m saving Federer for Madrid.

Who do I pick in Federer’s section? Gonzalez is 7-1 over Jose Acasuso and Gulbis and Benneteau have never done much here, so Gonzalez it is.

In Andy Roddick’s section, Tommy Robredo has won only two matches on hard court this year and Marin Cilic started well on hard court then tailed off. Janko Tipsarevic, on the other hand, beat Roddick at Wimbledon and pushed Federer to 10-8 in the fifth set at the Australian Open. The problem is that Tipsarevic has never played in the main draw at Toronto, Montreal, or Cincinnati. He has very little experience on the summer hard court swing while Roddick reached the quarterfinals last year and is 11-3 on hard court this year. I’ve only picked Roddick twice this year so Roddick it is.

Wow, Nikolay Davydenko is 16-4 on hard court this year including a title in Miami. He also reached the quarterfinals here last year and the semifinals at Cincinnati. Is there any reason not to pick him? There might be. I used him in Rome, Hamburg, and Roland Garros and I was going to use him at the U.S. Open (he reached the semifinals the past two years) and Moscow (he won the title the past two years). Davydenko probably won’t get past the quarterfinals here because James Blake is 6-0 over him and Radek Stepanek has beaten him the last three times they’ve played. The quarterfinals here pay $51, 000 whereas a title in Moscow is worth $170, 000, so I’m saving Davydenko for Moscow.

Now I’m in a bind because Mikhail Youzhny has a 1-4 record against Davydenko and Tommy Haas hasn’t been past the third round here since 2002. I’m going with Nicolas Kiefer because he’s beaten Youzhny the last two times they’ve played.

Dmitry Tursunov beat James Blake this week in Indianapolis but I think Stepanek will take Tursunov out. Stepanek is 1-4 against Blake on outdoor hard court but Blake has never been past the second round here. I’m going with Blake anyway because last year he pulled out of his second round match due to injury and the year before he lost to Richard Gasquet who made it to the final.

The last time this tournament was in Toronto, Andy Murray reached the semifinals whereas Stanislas Wawrinka has never been past the second round. Murray also beat Wawrinka in Doha earlier this year. Sam Querrey has a 16-6 record on hard court this year but he hasn’t done well at big events and Marat Safin has one win on hard court. I’m going with Murray.

Novak Djokovic is 16-2 on hard court this year and he beat Federer in the final last year when this tournament was in Montreal. Fernando Verdasco has a losing record on hard court and he’s never done well here or in Cincinnati. Canas won this event in 2002 but he hasn’t done anything on the summer hard court swing since then. Mario Ancic and Robin Soderling have never been past the third round here or in Cincinnati. Frank Dancevic reached the quarterfinals last year but he’s 1-3 on hard court this year. Djokovic it is because he’s never played well in Cincinnati and I’m saving my last pick on him for the U.S. Open.

Richard Gasquet and David Ferrer shouldn’t have much trouble getting to the fourth round, but who’ll win the match between them when they get there? Ferrer is 3-0 over Gasquet so the choice looks obvious but it’s not because Ferrer has never been past the second round here. Gasquet reached the final two years ago but that’s the only time he’s been past the second round either here or in Cincinnati. I would usually go with one-on-one record over tournament record but only one of Ferrer’s wins over Gasquet was on outdoor hard court so I’m picking Gasquet.

Rafael Nadal’s section is pretty weak but I can’t use him because I’m saving my last pick on him for the U.S. Open. Tomas Berdych has a 2-0 record over Nieminen, beat Igor Andreev in Miami this year, beat Gael Monfils in Dubai, reached the quarterfinals the last time this tournament was in Toronto, and he has a 3-1 record over Nadal on hard court. He’s my best hope outside of Nadal so I’m taking him.

Picks

Here are my picks: Gonzalez, Roddick, Kiefer, Blake, Murray, Djokovic, Gasquet, and Berdych.

Happy fantasies!

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