Preview and picks for this week’s tournaments in Barcelona and Casablanca

BARCELONA (clay)

Believe it or not Ivo Karlovic and Jarkko Nieminen present an interesting match in Barcelona. Karlovic has been lights out this year taking the title in Houston. Big deal you say, it’s Houston, where they use green clay and women’s tennis balls to speed up the proceedings. But Karlovic actually got to the quarterfinals in Barcelona last year and so did Nieminen. Karlovic drove everyone crazy in Houston with that slice approach shot. None of those clay court players with their extreme grips could get underneath the ball. Karlovic should get to the quarterfinals again where he’ll meet Tommy Robredo and finally lose.

Nikolay Davydenko is having an awful year. He’s 15-10 with two losses in his only clay court matches. I was beginning to wonder if he’d finally worn himself out by playing more tournaments than anyone else year after year, but then I looked at this statistic: Davydenko played 99 matches last year and Federer played 97. So, is it more tiring to be a top player and always get to the semifinals and finals or it is more tiring to run all over the world playing the same number of matches in different tournaments? In this case the answer is easy because Davydenko played in 35 events last year (including Davis Cup) and that is almost exactly twice the number of events Federer entered: 18.

Davydenko is at the top of the second tier of players – right behind Federer and Nadal – and he’s never going to get past either player so number three is the maximum ranking he’ll likely reach. At this point, might it not be smarter to play fewer tournaments and prolong your career and be happy with a top 10 ranking instead of traipsing all over to stay at number 3 or 4?

Having said that, I think Davydenko gets to the quarterfinals where he could meet Guillermo Cañas. Cañas is burning up the circuit with a 17-4 record on the year and two straight victories over Federer. He has two victories over Juan Carlos Ferrero this year also and should meet him in the quarterfinals. There there’s his 4-1 record over Tommy Robredo – his possible semifinal opponent. It’s easy to forget how good Cañas was before his disputed fifteenth month suspension for using performance enhancing drugs.

Nadal should meet Cañas in the final. He has a 2-0 record over Cañas so he’s not likely to suffer the same fate as Federer. Speaking of which, tune in for Federer-Nadal X early tomorrow morning. Nadal should win that too.

Picks
Quarterfinalists: Nadal, Juan Ignacio Chela, Carlos Moya, David Ferrer, Ivo Karlovic, Robredo, Cañas, Davydenko
Semifinalists: Nadal, Ferrer, Robredo, Cañas
Finalists: Nadal, Cañas
Winner: Nadal

CASABLANCA (clay)

I’m embarrassed to say that I can never quite remember exactly where Casablanca lies on the world map. That’s how it is when you live underneath the Hollywood sign. Things seem more real in movies than in real life. Even worse, I live just a few blocks away from a house once shared by Casablanca star Humphrey Bogart and his wife Lauren Bacall, so I know where they lived but not where Casablanca is.

Turns out it’s on the coast of Morocco not far from the tip of Spain. The top ranked player in the tournament is Dominik Hrbaty who is ranked number 24. It can’t be easy to promote a tournament when your top seed has a losing record for the year and he’s only likely to get as far as the quarterfinals.

Nicolas Massu looks like he should be able to get all the way to the final and beat Jose Acasuso. Massu, by the way, is ranked number 55. You have to skip north to top of Spain and veer east to the coastal city of Barcelona if you want to see a top ten player or two.

Picks
Quarterfinalists: Hrbaty, Massu, Ruben Ramirez-Hidalgo, Sebastien Grosjean, Marc Gicquel, Diego Hartfield, Paul-Henri Mathieu, Jose Acasuso
Semifinalist: Massu, Grosjean, Gicquel, Acasuso
Finalists: Massu, Acasuso
Winner: Massu

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