I looked at all three tournaments this week – Thailand (hard court, first prize=$76, 500), Palermo (clay, $55, 742), Mumbai (hard court, $52, 000) – and I can’t find Nikolay Davydenko’s name anywhere. What a shock! He’s not playing, are you kidding me? The guy flew halfway around the world to China to pick up a few more pennies after winning $280, 000 at the U.S. Open leaving him too tired to play for Russia against the U.S. in Davis Cup on his best surface, clay. Not that it mattered. The U.S. lost both it’s opening day matches and Dmitry Tursunov, who is rather hopeless on clay, beat Andy Roddick in the deciding match.

Bangkok

It’s Henman and Murray the in first round again. It’s the third time in the last two years these two have faced each other early and Murray has taken all three. Poor Henman, it’s enough to make a guy consider retirement.

Feliciano Lopez is 3-0 against Srichaphan but this is Thailand, Srichaphan’s home country. Also, Lopez has struggled on hard court lately except for his win over Ljubicic at the U.S. Open and Srichaphan got to the semis last week. Srichaphan it is.

Our guy Benjamin Becker gets into the regular draw after beating Agassi and getting to the fourth round at the U.S. Open. He will probably lose to Ljubicic in the second round.

Julien Benneteau has beaten Marcos Baghdatis twice this year and at big events too: Toronto Masters and Roland Garros. I expect Baghdatis to beat Benneteau because he wants to hold onto eight place in the Masters Cup race, but he’ll also meet Safin in the second round. Good reasons not to pick Baghdatis this week.

James Blake is fighting for one of those eight slots too, he’s at number nine. This is a good time to see how much fight he has but I suspect it’s Baghdatis who is the bigger fighter with the bigger heart. Still, remember what I said in the last paragraph.

Indoors I give Ivan Ljubicic the edge over Andy Murray and most other players too, but outdoors it goes to Murray.

Mumbai

This tournament started in Shanghai in 1996 and left there for Ho Chi Minh City in 2005 and now, one year later, has landed in Mumbai. Why doesn’t the ATP just drop it? Three tournaments in one week in the last week of September, who needs it? By the way, the Cricket Club of India is running the tournament. Are tennis whites required?

Mario Ancic is trying to make up for the time he lost due to injury, he should get to the final. Watch out for Rick De Voest by the way, I saw him play Roddick in Los Angeles. He lost but he handled Roddick’s serves very well. After Tommy Robredo, Dmitry Tursunov, and Tomas Berdych, there isn’t a lot of competition.

Palermo

It never ends, another clay court tournament and who is Bohdan Ulihrach? He’s won over $3, 000, 000 in his career but I’ve never heard of him. He’s thirty-one years old and 2001 was the last time he got to a final. On the other hand, he does have three titles and that’s a lot more than many tour players.

Filippo Volandri vs. Nicolas Almagro is hard to pick but Almagro has dropped off at the end of the year and Volandri has been consistently good on clay.

I have Volandri and Fernando Verdasco in the final and, of course, despite the fact that they’ve been on the tour forever and are both clay court specialists, this is only the second time they’ve met. Volandri beat Verdasco in 2003. That’s what happens when you have three tournaments a week all over the world, players never meet each other and you never get rivalries. Quick, how many rivalries are there on the tour today? Federer and Nadal and _____? Volandri has been more active on clay lately, I’ll take him.

Top picks: Murray, Blake, Ljubicic, Robredo, Ancic, Berdych, Verdasco and Volandri. A few second tier picks: Ferrero, Nieminen, Tursunov, Moya, Almagro and Mathieu.



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