It may be heretical but what the hell, get rid of qualifying in hybrid round robins. Choose the sixteen lowest ranked players entered and put them in the playoff round.

It’s a good thing I’m just tuning up for the year because my picks last week were disastrous. It wasn’t entirely my fault. I picked Ivan Ljubicic and Mario Ancic to face each other in the final at Marseille and they both lost in the first round, Ljubicic to a qualifier. I picked James Blake and Andy Roddick in the San Jose final but Blake went out to 6’10” Ivo Karlovic in the second round. The tall one then took out Mardy Fish and our adopted son Benjamin Becker to get as far to the final where he lost to Andy Murray. As for Costa do Sauipe, my co-writer Pat Davis was right and I was wrong. Guillermo Canas got to the final and beat Juan Carlos Ferrero though this was only Canas’ second ATP main draw since coming off a one year suspension for using a banned substance. Call it the redemption effect.

Memphis (indoor hard court)

Murray and Roddick should meet in the semis again. Murray took Roddick out easily in the semis at San Jose. To some degree this match would be a referendum on Roddick’s current return to the top ten. If Roddick loses to Murray two weeks in a row, Murray will have the psychological upper hand and Roddick will lose ground. When these two meet it’s also a referendum on their coaches Brad Gilbert (Murray) and Jimmy Connors (Roddick). Gilbert is a good strategist befitting someone who had weak skills as a player and had to win with guile. Connors is more of a motivator. He not only had skills but he willed himself to titles long after he had declined physically. In that way I suppose they’re perfect coaches for these players because Murray isn’t overpowering but he’s very smart and Roddick is overpowering and emotional. Murray may not be overpowering but he has more skills and will win more majors than Roddick so I’m taking Murray.

I have Haas over Murray in the final because I’m not convinced that Murray’s conditioning is good enough to win two titles in a row.

Rotterdam (indoor hard)

There’s a blast from the past in this draw. Martin Verkerk is ranked 1534 after eleven years on as a pro. He made it to the French Open final in 2003 and reached number 14 before sliding back down. How did he wangle that wild card away from a promising young player?

Gilles Simon won his first title in Marseille last week but I think that was an aberration.

Could someone fill me in? Why did Radek Stepanek, the 19th ranked player in the world, go through qualifying at Marseille? After qualifying he hurt his rib so I have Nikolay Davydenko through to the semifinals. I probably shouldn’t have Ljubicic in the semis with him but it would be a crapshoot to figure out who’d going to knock Ljubicic off.

I have Novak Djokovic taking the title over Davydenko.

Buenos Aires (outdoor clay)

If you’d like to know why I’m a fan of round robins, see the Never-Mets section below. That doesn’t mean I’m a fan of hybrid round robins, however, and that’s what we have this week in Buenos Aires. In this format eight qualifiers meet eight main draw elimination players in a one round playoff to choose the players who advance to round robin play. Round robin play begins before the playoff round ends so I have to guess which eight players will advance.

It’s bad enough for me but imagine what it’s like for fans who want to see their favorite players. It may be heretical but what the hell, get rid of qualifying in hybrid round robins. Choose the sixteen lowest ranked players entered and put them in the playoff round. At least that eliminates one level of guessing.

I expect Agustin Calleri to cool Canas off and beat him this week. I have Ferrero and Nicolas Almagro in the final but it could also be David Nalbandian and Calleri.

Never-Mets

I’m officially dumping the term Zero Counter in favor of “Never-Mets”, Pat Davis’ variation on the theme. Never-Mets are matches between players who have never played each other in an ATP event (that includes Davis Cup, challengers and futures events). This matters because there are so few rivalries on the tour and there never will be if players don’t regularly meet.

There are a number of possible solutions to this problem. Decrease the number of tournaments so more top players will be in one place at one time. If you decrease the number of tournaments you can decrease the number of qualifiers (notice a theme here?) because the draw will be filled up with higher ranked players. Increase the number of round robin tournaments so players get at least two matches per tournament. If you have more suggestions please send them along, the ATP needs help

Among the Never-Mets this week: Tommy Haas and Andy Murray would meet for the first time despite the fact that they are both in the top 15; David Ferrer and Jarkko Nieminen have both been on the tour for seven years, they’re in the top twenty and they last met in a challenger in 2001; Nieminen and Tomas Berdych have never met. See what I mean?

I’m in the process of switching servers so I don’t have images of draws this week. I should have them again next week. See you then.

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