Things are almost back to normal here after moving to a new house. I still have no refrigerator, no cold water in the kitchen and I don’t know where all my clothes are. Still, I was all ready to get back to picking the draws for each week’s tournaments when mvn.com changed the blogging software on me. I’m telling you, I spend more time catching up to new versions of software than I do actually turning out new work. Anyway here goes, and hang in there, the ATP website has mentioned the upcoming ATP fantasy tennis season so stay tuned.

All tournaments are single elimination this week but there are plenty of round-robins coming up and that brings us to one of the problems with the round-robin format. Xavier Malisse only needed to win one set to advance past Rainer Schuettler and get into the quarterfinals at Delray Beach. He didn’t have to win the match, in fact, he ended up losing it after taking the first set. “You win a set and what are you playing for, there’s nothing to it anymore, ” he said.

This has already been a problem in the year-end championships which are round robin events. You can be sure a professional tennis player is not going to exert themselves any more than they have to because the next match is more important than the current dead rubber. If you’re new to tennis, a dead rubber is a match that doesn’t affect the final standings. The current solution is to pay the players for winning more matches but that doesn’t work because the goal is to get the title, not win a bit more money.

San Jose (indoor hard court)

San Jose is an indoor hard court event but it’s slower than the average indoor court. That should still be fast enough for Andy Roddick to get a lot of aces. James Blake won Stockholm and Bangkok indoors last year so Blake and Roddick should meet in the final assuming that Roddick takes Andy Murray out in the semis and Blake and Roddick can recover from Davis Cup jet lag.

The indoor court should also help our guy Benjamin Becker. In case you’re new here, Becker is our adopted son, we’ve been following him since he was playing challengers last year and we’re thrilled that he’s playing Davis Cup this weekend proud parents that we are. And since we are proud parents, time to complain to Germany’s Davis Cup captain. Why on earth is Becker having to play the meaningless dead rubber – Germany beat Croatia 3-1 – when he has a tournament to play in San Jose this week? Anyway, Becker’s strength is his first and second serve so if he can stay awake he should get to a quarterfinal matchup with Marat Safin.

The real story of this tournament is the rise of U.S. players.

Sam Querrey is all the way up to 89 and plays Paul Goldstein in the first round. Goldstein beat Querrey in their only meeting last year but they are two ships passing in the night. Querrey is moving along at a fast clip and Goldstein is standing still – he started 2006 at number 70 and is now at number 73. But that one meeting was late last year and this is almost a home tournament for Goldstein who lives San Francisco so I’m going with him.

Robert Kendrick is ranked a few points higher than Querrey at 85 and could get to the quarters if he gets past Hyung-Taik Lee, definitely possible. Even Vince Spadea is showing some life. He got to the semis last week at Delray Beach and got to the quarters in Adelaide. I have him in the quarters here too. Last but not least, Mardy Fish is up to number 25 and could be the fifth U.S. player in the quarters.

By the way, keep your eye out for Benjamin Becker’s fellow German and former teammate at Baylor University, Benedikt Dorsch. His ranking is only 225 but he meets Kendrick in the final today at the Dallas challenger. Dorsch won the NCAA title in 2005 the year after Becker won it.

Marseille (indoor hard court)

Matt Cronin of tennisreporters.net says that Davydenko is injured. I don’t have details and Davydenko plays as long as no one has dropped a bomb so I’m going to ignore it. Rafael Nadal would have been the top seed but he strained a thigh muscle in training. I’m not sure about this guy, is he built well enough to play his bruising style of tennis?

Sebastien Grosjean is falling off the map. He ended 2006 at number 28 and he’s already down to 45 and it only gets harder as he meets top twenty Jarkko Nieminen in the first round. Marseille is Grosjean’s home country but I have him losing.

Poor Thomas Johansson’s ranking has plunged since he was accidentally hit in the eye with a ball and suffered a detached retina. He was number thirteen when he was injured and now he’s all the way down to 93.

Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet, the future of French tennis, meet in the second round. Gasquet is still ahead of Monfils but Monfils may have more potential. On the other hand, Gasquet hasn’t gone past the second round of an indoor hard court event in the past year so I have Nikolay Davydenko beating him.

Marcos Baghdatis and Novak Djokovic, the future of ATP tennis, should meet in the quarterfinals. Djokovic was 11-4 on indoor hard court last year while Baghdatis was 1-3 so I’m picking Djokovic to move on and meet Ivan Ljubicic in the semis. I expect Djokovic to lose that match by a hair leaving Ljubicic and his good friend and fellow Croatian Ancic to meet in the final.

Even though Ancic beat Ljubicic here last year, I think Ljubicic is pissed off about his ranking dropping and will take the title.

Costa do Sauipe (clay)

The French Open clay court season doesn’t really start until after the Miami Masters event but all of the dedicated clay courters are hard at work.

Wow, Agustin Calleri’s ranking is all the way up to 28. Alberto Montanes has beaten him all three times they’ve met but that was before Calleri became big time so I’m picking Calleri.

Martin Vassallo Arguello got to the semis at Vina del Mar and Gaston Gaudio has been sinking so I have Vassallo Arguello over Gaudio in the second round. I’m a bit uncomfortable saying this but I also have Vassallo Arguello over Juan Carlos Ferrero and into the semis because Ferrero has been slipping on clay. Both Gaudio and Ferrero are on the downside of their careers but Ferrero is fighting it. He got to the final at the Cincinnati Masters last year.

Since coming back from a drug suspension, Willy Canas has won six of the nine challengers he entered. Unfortunately, he’ll get Luis Horna in the second round and Horna got the Vina del Mar title two weeks ago.

Nicolas Almagro and Filippo Volandri should meet in the quarterfinals and it’s a tossup. Almagro had a fantastic clay court season but ran out of gas later in the year. The only thing we can say for sure is that Almagro is on his way up and Volandri is not. Therefore, I’ll give it to Almagro and put him in the final against Calleri. I have Calleri taking home the title and that completes this week’s theme perfectly: players on the way up passing players on the way down. That’s the way it is in professional sports. You’re either getting better or you’re on the way down. It’s brutal but it’s not that much different than most of life. I’m getting older, not younger.

Zero Counter

Zero counter adds up the matches between players who’ve never met on the tour before. The zero counter figure highlights the diluted product that is professional tennis. There are too many tournaments at the same time in different parts of the world which results in too few rivalries. You can’t have rivalries if players never meet. Round robin tournaments are a good step in the right direction so we’ll see how it affects the counter as the year goes on.

Ridiculous zero counter match of the week: David Ferrer and Arnaud Clement have never met on the tour even though Ferrer has been on the tour six years and Clement ten years. Absurd! A very close second, Jarkko Nieminen and Ivan Ljubicic have never met. Oy!

Twenty percent of the matches this week will be zero counter matches according to my picks. That’s down from the average of 30% last year for International Series tournaments but part of that is because the ATP site now includes challenger and futures matchups in their head to head records. We’ll see if it goes down further as we go along.

To see all three draws and my picks in those draws, click here.

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