The ATP has started its Fantasy Tennis game with this week’s tournament in Monte Carlo. It’s basically a fan-based game whereby participants pick eight singles players and one doubles team for each tournament in the coming year. The team with the most prize money wins the grand prize, whatever that is. I have no idea what it is; we’re all doing this for the love of sport, aren’t we? I hope so, because they aren’t giving out big bucks for this.

Basically, we’re betting on human horses, but the catch is you can only use a player five times throughout the year. So you can’t pick Roger Federer every tournament he enters, we must save him judiciously for the Slams, and maybe one or two other hard court events in the summer.

Here is my team for this coming week:

Singles:

Rafael Nadal
Ivan Ljubicic
David Ferrer
Tommy Robredo
Carlos Moya
Sebastian Grosjean
Marat Safin
Tim Henman
David Nalbandian (alternate) [Pat, there is no alternate, right?]

Doubles: Jonas Bjorkman and Max Mirnyi

As I look over the list, what strikes me is there are only three guys here who are actually in the top ten: Nadal, Ljubicic and newly-arrived David Ferrer. Am I crazy or what? And some of the guys who usually do very well on clay are not among my picks at all, like Gaston Gaudio (seeded #7 in the tournament), and Guillermo Coria (#6).

There is method to the madness. Basically, I drew up a list of the sixteen players I thought would make it to the round of sixteen and chose the winner of each match. Below are my predictions for each round of sixteen match and why I think my guy will win.

Prediction: Nadal over Nieminen: This is one of the easier matches to call. Although Nieminen had a good year last year, Rafa had a better one.

Current status: Nadal is still around but Nieminen lost his first round match, so kiss this Round of 16 goodbye.

Prediction: Ljubicic over Santoro: Lube should win this match, but Fabrice the Magician can insert himself into any match, on any surface. These guys have a 3-3 record, mostly on hard courts. Look for a lot of nice touch and shot-making.

Current status: Ljubicic beat Andreev in three sets but Santoro lost his opening match so kiss this one goodbye too.

Prediction: Moya over Davydenko: I like Moya on clay, his career is winding down, but he has shown some stuff early this year and given the pride he has in his game, I think Moya would like to go out in style. Frankly, I am still something of a Davydenko Doubter and the fact Moya holds a 4-0 edge on the Russian makes me vote for Carlos coming out of this bottom section of the draw.

Current status: Things are going from bad to worse. Gonzalez proved too powerful for Moya and Davydenko earns my continuing doubt by losing to local favorite Paul-Henri Mathieu

Prediction: Ferrer over Chela: This will be a battle of two good clay courters. Chela has done pretty well lately but David Ferrer has worked his way steadily into the mix this past year. Even though Chela is 2-0, Ferrer is hot, so he gets the nod here.

Current status: They both got through their opening round matches, hooray.

Prediction: Robredo over Nalbandian: This was a tough one. Both guys have good, solid games but they’ve both been a bit streaky of late. Robredo is 1-3 against the Argentine but I like Tommy’s game better on the clay.

Current status: Both guys got through their respective first round matches. Another hooray.

Prediction: Safin over Kiefer: If these two crazy guys hook up, it will be one crazy match. They are dead even, 3-3. But Safin is playing healthy and he gets the nod here. This could be the most entertaining match in the Round of 16. Of course, Safin has to get by Guillermo Coria first, but I’ll take the giant Russian against the Argentine midget most days. Coria is in the dumps even though it is spring and clay court time, and Safin can walk on water anytime he wants to, when he’s healthy.

Current status: Kiefer survived the opening round, Safin did not. Safin looked good last week in Valencia, but that was last week. And Coria looked good against Mikhail Youzhny, so if he survives his second round match-up with Mathieu, he can get in line to sue me along with his countryman Mr. Gaudio.

Prediction: Henman over Stepanek: Henman has a 5-2 record against Radek over the years. Even though Stepanek has the higher ranking, I know Henman can play on clay. I want to see him do well, because I know a serve and volley player can win on clay. Henman to win, and yes, I did happen to notice that he has to play Gaston Gaudio, the #7 seed, in the opening round. I’m also checking out Henman’s Slazenger Pro X-1 racquet to purchase for myself this week, and while it’s a very nice-sounding piece of work it is also rather hard to find. Like the serve and volley style of the man who plays with it. So, in a nutshell, I like the racquet, I like the man, I like his game, so go ahead and sue me, Gaston. After all, they do call this Fantasy Tennis.

Current status: Yes, Gaston, you can sue me. And you should. Henman got manhandled by Gaudio rather easily.

Prediction: Grosjean over Federer: I’m nearly gagging, but if I have to save Roger for another tournament down the road, then he has to go down to the Frenchman in this round. Either Grosjean or Ljubicic would have a shot at him going into the final. It feels very weird to not be picking Federer to win this tournament but we have to hold our horses here. We’ll make Roger the main guy at the French instead. It will be a cold day in hell when Grosjean beats the Fed again even though they are 2-2 officially. The Frenchman grabbed those two wins in ’04, back before Roger became The Fed.

Current status: Grosjean did well, Roger too, but he struggled. A struggle for Federer means he loses a set. Grosjean can be an obstinate player; just when you think his career is on the fritz, he’s back in the draw bothering people. Just don’t move his fromage.

Fortunately, the doubles will be rather easy to pick for this tournament, I think, and the nod here goes to that classic duo, Jonas Bjorkman and Max Mirnyi.

Ouch! My guys are dropping somewhat fly-like going into Day Two. Nadal, Ljubicic, Ferrer, Robredo and Grosjean are the only members of my team still alive.

Stay tuned, and onward! Next week my co-writer, Nina Rota, and I will be able to tell you whether we’re dining on pheasant. Or crow. As the case may be.

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