Frantic February proved just that as players flew around the world to play a mix of 12 hardcourt and clay court tournaments and, the fact that there were 12 different winners, showed just what a compelling ATP season 2018 may be.
It was a difficult start to February for most punters as Mirza Basic won the Diema Xtra Sofia Open and Roberto Carballes Baena won the Ecuador Open. However, a win for Lucas Pouille in the Open Sud de France was more predictable as he was the eighth French winner in the last 12-years, whilst runner-up Richard Gasquet was the eleventh French runner-up in the last 13-years.
Normality was then restored in the Amro World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam as Roger Federer dropped just one set on his way to a victory that saw him move back to world number one with a 600-points lead over Rafa Nadal. It was also no surprise to see Dominic Thiem get back to winning ways as he returned to clay in the Argentina Open, whilst last year’s US Open runner-up Kevin Anderson continued his love affair with Amercian hardcourts with victory in the New York Open.
It was then back to some big-priced shocks as Diego Schwartzman won the Rio Open, and Karen Khachanov took the Open 13 Provence title. Meanwhile, Frances Tiafoe would have also took some finding as the youngster chalked-up a victory for the NextGen stars with victory in the Delray Beach Open. However, he was the third consecutive American to win the tournament.
Roberto Bautista-Agut wasn’t an obvious winner of the Dubai Duty Free Open, but an early exit for Dimitrov left the tournament wide-open. Bautista-Agut beat Pouille in the final to become only the second player of 2018 to notch up two tournament wins, whilst Kevin Anderson was denied that honour when beaten by Juan Martin Del Potro in the final of the Abierto Mexicana Telcel. The final win of February was secured by Fabio Fognini in the Brasil Open, becoming the fourth Italian player to reach the final in the last seven years.
The main news in the Tennis world for March is the forced withdrawal of Rafa Nadal from the American Swing. Nadal, who had previously withdrawn from the Abierto Mexicana Tercel, will now miss both of March’s ATP 1,000 events the BNP Paribas Open and the Miami Open. However, having lost his number one ranking to Roger Federer, it’s possible he could regain top-spot after the BNP Paribas Open.
That’s because Nadal only earned 90 points at last year’s tournament, whereas Federer earned 1,000 points for winning it. Therefore, Federer must at least make it to the semi-finals if he wants to stay in front of Nadal.
Federer also beat Nadal to the sportsman of the year award at the Lazareus Awards, where the other nominees included Christiano Ronaldo, Lewis Hamilton, Chris Froome, and Mo Farah. Meanwhile, Federer also won the comeback award after winning seven tournaments in 2017, after returning from serious injury, despite being at an age when most top tennis players have long since retired.
Federer may be number one, but March looks a great opportunity for some of the players ranked between tenth and twentieth to make significant moves, especially the in-form trio of Lucas Pouille, Roberto Bautista-Agut, and Diego Schwartzman. Meanwhile, the likes of Nick Kyrgios and Sam Querrey will be hoping to get some points on the board as both slumped down the world rankings this week. Andy Murray also dropped another eight places to number 29 in the world as his pre-longed absence saw more points wiped from his tally.
BNP Paribas Open, 8-18 March, ATP 1,000, Outdoor Hardcourts
Miami Open, 21 March – 1 April, ATP 1,000, Outdoor Harcourts
BNP Paribas Open
The BNP Paribas Open is the first of the two tournaments that form the “Sunshine Double”, and it takes place at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in California, which is the second-biggest stadium used for professional tennis tournaments in the world. The tournament was first played in 1973 in Tucson, and moved to Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage, and La Quinta before settling in Indian Wells in 1987. 128 players take part in the men’s singles.
Shocks in this tournament have been few and far between in recent years, with only 2010 winner Ivan Ljubicic not a household-name. Other than that, it has been monopolised by the big three of Roger Federer, (2004, 2005, 2006, 2012, 2017), Rafa Nadal (2007, 2009, 2013), and Novak Djokovic 2008, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2016). The big three have only finished runner-up four-times between them in this time though, suggesting there could be some each-way value to be had. The other runner-ups in this period include Leyton Hewitt, James Blake, Mardy Fish, Andy Murray, Andy Roddick, John Isner, Juan Martin Del Potro, Milos Raonic, and Stan Wawrinka.
The early draw looks to have been reasonably kind for number one seed Federer, however he looks likely to have to make it past one of either Tomas Berdych, Hyeon Chung or Dominic Thiem to make it to the quarters. His second quarter semi-final opponent could then come from the likes of the in-form Kevin Anderson or Roberto Bautista-Agut, whilst the likes of Grigor Dimitrov will be hoping for a good run, as will Nick Kyrgios who’ll not want to fall further down the rankings.
American fans will be cheering on the likes of Jack Sock, Sam Querrey, and recent winner Frances Tiafoe in the third-quarter, where there is also the likes of the in-form Lucas Pouille and Diego Schwartzman. Milos Raonic will also be looking for a return to form as she’s now only seeded 32 after returning from injury, whilst Alexander Zverev will be looking to hit top-gear after a slow start to 2018.
The fourth quarter is headed by Marin Cilic, after his rise to number three in the world, but he probably won’t be happy to see the tenth seed Novak Djokovic lurking alongside the twenty-second seed Kei Nishikori. However, even if these two aren’t at their best after injury, he still has recent winner Juan Martin Del Potro to contend with.
Therefore, this looks another tournament that could easily fall into Federer’s hands as, if the draws in the other quarters go to plan, his major opponents look sure to have been softened up with some hard matches prior to them having to play him. A record sixth title could await.
The Miami Open is the second of the tournaments that forms the Sunshine Double, and it takes place at the Tennis Center at Crandon, Key Biscayne, Florida. It started life in 1985 but has generally been dominated by the big names of tennis this century with the likes of Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, and Roger Federer claiming 17 of the 18 titles between them. The only shock winner was the 2010 winner Nikolay Davydenko. There have been some shock runner-ups though, including Jan-Michael Gambill, Carlos Moya, Guillermo Coria, Ivan Ljubicic, and Guillermo Canas.
Most of the players from the BNP Paripas Open generally make the short journey from California to Florida to participate, unless injury strikes.
There are no Davis Cup matches being played in March. However, if you want to study the draw then here are the quarter-final matches that will take place from the 6-8 April.
France vs Italy
Spain vs Germany
Kazakhstan vs Croatia
USA vs Belgium