Valencia 2013: Ferrer & Haas play for high stakes against tough odds
Marianne Bevis previews the Valencia Open, where three-time champion David Ferrer and Tommy Haas are both in action
With the window for London qualification rapidly closing, the remaining two weeks of competition are vital for the clutch of players still in contention.
Much of the focus is on Basel, despite the last-minute withdrawal of Rafael Nadal. That’s because, with just four of the eight places remaining, the next four in the race are all in action at the Swiss Indoors.
The No2 seed, Tomas Berdych, is within touching distance of sealing the deal. Trailing him, 650 points off the pace, is No4 seed Stan Wawrinka. Five points behind him is compatriot Roger Federer, Basel’s No3 seed, and a mere 25 points behind the Swiss pair, and currently holding the valuable eighth spot, is Richard Gasquet.
In short, the last three men are separated by just 30 points, less than a first-round match-win in this prestigious 500 tournament.
The three of them, though, have a modest buffer this week, as the next two men, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Milos Raonic, are not playing. But that is certainly no reason for complacency, for while the cooler environs of Basel are proving to be a honey-pot for media and fans, the warmer Spanish city of Valencia has a big part to play as the race heads to the make-or-break Masters 1000 in Paris next week.
The next three in line in the race are part of Valencia’s impressive field of players, led by the evergreen 35-year-old, Tommy Haas, fresh from his title win in Vienna. And while a win in Valencia would not be enough to make the jump from No12 in the race, nor for No13 Nicolas Almagro nor No14 John Isner, a strong run would set up the German nicely for a last push in Paris.
Even so, this is a very tough ask. Federer was asked this weekend if he could put together the same back-to-back wins in Basel, Paris and London that he did in 2011 and he was doubtful:
“I don’t know if my level of play is strong enough to do it now. That would be a bit bizarre for me if I start saying that I’m going to win the last 15 matches of the season.”
Yet that is close to what Haas needs to do after his run in Vienna, if he is to reach a first ATP World Tour Finals. And there is no doubt it would be a popular achievement. Haas has been hampered over the years by multiple injuries and surgeries, forcing the former No2 to come back time and again. He missed qualification for the then Masters Cup by one match-win back in 2002: It would be heartbreaking to see him miss by so small a margin more than decade later.
His task in Valencia, though, is about as tough as it could be. His first match is against the big talent of fellow German, world No24, Philipp Kohlschreiber. He could then meet No21 Mikhail Youzhny, a quarter-finalist at the US Open—though Bernard Tomic is also here.
In the quarters are the winner in Metz, No16 Gilles Simon, with an alternative posed in the flair of the 26-ranked Benoit Paire, a semi-finalist in Stockholm at the weekend—and only just losing out to eventual finalist, winner Grigor Dimitrov.
The other quarter in this bottom-heavy half of the draw also has some intriguing early rounds. The stand-out is No14 John Isner against the charismatic Ernests Gulbis. The Latvian has beaten Isner in both previous matches, most recently a three-setter in Monte Carlo this year, and arrives on a great run of form. The St Petersburg title and a semi finish in Stockholm have taken him to No25 after starting the year at 138.
His segment also holds the unpredictable Florian Mayer, but top of the quarter was No20, Kevin Anderson. However, the tournament was deprived of a repeat of the record-making final in Atlanta where Isner beat Anderson in three tie-breaks. The tall South African was beaten in his opening match by Roberto Bautista Agut.
The Valencia draw is topped by three-time champion and home favourite David Ferrer, who lost a gruelling final in Stockholm to Dimitrov in three long sets before heading to his native Spain to begin his title defence.
Fortunately for him, his place in London is already sealed, for he has an unenviable opening match against Gael Monfils, back from numerous injury setbacks to beat Federer in Shanghai and reach No31 in the rankings. At his best, he has the beating of anyone, even the pumping energy of Ferrer.
Also back from injury, and a possible quarter-final opponent for Ferrer or Monfils, is one of the young stars of the season, Jerzy Janowicz. The 22-year-old soared into the top 15 after a semi finish at Wimbledon.
The other quarter is topped by fellow Valencia title winner, Almagro, who took his home title in 2007 and 2006, though the tournament has transitioned from clay to a hard-court indoor event since then.
Almagro’s big threats lie first in Fernando Verdasco in the second round and then the No7 seed, Fabio Fognini, in the quarters. Another of the threats, the sliding Janko Tipsarevic, went out to Marcel Granollers, in the first round.
So Valencia is topped and tailed by two men hastening to its cathedral-like centre court from Sunday finals. For Ferrer, the defence of his title is at stake: for Haas, his hopes of a place in London.
No doubt contenders in Spain and Switzerland will be watching each other’s progress very closely.