The Watch List spotlights the must-know storylines for the upcoming week in tennis. This week, Li Na returns after her Australian Open triumph, while Juan Martin del Potro looks to overcome injuries in the Netherlands.
Regardless of how things turn out at this WTA Premier 5 event, it’s a milestone event for Li. Serena Williams and defending champion Victoria Azarenka withdrew with injuries, and Li, who will be the top seed in the tournament, will rise to a career-high No. 2 after Doha, the highest ranking of any Asian player ever.
Li has yet to lose a match in 2014, compiling a 12-0 record with titles at the Shenzhen Open and Australian Open, and she has made the quarterfinals or better at her last 11 hard-court tournaments. Her half of the draw includes No. 6 Petra Kvitova, No. 8 Jelena Jankovic and No. 9 Angelique Kerber, with a couple of dangerous seeds, Sloane Stephens and Ana Ivanovic, lurking.
The other half of the draw is led by No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska, who was a semifinalist here last year, and the seeds in her half are No. 7 Sara Errani, No. 10 Simona Halep and No. 11 Caroline Wozniacki. However, don’t sleep on No. 21 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who beat three top-10 players to win the Paris Indoors two weeks ago. Also in this half is the WTA’s new golden girl, No. 19 Eugenie Bouchard. The 19-year-old Canadian threw down two bagel sets over the Fed Cup weekend, losing just four games in two matches. She plays Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the first round. Mattek-Sands beat Bouchard 6-4, 6-3 in the first round of the Sydney International last month.
ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament
There’s been some shuffling atop the ATP 500 indoor hard-court event in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Top seed Stanislas Wawrinka withdrew after Davis Cup, citing, rather understandably, fatigue, and Andy Murray, now ranked No. 6, took a last-minute wild card into the tournament, which he hasn’t played since 2011. That’s good news both for the tournament and Murray, who must be confident in the health of his back if he’s willing to get back on court so quickly after playing Davis Cup on clay.
The other surprise is that No. 4 Juan Martin del Potro, who has been dogged by a left wrist injury, has chosen to try to defend his title. He’s the top seed and on a five title, 23-match winning streak at tournaments where he’s the top seed, but the draw gods have not looked kindly upon him this week. Not only are No. 7 Tomas Berdych and No. 19 Grigor Dimitrov in his half of the draw (as are dangerous floaters like Ernests Gulbis and Jerzy Janowicz), but he’s also drawn No. 23 Gael Monfils in the first round. Monfils won the Open Sud de France last week to improve to 12-2 this year, with both losses coming to No. 1 Rafael Nadal.
All that heft in Del Potro’s half means Murray’s path is a nice one. The three seeds in his half are No. 9 Richard Gasquet, No. 10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and No. 15 Mikhail Youzhny. Murray is a combined 17-4 against them and the quick indoor courts should suit him.
Nadal will not be in Buenos Aires, Argentina, this week after withdrawing with what he said was a stomach virus. Instead, David Ferrer is the top seed and returns to defend his ATP 250 title on clay. The man opposite him in the draw is No. 14 Fabio Fognini, who won the Chile Open last week in the first stop of the ATP’s “Golden Swing” through South America. Tommy Robredo and Nicolas Almagro round out the top-four seeds.
U.S. National Indoor Tennis Championships
No. 17 Kei Nishikori will try to defend his ATP 250 title in Memphis, an indoor hard-court event. He’s the top seed, followed by last year’s finalist, No. 26 Feliciano Lopez, No. 40 Lleyton Hewitt and No. 53 Lu Yen-Hsun. It will be interesting to see how Nishikori responds after a fantastic showing in Melbourne, where he played some of his best tennis in a third-round loss to Nadal. The same goes for Hewitt, who at 32 is back to being the No. 1 Australian and beat Roger Federer in straight sets to win the Brisbane International.
Another thread to keep an eye on is the trio of youngsters in Memphis, where No. 84 Jiri Vesely, No. 88 Jack Sock and No. 157 Nick Kyrgios are in the draw. Kyrgios, 18, had a breakthrough performance at the Australian Open, Sock beat Milos Raonic here last year to make the quarterfinals and Vesely won the ATP Future Stars award last year.