(5)Carlos Alcaraz d. (8)Pablo Carreno Busta 6-3, 6-2
5, 6, 8, 10
SEEDS: ONE & DONE (1st Match Loss)
5 out of 16
BARCELONA NEWS & NOTES
*Carlos Alcaraz returns from injury this week to try and defend his 2022 Barcelona Open title. Alcaraz won the championship match as a 1.60 (-167) favorite. That marked the 11th straight run in Barcelona where the favorite took the title match. Fernando Verdasco was the last underdog winner in 2010 at 2.35 (+135). The title match has gone down in straight sets in ten of the last eleven finals at this stop.
*Underdogs hit in just eight of the 47 completed matches in Barcelona last year. The biggest score came via Carreno Busta at 3.60 (+260) when he knocked off (2)Casper Ruud in the quarterfinals. The next highest hit came in round one when Seb Korda was upset by Carlos Taberner with home standing Spaniard at 3.34 (+234). Five of the eight underdog wins came in round one. Six of the 12 dog scores in 2021 also came in round one and 2021 saw a trio of the ten underdog winners coming in that same round. Look early for some of your best opportunities.
*Sixteeen of the 47 matches last year went to a deciding third set to settle the result. In a turnaround, the first round was NOT the place to find these results with only three of those 16 three set matches found in the opening round. Six were housed in round two with all of those involving seeded players. Rememeber that seeded players in Barcelona ALL get first round byes, so the three set results in round two make some sense. That’s a recurring theme with six matches in round two in 2021 going three, all again involving seeds. Five of the six second round three setters in 2019 also involved seeds, so identify the competitive matchups or the seeds who have not seen the court much recently as matches where those might be more likely to occur.
*Unseeded players didn’t make up any of the last eight spots in Barcelona last year. Only one of the last 16 quarterfinalists in Barca has been an unseeded player. You have to go back to the pre-pandemic run in 2019 to see multiple quarterfinalists that were unseeded, when there were a total of three. That used to be a normal thing with multiple unseeded quartefinalisrts each year from 2016-2019. Stefanos Tsitsipas was the last unseeded finalist in 2018 when he was crushed by Rafael Nadal 6-2, 6-1 in the final. Before Stef, it was Pablo Andujar in 2015 as the last unseeded finalist. If you’re looking for a player without a number next to his name to win this year, think again. 2002 was the last time an unseeded champion was crowned when Gaston Gaudio did the trick.
*The return of Carlos Alcaraz is the highlight of this week. The 2022 Barcelona champion sat out Monte-Carlo due to post-traumatic arthritis in his left hand and muscle discomfort near his spine. That doesn’t sound particularly good, but Alcaraz seems in good spirits ahead of his title defense. It should be noted that Alcaraz to this point has been unable to successfully defend any title he has won in his career. He comes in as the top seed followed by Tsitsipas, Ruud and Jannik Sinner to round out the top four. Tsitsipas is the most experienced of the quartet at this stop with a pair of finals’ appearances with the last coming in 2021. Sinner made the semis in 2021 in his lone trip to Barcelona, while Ruud has one quarterfinal last year in two career trips to this Spanish stop on the calendar.
*Rounding out the top eight seeds are recent Houston champion Frances Tiafoe, Karen Khachanov, Cameron Norrie and Alex de Minaur. Tiafoe’s Houston run did not include a win over a player ranked inside the top 70, so the jury is out on his clay court form for me. Big Foe has only been as far as the round of 16 once in three trips in Barcelona and he’s stuck in Alcaraz’s quarter. Khachanov has perhaps the best form of the rest in this section of the seeds with the Russian in off a semifinal in Miami and a decent round of 16 run in Monte-Carlo. Khachanov has not fared that well here recently with two straight one and dones. Norrie tries to shake off two straight opening match losses and perhaps this is a good stop for him to do so. The Brit has made two straight quarterfinals in Barcelona. Alex de Minaur avoided a third straight one an done on Monte-Carlo, but has still lost three of his last four. He did make the semifinals last year at this tournament taking Alcaraz to three sets in that loss.
*The rest of the seeded field sees plenty of clay court talent, but most without a lot of momentum. (9)Lorenzo Musetti probably has the most coming in after an unexpected quarterfinal push in Monte-Carlo. That included a win over Novak Djokovic, but the Serb was certainly out of sorts in that one. His other wins don’t look all that impressive when you stack them up and he was obliterated by Sinner in the quarters 6-2, 6-2. Still, this is his best surface and he may take some confidence into the week after winning consecutive matches for the first time since the United Cup in Australia. Cerundolo could be the other guy to watch in this last half of the seeds. The Argentine scored an upset of Norrie last week in Monte-Carlo and probably should have beaten Matteo Berrettini in the next round. He’s played plenty of clay court tennis already with a 5-5 record, but has often struggled to get wins outside of South America. Cerundolo is in an intriguing spot with Ruud in his quarter. I’ll talk more about that in a bit.
*Spaniards – watch for them at this event. Sure, it was an all-Spanish final last year, but I’m talking more about the Spaniards who are unseeded and unexpected. They’ve made some noise at this stop traditionally. Last year it was wildcard Jaume Munar making the round of 16. He eliminated (9)Nikoloz Basilashvili in round two. 2021 saw qualifier Bernabe Zapata Miralles make the round of 16 along with unseeded Albert Ramos-Vinolas. Both scored seeded upsets in round two. And 2019 saw Roberto Carballes Baena make the quarters as a lucky loser. A few names to watch in that vein in 2023: Jaume Munar, Albert Ramos-Vinolas, Bernabe Zapata Miralles and Pedro Martinez.
Even with some possible kinks to work out, Alcaraz is the easy favorite in this quarter. Tiafoe seems like the only seed who has the confidence in his game to really try and challenge the defending champion. Bautista Agut and Davidovich Fokina are both very up and down with RBA especially more down for the better part of 2023. I’m looking at Zapata Miralles as an outsider to watch. He’s had a decent little history here and with RBA struggling for consistent results, he could have a shot to take out his countryman in round two if that match comes to fruition. In the other half, Etcheverry is the unseeded guy to watch for me. The Argentine is 10-5 on dirt this year and gets a cold Andujar to start. Davidovich Fokina is a tough second rounder, but ADF is another struggling with consistent efforts, so Etcheverry could well be a dark horse in this section. He could line up to get another crack at Tiafoe who he pushed to three sets in the Houston final. Tiafoe will need to find his rhythm again against Ruusuvuori or Bublik, but neither is as big a threat on clay as they are on hard courts. Ruusuvuori does own two wins over Big Foe however, but again both on hard surfaces in 2021 and 2022.
I don’t think there is much question that this quarter is all about Alcaraz being healthy and back in form. If he is both, then there is little reason to believe he won’t be around in the semifinals. Tiafoe is the one guy I think has a shot to rattle him. Big Foe did beat him here two years ago, but Alcaraz has obviously matured in confidence and his on court game since then. Still, they battled again last year at the US Open with Tiafoe pushing Alcaraz to five sets. He’s got the belief, but I’m not sure if this surface is best suited for the American to score the upset … but don’t forget that note about Alcaraz not successfully defending any title yet, a quarterfinal against Tiafoe could be the first big tricky spot.
ONE AND DONE WATCH
Zapata Miralles over (13)Baustista Agut
Etcheverry over (10)Davidovich Fokina
Any quarter with Casper Ruud in it these days is one that automatically looks more open to me than others. The Norwegian won the Estoril title a few weeks ago, but was challenged in Monte-Carlo and probably fortunate it took two matches for him to lose. Ruud should be afforded a shot to win his opener with either McDonald or Shelton waiting. I’d think Shelton would be the guy who might challenge Ruud better with his athleticism, but the American is still getting comfortable on clay at this level and is still looking to find that confidence that carried him in Australia. The bigger challenge for Ruud could likely come in the round of 16 against Cerundolo who owns a win on clay over him last year in Bastad.
In the bottom half, Khachanov is certainly the guy to watch as far as the seeds. I am weary of a potential opener against big hitting Nicolas Jarry in round two off the bye though. Jarry is 12-4 on clay in 2023 and could certainly score an upset. I think the survivor in that section is the guy I would be looking to make a big push towards the semifinals. Munar is certainly an unseeded player to look at in this section too with the Spaniard having made the round of 16 here in two of the last three runs. I think he’ll be a tough out and if there’s an unseeded quarterfinalis to be found, this could well be that section. Khachanov certainly has been playing well enough to get through this section, but he has some tough foes in his path.
I’m staying on the anti-Casper train until he proves it week in, week out that he’s found his game and can consistently beat the better players on tour. I still have not seen that yet, so I’m looking at Khachanov and Cerundolo perhaps as better shots of the seeds in this quarter. Again I do think a player like Jarry or Munar could be the surprise package. Probably not a semifinal push, but certainly good enough to push into the last eight.
ONE AND DONE WATCH
Munar/Arnaldi over (12)Evans
Jarry over (6)Khachanov
Most of the seeds in this section should be happy with the matchups that fell into their laps for round two. Norrie in particular should be set up better with one of two qualifiers waiting for him. The Brit could use that boost to shake off a small losing skid and could find a rebound this week with a weaker draw. Musetti is the seed in his path to a quarterfinal and despite the Italian’s surge in Monte-Carlo, I’m still waiting to see if he has found that consistency again or if he falls back into that familiar pattern of failing to win consecutive matches. Musetti should be able to shake loose in round two, but Kubler might be a little bit tougher on him than the youngster Rincon would be. It would be a shade surprising not to see the two seeds battling it out in the round of 16, but you never know.
The bottom half obviously is Sinner’s to lose. The Italian continues to be very consistent in providing expected results over lesser players and challenging the top tier more often than not. I really can’t fathom any of the players in his half beating him before he could get to a quarterfinal. Schwartzman has an injury concern and poor form to boot, so he could be in trouble against Wu in round one. Schwartzman did beat him in Miami, but a shoulder injury and more familiarity could yield better results for Wu this time around. I hate that I like Goffin in this section to win a few, but it’s set up for the Belgian against Lopez in round one and then a frozen Nishioka in round two. The 16th seed has dropped four straight and has not won a main draw match at the ATP level on clay since round one of the 2021 French Open. Goffin played his first match in almost two months last week in a lopsided loss in Monte-Carlo to Schwartzman, but should be in position for better results if he’s over the knee injury that sidelined him. Sinner should really cruise in this section though.
I’m not going against Sinner in this spot. His form has been superb this year and he’s in the opposite half of Alcaraz which could line him up for a possible 4th final in 2023.
ONE AND DONE WATCH
Goffin over (16)Nishioka
I think Tsitsipas was a bit disappointing in Monte-Carlo, so there is some question as to whether he will take off or not during this clay court swing. Quite frankly he just has not been consistent enough since losing the Australian Open final. Barcelona has also been a good stop for him, so perhaps this can be a helpful catalyst to getting his season untracked. Stef has made the final here twice and was in the quarters in 2022. If he’s right, he should not have a problem with Cachin or Brouwer as his opener. Cachin would be the tougher of the two, coming off a Challenger final on clay. Shapovalov is the seed in his half and there’s no way to sugar coat 2023 for the Canadian, it’s been a disaster. He’s 6-7 and has not won consecutive matches since Australia. It’s his first swing at clay in 2023, so he could be ripe for an early upset off the bye. Martinez is the guy I have my eye on as the home standing Spaniard in this section. He hasn’t exactly been ripping it up at this level, so job one is avoiding defeat to Kovalik who is capable. At his best, Shapo troubles Tsitsipas on hard courts (3-0), but lost their only clay encounter in Monte-Carlo in 2018. Clay should suit Tsitsipas much better as well as form even if the Canadian makes it as far as a round of 16 clash.
Up top, de Minaur has the better early path than Dimitrov as far as the seeds. Dimitrov will be in for a fight in his opener if Ramos-Vinolas prevails in round one. ARV owns a win over the Bulgarian and fought him well on clay in two defeats. Those are six years ago or older though, so we’ll see what happens if they meet this week. Ramos-Vinolas battles well on dirt and can go on runs out of nowhere. If it does fall to Dimitrov and de Minaur, they’re even at 2-2 for their careers. They’ve never met on clay. One thing you should get regardless if they meet is a battle. All four clashes have been fairly tight. No one in this section is really arriving with the form that would make them stick out, so this could go several ways. I’d give de Minaur a slight edge with the draw, but could easily see Ramos-Vinolas or Dimitrov fighting for a quarterfinal too.
This is a quarter that Tsitsipas will want to take command of if he’s on his game. The surface suits him, but is the confidence there? That certainly leaves this quarter open for a higher seed or perhaps one of those unseeded Spaniards to make a splash.
ONE AND DONE WATCH
Ramos-Vinolas over (11)Dimitrov
Martinez-Kovalik over (14)Shapovalov
I think this is a little bit of a tough week to gauge early on with Alcaraz’s status coming back, but I think we’ve also seen that he’s been able to hit the ground running after longer layoffs and win right away. Alcaraz is of course the large favorite at 1.91 (-110) for the week. Given his return from the injury/fatigue concerns and that lack of being able to back up a title win the previous year, is he worth it? You can argue for sure that he’s the best player in this draw without a doubt, but I always find it tough taking even odds or less on outrights.
Sinner at 5.0 (+400) is much more in line with my style and he’s that guy for me that is going to always have a fighter’s chance against Alcaraz in any setting. Sinner has also turned the tide against Tsitsipas this year, narrowly losing to him in Melbourne and then breaking a four match losing skid to the Greek by taking him out in Rotterdam. He’s playing better and if they did happen to go at it in the semifinals, I’d surely be okay riding with Sinner. Staying away from the Alcaraz half as long as possible is always helpful too if the kid turns up and turns it back on. You generally don’t want to have your outright in the same half having to fight through Carlos just to get in position for a final.
With there only being two 1v2 finals in Barcelona since 2009, it’s probably wise to look away from taking both Alcaraz and Tsitsipas. Both carry certain questions any way, so it’s fairly easy to do for me this week. If you’re taking one over the other, I’d probably still go with Carlos, but he’s still not for me whether that’s right or wrong. And to be clear, Tsitsipas isn’t a bad choice, but I liked him last week and think he’s got a bit tougher time on his hands this week.
So what would be some longer odds’ shots to take? You could make a case for Khachanov at 29.0 (+2800) but only if you think he’s avoiding Alcaraz. The Spanish phenom has demolished him both times they’ve met and both were on clay. Tiafoe at 41.0 (+4000) might be a better dartboard pick as I think he’s got the better shot to contend with Alcaraz. You could also make the case then that it’d just be better to take Tiafoe straight up in a match against Alcaraz if that occurs. Generally, I wouldn’t be afraid to take a longer shot and look for a little magic on a smaller investment.
I’ll make Sinner my main choice for the week for the normal one unit selection. I’ll go stupid on a longer shot for half stakes. Good luck to you and yours this week. AND make sure to join me @tennispig this week for Barcelona chat plus the doubles preview exclusively on Twitter each tournament.
Sinner 5.0 (+400)
Khachanov 29.0 (+2800)*