By Mike McIntyre
Back over to Europe for three indoor hard court tournaments this week on the ATP World Tour. The big news on the circuit last week was that Roger Federer tied Pete Sampras' all-time tournament tally with his 64th career win in Stockholm. Only another 45 before he equals Jimmy Connors mark of 109!
This week we have stops in Austria, France and Russia as the season begins to draw to a close.
It's gimmick time in Vienna as the event has chosen to dust off 43 year-old Thomas Muster with a wild-card into the main draw. The former world number one and French Open champion has been playing a few challenger and futures level events this fall and has a 1-6 record so far in his "comeback."
Muster opens against enigmatic Ernests Gulbis in the first round. I'm not really too sure what to make of this stunt. Muster is over ten years past being able to play at a high level - why make a return to the tour now?
Local Jurgen Melzer gets the number one seed and deservingly so. Not only is he the defending champion at this event, but he has had a terrific 2010 that has seen him reach his first career Grand Slam semi-final and also defeat Rafael Nadal for the first time. Melzer gets a first round bye and could face wild-card James Blake in the second round.
Melzer will likely have to face Philipp Kohlschreiber in his section of the draw, and could also see clay-court guru Nicolas Almagro or veteran Xavier Malisse as well.
In the bottom half, Marcos Baghdatis and second seeded Marin Cilic are lurking. Cilic could really use a strong result to close out his season as it has been one great disappointment for him since a semi-final appearance at the Australian Open back in January.
Doesn't it seem like there is an ATP event in France every couple of weeks? The French must really love their tennis and who can blame them? They have an abundance of players in the top one hundred in the world. Their players also have a variety in their game that makes them among the most enjoyable to watch in the sport.
Look over the qualifying draw and you might be surprised to see an A. Agazzi entered. That would be Andrea Agazzi from Italy...no joke.
The main draw boasts number one seed Nikolay Davydenko who appears to be on his last legs of competitiveness since returning from a wrist injury back in the spring. His long-term hold on a top-ten position has reached its end as he has been unable to put together any type of consistent tennis all season. Davydenko gets a first round bye, which will probably actually hurt his chances.
Defending champion Ivan Ljubicic is in the top-half of the draw along with Frenchman Richard Gasquet who is my pick to win the tournament.
In the bottom half we find many other talented locals such as number two seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gilles Simon and Gael Monfils. Again, what a great time to be a tennis fan in France. David Nalbandian is also present with a wild-card.
Russia welcomes Mikhail Youzhny as the top seed and a slew of other lesser known players into the field. It is arguably the weakest draw of the three tournaments and does not offer any first round exemptions.
Youzhny won the event way back in 2004 which speaks to his longevity on the tour. In 2009, Sergiy Stakhovsky emerged as the champion and he is back as the second seed this time around.
Viktor Troicki who just won his first ever tour event in Moscow is in the top-half of the draw, while Jeremy Chardy, Janko Tipsarevic and P.H. Mathieu are in the bottom section.
Enjoy the tennis this week everyone.