By Mike McIntyre
With the US Open and the Davis Cup semi-finals now behind us it will be up to the men's tournaments in Metz, France and St. Petersburg, Russia to help avoid the equivalent of a tennis hangover. Both events are level 250 tournaments which do not usually provide the Djokovic's and Federer's of the tennis world, but both of these draws show plenty of promise that should maintain the interest of true tennis fans.
Stan "The Man" Wawrinka is the top seed in Metz and brings an impressive 41-13 record into the tournament and a recent semi-final appearance at the US Open. Wawrinka is one of four players to receive a first round bye and will face either Dustin Brown or Rajeev Ram in his first match.
German Philipp Kohlschreiber is the toughest opponent for Warinka in his quarter of the draw. Stan has won both career meetings between the two players with both coming back in 2008.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is the 3rd seed and one of six French men (excluding qualifiers) in the draw. He has won the event twice, in 2011 and 2012, and I would not be the least bit surprised if he added to that total here this year. Tsonga has a favourable draw prior to potentially seeing Wawrinka in the semifinals and historically has had success as well this time of year.
In the bottom half of the draw Gilles Simon is the second seed. Hopefully by now he has forgotten about how he let Donald Young come back from a two sets deficit at the US Open in their opening round encounter and is ready to produce in front of the French fans. Simon has some tricky names floating in his section of the draw such as veteran Fernando Verdasco, 18 year old young-gun Alex Zverev and the big serving and mojo stealing Gilles Muller as well. Simon won here in 2010 and 2013 which should bode well for the world No. 10.
Finally, 4th seeded Guillermo Garcia-Lopez is perhaps the least known quantity among the top ranked players in the draw. Ranked 31st in the world (career best 23rd back in 2011), Garcia Lopez has a 25-18 record so far this season. He will likely face a tricky Sergiy Stakhovsky after his opening round bye and then could deal with Canadian No. 2 Vasek Pospisil. This quarter is clearly the one where an upset is most likely.
One thing we know for sure in Metz is that the tournament will have a new champion this year as David Goffin (just off a Davis Cup win vs Argentina) is not entered in the draw.
Tomas Berdych provides the star-power as the number one seed at this event. First round bye's have also been awarded to the top-four players here and the Czech could face either Andrey Rublev or Simone Bolelli in his first match. Young Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis is present in the top quarter along with the seventh seeded Joao Sousa.
Dominic Thiem is the 3rd seed and also in the top-half of the draw in St. Petersburg. He will face either Daniel Gimeno-Traver or the recently married Andreas Haider-Maurer who, like Thiem, is also Austrian. Thiem could see 8th seeded Mikhail Kukushkin in the quarters.
In the bottom half of the draw, Canadian missile Milos Raonic will see if he can salvage something of an injury-induced season to forget. Raonic will see wildcard Evgeny Donskoy or a qualifier in the second round. His quarter of the draw is stacked with names that would have carried some fear about ten years ago such as Tommy Robredo, Mikhail Youzhny and Marcos Bagdatis as well as the always enigmatic Ernests Gulbis. Youzhny won this event in 2004 and is here thanks to a wildcard while Gulbis was crowned champion the last year the tourney was held in 2013.
In the other bottom-half quarter of the draw you can find 4th seeded Roberto Bautista Agut and tricky 6th seed Benoit Paire.
This draw has a fun mix of characters and if I was traveling to either event this week I think I'd probably make the trip to Russia over France. If I were a betting man I would also check out some fantastic tennis odds updates 24/7.
Enjoy the smaller venue tennis as we start the final portion of the ATP calendar and gear-up for the Shanghai and Paris Masters which are held in October.