St. Petersburg Open: preview and predictions

Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic lead a solid field in Russia this week as the Race to London begins to heat up.

St. Petersburg Open: preview and predictions
Milos Raonic holds the trophy at the end of last year's St. Petersburg Open. Photo: Dimitry Lovetsky/AP

The final stretch of the ATP World Tour season gets underway this week with the first set of events since the US Open, with a handful of stars heading to St. Petersburg, Russia for the St. Petersburg Open.

Three of the world’s top ten, including defending champion Milos Raonic and US Open champion Stan Wawrinka, will be in action including a handful of players hoping to make a charge in the Race to London to qualify for the ATP World Tour Finals. Here’s a breakdown of the draw in St. Petersburg

Top Quarter: Wawrinka’s return

Stan Wawrinka will be taking to the court for the first time since his US Open triumph when he enters the ring for his second round match. The top seed has a bye in the first round. He will await the winner between Lukas Rosol and Diego Schwartzman. On a fast, indoor court, Rosol could be tricky, but a confident Wawrinka should be able to dispose of him.

Stan Wawrinka holds his US Open trophy. Photo: Getty Images
Stan Wawrinka holds his US Open trophy. Photo: Getty Images

The other seed in the top quarter is seventh seed Viktor Troicki. The Serb has never won a match in three previous appearances in St. Petersburg. He will play Gastao Elias in the first round. The winner of that match will play either Fernando Verdasco or Dusan Lajovic, with a probable quarterfinal date with Wawrinka looming in the quarters. There are some hard hitters in this quarter, but it’s still the US Open champion’s to lose.

Quarterfinal prediction: Wawrinka d. Verdasco

Second Quarter: Seeds seeking to repeat

One thing is for sure in this quarter: someone who reached the semifinals last year will not return this year. Fourth seed Roberto Bautista Agut and eighth seed Joao Sousa are both in this quarter, and both reached the semifinals last year, with Sousa going on to reach the final. Both fell to Milos Raonic. As they are in the same quarter, one of them will be losing points.

Joao Sousa hits a backhand during the 2015 St. Petersburg final. Photo: Dimitry Levetsky/AP
Joao Sousa hits a backhand during the 2015 St. Petersburg final. Photo: Dimitry Lovetsky/AP

Bautista Agut needs a strong performance here if he wants to make a late, outside charge for the ATP World Tour finals. He currently sits in 16th in the race, 1500 points back of the eighth and final spot. He has a first-round bye and will open his campaign against either Adrian Mannarino or Ricardas Berankis. Sousa will open against a qualifier and, assuming he wins, will take on either local wild card Andrey Rublev or Kazakhstani Mikhail Kukushkin.

Quarterfinal prediction: Bautista Agut d. Sousa

Third Quarter: Berdych’s comeback

Tomas Berdych, seeded third this week, missed the US Open with an injury and desperately needs a strong performance if he is to put his Race to London campaign back on track. He is currently in 9th, just under 700 points back. He has a bye in the first round and will play a Russian in the second round, either Andrey Kuznetsov or Evgeny Donskoy.

Sixth seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas joins Berdych in this quarter. Much of his path is still to be decided, as he opens against a qualifier and could face another one in the second round, assuming that qualifier gets past Paolo Lorenzi. With Berdych’s rust and so many locals and qualifiers, this quarter seems totally up for grabs.

Quarterfinal prediction: Kuznetsov d. qualifier

Bottom Quarter: Raonic’s challenge

The defending champion will have a very difficult path back to the final. Second seed Milos Raonic has the last chunk of points he has to defend for the rest of the year on the table this week, although he is in a strong position in the Race to London regardless of his result. That’s a good thing for the defending champion, as he has a very difficult quarter. After a first round bye, he will face the winner of probably the toughest match of the first round, Mikhail Youzhny vs Janko Tipsarevic.

Raonic celebrates his 2015 St. Petersburg title. Photo: Tennis TV
Raonic celebrates his 2015 St. Petersburg title. Photo: Tennis TV

This quarter also features a battle of young guns, as fifth seed Alexander Zverev will take on 20-year-old Russian Karen Khachanov. While Zverev, despite being a year young, is the higher ranked of the two, Khachanov will have the crowd at his back. The winner will player either a qualifier or another Russian wildcard. This is still Raonic’s quarter to lose, but the kids and the hosts could make it tricky for him.

Quarterfinal prediction: Raonic d. Khachanov

Semifinal predictions: Wawrinka d. Bautista Agut, Raonic d. Kuznetsov

Final prediction: Wawrinka d. Raonic