ATP Montpellier: Open Sud de France Preview

The Open Sud de France will see the return of Richard Gasquet after missing the last month due to injury. Gasquet is the tournament's defending champion.

ATP Montpellier Tournament Overview

This indoor stop normally attracts plenty of local Frenchmen to the field. This year is no different. The top seed is defending champion Richard Gasquet. Gasquet will be making his 2016 season debut after missing the first month due to a herniated disc in his back. Four of the top five seeds in this week's field are Frenchmen, with only second seeded Croatian Marin Cilic bucking the trend. Following Cilic are third seed Gilles Simon, fourth seed Benoit Paire and fifth seed Gael Monfils. Gasquet and Monfils have combined to win four of the five titles in the history of this tournament. Only Tomas Berdych secured the trophy as an out-of-towner in 2012.  The tournament was not held in 2011.

Seed Report

The 250-level events on the ATP World Tour often spring a slew of upsets from week to week. Montpellier has seen a few, but compared to other similar 250s, it goes more by the seed than others. Last year, just one seed lost their first match of the tournament. The previous two years, three seeds lost their first matches in both 2014 and 2013. The first year of the tournament saw no early upsets and 2012 saw just one seed lose their opening match. Overall, seeds tend to be a big part of the late stages of the tournament. Only 2013 saw semifinal spots not taken by seeds. Every other year, all four semifinal slots have gone to seeded players. While seeds have won the title each year at the Open Sud de France, the top seed has only taken the title once. That was Berdych in 2012. In fact, the top seed has only made the final twice in the five year existence of this tournament. That may not bode well for Gasquet who already has a lack of match play going against him.  

1. Richard Gasquet

This tournament has been good to Gasquet. He is 13-3 all-time with two titles and has made three straight finals. The big thing this week will be the health of his back, a problem which flared up during the IPTL in December. It's a recurrence of a herniated disc. He's managed it before, but it's always a tough proposition to step back on court after not having played in a month.

2. Marin Cilic

Cilic plays Montpellier for the first time. The Croat normally played his home tournament in Zagreb, but the PBZ Zagreb Indoors was moved to Sofia, Bulgaria due to financial issues. That leaves Cilic to rediscover his form in France. The second seed is 3-2 so far this season.

3. Gilles Simon

The man who has come closest to beating Novak Djokovic will be on display as the tournament's third seed. Simon is 6-5 in Montpellier with his best finish being a semifinal in 2012. He has not made it past the quarterfinals since that semifinal run and lost in his opener back in 2014.

4. Benoit Paire

Paire is 5-3 with one trip to the final back in 2013. His other two times playing here, he has failed to make it past the second round. His early flameout in Australia to American Noah Rubin doesn't inspire much confidence. He's also in a tough draw with Paul-Henri Mathieu and Gael Monfils as countrymen who could take him out.

5. Gael Monfils

La Monf comes to Montpellier in a good mood after making the Australian Open quarterfinals. He has the most wins in Montpellier of any of the players in this field. Monfils is 15-3 with titles in 2010 and 2014. He has made the final three times in five trips and was a semifinal loser to Gasquet last year.

6. Joao Sousa

Sousa has a 4-2 mark at this tournament and made the semifinals in 2015. The Portugese has been somewhat of a revelation at these small indoor tournaments the last few seasons. Sousa made two indoor finals in 2015, winning the title in Valencia. In 2014, he made the Metz final and scored his maiden ATP title indoors in Kuala Lumpur back in 2013. He could be a legitimate threat to derail the French stranglehold on Montpellier.

7. Borna Coric

The talented teen will be looking to rebound from a first round flop in Melbourne. After making the final in Chennai to start the season, Coric was bitterly disappointed with his straight sets loss to Albert Ramos Vinolas. He has not played Montpellier before and has struggled indoors so far in his career. Since his highlight wins in Basel in 2014, one of which was against a struggling Rafael Nadal, Coric has gone just 2-6 indoors over the past year.

8. Marcos Baghdatis

Baghdatis is another first timer in Montpellier. He's been both good and bad on this surface. Last year, he made the semifinals in both Zagreb and Stockholm. He had not been to an indoor semifinal since 2012. He's only played three matches this season, but he's in Gasquet's quarter and could take advantage if the top seed is rusty or still unfit.

Quarters Preview

First Quarter: Richard Gasquet (1)

Gasquet gets the first round bye and could be in for an immediate test in round two. He faces the winner of a first round match between Ernests Gulbis and wild card Quentin Halys. Gulbis flashed his trademark inconsistency in a five set thrill ride against Jeremy Chardy in an opening round loss at the Australian Open. It was at least a blip on the radar of some life for the Latvian who had looked poor to start the season. Halys scored an impressive upset of Ivan Dodig in Melbourne, before losing to Novak Djokovic in round two. Gulbis is better on this surface due to experience, but he was terrible in 2015 indoors at 3-5. This is a toss-up.

The bottom half of the quarter sees 8th seeded Marcos Baghdatis open against Lukas Lacko. Lacko has been competitive against the Cypriot in three career meetings, beating him indoors at Zagreb in 2012. Expect a tight set or two, but Baghdatis should edge through to round two. The winner gets the winner of Denis Istomin and Taro Daniel. The two met once in Tokyo back in 2014 and it was a hard fought three set win for Istomin 7-6, 6-7, 7-5. Istomin has made the quarterfinals back-to-back years here and should find a way, but an upset would not be that surprising in this spot. If Istomin finds good form in Montpellier again, he could surprise in this quarter. With Gasquet's injury status, Baghdatis or Istomin might sneak through to the semifinals.

Second Quarter: Gilles Simon (3)

Simon gets the bye and then faces Steve Darcis or a qualifier. The final round of qualifying finishes on Monday. There are some good players who could be slotted in, so Darcis is on upset alert. Simon should have the possibility to scoot through to the quarterfinals in this draw. That will depend greatly on the qualifier slotted against Darcis. The bottom half of thie quarter is loaded. Sixth seed Joao Sousa opens with Ruben Bemelmans. The winner will battle either Nicolas Mahut or Jan-Lennard Struff. The Mahut-Struff first rounder should be one of the more competitive matches. Struff has won two career matches with Mahut, both coming on indoor hard courts. Three of the five sets they have played were tie breaks, so it should be close. This is Sousa's quarter to take if he's so inclined.

Gilles Simon will look to frustrate more opponents in Montpellier (Photo: AFP)
Gilles Simon will look to frustrate more opponents in Montpellier (Photo: AFP)

Third Quarter: Benoit Paire (4)

Paire will open against Paul-Henri Mathieu or a qualifier in a tough match. The fourth seed beat Mathieu twice in 2015, once through retirement. Still, Mathieu is normally competitive on this surface and could challenge an up and down Paire. The top half of the draw is led by 5th seed Gael Monfils. He opens in the second round against either Julien Benneteau or John Millman. Both are good match-ups for Monfils and he should be expected to do damage in this quarter. It could be a quarterfinal blockbuster if seeds hold with Paire against Monfils. Paire won their only meeting at last year's BNP Paribas Masters in Paris in three tight sets. Monfils has the current edge in confidence and form, not to mention his history of playing well in Montpellier.

Fourth Quarter: Marin Cilic (2)

Cilic could see wunderkind Alexander Zverev in the second round. Zverev opens his campaign in Montpellier against Luca Vanni. Neither has a ton of experience winning indoor matches at this level, but Zverev should be slightly better suited to the surface. Should Cilic survive to the quarterfinals, he could be looking his fellow Croatian squarely in the face. Seventh seed Borna Coric does have a tough draw against veteran Michael Berrer to open. A win there would pit him against Nikoloz Basilashvili or a qualifier. We were supposed to get the Cilic-Coric match at the Australian Open until Coric flopped in the first. This time around, the Croatian showdown could happen. Cilic has been pretty solid indoors the last two years at 21-6, so this should be a draw that he could do well with.

Doubles Draw

Lukasz Kubot and Marcin Matkowski are the top seeds this week. Mate Pavic and Michael Venus check in as the second seeds with Oliver Marach and Fabrice Martin seeded third. The fourth seeds are Jonathan Erlich and Colin Fleming. The top seeds have a nice draw whereas the third seeds in their half could struggle to make a deep run. Marach-Martin could see British brothers Ken and Neal Skupski or the Zverevs, Alexander and Mischa, in round two. The Skupskis were tough opening round losers to Dustin Brown and Struff last year in a 14-12 super tiebreak.

Lukasz Kubot (left) and Marcin Matkowski are the top seeds in Montpellier (Photo: PAP)
Lukasz Kubot (left) and Marcin Matkowski are the top seeds in Montpellier (Photo: PAP)

The bottom of the draw sees last year's defending champions Marcus Daniell and Artem Sitak as an unseeded pair in the Erlich-Fleming quarter. Second seeds Pavic-Venus are in the bottom quarter and don't have it easy against Dustin Brown and Rameez Junaid to open. Brown-Junaid won a Challenger title together last year, so they do have some chemistry. They should pose a substantial opening round challenge. Erlich-Fleming or the defending champs could be the ones to watch in this half of the draw.

Predictions

Semifinals: Sousa def. Gasquet, Monfils def. Cilic
Final: Monfils def. Sousa

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