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Qualies Corner: Wimbledon 2016 (Part I, Men)

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With the final day of Wimbledon qualifying upon us, TTI takes a look at the 32 men vying for a place in the main draw at the All-England Club. In a unique twist to the other three slams, the winners will have truly earned their spot, as Wimbledon is the only major where the men play best-of-five in the final round of qualifying. At the end of qualifying play, only 16 will make it through — and Victoria Chiesa and René Denfeld make their picks. 

Victoria Chiesa: Karen Khachanov (RUS) [1] vs. Matthew Barton (AUS)

Both these two players have been forced into “extra innings” in their qualifying campaigns, with Barton going to 8-6 in the third to defeat Marco Trungeletti first up, and the top seed barely scraping by Enrique Lopez-Perez from a set down and 9-7 in the third in round two.

The 20-year-old Russian has made steady progress since turning pro in 2013 — in 2014, he played his first Future event; in 2015, he played his first Challenger events; and in 2016, he qualified for his first ATP main draw in Barcelona. Will his first Grand Slam be next? He fell at the final hurdle in Melbourne, but at Wimbledon, I say yes.

Vika’s Pick: Khachanov in straight sets

VC: Adam Pavlasek (CZE) [2] vs. Alexander Kudryavtsev (RUS)

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It’s hard to believe that the No. 2 seed is only 21 years old, considering it seems we’ve been hearing about him forever — but that’s to be expected when you remember why he made headlines off the court.

Nonetheless, the Czech has made strides on his own over the past year-plus on the ATP Tour, currently sitting within touching distance of the world’s Top 100. Despite having not played a match on grass before Wimbledon this season, he’s clinically moved through his first two rounds to set up a meeting with the 30-year-old Russian with a spot in the main draw of Wimbledon on the line.

Pavlasek made his ATP debut at Roland Garros as a lucky loser, but he’ll reach the main draw on merit this time.

Vika’s Pick: Pavlasek in straight sets

René Denfeld: Mohamed Safwat (EGY) vs. Tristan Lamasine (FRA)

Expecting the unexpected.

In a section with more familiar names such as Nikoloz BasilashviliLuca Vanni, Grega Zemlja and Denys Molchanov, Egypt’s Safwat and France’s Lamasine emerge from the draw to make sure at least one person will make their Wimbledon main draw debut.

For Safwat, this is the first time he has ever contested a pro-match on grass while Lamasine doesn’t have that much more experience himself, playing at Roehampton for the second time — but never anywhere else on the green surface.

With opportunity looming large for both, it’ll be a matter of keeping nerves in check — and both players’ relative lack of experience of grass nullifies a lot of the parameters, even if Lamasine’s backhand remains an inherently, well, iffy shot. The Frenchman has a little more experience at these stages whereas Safwat is playing his first Grand Slam qualification draw of his career.

René’s Pick: Tristan Lamasine in four sets — but what a story it would be if, on first attempt, Safwat becomes the first Egyptian to make a Wimbledon main draw appearance since Ismail El Shafei in 1980.

RD: Marcus Willis (GBR) vs. Daniil Medvedev (RUS)

Can “Cartman” do it?

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After completely upsetting the odds by taking out Yuichi Sugita and Andrey Rublev, the World No. 775 is one match away from making it to the main draw — in his way is Medvedev, who was a solid junior until 2014, but his recent runs on clay and grass have really made his ranking soar over the course of the past few weeks.

The tall Russian qualified for both the ATP event in s’-Hertogenbosch and the Challenger in Ilkley, getting a good nine matches under his belt — and considering how easily he brushed aside Stefan Kozlov and Vincent Millot, it’s tough to imagine him stop here.

René’s Pick: As great a story as Willis qualifying would be — Medvedev’s got this in straight sets.

RD: Ruben Bemelmans (BEL) vs. Daniel Brands (GER)

The draw was not necessarily kind to Brands — having Mischa Zverev as a first round opponent was tough for the Bavarian and one of the more difficult openers you could find in the draw and Ramkumar Ramanathan pushed him to two tiebreaks. Still, the big-serving German made it through to the final round of qualifying where he will face Belgium’s Bemelmans, who just squeezed past Adrian Menendez-Maceres with 11-9 in the final set on Wednesday.

Call me biased, but I’ll go with my compatriot in this case, mainly because I believe his bigger serve likely to keep him out of too much trouble.

René’s Pick: Brands in four sets

RD: Bjorn Fratangelo (USA) [6] vs. Austin Krajicek (USA) [22]

ME. RI. CAAAAAAAA.

Fratangelo and Krajicek both made it through to the final round of qualifications and lived up to their seeding, but it was by no means on the straight-forward path. It was more like a narrow winding road, particularly for the No. 22 seed, who was pushed to the brink of defeat in the opening round by Australia’s John-Patrick Smith, winning 11-9 in the third.

Bjorn Fratangelo. Photo: Christopher Levy

Bjorn Fratangelo. Photo: Christopher Levy

For Fratangelo, it’ll be the second all stars and stripes battles after he eliminated Ryan Harrison in a tough draw in the opening round, and I’ll back the 22-year-old to make it through to the main draw. Krajicek has more years on the grass but the No. 6 seed has more matches under his belt — even if it is “just” on Challenger level.

René’s Pick: Fratangelo in four sets.

VC: [22] Matthias Bachinger (GER) vs. Luke Saville (AUS)

The 2011 boys’ Wimbledon champion. Daria Gavrilova’s other half.

Whatever you want to call him, Saville’s been battle-tested in Roehampton. The Aussie’s played a pair of three-setters, and was pushed to the limit by Bosnian Aldin Setkic in round two, 6-4, 3-6, 8-6 — who served for the match. Now, he’s within touching distance of another spot in the Wimbledon main draw, where he’s won his only Grand Slam match to date in 2014.

Luke Saville. Photo: Christopher Levy

Luke Saville. Photo: Christopher Levy

He’ll face the German veteran in Bachinger, who’s never won a main draw match at Wimbledon in two tries, and hasn’t featured in the main draw here since 2012. Before scraping by Basiliashvili in Stuttgart, Bachinger hadn’t won a match since late April, despite having yet to drop a set here. Still just 22, Saville has time on his side to deliver on the promise he showed as a junior, but taking advantage of opportunities like these is a good place to start.

Matthias Bachinger. Photo: Christopher Levy

Matthias Bachinger. Photo: Christopher Levy

Vika’s Pick: Saville in five sets.

VC: Thomas Fabbiano (ITA) [8] vs. Marius Copil (ROU)

Ah, Marius Copil. How do I — hold on. Wasn’t I just here?

Oh, yeah — in Paris.

For those of you unfamiliar, Copil and I go way back to a little thing called the ROUFIN Odyssey of 2012. (Ask Louise Engzell about it.) Since then, I’ve been waiting for the Romanian to be a consistent…something on the ATP Tour, but he hasn’t really panned out in the way I expected after that fateful weekend in Cluj.

I picked against Copil to qualify in Paris, but his big serve and booming groundstrokes should be right at home on a grass court. The unseeded Romanian passed routinely through the first two rounds, taking out Wu Di and Kenny De Schepper in straight sets. He’s up against the No. 8 seed in qualifying, Italy’s Fabbiano, who’s historically been more comfortable on a clay court. Add those things up, and life looks good for Copil.

Vika’s Pick: Copil in straight sets.

RD: Igor Sijsling (NED) [9] vs. Yannick Mertens (BEL)

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It’s a Benelux party with Dutchman Sijsling taking on Belgium’s Mertens. The two 28-year-olds got through their draws with relative ease and neither has dropped a set in their first two matches.

For Mertens, it’s the third successive time that he’s made the final round of qualifying — falling to Alexandr Nedovyesov in 2015 and Yuichi Sugita two years ago.

Unfortunately for the Belgian, he’s run into someone with a lot of grass court credentials in the form of Sijsling. While the Dutchman hasn’t quite produced the tennis that saw him make the third round of Wimbledon in 2013, the 28-year-old likes grass courts and has sufficient experience on the surface and in qualifying at Roehampton.

René’s Pick: Sijsling in four sets.

RD: Edward Corrie (GBR) vs. Albano Olivetti (FRA)

The Olivetti serve comes alive to the sound of grass courts — or something.

The Frenchman holds the record for the second-fastest serve ever recorded and when the 6’7″ titan starts finding the court, it will be a long day for anyone on the other side whose task it is to retrieve the bullets firing down from his racket. Olivetti went into extra innings against Gregoire Barrere, but escaped 8-6 in the third.

On the other side, there’s another British wildcard in Corrie, who fought off American teen Tommy Paul in the first round and then completely routed German Michael Berrer in the second round at the loss of merely three games — certainly one of the bigger surprises at Roehampton so far.

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The 28-year-old Corrie was largely focusing on doubles up until 2013, but with the slash in doubles funding commencing at the beginning of 2014, Corrie’s increased focus on singles is probably not at all coincidental.

Much like some of the pairings in the upper half, a win and qualification for the main draw would be massive for either player, on a career and a financial level — opportunity central, if you will.

René’s Pick: Probably the toughest to pick of them all, but I’ll go with Olivetti here because it’s hard to imagine Corrie not having some form of dip after this — and Olivetti has played best of five before. The Frenchman in four.

VC: Lukas Lacko (SVK) [11] vs. Tobias Kamke (GER) [23]

These two veterans each have tasted a measure of Wimbledon success before, each having a third round showing to their names, but are far away from their best ATP rankings.

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It’s tough not to go with Lacko here — the former Top 50 player leads the head-to-head 3-2, but the two haven’t played since 2011. Kamke had a measure of success in the grass court season, reaching the quarterfinals at the Surbiton Challenger despite losing to Vasek Pospisil in qualifying at Queen’s — who, let’s not forget, made the Wimbledon quarterfinals 12 months ago.

Vika’s Pick: Kamke in five sets

RD: Yoshito Nishioka (JPN) [12] vs. Quentin Halys (FRA) [29]

If you’re going to Roehampton for the final round of qualifying, this is the one where I’d make myself comfortable — well, as comfortable as possible.

Nishioka and Halys both have great lefty and righty forehands, respectively — particularly Nishioka’s remains a joy to watch when it’s dialed and when gets in position for it with many little steps.

For Nishioka, a lot of matches will be an uphill battle since he barely gets any easy points on his serve; at 5-foot-7, he’ll always be one of the more naturally underpowered players on tour. Halys, on the other hand, is a big hitter who’s had a solid 2016 — the 19-year-old is currently sitting at a career high of No. 142 and considering this his first year on grass since the Wimbledon junior tournament in 2013, he has acquitted himself well.

René’s Pick: Halys in five sets.

VC: Gerald Melzer (AUT) [13] vs. Franko Skugor (CRO)

For some reason, I reflexively still consider the younger Melzer lefty to be an up-and-comer, but Gerald will be 26 in July. Will this be the year that he finally breaks the Top 100? It could be, as he currently sits at a career-high ranking of No. 107, after reaching the final of the Poprad Challenger on clay pre-Wimbledon.

Melzer had the misfortune of facing his brother here in the opening round of qualifying last year, in which the elder Melzer called it “the worst day of his tennis life.” He’s had much better luck with the draw comparatively this year, despite looking not at all convincing in terms of the scoreline in his first two matches. His opponent is a 28-year-old Croatian who, prior to this week, played four matches on grass this decade and lost three of them. There are worse players to face in this draw with a spot at the All-England Club on the line.

Vika’s Pick: Although he’s had to rally from a set down in each of his first two matches, I usually enjoy picking the younger Melzer to win things, so I’ll take him in four sets.

RD: Hiroki Moriya (JPN) vs. Dennis Novikov (USA) [28]

Moriya navigating his way through a tricky draw probably shouldn’t surprise — the Japanese qualified successfully last year and enjoys the low bounce of the grass, like many of his compatriots — and so Farrukh Dustov and No. 14 seed Tim Smyczek fell victims to his flat shots that skid through the courts.

His opponent in the final qualifying round will be the American Novikov — who had to go into extra time to take out Uladzimir Ignatik in the previous round, only making it past the Belarusian 10-8 in the third.

René’s Pick: Tough not to go with Moriya here — particularly after Novikov’s long match in the second round. Moriya has done this before, he’ll do it again, this time in four sets.

VC: Radu Albot (MDA) [15] vs. Jozef Kovalik (SVK) [19]

One of the in-form players headed into qualifying was Albot, who came to Roehampton having won 11 of his last 12 matches, and two Challenger titles, since a five-set first round defeat to Benoit Paire at Roland Garros. Albot dropped a grand total of one set in all of those victories, and has looked in similarly strong form here, winning his first two matches in straight sets.

On the other hand, the 23-year-old Slovak had to get through another one of Alejandro Falla‘s “almosts” on grass, as the Colombian pushed the No. 19 seed to the brink and back before falling at 13-11 in the final set on Thursday — and it’s tough to say what he’ll have left for the streaking Moldovan.

Vika’s Pick: Albot in straight sets

VC: Dennis Novak (AUT) vs. Edouard Roger-Vasselin (FRA)

Considering his ITF profile says he shares coaches with compatriot — and fellow 22-year-old Dominic Thiem — in Gunther Bresnik and Thiem’s father, Wolfgang, Novak is almost in a different world tennis-wise, but does currently sit at a career-high ranking of World No. 196.

On the other side of the net is Roger-Vasselin, who is a decade Novak’s senior, and didn’t win a match at Wimbledon for seven years after reaching the third round in his main draw debut in 2007. Neither player has dropped a set to get to this stage, as Novak was somewhat fortunate that Daniel Cox took out Thiemo de Bakker with the loss of just three games.

I’ll take experience over youth in this one though, as Roger-Vasselin’s doubles prowess means he knows his way around the net — a sure-fire advantage against a youngster on a grass court.

Vika’s Pick: Roger-Vasselin in four sets

Who will book their place in the men’s Wimbledon draw? Sound off in the comments!

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