By James Steel
As the confetti lays still on the courts of Melbourne the tennis world bids a fond farewell to the Australian Swing and turns its attention to the Sunshine Double. But before then, there are a range of exciting, if not bitty tennis tournaments for tennis fans and players to get their teeth into. I’ll go into some main stories that could come to fruition and where they will happen.
Carlos Alcaraz is making his much-awaited return to the tour in South America. Currently, the world number 2 will be the top seed in the ATP 250 event in Buenos Aires and the ATP 500 event in Rio De Janeiro. (Rio was the first ATP 500 Carlos ever won last year, defeating Diego Schwartzman in the final.) Carlos played arguably his best tennis last year on the clay, beating Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in succession in Madrid, and as such it looks like a good surface to build back match practice after the leg injury.
Carlos will be joined by a range of ATP players including British number one Cameron Norrie, who is taking on the February clay for the first time (yes a Brit is playing a February clay event). Lorenzo Musetti will be there too, whose biggest title
to date was on the post-Wimbledon clay at the ATP 500 in Hamburg where he beat
Alcaraz in the final. Dominic Thiem, who is looking to use these tournaments to build back his ranking, will be also present on the golden swing.
Ridiculously staked WTA events
It seems that with another February comes another stupidly high-staked WTA event. This is seen most prevalently at the WTA 500 in Doha where the lowest-ranked player with direct entry is Martina Trevisan, who has an entry ranking of 21. If you look at the Qualifying list for Doha you will end up doing a double take. Barbora
Krejčíková, Elena Rybakina and Amanda Anisimova are all currently due to play
qualifying. Now most can agree that they would make the seeding of a range of WTA 250 events so it will be a shock to see them in qualifying, but the lack of tournaments in this time means that this is a reality — everyone is forced to play the same events, leading to incredibly high-quality fields even in smaller tournaments.
Ridiculously staked ATP events (?!)
This may make you all do a double double take but yes, looking at the current ATP draw sheets there are a range of major titlists and Masters 1000 winners who are looking to participate in the 250s and 500s this February. The most notable examples of this would be the Rotterdam ATP 500 whereby you have Tsitsipas, Rublev, FAA, Rune, Hurkacz, Medvedev, Khachanov and Zverev all occupying the seeded positions. Sinner is on the entry list but isn’t even seeded! Another example would be Doha where Nadal is joining Rublev, FAA, Medvedev and Zverev at a 250! Novak Djokovic is expected to hit Dubai as well so expect to see most of the top 20 in action very regularly this February.
First main tour title hunters
This time of year usually gives players who don’t hold a main tour title the opportunity to win their first tournament. Some examples of recent first time winners in February include Sasha Bublik in Montpellier, Felix Auger-Aliassime in Rotterdam and Pedro Martinez in Santiago. All of them picked up their maiden title last year. There are then a range of players who are still trophyless but looking good for their first title. These include Jack Draper, Ben Shelton and Jiří Lehečka. All of these players are down for multiple tournaments this month, so let’s see if they can break their duck.
Davis Cup Qualifiers
This month sees the start of the journey to Malaga as 24 teams take to courts all around the world to get through to the group stages of the Davis Cup. Some of the
strangest ties see the United Kingdom heading to the Columbian clay, the United
States heading to Uzbekistan and a very interesting clash between Germany and Switzerland. We may all have some fatigue from team competitions after
the United Cup but I’m sure the allure of supporting your nation will still convince people to watch the event.