The ATP Tour is back in action, shifting to clay this week at ATP 250 tournaments in Houston and Marrakech. Two-time defending champion Steve Johnson will try to win his third consecutive title at the Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship. In Morocco, reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion Alexander Zverev will look to capture his first title of the year at the Grand Prix Hassan II.
10 THINGS TO WATCH IN HOUSTON
1) Johnson Defending: Johnson comes in as the top seed and two-time defending champion. The American is bidding to become the first player to three-peat at this tournament since Bobby Riggs did so in 1936-38. This is the second ATP Tour tournament at which Johnson is the top seed (2016 Newport – QF). He is 11-4 lifetime at River Oaks, winning his past nine matches.
2) Ivo Returns: Ivo Karlovic won the 2007 title and reached the semi-finals in 2011 and 2018, when he became the oldest player to reach an ATP Tour semi-final since Jimmy Connors at 1993 San Francisco. The 40-year-old Croat has a 10-6 record in Houston and he opened this season by reaching the championship match in Pune (l. to Anderson).
3) Americans Seeded: Five of the eight seeds are Americans with Johnson, fourth seed Reilly Opelka, fifth seed Taylor Fritz, sixth seed Mackenzie McDonald and eighth seed Sam Querrey, who reached the Houston final in 2010 and 2015.
4) 2019 Champions: There have been 19 different champions in the first 20 tournaments of the season with Roger Federer the only two-time winner. Opelka (New York) and last year’s finalist Tennys Sandgren (Auckland) are two of the seven first-time ATP Tour winners this season.
5) Thompson Turnaround: Seventh seed Jordan Thompson is one of the most improved players on the ATP Tour this season. The 24-year-old Aussie has compiled an 11-8 record after going 1-11 last year. He finished a year-end best No. 72 in the ATP Rankings in 2018 with a 52-17 record on the ATP Challenger Tour, winning three titles in eight finals.
6) Janko is Back: Two-time (2011-12) year-end World No. 9 Janko Tipsarevic is making his first Houston appearance since 2015. He missed all of last season after undergoing hamstring surgery in September 2017. This will be his fifth tournament of 2019.
7) Opelka Eyes Top 50: Opelka is looking for his first win in River Oaks (0-2). The 21-year-old American has reached a career-high No. 56 after his personal-best 10-5 start, highlighted by his maiden ATP Tour title in New York. He won eight matches from 2016-18.
8) Ruud on the Rise: #NextGenATP Norwegian star Casper Ruud is making his Houston debut. His father, Christian, won the River Oaks title in 1996 when it was a non-ATP Tour event. Casper cracked the Top 100 last month after his semi-final showing in Sao Paulo.
9) Wild Cards: The wild cards are Americans Bjorn Fratangelo and Noah Rubin along with Tipsarevic. Fratangelo is making his third straight main draw appearance (1-2) and Rubin his second (0-1). Tipsarevic is also making his third showing (1-2).
10) Bryans Back: Five-time U.S. Clay Courts champions Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan, who have finished No. 1 on the ATP Tour in 10 of the past 14 years, are making their 13th appearance in Houston. They have won five titles (2007, ‘09-’11, ’14) in their past eight visits (DNP ’08, ’12) and have compiled a 26-3 mark since 2007. They are looking for their third title of the year after winning in Delray Beach and Miami. They have won a record 118 tour-level titles together.
10 THINGS TO WATCH IN MARRAKECH
1) Top 30 Quartet: At the only African tournament on the ATP Tour, taking place for the second year at the Royal Tennis Club de Marrakech, four Top 30 players in the ATP Rankings will try to lift the trophy: World No. 3 Alexander Zverev, second seed Fabio Fognini, third seed Kyle Edmund and fourth seed Gilles Simon.
2) Zverev The Top Seed: Zverev comes in with a 10-4 record on the season, reaching the Acapulco final (l. to Kyrgios). Last year he won two of his four ATP Tour titles on clay in Munich and Madrid.
3) Fabio Looks For Jumpstart: Fognini captured three ATP 250 titles in 2018, and he will look to win his first trophy of 2019 in Marrakech. The Italian comes in with a 4-7 record on the year, but he will try to turn it around in Morocco, where he faces Czech Jiri Vesely.
4) Spanish Success: A Spaniard has hoisted the Marrakech trophy in five of the past eight years, led by reigning champion Pablo Andujar, who also won titles in 2011-12. The other Spanish winners are Tommy Robredo (2013) and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (2014).
5) Andujar in Morocco: Last year Andujar came in ranked No. 355 when he captured his third title on Moroccan soil. He is 15-2 at the tournament.
6) Wild Cards: Zverev is making his tournament debut and he is joined by Fognini and Frenchman Jo-Wilfred Tsonga as the other wild cards. Fognini is 2-3 in Morocco, with his last visit coming in 2012. Tsonga’s only previous showing was in 2008, when he reached the semi-finals.
7) Tsonga Returns: The 33-year-old Tsonga finished last season No. 259 after missing seven months with a left knee injury. But he is off to a quick start in 2019, winning his 17th ATP Tour title in Montpellier in February.
8) Former Champions: Besides Andujar, the two other former Grand Prix Hassan II champions are Argentine Federico Delbonis (2016) and Simon (2008).
9) 2019 Champions: Fifth seed Laslo Djere of Serbia and Argentine Juan Ignacio Londero are two of the seven first-time ATP Tour winners this season. They will look to add a second trophy in Marrakech. Djere captured the ATP 500 title in Rio de Janeiro while Londero earned the crown on home soil in Cordoba.
10) Doubles Draw: The top-seeded team is Jamie Murray and John Peers. From 2013-15, the British-Australian duo won six ATP Tour titles together, four of which came on clay. The second seeds are Indian Rohan Bopanna and Brit Dominic Inglot. Bopanna and Inglot have played one another 16 times on the doubles court, but this will be the first time they compete alongside one another.