Editor’s Note: Casper Ruud has withdrawn from Houston due to tooth pain. His place in the draw will be filled by a lucky loser on Monday.
The ATP Tour moves to clay this week with ATP 250 events in Houston and Marrakech.
Taylor Fritz, Reilly Opelka and John Isner headline the field at the Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship in Houston, while Canadian star Felix Auger-Aliassime chases his second title of the year at the Grand Prix Hassan II in Marrakech. Both tournaments make their return after two years away due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
ATPTour.com looks ahead at five things to watch at each event.
View Draws: Houston | Marrakech
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN HOUSTON
1) Americans Chase Glory At Home: BNP Paribas Open champion Taylor Fritz leads a stacked group of home favourites seeking a strong start on the clay in 2022. There are 13 Americans in the main draw (without qualifiers) and home players make up six of the eight seeds at the event.
Top 20 stars Fritz and Opelka are pursuing a maiden tour-level final on clay, as is eighth seed Jenson Brooksby. More experienced on the surface are three former Houston champions – fourth seed John Isner lifted the trophy in 2013, Jack Sock triumphed in 2015 and Steve Johnson won back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018.
2) Will Brooksby Earn Title No. 1? Eighth seed Brooksby is at a career-high No. 36 in the ATP Rankings. The 21-year-old made his second ATP Tour final in February in Dallas and will try to go one step further on the Houston clay. He will be confident after reaching the Round of 16 in both Indian Wells and Miami. This will be Brooksby’s second tour-level event on clay, following his appearance last year at Roland Garros, where he qualified before losing against Aslan Karatsev. The American will begin his tournament against countryman J.J. Wolf, a wild card.
3) Garin Defending Champ: Garin of Chile has had to wait three years to defend his title, but he will try to capture his second Houston crown this week. The five-time ATP Tour titlist, who will begin his tournament against Sock, has earned all of his tour-level trophies on clay. He will hope to gain momentum after a 3-7 start to the season.
Garin’s countryman, Alejandro Tabilo, reached his maiden tour-level final at the Cordoba Open before upsetting Garin on his way to the semi-finals at the pair’s home tournament in Santiago. Tabilo is now in the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings for the first time and a potential second-round meeting with Fritz could provide some early fireworks in Texas.
4) Kyrgios Returns To Clay: Nick Kyrgios appeared back to his best at the ATP Masters 1000 tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami in March. The six-time ATP Tour titlist reached the quarter-finals in at the BNP Paribas Open before a fourth-round run at the Miami Open presented by Itau. The Australian now attempts to transfer his form to the clay, a surface he has not played a tournament on since 2019. He opens against American Mackenzie McDonald.
5) Ebden/Purcell Top Seeds In Doubles: After missing out on a maiden tour-level title together at this year’s Australian Open with a championship match defeat to Thanasi Kokkinakis and Kyrgios, Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell will try to win their first tour-level title together in Houston. Kyrgios will hope to derail Ebden and Purcell’s title hopes again as he partners Jack Sock, while the second seeds are Lukasz Kubot and Santiago Gonzalez, with Gonzalez targeting his third ATP Tour title of the season.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN MARRAKECH
1) Felix To Bounce Back?: Felix-Auger-Aliassime’s hot start to 2022 has included ATP Cup glory with Canada and a maiden tour-level title at the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. Now the 21-year-old will try to find more good form on the clay of Marrakech, where he is the top seed.
Auger-Aliassime is competing at the Grand Prix Hassan II for the first time. The 21-year-old has proven his ability on the surface before, reaching finals in Rio de Janeiro and Lyon in 2019. He will hope to get the next stage of his season up and running when he faces Moroccan wild card Elliot Benchetrit in the first round.
2) Evans, Goffin Going For First Title Of Year: Second seed Daniel Evans upset Hubert Hurkacz and World No. 1 Novak Djokovic on his way to the semi-finals of the 2021 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, showing his clay prowess. But the Briton couldn’t have asked for a tougher maiden outing on the surface in 2022 than a first-round matchup with three-time Marrakech champion Pablo Andujar.
Another player Evans beat in Monte-Carlo last year is David Goffin. The Belgian is also competing in Marrakech, where he will face a qualifier in his opener. The former World No. 7 is 5-8 for the season, with his best run a quarter-final appearance at the Sydney Tennis Classic in January.
3) Clay-Court Crew: A host of top clay-court performers seek deep runs on their favourite surface in Marrakech. Fourth seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas picked up a fourth tour-level title on clay at the Cordoba Open in February and reached the final in Morocco in 2012, when the tournament was held at its former home in Casablanca.
Fifth seed Federico Delbonis lifted the trophy without dropping a set in 2016, while Andujar is the most successful player in tournament history. The 36-year-old Spaniard won the tournament in Marrakech in 2018 to add to titles picked up in Casablanca in 2011 and 2012. He was only denied a fourth crown by Benoit Paire in the 2019 championship match.
Other experienced dirt-ballers in the field include seventh seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina – the No. 43 ranked Spaniard chasing a maiden ATP Tour trophy – and Laslo Djere, whose two tour-level titles include an ATP 500 crown clinched on the Rio de Janeiro clay in 2019.
4) Trophy Time For Musetti? Lorenzo Musetti will attempt to claim his first ATP Tour title this week in Marrakech on his tournament debut. The Italian has shown his strength on clay, having upset Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori on his ATP Masters 1000 debut in Rome in 2020. He also advanced to the fourth round last year at Roland Garros, where he pushed Djokovic to five sets.
Musetti will need to be at his best from the start in Morocco as he faces a tricky first-round assignment in Ramos-Vinolas. At Indian Wells last year, Ramos-Vinolas defeated Musetti in straight sets, albeit on a hard court.
5) Golubev/Martin Lead Doubles Draw: Kazakhstani/French pairing Andrey Golubev and Fabrice Martin rekindle a partnership which debuted with a semi-final run at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha in February. But the top seeds are up against plenty of experienced doubles stars in Marrakech.
Belgians Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen chase their sixth ATP Tour title together, while Uruguayan Ariel Behar and Dutchman Matwe Middelkoop are seeded third with Israeli Jonathan Erlich and Frenchman Edouard Roger-Vasselin rounding out the seeded pairings in Morocco.