Tennis: Tough draw for title holder

By Michael Burgess

John Isner faces a tough road if he is to defend his Heineken Open title in 2011.

The popular 2.06m American, who would be the first to win back-to-back since Onny Parun in 1975-76, is seeded to meet former world No 3 David Nalbandian in the quarter-finals and second seed Nicolas Almagro in the semifinals.

After yesterday's draw, top seed David Ferrer looks to have a comparatively easier route, with a possible last eight match up with 2008 champion Philip Kohlschreiber. Surprise 2010 semifinalist Albert Montanes and 2007 runner-up Tommy Robredo loom as the other main contenders on Ferrer's side of the draw.

Ferrer was still jetlagged, but happy to be back in the City of Sails for the seventh time.

"It's a great place to play and I always do well here," said the world No 7. "Even last year [when he was knocked out in the first round] I played well."

Local hope Michael Venus will face the 28-year-old Robredo in his first round. Robredo, once ranked as high as No 5, has slipped to 50 but is a formidable competitor.

Along with Andy Roddick, Roger Federer and Ivan Ljubicic, Robredo is the only active player who can count a decade-long streak of top 50 seasons. The Spaniard has played over 650 matches at ATP level; Venus, just one, back in 2005 but the Kiwi is relishing the opportunity.

"He is obviously a great player," says Venus.

"Hopefully I will play some of my best tennis and just see what happens. I will try to treat it as just another match even though it obviously isn't. You can't get too overwhelmed by it."

Venus reports his preparation has gone well; hitting with the arriving professionals is helping the adjustment to the faster pace and he can't wait for the match.

"You wake up in the morning with an extra smile on your face," says Venus. "You go to bed at night thinking about it. It is exciting and I am looking forward to it."

If he progresses, Venus would likely encounter seventh seed Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci.

Unlike the ASB Classic, none of the big names will meet in the early rounds. The best first round clash looks to be between 2010 finalist Arnaud Clement and Belgian No 60 Xavier Malisse, along with Nalbandian versus Italian Fabio Fognini.

Clement was controversially awarded a wildcard on Friday at the expense of Kiwis Dan King-Turner and Rubin Statham.

Statham was particularly aggrieved by the decision, and will be looking to prove a point to tournament director Richard Palmer. He was the only one of five New Zealanders to survive the first round of qualifying yesterday and plays American Ryan Sweeting (world No 116) in the second round today.

- Herald on Sunday

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