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Fans’ guide to the week: April 5-11

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Originally published on: 06/04/10 11:13

After the fast-paced excitement of back-to-back hard-court Masters events in Indian Wells and Miami, we’re back on the demanding red stuff this week for punishing rallies, aching limbs and the return from injury of a tour favourite.

US Men’s Clay Court Championship
When?  April 5- 11
Where? Houston, USA
Event type: ATP World Tour 250
Surface: Clay
Prize money: $442,500
Draw size: S – 28, D – 16
2009 Champ: Lleyton Hewitt
http://www.mensclaycourt.com/

Aussie favourite Lleyton Hewitt makes his comeback from right hip surgery this week with a return to the scene of his lone title triumph in 2009. The two-time French Open quarter-finalist can hold his own on clay, as proved last year when he defeated Wayne Odesnik (featuring in this year’s tournament despite being charged by an Australian court for importing Human Growth Hormone into Hewitt’s native country) to claim the Houston title.

Hewitt, who has not played since his fourth-round defeat to eventual Aussie Open champ Roger Federer in January, will be rightly wary of big seriving Americans John Isner and Sam Querrey – both ATP titlists this year – and either of whom he could meet in the final. That’s if the hip holds up on the somewhat arduous clay surface.

But before we jump the gun, the 29-year-old defending champ could face a testing semi-final encounter with Fernando Gonzalez  – who won the tournament on debut 10 years ago. The Chilean has not lost to Hewitt since 2004 – and never on clay.

Grand Prix Hassan II
When?  April 5- 11
Where? Casablanca, Morocco
Event type: ATP World Tour 250
Surface: Clay
Prize money: $398,250
Draw size: S – 28, D – 16
2009 Champ: Juan Carlos Ferrero
http://www.frmt.ma/

Entirely funded by Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, the Casablanca tournament is one of just two ATP World Tour visits to the African continent. The other – Johannesburg’s SA Open – was won by Feliciano Lopez in February, but the 28-year-old has chosen against a second trip to Africa, and countryman Guillermo Garcia Lopez provides the most notable Spanish influence instead as the tournament’s second seed.

Garcia-Lopez took his first ATP title on clay at Kitzbuhel last year and will hope to repeat the feat in Casablanca after two first round exits in Morocco in 2006 and 2008.

Also looking for a second clay title is top-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka, who makes his debut in Casablanca. The 25-year-old Swiss has played just 12 matches this year after taking time off for the birth of his daughter.

Diminutive Belgian Olivier Rochus is also back in action after his battling three-set scalp of Novak Djokovic in Miami, while world No.74 Richard Gasquet will be determined to get his career back on track.

The Frenchman kicked off a positive start to the season with a quarter-final showing in Brisbane before making the Sydney final, but has since fallen to a string of five first round defeats in the eight tournaments he has featured in this season.

MPS Group Championships
When?  April 5- 11
Where? Ponte Vedra Beach, USA
Event type: WTA International
Surface: Green Clay
Prize money: $220,000
Draw size: S – 28, D – 16
2009 Champ: Caroline Wozniacki
http://www.mpsgroupchamps.net/

The star attractions at Florida’s Ponte Vedra Beach this week are three teenagers, with new world No.2 Caroline Wozniacki returning for a second bite at the apple, along with 18-year-old’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Melanie Oudin.

Pavlyuchenkova is the only one of the three to have picked up a title this year after winning both her semi-final and final clashes in the same day in Monterrey in February, but Oudin also achieved steady early season momentum, reaching the Paris Indoors semis and booking a quarter-final spot in Memphis.

Defending champion Wozniacki, featuring in her first clay tournament of the year after five hard courts events, will be keen to convert her recent form (that saw her reach the final in Indian Wells) into a seventh career title. With Roland Garros in mind, the 19-year-old Dane will seek to find her groove on clay to leave her in good stead for an improved challenge at the French Open title after two consecutive third round showings in Paris.

Andalucia Tennis Experience
When?  April 5- 11
Where? Marbella, Spain
Event type: WTA International
Surface: Clay
Prize money: $220,000
Draw size: S – 32, D – 16
2009 Champ: Jelena Jankovic

Hammered 6-4 6-0 by Kim Clijsters on the way to the Belgian’s successful Miami run, top-seeded Victoria Azarenka could meet the Sony Ericsson champ in the Marbella final if the two can translate their hard court form into dominance on clay.

Though she stuttered in Miiami and Indian Wells, Azarenka reached the Dubai final and achieved a career-best quarter-final run at the Austrailian Open, while Clijsters has earned a late wildcard entry into the event after her commanding 6-2 6-1 victory over Venus Williams on Saturday.

Spaniards Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, Anabel Medina Garrigues and Carla Suarez Navarro are seeded fifth, seventh and eighth respectively for their native tournament.

But clay-happy Spaniard’s aside, Polona Hercog could be the one to watch in Marbella, given her run to the Acapulco final on the Mexico clay in February.

The 19-year-old Slovenian did not drop a set on her way to the Final, and even eased into a commanding 6-2 lead against Venus Williams before the American managed to turn things around.

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