2017 PNC Steel City Open Grand Prix Preview

October 11, 2017
Pittsburgh, PA

The first Grand Prix tournament of the season gives all the players a chance to see how they measure up. Will the new teams play well together? Will the established teams continue to jell? With both the men’s and women’s draws in Pittsburgh featuring new and old pairings, we will see which teams are ready to step up and take the lead in the 2017-2018 APTA season.

Women’s Draw
Although they are a new team, Liz Cruz and Gabriela Niculescu are no strangers to the top of the women’s game. Niculescu finished last season ranked #1 with Martina Ondrejkova, winning every tournament they played until losing in the quarterfinals at Nationals. Cruz and her partner last year, Roxy Enica, sidelined while expecting her second child, were runners-up at Nationals and finished the year ranked #2. Cruz and Niculescu stormed through the draw at last weekend’s Patterson Open NRT/Viking PCQ without losing a set, proving that they are the team to beat in Pittsburgh.

Finalists at Patterson and currently ranked third, Cynthia Dardis and Amy Shay are the second seeds in Pittsburgh. An incredibly consistent team, Dardis and Shay almost always make it to the final rounds of a tournament and put themselves in a position to win the title. To reach the finals and possibly get another crack at Cruz/Niculescu, Dardis/Shay will have to get through some very tough teams, including possible quarterfinal opponents Mirian Cruz and Marcela Rodezno, who Dardis/Shay beat in three sets last week in Patterson.  If they get through that match they would possibly face Alison Morgan and Heather Prop, or Martina Ondrejkova and Ana Zubori in the semis. Morgan and Prop, seeded fourth, are another new team who were both successful last season with different partners. Ondrejkova and Zubori, semifinalists at Patterson before falling to Cruz/Niculescu, hope to build on that experience and go further in Pittsburgh.

After surprising the field with one upset after another en route to becoming the 2017 APTA National Champions, Florentina Hanisch and Annica van Starrenburg are looking to continue their winning ways this season. After losing in the quarterfinals at Patterson to Cruz/Rodezno in a tough three-setter, Hanisch/van Starrenburg are looking to regroup in Pittsburgh. In order to reach their projected match with Cruz/Niculescu in the semis, Hanisch/van Starrenburg will have to get through some tricky opponents, including the always tough Hallie Bodman and Liz Hayward, or a team playing together for the first time, Debora Castany and Kerri Delmonico, in the quarters.

Men’s Draw
Even without top ranked Drew Broderick and Jared Palmer and third ranked Johan du Randt and Mark Parsons, the men’s field is loaded with top players.  After winning Patterson last week with Michael Montalbano, Juan Arraya will try to win the PNC Steel City Open with his regular partner, Jeff Morneau. Arraya/Morneau had an incredible season last year, winning the Boston Open, the Western New England Men’s, and reaching the finals of Nationals, earning the #2 ranking. Should the seedings hold up, Arraya/Morneau will have to get through the very talented team of Mikk Irdoja and Max LePivert, who aren’t regular partners, before facing Marek Czerwinski and Chris Gambino in the semis. Czerwinski/Gambino also have their work cut out for them. To reach the semis, they will have to get through some tough teams, including a possible early-round matchup with Andrea Bonfigli and Javier Ferrin-Kranewitter and a possible quarterfinal match against the veteran team of Steve DeRose and Jon Lubow. Paddle fans remember that at the 2017 APTA Nationals, Czerwinski/Gambino narrowly escaped with a 7-5 in the third set victory against DeRose/Lubow before playing the match of the tournament in the quarters against Broderick/Palmer, holding several match points before ultimately losing to the three-time defending champions.

On the bottom half of the draw, the second seeds and fourth-ranked team of John Hughes and Marc Powers will try to improve upon their runner-up showing at Patterson. To reach the semis, they will likely have to vanquish the tough veterans, Scott Estes, Jr. and Mike Stulac, and the 11th ranked Ryan Baxter and Ricky
Heath. Their semifinal opponent could be PNC Steel City Open Tournament Director Scott Kahler and his partner, fellow Pittsburgh resident Casey Watt. Kahler/Watt, seeded third and ranked fifth, will face stiff competition in early round matches from possible opponents Patterson champion Michael Montalbano and his partner Alex Hume, and a quarterfinal match projected against the 9th ranked Martin Bostrom and Sebastian Bredberg.

Will Cruz/Niculescu win their second tournament in a row this weekend? Can Arraya/Morneau and Hughes/Powers reach the finals, or will another team emerge as a contender in Pittsburgh? Watch the action unfold all weekend long on Live Streaming and Live Scoring!
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