Paire heads modest field at LA Open


LOS ANGELES — The upcoming London Olympic tournament has taken a huge bite out of this week’s ATP draw, with 50th-ranked Frenchman Benoit Paire lining up as the top seed at the Los Angeles Open. The 23-year-old whose Wimbledon third round last month was the best Grand Slam showing of his career heads a modest field at a tournament which has been won in the past by icons including Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Michael Chang and Boris Becker. Paire, who this month achieved the highest ranking of his career, is considered a rising prospect, standing 20-16 in 2012 and reaching his first ATP-level final in Belgrade two months ago. The top seed, who faces the winner of a match between Americans Jesse Levine and Michael Russell, also reached the semifinals on grass in Hertogenbosch, Netherlands and quarters in Auckland and Casablanca. He has a first-round bye. Local players make up more than a quarter of the field at UCLA, with eight Americans directly into the main draw. Day one scheduling was extremely light, with Chilean Davis Cup player Paul Capdeville beating Russian Igor Kunitsyn 6-4, 7-6 (7/5) in a first-round match. The other contests on the program featured eighth seed Brian Baker, who came back after six season away with injuries to reach the third round at Roland Garros and the fourth round at Wimbledon, facing compatriot Rajeev Ram. Italy’s Flavio Cipolla was playing U.S. teenager Jack Sock. Los Angeles tournament director Bob Kramer, son of late legend Jack Kramer, admits that his event is hurting at this edition.

He added that the situation for smaller events is not helped by an International Olympic Committee procedural change which allows four players from a country to participate instead of three.

“For the smaller events being held around the Olympics, this took quite a few more players off the board,” he said. The tournament gave a wild card to one-time top-10 player James Blake, 32, an expectant father and ranked 112. Blake won a round last week in Atlanta on hard-court against Olympic young gun Ryan Harrison, his first on the ATP since Nov. 1 in Basle. Seeded second behind Paire is two-time tournament champion Sam Querrey, a southern Californian whose once-promising career has stalled in the past season due to injuries. He also seriously cut his arm when he crashed through a glass coffee table in Bangkok in late 2009. His latest problem was an elbow injury in 2011 which limited his comeback last season to mainly Challenger events. Argentine Leonardo Mayer takes the third seeding with Frenchman Nicolas Mahut on court. Belgian veteran Xavier Malisse, the fifth seed, will be playing the event for the eighth time in 11 years and boasts a 2001 semifinal as his best showing.