Neal Abrams continues his tennis world tour
ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament
Second Round Singles
Kei Nishikori over Ernests Gulbis
Nishkiori, the top seed here, overcame a shaky start and a very pesky opponent in Pierre-Hugues Herbert, a finalist in last week’s tournament in Toullaine, in the first round here in Rotterdam. Gulbis beat Marius Copil in straight sets in the first round after entering the main draw as a Lucky Loser, having lost in the Qualies to Gilles Simon. Gulbis, who five years ago was thought of as a real comer, has probably missed his window of opportunity to crack into the upper echelon of men’s tennis. He is ranked just 84, which is a pretty good indication of his level of play: pretty tough, but not fabulous. I don’t think he’s dangerous enough today to take out the 7th ranked Nishikori, but like every match Kei plays, this will probably be a battle.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Dominic Thiem over Maximilian Marterer
Now that Marterer took out Argentina’s Facundo Bagnis in straight sets in today’s first round and the second round is set with the young German to take on top seed and 8th ranked Dominic Thiem I can make my first singles pick in the tournament. Picking winners in smaller clay court tournaments like this is hard for Americans because many of the players in these draws are South Americans and Europeans brought up on clay that are not household names here in the States. But one thing is for sure: Dominic Thiem, the well-balanced Austrian is one of the world’s very best on slow surfaces. After reaching the Finals of last year’s French Open and only losing to the almost-unbeatable-on-clay Rafa Nadal, Thiem has positioned himself as a surefire pick in almost all clay court tournaments. Marterer won’t take a set from Thiem here.
New York Open
Second Round Singles
Frances Tiafoe over Jason Jung
This second round match should be interesting, especially with New York welcoming back Tiafoe, one of the young American heroes to emerge from the recently completed Australian Open, where he reached the quarters. Tiafoe and Jung have played twice before, both in Futures events, with Tiafoe winning both matches in very close, tough three set matches. But Tiafoe has matured into a real threat since then and has developed weapons off of his serve, his forehand, and his steely resolve. I think Tiafoe will show his dominance over the 29 year old from Torrence, CA and move on to showcase his game to the Long Island crowds here.
John Isner over Bernie Tomic
Isner was a giant disappointment in the Australian Open, losing in the first round to 6’11” American rookie Reilly Opelka. But the top-ranked American is always dangerous because of his dominant serve, and he should be able to hold serve twelve times and top the irascible Australian, Tomic. Although Tomic has something to prove since he has been involved in a Davis Cup scandal in his home country, his first round win here in New York over Lucas Lacko should give him some credibility. To think that he will overcome Isner when Isner must win is a long-shot.
John Millman over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez
Millman, a new Australian darling (at 29) is having a terrific year after showing in 2018 that he belongs with the big boys by taking out Roger Federer at the 2018 U.S. Open in the Round of 16. His game suits the indoor hard courts here and should allow him to depend on his serve and volley game to rob Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, a Spaniard brought up on clay, of time and opportunity. The Spaniard, at 35, has been around a long time and is very experienced, but experience doesn’t help when you play someone who simply has a game that is better. Here in New York, Millman’s game is just better.
Jordan Thompson over Chris Eubanks
I’d like to think that this will be a competitive match, but Chris Eubanks, like another young American, Reilly Opelka, can be frighteningly good or horribly bad. One of the problems with really tall guys (Eubanks is 6’7”) is that their serve usually sets their timing, but not always. Sometimes they have to over-rely on their bombs because they just don’t have the fundamental ground strokes that more size-appropriate players learned and can lean on. If Eubanks plays well, this will be fun to watch. If not, Thompson will dominate because he’s a more all-around solid player. My guess is that the 24-year-old from Sydney Australia will rise to the occasion and the 22-year-old ex-college player from Atlanta, Eubanks, will allow his nerves to get to him. Put this one in Thompson’s column.
Steve Johnson over Brayden Schnur
American Stevie Johnson appears ready to challenge for a Top-25 world ranking. Currently ranked #34, Johnson, from Redondo Beach, CA, is maturing into a very solid and dangerous player, although not terribly spectacular. This match against Brayden Schnur should be no more than a sparring match, as the 19 year-old Canadian from Montreal has only played six main draw matches on the pro Tour. His win over Jack Mingjie Lin, 19, another Canadian, who was playing his first ever main draw match, represented Schnur’s first main draw win. This match against Johnson won’t be his second. The 29-year-old Californian has experience (he’s played almost 300 matches now), confidence and game on his side, and he won’t let this opportunity to move into the third round get by him.
WTA Qatar Total Open
Simona Halep over Lesia Tsurenko
Tsurenko got a lucky break when Caroline Garcia pulled out of their first round match here and Lucky Loser Lara Arruabarrena took her place in the draw. Tsurenko dispatched Arruabarrena in straight sets to set up a showdown with world’s #3 Simona Halep, the big star from this past weekend’s Fed Cup win for Romania over the reigning champion Czech Republic. Halep comes in on an emotional high, playing well, and beginning a relationship with new coach Thierry Van Cleemput. These variables present Tsurenko with little opportunity for an upset. I think Halep romps here, as she’s just too high to lose this match.
Karolina Pliskova over Elise Mertens
Pliskova is coming into this tournament brimming with confidence, having had a wonderful Australian Open in which she took out Serena Williams in the quarters and lost a very close match to eventual champion Naomi Osaka 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 in the semis. The win over Williams alone is enough to give any woman a boost, and this has helped Pliskova’s mood and attitude together. She has confidence to go along with a strong game, and should be all over Mertens, the veteran from Belgium, who fell to American Madison Keys in the third round in Melbourne.