In this March 18, 2019, file photo, Novak Djokovic hits during a practice round for the Miami Open tennis tournament at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
In this March 18, 2019, file photo, Novak Djokovic hits during a practice round for the Miami Open tennis tournament at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.|Charles Trainor Jr. | Miami Herald via Associated Press

Tennis: Abrams picks 7 Thursday matches at the ATP Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters 1000 -- Medvedev v Tsitsipas, Djokovic v Fritz,  and more

Matches start at 5 am EDT

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

Daniil Medvedev over Stefanos Tsitsipas
I’m a big believer in individual matchups, no matter what current rankings are or even how each player’s current form looks. Medvedev, although he’s ranked and seeded lower than Tsitsipas, is 3-0 against the Greek, which tells me that there’s something about the way the Russian plays and competes that throws Tsitsipas off. Medvedev blew out an in-form Radu Albot 1 and 2 on Wednesday, and that tells me the somewhat inconsistent Russian is “on”. Plus, in their three previous matches, Medvedev won each of those matches that were played in 2018 pretty convincingly. Tsitsipas managed to win a set in each match, but the decider in each was not too close, another clue that there’s something about Medvedev’s style that bothers Stefanos. If that’s the case, I expect past form to continue and for the Russian to take out the flashy player from Athens in three.

Novak Djokovic over Taylor Fritz
Taylor Fritz won another match here, and that’s big news across the pond in the States. By taking out Diego Schwartzman yesterday in straight sets, Fritz showed that his first round win over the wounded Jo-Willie Tsonga wasn’t necessarily a fluke, and that Fritz can actually play with the big boys on clay courts. Interestingly, Nole didn’t look particularly good in his close three-set win over Philipp Kohlschreiber. In fact, neither played all that well in that match and after the German regrouped after dropping the first set, the outcome was always in doubt in my mind. The Joker even went a little crazy and smashed his racket on the soft courts as many times as was necessary to break the frame after dropping the second set, and receiving the mandatory sportsmanship warning. But Kohlschreiber missed shots in the third just when making them might have put him over the top, and allowed Djokovic to escape, unlike four weeks ago in California when the German won 6-4, 6-4. In this match, Djokovic is just too good for Fritz, even if he’s not playing near his best. Fritz is starting to believe that he’s a good clay courter, and his two wins here have shown that he just may be, but he’s not good enough to beat the world’s best player on it.

Rafa Nadal over Grigor Dimitrov
As always, there was concern over Nadal’s quirky knees after he dropped out of Indian Wells four weeks ago. Well, if appearances are any indication, there’s no need to worry. His knees looked just fine in his complete demolition of the very tough Roberto Bautista Agut yesterday. With how RBA has been playing this year I was expecting a tough, somewhat competitive match between the two, but Rafa dominated from start to finish. The match was an almost picture-perfect example of how Nadal can dominate on clay, and if you were Bautista Agut, it wasn’t pretty. Dimitrov is no more dangerous on clay than RBA, although he’s a bit more flashy and spectacular. No matter. Dimitrov’s clinical elimination of Jan-Lennard Struff notwithstanding, Dimitrov is simply not in Nadal’s league. These guys can play 7:00 A.M. on a pebbly court in the middle of nowhere and it still wouldn’t make a difference to Rafa. He’s going to push Dimitrov around the court from beginning to end enough to solicit enough errors to close out the match no matter when or where they play. But at least here in Monte-Carlo they’ll both get paid and people can watch Nadal undress Dimitrov in public. The only questions that the match will raise are how many games can Dimitrov corral, and how long will this ritual murder take. That’s the only thing left to find out from this match, because I already know Rafa’s going to win.

Sascha Zverev over Fabio Fognini
With all the flash and brilliance that some of the Next-Gen players have shown I have been left with the uneasy feeling that I still don’t know the level of consistency with which they can perform. I fully expect those that go out there and hit winners and look so beautiful while doing it just can’t keep that level of success with any long-term consistency. But for the most part Zverev has show his brilliance over extended periods of time without great patches of inconsistency. What separates him from a player such as Fognini is that each shows their brilliant shot-making ability, but Fognini is the guy who will throw in a clunker of a match from time to time, and will have periods during any match where it looks like he could be outhit and beaten by some college players, which would be very unusual for a guy who is ranked #18 in the world. Zverev is 2-0 against the Italian and hasn’t dropped a set to him yet. I expect that to continue on the sun-drenched courts of Monte-Carlo.

Marco Cecchinato over Guida Pella
Both of these guys are coming off really impressive wins from Tuesday. Pella took out former U.S. Open titlist Marin Cilic 6-1 in the third while Cecchinato rallied to defeat the former Monte-Carlo champion Stan Wawrinka 6-3 in the third after losing the first eight games to dig himself a 6-0, 2-0 hole. Wawrinka even served for the match at 6-0, 5-4 before Cecchinato began to find himself and eventually asserted his dominance to win 0-6, 7-5, 6-3. So the stage is set for a tough battle, and their history suggests that it’s really anyone’s ball game. Although Cecchinato officially holds a 2-0 record over Pella, that simple statistic doesn’t really tell the whole story. Yes, the Italian holds wins over the Argentine this year in Buenos Aires and last year in Umag (that’s in Croatia for those of you – like me – who are geography challenged), but Cecchinato also got a walkover from Pella this year in Doha, to make their official record 3-0. But in 2017 Pella rolled to a Challenger tournament win 2 and 2, and back in 2015 they played in another Challenger in Brazil that went to Cecchinato while Pella was winning 6-1, 1-0 before he had to retire because of injury. What all that means to me is that these guys are fairly close in ability and performance. Cecchinato holds a slight edge in ranking (#16 to #35) and Pella’s record for 2019 is the better one (Pella is 14-7 this year going into this tournament, and Cecchinato is 6-7 in 2019 prior to this week in Monaco). Bottom line? This is going to be a close one, but I like the Italian to triumph over the Argentine if for no other reason than I know his game better than I know Pella’s, and I feel comfortable with his ability to play, fight and win.

Borna Coric over Pierre-Hugues Herbert
I admit that I’ve overlooked Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert. His two wins here have been particularly impressive, having come against veterans Fernando Verdasco and Kei Nishikori. These singles wins came as even more of a surprise to me because, as top seeds with partner Nico Mahut, the team lost in the first round of the doubles draw to Robin Hasse and Wesley Koolhof. Now maybe Herbert will have a week such as countryman Benoit Paire had last week, where he came out of virtual obscurity and a year-to-date losing record to win five straight matches and take home the title in Marrakech, Morocco – but I doubt it. Ninth seeded and 13th ranked Borna Coric, the 22-year-old rising star from Croatia is playing solid tennis and just seems to get better by the week. Coric has come out on top from two incredibly tough three-set wins, 6-4, 5-7, 7-5 over Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz, and 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 over 21-year-old Spaniard Jaume Munar, both of which he could have lost. Aside from two matches in qualifiers back when Coric was 16 and 17 years old, these guys played in 2017 on the slow clay in Madrid with Coric taking a straight set decision. With Herbert’s resurrection as a singles player it’s hard to say which way his career will be going, or how tight this match will be, for that matter. But one way or another Coric will find a way to win this match and move on to the quarters.

Dominic Thiem over Dusan Lajovic
Dusan Lajovic appears to be playing some of his best tennis right when it counts the most – heading into Roland Garros. By definition he’s a journeyman, and not much could change this description at this point in his career. He’s 28 years old, he has a losing lifetime record of 105-132, held a 2019 record of 6-9 going into this week, and has just about the same career prize money mark that Djokovic pocketed by winning the Australian Open in January ($3.5 million). Still, he looked awfully good on Wednesday when he seemed to have little trouble in dispatching David Goffin in straight sets in the second round here in the playground of mankind. Unfortunately for Lajovic, his mini-run ends now. Dominic Thiem looked positively brilliant in dispatching Martin Klizan 1 and 4 on Wednesday, and appears to be rounding into shape as he approaches the one Grand Slam tournament in which he was a finalist in last year. Thiem, seeded and ranked #4, is a real force on slow red clay, and has looked totally dominant at times. I have to bring up once again that he won Indian Wells over Federer four weeks ago, and is as ready as can be to defend his Roland Garros showing in a few weeks, and I don’t see Lajovic as a roadblock to Thiem’s preparation.

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