Diego Schwartzman of Argentina in January at the Sydney International tennis tournament in Sydney. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Diego Schwartzman of Argentina in January at the Sydney International tennis tournament in Sydney. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)| Associated Press

Tennis: Abrams picks first round matches at the Barcelona Open featuring Munar, Sousa, Schwartzman, Nishioka, Paire and McDonald

Matches start at 5 am EDT

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell
Barcelona, Spain
Monday, April 22, 2019

After the Monte Carlo Masters 1000, the ATP pros scattered to tournaments in both Hungary and Spain in an effort to get more clay court match play in. The Barcelona Open in Barcelona, Spain is a Masters 500 tournament and features a packed draw including Monte Carlo champion Fabio Fognini, Rafa Nadal, 3rd ranked Sascha Zverev, 5th ranked Dominic Thiem, 6th ranked Kei Nishikori, 8th ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas, 12th ranked Karen Khachanov, and Monte Carlo semi-finalist Daniil Medvedev. The draw also includes the two Canadian teen-sensations 9th seeded Denis Shapovalov and 16th seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime as well as America’s 14th seeded Frances Tiafoe.

The players, on the traditional European clay-court path to the French Open at Stade Roland Garros, are playing for a top prize of over 500,000 Euros, whereas first round losers collect around 10,000 Euros---well worth the trip from Monaco to Barcelona. There are only four Americans entered here, with Taylor Fritz (who won two rounds in Monte Carlo) playing Reilly Opelka in the first round. Although these Tour draws are supposedly done by computer, it’s surprising how often two compatriots draw each other in places away from home. I’m not suggesting that the draw is fixed, but, what’s the old saying? “When in Rome…”

First Round matches of note where I am comfortable making picks include the following:

Jaume Munar over Pedro Sousa
Homeboy Jaume Munar, another in a long line of great Spanish players, hails from Mallorca, the hometown of both Rafa Nadal and former Grand Slam champion Carlos Moya. He’s 21-years-old, currently ranked No. 57, and this year is coming into his own. I like him to take out 107th ranked Pedro Sousa, a 30-year-old from Lisbon Portugal. Munar has 13 wins this year, a pretty decent number, especially compared to Sousa’s 2019 record of 0-5. But I wouldn’t feel so terrible for Sousa. Although he hasn’t won a main draw singles match this year, he’s still taken home $518,000 in prize money. Can you say that?

Diego Schwartzman over Yoshihito Nishioka
Diego Schwartzman, the diminutive Argentine, failed to enter this tournament early enough so was not only shut out of a main draw spot, but was also not given a wild card because he asked for it too late. No matter. He entered, was placed in the qualifying draw, and won two rounds to qualify. Here he is now in the main draw, where he belongs, as his ranking of No. 25 would have gotten him the 11th seed and a main draw bye. Why is that important? Well, first, a player who gets a bye immediately gets an extra day off and, at the very least, second round prize money of 17,685 Euros, and second round ranking points of 20. If that player wins a round or more, they get more money and more ranking points for each win. Additionally, the 11th seed here, France’s Gilles Simon, has drawn the winner of American Mackie McDonald and Japan’s Taro Daniel in his first match after the bye. Each of these players are ranked over 35 places lower than Schwartzman, and are an easier matchup for him than playing 3rd seeded Dominic Thiem, who he would play if he tops the 70th ranked Nishioka. I like him to do that. Schwartzman has already beaten Nishioka in January Down Under, in their only meeting.

Mackie McDonald over Taro Daniel
I’ve already mentioned this matchup, so let’s take a look at it. These guys are very close in every possible metric. They’re both Americans living in Florida, although Daniel plays out of Japan because the Association there is giving him more financial backing than the USTA would. Daniel is bigger (6’3”) and has won their only match—in the qualies of the 2018 Indian Wells tournament on hard courts. But McDonald, a former NCAA tennis champion out of UCLA, has shown great resilience and more fight in 2019. He has an 8-8 record so far this year, which, although nothing special, is better than Daniel’s 6-10 record, and of course, McDonald is ranked ten places higher than Daniel. I’m going with McDonald here to even their rivalry at 1-1.

Benoit Paire over Juan Ignacio Londero
Paire is one of those guys who I really try to stay away from predicting to win. He has had such a mediocre year this year, that, although he’s tall (6’5”), serves well, hits hard, and has 12 years of experience on the Tour, I see him as a trick in the draw. Yet two weeks ago he played the tournament of his life, beating Aljaz Bedene, Pierre-Hugues Herbert, Juame Munar, Jo-Willie Tsonga, and Pablo Andujar to take home the title in Marrakech, Morocco. Without those five wins and the title, Paire would have been sitting with a 4-9 record, and confidence shattered by continual losses. Instead, I’m picking him to win this match with Londero, another Argentine, just because he can. Will he? Who knows?

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