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Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas rests at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbournein January. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)
Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas rests at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbournein January. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)|Associated Press
Tennis

Tennis Saturday: Abrams picks the Estoril Open semifinals with Tsitsipas v Goffin & lucky loser Cuevas v Davidovich Fokina

First match is at 10 am EDT

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

Millennium Estoril Open
Estoril Portugal
Saturday, May 4, 2019
Semifinals

Stefanos Tsitsipas over David Goffin
These two guys got here in straightforward, predictable fashion, and should provide an interesting, entertaining match for all professional tennis fans. Tsitsipas, the top seed, went through Guido Andreozzi and qualifier Joao Domingues both in straight sets, to bring his 2019 record to 21-9 in preparation for the next two events, which just happen to be Masters 1000 events in Madrid and Rome. One full week after Rome, the Tour goes to Paris for the French Open, the year’s second Grand Slam tournament, at which time players like Tsitsipas may look back to this quaint Masters 250 event with nostalgic longing for a draw with little competition. The next three tournaments will tell a lot about all Tour players, but perhaps more about Tsitsipas than most others. After Stefanos beat Roger Federer at this year’s Australian Open the question as to whether he represents the most obvious NextGen player in line to at least shake the foundation of The Big Three was naturally raised. These next four weeks will go a long way in answering that question. If he does well, as I believe he will, he could go into Wimbledon as the fifth seed, and the obvious heir apparent. He already is ranked No. 10. Here in Portugal he’s been rewarded for his top seed and high ranking with a great draw and barely had to work hard in beating Andreozzi and Domingues to reach today’s semifinals. I don’t really want to take this opportunity to get on my soap box and point out that in the Masters 250 events, which have 32-man draws, only 28 players get into the main draw. This is meant to be a benefit to the top four seeds, as they each get a bye and are immediately put into the Round of 16, along with the ranking points and the prize money that goes along with that, but I really think it’s an empty benefit for those players. Having all 32 spots in the draw filled out with players might benefit everyone in the tournament, including the guys who not get free passes into the second round. The argument could be made that someone like Tsitsipas has only played two matches going into the semis, and that he still might not be match tough, or even used to these courts, because he’s only played four sets. A first round match might be better for him and the other top seeds than a bye, by giving them an extra (first round) match to help them reach their playing peak, and it certainly would be better for the lower ranked players put in those four spots (instead of having to play in the qualies—that give no ATP ranking points to players unless they actually qualify for the main draw), because those four players getting those spots would benefit from getting both at least first round prize money and ranking points, as well as the opportunity to play legitimate top ranked Tour players in meaningful matches. But this is an argument that I will make sometime in the future.

Meanwhile, let’s just say that the Greek God is in the semis with little or no effort, and hasn’t been pushed to play at or near his peak. David Goffin, likewise, has only had to win two matches against two relatively mediocre Tour players (as Tour players go) in 51st ranked Joao Sousa and 75th ranked Malek Jaziri. The fact that the Belgian needed to go to three sets with Jaziri says more about how much upside there is left in Goffin’s game than it does about how great a player Jaziri is, and, again, another match might have benefited Goffin. Nonetheless, Tsitsipas is playing better than Goffin, and I don’t see the Belgian giving Tsitsipas a scare here. I like Tsitsipas to move into the finals, although their history suggests that this match will go three.

Pablo Cuevas over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina
How embarrassing is it that this tournament might have as a finalist a guy who already lost? Pretty hard to comprehend, isn’t it? Well, Pablo Cuevas is in the semis, and, as a lucky loser, is presented the opportunity of potentially playing for the title of a tournament in which he neither gained direct entry into, nor qualified for! Fabio Fognini was the second seed in this tournament after having been the surprise winner of Monte Carlo two weeks ago where he beat the almost impenetrable Rafael Nadal in the semis. Fognini played well, Nadal laid an egg, and Fognini went on to win the tournament by beating Dusan Lajovic in the finals. I might want to remind readers that that was a Masters 1000 tournament that featured Novak Djokovic, Sascha Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Kei Nishikori, Tsitsipas, Stan Wawrinka, Marin Cilic, Karen Khachanov, Borna Coric, Marco Cecchinato and Denis Shapovalov as well as Nadal. Djokovic went down to Daniil Medvedev, Zverev lost to Fognini, Thiem lost to Lajovic, and Nishikori fell to Pierre-Hugues Herbert, which served to open the draw up to the eventual finalists. In Monte Carlo, Davidovich Fokina was not entered, and Cuevas couldn’t even get into the qualifying event. But here they are playing for a coveted spot in tomorrow’s finals, and Cuevas, for one, was out before the main draw even started by losing to Italy’s Salvatore Caruso in three sets in the qualies. When Fognini pulled out of this tournament (after having pulled out of last week’s Masters 500 tournament in Barcelona), someone had to be given his spot in the draw, and his spot was given to lucky loser Italian Filippo Baldi, Because Fognini’s spot in the draw got a bye in the first round, being given that spot moved Baldi immediately into Round Two. And then the fun began. Cuevas, born in Argentina and now living in Uruguay, was given a lucky loser spot when Filip Krajinovic withdrew because of a foot injury, and Cuevas replaced him in the draw. Krajinovic was set to play Salvatore Caruso in the first round, the very man who qualified for the main draw by beating Cuevas in the qualies. Now that Cuevas replaced Krajinovic, Cuevas had to play Caruso once again, this time in the first round of the main draw, just one day after they had played in the qualies. So they played, for a second time in two days, and this time Cuevas won, moving him into Round Two. Cuevas subsequently played Baldi, the lucky loser who was given Fognini’s spot, and took out his second Italian opponent in two days. So, of the bottom four spots of the draw here in Portugal, two spots went to lucky losers, one to a qualifier, and the fourth spot was a bye. Tough tournament! Cuevas, now on a roll (by beating a qualifier and a lucky loser), took out Yankee Frances Tiafoe in three, to set up this match with Davidovich Fokina. Following me so far?

Davidovich Fokina had his own unique path to this semifinal match. He started out in the qualies where he beat both Bjorn Fratangelo and Brit Dan Evans (he, of the cocaine suspension that kept him off the Tour for a whole year) to gain entry into the main draw. There, Davidovich Fokina, a 19-year-old Spaniard, took out American Taylor Fritz, rolled over France’s Jeremy Chardy, and then yesterday had the best win in his short career by besting Gael Monfils 6-7, 7-5, 6-4 to arrive in his first Tour semifinal. I like Cuevas in this unexpected semi for one reason and one reason only, and that’s because he has a lot more experience than his teenage opponent. If the Spaniard wins this match it won’t totally surprise me, because funky things are happening here in Portugal, and why not have a 19-year-old qualifier in the finals? It actually may be better for the tournament than having a lucky loser playing for the title.