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Australia’s Alex de Minaur celebrates at the Australian Open in January. He plays Tuesday in the Madrid Open. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)
Australia’s Alex de Minaur celebrates at the Australian Open in January. He plays Tuesday in the Madrid Open. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)|Associated Press
Tennis

Tennis Tuesday: Abrams returns to recap the Madrid Open men and pick matches with Federer, Djokovic, Fritz, Wawrinka, de Minaur & more

The first serve is at 6 am EDT

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

2019 Mutua Madrid Open
Madrid Spain
Tuesday, May 7, 2019
Men’s Singles Round of 64 & 32

The much-heralded European Clay Court Season is under way and the ATP Masters 1000 tournament, together with the WTA Premier Mandatory are being played simultaneously in Madrid, Spain. The tournament started Sunday with qualifying, and now the women are playing some first and second round matches while the men are trying to complete their first round. (I’ll start picking the women’s tournament Tuesday night for Wednesday’ matches.)

The beauty of the Women’s draw is that the WTA fills out a full 64-person draw with direct entries, qualifiers, and wild cards, while the ATP, in their ultimate wisdom, only provides 56 players in their 64-person draw, comprised of those whose ranking affords them direct entry to the main draw, lucky losers, those who gain entry through their Protected Ranking (from injuries suffered up to a year ago) and qualifiers. I really wish the ATP would start emulating the WTA, because a full 64-draw tournament is fair to both fans and players, while the 48-man draw is most definitely not.

At any rate, here are some results that have already occurred:

Men’s First Round:

Taylor Fritz took down Grigor Dimitrov 7-6, 7-6 in a very impressive win. Fritz has been one of the only Americans who really committed to playing the European clay, and his game has improved because of it. He won two rounds in the qualies, and he followed those wins with a nice result against a very talented player. The American’s results have been sterling.

Marin Cilic eked out a third set tiebreaker to take down qualifier Martin Klizan in a match that looked like it had gotten away from him, especially when he lost the second set 6-2. He’s still not the Cilic of five years ago, but a win is a win.

Jan-Lennard Struff out-toughed the “Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde” Nick Kyrgios in straight sets. I guess it was the brain-damaged Kyrgios, rather than the heroic Kyrgios who showed up in Madrid.

Laslo Djere knocked off countryman Dusan Lajovic 6-4, 6-4. Lajovic can’t still be tired from getting to the finals of Monte-Carlo. He just got outplayed.

Richard Gasquet struggled to take out 19-year old Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, who just got to the finals of last week’s tournament in Portugal. At this point, this is looking like a pretty good win for Gasquet, 7-5, 7-6.

Gael Monfils had little trouble besting Andreas Seppi 6-3, 6-1. Monfils loves playing in tournaments when the women from the WTA are there too!

Reilly Opelka beat Pablo Carreno Busta 7-6, 6-4, and I’m going to have to stop referring to 7’ Opelka as just a server. If he can beat a Spaniard who excels on red clay on red clay, he’s for real.

Fernando Verdasco knocked off Radu Albot 6-1 in the third. Albot is clearly not playing as well as he did in February, but he’s made a lot of progress this year.

Karen Khachanov beat Jaume Munar in a shocker to me. Khachanov, who I believe is severely over-ranked, has lost so many first round matches that he will have to win one of the next two Masters 1000 events or a Grand Slam to reappear on my radar.

Frances Tiafoe got a good win over Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-4 in the third with an ace on match point. If I had to pick this match I would have gone the Georgian’s way, so maybe Tiafoe is showing some confidence.

Philipp Kohlschreiber knocked off Mikhail Kukushkin in two sets and appears as solid as ever.

Felix Auger-Aliassime used his wild-card entry to win an exciting match between two shot-makers over countryman Denis Shapovalov 6-2, 7-6. This win sets up an interesting second round match with suddenly-beatable Rafa Nadal.

Tuesday the calendar boasts some wonderful matchups, with a lot of the seeded players scheduled to play. I’ve made some picks below, but in addition to those picks, the following matches should be awfully fun to watch: Spaniard David Ferrer, continuing his swan song, might be playing his final match ever when he takes the court against Roberto Bautista Agut. If I were picking this match I’d go with RBA, but Ferrer has raised his game the past four weeks as he’s made his final appearance in all of his favorite clay court tournaments. This will be a war.

Borna Coric, the 13th seed, is matched up against Frenchman Lucas Pouille, who has been playing less than terrific tennis the past ten weeks. I like Coric here, but Pouille is certainly due, so I wouldn’t count him out, and I won’t make a pick either! Tenth-seeded Fabio Fognini takes on Brit Kyle Edmund, and this will be a real fight. We all know how talented Fognini is, and he must be brimming with confidence after his win in Monte Carlo where he beat Nadal in straight sets in the semis. But Fognini has a little of Kyrgios in him, and you don’t know if we’ll have the pleasure of seeing the genius playing, or the dog. So I’m staying away from this one, because Edmund will fight to the death, no matter who shows up across the court.

=Jan-Lennard Struff is scheduled to do battle with 9th seeded Marin Cilic, and this could be a three-hour battle. Cilic is clearly over-seeded, and it would not surprise me in the least if the tough German took him out. But since Cilic is a past Grand Slam champion, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt and not picking him to lose. But he might. Diego Schwartzman goes to war with Marco Cecchinato, and this is too close for me to call. Schwartzman gets every last thing he can from his 5’6” body, and it might be enough to take out Cecchinato, the 16th seed. But Cecchinato loves the clay here and could get on a roll that Schwartzman can’t counter. Jeremy Chardy plays Albert Ramos-Vinolas in a match that I’d also rate as a toss-up even though the Spaniard holds a 2-0 lifetime record over the 47th ranked Frenchman who lives in London. Your guess is as good as mine in this encounter since they haven’t played since 2016.

The Daniil Medvedev-Guido Pella match should be another great clay court scrimmage that could go either way. The rankings say that Medvedev should win this, but Pella has won 21 matches this year and is right on his game. Flip a coin if you’re betting on this one, but keep in mind that Pella won their only previous match. Frenchman Gilles Simon will play Hugo Dellien on Court 5 as the second match on, and it’s a mystery to me as to who will impose himself here. The numbers say the Frenchman, but Gilles has been frustratingly inconsistent this year. He can be surprisingly dominant, but he also can be disappointingly non-competitive (as he was when he got clobbered by American rookie Mackie McDonald 3 and 2 in Barcelona two weeks ago). Let’s see which Simon turns up in Madrid this afternoon. In the second match on Court 6 we’ll see lucky loser Adrian Mannarino take on Joao Sousa. I’m a bit confused as to why Mannarino had to go through qualifying (where he lost to Martin Klizan 6-2 in the third) to get into this main draw. He’s ranked No. 56, while Spaniard Joao Sousa got right in with a ranking of 75. The official draw sheet stated that the last direct entry was 47th ranked Andreas Seppi, so it seems to answer my question as to why Mannarino was placed in the qualifying, but it still begs the question, why did Sousa make the main draw? He didn’t receive a wild card. Why is he in this match? Maybe he’ll win and he’ll answer my question.

The picks:

Novak Djokovic over Taylor Fritz
As well as Fritz has been playing, he’s not going to beat the world No. 1 here. I’m not convinced that Djokovic is on top of his game, but he’ll play well enough to take the American to the cleaners.

Roger Federer over Richard Gasquet
If you had to ask me who is playing the best tennis of the Big 3 I’d say that it’s Federer . . . by far. Both Djokovic and Nadal have recently disappointed, but the only thing I can hold against Federer (besides losing in the Round of 16 in Melbourne) was his disappointing lack of awareness in the finals of Indian Wells where he hit two successive bonehead drop shots against Dominic Thiem that cost him the title there. Now, Gasquet. Maybe, when Simon and Garfunkel sang the lyric, “….where have you gone Joe DiMaggio…” they could have substituted Gasquet for DiMaggio. I literally can’t remember the last time I saw Gasquet play in a tournament, and as he hasn’t been suspended for drugs in at least ten years -- he’s still an active player. I’ll go with Federer because I have no idea how Gasquet is playing. And does it really matter how Gasquet is playing?

Stan Wawrinka over Pierre-Hugues Herbert
Pierre-Hugues Herbert has shown some spunk lately on the singles court, and his recent results have mirrored that attitude. As one of the very best doubles players on the globe, he has made his living winning doubles tournaments, but he can play singles too. Unfortunately for him, he has drawn a very hungry Stan Wawrinka here in Madrid. Wawrinka is still not the “Stan-the-Man” we’ve known and loved in the past, but as he gains confidence and continues to heal from last year’s injury, he is a very dangerous floater, and since he’s not seeded, a floater he is. I think Wawrinka has the game and the fight to take out the Frenchman.

David Goffin over Marton Fucsovics
Goffin has been inconsistent this year, showing only a 9-10 record year-to-date. But he owned Fucsovics when they played last year in a Davis Cup tie 7-5, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 on indoor hard courts, and he’s a better player on clay. I think the slow courts will help the Belgian and he’ll put Fucsovics away.

John Millman over Stevie Johnson
I know Djokovic and Federer play today, but if I had to make one pick my “can’t miss” pick, it would be John Millman over Stevie Johnson. Johnson simply CANNOT hit a backhand, and John Millman knows that. Watch this match and watch how Millman attacks the athletic American. It should be a very interesting match from the standpoint of strategy alone, but when push comes to shove, Johnson’s lack of having a well-rounded game will cost him yet again.

Alex de Minaur over Hubert Hurkacz
This should be a really enticing match between two NextGen players, 20-year-old Aussie de Minaur and 22-year-old Pole Hubert Hurkacz. I don’t know who is handling de Minaur, and I understand that he’s only 20, but this is the fourth Masters 1000 tournament of the year (Indian Wells, Miami, and Monte-Carlo) and the young Aussie is making just his first appearance in one. He’s ranked No. 27, so he can gain direct entry into any and all tournaments he wants to play, so maybe his handlers are just protecting their young charge against over-use. But he sports just an 11-5 record, and it doesn’t appear to me that he’s playing enough matches. Hurkacz, by comparison, is ranked only No. 52 and can’t get into all the tournaments he wants to play, but he’s already played 18 matches this year, and you learn from playing matches. I think de Minaur will win this encounter, but just remember that the one time they played, de Minaur won the match, yet won only 15 games, while the Pole won 18. These guys are close.