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Roger Federer returns the ball to Richard Gasquet during the Madrid Open tennis tournament in Madrid on May 7, 2019.
Roger Federer returns the ball to Richard Gasquet during the Madrid Open tennis tournament in Madrid on May 7, 2019.|Bernat Armangue | Associated Press
Tennis

ATP Tennis Wednesday: Abrams on the Men’s Mutua Madrid Open – 7 picks incl. Nadal v FA2, Tsitsipas v Mannarino, Pella v Wawrinka, and more

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

2019 Mutua Madrid Open
Madrid Spain
Wednesday, May 8, 2019
Men’s Picks

Rafa Nadal over Felix Auger-Aliassime
Unlike past years, this will not be a normal, simple, routine win for Nadal. He has played two clay court tournaments the past couple of weeks and lost in both of them. In Monte Carlo he laid an egg in a semi-final clash with Italy’s Fabio Fognini and went down in straight sets in what he admitted was his worst played clay court match in 14 years. Nadal followed that up with another straight set loss, this time to Dominic Thiem in the semis in Barcelona. Both of these losses indicate that not only is Nadal human, but if he’s not injured, then he’s on the back nine of his career. With that said, FA2 is a bright up and comer who took out friend and compatriot Denis Shapovalov in straight sets here in the first round. Auger-Aliassime can win this match, and based on current form, I would expect him to. It’s just that, even though we now know that he’s human, it’s awfully difficult to predict that Nadal will lose, so I’m taking the safe route and making the assumption that the Mallorcan will get back his form and will win. But it’s not the guarantee it used to be.

Sascha Zverev over David Ferrer
Every match now that David Ferrer plays could be his last, as he has announced that this is definitely his very last tournament. The question is, who will be the last gladiator standing? Ferrer has raised the level of his play the past few weeks, and played a wonderful match taking out Roberto Bautista Agut in three tough sets last round. Zverev, however, is the third seed and is ranked #4 in the world right now, and goes into this match as the prohibitive favorite. If form holds the German will win. But Ferrer is calling on deep emotional reserves, and we can throw recent form out the window for this match. I like Zverev, but when a guy is playing for his life you just never know.

Kei Nishikori over Hugo Dellien
On paper this should be a pretty quick and easy win for the Japanese player. But these matches are played on red clay, not paper, and nothing is easy. Nishikori is the 6th seed, is sporting a 16-7 2019 record, and loves clay because it allows him to fight until the very end. Dellien, the 25-year-old Bolivian, is ranked #109, but qualified for the main draw here with two good wins in the qualies over Leonardo Mayer and Guido Andreozzi and followed those up with a first round win over unpredictable Frenchman (is that redundant?) Gilles Simon 7-6 in the third. Dellien will carry that confidence into this second round match, but ultimately the better player will win, and that’s Nishikori.

Juan Martin del Potro over Laslo Djere
Juan Martin del Potro is always a question mark because, even though he’s entered in this draw, you just never know if he’s fully healthy. If he’s not, and I really don’t think he is, he can be beaten by anyone, anytime. And this may be the time. Just remember how mediocre he looked in Delray Beach. But let’s take him at his word, knowing that he wouldn’t have entered this tournament if he didn’t feel he was able to compete. Djere is going to provide very stiff competition, whether del Potro is ready to play or not, having just taken out compatriot Dusan Lajovic 4 and 4 in Round One, and after his run to the finals of recently completed Monte Carlo. If Delpo is all in, he’ll win. If he’s not, he’s got no chance.

Stefanos Tsitsipas over Adrian Mannarino
I already argued about the fairness of who did and did not get into the main draw here in Madrid, so I won’t revisit that issue with regard to Mannarino. Let’s just point out that the Greek God, ranked #9 in the world, is sporting a 2019 record of 23-9 while 30-year-old Mannarino, ranked #56 is 4-10. Enough said. Tsitsipas should have no trouble here.

Lucas Pouille over Hubert Hurkacz
Pouille, who had not won a single match ever since the Australian Open (that was way back in the second week of January!!!) finally pulled his “A” game out of his bag and took out Borna Coric in straight sets in the first round here. Maybe his drop down to the Challenger circuit, where he won a title that the ATP does not count in it’s official rankings or statistics paid off, as it probably provided the Frenchman with much need confidence. Hurkacz, likewise, pulled off an upset over the match-hungry Aussie Alex de Minaur 3 and 4 after qualifying for the main draw here. Hurkacz beat two Spanish dirtballers in the qualies, Marcel Granollers (0 and 2!!) and Roberto Carballes Baena, so he’s got his clay court game going. If Pouille doesn’t play as well as he did in that first round win, he’ll go down to the tough Pole.

Guido Pella over Stan Wawrinka
It’s hard to pick Stan Wawrinka to lose. Not only is he a 3-time Grand Slam champion, but he’s also won the ultimate clay court tournament, Stade Roland Garos, which has been almost the personal domain of Rafa Nadal for fourteen years now. Let’s see…Nadal has won 11, Federer has won one, Djokovic has won one, and Wawrinka has won one. So, picking against Wawrinka carries enormous risks. But, quite frankly, Guido Pella is playing better tennis right now. Pella has 21 wins this year along with the title in Sao Paulo, where he beat Laslo Djere and Christian Garin, two accomplished slow court players, on the clay in Brazil. Wawrinka still isn’t quite right after last year’s injury and surgery, and is struggling for wins, recording a pedestrian-for-him 12-8 record in this calendar year. Still, Stan possesses one of the best one-handed backhands in the game and is very dangerous. This should produce some outstanding shot making and will be close, but I give the edge to the South American.