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Novak Djokovic at the Madrid Open tennis tournament in Madrid, Tuesday, May 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Novak Djokovic at the Madrid Open tennis tournament in Madrid, Tuesday, May 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)|Associated Press
Tennis

ATP Tennis Thursday: Abrams picks Madrid Open’s Round of 16–Djokovic, Federer, Nadal, Zverev, Fognini, Tsitsipas, Verdasco, Nishikori, more

Matches begin Thursday at 6 am EDT

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

2019 Mutua Madrid Open
Madrid, Spain
Thursday, May 9, 2019
Men’s Singles Round of 16

Novak Djokovic over Jeremy Chardy
Do they really have to play this match? Chardy has played The Joker a full dozen times and has absolutely nothing to show for it. Okay, okay, they’re the first Men’s match on court Manolo Santana, so at least it’ll be over quick. Make it a baker’s dozen for Nole.

Roger Federer over Gael Monfils
One of these days Gael Monfils is going to break through and make it to the finals of one of these big tournaments. It might as well be right now. After all, he’s playing well, he’s one of the best pure athletes on the Tour, his girlfriend and all the other WTA players are on hand, and he has already hit the shot of the tournament. But at 4-9 with Federer, who is making a clay court comeback of sorts, this will not be the time for the charismatic Frenchman. In fact, the last three times these guys played were all on clay. Of course that was back in 2014 and 15 as Federer is in his first clay court tournament in three years, but he looks right at home. He won’t go down to Monfils here and now. Maybe some other time.

Rafa Nadal over Frances Tiafoe
I’m so happy that Big Fo is playing Nadal. Maybe now we won’t have to look at the American flexing his stupid little biceps. After all, Nadal’s are so, so much bigger. And so is his game. This won’t be close. Nadal will overpower and overwhelm the young Tiafoe as he did four months ago at the 2019 Australian Open.

Laslo Djere over Marin Cilic
Cilic, a former U.S. Open champion, is not on form. He needed three close sets to win both his matches here, over qualifier Martin Klizan 7-6 in the third, and Jan-Lennard Struff 6-4 in the third. He’s lucky to be in the Round of 16. Djere, on the other hand, has already had two good wins here. His first round win over a surging Dusan Lajovic was an ego-booster, but his Second Round win over Juan Martin del Potro puts him into the upper echelon of male tennis players. Considering Cilic is hurting, I like Djere to win this in an upset.

Sascha Zverev over Hubert Hurkacz
Sascha Zverev’s Second Round win over the retiring David Ferrer was a bit of a tear-jerker. Ferrer, a fan and fellow player favorite, who has epitomized gentlemanliness, class, and sportsmanship over his almost two decade career had to back away from the baseline and wipe away tears more than once as he went to serve at match-point against. When the 37-year-old Spaniard went down, the hometown crowd gave him a standing ovation, and the giant scoreboard overhead put up messages from his fellow competitors. His class act will surely be missed on the Tour. At least until today, when his conqueror, Germany’s Sascha Zverev, the defending champion here, takes on qualifier Pole Hubert Hurkacz. Hurkacz took out the suddenly mortal-again Frenchman Lucas Pouille 7-5, 6-1 to set up this attractive Round of 16 encounter. I like Zverev to continue his flashy play and move on, but we’ll certainly hear more from Hurkacz this year.

Dominic Thiem over Fabio Fognini
We are lucky because we’re getting a chance to see the ultra-talented, brilliant-Fabio Fognini here in Madrid. Somehow, his win in Monte Carlo has allowed him to leave the slightly brain-damaged-Fabio Fognini at home in Arma di Taggia, thank God. Even so, Dominic Thiem is ranked as the fifth best player in the world, and he just may be either the best or the second best clay court player, depending on how Rafa feels at this time. Fognini will try, but he’s up against a better player. Wanna bet Fognini blames his loss on the leg that is wrapped up when he loses?

Kei Nishikori over Stan Wawrinka
This will be the eleventh time these two have met, and the first time on clay since 2012. Wawrinka erased some demons, played some thoughtful, excellent tennis, and dispatched the surging Guido Pella in straight sets on Wednesday, which was a bit of surprise to me. Nishikori won all the important points in topping Hugo Delliem 7-5, 7-5 to slide into the Third Round and this match between two of the very best backhands in the game. So, will Nishikori’s destructive two-hander down the line knock out Wawrinka’s terrific one hander? Yes, I think so. Nishikori should take his fifth match from Stan the Man.

Stefanos Tsitsipas over Fernando Verdasco
Ninth-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas is 24-9 in 2019. Verdasco, at age 35, went into this tournament with a year-to-date 9-9 record. Who looks like the favorite to you? Exactly. But I will say this for Verdasco: he’s had a great week already, having beaten the tough Radu Albot and the unpredictable but talented Karen Khachanov (ranked 13th in the world) successively, and should put up a good fight. Ultimately, Tsitsipas should be able to overcome the tall lefty from Madrid.