Steve Johnson returns the ball to hilipp Kohlschreiber during their match on June 17 (Friso Gentsch/dpa)
Steve Johnson returns the ball to hilipp Kohlschreiber during their match on June 17 (Friso Gentsch/dpa)|Associated Press

Tennis Monday - Abrams Picks Men’s First Round Matches at Turkish Airlines Open Antalya, Nature Valley International

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

Turkish Airlines Open Antalya
Antayla, Turkey

Matt Ebden over Damir Dzumhur
Ebden should probably be the underdog here, as he is ranked just No. 80 while Dzumhur, from Bosnia-Herzegovina, is ranked No. 62. Not only that, Ebden is a miserable 2-10 for the year, while Dzumhur is not much better at 5-10. So this match won’t showcase the best players, but the tournament here is on grass, and if Ebden can win anywhere it is on grass, and I think he’s due, if nothing else.

Ernests Gulbis over Altug Celikbilek
Celikbilek is a 22-year-old rookie who got the homeboy wild card that all tournaments have the discretion to give out. Here’s a stat on homeboy: he’s 6-foot-1 and weighs a whooping 158 pounds! If a strong wind doesn’t come and blow him over, he might be able to finish this match, but he won’t win. Ernests Gulbis has been on the Tour for 15 years now, and although he’s not a Top 10er, as he was in 2009, he is still a very accomplished player and he should give the favorite son a lesson. Oh, by the way, Gulbis is 6-3, 187. At the very least, Gulbis won’t get blown over by a strong gust of wind.

Peter Gojowczyk over Ergi Kirkin
While Kirkin is another hometown wild card who will be playing his very first ATP Tour level match, Peter Gojowczyk , a German, has been on the Tour for 13 years, and is a legitimate veteran pro. He may just be a journeyman, but he should have no trouble with Kirkin. Maybe Kirkin and Celikbilek should open a stand after their first round losses selling Turkish pistachio nuts. They might be better at that.

Janko Tipsarevic over Prajnesh Gunneswaran
Janko Tipsarevic, a former Top 10 player, has been on the comeback trail the past year or so, and is very slowly getting some of his game back. Although he’s only 4-5 this year, if you asked him he’d tell you that he feels very fortunate to be back and playing competitively. He’s got a tough competitor ahead of him in Prajnesh Gunneswaran, a 29-year-old from Chennai, India, who is particularly adept at playing on grass. The Indian, ranked No. 95 currently, should make this a very competitive match, but if Tipsarevic can play at the level that I think he’s at right now, even with a ranking of 289, I’d go with the Serbian. If you don’t know who is who, Tipsarevic is the one who plays with squash goggles, one of only two men’s players who does that.

Andreas Seppi over Bernie Tomic
Bernie Tomic, who used to be the bad boy from Australia before Nick Kyrgios came along, is just a shadow of the player he was just two years ago. He used to be viewed as an up-and-comer, but I look at him now as just yesterday’s news. Andreas Seppi, a 35-year-old Italian who is not much of a grass court player, should get through Tomic like a knife through butter even though he’s 1-2 against Tomic, lifetime. The last time Tomic beat Seppi was in 2013, yet when they played four months ago in Delray Beach, Fla., Seppi rolled to a straight set win. I expect him to duplicate that result here in Turkey.

Viktor Troicki over Jozef Kovalik
Troicki is another former top player trying to make a comeback − for him from a lower back injury − at age 33. He was ranked as high as No. 12 eight years ago, but is nowhere near the player he used to be. Still, his ranking only started to fall below No. 40 two years ago as he began to experience the inevitable slowdown of Father Time as he hit his 30s. Jozef Kovalik is a journeyman from Slovakia who hasn’t won an ATP Tour match this year, and I don’t expect him to win this one. If Troicki, ranked No. 193, is considered the underdog against the 145th-ranked Kovalik, I’d lay some hard earned cash on the Serbian.

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Nature Valley International
Eastbourne, Great Britain

Fernando Verdasco over John Millman
Millman made a splash in last year’s U.S. Open when he outlasted Roger Federer in 100 degree heat and crushing humidity at the inhospitable, scorching stadium in New York City. Since then? He’s not done much, although he became a “name”. He’s ranked No. 57 in the world, and is only 11-16 in 2019, and I’d officially declare him a journeyman. Verdasco, a 35-year-old Spaniard who 10 years ago was in the Top 10, is a better player, even though he’s close to retirement age. He’s ranked No. 37, and at least has a winning record this year, at 15-13. I’d expect Verdasco’s tough lefty serve to dominate this grass court match, and the Spaniard to win and move on.

Steve Johnson over Reilly Opelka
I’m going to go way out on a limb and pick Stevie Johnson to beat fellow American Reilly Opelka in this match. Johnson began the year ranked No. 33 and was seeded in almost every tournament he entered. It really didn’t help, because, when playing on clay or hard court (indoor or out), he was an ineffective competitor because he can’t hit over his backhand. So he’d back into that corner whenever stuck on the baseline (which was frequently), and he would eventually not be able to cover the forehand sideline, which is quite a run while your professional opponent scorches a 90-mph crosscourt forehand, or 85-mph down-the-line backhand. But, on grass, it’s a different story. Johnson’s severely sliced backhand is particularly effective on the slippery green stuff as it stays low and makes his opponent bend low to lift that ball up over the net. With the giant-serving 7-foot Reilly Opelka, although he should be able to hold his serve, if caught in a baseline rally, I actually give the nod to Johnson, because of the way his strokes come off of the grass. If Opelka is favored, as I’m guessing he will be based on his ranking of No. 61 versus Johnson’s current ranking of No. 76, I’d bet on the two-time former NCAA champion from Southern Cal over the West Palm Beach, Fla., resident.

Taylor Fritz over Paul Jubb
Paul Jubb qualified for this main draw with two good wins over Denis Istomin (he squeaked by in a third set tiebreaker) and Andrey Rublev, and he received a wild card into Wimbledon, as one of Great Britain’s homeboys. But he’s got no chance against American Taylor Fritz. If there’s a slam dunk in the first round here, it’s Fritz winning this match. Fritz has worked on his game on all surfaces, becoming the only American that played in more than one European clay court tournament, and is slowly turning into a dangerous floater in any draw. He’s now ranked No. 42, which means that he’s on his way to being ranked high enough to warrant getting seeded in a major. When the U.S. Open rolls around, Taylor Fritz may be the only American man seeded in that draw. The good news for Jubb? His career prize money winnings are $7,038, and he’ll get 6,890 Euros for losing this first round match.

Hubert Herkacz over Macro Cecchinato
I like the 6-5 Pole, Herkacz, to take out 40th-ranked Marco Cecchinato, because Herkacz’ serve should be dominant on the grass. Because Cecchinato is ranked higher than Herkacz, the Italian should be the betting favorite, which makes a bet on Herkacz smart, in my opinion. Neither one has been kicking ass this season, but someone’s gotta win, and I think the surface favors Herkacz.

Sam Querrey over Mikhail Kukushkin
I remember when Sam Querrey was a Junior playing at Kalamazoo. Is it possible that he’s 31 years-old already? He’s had a decent career, picking up over $11 million in prize money, but he never quite developed into the champion that some expected, topping out at No. 11 just 16 months ago. To me, he’s clearly on the downside of his career, with his ranking now down about where it was in 2012, and I haven’t seen him even enter a tournament since the men moved to Europe for the clay court season. But I think he’s got the game to beat Kukushkin, a 31-year-old Russian journeyman, here on the grass. It’ll be a bonus if Querrey is the bettor’s underdog also, as he should be considering Kukushkin is ranked No. 47 and Querrey is No. 79.

Nicolas Jarry over Pablo Cuevas
Jarry is an up-and-comer from Chile, who has the size and the serve to dominate play on grass. Frankly, he’s still learning to play on the stuff, but I’m betting the 23-year-old will pick it up quickly considering the tennis genes that run in his family, where both his grandfather (Jamie Fillol) and his uncle played on the Tour. If Jarry is considered the underdog here, against a clay courter from Argentina, he represents a great bet, and after all, that’s what we’re all about at BettorsInsider.

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