Taylor Fritz is one of the top American men playing in Cincinnati at the Western & Southern Open.(Gareth Fuller/PA via AP)
Taylor Fritz is one of the top American men playing in Cincinnati at the Western & Southern Open.(Gareth Fuller/PA via AP)|Associated Press

Western & Southern men's Tuesday: Abrams picks Fritz vs. Goffin, Basilashvili vs. Rublev, Wawrinka vs. Dimitrov, Monfils vs. Tiafoe, more

Matches start at 11 am EDT.

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

Western and Southern Open

Cincinnati, OH

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Men’s Tuesday picks

The Western and Southern Open was hit with a few strategic withdrawals over the past 24-36 hours, one of which will severely affect the Men’s draw. Not surprisingly, Bianca Andreescu, the champion of the Rogers Cup in Montreal, pulled out of Cincinnati in order to be ready for the U.S. Open. Now that she’s back from her shoulder injury in March, Andreescu must be considered a legitimate contender for the title in any draw she enters. But because she’s missed a large part of the year, she isn’t ranked high enough to be seeded in Cincinnati, so her withdrawal didn’t affect the integrity of the Women’s Draw. Nor did American teenager Amanda Anisimova upset the women’s draw with her pullout. But they were joined in their withdrawals by both Rafa Nadal and Fabio Fognini on the Men’s side, and since Rafa was the #2 seed, his absence changes the entire dynamic of the Men’s draw.

Nadal was positioned at the bottom of the Men’s draw, with both Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer positioned to meet each other in the semis of the top half. Now, with lucky loser Mikhail Kukushkin getting Nadal’s spot, he gets a bye and a second round encounter with Adrian Mannarino, who stopped Cristian Garin in Round One. With Nadal gone, the highest seeds in the bottom half are Dominic Thiem (#4), Kei Nishikori (#6), and Sasha Zverev (#7). All three of these guys are Top Tenners, but none of them are part of the Big Three, and none of them can boast a Grand Slam tournament win yet. Nadal’s withdrawal probably couldn’t have been helped, as all the players want to enter the Open in the best possible position to win, but it’s a shame that he couldn’t have pulled out before the draw was made. Had he done that, the draw would have been set up with Federer and Nole on different sides, positioned to meet in the finals. Now, we’ll have to wait for Flushing Meadows to see that matchup again, if at all.

Stan Wawrinka over Grigor Dimitrov

As I wrote in my preview of the tournament on Saturday, the ATP sure has a sick sense-of-humor as they’ve stuck Grigor Dimitrov with playing Stan Wawrinka in the first round for the second week in a row, after they dueled in both the French Open (where Wawrinka won 7-6, 7-6, 7-6) and the 2018 U.S. Open, and 2018’s Wimbledon, both also won by Wawrinka. Wawrinka won last week and will win this match too, because Dimitrov is just not the same player he used to be. He’s hitting the ball well enough, but the intangibles aren’t there. He doesn’t win with any regularity, and it’s too much to expect him to beat a nemesis here and now.

Gael Monfils over Frances Tiafoe

Frances Tiafoe has taken a step back in his maturation as a Tour professional. After a good first year gave indications of a bright future, Tiafoe followed 2018 up with a good first couple of months this year. But since March he’s been a major disappointment, watching his ranking drop from a high of #29 to his current #52. He still has a bright future, but he’s experiencing a sophomore slump. Monfils, on the other hand, is still one of the best athletes and most exciting players on the Tour. As long as he’s healthy (he had to pull out of a semi-final clash with Rafa Nadal last week because of a bad ankle) he should win this entertaining match.

John Isner over Pablo Carreno Busta

John Isner has not had an overpowering summer, losing early in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Montreal, after winning a decidedly inferior tournament at the Hall of Fame Open. He has lost tiebreakers that he normally would have won in the past, and has walked away with fewer ranking points than he gave up. But he’s still heavily favored to beat qualifier Pablo Carreno Busta. If these guys get into tiebreakers, as Isner is wont to do, the American should win them against a Spanish clay-courter.

Taylor Fritz over David Goffin

After getting to the quarters at Wimbledon, Belgian David Goffin has not done well in America. He went down to both Yoshi Nishioka (in Washington, D.C.) and Guido Pella (in Montreal last week), both of whom he was favored against. Taylor Fritz is a maturing home-grown talent, and is playing some of his best tennis. He played a poor match last week and lost to Hubert Hurkacz, but the week before he was a finalist in Los Cabos, where he had four wins including straight set triumphs over both Fabio Fognini and Radu Albot. Between Goffin and Fritz, I think Fritz will rise higher on this occasion in front of American fans who will be rooting for him. Remember, only Isner and Fritz will be American seeds in the U.S. Open, which starts in two weeks in New York City.

Denis Shapovalov over Joao Sousa

When Fabio Fognini pulled out of the Western & Southern, Joao Sousa took his place as a lucky loser. Sousa has beaten Shapovalov the only time they played, this past January, 6-4 in the third, but I think Shapovalov will be more prepared for the matchup this time. The young Canadian has not had a wonderful 2019, but still has all the talent in the world, and I think it’s about time we see that talent translate into some wins. This week should be the start of that.

Fernando Verdasco over Benoit Paire

It’s hard to believe that these guys have never played against each other, but this will be the first match between the 35-year-old Spaniard and the 30-year-old Frenchman. I like Verdasco because his lefthanded serve slides off the ad court, and because of that, Paire should have some difficulty breaking the Spaniard’s serve. Paire has had a surprisingly good year, but he’s shown signs of anger and frustration, in particular, two weeks ago when he lost a tight first set against Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarters of the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. Like a petulant child, he then fell apart after Tsitsipas requested a time out so that he could replace a broken shoelace. After that, Paire didn’t win another game and went down 7-5, 6-0. I’m going to assume that he’s recovered from that emotional breakdown, but it shows that he’s a little on edge. I’ll give the advantage to Verdasco.

Nikoloz Basilashvili over Andrey Rublev

Three weeks ago Nikoloz Basilashvili had a losing record for the year. Now the Georgian is standing at 22-17 after winning Hamburg (where he beat Sascha Zverev and then Rublev in the finals) and winning two rounds in Montreal (before Zverev returned the favor in the Round of 16), and playing really excellent tennis. Rublev is peaking too, but Basilashvili is better right now. He’s 2-0, lifetime, against Rublev, and I think he’ll maintain that head-to-head dominance, at least for now.

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