Western & Southern Friday men's quarters: Abrams picks Djokovic vs Pouille, Medvedev vs Rublev, Bautista Agut vs Gasquet, Nishioka vs Goffin
Andrey Rublev, of Russia, serves to Roger Federer, of Switzerland, during the quarterfinals of the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, in Mason, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)Associated Press

Western & Southern Friday men's quarters: Abrams picks Djokovic vs Pouille, Medvedev vs Rublev, Bautista Agut vs Gasquet, Nishioka vs Goffin

Matches start at 1 pm EDT.

Western and Southern Open

Cincinnati, OH

Friday, August 16, 2019

Men’s Friday Quarterfinal picks

Yoshi Nishioka over David Goffin

In tennis, confidence and momentum are everything. All of the Tour players are superior athletes, as we’re talking about the best 100 tennis players in the world. If you compare the numbers, baseball has 30 Major League teams, each with 24 players, so there are 720 major league players at any one time. Basketball has 30 teams in the NBA, each of which have 14 players, which means that there are 420 NBA players on their rosters. Hockey and football are similar, but football carries 53 players for 32 teams, meaning that there are 1696 NFL players ready to do battle. So these select 100 ATP players are great international athletes, terrific tennis players, and at the very, very top of their industry considering their small numbers, and they come from every country in the world, not just the U.S. What separates one player from another in a match could be a point or two, with maybe an inch or so deciding between a ball being in or just missing a line.

My point is that these guys are all really close in ability, and almost anyone can win on a given day. Yoshi Nishioka, who started the year as a qualifier, has come on strong and is playing with supreme confidence after beating Jordan Thompson, Kei Nishikori, and Alex de Minaur. His last two wins must have given Nishioka a supreme amount of confidence, and that means a ton in tennis. I think he’ll ride his momentum and confidence and take out the third elite player put in his path this week in David Goffin. Goffin has played well himself, with wins over Taylor Fritz, Guido Pella, and Adrian Mannarino, but aside from his three setter over Fritz, none of those wins can compare to the victories Nishioka is riding into this quarterfinal clash. This should be a battle, but I like Nishioka to raise the flag at the end.

Roberto Bautista Agut over Richard Gasquet

I guess you could say that the flashy Frenchman, Richard Gasquet, is back. After having groin surgery in January, Gasquet couldn’t bring his spectacular one-handed backhand back on the Tour until May, and it took him months to look like he could actually compete. But after three consecutive wins here in Cincinnati, he's competing and winning. His straight set victory over the very tough Diego Schwartzman was an exhibition of efficiency and shotmaking, and it’s nice to see the 33-year-old at what looks like almost full strength. Unfortunately for him, he’s running into the very solid and commanding presence of Roberto Bautista Agut, the 33-year-old Spaniard who is ranked #11 in the world. RBA holds a 4-1 lifetime advantage over Gasquet, with two of those wins coming earlier this year, one of which was a 7-5, 7-5 decision last week in Montreal. RBA is playing the best tennis of his career right now, and I think he’ll be the finalist coming out of this half of the draw. First, he has to get by Gasquet, which he’ll do today in the quarters.

Daniil Medvedev over Andrey Rublev

Kudos to 21-year-old Russian Andrey Rublev for his big win over Roger Federer Thursday. Rublev has been improving week after week and is playing some fine tennis, but Roger really just laid an egg. It’s not often when Federer looks bad, but this was a good match for him to get out of his system before the battle for New York begins in ten days. It actually may be good for both of those players since Federer will get extra rest for his 37-year-old body, and Rublev will be injected with an extra boost of confidence that can only help a young player. Daniil Medvedev waits for Rublev, however, and that confidence Rublev gained may not be enough to propel him over his excellent countryman, who is now ranked #8 in the world. The 6’6” Medvedev is that good. It’s interesting to note that Russia now boasts two players in the Top Ten, as well as Rublev, who is #70, but will move up after this event. American’s top two players? John Isner, at #16, and Taylor Fritz, at #25. So who’s system is producing better men’s tennis players now?

Novak Djokovic over Lucas Pouille

Wednesday night saw the latest episode of Nick at Night, where the enigmatic man from Down Under, Nick Kyrgios, exploded and imploded to the tune of an ATP fine of $113,000. Kyrgios was up a set and he entered a second set tiebreaker with Russia’s Karen Khachanov, the #9 player in the world. When Khachanov went up 4-2 in the breaker, Kyrgios started to lose his mind, and he morphed into Bad Nick after he dropped that second set breaker. Bad Nick walked off the court with two rackets, proceeded to destroy them in the tunnel leading back to the locker room, and returned needing some more sticks to play with. The third set went Khachanov’s way as Bad Nick maintained a dialogue (not a monologue) with himself on the court, asking himself questions and answering himself. If that wasn’t enough, he came precariously close to being defaulted after earning both a point and game penalty from the umpire, who appeared to exercise extreme patience with the patient. Only after the players shook hands did Bad Nick spit at the umpire and utter the “F” bomb in his direction, after he refused to shake the umpire’s hand. Nick was out, and we’re awaiting a decision as to whether he’ll also be suspended, but as I wrote after witnessing his antics in Delray Beach in March, this man needs some serious medical help. It can only help him, and not requiring it will only allow more outbursts like what we saw Wednesday night and in Rome, where he went full Bobby Knight and threw a chair onto the court before getting defaulted against Casper Ruud.

Khachanov moved into the Round of 16 and promptly lost to Frenchman Lucas Pouille, Thursday afternoon. Considering that Khachanov didn’t finish his match with Bad Nick until after midnight Thursday morning, it seemed a bit punitive that they put him back on the court for an afternoon match against Pouille. They shouldn’t have punished the Russian, for he was nothing but a gentleman through the continuous explosions of Kyrgios, and should have been rewarded with another night match, but the powers that be wanted to showcase Novak Djokovic in the prime-time night slot, so Khachanov got the screw job from the tournament promoters. Pouille beat the tired Khachanov, Djokovic took out Pablo Carreno Busta, and they’ll play today (Friday). I’m not a giant fan of Nole, but let’s face it: he’s going to win this match over Pouille and move into the tournament’s semifinals. I’d like The Joker more if he attacked and played a bit more aggressively, but when you’re #1 in the world, what’s the impetus to change your style?

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