Hometown favorite Coco Gauff, plays an exhibition tonight at the Delray Beach Open.
Hometown favorite Coco Gauff, plays an exhibition tonight at the Delray Beach Open.|Charles Krupa | Associated Press

Delray Beach Open Preview: This small ATP event features defending champ Rado Albot, Milos Raonic, Nick Kyrgios and some tough Americans

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

Delray Beach, Florida, is home to a unique, small ATP 250 tournament that feels like it should be both bigger and feature some more popular names in it’s draw.

The tourney gets underway this weekend with two features: a Legends draw and an especially appealing Women’s Exhibition match. Those two features alone should help provide the marketing engine that the Tournament Committee has shown much creativity designing. Kudos to the Committee.

Aside from watching guys in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s who share name recognition with the public, this year’s major attraction will undoubtedly be the showcasing of local teenage legend-in-the-making, Coco Gauff playing a nighttime exhibition on Saturday evening under the lights. In this made-for-TV and made-for South Florida match-up with reigning NCAA Women’s Singles Champion, Estella Perez-Somarrib, of the University of Miami, this ATP Men’s tournament will be spotlighting two highly desirable women's players whom the public wants to see. What a wonderful move to provide tennis fans some great tennis from the distaff side!

As it was last year, the men's draw is small—featuring only 32 including four Qualifier spots, and seems devoid of domestic men’s names that in themselves would bring fans in. Still, everyone of the players is a world-class athlete capable of providing stunning tennis and . . . almost anyone in the draw could win it.

Last year’s surprise winner, Moldavia’s Rado Albot, returns and it will be interesting to see how he intends to follow up last year’s run to his first ATP title.

Current players who feature names that are hard to pronounce, let alone spell, who will be joining Albot, include insanely talented Aussie bad-boy Nick Kyrgios, Canadian Milos Raonic, young Californian Taylor Fritz, 7-foot American Reilly Opelka, and American favorite Frances “Big Fo” Tiafoe.

Last year Kyrgios was so unpredictable that I wrote that before he left the State of Florida someone should Baker Act him. Things haven’t changed much in that department: Kyrgios still battles opponents and his own demons. But Kyrgios is so supremely talented that his arsenal of weapons may overcome his psyche and lead him to the title.

Or he could implode and toss his racket onto Atlantic Avenue.

If Tiafoe is on form, he’s also a potential Champion. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen Big Foe compete in quite a while, and it’s his competitive fire that's under the microscope here: He surely possesses enough talent to beat everyone in the draw. He’s joined by American Tennys Sandgren who can win, Aussie John Millman, who seems to play one match per year that millions of fans can honestly say that they remember, and other players include Americans Jack Sock, Ryan Harrison, Brandon Nakashima, Tommy Paul, Steve Johnson and Mackenzie McDonald. The biggest question mark of those six names is Sock. Can he actually learn to win singles matches again? I have my doubts.

Paul has drawn Nick at Night, so only one of them will move on from the Round of 32. That's too bad for the fans.

Tomorrow I’ll highlight a bunch of first-round match-ups and follow up the news on the competition with some general buzz around the magnificent grounds and stadium here on the East Coast of Southern Florida. If you’re in the Sunshine State now, make it a point to check out the wonderful little tennis gem that starts this weekend. You won’t regret it!

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