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ATP Men’s Tennis From Madrid • Novak Djokovic vs. Kei Nishikori And Ricky’s Other Picks For Monday

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic attends a training session during the 2018 Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament at Caja Magica in Madrid, Spain, 04 May 2018. Mutua Madrid Open starts on 04 May 2018 in the Spanish capital. EPA-EFE/KIKO HUESCA

 

 

By Ricky Dimon

Novak Djokovic vs. Kei Nishikori is part of the first-round schedule on Monday at the Mutua Madrid Open. Djokovic and Nishikori are accustomed to having byes to begin their campaigns at Masters 1000 tournaments, but that is certainly not the case this time around.Ricky takes a look at Monday’s matches and makes his predictions.

 

Kei Nishikori vs. (10) Novak Djokovic

These two will be colliding for the 14th time in their careers on Monday. The head-to-head series stands at an overwhelming 11-2 in Djokovic’s favor, but all 13 of their previous encounters came long before the status quo for both players changed to what it is now. In fact, they have not squared off since the 2016 ATP Finals in London. Last year was an injury-plagued disaster for Djokovic, and both players have struggled with various issues in 2018. The Serb is a meager 5-5 for the season and threw away at least some semblance of momentum picked up in Monte-Carlo by falling right away in Barcelona at the hands of Martin Klizan.

Nishikori’s comeback from a wrist injury has been up and down, highlighted by a Challenger title in Dallas, a semifinal showing in New York, and a runner-up finish in Monte-Carlo. Predictably, he retired from his first match in Barcelona a few days after losing in the Monte-Carlo final to…you guessed it…Rafael Nadal. This one will almost certainly come down to which player is in better shape physically, and that is basically impossible to know given the significant questions with which both men head into this event. But if all other things happen to be equal, an edge in current form goes to Nishikori.

Pick: Nishikori in 3

 

(15) Lucas Pouille vs. Benoit Paire

It will be an all-French affair when Pouille and Paire clash for the fourth time in their careers at the ATP level. Pouille has won all three of their previous main-tour meetings, but Paire at least prevailed in the final of the 2015 Mouilleron le Captif Challenger. They have met just once on clay, with Pouille emerging victorious 6-3, 6-2 three years ago in Hamburg.

The season has been an all-or-nothing roller-coaster ride for Pouille, who has either lost his opening match or reached the final in all eight of his events. He has two runner-ups, one title (Montpellier), and five immediate exits–including most recently in Indian Wells, Monte-Carlo and Bucharest. Paire’s results have been more ordinary, with two semifinals, one quarterfinal, and a third round in Miami–where took advantage of an out-of-sorts Djokovic. The world No. 49 is capable enough on clay and playing well enough at the moment to capitalize on his opportunity against another slumping opponent.

Pick: Paire in 3

 

Other matches:

Andujar over Lopez in 3 – The altitude helps Lopez; the surface does not. Being tournament director also can’t help his chances of on-court success.

Raonic over Kicker in 2 – Raonic is actually quite adept on clay, and the conditions in Madrid will allow him to blow Kicker off the court.

Schwartzman over Mannarino in 3 – This is just about a toss-up. A slight edge goes to Schwartzman because clay is Mannarino’s worst surface.

Khachanov over Lajovic in 2 – Khachanov is playing solid right now and rarely loses to opponents ranked below him. Lajovic is one such opponent.

Carballes Baena over Kukushkin in 2 – Current form, home-court advantage, and the surface all favor Carballes Baena, who triumphed on the clay of Quito earlier in 2018.

Monfils over Basilashvili in 2
 – If Monfils is motivated, this will be a classic case of defense beating offense. But that is a big “if.”

Benneteau over Dzumhur in 2 – Dzumhur has been a disaster of late. Benneteau hasn’t been great, either, but he can grind away and induce Dzumhur into a whole host of errors.

Delbonis over Zverev in 2 – Not even relatively fast conditions can save Zverev on this surface. Delbonis will dominate rallies, so the German veteran must serve incredibly well to have a chance.

 

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.

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