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Tennis • Ricky’s Preview And Picks For This Week’s ATP Events In Beijing And Tokyo

Photo by @RakutenOpen via Twitter

By Ricky Dimon

Novak Djokovic’s shoulder injury that plagued him at the U.S. Open is not as significant as originally feared. Clearly not, because the top-ranked Serb is making a somewhat unexpected appearance this week at the Rakuten Japan Open. It is a big week on the ATP Tour with two 500-point events taking place simultaneously, with the China Open boasting an even more impressive and much deeper field. It is home to top 10 competitors Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Karen Khachanov.

China Open

Where: Beijing, China
Prize money: $3,515,225
Top seed: Dominic Thiem
Defending champion: Nikoloz Basilashvili

Fourteen of the top 26 are–or were–Beijing, a testament to the incredible depth of this tournament (last year it was 13 of the top 28). That list does not even include Andy Murray, whose comeback continues with his second stop on the Asian swing. Murray is coming off a second-round showing in Chengdu, where he won his first ATP-level match since hip surgery by defeating Tennys Sandgren before falling to eventual champion Alex de Minaur. The three-time slam champion a tough opener against Matteo Berrettini, with the winner possibly to meet Thiem in the quarterfinals. Also in the top half of the draw are Khachanov and Andrey Rublev. Grigor Dimitrov was also there but lost to Rublev on Monday.

The first-round showdowns don’t stop there. They also include Zverev vs. Frances Tiafoe (Zverev won on Monday), Gael Monfils vs. John Isner, Roberto Bautista Agut vs. Sam Querrey, Diego Schwartzman vs. Fernando Verdasco, Felix Auger Aliassime vs. Zhuhai semifinalist Albert Ramos-Vinolas, and defending Beijing champion Nikoloz Basilashvili vs. Guido Pella. Auger-Aliassime could face either Zverev or Tiafoe in the last 16.

First-round upset possibility: (Q) Pablo Cuevas over (4) Karen Khachanov. Cuevas already has two matches under his belt in Beijing, having successfully qualified for the main draw. Despite being No. 9 in the world, Khachanov’s record for the 2019 campaign is an alarmingly disappointing 22-21. He has not won a match since the Cincinnati second (the infamous match against Nick Kyrgios). The Russian leads this head-to-head series 2-1, but their only previous meeting on the fall swing was dominated by Cuevas 6-4, 6-2 at the Paris Masters in 2017.

Quarterfinal picks: Matteo Berrettini over Richard Gasquet, Fabio Fognini over Pablo Cuevas, Nikoloz Basilashvili over Dan Evans, and Diego Schwartzman over Alexander Zverev

Semifinals: Berrettini over Fognini and Schwartzman over Basilashvili

Final: Schwartzman over Berrettini

Rakuten Japan Open

Where: Tokyo, Japan
Prize money: $1,895,290
Top seed: Novak Djokovic
2018 champion: Daniil Medvedev (not playing)

With so much depth in Beijing and nothing of the sort in Tokyo, this event should be—or could be—all about Djokovic. His health will likely determine the course of the week, as anything close to a 100-percent level may be enough for top seed to lift the trophy. If that is not the case, however, there are some challengers who could capitalize. Lucas Pouille, for example, is a potential quarterfinal opponent. Elsewhere in the top half of the bracket, Chengdu champion Pablo Carreno Busta is meeting familiar foe David Goffin and Denis Shapovalov has an intriguing opener on his hands with Miomir Kecmanovic.

In a wide-open bottom half, de Minaur and Adrian Mannarino could collide in round two for a rematch of Sunday’s Zhuhai title match. De Minaur also defeated Borna Coric on his path to the title last week and they may go at it again in the Tokyo QFs. Up first for the 20-year-old Aussie, though, is Chengdu semifinalist Lloyd Harris. The South African earned a special exemption into Tokyo thanks to his run as a lucky loser last week.

First-round upset possibility: Reilly Opelka over (7) Taylor Fritz. Not unlike the case with Isner, many Opelka matches can be 50-50 propositions since there are generally so few service breaks and more than a few tiebreakers. Fritz is sweeping the head-to-head series between these two great friends and fellow Americans 4-0, which is somewhat surprising aside from the fact that three of their previous meetings came prior to Opelka’s 2019 breakthrough and their lone 2019 meeting came on clay. Opelka is well-rested, while Fritz followed up Laver Cup duty with an opening loss in Chengdu to eventual runner-up Alexander Bublik.

Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic over Lucas Pouille, Denis Shapovalov over Marin Cilic, Filip Krajinovic over Gilles Simon, and Borna Coric over Alex de Minaur

Semifinals: Djokovic over Shapovalov and Coric over Krajinovic

Final: Djokovic over Coric

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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