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ATP Tennis • Ricky’s Preview And Picks For Day 1 Of Cincinnati, Including Andy Murray vs. Tiafoe

Andy Murray, the 2008 Western & Southern Open titlist, will face Tiafoe on Saturday.

By Ricky Dimon

Main-draw action on the ATP Tour will return for the first time since late February when the Western & Southern Open gets underway on Saturday. Although the top players have byes, the first round is still loaded with great players and intriguing matchups.

Among those in action on Saturday are Andy Murray, Frances Tiafoe, Felix Auger-Aliassime, and Denis Shapovalov.

Ricky previews three of the best matchups and makes his predictions:

(WC) Frances Tiafoe vs. (WC) Andy Murray

It will be a battle between two wild-card recipients when Murray and Tiafoe collide on Saturday. Tiafoe was one of the players who contracted the coronavirus this summer, forcing him out of a team exhibition in Atlanta over July 4 weekend. The 22-year-old American lost to Sam Querrey in straight sets at that event prior to the positive diagnosis. In official matches he is just 2-5 this season and really has not done much since his quarterfinal run at the 2019 Australian Open.

The 2019 Aussie Open was where Murray “retired,” but successful hip surgery has him back on tour. The three-time Grand Slam champion compiled a 2-2 record at the Battle of the Brits exhibition, losing only in tiebreakers for the third set against both Kyle Edmund and Dan Evans. Murray is a two-time Cincinnati and he obviously has good memories from the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center having won his first slam title there at the 2012 U.S. Open. The former world No. 1 will likely get too many balls back for an erratic opponent who is short on confidence right now.

Pick: Murray in 2 

Nikoloz Basilashvili vs. (15) Felix Auger-Aliassime

Auger-Aliassime and Basilashvili will be facing each other for the third time in their careers on Saturday. The head-to-head series stands at 2-0 in favor of Auger-Aliassime, who got the job done 7-6(4), 6-4 at the 2019 Miami Masters and 2-6, 7-6(3), 6-4 on the indoor hard courts of Lyon.

The 20-year-old Canadian made a recent appearance at the Ultimate Tennis Showdown in France, where he picked up a win over an injured Richard Gasquet and lost twice to Alexander Zverev in sudden-death situations. His form was solid but unspectacular, which is at least better than Basilashvili had been prior to the hiatus. The Georgian was just 3-5 in four tournaments (ATP Cup included at the start of the season). This will probably be an up-and-down affair between two relatively inconsistent players, but an edge once again goes to the youngster.

Pick: Auger-Aliassime in 3

Denis Shapovalov in player warm ups at Cincy 2020.

(12) Denis Shapovalov vs. Marin Cilic

Shapovalov and Cilic will be going head-to-head for the fourth time in their careers and for the second time this season. Since losing their first encounter on the indoor hard courts of Basel in 2018, Shapovalov has won two in a row at Cilic’s expense. The Canadian prevailed 6-4, 6-2 at the 2019 Indian Wells Masters and battled to a 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 victory this February in Marseille.

Those setbacks against Shapovalov have coincided with an overall slide in Cilic’s career the past few seasons. This is not the same player who triumphed at the U.S. Open in 2014 and was a staple of the year-end championship in London. The 31-year-old has slipped to 37th in the rankings, 21 spots below the 21-year-old Shapovalov. Look for the youngster to shake off the rust in slightly more effective fashion, allowing him to pick up another win in this head-to-head series.

Pick: Shapovalov in 3

Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.