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Ricky’s tennis picks for this week’s ATP 250 events in Houston and Marrakech

By Ricky Dimon

On the heels of Indian Wells and Miami, three more Masters 1000 events in Monte-Carlo, Madrid, and Rome will soon be upon us. But the clay-court swing as a whole is already here. It begins in Houston and Marrakech, where there are relatively strong fields by ATP 250 standards. Among the players in action this week are Taylor Fritz, Reilly Opelka, John Isner, Nick Kyrios, and Felix Auger-Aliassime.

U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship

Where: Houston, Tex.
Prize Money: $594,950
Top seed: Taylor Fritz
2019 champion: Cristian Garin

The ATP Tour knows a thing or two about imbalanced draws in 2022 as a result of Novak Djokovic’s inability to withdraw in a timely manner. Houston can join the club of tournaments in which the No. 1 seed withdrew, although in this case nobody is to blame. Casper Ruud probably didn’t expect to be in the Miami final. But he was, so getting right back in action at a 250 tournament makes no sense. Thus the Norwegian is out and will be replaced by Michael Mmoh, who goes straight through to the second round as a lucky loser. Opelka, Kyrgios, and Tommy Paul will be among those taking advantage in the top half of the bracket. Of that trio, Paul is the one with the combination of both stellar current form and clay-court capability.

A strong American contingent also makes up the bottom half, which is home to Fritz, Isner, Frances Tiafoe, and Jack Sock. One of the more intriguing first-round contests pits Sock against clay-court specialist Cristian Garin, but Garin is struggling mightily at the moment. Both Fritz and Tiafoe are decent enough on the red stuff, so they could be on course for a semifinal showdown.

Quarterfinal picks: Tommy Paul over Daniel Elahi Galan, Reilly Opelka over Jenson Brooksby, Frances Tiafoe over John Isner, and Taylor Fritz over Jack Sock

Semifinals: Paul over Opelka and Fritz over Tiafoe

Final: Paul over Fritz

Grand Prix Hassan II

Where: Marrakech, Morocco
Prize money: 534,555 Euros
Top seed: Felix Auger-Aliassime
2019 champion: Benoit Paire (not playing)

The Marrakech field pales in comparison to that of Houston, but at least it has Felix Auger-Aliassime. On paper the Canadian is a clear title favorite, but has never been at his best on clay and he is coming off dreadful results in Indian Wells and Miami. Auger-Aliassime’s draw isn’t a good one, either. Alex Molcan would be a tough second-round opponent and potential quarterfinal foe Botic Van de Zandschulp just won their matchup in Indian Wells. Accomplished clay-courters like Albert Ramos-Vinolas, Laslo Djere, and Lorenzo Musetti could also contend for a final spot.

In part because Dan Evans is the No. 2 seed, the bottom half of the bracket is nowhere near as strong. It’s also not as deep. Don’t be surprised if an unseeded floater like Federico Coria, Pablo Andujar, or Richard Gasquet capitalizes on the opportunity. Even David Goffin has a chance to get back on track. All in all, this is an unspectacular 250 event sandwiched in between Masters 1000 tournaments; absolutely anything could happen.

Quarterfinal picks: Felix Auger-Aliassime over Botic Van de Zandschulp, Albert Ramos-Vinolas over Jiri Vesely, Federico Coria over Richard Gasquet, and Federico Delbonis over Pablo Andujar 

Semifinals: Ramos-Vinolas over Auger-Aliassime and Delbonis over Coria

Final: Ramos-Vinolas over Delbonis

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