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Ricky’s preview and picks for this week’s ATP 500 events in Astana and Tokyo

Novak Djokovic celebrates. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images for Laver Cup)

By Ricky Dimon

The home stretch of the 2022 season is heating up in a big way this week with a pair of 500-point tournaments on the schedule in Astana and Tokyo. Astana’s draw is especially loaded, as Carlos Alcaraz, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Novak Djokovic are all on board. Having missed two Grand Slams this year, Djokovic is still hunting for points as he tries to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals. Half of the eight spots remain up for grabs, and both Astana and Tokyo could go a long way toward sorting out the field.

Astana Open

Where: Astana, Kazakhstan
Surface: Indoor hard
Top seed: Carlos Alcaraz
2021 champion: Soonwoo Kwon (not playing)

Following two years as a 250, Astana has been upgraded to a 500 to replace Beijing on the schedule (tournaments in China the fall are canceled). The quality of the field has responded accordingly. In addition to Alcaraz, Medvedev, Tsitsipas, and Djokovic, the seeded contingent also includes Andrey Rublev, Hubert Hurkacz, and Marin Cilic. Among the dangerous unseeded floaters are Roberto Bautista Agut, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, Maxime Cressy, U.S. Open semifinalist Karen Khachanov, and recent Sofia champion Marc-Andrea Huesler.

Djokovic is coming off a title in Tel Aviv and appears to have a decent draw. The 35-year-old Serb opens against Cristian Garin and would then face Botic van de Zandschulp prior to a likely rematch of the Tel Aviv final with Marin Cilic. Medvedev and Bautista Agut are potential semifinal foes for Djokovic. At the top of the bracket, Alcaraz will begin his week with David Goffin on the other side of the net. Another tricky opponent in Adrian Mannarino awaits in round two. Meanwhile, Tsitsipas and Hurkacz should not have too much trouble setting up a quarterfinal showdown.

Quarterfinal picks: Andrey Rublev over Carlos Alcaraz, Hubert Hurkacz over Stefanos Tsitsipas, Novak Djokovic over Maxime Cressy, and Roberto Bautista Agut over Daniil Medvedev

Semifinals: Hurkacz over Rublev and Djokovic over Bautista Agut

Final: Djokovic over Hurkacz

Alex de Minaur. Photo credit: Atlanta Open Facebook

Rakuten Japan Open

Where: Tokyo, Japan
Surface: Hard
Top seed: Casper Ruud
2019 champion: Novak Djokovic (not playing)

No. 1 seed Casper Ruud has already secured a spot in the Nitto ATP Finals, Taylor Fritz has a very real chance, and Nick Kyrgios, Denis Shapovalov, Frances Tiafoe, and Alex de Minaur would all get into distant contention with a title in Tokyo. Ruud and de Minaur could collide in the quarterfinals, while Kyrgios and Fritz may do the same. Shapovalov’s nearest seed is No. 9 Borna Coric, who moved to the bottom of the bracket when No. 2 seed Cameron Norrie withdrew. Tiafoe will face Bernabe Zapata Miralles in round two before potentially meeting Dan Evans or Yoshihito Nishioka in the quarters.

Evans can’t like his draw with Nishioka possibly up for him in the second round. It’s one of the most notable head-to-head series currently going on the ATP Tour; Nishioka is sweeping it 6-0. The Japanese left-hander most recently defeated Evans last week in Seoul on his way to the title (beat Shapovalov in the championship match). However, Nishioka has a tough first-rounder on his hands against Miomir Kecmanovic. Other first-round matchups to watch are de Minaur vs. Soonwoo Kwon and Borna Coric vs. Thanasi Kokkinakis.

Quarterfinal picks: Alex de Minaur over Casper Ruud, Frances Tiafoe over Miomir Kecmanovic, Nick Kyrgios over Taylor Fritz, and Brandon Nakashima over Denis Shapovalov

Semifinals: De Minaur over Tiafoe and Nakashima over Kyrgios

Final: De Minaur over Nakashiima

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