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Ricky’s picks for the season-opening ATP 250s in Brisbane and Hong Kong

The 2024 tennis season is here. It starts in grand style, too, as Rafael Nadal’s long-awaited comeback gets underway at the Brisbane International. Nadal is part of a strong field at the Brisbane ATP 250 tournament that also includes Holger Rune, Grigor Dimitrov, and Andy Murray. Meanwhile the Bank of China Open in Hong Kong is home to Andrey Rublev, Frances Tiafoe, and Karen Khachanov among plenty of other big names.
Here are my previews and predictios for the season-opening events. 

Brisbane International

Where: Brisbane, Australia 
Prize money: $661,585 
Top seed: Holger Rune  
Defending champion: Kei Nishikori (not playing) 

Draw analysis: If Nadal stays healthy, one of the biggest storylines of the upcoming year centers around the Spaniard going into every event unseeded and at the mercy of the draw. The first one is a kind one for Nadal (pending the placement of qualifiers), as the 37-year-old starts against a qualifier before potentially facing Aslan Karatsev in the second round and fourth-seeded Ugo Humbert in the quarterfinals. Possible SF opponents for are Dimitrov, Tomas Martin Etcheverry, and Thanasi Kokkinakis. The bottom half of the Brisbane bracket is headlined by a first-round battle between Dimitrov and Murray. 

Rune may not have an easy time reaching the final from the top half of the draw. Max Purcell has home-court advantage against the top-seeded Dane in round one, while potential quarterfinal foe Sebastian Korda played great in Australian this past year (Adelaide runner-up, Australian Open QFs). Elsewhere in the top half of the draw, Ben Shelton is in a section with Sebastian Baez, Matteo Arnaldi, and Marton Fucsovics.

Quarterfinal picks: Sebastian Korda over Holger Rune, Ben Shelton over Matteo Arnaldi, Ugo Humbert over Rafael Nadal, and Grigor Dimitrov over Thanasi Kokkinakis 
Semifinals: Shelton over Korda and Dimitrov over Humbert 

Final: Dimitrov over Shelton 

Bank of China Open

Where: Hong Kong, Hong Kong 
Prize money: $661,585 
Top seed: Andrey Rublev  
Defending champion: None (inaugural event) 

Draw analysis: Hong Kong’s inaugural field is a good one. Rublev, Khachanov, Tiafoe, and Francisco Cerundolo are the top four seeds; they are ahead of Jan-Lennard Struff, Lorenzo Musetti, Laslo Djere, and Arthur Fils. Roberto Bautista Agut, Marin Cilic, Emil Ruusuvuori, Botic van de Zandschulp, and Miomir Kecmanovic are among the unseeded players. Although Rublev, Khachanov, and Tiafoe are clearly the cream of the crop, nobody can be expected to have an easy time of things this week given the depth of the Hong Kong field. 

Neither of the Russians (Rublev and Khachanov) is likely to have a routine path to the title match. In the QFs Rublev could face Fils, the recent NextGen ATP Finals runner-up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Tiafoe, Van de Zandschulp, and Kecmanovic are also in the top half of the bracket. Khachanov arguably has an even tougher road; he will probably run into Ruusuvuori in the second round and potentially Musetti in the quarterfinals.

Quarterfinal picks: Andrey Rublev over Arthur Fils, Miomir Kecmanovic over Jungcheng Shang, Mackenzie McDonald over Roberto Bautista Agut, and Karen Khachanov over Pavel Kotov 
Semifinals: Rublev over Kecmanovic and Khachanov over McDonald 

Final: Rublev over Khachanov 

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