The first ATP 500 of the year is upon us. 4 previous champions here feature in the main draw, as well as a big contingent of up & coming stars. A packed field here took a major hit with the withdrawals of several stars, (Bautista Agut, Cilic, Dimitrov, Edmund, Gasquet, Kyrgios & Zverev) however a strong field still remains. 124 ATP Tour titles have been won by players in the main draw here amongst 19 countries represented.
An action-packed entry list full of new & old stars means for a few interesting first round matchups. Starting in the top quarter, #1 Seed, Kei Nishikori faces Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert, fresh off his 3rd career ATP Final in Montpellier. If Nishikori is to progress through that, likely waiting in the 2nd Round will be Canadian young gun, Denis Shapovalov. Chung-Basilashvili should be an interesting match, with both players looking to bounce back from disappointing, early-round defeats in their previous matches. The other match should see Fucsovics go in full of confidence against Klizan, as he is in the final in Sofia.
The second quarter features some huge names, Raonic, Wawrinka, Berdych & Pouille all play in separate matches. Should they all win, it would make for some great viewing in the second round. Whilst a potential Aus Open QF rematch between Raonic & Pouille sounds entertaining, I expect to see Raonic taking on Tomas Berdych. The Czech is coming off a Semi Final performance in Montpellier & should take confidence into this.
The third quarter is less star-studded, but has more potential for an upset or two. 3rd-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas has a tough one straight away against Damir Dzumhur, and a potential 3rd round matchup against Gael Monfils, who defeated him this past week. Monfils has drawn David Goffin first-up but the Belgian though, is out of form and Monfils will go into this full of confidence.
Lastly, this final quarter contains Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (in the final in Montpellier), Daniil Medvedev (in the final in Sofia) & the young, hard-hitting Russian, Karen Khachanov. Look for the finalist from the bottom half of the draw to come from this quarter.
I see two potential upsets here straight away & both coming from the same quarter, which would then allow an unseeded semi final participant. As mentioned above, the coach-less David Goffin is out of form, and Gael Monfils is fresh off a semi final in Sofia. The other upset I can see happening here is the tricky Damir Dzumhur knocking off Stefanos Tsitsipas. Dzumhur struggles with consistent performances here & there, but when he is on, he is a very dangerous player.
One To Watch
The One To Watch here in Rotterdam is Denis Shapovalov. The dangerous & flashy Canadian left-hander is in a nice section of the draw & has a qualifier first-up. There’s no guarantees that he even has to face the #1 seed, Kei Nishikori, in the second round here as he has a tough first match. Following that would be anyones guess as to who he would be facing, as any of those 4 players could reach the QF. From there on however, it gets extremely difficult.
In saying that, I think the winner here comes from the bottom quarter of the draw. I was tossing up between Medvedev & Khachanov, however with Medvedev in the final in Sofia & it being very difficult to back up such a strong performance with a consecutive one straight after, I think Karen Khachanov wins here. Despite a tough run to the final on paper, two of his projected matchups would be against opponents who made the final of their respective tournaments in the previous week, a feat that is tough to follow up. Khachanov has the talent & ability to win a big tournament such as this one, and could really use it to springboard his year ahead.