May 02, 2021

2021 Madrid Open ATP Round One Matches

Men’s draw is starting tomorrow before the qualifiers have ended, so I’ve done the round 1 writeups minus those matches. Once the qualifiers are done and set in the draw, I’ll edit them into the post and post them in the comment section also. <3 Looking forward to a fun event and plus the return of Thiem!

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Mannarino vs Alcaraz :

Carlos Alcaraz is another in a long line of players whose ages are easy to forget. Despite some disappointing losses, him being 17 years old and already expected to beat a large portion of the tour on clay is pretty amazing. The trouble with being 17 and having all these opportunities is that people expect you to win, but the thrill of success on tour isn’t lost on your yet. Alcaraz is still very willing to go for the big shot in the big moments, and at times he plays a bit less patient than he should situationally. This will change as he goes, and honestly losing matches on tour is one of the best ways for a young player to iron out what shots to employ in different spots. His match with Cilic was a high level, and while he’s not automatic on tour yet, he should be a heavy favorite here. Mannarino has never really been that good on clay. He hits a very flat ball without much pace or spin, and he thrives on grass and faster hardcourts. Alcaraz’s main enemy in this contest will be unforced errors. It is easy to begin looking for offense on every ball when you’re dictating, and seeing the finish line can also lead young players to snatch at simple shots as their brain realizes “WE’RE GONNA WIN!” It’s mental battle we’ll see a lot of over the next few years for him, but I think here at home he will have sufficient time and comfort to get through. Alcaraz in 2.

Pella vs Sinner :

Pella has had some tough outings in recent history, and this is likely to be another one. He’s struggled with Morton’s neuroma (a nerve issue in the foot where it feels like there is pain nonstop), some eye problems, and just general poor luck. A withdrawal last week against Millman doesn’t lend itself to his best performance here, and Masters 1000 money is nice so I doubt he’d withdraw even if he wasn’t 100%. Sinner has been one of the best players on tour, and has left the NextGen references behind. He’ll be in the top 20 for the foreseeable future, and this is a pretty good spot to start. Pella can rally endlessly when he’s playing well, and being lefty means he has a minor advantage on tour, but Sinner’s backhand is good enough to hold up. Sinner in 2.

Hurkacz vs Millman :

This is the perfect opener for Hurkacz to get. His title run was unreal and featured a consistent level that is often missing from his game. He followed that up by pushing Evans to a deciding set, so he won’t come into this totally unprepared. Millman has beaten him in all 3 meetings, but none have been on clay. John boasts one of the best work ethics and attitudes on tour, but the weapons are not really there. If Hurkacz keeps the ball in the court, he can win this. It’s a big “if” though, as Hurkacz has been swinging freely and playing aggressive in almost every appearance for the past season or so. Oddly, his title run featured some more conservative shot selection, but he was still very willing to pull the trigger. On clay it’ll require more rallies and against Millman it’ll require extra shots. I think the sheer volume of clay Millman has played gives him a slight edge here despite his results not being the best. Prior to the rain delay he looked real good against Ruud, and that’s a slight level above what Hurkacz has produced on clay in the past. Millman in 3, but it’ll be exciting if Hurkacz is able to bring his same high level over to the dirt.

Chardy vs Evans :

Jeremy Chardy makes tennis look simple. Despite opening as an underdog in almost every single match he’s played this year, he’s having great success. It comes after a bit of a difficult run of losses for him, and post-30 players on a losing streak often get a double dose of doubt and retirement rumors, so it’s great to see one of the more skillful baseline shotmakers on tour on a run. Dan Evans has really upped his game in the past two years, but his run on clay was relatively out of nowhere. Defeating Novak Djokovic on any surface is a career event, and Evans played great at that event. I don’t expect a significant drop in level, but his loss to Moutet last week shows that despite his run, he is still susceptible to losing on tour. Chardy has gone 1-1 at most of the clay events he’s played, but wins against Munar and Basilashvili show he is able to compete at this level. Evans leads the H2H by a good margin, but all of these matches are pretty old and came on hardcourt. Chardy > Moutet but not in the defensive department. I expect him to press Evans a good bit, and with his easy serving ability he has a chance to steal a set here. The ball flying in Madrid benefits him also. For sanity purposes, one has to give a slight nod to Evans here, but I expect it’ll take a while. Evans in 3.

Khachanov vs Nishikori :

Khachanov is back to getting extremely difficult draws. Although clay is never his best surface, Nishikori has played great tennis in the past few events, most notably stealing a set against Nadal in a highly competitive contest. Khachanov’s serving is near the top of the tour, and his baseline game can be very solid. His featured contests against Sinner have been an incredibly high level, but at times it feels like that is his lot on tour. He does everything above average but nothing is particularly his wheelhouse. The result is that he can compete with anyone, but often loses close matches. Nishikori’s backhand and ability to extend rallies negates his struggles on serve, but his lack of a serve means that he won’t see this one through quickly either. This is just an unfortunate draw for both, but with Zverev waiting both will have it in the back of their head that they might snag a marquee win if he experiences more serving woes. I see Nishikori set at even odds here despite his ranking being 20ish spots below, and I agree with the slight nod to him being a player on the rise. Nishikori in 3.

De Minaur vs Munar :

Alex De Minaur seemed like the next big thing for a while. Set at wildly inflated odds and generating big results with a small frame, it seemed like he was a mini-version of Djokovic. He takes the ball early and covers the court with an almost unparalleled dedication. Clay, though, has not benefitted him at all. 4 losses in his last 5 on clay, and an opponent who is an absolute specialist mean that his experience/potential on tour are brought down to an equal level. While Munar is a small favorite to win if De Minaur performs poorly though, there are issues on Jaume’s side of the net as well. Munar moves the ball exceptionally well and defends in a solid manner, but his serve doesn’t result in many free points and he lacks power to hit clean through a speedy player like Alex. Clay tends to create a lot of these contests where the fringe clay specialist is playing a tour player who isn’t quite as adept, but whose tennis is good enough to make it a contest. Munar should win this in two, but it may be a long one.

Harris vs Dimitrov :

I was optimistic about Lloyd Harris’ chances to beat Cecchinato, but he really didn’t look comfortable on clay. Dimitrov has a similar style of results to Marco, throwing in almost unexplainable losses in between stretches of great quality. He’s been dealing with some back issues, but is having a better season than usual in terms of quality of play. Good timing on the forehand, and winning most of the matches that he’s “supposed” to. I am a big fan of Harris and his fitness has jumped way up this year, but until he proves himself on clay, it’s best to doubt him there. Dimitrov in 2.

Isner vs Kecmanovic :

Uh ohhhhh. Super cool tennis ball dribbling alert. I have soured on Isner as I’ve learned more about him, but most of the ire comes from how he reduces tennis to a binary game with his serving. If you think his serve looks ridiculous on tv, take the chance before he retires to go see it at court level. He really is a phenom. Clay tennis is a bit of an art form though, and I don’t really enjoy the servebot threat that he poses. This is a tale of two cities. Kecmanovic is playing every event he can, and grinding away on clay even in losing efforts. He has a good attitude, a great work ethic, and has continued to show up and plug away despite some awful stretches of losses. Isner, on the other hand, has not played since Miami, and is not likely to blink if he loses every single match on clay this season. Kecmanovic is a clear favorite in every rally, but it might come down to tiebreakers anyway. With no matches under his belt, I think this will be a tough ask for Isner though. Kecmanovic in 2.

Martinez vs Paul :

Pedro Martinez looked like he’d end Norrie’s run last week, but he was the victim of some extremely sinister net-cords right at the end of the match. He took it well, but his game did falter a bit due to fatigue, which is something I haven’t really seen from him before. In his defense, Norrie was dug in all week and really outlasted a lot of quality players. Tommy Paul is probably the best American on clay, despite Tiafoe’s recent work ethic, but he doesn’t focus on it enough. His serving and forehand make him an offensive threat, but his movement is what really shines. It’s rare that a player is able to play steady offense on clay, and he’ll need it as Martinez is one of the best baseliners from the hybrid range on tour. He’s one of the claycourters whose game is so good that he is able to pull upsets on hardcourt, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a big fan. Some privately held injuries have hampered him and made it difficult to know when he’ll be at his best, but since he’s been playing, he should have a small edge against Paul. With Rublev waiting in round two, this is a bad part of the draw, but the points and money would be a great bonus for either of these two. It’s a repetitive story at the beginning of the serious clay season, but I expect those who’ve been playing matches on the surface to fare better. Martinez in 3.

Humbert vs Karatsev :

Ugo Humbert had a good week in Estoril with his mum, and a win against Cecchinato is a good step for him. When he first made his way on tour, his lack of power had him struggling to find wins in any form of outdoor tennis, and now clay sits as the last surface where he isn’t exactly composed. The loss to Fokina in straight sets shouldn’t bother him too much, but Fokina and Karatsev represent a similar level of threat to him on clay. Karatsev and Djokovic played one of the best matches of the year, and Aslan’s ascent on tour hasn’t really paused at any point this year. Carrying success at the highest level on hardcourt over to clay is not wholly confusing, but it was rather unexpected. Fun fact : Karatsev is not legally allowed to keep a waterbed as his pointy calves will surely pierce it and flood his neighbors below. This match seems straightforward; Karatsev has demonstrated a much better level on clay than Ugo, and has enough rest after his finals run to be back to normal. Humbert certainly will acquit himself, but I think Karatsev should win this in two single break sets, and with Diego waiting in round two this is a very juicy result to hope for.

Fucsovics vs Bublik :

Bublik is not exactly crushing it this clay season, but he has the capability of playing his unique game on the surface. Serve and volley aren’t the prime candidates for a good run on clay, but the dropshots can be extremely effective. He and Fucsovics have met once on clay before, and Bublik did come through. As he’s stated publicly that he plays just for the money, Bublik can be expected to compete a bit harder in a Masters 1000 event than he has in the past couple weeks. Fucsovics has played just one event, losing to Sonego. Marton is a very consistent defensive test for anyone, but his claycourt prowess leaves something to be desired, and that makes this a bit of a tossup. Bublik’s stretch of losses though are not something I can really back. It’s a similar matchup to Tommy Paul and Martinez; Bublik’s offense could be great but it’d be the first time in a while that it was, and Fucsovics performance is almost guaranteed. I lean Fucsovics here. He’s more mentally stable during difficult patches, and he has good enough defending to extend rallies. Fucsovics in 2.

Lajovic vs Shapovalov :

Dusan Lajovic has had a rough stretch of losses. Clay is usually where he makes most of his points, but he’s lost in three first rounds in a row. Lajovic has lost these matches with minor mistakes in key moments, so there’s something to the idea that he will turn it around before the end of the clay season. Shapovalov is a similar story results-wise, but not in how he arrived there. He doesn’t seem willing to play normal rallies, and while this makes for exciting tennis, he does a lot of big swinging with no results. It’s a problem that he may figure out, but he winds up doing a lot of spectacular shotmaking and losing the points. Impatience seems to be the main issue, but he’s very easily moved by the results of individual rallies so he tends to implode/get into trouble with double faults at times. Lajovic is a prime suspect to beat an error-prone player, but he’ll have to be very careful not to hit Shap into form. Shapovalov should win this in two, but he just hasn’t made it happen recently. Lajovic in 3.

Auger-Alliassime vs Ruud :

Oooooo. This is a popcorn match. FAA hasn’t really dominated the way people expect him to in the future, but he can play with anyone in a one-off situation. Ruud is probably in the top 20 on clay, but he suffered a very quick defeat to Basilashvili this week and it is a very quick turnaround. At times on tour a loss can seem unexplainable, but fatigue can make a better player fold up against the fresh offense of someone whose been playing less. Ruud has a small edge on the forehand, but FAA serves much better. The thing carrying FAA through a lot of matches is just his height/athleticism. He’s able to return serves on instinct a lot of the time, and when he does have a chance to open up and swing his opponents almost need to guess, because he hits with good depth/pace on the forehand side. I think Ruud’s recovery will be the main factor here, and this is likely a win for FAA if Ruud’s level drops. Hopefully it won’t. Ruud in 2.

Norrie vs Krajinovic :

Great week for Cam Norrie. He has never been a threat on clay, but he has dug in and looks so very annoying to play this week. His backhand isn’t able to hit through the court, and his forehand is a bit loopy at times, but it’s translated into his opponents winding up in endless rallies, and Norrie’s fitness has proven the better of the two players in every single round. Garin, Martinez, Cilic, etc. They all faltered late in sets and late in the match. Krajinovic didn’t play poorly against Struff at all, and I expect him to be able to compete evenly with Norrie from the baseline. He’s one of the most frustrating players to back as he can implode at any moment, but he is one of the best counterpunchers and since Norrie doesn’t hit outright winners like Struff, I think Filip will have less pressure. Winning after a title run is extremely difficult, and it’ll be tough for Cam to score on Krajinovic the same way it’s been tough for his opponents to score on him this week. Krajinovic in 3.

Basilashvili vs Paire :

Loser gets relegated to the challenger tour? Basilashvili is about to turn in one of the weirdest seasons ever. Nonstop first round losses, and somehow, two finals appearances (this may be “two titles” pending his match tomorrow). This week he’s been swinging really well on his forehand, getting the racquet really high above his head and focusing more on the technique/spin than on locating the shots extremely deep. When players are comfortable enough to focus on technique, it’s usually a good sign, and he goes up against a shell of a caricature of a man here. Benoit Paire is beginning to resemble a disinterested toothbrush, and while I think his tantrums on court are nothing new, I don’t think he will turn it around here. Basilashvili’s pace is likely to have a safe home hitting to Paire’s forehand, which drags the ball in at best and is the worst forehand on tour. Paire relies heavily on dropshots and his backhand playing offense, and while his serving is good enough at times to get him deep in sets, Basilashvili and him have the same early season but wildly different recent results. Basilasvhili in 2.

Fritz vs Ramos :

Taylor Fritz wins more matches on clay than I expect him to, but it’s hard to really point to him as a winner here. ARV has been a complete wall on clay, and this week in Estoril he’s absoutely smoking his forehand. I’ve never seen him hit it faster, and today he dispatched Fokina in straights while making him look helpless. Frequent looks to his box, and genuine despair to try to end rallies were on display, and ARV’s only trouble in this first round will be recovering from his finals match. I’m hoping for ARV to continue his good run, but it might just happen here. Ramos-Vinolas in 2.

Garin vs Verdasco :

Garin fell to Norrie last week, but he really is one of the best players on clay. He wins in such a simple way, so when he’s off he struggles mightily, but it makes his decision-making on court very solid at all times. Verdasco went up an early break against ARV last week, but that was the only bright point. He hasn’t been very active, and despite playing at home and having a huge forehand, Garin is a heavy favorite to come through here. Garin in 2.

Koepfer vs Opelka :

Koepfer is a bit underwhelming at times, but this is a very similar match to Isner/Kecmanovic. Koepfer has simple ways to score points, and Opelka is on his worst surface. Koepfer’s benefit here is that his lefty serve swings wide to Opelka’s backhand, which is improving from the baseline but isn’t great on returns. Opelka can serve his way through anything, and Koepfer isn’t going to dominate affairs against any player, but the American servers just don’t play enough dirt to really threaten wins or for me to have faith in them. Koepfer in 2-3.