Serbia Open – Selected Round of 32 and Round of 16 Matches- 20th and 21st April
Tuesday, 20th April – Round of 32
Sebastian Korda (6/10) vs Aljaz Bedene (13/10)
Sebastian Korda is having a fairly sensational season thus far. Remember, this is a man who was ranked outside the top 500 at the end of 2018. He is currently sitting ln a 15-5 year-to-date win-loss record. Sure, his one win came at a Quimper Challenger event. But his final at the Delray Beach event really highlighted how much progression he has made. He also recently showed reached the quarterfinals of the highly prestigious Miami Open. So, he reached his first ATP Final and Masters 1000 quarterfinal already this season. The gangly American has clearly played his best tennis on hardcourts, where he is able to dictate points by shortening exchanges. But last year’s performance at Roland Garros will give him some real clay-court encouragement. Korda defied expectations with a steady 4th round run (he ultimately went down to one Rafa Nadal). This will be his first appearance on clay all season, which may take him some time for him to adapt to.
31-year-old Aljaz Bedene is an interesting one. The Slovenian has actually been quite solid this year, with an 8-6 win-loss record. That includes a quarterfinal in Caligari last week. It’s strange. Bedene had fashioned himself as something of a clay-court specialist in the last three years. He reached the final of the Hungarian Open in 2017 before repeating that feat in Argentina a year later. He once again showed off those clay-court chops in Rio in 2019, making it to the semi-final. But over the last few seasons he has gradually started to perform better on hard-courts (his last final appearance came at the 2019 Moselle Open). Bedene will be looking to resurrect some of that long-last clay-court form this week. The Slovenian will need to call on all his court-craft to overcome the harder hitting Korda.
This will be the first encounter between these two (unsurprising when you consider the generational gap at play). I think that Korda will have the strength necessary to hit clean winners on these slow surfaces. While Bedene is actually the higher ranked player, I think Korda will win this match in straight sets at 14/10.
Wednesday, 21st April- Round of 16
Marco Cecchinato (16/10) vs Matteo Berrettini (2) (49/100)
The demise of Marco Cecchinato over the past few years has been something to behold. The former World Number 16 took the ATP Tour by absolute storm in 2018. He won two clay-court titles in Hungary and Croatia before a herculean run in Roland Garros. He reached the semi-final and looked to set to join the upper echelons of men’s tennis. But Cecchinato has proved to be the living embodiment of the clay-court specialist (he is yet to win one other match at another Grand Slam). In 2019 he was eliminated in the first round of 16 events! Ouch. Last year he manged nine first round defeats despite the hyper-truncated schedule. But having said all that, the Sicilian has always managed to find results on clay despite form. He won the Argentina Open in 2019 and reached the final in Sardenga last year. His year-to-date win-loss record is 6-8, though his clay-court stats read much better at 6-5. He is really a nightmarish early opponent in an event such as this.
Finishing this all-Italian clash is the number two seed: Matteo Berrettini. Berrettini is almost like an Italian Juan Martin Del Potro. He uses his big serve and massive forehand to physically dominate opponents. The three-time ATP winner has shown a far greater all-court efficiency than Cecchinato. Like Cecchinato, he has a Grand Slam semi-final to his name, with that run to the semi-finals of the 2019 US Open. Much like many European players, much of Berrettini’s early success was on clay. He won the 2019 Hungarian open before reaching the Bavarian Final. He also went on to reach the season-ending ATP Finals. Berrettini has been fairly consistent post-lockdown without reaching a semi-final. He did manage to beat Dominic Thiem earlier this year. He got injured and had to withdraw from the 4th round of the Aussie Open. Last week was his first singles match since Melbourne, which ended in a disappointing first round defeat in Monte-Carlo.
These two have never met on the ATP Tour despite hailing from the same country. They did meet on the Challenger Tour in 2017, with Cecchinato winning in three-sets on clay. I think there’s real value in backing Cecchinato. He is a superior clay-court player who just hasn’t been able to find a modicum of success elsewhere. Plus, Berrettini is still returning from injury.