ATP -Barcelona Open
Tuesday, 20th April
Egor Gerasimov (42/10) vs Jannik Sinner (11) (2/13)
This promises to be a fascinating test for Sinner, the talented 19-year-old who has just managed to crack the top 20 in the world rankings. It has been quite a ride for the young Italian since he tasted victory in 2019 Next-Gen Finals. He won his first title at last year’s Sofia Open and also became the youngest Roland Garros quarterfinalist since Novak Djokovic. He has also had a glorious 2021 thus far. He started the year in terrific form, claiming the Great Ocean Road Open. But clearly his most impressive showing this year came in Miami a few weeks back. He came through a fairly favourable draw to reach the final of a schizophrenic Miami Open. It highlighted his all-court potential and ability to translate that onto the bigger stage.
Egor Gerasimov, for his part, has also been in pretty decent form this year. He has gained victories this year over the likes of Andy Murray, Guido Pella and Benoit Paire. That included a semi-final run at the Open Sud de France. The Belarusian is an extremely dangerous opponent in the early stages of events. But having said that, many of his best results have come on indoor-hardcourts. Clay doesn’t really suit his ultra-aggressive game. That’s where he and Sinner overlap. Both tend to hit bombs from the baseline. This is where Gerasimov could prosper. He could look to stay in those exchanges and press Sinner into errors of youthful exuberance.
This will be the first meeting between these two. As I said, there is certainly some similarity between these two. It will be key for Gerasimov to not key carried away with trying to match Sinner stroke for stroke. Sinner has been on a heavy schedule and may be vulnerable here. I think the safe option may be a Sinner win in three sets at 29/10. Gerasimov has the ability to pick up a set off the youngster.
Wednesday, 21st April
Kei Nishikori (15/10) vs Cristian Garin (13) (51/100)
The travails of Kei Nishikori have been legendary in recent years, with injury after injury threatening to end his career. The former US Open finalist has showed glimpses of his best form over this inconsistent season. Quarterfinals in Rotterdam and Dubai highlighted his fierce competitive spirit. But some of that indefatigable energy seems to have waned over the years. He almost knocked out Tsitsipas in Miami before choosing to sit out Monte Carlo last week. He overcame a tough first round opponent this week in clay-court specialist Guido Pella. He was actually forced to break serve to stay in the match in the second set. But much like Barcelona King Rafa Nadal, Nishikori will make any player earn their win. In fact, the Japanese star is a noted practitioner on this surface. He has probably been the second dominant figure to Nadal in Barcelona, with victories in 2014 and 2015 followed by a final defeat in 2016.
24-year-old Cristian Garin will prove to be an exciting opponent for Nishikori. The Chilean has become one of the most consistent performers on clay over the past three years. Since May 2019 he has appeared in six clay-court finals, winning his last five. Having said that, these have generally not been the high-profile European clay-court events. His victory in Germany was significant, as he became the first Chilean to win an ATP event in Europe since 2009 (it also included major clay-court scalps such as Zverev and Cecchinato). He won his first ATP 500 title in Rio last year and won on home soil in Chile earlier this season. But there has also been a fair amount of plodding for the Chilean: he has three first-round exits this year. Garin is a solid proponent of the clay-court arts but he stills needs to convince at the very highest level.
This will actually be the 2nd meeting between these two. Garin won their only encounter on the Hamburg clay-courts last year- and with some ease too. Nishikori was actually looking pretty good going into that match. I think that there’s an obvious temptation to side with the Japanese given his history here. But I think I’m opting for the form horse. Garin to pull through.