Damien Kayat previews the selected round of 16 matches for the Olympic Games.
2020 Summer Olympics
Men’s Olympic Tennis
Ariake Tennis Park, Tokyo, Japan (Hardcourt)
Selected Round of 16 Matches- 28th July
Alex Zverev (4) (1/14) vs Nikoloz Basilashvili (7/1)
Alex Zverev has been enjoying a fairly solid season, with a compelling year-to-date record of 29-11. That includes titles in Acapulco and Madrid. He also reached the semi-finals of the French Open. There has been the odd shock result (he inexplicably lost to Ruusuvuori in the opening round of Miami). But he has remained a consistent threat in bigger championships: he beat Rafa Nadal en route to that Madrid title. It just seems as if his star has diminished slightly. Perhaps that’s due to the dominance of Djokovic (or the rise of Tsitsipas). I think that those domestic abuse allegations also resulted in some media shunning. But he has been excellent in recent hardcourt events. He reached the final of last year’s US Open before reaching the Paris Masters final. The 2018 ATP Finals champion has serenely glided through this year’s Olympics, dropping a combined eight games against Daniel Elahi Galan and Lu Yen-hsun thus far. But this should prove a much sterner test for the German.
29-year-old Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili is one of the most frustrating players on the entire tour. Not too long ago, the Georgian (blessed with a huge forehand) looked primed for an attack on the world’s top 10. He won two ATP 500 titles in 2018 (which included a hardcourt victory over Del Potro in China). But he is perhaps the most mercurial player on the tour. The five-time ATP winner is always capable of making a deep run in these three-set tournaments. But then he will go out in the first round in three consecutive events. There have always been lingering questions surrounding his mental approach (like Zverev, he was also accused of domestic battery within the last 18 months). He tends to get tight when he plays the top players, reflected in his year-to-date record of 20-18. But he has still manged to win two tournaments (including a hardcourt victory in Qatar). That Qatar victory included a monumental win against Roger Federer. He will have spent considerably more time on court than Zverev, especially after that epic victory against Sonego.
Zverev leads the head-to-head 2-1. He has actually won both of their hardcourt matches. Having said that, Basilashvili pushed Zverev all the way in a tight three-set match at the 2019 Rogers Cup. Zverev will hope that his huge serve can help him dictate this match. Basilashvili will look to peg Zverev back with his mighty forehand. But can he find the consistency to truly threaten Zverev? I think the Georgian is a huge step up for Zverev following his pedestrian early draw. Zverev may falter at some point, but I expect him to ultimately prevail. Zverev to win in three.
Danil Medvedev (2) (1/9) vs Fabio Fognini (15) (52/10)
Behind Novak Djokovic, Danil Medvedev has almost certainly been the most consistent hardcourt player over the past few years. His ascent to hardcourt excellence really started with that incredible North-American hardcourt run in 2019. He won in Cincinnati before reaching his maiden Grand Slam final at Flushing Meadows. He won the Paris Masters and ATP Tour Finals last year. This year he reached his 2nd Grand Slam final in Melbourne whilst also claiming the Open 13 title. He tested positive for Covid in April, which severely affected his clay-court preparations. This also bled into his grass-court tennis. But courtesy of victories against Bublik and Nagal this week, his year-to-date to-date hardcourt record now sits at 19-3.
Fabio Fognini is the type of erratic player who has been known to cause Medvedev some issues. The 34-year-old is entirely unpredictable. Winner of nine ATP titles, Fognini has the capacity to surprise with that reliable forehand. Nominally a clay-court specialist (he won the 2019 Monte-Carlo Masters), Fognini has shown glimpses of his best form in 2021. He reached the 4th round of the Aussie Open and the quarterfinals in Monte-Carlo. But his overall year-to-date record stands at a middling 19-16. But he has looked quite good this week, clearly benefitting from the slower-than-expected surfaces (this plays into his clay-court skills). He dispatched Sugita with minimum fuss before grinding out victory against the pugnacious Gerasimov. Fognini is freerolling now and is always a dangerous opponent in this mood.
Medvedev leads the head-to-head record 3-1, winning their last three consecutive matches. Medvedev actually had come from a set down against Fognini at this year’s ATP Cup (which was their last meeting). We are really getting into the business end of things: the winner of this match is into a quarterfinal. Medvedev will obviously be the clear favourite. But as I noted earlier, Medvedev can get caught flat-footed by the more enigmatic players. I expect Fognini to give Medvedev a real challenge here. Fognini is passionate about representing his country (he beat Andy Murray in a crucial 2014 Davis Cup tie, helping Italy progress to the semi-finals). But much like the Zverev-Basilashvili match, I can’t bring myself to go all in on Fognini. Medvedev to win in three sets at 31/10.