ATP Acapulco: Tough draw for Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal has it easier
Novak Djokovic has to be at his very best if he wants to make a winning return to the ATP circuit after a one-month hiatus. The World No. 2, who made a shock second-round exit at the Australian Open in January, accepted a last-minute wildcard into this week’s ATP 500 hardcourt event – the Abierto Mexicano Telcel at Acapulco, Mexico.
But with a stacked field and a loaded top half, the top seed cannot afford to make any mistake if he has any intention of holding the trophy at the end of the week. The 12-time Grand Slam champion kicks off his campaign against the 62nd ranked Martin Klizan on Tuesday.
While that is apparently a hassle-free opener for the 29-year-old, the road gets uphill from there. He next potentially faces Juan Martin del Potro, who played his first tournament of the year at Delray Beach last week and reached the semi-finals.
Their very last meeting went the Argentine’s way in the first round of Rio Olympics and that is a good enough reason for the Serb to be wary of the 2009 US Open champion.
Nick Kyrgios, who made it to the semi-finals of Marseille just a few days back, looms large after that. Unpredictable as he is, the young Australian possesses a ruthlessly aggressive game that has already felled the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal before. Suffice to say, the World No. 2 cannot take Kyrgios lightly should they meet for the very first time.
Fourth seed Dominic Thiem or fifth seed David Goffin could be Djokovic’s semi-final candidate to cross swords with. Both have been impressive in the past few weeks and won’t be bowing down without a challenge. Goffin reached back-to-back finals at Sofia and Rotterdam and made his top-10 debut recently, etching his name in record books as the first Belgian man to break into that elite bracket.
The 23-year-old Thiem too displayed some resurgence in his title-winning run at Rio last week and might make it quite a competitive affair.
Rafael Nadal opens against Mischa Zverev
The other half of the draw is led by the second seed and two-time Acapulco titlist Rafael Nadal. Rafa won this in 2005 and 2013 and if he goes on to add a third crown at this Mexican seaside resort, it will be his first non-clay title at Acapulco.
Excitement will be at its peak to watch Rafa at this tournament especially after the impressive form he exhibited at the year’s first Slam where he lost to his nemesis Roger Federer in five sets in the summit clash. Could he build on it to make it a memorable season after his struggles with a wrist injury in 2016?
That is definitely the question on every tennis aficionado’s mind.
He couldn’t have asked for an easier opponent to get things rolling. Mischa Zverev might have shown the top seed Andy Murray the door at the Australian Open but his serve-and-volley game was thoroughly punished in a 1-6, 1-6 loss to the Spaniard at Brisbane earlier this year.
Jack Sock could square off against Rafa in the quarter-finals and it would be anything but straightforward. The American is sitting at a career-high 18th this week having conquered the Delray Beach Open. It goes without saying that he has arrived at this tournament riding high on confidence and Nadal would need to be at his immaculate best to counter his heavy topspin game.
In the semi-finals, it would likely be either the third seed Marin Cilic or the wildcard Alexandr Dolgopolov for the 14-time Grand Slam winner to face. Interestingly, the two meet each other in a blockbuster first round.
It, however, needs to be mentioned that it is the 60th ranked Ukrainian who has made a better start to 2017 and has already one title in the bag that he captured on the clay courts of Buenos Aires, upsetting World No. 5 Kei Nishikori in the final.
If he makes it that far and faces Rafa in the last-four, he would certainly present the former World No. 1 a stern test before the Spaniard can hope to set up a possible 50th career meeting with his very familiar rival, Djokovic.