The restart of the 2020 season continues on indoor hardcourts, with tournaments coming hard and fast on the ATP tour. Next on the new provisional calendar is a double-header of ATP 250 tour level tournaments in the German city of Cologne, which have been added to the tour specifically to make up for lost time amid the pandemic.
Perhaps due to the lockdown, or the uncertainty on the tour over the last few months, the draw in Cologne is absolutely packed. There are many players present here that you wouldn't ordinarily expect to be playing an ATP 250 level tournament the day after the end of Roland Garros.
Home favorite Alexander Zverev announced his participation in September, making him the top seed, and he is joined by the likes of Roberto Bautista Agut, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Benoit Paire and Marin Cilic. The draw also features big names among the unseeded players - including Kyle Edmund, Fernando Verdasco and three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray.
For players that made it deep into various tournaments on American hardcourts and European clay, this tournament would be a test of their fitness and endurance. Main draw action is set to kick off on Monday, and here is a look at the prospects of the top players.
Top half: Home favorite Alexander Zverev leads the way
Seeded players:  Alexander Zverev,  Benoit Paire,  Filip Krajinovic,  Marin Cilic
Expected semifinal: Alexander Zverev vs Benoit Paire
Dark horse: Andy Murray
Analysis: On paper, top seed Alexander Zverev is the clear favorite to win his first title of 2020 here. However, there are concerns about whether he has enough left in the tank, both physically and mentally, to perform at the highest level right now.
The German followed a brutal loss in the final of the US Open against Dominic Thiem with a fourth-round defeat at the hands of Jannik Sinner in Paris. After the Sinner loss he revealed he had been suffering from various flu-like symptoms, despite testing negative for COVID-19.
Zverev has been aided by a seemingly uncomplicated draw in Cologne, with a potential quarterfinal matchup against Filip Krajinovic. The German could, however, face a stern test in the second round against the winner of the blockbuster encounter between Andy Murray and Fernando Verdasco.
After a career-threatening hip-replacement surgery, Murray has struggled to make much of a mark on tour. But he has made a few strides in the smaller events, having won the title at Antwerp in the fall last year.
The Brit comes into Cologne on the back of a poor showing at Roland Garros. That said, Murray did win a chunk of matches on American hardcourts (including his first top 10 victory since 2017 against Zverev himself), so he could well end up making some noise on the quick hardcourts in the German city.
Fourth seed Benoit Paire comes into the tournament after a particularly difficult time since the lockdown. The Frenchman was disqualified from the US Open after testing positive for COVID-19, and has since suffered temperamental defeats on European clay.
In the Cologne quarterfinals Paire could face veteran Marin Cilic, who is seeded eighth at the tournament. With his big serve and massive groundstrokes, the Croat is likely to be a difficult opponent for most in Cologne.
Semifinal prediction: Alexander Zverev vs Marin Cilic
Bottom half: Roberto Bautista Agut and Felix Auger-Aliassime in search of their first title of the year
Seeded players:  Roberto Bautista Agut,  Felix Aguer-Aliassime,  Hubert Hurkacz,  Jan-Lennard Struff
Expected semifinal: Roberto Bautista Agut vs Felix Auger-Aliassime
Dark horse: Pierre-Hugues Herbert
Analysis: The bottom half of the draw is filled with players who have blown hot and cold all year, making for a seemingly unpredictable path to the finals. Second seed Roberto Bautista Agut certainly leads the pack in terms of experience, but hasn't quite shown his best tennis since his remarkable semifinal finish at the Cincinnati Masters.
Bautista Agut could potentially face Hubert Hurkacz in the quarterfinal. Despite having underperformed for a large part of his senior career, Hurkacz has the ability to cause a surprise on the quick indoor courts of Cologne.
Third seed Felix Auger-Aliassime has been turning heads ever since he burst onto the tour in 2019. But after a solid run before the lockdown, he produced some poor showings on American hardcourts and European clay.
That said, the Canadian's best results of the year came on indoor hardcourts; he reached the final in both Rotterdam and Marseille. And given his draw in Cologne, Auger-Aliassime's route to the final doesn't seem too troublesome.
A potential quarterfinal encounter against big-hitting home favorite Jan-Lennard Struff might be the toughest challenge in the early going for the young Canadian.
Semifinal prediction: Felix Auger-Aliassime vs Hubert Hurkacz
Alexander Zverev vs Felix Auger-Aliassime
Alexander ZverevPublished 11 Oct 2020, 11:31 IST