Millennium Estoril Open 2021: Men's singles draw analysis, preview & prediction

Kei Nishikori
Kei Nishikori
Namit Kumar

The European clay swing heads to Portugal this week, where the Millenium Estoril Open is scheduled to begin on 26 April. The ATP 250 event in Estoril will host 28 players, including Denis Shapovalov, Cristian Garin, Marin Cilic, Alexander Bublik and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

World No. 9 Diego Schawrtzman was also expected to feature in the draw, but he withdrew at the last minute. That said, former US Open finalist Kei Nishikori and local favorite Joao Sousa have both accepted wildcards.

With main draw action set to kick off on Monday, here's a look at how the top seeds are expected to perform:

Top half: Denis Shapovalov on the hunt for a second career title

Denis Shapovalov at the Barcelona Open
Denis Shapovalov at the Barcelona Open

Seeded Players: [1] Denis Shapovalov, [3] Ugo Humbert, [7] Albert Ramos-Vinolas, [8] Alejandro Davidovich Fokina

Expected semifinal: Denis Shapovalov vs Ugo Humbert

Dark horse: Lloyd Harris

World No. 14 Denis Shapovalov leads the way at the Millennium Estoril Open this week. However, Shapovalov has failed to make much on impact on the ATP tour so far in 2021.

After losing to Felix Auger-Aliassime at the Australian Open, the Canadian fell early in both Doha and Miami. His deepest run this season has been in Dubai, where he reached the semifinals.

Shapovalov started his clay season at Barcelona, where he bowed out in the third round. He will be looking to work himself into form and fitness at Estoril, especially given that his shoulder gave him problems in Barcelona.

Shapovalov's path to the final is, fortunately for him, not too treacherous. The 22-year-old has a seemingly routine second-round match against Marcos Giron or Corentin Moutet. In the quarters, Shapovalov could come up against Albert Ramos-Vinolas, who reached the semifinals at Marbella earlier this month.

The other side of the half is led by France's Ugo Humbert. While Humbert has been a mainstay on the ATP tour for a couple of years, he is yet to make much of a mark on clay.

Humbert's path to the quarterfinal includes a matchup against Marco Cechinatto or Lloyd Harris.

Ugo Humbert
Ugo Humbert

Harris returns to the tour after an injury he sustained at Miami. The South African made waves earlier this year, reaching the final at the ATP 500 event in Dubai.

Eighth seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina is an accomplished claycourter and will look to make a deep run this week. The 21-year-old was a semifinalist at the last edition of the Estoril event (in 2019), and is scheduled to take on veterans Fernando Verdasco and Jeremy Chardy before the quarterfinals.

Bottom half: Cristian Garin and Kei Nishikori on a collision course

Kei Nishikori
Kei Nishikori

Seeded Players: [2] Cristian Garin, [4] Kei Nishikori, [5] Alexander Bublik, [6] Marin Cilic

Expected semifinal: Cristian Garin vs Kei Nishikori

Dark horse: Frances Tiafoe

Cristian Garin leads the bottom half of the draw in Estroril. The World No. 22 is a claycourt specialist, having won all five of his tour-level titles on this surface.

Garin came into the European clay swing on the back of a maiden title in his hometown of Santiago. He also reached the third round in both Monte Carlo and Barcelona prior to this week.

Standing in Garin's way in the second round would be either Richard Gasquet or Juan Ignacio Londero. The Chilean is then likely to have a quarterfinal matchup against sixth seed Marin Cilic.

Cristian Garin
Cristian Garin

Kei Nishikori highlights the other side of this half. The Japanese has been excellent on clay throughout his career, and has grown from strength to strength since the start of 2021.

Nishikori reached the quarterfinals at both Rotterdam and Dubai prior to the clay season. The 31-year-old then got off to a solid start in Barcelona, where he forced his way to the quarterfinals before losing to Rafael Nadal in a hard-fought three-setter.

Nishikori is scheduled to face one of Kevin Anderson or Frances Tiafoe in the second round here at Estoril. But while Anderson is a two-time Grand Slam finalist, clay is not his strongest surface, and nor are his fitness and match practice up to the mark.

Tiafoe, however, could prove to be a tricky opponent for Nishikori. The young American has plenty of match practice under his belt this year, and his recent results have shown that he can more than hold his own on clay.

Nishikori could then potentially come up against fifth seed Alexander Bublik in the quarterfinals.

Bublik started the year off by reaching the final in Antalya and Singapore, before also reaching the quarterfinals at the Miami Masters. Clay, however, is not the Kazakh's preferred surface, and he could have some trouble against Cameron Norrie or Joao Sousa in the second round.

Semifinal predictions

Denis Shapovalov vs Alejandro Davidovich Fokina

Cristian Garin vs Kei Nishikori

Predicted final

Denis Shapovalov vs Cristian Garin

Predicted champion

Cristian Garin

Edited by Musab Abid
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