The ATP tour travels to Washington this week for what will be the ninth ATP 500 tournament of the year, marking the beginning of the North American hardcourt swing. The 2021 Citi Open in Washington promises to provide a lot of entertainment, with several top players looking for match practice ahead of the US Open (which is scheduled to kick off on 30 August).
20-time Major winner Rafael Nadal will be leading the caravan on his Washington debut. Nadal is the favorite to win the event on paper but will be coming in without much match practice; he has been out of commission since losing to Novak Djokovic in the Roland Garros semifinals.
There are a few other top 20 players in the draw - including Felix Auger-Aliassime, Alex de Minaur and Jannik Sinner - who could spoil Nadal's party at the Citi Open. But the Spaniard can face only one of these players during his campaign, given the shape of the draw.
The 500-level tournament also has a number of exciting match-ups in the early rounds, featuring the likes of 2019 champion Nick Kyrgios, two-time Major finalist Kevin Anderson and a resurgent Kei Nishikori to name a few.
With main draw action set to kick off on Monday, here's a look at how the field is likely to play out in Washington:
1st quarter: Rafael Nadal primed to get through unscathed provided he's in good shape
Expected quarterfinal: Rafael Nadal vs Cameron Norrie
Analysis: Rafael Nadal hasn't tasted much success on hardcourt this year. The Spaniard has played just six tour events in 2021, accumulating a 23-4 win-loss record. And while he has won two titles, both of them were on clay (Barcelona and Rome).
Having received a first-round bye, Rafael Nadal will likely have a tricky opener in Washington as he is slated to face either Yoshihito Nishioka or Jack Sock. If the Spaniard manages to pass that test, he could face one of Lloyd Harris, Tennys Sandgren or James Duckworth in the third round.
Nadal could face stern opposition from Cameron Norrie or Alexander Bublik in the quarterfinals, both of whom have put up career-best seasons in 2021. That said, the 20-time Major champion would be favored to navigate his way past that challenge if he is match fit.
Prediction:  Rafael Nadal def.  Alexander Bublik
Early round matches to watch out for: Kei Nishikori vs  Alexander Bublik
2nd quarter: Grigor Dimitrov, Nick Kyrgios,Taylor Fritz and Dan Evans vie for a last-four spot
Seeded players:  Grigor Dimitrov,  Dan Evans,  Taylor Fritz,  Benoit Paire
Expected quarterfinal: Grigor Dimitrov vs Dan Evans
Analysis: Grigor Dimitrov, looking to bounce back after a poor run of results recently, has been given a tough draw at the Citi Open. Dimitrov could face either Egor Gerasimov or Ilya Ivashka in his opener, before possibly taking on one of Nick Kyrgios or Benoit Paire in the Round of 16.
On the other side of the quarter, Dan Evans and Taylor Fritz are likely to face each other for a place in the last eight. Both Evans and Fritz have enjoyed a good season in 2021, and could even take Dimitrov out if he's not sharp at the ATP 500 event.
Prediction:  Taylor Fritz def. Nick Kyrgios
Early round matches to watch out for: Nick Kyrgios vs  Benoit Paire
3rd quarter: Alex de Minaur and Jannik Sinner likely to clash for a place in the last four
Seeded players:  Alex de Minaur,  Jannik Sinner,  Sebastian Korda,  Miomir Kecmanovic
Expected quarterfinal: Alex de Minaur vs Jannik Sinner
Analysis: Alex de Minaur took a significant step forward last year by reaching his maiden Grand Slam quarterfinal at the US Open. The 22-year old, however, has struggled to make much of a mark since then.
De Minaur will be looking to make amends in the North American hardcourt swing this year. Luckily for him, the Aussie has no strong opponents until the quarters besides Miomir Kecmanovic.
Jannik Sinner, on the other hand, will be looking to break his four-match losing streak in Washington. However, he has been handed a fairly tough draw.
Sinner could face the talented Emil Ruusuvuori in his opener, before taking on the winner of the match between Vasek Pospisil and Sebastian Korda. The Italian will fancy his chances of going deep at the hardcourt tournament, provided he shows some improvement on his first serve.
Prediction:  Jannik Sinner def.  Alex de Minaur
Early round matches to watch out for: Vasek Pospisil vs  Sebastian Korda
4th quarter: Felix Auger-Aliassime continues his bid for a maiden ATP title
Seeded players:  Felix-Auger Aliassime,  Reilly Opelka,  John Millman,  Frances Tiafoe
Expected quarterfinal: Felix Auger-Aliassime vs Reilly Opelka
Analysis: Felix Auger-Aliassime has not had a great 2021 season aside from a couple of deep runs. The Canadian suffered an eighth consecutive finals loss at Stuttgart earlier this year, before being overpowered by eventual finalist Matteo Berrettini in the Wimbledon quarterfinals.
Although making his first quarterfinal appearance at a Major was huge for the youngster, he has struggled to take the next step in his evolution as a player. Auger-Aliassime can change all that at the 500-level event in Washington if a few things go his way.
Having received a first-round bye, the 20-year-old will likely face veteran Andreas Seppi in the second round before facing one of Frances Tiafoe, Kevin Anderson or Jenson Brooksby. He could then play either the big-serving Reilly Opelka or the super-speedy John Millman for a place in the semifinals.
Prediction:  Felix Auger-Aliassime def.  John Millman
Early round matches to watch out for: Kevin Anderson vs [WC] Jenson Brooksby
Rafael Nadal def. Taylor Fritz
Felix Auger-Aliassime def. Jannik Sinner
Prediction for the final
Rafael Nadal def. Felix Auger-Aliassime