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20 Things To Watch In Barcelona, Budapest

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The European clay-court swing continues this week in Barcelona and Budapest, with top players, including Rafael Nadal and Marin Cilic, respectively, leading the fields. Here are 20 things to watch from the ATP 500 and ATP 250 events:

10 Things To Watch In Barcelona

1) Best in Barcelona: 11-time champion Rafael Nadal leads a star-studded field at the 2019 Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell. Also competing at the ATP Tour 500 event are former champions Kei Nishikori and Fernando Verdasco, Top 10 players Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, and Stefanos Tsitsipas, and last week’s ATP Masters 1000 Monte-Carlo champion Fabio Fognini.

2) Pista Rafa Nadal: The Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell named a court after World No. 2 Nadal in 2017. It becomes crystal clear why that decision was made after reviewing his 58-3 record at Barcelona and the fact that the top seed won the trophy for the 11th time at the event last year – a feat he had also accomplished the week prior at Monte-Carlo, and then repeated at Roland Garros.

3) Special Kei: No. 4 seed Nishikori is the most recent dominant player at Barcelona other than Nadal, as the Japanese star picked up the two trophies between Nadal’s three-year title streaks of 2011-13 and 2016-18. Nishikori reeled off 14 straight wins at the event from 2014 to 2016, and nearly pulled off the hat-trick before his run was stopped in the 2016 final by Nadal.

4) Fog Rolling In: Before last week, Fognini had a 4-8 win-loss record in 2019, including going 0-for-4 on clay. That suddenly changed when he clinched his first ATP Masters 1000 title at Monte-Carlo, defeating 11-time champion Nadal in the semi-finals before a final victory over Dusan Lajovic. Fognini, the first Italian to win an ATP Masters 1000 title, is at a new career-high ranking of No. 12.

5) From A to Z: No. 2 seed Zverev is no stranger to ATP Masters 1000 titles, as the 22-year-old is the only active player other than Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray to have claimed at least three titles at that level. Nevertheless, the World No. 3 comes into Barcelona still looking for his first title of 2019, and has advanced to a quarter-final-or-better just once this year.

6) Greece is the Word: Tsitsipas burst onto the scene at Barcelona last year. The #NextGenATP Greek star was ranked just No. 63 when he entered the event, but he won five matches in straight sets, including a win over the previous year’s finalist Thiem, to reach his first ATP Tour singles final. One year later, the 20-year-old has won two titles, and is currently ranked at a career-high No. 8.

7) Feet of Clay: No. 3 seed Thiem has won eight of his 12 titles and reached 14 of his 19 finals on clay courts. The Austrian, who made his first Grand Slam final on the clay of Roland Garros last year, defeated then-World No. 1 Murray in the 2017 Barcelona semi-finals before falling to Nadal.

8) Wild Ones: Former World No. 3 David Ferrer received a wild card into the event; the four-time Barcelona finalist plans to retire next month after the Mutua Madrid Open. Along with Ferrer and Zverev, the wild cards are Grigor Dimitrov, Feliciano Lopez, and 19-year-old Nicola Kuhn.

9) Spanish Success: Verdasco is the only player in the draw to have claimed the title other than Nadal and Nishikori. The 2010 champion has a 15-10 record at Barcelona, having also made the 2012 semi-finals and the 2009 quarter-finals. He will face Lopez for the 11th time in their rivalry.

10) Doubles Duty: Feliciano Lopez and Marc Lopez won the Barcelona doubles title last year. They return to the event, but with different partners: Feliciano is paired with Pablo Carreno Busta, and Marc teams up with Marcel Granollers. The No. 1 seeds are Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo.

10 Things To Watch In Budapest

1) Third Time’s the Charm: The ATP Tour returns to Budapest for the third straight season with the Hungarian Open. Former finalists John Millman and Aljaz Bedene join Top 15 Croats Marin Cilic and Borna Coric in the field.

2) Wild One: Top seed Cilic got a wild card into Budapest, and the World No. 11 comes into the event with a 4-5 record on the year, still seeking his first 2019 quarter-final. As the reigning Australian Open runner-up, Cilic rallied from two sets down and saved match points to oust Fernando Verdasco in the third round of Melbourne, but lost in the fourth round to Roberto Bautista Agut.

3) Borna Again: No. 2 seed Coric starts the Hungarian Open coming off back-to-back quarter-final showings at ATP Masters 1000 events at Miami and Monte-Carlo. Coric, whose first ATP Tour singles title came on clay at Marrakech in 2017, is returning to Budapest for a second showing, following a first-round loss to Jiri Vesely in his only prior appearance in 2017.

4) Serbian Surprise: Dusan Lajovic lurks as an unseeded player despite being a newly minted Top 25 player. The Serb is now at a career-high ranking of World No. 24 after his run to a first-ever ATP Tour singles final at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters last week. Lajovic, who notched his first Top 5 win over Dominic Thiem in Monte-Carlo, smashed his prior career-high ranking of No. 42.

5) Great Georgian: No. 4 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili made his second quarter-final of 2018 in his debut showing at Budapest last year. The Georgian would go on to break through in a big way last season, winning two titles, at Hamburg and Beijing, and finishing the year in the Top 25.

6) First Wins Club: No. 5 seed Laslo Djere and No. 8 seed Radu Albot are two of the eight first-time singles champions on the ATP Tour this season. Djere picked up his first trophy at Rio de Janeiro, while Albot triumphed at Delray Beach, becoming the first singles champion to represent Moldova.

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7) Close Calls: Last year’s runner-up John Millman is back as the No. 6 seed; the Australian made his sole final to date in Budapest last year. Millman edged 2017 runner-up Aljaz Bedene in last year’s semi-finals; Bedene has also returned to Budapest, as he too still seeks a first title.

8) #NextGenATP On The Rise: Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic had only one ATP Tour win heading into March’s BNP Paribas Open. But the 19-year-old qualified and made his first ATP quarter-final in Indian Wells before falling to Canadian Milos Raonic. Kecmanovic, now at No. 87 in the ATP Rankings, qualified and will face Millman in his Budapest opener.

9) Going Wild: Hungarians Attila Balazs and Mate Valkusz join Cilic as wild cards. 20-year-old Valkusz, who lost to eventual champion Marco Cecchinato in the first round of qualifying last year, will be making his ATP Tour main-draw debut this week. The 30-year-old’s best tour-level result was a semi-final run as a qualifier at Bucharest in 2012.

10) Doubling Up: Rohan Bopanna and Dominic Inglot head the Hungarian Open doubles draw as the top seeds. Inglot is going for his second straight title at Budapest: he won the event last year partnering Franko Skugor.

EltasZone Sportswriters, Sports Analysts, Opinion columnists, editorials and op-eds. Analysis from The Zone Team
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