Sunday, February 7, 2016

What to Expect at the Memphis Open

In the last several years many lower level ATP tournaments have left the United States, but the Memphis Open is holding strong.  This year's field is solid if not spectacular, and should definitely capture the interest of fans of American men's tennis.  Though Kei Nishikori is the top seed and three-time defending champion, about a third of the field is made up of American players. 

It's hard to see anyone seriously challenging Nishikori in the top half.  He'll open with the winner of Frances Tiafoe and Ryan Harrison, which based on recent form looks like it will be Tiafoe.  While Tiafoe has a very bright future, if he does advance to play Nishikori it likely won't be much more than a good learning experience.  Nishikori could then play 5th seeded American Denis Kudla in the quarters, before running into 4th seeded Sam Querrey or 6th seeded Sam Groth in the semis.  If Nishikori even drops a set on the way to the finals it will be a bit of a surprise.

The bottom half should be the more entertaining of the two halves.  Donald Young has gotten off to a slow start to begin the year, but the 3rd seed should be able to build some momentum by reaching the semis.  This is a key year in Young's career, as at age 26 he should be entering his prime.  If he can't capitalize on draws like this, it's hard to see him being much more than a borderline top 50 player the rest of the year.

The bottom section of the bottom half is packed with Americans, including Austin Krajicek, Steven Johnson and teenage prospects Taylor Fritz and Tommy Paul.  Paul should have a shot to take out 34 year old Benjamin Becker in his opening match, and would have a decent chance against Australian John Millman or Krajicek in the second round.  Fritz opens against a qualifier, and then would face Johnson in round two.  Fritz may be on his way to becoming America's top player, but at this point in their careers Johnson's experience should allow him to prevail.  Johnson has struggled to begin 2016, but it's still hard to see him not advancing out of this section.  In the semis, look for Johnson to get past Young in a tight three set match.  He owns a 2-1 career record against Young, and playing indoors should help Johnson dominate with his big serve and forehand.

In the finals Nishikori should be able to get past Johnson in straight sets.  He owns a 3-0 career record against the American, and is a much more complete player.  Johnson will have to serve great and try to keep points short, but it's hard to see him pulling off the upset.  Nishikori should be able to expose Johnson's weak backhand, and take advantage of the open court when Johnson tries to cheat over to protect it.  Nishikori's focus for the year should be on improving his results in grand slams and Masters tournaments, but winning another 250 should get him in the right state of mind as he prepares to challenge for bigger titles.

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