The first big name casualty at the 2019 ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is Karen Khachanov. The big hitting Russian is finding it increasingly difficult to sustain his memorable success in Bercy at the tail end of last year. Khachanov was soundly beaten by Nikoloz Basilashvili in straight sets.
Roger Federer dropped a set but won against Philipp Kohlschreiber for the umpteenth time. As predicted in our featured prediction piece, Jan-Lennard Struff shocked Milos Raonic in three sets to move into the second round. There promises to be fireworks on Day 2 as Gael Monfils takes centre stage.
Gael Monfils vs Marin Cilic
Head-to-head: Monfils 3-0 Cilic
Last meeting: 2018 Rio Open (Monfils won 6-3 7-6)
Gael Monfils is at the peak of his game right now. Despite his off court life garnering much public interest, he has been a revelation on the tennis court this year. After suffering a chastening four-set loss to Taylor Fritz at the Australian Open in January, the Frenchman bounced back with a semifinal appearance in Sofia where he lost to eventual champion Daniil Medvedev. Monfils avenged that loss the following week in Rotterdam beating the Russian in three sets in the semis en route to the title (beating Wawrinka).
Marin Cilic is playing his first competitive match since the Australian Open and he is bound to be rusty in the early exchanges in this one. The Croat has surprisingly lost all his three previous matches against the Frenchman, with the most recent being at last year’s Rio Open in a rain-interrupted match. Considering that this is Cilic’s first outing in over a month and Monfil’s recent good form, it is hard to look past the Rotterdam champion. Cilic is billed as the favorite here, and there is no logic whatsoever.
Prediction: Monfils in 2
Daniil Medvedev vs Ricardas Berankis
Head-to-head: Medvedev 2-0 Berankis
Last meeting: 2018 Kremlin Cup (Medvedev won 6-2 1-6 6-4)
A lot has been written about Karen Khachanov being the next big superstar from Russia, but on current form Daniil Medvedev is making those arguments seem very stale. Medvedev has been a sensation this year, reaching the final in Brisbane and winning in Sofia. He also ran Novak Djokovic close for some time in their Australian Open fourth round match. He could be have another great week under his belt in Dubai. First off, he will need to get past Ricardas Berankis who won two qualifying matches last weekend to get to the main draw. Medvedev though, will be a step too far for the Lithuanian.
Prediction: Medvedev in 2
Mohamed Safwat vs Marcos Baghdatis
Head-to-head: First meeting
Mohamed Safwat’s first appearance in the main draw of tour level event this year must be a huge relief for the Egyptian after playing quite a number of Challenger events. He received a wildcard and will face another wildcard entrant at the twilight of his career. Marcos Baghdatis was a former finalist in Dubai not so long ago and he is currently languishing outside the Top 100. Safwat could seriously trouble the Cypriot here. The Egyptian has been unlucky to receive some tough draws in Dubai but would fancy his chances in this one. He once played Monfils on these courts a couple of years back and he absolutely took the sting out of the ball with some powerful groundstrokes. Despite losing in straight sets, Monfils never looked comfortable at all. It should not be labelled as an upset if Safwat wins against Baghdatis since this match could go either way.
Prediction: Safwat in 3
Borna Coric vs Mikhail Kukushkin
Head-to-head: Coric 0-3 Kukushkin
Last meeting: 2018 Davis Cup WG QF (Kukushkin won 3-6 7-6(5) 6-4 6-2)
Borna Coric may not have a better opportunity to turn the tables against Mikhail Kukushkin in their head-to-head record. The Croat elected to play in Marseille last week and was knocked out in his first match to Ugo Humbert. That defeat could be a blessing in disguise as Coric will have had plenty of time to prepare for his opening round match in Dubai. Coric resides in these parts and is very accustomed to the city. He is a former semi-finalist at the event. These two playes had contrasting results last weekend in Marseille. While Coric lost at the first hurdle, Kukushkin went all the way to the final where he lost to Tsitsipas. The Kazakh had a chance to serve for the second set in that defeat, but succumbed to nerves. Kukushkin will come up against a very refreshed Coric who may have plenty to prove this week.
Prediction: Coric in 3
Kei Nishikori vs Benoit Paire
Head-to-head: Nishikori 5-2 Paire
Last meeting: 2018 Japan Open (Nishikori won 6-3 7-5)
Kei Nishikori is another player on a roll this year. Perhaps what is even more impressive is the fact that he has been very solid in these kind of matches against players he is expected to beat but which historically he has been unable to do in straightforward fashion. The Japanese is the top seed this week and he traveled to Dubai a week earlier to get ready for his debut appearance at the event. Paire is so unpredictable, and if Nishikori can get off to a fast start, this could end very quickly.
Prediction: Nishikori in 2
Matthew Ebden vs Stefanos Tsitsipas
Head-to-head: First meeting
Matthew Ebden could cause a major upset here. In fact, I can see it happening. Tsitsipas is coming off a title win in Marseille in a grueling week of tennis. He could be vulnerable here. The Australian is one of those players not blessed with height, but with too much depth on the backhand. Tsitsipas lost to Damir Dzumhur in Rotterdam two weeks ago, and the Bosnian is not too dissimilar to Ebden.
Prediction: Ebden in 3