Scouting Report: 20 Things To Watch In Sydney & Auckland
The ATP Tour heads into the second week of its 2019 season with two ATP 250 events on deck. Reigning Next Gen ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas is the top seed at the Sydney International, while 2018 Nitto ATP Finals qualifier John Isner leads the way at the ASB Classic.
10 THINGS TO WATCH IN SYDNEY
1) Top 20 Trio: World No. 15 Tsitsipas, No. 16 Daniil Medvedev and No. 17 Diego Schwartzman headline the Sydney International. Medvedev won his first of three titles last season inside Ken Rosewall Arena, spoiling the hopes of Sydney native Alex de Minaur in the final. De Minaur returns home this week as the No. 1 Aussie and the No. 31 player in the ATP Rankings.
2) No. 1 Aussie: One year ago, De Minaur entered Sydney as a special exempt and World No. 167. He advanced to the Brisbane semi-finals and Sydney final to become the youngest player since Rafael Nadal in 2005 to reach consecutive tour-level semi-finals. De Minaur, who turns 20 on 17 February, achieved a new career-high ATP Ranking 18 times in 2018 and earned ATP Newcomer of the Year honours.
3) First-Time Defending Champion: Like De Minaur, Medvedev was an unlikely finalist at the 2018 Sydney International. The Russian came through qualifying to win his first ATP Tour title. It was a sign of things to come for Medvedev, who went on to win two more championships in 2018 at Winston-Salem and Tokyo. Medvedev led all players with 38 victories on hard courts last season.
4) First-Time No. 1 Seed: Tsitsipas is the top seed at a tour-level event for the first time, although he won the 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals title as the No. 1 seed. The 20-year-old is the first Greek to be ranked inside the Top 20, win an ATP Tour title (Stockholm), play an ATP Masters 1000 final (Toronto) and reach a Grand Slam Round of 16 (Wimbledon). Tsitsipas earned four Top 10 wins in Toronto.
5) New #NextGenATP: The dawn of a new season means another class of #NextGenATP players eager to make their mark on the ATP Tour. In 2019, players born in 1998 or later are considered #NextGenATP. Three of the four #NextGenATP players ranked inside the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings are competing in Sydney: Tsitsipas, De Minaur and Frances Tiafoe, who celebrates his 21st birthday on 20 January.
6) Sydney Sensations: De Minaur isn’t the only 19-year-old Sydney native playing in his hometown. Alexei Popyrin is a wild card after making his ATP Tour debut at the 2018 Sydney International. Popyrin qualified a year ago before falling to fellow Aussie John Millman in the opening round.
7) Other Aussies: Millman, James Duckworth, Matthew Ebden and Jordan Thompson will also represent Australia this week. In 2018, Millman achieved a new career-high ATP Ranking 10 times, peaking at No. 33 soon after upsetting No. 2 Roger Federer to reach the US Open quarter-finals.
8) Dangeous Diego: Schwartzman rose to a career-high No. 11 in the ATP Rankings in 2018, winning the biggest title of his career in Rio de Janeiro. The 5’7” Argentine finished the season with more than 30 wins for the second consecutive year.
9) Pouille’s Push: Frenchman Lucas Pouille not only won a title for the third consecutive year in 2018, but he also cracked the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings for the first time, albeit for two weeks. With new coach Amelie Mauresmo in his corner, will Pouille enjoy an even better 2019?
10) Studs in Dubs: Three of the eight teams that qualified for the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals are competing in the Sydney doubles draw: Juan Sebastian Cabal/Robert Farah, Jamie Murray/Bruno Soares and Nikola Mektic/Alexander Peya. Murray and Soares won their first of nine team titles at 2016 Sydney.
10 THINGS TO WATCH IN AUCKLAND
1) The Champs Are Here: Four-time champion David Ferrer and two-time champion Isner are eager for another title at the ASB Classic. Ferrer will make his final appearance in Auckland before retiring later this season, while Isner will look to get his 2019 off to a good start after qualifying for the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals.
2) Ferr-well: Ferrer’s four titles and 31 wins are the most at the ASB Classic in the Open Era. The 36-year-old Spaniard is making his 14th Auckland appearance and has been absent only once since 2006. Ferrer won his first non-clay title in Auckland in 2007 and three in a row from 2011-13.
Watch Ferrer Climb the Auckland Harbour Bridge In 2014
3) Fond Memories: Isner is the No. 1 seed after ending a year inside the Top 10 for the first time and Top 20 for the ninth straight time. The 6’10” American won the first of his 14 ATP Tour titles at the ASB Classic in 2010, then added another victory in Auckland in 2014. Auckland is the only title that Isner has won outside of the USA.
4) Fabulous Fabio: Like Isner, No. 2 seed Fabio Fognini is coming off a career year and he is opening his 2019 campaign at the ASB Classic. Fognini set career-highs in 2018 with three titles, 46 wins and a year-end ATP Ranking of No. 13. The Italian earned his 300th win on home soil in Rome.
5) Shapo’s Show: World No. 27 Denis Shapovalov, the second-ranked #NextGenATP player behind No. 15 Stefanos Tsitsipas, will make his second consecutive appearance at the ASB Classic. The left-handed Canadian made semi-finals in Delray Beach, Madrid and Tokyo in 2018, and he seeks his maiden ATP Tour trophy.
6) Chung’s Challenge: Coming off the 2017 Next Gen ATP Finals title, Hyeon Chung was one of the hottest players on the ATP Tour. He beat both Djokovic and Alexander Zverev en route to the Australian Open semi-finals, then reached back-to-back ATP Masters 1000 quarter-finals in Indian Wells and Miami. Chung, World No. 25, is within six spots of his career-best ATP Ranking: No. 19.
7) 15-Love: Gael Monfils will begin his 15th season on the ATP Tour in Auckland. In his 2018 season debut at Doha, Monfils won his seventh title. The Frenchman finished the year strong as well with a runner-up showing in Antwerp in October. He previously appeared at the ASB Classic in 2007 and 2013.
8) Another Former Champ: German Philipp Kohlschreiber won the second of his eight ATP Tour titles in Auckland in 2008. The 35-year-old, currently World No. 34, has remained inside the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings since 6 March 2006.
9) Stevie's Pursuit: American Steve Johnson, the World No. 33, is no stranger to success at ATP 250 tournaments. Last year, Johnson earned titles in Houston and Newport, while also finishing runner-up in Winston-Salem. The 29-year-old can earn his 150th tour-level match win in the first round.
10) Studs in Dubs: Three of the past five year-end No. 1 doubles teams are in Auckland: Oliver Marach/Mate Pavic (2018), Jean-Julien Rojer/Horia Tecau (2015) and Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan (2014). The Bryan brothers reunited last week in Brisbane for the first time since Bob Bryan went down with a hip injury in the Madrid final last year.