(4)Rafael Nadal d. (6)Cameron Norrie 6-4, 6-4
1, 3, 4, 6
SEEDS: ONE & DONE (1st Match Loss)
1 out of 8
ACAPULCO NEWS & NOTES
*Nine of 2022’s 30 completed matches in Acapulco went the way of the underdog. The big hits came early and often with the three of the four largest scores coming in round one. Peter Gojowczyk was a staggering 6.85 (+585) when he took out Brandon Nakashima. The next two biggest hits came at 4.61 (+361) and 3.59 (+259). Surprisingly, none of those involved a seeded player, but did see “big names” Nakashima, Korda and Dimitrov all losing their openers. The highest scalp outside of round one came in the round of 16 when Yoshi Nishioka upset (7)Taylor Fritz at 4.80 (+380).
*After seeing three unseeded finalists in a four year stretch between 2017 and 2020, last year marked the second straight year with an all-seeded final. 2022 also marked the first time since 2010 that there had been all-seeded semifinalists. There had been multiple unseeded players in the final four in Acapulco in four of the last six runs prior to 2022.
*Nadal won last year as a monster 1.18 (-555) favorite over Norrie. Interestingly, the odd numbered years which we’re in for 2023 have yielded UNDERDOG WINNERS in the title match in Acapulco. Each odd numbered year since 2015, there has been an underdog champion. In 2021 it was Alexander Zverev at 2.60 (+160) over Stefanos Tsitsipas. 2019 saw Nick Kyrgios take the title at 2.82 (+182) over Zverev. The huge hit came in 2017 when Sam Querrey stunned Nadal as a 5.28 (+428) dog and 2015 gave us David Ferrer at 2.71 (+171) when he toppled Kei Nishikori in the final. Both Querrey and Kyrgios were unseeded champions, while Zverev and Ferrer’s wins were the two seed over the one seed.
*Three set matches numbered ten out of 31 completed last year at this stop. Six of those came in round one. That was up from just six three set matches in 2021. Overall the recent history in Acapulco shows double digit three set matches in four of the last six runs. The majority of those are coming early with round one with exactly six three setters coming in round one in three of the last four seasons at the Abierto Mexicano Telcel.
*If you’ve never watched Acapulco, it plays SLOW. The court speed has been rated the slowest of all 500-level hard court tournaments, both indoors and outdoors. A lot of that has to do with the humid air that flows through the city located on a bay in southwestern Mexico. There were 14 tie breaks played in 2022 out of 72 sets played. That’s just over 19 percent. Three of those of course came in matches involving John Isner. Power will still get the job done as he had 56 aces in five sets last year, but it definitely won’t aid the players who don’t bring that requisite power serve along for the ride.
*Acapulco will be missing both Stefanos Tsitsipas and Sebastian Korda who withdrew due to injury. What it MIGHT have is a red hot Carlos Alcaraz playing his first hard court tournament of 2023. The Spanish phenom hasn’t missed a beat in his return from injury as he’s won a title on clay in Buenos Aires and narrowly lost the final yesterday in Rio. What is in question though is that thigh injury that appeared to hamper him on Sunday. This week would present a much more stern test for the current world number two who has only faced one top 50 player in the nine matches played so far in 2023. The Acapulco draw alone has 17 top 50 players in 32 played field. Rounding out the top four seeds will be Casper Ruud, Taylor Fritz and Holger Rune. That means two of the top four seeds are making their Acapulco debut this time around with both Fritz and Ruud playing here in the past. Ruud will be playing his first match since the Australian Open.
*The back half of the seeded field is led by in-form Cameron Norrie as the #5. The Brit is 9-5 all-time in Acapulco, making the quarters in 2019, the semis in 2021 and the final last year. He is 17-4 in 2023 with three finals in his pocket, but no titles so far. Frances Tiafoe plays Acapulco for a fourth time, hoping to get past the round of 16 for the first time. Big Foe split a pair of matches in Dallas in his last action. Tommy Paul is a two-time quarterfinalist at this event and comes in off a bad loss in Delray Beach last week to Radu Albot 6-2, 6-2. Alex de Minaur returns to the Abierto Mexicano Telcel for the first time since 2020. He’s 1-2 in his career here and has gone 3-2 in the European indoor swing after the Australian Open.
*Don’t sleep on qualifiers in Acapulco. Last year, Nishioka stunned Fritz in his opener in round two as a qualifier. Both Nishioka and lucky loser Gojowczyk made it to the quarterfinals in 2022. 2021 saw Lorenzo Musetti make it all the way to the semifinals out of qualifying. 2020? Tommy Paul made the quarterfinals as a qualifier. I will say this year’s qualifiers don’t look to be well placed to make big runs, but it’s the ATP World Tour and weird things happen every week.
FIRST ROUND BANGERS
*Marcos Giron vs Michael Mmoh
The last time they met was two years ago in an early season match in Australia. Giron won that in straights, while Mmoh won their 1st encounter back in 2017 at the Binghamton Challenger. They’re both vastly improved from those days, so I think this one has the chance to be the best yet between the two. Mmoh has played four matches since the Australian swing with all four going three sets. Giron has been the more consistent of the two with successive quarterfinals in Dallas and Delray Beach. I expect this one to be a good athletic contest that could go the distance.
*Frances Tiafoe vs Yoshihito Nishioka
Tiafoe has won both encounters at the ATP level, one in straight sets in Toronto in 2021 and the other in three sets on clay in Estoril back in 2019. Nishioka has proven to be a tough matchup at times with his defense and court coverage. Tiafoe split two matches in Dallas in his only action since Australia, while Nishioka did the same in Delray Beach along with a Davis Cup win. The slow conditions in Acapulco should make this a back and forth contest with some good ebb and glow. Tiafoe has played six career main draw matches at this event with all of them going three sets. Nishioka has made the quarters twice in Acapulco with five of his seven main draw matches also going three. This one could go for a while.
*Holger Rune vs Ben Shelton
These are the lessons Shelton is going to learn in 2023 as he plays main draws consistently at this level. There won’t be easy paths to getting wins. Meeting a top ten player in round one is rough, but I think good for his overall development. The thing that could hold this match back is Rune’s health. The Dane retired from his last match in Rotterdam in mid-February due to wrist pain. I’m also interested to see Rune’s game on outdoor hard courts. He showed well at the Australian Open with a fourth round run, but don’t forget he was just 8-9 on this surface last year. The majority of his rise in the rankings came from the Spring clay court season and his ridiculous run indoors late in 2022. I think this is just as big a test for Rune to prove he can win consistently on this surface, so with the athleticism and shot making prowess of both, this figures to be a good one if Rune is healthy. Given that wrist issue, it could also be a chance for Shelton to score his biggest win to date.
*Matteo Berrettini vs Alex Molcan
At a different point in the season, perhaps on a different surface, I might rate this as a big advantage for the Italian. However, given Berrettini’s absence from the tour since losing in Melbourne more than a month ago, this could be intriguing. Molcan has been playing regularly since then and while the results don’t yield a lot in the way of wins, he’s proven he can be a tough out. Recall that he took Felix Auger-Aliassime to five sets at the Aussie Open, so he has improved a bit on hard courts. Given the slower conditions here, Berrettini may also need a moment to get his timing and rhythm together in these conditions. Does that give Molcan a real shot here? I think once/if Berrettini finds his form that he takes this in the end, but perhaps it takes long enough that the lefty can make him work for it in this one.
There is some concern about whether or not Carlos Alcaraz will play Acapulco after appearing to aggravate a thigh injury in Sunday’s Rio final. For now, I’ll start by saying I would be surprised to see him in Acapulco. He has points to defend in March in both Indian Wells and Miami, so it makes little sense to push it this week at less than 100 percent. Alcaraz would premiere in Acapulco against Mackie McDonald in round one. These two squared off twice in 2022. Both came on hard courts, but the result was the same with Alcaraz rolling in straight sets in Indian Wells and Cincinnati. Altmaier-Nakashima opposite of this could be an interesting one. Nakashima hasn’t played since Australia, while his German opponent has been getting regular reps. In fact, Nakashima has played just three matches in 2023 and has not won in Acapulco in two tries. An upset would not be all that shocking given his long layoff. That should again set up Alcaraz with a pretty nice shot to the quarterfinals. In the bottom half, Tommy Paul looks to shake off his poor performance in Delray Beach as he opens against Emilio Gomez. The conditions here have proven to work in his favor with Paul making a pair of quarterfinals in 2020 and 2022. It’s not a given though that he makes a third with either Giron or Mmoh presenting a tough task in round two. Giron owns a win over Paul at this level and Mmoh owned Paul in Challengers from 2016-2019, where he won four of five battles. Paul has leveled up since then, but Mmoh won’t be scared of that matchup it would seem.
I want to see Alcaraz playing tougher, higher ranked opponents than he has seen in Buenos Aires and Rio outside of the two battles with Cam Norrie. Of course in this quarter that may or not happen with Tommy Paul as the biggest danger. Paul beat Alcaraz at the Masters 1000 in Canada last Summer, but he’s no guarantee to be in that spot in the quarters. If he however, his blend of defense, shot making and belief will make that perhaps the best match of the tournament. Given Alcaraz’s injury status, this quarter could wind up being wide open if the world number two skips Acapulco to rest up for the Sunshine Double.
ONE AND DONE WATCH
Both seeds in this quarter don’t have easy openers. Fritz looks to break a two match losing skid against John Isner in round one. Isner has beaten Fritz four out of six meetings overall. The obvious plus for Fritz is he comes in hot off the Delray Beach title. Isner played well in making the final in Dallas where he lost to Yibing Wu, but he lost both his outdoor matches early in Australia. One of Fritz’s wins over Isner came in Acapulco back in 2020. Given his form, perhaps this is a chance to squeak through to round two. The match opposite this in the top half is intriguing with a strugggling Denis Shapovalov meeting an in-form Miomir Kecmanovic. Kemanovic lost to Fritz in the Delray Beach final, while Shapovalov is on a three match losing skid. That includes one and dones in Dallas and Delray Beach. He has beaten Kecmanovic twice at this level, but those were back in 2019. A slight upset with Kecmanovic winning is a possibility.
In the bottom half, we get the Tiafoe-Nishioka opener that could be fun. The survivor should have a better time in round two against the winner between Eubanks and Lopez. Eubanks is the obvious favorite to win. He beat Lopez in Indian Wells in three last year and more importantly, the Spaniard hasn’t won a main draw singles match since 2021. He was 0-11 in 2022 and has lost his opener in Acapulco for three straight years. A lot of what happens in this quarter depends on those two first round matches involving the seeds. I do think Fritz survives, but Tiafoe is the bigger question to me. A rematch with Kecmanovic will still heavily favor him even though it’s only a few days later. Shapovalov is the danger having beaten Fritz in five of seven career meetings. The problem for the Canadian is getting wins at all. He needs one to possibly get that shot and he could be a huge dark horse IF he can find his way into the win column in round one.
ONE AND DONE WATCH
Isner over (3)Fritz
Nishioka over (6)Tiafoe
The health of Holger Rune dictates much of what could happen in this quarter. If the Dane isn’t struggling with the wrist problem, then he’s a danger. Either way though, you have to look at Norrie as the guy to beat. His form has been so good early this year with consecutive finals on clay and a good track record in Acapulco. There is however a big time trouble spot that could develop early for him if Berrettini finds his game and advances. The Italian does own a win in the only career matchup between the two. That was on grass two years ago at Queen’s Club. Norrie has to be considered the favorite with his form, but that’s a tough draw if he has to face Berrettini that early. The other side of the quarter features the Rune-Shelton opener. The survivor there will face Nuno Borges or qualifier Nick Chappell. Borges comes in hot off a Challenger title on hard courts in Monterrey. If Rune’s wrist limits him, this part of the draw could yield an unexpected quarterfinal runner. While more eyes will turn to Shelton, Borges should not be counted out.
Form says Norrie, but there are looming questions to be answered if Berrettini and Rune get into a groove. I think that makes this quarter a bit open to several different outcomes. My eyes will mainly be on that Rune-Shelton match to see what Rune looks like. I’d still like to see him prove himself outdoors too, so he won’t be in the mix for me as far as playing any outrights. Berrettini could be a factor here, but again there is a lot of guesswork involved with this quarter. The “safe” pick is Norrie unless you think he could be running on fume after two long weeks in South America.
ONE AND DONE WATCH
Shelton over (4)Rune
The return of Casper Ruud may be aided with this draw. The two seed hasn’t played since the Australian Open, but finds himself in a quarter that features three qualifiers. It does also have its share of tough outs in pesky players like (8)Alex de Minaur and J.J. Wolf. Wolf has played reasonably well since Australia with a semifinal in Dallas as the highlight. He did struggle a bit at Delray Beach, losing his second round match against Mannarino in straights. Ruud has had a disappointing start to 2023, so perhaps the first extended rest he’s had from a loaded 2022 schedule will have helped. The Norwegian is just 2-3 on the season with losses to Berrettini at the United Cup and then Djere in Auckland and Brooksby in round two at the Australian Open. The last two probably ones that we wouldn’t expect from the man who made both the Miami Masters and U.S. Open finals last year on this surface. I’ll be captivated in seeing if he’s able to shake off the rust and get things going in Acapulco. He did make the quarters here in 2021 in his lone run, but withdrew before than round due to a wrist injury. Wolf looks like a likely round two foe with the American having an advantageous first round matchup against Taro Daniel. Wolf is 2-0 against the man from Japan.
You have to like de Minaur’s draw with the Mexican wild card to open with and then either Otte or Jacopo Berrettini, the brother of Matteo. Hard courts remain the best surface for the Aussie with a 22-13 record on the surface from 2022-present. If you’re thinking Ruud might have a tough time getting going or that his early losses are not the product of fatigue, but perhaps just him not quite being at the same level so far, de Minaur’s outright market price of 15.0 (+1400) might be something you’d take a deeper look at for an investment this week.
ONE AND DONE WATCH
Andreozzi over (2)Ruud
Alcaraz is your market favorite in Acapulco at around 3.6 (+260) with Fritz a step behind at 5.0 (+400). That seems fair with both having won titles and arriving in solid form, but Alcaraz has to be a pass to start the tournament due to his injury and concern he could withdraw late. Tommy Paul might peak your interest at 9.0 (+800) if you believe his Delray Beach loss is something that can be left in the dust quickly. If Alcaraz indeed decides to pass on Acapulco, Paul might look like a bargain at that price even though his draw still has it’s tough spots.
I’m surprised to see Rune at 7.0 (+600). Given the recent retirement and complaints about lingering wrist pain from the fall originally at the Australian Open, he’s a pass for me at this price. He’s also in a tough draw to begin with, so it makes little sense to me to invest in the Dane this week. Matteo Berrettini at 6.0 (+500) is also a tough sell given his long layoff and lack of wins. If you’re looking for long shots in general, Denis Shapovalov is an eye catcher at 26.0 (+2500). To be honest, this is the sort of price we should probably be looking at with the Canadian at all tournaments given his inability to string together wins consistently – yet still being one of the most dangerous players in a tournament if he ever figures things out.
I really think this is one of the more difficult tournaments to predict so far in 2023 with a lot of form and injury questions coming into this one. There are also a lot of potentially tough early matches for seeds due to the dangerous floaters in this field. As such, I’m taking half stakes investments this week on three players instead of two.
Join me for the daily #PIGPIX and I’ll be doing a little tweet preview of the doubles field today.
de Minaur 15.0 (+1400)
Shapovalov 26.0 (+2500)
Paul 9.0 (+800)