ATP Washington 2021: Preview and Draw Analysis

Rafael Nadal at the Mexican Open

The next stop of the ATP 500 tournaments will be in Washington, D.C. Known by its sponsor name the Citi Open, it is a forerunner of the final Grand Slam of the season. World #3 Rafael Nadal is the biggest draw this week as he is set to make his debut in the US capital. Among the Top 20 players in the main draw will be Felix Auger-Aliassime (coached by Nadal’s uncle), and Alex De Minaur who has recovered from COVID-19 that ruled him out of the Olympic Games. Fans will be allowed at full capacity. This will also be the first tournament to restore full prize money since the pandemic began. Here is how the draw is expected to pan out.

ATP Washington 2021: Preview and Draw Analysis

Top half, first section: Nadal handed a testing draw on his Washington debut

Rafael Nadal is unquestionably the player to watch this week. The Spaniard hasn’t played since his title defense at this year’s French Open came to a juddering halt in the semifinals. He pulled out from Wimbledon and the Olympic Games, after reaching a unanimous decision with his team to rest up his body.

The top seed has been handed a tough draw in his quest to win an 89th tour-level title. He has a bye in the opening round which means his debut has been pushed to Wednesday. He will play against one of Jack Sock or Yoshihito Nishioka.

14th seed Lloyd Harris is Nadal’s potential third-round opponent. The big-serving South African will play either Tennys Sandgren or James Duckworth who were both eliminated early in Tokyo.

There is an enticing first-round match in this section which features Kei Nishikori and Sam Querrey. The winner of that match is placed to play Alexander Bublik.

The name that could cause serious havoc in this section is that of Cameron Norrie. The Brit is seeded seventh and is one of the most improved players on tour. Norrie is projected to meet the top-seeded Nadal in the quarterfinals.

Quarterfinal prediction: Nadal (1) vs Norrie (7)

Top half, second section: Defending champion Nick Kyrgios in a stacked section

Nick Kyrgios won the last staging of this event in 2019. The mercurial Aussie has a treacherous path to reach the championship match this year. He opens up against Mackenzie McDonald on Monday.

Should he progress, there will a popcorn second-rounder against Benoit Paire – a potential nightmare match for a chair umpire. The winner is slated to meet the fourth seed Grigor Dimitrov provided the Bulgarian will beat one of the Belarusian duos of Ilya Ivashka or Egor Gerasimov.

There is plenty of American interest in this section. After making back-to-back tour-level finals in the last two weeks, Brandon Nakashima has been given a wild card in Washington. At the time of writing, the 19-year-old will be playing the final in Atlanta, and will need to complete the 500-mile journey to play Alexei Popyrin in the first round.

Taylor Fritz will also be in action. The 10th seed could face countryman Denis Kudla or the Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez. Fritz and Dan Evans could meet in the third round, but do not be surprised if Australia’s newest ATP titlist has something to say about it.

Quarterfinal prediction: Kyrgios vs Popyrin

Bottom half, first section: Sinner and Next Gen stars look to impress

Jannik Sinner made an explosive start to his 2021 campaign, but things have gone relatively quiet in recent weeks. The young Italian is on a four-match losing streak. His latest defeat at the hands of World #132 Christopher O’Connell left him with many unanswered questions. Sinner will hope to find the answers very quickly in Washington. He has a bye in his opening round and could tackle the talented Finn Emil Ruusuvuori in the second. Sinner could then face Sebastian Korda in a match between two of the Next Gen stars.

Elsewhere, Serbia’s Miomir Kecmanovic is another leading light of the 21-and-under club. He has blown hot and cold this season and it is very difficult to ascertain his progress. Kecmanovic suffered Olympics heartbreak at the hands of Ugo Humbert and jetted straight to the US. He will likely face Ricardas Berankis in the second round.

It is hard to look past Alex De Minaur in this section. We will never know the extent of De Minaur’s impact at the Olympics after he was ruled out for testing positive for COVID-19. But he has since recovered and is raring to go. With two titles under his belt this term, and 20 match wins, De Minaur looks a solid outright winner this week.

Quarterfinal prediction: Alex De Minaur (3) vs Sebastian Korda (12)

Bottom half, second section: Could it be Auger-Aliassime’s time?

For the umpteenth time, Felix Auger-Aliassime lost in another ATP final, in Stuttgart. We questioned whether the young Canadian had the mental fortitude to break this barrier. And although he hasn’t, he has at least taken some positive steps in his evolution. There is the victory over Roger Federer in Halle, and a quarterfinal showing at Wimbledon – beating Alexander Zverev in the process.

Now Auger-Aliassime has a chance to stamp his authority on the hard courts of North America. If he gives a good account of himself he could be semifinal-bound. As the second seed, he will begin his campaign in the second round against Yasutaka Uchiyama or Andreas Seppi. Then the level of competition will go up a notch. He could tackle one of Frances Tiafoe, Kevin Anderson, or Jenson Brooksby.

20-year-old Brooksby will face Anderson in the first round in a rematch of the Newport final which the South African won in straight sets.

Quarterfinal prediction: Auger-Aliassime (2) vs Reilly Opelka (8)

Main Photo from Getty.