The ATP 500 Dubai Championships kick off with the anticipated return of World #1 Novak Djokovic. The five-time champion will attempt to retain his hold on the World #1 ranking as Daniil Medvedev (in action elsewhere) edges closer. A five-match slate of predictions for Day 1 follow below, including Andy Murray vs. Christopher O’Connell.
ATP Dubai Day 1 Predictions
Jiri Vesely vs Marin Cilic
Head-to-head: Vesely 0-1 Cilic
This matchup features two heavy-hitters with opposite starts to the season. Cilic has gotten off to a great start that has seen him rise to #24 in the world, a ranking he hasn’t seen for two or three years. This includes a couple 250 semifinal appearances and a win over Andrey Rublev at the Australian Open. Vesely, on the other hand, is only 1-4 in ATP competition in 2022, with his last tournament being a Challenger where he was forced to retire. He also lost the only head-to-head matchup with Cilic, and has a much lower win percentage on hard courts. Neither has played well in Dubai in the past, but Cilic figures to ride the hot hand over the struggling Czech.
Prediction: Cilic in 2
Filip Krajinovic vs Malek Jaziri
Head-to-head: Krajinovic 1-0 Jaziri
This match shouldn’t require much analysis, given the great disparity in ranking: #44 vs #303. The Tunisian Jaziri is at the end of his career at 38 years old, and has played only a couple Challengers this season, without much success. Krajinovic has been merely mediocre this year, but he is well above Jaziri’s level. The latter briefly held a ranking as high as Krajinovic’s a few years ago, and if he finds that form at this late stage then maybe he can pull off a huge upset (larger even, I think, than Safiullin over Tsitsipas). But the pick has to go the way of the Serb.
Prediction: Krajinovic in 2
Andy Murray vs Christopher O’Connell
Head-to-head: first meeting
Murray is an intriguing matchup these days, with high skill minus low tournament endurance. His opponent is extremely inexperienced on the tour, at 27 years old having played just 23 ATP events. Most of O’Connell’s ATP experience has been on hard court, and he has only a 35% win percentage in those matches, whereas Murray is 77% on hard for his career. The outlier for O’Connell was his recent performance at the Austalian Open, where he vanquished Hugo Gaston and then Diego Schwartzman, a performance that was surely boosted by his having home crowd support as an Australian. Murray’s endurance combined with O’Connell’s sometimes-potential gives me a little pause in this pick, but Murray has played well of late when fully rested.
Prediction: Murray in 2
David Goffin vs Taro Daniel
Head-to-head: first meeting
There is not much of a foothold for making a pick here. Goffin has a big lead in the rankings, but he hasn’t started the season very well, and has had trouble staying on court over the last year. Daniel has not played terribly well either, or played much on the ATP Tour for that matter, logging only five matches so far in 2022. Neither player has inspiring wins, and they have never faced each other, nor has either won a match in Dubai (Goffin is 0/3, and Daniel has never played here). The best statistic to favor one or the other is Goffin’s win percentage on hard court, which outpaces Daniel’s 60% to 36%. That, as well as the ranking, will have to suffice to make a pick, balanced slightly by Goffin’s injury history.
Prediction: Goffin in 3
Novak Djokovic vs Lorenzo Musetti
Head-to-head: Djokovic 1-0 Musetti
This is a straightforward pick. Djokovic not only out-ranks Musetti, has infinitely more experience, and has won this tournament five times, but the disparity between their win percentages on hard court is drastic (84% to 42%). Musetti has not played well the last six months or so, after an excellent run early last year, though he just picked up his level in Rotterdam with victories over Mikael Ymer and Hubert Hurkacz. The only thing that complicates this pick is Djokovic’s three-month layoff, but we just saw Nadal come off a four-month layoff to win a 250 and a Major. I could see Djokovic coming out a little tentative to get his sea legs back, which could allow Musetti to steal a set, but the #1 player in the world should advance comfortably.
Prediction: Djokovic in 3
Main Photo from Getty.