The ATP World Tour begins its North American hard court swing in earnest in week 31, as the tour hits sweltering Washington DC for the Citi Open.
The US Open Series officially started last week in Atlanta, but this week we step it up a notch with this ATP 500 event that has attracted the likes of Tomas Berdych, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic, among plenty of other notable names.
It’s usually very hot and humid in DC at this time of year and it’s a tournament where conditions are tough for the players.
Surface-wise they play on a Decoturf outdoor hard court and the speed is usually on the pacy side, with the balls in use this week being Penn ATP XD Tournament Select.
We signed off a tough week 30 with a comfortable winner in Atlanta last night when John Isner defeated Dudi Sela 6-3, 6-4 to land the straight sets wager and Isner moves on with us to DC this week, where there are 10 opening round matches set for Monday night.
And there’s a chance to take a glimpse into the future tonight, as a number of potential future stars of the game make in some cases their first forays into ATP Tour main draw level.
In truth it’s not the most exciting of schedules today, so it’s worth taking a look at the teens as they make their first steps at this level of professional tennis.
Francis Tiafoe vs Evgeny Donskoy
This match featuring the 16-year-old local hope Tiafoe gets star billing at around 01:00 UK time (20:00 local) and it’s far from a certainty that Donskoy will win it.
We saw a few weeks ago on the clay of Hamburg that it’s very possible for local teenage prospects to step up to the big stage and ruffle a few feathers and if Tiafoe gets inspired rather than overawed he certainly has the ability to trouble Donskoy.
Francis plays his tennis in training at the Junior Tennis Champions Centre in College Park, Washington and the tournament director is clearly confident enough in the 6’1” Tiafoe’s ability to grant him not only a wild card into the main draw, but top billing tonight.
In juniors he’s reach a high ranking of number two in the world and with a 4.5 game start on Donskoy he has a decent chance here.
The Russian has been beaten as favourite the last twice, with a poor loss to Ireland’s James McGee first up last week in the Lexington Challenger, so Tiafoe could have had a much worse draw than this.
Filip Peliwo vs Lukas Lacko
No longer a teen, but one of the up and coming possible future stars of the game is 20-year-old Canadian Peliwo, who is the latest off the production line of talent from Canada.
He’s been around a lot longer than Tiafoe and results have been mixed, but Lacko almost dropped a set to Nathan Pasha last week, who barely plays on the tour and he would have won a set had he not choked when serving for it.
Lacko is one of those who, if he were a horse, he’d be on your ‘questionable triers’ list and he fell apart again in Atlanta in his most recent match to Jack Sock after losing the opener on a tie break.
Peliwo also has a wild card here and may be worth a wager with a 4.5 game start at 1.8.
Jared Donaldson vs Rajeev Ram
Perhaps the most realistic chance of victory of any of the three young guns today may lie with 17-year-old Donaldson, who has qualified for his first main draw ATP World Tour match here this week.
Jared was beaten in two tight sets by James Ward last week, with the Brit going on to make the final of the Lexington Challenger after beating Donaldson, but he did win three Futures titles on the bounce earlier this season and he’s highly rated.
Indeed, Donaldson had an unusual tennis upbringing, as he spent a couple of years in Argentina at the behest of his father in at effort to structure points effectively on the red dirt.
He faces the in and out Ram tonight, with Rajeev losing to world number 349 Michael Venus last week in Atlanta and facing number 333 Donaldson today may not be so easy for the 30-year-old.
The +2.5 games on Donaldson could be worthy of consideration there.
Elsewhere, I always give Robby Ginepri a shot as underdog in these conditions on North American hard courts and he could easily get the better of the inconsistent Alejandro Falla tonight.
Tim Smyczek and Alex Kuznetsov meet for an incredible 18th time in their careers tonight too, with the score standing at 9-8 to the former, while it will be very interesting to see if Bernard Tomic keeps up his recent good attitude too.
Bernie looked very focused in Bogota, but will he this week in tough conditions?
In summary, it’s always a bit of a risk backing the young players, but I fancy Tiafoe to cover the handicap over Donskoy tonight.
Best Bet: Back Tiafoe +4.5 games to beat Donskoy at 1.87