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Nick Kyrgios vs Bjorn Fratangelo U.S. Men's Clay Court Tennis Championship tennis live: Kyrgios begins Houston campaign against Fratangelo

Andrew Hendrie in ATP Tour 11 Apr 2018
  • Nick Kyrgios vs Bjorn Fratangelo is live from Houston not before 6.00pm local time on Wednesday (12.00am BST, Thursday)
  • First meeting between the pair
Nick Kyrgios (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Nick Kyrgios makes his U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship debut in Houston on Wednesday night when he takes on American Bjorn Fratangelo.

After a first round bye, fourth seed Nick Kyrgios launches just his second tournament since the Australian Open on Wednesday night at the ATP 250 U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship in Houston against World No. 108 Bjorn Fratangelo. Kyrgios experienced a very bright start to the season, but an elbow problem forced him onto the sidelines for six weeks from the start of February, with the Australian making his return a couple of weeks ago at the Miami Masters, where he went down to eventual runner-up Alexander Zverev in the Round of 16. Fratangelo meanwhile is confident after recording his first ATP win of the season in the first round, crushing another Australian in Jordan Thompson 6-1 6-1. Kyrgios and Fratangelo take to court not before 6.00pm local time on Wednesday (12.00am BST, Thursday).

For a player who thrives in big atmospheres and in front of electric crowds, it will be interesting to see how Kyrgios performs at the relatively low-key U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship in Houston this week. It’s not often Kyrgios plays these type of ATP 250 events - indeed, he’s only competed in three 250s over the last 12 months, losing in the first round of Lyon and Antwerp and winning the Brisbane International earlier this season. Considering Brisbane is arguably the biggest ATP 250 tournament and it’s in Australia, that doesn’t really count, so Kyrgios hasn’t won a match at 250-level since last February when he made the semi-finals of Marseille - where he was defending the title, so he was obviously a bit more motivated.

What I’m trying to say is that Kyrgios can struggle to find the motivation, focus and drive to get up for these sorts of events, but that being said, he has tasted success at this level in the USA before, collecting the Atlanta title back in 2016.

Kyrgios started 2018 in encouraging fashion, registering an 8-2 record over January and the first week of February in securing his fourth ATP title at the Brisbane International and making the Round of 16 at the Australian Open, falling to Grigor Dimitrov in what was by far the Bulgarian’s best match of 2018 so far. The 22-year-old would go on to win his opening Davis Cup singles rubber for Australia over Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff in straight sets, but he would suffer an elbow injury in the second rubber against Alexander Zverev, losing that match in straights - while he returned at the Miami Masters, beating Dusan Lajovic and Fabio Fognini convincingly before once more going down to Zverev in a pretty one-sided fourth round contest.

Kyrgios has fallen to No. 24 in the world after failing to defend his Miami semi-final points from last season, but with the Australian missing a lot of the clay season in 2017, there’s opportunities looming for  him to accumulate some valuable points and begin his charge back up the rankings. And it all starts on Wednesday night in Houston against the World No. 108.

Bjorn Fratangelo (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Bjorn Fratangelo, a former Roland Garros junior champion who was named after the legendary Bjorn Borg, has been on the precipice of breaking through and establishing himself as a member of the top 100 for the last couple of years now, but the American can’t seem to find the consistency or that little bit extra in his game in order to do so.

Fratangelo first made a big impact at ATP level in 2016 when he stunned then World No. 1 Novak Djokovic to win the first set of their Indian Wells clash 6-2. Fratangelo was in amazing form on that day, incredibly out-performing Djokovic in backhand to backhand exchanges, but the Serbian - who was at the peak of his powers at the time - bounced back strongly and ultimately ran away with the match for the loss of just three more games, but Fratangelo did highlight himself as a player to keep an eye on over the coming years.

Unfortunately, Fratangelo hasn’t really made the progress he would have liked, winning just four more matches in 2016 after the Djokovic loss, hitting a career-high ranking of No. 99 in June that year and failing to win any Challenger titles last year, with his highlights including making the semi-finals of the ATP event in Newport, making second rounds on clay at Budapest and Estoril and beating Ivo Karlovic in five sets in the opening round of the U.S. Open - along with a Challenger runner-up finish in Champaign to end 2017. Fratangelo hasn’t been able to get going so far in 2018, with his best result a quarter-final at the Irving Challenger - although his 6-1 6-1 demolition of Jordan Thompson was pretty impressive as he notched up his first ATP win of 2018.

Kyrgios and Fratangelo have never played before, and as is the case with most matches involving Kyrgios, this one is pretty tough to call. Obviously if the Australian plays near his best, he wins this match 9 times out of 10. But it’s hard to say what Kyrgios is going to show up in Houston. If he can fight through and win a couple of matches, he’ll probably end up winning the title, but the biggest battle for Kyrgios is getting himself up for the early rounds. Fratangelo’s best surface is clay and he’s clearly in form after his first round. If the American can start well and and perhaps grab an early break, that might be enough for Kyrgios’ mind to wander. There’s a decent chance of the upset here.

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Nick Kyrgios vs Bjorn Fratangelo U.S. Men's Clay Court Tennis Championship tennis live: Kyrgios begins Houston campaign against Fratangelo

Nick Kyrgios makes his U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship debut in Houston on Wednesday night when he takes on American Bjorn Fratangelo.

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