Former world No. 1, Andy Murray continues his return to singles action as he joins the Winston-Salem field led by Benoit Paire and Denis Shapovalov. The Winston-Salem Open is live from 18-24 August.
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Since his return from hip surgery in June, Murray has been playing exclusively doubles, but he played his first singles match since January’s Australian Open in Cincinnati, losing in straight sets to Richard Gasquet. Despite the defeat, Murray was sufficiently encouraged by his performance that he has taken a wildcard into Winston Salem to continue his comeback.
The three-time major winner had initially intended to play doubles at the US Open, but he has now abandoned that idea, and chosen to focus more on singles as he steps us his recovery. He is also scheduled to play in Zhuhai and Beijing, while he could also play a Challenger event during the US Open.
While Murray is the star attraction in Winston-Salem, the tournament is not all about the Brit, of course, as other players look to fine-tune their skills ahead of the US Open, which begins in the week after the Winston-Salem Open.
We preview the Winston-Salem draw and make our picks.
Projected Quarter Final: Benoit Paire (1) vs Lorenzo Sonego (7) [H2H: Yet to meet]
Benoit Paire rounds up his US Open preparations in Winston-Salem, where he is the top seed. The mercurial champion Frenchman does not have the greatest record in the tournament as he has lost his last four matches, the latest being last season’s opening round defeat to Jan-Lennard Struff. Paire is looking to win his third title of the season, having won in Marrakech and Lyon, while he also reached the fourth round at Roland Garros in a very productive clay-court season.
The 30-year-old has been far less successful on hard courts, with his best efforts being quarter finals in Auckland and Washington. Paire gets a first round bye in Winston-Salem, and opens against either Gstaad finalist, Cedrik Marcel-Stebe or Prajnesh Gunneswaran in the second round. If he moves through that opener, he could get a quarter final against rising compatriot, Ugo Humbert, who is returning to action after missing Montreal and Cincinnati.
Former champion, Pablo Carreno Busta and Italian, Lorenzo Sonego are on the other side of this quarter, and could meet in the third round. Former top-ten star, Carreno-Busta, who won the title in 2016, is currently outside the top 50 after having injury problems this year, but he showed some decent form last week in Cincinnati, beating Gilles Simon and John Isner before falling to Novak Djokovic in the third round. He will be looking to build on that this week, as he gets himself ready for the US Open, where he made the semi-finals in 2017. The Spaniard has a bye into the second round, and will face either Martin or Marius Copil in a dangerous opening fixture.
Predicted Quarter Final: Benoit Paire vs Pablo Carreno Busta
Semi-Finalist: Pablo Carreno Busta
Projected Quarter Final: Joao Sousa (4) vs Daniel Evans (5) [H2H: Sousa leads 1-0]
It’s a very open second quarter in Winston-Salem, with Joao Sousa and Daniel Evans spear-heading the section, but there are a lot of other players who will fancy their chances of moving through to the semi-finals. Sousa opens against either Denis Kudla or Robin Haase in the second round, and is projected to meet John Millman in the third round.
However, Millman, who also gets a first-round bye, will have to find a route around either Marco Cecchinato or Alexander Bublik in the second round. It’s really anybody’s guess in this section of the draw as no one here particularly stands out. There’s a temptation to go for Bublik, who recently made a final in Newport, but he is so unpredictable, and a very difficult man to back. The more consistent Sousa remains the safest option in my opinion.
The uncertainties around this quarter extend to the other side, with Daniel Evans opening against Steve Johnson or Corentin Moutet, and possibly facing Casper Ruud in the third round. Evans had a fine grass-court season, and recently reached the quarter finals on the hard courts of Atlanta. He also played well against Rafael Nadal in Toronto, and if he keeps that up, he could be the man to profit from this wide open quarter. Ruud appears to be his biggest obstacle, but the Norwegian does most of his best work on clay, and has not really had an impact on hard courts this season.
Predicted Quarter Final: Joao Sousa vs Daniel Evans
Semi-Finalist: Daniel Evans
Projected Quarter Final: Hubert Hurkacz (3) vs Filip Krajinovic (8) [H2H: Hurkacz leads 1-0]
Hubert Hurkacz and Filip Krajinovic are at the boundaries of the third quarter, but there are some very interesting players in between, most notably former top-ten star, and Grand Slam finalist, Tomas Berdych, who returns to action for the first time since Wimbledon, and plays just his second tournament since Indian Wells. Berdych opens his Winston-Salem campaign against fellow veteran, Andreas Seppi, who is also competing for the first time since Wimbledon, with the winner progressing to meet Krajinovic in the second round.
Whoever comes through that section of the draw could take on Frances Tiafoe in the quarter finals, provided the American wildcard, who has a first-round bye, gets past Jeremy Chardy or a qualifier in the second round. That’s not a given as Tiafoe has not been in the best of forms, having won just three of his last eleven matches. I’ll still back Tiafoe to make the quarters here, partly because I think he is due one! He’s certainly talented enough, and can feed off the energy of the American crowd (which admittedly, hasn’t always worked for him), in his quest to find some decent form heading into the US Open.
Hubert Hurkacz leads the other side of the third quarter, and given the season he’s had, I’ll back the Pole to get past Henri Laaksonen or Duckhee Lee in the second round, while he should be too strong for Feliciano Lopez, Nicolas Jarry or Pablo Andujar in the third. Jarry and Andujar meet in the first round, with the winner taking on Lopez.
Predicted Quarter Final: Frances Tiafoe vs Hubert Hurkacz
Semi-Finalist: Hubert Hurkacz
Projected Quarter Final: Sam Querrey (6) vs Denis Shapovalov (2) [H2H: Shapovalov leads 1-0]
Andy Murray is housed in the fourth quarter of the Winston-Salem draw, with the British wildcard opening against American, Tennys Sandgren. It is a challenging opener for Murray as Sandgren, a quarter finalist at the Australian Open last January, is a tough counter-puncher, and will definitely test out that hip of Murray’s. There were promising signs in Murray’s singles comeback against Gasquet in Cincinnati last week, but he will be the first to admit that there is still some way to go. He will have to play a lot better if he is to move past Sandgren in Winston-Salem. If he wins, he will play Canadian young gun, Denis Shapovalov in the second round.
I actually think if Murray beats Sandgren, then he’s got a good chance of taking out Shapovalov as well. The Canadian hasn’t been at his best for a while, as he has won just four matches since reaching the semi-finals of the Miami Open in March. Besides, Murray, at his best, thrives against ultra-aggressive, sometimes rash players like Shapovalov, as he can trust his own counter-punching skills to wear down the opposition. That though, is Murray at his best…
One of Murray, Shapovalov or Sandgren (or a qualifier), will move into the third round, where Serbia’s Miomir Kecmanovic will likely be waiting. The 19-year-old Kecmanovic will break into the top 50 for the first time following his third round run in Cincinnati last week. He will be in confident mood as he looks to continue his rise up the ATP ranks.
Leading the other side of the quarter is Sam Querrey, who opens against Roberto Carballes Baena or a qualifier in the second round, and could face Andrey Rublev in the third round. Rublev, of course, produced that stunning victory over Roger Federer to reach the quarter finals in Cincinnati. (He couldn’t back it up as he fell to fellow Russian, Daniil Medvedev in the next round). The Russian young gun starts his tournament against Thomas Fabiano, and if he wins, will face Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the second round, before that potential third-round clash with Querrey.
Predicted Quarter Final: Sam Querrey vs Miomir Kecmanovic
Semi-Finalist: Sam Querrey
Pablo Carreno-Busta vs Daniel Evans
Hubert Hurkacz vs Sam Querrey
Pablo Carreno-Busta vs Sam Querrey