One year ago, two-time Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships semi-finalist Marin Cilic was stunned in the first round of Tokyo’s ATP 500 event. On Monday, the Croat will get a chance to get off to a better start in Japan as he pursues his first trophy at Ariake Tennis Park.
Cilic, an 18-time tour-level champion, will begin his run against an opponent whom he has never played: home favourite Yuichi Sugita. Cilic, the sixth seed, is currently No. 28 in the ATP Rankings — his lowest standing since June 2014 — but he will see this as an opportunity to push back towards the top of the sport, having ascended as high as World No. 3.
The 30-year-old has won multiple matches at three of his past four tournaments, including a run to the fourth round of the US Open, where he lost to eventual titlist Rafael Nadal. Cilic owns a 9-6 record in Tokyo.
Sugita is not the only home favourite in action. Japanese No. 2 Yoshihito Nishioka will try to thrill the home fans when he takes to Colosseum against Portugal’s Joao Sousa. This will be their first FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting.
Nishioka is trying to earn his first victory in Tokyo. He has shown good form in the past couple of months, making the quarter-finals of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati as a qualifier. In the final round of qualifying there, he defeated Sousa in three sets.
Sousa, on the other hand, carries plenty of momentum into the match. The Portuguese No. 1 made the semi-finals in St. Petersburg and the quarter-finals in Chengdu in consecutive weeks. Sousa made the last eight in Tokyo three years ago.
Another Japanese wild card, Go Soeda, will kick off main draw action against big-hitting German Jan-Lennard Struff. The winner will face World No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
Struff will carry good memories of Tokyo into the match, as he eliminated Cilic last year. The 29-year-old is trying to earn his 30th tour-level victory of the season. If Struff defeats Soeda, it would be the first time he accomplishes the feat.
The last match on Colosseum features South Korea’s Hyeon Chung and Italian Lorenzo Sonego. On Rakuten Card Arena, 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals qualifier Hubert Hurkacz carries a 2-0 FedEx ATP Head2Head series lead into his battle against fifth seed Lucas Pouille.
Djokovic Begins Doubles Run
Djokovic, who is making his Tokyo debut, will begin his run in the doubles draw. The Serbian and his countryman Filip Krajinovic will face fourth seeds Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares. In other doubles action, Dominic Inglot and Austin Krajicek will battle Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau.
Source: ATP World Tour