The 2019 ATP World Tour swings into Auckland for the Auckland Open. Defending champion Roberto Bautista Agut has withdrawn after his title in Doha, but the tournament still boasts some solid names. Here's what to expect:
Top seed John Isner had a career year in 2018, winning his first Masters title in Miami and reaching the Wimbledon semifinals. He'll open 2019 with a first round bye before taking on either Marius Copil or Taylor Fritz.
The unpredictable Benoit Paire reached the Pune quarterfinals last week and is set to square off with the improving Cameron Norrie. Former finalist Joao Sousa faces seventh seed Denis Shapovalov.
It's Isner's section to lose with Paire up-and-down often within matches and Shapovalov not in top form. The American looks to be in good shape here.
Prediction: Isner def. Shapovalov
David Ferrer is the winningest player in tournament history with four Auckland trophies to his name. He'll begin his final campaign here against big-hitting Dutchman Robin Haase, who lost a thriller to Bautista Agut in last year's semifinals. The winner gets fourth seed Pablo Carreño Busta.
Jan-Lennard Struff will face lucky loser Laslo Djere while Ruben Statham received the local wild card and drew sixth seed Hyeon Chung. The South Korean is in need of some match wins with semifinal points to defend next week in Melbourne.
This is by far the most wide-open section and for old times sake, it would be poetic if Ferrer would be able to take advantage of his opportunity.
Prediction: Ferrer def. Struff
Three of the six Americans entered are in this section, with Steve Johnson claiming the ninth seed after Bautista Agut's withdrawl. He opens against Leonardo Mayer. MacKenzie McDonald qualified and plays the impressive Matteo Berrettini.
Tennys Sandgren made headlines last year by reaching the quarterfinals in Melbourne as he squares off with fellow Aussie surprise Maximilian Marterer, who reached the Round of 16 last year. Third seed Marco Cecchinato awaits the victor.
This is an interesting section with a few possibilities. Cecchinato played well in Doha last week, reaching the semifinals. Johnson is likely to emerge from what looks to be a very competitive group.
Prediction: Johnson def. Cecchinato
Second seed Fabio Fognini rose to a career-high 13th in the world after a three-title season. He gets a bye and then either Guido Pella or Peter Gojowczyk in the second round.
The always entertaining Gael Monfils is seeded eighth and draws fellow Frenchman Ugo Humbert, who qualified. Veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber squares off with American Bradley Klahn.
A match between Monfils and Fognini would be a treat for the fans to see with Kohlschreiber also in with a look. If either the Frenchman or Italian advance, it would be a delight.
Prediction: Fognini def. Monfils
Who will take home the Auckland trophy?
Isner looks to be the favorite to take home the title. He's the top seed, had the best year of any player in the field and the hard courts will only help his massive serve.
Fognini, Monfils and Paire are all volatile, but plenty capable of challenging the top seed. Shapovalov and Chung are in dire need of match wins with Melbourne fast approaching.
Ferrer would be the best story as he continues his farewell tour in the final months of his brilliant career. A throwback to the old days is not out of the question.
Semifinals: Isner def. Ferrer, Fognini def. Johnson
Final: Isner def. Fognini