Tokyo R1 previews and picks: Del Potro vs. Baghdatis, Nishikori vs. Melzer

Juan Martin Del Potro and Marcos Baghdatis will square off in a blockbuster first-round encounter on Tuesday in Tokyo. Jurgen Melzer and defending champion Kei Nishikori are also in action.

(1) Juan Martin Del Potro vs. Marcos Baghdatis

Del Potro and Baghdatis will be facing each other for the fifth time in their careers and for the second time this season when they do battle in round one of the Rakuten Japan Open on Tuesday. All four of their previous meetings have come on hard courts and the head-to-head series is tied up at two wins apiece. Their most recent showdown came in February at the 500-point event in Dubai, where Del Potro survived in a third-set tiebreaker.

Baghdatis had been in a massive slump ever since, until he reached the quarterfinals in Washington, D.C. and advanced two rounds at the U.S. Open. The 49th-ranked Cypriot is 14-19 for the year and he is coming off a second-round Kuala Lumpur loss to Stanislas Wawrinka. Del Potro is making his first appearance since dropping a five-set thriller against Lleyton Hewitt in the U.S. Open second round. The seventh-ranked Argentine is 35-12 for his 2013 campaign, which includes titles in Rotterdam and Washington, D.C. Whereas momentum is more important for some players, rest is what counts for Del Potro. Tokyo’s top seed has enjoyed plenty of it over the past month and it should show against Baghdatis.

Pick: Del Potro in 2

(4) Kei Nishikori vs. Jurgen Melzer

Nishikori and Melzer will be colliding for the third time in their careers and for the second time this season on Tuesday. They split their two previous encounters; Melzer rolled 7-5, 6-2, 6-1 at the 2009 Australian Open, but Nishikori got revenge with a 6-3, 6-2 romp just a few months ago on the clay courts of Madrid. Although Japan’s top player is a solid 29-15 for the year, he has not won an ATP tournament match since the Montreal second round. He lost his openers at both the Cincinnati Masters and the U.S. Open.

Melzer struggled for the most part in between Miami (quarterfinal) and Wimbledon (fourth round), but he has fared better of late. The 32-year-old captured a title in Winston-Salem and he is coming off a semifinal showing last week in Kuala Lumpur. This could be a toss-up if Melzer serves well, but Nishikori is playing at home and he has to feel comfortable–if not a little bit of pressure–as the defending champion.

Pick: Nishikori in 3

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