Brisbane R1 previews and predictions: Dimitrov vs. Johnson, Troicki vs. Nishioka

Familiar foes Grigor Dimitrov and Steve Johnson will renew their rivalry when the 2017 season begins on Monday in Brisbane. First-round action also includes a showdown between Viktor Troicki and Yoshihito Nishioka.

Steve Johnson vs. (7) Grigor Dimitrov

Dimitrov and Johnson will be squaring off for the sixth time in their careers and for the sixth time in less than two years when they meet again in round one of the Brisbane International on Monday night. The head-to-head series stands at 3-2 in favor of Dimitrov, who won their last two encounters of the 2016 campaign. He prevailed 7-6(8), 6-2 in Cincinnati before getting the job done 7-5, 6-7(9), 6-4 in Beijing. Johnson had previously defeated Dimitrov in four sets at Wimbledon, avenging a 2015 loss to the Bulgarian at the All-England Club.

One of the tour’s biggest disappointments of 2016 through Wimbledon, Dimitrov picked up the pace thereafter by reaching the Toronto quarterfinals, the Cincinnati semis, the U.S. Open fourth round, the Chengdu semis, the Beijing final, and the Stockholm semis. Thus he finished at a respectable 17th in the world, 16 spots ahead of Johnson. The American briefly became the top-ranked player from his country last year but did not win more than one match at any of his last seven tournaments. Dimitrov should once again have a slight edge in this rivalry.

Pick: Dimitrov in 3

Viktor Troicki vs. (Q) Yoshihito Nishioka

It has already been a productive stop in Brisbane for Nishioka, who qualified for the main draw with a pair of victories over the weekend. The world No. 100 held off Go Soeda 6-4, 0-6, 6-2 before beating Tim Smyczek 7-5, 6-4. Just 21 years old, Nishioka won 10 ATP-level matches in 2016 and capped off the season with a Challenger title in Kazakhstan.

Monday will mark Troicki’s second consecutive contest against  a Japanese opponent, as his 2016 campaign ended with a 6-2, 7-5 loss to Kei Nishikori in round two of the Paris Masters. The 29th-ranked Serb compiled a decent 34-29 record last year and will likely be seeded at the Australian Open with a current ranking of No. 29 in the world. Troicki may be a bit rusty and he is facing someone who has already played two matches, but the favorite’s superior firepower should be enough in the end.

Pick: Troicki in 3

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