Frenchman Gael Monfils has an extremely tough draw on his long-awaited return to Auckland, while Canadian star Denis Shapovalov is a bonus inclusion in the 2024 field.
They were two of the key points from the men’s bracket at the ASB Classic, with their tournament to get underway on Monday.
Monfils hasn’t been here since 2013, forced to pull out on a couple of subsequent occasions, but remains a favourite, with his deeds against Tommy Haas in 2013 still remembered.
The veteran has been remarkably consistent – reaching a tour final for each of the last 19 years – and in 2023 in Stockholm, he became just the fourth player over the age of 37 to win an ATP title since 1990.
But the world No 74 has a difficult road here. If he gets past 64th-ranked Hungarian Fabian Marozan – who boasts a win over Carlos Alcaraz last year – he would play top seed Ben Shelton in the second round, the American who enjoyed a stunning 2023 including a run to the US Open semifinals.
Shapovalov has been a marquee name on his previous Auckland appearances but was lined up to go through qualifying this time, as his ranking has slipped to 109 and there were no wildcards available. That would have been a crazy prospect – as Shapovalov hasn’t had to go through qualifying in any tournament since the 2017 US Open.
It was averted at the last minute, as three players pulled out late on Friday night, which elevated Monfils into the main draw and freed up a wildcard for Shapovalov. It’s a boon for the tournament, as the 24-year-old Canadian is one of the most exciting players to watch on tour. He will play seventh-seeded Austrian Sebastian Ofner first up and could meet Shelton or Monfils in the last eight.
Local wildcard Kiranpal Pannu has drawn Australian world No 45 Max Purcell, in his second outing at this level.
Defending champion Richard Gasquet faces a generational battle, taking on highly rated compatriot Arthur Fils who is almost 20 years younger. Fils rose from 252 at the start of 2023 to 36, one of the biggest movers on the tour.
2023 runner-up Cameron Norrie has avoided any big guns for his second-round match but is seeded to face world No 34 Christopher Eubanks in the quarter-finals.
Michael Burgess has been a sports journalist since 2005, winning several national awards and covering Olympics’, Fifa World Cups and America’s Cup campaigns.
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