06 Jan Top Seed Cristian Garin Ready for Delray Debut
By STEVE DORSEY
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – Cristian Garin twice has been the top seed at an ATP Tour tournament, but both times he fell short in his quest to hoist the championship trophy. The 24-year-old Chilean hopes the third time is the charm in what he describes as his “second home.”
Garin, ranked No. 22 in the world heading into the 2021 season, is the No. 1 seed at the ATP Tour’s season-opening Delray Beach Open by Vitacost.com, which kicks off the main draw competition Thursday at the Delray Beach Tennis Center.
The 24-year-old Garin’s resume since turning pro in 2011 includes four titles, two in each of the past two years, all on clay surfaces however – Delray is a hardcourt event. This week marks the third time he’s been the top seed in an ATP Tour tournament, but he failed to advance past the quarterfinals in either of his two previous tournaments he was seeded No. 1.
Garin has been living in Miami practicing the past couple of months with new coach Franco Davin, so entering the season-opening tournament in Delray Beach was an easy decision for the Chilean native.
“I’ve been practicing and spent a lot of time there, so (South Florida) kind of feels like my second home,” Garin said upon arriving in Delray Beach, adding that he wasn’t expecting to play Delray before the tournament dates were moved from mid-February to this week. “I’m very grateful to be here. It’s nice to have matches before (the Australian Open).”
Garin was projected to be the No. 2 seed here before world No. 14 Milos Raonic withdrew from the tournament on Monday. Defending champion and World No. 39 Reilly Opelka also pulled out on Monday because of a knee injury, a few days after two-time Wimbledon champion and former world No. 1 Andy Murray decided to withdraw.
Raonic’s withdrawal elevated Garin to the coveted top seed, but he will be trying to overcome a trend at the DBO – only one No. 1 seed, Mardy Fish in 2009, has won the title in the tournament’s history. Two years ago here, fellow South American Juan Martin del Potro was the top seed but was upset in the quarterfinals. This will be Garin’s first tournament since he lost to world No. 3 Dominic Thiem in the round of 16 at Vienna in late October last year.
“I’d love to play a lot of matches (in Delray), but I have to get back in the rhythm (of competition),” Garin said. “Last year was really weird for me after Rio. I didn’t play tennis for two months, and then when I came back I didn’t feel well playing in the tournaments. I know what I have to do this year. . . . To be honest, I just want to play matches.”
Garin’s path to next Wednesday’s championship finals has a few potential roadblocks in the singles draw that includes some seasoned hardcourt players and a crop of talented youngsters. A potential quarterfinal matchup looms against former Delray Beach Open champion Sam Querrey, provided the No. 6 seed here can get past fellow American Mackenzie McDonald in the marquee first-round match Thursday night on the Stadium Court. McDonald, now 25, posted the biggest win of his career two years ago when he upset del Potro in the Delray quarterfinals.
The top half of the singles bracket also includes Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz, the No. 4 seed whose first real test could come in the quarterfinals against the winner of another intriguing first-round matchup between No. 7 seed Pablo Andujar of Spain and Croatian Ivo Karlovic, the 2015 champion here and at 41 the oldest player in the field.
The bottom half of the singles draw includes top-ranked American John Isner, the No. 2 seed who is ranked No. 25 in the world, just three spots down from Garin. The hard-serving Isner will be aiming to capture his first title in Delray Beach, having reached the semifinals here four times. His path to the finals, however, will not be easy, with upset-minded fellow American and No. 5 seed Tommy Paul possibly awaiting in the quarterfinals. Should Isner reach the semifinals here for the fifth time, a showdown lurks against either No. 3 seed and world No. 34 Adrian Mannarino or local favorite Frances Tiafoe, who resides in nearby Boynton Beach and was the 2018 Delray champion.
Another player in Isner’s path is American Sebastian Korda, who reached the fourth round of last year’s French Open as a qualifier, beating Isner along the way. Korda, the son of former ATP Tour standout Petr Korda, will make his Delray Beach debut against South Korean Kwon Soon-woo on Thursday night.
This year’s tournament has a field of 28 players instead of the usual 32, so the top four seeds – Garin, Isner, Mannarino and Hurkacz – will have first-round byes into the second round.