(Photo credit: Marianne Bevis)
Lucas Pouille managed to sneak into the seedings for the Cincinnati Masters as the 16th seed at the tournament. It hasn’t done him any great favours, though, as the wildcard he faces in the first round is former world #1 and three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray. Murray has endured a difficult last 12 months after a hip injury but looks to have put that behind him. But will it be Pouille or Murray who takes their place in the second round?
These two have met on four occasions, and Murray has won them all with ease. The first was a semifinal at the Italian Open in 2016, and the only one of the matches not played on a hard court. Murray won 6-2 6-1. They then faced off twice in a month, first at the Shanghai Masters and then at the Paris Masters in late 2016, and again Murray won both matches in straight sets. The last time they met was in 2017 in Dubai, where Murray won 7-5 6-1.
Last time out
Murray had his longest run at a tournament in a long time just two weeks ago at the Washington Open. Indeed, under the circumstances, it was nothing short of incredible. He began by defeating Mackenzie McDonald 3-6 6-4 7-5 before ousting his compatriot Kyle Edmund 7-6 1-6 6-4. Murray then beat Marius Copil 6-7 6-3 7-6. Following the arduous matches, the last of which finished after 3am, he withdrew from the tournament to focus on the Cincinnati Masters.
Pouille also played in DC, where he made it to the round of 16. He had a bye in the first round before facing world #291 Vincent Millot in the second round. He lost the first set but fought back to win the second, and was up 3-0 in the third when his opponent retired. But he then lost 5-7 7-6 6-7 to Denis Kudla. The Frenchman then crashed out early in Toronto, losing to the teenager Felix Auger-Aliassime 4-6 3-6 in first round action.
How do they match up?
Murray became one of the best players in the world largely on the back of his incredible defensive abilities. He covers the court with unbelievable speed, and is able to rapidly transition from defence into offence. It would be reasonable to expect that the hip injuries which have plagued him in recent months would have lessened this strength somewhat, but he looked solid at his most recent tournament.
Pouille has a fine all-court game, and is strong on both his forehand and backhand side. He has a big first serve, though Murray will hope that his strength as a returner will enable him to nullify this strength of his opponent. In Washington, Murray did struggle to keep his forehand deep, and he will be aware of the need to avoid repeating that against Pouille. The Frenchman has the quality to punish anything Murray leaves short.
Pouille was unlucky to draw Murray in the first round, and will be sent packing early from the tournament as a result. He hasn’t been in great form heading into the tournament, while Murray showed in Washington that his fighting qualities remain undimmed even if he is not quite at his best in other areas. The Scot has also had the wood over the Frenchman in the past and expect him to get the win in straight sets.