The first clay court tournament of the season kicks off in Cordoba, Argentina, which also makes its debut on the ATP Tour this year. This is the first of the five-tournament clay swing, through Latin America. Cordoba, though new to tennis, has been home to several sporting events, including World Cup soccer qualifications.
The 2018 French Open finalist and world number eight Dominic Thiem, was scheduled to be the top seed at the tournament. However, due to continued health concerns that began during the Australian Open, resulting in him pulling out in his second round encounter, Thiem will not be present at Cordoba.
The Austrian is expected back later this month at Buenos Aires and Rio de Janerio, on clay.
While the Cordoba field is missing star attractions, one can expect some high quality tennis from the likes of Fabio Fognini, Diego Schwartzman, Pablo Carreno Busta and others.
Italian Fognini is the top seed and after a successful 2018, where he came close to breaking into the top 10, he will be hoping for a good start to a busy season.
Second seed Italian Marco Cecchinato, had the best run of his career in 2018, reaching the semi-finals of the French Open, and beating world number one Novak Djokovic en route. Cechinato has broken into the top 20 in the ATP rankings, and will look for another strong clay court run in 2019.
Carreno Busta, who may still feel wronged after a very controversial loss to Kei Nishikori in the round of 16 in Melbourne last month, is among the most gritty on the tour. Like many of his countrymen, he is always a force anywhere on the tour on clay.
Argentine Diego Schwartzman well known to be a counter-puncher, who for a set and half looked in command against Rafael Nadal at the French Open 2018, has also made his way up the rankings.
Schwartzman will be eyeing the top ten rankings as a goal for himself for 2019, and the home crowd here will look to spur him on.
Apart from the top four seeds mentioned above, the draw has its fair share of clay court specialists. Pablo Cuevas, Mark Jaziri, Albert Ramos-Vinalos and others can all challenge anyone on the surface.
While there is no obvious favorite for the tournament, the top four seeds fittingly have as good a chance as anyone else to seek the title.
Fognini has a strong challenge in Cuevas, on his way to the semi-finals, where he can expect to meet Schwartzman. That being said, Schwartzman will first have to overcome the likes of clay-courters like Ramos-Vinolas or Guido Pella to get to the semi finals.
Carreno Busta has a relatively smooth ride to the semi-finals, and should get the better of competition like Chilean Nicolas Jarry or Spaniard Pablo Andujar. Argentines Leonardo Mayer and Federico Delbonis have an opening round encounter that should enthrall the crowds, with the winner expected to provide stiff competition to Cechinato, on his way to the final four.
Despite the likes of potential French Open 2019 favorites missing, like Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev and Thiem, Cordoba promises to provide some tussles, and some early indications of who can also be a force on the long clay court season ahead.