It’s difficult to think of two players who have improved both their game and ranking as much as Jannik Sinner and Aslan Karatsev have in the past two years. At the beginning of 2020, the Russian sat at No. 292 in the rankings, while the Italian was No. 78. Now ranked No. 25 and No. 17, respectively, the two fast-risers will face off in an electric first-round clash from Lyon.

Karatsev got the better of Sinner last March in Dubai on an ultra-quick hard court, but clay will present him with a new set of challenges. Karatsev has been fantastic on clay this season, but his ultra-flat game is more conducive to a quicker court.

The oddsmakers would agree, as Sinner is listed as a -165 favorite this time around. The teenager’s first-serve percentage will be of utmost importance, as he can’t afford to give the Australian Open semifinalist consistent looks at second serves. In addition to his lethal crosscourt backhand, Karatsev’s return of serve might be his signature shot.

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The Pick: Jannik Sinner vs. Aslan Karatsev, ATP Lyon first round

Karatsev’s two-hander is a thing of beauty, but according to Infosys ATP Stats, Sinner’s equally appealing backhand is one of the heaviest in the world.

The Pick: Jannik Sinner vs. Aslan Karatsev, ATP Lyon first round

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Revenge factor aside, Sinner’s advantage in spin production should serve him well in this matchup. Both players love pace, whether its absorbing or injecting their own—but losing two consecutive matches to the same opponent (not named Nadal and Djokovic) would not be very Sinner-like.

The Pick: Jannik Sinner

The Pick: Jannik Sinner vs. Aslan Karatsev, ATP Lyon first round

The Pick: Jannik Sinner vs. Aslan Karatsev, ATP Lyon first round