2017 AEGON Championships QF Preview: Grigor Dimitrov vs Daniil Medvedev

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A spot in the semifinals at Queen’s Club awaits the winner when sixth seed Grigor Dimitrov battles Daniil Medvedev. Medvedev is in his second straight grass quarterfinal after doing the same at the Ricoh Open last week. Dimitrov is seeking his first semifinal since winning the Sofia Open in February.

(6) Grigor Dimitrov vs Daniil Medvedev

It’s been a good bounce back week in London for Dimitrov after he was taken down in his opener in Stuttgart last week by Jerzy Janowicz. Dimitrov worked past Julien Benneteau 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the last round. The sixth seed was superb on serve, taking 63 of the 80 points played. He was broken just one time on six chances. Dimitrov made the most of just a few chances against the Frenchman, securing two breaks on four chances. For the week, Dimitrov has now converted on six of eleven break opportunities and suffering just the one break of his own serve.

Medvedev again proved to be too much for Thanasi Kokkinakis in a second straight week. The Russian blasted pass the Aussie this time 6-2, 6-2 as Kokkinakis appeared to have little left in the tank after upsetting third seed Milos Raonic in the previous round. Medvedev was nearly flawless on serve, taking 32 of 36 points. He smashed 12 aces to bring his total to 20 through two rounds. He was all over Kokkinakis’ serve, winning 25 of 53 points. He broke Kokkinakis four times after the Aussie was not broken at all against Raonic.

Russian Uprising or Getting Griggy With It ?

For Medvedev, it is a second straight grass quarterfinal. Last week, he also beat Kokkinakis to get to the quarters and then fell to Ivo Karlovic 6-4, 6-4. Will history repeat this week? He’s definitely facing a different task this week in Dimitrov. Certainly Dimitrov’s serve does pick up some “oomph” on grass, but it’s not in the class of Karlovic’s power. Then of course, the Russian will be facing a much larger variety off the ground from Dimitrov.

Medvedev has not proved well against Top 20 players so far this season, losing to both Lucas Pouille and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga indoors in February. He also was forced to retire in Davis Cup play after Novak Djokovic wore him down and had him trailing two sets to one after Medvedev took the opener from the Serb. And in his first ATP final, he lost to another Top 20 player, Roberto Bautista Agut, in straight sets in Chennai. It will be interesting to see if Medvedev is learning from these losses and ready to bust out or still not yet ready for prime time.

Dimitrov will be looking for his best result in the last four months. It’s been tough on the Bulgarian are a red hot start to 2017. Remember at one point, Dimitrov was 16-1 in early February. He’s just 7-9 since that point, but appears to be putting things together on a comfortable surface. Most of the 25-year-old’s “slumps” during his career to this point seem to be mental more than physical. He’s talked openly in the past about feeling insecure at-times on the court and it’s translated to shaky decision making and losses.

Even in his loss last week to Janowicz, there was a bit more of a sense of confidence with the switch to grass. Dimitrov served well for the most part in his first match on the surface this year and he’s grown even more comfortable this week. For Dimitrov, the game between the ears seems so much more important than his game on the court. He’s got most every shot needed to win, it’s just a matter of proper shot selection and being confidence in making those decisions. Against a younger player, the confidence should remain high.

Match Tactics

There isn’t a lot of surprise to Medvedev’s game on this surface. He’s going to serve big and then he’s going to try to hammer his forehand repeatedly. Dimitrov has to match Medvedev’s serve to keep things even early on. That likely won’t be an issue based on how the sixth seed is serving this week. Even when he’s gotten into a little trouble, he’s been able to save those key points. The Russian simply wants those big serves to produce easy points or put him into positions of power, where he can finish some quick 1-2 punches with his forehand.

For Dimitrov, he has to find a way to get his racquet on Medvedev’s serve and get the ball back across the net. When he can get Medvedev into rallies, it should benefit the sixth seed due to his variety off both wings. Dimitrov’s ability to slice off his backhand from different angles should help him to avoid some of the power off Medvedev’s forehand. I would also expect Dimitrov to come to the net when he sees fit in order to keep Medvedev honest. If he allows the Russian to dictate action from the baseline, the Medvedev is going to have a legit shot to do damage in this match.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Medvedev certainly isn’t without a chance here. His power has translated very well to grass and you can see the confidence level he has with each win. The big question is whether he can step up and beat a top tier player. Dimitrov may not have arrived with that moniker due to his results of late, but his play to this point has been good. He’s still a player lurking just outside the Top 10 and thus would be a big scalp for the Russian.

Dimitrov has had some issues with power players on grass since his marvelous 2014 on the surface, where he won at Queen’s Club and made the Wimbledon semifinals. If there is a surface that Medvedev can spring his best ATP result, this is it. I’m just not sure that he’s there yet. An upset won’t be shocking to me, but I am going to go with Dimitrov finding a way.

2017 AEGON Championships R16 Preview: Daniil Medvedev vs Thanasi Kokkinakis

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It’s a rematch from last week at the Ricoh Open with a spot in the quarterfinals at the AEGON Championships ripe for the taking this week. Last week, it was Medvedev who edged Kokkiankis 6-3, 7-6 (3).

Daniil Medvedev vs Thanasi Kokkiankis

Medvedev may have been the more likelier of the two players to be in this spot, but he still needed to pull off a clutch win over grass master Nicolas Mahut to start this week. The Russian rallied after dropping the opening set in a tiebreak to edge Mahut 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-4. Medvedev was keyed by his serve, winning 79 percent off his first serve and 64 percent off his second. He was not broken on five break chances. He would tally eight aces against six double faults. The Russian did just enough against the Mahut serve to secure two key breaks on six chances. It was a nice follow-up for Medvedev who made his first grass quarterfinal at this level last week in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

Kokkinakis scored the biggest win of his career in the opening round with a 7-6 (5), 7-6 (8) win over world number six Milos Raonic. It was the Aussie’s first career Top 10 win in his fifth try. It was also a remarkable win considering his long and winding recovery from shoulder surgery that sidelined him until mid-May. The win over the third seed Raonic was just his second win on tour in five matches since his return. Kokkinakis was resilient, saving all nine of his break points on serve and making clutch plays in the tiebreaks. Kokkinakis would win 78 percent of his first serve points and 61 percent of his second serve points. The Aussie slammed down 15 aces, but actually scored two less points than the Canadian for the match (92-90).

First Verse Yields Key Separating Factors

It’s always an intriguing matter when players square off on the same surface in consecutive tournaments. It gives you a nice insight into their psyches and also how they game plan. Last week’s Ricoh Open match showed Medvedev the better man on serve. Not by much mind you, but he secured the lone break of the match off of five break chances. He never gave Kokkinakis a single look at a break chance.

Overall, the stats say it was close to even on serve. Both players won over 80 percent on their first serve. A difference maker was the Russian’s second serve, where he won 71 percent compared to just 52 percent for the Aussie. Medvedev had eleven aces while Kokkinakis tallied eight. Overall, the Russian scored more points (70-57) indicating better work off the ground as well.

Factors, Etc.

Another factor to throw into the mix this week is how Kokkinakis responds from an emotional and career-best win. Often, it is difficult for younger players to gather themselves and carry that momentum into the next match. The 21-year-old Aussie has also admitted he is still struggling at-times with both shoulder and groin problems. All that considered, it was an amazing feat against Raonic, but now he gets the big hitting Russian again.

Medvedev put his mark on the season in week one, when he made the Chennai Final and lost in straights to Roberto Bautista Agut. He would have a couple of good results indoors with back-to-back quarterfinals in Montpellier and Marseille. A bout of mononucleosis knocked him down from there as he lost five straight opening round matches. He’s obviously feeling a bit more fit after his run through qualifying last week and into the quarterfinals at the Ricoh Open.

To the task at-hand, a repeat performance of last week’s encounter in the Netherlands. I tend to think Medvedev won’t be too shaken by the prospect of repeating his performance last week. After all, Kokkinakis did not show the ability to crack his serve and he was able to get some chances against the Aussie. For Kokkinakis, this will be about carrying the confidence over from the Raonic match. Even so, expecting him to continuously come up with big saves on break points over and over is a big ask for someone still recovering from shoulder problems.

Match Tactics

Grass has shown to be conducive to both players games, despite their lack of experience on the surface. It’s been big serving and big hitting that has keyed them to wins on grass and that is something both excel at doing. Medvedev has even proclaimed that the green stuff is already his favorite surface, so he’s showing his mentality matches his comfortability level on grass.

Medvedev definitely deserves to hang out on the baseline and his volleying is still maybe average at best. That’s something Kokkinakis should look to test again by making the Russian come to net. Kokkinakis has played doubles enough that he’s a bit more skilled at the net and comfortable coming in when needed. Of course, Medvedev’s win over Mahut should also give him confidence if Kokkinakis does change things up, that he has enough to defend the serve and volley and have success against it. Kokkinakis will have to be crafty in his spots to possibly use that tactic.

You know both want to hammer their serves and then hit as many forehands as possible. The key for Kokkinakis is going to be consistently landing his serve for easy points. When he finds his rhythm, he smokes aces and can use his big serve to set up some quick 1-2 punches against the Russian. Medvedev won’t be looking to alter his game plan much, unless things don’t work. Serve big. Hit big. Repeat. If he’s hitting his spots on serve, I don’t think he’ll have a problem controlling points much like he did last week.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

I think consistency is a key word for this match and it’s something I am still a bit worried about for Kokkinakis at this stage of his comeback. He’s getting more match play and working his way through the pains he has to deal with, but it’s tough to repeat those great performances against good players. Medvedev may not be on par with Raonic, but “The Bear” is a dangerous player on this surface with his weaponry. Kokkinakis’ best chances might come by getting to tiebreaks and hoping to steal a few key points to take a set or two. He’s obviously fully capable of doing that as the Raonic result shows.

Bottom line though, I think Medvedev is growing in confidence and comfort level on this surface and he could be in line for bigger and better things on grass very soon. I think he takes it again, but I’ll give Kokkinakis a set this time.

Prediction: Medvedev wins in three sets

2017 AEGON Championships Preview

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Queen’s Club is Dandy for Andy

Queen’s Club in London is one of the big stops this week as players sneak in more grass court preparation ahead of Wimbledon. The AEGON Championships have belonged to Andy Murray. This year’s top seed is a five-time champion at this event, including winning each of the last two seasons. He is 30-5 during his career at this tournament and has followed up two of his last three title wins at Queens’ Club with the title at Wimbledon.

Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic and Marin Cilic round out this week’s top four seeds. Cilic is the best among that group, winning the title in 2012 and racking up a 20-8 career mark at Queen’s Club. Raonic did however make the final here last year, losing to Murray. The rest of the seeded field includes Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Grigor Dimitrov, Tomas Berdych and Nick Kyrgios. Tsonga made the final in 2011, while Dimitrov won his lone title on grass here in 2014. Both Tsonga and Kyrgios will be making their debuts on grass this season. Both will be looking to get positive results this week after early exits at Roland Garros in their last action.

Early Bird Specials

For purposes of this week’s tournament, I’ll only focus on the last two years at Queen’s Club. That is when the field of competitors was reduced from 56 to 32. With just 32 players in the field, there are no byes for the seeds in the opening round. Last year, three seeds were one and done at the AEGON Championships. In 2015, just one seed lost in round one during Queen’s Club’s first year with just 32 players.

With the quick transition from clay to grass, there is definitely room for seeded upsets every year. Let’s focus on the ones who should be on upset alert early on this week in London.

2. Stan Wawrinka
No favors done for the Swiss as he lands Spaniard Feliciano Lopez in round one. Lopez has a superb record on grass at 67-37. He will come in off a tough three set loss in the Mercedes Cup final on Sunday. Lopez is 15-11 all-time at Queen’s Club and is a one-time finalist in 2014. Even his losses are usually very tough on his opponents. Wawrinka has found the going tough at this tournament outside of a semifinal in 2014. In 2015, he lost in round two to Kevin Anderson.

Last year, he was upset by Fernando Verdasco in the opening round. The second seed is 4-2 against Lopez lifetime and he did win on grass against him at Wimbledon in 2014. That was their last meeting and it was settled 7-6, 7-6, 6-3 with only one break of serve. That could be a similar set-up to this time around. Lopez played four straight three set matches in Stuttgart, so there is a chance of fatigue helping Wawrinka out.

4. Marin Cilic
Cilic has a tough draw with John Isner as his opening opponent. Isner ended a six match losing streak to Cilic last year with a win at the Paris Masters. He followed that up with a three set win in Rome this Spring on clay. Cilic does have the match play advantage after making the Ricoh Open semifinals this past week. He lost to Ivo Karlovic in three, with Karlovic taking his two sets in tiebreaks. Could that be a similar scenario with Isner?

It’s possible. An overwhelming number of Isner’s sets on grass have been decided in tiebreaks. Of his seven matches on grass in 2016, 13 of 23 sets went to breakers and another of those sets was a 19-17 loss at Wimbledon to Tsonga. The lone grass court clash between Cilic and Isner went five sets at Wimbledon in 2015. Three of those sets went to tiebreaks and the deciding set ended 12-10 in favor of Cilic. Isner won two of the three tiebreak sets.

5. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsongs opens against fellow Frenchie, Adrian Mannarino. Mannarino got in a few grass court matches last week at the Ricoh Open and that makes him a bit dangerous here. Tsonga comes in off a very disappointing first round loss at the French Open. Grass traditionally has been good for Tsonga, but he’s coming back to Queen’s Club for the first time since 2014. Mannarino has been serviceable on this surface and does own a win on clay against Tsonga this year at Monte Carlo. The surface should suit Tsonga better, but there’s definitely a chance for him to get caught cold in this spot.

Outsider’s Edge

Even before the reduction in the number of players who head to Queen’s Club each year, outsiders did not have much success has far as bringing home the title. They have however played a role late in the tournament fairly routinely. Last year, you had three unseeded players in the quarterfinals and one (Bernard Tomic) in the semifinals. In 2015, five unseeded players made the quarters with two advancing to the semis. Kevin Anderson would be the first unseeded player to get into the final in 2015 since Mardy Fish did the trick in 2010.

With that to chew on, who has a shot to make some late noise in London this week? Here’s a look at a few players with the draws to be around at the end of the week.

Nicolas Mahut
It’s a tall task for the grass assassin who had traditionally has done much better at the Ricoh Open, where he was a three time champion. Still, he’s a good serve and volley sort suited to this surface. He is stuck in Milos Raonic’s quarter though with a tough young Russian Daniil Medvedev to open. Raonic was tremendous on grass last year with back-to-back finals at Queen’s Club and Wimbledon. Still, he’s not been consistent this year, so perhaps Mahut could have a shot to upset the apple cart.

Feliciano Lopez
A big fat duh here based on his career numbers and how well he played in Stuttgart. The Spaniard is obviously boom or bust with second seed Stan Wawrinka in his way to start. A win though and Lopez might only have Berdych (7) standing in his way to the semifinals. The same Berdych he just beat in Stuttgart.

John Isner
Isner easily could go out in round one to Cilic, but he’s in a quarter with a lot of similar players who like to serve big and rely on that to move them along on grass. Cilic and Kyrgios are the seeds in his way to a semifinal surprise. An upset over Cilic in round one and he’s likely to see Steve Johnson who has beaten him three straight times, including twice in 2017. Speaking of Stevie J ….

Steve Johnson
He’s got an interesting opener against 19-year-old American qualifier Stefan Kozlov. Kozlov is one of the young talents in the US has quite a bit of grass court experience and isn’t overwhelmed by the surface. He beat Johnson at the Ricoh Open in 2016 on grass. Johnson ripped him apart at Delray Beach earlier this year in straights to repay that favor. Johnson lost a tough match to Philipp Kohlschreiber in Stuttgart last week that he might still be thinking about after blowing a late lead. If he’s able to focus this week, he’s got that big serve and forehand combo that works on grass.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Andy Murray (1)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (5)

Breakdown
This is a tricky quarter with some big servers here opposite of Murray. Starting with Murray’s half of the quarter, he opens against Aljaz Bedene who has played decently on grass. Murray did win their only career meeting last year at this tournament 6-3, 6-4. With increased confidence from a solid run at Roland Garros, I don’t think Murray will start slow here although Bedene should play him tough. A win for Murray and it’s either Sam Querrey or British wildcard Cameron Norrie. Querrey is going to be a tough out regardless of when and whom he might lose; remember he made his first Slam quarterfinal on grass at Wimbledon last year with the now famous win over Novak Djokovic in round three. Murray has handled Querrey seven out of eight career meetings, including twice on grass.

Newly minted Ricoh Open champion Gilles Muller is one to watch in the opposite half. He opens against Nikoloz Basilashvili. Muller’s big serve propelled him through the Dutch grass court tournament, where he was only broken twice in four matches. If he wins to open, he could see Tsonga in round two. Tsonga is 3-1 against the big lefty, but their Wimbledon meeting in 2015 went five. This part of the quarter could be the one with some upsets with Tsonga still up and down in form this year. If Tsonga falters, Muller would be the guy who might take advantage.

Quarter #2 Seeds
Marin Cilic (4)
Nick Kyrgios (9)

Breakdown
There is a whole lot of electric serving to be had in this quarter with Cilic, Kyrgios, Isner and Steve Johnson. In Cilic’s half, he’s up against it to start against Isner. The survivor gets either Johnson or Kozlov. Legitimately, I think Cilic, Isner or Johnson could make it to the quarters out of that part of the draw. In the bottom half, Kyrgios has Donald Young to open and that’s a good match-up for the Aussie. Kyrgios beat Young earlier this year on hard courts at Acapulco and grass won’t negate the power advantage he has over Young. The big question with Kyrgios is health. He’s been battling shoulder and hip issues off and on for months, but is reporting to be pain free heading into the week.

The under-the-radar first round match opposite of Kyrgios-Young is Janko Tipsarevic against Viktor Troicki. They have split four career meetings with Troicki winning on grass last time they met in 2013 at Wimbledon. Troicki was a quick exit in Stuttgart last week to Benoit Paire, while Tipsarevic lost in three sets in his second match at the Ricoh Open to Marin Cilic. The winner could pose a significant threat to Kyrgios or Young if he manages an upset.

Something in my gut tells me that this is a quarter where an unseeded player will get through. Isner or Johnson would be the favorite to do that, but don’t discount that Troicki-Tipsarevic winner. The wildcard would be a healthy Kyrgios, but I’m not putting my money on board that boat just yet.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Milos Raonic (3)
Grigor Dimitrov (6)

Breakdown
A lot will be expected of Raonic after his run on grass last season. His increased success with volleying paid off large during this stretch in 2016. In his half of the quarter, he goes against Thanasi Kokkinakis to start. The 21-year-old Aussie is still getting his legs back under him after missing the first five months of the season due to injury. He does have some grass play under his belt from the Ricoh Open last week, beating Mikhail Youzhny and then losing to Medvedev. If he wasn’t still working his way back, I might fancy him to push Raonic some. In this spot, I think he’ll have a tough time matching Raonic’s serve. A win gets Raonic Mahut or Medvedev. That will be the tougher test for the third seed.

In the other half, Dimitrov will look to shake off his early exit from Stuttgart last week. The Bulgarian gets Ryan Harrison to open. On this surface, that’s advantage Dimitrov. A win gets him a date against Julien Benneteau or James Ward. Much like Raonic, that will be the tougher test likely for Dimitrov. Benneteau made it through qualis and took out Mahut in ‘s-Hertogenbosch last week. He’s got a good grass court game and has split four meetings with Dimitrov. None of those have come since 2014 however. Dimitrov still doesn’t inspire confidence, so I would not be totally shocked if he was out in round two.

This should be Raonic’s quarter to take as long as he gets into a rhythm early.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Stan Wawrinka (2)
Tomas Berdych (7)

Breakdown
This is the toughest quarter to me. Wawrinka has Feliciano Lopez to get his grass campaign started. That’s tough. A win gets him either Pierre Hugues-Herbert or Jeremy Chardy. That’s likely much easier for the Swiss, especially Chardy who he is 5-0 against in their careers. In the other half, Berdych starts with Steve Darcis. The Shark does own two wins against Berdych, including one on grass in the 2012 London Olympics. Darcis has exactly one win on grass in a main draw since then.

Berdych should get through which means either Kyle Edmund or Denis Shapovalov in round two. Edmund gets on grass for the first time this season. He was a quarterfinalist at the AEGON Championships a year ago, taking a set off of Murray in a loss. Edmund is still very green on the green. Shapovalov made it through qualifying and has the big game to contend against Edmund in round one.

This could wind up going to the seeds if Lopez is fatigued from Stuttgart. If it comes down to Wawrinka vs Berdych, the Swiss owns the head-to-head 11-5. Wawrinka has won six straight over the Czech.

AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO …

Some might be a bit reserved to look to the top seed after Roger Federer flamed out in Stuttgart last week. This is a different set-up though. Murray hasn’t been off for multiple months and really looked like the best version of Andy Murray we’ve seen in a while in Paris. This tournament is comfortable for him and his top half fo the draw looks conducive to at least a 6th trip to the Queen’s Club final.

The othe half seems more of a crap shoot with Raonic probably the expected finalist. I’m not so sure that I am sold on that. Wawrinka needs to get past Lopez first, but I think if he’s able to do so, watch out for the Swiss. Grass isn’t his best surface, but he can slug it out over most of this field if he’s on his game.

For me, I think the title resides with one of the top three seeds this week. Murray the obvious favorite, but Wawrinka perhaps the surprise – if you can say that about a second seed and I think you can about Stan on grass – if things open up for him early. I’ll still go with Andy in the end, but in a season of surprises, it would not be totally shocking if he fails to repeat.

2017 Mercedes Open Final Preview: Lucas Pouille vs Feliciano Lopez

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Lucas Pouille vies for his first grass court title, while Feliciano Lopez is hoping to bring home this third. They meet in the final of the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart.

(4) Lucas Pouille vs Feliciano Lopez

Pouille played perhaps his best match of the tournament in the quarterfinals. He edged Benoit Paire 7-6 (5), 7-5. Pouille was not broken on serve for the first time, allowing just two break points. He was crisp with his first serve, winning 86 percent of the points and also a rock solid 65 percent off his second. The fourth seed also crushed 13 aces. He came up big in the tiebreak and then converted his lone break chance of the match late in set two in order to set himself up with a chance to close the match on serve. Pouille did just that at-love to secure a spot in his third ATP final this season.

Lopez battled in similar fashion against Mischa Zverev. Despite not allowing a break chance against his serve, the Spaniard found himself down after dropping the opening set in a tiebreak. Lopez would edge the second set in a breaker and then find his lone break of Zverev’s serve in the third to complete a 6-7 (2), 7-6 (4), 7-5 win. Lopez slammed 15 aces in the match and won 78 percent of the points off his first serve and 76 percent off is second.

Third Chapter in Competitive Rivalry

This will be the third time that Pouille and Lopez have met since the start of last season. They split a pair of matches indoors last season. Lopez won the first in Vienna 6-4, 2-6, 7-5. Pouille returned the favor in Paris taking the Spaniard down 6-7 (1), 6-3, 6-3. Pouille was dominant on serve, punishing Lopez with 21 aces. The Frenchman would win 89 percent of his first serve points in that Paris meeting. In Vienna, neither player was that sharp on serve. Lopez was forced to save six of eight break chances, while Pouille saved seven of nine. Pouille actually won more points that Lopez for the match (105-103). That shows just how close these two have played in their previous meetings.

This time on grass, you would expect that to slightly favor the more experienced Lopez. The Spaniard has won two previous titles, both in Eastbourne, on this surface and is now 67-36 on grass during his career. Pouille is contesting his first-ever final on grass with a 7-5 mark now on the green stuff. One advantage Pouille could have is that he’s already played in two finals this season, winning a title on clay in Budapest and losing indoors in Marseille. Lopez is making his first finals appearance in 2017 and first since winning a title in Gstaad on clay last season.

Match Tactics

Serve will of course be a big key on grass. Both men have been pounding the ball on serve this week with Lopez the more consistent of the two. The Spaniard has only been broken three times all tournament with two straight matches without being broken. Pouille was broken twice in each of his first two matches and allowed 18 break points in the first two rounds. Lopez has allowed just 17 through all four matches. Pouille will be hoping that his performance against Paire can carry over as he’ll need a sharp serve to contend with Lopez toe-for-toe on grass.

Pouille is still far more comfortable from the baseline, but he’s shown smart timing this week on when to come to net. Against Paire, there were a lot of baseline exchanges, but Pouille also did a superb job of coming to net when he put Paire off-balance with big serves or ground strokes. He did a nice job finishing those points at the net, but will need to be sharper against a great net player in Lopez.

The plus for Pouille if he watches the tape from the Lopez-Zverev semifinal is that Zverev’s consistent use of the serve and volley really put the pressure on Lopez to make great passing shots consistently. That’s not exactly Pouille’s wheelhouse to employ the serve and volley constantly like Mischa did, but it’s a smart tactic as Lopez knows fully. I think it may actually be more comfortable for Lopez against Pouille knowing that he’s not going to see the serve and volley almost every time like he did against Zverev.

Obviously, Lopez will challenge Pouille to come to the net and prove that he can make volleys over and over as that is a good, but not great part of Pouille’s game. I think the lefty will bank on Pouille not being able to repeat that feat with consistency. The Spaniard will look to exploit Pouille’s consistency there and of course look to use his powerful serve to push Pouile back on the court. When he does that, it’s Lopez’s time to come in and finish some quick 1-2 punches for short points.

When the two do go strictly baseline-to-baseline, Lopez will use his backhand slice to try to keep points going in order to run around to his forehand. Pouille is pretty adept off both wings with the forehand still being a better power shot consistently. His backhand shouldn’t be underestimated though with the two hander packing a nice wallop from the back of the court. Pouille can hit it down the line or cross court effectively. Lopez’s job will be to keep Pouille off balance by moving him and not letting Pouille set up to grip and rip those ground strokes.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

This is an intriguing final with Pouille searching for that first grass court title. This has already been a very good week for him and I think he is showing that Wimbledon was no fluke last year. Lopez, at age 35, never knows how many more shots he’ll get to win titles. He didn’t have a great grass season in 2016, so this is a good sign for him and he’s beaten some really good players in a variety of ways.

I think in a best of seven on this surface, you might see a seven match series. They’re both that good and that close to even in my mind. I like Lopez just slightly in this one. I just think he’s slightly more versatile and consistent on the surface and he’s found a way to win against tough players this week even when they’ve been just as good. Pouille won’t be a shock winner if he pulls this off. This looks like it could go the distance again between these two.

Prediction: Lopez wins in three sets

2017 Mercedes Cup SF Preview: Feliciano Lopez vs Mischa Zverev

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It’s an all unseeded semifinal as Feliciano Lopez and Mischa Zverev go at it for a spot in the Mercedes Cup final. Lopez has yet to make a final in 2017, while Zverev could make his second of the season with a win.

Feliciano Lopez vs (6) Mischa Zverev

The Spanish lawnmower shot his way into the semifinals after rallying from a set down to take out third seeded Tomas Berdych 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-4. The match featured lots of big serving with Lopez laying down 19 aces and the Czech hitting 21. The Spaniard played the break points better, saving all nine against his serve. He has only been broken three times through three rounds. Lopez converted two key breaks in the last two sets against the third seed to secure the win. In the end, it was as tight as you can get with Lopez winning 100 points to 97 for Berdych.

Zverev won an all-German affair, taking down Tommy Haas 6-4, 6-4. It was a bit predictable that Haas was unable to match the level from the previous round when he ousted top seed Roger Federer. Haas fought all the way through, but his serve was lacking and he barely made any inroads against Mischa’s serve. Zverev won a whopping 35 of 38 points off his first serve. He was landing 72 percent of his first serves, which served him well as Haas won eight of the 15 points played off Zverev’s second serve. The match continued a strong of serving for Zverev who has been broken just once on 14 chances, eleven of which came last round against Yannick Hanfmann.

Zverev Looks to Reverse The Trend

The 29-year-old German will have to do something he has failed to do so far in his career to reach the final in Stuttgart: win a set off of Feliciano Lopez. Lopez is 3-0 all-time against the German with straight sets wins each time. The last meeting was in 2016 in the second round of the Western & Southern Open. Lopez dominated 6-3, 6-1. He also tallied wins indoors in Kuala Lumpur in 2015 and outdoors on a hard surface at the Sunrise Challenger in 2009.

The difference maker in those matches has been a blistering first serve from Lopez. The Spaniard has won 80 percent or more of the points off his first serve in all three matches. Mischa has managed just one break of serve in the six sets played, while the Spaniard has routinely been able to get to his German counterpart’s serve. Lopez converted ten of 20 break opportunities against Zverev.

Serve & Volley Party

This match-up features two guys who love to employ the serve and volley. It’s really going to be an interesting test of like tactics. It’s all going to start with the serve and both men have been on point serving this week. The difference would seem to be that Zverev has had few to no answers for Lopez’s serve in the past and this surface plays even better to it. That means break chances will likely be few for the German.

It will be a little bit different for Lopez to see the serve and volley against him. I don’t think Zverev used it consistently in their previous meetings, but it’s become more of his game plan in the last year. Playing on grass, it’s a must and a plus. It really becomes a matter of which player can get more done on return. I like that Lopez has seen a big serve with Berdych on Friday and that could make a difference. He may find more success against Zverev’s serve, which can keep Mischa’s volleying from being as effective.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Zverev certainly has a chance in this one despite Lopez’s more marquee career on grass. Zverev has found some of his best grass results in Germany and is sure to get the home crowd on his side. All that may not be enough though if Lopez continues his hot serving and precise, aggressive work off the ground. Unless the Spaniard has an off serving day or Zverev can steal a set, maybe two in tiebreaks – I think Lopez works into Sunday’s final.

Prediction: Lopez wins in straight sets