2017 Shanghai Rolex Masters Final Preview: Rafael Nadal vs Roger Federer


It’s installment #38 in the greatest rivalry in men’s tennis as Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer battle for the title at the Shanghai Rolex Masters. Nadal will look to end a four match losing skid to Federer that dates back to the fall of 2015 in Basel.

(1) Rafael Nadal vs (2) Roger Federer

Sunday’s final marks the fourth time this season that we’ve been treated to #Fedal with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer battling head-to-head. Prior to their first meeting this year in the Australian Open final, the dynamic duo had not met since late in 2015 when Federer beat Nadal at the Swiss Indoors Basel. Through the first three months of the season, it seemed like the #Fedal rivalry was going to be we saw at just about every tournament. They met in Melbourne, Indian Wells and Miami – with two of the three meetings being in finals. Outside of the five set classic in Australia, Federer has dominated the other two meetings with straight sets wins.

Their Sunday meeting in Shanghai will mark the 24th time that #Fedal has happened in the final of a tournament. Nadal leads 14-9 in those finals, but has lost three straight. They have evenly split the 18 matches that have been contested outdoors on hard courts. Again however, Federer has been the hot player in that respect though with all three wins this year coming on outdoor hard courts in favor of the Swiss. This will also be the 17th time that #Fedal has occurred at a Masters-level event with Rafa owning those to the tune of 11-5.

Only Two Dropped Sets Combined

So far this week in Shanghai, both Rafa and Roger have lived up to their top billing. Nadal dropped his lone set of the week in a quarterfinal win against Grigor Dimitrov. Federer matched that by dropping the opening set against Juan Martin Del Potro in the semifinals, before rallying for the 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 win. Nadal experienced his first hiccups on serve in his 7-5, 7-6 (3) win over fourth seed Marin Cilic. After not being broken through three rounds, Cilic was able to take two breaks off Rafa on five chances. Nadal has Cilic under constant pressure however with 12 break points off the Cilic serve. Nadal converted on three. Rafa held Cilic to just a 64 percent win rate off his first serve with the Croat winning under 50 percent off his second serve.

Federer was broken in the opening set by Del Potro in the semifinals to mark the third match out of four where his opponent secured just one break for the match. The rest of the way, Federer was not threatened on serve as he took a stout 87 percnet of the points off his first serve and 56 percent off his second. The 87 percent win rate was Federer’s best of the week. He has faced just ten break points this week with half of those coming in his opener against Diego Schwartzman. The Swiss has converted on eleven breaks against his opponents this week off of 33 chances.

Nadal Looking For Big Win Amid Stellar Season

Despite a fantastic season for Nadal that has seen him win the French Open and the U.S. Open and return to the top of the rankings, you get the feeling that it’s incomplete if he doesn’t beat Federer. For Roger, a hot start to the season has fizzled somewhat and he’s seeking his first title since winning Wimbledon. He’s lost the Rogers Cup final to Alexander Zverev and then fell to Del Potro in the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open. I think this is as big a moment for him as he’ll admit outside of a Grand Slam. Even though Nadal has taken the spotlight from him with his rise to #1, another win for Federer seems as if it will give Federer almost a half claim to being the top dog on tour.

In reality, he won’t be close to Nadal in the rankings (2300 point gap) regardless, but these two have felt like 1a and 1b all season. Federer was the definite 1a through early April, but since then it’s been almost all Nadal outside of the short grass court swing. If you don’t think that drives Federer to win, you don’t know Roger Federer. This rivalry is built on one-upsmanship. If you tally up the season, Nadal has six total titles with two at Grand Slams and two more at Masters evens. Rafa also has reclaimed the #1 overall ranking spot.

Federer? He’s got five titles with two at Slams and two at Masters events. A win in Shanghai would give him six this season and make it three at Masters, one upping Rafa. And of course there would be the little matter of the Swiss being 4-0 against Nadal this season. All things considered, Federer would probably consider himself ahead of Rafa if that is the way the cards fall on Sunday. That could set up the Masters event in Paris and the Tour Finals in London as events that help cement one of these two as the King of 2017.

Match Tactics

Nadal and Federer might know more about each other’s games than most husbands and wives know about their partners. Tactically, both are going to play the match they way they prefer it. For Nadal, that’s setting up deep on return and getting balls back into play. Nadal wants to force Federer into playing rallies, where Nadal will feel that his grind and grit will win out. Federer wants to serve big and then hit Rafa with aggressive 1-2 punches off that serve. The Swiss wants to keep the points shorter and the long rallies to a minimum. Big fat duh eh?

The thing that Nadal has been able to do most of this week is serve well. That is a big point of contention in the battle against Federer. In both their Indian Wells and Miami meetings, Rafa’s serving was far inferior. The Spaniard barely won 60 percent of the points on his serve in Miami and under 60 percent in Indian Wells. Nadal was broken six times in those two matches on 14 chances. Federer faced just five break points and saved them all. Through all three meetings this year, Federer has won at least 76 percent of his first serve points. Nadal best number in that category was 66 percent in Miami.

I don’t think Nadal can win in Shanghai with similar numbers. He’s got to find something extra, which he has done against his competition up to this point in the week. Rafa will need to go after Federer’s backhand both on return and in the ground game as his best chance to exploit flaws in Fed’s game. When Federer can get around to his forehand the majority of the time, he’s a much more confident player. That is why I would be stunned if Rafa didn’t pepper Fed’s backhand early and often. Make him prove his consistency and that he can find the range off that wing for the match.

As for Federer, he wants to use his power and placement on serve to keep Nadal back with depth to throw him off balance. There are not many players who can do that consistently, but Federer has found the range more often than not in their meetings this season. That’s gone a long way into helping put him into winning positions. When he is able to keep Nadal back early with his serve, Federer gives himself the chance to move in aggressively and finish off quick points at the net. If Nadal is able to get more on his return, then he keeps Federer back and has chances to work Federer into rallies.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

This is a fitting time for these two to meet again after six month break since their last meeting. The motivation for both is easy to see – Nadal wants to end this losing skid to Federer and Federer in turn wants to extend it to stake his claim as the best of the best in 2017. This is as good a set-up as Nadal could ask for in getting another shot at Federer. I think Rafa needs to get off to a good start to give himself some confidence after dropping his last five sets to Federer. If he finds himself down a set, I think that favors Federer to get the job done.

This is difficult to predict. Form says Nadal. History this year says Federer. Somewhere in the middle is where the result shall land. Waffle.

Prediction: Federer wins in three sets


2017 Shanghai Rolex Masters QF Preview: Marin Cilic vs Albert Ramos-Vinolas


Marin Cilic seeks to avenge a 2011 loss to Albert Ramos-Vinolas in Shanghai when the pair square off with a spot in the Shanghai Rolex Masters semifinals on the line. Ramos-Vinolas also won their most recent encounter on clay in Monte Carlo earlier this year.

(4) Marin Cilic vs Albert Ramos-Vinolas

It’s been two straight forward matches for Marin Cilic this week as he beat both Kyle Edmund and Steve Johnson in straight sets en route to the quarterfinals. Cilic took out Johnson yesterday 7-6 (1), 6-4. Over the two matches, he has faced just five break points against his serve and has yet to be broken. Cilic’s win rate on first serve is an impressive 63 percent with the sixth seed winning 97 of the 127 points played off his serve this week. That is just over three-quarters of the points at 76 percent. He has only seen six break chances against his opponents in two rounds, but has been clinical in converting on three of those chances. A win will put him in back-to-back semifinals after he made the same run in Tokyo last week.

For Ramos-Vinolas, he’s been forced to work a bit harder this week. His latest win was 7-6 (4), 6-4 over Jan-Lennard Struff. Struff had upset 11th seeded Kevin Anderson in the second round. Ramos-Vinolas was solid on serve against the German, taking 76 percent of the points on serve. He was broken one time on four chances, while converting on two of six against Struff. Through three rounds this week, ARV has only been broken twice. The Spaniard has been very solid on serve, taking at least 76 percent of the points off his first serve and more impressively, 69 percent or better in each match off his second.

Sixth Career Meeting

Cilic leads the head-to-head three wins to two. It was Ramos-Vinolas who broke Cilic’s three match win streak in Monte Carlo this year via a 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-2 win on clay. Cilic struggled to find his serve in that match, seeing a dozen break points against him. ARV would convert on half of those, while saving three of five break opportunities against his serve. Cilic was especially poor with his second serve with a win rate at just 43 percent. That was compounded with the Croat only landing 51 percent of his first serves in play, forcing him to 44 second serves in the match.

Their only other meeting in the last two years came at the Australian Open in 2016. Cilic edged Ramos-Vinolas in straights 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (4). Cilic’s serve was stout that day with ARV only breaking him once on that lone break point. Otherwise, Cilic was dominant as he took 86 percent of the points off his first serve with 17 aces landed. The Spaniard scuffled a bit with win rates at 72 percent off his first serve and 54 percent off his second. Cilic would break him three times on six chances. ARV also had more unforced errors than winners with 34 UEs to just 23 winners. Cilic had a 37/30 split on winners and unforced errors for the match.

Their other three meetings came between 2011-2013. The first came at this same tournament in Shanghai back in 2011, where Ramos-Vinolas prevailed 6-3, 6-4. Cilic again had second serve issues in that match, winning just 44 percent of the points and landing just 53 percent of his first serves. Cilic scored his first win over ARV in 2012 6-4, 7-6 (5) on clay in Hamburg. Cilic had second serve issues again (45 percent), but Ramos-Vinolas was terrible on serve overall. The Spaniard won just 57 percent of the points off his first serve and 45 percent off his second. Cilic would follow up with another straight sets win at Indian Wells in 2013 by a score of 7-6 (7), 6-2.

Match Tactics

There’s no secret to what propels Cilic’s game, it starts with his serve. When the Croat lands his first serve consistently, he is nearly impossible to break. That has shown this week with Cilic landing 61 percent and 64 percent of his first serves in the first two rounds. It’s usually when he’s struggling closer to 50 percent on landing that first serve that he finds the most trouble. That is when his opponent gets more opportunities to tee off on an inferior second serve. Ramos-Vinolas will hope that he gets a rash of second serves to look at in this one, as he’ll likely have a hard time getting much done against the first serve if Cilic stays in rhythm.

The ground battle is likely to take place mostly along the baseline as both are comfortable there and prefer hitting their strokes from the back of the court. Cilic has the obvious power advantage, but Ramos-Vinolas is one of those crafty guys who can work rallies well into winning positions. He won’t overwhelm you off either wing, but he is precise with his shots when he stays in good court position. I’d expect ARV to try and go to the Cilic backhand, which isn’t as lethal as the forehand. Still, Cilic has shown the ability on plenty of occasions to hit the double hander for winners to anywhere on the court.

Cilic is a much steadier striker of the ball when he’s able to stay in a more neutral position to set his feet and power through his shots. Ramos-Vinolas would do well to get the Croat on the move if possible to help alleviate some of the controlled explosioon that comes off his ground strokes when he is stationary. Both can come to net when needed, but won’t likely be looking to explore that too much. I do think Ramos-Vinolas would be wise however to mix that into his strategy to force Cilic to prove that he can hit winning volleys.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

At first glance, you might think Ramos-Vinolas doesn’t have a big chance to pull off the upset because of Cilic’s serve. Remember though that Cilic was in a similar groove last week in Tokyo before running up against Adrian Mannarino and he completely fell apart by match’s end. It’s not that I necessarily expect a repeat, but things can change quickly in tennis. I do think Ramos-Vinolas has a chance to score the scalp here if he keeps his serve near the level we have seen most of the week. That is good enough to stick with Cilic and try to convert some key points that could swing the match in the favor of the Spaniard.

Ramos-Vinolas is only 2-7 against Top 10 players this season, but one of those was against Cilic in Monte Carlo with the other over Andy Murray in the same tournament. Five of his seven losses this eyar have come to Murray, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. There’s no shame in that game. ARV was one of the featured players in the Outsider’s Edge segment in the preview fo Shanghai this week as a potential dark horse semifinal type. Unseeded players have accounted for three of the last 12 semifinal spots in Shanghai between 2013-2016.

I like Ramos-Vinolas to etch his name alongside that small group.

Prediction: Ramos-Vinolas wins in three sets

2017 Shanghai Rolex Masters R3 Preview: Alexander Zverev vs Juan Martin Del Potro


It’s a mouth watering third round fight as third seeded Alexander Zverev and 16th seed Juan Martin Del Potro meet for the first time. A trip to the Shanghai Rolex Masters quarterfinals awaits the winner.

(3) Alexander Zverev vs (16) Juan Martin Del Potro

Zverev took part in an abbreviated second round match with Aljaz Bedene who retired after four games due to a leg injury. It was the second straight tournament where Bedene was forced out of a match. For Zverev, it’s difficult to gauge much in four games of action. He won eight of ten points off his serve and broke Bedene in both of his service games as he was obviously struggling to compete. For Zverev, the shortened match should keep hm fresh with this being his third tournament in a row in the Far East. He’s gone 5-2 now in that stretch with last week’s semifinal run in Beijing as his best showing.

Del Potro improved in round two with a straight sets win over Andrey Rublev 6-3, 6-4. That came after a little bit of a struggle to put away Nikoloz Basilashvili in three sets in round one. Against Rublev, DelPo’s power was far too much for the 18-year-old as he smashed 14 aces and never faced a break point on serve. The Argentine won 88 percent off his first serve and 50 percent of the points off his second. He was able to break Rublev once in each set. Overall, it was a good showing for the 16th seed who is now 3-1 since the U.S. Open.

Let’s Go To War!

Being the first time that these two have seen each other, there is likely to be a feeling out period to start the match. Often that can lead to some easy holds on serve with both players trying to get a better measure of the other. These two parallel each other fairly well in their games with their serves having the potential for potency, but sometimes missing the mark on consistency too often. Del Potro possesses more pure power of course, but he’s shown some lapses on serve this season. What you saw against Rublev however, reminds you that he is capable of obliterating an opponent with dominant service games. That’s something Zverev knows all-to-well from last week’s loss in Beijing to Nick Kyrgios.

Del Potro will want to get into a rhythm early again as will Zverev. When Zverev gets into a good, consistent roll on serve – the rest of his game seems to flow along with the serve. If Del Potro is serving near the level from his last match though, the pressure will be on Zverev no matter what to match. Sascha has had trouble matching guys who can out serve him and match him off the ground. DelPo fits that ball with his massive forehand. The plus for Zverev is he is a little bit better mover and more fluid off the backhand side. As always when playing the Argentine, you must target the backhand. DelPo has shown better off the backhand as the year has worn on, but it’s still obviously a better challenge than exchanging to his biggest weapon off the forehand side.

I doubt you’ll see too much venturing in from the baseline in this one as both settle along the back of the court and are perfectly fine with bashing the ball from that point. I think it’s important for Sascha to try and keep Del Potro on the move though for maximum effectiveness on his ground strokes. Del Potro is less problematic when you get him on the run, although he can still whip in a forehand winner. DelPo will want to use his power and depth to push Sascha back off balance in the ground battles. That will give the 16th seed openings to go for winners on the next shot.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Del Potro’s consistency will be a key in this one. He’s had more match play this week, whereas Zverev might still have some kinks to work out on the surface after the abbreviated opening match with Bedene. This looks a prime spot for an upset with Del Potro’s power, especially on serve, setting up to be a problem for Sascha. It’s not that Zverev can’t beat these types of players and tactics, but he’s shown better more consistently against guys who aren’t at the top of the power spectrum.

The question for Del Potro is whether or not he can beat a Top 10 player. He is just 3-9 against them this season, although he did secure two of those three wins at the U.S. Open. That speaks to how poorly he had done prior to that tournament at 1-8 against the Top 10 before going 2-0 at the U.S. Open and then losing to Dimitrov in Beijing. That’s a big mental hurdle to clear, so this is not set-in-stone type of upset for Del Potro.

For me, this match comes down to two things: Del Potro’s serve and Del Potro’s backhand. If both are working, he will win. If either one is faulty, then Sascha is likelier to prove too tough with his well-rounded game. I’m giving Del Potro the small edge, although I won’t be surprised if he can’t match his effort against Rublev, which would leave Sascha the beneficiary and likely winner.

Prediction: Del Potro wins in three sets

2017 Shanghai Rolex Masters R2 Preview: David Goffin vs Gilles Simon


David Goffin heads into this week’s action in Shanghai off of successive titles in Shenzhen and Tokyo. Those were the first two titles of 2017 for the Belgian. He squares off against Gilles Simon, who was a straight sets winner in first round play against 17-year-old Yibing Wu.

(8) David Goffin vs Gilles Simon

It’s been an excellent two weeks for Goffin in this Far East swing as he has claimed back-to-back titles in Shenzhen and Tokyo. To be fair, Goffin hasn’t played what you would consider top tier competition along the way, but he’s riding a nine match win streak and positive momentum. That is plenty better than what he has shown for the majority of the summer hard court swing, where he found it hard to regain momentum after missing time with an ankle injury. The 8th seed is making just his third trip to Shanghai, with last year’s quarterfinal result registering as his best. Overall at Shanghai, he is 4-2 with losses to John Isner in 2015 and 2016 champion Andy Murray.

As for Simon, he scored a rare win in a main draw to open play in Shanghai this week. The Frenchman scored a 6-3, 6-4 win over Yibing Wu. The 17-year-old from China acquitted himself fairly well, but was broken three times on seven chances. Simon only offered up one break chance that Wu did convert. Otherwise, Simon’s serve was solid with win rates of 83 percent off his first and 65 percent off his second. The win in round one was just his third main draw win since Wimbledon. In that stretch, the 32-year-old has gone 4-8. If you date back to the French Open, he’s just 4-11 in his last 15 matches.

Rubber Match

These two have clashed twice before with both coming away with a win. It was Goffin winning the most recent match at the 2016 Miami Open. Goffin prevailed 3-6, 6-2, 6-1. Simon won their first meeting on grass in 2015 at Queen’s Club 6-7 (6), 7-5, 6-2. In both cases, the loser really struggled on serve. In the Miami match, Simon was broken five times on a dozen chances with Goffin broken four times on 13 chances at Queen’s Club. Goffin’s serve was better in Miami, winning around 71 percent of the total points played. That has been a key in his recent rash of wins with the Belgian’s first serve win rate steady at 77 percent or higher in eight of his last nine matches.

Simon’s serve has been a large part of his struggle this season. Dating back through his last eight losses, he has allowed 93 break chances against his serve with opponents converting on 35 of those chances. That is a frightening number on both accounts. Conversely in his last four wins, the Frenchman has allowed just six breaks on 15 chances. That figures to be a key stat in this match-up against Goffin whose return of serve could again give Simon fits. Simon will need something near the level of what he got in round one to have a true chance in this match, but that might be asking a lot against a huge step up in competition.

Match Tactics

Simon’s game remains predicated on getting a solid return and then crafting his opponent into a baseline exchange, where he’ll try to wear them down with shot after shot. The hope being that in having to play extra shots, an error will eventually find its way onto his opponent’s racquet. The problem against Goffin is that he has better speed and agility than Simon at this stage, so he should be able to comfortably be set up on the baseline exchanges, where he can use superior fire power to out duel the Frenchman. In Miami, Goffin showcased better power and depth on his ground strokes, often pushing Simon back and into off balance positions. Those points almost always wound up going to Goffin in the end.

Simon’s best chances in this match could come due to potential fatigue for Goffin after playing so many matches over the past weeks. Several of them have been grinding affairs that surely will have taken a toll on his legs. That is why I expect Simon won’t shy away from the usual backboard display to see if he can wear down Goffin physically, which in turn might turn out the lights mentally for the 8th seed. I think you’ll know plenty early for Goffin if is serve isn’t quite as effective, I would expect that means the legs are a bit worn. Those will be the openings that Simon has to exploit.

The other big key obviously is that Simon has to find his best serve. Goffin is a quality returner, so Simon has to get in a rhythm and put pressure on Goffin to match. Simon won’t wow with power, but precision and variety can help craft him into good court positioning on the second ball. If Goffin is allowed to get solid shots back on return, then it’s the Belgian who can attack off of that. In their Miami meeting, he did this well and was not afraid to come to net on occasion when Simon did not get enough on his serves.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

If all things were equal here, this would be a match where Goffin would make an easy choice. With the mileage he’s racked up the last two weeks, that could even the playing field some. Still, I am not sure the 2017 version of Simon has enough consistency to get the job done. I think Goffin will have to be total on empty and he has had a little rest since Sunday’s win in Tokyo. I do think Simon can challenge him here and take a set at least, but I think Goffin may find a way to sneak out the victory in the end.

Prediction: Goffin wins in three sets

2017 Shanghai Rolex Masters Preview


Nadal, Federer Lead Field

The ATP World Tour makes one of its final two Masters stops for the season in Shanghai this week for the Shanghai Rolex Masters. Defending champion Andy Murray is not here to defend the title as he sits out the remainder of the season to recover from a string of injury problems. Rafael Nadal leads this year’s field as the top seed and is fresh off winning the title at the China Open on Sunday over Nick Kyrgios. Roger Federer hits the courts for his first tour stop since the U.S. Open. Fed did participate in the Laver Cup a few weeks ago, so he shouldn’t be entirely rusty.

Surprisingly, this has been one of the least successful stops for both players throughout their careers. Nadal has never won the title in seven trips to Shanghai. His best finish was making the final in his first year in Shanghai back in 2009. Federer won the title in 2014, but has only made one other final at this event (2010) in five visits. Both Nadal and Federer were first-up losers the last time they visited Shanghai with Nadal losing to Viktor Troicki last year and Federer dropping his opener to Albert Ramos-Vinolas in 2015.

Following Nadal and Federer in the seeded field are Alexander Zverev, Marin Cilic, Dominic Thiem, Grigor Dimitrov, Pablo Carreno Busta and David Goffin to round out the top eight. Among those players, Cilic and Goffin have the best finishes with each making one quarterfinal in Shanghai in their careers. Zverev makes his second appearance at this tournament, making the round of 16 last year. Cilic is just 5-7 in Shanghai with first-up losses in two of the last three years. Both Thiem and Dimitrov have never been past the second round and PCB is 0-1 with a loss last year in his lone trip.

Lower Seeds Yield More Experience

The remainder of the seeded field has more experience and success at this event. That is highlighted by 9th seed Roberto Bautista Agut who made the final in 2016. That was his best showing after going just 3-2 the two prior years. Sam Querrey is the 10th seed and he arrives with a 3-5 record in Shanghai and a loss in his only match since the U.S. Open. Kevin Anderson and John Isner are both 7-7 all-time at this tournament, seeded 11th and 12th respectively. Anderson’s best run was a quarterfinal finish in 2015, while Isner has never been past the round of 16. Rounding out the final seeds are Nick Kyrgios at 13, Jack Sock, Lucas Pouille and Juan Martin Del Potro.

Kyrgios comes in off a good run in Beijing that ended with a flop against Nadal in the final on Sunday where he lost 6-2, 6-1. Kyrgios made the quick trip to Shanghai to play doubles on Monday with Pouille, so I would watch out for the potential for burnout for the Aussie this week. Sock made the quarterfinals in 2016 and sports a 6-3 record in Shanghai. Pouille’s best finish was making the round of 16 last year, while Del Potro is a one-time finalist in 2013. The Argentine won his opening match against Nikoloz Basilashvili on Monday. That marked DelPo’s first win in Shanghai since that 2013 title run.

Early Bird Specials

Upsets are hit and miss in Shanghai as far as the seeds in their first matches. Last year, six seeds dropped out in their openers. 2015 however saw just two seeds lose early, but 2014 saw seven seeds go one and done. If you travel back to 2013, you also saw just two seeds lose early on. So if it is an odd-even year type of split, there could be fewer upsets among the seeds this year. Regardless, a top four seed has been taken down three straight years, so that is a trend to watch.

Here’s a look at the seeds who could be in trouble early this year with 9th seed Roberto Bautista Agut already falling victim to the upset bug.

4. Marin Cilic
This is a tricky opener for Cilic. The Croat made a deep run in Tokyo last week, but got bageled in his final set loss to Adrian Mannarino in the semifinals. He will face Kyle Edmund who already has a match under his belt in Shanghai. The Brit beat Jiri Vesely in straights to start on Sunday. Given that Cilic has lost two of his last three openers in Shanghai, this does carry legit upset possibilities.

5. Dominic Thiem
It’s late in the season and that makes Thiem an easy inclusion most weeks for getting knocked out early. He still hasn’t cut down on his scheduling enough to keep himself from getting burned out late. Thiem has dropped both of his matches since the U.S. Open and he’ll face a tough match-up against either Troicki or Denis Shapovalov. Troicki has two wins over Thiem in two meetings with the last coming indoors last Fall. The Serb has not looked great in two losses on the Far East swing though, so Shapovalov could be there instead. The Canadian will be playing his first tour match since the U.S. Open, but he did have a match against Alexander Zverev at the Laver Cup. Either way, I think Thiem is going to have to play well to avoid the upset.

7. Pablo Carreno Busta
PCB battles Alberto Ramos-Vinolas to start his Shanghai campaign. Ramos-Vinolas took down Joao Sousa to open play in Shanghai, so he’s got the match play edge. PCB is 2-0 against ARV however, but both wins have come on clay and gone the distance. The last came earlier this year in Buenos Aires. The win for ARV to start Shanghai could be the confidence builder he needed after ending a three match losing skid. These two are pretty evenly matched, so I think this is a 50-50 type of call.

8. David Goffin
Goffin has won titles in successive weeks and finally looks back to his best after taking a bit to get going following that nasty ankle injury at the French Open. The big problem for him could be fatigue with two straight weeks of play. His opener is Gilles Simon who will force Goffin to work in rallies, which again could hit on that fatigue angle. Simon is not in the best form, but has played a match already in Shanghai conditions and his backboard style of defense could keep him in this one with a chance to win.

10. Sam Querrey
Querrey takes on Yuichi Sugita in round one. On paper, Querrey’s power would figure to be too much for Sugita, but late in the season, there is no telling. Sugita is 5-2 since the U.S. Open, but three of those matches have come via retirement. Querrey has played just once, losing to Richard Gasquet last week in straights in Tokyo. I would keep this in the lower tier of upset possibilities, but 2017 has shown us to expect the unexpected.

13. Nick Kyrgios
Kyrgios draws Steve Johnson to start and I touched on it earlier about Kyrgios’ quick turnaround to play doubles on Monday after losing the Beijing final on Sunday. Johnson scored a couple of wins last week in Tokyo before losing to Diego Schwartzman in the quarterfinals. He’s no sure thing to step up here to score the upset, but given Kyrgios’ heavier workload and lack of much prep time – Johnson does have a good shot here to take Kyrgios down.

14. Jack Sock
Sock opens with qualifier Alexandr Dolgopolov. The American arrives on a four match losing skid. Dog has been his roller coaster self on this Far East swing. He made a run to the Shenzhen final and then lost his second match in Tokyo to Steve Johnson. He’s looked solid in two wins in qualifying and that could give him a leg up on Sock. Sock does own one win over Dolgopolov, but that came three years ago in Tokyo.

Outsider’s Edge

Unseeded players have made some noise in Shanghai over the last four years. Last year, one of the semifinal spots went to an unseeded player. In 2014, two unseeded players made the semis and it was Gilles Simon who made the final against Federer. There do appear to be a couple of the quarters that are weaker than the others and that’s where you might find an unseeded player with a chance to advance.

Kyle Edmund
He has the second round match against Cilic and that’s the obvious win or go home match. A win for the Brit and then he’s got a real shot to do damage. In a quarter with Carreno Busta, Anderson and Kyrgios as seeds – an early upset could really change the dynamic of the draw. Whether Edmund can find the consistency to do that is the big question. He hasn’t really shown it much lately, but it’s a new week.

Steve Johnson
Johnson gets the chance to take advantage of a travel weary Nick Kyrgios early and that could help propel him deep in his quarter. He might need Edmund or someone else to do him a favor though with Marin Cilic in his path to the quarters. Cilic is 3-0 against Johnson.

Albert Ramos-Vinolas
ARV is in the same quarter as Johnson. He faces fellow Spaniard Carreno Busta to start. A win there and Kevin Anderson is the only seed in his way to the quarters. ARV might not seem like a great choice, but he did make the round of 16 here a couple years ago and he’s had some success on hard courts.

The winner gets Thiem in round two and I talked about the upset possibilities there. If the survivor between these two gets past Thiem, it’s just John Isner standing in the way of at least a quarterfinal berth. Shapovalov seems the smarter try if you’re guessing, but there’s no telling how the 18-year-old will fare in his first trip to Shanghai.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (1)
Grigor Dimitrov (6)
Sam Querrey (10)
Lucas Pouille (15)

All eyes will be on Nadal as the world #1 heads to Shanghai on a roll and looking to add another trophy to a brilliant 2017 season. Nadal will open against Jared Donaldson who survived a tough three set opener against Pablo Cuevas. Donaldson is 0-5 in his career against the Top 10 and this doesn’t look like the spot for that first win. A win for Nadal pits him against either Pouille or Fognini in the round of 16. Both those players have given Nadal some tough matches in the past and that is the speed bump spot for Rafa. If he makes it past round three, then he should be in good shape to see it through to the semifinals.

The bottom of this quarter features Dimitrov and Querrey as the seeds. Dimitrov takes on the winner between Ze Zhang and Ryan Harrison. That should give Dimitrov an opportunity to build on a good week in Beijing, where he made the semifinals in losing to Nadal. Querrey has Sugita to start with the survivor taking on Frances Tiafoe. Tiafoe got a rare win at this level in round one, beating Benoit Paire 6-4, 6-4. Tiafoe’s run through qualis has given him some confidence this week and he won’t be an easy out for Querrey or Sugita. The issue for Tiafoe will be that he’s only won back-to-back main draw wins once this season (Cincinnati).

Nadal is not a shoe-in to get through this quarter. That third round against Fognini or Pouille will be tough. I’d be a fool to go against him though with what he has shown and you know he has the motivation still, having not won here in his career. If Rafa did falter early, the beneficiary might win up being Dimitrov

Quarter #2 Seeds
Marin Cilic (4)
Pablo Carreno Busta (7)
Kevin Anderson (11)
Nick Kyrgios (13)

This is a quarter that looks like it could be wide open. Cilic’s end in Tokyo was a bit bothersome, although he’ll be looked to as a front runner here. His track record in Shanghai suggests he may not be involved in the mix late. Kyrgios as mentioned will be dealing with possible fatigue from the long week in Beijing and short travel to turn around and play doubles to start this tournament. For Cilic, a win over Edmund might set him up to get back into a good grove. I do think Edmund will challenge him and could potentially pull off an upset. The winner between Johnson-Kyrgios will battle Di Wu, who beat Jeremy Chardy in round one. If Cilic doesn’t go out early, then I do like him to make some noise later here. He’s 3-0 against Johnson and 1-1 vs Kyrgios.

Either Carreno Busta or Ramos-Vinolas will be in round three. There, they could see Anderson. Anderson has a match-up in round one against Adrian Mannarino. Anderson is 2-1 against him, although none have come since 2014. Mannarino will have to fight off the dreaded championship match loss syndrome. Anderson wasn’t great in Tokyo however, so there might be a small possibility of an upset if the Frenchman turns up with his head screwed on straight. The winner there gets the survivor between Mischa Zverev and Jan-Lennard Struff. Zverev beat Struff in three last week in Beijing, so it’s a 50-50 call. If Anderson doesn’t find his best, I like the survivor of the all-Spaniard clash between PCB and ARV to move into the quarters.

I do think this quarter has unseeded possibilities. Of course, Cilic could negate that with a hot start. If Cilic gets past his opener, that’s my choice here – otherwise, the weirdness could fall to someone like Johnson or Ramos-Vinolas.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Alexander Zverev (3)
Dominic Thiem (5)
John Isner (12)
Juan Martin Del Potro (16)

Zverev comes in off a solid week in Beijing that ended flat with another loss to Kyrgios. Sascha’s serve is still a bit loose and that shows when he’s up against players who can rock and roll in rhythm on serve consistently. He should be afforded a good start with either Paolo Lorenzi or Aljaz Bedene to face him in his opener. A win for Sascha there and he would be in line to take on the winner of the Del Potro-Andrey Rublev match. Both came through in three sets in the opening round. Rublev scored a couple nice wins in Beijing last week against Jack Sock and Tomas Berdych. Del Potro will be a tough task, but it’s baseline vs baseline. As always with the Russian, if he can lock in on his first serve – he will have a shot to pull off the upset. Del Potro will be the tougher out for Zverev if the third round with Sascha having blown Rublev off the court twice now.

In the other half, Thiem will be up against it early as he faces either Shapovalov or Troicki. I do think much like Cilic that if he can get out of his opener, then he could get on a roll. The third round could likely see Isner. Isner has to get past qualifier Dusan Lajovic in round one, but then he would have Stefanos Tsitsipas in round two. Both are winnable for Isner and he looked good at the China Open last week, even in losing to Nadal in the quarters. If this comes down to Thiem and Isner, they have split two career meetings with Isner winning on hard courts and Thiem on clay. I think this surface would favor Isner just slightly.

I do think a seed takes this quarter, but I am looking to the double digits here with either isner or Del Potro. I give Isner the slight nod with an easier draw.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Roger Federer (2)
David Goffin (8)
Roberto Bautista Agut (9)
Jack Sock (14)

Bautista Agut is out already, losing his opener to Hyeon Chung. That opens one half of the draw up, where Goffin is the in-form player and lead seed. The Belgian is on a major roll with back-to-back titles in Shenzhen and Tokyo. Of course with that comes a lot of match play and the potential for fatigue to hit him this week. He faces Simon to start and that won’t be easy. They have split two career meetings with the Frenchman taking him to three sets both times. Simon got just his second win in his last seven matches to begin his week in Shanghai. Even though RBA is out and Goffin is the form player, this part of the draw could go to an unseeded player. Watch Richard Gasquet here as the Frenchman battles Chung next. Gasquet was decent in Tokyo and just saw Goffin in a loss there, so revenge could be on tap.

In the other half, all eyes will be on Federer who returns to tour for the first time since his surprising loss to Del Potro in the U.S. Open quarters. Fed should be keen to get back on track and step up to the level that Nadal has set. The Swiss starts against either Jordan Thompson or Diego Schwartzman. Both of those potential match-ups should be fairly comfortable for Federer. Sock is the seed opposite Federer in this half, but he could be one and done with Dolgopolov to open. The survivor of that one goes against Felciano Lopez. Lopez edged Ivo Karlovic in two tiebreaks in round one.

This sets up as a good quarter for Federer as the best seed is someone he’s beaten five times in five meetings (Goffin). I’m not sure Goffin will get to the quarterfinals to test that record or not, but I do think Federer is the guy who can get through this part of the draw.


Let’s not start hyping a Fedal final in this one. Far too often that has been a match-up that we’ve waited or again this year, but they have found a way not to happen as the season has worn on. I would say this week looks like that is a possibility, but I see pitfalls for both players before the final that could keep it from happening. Double digit seeds have made a habit of popping into the final with Bautista Agut doing it as the 15th seed last year and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga doing it as the #16 in 2015.

If Shanghai falls that way, I think it would be at the expense of Federer’s spot in the final with Isner and Del Potro as the double digit seeds I think have a shot. In Nadal’s half of the draw, the double digit seeds look like longer shots to meke it. In the end, it’s difficult to go against an in-form Nadal. Federer’s gaps in between tournaments can be both and help and hindrance. In this case, I think it might be more of the hindrance.