2017 Nitto ATP Finals Preview

NITTOFINALS

The final event of the 2017 season kicks off in London on Sunday as the top eight finishers in this season’s injury riddled rankings compete for the top prize at the Nitto ATP Finals. The field is topped by this year’s two lead horses, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. More on the field in a minute, but first a quick run-thru on the format for this event.

The eight player field is split into two, four player groups. Each group will compete in a Round Robin, playing each member of the group. The top two players will then advance to the semifinals. The winners of the group are determined by total number of wins first and foremost. Tiebreakers then trickle down to total number of matches played, head-to-head results and then down to highest percentage of sets won and highest percentage of games won.

The top player from Group A then plays the second place player from Group B in one semifinal, with the top player from Group B then playing the second place player from Group A. The two winners of the semifinal then move on to the final, where the champion is crowned. Now, let’s take a look at this year’s singles field.

Group Pete Sampras

NADAL17NITTO

2017 Record: 67-10
Titles: 6
Finals: 10

Tour Finals Record: 16-12
Titles: 0
Finals: 2
Appearance: 8th

Record vs The Field
Vs Federer: 23-15 (0-4)
Vs Zverev: 3-0 (2-0)
Vs Thiem: 5-2 (3-1)
Vs Cilic: 5-1 (2-0)
Vs Dimitrov: 10-1 (3-0)
Vs Goffin: 2-0 (2-0)
Vs Sock: 4-0 (2-0)

THIEM17NITTO

2017 Record: 48-25
Titles: 1
Finals: 3

Tour Finals Record: 1-2
Titles: 0
Finals: 0
Appearance: 2nd

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 2-5 (1-3)
Vs Federer: 2-1 (0-0)
Vs Zverev: 4-1 (1-0)
Vs Cilic: 1-0 (0-0)
Vs Dimitrov: 2-1 (1-1)
Vs Goffin: 3-6 (0-2)
Vs Sock: 2-1 (0-0)

DIMITROVNITTO17

2017 Record: 44-19
Titles: 3
Finals: 4

Tour Finals Record: 0-0
Titles: 0
Finals: 0
Appearance: 1st

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 1-10 (0-3)
Vs Federer: 0-6 (0-1)
Vs Zverev: 1-2 (0-0)
Vs Thiem: 1-2 (1-1)
Vs Cilic 1-3 (0-0)
Vs Goffin: 3-1 (2-1)
Vs Sock: 1-3 (0-1)

GOFFINNITTO17

2017 Record: 54-22
Titles: 2
Finals: 4

Tour Finals Record: 0-1
Titles: 0
Finals: 0
Appearance: 2nd (2016 alternate)

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 0-2 (0-2)
Vs Federer: 0-6 (0-1)
Vs Zverev: 0-1 (0-0)
Vs Thiem: 6-3 (2-0)
Vs Cilic 3-2 (0-1)
Vs Dimitrov: 1-3 (1-2)
Vs Sock: 3-0 (1-0)

Group Overview

Knee-Gate remains the biggest talking point leading into the start of this year’s ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in London. As of today, Nadal has said his feeling is that he will play. That seems to only reference his opening match against David Goffin with everything after that looking like a match to match question mark. As such, I will remind you that Pablo Carreno Busta is the first alternate in London and would slide into the place of any player who cannot physically go this week.

Let’s take that out of the equation for now and talk about Nadal and his season. Rafa secured the year-ending #1 spot in Paris with a win over Pablo Cuevas. That is when his announcement to withdraw from the Paris Masters came and it certainly seemed like the smart move. Nadal has already logged a lot of mileage this season due in part to making 16 tournament finals. With the “off” season for tennis players being so short, it’s imperative for Nadal to make his decisions this week based on healthy and preparations for 2018. In all honesty, this title means nothing if you wind up delaying your start to the new season because of a physical ailment.

Nadal’s season of course has been an absolute smash hit, four out of four stars. He’s added two more Grand Slam titles to his resume and clinching the year-end top spot was the cherry on top. The only real “failures” for Rafa this season have been the string of losses to Roger Federer. Since their classic Australian Open Final, it’s been a Federer smash ‘n grab each time they’ve played with the Swiss. Federer has won six out of the last six sets played and has a five match win streak overall against Nadal. If there is motivation needed ,that would do it.

Outside of the Federer issue this season, you can see that Rafa’s numbers look good with the other potential matchups in London. He’s a combined 14-1 against the rest of the field with an 8-1 mark against the rest of his Round Robin group (Thiem, Dimitrov, Goffin). Dimitrov would seem to be the biggest hurdle to winning the group as the Bulgarian has taken at least one set off of Rafa in all three losses this season and he did win his lone match in their head-to-head a little over a year ago in Beijing.

Thiem has been able to contend with Nadal and does own a win this season against him, but they have not met since Nadal crushed Thiem in straights in the French Open semifinals. That ended with Thiem being bagaled in the final set. This week in London will mark the first time in their careers that they will meet on a surface other than clay. That same thing can be said with Goffin and Nadal and perhaps that can help close the gap between Rafa and this group. Thiem hasn’t shown a great affinity for the indoor environment with a 24-24 career mark indoors.

Goffin however has produced his best win percentage indoors with a 17-6 mark this year to feed into his career record of 56-29 on indoor surfaces. Half of his four finals’ appearances this year came on indoor hard courts, so the surface could suit Goffin well. Goffin has a winning record against Thiem, but will have to produce a win against either Nadal or Dimitrov to have a shot to advance out of the group. He’s 1-4 against those two combined. The plus being that lone win came against Dimitrov indoors in Rotterdam earlier this season.

Key Round Robin Matches

Thiem vs Dimitrov
This day one match could go a long way in determining the second player to come out of this group. They have split two meetings in 2017 with Thiem taking the last, but that was on clay in Madrid. It also went 11-9 in the third set tiebreak to decide, so Dimitrov likely will feel that the surface switch here favors him. Dimitrov made the final in Stockholm, an indoor event, and has produced good results consistently indoors with a 54-32 record all-time. That includes 10-3 this season with a title indoors in Sofia.

A loss, especially for Thiem, could put him squarely behind the eight ball with Nadal and Goffin left to play. He’s 1-5 against those two this season. A win for Dimitrov gives him a solid shot to go 2-1 at least in the group, where winning a set off of Nadal might be enough to kill any tiebreaks to advance to the semifinals.

Nadal vs Dimitrov
If Nadal is going to falter in the group, this feels like the match. Dimitrov has stretched Nadal to five sets in Melbourne and three sets the other two times they have met on tour in 2017. His issue in the best of three format has been starting strong or finish strong – he’s done neither against Nadal who has dropped the second set against the Bulgarian both in Beijing and Shanghai. In both cases, Nadal recovered to take the final sets 6-1 & 6-3.

I don’t think Dimitrov necessarily needs a win to squeeze something good out of this encounter. With the Tour Finals format, winning a set in a loss, is important and the world #6 seems like he can do that at the least. If Dimitrov takes a set or wins, I think he’s a shoe-in to move into the semifinals out of this group.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

All eyes will be pinned on Nadal for health reasons and of course any looming prospect of one last #Fedal showdown in 2017. In all honesty, thet is about the only thing left to prove for Rafa this season is that he can beat Federer. I expect Rafa will participate in his opening match and that’s when he will know whether his knee is going to hold up for the tournament. The gut feeling is that he’ll sub out at some point and Carreno Busta will be slotted in as a replacement.

That means this group is difficult to predict. Carreno Busta’s inclusion could tip the scales to Thiem with The Dominator at 4-0 in his career against PCB. It would also be an obvious boost for Dimitrov to avoid Nadal with a 1-10 career mark despite some more competitive matches this year. Dimitrov is 2-2 against Carreno Busta, losing the last two on clay and Goffin is 0-1 with their last match coming in 2013. With the tricky guessing game here, my picks will be Dimitrov and Thiem to move out of this group and into the semifinals.

Group Boris Becker

FED17NITTO

2017 Record: 49-4
Titles: 7
Finals: 8

Tour Finals Record: 52-12
Titles: 6
Finals: 10
Appearance: 15th

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 15-23 (4-0)
Vs Zverev: 2-2 (1-1)
Vs Thiem: 1-2 (0-0)
Vs Cilic: 7-1 (1-0)
Vs Dimitrov: 6-0 (1-0)
Vs Goffin: 6-0 (1-0)
Vs Sock: 3-0 (1-0)

ZVEREV17NITTO

2017 Record: 54-20
Titles: 5
Finals: 6

Tour Finals Record: 0-0
Titles: 0
Finals: 0
Appearance: 1st

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 0-3 (0-2)
Vs Federer: 2-2 (1-1)
Vs Thiem: 1-4 (0-1)
Vs Cilic: 3-1 (1-0)
Vs Dimitrov: 2-1 (0-0)
Vs Goffin: 1-0 (0-0)
Vs Sock: 1-1 (0-0)

NITTOCILIC17

2017 Record: 44-19
Titles: 1
Finals: 3

Tour Finals Record: 1-5
Titles: 0
Finals: 0
Appearance: 3rd

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 1-5 (0-2)
Vs Federer: 1-7 (0-1)
Vs Zverev: 1-3 (0-1)
Vs Thiem: 0-1 (0-0)
Vs Dimitrov: 3-1 (0-0)
Vs Goffin: 2-3 (1-0)
Vs Sock: 0-2 (0-0)

SOCKNITTO17

2017 Record: 36-19
Titles: 3
Finals: 6

Tour Finals Record: 0-0
Titles: 0
Finals: 0
Appearance: 1st

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 0-4 (0-2)
Vs Federer: 0-3 (0-1)
Vs Zverev: 1-1 (0-0)
Vs Thiem: 1-2 (0-0)
Vs Cilic 2-0 (0-0)
Vs Dimitrov: 3-1 (1-0)
Vs Goffin: 0-3 (0-1)

Group Overview

Federer’s pristine record in 2017 is remarkable and the addition of two more Grand Slam trophies to his collection mark one of the greater achievements in history for the 36-year-old who many thought was done collecting hardware at majors. On top of that, he’s been able to turn the tables of nemesis Rafael Nadal with four wins this season over the Spaniard. He’s done all that and played the lightest schedule of any of the London participants, smartly scheduling his season to maximize his chances to do exactly what he wound up doing – winning Grand Slam titles.

Federer can’t bee too displeased with his group, even with two other top five players included in Zverev and Cilic. Zverev holds the 2-2 record against Fed, including 1-1 this season. What should be noted however is the win for Sascha came at the Rogers Cup, when Federer’s health was an issue. In Halle the month before, Federer blasted Zverev off the grass courts 6-1, 6-3. Since Zverev’s surprise title at the Rogers Cup, he’s gone just 8-7 and appears to be limping to the finish line for 2017. None of his eight wins have come against top 2- players and four of the seven losses he has suffered, have come to players outside of the Top 40. Couple that with a well-rested Federer and I think the Swiss will like his chances just fine.

Cilic appears to have the worst road in this group with a 2-12 record against Federer, Zverev and Sock in his career. He’s also just 1-5 at this event in his career. The positives for Cilic are that he has played well since the U.S. Open with three semifinal runs in the four tournaments that he has played. The bad will come with two of his four losses in that span coming to Adrian Mannarino and Julien Benneteau, players he is expected to beat more often than not.

Sock is the fresh face as he makes his debut. He’ll be brimming with a little extra swagger after taking the title in Paris last week, but that’s to be taken with a grain of salt. Sock’s draw was incredibly kind most of the way with just one player (Lucas Pouille) ranked inside the top 38. His last two opponents, Julien Benneteau and Filip Krajinovic, were ranked 83rd and 77th respectively. The American has only faced one of his three group-mates this season, losing to Federer at Indian Wells. He’s beaten Cilic twice and split with Sascha in two matches, taking the last one indoors in Stockholm last year.

Key Round Robin Matches

Federer vs Zverev
This will be billed as the best match of the group, but the hype may not live up the result. This is the confidence builder or eroder for Sascha in my opinion and it could well serve as the same for Federer. The Swiss shouldn’t be lacking for confidence based on losing just four matches all year, but Zverev has contended well against him outside of the Halle whitewash this year. A win for Sascha in this spot could elevate him to the top spot out of this group, which might keep him from seeing Nadal in the semifinals. That would be an optimal outcome.

For Federer, he won’t really care too much how he gets out of the group as long as he gets out of the group. Certainly he’d rather see Nadal in a finals setting than going through him in the semis with the prospects of playing another match after going through a physical Nadal match. That should make all matches equally important to Federer. You’d think though that he has this one circled due to that loss in Montreal. It’s one of the few blemishes on a glorious season and one that Fed can erase in London.

Zverev vs Sock
This could also serve as an elimination match. If Federer is Federer, he’s going to lock up one of the two spots to advance out of this group. Cilic looks like he’ll have a tough time getting out of the group with a poor track record in London and bad numbers against all the players in this group. That could leave Sascha and Sock to joust for the final qualification spot. These two have not met since their three set thriller; 6-7 (4), 7-06 (4), 6-4, in the Stockholm semifinals last year. That came just a month after Zverev had dismantled Sock 6-4, 6-2 in Beijing.

Sock has momentum on his side, but that could be fleeting with an opener against Federer to start his debut appearance at the ATP Tour Finals. The pluses for Sock are that Sascha has not played his best tennis the last half of the season and he looks vulnerable to anyone in the field at this point. This match likely will come down to which player wins those key break points against their own serve. Both players can get into a rhythm on serve with some easier holds, but both usually sport more holes than consistency on serve. That will leave them open to exploitation. The winner of this one really should be in the driver’s seat for a spot in the semis.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

I won’t say Federer is quite a lock to get one of the two semifinal spots out of this group, but everything certainly looks to align well for him. If he somehow gets stunned in the Round Robin stages, the feeling for me is that Marin Cilic will have had something to do with that outcome. Overall, I think Federer gets the top spot and then I get an odd feeling that it comes down to Cilic and Sock for the other.

Zverev’s luke warm finish to the season has me thinking that he may struggle to get more than a win in the group stages. First timers have had some sporadic success at this event with Kei Nishikori as the last first timer to advance to the semis in 2014. Stan Wawrinka did it the year before in 2013. You’d think Zverev would be the better bet over Sock as a first timer to do the trick this year, but I’m not sure that is the case. I’m also not sure that I think Sock can get two wins in this group to get through.

I’ll go Federer and Cilic here, despite Cilic’s lackluster record against the field.

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

It will be disappointing not to see a Nadal-Federer final to cap off what has been a great “retro” year for tennis fans with the two 30-somethings ruling the roost. However, if we don’t get that in the name of Nadal being healthy for 2018, I’m okay with that. For me, this tournament looks tailor-made for Federer. He’s worked the smartest schedule of any player and should be the freshest.

It will likely be on Fed to keep the Big Four’s stranglehold on this tournament, where Nikolay Davydenko was the last non-Big Four member to win back in 2009. Federer’s last win in London came in 2011 Who Fed could play in a final is the big question with Thiem and Dimitrov the two guys I’m looking to have the best chance if Nadal is out due to the knee. In the end, I’m sticking with Federer to keep the Big Four’s streak going and finish off a fantastic season.

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2017 Rolex Paris Masters Preview

PARIS17

Federer Withdrawal Effectively Ends Chase For #1

Shortly after winning the Swiss Indoors Basel for the 8th time on Sunday, Roger Federer announced that he would be skipping the Rolex Paris Masters to recover for the year-end ATP World Tour Finals. It was a long shot for Federer to overtake Rafael Nadal for the top spot in the rankings, but now it’s just about a dona deal. Nadal will need just one win in Paris this week to clinch the year-end number one ranking. What should be bigger for Nadal however is a chance to win this event for the first time ever. That’s right – Nadal has never won this event in his career. His best finish was making the final in 2007, where he lost to David Nalbandian. Since then, he’s made just four trips to Paris with two quarterfinal and two semifinal finishes. He enters this week as the top seed with something prove perhaps in a season where he’s done that over and over.

With Federer out, the next seed in the field is Marin Cilic who takes the #3 slot. Cilic made the semifinals here last year, his best finish in Paris. He’s just 9-8 overall in his career at this event. Coming in at number four is Alexander Zverev, who will make his Rolex Paris Masters debut. The rest of the top eight seeds includes Dominic Thiem (5), Grigor Dimitrov, David Goffin and Pablo Carreno Busta. None of those players has been past the round of 16 in Paris in the past. Of the rest if the seeded field, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (11) has the best history here as the title winner in 2008. Juan Martin Del Potro is the 13th seed with the next best record at 7-5. He’s made the quarterfinals twice in 2009 and 2013.

Lucas Pouille slides into the ghost seed spot at #17 due to the Federer withdrawal and takes over Federer’s spot in the draw. That should be good news for the Vienna Open champion, who will get the benefit of a better draw. Pouille won the all-French final in Vienna on Sunday, pounding Tsonga 6-1, 6-4 to claim his third title of the season. He’ll have some expectation on him with that outing and getting slotted into Federer’s spot. Defending champion Andy Murray will of course not be defending the title due to ending his season early this year due to injury. It will be on Nadal to continue the dominance of the Big Four by himself this year. Murray and Djokovic are responsible for the last four titles in Paris with Djokovic taking three of those from 2013-20-15. David Ferrer was the last non-Big Four member to win the Paris title back in 2012.

Early Bird Specials

Upsets have been regular among the seeds taking part in their opening matches in Paris. Over the last five years, at least three seeds have been dropped in their openers in four of five years. Last year saw four seeds lose early and while it’s been the lower seeds normally who are most prone, Paris has seen some exceptions to that pattern. Most famously, Novak Djokovic was stunned as the second seed in 2012 by Sam Querrey. Last year saw qualifier Jan-Lennard Struff craft another big upset when he took down third seed Stan Wawrinka.

So who could follow suit this year? Let’s have a look.

3. Marin Cilic
The scheduling Gods may pit Cilic and Borna Coric against each other again. Coric takes on fellow qualifier Jan-Lennard Struff. Struff already has that scalp of Wawrinka under his belt, so he should not be taken lightly. Coric has taken a set off of Cilic in each of the three losses he has suffered at the hands of Cilic this season. He’s getting closer and perhaps playing him two weeks in a row could help him have his best chance.

4. Alexander Zverev
Sascha is that high seed who could find trouble this week. Zverev waits for the winner between Steve Johnson and Robin Haase. Johnson beat Zverev in their lone career meeting last year at Indian Wells. Zverev is 2-0 against Haase, but the Dutchman took him five sets at this year’s Australian Open. With Sascha having no experience at this tournament, it could be an opportunity for Haase or Johnson to stun the German.

6. Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov gets one of two Frenchmen to open, either Richard Gasquet or Benoit Paire. Gasquet had been tough on Dimitrov until recent times with the Bulgarian winning the last two in their series. Gasquet still leads the h2h 5-2 overall. Paire owns two wins in three tries against Dimitrov and has taken a set off of him each time they’ve met. They have not played since Paire beat Dimitrov in Tokyo in 2015. Either way, I expect Dimitrov to have a tough time in his opener and this has never been a great tournament for him.

7. David Goffin
This is another match-up based alert with Goffin in good form after running to the Basel semifinals this past week. His first match in Paris with be against “Mr.Paris” David Ferrer or Adrian Mannarino. Ferrer has surprisingly found himself with great results at this tournament. The Spaniard is 21-11 all-time in Paris with one title. He did lose his opener last year to Isner, but otherwise has finished in the quarters or better in five of his last six trips. He also holds a 2-0 edge over Goffin in their careers. The Belgian would much prefer Mannarino who he is 3-0 against all-time.

8. Pablo Carreno Busta
The 2017 U.S. Open semifinalist has found things have not gone his way since that career best achievement. PCB is just 1-4 since the U.S. Open final. He’ll battle either Vasek Pospisil or Nicolas Mahut in his opener. Pospisil and Mahut have not been in good form, but both are capable or springing the upset. PCB beat Mahut in straights at the U.S. Open, but Mahut is better in these controlled indoor conditions. Exepct a tussle for PCB, but I’d put him on the lower side of the upset scale due to the poor form of his prospective opponents.

9. John Isner
Isner faces Diego Schwartzman or Viktor Troicki. He’d probably rather avoid Troicki who is 5-3 against the American, including a win against him recently in Shanghai. Isner did surprisingly make the final here in Paris last year, but as usual his style makes him prone to losing tight matches. We saw that against Philipp Kohlschreiber last week in Vienna.

11. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsonga is on this list because he’s in the dreaded Championship Match hangover mode after losing to Pouille in Vienna on Sunday. Often, runners-up have trouble recovering in their next tournaments with plenty of losses in their first or second matches. Tsonga opens against either Denis Shapovalov or Julien Benneteau. El Shapo has not been able to follow up his summer success late in the season with just one win in his last four matches since the U.S. Open. Benneteau might be the tougher up. He’s 4-6 against Tsonga, but lost in straights to him in Antwerp. Tsonga should probably get through his first match, but he’s worth monitoring.

12. Kevin Anderson
Anderson is just 3-4 since losing the U.S. Open final, so he’s definitely going on this list. He starts with the winner between Fernando Verdasco and Andrey Rublev. Both came definitely rattle the big man’s cage and cause an upset. Verdasco pulled out from Basel last week, but I have not found anything that says he isn’t 100 percent ready to go this week. He’s 4-3 against Anderson, including 2-1 this season with one of those wins coming indoors in Stockholm recently. Rublev lost a four setter to Anderson back in 2015 at the U.S. Open in their lone meeting. The Russian does own one career win against Verdasco on clay, but comes in with losses in four of his last five matches. I’d rate Verdasco the bigger threat.

13. Juan Martin Del Potro
Although his match-up will favor the Argentine, two long weeks of tennis will not. DelPo surprisingly to me was able to work his way to a second straight final in successive weeks in Basel. He put together a decent showing in losing in three sets to Federer. At this point though, he’s got a shot to make the field in London and that keeps him grinding again in Paris. He opens against qualifier Joao Sousa or Paolo Lorenzi. Sousa is the intriguing one as he took on Del Potro last week in Basel. DelPo controlled most of the match, but did drop a set in the 6-1, 4-6, 6-1 victory. Lorenzi is on a seven match losing skid and is 1-3 against Sousa, but that lone win came in five sets over Sousa at this year’s U.S. Open. Given DelPo’s likely fatigue, he’s certainly set up for trouble early in Paris.

15. Albert Ramos-Vinolas
He could be in for rough opener regardless of who wins between Pablo Cuevas and Karen Khachanov. Of course, Cuevas has dropped ten straight matches and Khachanov has just one win in his last seven. However, a win could help turn their fortunes around quckly and put them into a good match-up against ARV. Cuevas owns a 4-1 head-to-head record against ARV with one of those wins coming indoors in Valencia, Spain back in 2010. Khachanov’s power could be tougher for ARV to cope with and the Russian is 1-0 against Cuevas. Khachanov was a tough out in Vienna last week. He lost in three sets to Tsonga.

17. Lucas Pouille
Even though Pouille gets the advantage of slotting in for Federer, his first match is going to be difficult. Pouille takes on the survivor between Feliciano Lopez and Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Both players own wins in their careers against Pouille with PHH at 1-1 and Lopez at 1-2. All matches they have played against Pouille went the distance in best of three settings. If Pouille is going to make a run, it should get easier after round two – if he survives.

Outsider’s Edge

Twice in the last five years, an unseeded player has crashed the final in Paris. Last year it was John Isner who ultimately lost to Andy Murray. Back in 2012, it was Jerzy Janowicz as a qualifier who did the trick. 2016 broke a string of three straight years where no unseeded player advanced as far as the quarterfinals. The feeling this year is that with all the injuries and weekly turmoil, an unseeded player or two could definitely make some big noise in Paris. Here’s a look at a few guys to watch.

Steve Johnson
Johnson hasn’t been a big performer down the stretch during a trying season, but his draw could give him an opening to make a run. He has to get past Haase to open, but then would match up against Alexander Zverev in round two. I still think that is a winnable match at this stage of the season for the American. Johnson also has Del Potro in his part of the quarter, who I sitll think is a burnout candidate for the week. He will have to earn everything he gets, but there is some potential if he can get out of the gates quickly.

Richard Gasquet/Benoit Paire
Also in the same part of the draw as Johnson, the winner of this all-French first rounder has the potential to grow into a darkhorse threat. The winner gets Grigor Dimitrov to start. Dimitrov has been strong down the stretch, but he’s got a spot in London wrapped up, so his motivation for the week is all within his brain. If he’s uncaring about this week, then the draw opens for one of these Frenchmen with Isner as the only seed in the way after Dimitrov to play for a quarterfinal spot.

David Ferrer
“Mr.Paris” may be fading into the sunset some in his career, but the Spaniard is 2-2 indoors in the past two tournaments and simply has found something special most years in Paris. He will have to beat Goffin in round two if he gets there and might have to go through Tsonga for a chance to get at a quarterfinal spot. Ferrer has three wins in four tries against Tsonga, but they have not met since 2013.

Kyle Edmund
Edmund comes in of a semifinal run in Vienna, so he’s got some confidence on this surface. His quarter features Pouille and Sock as the seeds in his way to a quarterfinal. That’s not a bad draw for him. He starts with Evgeny Donskoy and then would see Sock in round two if he wins. Edmund crushed Sock in Atlanta this summer in straights. If he sees Pouille, it would be a rematch of their semi in Vienna that Pouille won in three.

Hugues-Herbert/Lopez
The winner of their first round battle takes on Pouille and I mentioned previously how both have played him tough in the past. An upset there and either one of these guys could be an unlikely runner towards a quarterfinal spot.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (1)
Pablo Carreno Busta (8)
Sam Querrey (10)
Albert Ramos-Vinolas (15)

Breakdown
Nadal will feel good this week that there is little pressure on him to perform with Federer out of the draw. What I mean there is that the focus won’t be on the possibility of a Fedal match, but more on Nadal clinching the #1 spot with a single win in Paris. Toss in this draw with no real scary seeds and Rafa should feel like he’s got it in him to make a deep run. He opens with eirher Mischa Zverev or Hyeon Chung, either of which is a nice match-up for the top seed. Ramos-Vinolas is the only seed in his way before the round of 16 and ARV may not make it that far.

The bottom of the quarter features Carreno Busta and Querrey. Both seeds really have no excuse if they don’t wind up squaring off in the round of 16. They are easily the talents in this part of the draw, but have to shake off recently slumps. Yuichi Sugita is an interesting floater in this part of the quarter as he opens with Filip Krajinovic. A win would match him against Querrey. It’s not a great match-up, but Querrey has lost his first match in two of his last three tournaments. I think Sam has too much power for Sugita, but watch the man from Japan any way – he could be an X-Factor.

Without Federer in the mix, all eyes fall squarely on Nadal. I think he’s got plenty of motivation this week and shouldn’t feel much pressure. This draw is as good as any for him to break his run of not winning the title in Paris.

Quarter #2
Alexander Zverev (4)
Grigor Dimitrov (6)
John Isner (9)
Juan Martin Del Potro (13)

Breakdown
Dimitrov arrives with the best form. He wisely pulled out of Vienna last week to rest and that should benefit him. He is 8-3 since the U.S. Open with two losses to Nadal and one to Del Potro. That’s nothing to be ashamed of this year. I think he’s in that spot where if he makes it past a tough opener, but then he gets an easier route after that. Isner is the only seed in his way to the round of 16 and he beat the big man in Cincinnati this year, one of the quickest courts on tour. I think there is a chance that he won’t have to contend with him if Troicki beats Schwartzman in round one.

In Zverev’s half, Sascha too could get rolling if he avoids early trouble. Steve Johnson is a possible second round opponent and then only Del Potro is seeded in front of him to keep him from making the quarterfinals. Given Del Potro’s heavy schedule, Sascha has a chance to do well in Paris his first time through as long as he gets off to a good start.

This quarter for me falls to Zverev or Dimitrov if they avoid that early trouble, but could go off the rails if either one of them loses early. Then I would look to Gasquet, Paire and Johnson as spoilers. I’ll give a slight edge to Dimitrov because of his form post-U.S. Open.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Marin Cilic (3)
David Goffin (7)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (11)
Roberto Bautista Agut (14)

Breakdown
Cilic and Goffin both bring the form to Paris this week that makes them obvious favorites in this quarter. Goffin has not been great here with just a 3-3 record. Before last year’s semifinal showing, Cilic hadn’t been burning up Paris either – so there is some hope for the rest of the quarter. Cilic should have the edge to get further, even if he has to battle Coric again for the fourth time this year. Coric still has not proven he can beat Cilic. If he gets past the early hurdle, Cilic has the edge to get to the quarters as he holds a 3-1 edge of Bautista Agut for their careers.

Goffin’s half gets easier if he avoids Ferrer or at least that is my feeling. Ferrer has the guts and game to push Goffin, so that potential second round match is a big potential landmine for the Belgian. Tsonga has an advantageous draw with Shapovalov or Benneteau first up. If he can shake off a poor final in Vienna, perhaps he can wow the home crowd. Tsonga holds a 4-2 edge over Goffin, including a win indoors in Rotterdam early this season. If Tsonga gets his head on straight this week, he could make some noise.

The feeling for me is Cilic or Goffin won’t be involved in deciding who gets to the semifinals. Goffin seems more likely to fall earlier with some tougher match-ups. I think this comes down to Cilic or Tsonga, although I won’t count out Ferrer in Paris.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Dominic Thiem (5)
Kevin Anderson (12)
Jack Sock (16)
Lucas Pouille (17)

Breakdown
The seeds here all look prone to me and this quarter smells like the one that could have an unseeded player run through it. There are candidates with Verdasco a possibility as he could have good match-ups against Anderson in round two and he’s beaten Thiem in their only career meeting. Thiem has lost four of his last five and at the end of a long season, is always prone to losing earlier than expected. I can see the Verdasco-Rublev winner making a push here.

In the other half, Sock and Pouille are the seeds. Again, there are plenty of dangerous floaters waiting for them. Sock likely faced Edmund in his opener and Pouille gets Herbert or Lopez, both of whom can be tough on him. Pouille for me is one who can grow into a contender if he avoids the early upset. Sock I still get the feeling that he’ll find some way to muck it up as he goes. I look to Pouille or Edmund to be involved in the business end of this quarter.

Pouille has the form that could carry over into a deep run and he’s certainly the best form of any of the seeds in this section. If Pouille flops, then I would look to one of the unseeded players to make a move – Verdasco, Rublev or Edmund as my favorites among that group.

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

It’s not often that you seed Nadal entering a tournament that has been around for a good bit without every having won it. This is one of those rare weeks and a week without Federer than opens up for him to change that. Cilic, Dimitrov and Tsonga are among the other seeds that I would look to if Rafa happens to falter. I’m not sure he will, but they are the ones for me who look likeliest to pick up the pieces if he does.

2017 Swiss Indoors Basel SF Preview: Marin Cilic vs Juan Martin Del Potro

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Juan Martin Del Potro looks to continue his superiority over Marin Cilic as the two clash for a spot in the Swiss Indoors Basel final. Del Potro has won six straight over Cilic and nine of eleven overall in the series.

(2) Marin Cilic vs (4) Juan Martin Del Potro

Cilic was forced to work hard by qualifier Marton Fucsovics in the quarterfinals as the defending champion escaped with a 7-6 (3), 5-7, 7-6 (4) victory. Cilic went up two breaks in the third for a 4-1 lead before Fucsovics broke back twice to even the set at 5-5. Fucsovics ran out of gas in the tiebreak, losing the first five points as the second seed took grip of the breaker and held on for the win. Cilic’s second serve was a huge detriment to his game after the opening set, where he won 69 percent of those points. He won a paltry 26 percent of his second serve points in set two and then just 42 percent in set three. He wobbled in general on serve after the opening set, broken five times on nine chances over the final two sets.

Del Potro also went the distance as he dispatched sixth seed Roberto Bautista Agut 6-2, 2-6, 6-4. DelPo also didn’t show the best of serves for the day, taking just 64 percent of his first serve points and 57 percent off his second serve. Despite the lower win rate on first serve, the Argentine was broken just three times on five chances. DelPo took advantage of a weak second serve from RBA, taking 59 percent of the points. He would break the Spaniard four times on seven chances.

It seemed fairly apparent that Del Potro was feeling the effects of two long weeks after taking the Stockholm title last week. Following the match, he said “I survived, I’m still standing.” Del Potro would say that he’s been having some problems with his body due to the number of matches played and that certainly is something to think about heading into Saturday’s semifinal.

DelPo Domination, Grain of Salt Version

While Del Potro owns the shiny 9-2 mark against Cilic, they have played just once since 2013. That meeting came last year during the Davis Cup final. DelPo won an absolute war in five sets 6-7 (4), 2-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-3. Prior to that clash, they had not played since Del Potro beat Cilic in straights at the Paris Masters at the end of the 2013 season. Their head-to-head series dates back to the 2009 Australian Open, where DelPo beat Cilic in four sets. While the numbers look to heavily favor Del Potro, the lack of match play in recent years suggests that Cilic has a very good shot in this one. You can probably bet that the Croat will be keen on getting revenge for blowing that two sets to love lead last Fall. That came in the fourth rubber of the Davis Cup final with Croatia ahead 2-1. One set would have given Cilic and his country the title.

This time around, Del Potro is in fine form with seven straight wins and victories in 11 of his last 12 matches overall. Cilic has been solid as well with a 9-2 record since the U.S. Open. What’s not to like about Del Potro is all that match play in the last week and his admission that his body is most definitely feeling the effects. What’s to like for Del Potro is that Cilic himself did not look great against Fucsovics. So, it’s not as if Cilic can just show up and expect to win this one due to fatigue from his opponent. That leaves Saturday’s tilt as a fascinating one potentially.

CHECKLIST 
Your pig is busting out a new format here for the previews to test and see if it will stick for the rest of the season and beyond, so fire away with critiques or kudos @tennispig.

SERVE

Cilic: Despite his woes against Fucsovics on Friday, the Croat generally has been in ryhthm this week and rolling on serve. Borna Coric had trouble even touching the serve for most of their second round match with Cilic winning 93 percent of his first serve and 73 percent off his second. Those numbers fell to 75 and 44 against Fucsovics in the quarters. The five breaks of serve against him were the most he has suffered since losing in the semis in Tokyo to Adrian Mannarino. The Frenchman busted his serve six times and bageled the Croat in the final set.

There is no secret to the Cilic serve. It’s raw power and rhythm. When it is on, he’s nearly impossible to break. A big key is getting his first serve in consistently. As Fucsovics showed, when you can see more second serves – Cilic becomes vulnerable.

Del Potro: Fatigue certainly looked to be a big part of his lower numbers against Bautista Agut. DelPo had won 86 percent of his first serve points before the quarters, where he saw just a 64 percent win rate against RBA. The Argentine had been broken just once on five chances prior to his last match, where RBA broke him three times on five chances. Much like Cilic, Del Potro’s service struggles come when he cannot find the measure on his first serve.

He winds up putting more pressure on his second serve and becomes inconsistent. With the mind already set on fatigue from his comments, this is going to be an area to monitor early in this match. If DelPo is giving into the fatigue, the legs will go and the power on his serve will be greatly diminished. That will give a good returner like Cilic a golden opportunity on return.

√ Cilic

DEFENSE

Cilic: His return doesn’t get much love, but it rates in the Top 20 among the percentage of points won off his opponents’ first and second serves. Cilic is at his best when he is aggressive on return, punishing the ball and pushing his opponents back with solid depth on that first ball. That gives him the option on the next ball to either be even more aggressive or start working his opponent from the baseline in a comfortable position. Look for him to be more aggressive on Del Potro’s second serve of course, but he shouldn’t be afraid to grip it and rip it off the Argentine’s first either. As for defense in rallies, Cilic moves fairly well and has become a bit more competent at the net in the last year plus. He still doesn’t look to head to net all that often, but has the confidence now that he can get the job done.

Del Potro: The fourth seed will look to punish the second serve of Cilic if he gets enough looks. For the season, he’s winning right at 49 percent off his opponents’ second serves. That’s a shade below Cilic at 51 percent, but still a solid number. If Cilic struggles like he did against Fucsovics, DelPo needs to jump on those second serves. The forehand return is obviously the biggest weapon, so Cilic will need to vary his deliveries and try to find the backhand a bit more often. Off the ground, Del Potro wants to get himself into stationary positions where he can wallop the forehand or backhand as often as possible. He’s employed the slice off the backhand more as a defensive mechanism this year in order to get around to the forehand on his next shot. He should not be shy about using that strategy against Cilic.

Even

GROUNDIES

Cilic: The forehand is the weapon of choice, but the double hander off the backhand side could be a difference maker on Saturday. He brings power and the ability to nail winners off that wing. The defending champ will stay mainly along the baseline, but has the edge for me in being able to move to net. With a potentially physically compromised opponent, Cilic should definitely pick some spots to force DelPo forward. Match point against Fucsovics showed his ability in this area.

Del Potro. Much like Cilic, the forehand is the unstoppable force on most nights. Unlike Cilic, Del Potro’s backhand can be a bit of an issue still. He’s incorporated the slice backhand to enable himself to get back around to more forehands. That will be a big part of what he can or cannot do against Cilic. If he is unable to use the slice effectively, he may go to more of the double handed look. It’s improved as the year has gone on, but I think Cilic has the edge in the backhand battle in this one.

√ Cilic

PIG-POURRI

Cilic: The “other” stuff that can effect a match, mainly what’s between the ears. Going into this match, Cilic does need to put the Davis Cup final behind him. It would be hard for him not to think about that, but it also could give him confidence knowing that he only needs two sets against Del Potro on Saturday. He got that in the DC final.

Del Potro: The fatigue angle is obviously something I’ve beaten to death, but it’s an issue. I thought coming into this week that DelPo was a candidate to lose earlier than this round because of that possibility. He’s done well to get to this point and certainly is one of the sport’s best gladiators. He’ll fight as long as he has breath in his body, but will his body allow him to fight for long? That is the question

√ Cilic

The Pig’s Bottom Line

It’s not an ideal set-up for either guy with both coming off some problems in their last match. I think there is less concern for Cilic though from a physical standpoint than there is for Del Potro. On even ground, this is a 50-50 match despite the past wins for Del Potro because many of them came prior to his slew of injury issues. In this spot, I think Cilic has a chance to end the losing streak if he comes out firing on serve. I think that is a key to put pressure on Del Potro to match. If he can make Del Potro work in his service games and move him around on court, all the better for the second seed. DelPo is never without a chance to win, but I think he’ll need a poor effort from Cilic.

Prediction: Cilic wins in three sets

2017 Swiss Indoors Basel QF Preview: David Goffin vs Jack Sock

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It could be the highlight match of the quarters in Basel as David Goffin and Jack Sock square off for third time. The Belgian has won both their previous matches with the last coming on clay in Rome in 2016. That was a 6-4, 6-4 win for Goffin.

(3) David Goffin vs (5) Jack Sock

Goffin has gotten back on track this week after an unexpected early loss in Antwerp last week to Stefano Tsitsipas. The third seed has taken care of both Peter Gojowczyk and Hyeon Chung in straight sets. The latest win came against Chung 6-4, 6-1. Goffin has been solid on serve, winning right at 76 percent of his first serve points this week and 57 percent off his second. As usual though, his serve has been leaky enough to be broken four times in the two matches on seven break chances. Goffin has done a fantastic job of working into his opponents’ serves, breaking Gojo and Chung eleven times and creating a whopping 27 break chances.

For Sock, it’s been a tougher go as he barely survived his opener against qualifier Vasek Pospisil in the opening round 3-6, 7-6 (7), 7-5. He was pushed to three sets again in round two against Robin Haase, but came through 6-4, 2-6, 6-4. Sock has won 72 percent of his first serve points this week and just over 60 percent off his second. Like Goffin, his serve has some holes and that has led the American to be broken five times off of 18 chances. Sock has been efficient in break his opponents though to offset that, taking half of the ten break chances he has seen through two rounds.

Offense vs Defense

This match should shape up to be a classic offense versus defense type of set-up. Not that Goffin does not possess good weapons off both wings, but Sock brings the biggest weapon to the table with his ferocious forehand. The big issue with Sock of course is harnessing that power with precision. When he’s on, his forehand is massive and he can overpower opponents with depth and precision. When it’s not, he sprays forehands long and wide and that seems to throw his whole game off point.

The surprising aspect to Sock is that his serve is not more potent. For a player with such an electric forehand, his serve is too often problematic against top tier competition. He’s right at his career averages again this season with his 1st and 2nd serve win rates at 73 percent and 53 percent. The problem is finding consistency for Sock. He can go through a match where he wins over 80 percent with a big first serve and then find himself struggling to win 60 percent in the next match. It’s not just quality returners that punish him either, so it seems that a lot of Sock’s service deficiencies are mental in nature.

That’s where Goffin shows to be a superior player most days. He’s a fighter and he makes the most out of what he has. His service numbers are comparable to Sock on the season and that should be troubling to the American given Goffin’s slighter frame. What Goffin also has is great speed and agility to dig out balls that most cannot return. His defense makes up for the breaks he allows off his serve. Sock isn’t a sloth by any means with good net skills thanks to his early doubles play in his career, but from a pure speed and agility standpoint – Goffin is better.

Match Tactics

The surface should aid Sock some with his power as a potential equalizer. On the slower courts on clay in Rome durign their last meeting, Goffin picked apart Sock’s serve for four breaks on seven chances. Sock was especially poor with his second serve winning just 39 percent of the points. Goffin was steady with 74 and 67 percent win rates off his first and second serves. He was broken two times on four chances, but his ability to break back was a key again. That is where Goffin aligns himself with some of the best in the business. He’s going to get broken on serve like a Novak Djokovic, like an Andy Murray. And much like those two, he doesn’t get down on himself, he keeps grinding and has the ability to get back on serve during the course of a set to put himself into a winning position.

That is a key for Friday to me. if Sock is able to draw first blood with a break, he must find a way to grind out the set and not give that break back. More often than not, Goffin can break back and then find that bonus break to go ahead. That is a crusher for an opponent mentally. I think Sock needs to find an early rhythm on serve to give himself an easier time. If he is constantly under pressure on serve like Goffin’s previous two opponents, it won’t bode well his his chances. I’d like to see Sock aggressive from ball one, going big on serve and then looking to finish with quick 1-2 punches off the ground.

To do so, that means Sock needs to hit his serves with precision and depth. Variety would be a key point to me as I’ve seen Sock fall into patterns with little change to where he’s going on serve. That leads to trouble and would give a good returner like Goffin easier strikes against him. When play gets into rallies, Sock obviously will need to find his forehand as much as possible. You would expect Goffin to test Sock’s backhand though when at all possible. Sock simply does not have the consistency and variety off that wing in most matches to be a consistent threat. The American would do well to try and use that slice backhand that aided the development of Steve Johnson so well to try and give himself time to set back up for a forehand on the next shot.

For Goffin, he’s perfectly fine with getting involved in gritty baseline rallies. His forehand and backhand really are a shade underrated when you consider his size and what he can do off both wings. The double handed backhand especially provides a bit of pop you don’t expect and he really does well to craft himself into winning positions, where he can use that shot up the line or cross court effectively. The forehand is a bit less impactful for me, but not a minus by any means. The best trait he has for most of his shots is his balance. Perhaps Sock can test that by trying to pull Goffin into the net a bit more with some shorter shots, where Sock might have the advantage in the volley game.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Goffin has been in superb form for most of the post-U.S. Open swing, while Sock has become the dictionary definition of mediocrity over the last six months. Sock was 19-4 at the end of March after a solid back-to-back showing at Indian Wells and Miami. Since then? He’s 11-14. A win here would get him back to a semifinal for the first time since Washington, D.C. in early August. I don’t see the consistency in Sock to pull of the upset here without a lot of help from Goffin. That would mean a poor serving day from the Belgian and an A-level effort from Sock.

The surface might give Sock his best chance to be competitive against Goffin and perhaps pull off an upset. He’s going to need to find a way to get more freebies off his serve though and I don’t know that Goffin will give up enough to give him that opening. Give Sock a chance to win a set off of the Belgian in this one, but I think the third seed is too solid overall and advances.

Prediction: Goffin in straight sets

2017 Swiss Indoors Basel R2 Preview: Marin Cilic vs Borna Coric

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Marin Cilic will seek to continue the dominance of his countryman when the pair meet for a spot in the Swiss Indoors Basel quarterfinals on Thursday. Cilic has beaten Coric all four times they have met, including twice this season.

(2) Marin Cilic vs Borna Coric

Cilic had an abbreviated start to his title defense in Basel as he played just one set in his opener against Florian Mayer. Mayer had substituted in late for Fernando Verdasco, but retired after Cilic won the opening set 6-3. The second seed would win 20 of his 24 points on serve in the set and never faced a break point. He would break Mayer once on three break chances. The win inched Cilic’s record indoors this season to just 3-2 and it did help him qualify for the ATP World Tour Finals in London.

Coric was able to reverse his poor fortune against Henri Laaksonen on Wednesday in his first round match in Basel. Coric has lost to Laaksonen both times they had met in the past, including earlier this month in Shanghai. Coric was able to rally after dropping the opening set in a tiebreak for the 6-7 (8), 6-1, 6-3 win. The young Croat had a 73 percent win rate off his first serve and 58 percent off his second. He was broken just one time and that came in the first set. He managed to save the two other break points against his serve in the second set.

Coric Closer in 2017

Despite his 0-4 mark against Cilic, Coric has shown improvement against him. Cilic crushed Coric in their first career meeting in Shanghai back in 2015 by a score of 6-1, 6-2. Cilic led by a set at 6-2 the next time they met when Coric retired in Cincinnati. This season in two meetings however, Coric has managed to take a set off of Cilic each time. The first came indoors in Rotterdam early in the season, where Cilic won 6-1, 2-6, 6-4. The second would come soon after outdoors in Acapulco as Cilic survived 6-3, 2-6, 6-3.

The main difference as expected is in the serve numbers. Coric’s does not have that pop and precision that Cilic can find. As a result, Coric has given out two dozen break chances against Cilic in those two meetings in 2017. Cilic converted on six of those break points. This week’s second seed has only faced eight break chances against his own serve, with Coric taking two in each match. When you stick their serve numbers under the microscope for the season, you see Cilic sporting win rates at 80 and 54 percent off his 1st and 2nd serves. Coric comes in at 71 and 53. Coric has faced 32 more break points against his serve this season (289 to 255). Coric has done that in 14 less matches, which highlights the seemingly constant pressure he finds against his serve.

Match Tactics

As always with Cilic, the first serve is a major weapon when it is firing. The struggles for him can come when he fails to land it consistently – 50 percent or under – and allows his opponent more looks at his second serve. That will be part of Coric’s hope for Thursday in finding a way to win. Coric has a good return game, so if he sees enough seconds, he can do some damage. However, if Cilic has that rhythm going on his first serve – he is nearly unbreakable and will put consistent pressure on Coric to match him serve for serve.

That is where the openings can come for Cilic whose own return game is pretty solid. If Coric is pressured into matching Cilic on serve, then the second seed can look to attack and be aggressive on return. Both are going to prefer playing from the baseline, but I’d look for Cilic to cheat in a little bit – especially on second serves – to have the chance to really power up on return shots. If Cilic has that option, he can use his power and pace to put Coric into deeper defensive positions. That should in turn, allow him to dictate play in rallies and position himself well to win points.

I think for Coric to have a chance to pull off the upset, Coric will need to be good with his first serve and try to get Cilic into some extended rallies. Coric’s speed and defense could be problematic for Cilic over the long haul, but only if he can challenge Cilic’s movement. If Cilic gets too many dead-red looks off the ground, he is as good as anyone off the forehand and backhand with putting those away from winners.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

I outlined in the tournament preview the issues that the #2 seed has had recently in Basel. Since Juan Martin Del Potro won the title in 2012 as the second seed, only Rafael Nadal (2014) has advanced as far as the quarters as the second seed. Cilic has played well since the U.S. Open with consecutive semifinal showings in Tokyo and Shanghai, so he might be immune to the curse. I think Cilic will need a sub-par day serving combined with Coric playing some of his best tennis. It’s possible, but Cilic has shown that he has too much power and too much serve for Coric in the past. I do think Coric can take a set again and then who knows, but the feeling is that Cilic will get the job done in three.

Predicton: Cilic wins in three sets