2017 Swiss Indoors Basel Preview

SWISS17

No Nadal Means Federer Can Close Points Gap

This week, there will be no talk of another #Fedal showdown after Rafael Nadal withdrew from the Swiss Indoors Basel due to knee soreness. Rafa probably needed the break after playing in back-to-back finals in Shenzhen and Shanghai, the latter of which ended in his fifth straight defeat at the hands of Federer. Federer now assumes the top seed for this event that he has won seven times in the past. If the Swiss continues his home dominance in Basel, a trophy would net him 500 points in his efforts to chase down Nadal for the year-end #1 ranking. With both the Paris Masters and Nitto ATP World Tour Finals still on tap, the Swiss isn’t dead in that effort yet despite a nearly 2,000 point deficit heading into this week.

The second seed for this event will be Marin Cilic. The Croat is the defending champion in Basel. He was consistent in the Far East swing, making the final of the Japan Open and losing in the semifinals of the Shanghai Masters to Rafael Nadal. Cilic holds a 10-3 all-time mark in Basel after last year’s tournament win, also making the quarterfinals on two other occasions. Rounding out the top four seeds for the Swiss Indoors Basel are David Goffin and Juan Martin Del Potro. Goffin may be running a bit low on gas after a heavy post- U.S. Open schedule. After winning back-to-back titles in Shenzhen and Tokyo, he’s gone just 1-2. That include an unexpected quarterfinal loss in Antwerp this week to Stefano Tsitsipas.

Del Potro has looked solid the last two weeks with a semifinal run in Shanghai and a title win on Sunday in Stockholm. DelPo won this event twice in 2012 and 2013. The remaining seeds are led by #5 Jack Sock. Roberto Bautista Agut makes his Basel debut as the 6th seed. Adrian Mannarino and Mischa Zverev finish off the seeded field. Zverev did make the semifinals last year as a qualifier in his first run at this event.

Early Bird Specials

Basel has been a beacon for early upsets of seeded players, especially seeds in the top four. In the last four years, the #2 seed has dropped his first match in three of those four years. Multiple seeds have lost their first matches in Basel in three of those four years as well with three seeds knocked out early in 2016. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the seeds who could be in peril early in the draw this week.

2. Marin Cilic
Cilic gets that pesky #2 seed after Nadal’s withdrawal from the tournament and I outlined above how poorly the second seed has done early here in Basel recently. Cilic draws Fernando Verdasco to open in what will be their 13th career meeting. They’ve contested two of those matches indoors in Paris in 2009 and 2011, splitting the spoils with both going three sets. Verdasco had not done much this season, but comes off of one of his better tournaments with a semifinal showing in Stockholm. He lost a three set thriller in a tiebreak to eventual champion Juan Martin Del Potro. I don’t know that the Spaniard pulls off the stunner, but it sets up to be a tough match for Cilic where he could be pushed hard.

3. David Goffin
Given Goffin’s form the last few weeks, I’d keep him on this list. He faces qualifier Peter Gojowcztk to open in Basel. Gojo showed he can win at this level and on this surface with the win in Metz earlier this Fall. He’s been spottier in finding wins since then, but is rarely thrashed off the court. With match play already under his belt, the German could have a chance to shake things up. Goffin is 7-3 all-time in Basel, but most of those wins came during his 2014 finals run.

5. Jack Sock
Sock opens against his former doubles pal Vasek Pospisil and that might make this one more interesting that it is on paper. On paper, Pospisil hasn’t even been getting out of qualifying mostly. If you count his qualifying matches, the Canadian is 5-11 in his last 16 matches with just one of those wins in a main draw. Sock has been equally unimpressive, ending a five match losing skid last week in Stockholm. The American lost his next match to Fognini and just really has not had much momentum in the back half of the season. I don’t think much of Pospisil, but I’d say the same about Sock and that means this could be an upset.

7. Adrian Mannarino
The Frenchman draws Belgian Ruben Bemelmans who is coming off a semifinal on home turf in Antwerp last week. Perhaps that was just a product of playing on home soil with Bemelmans scoring three wins – one more than he had at the ATP level all year long. Mannarino has been up an down since the U.S. Open. He made the Tokyo final, but also has lost his opening match in two of four tournaments. Keep him on upset alert here.

Outsider’s Edge

Unseeded players have made deep runs at the Swiss Indoors Basel routinely in recent times. An unseeded player has made the semifinals in each of the last four seasons with two of those four years seeing two unseeded players in the semis. That includes last year when Mischa Zverev crashed the party as a qualifier. As with most events, there are a few outsiders to watch this week, so let’s break it down.

Peter Gojowczyk
He’s got the difficult opener with Goffin, but if he finds his way past the Belgian than he could really make another run on this surface. Jack Sock is the other seed in his quarter and he is definitely beatable in his current form.

Henri Laaksonen
You’ve gor the hometown vibe for the Swiss, although he is 0-4 in his previous treks to Basel. He does open against Borna Coric who he has beaten twice already this season though and then he would see the Cilic-Verdasco survivor in round two. It might be curtains if it is Cilic, but stranger things have happened – especially with the two seed at this tournament.

Julien Benneteau
The Frenchman has been playing fairly well indoors of late, including a finals run at the Challenger level and a quarterfinal run in Antwerp last week. He made the quick turnaround through qualifying here and opens with Donald Young. Benneteau could have to go through Del Potro in round two, but there is a feeling for me that DelPo might flame out after a long week in Stockholm. Bautista Agut is the other seed in Benneteau’s quarter.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Roger Federer (1)
Adrian Mannarino (7)

Breakdown
Federer starts against Frances Tiafoe who could play him tough for a little but, but the American rarely is able to finish matches strongly against top tier competition. Fed’s second rounder would be Benoit Paire or Steve Johnson on tap. Paire has lost four straight since making the final in Metz. Johnson has some decent results, but nothing overwhelming. It’s a toss-up who wins that one. Either way, Federer is 6-0 combined against them and likely to push to the quarterfinals. In the other half, Mannarino may be out early with a tough opener against Bemelmans. The survivor gets Yuichi Sugita or Denis Shapovalov. Sugita has been in good form with a semifinal and two quarterfinals in three of his last four tournaments. He could be the unseeded player who makes a little noise.

In the end, Federer can’t be unhappy with this draw. There isn’t a player in the mix really who has had any sort of success against the Swiss. Expect to see Fed alive and well in the business end in Basel.

Quarter #2 Seeds
David Goffin (3)
Jack Sock (5)

Breakdown
I can see an unseeded player getting into the semifinal mix in this quarter. Goffin and Sock have both been in iffy form the last few weeks and will have threats in their way. Goffin has Gojowczyk to start and then would face either Hyeon Chung or Paolo Lorenzi in round two. That match should be easier than his opener, if he survives. Sock reasonably could make a nice run this week with Pospisil in round one and then either Robin Haase or Marco Chiudinelli. Haase hasn’t won since his surprising semifinal at the Rogers Cup this summer. Chiudinelli rarely wins at this level, but maybe he’s got the right formula against a player on a losing streak.

This really is a decent set-up for Sock. I’m just not sure he’s capable of taking advantage of it at this point. With me expecting upsets, this could well end up being Goffin vs Sock for a spot in the semifinals. Tepid nod to Sock in this quarter with Gojowzczyk as the rank outsider.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Juan Martin Del Potro (4)
Roberto Bautista Agut (6)

Breakdown
Del Potro arrives as the form player with the Stockholm title in his back pocket and also a trip to the Shanghai Masters semis in his last two tournaments. That is part of the reason I am a little bit hesitant on his prospects this week. I do think he’s fairly safe in round one against Joao Sousa, but round two could be a speed bump. DelPo would see either Donald Young or Julien Benneteau. Both are crafty enough to push the Argentine if he’s less than 100 percent motivated. The other half of the quarter sees Bautista Agut as the lead seed. He starts with Mikhail Kukushkin. Kuku should at least force RBA to show up ready in round one. Alexandr Dolgopolov or Ryan Harrison awaits in round two. I don’t know that either has the consistency to KO RBA in that spot.

Del Potro has been brutal on RBA the last two times that they have met, so if that is the quarterfinal match-up, Del Potro is the favorite to advance. I’ll give the slight edge to Del Potro with a little rest, although I will not be shocked if he exits before that point either.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Marin Cilic (2)
Mischa Zverev (8)

Breakdown
Cilic looks the part of a player who would be driving to a second straight final possibly out of this quarter. The seed next to his name though is a historical landmine. Verdasco will test him out of the gates and if Borna Coric is able to finally get past Henri Laaksonen, he could provide a stiff test. Coric has taken a set off of Cilic the last two times they have met. In the other half, Zverev has a winnable opener against Leonardo Mayer. His second round foe could wind up tougher. American Jared Donaldson battles qualifier Marton Fucsovics in round one. Fucsovics hasn’t been an easy out, so he could be a tough match-up an capable of springing some upsets.

Cilic makes all the sense in the world here, but I’m a historical buffoon and I’ll say he is not in the mix. I think that could leave this quarter to someone like Verdasco or Zverev or even Coric.

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

Do you go against the guy who is 61-9 in Basel with seven titles and 12 finals appearances in all in Basel? It is impossible to not like Federer to at least get through to the final. I do think there are some guys who could challenge him in the final. Cilic and Del Potro are those guys. Hopefully some mish mash of that trio is the final we get here, because I think it would be pretty high quality. In the end though, I’ve got to go with Federer to get the title and close that points gap on Nadal just a little bit.

Advertisements

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

FEDALSHANGHAI17

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

CILICARVSHANGHAI17

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

AZJMDPSHANGHAI17

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

GOFFSIMONSHROLEX17

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