2017 Winston-Salem Open Preview

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Last Chance to Fine Tune Ahead of U.S. Open

It’s a final shot for form as the ATP World Tour makes its final stop before the U.S. Open. This week, the Winston-Salem Open serves as a last ditch effort for many to tune their games up in preparation for the year’s final Grand Slam. It is a large field of 48 players in the singles draw for this 250-level event. Last year’s champion, Pablo Carreno Busta, is back to defend his title. In the brief six year history of this tournament, only John Isner has successfully done been able to defend the title. The American achieved that in 2011 and 2012, the first two years of the tournament. Success at Winston-Salem hasn’t often translated to bigger success at the U.S. Open, but twice the winner here has gone to the quarterfinals in New York. Isner went that route in 2011 and Kevin Anderson followed suit in 2015. Last year, Carreno Busta made it to round three at the U.S. Open following his Winston-Salem triumph.

The 48 player field affords for 16 seeds overall, all of whom receive a first round bye. The top seed does not have a good track record of going deep at this tournament. In it’s six year history, Winston-Salem has never had a #1 seed make the final and in the last four years, the top seed has not made it to the semifinals. A seeded player has always won the tournament, but it’s been the lower seeds with a better track record of late. Three of the last four champions have been seeded 7th or lower with Carreno Busta seeded 16th last year when he took home the title.

Seeded Field Full of Hit or Miss Types

One player who will not be in this week’s field is Sam Querrey. The 20th ranked American would have been one of the top seeds in Winston-Salem, but cited fatigue as he announced his withdrawal earlier this week. This year’s lead seed is Roberto Bautista Agut. RBA is 6-2 all-time at this event with last year’s finals showing of course as his best. Carreno Busta is slotted in as the second seed with John Isner as the third. With Querrey’s withdrawal, Pablo Cuevas is the next seed, but comes in at #5. Following Cuevas are Steve Johnson, Paolo Lorenzi, Fernando Verdasco, Gilles Simon and Yuichi Sugita to round out the top ten. Johnson is a one-time semifinalist (2015), while Verdasco has made the quarterfinals twice in 2013 and 2016.

The rest of the seeded field includes Viktor Troicki, Aljaz Bedene, Hyeon Chung, Borna Coric, Daniil Medvedev, Jiri Vesely and Joao Sousa who is actually the 17th seed due to Querrey pulling out of the tournament. Only Medvedev has not played at Winston-Salem among that group. Troicki has the best result of the group with a semifinal showing last year. Without a doubt, Isner is really the only “form” player you can tout among the seeded field after he made the semifinals in Cincinnati last week. Otherwise, the questions are many for the rest of the group.

Early Bird Special

As you would expect with a tournament the week before a Grand Slam, seeds fall plenty in their opening matches in Winston-Salem. You can blame that on fatigue for some, bad form for others and questionable motivation for many. Over the history of this tournament, at least four seeds have lost their first match each year. The last two years heve featured the most early upsets of seeds with half (8) the seeded field losing their openers in 2015 and six seeds losing their openers in 2016.

That means there will be plenty of honking coming from the upset vuvuzela this week. Here’s a look at the seeds who figure to have the toughest time escaping an early loss.

2. Pablo Carreno Busta
The defending champion has a difficult first match with either Julien Benneteau or Pierre-Hugues Herbert on tap. PHH is 2-0 against PCB, including a win here in 2015 when the Frenchman made the final as a qualifier. PHH did lose in his opener last year to Donald Young. Benneteau has had trouble getting wins at this level, but an opening round win can breed confidence and make him a more difficult out in round two against PCB.

7. Paolo Lorenzi
Lorenzi draws Thiago Monteiro after the Brazilian beat Alexandr Dolgopolov in straights to open round one play on Sunday. Monteiro was solid considering he had not played on hard courts since March in Miami. The win was his first on the surface at this level. Lorenzi is 5-8 on hard courts this season, but is usually tricky and fairly solid against similar or lesser opponents. Monteiro has the match play on these courts and that will be a small bonus for him, but I’d put Lorenzi on the lower side of the upset spectrum. It could still be very tough though.

6. Steve Johnson
The draw is a bit more kind to Johnson this week, but his run of first-up losses has stretched to three after losing to David Ferrer last week in Cincinnati.This time, Johnson will see either Yen-Hsun Lu or Dimitry Tursunov. Lu is 0-4 against Tursunov, but arrives with back-to-back Challenger titles on this surface. Tursunov has two main draw match wins in the last 20 months. Lu would figure to give Johnson a better go with a 2-1 record against the American, although the one Johnson win came this year in Auckland.

9. Giiles Simon
The Frenchman is 0-2 in Winston-Salem for his career and will be matched up against either Denis Istomin or Damir Dzumhur in round two. Simon will be playing on this surface for the first time since Miami back in March. He is just 3-3 on the surface this season with all three losses coming in his first matches at tournaments. Dzumur made the semis in Los Cabos a few weeks ago and could be an interesting one to watch this week in a smaller setting. Istomin hasn’t won a main draw match on this surface since his stunning fourth round run at the Australian Open this year.

10. Yuichi Sugita
Even though Sugita scored a quarterfinal result in Cincinnati last week, that’s more out of the norm for him than something to be expected in back-to-back weeks. This is Sugita’s first trip to Winston-Salem and he starts against either Taylor Fritz or Malek Jaziri. Both will present a stiff test even if they arrive with not a ton of success recently.

11. Viktor Troicki
Troicki has losses in his first match at tournaments in five of his last six tourneys played. Carlos Berlocq or qualifier Alex Bolt await the Serb in round two. Bolt won his way into the main draw on Sunday, but the 24-year-old Aussie has never won a main draw event on the ATP World Tour. Berlocq has just one main draw win in the last couple of months, so it could be Bolt’s time to get that first tour win. Berlocq is a vet though and he usually battles his ass off to the end. Despite Troicki’s struggles of late, this would seem to be a decent set up for him to break that streak of first-up losses. But can you trust him in a 250?

14. Borna Coric
Coric did not get things going in Cincy last week, so he arrives at Winston-Salem without any momentum. He did make the quarterfinals in his previous trip here in 2015, but lost his opener last year. He will face qualifier Rogerio Dutra Silva or Donald Young. Coric beat Young in their lone meeting on grass in 2015. Coric beat Dutra Silva on clay in 2016 in their only career meeting. Given that the Croat has lost his opener in seven of his last ten tournaments, it’s highly likely that either Young or Dutra Silva will have a legit shot to win.

15. Daniil Medvedev
The Russian has looked worse for the wear since his quarterfinal run at the Citi Open. He’s lost his opening match in both Montreal and Cincinnati and not looked good in either match. Medvedev will have a better match-up this time around with either Thomas Fabbiano or Kyle Edmund who went through qualifying. Fabbiano is 0-4 in main draw matches on this summer hard court swing, so Edmund should expect to get the win. I think he’s the tougher out for Medvedev and the Brit should have a chance to extend the Russian’s woes of late.

16. Jiri Vesely
Vesely has played just one match on hard courts this summer and that was a three set loss to Ivo Karlovic last week in Cincy. He will open against either Marcos Baghdatis who won his opener on Sunday against Ricardas Bernakis. Baggy is 3-0 against Vesely, including a win in Auckland at the beginning of 2017. Sound that upset vuvuzela.

17. Joao Sousa
An easy inclusion on this list with the Portugese having lost all four of his previous matches in Winston-Salem. He draws Ernests Gulbis or qualifier Marton Fucsovics. Sousa’s four first-up losses here have been to mostly good players, so perhaps a better draw will help this time around. I still think Gulbis who has found some wins lately is going to be a problematic out if he can get off with a win. Fucsovics owns one career win against El Gulbis last year on dirt, but he’s winless for his career in main draw matches on outdoor hard courts on the ATP tour.

Outsider’s Edge

Unseeded players have a rich tradition of making deep runs at this tournament as you might expect the week prior to a Grand Slam. Their motivation levels often are bit higher as they take advantage of the loose draws. An unseeded player has made the final twice in the history of this tournament and has made the semifinals three straight years. Two of the past three years, two unseeded players have crashed the semis and there have been multiple unseeded players in the quarterfinals each year except 2011.

Here is a look at this year’s potential darkhorses.

Yen-Hsun Lu
Lu has some tricky matches early against Tursunov and then Steve Johnson. Both though are match-ups that could favor him right now with neither the Russian or American in the best vein of form. This is also the section of the draw with Troicki as the other seed in the way to a quarterfinal. Lu comes in hot off the Challenger wins and this could be a quarter he takes advantage of with perhaps a bit better motivation than the rest.

Ernests Gulbis
After going more than a year without winning a main draw match on tour, Gulbis has actually been scoring wins consistently since Wimbledon .He is 5-4 and his losses have all come in three sets outside of his straight sets defeat to Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon. His draw looks conducive to a possible tun if he can get that first win in round one. The seeds in his part of the draw are Sousa and Medvedev, both beatable I think. Gulbis might seem an after-thought, but he could easily find himself in the quarterfinal mix.

Damir Dzumhur
Assuming Dzumhur can get past Istomin to start, he’s got Simon and Verdasco as the seeds potentially in his path to a quarterfinal. He’s never played either one, but showed more in Los Cabos than either has shown for most of the year on this surface. Don’t forget he also beat Stan Wawrinka in Dubai on this surface and took Del Potro to three sets at Delray Beach. He’s got some chops on this surface and seemingly just needs the confidence of that first win to get rolling.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Roberto Bautista Agut (1)
Paolo Lorenzi (7)
Yuichi Sugita (10)
Jiri Vesely (16)

Breakdown
Bautista Agut clearly is the cream of the crop here and he should be looking for some form this week after an early exit in Cincinnati last week. There is no particularly poor match-up in this quarter for him no matter how it shakes down. It could simply be a case of whether RBA wants to push to the end or get a few wins and then check out to rest for the U.S. Open. Baghdatis is the dangerous floater in this quarter with a win under his belt and a favorable R2 match-up against Vesely. Lorenzi could sneak into the quarters as a seed no one really expects much from this week. The Fritz-Jaziri winner I still think could take down Sugita and open themselves up for a darkhorse run.

Assuming RBA wants to be here for the week, I think the Spaniard is the clear pick to get to the semifinals out of this quarter.

Quarter #2 Seeds
John Isner (3)
Pablo Cuevas (5)
Aljaz Bedene (12)
Borna Coric (14)

Breakdown
This is another quarter you look at the lead seed and say, well there isn’t much to beat him here. Isner has two titles and a semifinal showing last week in Cincinnati to show for the period post-Wimbledon. It’s been five years since Isner has played here, but let’s not forget that he’s 12-0 all-time with titles in both trips to Winston-Salem in 2011 and 2012. His biggest speed bump might be Donald Young if Young can get to the third round. He’s 1-3 against Isner, but usually plays him very tough. A spot opposite of Isner in the quarters could truly go to anyone from Cuevas or Bedene to an outsider like Janko Tipsarevic or Andreas Seppi.

Much like RBA, Isner is the clear and present danger out of this quarter. He’s gotten himself on a nice roll this summer and arrives fairly fresh. I don’t see anyone in this quarter who can out serve him, so if Isner is on his game – this is his spot to make the run to the semis.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Steve Johnson (6)
Viktor Troicki (11)
Daniil Medvedev (15)
Joao Sousa (17)

Breakdown
This quarter looks ripe for a possible unseeded player to take control with all of the seeds not arriving with the greatest form. Johnson of course is a player who could easily take this, but he’s had a difficult time contending with the passing of his father and trying to turn in positive results on the court. He can flip the switch any time and perhaps this is the week with a weaker draw and better early match-ups compared to the other events he has played this summer. He may simply need the first match to fall his way to get things going in the right direction.

Two of the outsiders I highlighted are in this quarter with Lu and Gulbis. This quarter also got an unseeded boost with Kyle Edmund getting into the mix through qualifying. For me, this is the quarter where the seeds are in peril. Lu and Edmund are the more confident picks to make noise, but there’s still something burpy that says Gulbis has a shot to win a few this week and surprise.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Pablo Carreno Busta (2)
Fernando Verdasco (8)
Gilles Simon (9)
Hyeon Chung (13)

Breakdown
Carreno Busta doesn’t have an easy path to defending his title. If he survives Benneteau or Hugues-Herbert to open, he still could have to contend with Chung or perhaps upstart Andrey Rublev. It’s not an impossible task, but PCB will have to improve on his last match against Ferrer in Cincy that resulted in a fairly lopsided loss. The other half with Simon and Verdasco as the seeds also has Dzumhur, one of the outsiders I highlighted above. He’s the one to watch with those two seeds not having a ton of success on hard courts at this point in the year. Don’t discount Chung either. He looks a bit more comfortable with some match play coming back from the ankle injury and again with a lesser field, this seems like the type of tournament where he could make a bit of a run if he finds his best.

This quarter looks wide open with all the seeds having some questions about them coming into the week. Dzumhur and maybe Andrey Rublev would be the outsiders to watch in this quarter. I do think this one will fall to a seed and my order of confidence is Carreno Busta, Chung and Verdasco. Dzumhur is still my sleeper if he can get out of round one.

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

The funniest result this week would be a carbon copy result of the 2016 final with the top two seeds in 2017 getting all the way through. History though is not on the side of the top seed Bautista Agut nor with Carreno Busta defending his title. I think Isner is a better option among the top tier seeds to run to the title, especially considering how he’s done here in the past. My oddball Spidey sense “outside” selection to watch is Chung. In the end though, Isner I think has the best shot to take home the title with Carreno Busta perhaps in the mix at the business end as well as a second option.

2017 Western & Southern Open Final Preview: Grigor Dimitrov vs Nick Kyrgios

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Two enter, only one shall leave as champion. It’s golden opportunity for Grigor Dimitrov and Nick Kyrgios today when they meet in the Western & Southern Open final. Both are contesting their first Masters-level final with Dimitrov winning their lone meeting before today in three sets at Indian Wells in 2015.

(7) Grigor Dimitrov vs Nick Kyrgios

Upsets and withdrawals have led to an unexpected final in Cincinnati on Sunday, but about as good as organizers could have hoped for given the field that was left. Dimitrov followed up a semifinal run in 2016 with a trip to the finals this year and he’s done it with solid serving and timely tennis. Both those things were on display on Saturday as Dimitrov topped John Isner 7-6 (4), 7-6 (10) in the semifinals. The 7th seed won 83 percent of his first serve points and saved both break chances against his serve. He popped ten aces and also posted a stout 63 percent win rate on second serve. Dimitrov did not break Isner, but if there’s probably not much better preparation for facing Kyrgios’ bullet serve than seeing Isner’s rockets yesterday.

As for Kyrgios, he followed up his upset of top seeded Rafael Nadal with a pesky 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) win over a rejuvenated David Ferrer. Kyrgios was nearly flawless on his first serve, taking 43 of 48 points. He had a small struggle on second serve, taking just 62 percent of the points. He smashed 14 aces to offset four double faults. Kyrgios was not broken on three chances against his serve. Surprisingly, it was the first match since his opener against David Goffin where Kyrgios was not broken in Cincy this week.

Tournament Tally

For the week, Dimitrov has produced some of his best serving of the season. The big thing for him has been consistency and that has led him to being broken just one time on ten chances. His win rate on first serve is averaging right at 83 percent. It would be in the upper 80s if not for a pedestrian 73 percent win rate against Juan Martin Del Potro. Otherwise, Dimitrov has been consistently winning over 80 percent on his first serve. His second hasn’t looked much worse, winning no less than 63 percent of the points in any match. Dimitrov has also gotten his fair share of freebies with 36 aces.

Kyrgios has been broken three times on 15 chances, an average of just three break points against through five matches this week. Kyrgios has been nearly unstoppable with his first serve in rhythm this week. He’s winning right at 88 percent off his first serve this week. His second has been just as good, winning over 70 percent of the points in four of his five matches. NK’s last match against Ferrer was his worst with his second serve, taking just 52 percent of the points. Kyrgios has 57 aces for the week, an average of just over ten per match.

Match Tactics

Kyrgios wants to play at lightning speed. Serve big, get cheap points, rinse and repeat. Don’t be surprised to see Dimitrov try to slow the tempo some in an effort to upset Kyrgios’ rhythm and timing. If Kyrgios gets into that quick and aggressive rhythm on serve early and keeps it, he’ll be nearly impossible to break and less likely to lose. Dimitrov’s mentality won’t change much if any from his semifinal against Isner. He will know that a lot of balls are going to fly past him on serve. He has to move on and set up for the next ball. Kyrgios will want to continue to place the ball with speed and accuracy, so that when Dimitrov does get a return, the next ball is an easy put away for the Aussie with the Bulgarian in bad court position off the return.

Dimitrov won’t get as many free points as Kyrgios, but he can be just as effective on serve and will need to be. Placement is a key for the Bulgarian and you’d expect him to target the backhand return of NK more often. When he goes out wide to the forehand side, Dimitrov will need to put enough mustard on his serve to take Kyrgios into an off-balance position. That will in turn allow Dimitrov control of the court and the option to make Kyrgios run. Off the ground, Kyrgios obviously wants to nail that forehand as many times as often. His backhand is adequate, but a bit more of a set-up shot than a finisher. Dimitrov can finish can use his one hander off the backhand side equally to finish and set up shots.

If there are longer ground rallies, Dimitrov should feel better about his variety winning out. I think a key for Dimitrov as always is being aggressive and decisive off the ground. When he doesn’t overthink shots, he’s much more lethal and will cause more trouble for Kyrgios. Given Kyrgios’ pace of play, things could work to Dimitrov’s advantage in that regard. Look for Kyrgios to continue to hit big and go for winner as he’s done all week. Errors will come, but he’ll hope he again has more winners in his bag.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Their match at Indian Wells in 2015 was an interesting one where Kyrgios twisted an ankle late in the third set. NK said it definitely effected him as he was broken for the only time after that happened. Dimitrov would pull out the win 7-6 (2), 4-6, 7-6 (4). That match could be plenty of what we see today with few break chances and one or two breaks of serve perhaps making the difference in the match. Dimitrov has two title wins this year, while Kyrgios is playing his first final since Tokyo last fall.

NK has proven to be very tough in finals at 3-1, while Dimitrov is 6-5 overall in ATP finals. While Dimitrov did have good practice for Kyrgios’ serve against Isner, I wonder if he can replicate the tense mindset of knowing that one break is deadly. Kyrgios has played his best stretch of tennis for the season and has been engaged and focused – at least as much as you can expect from him. This truly to me is about as much of a 50-50 match as you can find right now on tour. I’ll give the slight edge to Kyrgios in this one, where Dimitrov might not do much wrong, but still fall on the wrong side of the result.

Prediction: Kyrgios wins in straight sets

2017 Western & Southern Open QF Preview: Dominic Thiem vs David Ferrer

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A spot in the Western & Southern Open semifinals is the prize as Dominic Thiem and David Ferrer square off on Friday. For Ferrer, it is a shot at his first Masters semifinal since Paris in 2015. Thiem can get to his third of the year with a win.

(3) Dominic Thiem vs David Ferrer

Thiem has posted back-to-back wins for the first time since Wimbledon with his last coming via a 7-6 (4), 7-6 (3) win over Adrian Mannarino. The third seed was far from perfect as he battled back from down a break in set one and then battled through to the win after blowing a break lead in set two. His first serve win rate was 74 percent with his second serve win rate at 50 percent. He was broken three times on six chances. All his numbers were down from his buzz saw win over Fabio Fognini in his opener, where Thiem won 88 percent on his first serve and 75 percent off his second serve. He fended off both break points he saw in that match.

Ferrer has continued a recent run of good play post-Wimbledon. After winning the title in Bastad on clay, the Spaniard is now 5-1 combined at last week’s Rogers Cup and this week in Cincinnati. That includes wins over Kyle Edmund, Jack Sock, Steven Johnson and now, Pablo Carreno Busta. Ferrer was no match for his Spanish counterpart on Thursday in round three. Ferrer pressured PCB on serve enough to break him three times in the 6-4, 6-4 win. More impressive, Ferrer won 78 percent of his first serve points and an outstanding 70 percent of his second serve points. He was broken just once and that came in the first set. He saved three of four break chances against his serve. That was much better after Ferrer offered up 18 break chances through the first two rounds.

Second Career Meeting, First on Hard Courts

Friday’s qiarterfinal will mark only the second time that Thiem and Ferrer have faced off. It was Thiem who walloped Ferrer on clay in Rio last year 6-3, 6-2. Ferrer’s serve was a major detriment that day, with just a 58 percent win rate on his first serve and 42 percent off his second. Thiem’s serve was solid, winning 76 percent and 59 percent. He was broken just once on four chances, while Ferrer surrendered four breaks on nine chances.

Thiem was in superb form at the time, having won a title in Buenos Aires the week before on clay. He would make it one match further in Rio to the semifinals before losing and then follow that with a title in Acapulco the week after on hard courts. At the time, Thiem called the win over Ferrer one of the best matches he had played to that point. This time around, the Austrian isn’t in nearly that sort of form, although he has shown some improvement this week. His two wins this week are double the number of wins he had in the two previous years combined in this pre-U.S. Open stretch.

Match Tactics

This will obviously see a lot of baseline action with both players preferring to stay back and exchange blows from deep on the court. That would seem to favor Thiem who has more pop on his ground strokes and is more consistent off both wings. Still, Ferrer has been battling this week like the old Ferrer we’d been used to seeing. Not the Ferrer that has been struggling for the better part of a year to find positive and consistent results. Expect Ferrer to set up shop deep on return against Thiem as he’s done most of this week. It’s allowed him to use his speed to track down shots on the baseline and put them back into play in good positions.

Ferrer’s backhand has been a nice and somewhat surprising weapon this week as he’s been able to hit it with depth to push his opponents back on the court. His forehand has generally been more effective when he’s been able to set up in a stationary position and pick his angles. Against Thiem, he should have some opportunities if he can put the Austrian on the move. Thiem isn’t poor at hitting shots on the run, but his backhand especially is a howitzer shot when he sets his feet and puts his full power behind it. He’ll want to find that wing often to hit those winners down the line.

With Thiem, first serve is one of the most important aspects of his game. When he is in rhythm and hitting it precisely, he is as good as any player on tour. When he lacks consistency on that first serve, he’s highly vulnerable. Ferrer has done a good job on return this week, so it will be on Thiem to find the proper spots with his serve and to make sure that he uses good variety to keep Ferrer off balance. If Ferrer is on Thiem’s serve, his return shots will push Thiem back into poor position and allow Ferrer to move in and take advantage with the next shot.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

I still don’t think Thiem is in the best form yet on this surface, while Ferrer has shown that trademark fighting spirit that made him such a tough out for so long. However, Ferrer has not beaten a top ten player since the French Open in 2015. when he beat Marin Cilic. That is a long time and even with Thiem still not the best right now, it’s a lot to ask of the 35-year-old. I do think the Spaniard will push Thiem and an upset would not be totally shocking. Still, if Thiem is able to get that first serve in play consistently with placement, he should survive.

Prediction: Thiem wins in three sets

2017 Western & Southern Open R3 Preview: Grigor Dimitrov vs Juan Martin Del Potro

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Juan Martin Del Potro looks to continue his mastery of Grigor Dimitrov as they meet in the third round at the Western & Southern Open. DelPo has beaten Dimitrov five out of five, including earlier this year on clay in Rome.

(7) Grigor Dimitrov vs Juan Martin Del Potro

Dimitrov scored a 7-6 (5), 6-4 win over Feliciano Lopez ot start his campaign in Cincinnati on Wednesday. The 7th seed had an outstanding serve working with eleven aces overall as he took 85 percent of the points played off his first serve. He would save all three break points against his serve. Dimitrov secured the lone break of the match early in set two, the only time he broke Lopez on six chances. The win was Dimitrov’s second straight over Lopez in this same tournament, where Dimitrov barely survived their second round encounter last year in a third set tiebreak.

Del Potro had a relatively smooth second round match over qualifier Mitchell Krueger. DelPo edged the American 6-4, 6-4. He was forced to save five break chances in the match and came through each time with flying colors. Del Potro would win 77 percent of the points on his first serve and a stout 62 percent off his second serve. He was not as overpowering as he was at times against Tomas Berdych in his opener in Cincy, where he won 3-6, 7-6 (1), 6-0. DelPo blasted 18 aces in that match and won 88 percent off his first serve.

Dimitrov’s Dilemma

There’s an obvious gap when you face a player five times and win just two sets off of him. Such is the case for Dimitrov against Del Potro. He won just his second set off the Argentine in their Rome meeting this season, but fell 3-6, 6-2, 6-3. They played twice last year with DelPo prevailing in straight sets once indoors on a hard surface and once on grass. The other two meetings came indoors in 2013 with JMDP winning in straights both times.

The major class gap seems to come on serve, where Dimitrov is routinely allowing twice as many break opportunities as DelPo in these head-to-head meetings. In Rome, Del Potro saw eleven break chances and cashed in four times. Dimitrov saw just five break opportunities and secured two breaks overall. DelPo’s first serve has been a difference maker as well in the last three matches with JMDP scoring at least an eleven percent higher win rate on 1st serve points in each match.

This seems to be a recurring theme with Dimitrov when he goes up against a better class of player, especially ones who possess big fire power like the Argentine. He simply has trouble more often than not matching the pressure of staying serve for serve with his opponent. The Lopez match on Wednesday was a step in the right direction, but now he needs to show consistency on serve in this one as well.

Match Tactics

Serve is obviously a big part of the equation in this one. The surface in Cincinnati is conducive to adding some speed to the ball and Dimitrov has actually had some of his better serving days here in the last few years. Last year’s semifinal run by the Bulgarian saw him winning 76 percent of better of his first serve points through three rounds, before he faltered in the semifinals against Marin Cilic at 67 percent. In 2015, he won 84 percent of his first serve points in his first two matches before expectedly seeing lower against Andy Murray in the quarterfinals. He still had a 71 percent first serve win rate in that loss, a respectable number against the Scot.

So there could be some hope for Dimitrov despite the lopsided numbers as this one takes place. Del Potro has still been very inconsistent from match to match with his numbers taking a bit of a dip against Krueger last round after a mostly solid start to finish against Berdych in round one. The wrist still bugs DelPo now and again, so that is expected and just something he’s having to live with at this point. Del Potro has dished out five break chances in each of his matches so far this week. Dimitrov may be able to produce a bit better on his serve and see an extra chance or two off Del Potro’s, which might make serve close to even on this surface.

On return, Del Potro likes to set up deep beyond the baseline and he’s used that tactic against Dimitrov to help him craft points well. It affords him the opportunity to try and use his wing span to help cover the court and get to more forehands. With the quicker conditions in Cincy, Dimitrov might do more damage if he keeps an aggressive mind set and also isn’t afraid to drop in some short shots to push DelPo to come to net. I would expect a similar stance from Dimitrov on return in playing deep to try to get his racquet on Del Potro’s big first serve. The player who is able to find better success from deep will certainly have a leg up in this battle.

Off the ground, there’s still no secret that Del Potro wants to wallop that forehand every chance he gets. He’s integrated a backhand slice to help him run around more forehands and has grown a bit more comfortable doing it. He’ll still hit the double hander too, but it just doesn’t pack the same punch it did before all of his wrist issues. As for Dimitrov, the challenge always seems to be picking the right weapon to finish off points. He has plenty, but often isn’t aggressive enough at finishing points for my liking. Against an aggressive player like Del Potro, he has to be quick and decisive with his ground strokes.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

I think Dimitrov has to be willing to change up his tactics in this match. Coming in some would be a good change and force DelPo to show his north-south movement. I think DelPo is much better east-west, especially along the baseline. If Dimitrov gets too comfortable with keeping this as a baseline to baseline battle, then Del Potro is going to have the chance to dictate points the way he wants it. Both players have been pretty unpredictable this summer with DelPo riding the roller coaster of highs and lows more so than Dimitrov. Dimitrov simply has had more lows since his hot start to the season with very few highs.

This is a huge opportunity for both players with their quarter really opening up when Federer withdrew due to injury. The bottom half is open even more with Alexander Zverev dismissed on Wednesday. The winner here is going to be looked at as the favorite perhaps to get to the final and both definitely need that confidence booster ahead of the U.S. Open. No result would surprise here and for some reason, my gut is leaning to Dimitrov breaking through in this spot. Could be gas, but I’ll trust the gut.

Prediction: Dimitrov wins in three sets

The Doubles DL: Loaded Field in Cincinnati

doubles-dl

Herbert-Mahut Make Big Move

It’s been a rather mediocre season for the French duo of Pierre Hugues-Herbert and Nicolas Mahut. Still, two big wins now have them in the thick of the race for a spot in the ATP World Tour Finals. Herbert-Mahut topped Rohan Bopanna and Ivan Dodig 6-4, 3-6, 10-6 to take the Rogers Cup doubles titles. It was just their second title this year, but the other also came in a Masters-level event in Rome this Spring. The win in Montreal catapulted the Frenchies five spots in the rankings and put them into fourth place. They now stand just a few hundred points behind the Bryans for third, but also just 15 points ahead of Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares who dropped down to the 5th spot.

PHHMahut

Slotting in behind Murray-Soares in 6th are Raven Klaasen and Rajeev Ram who moved up a spot from last week. Klaasen-Ram had a semifinal run in Montreal to give them the slim five point lead over Michael Venus and Ryan Harrison who stand in 7th. The French Open champs continue to struggle for wins in non-Slams, although they did end a four match losing skid on Monday in Cincinnati. Ivan Dodig and Marcel Granollers dropped down to the final spot in the race for London at #8. They will drop out of the race with Dodig partnering regularly with Rohan Bopanna at least through the U.S. Open. Bopanna-Dodig are ranked 22nd with just three tournaments played, but one big title could push them into the London conversation.

The top three spots were unchanged with Marcelo Melo and Lukasz Kubot remaning as the #1 team despite losing their opener in Montreal. They hold a 1,710 point lead over Henri Kontinen and John Peers. The Bryans remained in third, still well behind the #2 spot by 1,295 points. Unlike singles where many of the top players are missing in Cincinnati this week, the top seven men’s doubles teams are all in action at the Western & Southern Open this week with more positional jockeying likely ahead of the U.S. Open.

Cincinnati Features Battle For Overall #1 Ranking

Outside of the team races, there is also an interesting race for the #1 overall doubles player shaping up on the ATP tour. Marcelo Melo assumed the top spot in early July after winning the Wimbledon titles with Kubot. He took that spot from Henri Kontinen who had moved up to #1 overall with little fanfare in April despite Kontinen-Peers struggling at the time for positive results. Now in Cincinnati, it’s possible that Kontinen could recapture the #1 spot from Melo. Kontinen-Peers will again be the top seeds this week. After winning the Citi Open the week before, they were disappointing quarterfinal losers to Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic. Marach-Pavic look poised to get into the mix for London if they can secure a few wins this week.

Kubot-Melo will be seeded second and are in a rare spot where they have lost two straight matches after a 17 match win streak that started with the grass court swing. They were upset in their opener last week in Montreal by Fabrice Martin and Eduoard Roger-Vasselin with the top ranked team looking flat. Murray-Soares are seeded third in Cincy with the Bryans rounding out the top four seeds.

Western & Southern Preview

Play has already begun in Cincinnati with several doubles matches going down on Monday. So here is a look at the draw in progress with some quick thoughts on what could shake down in Cincinnati where there will be a different champion for the third straight year with the now defunct team of Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo winning here last year.

Kontinen-Peers Quarter (1)
It’s a tricky quarter for the top seeds with Marach-Pavic seeded 8th and placed in the other half of the quarter. Kontinen-Peers will open against Roberto Bautista Agut and David Ferrer, who beat Paolo Lorenzi and Albert Ramos-Vinolas in a super tiebreak on Monday. Marach-Pavic have a tougher get with Harrison and Venus as their first foes. Harrison and Venus beat Steve Johnson and Daniel Nestor in round one action 6-2, 6-3. Marach-Pavic were back together in Montreal for the first time since losing the Wimbledon final. Their chemistry was still there with an upset win over Kontinen-Peers before losing to the eventual champions, Herbert-Mahut.

Kontinen-Peers might be keen to get a shot at redemption against Marach-Pavic this week, but the quick conditions in Cincinnati will give the big game of Pavic a chance to shine again. Venus-Harrison could factor in as well after finally shaking off that losing streak, which makes this quarter really wide open.

Bryans Quarter (4)
Bob and Mike won’t be too happy to see Herbert-Mahut stuck in this quarter. The French duo beat them last week in Montreal and have now won all four career meetings between the two teams. The Bryans will face either Alexander Zverev and Leander Paes of the Spaniards, Marc and Feliciano Lopez. Team Lopez has been down this year, but contended two of the testiest Grand Slam matches of 2016 against the Bryans. They won both at Roland Garros and the French Open in three sets. They are just 8-14 together this season and have lost five straight. It will be an all-French opener on the other side with Herbert-Mahut battling Martin-ERV. Martin and Roger-Vasselin took down John Isner and Donald Young 10-6 in a super breaker to open on Monday.

This is another difficult quarter to predict with tough teams around every turn. You’d like to thnk Herbert-Mahut might be about to reel off a big win streak after last week, but their opener is tough. If they make it through that, then you like their chances although the Bryans have rarely been stopped short of the semifinals in Cincinatti.

Murray-Soares Quarter (3)
This might be the toughest quarter overall in a loaded field. Murray-Soares have been a bit up and down in the last month or so after winning two titles on grass early in June. Last week in Montreal, they dropped their opener to Gael Monfils and Benoit Paire. This week, they face Spaniards Fernando Verdasco and Pablo Carreno Busta. Both are excellent doubles players, so this will not be easy. Verdasco-PCB won their opener in Cincy against Dominic Thiem and Karen Khachanov. On the other side, 6th seeds Klaasen-Ram have a tough task as well with Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau as their first opponents. Rojer-Tecau defeated Jared Donaldson and Stefan Kozlov in straight sets on Monday. These two teams played once before back in 2015 when Klaasen-Ram prevailed 11-9 in a super tiebreak. Rojer-Tecau are a tough out, but have had problems beating top tier teams this season.

If this comes down to the two seeded teams, it could be one of the better matches of the tournament. Murray-Soares and Klaasen-Ram met four times last year with both teams winning twice. Three of the four matches went the distance. Give Klaasen-Ram a slight edge.

Kubot-Melo Quarter (2)
It’s been rare for Kubot-Melo to struggle for wins and a two match losing skid isn’t quite cause for alarm just yet. They do get a good early draw this week. They will face either Diego Schwartzman and Mischa Zverev or Nikola Mektic and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi. Mektic-Qureshi would certainly be the more problematic team if they win, but certainly a very winnable match still for the top ranked duo. On the other side of the quarter, 7th seeds Rohan Bopanna and Ivan Dodig should be afforded a chance to meet Kubot-Melo in the quarters. The 7th seeds take on either Jack Sock and Jackson Withrow or Juan-Sebastien Cabal and Fabio Fognini. The chemistry of Bopanna-Dodig should be enough to see them past either team.

This is one semifinal spot that definitely should fall to a seeded team. Bopanna-Dodig are dangerous and in rhythm after making the Rogers Cup final. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the title mix again this week in Cincy.

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

Last week, I said it felt like we wouldn’t get another #1 vs #2 situation like we saw in the Citi Open final and this week again has that sort of feel to it. It’s a loaded field with a small draw, so that means tough matches almost every round for the seeds. For me, that also means more chances for upsets. If one of the top two teams is going to get to the final, I’d give a slight advantage to Kubot-Melo who have a slighty better draw over Kontinen-Peers. For me, Bopanna-Dodig and Marach-Pavic are the teams to watch this week as possible “outside” title contenders.

WTA: Makarova-Vesnina Take Over Top Spot

Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina have firmly established themselves as contenders to the throne as the WTA’s best team. The Russians won the Rogers Cup titles in Toronto last week and in doing so, moved past Martina Hingis and Yung Jan Chan for the top spot in the rankings. They now hold a 450 point lead of Hingis-Chan who lost in their second match last week in Canada. The newly minted number ones are the top seeds in Cincinnati this week. The Russians have won ten straight matches.

MAKVES

Hingis-Chan will be seeded second this week for the Western & Southern Open. Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycove serve as the third seeds. They made the semifinals in Toronto last week. Sania Mirze and Shuai Peng are slated in as the fourth seeds. Mirza’s disasterous recent run continued in Canada last week, where Peng was forced to withdraw due to a knee injury. The pair had won their opener at the Rogers Cup. Of late, Mirza’s partners have had trouble staying health with Yaroslava Shvedova, Coco Vandeweghe and Kirsten Flipkens all coming up injured while partnership with the former world #1.

Still waiting for that Hingis and Mirza reunion. Am I the only one who sees the sense it makes?