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

2017 Rogers Cup SF Preview: Alexander Zverev vs Denis Shapovalov

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Alexander Zverev can make it two straight finals with a win over Canadian wild card Denis Shapovalov. The 18-year-old has been the story of the last few days after upsetting top seed Rafael Nadal and moving into the semifinals. He is the youngest player to contest a Masters 1000 semifinal in ATP World Tour history.

(4) Alexander Zverev vs (WC) Denis Shapovalov

Normally a 20-year-old making consecutive finals would be the big story, but 18-year-old Dennis Shapovalov has forced himself into the spotlight over Alexander Zverev this week. Shapovalov stunned Rafael Nadal in a three set thriller in the third round and then followed that up with a 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 win in the quarterfinals over Adrian Mannarino. Oh and he also beat Juan Martin Del Potro in round two, albeit a pretty poor version of the Argentine. Shapovalov may not be playing the cleanest tennis, but he’s been bold and come up large at key moments this week.

As for Zverev, there has been no let down after taking the Citi Open crown last weekend. Zverev did struggle early against Richard Gasquet in his opener, but rallied past the Frenchman in a third set tiebreak. Since then, he’s rolled through a pair of straight sets wins over Nick Kyrgios and Kevin Anderson. Sascha has been broken just three times through three rounds with two of those coming in his opener. He’s been consistent, although not over powering on serve this week as he’s taken just over 70 percent of the total points played. He’s also been clinical in converting break points as the tournament has progressed. After securing just two breaks on eight chances against Gasquet, he’s scored six breaks on his last nine chances in the last two rounds.

Under Pressure

One of the things that has served Shapovalov well this week is his ability to contend with pressure. Obviously there is a lot playing the top seed in Rafael Nadal, a big name like Del Potro and then trying to get to a Masters semifinal. Even though he’s fallen behind, he’s shown the ability to keep grinding and found a way to get back into matches. Shapovalov doesn’t look like much physically as a stringy six footer without a lot of weight behind him. Still, his ground strokes have been breath taking at times this week, showing power and precision. His one-handed backhand has been a big weapon and he’s shown plenty of whip with his lefty forehand as well.

Zverev meanwhile has performed well under a different kind of pressure, the growing pressure of expectation. After winning the Citi Open last week, I’ll be honest – I didn’t expect him back in this position again. He had tough times turning around after titles earlier in the season, but has shown great growth mentally this week with another run towards a possible final. The real litmus test was his opener against Gasquet. Sascha certainly did not have his best, but buoyed by that now epic 49 shot rally late in the match, he fought off multiple match points and found a way to win. That’s the makings of a great player – not playing your best, but grinding out positive results.

Match Tactics

Despite seemingly playing with unending confidence and never, this could be a really nervy spot for Shapovalov. He’s one step away from his first ATP level final and it’s in his home country. Up until now, he’s been playing with house money. He’s not the favorite obviously, but there is now a certain expectation placed on him after following up the Nadal win with a win. If I’m Sascha Zverev, I try to expose those nerves early and often. That means Sascha needs to start with his serve in rhythm to put pressure on his Canadian counterpart to match him. Shapovalov has been doing enough on serve to win, but there have been opportunities missed by his opponents. The Canadian has seen 22 break chances against him the last two rounds, but managed to save 17 of those chances. With Zverev converting at a high clip, Shapovalov will need to do better and allow less looks at breaks.

He can do that with good variety and placement on his serve. Having not played Zverev, it should be advantageous to him early. Vice versa, Zverev should have an edge serving early as well with both players trying to get a measure of the other. The longer Shapovalov can go without letting Sascha see break chances, the better his confidence will be that he can keep contending. He went after Mannarino’s backhand return to help set up better court position on Friday, but he may not get that luxury with Zverev as a better quality returner. If Zverev is able to get good returns on serve, then Shapovalov will want to move himself into a centered position on the baseline. That’s where he’s done a lot of damage this tournament with the ability to hit the ball inside-put off either wing from this position.

For me, Zverev has the edge if the battle involves more movement along the baseline. He’s shown the ability to hit winners on the run consistently. Shapovalov has good movement, but I’m not sure if he can consistently hit winners moving east to west. He does however possess very good skills north to south from what I have seen and he looks comfortable at net. Zverev is good there as well, but as he prefers to stick to the baseline, Shapovalov might look to force him in a few times to see how that works.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Everyone will be eager to see if Shapovalov can keep his run going. He’s obviously beaten really good players this week, but I think to that end, players who have made plenty of mistakes to keep him in matches. I think if Zverev continues zoned in as he’s been for the better part of two weeks, Shapovalov will meet his match. That’s not to suggest that Shapovalov can’t raise his level and score another upset, but I think Zverev is a guy playing with confidence and precision. Del Potro was not. Nadal made some strategic mistakes to me in staying too far behind the baseline on return and Mannarino simply didn’t have the power and precision to take the best advantage.

Credit to Shapovalov for beating those guys and taking advantage of those things and proving that he can contend with his own weapons. The feeling for me however is that Sascha has too much in all departments if he employs solid strategy in this one. I could see Shapovalov taking a set with Sascha having to figure out the young Canadian’s game, but in the end, I see Zverev advancing to his sixth final of the season.

Prediction: Zverev wins in three sets

2017 Rogers Cup SF Preview: Roger Federer vs Robin Haase

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Roger Federer is one win away from his first Rogers Cup final since 2014. Federer takes on Robin Haase, who is playing in his third semifinal of the season.

(2) Roger Federer vs Robin Haase

Federer looked much better in the quarterfinals as he came in off a somewhat shaky performance at-times against David Ferrer. In the quarters, he took down another Spaniard in Roberto Bautista Agut 6-4, 6-4. Federer’s serve was improved, taking 81 percent of the points off the first and 73 percent off the second. The Swiss was broken once on three chances. That was a big area of improvement after Ferrer saw 13 break chances against Fed and converted three of them.

Haase won in three sets for the second straight round as he rallied for a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 win over Diego Schwartzman. Haase’s first serve was lethal, winning 84 percent of the points. That helped him overcome a large struggle on second serve, where the Dutchman won just 11 of 35 points played. That was in line with his opponent with Schwartzman also unable to find the range with his second serve with Haase taking 23 of 36 points played. Haase broke the Argentine six times on 14 chances, while saving three of seven break points against his serve.

First Meeting Since 2012

Federer and Haase have met just once and it came in Davis Cup play five years ago on clay. Federer won 6-1, 6-4, 6-4. Obviously in this spot, Federer is the heavy favorite. Give Haase credit this week for putting together a nice stretch on a surface that traditionally has not been too kind to him. Haase’s serve has been an unexpected helper en route to the semifinals with 39 aces through four rounds. He has been broken seven times overall.

Federer had two Fed-like wins over Peter Polansky in his opener and then against Bautista Agut in the quarters. Sandwiched in between was what looks like an anomaly with the poor showing against Ferrer. His serve was not effective consistently in that one and the bigger issue was an error-prone ground game that plagued him in key moments. That allowed Ferrer to take the opening set before Federer found better over the last two sets. Perhaps it gives the field some hope that the Swiss is still human if nothing else.

Match Tactics

For Haase to have any chance to contend well against Federer, he’s got to flash that big first serve that has led him to this point. Aces will be welcomed. The Dutchman is adequate off the ground with a decent forehand and two-hander off the backhand side. Of the few times I have seen him, Haase doesn’t seem to have a great variety from either wing. He does hit the ball solid though and he will stay in rallies. I think he’ll want to test the Federer backhand as most try and see how solid it is on Saturday. Any time Haase can get the Swiss into extended rallies will be a bonus, especially with Fed doing everything he can to keep points short and sweet.

For Federer, if his serve is solid, he’s difficult to break down. If he is hitting his serve with power and precision, he’s putting his opponent into poor positions on return. That in turn will set him up to move to net and finish off points quickly and more often than not, effectively. Haase isn’t bad at the net, so Federer will need to make sure he’s choosing wisely or the Dutchman does have the volley skills to respond. As usual, expect Federet to get around to the forehand as much as possible in longer rallies where he is most comfortable.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Federer finds himself in the pole position with the slew of upsets this week and I would bet he’ll be very focused in this match with the prospects of Alexander Zverev being his likely finals opponent. As long as Fed doesn’t come out of the gates slow or nervy, it’s difficult to see Haase troubling the Swiss in the end.

Prediction: Federer wins in straight sets