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

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

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

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

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

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

DelPo Domination, Grain of Salt Version

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

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

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

SERVE

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

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

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

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

√ Cilic

DEFENSE

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

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

Even

GROUNDIES

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

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

√ Cilic

PIG-POURRI

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

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

√ Cilic

The Pig’s Bottom Line

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

Prediction: Cilic wins in three sets

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

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

(3) David Goffin vs (5) Jack Sock

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

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

Offense vs Defense

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

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

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

Match Tactics

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

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

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

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

The Pig’s Bottom Line

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

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

Prediction: Goffin in straight sets

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

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

(2) Marin Cilic vs Borna Coric

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

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

Coric Closer in 2017

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

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

Match Tactics

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

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

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

The Pig’s Bottom Line

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

Predicton: Cilic wins in three sets

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

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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

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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