2017 Shanghai Rolex Masters Preview

SHANGHAI17PREVIEW

Nadal, Federer Lead Field

The ATP World Tour makes one of its final two Masters stops for the season in Shanghai this week for the Shanghai Rolex Masters. Defending champion Andy Murray is not here to defend the title as he sits out the remainder of the season to recover from a string of injury problems. Rafael Nadal leads this year’s field as the top seed and is fresh off winning the title at the China Open on Sunday over Nick Kyrgios. Roger Federer hits the courts for his first tour stop since the U.S. Open. Fed did participate in the Laver Cup a few weeks ago, so he shouldn’t be entirely rusty.

Surprisingly, this has been one of the least successful stops for both players throughout their careers. Nadal has never won the title in seven trips to Shanghai. His best finish was making the final in his first year in Shanghai back in 2009. Federer won the title in 2014, but has only made one other final at this event (2010) in five visits. Both Nadal and Federer were first-up losers the last time they visited Shanghai with Nadal losing to Viktor Troicki last year and Federer dropping his opener to Albert Ramos-Vinolas in 2015.

Following Nadal and Federer in the seeded field are Alexander Zverev, Marin Cilic, Dominic Thiem, Grigor Dimitrov, Pablo Carreno Busta and David Goffin to round out the top eight. Among those players, Cilic and Goffin have the best finishes with each making one quarterfinal in Shanghai in their careers. Zverev makes his second appearance at this tournament, making the round of 16 last year. Cilic is just 5-7 in Shanghai with first-up losses in two of the last three years. Both Thiem and Dimitrov have never been past the second round and PCB is 0-1 with a loss last year in his lone trip.

Lower Seeds Yield More Experience

The remainder of the seeded field has more experience and success at this event. That is highlighted by 9th seed Roberto Bautista Agut who made the final in 2016. That was his best showing after going just 3-2 the two prior years. Sam Querrey is the 10th seed and he arrives with a 3-5 record in Shanghai and a loss in his only match since the U.S. Open. Kevin Anderson and John Isner are both 7-7 all-time at this tournament, seeded 11th and 12th respectively. Anderson’s best run was a quarterfinal finish in 2015, while Isner has never been past the round of 16. Rounding out the final seeds are Nick Kyrgios at 13, Jack Sock, Lucas Pouille and Juan Martin Del Potro.

Kyrgios comes in off a good run in Beijing that ended with a flop against Nadal in the final on Sunday where he lost 6-2, 6-1. Kyrgios made the quick trip to Shanghai to play doubles on Monday with Pouille, so I would watch out for the potential for burnout for the Aussie this week. Sock made the quarterfinals in 2016 and sports a 6-3 record in Shanghai. Pouille’s best finish was making the round of 16 last year, while Del Potro is a one-time finalist in 2013. The Argentine won his opening match against Nikoloz Basilashvili on Monday. That marked DelPo’s first win in Shanghai since that 2013 title run.

Early Bird Specials

Upsets are hit and miss in Shanghai as far as the seeds in their first matches. Last year, six seeds dropped out in their openers. 2015 however saw just two seeds lose early, but 2014 saw seven seeds go one and done. If you travel back to 2013, you also saw just two seeds lose early on. So if it is an odd-even year type of split, there could be fewer upsets among the seeds this year. Regardless, a top four seed has been taken down three straight years, so that is a trend to watch.

Here’s a look at the seeds who could be in trouble early this year with 9th seed Roberto Bautista Agut already falling victim to the upset bug.

4. Marin Cilic
This is a tricky opener for Cilic. The Croat made a deep run in Tokyo last week, but got bageled in his final set loss to Adrian Mannarino in the semifinals. He will face Kyle Edmund who already has a match under his belt in Shanghai. The Brit beat Jiri Vesely in straights to start on Sunday. Given that Cilic has lost two of his last three openers in Shanghai, this does carry legit upset possibilities.

5. Dominic Thiem
It’s late in the season and that makes Thiem an easy inclusion most weeks for getting knocked out early. He still hasn’t cut down on his scheduling enough to keep himself from getting burned out late. Thiem has dropped both of his matches since the U.S. Open and he’ll face a tough match-up against either Troicki or Denis Shapovalov. Troicki has two wins over Thiem in two meetings with the last coming indoors last Fall. The Serb has not looked great in two losses on the Far East swing though, so Shapovalov could be there instead. The Canadian will be playing his first tour match since the U.S. Open, but he did have a match against Alexander Zverev at the Laver Cup. Either way, I think Thiem is going to have to play well to avoid the upset.

7. Pablo Carreno Busta
PCB battles Alberto Ramos-Vinolas to start his Shanghai campaign. Ramos-Vinolas took down Joao Sousa to open play in Shanghai, so he’s got the match play edge. PCB is 2-0 against ARV however, but both wins have come on clay and gone the distance. The last came earlier this year in Buenos Aires. The win for ARV to start Shanghai could be the confidence builder he needed after ending a three match losing skid. These two are pretty evenly matched, so I think this is a 50-50 type of call.

8. David Goffin
Goffin has won titles in successive weeks and finally looks back to his best after taking a bit to get going following that nasty ankle injury at the French Open. The big problem for him could be fatigue with two straight weeks of play. His opener is Gilles Simon who will force Goffin to work in rallies, which again could hit on that fatigue angle. Simon is not in the best form, but has played a match already in Shanghai conditions and his backboard style of defense could keep him in this one with a chance to win.

10. Sam Querrey
Querrey takes on Yuichi Sugita in round one. On paper, Querrey’s power would figure to be too much for Sugita, but late in the season, there is no telling. Sugita is 5-2 since the U.S. Open, but three of those matches have come via retirement. Querrey has played just once, losing to Richard Gasquet last week in straights in Tokyo. I would keep this in the lower tier of upset possibilities, but 2017 has shown us to expect the unexpected.

13. Nick Kyrgios
Kyrgios draws Steve Johnson to start and I touched on it earlier about Kyrgios’ quick turnaround to play doubles on Monday after losing the Beijing final on Sunday. Johnson scored a couple of wins last week in Tokyo before losing to Diego Schwartzman in the quarterfinals. He’s no sure thing to step up here to score the upset, but given Kyrgios’ heavier workload and lack of much prep time – Johnson does have a good shot here to take Kyrgios down.

14. Jack Sock
Sock opens with qualifier Alexandr Dolgopolov. The American arrives on a four match losing skid. Dog has been his roller coaster self on this Far East swing. He made a run to the Shenzhen final and then lost his second match in Tokyo to Steve Johnson. He’s looked solid in two wins in qualifying and that could give him a leg up on Sock. Sock does own one win over Dolgopolov, but that came three years ago in Tokyo.

Outsider’s Edge

Unseeded players have made some noise in Shanghai over the last four years. Last year, one of the semifinal spots went to an unseeded player. In 2014, two unseeded players made the semis and it was Gilles Simon who made the final against Federer. There do appear to be a couple of the quarters that are weaker than the others and that’s where you might find an unseeded player with a chance to advance.

Kyle Edmund
He has the second round match against Cilic and that’s the obvious win or go home match. A win for the Brit and then he’s got a real shot to do damage. In a quarter with Carreno Busta, Anderson and Kyrgios as seeds – an early upset could really change the dynamic of the draw. Whether Edmund can find the consistency to do that is the big question. He hasn’t really shown it much lately, but it’s a new week.

Steve Johnson
Johnson gets the chance to take advantage of a travel weary Nick Kyrgios early and that could help propel him deep in his quarter. He might need Edmund or someone else to do him a favor though with Marin Cilic in his path to the quarters. Cilic is 3-0 against Johnson.

Albert Ramos-Vinolas
ARV is in the same quarter as Johnson. He faces fellow Spaniard Carreno Busta to start. A win there and Kevin Anderson is the only seed in his way to the quarters. ARV might not seem like a great choice, but he did make the round of 16 here a couple years ago and he’s had some success on hard courts.

Troicki/Shapovalov
The winner gets Thiem in round two and I talked about the upset possibilities there. If the survivor between these two gets past Thiem, it’s just John Isner standing in the way of at least a quarterfinal berth. Shapovalov seems the smarter try if you’re guessing, but there’s no telling how the 18-year-old will fare in his first trip to Shanghai.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (1)
Grigor Dimitrov (6)
Sam Querrey (10)
Lucas Pouille (15)

Breakdown
All eyes will be on Nadal as the world #1 heads to Shanghai on a roll and looking to add another trophy to a brilliant 2017 season. Nadal will open against Jared Donaldson who survived a tough three set opener against Pablo Cuevas. Donaldson is 0-5 in his career against the Top 10 and this doesn’t look like the spot for that first win. A win for Nadal pits him against either Pouille or Fognini in the round of 16. Both those players have given Nadal some tough matches in the past and that is the speed bump spot for Rafa. If he makes it past round three, then he should be in good shape to see it through to the semifinals.

The bottom of this quarter features Dimitrov and Querrey as the seeds. Dimitrov takes on the winner between Ze Zhang and Ryan Harrison. That should give Dimitrov an opportunity to build on a good week in Beijing, where he made the semifinals in losing to Nadal. Querrey has Sugita to start with the survivor taking on Frances Tiafoe. Tiafoe got a rare win at this level in round one, beating Benoit Paire 6-4, 6-4. Tiafoe’s run through qualis has given him some confidence this week and he won’t be an easy out for Querrey or Sugita. The issue for Tiafoe will be that he’s only won back-to-back main draw wins once this season (Cincinnati).

Nadal is not a shoe-in to get through this quarter. That third round against Fognini or Pouille will be tough. I’d be a fool to go against him though with what he has shown and you know he has the motivation still, having not won here in his career. If Rafa did falter early, the beneficiary might win up being Dimitrov

Quarter #2 Seeds
Marin Cilic (4)
Pablo Carreno Busta (7)
Kevin Anderson (11)
Nick Kyrgios (13)

Breakdown
This is a quarter that looks like it could be wide open. Cilic’s end in Tokyo was a bit bothersome, although he’ll be looked to as a front runner here. His track record in Shanghai suggests he may not be involved in the mix late. Kyrgios as mentioned will be dealing with possible fatigue from the long week in Beijing and short travel to turn around and play doubles to start this tournament. For Cilic, a win over Edmund might set him up to get back into a good grove. I do think Edmund will challenge him and could potentially pull off an upset. The winner between Johnson-Kyrgios will battle Di Wu, who beat Jeremy Chardy in round one. If Cilic doesn’t go out early, then I do like him to make some noise later here. He’s 3-0 against Johnson and 1-1 vs Kyrgios.

Either Carreno Busta or Ramos-Vinolas will be in round three. There, they could see Anderson. Anderson has a match-up in round one against Adrian Mannarino. Anderson is 2-1 against him, although none have come since 2014. Mannarino will have to fight off the dreaded championship match loss syndrome. Anderson wasn’t great in Tokyo however, so there might be a small possibility of an upset if the Frenchman turns up with his head screwed on straight. The winner there gets the survivor between Mischa Zverev and Jan-Lennard Struff. Zverev beat Struff in three last week in Beijing, so it’s a 50-50 call. If Anderson doesn’t find his best, I like the survivor of the all-Spaniard clash between PCB and ARV to move into the quarters.

I do think this quarter has unseeded possibilities. Of course, Cilic could negate that with a hot start. If Cilic gets past his opener, that’s my choice here – otherwise, the weirdness could fall to someone like Johnson or Ramos-Vinolas.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Alexander Zverev (3)
Dominic Thiem (5)
John Isner (12)
Juan Martin Del Potro (16)

Breakdown
Zverev comes in off a solid week in Beijing that ended flat with another loss to Kyrgios. Sascha’s serve is still a bit loose and that shows when he’s up against players who can rock and roll in rhythm on serve consistently. He should be afforded a good start with either Paolo Lorenzi or Aljaz Bedene to face him in his opener. A win for Sascha there and he would be in line to take on the winner of the Del Potro-Andrey Rublev match. Both came through in three sets in the opening round. Rublev scored a couple nice wins in Beijing last week against Jack Sock and Tomas Berdych. Del Potro will be a tough task, but it’s baseline vs baseline. As always with the Russian, if he can lock in on his first serve – he will have a shot to pull off the upset. Del Potro will be the tougher out for Zverev if the third round with Sascha having blown Rublev off the court twice now.

In the other half, Thiem will be up against it early as he faces either Shapovalov or Troicki. I do think much like Cilic that if he can get out of his opener, then he could get on a roll. The third round could likely see Isner. Isner has to get past qualifier Dusan Lajovic in round one, but then he would have Stefanos Tsitsipas in round two. Both are winnable for Isner and he looked good at the China Open last week, even in losing to Nadal in the quarters. If this comes down to Thiem and Isner, they have split two career meetings with Isner winning on hard courts and Thiem on clay. I think this surface would favor Isner just slightly.

I do think a seed takes this quarter, but I am looking to the double digits here with either isner or Del Potro. I give Isner the slight nod with an easier draw.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Roger Federer (2)
David Goffin (8)
Roberto Bautista Agut (9)
Jack Sock (14)

Breakdown
Bautista Agut is out already, losing his opener to Hyeon Chung. That opens one half of the draw up, where Goffin is the in-form player and lead seed. The Belgian is on a major roll with back-to-back titles in Shenzhen and Tokyo. Of course with that comes a lot of match play and the potential for fatigue to hit him this week. He faces Simon to start and that won’t be easy. They have split two career meetings with the Frenchman taking him to three sets both times. Simon got just his second win in his last seven matches to begin his week in Shanghai. Even though RBA is out and Goffin is the form player, this part of the draw could go to an unseeded player. Watch Richard Gasquet here as the Frenchman battles Chung next. Gasquet was decent in Tokyo and just saw Goffin in a loss there, so revenge could be on tap.

In the other half, all eyes will be on Federer who returns to tour for the first time since his surprising loss to Del Potro in the U.S. Open quarters. Fed should be keen to get back on track and step up to the level that Nadal has set. The Swiss starts against either Jordan Thompson or Diego Schwartzman. Both of those potential match-ups should be fairly comfortable for Federer. Sock is the seed opposite Federer in this half, but he could be one and done with Dolgopolov to open. The survivor of that one goes against Felciano Lopez. Lopez edged Ivo Karlovic in two tiebreaks in round one.

This sets up as a good quarter for Federer as the best seed is someone he’s beaten five times in five meetings (Goffin). I’m not sure Goffin will get to the quarterfinals to test that record or not, but I do think Federer is the guy who can get through this part of the draw.

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

Let’s not start hyping a Fedal final in this one. Far too often that has been a match-up that we’ve waited or again this year, but they have found a way not to happen as the season has worn on. I would say this week looks like that is a possibility, but I see pitfalls for both players before the final that could keep it from happening. Double digit seeds have made a habit of popping into the final with Bautista Agut doing it as the 15th seed last year and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga doing it as the #16 in 2015.

If Shanghai falls that way, I think it would be at the expense of Federer’s spot in the final with Isner and Del Potro as the double digit seeds I think have a shot. In Nadal’s half of the draw, the double digit seeds look like longer shots to meke it. In the end, it’s difficult to go against an in-form Nadal. Federer’s gaps in between tournaments can be both and help and hindrance. In this case, I think it might be more of the hindrance.

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2017 China Open Preview

CHINAOPEN17

Nadal Leads Beijing Field

The ATP World Tour continues its tour of the Far East with more of the big names returning to play this week. That includes the top seed in Beijing in 2017 U.S. Open Champion Rafael Nadal. Nadal sports a 20-5 all-time record in Beijing, but has only won the title once back in 2005. He should benefit from a weaker draw with more Top 20 players opting to play Tokyo this week. Behind Nadal in the draw are second seed Alexander Zverev who will be playing the China Open for just the second time. Sascha was a quarterfinalist last year. Rounding out the top four seeds are Grigor Dimitrov and Pablo Carreno Busta. Dimitrov made the final last year, losing to Andy Murray. PCB made a quarterfinal run in 2016 in his Beijing debut.

The rest of the seeded field features Roberto Bautista Agut, John Isner, Tomas Berdych and Nick Kyrgios. Berdych has the most experience of those remaining seeds with an 11-4 record and one title (2011). Kyrgios is the lone seeded player who has not played at this tournament in the past. The Aussie will be looking to get back on the winning track after losing his first round U.S. Open match to John Millman. Kyrgios did look solid in Laver Cup play with a win over Berdych and a tough match tiebreak loss to Roger Federer. He could be primed for a strong finish to the season with his health seemingly not a looming question mark every week at this point.

Top Seed Traditionally Decides Title

The top seed has won in Beijing five straight seasons and six of the last six trips to Beijing overall. That’s been Novak Djokovic five of those times with Andy Murray joining him last year. That could mean good things for Rafa this week if he can overcome his own lack of success at this tournament. He has made the final three times in his six trips, but has only been able to close out the title match once against Guillermo Coria in 2005 when the tournament wasn’t a 500-level tournament. Rafa also has a bit of a problematic draw that I’ll get to below.

Seeds in general have fared well in Beijing with only three of the past 12 semifinalists being unseeded players. They have also done a pretty solid job at avoiding early upsets with only four seeds losing their openers in the last four years. 2017 of course has been a different type of season with injuries and inconsistency, so perhaps more seeds could be in peril this year. With that in mind, let’s take a look at this week’s seeds who could be prone to an early upset.

Early Bird Specials

1. Rafael Nadal
Nadal could not have asked for a much tougher round one matchup. He opens with Lucas Pouille who scored the stunning upset of Nadal at the 2016 U.S. Open in five sets. The good news for Rafa is that version of Pouille has not been seen consistently in 2017. Pouille has lost his first match at three of his last four tournaments overall. The Frenchman went 1-1 in his first main draw appearance here last year. I would keep this on the lower side of the upset scale, but Pouille has the game to trouble Nadal if he can find it.

2. Alexander Zverev
Sascha goes on this list after a very mediocre showing last week in Chengdu, where he barely beat Steve Darcis in his opener and then lost to red hot Damir Dzumhur in the next round. Perhaps it was the turnaround from the Laver Cup that had him not quite at his best, but he’ll bear watching this week with a tough opener against Kyle Edmund. The Brit wasn’t great in Chengdu either, losing to Donaldson in his second match – but he did contest a solid match against Zverev in their lone meeting on clay last season. Edmund was forced to retire due to injury after splitting the first two sets. I also think this might be on the lower tier of upset possibilities, but late in the season you never know who is motivated.

3. Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov faces off against Damir Dzumhur in round one .Dzumhur is red hot after winning his first ATP title in St.Petersburg, he followed that with a semifinal push in Shenzhen last week. That included a win over Sascha Zverev. With Dimitrov not having played since the U.S. Open, there is definitely a chance he could come out flat this week.

4. Pablo Carreno Busta
PCB plays for the first time since making his first Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open. He could be rusty early and that gives qualifier Steve Darcis a shot in round one. Darcis showed improvement in Shenzhen last week, winning a rare main draw match and pushing Alexander Zverev to a third set tiebreak before losing in the next round. Maybe it’s his Davis Cup heroics propelling him to a late season surge, but the Belgian definitely isn’t without a chance here if his body holds up. That would be my lone concern on him being competitive.

7. Tomas Berdych
A tough early match for Berdych against Jared Donaldson. Donaldson had a decent week in Chengu as he made the quarterfinals. Berdych got some match play in at the Laver Cup, so he’ll be ready to go this week in a tournament that has been good to him for the most part. The Czech has lost twice in his first match though and one of those came in his last trip here in 2015. This will be a tricky one and I won’t be stunned if the American gets the W.

8. Nick Kyrgios
I put the Aussie on this list simply because of who he is and what he has said about it being difficult to get up for tournaments sometimes based on matchups. He opens with Nikoloz Basilashvili, which is going to be one of those “meh” matchups in Kyrgios’ mind. Basilashvili is one of those guys who does have a good enough game to contend with top tier guys. If NK find a rhythm, he can get rolling and make this an easy match. He could also show up a bit disinterested and turn this into a tight one.

Outsider’s Edge

While seeds traditionally have settled who raises the trophy in Beijing, unseeded players have managed to weasel their way into the semifinals consistently in recent times. Grigor Dimitrov parlayed that into a finals visit last year. Only Marin Cilic has made it to the final as an unseeded player other than Dimitrov since 2011. It could be slim pickings to find a player who could make the final, but there are several unseeded players who could make noise this week.

Juan Martin Del Potro
DelPo is back for the first time since the U.S. Open and he’s got some possibilities to ruffle the pecking order. The Argentine opens against Pablo Cuevas and then would see the winner of Dimitrov-Dzumhur in round two. Bautista Agut is the only other seed in his path to the semifinals and DelPo has beaten RBA twice this season, including a straight sets crush job at the U.S. Open. If he gets on a run, we could get Rafa vs Del Potro in the semis.

Dusan Lajovic
The Serb qualified to get into the main draw this week and comes in after a quarterfinal run in Chengdu. He scored the seeded scalp of Albert Ramos-Vinolas last week and will face Spaniards again this week. Lajovic starts with Fernando Verdasco who has lost his openers in five of his last nine tournaments. The Serb has beaten Nando twice in three meetings. A win could net him an encounter with Carreno Busta in round two. Those two have split two career meetings with PCB winning the most recent at Indian Wells this year. With some heightened expectations for the Spaniard now, it’s possible he could cave in early with this being his first matches since his U.S. Open semifinals run.

Jared Donaldson, Jack Sock, Andrey Rublev, Robin Haase, Fabio Fognini
The stacked unseeded quarter belongs to Alexander Zverev and Tomas Berdych. All of the players listed above could reasonably cause some shockwaves this week. Sock and Rublev face off in round one as do Haase and Fognini. The two survivors will reasonably be tough outs for Zverev and Berdych if they advance to round two. Both Sascha and the Berd have first round matches that they will need to be up for or it will be an early exit in Beijing. I would not be surprised if one of these unseeded players cut up this quarter and made a deep run.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (1)
John Isner (6)

Breakdown
Nadal has some youngsters he’ll need to take care of, but the feeling is that the veteran is still better suited to the grind at the end of the season. He starts with Pouille and a win there could get him a visit from Karen Khachanov. The young Russian has been disappointing of late, but is someone who can turn it on at any time. He starts with Chinese wild card Di Wu. Wu used to be a competent Challenger-type on this surface, but has fallen off. A loss for Khachanov would be poor.

Isner could be a dark horse here, especially after beating Nadal at the Laver Cup in straight sets. The American has had mostly mediocre season save for a good stretch right after WImbledon where he won back-to-back titles in Newport and Atlanta. He is 9-4 lifetime in Beijing with one finals trip way back in 2010. Isner opens against Malek Jaziri. The winner gets either Leonardo Mayer or Paolo Lorenzi. This is a winnable stretch for Isner to get another shot at Rafa. Rafa is 6-0 against Isner at official ATP World Tour events.

Bottom line for me in this quarter is I think it falls to a seed, be it Nadal or Isner. I’ll give Nadal the small edge.

Quarter #2 Seeds
Grigor Dimitrov (3)
Roberto Bautista Agut (5)

Breakdown
Dimitrov has the tougher draw, possibly going back to back against Dzumhur and then Del Potro. DelPo is of course the big X-factor in this section. He should have a chance to get off to a good start against Pabloc Cuevas who has lost six straight coming into the China Open. If we get Dimitrov vs Del Potro, it will be the third time we’ve seen it this season. Dimitrov won the last time in Cincinnati in a disappointing match for the Argentine, whereas DelPo won the first meeting this year in Rome on clay. Overall, Del Potro is 6-1 against Dimitrov.

The bottom half looks ripe for Bautista Agut to get a couple of relatively smooth wins with an opener against wild card Ze Zhang. A win would see RBA go up against either Marcel Granollers or Aljaz Bedene. Bedene has played RBA tough in four meetings, taking a pair from the Spaniard. He would be the tougher out for sure, but I think Bautista Agut’s overall consistency is a better bet to push through to the quarterfinals.

This looks like it could come down to Dimitrov, Del Potro or Bautista Agut as your likely semifinalist. RBA might get the benefit of the draw if Dimitrov and DelPo take enough out of each other in a potential quarterfinal. Slight nod to RBA to inch through in this section.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Pablo Carreno Busta (4)
Nick Kyrgios (8)

Breakdown
This quarter looks like it could have some upheaval to it. Kyrgios is still always going to be a question mark on motivation. He could get on a roll and be in the semis or he could go out round one to Basilashvili. I’m not keen on Kyrgios’ route as he could see Mischa Zverev in round two. Zverev starts with Jan-Lennard Struff. I wouldn’t be stunned if Mischa turned up in the quarterfinals as I could see his serve and volley giving NK some problems again. He won their lone career meeting in Shanghai last year.

The other half features Carreno Busta who opens with qualifier Steve Darcis. Darcis has been short on wins on tour, but looked better in Shenzhen last week. His game can trouble a rusty Carreno Busta, but I think PCB’s overall game likely gets him through if he can find some rhythm. The survivor there gets either Verdasco or Lajovic. This part of the draw looks like it could go any which way. The biggest surprise to me in this quarter might be seeing a seed in the semifinals.

Watch out for Zverev and Darcis here as outsiders and Lajovic might have a hand in an upset or two as well.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Alexander Zverev (2)
Tomas Berdych (7)

Breakdown
The thought here will be that one of the seeds seizes control of this quarter. That isn’t necessarily a good bet though with plenty of unseeded talent in this quarter. Zverev starts with Edmund in round one and a win would see him battle Fognini or Haase. Sascha is 3-0 against those two combined, but recall that Haase took him to five sets at the Australian Open this year. Berdych has the tough opener against Jared Donaldson and then would meet the survivor of Jack Sock and Andrey Rublev.

Rublev was predictably out of sorts in Chengdu where he was punished in round one 6-2, 6-1 by Yen-Hsun Lu. This could be a golden opportunity for Sock who has been short on big wins in the last three to four months. Berdych has been fairly disappointing since making the Wimbledon semifinals, so an earlier than expected exit might not be too shocking all things considered. This is a tough quarter to predict and part of me thinks one of the Americans might slip through. If they don’t, I think I trust Sascha just a shade more than Berdych to punch into the semis.

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

You might think it easy for Nadal to let off the pedal a bit here in the latter part of the season, but let’s be honest – that isn’t in his DNA. I think he has the goods here to continue the top seed’s run of success in Beijing. If he falters, don’t be shocked if John Isner isn’t part of the championship mix. I think this is a big spot for Sascha Zverev to prove or disprove his spot in the rankings. He wasn’t overly impressive in his first tournament back last week following his U.S. Open disappointment, so he has plenty or prove. In the end though, this smells like Rafa’s tournament to lose.

2017 Chengdu Open Preview

CHENGDU17

Far East Swing Begins

This will be another typical tricky ATP 250 to predict as the ATP World Tour heads to the Far East. Last week’s champions in St.Petersburg and Metz showed the unpredictability again of these smaller events with Damir Dzumhur and Peter Gojowczyk respectively scoring their maiden ATP titles. Both finalists from last year’s inaugural edition of the Chengdu Open return in this year’s field as the ATP World Tour grinds towards October. Karen Khachanov won his first ATP title here last year and is seeded third. 2016 runner-up Albert Ramos-Vinolas is back again and will serve as the second seed.

This week’s top seed in Chengdu will be Dominic Thiem. Thiem made the quarterfinals last year. Of the remaining seeds, only Viktor Troicki has made the trip for the second straight season. The Serb made a semifinal run in 2016 and is seeded seventh this week. The rest of the seeded field includes young Russian Andrey Rublev as the four seed, Yuichi Sugita as the five, Kyle Edmund as the six and Leonardo Mayer as the 8th seed.

Last year’s tournament highlights that unpredictability you can expect this year with Khachanov winning as an unseeded player. There were three seeds in the semifinals with Ramos-Vinolas as the five, Grigor Dimitrov as the three and Troicki as the six. Nick Kyrgios lost his first match as the second seed last year, surprisingly, as one of only two seeds who lost their openers in Chengdu.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at this year’s possible upset victims – which I do think includes all eight seeds.

Early Bird Specials

1. Dominic Thiem
Thiem gets a bye which will help a little bit, but he’s transitioning quickly after playing in the Laver Cup this weekend. He will see either Borna Coric or Guido Pella in his opener in round two. He’s split two matches with Coric in 2017 with the Croat winning on hard courts in Miami and then Thiem taking their clay court showdown in Madrid. Pella owns a win over Thiem in their lone meeting last year on clay in Rio. The top seed will be in a tough spot to start.

2. Albert Ramos-Vinolas
ARV will face Dusan Lajovic or Adrian Menendez-Maceiras to start. Ramos-Vinolas is 5-9 on outdoor hard courts this season. Lajovic should have some added confidence from his Davis Cup semifinal experience, beating Lucas Pouille before falling to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. He’s definitely an up and down performer though, so you’re not quite sure what to expect. Menendez-Maceiras made it through qualifying, but has just two main draw wins at this level on this surface since 2015. I’d be more concerned about Lajovic if I were ARV I have the Spaniard a little lower on the upset-o-meter than others in the seeded field.

3. Karen Khachanov
The defending champion will of course have a target on his back and the 21-year-old isn’t exactly a model of consistency yet. He had a disappointing first round exit at the U.S. Open to Lu. The Russian has the same amount of wins on this surface that he collected at Chengdu last year (5) in the 12 months since that title. He faces the winner of the first round battle between Denis Istomin and Jan-Lennard Struff. Both players have been in decent form since first round losses at the U.S. Open. Struff lost to Dzumhur in the semis in St.Petersburg last week and looks a better shot to score the upset with Istomin having gone 0-6 on outdoor hard courts since his fourth round run at the Australian Open.

4. Andrey Rublev
This will be the Russian teenager’s first match since his first-ever Grand Slam quarterfinal at the U.S. Open. He will be more of a marked man now with that on his resume and I think how he responds to that is key to his development. If he’s going to be the player people think he can be, then he will win his opener. He is scheduled to get Yen-Hsun Lu or Mikael Ymer. Lu is a question mark after retiring in his last match, the final of the Shanghai Challenger. He played Rublev at the Australian Open and lost in four back in January. He’d be the bigger threat to me over Ymer who is much more at home on clay. All of that could mean Rublev gets off to a good start, but if Lu is healthy, I think he will test the Russian.

5. Yuichi Sugita
He draws qualifier Mate Pavic who is more known for his doubles prowess, but has a big serve and big forehand that could overwhelm Sugita. Sugita has had some good moments this summer, including a Masters quarterfinal showing in Cincinnati. He’s also pretty solid on this surface albeit more on Challengers, but that’s largely the feel some of these 250s bring. I think he’ll be pushed some by Pavic’s power, so this still could be an upset spot.

6. Kyle Edmund
An injury question mark and a quirky first round opponent make Edmund’s chances hard to gauge. Edmund hasn’t been seen since a neck injury forced him from his third round match against Denis Shapovalov. He battles Bernard Tomic to start and your guess is as good as anyone’s as to whether Tomic cares to be in China this week or not. His most engaging spell of the season has passed with the grass season long gone. Tomic is an abysmal 2-6 on hard courts this year, so you would think Edmund – if fit – can find a way to win, but Tomic’s quirky game could be tough if the Aussie cares enough to play.

7. Viktor Troicki
Even though the Serb made the semis here last year, his first round matchup is a difficult one and puts him on upset alert. Troicki draws Nikoloz Basilashvili who beat him in straights at Roland Garros earlier this season. Both played indoors last week with Troicki losing in the quarters to Roberto Bautista-Agut in the St.Petersburg quarterfinals. Basilashvili made the semis at the Moselle Open, losing to Benoit Paire. There is definite upset possibility here.

8. Leonardo Mayer
Mayer will battle Metz champ Peter Gojowczyk who took a special exemption onto this draw in Chengdu. The obvious issue for Gojo is dealing with the emotion of winning his first ATP title and then turning around and going back on the grind. That may give the edge to Mayer even though hard courts aren’t his best surface. I just don’t know that Gojo will be able to deal with the emotional roller coaster plus travel and a quick turn-around to start a new week. There is a chance he carries that form over, but this is a lesser upset shot than others for me.

Outsider’s Edge

As a 250, there is always a chance that an unseeded player can make a run as Khachanov did a year ago. In looking around this year’s draw, there are some intriguing players who could make runs if the chips fall right.

Borna Coric
He would need to get by Thiem, but the Austrian may be a big drained emotionally and physically from Laver Cup play and lack motivation. That might open the door for Coric to make a run if he can get out of round one against Guido Pella. Troicki could be a tricky road block to a semifinal, but he’s still an iffy proposition most weeks.

Marcos Baghdatis
Baggy has been mired in mediocrity with a 12-14 record this year, but he’s in what I think is the weakest quarter with seeds Rublev and Mayer. He starts with Vasek Posposil who he has beaten three of four times. Pop also hasn’t played since injuring himself at the U.S. Open. That should give Baghdatis a chance to get off to a winning start. He would have the Mayer-Gojowczyk winner next and then maybe Rublev. That’s a workable path if he can get going early.

Jared Donaldson
I’m not as high on his chances as others with the American doing most of his hard court damage on home soil. Sill, his game matches up with most in his quarter. He has Greek qualifier Stefano Tsitsipas to open and then either Kyle Edmund or Bernard Tomic. Khachanov is the highest seed in his way to the semifinals. Again, their playing styles are very similar just as you can say with Donaldson and Edmund. There are worst cases to be made for floaters who could make an unexpected run than Donaldson.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Dominic Thiem (1)
Viktor Troicki (7)

Breakdown
Thiem obviously has the most talent of anyone in this quarter and the draw overall, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to win. Motivation for a smaller tournament is iffy for me for Thiem with bigger things on the horizon, including the Tour Finals in early November. I think he’s prone to losing every round with this draw. Coric or Pella as his first opponent is a chance and so would be Troicki if the Serb doesn’t trip up in round one himself. Troicki’s match against Basilashvili should be competitive. Qualifier Taylor Fritz might be an outsider to consider here as he faces wild card Di Wu to open. Fritz has made the quarters of his last two hard court 250s, so he bears watching. Troicki has been very up and down, more down for most of the season and that could mean a motivated player like Fritz gets deeper than expected.

In case I wasn’t clear, I’m not keeo on Thiem this week. For me, this quarter likely comes down to Troicki, Coric or perhaps Fritz. I’ll call-in stupid here and say Fritz.

Quarter #2 Seeds
Andrey Rublev (4)
Leonardo Mayer (8)

Breakdown
I’d really like to see Rublev take a hold of this quarter and make it his own. He’s got the big ground strokes to do it, but at the tail-end of a long season off his best success – I’m not banking on it. If he is able to navigate around Lu or Ymer, that confidence of getting the first win could boost his chances. Mayer could be one of those guys who you don’t realize is a seed that actually makes a run. He’s in the tougher half of the quarter with Gojowczyk to start and then either Baghdatis or Pospisil. For me, this quarter is wide, wide open. With the slightly easier time of it up top, I’m going to say Rublev could come through and make a run to the semis. Baghdatis is the backup choice.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Karen Khachanov (3)
Kyle Edmund (6)

Breakdown
This quarter looks to be highly competitive. Khachanov will be in for a difficult time with Istomin or Struff to start. If he can get past one of them, then perhaps things can click. The top part of this quarter is a pick ’em in all matches. Edmund against Tomic and Donaldson against Tsitsipas in round one. Edmund and Donaldson look the likelier winners, but Tomic can pull a rabbit out of his butt if he chooses. Tsitsipas has a power game that could match Donaldson and the American hasn’t proven his worth outside of the states too much in his young career. That makes it more difficult to say who is going to make it out of that half.

For me, I don’t trust Khachanov to be able to back up his title run from 2016. He’s young and has plenty to learn still about consistency. Look for an unseeded player to turn potentially turn this quarter upside down – like Donaldson. If healthy, I do think Edmund can make some noise, but we will have to wait and see how his neck looks.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Albert Ramos-Vinolas (2)
Yuichi Sugita (5)

Breakdown
This is the quarter that might fall in line with the seeding. I think most of that is on Sugita. If he can get past Pavic in round one, his second round encounter with either Yibing Wu or Thiago Monteiro makes things easier, Monteiro would ne a replay of their recent Davis Cup clash that Sugita won in easy straight sets. Ramos-Vinolas gets the bye and then Lajovic or Menendez-Maceiras. Both are winnable matchups, although as I said, Lajovic is one I think could cause the Spaniard a little trouble. Altogether though, I do think this could fall to Ramos-Vinolas and Sugita playing for a spot in the semifinals.

I like Ramos-Vinolas here with Sugita as a more improbable choice for me, but perhaps that might be why he’s a better bet!

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

It will be an interesting watch this week with several young up and comers in the draw, including the two Russians – Khachanov and Rublev who should be among the favorites. The big question is whether the young guns can find that consistent needed to produce a title run late in the season, especially under the pressure of seeded expectation. If this goes to a seed, Ramos-Vinolas is the guy I like in this spot. His draw is good and his experience here helps. If things go unseeded in the end, for some reason, I’m keying on the two Americans – Fritz and Donaldson, although there is not much trust in either other than being “dartboard” shots this week. Dartboard shots however do sometimes come in with these 250s.

2017 Davis Cup SF Preview: Belgium vs Australia

BELGAUS

The glamour match-up of the Davis Cup semifinals pits Belgium against Australia in Brussels. The Belgians will be seeking to return to the final for the second time in three years. The Aussies are hoping to snap a finals drought that dates back to 2003, the last time Australia made a final where they beat Spain for the title.

Fifth Meeting All-Time

The two countries will be meeting in Davis Cup play for the fifth time, but first since 2010. They have split those four previous meetings with Belgium winning the last two ties in 2007 and 2010. In April, Belgium coasted through the quarterfinals 3-2 over Italy. Led by David Goffin, they had the tie wrapped up by the fourth rubber. Goffin beat Andreas Seppi and Paolo Lorenzi in straight sets to secure two of Belgium’s three wins. The other win came in the opening rubber with Steve Darcis defeating Lorenzi in four sets. Ruben Bemelmans and Joris de Loore lost a thrilling five set affair in the doubles rubber to Simone Bolelli and Seppi.

Australia won in similar fashion over the United States. The Aussies grabbed the opening singles rubbers with Jordan Thompson and Nick Kyrgios leading the charge. Steve Johnson and Jack Sock would delay the win by beating John Peers and Sam Groth in a five setter in doubles. Kyrgios would clinch the tie in the fourth rubber with a straight sets win over Sam Querrey. Kyrgios didn’t drop a set in the tie, having beaten John Isner in straights on opening day.

Clay and a Hostile Environment Await Inexperienced Aussies

With Belgium hosting, they’ve gone back to clay for the surface in this one. Belgium had gone with hard courts in the last three ties they hosted, including the quarterfinal win over Italy. It seems a smart choice to try and negate some of the power of Kyrgios and it’s also a less familair surface for the Aussies’ other options in singles with Jordan Thompson and last minute substitute, John Millman, combining for just seven career clay court matches on the ATP World Tour. Thompson is 3-4, while Millman is 0-3. Thompson has only played on hard courts in his three previous Davis Cup rubbers and Millman his making his Davis Cup debut. Kyrgios is just 1-3 all-time on clay in Davis Cup compeition, so the surface choice seems wise.

Meanwhile, the Belgians are going again with Goffin and Darcis in singles play. Goffin is 17-6 in his Davis Cup career in singles with a 7-4 mark on clay. Darcis 22-15 and 11-5 on clay. Getting this tie on home soil also figures to be a big boost against an Aussie side short on experience and really short on road experience. This will be Australia’s first Davis Cup tie outside of their home country since the 2015 semifinals, when they lost to an Andy Murray-led Great Britain squad.

Singles Rubbers

Belgium trots out Goffin and Darcis as no brainers for its singles rubbers this weekend. The Aussies will have decisions to make outside of Kyrgios’ obvious inclusion as their #1 guy. The decision comes down to Thompson or Millman as they go. Captain Lleyton Hewitt is going with Millman to open against Goffin. Kyrgios, if fit, looks like a good match-up against Goffin overall. NK is 3-0 against Goffin all-time, but all have come on hard courts. That includes his 6-2, 6-3 demolition of the Belgian in Cincinnati this summer. He also beat Goffin 7-6, 6-3 in Miami earlier in the season. Clay can certainly be an equalizer though as Kyrgios’ power will be neutralized somewhat and Goffin’s speed and defense should be enhanced as well. Of course that is only if the knee trouble that seemed to bother him at the U.S. Open has lessened. If not, then it’s going to be tough on the Belgian.

The decision to choose Millman is a bit puzzling to me. Thompson has shown very well in best of five matches with his fitness not being an issue. He played five set matches in both rounds at the U.S. Open this year, beating Jack Sock and then losing to Thomas Fabbiano. He also won a five set match against Joao Sousa to open his campaign at this year’s Australian Open. Millman outside of not really seeming to like clay, also has no Davis Cup experience whatsoever. I think the move to start Millman in rubber #1 against Goffin puts tremendous pressure in Kyrgios in the second rubber. I would not be shocked to see Thompson get the call in the reverse singles rubbers on Sunday if Australia still has a shot to win. Darcis survived a tough test from the now 23-year-old Thompson last year at the U.S. Open with the result being a 4-7, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4, 7-5 win for the Belgian. To me all those things say Thompson is a better choice, but Hewitt has made his choice and he’ll live with the consequences.

For me, Darcis is the X-factor for Belgium. Goffin still hasn’t looked quite up to snuff since returning earlier this summer from an ankle sprain and that knee strapping we saw in New York is a worry. Coupled with his poor record against Kyrgios, Goffin might only be dependable for getting a split of his singles rubbers. Darcis has struggled on tour to get wins, but he’s been an absolute shark in Davis Cup play. He has shown to be a big match player in this competition dating back to Belgium’s run to the final back in 2015. Darcis scored huge wins over Philipp Kohlschreiber and Alexander Zverev in Belgium’s opening round match-up against Germany this year when Goffin did not play. Darcis is riding a five rubber win streak in singles play, dating back to his heroics in the semifinal against Argentina in 2015. Darcis has the vast experience edge over Kyrgios, Thompson and Millman, but has never played any of them in the past.

For Australia, I think it is paramount that they at least split the opening rubbers on day one. They are going to be relying on Kyrgios a lot here and that is dangerous with his physical frailty. Belgium will be expecting a win in the opening rubber with Goffin vs Millman, so Darcis vs Kyrgios is the big one on Friday. It’s quite possible Australia could be staring at an 0-2 deficit.

Doubles Rubber

The doubles rubber isn’t often the glamour match-up, but it’s routinely a key rubber in Davis Cup play. I would expect nothing less in this one. Both countries have one doubles player set in stone. Ruben Bemelmans for Belgium and John Peers for Australia. The question will be who they partner with on Saturday. Belgium has Arthur de Greef as their fourth player, but he might be a longshot to participate. Bemelmans had paired with Joris De Loore in both Belgian tites this year for a clinching win against Germany and the tough five set loss to Italy.

Without De Loore, de Gree is the de-facto player selection, but not a doubles guy. He has only played a few doubles matches this year on tour and generally is a singles guy. That means Goffin or Darcis could be in line for double duty this weekend. Both have paired with Bemelmans twice in the past in Davis Cup play, but neither has scored a win. Given Goffin’s knee, I would think Darcis might be the choice. It may well come down to what happens to both on Day One and who they think would be fresher on Sunday.

That leaves Australia feeling fairly good about their chances in doubles with the #2 doubles player in the world in John Peers. Peers has mainly partnered with Sam Groth in Davis Cup play with three of his four career doubles rubbers coming with Groth and the fourth with Hewitt last year in a great battle against the Bryan brothers. The choice to put Thompson into the doubles mix seems smart with Thompson and Peers having played at the Ricoh Open earlier in the season with solid results. That’s a key in these matches and could give them an edge to securing a crucial win.

Kyrgios is actually the lone player other than Peers to have played a Davis Cup doubles rubber for Australia, but that came during his debut back in 2013. Especially with concerns of his shoulder and hip always a factor, I don’t think there is any way that Kyrgios would even be a thought for doubles play. I think the doubles rubber may be the pivotal one in this tie.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

This is tricky to predict with both countries’ numbers ones in singles coming into this with some lingering injury questions. Kyrgios’ shoulder and hip seemed to hold up better late in the summer, but his pathetic performance against John Millman in a round one loss at the U.S. Open says there is still concern. Goffin’s knee seems like a hit and miss issue. He looked okay early in the Open, but seemed worn down by the time he lost to Andrey Rublev in round four. So, he could reasonably start strong and then either be in good shape for the Sunday return rubbers or a big question mark if he’s forced into a lengthy first day battle.

For me, that means the “secondary” players could be the ones who wind up deciding who wins. I harken back again to “The Shark” Steve Darcis and his recent history of solid results for Belgium in necessary situations. It is possible that Belgium could be up 2-0 after Friday’s rubbers, but I do think this one could still go the distance. For me, the scales tip to Belgium with Millman’s inclusion on Friday.  I think the Sharknado strikes and fuels Belgium to another magical win.

Prediction: Belgium wins 3-2

2017 U.S. Open Preview: Quarter #4

USOQ417

Seeds
Marin Cilic (5)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (8)
Pablo Carreno Busta (12)
Lucas Pouille (16)
David Ferrer (21)
Albert Ramos-Vinolas (28)
Diego Schwartzman (29)
Robin Haase (32)

Battle Tested Vets Might Be Shown Up

This final quarter of the draw got a little switcheroo with Andy Murray’s late withdrawal. Marin Cilic now is the lead seed in a quarter and comes to New York with health questions. He’s been out since Wimbledon due to an abductor injury he sustained in London. When healthy, he is an obvious threat at Slams still. Since a subpar Australian Open, Cilic made the quarterfinals at Roland Garros and then the final at Wimbledon. The U.S. Open brings back fond memories of course as the site of his lone Grand Slam conquest.

Last year’s third round exit in New York was Cilic’s worse since 2011 and broke a streak of three straight quarterfinal or better finishes. If he proves he is healthy, he is the obvious one to beat here. Tsonga brings no momentum to the proceedings, but a good tradition in New York that includes two straight quarterfinal finishes. He may just need to find some early wins to gain confidene after a poor summer that saw him lose both his hard court tuneups. The vet with the best form shockingly is David Ferrer who had not won more than two matches at a tournament prior to winning the title on clay in Bastard post-Wimbledon.

When the surface switched to hard courts, Ferrer kept going wth a third round run in Montreal followed up with a semifinal trip in Cincinnati. A guy who was an after thought is now one you cannot overlook. The real intrigue could lie with a couple of talented 20-somethings who are mid-seeds in Carreno Busta and Pouille. Pouille, a 2016 quarterfinalist at the U.S. Open, has struggled to follow up his surprising 2016 campaign. Still, he’s got all the game you could want and a fairly workable draw. You also have two unseeded players who look boom or bust in Steve Johnson and Kyle Edmund that I’ll talk about more below.

Cilic’s Half Looks a Three Horse Race

With Cilic, Pouille and Ferrer all in one half of this quarter – they look to be the most probable contenders for quarterfinal spots. Cilic of course must prove his health first and he gets that opportunity in round one against Tennys Sandgren. On his best day, Sandgren might be able to hold serve with Cilic and sneak out a tight set or two. With Cilic fully fit, Cilic should overpower the American and move to round two. You should learn plenty from Cilic as that match wears on, but Sandgren might steal a set early with the Croat rusty. If he is healthy, then his route to the fourth round looks very nice. He has Schwartzman as the seed in his way and not a whole lot more. A fun first rounder in this part of the draw could be Janko Tipsarevic and Thanasi Kokkinakis. The Aussie could score some wins here with Schwartzman as a possible second round opponent, if he beats Carlos Berlocq in round one.

Ferrer and Pouille are the seeds in the other part opposite Cilic. Pouille has a wiley vet in Ruben Bemelmans to open. If he works past the Belgian, he could see American Jared Donaldson. Donaldson opens with Nikoloz Bashilasvhili. Donaldson made waves last year with a run through qualifying at the U.S. Open and a third round finish. He comes in off an unexpected semifinal run in Cincy that should fuel him. Donaldson beat Pouille in an earlier meeting at the Rogers Cup in two tiebreak sets and could be a dark horse in this section. He’s also inconsistent enough to lose in round one.

Ferrer gets Mikhail Kukushkin in round one and he is 7-0 lifetime in that match-up, but will face a stern test. Kukushkin is a veteran player who has made a habit of being a tough out in New York. He beat Dimitrov in 2015 and took Cilic to five sets the next round. He also played Ferrer once here in 2013 and lost in four. I would not be surprised if kukushkin made life tough on ferrer. The survivor looks to be in good shape with Menendez-Maceiras or Donskoy up in round two. Donskoy does have a big ground game, but has really struggled to make much of that at this level on a consistent basis. You have to like a healthy Cilic here and don’t be surprised if Donaldson makes another run at the expense of Pouille.

Tsonga’s Half Looks Prime for Unexpected Results

Tsonga opens with Marius Copil who serves big and hits big. Copil has never matched up well with top tier players though and the 26-year-old has just one Grand Slam win. Still, Tsonga has has had a proclivity for losing to power players like this over the last few months with two losses to Querrey, one to Karlovic and one to Muller. Copil isn’t in that class, but he can certainly bang power for power with Tsonga for a bit. Tsonga will need to be sharp. If he wins, we could get a highly entertaining round two if qualifier Denis Shapovalov can earn his first Slam win in round one against Daniil Medvedev. Medevedev has been off his game of late, so Shappy should have a chance to earn that maiden victory. If it’s Tsonga-Shapovalov in round two, you’ll get two demonstrative players going head-to-head in a match made from heaven for the crowd.

Haase is the seed opposite that part of this section and he has a difficult path in round one against Kyle Edmund. Edmund has been up and down this summer, but has the tools to win on this surface. Outside of Haase’s surprise Rogers Cup run, outdoor hard courts traditionally are not his thing. He is 2-7 lifetime at the U.S. Open and an upset could definitely be in the cards in round one. The winner there sees either Steve Johnson or Nicolas Almagro. Almagro is returning after knee surgery in late May. Johnson has been up an down as we all know with his head swimming still following the passing of his father. I like that spot for him to win and you can bet the crowd will be 100 percent behind him. He could relish a chance to avenge a loss to Edmund last week in Winston-Salem. Don’t be surprised if Johnson is motivated and emotional enough to score some wins.

The other half of this segment is led by two seeded Spaniards in Carreno Busta and Ramos-Vinolas. Neither is the allergic type to hard courts, so they actually have a good opportunity in this part of the draw. Carreno Busta has a smoother path with qualifier Evan King in his opener and then either Cameron Norrie or Dmitry Tursunov. PCB really should make it to round three unless he is an absolute mess. Ramos-Vinolas faces Denis Istomin, which might sound difficult. Looking at Istomin’s 2017 since beating Novak Djokovic in Australia however and it looks easier. Istomin has lost his first match in seven of his last eight tournaments. That should put ARV into round two against Nicolas Mahut or Marton Fucsovics. Fucsovics normally doesn’t win at this level on this surface.

I’m not big on Tsonga despite his past history here and especially with some of the dangerous young floaters in his segment of the draw. I can see taking advantage here or a feel good story with Steve Johnson.

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

Most of this quarter hinges on the health of Cilic. If he’s healthy and finds his game after the layoff, he certainly has the goods to get through this quarter. If not, then this looks wide open with guys like Carreno Busta and Pouille hopeful among the seeds. However, I could definitely see the unseeded uprising here if the upsets fall early on. Johnson, Shapovalov, Edmund and Medvedev all have possibilities if things fall right. With the way things have gone, it’d be just about right if Ferrer survived here somehow. I look to either a healthy Cilic or Carreno Busta or a resurgent Pouille as the best shots. If the unseeded streak ends, give me Johnson and all the feels.