2017 Nitto ATP Finals Preview

NITTOFINALS

The final event of the 2017 season kicks off in London on Sunday as the top eight finishers in this season’s injury riddled rankings compete for the top prize at the Nitto ATP Finals. The field is topped by this year’s two lead horses, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. More on the field in a minute, but first a quick run-thru on the format for this event.

The eight player field is split into two, four player groups. Each group will compete in a Round Robin, playing each member of the group. The top two players will then advance to the semifinals. The winners of the group are determined by total number of wins first and foremost. Tiebreakers then trickle down to total number of matches played, head-to-head results and then down to highest percentage of sets won and highest percentage of games won.

The top player from Group A then plays the second place player from Group B in one semifinal, with the top player from Group B then playing the second place player from Group A. The two winners of the semifinal then move on to the final, where the champion is crowned. Now, let’s take a look at this year’s singles field.

Group Pete Sampras

NADAL17NITTO

2017 Record: 67-10
Titles: 6
Finals: 10

Tour Finals Record: 16-12
Titles: 0
Finals: 2
Appearance: 8th

Record vs The Field
Vs Federer: 23-15 (0-4)
Vs Zverev: 3-0 (2-0)
Vs Thiem: 5-2 (3-1)
Vs Cilic: 5-1 (2-0)
Vs Dimitrov: 10-1 (3-0)
Vs Goffin: 2-0 (2-0)
Vs Sock: 4-0 (2-0)

THIEM17NITTO

2017 Record: 48-25
Titles: 1
Finals: 3

Tour Finals Record: 1-2
Titles: 0
Finals: 0
Appearance: 2nd

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 2-5 (1-3)
Vs Federer: 2-1 (0-0)
Vs Zverev: 4-1 (1-0)
Vs Cilic: 1-0 (0-0)
Vs Dimitrov: 2-1 (1-1)
Vs Goffin: 3-6 (0-2)
Vs Sock: 2-1 (0-0)

DIMITROVNITTO17

2017 Record: 44-19
Titles: 3
Finals: 4

Tour Finals Record: 0-0
Titles: 0
Finals: 0
Appearance: 1st

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 1-10 (0-3)
Vs Federer: 0-6 (0-1)
Vs Zverev: 1-2 (0-0)
Vs Thiem: 1-2 (1-1)
Vs Cilic 1-3 (0-0)
Vs Goffin: 3-1 (2-1)
Vs Sock: 1-3 (0-1)

GOFFINNITTO17

2017 Record: 54-22
Titles: 2
Finals: 4

Tour Finals Record: 0-1
Titles: 0
Finals: 0
Appearance: 2nd (2016 alternate)

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 0-2 (0-2)
Vs Federer: 0-6 (0-1)
Vs Zverev: 0-1 (0-0)
Vs Thiem: 6-3 (2-0)
Vs Cilic 3-2 (0-1)
Vs Dimitrov: 1-3 (1-2)
Vs Sock: 3-0 (1-0)

Group Overview

Knee-Gate remains the biggest talking point leading into the start of this year’s ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in London. As of today, Nadal has said his feeling is that he will play. That seems to only reference his opening match against David Goffin with everything after that looking like a match to match question mark. As such, I will remind you that Pablo Carreno Busta is the first alternate in London and would slide into the place of any player who cannot physically go this week.

Let’s take that out of the equation for now and talk about Nadal and his season. Rafa secured the year-ending #1 spot in Paris with a win over Pablo Cuevas. That is when his announcement to withdraw from the Paris Masters came and it certainly seemed like the smart move. Nadal has already logged a lot of mileage this season due in part to making 16 tournament finals. With the “off” season for tennis players being so short, it’s imperative for Nadal to make his decisions this week based on healthy and preparations for 2018. In all honesty, this title means nothing if you wind up delaying your start to the new season because of a physical ailment.

Nadal’s season of course has been an absolute smash hit, four out of four stars. He’s added two more Grand Slam titles to his resume and clinching the year-end top spot was the cherry on top. The only real “failures” for Rafa this season have been the string of losses to Roger Federer. Since their classic Australian Open Final, it’s been a Federer smash ‘n grab each time they’ve played with the Swiss. Federer has won six out of the last six sets played and has a five match win streak overall against Nadal. If there is motivation needed ,that would do it.

Outside of the Federer issue this season, you can see that Rafa’s numbers look good with the other potential matchups in London. He’s a combined 14-1 against the rest of the field with an 8-1 mark against the rest of his Round Robin group (Thiem, Dimitrov, Goffin). Dimitrov would seem to be the biggest hurdle to winning the group as the Bulgarian has taken at least one set off of Rafa in all three losses this season and he did win his lone match in their head-to-head a little over a year ago in Beijing.

Thiem has been able to contend with Nadal and does own a win this season against him, but they have not met since Nadal crushed Thiem in straights in the French Open semifinals. That ended with Thiem being bagaled in the final set. This week in London will mark the first time in their careers that they will meet on a surface other than clay. That same thing can be said with Goffin and Nadal and perhaps that can help close the gap between Rafa and this group. Thiem hasn’t shown a great affinity for the indoor environment with a 24-24 career mark indoors.

Goffin however has produced his best win percentage indoors with a 17-6 mark this year to feed into his career record of 56-29 on indoor surfaces. Half of his four finals’ appearances this year came on indoor hard courts, so the surface could suit Goffin well. Goffin has a winning record against Thiem, but will have to produce a win against either Nadal or Dimitrov to have a shot to advance out of the group. He’s 1-4 against those two combined. The plus being that lone win came against Dimitrov indoors in Rotterdam earlier this season.

Key Round Robin Matches

Thiem vs Dimitrov
This day one match could go a long way in determining the second player to come out of this group. They have split two meetings in 2017 with Thiem taking the last, but that was on clay in Madrid. It also went 11-9 in the third set tiebreak to decide, so Dimitrov likely will feel that the surface switch here favors him. Dimitrov made the final in Stockholm, an indoor event, and has produced good results consistently indoors with a 54-32 record all-time. That includes 10-3 this season with a title indoors in Sofia.

A loss, especially for Thiem, could put him squarely behind the eight ball with Nadal and Goffin left to play. He’s 1-5 against those two this season. A win for Dimitrov gives him a solid shot to go 2-1 at least in the group, where winning a set off of Nadal might be enough to kill any tiebreaks to advance to the semifinals.

Nadal vs Dimitrov
If Nadal is going to falter in the group, this feels like the match. Dimitrov has stretched Nadal to five sets in Melbourne and three sets the other two times they have met on tour in 2017. His issue in the best of three format has been starting strong or finish strong – he’s done neither against Nadal who has dropped the second set against the Bulgarian both in Beijing and Shanghai. In both cases, Nadal recovered to take the final sets 6-1 & 6-3.

I don’t think Dimitrov necessarily needs a win to squeeze something good out of this encounter. With the Tour Finals format, winning a set in a loss, is important and the world #6 seems like he can do that at the least. If Dimitrov takes a set or wins, I think he’s a shoe-in to move into the semifinals out of this group.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

All eyes will be pinned on Nadal for health reasons and of course any looming prospect of one last #Fedal showdown in 2017. In all honesty, thet is about the only thing left to prove for Rafa this season is that he can beat Federer. I expect Rafa will participate in his opening match and that’s when he will know whether his knee is going to hold up for the tournament. The gut feeling is that he’ll sub out at some point and Carreno Busta will be slotted in as a replacement.

That means this group is difficult to predict. Carreno Busta’s inclusion could tip the scales to Thiem with The Dominator at 4-0 in his career against PCB. It would also be an obvious boost for Dimitrov to avoid Nadal with a 1-10 career mark despite some more competitive matches this year. Dimitrov is 2-2 against Carreno Busta, losing the last two on clay and Goffin is 0-1 with their last match coming in 2013. With the tricky guessing game here, my picks will be Dimitrov and Thiem to move out of this group and into the semifinals.

Group Boris Becker

FED17NITTO

2017 Record: 49-4
Titles: 7
Finals: 8

Tour Finals Record: 52-12
Titles: 6
Finals: 10
Appearance: 15th

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 15-23 (4-0)
Vs Zverev: 2-2 (1-1)
Vs Thiem: 1-2 (0-0)
Vs Cilic: 7-1 (1-0)
Vs Dimitrov: 6-0 (1-0)
Vs Goffin: 6-0 (1-0)
Vs Sock: 3-0 (1-0)

ZVEREV17NITTO

2017 Record: 54-20
Titles: 5
Finals: 6

Tour Finals Record: 0-0
Titles: 0
Finals: 0
Appearance: 1st

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 0-3 (0-2)
Vs Federer: 2-2 (1-1)
Vs Thiem: 1-4 (0-1)
Vs Cilic: 3-1 (1-0)
Vs Dimitrov: 2-1 (0-0)
Vs Goffin: 1-0 (0-0)
Vs Sock: 1-1 (0-0)

NITTOCILIC17

2017 Record: 44-19
Titles: 1
Finals: 3

Tour Finals Record: 1-5
Titles: 0
Finals: 0
Appearance: 3rd

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 1-5 (0-2)
Vs Federer: 1-7 (0-1)
Vs Zverev: 1-3 (0-1)
Vs Thiem: 0-1 (0-0)
Vs Dimitrov: 3-1 (0-0)
Vs Goffin: 2-3 (1-0)
Vs Sock: 0-2 (0-0)

SOCKNITTO17

2017 Record: 36-19
Titles: 3
Finals: 6

Tour Finals Record: 0-0
Titles: 0
Finals: 0
Appearance: 1st

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 0-4 (0-2)
Vs Federer: 0-3 (0-1)
Vs Zverev: 1-1 (0-0)
Vs Thiem: 1-2 (0-0)
Vs Cilic 2-0 (0-0)
Vs Dimitrov: 3-1 (1-0)
Vs Goffin: 0-3 (0-1)

Group Overview

Federer’s pristine record in 2017 is remarkable and the addition of two more Grand Slam trophies to his collection mark one of the greater achievements in history for the 36-year-old who many thought was done collecting hardware at majors. On top of that, he’s been able to turn the tables of nemesis Rafael Nadal with four wins this season over the Spaniard. He’s done all that and played the lightest schedule of any of the London participants, smartly scheduling his season to maximize his chances to do exactly what he wound up doing – winning Grand Slam titles.

Federer can’t bee too displeased with his group, even with two other top five players included in Zverev and Cilic. Zverev holds the 2-2 record against Fed, including 1-1 this season. What should be noted however is the win for Sascha came at the Rogers Cup, when Federer’s health was an issue. In Halle the month before, Federer blasted Zverev off the grass courts 6-1, 6-3. Since Zverev’s surprise title at the Rogers Cup, he’s gone just 8-7 and appears to be limping to the finish line for 2017. None of his eight wins have come against top 2- players and four of the seven losses he has suffered, have come to players outside of the Top 40. Couple that with a well-rested Federer and I think the Swiss will like his chances just fine.

Cilic appears to have the worst road in this group with a 2-12 record against Federer, Zverev and Sock in his career. He’s also just 1-5 at this event in his career. The positives for Cilic are that he has played well since the U.S. Open with three semifinal runs in the four tournaments that he has played. The bad will come with two of his four losses in that span coming to Adrian Mannarino and Julien Benneteau, players he is expected to beat more often than not.

Sock is the fresh face as he makes his debut. He’ll be brimming with a little extra swagger after taking the title in Paris last week, but that’s to be taken with a grain of salt. Sock’s draw was incredibly kind most of the way with just one player (Lucas Pouille) ranked inside the top 38. His last two opponents, Julien Benneteau and Filip Krajinovic, were ranked 83rd and 77th respectively. The American has only faced one of his three group-mates this season, losing to Federer at Indian Wells. He’s beaten Cilic twice and split with Sascha in two matches, taking the last one indoors in Stockholm last year.

Key Round Robin Matches

Federer vs Zverev
This will be billed as the best match of the group, but the hype may not live up the result. This is the confidence builder or eroder for Sascha in my opinion and it could well serve as the same for Federer. The Swiss shouldn’t be lacking for confidence based on losing just four matches all year, but Zverev has contended well against him outside of the Halle whitewash this year. A win for Sascha in this spot could elevate him to the top spot out of this group, which might keep him from seeing Nadal in the semifinals. That would be an optimal outcome.

For Federer, he won’t really care too much how he gets out of the group as long as he gets out of the group. Certainly he’d rather see Nadal in a finals setting than going through him in the semis with the prospects of playing another match after going through a physical Nadal match. That should make all matches equally important to Federer. You’d think though that he has this one circled due to that loss in Montreal. It’s one of the few blemishes on a glorious season and one that Fed can erase in London.

Zverev vs Sock
This could also serve as an elimination match. If Federer is Federer, he’s going to lock up one of the two spots to advance out of this group. Cilic looks like he’ll have a tough time getting out of the group with a poor track record in London and bad numbers against all the players in this group. That could leave Sascha and Sock to joust for the final qualification spot. These two have not met since their three set thriller; 6-7 (4), 7-06 (4), 6-4, in the Stockholm semifinals last year. That came just a month after Zverev had dismantled Sock 6-4, 6-2 in Beijing.

Sock has momentum on his side, but that could be fleeting with an opener against Federer to start his debut appearance at the ATP Tour Finals. The pluses for Sock are that Sascha has not played his best tennis the last half of the season and he looks vulnerable to anyone in the field at this point. This match likely will come down to which player wins those key break points against their own serve. Both players can get into a rhythm on serve with some easier holds, but both usually sport more holes than consistency on serve. That will leave them open to exploitation. The winner of this one really should be in the driver’s seat for a spot in the semis.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

I won’t say Federer is quite a lock to get one of the two semifinal spots out of this group, but everything certainly looks to align well for him. If he somehow gets stunned in the Round Robin stages, the feeling for me is that Marin Cilic will have had something to do with that outcome. Overall, I think Federer gets the top spot and then I get an odd feeling that it comes down to Cilic and Sock for the other.

Zverev’s luke warm finish to the season has me thinking that he may struggle to get more than a win in the group stages. First timers have had some sporadic success at this event with Kei Nishikori as the last first timer to advance to the semis in 2014. Stan Wawrinka did it the year before in 2013. You’d think Zverev would be the better bet over Sock as a first timer to do the trick this year, but I’m not sure that is the case. I’m also not sure that I think Sock can get two wins in this group to get through.

I’ll go Federer and Cilic here, despite Cilic’s lackluster record against the field.

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

It will be disappointing not to see a Nadal-Federer final to cap off what has been a great “retro” year for tennis fans with the two 30-somethings ruling the roost. However, if we don’t get that in the name of Nadal being healthy for 2018, I’m okay with that. For me, this tournament looks tailor-made for Federer. He’s worked the smartest schedule of any player and should be the freshest.

It will likely be on Fed to keep the Big Four’s stranglehold on this tournament, where Nikolay Davydenko was the last non-Big Four member to win back in 2009. Federer’s last win in London came in 2011 Who Fed could play in a final is the big question with Thiem and Dimitrov the two guys I’m looking to have the best chance if Nadal is out due to the knee. In the end, I’m sticking with Federer to keep the Big Four’s streak going and finish off a fantastic season.

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2017 Rolex Paris Masters Preview

PARIS17

Federer Withdrawal Effectively Ends Chase For #1

Shortly after winning the Swiss Indoors Basel for the 8th time on Sunday, Roger Federer announced that he would be skipping the Rolex Paris Masters to recover for the year-end ATP World Tour Finals. It was a long shot for Federer to overtake Rafael Nadal for the top spot in the rankings, but now it’s just about a dona deal. Nadal will need just one win in Paris this week to clinch the year-end number one ranking. What should be bigger for Nadal however is a chance to win this event for the first time ever. That’s right – Nadal has never won this event in his career. His best finish was making the final in 2007, where he lost to David Nalbandian. Since then, he’s made just four trips to Paris with two quarterfinal and two semifinal finishes. He enters this week as the top seed with something prove perhaps in a season where he’s done that over and over.

With Federer out, the next seed in the field is Marin Cilic who takes the #3 slot. Cilic made the semifinals here last year, his best finish in Paris. He’s just 9-8 overall in his career at this event. Coming in at number four is Alexander Zverev, who will make his Rolex Paris Masters debut. The rest of the top eight seeds includes Dominic Thiem (5), Grigor Dimitrov, David Goffin and Pablo Carreno Busta. None of those players has been past the round of 16 in Paris in the past. Of the rest if the seeded field, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (11) has the best history here as the title winner in 2008. Juan Martin Del Potro is the 13th seed with the next best record at 7-5. He’s made the quarterfinals twice in 2009 and 2013.

Lucas Pouille slides into the ghost seed spot at #17 due to the Federer withdrawal and takes over Federer’s spot in the draw. That should be good news for the Vienna Open champion, who will get the benefit of a better draw. Pouille won the all-French final in Vienna on Sunday, pounding Tsonga 6-1, 6-4 to claim his third title of the season. He’ll have some expectation on him with that outing and getting slotted into Federer’s spot. Defending champion Andy Murray will of course not be defending the title due to ending his season early this year due to injury. It will be on Nadal to continue the dominance of the Big Four by himself this year. Murray and Djokovic are responsible for the last four titles in Paris with Djokovic taking three of those from 2013-20-15. David Ferrer was the last non-Big Four member to win the Paris title back in 2012.

Early Bird Specials

Upsets have been regular among the seeds taking part in their opening matches in Paris. Over the last five years, at least three seeds have been dropped in their openers in four of five years. Last year saw four seeds lose early and while it’s been the lower seeds normally who are most prone, Paris has seen some exceptions to that pattern. Most famously, Novak Djokovic was stunned as the second seed in 2012 by Sam Querrey. Last year saw qualifier Jan-Lennard Struff craft another big upset when he took down third seed Stan Wawrinka.

So who could follow suit this year? Let’s have a look.

3. Marin Cilic
The scheduling Gods may pit Cilic and Borna Coric against each other again. Coric takes on fellow qualifier Jan-Lennard Struff. Struff already has that scalp of Wawrinka under his belt, so he should not be taken lightly. Coric has taken a set off of Cilic in each of the three losses he has suffered at the hands of Cilic this season. He’s getting closer and perhaps playing him two weeks in a row could help him have his best chance.

4. Alexander Zverev
Sascha is that high seed who could find trouble this week. Zverev waits for the winner between Steve Johnson and Robin Haase. Johnson beat Zverev in their lone career meeting last year at Indian Wells. Zverev is 2-0 against Haase, but the Dutchman took him five sets at this year’s Australian Open. With Sascha having no experience at this tournament, it could be an opportunity for Haase or Johnson to stun the German.

6. Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov gets one of two Frenchmen to open, either Richard Gasquet or Benoit Paire. Gasquet had been tough on Dimitrov until recent times with the Bulgarian winning the last two in their series. Gasquet still leads the h2h 5-2 overall. Paire owns two wins in three tries against Dimitrov and has taken a set off of him each time they’ve met. They have not played since Paire beat Dimitrov in Tokyo in 2015. Either way, I expect Dimitrov to have a tough time in his opener and this has never been a great tournament for him.

7. David Goffin
This is another match-up based alert with Goffin in good form after running to the Basel semifinals this past week. His first match in Paris with be against “Mr.Paris” David Ferrer or Adrian Mannarino. Ferrer has surprisingly found himself with great results at this tournament. The Spaniard is 21-11 all-time in Paris with one title. He did lose his opener last year to Isner, but otherwise has finished in the quarters or better in five of his last six trips. He also holds a 2-0 edge over Goffin in their careers. The Belgian would much prefer Mannarino who he is 3-0 against all-time.

8. Pablo Carreno Busta
The 2017 U.S. Open semifinalist has found things have not gone his way since that career best achievement. PCB is just 1-4 since the U.S. Open final. He’ll battle either Vasek Pospisil or Nicolas Mahut in his opener. Pospisil and Mahut have not been in good form, but both are capable or springing the upset. PCB beat Mahut in straights at the U.S. Open, but Mahut is better in these controlled indoor conditions. Exepct a tussle for PCB, but I’d put him on the lower side of the upset scale due to the poor form of his prospective opponents.

9. John Isner
Isner faces Diego Schwartzman or Viktor Troicki. He’d probably rather avoid Troicki who is 5-3 against the American, including a win against him recently in Shanghai. Isner did surprisingly make the final here in Paris last year, but as usual his style makes him prone to losing tight matches. We saw that against Philipp Kohlschreiber last week in Vienna.

11. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsonga is on this list because he’s in the dreaded Championship Match hangover mode after losing to Pouille in Vienna on Sunday. Often, runners-up have trouble recovering in their next tournaments with plenty of losses in their first or second matches. Tsonga opens against either Denis Shapovalov or Julien Benneteau. El Shapo has not been able to follow up his summer success late in the season with just one win in his last four matches since the U.S. Open. Benneteau might be the tougher up. He’s 4-6 against Tsonga, but lost in straights to him in Antwerp. Tsonga should probably get through his first match, but he’s worth monitoring.

12. Kevin Anderson
Anderson is just 3-4 since losing the U.S. Open final, so he’s definitely going on this list. He starts with the winner between Fernando Verdasco and Andrey Rublev. Both came definitely rattle the big man’s cage and cause an upset. Verdasco pulled out from Basel last week, but I have not found anything that says he isn’t 100 percent ready to go this week. He’s 4-3 against Anderson, including 2-1 this season with one of those wins coming indoors in Stockholm recently. Rublev lost a four setter to Anderson back in 2015 at the U.S. Open in their lone meeting. The Russian does own one career win against Verdasco on clay, but comes in with losses in four of his last five matches. I’d rate Verdasco the bigger threat.

13. Juan Martin Del Potro
Although his match-up will favor the Argentine, two long weeks of tennis will not. DelPo surprisingly to me was able to work his way to a second straight final in successive weeks in Basel. He put together a decent showing in losing in three sets to Federer. At this point though, he’s got a shot to make the field in London and that keeps him grinding again in Paris. He opens against qualifier Joao Sousa or Paolo Lorenzi. Sousa is the intriguing one as he took on Del Potro last week in Basel. DelPo controlled most of the match, but did drop a set in the 6-1, 4-6, 6-1 victory. Lorenzi is on a seven match losing skid and is 1-3 against Sousa, but that lone win came in five sets over Sousa at this year’s U.S. Open. Given DelPo’s likely fatigue, he’s certainly set up for trouble early in Paris.

15. Albert Ramos-Vinolas
He could be in for rough opener regardless of who wins between Pablo Cuevas and Karen Khachanov. Of course, Cuevas has dropped ten straight matches and Khachanov has just one win in his last seven. However, a win could help turn their fortunes around quckly and put them into a good match-up against ARV. Cuevas owns a 4-1 head-to-head record against ARV with one of those wins coming indoors in Valencia, Spain back in 2010. Khachanov’s power could be tougher for ARV to cope with and the Russian is 1-0 against Cuevas. Khachanov was a tough out in Vienna last week. He lost in three sets to Tsonga.

17. Lucas Pouille
Even though Pouille gets the advantage of slotting in for Federer, his first match is going to be difficult. Pouille takes on the survivor between Feliciano Lopez and Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Both players own wins in their careers against Pouille with PHH at 1-1 and Lopez at 1-2. All matches they have played against Pouille went the distance in best of three settings. If Pouille is going to make a run, it should get easier after round two – if he survives.

Outsider’s Edge

Twice in the last five years, an unseeded player has crashed the final in Paris. Last year it was John Isner who ultimately lost to Andy Murray. Back in 2012, it was Jerzy Janowicz as a qualifier who did the trick. 2016 broke a string of three straight years where no unseeded player advanced as far as the quarterfinals. The feeling this year is that with all the injuries and weekly turmoil, an unseeded player or two could definitely make some big noise in Paris. Here’s a look at a few guys to watch.

Steve Johnson
Johnson hasn’t been a big performer down the stretch during a trying season, but his draw could give him an opening to make a run. He has to get past Haase to open, but then would match up against Alexander Zverev in round two. I still think that is a winnable match at this stage of the season for the American. Johnson also has Del Potro in his part of the quarter, who I sitll think is a burnout candidate for the week. He will have to earn everything he gets, but there is some potential if he can get out of the gates quickly.

Richard Gasquet/Benoit Paire
Also in the same part of the draw as Johnson, the winner of this all-French first rounder has the potential to grow into a darkhorse threat. The winner gets Grigor Dimitrov to start. Dimitrov has been strong down the stretch, but he’s got a spot in London wrapped up, so his motivation for the week is all within his brain. If he’s uncaring about this week, then the draw opens for one of these Frenchmen with Isner as the only seed in the way after Dimitrov to play for a quarterfinal spot.

David Ferrer
“Mr.Paris” may be fading into the sunset some in his career, but the Spaniard is 2-2 indoors in the past two tournaments and simply has found something special most years in Paris. He will have to beat Goffin in round two if he gets there and might have to go through Tsonga for a chance to get at a quarterfinal spot. Ferrer has three wins in four tries against Tsonga, but they have not met since 2013.

Kyle Edmund
Edmund comes in of a semifinal run in Vienna, so he’s got some confidence on this surface. His quarter features Pouille and Sock as the seeds in his way to a quarterfinal. That’s not a bad draw for him. He starts with Evgeny Donskoy and then would see Sock in round two if he wins. Edmund crushed Sock in Atlanta this summer in straights. If he sees Pouille, it would be a rematch of their semi in Vienna that Pouille won in three.

Hugues-Herbert/Lopez
The winner of their first round battle takes on Pouille and I mentioned previously how both have played him tough in the past. An upset there and either one of these guys could be an unlikely runner towards a quarterfinal spot.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (1)
Pablo Carreno Busta (8)
Sam Querrey (10)
Albert Ramos-Vinolas (15)

Breakdown
Nadal will feel good this week that there is little pressure on him to perform with Federer out of the draw. What I mean there is that the focus won’t be on the possibility of a Fedal match, but more on Nadal clinching the #1 spot with a single win in Paris. Toss in this draw with no real scary seeds and Rafa should feel like he’s got it in him to make a deep run. He opens with eirher Mischa Zverev or Hyeon Chung, either of which is a nice match-up for the top seed. Ramos-Vinolas is the only seed in his way before the round of 16 and ARV may not make it that far.

The bottom of the quarter features Carreno Busta and Querrey. Both seeds really have no excuse if they don’t wind up squaring off in the round of 16. They are easily the talents in this part of the draw, but have to shake off recently slumps. Yuichi Sugita is an interesting floater in this part of the quarter as he opens with Filip Krajinovic. A win would match him against Querrey. It’s not a great match-up, but Querrey has lost his first match in two of his last three tournaments. I think Sam has too much power for Sugita, but watch the man from Japan any way – he could be an X-Factor.

Without Federer in the mix, all eyes fall squarely on Nadal. I think he’s got plenty of motivation this week and shouldn’t feel much pressure. This draw is as good as any for him to break his run of not winning the title in Paris.

Quarter #2
Alexander Zverev (4)
Grigor Dimitrov (6)
John Isner (9)
Juan Martin Del Potro (13)

Breakdown
Dimitrov arrives with the best form. He wisely pulled out of Vienna last week to rest and that should benefit him. He is 8-3 since the U.S. Open with two losses to Nadal and one to Del Potro. That’s nothing to be ashamed of this year. I think he’s in that spot where if he makes it past a tough opener, but then he gets an easier route after that. Isner is the only seed in his way to the round of 16 and he beat the big man in Cincinnati this year, one of the quickest courts on tour. I think there is a chance that he won’t have to contend with him if Troicki beats Schwartzman in round one.

In Zverev’s half, Sascha too could get rolling if he avoids early trouble. Steve Johnson is a possible second round opponent and then only Del Potro is seeded in front of him to keep him from making the quarterfinals. Given Del Potro’s heavy schedule, Sascha has a chance to do well in Paris his first time through as long as he gets off to a good start.

This quarter for me falls to Zverev or Dimitrov if they avoid that early trouble, but could go off the rails if either one of them loses early. Then I would look to Gasquet, Paire and Johnson as spoilers. I’ll give a slight edge to Dimitrov because of his form post-U.S. Open.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Marin Cilic (3)
David Goffin (7)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (11)
Roberto Bautista Agut (14)

Breakdown
Cilic and Goffin both bring the form to Paris this week that makes them obvious favorites in this quarter. Goffin has not been great here with just a 3-3 record. Before last year’s semifinal showing, Cilic hadn’t been burning up Paris either – so there is some hope for the rest of the quarter. Cilic should have the edge to get further, even if he has to battle Coric again for the fourth time this year. Coric still has not proven he can beat Cilic. If he gets past the early hurdle, Cilic has the edge to get to the quarters as he holds a 3-1 edge of Bautista Agut for their careers.

Goffin’s half gets easier if he avoids Ferrer or at least that is my feeling. Ferrer has the guts and game to push Goffin, so that potential second round match is a big potential landmine for the Belgian. Tsonga has an advantageous draw with Shapovalov or Benneteau first up. If he can shake off a poor final in Vienna, perhaps he can wow the home crowd. Tsonga holds a 4-2 edge over Goffin, including a win indoors in Rotterdam early this season. If Tsonga gets his head on straight this week, he could make some noise.

The feeling for me is Cilic or Goffin won’t be involved in deciding who gets to the semifinals. Goffin seems more likely to fall earlier with some tougher match-ups. I think this comes down to Cilic or Tsonga, although I won’t count out Ferrer in Paris.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Dominic Thiem (5)
Kevin Anderson (12)
Jack Sock (16)
Lucas Pouille (17)

Breakdown
The seeds here all look prone to me and this quarter smells like the one that could have an unseeded player run through it. There are candidates with Verdasco a possibility as he could have good match-ups against Anderson in round two and he’s beaten Thiem in their only career meeting. Thiem has lost four of his last five and at the end of a long season, is always prone to losing earlier than expected. I can see the Verdasco-Rublev winner making a push here.

In the other half, Sock and Pouille are the seeds. Again, there are plenty of dangerous floaters waiting for them. Sock likely faced Edmund in his opener and Pouille gets Herbert or Lopez, both of whom can be tough on him. Pouille for me is one who can grow into a contender if he avoids the early upset. Sock I still get the feeling that he’ll find some way to muck it up as he goes. I look to Pouille or Edmund to be involved in the business end of this quarter.

Pouille has the form that could carry over into a deep run and he’s certainly the best form of any of the seeds in this section. If Pouille flops, then I would look to one of the unseeded players to make a move – Verdasco, Rublev or Edmund as my favorites among that group.

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

It’s not often that you seed Nadal entering a tournament that has been around for a good bit without every having won it. This is one of those rare weeks and a week without Federer than opens up for him to change that. Cilic, Dimitrov and Tsonga are among the other seeds that I would look to if Rafa happens to falter. I’m not sure he will, but they are the ones for me who look likeliest to pick up the pieces if he does.

2017 Swiss Indoors Basel Preview

SWISS17

No Nadal Means Federer Can Close Points Gap

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

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

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

Early Bird Specials

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

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

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

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

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

Outsider’s Edge

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

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

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

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

Draw Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.