2017 Mercedes Cup R2 Preview: Grigor Dimitrov vs Jerzy Janowicz

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Grigor Dimitrov finally gets started at Stuttgart as he goes up against The Polish Burger-meister, Jerzy Janowicz. The Pole started his campaign this week with a three set victory over Andrey Kuznetsov.

(2) Grigor Dimitrov vs Jerzy Janowicz

Dimitrov makes a rare trip outside of England to start off his grass court season. Last year’s trip to Stuttgart was the Bulgarian’s first time playing somewhere other than Queen’s Club to start the grass court season since 2010. That was back when Dimitrov was still splitting time between Challengers at the ATP Tour. Last year, Dimitrov was dumped out in his opener by Juan Martin Del Potro 6-4, 6-2. He had a poor grass campaign overall, losing to Janko Tipsarevic in his Queen’s Club opener, before seeing the exit door in round three at Wimbledon.

Janowicz has been relatively healthy in 2017 and won a Challenger event earlier this season. His ranking is up to 155 and he’s ready for second round play. His win over Kuznetsov was his first main draw ATP win since February in Sofia, Bulgaria. Against Kuznetsov, the Pole was pretty solid. He staved off six of seven break chances, winning 77 percent of his first serve points and 55 percent off his second. He tallied five aces and five double faults. In the end, he would win just two more points overall than the Russian (91-89).

Jerzy Being Jerzy, Still Rebuilding Ranking

The match against Kuznetsov probably gained more attention for a point violation against Janowicz than the result. The Pole was cited for obscenity, but claimed that he was reading an advertising sign about hamburgers, telling the chair ump that he said “I like burgers.” That wasn’t Janowicz’s first fun with a chair umpire this season. In March, while playing Dennis Shapovalov at a Challenger, Janowicz received three code violations in five minutes. That resulted in a game penalty at the Guadalajara-based event. The Pole would ultimately lose in a third set tiebreak.

Janowicz, a one-time Wimbledon semifinalist in 2013, has played more Challengers than ATP events again in 2017 in order to work his way back from injury and elevate his ranking. The Pole has been besieged by injuries since that magical run. Later in 2013, it was a back injury that caused him some issues. In 2014, he played with a broken bone in his foot in a season where he went just 24-26. Then, it was a knee injury in late 2015 that stalked him into 2016 and had him sidelined for about six months.

He would finally get healthy around the time of the Rio Olympics. Janowicz returned there, losing to Gilles Muller. He would then hit the Challenger circuit to finish the year in an effort to rebuild his ranking and confidence. The one-time Top 20 player was ranked at 280 to end last season. He’s currently at #155.

Second Meeting This Season

The two players met earlier in Bulgaria in one of Janowicz’s rare forays back into ATP main draws. Dimitrov edged him in three sets 4-6, 6-3, 7-5. That marked Dimitrov’s second win in three tries over the Pole. Dimitrov beat him previously on clay in Rome in 2015 with Janowicz winning their first career clash on hard courts in Cincinnati in 2014. Their most recent meeting in Sofia saw plenty of big serving from both. Dimitrov tallied 15 aces in the match with Jerzy adding 17.

The difference in the match wound up being better second serves from Dimitrov, who won 70 percent of his second serve points. Jerzy won just 52 percent by comparison. Dimitrov would fight off six of seven break points, while converting two of six against Janowicz. It was a very small margin of victory with Dimitrov tallying just six more points overal (99-93).

At the time, Dimitrov was on a roll early in the season. He went on to win the title in Sofia, his second in just three tournaments played. The other came in Brisbane and he had also made the semifinals at the Australian Open. He was 14-1 after the title in Sofia. Now? He is 21-9, going jusy 7-8 since Sofia. That includes four first match losses at tournaments.

Strategy Session

There shouldn’t be much surprise to Janowicz’s play on Thursday. The 6’8″ Pole wants to use his power to serve big and he’s still got the agility to rush the net. That’s a dangerous combination on grass, if he’s hitting his mark on serve. The interesting thing is that Jerzy stayed glued to the baseline almost exclusively in their meeting indoors earlier this season. Changing that up some with some serving and volleying would not be unwise.

For Dimitrov, it’s going to be about finding a rhythm. He’ll have had plenty of practice on grass, but a big load of Haas that did for Roger Federer on Wednesday. Practice helps you get a feel for the surface, but it’s match play that Dimitrov needs. His sluggish starts on grass in recent years don’t suggest that it’s going to be all that smooth.

Going up against a guy who can serve big is also not high on the wish list of things you’d ask for in your first match of the season on grass. In their Sofia meeting, Janowicz went after Dimitrov’s backhand side a lot with his serve to solid results. I would not expect him to stray from trying that again in this one. Jerzy’s power left Dimitrov locked up several times and not able to consistently get solid strikes on his return from that wing. That led to some easy 1-2 punches for Janowicz off the serve to Dimitrov’s backhand.

Dimitrov did a better job of mixing his serves to both Janowicz’s forehand and backhand, which left him guessing. That led to some quicker and more aggressive points for Dimitrov. It also allowed Dimitrov more opportunity to come to net and that is something he needs to do on grass. Janowicz doesn’t have the best return, so as long as the second seed gets his rhythm rocking early – he should be able to get some easier holds as the match grows.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Upsets have already hit the seeds in Stuttgart with Federer, Johnson and Troicki all going out in their openers. Dimitrov certainly is not immune to early upsets as that became a pattern on clay. I do think Jerzy has the tools and the extra match play to challenge him in this one. The Pole was able to contend well against him earlier in the season. but he’s still been lacking in results when he’s played top tier players. An upset wouldn’t surprise given Dimitrov’s mediocre form, but I’ll give the Bulgarian this one as I believe he’ll be able to ramp up his game as the match moves on.

Prediction: Dimitrov wins in three sets

2017 Mercedes Cup R2 Preview: Steve Johnson vs Philipp Kohlschreiber

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One of the marquee matches of the early rounds at the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart pits American Steve Johnson against German grass master Philipp Kohlschreiber. Kohlschreiber made the final last year and has now tallied 36 of his 53 career wins on grass at the German-based tournaments in Halle and Stuttgart.

(5) Steve Johnson vs Philipp Kohlschreiber

Johnson was challenged in his opener by Maximillian Marter. The homestanding German pushed Johnson to three sets, but the 5th seed prevailed 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4. Johnson started slow as he was broken twice in the opening set. After that though, the American settled in and his serve powered him through. After winning just 13 of 23 service points in the opening set, Johnson won 49 of 59 over the final two sets. He did not face another break point.

Kohlschreiber won an abbreviated match to start his Stuttgart campaign. The 33-year-old rolled over Marcos Baghdatis 6-1 in the first set. Baghdatis promptly retired after the set, citing a pinched nerve in his back. Kohlschreiber took advantage of his compromised opponent, stealing 14 points out of the 25 played off Baghdatis’ serve. He would break the Cypriot three times on five chances. Kohlschreiber won ten of eleven points off his first serve, but did struggle some with his second serve. He would win just three of eight points played, but never faced a break point.

First Time Meeting, Grass Plays Well for Both

Johnson and Kohlschreiber will be meeting for the first time when they take the court for second round play at the Mercedes Cup. Kohlschreiber came to Stuttgart having lost four of his last matches since making the final in Casablance on clay. Johnson earned a lot of new fans for his gutsy showing at the French Open as he continues to deal with the sudden loss of his father. The American was visibly overcome with emotion during his matches as he made it to the third round before being eliminated by Dominic Thiem.

Johnson comes into the 2017 grass court swing off his best showing on the surface last season. He went 11-4 and won his first ATP title at Nottingham. He was solid the week prior to that win, making the quarters at Queen’s Club. He beat Richard Gasquet and took Marin Cilic to three sets in a loss. Johnson would cap off the grass season with his best Wimbledon result, a fourth round exit at the hands of Roger Federer. Johnson dumped Grigor Dimitrov out of the tournament in the third round as his highlight for the week.

Kohlschreiber normally comes alive with the switch from clay to grass, mostly for the first tournaments in his home country. Last year, he started in Stuttgart with a finals run that ended with a three set loss to Dominic Thiem. The rest of his grass court season would flame out however as he injured his hip in Halle the week after, forcing him to retire in the quarterfinals. It robbed him of a chance for revenge against Thiem. Kohlschreiber would go down in round one at Wimbledon, which has been a poor tournament for him in recent years despite the success he finds on grass in Germany. Kohlschreiber has lost in round one at Wimbledon three of the last four years since making the quarters in 2012.

Match Tactics

For Johnson, it’s all about the power serve and forehand combination. When he serves well, especially on a slick and fast surface like grass, he’s very difficult to deal with. That’s exactly what we saw after the first set against Marterer. Grass should always play into Johnson’s more aggressive ground game, although players with the proper game plan will still find a way to get the ball back to Johnson’s backhand.

The backhand slice from Johnson can continue to be effective on grass if he hits it into proper positions, but I think Kohlschreiber is comfortable hitting his delicious one-handed backhand off of that shot. That could be a big difference maker for the German. Johnson has shown improved patience on grass from the past in being willing to trade in some of those baseline exchanges with his backhand, until he finds the proper time to unleash his forehand.

For Kohlschreiber, grass is well suited to his game. He has a nifty kick serve that is hard to beat when it’s in rhythm. He’ll need his serve to be on point since Johnson seems to have found his measure after round one. The German though has rarely says he feels outclassed on this surface and he’s competed well and won against players with big serves like the 5th seeded American. Kohlschreiber’s return game has improved over the years and he’s got that underrated one-handed backhand that is a solid weapon for this surface.

I would look for Kohlschreiber to try and attack the backhand side of Johnson when possible with his one hander down-the-line perhaps being a killer shot if he finds the measure. The German also adapts his game to grass well by using the old “chip and charge” tactic at-times. That is something Johnson will need to be prepared for with the American still preferring to play the majority of the points from the baseline, even on grass where that can hurt you against the wrong opponent.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

This is a fascinating match-up with Kohlschreiber bringing a strong grass court pedigree and Johnson having proven he can indeed win on this surface, playing his style. I do expect Kohlschreiber to use that chip and charge tactic to test Johnson in this one. Johnson has the wheels to defend that, but is more comfortable away from the net for the most part. This could well come down to a tiebreak or two with Johnson now at 9-6 in breakers this season. It was a big part of what Johnson did right on grass last year, going 9-1 on grass in tiebreaks. Kohlschreiber is 6-11 in tiebreaks this season, dropping each of his last four.

Kohlschreiber is actually the favorite in this match and I think that’s mostly based on his past success on German grass. Based on match-up, this seems much more like a toss-up. Kohlschreiber might have the more complete game for grass, but the serve for Steve Johnson could be the great equalizer in this match. Guys who get into rhythm with big serves have given the German some problems this year and last.

It won’t surprise for Kohlschreiber to continue his glorious grass court record in Germany, but I think if Johnson shows the power and precision on serve that he displayed in the final two sets of round one – he can squeeze this out.

Prediction: Johnson wins in three sets

2017 Mercedes Cup Preview

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Shifting Surfaces

The quick turn from clay to grass begins in earnest this week with Stuttgart as one of the two ATP World Tour stops. It also marks the return of Roger Federer, who has not played since winning the Miami Open in March. It was a calculated move by the Swiss to skip the entire clay court season to focus on spots where he had better chances to add to his record 18 Grand Slam titles. Wimbledon has always been eyed as the best shot for Federer to add to his trophy case because of how well the Swiss has performed on grass. He’s 152-23 on the surface for his career with 15 of his 91 career titles on grass.

Stuttgart is a relatively new stop on tour for grass court tennis. Up until 2015, Stuttgart was a clay court tournament. In the two years on grass, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem have won here. Last year, Thiem scored one of his best non-clay wins by beating Federer in three sets in the semifinals at the Mercedes Open. Thiem will not be participating this year nor will Rafael Nadal. This year, it’s Federer leading the field as the top seed. Grigor Dimitrov is slated in as #2 with Tomas Berdych and Lucas Pouille rounding out the top four seeds. Eighth seed Viktor Troicki was a finalist in 2015 at this event, which is the best showing among the seeds since Stuttgart went green.

Seed Report

1. Roger Federer
Federer debuted in Stuttgart last season and made the semifinals before losing out to Thiem. I would not expect much in the way of rust for Federer here as he has been solely prepping for grass for weeks now. That should give him a leg up on most who are transitioning over from clay.

2. Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov’s lone visit to the grass courts in Stuttgart ended with a one and done last year. The 26-year-old gained one of his better results in months by making round three at Roland Garros. That is the sad state of affairs that his season has become after making the Australian Open semifinals. On grass, he’ll hope for rebirth. He is 28-19 on the green stuff in his career.

3. Tomas Berdych
Speaking of disappointments, enter Berdych. The Czech was knocked out in Paris in round two by Karen Khachanov. That’s not a terrible result given the young Russian’s nice showing at the French Open. Berdych at 31 has had a reasonably good season at 23-11. He’s been good on grass at 58-25 overall. This will be his first trip to Stuttgart since they flipped to grass.

4. Lucas Pouille
The Frenchman has been up and down this season; mediocre in Paris with a five set loss to Albert Ramos-Vinolas, where he really fell apart after going up 2-1. It’s not often that young players come out of the gates and have big success on grass, but Pouille’s power game translated well at Wimbledon last summer. He made his first Slam quarterfinal on this surface in 2016, but is still just 4-5 all-time on grass. He lost to John Millman here last year in his opener, which at the time made him 0-4 on grass. This year figures to tell us whether Pouille knows grass or he was a one hit wonder on it at Wimbledon.

5. Steve Johnson
Johnson will be making his debut at Stuttgart this season. It’s been an emotional few weeks for the American since the passing of his father. He showed very well at the French Open by making round three. He’s 18-13 on grass in his career with really good results last summer, winning the title in Nottingham and then making the 4th round at Wimbledon. He may have to battle his emotions again, but his big hitting, aggressive game suits this surface. He could be a dark horse this week, but he also may have to continue battling through a wave of emotions.

6. Mischa Zverev
Zverev made the quarterfinals here in the first year that Stuttgart went green in 2015. He beat Thiem and Andreas Seppi, before losing in a third set tiebreak to Marin Cilic. His serve and volley tactics obviously can be successful on this surface, but he hasn’t had the opportunity to show that in recent years. Due to his run of the past months, he will get to play the main draw at Wimbledon for the first time since 2011. That should be an exciting proposition for him and playing on home soil could ignite him to good things this week.

7. Gilles Simon
Simon went 1-1 last year in Stuttgart in his first trip back since they went to grass. He lost in the quarters in three sets to Juan Martin Del Potro, bageled in the final set. Simon has a respectable 38-28 mark on grass in his career and 2015 was excellent for him on grass to remind you of his prospects. That year, he made the semis at Queen’s Club and then the quarters at Nottingham and Wimbledon. Of course last year, he was just 2-3 on the surface and 2017 has been mediocre at-best as he comes in off a round one exit at the French Open.

8. Viktor Troicki
Troickiy followed up his 2016 finals appearance here by flaming out in his opener last year against Florian Meyer in straight sets. The Serb is 28-23 on grass. Like Simon, he stunk on the surface last year at 1-3 but went 10-4 on grass in 2015. In addition to the Stuttgart final, he also made the semis at Queen’s Club and the 4th round at Wimbledon. As usual, Troicki will be a big time hit or miss proposition this week.

Early Bird Specials

In the brief history of Stuttgart on grass, there have been multiple upsets of seeds in their first matches both years. In 2015, two seeds lost their openers with Feliciano Lopez (3) as the highest seed to go down. Last year, four seeds were one and done, including second seed Marin Cilic. It’s not a coincidence that seeds flame out early with this being the first tournament on grass and many players lack the proper preparation. With that in mind, let’s look at which seeds could be sent packing early.

Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov will see either Jerzy Janowicz or Andrey Kuznetsov to start. Janowicz hasn’t had much to crow about at this level in a few years, but we know he’s dangerous on grass (12-8) if he’s healthy. He’s reasonably healthy for this swing for the first time since 2015. He went 1-1 in Stuttgart that year with a loss to Philipp Kohlschreiber. Kuznetsov is 7-11 on grass with a third round showing at Wimbledon last year. Dimitrov has never played the Russian, but he is 2-1 versus Janowicz. That includes a three set win indoors in Sofia earlier this season. On grass, Janowicz could get the extra oomph to make Dimitrov play his best to win.

Tomas Berdych
Potentially a bad match-up for Berdych in his opener with Bernard Tomic possibly up against him. Tomic opens with Stephane Robert. This is a surface that Tomic has shown some excellence on, but also shown his usual Barnyard antics as well in losses. Tomic made the quarters here in 2015. Last year, he made the semis at Queen’s club and the 4th round at Wimbledon. Berdych is 4-0 against Tomic with two tight four set wins on grass at Wimbledon in 2013 and 2014 over the Aussie. Not much in Tomic’s 2017 might suggest an upset, but it will still be a fairly difficult draw for the Czech to start.

Lucas Pouille
I put Pouille on this list simply because we don’t really know yet whether the Frenchman is going to be the guy pre-Wimbledon 2016 who could not win on grass or the guy who showed up at Wimbledon and surprised his way to the quarterfinals. Given an uneven run in 2017 as well, I think he’ll need to be alert in his opener against either qualifier Lukas Lacko or Jan-Lennard Struff. Lacko can be tough on this surface and has the match play advantage. Lacko has a win over Pouille in Challenger play way back in 2013 and he did play him tough in a two tiebreak loss in Rotterdam last year. Struff has the power to match Pouille on serve, but is just 3-11 on grass.

Gilles Simon
A big dat duh on this one with Simon pitted against Feliciano Lopez. Lopez is a three-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist. The Spaniard’s serve and volley tactics have made him a danger on grass for years at 63-36 overall. He is 0-2 at this event though and the green stuff hasn’t been as kind the past few years. He’s 3-2 against Simon though and two wins came on grass in 2013. He beat the Frenchman earlier this season on clay in a third set tiebreak in Madrid. Given Simon’s murky form, this is a definite upset possibility and surely will be a popular one among Pig-nosticators.

Viktor Troicki
The Serb is about as reliable for consistency as his opponent, Benoit Paire. That makes their R1 clash an absolute 50-50 for me, Paire could lose 6-1, 6-0 or spring the upset. We just don’t ever know with him, so that’s why I think Troicki has to be on upset alert. The two have not met in their careers.

Outsider’s Edge

Seeds have been a mainstay at the business end of things in Stuttgart in its first two years. Only Del Potro crashed the semifinals as a wild card last year to break the seeds’ stronghold on the semis. There have however been five quarterfinalists of the 16 in Stuttgart’s history that have been unseeded. Even more interesting, three of them have been qualifiers. Mischa Zverev did it in 2015 and both Radek Stepanek and Florian Mayer did it last year.

He could join them as surprises in the quarters? Let’s look.

(q) Lukas Lacko
I ID’ed Lacko earlier as one to watch against Pouille potentially in round one. He’s 2-1 against his opponent Jan-Lennard Struff, even though they have not met since 2015. Still with Struff’s struggles on grass, Lacko could have a chance. A win over Pouille and voila, unseeded quarterfinalist.

Marcos Baghdatis/Philipp Kohlschreiber
This could be the best first round match in Stuttgart between these two veterans who both play well on grass. Baggy owns a 5-2 head-to-head advantage with two wins on grass, but those were a decade ago in Halle and s’-Hertogenbosch. Neither player arrives in great form with Baghdatis winless in six straight. He did get some grass play in at the Surbiton Challenger though, losing to Dudi Sela. If he scores the upset over Kohlschreiber, he may see Steve Johnson whom he lost to in their lone career meeting in 2014 in Auckland.

Kohlschreiber has lost four of five since making the Casablanca final on clay. Kohlschreiber has always played well on grass, especially in Germany. Stuttgart may not be quite a good to him as Halle, but he made the final last year and the quarters in 2015. A win over Baghdatis would likely set him up against Johnson. The two have never met. A win though and it’s quarterfinal city for the third straight year for Kohlschreiber here and he will be someone who people expect to have that chance.

Benoit Paire
As laid out above, Paire is the ATP’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’ll get – I mean outside of a brain meltdown as some point. But even with those meltdowns, his game is good enough to win on this surface. Troicki is a tough opener, but that’s winnable. All of a sudden, a win gives Paire a quick shot at the quarters with a match against either qualifier Peter Gojowczyk or Nikoloz Basilashvili. In their own right, Gojo or Basilashvili might have just as good a shot at the quarters if Paire is their opponent.

The Berdych Quarter
This quarter has several “specialists” who could do damage. Tomic. Lopez. Mayer. ll three have had past success on grass and despite mediocre or poor play coming in, they could easily cause some upsets. Berdych could well get through, but this is a very competitive quarter that I think will spring some upsets.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Roger Federer (1)
Mischa Zverev (8)

Breakdown
Federer could have an interesting opener with either Tommy Haas or Pierre-Hugues Herbert. The crowd surely would love to see the German veteran Haas against Federer. Fed likely would probably like seeing Haas as the Swiss is 13-3 against him. Their grass court encounters have usually been fun and competitive although that might be asking a lot of Haas at this stage. Zverev opens with Malek Jaziri in a winnable match and then gets one of two qualifiers Yannick Hanfmann or Martin Fucsovics. I’d be surprised if this didn’t wind up an all-seeded quarterfinal between Federer and Zverev. Fed is 3-0 versus Mischa, including this year’s straight sets win at the Australian Open and a double bagel on grass in Halle in 2013. Even with the extended layoff, It would be a massive shock to see Federer not in the semis with this draw.

Quarter #2 Seeds
Tomas Berdych (3)
Gilles Simon (7)

Breakdown
If a seed is going to fail to get to the semifinals, this quarter looks like it could produce that result. Berdych has the potential tough opener against Bernard Tomic if he makes it past Robert. Simon’s first-up is Feliciano Lopez, an equally tough task on this surface. The winner of that clash then sees either Florian Mayer or Jeremy Chardy. Mayer in particular has been good on grass for years and will have the crowd on his side. For me, this bottom half of the quarter seems more likely to see the seed (Simon) eliminated before the quarterfinals. Berdych may not be spectacular, but he’s steady and that’s not something you can say about Tomic. I still won’t be surprised though if the Aussie puts it together to score the upset. For me, this quarter comes down to Berdych, Mayer or Lopez.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Lucas Pouille (4)
Steve Johnson (5)

Breakdown
This quarter may also be a favorite for a potential unseeded semifinalist – mostly due to Kohlschreiber’s inclusion. The Baghdatis-Kohlschreiber survivor in round one will definitely have a shot to knock off Johnson. Pouille SHOULD be the guy to beat here, but he has to prove it. The opener against Lacko or Struff will be a test. If he passes, he could well see Kohlschreiber who beat him earlier this season on an indoor hard surface. If it’s Johnson, that would be a real power forehand vs power forehand match. Kohlschreiber will be the sheik upset pick in this quarter, but don’t be shocked if Pouille proves his mettle and make it out.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Grigor Dimitrov (2)
Viktor Troicki (8)

Breakdown
Dimitrov is the clear favorite in this draw, but nothing has been too clear for Dimitrov the last few months. This is a quarter where you’d like to see the two seeds get through. Dimitrov and Troicki have had some great battles in their five career matches. Dimitrov edged ahead in the head-to-head with a 6-3, 6-3 win in Sofia earlier this year. They have not met on grass, but three of their five matches have gone the distance. The unseeded players here like Paire, Janowicz and Kuznetsov are still threats, but most have more questions than answers coming into the week. It’s really hard to trust most of the players in this quarter, but I’ll give a slight nod to Troicki who has had some past success here. He should be back as he was in 2015, playing with no pressure with more of that on Dimitrov.

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

No one in their right mind will pick against Federer, especially on grass. About the only thing going against Federer is that the top seed has not won on grass here since the switch in 2015. He’s obviously the guy to change that trend. If he’s even 75 percent of the play we saw January-March, that’s likely better than anyone here. The one guy who intrigues me to play Federer in a final is Pouille, much like seeing Thiem do it last year. I am not predicting by any means that a similar upset would be in the cards, but I think Pouille’s style can perhaps contend with Federer if the Frenchman gets in the groove. Of course, he’s just as likely to lose his opener and leave Federer without any top tier competition in the end.

2017 French Open Final Preview: Stan Wawrinka vs Rafael Nadal

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Rafael Nadal seeks championship number ten at Roland Garros on Sunday. In his way is Stan Wawrinka. The Swiss is 3-0 all-time in Grand Slam finals. Nadal has never lost a final at the French Open in nine tries.

(3) Stan Wawrinka vs (4) Rafael Nadal

Wawrinka put his best foot forward late in a five set grinder against Andy Murray in the semifinals. After Murray had looked like he was closing in on a win, the Swiss powered through the fourth set tiebreak 7-3 and then rolled in stride to a 6-1 finishing set. That completed a 6-7 (8), 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (3), 6-1 victory. Wawrinka got in the zone as the match wore on, racking up 87 winners to offset 77 unforced errors. He would break the Scot nine times on 14 chances, while saving seven of the 12 break points against his serve. The Stanimal won 66 perent of his first serve points and a solid 61 percent off his second serve. The key stat that I will touch on later is that the match lasted four hours and 38 minutes in a very physical environment against the top seed.

Meanwhile, Nadal continued to run roughshod over all competitors. He got plenty of payback for his lone loss on clay this year as he crushed 6th seeded Dominic Thiem 6-3, 6-4, 6-0. Rafa rebounded from an opening break to break Thiem twice in a row as he ran through the opening set, cashing in on his second set point. Nadal would fight off a couple of break points early in set two before breaking Thiem again for the only break required in the second set. Thiem would completely go away in set three, losing all three service games as Rafa bageled him to advance to his tenth final at Roland Garros. For the match, Nadal was broken just once and was rock solid on serve, winning 71 percent off is first serve and 76 percent of the points off his second. Thiem sprayed 32 unforced errors and was pathetic on second serve, winning only 37 percent of the points.

First Meeting Since 2016

Nadal owns a sparkling 15-3 record against Wawrinka in their careers, but this will be their first meeting since Rafa downed him 6-1, 6-4 at Monte Carlo last year. Overall, Rafa is 2-1 in Slams against the Swiss, with the loss coming in the Australian Open final in 2014. On clay, Nadal leads 6-1. Wawrinka’s lone win on dirt against Nadal came in Rome in 2015. In their last clash in Monte Carlo, Wawrinka struggled mightily on serve. He won just 29 perent of his second serve points with the Spaniard breaking him four times on nine chances. Nadal was perfect on serve, staving off a lone break chance as he won 85 percent of his first serve points and 61 percent off his second.

What Can Brown Do For You?

With this one contested on clay, it’s an obvious edge to Nadal to start. Wawrinka has a decided power advantage over Nadal, but it’s negated some by the slower conditions. Stan showed of course that he can still hit through the court, so just because it’s on clay doesn’t mean he cannot win here against Nadal. Sunday’s final could be played in ideal conditions for Nadal with hot and dry conditions as the projected forecast.

For the most part, clay is going to allow Nadal to do the things Nadal does best. Use the topspin forehand to dictate rallies and court position, as well as using the slower speed to utilize his superior defense and return game. For Wawrinka, once again he’ll have to find a way to end points more quickly and not allow Rafa to dictate the game in rallies. If the Swiss is able to consistently get his big first serve in play, that is a great starting point for that.

Match Tactics

For Wawrinka, serve is important, but as he showed against Murray, the power ground strokes can make up for any shortcomings on serve. Still, Stan doesn’t want to give Nadal too many opportunities to get the break. He has been with the five breaks by Murray as the most he’s suffered in Paris. Nadal’s serve this tournament has been very good and he’s done a tremendous job of keeping the number of break chances down to a minimum. The Spaniard has only broken six times all tournament.

Nadal isn’t going to wow you with speed on his serve, but the spin and placement have been strong. More often than not, his serve is helping set him up perfectly to begin the lengthy baseline exchanges. Wawrinka’s issue returning Nadal is that he isn’t likely to get the best pace he needs to utilize his blocking technique in return. That means the Swiss will need to be brave and take some big rips on return. He’s used to employing that “go for broke style” and that’s legitimately his best strategy in this match-up.

When Wawrinka is unable to get shorter points, he’s likely to try and target Rafa’s backhand the best he can. The backhand to backhand exchanges from the baseline should favor the Swiss with his sublime one hander as a huge weapon. Stan won’t be afraid to get into some of these exchanges as he did with Murray, but he’ll again look for those earlier exit points with his power groundies to try for winners.

Nadal you figure would love nothing better than to test Wawrinka’s legs all match long. I’ve said it over and over, playing Andy Murray or Rafael Nadal in a five set match seems about as taxing as playing seven or eight sets. Wawrinka will obviously not be as fresh as Nadal and the Spaniard has to work that to his advantage over and over. He may play some safer shots in rallies to extend them to do this and it’s not a terrible strategy early on to see where Wawrinka’s fitness ranks.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

From a set-up standpoint, this is not a great spot for Wawrinka. Coming off a grinding match against Murray that lasted over four and a half hours, he can expect more of the same on Sunday. I think for Wawrinka to have a chance to pull off the upset, he must get off to a bright start. He can’t just contend well and lose the opening set, he needs to win it and show Nadal that he’s here to win the title. It would also add adversity into the mix for Nadal for the first time all tournament. Quite simply, that’s one of the few ways that I think Stan can win this match. Put some seeds of doubt into the Spaniard’s mind and let the pressure crank up.

In the end, if Nadal continues to execute his game plan as he has all tournament – title #10 at Roland Garros is his and that’s a big fat duh, right? It’s on Wawrinka to get Nadal off his game, something that perhaps only fatigue in Rome has done this year. I won’t underestimate Wawrinka in a Slam final. He’s proven to be a top notch “big match” player, but this feels like it’s almost Mission Impossible. Not that Nadal cannot be beaten on clay. Not that Nadal cannot be beaten at this tournament. But that the Swiss has to do it coming off the lengthy match against Murray with Nadal firing on all cylinders.

Look for Nadal to take #10 at Roland Garros and his 15th career Grand Slam title.

Prediction: Nadal wins in straight sets

2017 French Open SF Tweet-view: Rafael Nadal vs Dominic Thiem

The #TweetView – patented previews from @tennispig in a format you never knew you needed! 12 tweets or less, every time, all the time.