2018 Wimbledon QF Preview: Roger Federer vs Kevin Anderson

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(1) Roger Federer vs (9) Kevin Anderson

Fed Seeks 16th Career Wimbledon Semifinal

It’s a perfect nine for nine so far this tournament for Roger Federer as he has advanced through four rounds without dropping a set. The latest victim was Adrian Mannarino with Fed taking it 6-0, 7-5, 6-4. was about flawless on serve, with a 90 percent win rate on first serve and 52 percent off his second. The Swiss saved all four break points against his serve, while cashing in on five breaks against the Frenchman on a dozen opportunities. Four the tournament, those were the first four break chances against the Swiss’ serve. Fed has been posting elite numbers with his first serve win rate at 90 percent or better in all four rounds.

The Fed ground game was clean against Mannarino with 44 winners to just 20 unnforced errors. So far, the top seed has amassed 163 winners with only 55 unforced errors. Federer has been able to control the points off his serve as well as bringing quality consistency from the baseline. Both his forehand and backhand have been solid as he has been able to wear down his opponents with quality depth and superb shot making at times. His net play has been borderline absurd with the top seed winning 72 of the 91 points played in that area. On top of that, he’s been returning the ball fairly well – taking at least 35 percent of the first serve points from each opponent. That figures to be a major challenge against the serve of Anderson however. Fed has converted 19 breaks on 46 chances so far this tournament.

Anderson Finally Gets Past Round Four

Kevin Anderson will already feel like he’s accomplished plenty at Wimbledon this year. He became the first South African to make a Wimbledon quarterfinal and broke through after failing in the fourth round three of the last four years. His 7-6 (4), 7-6 (2), 5-7, 7-6 (4) win over Gael Monfils also offered up another first – his first win over the Frenchman in his fifth try. Anderson was still steadu with an 82 percent win rate off his first serve and was decent at 55 percen off his second. Big Kev was broken four times however on just five chances. The 9th seed has previously been broken just twice in the first three rounds. Anderson really helped himself by getting to net, taking 43/62 points. He’d gone to net just 63 times all tournament before the Monfils match.

Anderson did have 44 unforced errors, but smashed 53 winners, including 20 aces. He has had at least 20 aces in every match with a high of 34. In watching some of the tape from the Monfils match, Big Kev was impressive in his shot making from the baseline. He was consistent enough with his ground strokes to provide quality depth that pushed Monfils from side to side and kept him pinned back. That enabled Anderson to craft those key points, where he was able to pounce at the right time to finish off shots at the net. I think once again the most impressive thing about Anderson is his mental strength. This was a difficult match with some very physical points, but he stayed strong in the tough moments and came through with a big win.

The Formula

For Anderson, step one has to be figuring out how to take a set off of Federer. He has not done that in their previous four meetings. The last came in 2015 in Cincinnati, where Fed destroyed Anderson 6-1, 6-1 in their most lopsided meeting. All three other meetings came before that one and they have never met on grass. If there is a plus in losing to the same player four times, it is that the losses came before Anderson’s dramatic improvement. This won’t be the same Anderson that Federer sees on Wednesday. He’s become a bit of a Federer clone in his playing style – wanting to hammer the first serve and then look to move forward to finish off points more quickly. With that said, the serve is an obvious jumping off point for both players.

Federer has that smooth delivery and when he finds a rhythm as he has in London, he’s nearly unbreakable. It’s not all about getting aces with that first serve – his high this tournament is 16 with totals of 8, 10 and 12 in the other matches – it’s about precision to put the returner on their heels from the first point. Anderson isn’t a great returner, but he is adequate and can take advantage of poor placement. For me, Federer is going to feel comfortable as long as he’s getting good depth with his serves. If he is able to keep Anderson back along the baseline, then Federer turns the next shot into his advantage. I think he’ll look to challenge Anderson’s backhand and his famous short slice off the backhand will challenge Anderson to make shots off of low balls. That’s not a wheelhouse move for a taller player.

On the other side, Anderson’s serve has more natural power than Federer’s and that is a way for him to hang in this match. I think the first issue he may come across though is some fatigue from the Monfils match, which could directly effect his legs and serve. This will be apparent early if it is a problem. If it’s not, then Anderson is going to find his fair share of easy points with the angles he can create. He will want to extend Federer off the court when he goes to the forehand with the hope that even if Fed gets contact, it will be soft and Anderson will have a short ball to club on the return. If his serve is on, he can effectively jam Federer’s backhand return by bodying him. Fed may be left with a chip approach to try and get something on the end of those serves.

Net play figures to be a very integral part of this match. Both players have shown great prowess on the volley. Both will throw in some serve and volley action to challenge the other’s volley skills. Anderson is very good at that, but not quite as consistent as Federer is with his net volleys. Getting the serve down is the obvious key to executing this part of the game, which is again where I am curious to see if Anderson shows any fatigue from the physical match against Monfils last round. I expect Federer will look to exploit Anderson more in return with this tactic as I think his the South African’s return game is a definite notch below Federer’s. I do think if he’s capable though that Anderson needs to get to net consistently like he did against Monfils to try and wear the Swiss down a bit.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

I do think grass gives Anderson his best chance to break through and grab a set off of Federer finally, but I think the set up is less than ideal. Monfils made Anderson work hard, while Federer has seemingly run through most of his matches without much sweat. I think the early going in this match is a huge momentum boost or real shot to the confidence of Anderson. He needs to start fast and match Federer serve for serve without finding himself up against multiple break points. The more chances he’s facing of losing his serve early, the easier it is for this match to slip away from him in a hurry.

Federer is facing a different type of player in this match, so there is going to be some adjustment fo him and I think that could give Anderson a chance in the opening set. The thing that holds me back though is that Anderson’s return game may not be able to make enough of a dent against Federer’s serve to offer the South African more than a tie break chance to try and steal a set. Anderson is 3-1 in tie breaks at Wimbledon this year, while Federer has yet to play one. Fed did go 5-2 in breakers in the two grass court prep tournaments in Stuttgart and Halle, so it’s not like he isn’t ready to go if needed.

In the end, I can see a tight set or two, but I do think Anderson is going to be a bit compromised physically in this one and he has already achieved his goal of a personal best at Wimbledon. As if Federer needed any help, he may have gotten a slight assist from Gael Monfils last round and should advance one step closer to his 12th Wimbledon final.

Prediction: Federer wins in straight sets

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2018 Wimbledon R4 Preview: Kevin Anderson vs Gael Monfils

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(9) Kevin Anderson vs Gael Monfils

Golden Opportunity

When Kevin Anderson and Gael Monfils battle on Monday, a big prize awaits the winner – their first ever Wimbledon quarterfinal. Anderson is into the fourth round for the fourth time in the last five years, but he has been stopped short each time. This may present another abrupt ending with Monfils owning a 5-0 mark against Anderson in their careers. Monfils is in uncharted territory with this being his best finish already after taking down 11th seed Sam Querrey in the third round. Monfils and Anderson are not strangers to making Slam quarters with the Frenchman owning eight trips to that stage and Anderson with two, both of which have come at the U.S. Open in the last three years.

Anderson comes into this round in solid form after taking down Philipp Kohlschreiber in straights 6-4, 7-5, 7-5. The South African has won two of his three matches thus far in straights with Andreas Seppi as the only player to take a set from the 9th seed. In the Kohlschreiber match, Anderson pounded the German with his first serve as he racked up 22 aces and took 87 percent of the first serve points. Big Kev would be broken just once on four break points. He has only been broken two times all tournament on just ten break opportunities. Anderson’s ground game was super clean after his sloppiest performance against Seppi in the prior round. He had just 12 unforced errors with his ground strokes after 28 against Seppi.

Monfils found some of his best against Querrey in round three, being broken just one time on two break chances. It was a good improvement after Paolo Lorenzi broke the Frenchman four times in their round two match. La Monf would rebound after dropping the opening set to Querrey to roll to a 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 win. Monfils did a good job against the American’s big serve with four breaks of serve on eight chances. For the tournament, Monfils has converted on eleven of 25 break points and his chances of springing another upset hinge on his return game against Anderson’s massive serve.

La Monf’s first serve has been the other big part of his success through three rounds. He has won 75 percent or better on first serve in each round and has been above a 50 percent win rate on second serve with the exception of his first round win over Richard Gasquet. The one question mark that will hover over the Frenchman heading into this match is the injury bug. Monfils did take a medical timeout inn the Querrey match to treat a groin problem. He said afterward that the physio was able to loosen him up and the advice he got to play looser and go for it seemed to really take hold after the magic rubdown. The episode again showcases the fragility of mind and body for Monfils as he admitted afterward that he was very concerned with the injury until the physio assured him he would not hurt himself by going 100 percent again.

The Formula

Though this is the sixth all-time meeting between the two, this is the first on grass and that gives this a different feel. The last time they met was at the Shanghai Masters in 2016 with Monfils edging the match 7-6 (4), 6-3. In fact, Anderson has not won a single set off of Monfils in any of their matches. Admittedly, only two of the meetings have taken place since 2016, so the past results have to be taken with a grain of salt. Anderson has completely changed his playing style since some of those earlier meetings, but there is still a big mental hurdle here with Monfils’ dominance in the previous match-ups. Let’s take a look at how Monfils has done it.

Return. In Shanghai, Monfils broke Anderson twice and created eight break opportuntiies. The biggest thing was that he ate into the South African’s serve, which won just 69 percent of the points. Playing Sam Querrey last round should be advantageous for this match-up as Anderson possesses a powerful righty serve too. Monfils adopted a return position a good foot or so behind the baseline and he utilized that and his athletic ability to get on the end of some big serves that many would not get. He will need to find those “gets” against Anderson. The 9th seed will be charged with staying consistent and accurate on serve to keep Monfils from dragging him into longer baseline rallies.

Anderson often does that by finding an early rhythm against his opponents. Anderson has the big serve that can really stretch Monfils out wide, when he goes after the Frenchman’s forehand. That’s the biggest Monfils weapon and he can hit those stretched balls in return that keep him alive into a rally. Anderson wants that 1-2 punch. Get in that big serve that pushes Monfils back with depth or off balance east and west, and then move forward to pounce on the short ball with an aggressive forehand. The more you see that combo, the better position that Anderson is going to be in as he tries to break through against La Monf.

For Monfils, the task will also be to stay equal with Anderson on serve. I talked about his consistency issues at times, but he will again be up against just an average returner. Anderson is decent off both wings in return, but if La Monf is hitting his spots as he did against Querrey – then the Frenchman will have chances to aggressively finish off short balls too. Anderson can grip it and rip it in return on occassion, so Monflls needs the precision consistently to avoid the South African getting those good rips on return. Don’t be surprised to see Anderson challenge Monfils to come to net more than the Frenchman wants to when he gets good return contact. Anderson is still underrated as a volleyist and while Monfils can make plays at the net, more of his seem to be the acrobatic highlight reel type whereas he might make more miscues on more straight foreward volleys than Anderson does.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

This is one of the most interesting matches of the day to me. The history would lend you to believe Monfils should be the favorite here, but I do think grass and the newer version of Kevin Anderson negate a lot of that history. Anderson’s serve is obviously the biggest key in this match. If he’s winning well over 80 percent off his first serve, I don’t think that Monfils is going to match him over the course of five sets. Monfils needs to find ways to get on the end of those big first serves and keep Anderson’s win rate in the mid to lower 70s or worse. Keep your eye on that number tomorrow and I think you’ll have a good idea of which way the match is going.

Monfils certainly isn’t without a chance in this one after beating a similarly styled player last round. Besides serving well, Monfils’ return was a big factor in that one as he did not let Querrey get too many short balls that the American could move forward on and attack at the net. Anderson may not go to net quite as often as Querrey likes to on grass, but it’s definitely something he does well and will look to do when the point is constructed in his favor. If Monfils is able to keep Anderson back on the baseline with good returns, then the volley game won’t be as big a factor and I would expect Monfils would be in position for another upset.

I didn’t think that Monfils could keep pace with Querrey on serve, but he did and I think that may have worn on Sam as the match progressed. If there is one thing that Anderson has become very good at in his rise the last few years, it’s staying in matches mentally. Expect Monfils to have some highlight shots, but this one feels like Anderson gets it done with a consistent serve and you can never rule out Monfils’ brain going off track if he picks up another injury scare as he did last round. I am hopeful that this one plays out healthy for both and if it does, this could be a real grind.

Prediction: Anderson wins in four sets

2018 Wimbledon R4 Preview: Rafael Nadal vs Jiri Vesely

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(2) Rafael Nadal vs Jiri Vesely

Big Serving Vesely Puts Nadal on Alert

Rafael Nadal hasn’t encountered much adversity through three rounds at Wimbledon, but that could change on Monday. The second seed whipped Alex De Minaur 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 to book his spot in the fourth round. To this point, Rafa has yet to drop a set. Against the Aussie, Nadal bullied his young opponent from the baseline as De Minaur fell into the Nadal trap. Rafa even dominated the net points in that match, racking up 19 to just three for De Minaur. For the match, Nadal was rock solid on serve as he took 77 percent of the points off his first serve and 72 percent off his second. De Minaur would fail on all three break chances he had against Nadal.

The rest was Nadal return and defense, taking 40 percent of the first serve points from De Minaur and half of the Aussie’s second serve points. The second seed would break De Minaur five times as he pressured him into a dozen break points. Nadal was pretty clean off the ground with 18 unforced errors All in all, it was another match where Rafa was able to remain in his comfort zone from the baseline without fearing repercussions from a big hitter. That changes on Monday against Vesely.

Vesely has come to life on grass after a brutal first six months of the season in 2018. The Czech struggled to a 10-12 record with his ranking slipping steadily over the past year. A semifinal run in Antalya the week prior to Wimbledon helped boost Vesely back inside the top 100. He’s now 6-1 on grass this year after beating Fabio Fognini in the third round 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-3, 6-2. That followed a straight sets win over Diego Schwartzman and a four set win to start his week at the All-England Club over Florian Mayer.

As you would expect, the serve from the 6’6″ Czech has been a big part of his success on this surface. Vesely had 17 big aces against Fognini and he was able to dig out of trouble in tough moments, saving 13 of 14 break points against his serve. He wound up with a 74 percent win rate on first serve and 59 percent off his second. Those numbers are about in line with his run so far at Wimbledon. Vesely has 48 total aces and has won 73 percent of his first serve points and only failed to win at least half his second serve points against Schwartzman.

The Formula

This is just the second career meeting between the 32-year-old Nadal and 24-year-old Vesely. The first was on clay in Hamburg back in 2015 with Nadal taking it 6-4, 7-6 (2). As you would expect, Nadal was able to eat up Vesely’s power in slower conditions as he broke the Czech five times on 13 chances. Vesely won just 49 percent of his first serve points in that match. Certainly we are looking at a different time now and a different surface, so that meeting won’t yield much input into Monday’s meeting.

What you need to know in starting with Vesely is that he does produce a good amount of power and velocity with his serve. In watching tape of his serve though, he needs to do a better job with consistently placing the ball in tougher conditions for the returner. Sure, he’s going to find the angles here and there to get aces, but I think he has the ability to do much more with his serve than he shows from match to match. If he’s going to challenge Nadal, Vesely has to find those angles and spots and hit them consistently. We’ve seen the recipe in the past with Gilles Muller, Nick Kyrgios and Steve Darcis getting into a rhythm on serve against Rafa to craft the upset, along with some riveting ground strokes. It has to start with the serve for Vesely, whose ground strokes may lack the bite needed for a monumental win.

For Rafa in return, the goal is getting good contact on the ball. I expect he’ll be in his grass court return position, which again is not nearly as deep as you will see him on other surfaces. Rafa has to avoid getting jammed in return as Vesely has shown he is very adept on grass at moving forward to crush the short ball off either wing. I think for Vesely going after Nadal’s backhand in return will be a place where he can find success. That is where he may be able to stretch the Spaniard wide amd force Rafa into scramble mode from the first ball. Of course Nadal is one of the best at recovering from awkward return positions, but it’s still one of the best ways to avoid getting pulled into Nadal’s strategy of baseline to baseline play.

Nadal’s key with his grass court return position is to get the ball early and take time away from his opponent on the next shot. It’s not necessarily going to transition him into a quick winner, but it can help him seize control of the rally early on and put the ball anywhere he pleases as the rally wears on with Nadal in control. As per usual, this is the area where Nadal opponents have to make a concerted effort not to get involved in Nadal’s pace of play from the baseline. I do think Vesely has the game to avoid those exchanges by going bigger off the ground. If he’s going to play rally for rally with Nadal, this won’t end well for him. I think he has to be willing to take those big chances and look to frustrate Nadal by “zoning out” and hitting clean winners. For Vesely, the backhand is the more dangerous shot, so I think that is where more of those winners can come from.

From a strict ground stroke perspective, this is a one way battle if Vesely doesn’t give himself opportunities to play shorter points. Vesely’s forehand is a liability more than a weapon from the baseline. I think it’s adequate when he’s using it more in a 1-2 punch combo with his first serve. His backhand is much more solid. The two hander has power and pace, while the Czech isn’t adverse to mixing in the one handed slice off that wing. I think we will see that on Monday as a way to keep the ball lower against Nadal. Rafa in turn also utilizes that backhand slice and may also look to get a lot of low balls back to the much taller Vesely. Any time he can force Vesely to lunge for shots, it’s likely to his advantage as the Czech should struggle to get power and control on those shots. It’s a big duh to say that Rafa wants to hit the forehand a ton if he can.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Vesely has some of the required weaponry to trouble Nadal on grass. He’s a taller player who has good power on his first serve and can apply that to his ground strokes too. The problem for me is that I think he’s much more erratic off the ground with his forehand than you’d want a guy with upset potential on this surface to be. He could get in the zone and paint lines – it happens, but I think it’s more likely that he won’t overpower Nadal and will wind up playing too many longer baseline rallies.

I think the thing that could really hinder Vesely’s chances in this one is his return game. He’s not a great returner and Nadal should be able to control the points if he’s hitting his spots. He will want to hit with depth to keep Vesely back and I would look for him to go after the forehand to make the Czech prove consistency. Vesely is adequate with the backhand return, but I don’t think goes for enough off that shot. Unless Rafa is really struggling with his placement, I think his ability to control points with his serve is going to feed this match in his direction.

This may be the match where Nadal drops a set, but I think unless Vesely finds another level on serve, where he is absolutely crushing the ball consistently – this will be Nadal’s in the end.

Prediction: Nadal wins in four sets

2018 Wimbledon R3 Preview: Rafael Nadal vs Alex De Minaur

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(2) Rafael Nadal vs Alex De Minaur

“Demon” Relishes Showdown With Rafa

Nineteen-year-old Alex De Minaur gets another shot at beating a top ten player when he takes the court against 2nd seed Rafael Nadal on Saturday. Thus far, De Minaur is 0-3 against the top ten with two of those losses this year to Juan Martin Del Potro and Alexander Zverev. Facing Nadal is a unique challenge for the Aussie and one I will break down in a bit. First, let’s look at how both players got to this point. For Nadal, it’s been a smooth ride in London so far with a pair of straight sets’ wins over Dudi Sela and Mikhail Kukushkin. The latest over Kukushkin came via a 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 scoreline. Through two rounds, Nadal has been broken three times with a whopping 13 break chances against his serve last round. He saved all but two of those and sports win rates on first and second serve at 71 and 59 percent.

As per usual, Nadal’s return and defense have hassled his opponents to the tune of 11 breaks of serve on 27 break opportunities. The second seed has just 29 unforced so far this tournament. The match against Kukuskin was a battle from beginning to end with Kukushkin hitting a lot of low balls that made life difficult on Rafa. Thoae shots made it difficult for Nadal to set up shop in more neutral positions with his ground strokes. Instead, he was often left extended, but he was able to fight through it in the end. Nadal said in spite of the scoreline, he felt his play was better overall in round two versus round one.

De Minaur has been extended to four sets in both of his matches. He upended 24th seed Marco Cecchinato in round one and then edged Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-2, 6-7 (8), 7-5, 6-3 to advance to the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time. The Herbert match is about as far away stylistically as you’ll probably get from a Nadal match with PHH going to net 90 times and converting on 64 points against the Aussie. It was De Minaur’s return game and defense that did the most damage though with the “Demon” crafting 17 break chances against the Frenchman and cashing in on six breaks. That was almost identical to his first round stats, where he broke Cecchinato five times on 17 chances.

De Minaur has done an admirable job on his own serve, taking 77 percent of the first serve points and just over 62 percent of the second serve points through two rounds. He has been broken five times on 16 chances. His ground game has yielded 44 unforced errors to this point. If you want to know what to expect when De Minaur plays on this surface, you will see plenty of baseline exchanges with the young Aussie. He won’t obliterate the ball off either wing, but he’s got a solid two handed backhand and a useful forehand. Speed and recovery is really the name of his game and he’s shown it already this week.

The Formula

I think there are going to be a lot of break opportunities against each other’s serve in this match. We know Nadal’s serve still isn’t the most powerful, but he has adjusted over time to becoming more aggressive with his serve on grass. From the deuce court, he loves to challenge right handed players to stretch wide and then look for an aggressive forehand off the return ball. When he goes after the backhand, he tries to body his opponent to get a short ball back. De Minaur will need to have great footwork to keep himself from getting caught flat footed on those sort of serves, something I saw that Kukushkin got tied up with a few too many times. Good footwork almost always leads to being able to stay in front of the ball and get off cleaner shots. It’s simply what you must have to get going against the Nadal serve.

From there, Nadal is going to try and draw De Minaur into rallies. Even on grass, it’s still what Nadal does best – work his opponents into double digit shot rallies and frustrate them over time. This is where I think De Minaur has to be very careful. He’s got to take some chances and move forward to force Nadal to make clutch passing shots. I think too often players forget to do this in defense and only turn the switch on when they serve that they should be moving forward. Against Nadal, you’ve got to have that switch on with your offense and you defense. Simply playing baseline to baseline against Nadal when he serves isn’t going to yield great results in my opinion.

Nadal really has his choice of which wing to go after with De Minaur. The Aussie is very good at hitting his ground strokes from stationary spots, but also is adept at hitting those stretched shots when on-the-run defensively. Nadal will be charged with keeping De Minaur on the move in an effort to get the angles he wants to pound away with his forehand. I’d look for Nadal to attack the backhand more often, but he’ll be weary of De Minaur’s ability to pound that shot down-the-line. Cross court is where he struggles at times in getting enough pace and accuracy with that shot, and where Nadal can then flip the script with his forehand.

I don’t think it will be too wise for Nadal to challenge De Minaur to come forward more than the Aussie already has designs on with his own tactical strategy. I think De Minaur’s speed and volley game is an area where he would have an advantage over Nadal on this surface. For Rafa, it should be more about trying to physically muscle De Minaur to the back of the baseline with penetrating groundies. De Minaur may well get to many of those, but Rafa trusts his process of wearing opponents down from east to west in rallies. The Aussie will have to put it all together consistently to get those shots and put something on them that Nadal cannot send back for an immediate winner.

The big sticking point in this match as to whether or not De Minaur is going to be able to compete and push Nadal for the win is the Aussie’s serve. So far this week, the serve has been steady and accurate. So far this week, he has not faced anyone the caliber of Nadal in return. Nadal will still set up deep in return, but not quite buy a front row seat as we see him do so often on hard courts and especially on clay. With De Minaur not possessing big put away power on serve, Nadal will want to stay back to get a proper read without fearing the ball will get past him with pace.

De Minaur’s first serve will be the key to me. He’s got to execute well and avoid the second serves that Nadal is famous for obliterating. If De Minaur can get those first serves in with some good depth to keep Nadal from getting clean strikes, then he’s got himself into a successful start on serve. Any time he can stretch Nadal wide in return or keep him on his heels, De Minaur has got to look to move to net where he can show off he is the better volleyist of the two and challenge Nadal to have to work north to south. And as Kukushkin showed, if you can send balls back low to Nadal – do it. Force the Spaniard to have to stretch and make tough shots.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

De Minaur has some good results on grass this season due to his agility and volley ability. He made back-to-back Challenger finals, winning the title in Nottingham. The wins over Cecchinato and Herbert marked his first though at the ATP level, so there’s definitely a vast experience gap headed into this one. De Minaur is not the power player that Nadal fears can hit him off of the court on this surface. The Aussie can be an exquisite shot maker however with his speed and ability to track down balls and that is where he is going to have to pin his hopes in this match.

It’s not often than Nadal finds himself on the opposite end of those sort of rallies, where he’s the one left wondering how in the hell did that guy just get to that ball? I do think there will be some of those moments, but I don’t think that De Minaur overall has the consistency with his ground strokes to take Nadal out of his rhythm and game plan over the course of five sets. Even Kukushkin who had some good success with those low balls, could not consistently get enough to Rafa to force him to lose key points at key times. Look for the “Demon” to have some moments, but I think Nadal’s consistency is still too much even on grass.

Prediction: Nadal wins in four sets

2018 Wimbledon R3 Preview: Sam Querrey vs Gael Monfils

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(11) Sam Querrey vs Gael Monfils

Querrey Seeks First Win Against La Monf

An intriguing third round showdown is set with 11th seed Sam Querrey looking to work one step closer to making a third straight quarterfinal at Wimbledon. In the 30-year-old American’s way is Gael Monfils. Monfils has defeated Querrey in their two previous clashes, with the last coming in Washington, D.C. on hard courts in 2016. In that one, Monfils beat out Querrey 6-4, 3-6, 6-1. Their other meeting was way back in 2007 on clay with Monfils edging the affair 6-4, 7-5. Grass, especially Wimbledon, has always been a challenge for Monfils with the Frenchman never advancing further than round three. A win over Querrey would net him a spot in that round for the 7th time.

Querrey has had few issues in advancing so far, winning in straight sets over both Jordan Thompson in round one and Sergiy Stakhovsky in round two. His serve has been dynamite with the 11th seed winning over 90 percent of his first serve points in both matches. Querrey has racked up 32 aces and has not been broken on six chances against his serve. Querrey cut down on his unforced errors from 25 to 16 in his second round win over Stakhovsky 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-3. The American has continued to employ plenty of nifty net play, converting on 37 of 51 points at the net so far. He’s been efficient in converting eight breaks of serve on 15 chances.

For Monfils, it’s been more of an adventure through two rounds, but who wouldn’t have thought that? After a tight 7-6 (6), 7-5, 6-4 win over fellow countryman (24) Richard Gasquet in round one, Monfils battled past Paolo Lorenzi 603, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3) in round two. His first serve win rate dipped from 85 in round one to 74 in round two, while he did improve from 47 to 54 percent on his second serve. La Monf has been broken five times on 14 chances. His ground game was a bit sloppy against Lorenzi with 33 unforced errors, ten more than he saw against Gasquet.

The Formula

There is no secret as to what has made Querrey into a formidable grass court player over the last few years. He’s shown an increased desire and ability to play at the net, with his volley skills vastly improving. Querrey isn’t going to serve and volley to achieve this effect, rather he chooses to push forward in defense to cut down the court against his opponent. This should make for some fascinating exchanges on Friday with Monfils possessing some magical touch with passing shots off both wings. Querrey is going to have to make sure that when he does make those stab volleys at the net, that he puts the point away. If he leaves them up, Monfils will track them down and make some circus shots.

In addition to Querrey’s net game, it will be the 11th seed’s booming first serve that will be the big cause of concern to start for Monfils. The Frenchman is a solid returner, but he will be facing a blistering serve from the American that will likely produce its fair share of freebies and cheap points. Monfils has to find a way to get on the end of some of those big first serves and make solid contact. Anything he doesn’t get back with pace, Querrey should be aggressive on as he moves in and kills the point off quickly with a forehand or volley near the net. Monfils would prefer to get returns with solid contact to keep Querrey back near the baseline with the Frenchman still more prone to playing baseline tennis on this surface.

With Querrey’s serve likely to dictate a lot of points, Monfils must find his serve and match that effort. La Monf has plenty of pop on serve, but needs to consistently place those serves in the proper spots. Too often, his serves don’t challenge the returner enough for my liking. With Querrey as an average returner, Monfils has to take advantage and stretch the American out of position. If he allows Querrey to remain neutral in return along the baseline, then the 11th seed can flip the switch quickly from return into net rushing attacks. That’s going to be his bread and butter to challenge Monfils to match his volley game at the net. The more Monfils pins Querrey back with solid depth on serve, the better chance he’s got to dictate play from the baseline where he can wallop a booming forehand and a backhand that offers a ton of variety.

That’s where I think Monfils wins or loses this match is with his ability to keep Querrey from actively getting to net. La Monf won’t mind a few exchanges where he can put on a show, but he’s so much better when he can play defense along the baseline and chase down balls that few others can get. From a pure ground stroke view of this match-up, I think Monfils has better weapons off both wings. I’d especially like to see the Frenchman go after Querrey’s backhand, which is prone to breakdowns in ground exchanges. Querrey of course can negate a lot of this action by simply dominating on serve. I don’t think he’d mind if this was a serve versus serve sort of match going deep into sets. His serve generally is more consistent and trustworthy than Monfils.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

With all that being said, tie breaks have actually been a bit of a problem for the American on grass. He did win his lone TB this tournament against Stakhovsky, but had lost his other two on the surface this season and is only 8-15 in TBs in 2018. Monfils is 3-0 in breakers this tournament already and sports a 9-2 record in tie breaks on the year. Pressure may mount against Monfils to match tit for tat on serve, but tie breaks could actually favor him where one or two pivotal returns can make a massive difference. The return game is an obvious edge to Monfils most days.

Querrey does have the experience edge in London from his remarkable runs the last two years that included wins over Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. His last two losses at Wimbledon came to Milos Raonic in 2016 and Marin Cilic last year, both power players who can challenge him at the net on this surface. Monfils won’t do that to the extent that those two did, but he certainly has the power to match Querrey blow for blow off the ground – it’s the serve that is the sticking point to me.

That Monfils has been broken five times in two rounds isn’t the greatest sign when you’re taking on someone like Querrey, who may not yield a single break in the match. I don’t think Monfils is without a chance in this one, but I think he’s going to have to have a consistent, electric serve for four or five sets and I don’t know that he’s capable of that in this spot.

Prediction: Querrey wins in five sets