2017 AEGON Championships R16 Preview: Daniil Medvedev vs Thanasi Kokkinakis

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It’s a rematch from last week at the Ricoh Open with a spot in the quarterfinals at the AEGON Championships ripe for the taking this week. Last week, it was Medvedev who edged Kokkiankis 6-3, 7-6 (3).

Daniil Medvedev vs Thanasi Kokkiankis

Medvedev may have been the more likelier of the two players to be in this spot, but he still needed to pull off a clutch win over grass master Nicolas Mahut to start this week. The Russian rallied after dropping the opening set in a tiebreak to edge Mahut 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-4. Medvedev was keyed by his serve, winning 79 percent off his first serve and 64 percent off his second. He was not broken on five break chances. He would tally eight aces against six double faults. The Russian did just enough against the Mahut serve to secure two key breaks on six chances. It was a nice follow-up for Medvedev who made his first grass quarterfinal at this level last week in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

Kokkinakis scored the biggest win of his career in the opening round with a 7-6 (5), 7-6 (8) win over world number six Milos Raonic. It was the Aussie’s first career Top 10 win in his fifth try. It was also a remarkable win considering his long and winding recovery from shoulder surgery that sidelined him until mid-May. The win over the third seed Raonic was just his second win on tour in five matches since his return. Kokkinakis was resilient, saving all nine of his break points on serve and making clutch plays in the tiebreaks. Kokkinakis would win 78 percent of his first serve points and 61 percent of his second serve points. The Aussie slammed down 15 aces, but actually scored two less points than the Canadian for the match (92-90).

First Verse Yields Key Separating Factors

It’s always an intriguing matter when players square off on the same surface in consecutive tournaments. It gives you a nice insight into their psyches and also how they game plan. Last week’s Ricoh Open match showed Medvedev the better man on serve. Not by much mind you, but he secured the lone break of the match off of five break chances. He never gave Kokkinakis a single look at a break chance.

Overall, the stats say it was close to even on serve. Both players won over 80 percent on their first serve. A difference maker was the Russian’s second serve, where he won 71 percent compared to just 52 percent for the Aussie. Medvedev had eleven aces while Kokkinakis tallied eight. Overall, the Russian scored more points (70-57) indicating better work off the ground as well.

Factors, Etc.

Another factor to throw into the mix this week is how Kokkinakis responds from an emotional and career-best win. Often, it is difficult for younger players to gather themselves and carry that momentum into the next match. The 21-year-old Aussie has also admitted he is still struggling at-times with both shoulder and groin problems. All that considered, it was an amazing feat against Raonic, but now he gets the big hitting Russian again.

Medvedev put his mark on the season in week one, when he made the Chennai Final and lost in straights to Roberto Bautista Agut. He would have a couple of good results indoors with back-to-back quarterfinals in Montpellier and Marseille. A bout of mononucleosis knocked him down from there as he lost five straight opening round matches. He’s obviously feeling a bit more fit after his run through qualifying last week and into the quarterfinals at the Ricoh Open.

To the task at-hand, a repeat performance of last week’s encounter in the Netherlands. I tend to think Medvedev won’t be too shaken by the prospect of repeating his performance last week. After all, Kokkinakis did not show the ability to crack his serve and he was able to get some chances against the Aussie. For Kokkinakis, this will be about carrying the confidence over from the Raonic match. Even so, expecting him to continuously come up with big saves on break points over and over is a big ask for someone still recovering from shoulder problems.

Match Tactics

Grass has shown to be conducive to both players games, despite their lack of experience on the surface. It’s been big serving and big hitting that has keyed them to wins on grass and that is something both excel at doing. Medvedev has even proclaimed that the green stuff is already his favorite surface, so he’s showing his mentality matches his comfortability level on grass.

Medvedev definitely deserves to hang out on the baseline and his volleying is still maybe average at best. That’s something Kokkinakis should look to test again by making the Russian come to net. Kokkinakis has played doubles enough that he’s a bit more skilled at the net and comfortable coming in when needed. Of course, Medvedev’s win over Mahut should also give him confidence if Kokkinakis does change things up, that he has enough to defend the serve and volley and have success against it. Kokkinakis will have to be crafty in his spots to possibly use that tactic.

You know both want to hammer their serves and then hit as many forehands as possible. The key for Kokkinakis is going to be consistently landing his serve for easy points. When he finds his rhythm, he smokes aces and can use his big serve to set up some quick 1-2 punches against the Russian. Medvedev won’t be looking to alter his game plan much, unless things don’t work. Serve big. Hit big. Repeat. If he’s hitting his spots on serve, I don’t think he’ll have a problem controlling points much like he did last week.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

I think consistency is a key word for this match and it’s something I am still a bit worried about for Kokkinakis at this stage of his comeback. He’s getting more match play and working his way through the pains he has to deal with, but it’s tough to repeat those great performances against good players. Medvedev may not be on par with Raonic, but “The Bear” is a dangerous player on this surface with his weaponry. Kokkinakis’ best chances might come by getting to tiebreaks and hoping to steal a few key points to take a set or two. He’s obviously fully capable of doing that as the Raonic result shows.

Bottom line though, I think Medvedev is growing in confidence and comfort level on this surface and he could be in line for bigger and better things on grass very soon. I think he takes it again, but I’ll give Kokkinakis a set this time.

Prediction: Medvedev wins in three sets

2017 AEGON Championships Preview

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Queen’s Club is Dandy for Andy

Queen’s Club in London is one of the big stops this week as players sneak in more grass court preparation ahead of Wimbledon. The AEGON Championships have belonged to Andy Murray. This year’s top seed is a five-time champion at this event, including winning each of the last two seasons. He is 30-5 during his career at this tournament and has followed up two of his last three title wins at Queens’ Club with the title at Wimbledon.

Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic and Marin Cilic round out this week’s top four seeds. Cilic is the best among that group, winning the title in 2012 and racking up a 20-8 career mark at Queen’s Club. Raonic did however make the final here last year, losing to Murray. The rest of the seeded field includes Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Grigor Dimitrov, Tomas Berdych and Nick Kyrgios. Tsonga made the final in 2011, while Dimitrov won his lone title on grass here in 2014. Both Tsonga and Kyrgios will be making their debuts on grass this season. Both will be looking to get positive results this week after early exits at Roland Garros in their last action.

Early Bird Specials

For purposes of this week’s tournament, I’ll only focus on the last two years at Queen’s Club. That is when the field of competitors was reduced from 56 to 32. With just 32 players in the field, there are no byes for the seeds in the opening round. Last year, three seeds were one and done at the AEGON Championships. In 2015, just one seed lost in round one during Queen’s Club’s first year with just 32 players.

With the quick transition from clay to grass, there is definitely room for seeded upsets every year. Let’s focus on the ones who should be on upset alert early on this week in London.

2. Stan Wawrinka
No favors done for the Swiss as he lands Spaniard Feliciano Lopez in round one. Lopez has a superb record on grass at 67-37. He will come in off a tough three set loss in the Mercedes Cup final on Sunday. Lopez is 15-11 all-time at Queen’s Club and is a one-time finalist in 2014. Even his losses are usually very tough on his opponents. Wawrinka has found the going tough at this tournament outside of a semifinal in 2014. In 2015, he lost in round two to Kevin Anderson.

Last year, he was upset by Fernando Verdasco in the opening round. The second seed is 4-2 against Lopez lifetime and he did win on grass against him at Wimbledon in 2014. That was their last meeting and it was settled 7-6, 7-6, 6-3 with only one break of serve. That could be a similar set-up to this time around. Lopez played four straight three set matches in Stuttgart, so there is a chance of fatigue helping Wawrinka out.

4. Marin Cilic
Cilic has a tough draw with John Isner as his opening opponent. Isner ended a six match losing streak to Cilic last year with a win at the Paris Masters. He followed that up with a three set win in Rome this Spring on clay. Cilic does have the match play advantage after making the Ricoh Open semifinals this past week. He lost to Ivo Karlovic in three, with Karlovic taking his two sets in tiebreaks. Could that be a similar scenario with Isner?

It’s possible. An overwhelming number of Isner’s sets on grass have been decided in tiebreaks. Of his seven matches on grass in 2016, 13 of 23 sets went to breakers and another of those sets was a 19-17 loss at Wimbledon to Tsonga. The lone grass court clash between Cilic and Isner went five sets at Wimbledon in 2015. Three of those sets went to tiebreaks and the deciding set ended 12-10 in favor of Cilic. Isner won two of the three tiebreak sets.

5. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsongs opens against fellow Frenchie, Adrian Mannarino. Mannarino got in a few grass court matches last week at the Ricoh Open and that makes him a bit dangerous here. Tsonga comes in off a very disappointing first round loss at the French Open. Grass traditionally has been good for Tsonga, but he’s coming back to Queen’s Club for the first time since 2014. Mannarino has been serviceable on this surface and does own a win on clay against Tsonga this year at Monte Carlo. The surface should suit Tsonga better, but there’s definitely a chance for him to get caught cold in this spot.

Outsider’s Edge

Even before the reduction in the number of players who head to Queen’s Club each year, outsiders did not have much success has far as bringing home the title. They have however played a role late in the tournament fairly routinely. Last year, you had three unseeded players in the quarterfinals and one (Bernard Tomic) in the semifinals. In 2015, five unseeded players made the quarters with two advancing to the semis. Kevin Anderson would be the first unseeded player to get into the final in 2015 since Mardy Fish did the trick in 2010.

With that to chew on, who has a shot to make some late noise in London this week? Here’s a look at a few players with the draws to be around at the end of the week.

Nicolas Mahut
It’s a tall task for the grass assassin who had traditionally has done much better at the Ricoh Open, where he was a three time champion. Still, he’s a good serve and volley sort suited to this surface. He is stuck in Milos Raonic’s quarter though with a tough young Russian Daniil Medvedev to open. Raonic was tremendous on grass last year with back-to-back finals at Queen’s Club and Wimbledon. Still, he’s not been consistent this year, so perhaps Mahut could have a shot to upset the apple cart.

Feliciano Lopez
A big fat duh here based on his career numbers and how well he played in Stuttgart. The Spaniard is obviously boom or bust with second seed Stan Wawrinka in his way to start. A win though and Lopez might only have Berdych (7) standing in his way to the semifinals. The same Berdych he just beat in Stuttgart.

John Isner
Isner easily could go out in round one to Cilic, but he’s in a quarter with a lot of similar players who like to serve big and rely on that to move them along on grass. Cilic and Kyrgios are the seeds in his way to a semifinal surprise. An upset over Cilic in round one and he’s likely to see Steve Johnson who has beaten him three straight times, including twice in 2017. Speaking of Stevie J ….

Steve Johnson
He’s got an interesting opener against 19-year-old American qualifier Stefan Kozlov. Kozlov is one of the young talents in the US has quite a bit of grass court experience and isn’t overwhelmed by the surface. He beat Johnson at the Ricoh Open in 2016 on grass. Johnson ripped him apart at Delray Beach earlier this year in straights to repay that favor. Johnson lost a tough match to Philipp Kohlschreiber in Stuttgart last week that he might still be thinking about after blowing a late lead. If he’s able to focus this week, he’s got that big serve and forehand combo that works on grass.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Andy Murray (1)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (5)

Breakdown
This is a tricky quarter with some big servers here opposite of Murray. Starting with Murray’s half of the quarter, he opens against Aljaz Bedene who has played decently on grass. Murray did win their only career meeting last year at this tournament 6-3, 6-4. With increased confidence from a solid run at Roland Garros, I don’t think Murray will start slow here although Bedene should play him tough. A win for Murray and it’s either Sam Querrey or British wildcard Cameron Norrie. Querrey is going to be a tough out regardless of when and whom he might lose; remember he made his first Slam quarterfinal on grass at Wimbledon last year with the now famous win over Novak Djokovic in round three. Murray has handled Querrey seven out of eight career meetings, including twice on grass.

Newly minted Ricoh Open champion Gilles Muller is one to watch in the opposite half. He opens against Nikoloz Basilashvili. Muller’s big serve propelled him through the Dutch grass court tournament, where he was only broken twice in four matches. If he wins to open, he could see Tsonga in round two. Tsonga is 3-1 against the big lefty, but their Wimbledon meeting in 2015 went five. This part of the quarter could be the one with some upsets with Tsonga still up and down in form this year. If Tsonga falters, Muller would be the guy who might take advantage.

Quarter #2 Seeds
Marin Cilic (4)
Nick Kyrgios (9)

Breakdown
There is a whole lot of electric serving to be had in this quarter with Cilic, Kyrgios, Isner and Steve Johnson. In Cilic’s half, he’s up against it to start against Isner. The survivor gets either Johnson or Kozlov. Legitimately, I think Cilic, Isner or Johnson could make it to the quarters out of that part of the draw. In the bottom half, Kyrgios has Donald Young to open and that’s a good match-up for the Aussie. Kyrgios beat Young earlier this year on hard courts at Acapulco and grass won’t negate the power advantage he has over Young. The big question with Kyrgios is health. He’s been battling shoulder and hip issues off and on for months, but is reporting to be pain free heading into the week.

The under-the-radar first round match opposite of Kyrgios-Young is Janko Tipsarevic against Viktor Troicki. They have split four career meetings with Troicki winning on grass last time they met in 2013 at Wimbledon. Troicki was a quick exit in Stuttgart last week to Benoit Paire, while Tipsarevic lost in three sets in his second match at the Ricoh Open to Marin Cilic. The winner could pose a significant threat to Kyrgios or Young if he manages an upset.

Something in my gut tells me that this is a quarter where an unseeded player will get through. Isner or Johnson would be the favorite to do that, but don’t discount that Troicki-Tipsarevic winner. The wildcard would be a healthy Kyrgios, but I’m not putting my money on board that boat just yet.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Milos Raonic (3)
Grigor Dimitrov (6)

Breakdown
A lot will be expected of Raonic after his run on grass last season. His increased success with volleying paid off large during this stretch in 2016. In his half of the quarter, he goes against Thanasi Kokkinakis to start. The 21-year-old Aussie is still getting his legs back under him after missing the first five months of the season due to injury. He does have some grass play under his belt from the Ricoh Open last week, beating Mikhail Youzhny and then losing to Medvedev. If he wasn’t still working his way back, I might fancy him to push Raonic some. In this spot, I think he’ll have a tough time matching Raonic’s serve. A win gets Raonic Mahut or Medvedev. That will be the tougher test for the third seed.

In the other half, Dimitrov will look to shake off his early exit from Stuttgart last week. The Bulgarian gets Ryan Harrison to open. On this surface, that’s advantage Dimitrov. A win gets him a date against Julien Benneteau or James Ward. Much like Raonic, that will be the tougher test likely for Dimitrov. Benneteau made it through qualis and took out Mahut in ‘s-Hertogenbosch last week. He’s got a good grass court game and has split four meetings with Dimitrov. None of those have come since 2014 however. Dimitrov still doesn’t inspire confidence, so I would not be totally shocked if he was out in round two.

This should be Raonic’s quarter to take as long as he gets into a rhythm early.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Stan Wawrinka (2)
Tomas Berdych (7)

Breakdown
This is the toughest quarter to me. Wawrinka has Feliciano Lopez to get his grass campaign started. That’s tough. A win gets him either Pierre Hugues-Herbert or Jeremy Chardy. That’s likely much easier for the Swiss, especially Chardy who he is 5-0 against in their careers. In the other half, Berdych starts with Steve Darcis. The Shark does own two wins against Berdych, including one on grass in the 2012 London Olympics. Darcis has exactly one win on grass in a main draw since then.

Berdych should get through which means either Kyle Edmund or Denis Shapovalov in round two. Edmund gets on grass for the first time this season. He was a quarterfinalist at the AEGON Championships a year ago, taking a set off of Murray in a loss. Edmund is still very green on the green. Shapovalov made it through qualifying and has the big game to contend against Edmund in round one.

This could wind up going to the seeds if Lopez is fatigued from Stuttgart. If it comes down to Wawrinka vs Berdych, the Swiss owns the head-to-head 11-5. Wawrinka has won six straight over the Czech.

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

Some might be a bit reserved to look to the top seed after Roger Federer flamed out in Stuttgart last week. This is a different set-up though. Murray hasn’t been off for multiple months and really looked like the best version of Andy Murray we’ve seen in a while in Paris. This tournament is comfortable for him and his top half fo the draw looks conducive to at least a 6th trip to the Queen’s Club final.

The othe half seems more of a crap shoot with Raonic probably the expected finalist. I’m not so sure that I am sold on that. Wawrinka needs to get past Lopez first, but I think if he’s able to do so, watch out for the Swiss. Grass isn’t his best surface, but he can slug it out over most of this field if he’s on his game.

For me, I think the title resides with one of the top three seeds this week. Murray the obvious favorite, but Wawrinka perhaps the surprise – if you can say that about a second seed and I think you can about Stan on grass – if things open up for him early. I’ll still go with Andy in the end, but in a season of surprises, it would not be totally shocking if he fails to repeat.

ATP Queen’s Club: Bernard Tomic vs Fernando Verdasco

BTFV

It’s not a seeded affair, but this could have the makings of the best match on Thursday in London. Bernard Tomic will seek to continue his stranglehold on this series. He has beaten Fernando Verdasco three of the four times that they have met previously. They meet in round two action at Queen’s Club for the Aegon Championships.

Bernard Tomic vs Fernando Verdasco
Both players secured quality wins to open their week at Queen’s Club. Tomic beat 2015 finalist Kevin Anderson 6-3, 6-4. Anderson was unable to produce his best serve as the Aussie broke him three times. Tomic was solid enough with his own game, winning 74 percent of his service points. He was broken just once on four chances. The win moved Tomic to 2-1 on this year’s grass court swing after he went 1-1 in the Netherlands, losing to eventual Ricoh Open champion Nicolas Mahut in the quarterfinals.

Fernando Verdasco pulled off the seeded upset of Stan Wawrinka to open play at Queen’s Club for the Spaniard. Verdasco beat Wawrinka in a rain-delayed first round match 6-2, 7-6 (3). The lefty was better in the big moments, saving all eight of his break points against the Swiss. Wawrinka was unable to match that effort as he was broken twice on four chances. Verdasco’s first serve produced more with a 78 percent win rate, while Wawrinka was markedly worse at just 68 percent. The second seeded Swiss blamed his lack of a good result on needing more grass court practice.

The last meeting between Tomic and Verdasco came last fall at the Shanghai Masters. Tomic won that match 6-3, 7-6. Tomic’s prior two wins over the lefty came in Stockholm in 2014 and at the 2012 Australian Open. Both of those matches featured tight endings. Tomic prevailed in Stockholm 0-6, 6-4, 7-6 (6) and in Melbourne 4-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-2, 7-5. Verdasco’s lone win came in Brisbane back in 2009.

Despite Tomic’s perceived expertise on grass, he’s just a shade over .500 on the surface for his career. Verdasco has right around a 60 percent win rate on grass during his career. Verdasco’s confidence should be high here despite the head-to-head record. One, even if it was a Non-Slam Stan performance, he beat a Top 5 player in round one here. And secondly, Tomic hasn’t won back-to-back matches since February.

Verdasco obviously isn’t tremendously over matched here with how close their matches have played out. For the Spaniard, his lefty serve can still be a solid weapon when it is working. Tomic at times can have a fully locked and loaded serve on this surface that is hard to break down. If both bring something near the level of their first round matches, then this should be a good one.

Off the ground, you’re going to see those slices from Tomic. That’s his game. His variety is what makes him effective when he’s full engaged in a match. Verdasco has the big forehand and an adequate double handed backhand. Tomic would do well to target the weaker backhand side more often, while Verdasco has a more challenging task. Tomic’s backhand might be his weaker stroke, but it also has great variety to it that can really be used to craft points well. Verdasco would do well to simply make the points shorter and aggressive, rather than engaing in too many rallies.

Interestingly, this match carries with it a lot of similarities to Verdasco’s opener against Wawrinka. He’s going in against a talented player, but a player who is prone to distracted efforts. Tomic did show good focus in his opener against Anderson on a smaller Court 2 that had plenty of its own distractions. Tomic has been sure to mention his work with Lleyton Hewitt this week in prep for Wimbledon and that can’t hurt him in this spot either. That kind of focus and prep plus the confidence of beating Verdasco three straight times could be enough for another win if he brings that same consistency to Thursday’s match.

Prediction
Tomic wins in three sets

ATP Queen’s Club: John Isner vs Juan Martin Del Potro

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Plenty of pop should be on display as 7th seed John Isner and Juan Martin Del Potro meet in opening round play at Queen’s Club. Isner seeks just his second win over the Argentine. It happened the last time they met at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati in 2013.

(7) John Isner vs Juan Martin Del Potro
Isner is set to make his return to grass after winning a pair of Davis Cup matches earlier in the year, while Del Potro hopes to follow up a solid showing in Stuttgart. Del Potro flashed a good serve and some solid ground strokes during his semifinal run last week at the Mercedes Cup. He would eventually lose to Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-4, 6-3. The results are good considering that Del Potro last played a competitive grass court match in June 2013. This week marks his first return to Queen’s Club since that same year. Del Potro made the quarterfinals that year before losing to Lleyton Hewitt.

Isner is back on court for the first time since his 4th round loss at the French Open to Andy Murray. The American is 30-17 on grass in his career. He made the quarters last year at Queen’s Club and lost a tough 12-10 fifth set to Marin Cilic at Wimbledon in the third round a few weeks later. Isner did score two massive wins for Team USA in March when they battled Australia in Davis Cup action. Isner was a one man wrecking crew in leading the U.S. to the quarterfinals. Isner would beat both Sam Groth and Bernard Tomic on their home soil with a blistering 69 aces in the seven sets played that weekend.

Del Potro and Isner first met back in 2008 during the summer hard court swing in the States. Delpo would beat Isner 6-4, 6-4 in Washington and then follow that with three more wins on hard courts over the 6’10” former UGA Bulldog at Indian Wells (2009), Memphis (2011) and Washington again in 2013. Isner had never won a set off of Del Potro until their 2013 meetings. He would take on set in Washington before falling 3-6, 6-1, 6-2. His breakthrough in Cincinnati saw Isner power past Delpo 6-7 (5), 7-6 (9), 6-3 on the fast courts in Cincy.

That takes us to the slick and quick courts at Queen’s Club this week for this battle. Through 12 completed matches, 12 tiebreaks have been played. With the serves these two possess, you figure they should add to that total. Isner played five tiebreaks in three matches here last year. Del Potro played just one last week in Stuttgart, but has gone 3-3 in tiebreaks this year. By comparison, Isner has played in 29 with a 15-14 record in 2016.

If there is anything to surprise in this match, The Pig isn’t seeing it. We’re going to see big serves. We’re going to likely see short, aggressive points. Big forehands and as few backhands as possible from these two. When this originally popped up on the radar for this week, my inclination was that Isner could have the bigger edge with the Argentine possibly pooped from the longer week in Stuttgart. The rain has negated that with Del Potro having had ample time now to travel, rest and get prepared.

What Del Potro may have trouble with is the velocity of Isner’s serve. The only “big” server that Del Potro has faced this year since his comeback was Sam Querrey back in Delray Beach during his first tournament back. He lost that match 7-5, 7-5. The quick grass in London figures to cause Del Potro some problems in trying to solve the Isner serve, but it should give him an opportunity to bring his own cannon of a serve to the proceedings. Delpo looked worn down against Kohlschreiber in the semifinals, but had not been broken in the three matches prior in Stuttgart with only two break chances in all.

That means you can expect power serve to match power serve most likely here. Despite this being Isner’s first match since the French Open, he’s shown a proclivity to starting fast on grass with his serve. For Del Potro, it should be a matter of repetition and not having to face a superior return man on the other side. Barring some travel fatigue or overall fatigue – which would be a bad sign for him to begin with – Del Potro should be matching Isner with the serve.

That leaves this one likely to join the tiebreak parade, possibly for multiple sets. While Isner’s overall tiebreak record is not great, he has been better in that category on grass. The American is 13-8 in grass court tiebreaks since 2014. It’s a tough call overall with this one. A healthy and confident Del Potro would be the choice most days, but the confidence level still seems to go up and down each week with the Argentine. Isner should be confidence on the surface where he scored his biggest wins of 2016 in Davis Cup play. It really could go either way, but The Pig’s chitlens side with Isner in a pair of tiebreaks.

Prediction
Isner wins in straight sets

ATP Queen’s Club: Stan Wawrinka vs Fernando Verdasco

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Stan Wawrinka is set to open his campaign at Queen’s Club on Tuesday against Fernando Verdasco. This week’s second seed will be looking to make it two straight on grass against the lefty from Spain.

(2) Stan Wawrinka vs Fernando Verdasco
Wawrinka transitions off clay in good form after making the semifinals at Roland Garros. What lies ahead however can sometimes be a lull period for the Swiss. Since his rise to prominence in 2014, Wawrinka has failed to win back-to-back matches at his first post Grand Slam tournament six of ten times. The Swiss’ grass record has improved the last few years, but he is still just 26-22 in his career. Nearly half of those wins (11) have come in the last two seasons. He’s played Queen’s Club just three times to the tune of a 4-3 record. Wawrinka made the semifinals in 2014, but lost in a pair of tiebreaks to 2015 finalist Kevin Anderson in last year’s second round.

Verdasco has enjoyed a decent season at the age of 32 with a 16-11 record. His best moment came on clay in Bucharest, where he won his 7th career title. The lefty has not been inept on grass by any means in his career. Verdasco sports a 42-28 record on the surface. His best run on grass came at Wimbledon in 2013 when he made the quarterfinals. Queen’s Club has not been as kind to him with the Spaniard at 6-5 all-time here. In five trips, he has only been past round two once. That came in 2011. Last year, he lost to Andy Murray in the second round 7-5, 6-4.

Last year’s third round meeting at Wimbledon between these two was their fourth career meeting. Wawrinka’s straight sets win helped him even the series at 2-2 with all the other matches coming on clay. Verdasco could possibly be forgiven for that showing after playing a pair of tough five set matches in the first rounds. The lefty beat Martin Klizan 13-11 in the opening round in the 5th set and then outlasted Dominic Thiem in the second round after trailing two sets to one. Wawrinka had won both his matches before the Verdasco encounter in straight sets. His two matches finished in less combined time than either of Verdasco’s matches.

So does that mean the lefty has a better shot in this spot to grab a win? Certainly. Both men come in on equal footing, having not played since the French Open. This will also be Wawrinka’s first chance to see what newly coach Richard Krajicek can add to his grass court game. The Swiss has been sure to mention that Krajicek isn’t on board just to bolster his grass court game, but Krajicek saw some of his best results on grass during his playing career. He won Wimbledon back in 1996.

Wawrinka has said his more aggressive playing style as his career has progressed has made him more comfortable on grass and the results certainly back that up. The slicker and quicker surface is conducive to big serving and big shots off the ground. Wawrinka possesses both. Verdasco’s serve doesn’t have that sort of bite, but can be effective. His ground game is still fairly solid and the lefty is good at the net. Verdasco has long been a very good doubles player where he has refined his volleying skills even further.

The ground game will be intriguing in this one as Verdasco is the one that I often would correlate with more net play, but on grass, Wawrinka has shown the inclination to do a bit more of that to shorten points. With Krajicek also in his corner, it will be interesting to see if there is more of a chip and charge feel to Stan’s game. If they do get into longer rallies, we know the strengths and weaknesses of the second seed. Wawrinka can produce beautiful winners and pop of both wings when he’s locked in, but that same game can also provide a slew of errors.

Verdasco likely will look to keep away from the backhand of Wawrinka when possible as the forehand still produces more of those error prone moments for the Swiss. Wawrinka will need to bring consistency on his serve to be able to produce whatever ground game his team is going to call for, so that’s the starting point. When the Swiss is in rhythm on serve, the rest of his game usually follows suit and vice versa.

The Pig always hesitates to side with Wawrinka when Non-Slam Stan could show up. It’s documented. It’s real. In this case though, I think the talk I have heard from him and his camp tells me that there will be some focus on working on the game plan that he hopes will drive him deep at Wimbledon. Whether that will ultimately be good enough to win or not is another story. In this one though, I look for some competitive tennis and for Wawrinka to grind his way through.

Prediction
Wawrinka wins in three sets