2017 Western & Southern Open Preview

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Questions Among the Top Four Seeds

The U.S. Open hard court series hits its high note this week as the tour stops in Cincinnati for the Western & Southern Open. For many, this is the final tuneup before the U.S. Open. The new week arrives with new questions. We thought the biggest would be how Rafael Nadal bounced back after his shock loss to Denis Shapovalov in Montreal last week. Now, even with Alexander Zverev as the biggest story – the key question is how healthy is Roger Federer? Zverev truly played some of his best tennis and was a deserving winner in the Rogers Cup final on Sunday. However, there was little doubt that Federer seemed tight and not-so-fluid in the second set. Many observers believe the Swiss tweaked his back at some point with the focus on his change in service motion from set one to set two. Federer was typically mum after the match, so it remains to be seen what his status will be for this week.

As for the man who is the current main attraction on the ATP World Tour in Sascha Zverev, he arrives on a ten match winning streak and with plenty of confidence. The key for Sascha this week as was the case in Montreal is balance. Winning your second Masters title and beating Federer will obviously have him on an emotional high, so it’s big if he can prove again that he can come off that feeling and continue his run of great play. Zverev will serve as the fourth seed in Cincy behind Nadal, Federer and Dominic Thiem. Thiem himself will have something to prove with a 1-2 mark for his summer swing on hard courts. His loss to Diego Schwartzman in his opener last week in Montreal will be particularly troubling. The Austrian will want to gain some momentum this week.

Number One Ranking in Sight for Nadal or Federer

As for Nadal, he’ll look to shake off the disappointment of last week and focus on recapturing form at the Western & Southern Open with an eye on the top spot in the rankings. From the sounds of his comments after losing to Shapovalov in Montreal, one wouldn’t be wrong in thinking he fully expected to be in that spot entering the week. Instead, he’s still just behind Andy Murray at #2 by just 195 points. With Murray out this week again due to injury, Rafa can regain the top spot for the first time since 2014 if the chips fall right for him. Federer also has plenty to say about that if healthy enough to compete. Rafa lost in the round of 16 last year, so has plenty of points to gain with each win after that round. Federer did not play Cincinnati at all in 2016 due to injury, so will have nothing but points to gain with each win.

Seeded Field Struggling

If we’re honest, most of the seeded field in Cincinnati not named Sascha Zverev will be looking to establish a rhythm and find their best form this week. One player we won’t see is Kei NIshikori, who pulled out with a wrist injury. Nishikori has been set to be seeded fifth, a slot that will now go to lucky loser Janko Tipsarevic. Sixth seed Milos Raonic arrives off an injury concern last week in Montreal where he lost his opening match. He revealed after that he had played through some pain in his left wrist. The Canadian does not believe it to be a long term issue. What has been an issue for Raonic is his uneven play. He is a two-time semifinalist at this tournament, making that round last year.

The seventh seed this week is Grigor Dimitrov who has become the poster child for struggling on tour. Last week showcased that again as he beat Mischa Zverev in his opener before losing to Robin Haase going away 7-6, 4-6, 6-1. Dimitrov did have his best run here last year in making the semifinals, scoring four of his nine career wins in Cincinnati in that stretch. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (8) comes to the midwest with a poor record at this event (2-5) and just one match since Wimbledon. That was last week’s three set loss to Sam Querrey at the Rogers Cup.

David Goffin slots in as the 9th seed and another player who has been rough around the edges of late. The Belgian returned to tour in late July after missing time with an ankle injury. He is 3-3 since returning with his losses coming to unexpected sources like Ivan Dodig, Robin Haase and Hyeon Chung. Goffin is 5-3 in his career in Cincy, never making it past the round of 16. Tomas Berdych rounds out the top ten seeds. The Czech pulled out of Montreal last week with a rib injury or perhaps due to his lengthy run in Los Cabos the week prior. He made the final in Mexico, where he lost to Thanasi Kokkinakis in a grueling three set match.Berdych is 18-12 all-time at this tournament with semifinal runs in 2011 and 2013.

The last part of the seeded field includes Pablo Carreno Busta, Roberto Bautista Agut and a glut of Americans. The American contingent has the most history here. That includes 14th seed John Isner who won his Sunday opener against Viktor Troicki in straight sets. Isner has not done well since making the final in 2013. Since then, he has failed to get past the second round in two of the past three years. Sam Querrey (15) is 10-10 in Cincy, but has also not been past round two in the last six years. The final seed, Gilles Muller, won his opener on Sunday against Ryan Harrison in three sets. It was his first victory in just two career matches at this event.

Early Bird Specials

Last year was the lowest number of first-up upsets in Cincinnati a good bit. Only two seeds lost their openers last year. Prior to that, four seeds lost first-up in 2015, three in 2014 and six in 2013. Interestingly, a top eight seed has not lost their opener in Cincy since 2014. That could be up for a change this year with so many in this seeded field short on form and results of late. Let’s take a look at the players who could be most likely to struggle early.

3. Dominic Thiem
An intriguing opponent awaits Thiem either way the first round match between Fabio Fognini and Daniil Medvedev shakes down. Medvedev was unable to get off the ground in Montreal last week after his surprise run to the quarterfinals the week before in D.C. Fognini has a good run on clay after Wimbledon with a title in Gstaad. He did make a shock run to the quarterfinals in 2014 in Cincinnati, but has lost his first match each of the last two years. Thiem whipped Fognini in their lone career meeting on clay back in 2015 and he’s never played Medvedev. Both Fognini and Medvedev can play that smash and grab style on hard courts, so both can pose problems for Thiem and both can be overwhelmed when they are not hitting their spots. Keep the upset alert button handy in any case.

6. Milos Raonic
Keeping the Canadian here simply because we’re not sure what percentage that wrist is going to be at to start this week. He’ll face either Nikoloz Basilashvili or Borna Coric. Raonic is 1-0 against both, but consider Coric a possible trouble spot for the Canadian. Coric has taken to these courts well in two previous trips with wins over Alexander Zverev (2015) and then Nadal and Kyrgios last year. With Raonic up and down this year, there’s every reason to believe that match could be very tight.

7. Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov is a regular on this list and why not? He has stretched his streak of non first-up losses to four straight tournaments now, but he’s been pushed to three sets both in DC and Montreal in his first match before losing in the next round. He has lost his first-up match in five tournaments this year. Dimitrov gets Feliciano Lopez or Hyeon Chung to open this week. Lopez is 2-2 against Dimitrov, including a win on grass this year and a three set loss last year in Cincy in a third set tiebreak. Chung played well against Dimitrov in a four set loss at the Australian Open. Chung beat Lopez last week in Montreal, so it will be an intriguing first round clash that could lead to an even more intriguing second round match.

8. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsonga wasn’t done any favors with his draw. He is going to face the winner of Ivo Karlovic vs Jiri Vesely. Tsonga would probably prefer Vesely who he beat in a strenuous four set Davis Cup win on hard courts in 2016. Karlovic is 2-1 against the Frenchman with both wins coming on grass at Wimbledon. The plus for Tsonga is neither arrives with much done on this surface lately. Vesely has beaten Karlovic twice, but the last meeting came in 2015 at the U.S. Open. Either player is definitely capable of giving Tsonga fits with their power, especially considering Tsonga’s poor record here.

9. David Goffin
An easy inclusion on this list even if his first round opponent is about as trustworthy as a politician. Goffin faces Nick Kyrgios to start. The Aussie did put together two wins in a row in Montreal last week, his best showing since Madrid way back in May. His performance against Alexander Zverev in his loss was less than inspiring, but he at least showed some mobility and his shoulder held up. Does that mean he holds up this week? Of course not. He has beaten Goffin both times they have played in the past though with the last coming in Miami earlier this season when the Belgian was playing reasonably well. With the quick conditions in Cincy, Kyrgios will be a big bother for Goffin – IF he cares to be. That is the question.

10, Tomas Berdych
Berdych draws the first round Juan Martin Del Potro short stick this week. DelPo was up and down again last week. Looking decent in a win against John Isner in Montreal before looking very flat against Denis Shapovalov in the next round. He is 4-3 against Berdych. The Berdman has won both of their meetings on this surface, including the last at Indian Wells last season. With Berdych’s status unknown with the rib and DelPo always seemingly unknown with the wrist, this really looks 50-50.

12. Roberto Bautista Agut
RBA faces off against Jared Donaldson who brings some confidence to Cincy after back-to-back third round runs in D.C. and Montreal. The Spaniard was solid in his own right last week with a quarterfinal run at the Rogers Cup, where he lost to Federer 6-4, 6-4. RBA is just 2-3 at this event however and lost in round one to Nicolas Mahut last year. JD is 2-2 at this event in two career trips and he took Stan Wawrinka to three sets in a loss last year. If he finds his serve early, he’s a threat to upset.

Outsider’s Edge

Cincinnati has been a regular haven for outsiders the past five years with an unseeded player crashing the semifinals each year. That includes John Isner’s 2013 finals appearance as an outsider. With some of the questions surrounding this week’s seeded field, there could definitely be room for a new addition to the outsider’s club at the Western & Southern Open. Let’s take a look at some possibilities.

Nadal’s Quarter
There are too many unseeded possibilities in this quarter to list them individually. Yes, Nadal will be expecting to make a big run here, but he’s lost in the round of 16 each of his last two trips to the midwest. In this quarter, there is Nick Kyrgios, Kevin Anderson, Alexandr Dolgpolov, Ivo Karlovic and Jiri Vesely. Kyrgios, Dolgopolov and Anderson would have to go through each other in round two in some combination, but could benefit from having Tsonga and Goffin as the lead seeds in that half of the quarter. That would keep them away from Nadal longer if the Spaniard is able to make a run. Anderson probably carries the best form, but is 0-4 against Nadal. He might need help to get through to the semifinals out of this group.

Steve Johnson/David Ferrer
Johnson continues to ride the roller coaster from week to week and he gets another tough opener with David Ferrer. Ferrer scored two of his best wins this season last week at the Rogers Cup against Kyle Edmund and Jack Sock. He also took a set off of Federer before losing in three sets. The winner of their first round match gets to take advantage of Nishikori’s injury withdraw in round two. Ferrer is 2-0 against Johnson and perhaps arriving with the most confidence he has had in a long time. The winner would only have Carreno Busta seeded in their way to the quarterfinals and Thiem or Querrey as the possible seed blocking a semifinal. It’s a weaker draw that could open up nicely.

Fabio Fognini/Daniil Medvedev
The winner of their first round clash will have to beat Thiem in round two, but that’s not an unimaginable task right now on this surface. A couple wins and they could be in the driver’s seat for a quarterfinal run or better.

Gael Monfils
The Frenchman scored wins over Johnson and Nishikori last week to boost his confidence. He lost a tough three set match to Bautista Agut in round three in a third set tiebreak, but appears to be trending upward. He’s in the quarter with Zverev and Raonic as the top seeds. His half could be easier to at least push to the quarterfinals as La Monf is 3-3 against Raonic and had beaten RBA three straight before last week’s loss.

Karen Khachanov
The Russian’s potential this week would hinge on Federer’s status. Khachanov opens against Diego Schwartzman in round one. Schwartzman did beat him in Miami this year in three sets, but the quicker conditions in Cincy could help the Russian in this one. The winner would meet Federer in round two if the Swiss is able to go. Khachanov lost to Fed 6-4, 7-6 in Halle this year and proved he can stick with him in quick conditions. If things fall right, he would likely only need to get past Sock to get to the quarters. Then, it’s Dimitrov and Berdych as the highest seeds in the other part of the quarter to block a semifinal berth. It’s a long shot sure, but there is potential depending on what happens with Federer.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (1)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (8)
David Goffin (9)
Gilles Muller (16)

Breakdown
Nadal’s route to the quarterfinals could run through Muller, a repeat of their five set classic at Wimbledon this year. Muller has taken a set off of Rafa in their last two meetings and likely would provide another stiff test. Nadal will face Richard Gasquet or John Parick Smith to start. He is 14-0 against Gasquet and will likely feel comfortable in either case. Muller would need to get past Mikhail Youzhny or Albert Ramos-Vinolas in round two to make that rematch come true.

In the bottom half, Goffin and Tsonga are shaky seeds. Kevin Anderson could be the one to take advantage in this part of the draw if he gets past Dolgopolov to begin. Anderson made the Citi Open final and then followed up with a quarterfinal run last week. There is no Sascha Zverev in his way this week, so if he’s not fatigued, watch out for him again. I’d favor Tsonga over Goffin as far as the seed who could reasonably do better here.

For me, I think this quarter could boil down to the potential Nadal-Muller match in round three. Rafa will have confidence from getting those tough wins over the big lefty, but it also leaves this quarter the potential for someone other than Rafa to get through to the semis.

Quarter #2 Seeds
Dominic Thiem (3)
Pablo Carreno Busta (11)
Sam Querrey (15)

Breakdown
The departure of Nishikori in this quarter leaves room for some jostling in this quarter. Thiem is the lead seed, but far from a sure shot. His first match may be his toughest with either Fognini or Medvedev waiting. If the Austrian gets past that, he could get on a better roll. Querrey has a nice match-up in his half of the quarter to begin with Stefan Kozlov. His next match could be tougher with either Adrian Mannarino or Robin Haase as the foe. Mannarino is 2-0 against Querrey and Haase played very well in Montreal last week. I would not be surprised if this half of the quarter did fall to Thiem so long as he can get past his opener.

In the bottom half, Carreno Busta is the only seed with Janko Tipsarevic sliding into Nishikori’s slot. Carreno Busta could have a nice path with Paolo Lorenzi to open and then either Fernando Verdasco or Mischa Zverev. PCB is 1-1 against Zverev and 2-1 against Verdasco. Neither has been good of late on hard courts. Carreno Busta will have to overcome his lack of experience in this venue with just one career match, but he’s got the talent to make the run.

This quarter looks like it’s either Thiem or a total blowup with an unseeded player making their way through. Thiem has yet to master this Masters swing in his young career, so it’s not definite that he will this time around. Still, I do like him here if he gets past that opener. But that is a fairly large IF.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Alexander Zverev (4)
Milos Raonic (6)
Roberto Bautisra Agut (12)
John Isner (14)

Breakdown
All of a sudden, Zverev isn’t a future star – he’s a current star. This is sure to be a test for Sascha as one of the few players in the draw playing for a third straight week. No matter the form, that is a big ask for a player to continue to roll day after day. As usual in these situations, the first match could be the trickiest. Zverev faces either Frances Tiafoe or qualifier Maximillian Marterer. That will help alleviate some of the stress as both are inferior players to Sascha. He has already handled Tiafoe in straight sets twice at the Aussie Open and Wimbledon. Isner looks the larger threat from ending his run. Isner will need to get by Donald Young or Tommy Paul next round, but could be waiting for Zverev in round three. Sascha is 3-0 against Isner, including two wins this year, but Big John has taken a set off of him in each match. With a lot of mileage on Zverev, I would not be surprised if Isner ended Sascha’s win streak.

In the other half, Raonic arrives with the health question and is definitely a candidate for an early exit if the wrist is still bothersome. Coric, if he takes down Basilashvili in round one, could be the one to do it. Bautista Agut has the tough opener against Donaldson and then could face Monfils for a second straight week. This definitely looks like a part of the bracket that could see an unseeded player sneak through. Think Monfils or Donaldson, but Coric could also be a possibility with a good track record of playing tough in Cincy.

If Zverev can avoid burn out this week, you’d be a fool to bet against him as I did last week in Montreal. He’s the form player on tour the last few weeks and has proven it over and over. A healthy and in-form Raonic would obviously be tough here, but he’s neither coming into this week. If not Sascha, Bautista Agut is an interesting and under-the-radar seed to sneak into the mix. Monfils or Donaldson to me seems the likelier of the unseeded guys to surprise.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Roger Federer (2)
Grigor Dimitrov (7)
Tomas Berdych (10)
Jack Sock (13)

*See Updated thoughts below due to Federer announcing he would withdraw due to a back injury

Breakdown
The pluses for Federer this week are listed above. None of the seeds have been particularly consistent lately and none of them have traditionally bothered the Swiss. The big question for Fed is health. With the U.S. Open less than two weeks away, he’s going to be very careful not to overextend himself. Grand Slams are what it’s all about for the Swiss at this stage. Fed seemed to characterize his problems on Sunday as the aches and pains you would expect after being on vacation for a while and then playing a full week. To me, it sounds like he will give it a go in Cincy. If healthy, Federer has a good path to the quarters although Khachanov potentially in round two would be a tough out as laid out earlier. Sock has Yuichi Sugita to start and then may face Kyle Edmund in round two. Edmund smoked him in Atlanta.

In the other half, you have the enigma that is Dimitrov and the questionable status of Berdych. There are dangerous floaters like Del Potro, Benoit Paire, Feliciano Lopez and Hyeon Chung in this half as well. I trust Berdych more than Dimitrov since the Czech efforted well in Los Cabos. If he’s healthy, Berdych has a shot to get going if he can work past DelPo – that’s the big one for him early. This is pretty wide open with everyone here lacking consistency, so it’s really a pretty big guessing game as to who the quarterfinalist could be.

The hope will be that Federer’s body responds to a few days off and some treatment. If he bounces back, Cincy has always been pretty good to the Swiss. He is a seven time champ here after all. If he falters, it’s a big guessing game to the next best shot. I’d meagerly side with Berdych.

Federer’s withdrawal announcement on Monday gives everyone in this quarter some hope, albeit there are still many, many questions here. The winner of the R1 clash between Schwartzman and Khachanov is the immediate beneficiary with Thomas Fabbiano as their second round opponent instead of Federer. Jack Sock would be the seed to benefit the most, but his lackluster history in Cincy and uneven play this summer still makes him a big question. Kyle Edmund could be a quarterfinal sleeper in this part of the draw now, if he can get going early.

The other obvious duo to benefit by Federer’s exit are the other seeds in this quarter, Dimitrov and Berych, who both had poor records against the Swiss. Both have tough paths just to avoid early upsets though, so in all, this quarter now really looks like it is ripe for the taking by anyone who can get hot early. I still look to the winner of that Schwartzman-Khachanov match as a big player as to what shakes out in this quarter now.

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

Going into Montreal last week, it was all about Fedal. A Nadal loss to Shapovalov and Federer’s withdrawal changes that dynamic this week. Zverev is an obvious choice too, but as well as he’s playing, a third consecutive week of play is going to be a major challenge. Marin Cilic was a surprise winner in Cincinnati last year as the 12th seed and I could see Cincy falling to an unexpected name this year too. End of the day though, the motivation is there for Nadal especially this week and he’s in full health. I’ll give a small edge to him, but something weird in me (wine) says watch out for Thiem.

2017 Rogers Cup Final Tweet-view: Roger Federer vs Alexander Zverev

Another patented @tennispig #TweetView for you, whether you know you need it or not. A preview of an ATP World Tour match in 12 tweets or less. Today, it’s the Rogers Cup final between Roger Federer and Alexander Zverev that takes center stage.

2017 Rogers Cup SF Preview: Alexander Zverev vs Denis Shapovalov

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Alexander Zverev can make it two straight finals with a win over Canadian wild card Denis Shapovalov. The 18-year-old has been the story of the last few days after upsetting top seed Rafael Nadal and moving into the semifinals. He is the youngest player to contest a Masters 1000 semifinal in ATP World Tour history.

(4) Alexander Zverev vs (WC) Denis Shapovalov

Normally a 20-year-old making consecutive finals would be the big story, but 18-year-old Dennis Shapovalov has forced himself into the spotlight over Alexander Zverev this week. Shapovalov stunned Rafael Nadal in a three set thriller in the third round and then followed that up with a 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 win in the quarterfinals over Adrian Mannarino. Oh and he also beat Juan Martin Del Potro in round two, albeit a pretty poor version of the Argentine. Shapovalov may not be playing the cleanest tennis, but he’s been bold and come up large at key moments this week.

As for Zverev, there has been no let down after taking the Citi Open crown last weekend. Zverev did struggle early against Richard Gasquet in his opener, but rallied past the Frenchman in a third set tiebreak. Since then, he’s rolled through a pair of straight sets wins over Nick Kyrgios and Kevin Anderson. Sascha has been broken just three times through three rounds with two of those coming in his opener. He’s been consistent, although not over powering on serve this week as he’s taken just over 70 percent of the total points played. He’s also been clinical in converting break points as the tournament has progressed. After securing just two breaks on eight chances against Gasquet, he’s scored six breaks on his last nine chances in the last two rounds.

Under Pressure

One of the things that has served Shapovalov well this week is his ability to contend with pressure. Obviously there is a lot playing the top seed in Rafael Nadal, a big name like Del Potro and then trying to get to a Masters semifinal. Even though he’s fallen behind, he’s shown the ability to keep grinding and found a way to get back into matches. Shapovalov doesn’t look like much physically as a stringy six footer without a lot of weight behind him. Still, his ground strokes have been breath taking at times this week, showing power and precision. His one-handed backhand has been a big weapon and he’s shown plenty of whip with his lefty forehand as well.

Zverev meanwhile has performed well under a different kind of pressure, the growing pressure of expectation. After winning the Citi Open last week, I’ll be honest – I didn’t expect him back in this position again. He had tough times turning around after titles earlier in the season, but has shown great growth mentally this week with another run towards a possible final. The real litmus test was his opener against Gasquet. Sascha certainly did not have his best, but buoyed by that now epic 49 shot rally late in the match, he fought off multiple match points and found a way to win. That’s the makings of a great player – not playing your best, but grinding out positive results.

Match Tactics

Despite seemingly playing with unending confidence and never, this could be a really nervy spot for Shapovalov. He’s one step away from his first ATP level final and it’s in his home country. Up until now, he’s been playing with house money. He’s not the favorite obviously, but there is now a certain expectation placed on him after following up the Nadal win with a win. If I’m Sascha Zverev, I try to expose those nerves early and often. That means Sascha needs to start with his serve in rhythm to put pressure on his Canadian counterpart to match him. Shapovalov has been doing enough on serve to win, but there have been opportunities missed by his opponents. The Canadian has seen 22 break chances against him the last two rounds, but managed to save 17 of those chances. With Zverev converting at a high clip, Shapovalov will need to do better and allow less looks at breaks.

He can do that with good variety and placement on his serve. Having not played Zverev, it should be advantageous to him early. Vice versa, Zverev should have an edge serving early as well with both players trying to get a measure of the other. The longer Shapovalov can go without letting Sascha see break chances, the better his confidence will be that he can keep contending. He went after Mannarino’s backhand return to help set up better court position on Friday, but he may not get that luxury with Zverev as a better quality returner. If Zverev is able to get good returns on serve, then Shapovalov will want to move himself into a centered position on the baseline. That’s where he’s done a lot of damage this tournament with the ability to hit the ball inside-put off either wing from this position.

For me, Zverev has the edge if the battle involves more movement along the baseline. He’s shown the ability to hit winners on the run consistently. Shapovalov has good movement, but I’m not sure if he can consistently hit winners moving east to west. He does however possess very good skills north to south from what I have seen and he looks comfortable at net. Zverev is good there as well, but as he prefers to stick to the baseline, Shapovalov might look to force him in a few times to see how that works.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Everyone will be eager to see if Shapovalov can keep his run going. He’s obviously beaten really good players this week, but I think to that end, players who have made plenty of mistakes to keep him in matches. I think if Zverev continues zoned in as he’s been for the better part of two weeks, Shapovalov will meet his match. That’s not to suggest that Shapovalov can’t raise his level and score another upset, but I think Zverev is a guy playing with confidence and precision. Del Potro was not. Nadal made some strategic mistakes to me in staying too far behind the baseline on return and Mannarino simply didn’t have the power and precision to take the best advantage.

Credit to Shapovalov for beating those guys and taking advantage of those things and proving that he can contend with his own weapons. The feeling for me however is that Sascha has too much in all departments if he employs solid strategy in this one. I could see Shapovalov taking a set with Sascha having to figure out the young Canadian’s game, but in the end, I see Zverev advancing to his sixth final of the season.

Prediction: Zverev wins in three sets

2017 Rogers Cup R3 Preview: Alexander Zverev vs Nick Kyrgios

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It’s the hyped up match from Washington, D.C. that never materialized last week when Nick Kyrgios retired from the Citi Open due to injury. This time, we get the goods. This marks the third meeting between Alexander Zverev and Nick Kyrgios this season with the Aussie owning a 2-0 advantage.

(4) Alexander Zverev vs Nick Kyrgios

Zverev narrowly survived a solid effort from Richard Gasquet in his opener on Wednesday. Zverev saved three match points en route to a mostly improbable 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (3) win. Sascha did receive medical treatment in the second set with his right ankle taped up. It did not seem to hinder him as the match wore on. Zverev’s serve was not quite as clean as we saw in D.C. last week, which again to me, was the best serving I have seen from the 20-year-old on a consistent basis in one tournament. He won just 70 percent of his first serve points against Gasquet, but did do good work on his second serve, winning 62 percent of the points. He was broken two times on seven chances. The best thing to take away from the match was his tenacity of refusal to lose late, when he was down those match points. People are still buzzing today about the 49 shot rally that Zverev closed off with a winner to save one of those match points.

As for Kyrgios, it’s been buzzsaw city through two rounds. That’s good news for the Aussie who hadn’t made it through one match without retiring in each of his previous three tournaments. He walloped Paolo Lorenzi on Wednesday in round two 6-2, 6-3. His serve was unbeatable as he won 96 percent off his first serve and 76 percent of the points off his second. He allowed his first break point through two rounds, but saved it. For the week, he has won 70 of the 80 points played off his serve. More importantly, his movement has looked good and obviously his shoulder has not been a problem so far.

Side Show or Main Attraction

This is the question for me going into this one. If you’ll recall in D.C. last week, Zverev was the one who started hyping a possible clash with Kyrgios at the Citi Open a round before it COULD have happened. The result? Kyrgios retired from his match against Tennys Sandgren the round prior to that potential match with a shoulder injury. Now with less hype – at least prior to its actual fruition – we do indeed get Sascha vs Nick, part three. They played twice earlier this season at the two hard court Masters in March. Kyrgios came out on top 6-3, 6-4 at Indian Wells and then 6-4, 6-7 (9), 6-3 in Miami.

The issue for Zverev in both meetings was keeping up with the Kyrgios serve. Quite simply, he could not. Zverev saw no break chances in either match, while NK secured five breaks of Sascha’s serve on ten chances. Certainly four months will have changed a little as Zverev’s serve has been better of late, but Kyrgios has shown this week again that his serve can be untouchable when he’s healthy, engaged and in rhythm.

The big question for me is whether this match showcases two young and talented players who want the win or two young and talented players who are interested more in trying to put on a show. There’s certainly nothing wrong with some entertainment value and Kyrgios brings that to the table whether you like him or not. I don’t mind him throwing in a tweener or two, but the hope is that he does it smartly and not in an uncalled situation where it can hurt him. I think the fact that both guys respect each other and are friendly should aid the cause for this to be more of a main attraction than a side show with shenanigans.

Sequel to the Sequel Might Not Be So Equal

As the third installment in this year’s trilogy between these two, it is interesting to note that Zverev did show improvement in their second meeting by taking a set. Still, there was not enough improvement on stopping Kyrgios’ serve to think that Zverev is going to have a better time of things today. Pile on top of that the lengthy match he played against Gasquet and whatever might be up with his ankle and this projected match that people want to see sizzle, could fizzle instead.

If Kyrgios is laying down bombs on serve as he has through two rounds, then it’s automatically putting Zverev at a disadvantage. We saw last week that Sascha can provide the necessary punch and power on serve, but it is the area where I think his game is the weakest still. The consistency is the issue and after the long week in D.C. and a taxing physical and mental game against Gasquet, he could be fatigued to start. It’s important for Kyrgios to note that and start and end this match with nothing but fire on his serve. Start quick. Hit big. Challenge Zverev to match that intensity.

There is no doubt that Kyrgios excels when he can maintain an aggressive rate of play from start to finish. When he gets his serve in rhythm, he fires and reloads as quick as anyone from point to point. Of course, this is also a hindrance when things go off from that game plan. He keeps his rate of play too fast still when things are not going right and it seems as if he slowed things down just a bit, he could regroup better. So far, it’s a lesson he has not really seemed to learn.

This is a comfortable match-up for Kyrgios though from a serve standpoint, so I would expect he will find success there again. It’s on Zverev to find some way to get his racquet on the Kyrgios’ serve and get the ball back into play. When Sascha can get NK engaged in rallies, I think the tide turns to the young German’s favor. He’s more solid off both wings, especially the backhand side. Despite the possible fatigue, I think Zverev needs to get into some longer rallies. They don’t need to be the 49 shot Gasquet rally, but Zverev is the more patient player here and I think that favors him in those situations. I think Kyrgios is still more likely to “bail out” early on long rallies and go for potential winners in poor court positions.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

The set-up in this one says Kyrgios. It is important to note though that he has not been challenged to do much this week besides serve and hit a few winners here and there. Zverev obviously can change that if he’s near 100 percent in this one. That’s part of the problem for me is that I’m not sure that he is considering the recent glut of match play and last night’s Gasquet finish.

I tend to think there is a chance Zverev could be flat in this match, especially if he can’t find success early. Sascha needs to at least go toe-to-toe with Kyrgios deep in the first set and not get blown off the court by the Aussie’s power serve. If he can’t find answers for Kyrgios’ serve, then this one could be done in straight sets.

Prediction: Kyrgios wins in straight sets

2017 Rogers Cup Preview

COUPEROGERS17

Resilient R’s Lead the Field

Injuries will deprive the crowd in Montreal from some of the top tier ATP stars this week, but few will probably care that much as 2017’s main attractions in Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will be playing at this year’s Rogers Cup. Novak Djokovic is done for 2017 with an elbow issue. Stan Wawrinka joined him this past week, by announcing he will skip the remainder of the season to have a procedure done to correct a knee injury. Also missing will be Andy Murray, who has battled hip problems the most in recent months. Marin Cilic is also out this week due to his foot injury suffered at Wimbledon. There is a lot missing, but there is Roger and there is Rafa. That’s enough for most this week.

Nadal comes in with the number seed this week and everyone talking his stalking of the number one overall spot with Djokovic and Murray losing points by the week. Nadal has enjoyed success at the Rogers Cup in both locations (Montreal/Toronto) with three titles, the last of which came in Montreal in 2013. This will be Rafa’s first trip back since 2015, when he was walloped in the quarterfinals by Kei NIshikori. Federer arrives up north with the possibility of ending a lengthy streak without a title at this event. The Swiss has won the title twice, but not since 2006. This is his first time playing the Rogers Cup since 2014 and first time back in Montreal since 2011. As if they need it, both should have plenty of motivation this week.

Rounding out the top four seeds are Dominic Thiem and new Citi Open champion Alexander Zverev. Both will look for their first win at the Rogers Cup with Thiem sporting an 0-3 career mark and Zverev at 0-1. Zverev will also be playing in Montreal for the first time, but obviously comes in red hot off the D.C. title. Falling in behind those two in the seeded field are Kei Nishikori as the fifth seed, Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to round out the top eight. Tsonga won the title in 2014 in Toronto, while Nishikori and Raonic have both been to the final one time. Nishikori did it last year in Toronto, while Raonic did the trick in Montreal in 2013. Both arrive with plenty of baggage this week after some mediocre tennis played in Washington, D.C.

Last Half of Seeds Have Plenty of Question Marks

There is plenty of intrigue and Scooby Doo face to go around in the final eight spots in the seeded field. David Goffin (9) is back on hard courts for the first time since the Spring. He’s looked sluggish on clay in his return from that ankle injury and will be seeking to find some form. John Isner is seeded 14th after skipping the Citi Open last week to rest after back-to-back titles in Newport and Atlanta. Isner is just 9-7 all-time at the Rogers Cup. Slotting in behind him is Jack Sock who made sure his mouth made more of a mark in D.C. than his play. In case you missed it, Sock called the Stadium Court surface at the Citi Open the “worst on tour”after he was routinely dismissed in straight sets by Kevin Anderson in the semifinals. It was the same court that Sock played on in each of his three wins up to that point last week.

And then there is 16th seed Nick Kyrgios. The same Nick Kyrgios who has retired from his last three matches on tour due to lingering shoulder and hip issues. That includes last week’s Citi Open, which begs the question as to exactly what the hell Kyrgios is doing stepping out on court this week? I’m confused and amazed that no one can give NK direction at this point. He’s obvious less than 100 percent and likely will play himself right out of the U.S. Open if he continues to try and struggle through his issues.

Early Bird Specials

Early upsets have been a part of this tournament whether it is held in Toronto or Montreal. Last year in Toronto, five seeds went down in their openers. The year before in 2015 in Montreal, five seeds also were dumped out – including third seed Stan Wawrinka. 2014 saw just two seeds lose first-up, but 2013 was on that familiar path with five seeded upsets. That year, the #3 seed David Ferrer was the highest seed to lose. If you trickle back to 2011 in Montreal, Nadal as the second seed was taken down early in his opener. There’s a bit of a history of a top seed going down early in Montreal, so let’s take a look at this week’s seeds who might be prone to that early exit.

4. Alexander Zverev
You’re probably scratching your head and asking how stupid is this guy? Yes, Zverev is coming off a great week in D.C. where he played some of his best tennis in recent memory. However, coming off the high of a title has been tricky for the youngster to handle. The D.C. win was his fourth title this season. In two of the three previous times he’s won a title this season, he’s been one and done in his next tournament. That makes this a dangerous spot. He will face Canadian wildcard Brayden Schnur or Richard Gasquet to start. Gasquet would be the obvious tougher out, but Sascha has beaten him twice this season already. I’d keep alert in this one, but if Sascha can keep his emotional level up, he may just survive the early upset bid.

5. Kei Nishikori
An incredibly bad draw for Nishikori with either Steve Johnson or Gael Monfils as his first opponent. Combine that with his iffy play in D.C. and you see why Kei is on upset alert. His game was definitely off at the Citi Open with his ground strokes very error prone. Neither Johnson or Monfils is in incredible great form. Johnson has lost his only two matches at the Rogers Cup, while Monfils made the semis last year in Toronto and has only lost his first-up at this event once in seven tries. Given Johnson’s collapse in D.C. and his continued emotional stress, Monfils could well be the opponent. Nishikori is 3-0 against La Monf, but all three have gone the distance. He’s 4-0 against Johnson, but given his fragile play last week, I’d keep Nishikori on upset alert early.

6. Milos Raonic
Raonic continued his baffling season in Washington, D.C. last week with more mediocrity as he won one and lost one, with Jack Sock taking him out in straight sets. He could be tasked with facing Daniil Medvedev in his first match. Medvedev was solid in a quarterfinal run in D.C. last week, but will need to beat Adrian Mannarino to start. If he does, Medvedev showed that he’s got the ability to match good players. Raonic’s serve and ground game is lacking consistency, so even though the Russian isn’t going to match the pure power of Raonic, he could easily stay in sets and steal them late.

8. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsonga could be pitted against his Wimbledon nemesis Sam Querrey in his opener in Montreal. Querrey has to get past qualifier Vincent Millot to start, but does have the confidence boost of winning the title in Los Cabos last week. If it is Tsonga vs Querrey, Tsonga still holds a 4-2 edge in the head-to-head, but Querrey did win their marathon five set match at Wimbledon the last time out. Tsonga had won three in a row against the American before that loss. Tsonga has usually played well here with a 16-4 record with his only early exit at the Rogers Cup coming when it was hosted in Toronto in 2012. Still, Tsonga has lost his first match in three of his last seven tournaments, so he’s far from a sure thing to advance.

9. David Goffin
With Goffin still searching for his best since returning the the ankle injury he suffered at the French Open, you have to watch out for him not being tip top in his opener. He faces Yuichi Sugita, which wouldn’t normally be a daunting task. In this spot though, Sugita could be troublesome. He lost a tough three set match to Grigor Dimitrov in a rare foray into Canada. He’s been off since Wimbledon, but is a decent hard court player who could push Goffin a bit.

11. Pablo Carreno Busta
PCB is an injury question after retiring from his last match in Bastad. A recurring abdominal injury took him out, the same one that kept him from playing any during the grass court swing. That sets him up poorly against big hitting Russian Karen Khachanov. Khachanov is still green at just 21 and he’s playing this North American swing on hard courts for the first time. He did win his 1st ATP title on an outdoor hard court in Chengdu last fall, so he’s full capable on the surface. PCB won their lone meeting, which came on clay in Monte Carlo. If the Spaniard tries giving it a go this week, I do fancy Khachanov having a good shot at scoring the scalp.

14. John Isner
Based on the match-up and the way Isner matches go, you have to have the American on the list of potential upset victims. He draws Juan Martin Del Potro to open with the Argentine holding a 5-2 record against him. The plus for Isner is that DelPo looked a bit worse for the wear in his D.C. loss to Nishikori. If Isner can find his rhythm again that carried him through Newport and Atlanta, I think he has a good shot to avoid the upset bug.

16. Nick Kyrgios
You would be daft not to include Kyrgios in a section focusing on early upset bids. Kyrgios has had a bevy of health issues this year and he’s been unable to complete a match in three straight tournaments. The physical issues seem to weigh on him mentally as soon as things go wrong in matches and he seems unable to tune out the pain or uncertainty of what his body can or cannot do. I’m not in the “know” here, but it is perplexing to me that someone who appears to be less than 100 percent is continuing to play week after week with the same results. Maybe he’s been told that he can’t do any further damage by playing, but it certainly appears to be damaging his psyche during matches. He opens against Viktor Troicki. We haven’t seen Troicki since he played just 17 minutes in his first round match at Wimbledon before retiring. So perhaps it will be a race of who retires first in their round one clash.

Outsider’s Edge

Unseeded players have a good history of deep runs recently at the Rogers Cup. In three of the last four years, an unseeded player has crashed the semifinals. They have also claimed two or more quarterfinal spots each year since 2012 and have had at least one quarterfinal spot occupied every year since 2010.

Let’s take a look at the non-seeds who could be capable of joining that group this week in Montreal.

Daniil Medvedev
The Russian is on this list again this week with a workable draw that could see him make an impact again. If he gets past Mannarino, he does have Raonic to contend with, but Milos obviously is much more beatable these days than in the past. If he can get past those two, it might be Goffin or an unseeded player in his path to a potential quarterfinal bid. Not impossible, but certainly he does have work to do.

Feliciano Lopez/Yuichi Sugita
A longshot here, but he’s also in this same quarter as Medvedev where there are a lot of questions. Lopez hasn’t been in a great vein of form this year, but opens against Hyeon Chung who has struggled to gain form after a long injury layoff. A win for Lopez and he could get Goffin or Sugita if the Japanese springs the upset. I’m not sold that Goffin is going to pull it all together with what he has shown so far in his return from injury, so there is a chance for someone to steal a quarterfinal spot. Heck, it could even be Sugita himself.

Richard Gasquet
Gasquet has a decent history at this tournament with a 19-8 career mark and a finals appearance in Toronto in 2012. This is his first trip back to Canada since 2014 and he hasn’t played since Wimbledon. Still, he could catch Alexander Zverev with his head still in the clouds after his DC title run this past week. That is who Gasquet will play in round two if he survives Schnur in his opener. Obviously an upset of Zverev and he’ll be keyed to get a quarterfinal spot or better. Keep in mind Kyrgios is also in this part of the quarter, so there are some openings possible for a big run from someone unexpected.

Sam Querrey
The Los Cabos champion will need to adjust his body clock quickly, but there is a path for him if he can do accomplish that feat. As laid out above, he would have to face Tsonga early, but if he gets by the Frenchman, his chances grow immensely. Only Carreno Busta or Khachanov might be in his path from that point on.

Kevin Anderson
Big Kev will have some increased confidence after his DC finals run, but will need to overcome the Championship Match loss hangover that we often see. Getting Dudi Sela first should help with that, although Sela has qualifying under his belt and is a tough out. Anderson’s serve should be too much though if he’s not fatigued. A win gets him either Carreno Busta or Khachanov. Then it could come down to Tsonga or Querrey to block his route to a third Rogers Cup quarterfinal. Working against him? His two quarterfinal appearances were both in Toronto and he’s 0-2 in his last two trips to Montreal.

Steve Johnson/Gael Monfils
The winner of their first round clash will be one to watch. They get Nishikori in round two and that would be the toughest opponent in their way to a deep run likely with Roberto Bautista Agut as the other seed blocking a quarterfinal run.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (1)
Milos Raonic (6)
David Goffin (9)
John Isner (14)

Breakdown
Even with a lot of down time, Nadal will surely like his draw in this quarter. Raonic has seen better days, Goffin has yet to find his best and Isner is 0-6 against the top seeded Spaniard. Those being his main competitors, Rafa should be looking to take care of business for the business end of the tournament. He will open against Borna Coric or Mikhail Youzhny. Coric does own two wins against Rafa, but came in tougher spots for the Spaniard. He was injured when they played the first time in Basel and obviously out of gas last year when Coric beat him in Cincinnati. That came just a few days after Nadal took the bronze at the Rio Olympics after several taxing three set matches. I would expect Rafa to be up for that one in a big way. Isner or Del Potro is likely to be in his path to a quarterfinal. I don’t think the current version of Del Potro is a bigger threat than Isner right now.

The bottom half of the quarter may wind up falling to Raonic, despite his mediocre form. The other seed in that half is Goffin and he has questions to answer before you expect anything from him on this surface. Goffin COULD rev things up certainly, but that’s a big ask right now. Raonic has always had trouble with Goffin (2-2), so he’d be happy to see him out before a potential round three match. I do think Medvedev is the danger to the seeds in this part with Raonic potentially his first scalp, but the Russian shouldn’t overlook round one opponent Adrian Mannarino.

Unless Nadal is woefully out of form after the layoff from Wimbledon, it’s hard to look part him in this quarter. With the top ranking in his sights, not to mention a realistic shot at the U.S. Open, expect Rafa to be focused this week.

Quarter #2 Seeds
Alexander Zverev (4)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (8)
Pablo Carreno Busta (11)
Nick Kyrgios (16)

Breakdown
This is a maturity moment for Zverev. Coming off a big title win, it’s time for the 20-year-old to show he is a consistent contender. I talked previously about his early ousters in two of the three tournaments he has played after winning his other titles this season and that is a worry. He is young, so there is that room for growth in that area. This is a perfect time to prove it in a quarter where he certainly is the form coming to Montreal. Kyrgios is the seed in his way to the quarterfinal and unless NK has been to a magic healer, it’s difficult to think his body will hold up long enough for him to be a big bother. I think the trickiest match for Zverev will be his first, especially if it’s a craft vet like Gasquet. Keep an eye on Frances Tiafoe in this half as well. He still is having trouble getting wins, but he’s so damn competitive in his losses that you feel like some day soon he’s going to take off. With Kyrgios in shaky health, Tiafoe might string together a couple wins here if he can get past Paolo Lorenzi in round one.

The bottom half of the quarter looks wide open. Tsonga has been a bit off his game of late and could face Sam Querrey early. Carreno Busta is an injury concern, which could open up this part of the draw to an unseeded player like Khachanov or Kevin Anderson. I really do think the seeds will fall in this part of the quarter with Anderson or Querrey as the form players looking most likely to run deep. Don’t discount Khachanov though if he can find a rhythm and get some confidence from knocking off Carreno Busta or even possibly an injury sub.

The easy answer here would be Zverev. I still hold back just a bit from that though with a slight question whether he’ll find that mental consistency needed to hit the reset button this week. If he can put DC in the rear view and get back to work proving his worth again, then he should be the one to get through this quarter. If not, then I really think this will be the spot where an unseeded player will keep that semifinal streak intact.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Dominic Thiem (3)
Grigor Dimitrov (7)
Tomas Berdych (10)
Lucas Pouille (13)

Breakdown
This shapes up as perhaps the most competitive quarter for me. Thiem didn’t look bad despite losing in his second match in DC last week. He simply could not find enough fire power to overcome Anderson’s power. This week, he’ll be charged with find a win at the Rogers Cup first. To break his 0-3 mark, he’ll have to beat Diego Schwartzman or Reilly Opelka. He may not fancy seeing another big server like Opelka across the net, but Opelka doesn’t have the ground game Anderson had to trouble Thiem as much. Pouille is the other seed in Thiem’s half and Pouille again will be needing to prove his worth on hard courts as well. He didn’t play poorly in DC, but lost to some super play from Tommy Paul. He faces Jared Donaldson to start, which won’t be easy. Donaldson does have a big game, but has had trouble stepping up in weight class. If Pouille survives, he could face another challenge with Donald Young or Benoit Paire possible in round two. Pouile does not want to see Young who has already beaten him twice this season in Indian Wells and Miami. An upset is certainly possible there if Young gets past Paire.

In the bottom half, it’s a pair of enigmas with Berdych and Dimitrov as the lead seeds. Dimitrov has a better draw to me with Mischa Zverev or Norbert Gambos up first. Zverev has had plenty of problems on hard courts outside of his miracle Melbourne run. Dimitrov has performed better when this tournament has been in Toronto, so it remains to be seen if he can get it done in Montreal. Berdych was okay in Los Cabos as he made the semifinals, but lost in three to Thanasa Kokkinakis. He won’t be too disappointed with that and opens with a winnable match against NIkoloz Basilashvili this week. A win would get him Albert Ramos Vinolas or Robin Haase. ARV has lost four of five and Haase hasn’t played much in this stretch prior to the U.S. Open in prior years. Berdych did lose to Haase in Dubai earlier this year outdoors though, so keep an eye out if that is the match-up.

Thiem could take advantage if Pouile is taken out earlier than expected. It would be big seeing as Pouille has taken both their career meetings. Thiem has split two meetings with Dimitrov this year with the Bulgarian taking the one one on a hard court in Brisbane. Berdych is 2-0 against Thiem, but this week’s third seed wasn’t far off beating him on grass at Wimbledon a couple months ago. A lot of guess work here. I’ll guess something weird like Dimitrov. Cue the awkward silence.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Roger Federer (2)
Kei Nishikori (5)
Roberto Bautista Agut (12)
Jack Sock (15)

Breakdown
Federer, like Nadal, should be fairly pleased with his draw as well. He’s got a clearly wonky Nishikori as the top seed to contend with and then guys like Bautista Agut and Sock who probably won’t cause him to lose a ton of sleep. He will get either Vasek Pospisil or Peter Polasnky to start. Both seem like agreeable match-ups even after a lengthy layoff. A win there and it’s Sock as the seed in his way to the quarterfinals. Sock has qualifier Pierre-Hugues Herbert in round one and then the survivor between David Ferrer and Kyle Edmund. Edmund crushed Sock in straights in Atlanta and could be a dangeround unseeded player if he gets out of round one.

The other half has Nishikori abd Bautista Agut. Rest will help Nishikori some after he looked very fatigued in his last two matches. Rest may not solve his relatively poor play however. He was making a lot of errors off his ground strokes that he normally does not make. His serve was mediocre, but that is who Kei Nishikori is really. If he survives Johnson or Monfils in round two, then it’s likely Bautista Agut or maybe Ryan Harrison. RBA is more consistent, but hasn’t played here much either. Bautista Agut could weave his way through to the quarterfinals almost by default here if Nishikori is still out of sorts.

Smart money certainly says Federer gets through this quarter. A full fit and in-form Nishikori would potentially contend here, but he doesn’t seem to fit either of those categories right now.

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

The talking heads will be hyping #Fedal 38 from the opening ball. After playing three times from January-March, they haven’t met since. The path is certainly there for it to happen, but there could be a guy named Sascha Zverev who upsets that dream final. Or in a perfect Canadian world, Milos Raonic. That seems far fetched, but Nadal certainly has the tougher road to the final in my opinion. As such, I’d grade Federer just a slight bit higher shot to win the title in Montreal. After all, it is Roger’s Cup right? *Barf*