2017 Shanghai Rolex Masters R3 Preview: Alexander Zverev vs Juan Martin Del Potro

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It’s a mouth watering third round fight as third seeded Alexander Zverev and 16th seed Juan Martin Del Potro meet for the first time. A trip to the Shanghai Rolex Masters quarterfinals awaits the winner.

(3) Alexander Zverev vs (16) Juan Martin Del Potro

Zverev took part in an abbreviated second round match with Aljaz Bedene who retired after four games due to a leg injury. It was the second straight tournament where Bedene was forced out of a match. For Zverev, it’s difficult to gauge much in four games of action. He won eight of ten points off his serve and broke Bedene in both of his service games as he was obviously struggling to compete. For Zverev, the shortened match should keep hm fresh with this being his third tournament in a row in the Far East. He’s gone 5-2 now in that stretch with last week’s semifinal run in Beijing as his best showing.

Del Potro improved in round two with a straight sets win over Andrey Rublev 6-3, 6-4. That came after a little bit of a struggle to put away Nikoloz Basilashvili in three sets in round one. Against Rublev, DelPo’s power was far too much for the 18-year-old as he smashed 14 aces and never faced a break point on serve. The Argentine won 88 percent off his first serve and 50 percent of the points off his second. He was able to break Rublev once in each set. Overall, it was a good showing for the 16th seed who is now 3-1 since the U.S. Open.

Let’s Go To War!

Being the first time that these two have seen each other, there is likely to be a feeling out period to start the match. Often that can lead to some easy holds on serve with both players trying to get a better measure of the other. These two parallel each other fairly well in their games with their serves having the potential for potency, but sometimes missing the mark on consistency too often. Del Potro possesses more pure power of course, but he’s shown some lapses on serve this season. What you saw against Rublev however, reminds you that he is capable of obliterating an opponent with dominant service games. That’s something Zverev knows all-to-well from last week’s loss in Beijing to Nick Kyrgios.

Del Potro will want to get into a rhythm early again as will Zverev. When Zverev gets into a good, consistent roll on serve – the rest of his game seems to flow along with the serve. If Del Potro is serving near the level from his last match though, the pressure will be on Zverev no matter what to match. Sascha has had trouble matching guys who can out serve him and match him off the ground. DelPo fits that ball with his massive forehand. The plus for Zverev is he is a little bit better mover and more fluid off the backhand side. As always when playing the Argentine, you must target the backhand. DelPo has shown better off the backhand as the year has worn on, but it’s still obviously a better challenge than exchanging to his biggest weapon off the forehand side.

I doubt you’ll see too much venturing in from the baseline in this one as both settle along the back of the court and are perfectly fine with bashing the ball from that point. I think it’s important for Sascha to try and keep Del Potro on the move though for maximum effectiveness on his ground strokes. Del Potro is less problematic when you get him on the run, although he can still whip in a forehand winner. DelPo will want to use his power and depth to push Sascha back off balance in the ground battles. That will give the 16th seed openings to go for winners on the next shot.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Del Potro’s consistency will be a key in this one. He’s had more match play this week, whereas Zverev might still have some kinks to work out on the surface after the abbreviated opening match with Bedene. This looks a prime spot for an upset with Del Potro’s power, especially on serve, setting up to be a problem for Sascha. It’s not that Zverev can’t beat these types of players and tactics, but he’s shown better more consistently against guys who aren’t at the top of the power spectrum.

The question for Del Potro is whether or not he can beat a Top 10 player. He is just 3-9 against them this season, although he did secure two of those three wins at the U.S. Open. That speaks to how poorly he had done prior to that tournament at 1-8 against the Top 10 before going 2-0 at the U.S. Open and then losing to Dimitrov in Beijing. That’s a big mental hurdle to clear, so this is not set-in-stone type of upset for Del Potro.

For me, this match comes down to two things: Del Potro’s serve and Del Potro’s backhand. If both are working, he will win. If either one is faulty, then Sascha is likelier to prove too tough with his well-rounded game. I’m giving Del Potro the small edge, although I won’t be surprised if he can’t match his effort against Rublev, which would leave Sascha the beneficiary and likely winner.

Prediction: Del Potro wins in three sets

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2017 Shanghai Rolex Masters Preview

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Nadal, Federer Lead Field

The ATP World Tour makes one of its final two Masters stops for the season in Shanghai this week for the Shanghai Rolex Masters. Defending champion Andy Murray is not here to defend the title as he sits out the remainder of the season to recover from a string of injury problems. Rafael Nadal leads this year’s field as the top seed and is fresh off winning the title at the China Open on Sunday over Nick Kyrgios. Roger Federer hits the courts for his first tour stop since the U.S. Open. Fed did participate in the Laver Cup a few weeks ago, so he shouldn’t be entirely rusty.

Surprisingly, this has been one of the least successful stops for both players throughout their careers. Nadal has never won the title in seven trips to Shanghai. His best finish was making the final in his first year in Shanghai back in 2009. Federer won the title in 2014, but has only made one other final at this event (2010) in five visits. Both Nadal and Federer were first-up losers the last time they visited Shanghai with Nadal losing to Viktor Troicki last year and Federer dropping his opener to Albert Ramos-Vinolas in 2015.

Following Nadal and Federer in the seeded field are Alexander Zverev, Marin Cilic, Dominic Thiem, Grigor Dimitrov, Pablo Carreno Busta and David Goffin to round out the top eight. Among those players, Cilic and Goffin have the best finishes with each making one quarterfinal in Shanghai in their careers. Zverev makes his second appearance at this tournament, making the round of 16 last year. Cilic is just 5-7 in Shanghai with first-up losses in two of the last three years. Both Thiem and Dimitrov have never been past the second round and PCB is 0-1 with a loss last year in his lone trip.

Lower Seeds Yield More Experience

The remainder of the seeded field has more experience and success at this event. That is highlighted by 9th seed Roberto Bautista Agut who made the final in 2016. That was his best showing after going just 3-2 the two prior years. Sam Querrey is the 10th seed and he arrives with a 3-5 record in Shanghai and a loss in his only match since the U.S. Open. Kevin Anderson and John Isner are both 7-7 all-time at this tournament, seeded 11th and 12th respectively. Anderson’s best run was a quarterfinal finish in 2015, while Isner has never been past the round of 16. Rounding out the final seeds are Nick Kyrgios at 13, Jack Sock, Lucas Pouille and Juan Martin Del Potro.

Kyrgios comes in off a good run in Beijing that ended with a flop against Nadal in the final on Sunday where he lost 6-2, 6-1. Kyrgios made the quick trip to Shanghai to play doubles on Monday with Pouille, so I would watch out for the potential for burnout for the Aussie this week. Sock made the quarterfinals in 2016 and sports a 6-3 record in Shanghai. Pouille’s best finish was making the round of 16 last year, while Del Potro is a one-time finalist in 2013. The Argentine won his opening match against Nikoloz Basilashvili on Monday. That marked DelPo’s first win in Shanghai since that 2013 title run.

Early Bird Specials

Upsets are hit and miss in Shanghai as far as the seeds in their first matches. Last year, six seeds dropped out in their openers. 2015 however saw just two seeds lose early, but 2014 saw seven seeds go one and done. If you travel back to 2013, you also saw just two seeds lose early on. So if it is an odd-even year type of split, there could be fewer upsets among the seeds this year. Regardless, a top four seed has been taken down three straight years, so that is a trend to watch.

Here’s a look at the seeds who could be in trouble early this year with 9th seed Roberto Bautista Agut already falling victim to the upset bug.

4. Marin Cilic
This is a tricky opener for Cilic. The Croat made a deep run in Tokyo last week, but got bageled in his final set loss to Adrian Mannarino in the semifinals. He will face Kyle Edmund who already has a match under his belt in Shanghai. The Brit beat Jiri Vesely in straights to start on Sunday. Given that Cilic has lost two of his last three openers in Shanghai, this does carry legit upset possibilities.

5. Dominic Thiem
It’s late in the season and that makes Thiem an easy inclusion most weeks for getting knocked out early. He still hasn’t cut down on his scheduling enough to keep himself from getting burned out late. Thiem has dropped both of his matches since the U.S. Open and he’ll face a tough match-up against either Troicki or Denis Shapovalov. Troicki has two wins over Thiem in two meetings with the last coming indoors last Fall. The Serb has not looked great in two losses on the Far East swing though, so Shapovalov could be there instead. The Canadian will be playing his first tour match since the U.S. Open, but he did have a match against Alexander Zverev at the Laver Cup. Either way, I think Thiem is going to have to play well to avoid the upset.

7. Pablo Carreno Busta
PCB battles Alberto Ramos-Vinolas to start his Shanghai campaign. Ramos-Vinolas took down Joao Sousa to open play in Shanghai, so he’s got the match play edge. PCB is 2-0 against ARV however, but both wins have come on clay and gone the distance. The last came earlier this year in Buenos Aires. The win for ARV to start Shanghai could be the confidence builder he needed after ending a three match losing skid. These two are pretty evenly matched, so I think this is a 50-50 type of call.

8. David Goffin
Goffin has won titles in successive weeks and finally looks back to his best after taking a bit to get going following that nasty ankle injury at the French Open. The big problem for him could be fatigue with two straight weeks of play. His opener is Gilles Simon who will force Goffin to work in rallies, which again could hit on that fatigue angle. Simon is not in the best form, but has played a match already in Shanghai conditions and his backboard style of defense could keep him in this one with a chance to win.

10. Sam Querrey
Querrey takes on Yuichi Sugita in round one. On paper, Querrey’s power would figure to be too much for Sugita, but late in the season, there is no telling. Sugita is 5-2 since the U.S. Open, but three of those matches have come via retirement. Querrey has played just once, losing to Richard Gasquet last week in straights in Tokyo. I would keep this in the lower tier of upset possibilities, but 2017 has shown us to expect the unexpected.

13. Nick Kyrgios
Kyrgios draws Steve Johnson to start and I touched on it earlier about Kyrgios’ quick turnaround to play doubles on Monday after losing the Beijing final on Sunday. Johnson scored a couple of wins last week in Tokyo before losing to Diego Schwartzman in the quarterfinals. He’s no sure thing to step up here to score the upset, but given Kyrgios’ heavier workload and lack of much prep time – Johnson does have a good shot here to take Kyrgios down.

14. Jack Sock
Sock opens with qualifier Alexandr Dolgopolov. The American arrives on a four match losing skid. Dog has been his roller coaster self on this Far East swing. He made a run to the Shenzhen final and then lost his second match in Tokyo to Steve Johnson. He’s looked solid in two wins in qualifying and that could give him a leg up on Sock. Sock does own one win over Dolgopolov, but that came three years ago in Tokyo.

Outsider’s Edge

Unseeded players have made some noise in Shanghai over the last four years. Last year, one of the semifinal spots went to an unseeded player. In 2014, two unseeded players made the semis and it was Gilles Simon who made the final against Federer. There do appear to be a couple of the quarters that are weaker than the others and that’s where you might find an unseeded player with a chance to advance.

Kyle Edmund
He has the second round match against Cilic and that’s the obvious win or go home match. A win for the Brit and then he’s got a real shot to do damage. In a quarter with Carreno Busta, Anderson and Kyrgios as seeds – an early upset could really change the dynamic of the draw. Whether Edmund can find the consistency to do that is the big question. He hasn’t really shown it much lately, but it’s a new week.

Steve Johnson
Johnson gets the chance to take advantage of a travel weary Nick Kyrgios early and that could help propel him deep in his quarter. He might need Edmund or someone else to do him a favor though with Marin Cilic in his path to the quarters. Cilic is 3-0 against Johnson.

Albert Ramos-Vinolas
ARV is in the same quarter as Johnson. He faces fellow Spaniard Carreno Busta to start. A win there and Kevin Anderson is the only seed in his way to the quarters. ARV might not seem like a great choice, but he did make the round of 16 here a couple years ago and he’s had some success on hard courts.

Troicki/Shapovalov
The winner gets Thiem in round two and I talked about the upset possibilities there. If the survivor between these two gets past Thiem, it’s just John Isner standing in the way of at least a quarterfinal berth. Shapovalov seems the smarter try if you’re guessing, but there’s no telling how the 18-year-old will fare in his first trip to Shanghai.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (1)
Grigor Dimitrov (6)
Sam Querrey (10)
Lucas Pouille (15)

Breakdown
All eyes will be on Nadal as the world #1 heads to Shanghai on a roll and looking to add another trophy to a brilliant 2017 season. Nadal will open against Jared Donaldson who survived a tough three set opener against Pablo Cuevas. Donaldson is 0-5 in his career against the Top 10 and this doesn’t look like the spot for that first win. A win for Nadal pits him against either Pouille or Fognini in the round of 16. Both those players have given Nadal some tough matches in the past and that is the speed bump spot for Rafa. If he makes it past round three, then he should be in good shape to see it through to the semifinals.

The bottom of this quarter features Dimitrov and Querrey as the seeds. Dimitrov takes on the winner between Ze Zhang and Ryan Harrison. That should give Dimitrov an opportunity to build on a good week in Beijing, where he made the semifinals in losing to Nadal. Querrey has Sugita to start with the survivor taking on Frances Tiafoe. Tiafoe got a rare win at this level in round one, beating Benoit Paire 6-4, 6-4. Tiafoe’s run through qualis has given him some confidence this week and he won’t be an easy out for Querrey or Sugita. The issue for Tiafoe will be that he’s only won back-to-back main draw wins once this season (Cincinnati).

Nadal is not a shoe-in to get through this quarter. That third round against Fognini or Pouille will be tough. I’d be a fool to go against him though with what he has shown and you know he has the motivation still, having not won here in his career. If Rafa did falter early, the beneficiary might win up being Dimitrov

Quarter #2 Seeds
Marin Cilic (4)
Pablo Carreno Busta (7)
Kevin Anderson (11)
Nick Kyrgios (13)

Breakdown
This is a quarter that looks like it could be wide open. Cilic’s end in Tokyo was a bit bothersome, although he’ll be looked to as a front runner here. His track record in Shanghai suggests he may not be involved in the mix late. Kyrgios as mentioned will be dealing with possible fatigue from the long week in Beijing and short travel to turn around and play doubles to start this tournament. For Cilic, a win over Edmund might set him up to get back into a good grove. I do think Edmund will challenge him and could potentially pull off an upset. The winner between Johnson-Kyrgios will battle Di Wu, who beat Jeremy Chardy in round one. If Cilic doesn’t go out early, then I do like him to make some noise later here. He’s 3-0 against Johnson and 1-1 vs Kyrgios.

Either Carreno Busta or Ramos-Vinolas will be in round three. There, they could see Anderson. Anderson has a match-up in round one against Adrian Mannarino. Anderson is 2-1 against him, although none have come since 2014. Mannarino will have to fight off the dreaded championship match loss syndrome. Anderson wasn’t great in Tokyo however, so there might be a small possibility of an upset if the Frenchman turns up with his head screwed on straight. The winner there gets the survivor between Mischa Zverev and Jan-Lennard Struff. Zverev beat Struff in three last week in Beijing, so it’s a 50-50 call. If Anderson doesn’t find his best, I like the survivor of the all-Spaniard clash between PCB and ARV to move into the quarters.

I do think this quarter has unseeded possibilities. Of course, Cilic could negate that with a hot start. If Cilic gets past his opener, that’s my choice here – otherwise, the weirdness could fall to someone like Johnson or Ramos-Vinolas.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Alexander Zverev (3)
Dominic Thiem (5)
John Isner (12)
Juan Martin Del Potro (16)

Breakdown
Zverev comes in off a solid week in Beijing that ended flat with another loss to Kyrgios. Sascha’s serve is still a bit loose and that shows when he’s up against players who can rock and roll in rhythm on serve consistently. He should be afforded a good start with either Paolo Lorenzi or Aljaz Bedene to face him in his opener. A win for Sascha there and he would be in line to take on the winner of the Del Potro-Andrey Rublev match. Both came through in three sets in the opening round. Rublev scored a couple nice wins in Beijing last week against Jack Sock and Tomas Berdych. Del Potro will be a tough task, but it’s baseline vs baseline. As always with the Russian, if he can lock in on his first serve – he will have a shot to pull off the upset. Del Potro will be the tougher out for Zverev if the third round with Sascha having blown Rublev off the court twice now.

In the other half, Thiem will be up against it early as he faces either Shapovalov or Troicki. I do think much like Cilic that if he can get out of his opener, then he could get on a roll. The third round could likely see Isner. Isner has to get past qualifier Dusan Lajovic in round one, but then he would have Stefanos Tsitsipas in round two. Both are winnable for Isner and he looked good at the China Open last week, even in losing to Nadal in the quarters. If this comes down to Thiem and Isner, they have split two career meetings with Isner winning on hard courts and Thiem on clay. I think this surface would favor Isner just slightly.

I do think a seed takes this quarter, but I am looking to the double digits here with either isner or Del Potro. I give Isner the slight nod with an easier draw.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Roger Federer (2)
David Goffin (8)
Roberto Bautista Agut (9)
Jack Sock (14)

Breakdown
Bautista Agut is out already, losing his opener to Hyeon Chung. That opens one half of the draw up, where Goffin is the in-form player and lead seed. The Belgian is on a major roll with back-to-back titles in Shenzhen and Tokyo. Of course with that comes a lot of match play and the potential for fatigue to hit him this week. He faces Simon to start and that won’t be easy. They have split two career meetings with the Frenchman taking him to three sets both times. Simon got just his second win in his last seven matches to begin his week in Shanghai. Even though RBA is out and Goffin is the form player, this part of the draw could go to an unseeded player. Watch Richard Gasquet here as the Frenchman battles Chung next. Gasquet was decent in Tokyo and just saw Goffin in a loss there, so revenge could be on tap.

In the other half, all eyes will be on Federer who returns to tour for the first time since his surprising loss to Del Potro in the U.S. Open quarters. Fed should be keen to get back on track and step up to the level that Nadal has set. The Swiss starts against either Jordan Thompson or Diego Schwartzman. Both of those potential match-ups should be fairly comfortable for Federer. Sock is the seed opposite Federer in this half, but he could be one and done with Dolgopolov to open. The survivor of that one goes against Felciano Lopez. Lopez edged Ivo Karlovic in two tiebreaks in round one.

This sets up as a good quarter for Federer as the best seed is someone he’s beaten five times in five meetings (Goffin). I’m not sure Goffin will get to the quarterfinals to test that record or not, but I do think Federer is the guy who can get through this part of the draw.

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

Let’s not start hyping a Fedal final in this one. Far too often that has been a match-up that we’ve waited or again this year, but they have found a way not to happen as the season has worn on. I would say this week looks like that is a possibility, but I see pitfalls for both players before the final that could keep it from happening. Double digit seeds have made a habit of popping into the final with Bautista Agut doing it as the 15th seed last year and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga doing it as the #16 in 2015.

If Shanghai falls that way, I think it would be at the expense of Federer’s spot in the final with Isner and Del Potro as the double digit seeds I think have a shot. In Nadal’s half of the draw, the double digit seeds look like longer shots to meke it. In the end, it’s difficult to go against an in-form Nadal. Federer’s gaps in between tournaments can be both and help and hindrance. In this case, I think it might be more of the hindrance.

2017 China Open SF Preview: Alexander Zverev vs Nick Kyrgios

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Alexander Zverev and Nick Kyrgios meet for the fourth time this season with Zverev looking to make it two straight in a quest for a spot in the China Open final. Zverev won the last matchup between these BFFs at the Rogers Cup 6-4, 6-3.

(2) Alexander Zverev vs (8) Nick Kyrgios

Zverev has won all three of his matches in straight sets this week with the latest being a 6-2, 6-3 win over Andrey Rublev in the quarterfinals. Rublev could not find his best on serve, winning just 50 percent off his first serve for the match. Zverev was able to break him four times on five chances. Sascha was solid enough on his own serve, taking 71 percent of his first serve points and 63 percent off his second. He was very good in key moments, saving six of seven break points. For the tournament, the second seed has been broken once in each round (3) on eleven total chances.

Kyrgios annihilated Steve Darcis before the Belgian called it quits midway through the second set with the score at 6-0, 3-0. Darcis had received treatment during the match for a neck problem and found it to be too much late in the match. It was a stark contrast to their entertaining five set match in September during Davis Cup play that saw Darcis win to help lead Belgium into the Davis Cup final. This time, Kyrgios continued to obliterate his opponent on serve. He smashed 12 aces and took 94 percent of the first serve points before play was stopped. He didn’t dish out a single break chance and has only seen one break chance against him through three rounds. The 8th seeded Aussie was ruthless in converting breaks again, taking four breaks from Darcis’ serve on six chances. For the week, he’s converted 12 breaks on 16 chances.

Healthy Kyrgios Could Make Big Difference

When these two last met at the Rogers Cup in the Summer, Kyrgios was still battling hip and shoulder issues. The end result was Zverev’s first win over his buddy 6-4, 6-3. Kyrgios’ win rates on serve reflect his less-than-average numbers, winning just 71 percent off his first serve and 57 percent off his second. Kyrgios had work done on his troublesome hip during the match and certainly appeared to be less than 100 percent. Sascha broke him three times on four chances. Oppositely, Zverev won 45 of 62 points overall on serve and managed to save all eight break points against his serve.

When Kyrgios was healthier in the Spring, he got the better of Zverev in Indian Wells and Miami. Sascha won 6-3, 6-4 in Miami and then fought hard to get through 6-3, 6-7 (9), 6-3 in their second meeting at Indian Wells. To no surprise, the Aussie had the better serve numbers in the wins, taking over 80 percent of the first serve points and not giving Sascha a single break chance against his serve. Zverev was decent on serve, but was broken five times on ten break chances. There’s little doubt that Kyrgios holds the key to this match on his serve. He’s looked fit this week with very few chances against his serve.

Match Tactics

Zverev will once again see pressure early to find his rhythm on serve to match Kyrgios’ rocket pace. The Aussie has shown no signs of cracking much on serve this week, so Zverev will need to expect that he will see very few break chances if any again. That means Sascha must find a way to fight through his service games to hold against Kyrgios and look to take advantage of any slip ups from the 8th seed as the match Kyrgios isn’t a plus returner, but he’s definitely capable of doing the old grip it and rip it return if Sascha can’t find that rhythm. Zverev will need to find some pop on serve and use precision to keep Kyrgios off balance on return. That will enable the second seed to take the second ball and work into winnable court position.

Kyrgios does best when he’s serving big and able to work quick and aggressive shots when he’s not collecting aces. If he’s in rhythm, he can move in and finish off the second ball quickly against Zverev and not allow the German to craft his way into longer rallies. I think longer rallies do favor Sascha as he possesses better variety off both wings. Kyrgios’ power cannot be matched off the forehand side, so Zverev will again do better to work to the Aussie’s backhand both on serve and in rallies.

One of the big difference makers in the wins for Kyrgios in the Spring was his willingness to come to net and force Sascha into a more uncomfortable role. Zverev would much prefer this to be a pure baseline battle. It’s not that Zverev can’t move or isn’t adept at hitting shots on-the-run, but his best moments usually come along the baseline where he can unload off either wing with precision. The other thing Kyrgios did that will likely come into play again with a good bill of health is going for what you would call “imaginative” shots.

By imaginative, I mean he hit more tweeners for winning points in those first two wins that a lot of guys could hit for their career. It’s been very clear that Kyrgios wants to put on a show when these two meet and to his credit, he’s found the measure of the circus shots more often than not. Zverev will simply need to be prepared for those again and if NK hits them precisely, tap the racquet in respect and move on. I think he did a good job of not letting those hot shots effect his overall plan in any of their meetings and that’s big. If you get unnerved by those winners or try to match the showmanship, it’s not going to be good if that isn’t a regular part of your repertoire. It’s not for Sascha.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

This should be one of the more entertaining matches we get down the stretch run of the 2017 season. Both are in good form this week and both appear relatively fresh and healthy. That Zverev’s lone win in this series has come when Kyrgios was less than fit is problematic heading into Saturday’s semifinal showdown. I think Kyrgios’ serve is the X-factor again in this one and something that Zverev just cannot match right now. When Kyrgios is in rhythm on serve, he gets quick winners, easy points and can demoralize an opponent with his quick pace of racking up games.

For Zverev, he’s got to be on point with his own serve and realize that his best opportunity could come in tiebreaks – if he gets there against the Aussie. Kyrgios is 16-7 in breakers this year and spots a win percentage right around 60 percent for his career. Zverev is 18-11 this year in breakers, above his 54 percent win rate for his career. Sascha is the only one of these two to play a tiebreak this week and he won it against Kyle Edmund. That could help, but he may still need some magic to pull this one out.

This is the kind of match that Kyrgios lives for – a marquee matchup in a big tournament on a big court in front of a ton of people. I expect his energy level to be high and it will be on Zverev to try and sap some of that energy from him by getting him involved in some longer baseline rallies. I’m not sure that Zverev can accomplish that consistently as he’s not shown that ability against Kyrgios. For me, if the Aussie is serving at a high level – this is his match to win again.

Prediction: Kyrgios wins in three sets

2017 China Open QF Previews

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The top three seeds remain alive as quarterfinal play takes place on Friday in Beijing. Top seed Rafael Nadal leads the charge against John Isner.

(1) Rafael Nadal vs (6) John Isner

Nadal and Isner are meeting for the second time in the last few weeks after Isner defeated Nadal in Laver Cup play. That is the only time that Isner has managed to beat Rafa with Nadal holding a 6-0 edge in official ATP World Tour events. After a tough opener versus Lucas Pouille, Nadal had an easier time in round two against Karen Khachanov. Rafa kept constant pressure on the young Russian’s serve as he broken him three times on ten chances. Nadal would not allow a break off of six chances against his own serve. He had solid win rates at 70 and 68 percent off his serve, albeit the first serve was down from 81 percent against Pouille. The top seed has been broken just once on ten chances through two rounds.

Isner blasted another opponent off the court in the second round, taking care of Leonardo Mayer easily 6-0, 6-3. That came after he whipped Malek Jaziri 6-2, 6-3 in round one. Isner pounded out eight aces against Mayer and let him see just one break point, that the American was able to save. Isner won 84 percent of his first serve points and 57 percent of his second serve points. Both were down slightly from against Jaziiri, when he won 93 and 62 percent respectively. There were no break chances against Isner in that match.

The meeting at the Laver Cup was the first between Nadal and Isner since 2015, when Rafa won twice against Isner on clay. At the Laver Cup, Isner edged Nadal 7-5, 7-6 (1). In the match, Nadal lost serve twice with Isner dropping serve once. Isner was especially dominant on serve in the second set, where he lost just two points on serve. That is obviously a huge key heading into this one and Isner should have some confidence from that win. It will be interesting to see how Nadal adjusts to seeing a big serve again, although you’d expect his court positioning to remain fairly consistent. Rafa almost always plays deep behind the baseline to set himself up for a better shot on return and in rallies.

For Isner, he knows he has to serve at an elite level to win. One break can easily decide a set in this matchup, so the American will want to put the pressure on Nadal’s serve with some easy holds of his own. I wouldn’t expect much more than the usual power display from Isner and attempts to finish points quickly when Rafa does get a racquet on those serves. Isner shouldn’t be afraid to move in on the second ball to accomplish that feat. Nadal must continue to serve solidly and try to get Isner into rallies where he can wear the big man down a bit in an attempt to take the American’s legs. That in turn could take a little bite off the serve and make a big difference in critical points late in the match.

I said in the tournament preview that this matchup might be the toughest of the tournament for Nadal and I do expect it to be just that. I also expect Rafa will take the Laver Cup experience and have himself in better position for success. This should be tight and Isner can easily pull off an upset, but I’ll side with Rafa just barely.

Prediction: Nadal wins in three sets

(2) Alexander Zverev vs Andrey Rublev

These two young stars will contest their second clash of 2017. Zverev crushed Rublev in Monte Carlo on clay 6-3, 6-1 early in the Spring. Certainly a lot has changed for the 19-year-old Rublev since then with his first Grand Slam quarterfinal coming at the U.S. Open. After a horrid transition back to the tour after the USO, Rublev has scored two big wins this week over Jack Sock and Tomas Berdych. Impressively, he has rallied from down a set both times to pull away to victory. The latest against Berdych saw Rublev roll late 1-6, 6-4, 6-1 to get to the quarters in his first trip to Beijing. He will need improvement to get past Zverev though with 18 double faults in the first two rounds combined. His serve has been a bit faulty, broken five times on 15 chances.

For Zverev, he rebounded from an early flame out in Shenzhen last week to win both his matches at the China Open in straight sets this week. The latest came on Thursday with a 6-4, 6-2 thumping of Fabio Fognini. After Fognini broke Sascha for the only time in the match to even the first set at 4-4, the second seed proceeded to win eight of the next ten games to secure a relatively simple win in the end. The win rates on serve were solid for Zverev at 75 and 56 percent with both numbers down a bit from his first round win over Kyle Edmund. Zverev has been broken twice on four chances so far this tournament.

Their Monte Carlo meeting featured a serve clinic from Sascha as he won 88 percent of the points on first serve and 65 percent off his second. He we rarely threatened, only forced to save two break points. Rublev looked completely overwhelmed with a faulty serve that was broken four times on six chances. He would win just 46 percent of the points off his first serve in that match. The serve has been the sticking point for Rublev in his development. It’s big enough to dominant, but he has had some issues landing his first serve consistently. His second serve until recently has been more of a liability. That will be something Zverev will look to pounce on Friday.

For Sascha, I think the recipe is the same as usual. Find rhythm on serve early and the rest of his game seems to flow well off of that. This will be a baseline basher for sure with both preferring to do damage from the back of the court. Zverev would do well to focus on Rublev’s backhand, which is the weaker side. Zverev is more solid off both wings, which will make it harder for Rublev to break him down in rallies. I see Rublev’s best chance to contend if he can serve consistently big with his first serve and find the range on his power forehand early and often. If not, Zverev could find a similar scoreline to Monte Carlo.

Prediction: Zverev wins in straight sets

(3) Grigor Dimitrov vs (5) Roberto Bautista Agut

This could wind up being the most competitive of the quarterfinals in Beijing. Dimitrov and RBA will be meeting for the third time, splitting the wo previous meetings. This will be their first match against each other since the 2014 Australian Open where Dimitrov won in four sets. Dimitrov has been fairly solid this week in beating Damir Dzumhur and Juan Martin Del Potro. He edged DelPo 7-6 (6), 7-5 last round. His win rates on serve have been steady at around 745 percent on first serve through the two rounds of play and 58 percent off his second. He has had to fend off 16 break chances so far, saving 13. He has converted six of 12 break chances against his opponents.

Bautista Agut has barely broken a sweat in beating Ze Zhang 6-1, 6-3 and then leading Aljaz Bedene 6-0, 4-0 when the Brit retired with a knee injury. RBA Has only been forced to save three break chances against his serve, all of which he has done successfully. He’s won a lofty 82 percent of his first serve points through the first two rounds. It’s difficult to gauge exactly where his form is this week heading into the match after he played an outmatched and then injured opponent. This will be a truer test against Dimitrov.

Both their previous matches took place on hard courts with Dimitrov winning the Australian Open battle and RBA beating him here in Beijing in straights back in 2013. Serve was a big determining factor in the wins for both with the opponent serving much less effectively in losing. Both won’t really overpower on serve, but really more on placement to get easy points or set themselves up well for the next ball. In the ground rallies, both are good at crafting points overall. Dimitrov has more variety I think to his ground game, but that has also been a detriment with Dimitrov unsure of what shot to use as a finisher. RBA is more simplistic off both wings, hitting the ball flat but with effectiveness.

Consistency would be a good key word for both of these guys and it’s RBA that I find normally has better overall consistent in these even or plus matchups. The Spaniard may not beat the elite players on tour, but guys in his weight class like Dimitrov are guys I think he feels comfortable going against. This is RBA’s furthest progression in Beijing in three visits, while Dimitrov has now made the quarters or better in each of his last three trips. With Dimitrov showing some confidence this week, I tilt the scales back from slightly favoring RBA to making this about dead even. Waffle time.

Prediction: Bautista Agut wins in three sets

(8) Nick Kyrgios vs (q) Steve Darcis

A very unexpected matchup here with Kyrgios looking fairly engaged so far this week. He overcame a slow start against Mischa Zverev last round to rally for a 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 win. Kyrgios has been electric on serve this week with 23 aces and only one break of serve against him. He has won a rock solid 85 percent off his first serve through two rounds with his second serve stout at a 73 percent win rate. The Aussie has been ruthless in converting breaks against his opponents, taking eight breaks on ten chances this week.

With back-to-back wins this week, Darcis broke a five month drought of not winning more than one match at an ATP-level event. He dispatched of both fourth seeded Pablo Careeno Busta and qualifier Dusan Lajovic in straight sets. The Belgian’s serve has also only been broken once on eight chances against. He’s kept steady win rates on both first and second serve around 77 and 60 percent respectively. Darcis is crediting his new coach this season, Yannis Demeroutis, with keeping him in better physical condition as the season progressed. The Belgian says he believes that is why he might be playing some of his best tennis late in the season, including his usual Davis Cup heroics for Belgium.

This will be the first all-time meeting between Kyrgios and Darcis. Job one for Darcis will obviously be trying to figure out a way to interrupt NK’s serve. The Aussie has been in rhythm all week with simple holds the norm for him. Darcis will have to be prepared to see plenty of balls go as not returnable and hope that he can bide his time to find a few openings to punish. Any time you go up against an elite serve, it’s obviously imperative to take care of your own as well. Darcis has the ability to get a roll and get easy holds too and he’s shown a good ability to fight off break points this week. He’ll need to be about perfect in that category to have a chance in the quarterfinals.

The method of operation off the ground will be similar with both wanting to hit big from the forehand side and finish points quickly. Kyrgios is deadliest when his serve is in rhythm and he is able to keep his opponent off balance for simple 1-2 punches on his serve for quick points. Darcis will need to find a way to push Kyrgios into longer rallies than that, perhaps looking to chip the ball back to give Kyrgios some offspeed looks for the next ball. Darcis should obviously look to go to Kyrgios’ backhand whenever possible to stay away from the power off his forehand.

This may seem like a mismatch to most, but I pointed out in the tournament preview than an unseeded player has made it to the semifinals three years in a row at this event. Rublev is the other player with a shot to extend that streak, but Darcis for me seems a better option. This one I think either falls into an upset or Kyrgios blows the Belgian off the court. I’ll go with insanity please.

Prediction: Darcis wins in three sets

2017 China Open Preview

CHINAOPEN17

Nadal Leads Beijing Field

The ATP World Tour continues its tour of the Far East with more of the big names returning to play this week. That includes the top seed in Beijing in 2017 U.S. Open Champion Rafael Nadal. Nadal sports a 20-5 all-time record in Beijing, but has only won the title once back in 2005. He should benefit from a weaker draw with more Top 20 players opting to play Tokyo this week. Behind Nadal in the draw are second seed Alexander Zverev who will be playing the China Open for just the second time. Sascha was a quarterfinalist last year. Rounding out the top four seeds are Grigor Dimitrov and Pablo Carreno Busta. Dimitrov made the final last year, losing to Andy Murray. PCB made a quarterfinal run in 2016 in his Beijing debut.

The rest of the seeded field features Roberto Bautista Agut, John Isner, Tomas Berdych and Nick Kyrgios. Berdych has the most experience of those remaining seeds with an 11-4 record and one title (2011). Kyrgios is the lone seeded player who has not played at this tournament in the past. The Aussie will be looking to get back on the winning track after losing his first round U.S. Open match to John Millman. Kyrgios did look solid in Laver Cup play with a win over Berdych and a tough match tiebreak loss to Roger Federer. He could be primed for a strong finish to the season with his health seemingly not a looming question mark every week at this point.

Top Seed Traditionally Decides Title

The top seed has won in Beijing five straight seasons and six of the last six trips to Beijing overall. That’s been Novak Djokovic five of those times with Andy Murray joining him last year. That could mean good things for Rafa this week if he can overcome his own lack of success at this tournament. He has made the final three times in his six trips, but has only been able to close out the title match once against Guillermo Coria in 2005 when the tournament wasn’t a 500-level tournament. Rafa also has a bit of a problematic draw that I’ll get to below.

Seeds in general have fared well in Beijing with only three of the past 12 semifinalists being unseeded players. They have also done a pretty solid job at avoiding early upsets with only four seeds losing their openers in the last four years. 2017 of course has been a different type of season with injuries and inconsistency, so perhaps more seeds could be in peril this year. With that in mind, let’s take a look at this week’s seeds who could be prone to an early upset.

Early Bird Specials

1. Rafael Nadal
Nadal could not have asked for a much tougher round one matchup. He opens with Lucas Pouille who scored the stunning upset of Nadal at the 2016 U.S. Open in five sets. The good news for Rafa is that version of Pouille has not been seen consistently in 2017. Pouille has lost his first match at three of his last four tournaments overall. The Frenchman went 1-1 in his first main draw appearance here last year. I would keep this on the lower side of the upset scale, but Pouille has the game to trouble Nadal if he can find it.

2. Alexander Zverev
Sascha goes on this list after a very mediocre showing last week in Chengdu, where he barely beat Steve Darcis in his opener and then lost to red hot Damir Dzumhur in the next round. Perhaps it was the turnaround from the Laver Cup that had him not quite at his best, but he’ll bear watching this week with a tough opener against Kyle Edmund. The Brit wasn’t great in Chengdu either, losing to Donaldson in his second match – but he did contest a solid match against Zverev in their lone meeting on clay last season. Edmund was forced to retire due to injury after splitting the first two sets. I also think this might be on the lower tier of upset possibilities, but late in the season you never know who is motivated.

3. Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov faces off against Damir Dzumhur in round one .Dzumhur is red hot after winning his first ATP title in St.Petersburg, he followed that with a semifinal push in Shenzhen last week. That included a win over Sascha Zverev. With Dimitrov not having played since the U.S. Open, there is definitely a chance he could come out flat this week.

4. Pablo Carreno Busta
PCB plays for the first time since making his first Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open. He could be rusty early and that gives qualifier Steve Darcis a shot in round one. Darcis showed improvement in Shenzhen last week, winning a rare main draw match and pushing Alexander Zverev to a third set tiebreak before losing in the next round. Maybe it’s his Davis Cup heroics propelling him to a late season surge, but the Belgian definitely isn’t without a chance here if his body holds up. That would be my lone concern on him being competitive.

7. Tomas Berdych
A tough early match for Berdych against Jared Donaldson. Donaldson had a decent week in Chengu as he made the quarterfinals. Berdych got some match play in at the Laver Cup, so he’ll be ready to go this week in a tournament that has been good to him for the most part. The Czech has lost twice in his first match though and one of those came in his last trip here in 2015. This will be a tricky one and I won’t be stunned if the American gets the W.

8. Nick Kyrgios
I put the Aussie on this list simply because of who he is and what he has said about it being difficult to get up for tournaments sometimes based on matchups. He opens with Nikoloz Basilashvili, which is going to be one of those “meh” matchups in Kyrgios’ mind. Basilashvili is one of those guys who does have a good enough game to contend with top tier guys. If NK find a rhythm, he can get rolling and make this an easy match. He could also show up a bit disinterested and turn this into a tight one.

Outsider’s Edge

While seeds traditionally have settled who raises the trophy in Beijing, unseeded players have managed to weasel their way into the semifinals consistently in recent times. Grigor Dimitrov parlayed that into a finals visit last year. Only Marin Cilic has made it to the final as an unseeded player other than Dimitrov since 2011. It could be slim pickings to find a player who could make the final, but there are several unseeded players who could make noise this week.

Juan Martin Del Potro
DelPo is back for the first time since the U.S. Open and he’s got some possibilities to ruffle the pecking order. The Argentine opens against Pablo Cuevas and then would see the winner of Dimitrov-Dzumhur in round two. Bautista Agut is the only other seed in his path to the semifinals and DelPo has beaten RBA twice this season, including a straight sets crush job at the U.S. Open. If he gets on a run, we could get Rafa vs Del Potro in the semis.

Dusan Lajovic
The Serb qualified to get into the main draw this week and comes in after a quarterfinal run in Chengdu. He scored the seeded scalp of Albert Ramos-Vinolas last week and will face Spaniards again this week. Lajovic starts with Fernando Verdasco who has lost his openers in five of his last nine tournaments. The Serb has beaten Nando twice in three meetings. A win could net him an encounter with Carreno Busta in round two. Those two have split two career meetings with PCB winning the most recent at Indian Wells this year. With some heightened expectations for the Spaniard now, it’s possible he could cave in early with this being his first matches since his U.S. Open semifinals run.

Jared Donaldson, Jack Sock, Andrey Rublev, Robin Haase, Fabio Fognini
The stacked unseeded quarter belongs to Alexander Zverev and Tomas Berdych. All of the players listed above could reasonably cause some shockwaves this week. Sock and Rublev face off in round one as do Haase and Fognini. The two survivors will reasonably be tough outs for Zverev and Berdych if they advance to round two. Both Sascha and the Berd have first round matches that they will need to be up for or it will be an early exit in Beijing. I would not be surprised if one of these unseeded players cut up this quarter and made a deep run.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (1)
John Isner (6)

Breakdown
Nadal has some youngsters he’ll need to take care of, but the feeling is that the veteran is still better suited to the grind at the end of the season. He starts with Pouille and a win there could get him a visit from Karen Khachanov. The young Russian has been disappointing of late, but is someone who can turn it on at any time. He starts with Chinese wild card Di Wu. Wu used to be a competent Challenger-type on this surface, but has fallen off. A loss for Khachanov would be poor.

Isner could be a dark horse here, especially after beating Nadal at the Laver Cup in straight sets. The American has had mostly mediocre season save for a good stretch right after WImbledon where he won back-to-back titles in Newport and Atlanta. He is 9-4 lifetime in Beijing with one finals trip way back in 2010. Isner opens against Malek Jaziri. The winner gets either Leonardo Mayer or Paolo Lorenzi. This is a winnable stretch for Isner to get another shot at Rafa. Rafa is 6-0 against Isner at official ATP World Tour events.

Bottom line for me in this quarter is I think it falls to a seed, be it Nadal or Isner. I’ll give Nadal the small edge.

Quarter #2 Seeds
Grigor Dimitrov (3)
Roberto Bautista Agut (5)

Breakdown
Dimitrov has the tougher draw, possibly going back to back against Dzumhur and then Del Potro. DelPo is of course the big X-factor in this section. He should have a chance to get off to a good start against Pabloc Cuevas who has lost six straight coming into the China Open. If we get Dimitrov vs Del Potro, it will be the third time we’ve seen it this season. Dimitrov won the last time in Cincinnati in a disappointing match for the Argentine, whereas DelPo won the first meeting this year in Rome on clay. Overall, Del Potro is 6-1 against Dimitrov.

The bottom half looks ripe for Bautista Agut to get a couple of relatively smooth wins with an opener against wild card Ze Zhang. A win would see RBA go up against either Marcel Granollers or Aljaz Bedene. Bedene has played RBA tough in four meetings, taking a pair from the Spaniard. He would be the tougher out for sure, but I think Bautista Agut’s overall consistency is a better bet to push through to the quarterfinals.

This looks like it could come down to Dimitrov, Del Potro or Bautista Agut as your likely semifinalist. RBA might get the benefit of the draw if Dimitrov and DelPo take enough out of each other in a potential quarterfinal. Slight nod to RBA to inch through in this section.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Pablo Carreno Busta (4)
Nick Kyrgios (8)

Breakdown
This quarter looks like it could have some upheaval to it. Kyrgios is still always going to be a question mark on motivation. He could get on a roll and be in the semis or he could go out round one to Basilashvili. I’m not keen on Kyrgios’ route as he could see Mischa Zverev in round two. Zverev starts with Jan-Lennard Struff. I wouldn’t be stunned if Mischa turned up in the quarterfinals as I could see his serve and volley giving NK some problems again. He won their lone career meeting in Shanghai last year.

The other half features Carreno Busta who opens with qualifier Steve Darcis. Darcis has been short on wins on tour, but looked better in Shenzhen last week. His game can trouble a rusty Carreno Busta, but I think PCB’s overall game likely gets him through if he can find some rhythm. The survivor there gets either Verdasco or Lajovic. This part of the draw looks like it could go any which way. The biggest surprise to me in this quarter might be seeing a seed in the semifinals.

Watch out for Zverev and Darcis here as outsiders and Lajovic might have a hand in an upset or two as well.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Alexander Zverev (2)
Tomas Berdych (7)

Breakdown
The thought here will be that one of the seeds seizes control of this quarter. That isn’t necessarily a good bet though with plenty of unseeded talent in this quarter. Zverev starts with Edmund in round one and a win would see him battle Fognini or Haase. Sascha is 3-0 against those two combined, but recall that Haase took him to five sets at the Australian Open this year. Berdych has the tough opener against Jared Donaldson and then would meet the survivor of Jack Sock and Andrey Rublev.

Rublev was predictably out of sorts in Chengdu where he was punished in round one 6-2, 6-1 by Yen-Hsun Lu. This could be a golden opportunity for Sock who has been short on big wins in the last three to four months. Berdych has been fairly disappointing since making the Wimbledon semifinals, so an earlier than expected exit might not be too shocking all things considered. This is a tough quarter to predict and part of me thinks one of the Americans might slip through. If they don’t, I think I trust Sascha just a shade more than Berdych to punch into the semis.

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

You might think it easy for Nadal to let off the pedal a bit here in the latter part of the season, but let’s be honest – that isn’t in his DNA. I think he has the goods here to continue the top seed’s run of success in Beijing. If he falters, don’t be shocked if John Isner isn’t part of the championship mix. I think this is a big spot for Sascha Zverev to prove or disprove his spot in the rankings. He wasn’t overly impressive in his first tournament back last week following his U.S. Open disappointment, so he has plenty or prove. In the end though, this smells like Rafa’s tournament to lose.