2018 French Open Men’s Draw Preview

RGFULLPREVIEW

Even without the qualifiers slotted in, you can get a feel for this year’s men’s draw at the French Open. Here’s my thoughts.

Quarter #1 Seeds
(1) Rafael Nadal
(6) Kevin Anderson
(11) Diego Schwartzman
(14) Jack Sock
(22) Philipp Kohlschreiber
(24) Denis Shapovalov
(27) Richard Gasquet
(28) Feliciano Lopez

Breakdown
Nadal could not have asked for much better in this quarter. He opens against Alexandr Dolgopolov who is 2-7 against Rafa, pounded in straights in their two meetings in Brisbane and the U.S. Open in 2017. Gasquet is the seed he could see in round three. The Frenchman starts with Andreas Seppi (6-1) and then would face Mikhail Youzhny or Malek Jaziri. Good chance Rafa can move his record to 16-0 against the Gasman. I don’t see much in this portion of the draw that will stray too far from the expected. Nadal shouldn’t drop a set through at least round three.

The next segment of this quarter has Sock and Shapovalov as the seeds. Sock gets a TBD qualifier in round one, while Shapovalov battles John Millman. The Aussie had some moments on dirt, including a run to the Budapest final this season and a Challenger title to boot. Millman did pull out of Lyon with a hip problem, so that should give El Shapo some help. The dangerous floater here will be whomever wins between Ryan Harrison and Maximillian Marterer. The winner gets Shapovalov. Sock COULD NOT ASK for a sweeter early draw with a qualifier and then either Yuki Bhambri or Yen-Hsun Lu. I’ve still got money that he’ll muck it up.

Down in the bottom half, Anderson and Feliciano Lopez are seeds in one segment. Anderson draws Paolo Lorenzi to open. The 6th seed is 4-0 against the Italian, but Lorenzi has played him tough. Don’t be surprised if there is some sweat to the result in that one. Even more could await in round two with Aljaz Bedene or Pablo Cuevas next. Remember Bedene won the first set off of Anderson in Rome before the big man retired. Cuevas is 0-2 against Anderson, but took him the distance both times. Lopez gets a qualifier first and then either Mischa Zverev or Florian Mayer. That’s not a bad draw for the Spaniard. Still, there is some reasonable expectation of upsets in this part of the draw with Anderson needing to watch out the most.

The other segment has Schwartzman and Kohlschreiber as the seeds. The Schwartz gets Frencie Calvin Hemery in round one. This is Hemery’s Grand Slam debut and clay is a decent surface for him. Tuogh ask though even against the Argentine who has been struggling. Winenr gets Mirza Basic or a qualifier and will fancy themselves a spot in the third round. Kohlschreiber, poor Kohlschreiber. He gets Borna Coric in round one and his French Open losing skid could easily hit a third straight year in oen of the toughest first round matches for a seed. Coric beat him the last time they played on clay in Marrakech last season with Kohlschreiber owning two wins before that with one on clay in 2016. Could be one of the best matches of round one. The survivor gets Matthew Ebden or Thomas Fabbiano.

The Pig-nosticator

If he stays fully healthy, I don’t see the challenge for Nadal in this quarter. I honestly would be a bit stunned if he drops a set in reaching the semifinals. The intrigue will lie around who might sneak into that other quarterfinal slot. Albert Ramos-Vinolas was the last unseeded quarterfinalist at Roland Garros in 2016. Then you have to go back to 2011 and Juan Ignacio Chela and Fabio Fognini to find the next two. Coric could have a claim if he gets rolling with the early upset and that Bedene-Cuevas winner could also have some intrigue in that race.

Eliminati

Qualifier (Sock)
Borna Coric (Kohlschreiber)

Quarter #2 Seeds
(3) Marin Cilic
(5) Juan Martin Del Potro
(9) John Isner
(16) Kyle Edmund
(17) Tomas Berdych
(18) Fabio Fognini
(25) Adrian Mannarino
(31) Albert Ramos-Vinolas

Breakdown
Big hitting types litter the top of the seeded field in this quarter. Cilic’s segment has Mannarino as the other seed. I talked about Mannarino’s clay allergy earlier in part two of the preview and Steve Johnson could extinguish him in the opening round. SJ89 is 3-1 against Mannarino. The survivor there will get Evgeny Donskoy or Jan-Lennard Struff. Cilic gets a date with James Duckworth in round one and then Tennys Sandgren or a qualifier in round two. I think this segment sets up nicely for Cilic to get into the fourth round with Johnson perhaps holding some third round possibilities.

The next segment of the quarter holds Edmund and Fognini as the seeds. Edmund plays super hustle Alex De Minaur in his opener. The Brit beat him in straights in Estoril this season and with the Brit’s current form, a repeat seems more likely than an upset. That would get Edmund up against Marton Fucsovics or Vasek Pospisil in round two. Fucsovics holds some intrigue with wins over Ramos-Vinolas and Wawrinka in Geneva this week. He’s got clay court chops. Edmund crushed him last year on a hard surface in Winston-Salem, but clay could make a rematch much closer. Fognini opens with Pablo Andujar. Fogs is 3-1 against him, but they haven’t played since 2015. I’d favor Fognini still. A win there and it’s Dudi Sela or a qualifier in the next round.

To the other half of this quarter and Del Potro. The Argentine heads in with an injury concern with his groin. He is scheduled to battle Nicolas Mahut in round one. Healthy, this is a no brainer. Not healthy, Mahut cuold maybe take advantage, although I think it’d be more likely that he gets a walkover if DelPo is still not ready. That could open this part of the draw some with Julien Benneteau or Leonardo Mayer awaiting the winner. This is Benneteau’s final go-round, so expect the effort to be there for him and the crowd to be on his side even more. He is probably glad not to play Lucas Pouille for the third year in a row in round one. With the questions around Del Potro, Ramos-Vinolas may have a shot if he escapes round one. The 31st seed gets Mikhail Kukushkin to open and then Jordan Thompson or a qualifier. ARV has been pretty poor lately, but has made the quarters and fourth round here the last two tries.

The final segment in this quarter sports John Isner and Tomas Berdych. Isner draws fellow American Noah Rubin to start. Rubin got some nice match play in Geneva this week and took a set off Fognini before falling in three. I don’t know that his serve is going to allow him to stick with Isner, but he’s got speed and agility and won his first title on clay at a Challenger even this season. It will be an interesting watch perhaps. The winner takes on Horacio Zeballos or Yuichi Sugita. Sugita is 3-12 on clay all-time, while Zeballos has his best Grand Slam showing here last year with a fourth round finish. Do the math. Keep in mind Zeballos is 0-3 vs Isner, but plays him tough most times – if that match were to occur in round two. Berdych draws Jeremy Chardy to open. In spite of Berdych’s struggles, he should pass. He’s 5-0 against Chardy who might be in worse form. Pierre-Hugues Herbert or a qualifier waits for the winner.

The Pig-nosticator

If Del Potro were fully fit, this quarter would take on a much different feel. With him hurting and I think unlikely to go far if he even suits up – Isner could step into position for a shot at a quarterfinal in one half here in all reality. I also mentioned in the other previews that Berdych is still someone to watch out for at Slams. He could be a sneakier shot for a quarter. The other half for me looks like it could come down to Cilic or Edmund. Edmund’s path is tougher, so this really could shape up for Cilic to have a shot at another Slam semifinal. Don’t discount Isner being in the mix though if this opens up right for him.

Eliminati

Steve Johnson (Mannarino)
Mikhail Kukushkin (Ramos-Vinolas)

Quarter #3 Seeds
(4) Grigor Dimitrov
(8) David Goffin
(10) Pablo Carreno Busta
(13) Roberto Bautista Agut
(20) Novak Djokovic
(21) Nick Kyrgios
(30) Fernando Verdasco
(32) Gael Monfils

Breakdown
Right away this quarter grabs you with “name” power and also a ton of question marks with the health of Kyrgios and Monfils being at the top of that list. Toss in Dimitrov’s struggles and you have the makings of a very wide open quarter. Let’s start with Dimitrov’s segment, where the fourth seed begins against Viktor Troicki. That is not the match-up the Bulgarian wanted to see as Troicki has beaten him two times, including here at Roland Garros in 2016. Dimitrov won their last meeting in Sofia last Spring. Troicki did pull out of Rome and I did not find the reason, so that makes this spot even more interesting. The winner gets Jared Donaldson or Nicolas Jarry. Both of those guys are heavy hitters and Jarry especially has shown some real ability to beat good players on dirt. Even if Dimitrov escapes round one, round two might prove very difficult too. Verdasco is the seed opposite of Dimitrov and he starts with Yoshi Nishioka. The winner advances to meet Taylor Fritz or a qualifier. The other name Dimitrov doesn not want to see is Verdasco who beat him at Indian Wells this year and always plays him very close.

The segment above this has plenty of intrigue wih Bautista Agut and Djokovic as the seeds. RBA opens against Denis Istomin, who hasn’t won a match since Miami. A win would see the Spaniard take on either Marcos Baghdatis or a qualifier. On this surface, it should be advantage RBA. Djokovic awaits an assigned qualifier to start and then could face David Ferrer in round two. Ferrer also will be matched against qualifier in round one. Qualifiers were 5-11 in last year’s French Open and 4-12 in 2016. Marco Trungeletti did knock out #10 Marin Cilic that year. Before that, you have to go back to 2012 when Michael Berrer beat #30 Jurgen Melzer for the last. Ferrer however may fall into the trap. He’s 0-2 in his lone warm-up matches on clay and just 7-9 this season. It would also be a first for Ferrer, who has not lost his opener at Roland Garros since he started coming here in 2013. Djokovic has a nice draw in this spot to make a run for the fourth round. He’s 6-1 vs RBA.

In the other half, Goffin and Monfils are grouped together in one segment. The 8th seeded Belgian gets tricky Robin Haase in round one. Haase’s lone win over Goffin came on clay last year in Gstaad. Should Goffin survive, he finds Ivo Karlovic or Corentin Moutet in round two. Either will be advantageous for Goffin. As for Monfils, health is the biggest problem. He did play Lyon, where he lost to Marterer. La Monf is 1-4 on clay during this Euro swing. This is his 12th French Open and he has not lost in round one since his first in 2005. Getting fellow Frenchie, 19-year-old Elliot Benchetrit could make things easier, but we’ll have to see if Monfils can get through a best of five. The winner gets Laslo Dere or a qualifier. Dere can be pesky on this surface. A healthy Monfils could challenge Goffin for a spot in round four, but that doesn’t seem the case this year as of this writing.

The final segment is led by seeds Pablo Carreno Busta and Nick Kyrgios. There are some dangerous floaters here with Budapest champion Marco Cecchinato up against Marius Copil in round one. The winner tackles a qualifier or Kyrgios who has missed chunks of time with a balky right elbow. He is testing it playing doubles this week with Jack Sock in Lyon and they’re still alive in the semifinals, so it appears he’ll give it a go in Paris. That doesn’t mean he’s anywhere close to being ready for best of five tennis. NK gets a qualifier first-up. Carreno Busta gets a qualifier first-up and then Federico Delbonis or another qualifier. Delbonis is the danger, going 4-1 against PCB altough that lone Carreno Busta win was at RG in 2016. Still, this segment looks ripe for some turbulence.

The Pig-nosticator

I’m not going out on a limb by any means in saying that Dimitrov won’t make the semifinals out of this quarter. Hell, he won’t make the quarterfinals in my opinion. I think that leaves this quarter open for Goffin to make a move and yes, Novak Djokovic suddenly looks like a real cheeky pick to make a deep run with this draw. Bautista Agut and Verdasco might wind up being his main road blocks to getting a quarterfinal. A quarterfinal given where the Serb was before last week in Rome would still be a major accomplishment and he’s certainly capable of beating Goffin or anyone else from this quarter. I think the key for Djokovic is conserving energy in the early rounds and not having to play more tennis than necessary.

Eliminati

Qualifer (Kyrgios)

Quarter #4 Seeds
(2) Alexander Zverev
(7) Dominic Thiem
(12) Sam Querrey
(15) Lucas Pouille
(19) Kei Nishikori
(23) Stan Wawrinka
(26) Damir Dzumhur
(29) Gilles Muller

Breakdown
All eyes will be on a possible Zverev-Thiem quarterfinal in this quarter. There is a lot of tennis before that can happen. Let’s start with Sascha’s half. Zverev as laid out is second in line behind Nadal right now as far as form on this surface. He will begin his RG campaign against Ricardas Berankis and I would not expect a ton of trouble on this surface. The second round will be a bit tougher with Jiri Vesely or Dusan Lajovic waiting. If I’m Sascha, give me Vesely who will likely play into a big baseline ball bash that will favor the second seed. Lajovic is a grittier competitor who took down Gasquet and Del Potro in Madrid. His Slam resume isn’t impressive, but the 27-year-old would be the tougher out to me. Dzumhur is the seed opposite of Sascha in this segment and he gets a qualifier to open. Should he pass, Dzumhur takes on Gregoire Barrere or Radu Albot in round two. I can see a potential upset in that spot.

In the segment above this, seeds Pouille and Wawrinka are very iffy. I touched on Pouille’s stagnant season since February and Wawrinka’s play in Geneva didn’t inspire much. The Swiss got a win, but was bageled in his straight sets loss to Fucsovics on Thursday. Pouille’s saving grace is that he gets Daniil Medvedev in round one. He is 2-0 against the Russian who sports a gnarly 2-10 record on clay in his career. A win would get Pouille a shot at Peter Gojowyczk or Cameron Norrie. Gojo is in the Geneva semis and has actually been in a nice groove on clay. Norrie won his first Slam match at the U.S. Open last year, but it might be a stretch for him to get #2 on clay. Wawrinka has Guillermo Garcia-Lopez first-up and the Spaniard last beat him in 2014 in round one at this very tournament. “Random” draw strikes again. Otherwise, the Swiss is 7-3 against him with three straight wins since that loss. In his current state, Stan is really primed to go one and done. The beneficiary might be Karen Khachanov, who opposes Adreas Haider-Maurer in round one. Khachanov has had a hard time getting clutch wins on dirt, but if Wawrinka goes out – don’t be surprised to see him in the third round.

In the other half where Thiem leads, the Austrian will first have to overcome the stupidity of his decision to play in Lyon this week. Thiem is tied 1-1 with Garcia-Lopez in the quarters there headed into Friday. So if he wins, he’s likely pull double duty Friday to keep their Saturday final in line after some rainy days. Thiem will get a qualifier to open and while that match may not bite him, a potential second rounder against Stefanos Tsitsipas is where I am looking at trouble for the chronically over playing Austrian. Tsitsipas also plays a qualifier and then would have a chance that his hot run on clay, including a win over Thiem in Barcelona, is no fluke. The 19-year-old is a little down the last few weeks, but the talent is there to cause trouble. The other seed here is Muller who rarely plays well here and gets a qualifier in round one. If he moves on, it’s Matteo Berrettini or another qualifier in round two. Berrettini has proven competitive on dirt lately and could definitely be a little bit of a surprise runner.

Your other segment has Querrey and Nishikori as the seeds. Querrey continued his dud of a clay court season with a loss to Guido Pella in Geneva, although it was tight with three tie breaks played. Sam has still had difficulty here and goes against another American, Frances Tiafoe. Tiafoe made the final in Estoril earlier this Spring, but has fallen off a bit since that tournament. He lost to Querrey last year in Shanghai and the 20-year old still has just two Slam wins, none in Paris. I do expect in this spot though that Big Foe can push Querrey and possibly cause the upset if he keeps his serve together. The survivor goes up against Nikoloz Basilashvili or Gilles Simon, As for Nishikori, he’ll battle 21-year-old Frenchie Maxime Janvier in the opening round. A win could net us another Nishikori-Paire match. Paire starts against Roberto Carballes Baena. Paire has been dealing with a back problem, but scored two good wins in Rome. Nishikori-Paire is at 3-2 for Kei and 2-0 for Kei on clay.

The Pig-nosticator

If not now … when for Alexander Zverev? There’s a not-yet-ready Stan Wawrinka here and an out-of-whack Lucas Pouille to block him from his first Slam quarterfinal. Maybe Khachanov. The point being is that Sascha is the in-form talent here and this is his time to get that monkey off his back. If he doesn’t get it done with this set up, then it’s going to be an even bigger mental block for him. As for the quarter overall, in spite of the Thiem over scheduling again, you can’t count him out after two straight semis at Roland Garros. There are two obvious stumbling points for him and that would be Tsitsipas in round two and Nishikori in round four. All that SHOULD play well for Sascha even if Thiem gets through, he could be about out of gas after that path and the other guy who I think could take down Sascha in Nishikori would also have run a tough gauntlet. I think it’s important that Sascha finds a rhythm in round one and starts impressively. He needs to get things done the way that the Slam stalwarts do – win quickly early and conserve your energy for the tough matches that define your tournament in the fourth round and beyond

Eliminati

Frances Tiafoe (Querrey)
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (Wawrinka)
Qualifier (Muller)

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

Has anything really changed over the course of the last two tournaments to dissuade anyone from picking outside of Nadal to win this thing? Yes, he does have a loss to Thiem. Yes, Zverev had him on the ropes. Now however, it’s guts and glory time in a best of five on clay. This is Nadal’s domain. Roland Garros is his house. I think Madrid and Rome showed that perhaps there are a few players who could catch Rafa on an off day and make him work hard, but you have to win three sets off of him now. Two was hard enough for most. I don’t think his half of the draw could be much better and IF there is going to be a colossal upset, it has to come in a final in my opinion.

That leaves us looking at the bottom half. Zverev still has so much to prove at Grand Slams, but you have to like the way he is playing coming to Paris. I think there are two big X-factors in his half named Djokovic and Nishikori. Nishikori is in Sascha’s quarter and has that combination of defense and offense from the baseline that can hassle Sascha. That is the way I think he can be beat is by a player who can wear him down with his style plus great defense. Djokovic also fits that bill, but would have to navigate a tough draw just to get a shot at him in a semifinal. I’m not sure his consistency is quite there, but with the right breaks – who knows?

I think a repeat of the Rome final would be a fitting end to the clay court season, even if Rafa destroys Sascha in the end. I still don’t think it’s going to go down that way though. If there is a big surprise, it could be among the semifinalists and I am thinking quarter #2 with the likes of Isner, Edmund and yes even Berdych possibly in the mix if Cilic slips up. Bottom line – Rafa is not likely to be denied his 11th French Open title. Enjoy the show because you never know when it’s going to be the last time you get to enjoy Nadal on clay.

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2018 French Open Preview: Top Ten Seeds

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Rafa, Sascha … And Then ?

Roland Garros may not be the house that Rafael Nadal built, but it’s the house that he owns residency in with everyone else paying an entry fee to watch the ten-time champion style and profile. And why wouldn’t you? He’s 79-2 in his career at this tournament. Last year’s run to his 10th title was vintage Rafa with all seven wins coming in straight sets. Of the 20 sets played, only three saw his opponent win as many as four games. That was echoed in Nadal’s work on dirt this season until an expected loss to Dominic Thiem in Madrid. It ended a streak of 50 straight sets won on clay. Rafa does head into this year’s edition of the French Open on solid ground though with three clay court titles in 2018 and a 17-1 mark on the surface since winning last year’s French Open title. That includes his furious rally to win the title at the Rome Masters’ event last week over Alexander Zverev.

Speaking of Zverev, there is no doubt that he has played a not so distant second fiddle to Nadal on clay this season. Sascha is 16-2 on clay with the loss to Rafa in Rome and Kei Nishikori in Monte Carlo. In between, he was dominant with 13 straight wins, where he lost just two sets. The big question of course is if now is finally the time that the 21-year-old will step up and grab his first quarterfinal at a Grand Slam? is 14-11 record at Slams doesn’t inspire confidence, after all, he has played well leading into Slams before and still failed to get past round four. In fact, he’s only been to round four once and that came last year at Wimbledon. At Roland Garros, this is just his third trip into the main draw with a 2-2 mark. Last year, he lost in round one to Fernando Verdasco after making the third round in 2016.

These are you top two seeds with Roger Federer again skipping the French Open to rest up for the grass court season, where he has his best chance to add to his trophy case. So outside of Nadal and Zverev, Dominic Thiem is an obvious throw into the mix after making two straight French Open semifinals, but his form has been shaky at times. He does have the Nadal scalp to give him confidence though and clearly seems like the guy outside of Nadal and Zverev who you could say should be around in the quarterfinals and possibly later. t

Novak Djokovic will be back this year, but is just beginning to show some signs of life and may not be cut out for the grind of best of five tennis at a high level just yet. And there is Stan Wawrinka, a former champion at Roland Garros, rushing to find some form in Geneva as he finally feels healthy from last season’s knee surgery that has kept him sidelined for most of 2018. It’s a tough road though to find legit contenders outside of Nadal and Zverev at the moment.

The good news for Zverev, who has not been able to break through at a Slam, is that the top three seeds have a tradition in the past eight years of making the semifinals all but once. The bad news of course is those top three seeds are traditionally a mix of Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka. The last top four seed to make a round one exit was Wawrinka in 2014 at the hands of Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Top ten seeds in general have not been immune to going down early in Paris. Here’s a look with this handy chart of how the seeds have fared from 2010-2017.

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So for five years straight, at least one top ten seed has fallen in the opening round and six of the last eight years overall. Given the up and down play of everyone not named Nadal and Zverev, you get the feeling that streak may not be in jeopardy of ending this year. Barring any injury withdrawals, here is a look at the players who will place in the top ten seeds this year with some historical data on how they have fared in Paris. I’m also including an “Eliminati Rating” from zero to five with zero being a player I don’t think is in danger of losing in round one and five being a player who could very well get knocked out.

1. Rafael Nadal
Nadal could draw Zverev in round one and I think I would still rate him a zero. Usually the only questions surrounding Rafa in the early rounds are whether or not he will drop a set. There was one rare scare back in 2011 when John Isner took Rafa to five sets and held a two sets to one lead. Otherwise, it’s been straight sets eleven out of 13 years that the Spaniard has played Roland Garros. Daniel Brands is surprisingly the only other player to snag a set in the opening round off of Nadal.
ELIMINATI RATING: 0

2. Alexander Zverev
I highlighted Sascha’s first round loss to Verdasco last year, which was especially disappointing given that Zverev had won in Rome just weeks before the French Open. That right there does give pause to consider how prone Sascha will be in the opening round this year. I will say that I believe his level right now is higher than he’s shown over an extended period probably anywhere in his career, but Grand Slams may be as much mental for him ow as anything with his past failures. The plus for Zverev comes with his ranking and likely the best draw he’ll have seen at this tournament. As long as he doesn’t get some oddball bad luck from the draw, I do think he’ll be in good shape in round one.
ELIMINATI RATING: 1

3. Marin Cilic
In eleven years, Cilic has lost in the opening round three times at Roland Garros. The most recent was in 2016 at the hands of Marco Trungeletti. Perhaps some of that failure can be attributed to making the final in Geneva the week prior. That was also his only first round loss at a Grand Slam in his last 23 played. Cilic also comes in with some good form on clay after making a semifinal run in Rome, something he desperately needed after going 1-2 combined in Monte Carlo and Istanbul in the Euro clay court swing. That being said, clay is his worst surface, but one he has still won nearly 62 percent of his career matches. He also made the quarters at Roland Garros last year. I suspect the draw should do him a favor of a decent first round draw, so I think he’s a minimal shot to lose in his opener.
ELIMINATI RATING: 1

4. Grigor Dimitrov
Anyone who has been reading me for a good bit will know that Dimitrov’s rating is going to be high. He’s one of the most frustrating players on tour to me with a boatload of talent, but wildly inconsistent results for a player who has now been back in the top ten for the past nine months. At age 27, Dimitrov was expected to have done more I think at this stage no matter the competition around him. To this point, a Slam semifinal at Wimbledon in 2014 and last year at the Australian Open are his best. Sandwiched in between those two semifinals are two French Open first round exits. In the past year, he has made a quarterfinal and semifinal in Australia, but third, second and fourth round exits at the other three Slams. Paris has been his worst with four first round losses in seven trips. He did break a three year losing skid last year by making round three, but heads to Roland Garros with three straight losses and two straight in his opening match of a tournament.
ELIMINATI RATING: 4

5. Juan Martin Del Potro
There is a big risk that Del Potro will not be participating in France at all. He suffered a tear in his groin in a match against David Goffin that forced him to retire from the match. I don’t see the point in risking health in the middle of the year when skipping this event could get him healthy enough for Wimbledon. For argument’s sake though, a quick look at his history in Roland Garros shows that DelPo has grown into a competent player on clay with a quarterfinal (2012) and a semifinal (2009) to his credit. Last year was the first time since 2012 that Del Potro had played here though and he lost in round three to Andy Murray in straights. Even before the injury, Del Potro was just 1-2 in completed match in Madrid and Rome. His health though is the obvious big issue here and I think there’s a good chance that if he did give it a go, he might not make it through the entire match.
ELIMINATI RATING: INCOMPLETE

6. Kevin Anderson
The thigh injury that forced Anderson out in Rome doesn’t appear to have any lingering effects as he’s been seen on the practice courts at Roland Garros already this week. Anderson had a nice run in Madrid to the semifinals albeit with a weak draw, but has otherwise not been great on clay this season. For his career, Anderson is 14-8 at the French Open. He was forced to retire in his fourth round match against Cilic last year due to a hamstring injury. The fourth round is his best finish with Anderson making that round three times. He’s only lost his opener twice in Paris with the last coming to Stephane Robert in 2016. Given a relative lack of success on clay this year, I would keep Anderson on the upset watch list. He did lose his first rounder in Australia this year, his fourth opening round loss in his last eight Slams played.
ELIMINATI RATING: 2

7. Dominic Thiem
For reasons unknown to the rest of the world, Thiem is playing in Lyon this week before the French Open. Despite the early loss to Fabio Fognini in Rome, I don’t think that’s the reason he’s playing. The Austrian was obviously in good enough form on clay with successive quarterfinal showings in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, before making the Madrid final. That included the Nadal upset, so why not rest this week? I don’t think he knows how. Other than the opinion of most that he plays too much tennis, Thiem is on the very low end of potential first round upset victims. The 24-year-old has made the semis each of the last two years at Roland Garros and has only lost his opener in two of the 17 Grand Slams he has participated in during his career. None have come in Paris and none since 2015.
ELIMINATI RATING: 1

8. David Goffin
The French Open is the site of one of the Belgian’s two career Slam quarterfinals back in 2016. He has lost in the opening round here twice, but not since 2014. He’s also only lost his opener once in his last 12 Slams played. Goffin comes in with relatively decent form with quarterfinal or better finishes in three of the four clay court tournaments he played in during the Euro swing. He’s still a guy who may never be a legitimate threat at the tail end of Slams, but early on he usually acquits himself well enough. In the last three years, he has only lost one set in the opening round in Paris. Unless he’s given a tough veteran type player in the draw, I think he’s in a good shape to avoid the Eliminati.
ELIMINATI RATING: 1

9. John Isner
The American is a bit surprisingly playing in Lyon this week, but perhaps feels he needs more match play after losing his Rome opener to Albert Ramos-Vinolas last week. Isner has been in decent enough form on clay at 3-3 over three tournaments. Most as per Isner’s M.O. have been tight and involved multiple tiebreaks. That of course also makes him an intriguing possibility at getting taken out in any round. He has only lost twice in the opening round in Paris with the last time coming in 2011. He did however fall in the Australian Open in round one this year, his first Slam opening round loss since the same tournament in 2014. Isner can obviously play well on any surface with his serve if he keeps points short and aggressive. He’s also going to be prone to an upset if he’s matched up with someone who can match him serve for serve and then steal some tiebreaks.
ELIMINATI RATING: 3

10. Pablo Carreno Busta
The Spaniard made his first Slam quarterfinal here last season. PCB was pretty good with results in the Euro swing with semifinal showings in Estoril and Barcelona along with a quarterfinal last week in Rome. The one thing that will scare you a bit if you’re thinking of backing him early is the streak he got on of first-up losses after making the semis at the U.S. Open last year. PCB lost five of his last six tournaments in 2017 in his first match. In 2018, those have been less frequent, but he still has three first-up losses. During his rise in the last year plus, he has avoided a first round exit at six straight Slams, but does have seven in 16 career Slam appearances.
ELIMINATI RATING: 2

11. Diego Schwartzman
I’m sticking the Argentine in here because he could snag the #10 seed if Del Potro withdraws before the tournament. Regardless, Schwartzman should be high in your Eliminati ratings. He has avoided opening match losses better lately, but still had two of those in the five tournaments played during the Euro swing. I’ve touched on it weekly about his struggles since winning the Rio Open in February. He’s lost his opener in three of eight tournaments and failed to secure back-to-back wins in seven of those eight tourneys. Even if he survives round one, I won’t be expecting him to go too deep even if this surface favors him. He has only lost once in four trips to the main draw at Roland Garros and just once in his last five Slams played. This is still a guy for me though who is low on confidence, so the draw could make the difference between being one and done or not.
ELIMINATI RATING: 3

This is the first in a three part preview of this year’s French Open. Tomorrow, I will take a look at the rest of the seeded field and their histories in Paris. I’ll break them down with more Eliminati Ratings and then finale in this series will look at the unseeded players who may be the Eliminati members

The Ocho: Rome Wrap-up

ocho

“The Eight” …. Every week, @tennispig will give his top eight ATP singles players and top eight ATP/WTA doubles teams from the previous week. It’s a great way to monitor who is hot … and who is not. This week, it’s all about Rome, where the two in-form players on clay battled for the title.

1. Rafael Nadal
The King of Clay ended a titleless drought in Rome since 2013 by fighting through a tense final against Alexander Zverev. The opening set made it appear as if Nadal’s quest for title #8 in Rome was going to be an easy one. He dispatched Sascha 6-1 in the opener, but then his game went away. Nadal found himself in a third set and down a break when Mother Nature intervened with perhaps the most well-timed rain delay in recent memory for the new world #1. Upon returning from the delay trailing 3-2, Rafa broke Sascha immediately and wound up winning four straight games to take the title 6-1, 1-6, 6-3.

The win returns him to the top spot in the rankings that he had lost last week in Madrid with an unexpected loss to Dominic Thiem. The win marks Nadal’s 78th ATP Tour title and takes him clear of John McEnroe into fourth place in the list of most men’s titles won in the Open era. Jimmy Connors is the all-time leader with 109, Roger Federer is second with 97 and Ivan Lendl third with 94. Next stop for Rafa is Paris with the lefty looking to claim his 11th French Open title at Roland Garros. His ten titles are already the record for most titles at a single Grand Slam event with Roger Federer’s eight at Wimbledon ranking him second.

ROME

2. Alexander Zverev
There were plenty of positives for the 21-year-old German to take despite a 13 match win streak being snapped in the Rome final. I think the biggest was the ability he showed to bounce back after getting flattened in the opening set. And not just coming back, but dominating the best player on clay in the second set. If not for the lengthy rain delay in set three, we might well be talking about Zverev’s chances of dethroning Nadal at the French Open. Yet … here we are talking about how he let his chance to successfully defend his title in Rome from 2017 … slip away.

Clearly, Sascha is the second best player on this surface in current form. He’s gone 17-3 on dirt this year with two of the losses to Nadal (one in Davis Cup play) and the other to Kei Nishikori in Monte Carlo. Wins over Hyeon Chung, Thiem, Marin Cilic and David Goffin in this Euro swing will give him confidence that perhaps this is the year he breaks through to his first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Those have been the “Debbie Downer” moments for Sascha with last year’s fourth round finish at Wimbledon as his best Slam result in eleven played. The form is there this year, whether he can survive a best of five format against some of the best in the world is another question. One that will be answered in the next three weeks.

3. Novak Djokovic
Rome turned into an early Christmas gift for Novak Djokovic with the Serb making his first semifinal in a tournament since he won the title in Eastbourne last summer. It wasn’t a draw gifted to him either as he beat Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals, a match where he had to rally from down a set. Then he met Nadal in the semis and acquitted himself pretty well in a 7-6 (4), 6-3 loss. Despite that loss, the Serb took away plenty of positives from playing the King and playing him tough. The question now is if Djokovic’s body and mind are ready for the best of five grind in a Grand Slam? I think the jury is still out there, but if he can build on his Rome run, Djokovic might be the only other player outside of Zverev who could at least take a set off of Nadal in Paris and put some stress on the Spaniard.

4. Marin Cilic
Another player who got a much needed confidence boost in Rome was Cilic. The now fourth ranked player in the world had been mediocre, if we’re being kind, rather poor, if we’re being truthful, since making the Australian Open final. He was just 5-5, including an awful loss in his opener at the Istanbul Open to Malek Jaziri. Cilic needed the run he got this past week, which included a nice win over Pablo Carreno Busta and a tight loss to Zverev, where he had opportunities to win the opening set and was ahead in the second set – only to eventual lose 7-6 (13), 7-5. Still, Cilic now head to Roland Garros with some form and coming off his first quarterfinal at the French Open last season. It’s never been his best Slam, but in the current state of the ATP Tour, he’s got a realistic shot to equal that finish with the right draw.

5. Juan Sebastian Cabal/Robert Farah
One of my favorite doubles teams that no one ever talks about. Well this week, they are the “it” team after winning their first Masters title together in Rome. Cabal-Farah claimed the biggest title of their careers in besting Joao Sousa and Pablo Carreno Busta in the Rome final. It was their first title of the 2018 season, but this duo has been super consistent on clay. with a quarterfinal in Monte Carlo and semifinals in both Barcelona and Madrid. They’ve made two other finals, the biggest being at the Australian Open and the other one on clay in Buenos Aires. Cabal-Farah now have eleven titles together and move up to the #3 spot in the rankings this week. They’ll head to Roland Garros as one of the favorites, along with the Bryans, to challenge for the title after making the semifinals last year.

CAB-FARAH

6. Mate Pavic
Buried by the attention that singles always gets, the 24-year-old Croatian quietly assumed the mantle as the top ranked doubles player in the world while in Rome. Pavic and his partner Oliver Marach were beaten in the quarterfinals, but a loss in the same round by former #1 Lukasz Kubot and his partner Marcelo Melo, boosted Pavic to the top spot. Last year at this time, he was ranked #31. Pavic is the youngest player in 22 years to hold the top spot with Todd Woodbridge last holding the top spot in 1996 as a 24-year-old. Marach-Pavic are playing in the Geneva Open this week, currently ranked #2 behind the Bryans.

7. Ashleigh Barty/Demi Schuurs
Playing their first tournament together, Ashleigh Barty and Demi Schuurs finished off the week as doubles champions at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. They beat Czechs Andrea Sestini Hlavackova and Barbora Strycova in the final. It appears that this was just a one time team-up between the two. Barty will return to play with Coco Vandeweghe, while Schuurs will reunite with Elise Mertens, who pulled out of Rome after sustaining a bacterial infection. With the win, Barty slides up to #5 in the doubles rankings – a career best mark.

8. Rudolf Molleker
And to finish off the week, we go outside of Rome to the Challenger circuit. Seventeen-year-old Rudolf Molleker won his first-ever title in just his third Challenger event in Heillbron, Germany. An unseeded wild card, Molleker entered the week at #497 in the ATP Rankings and without a Challenger match win to his name. The German shoots up nearly 200 spots to a career-high #300 with the title win over Jiri Vesely. He is the youngest player from his country to win a title since a then 17-year-old Alexander Zverev took home the hardware in Braunschweig in 2014.

2018 Italian Open Final Preview: Rafael Nadal vs Alexander Zverev

ROME18FINAL

(1) Rafael Nadal vs (2) Alexander Zverev

The King Battles The Prince

The final of this year’s Italian Open has gifted us a battle between the two in form players on clay right now as top seed Rafael Nadal looks to unseat last year’s Rome champ Alexander Zverev. Both players are now 16-1 on clay this year with Zverev sporting a 13 match win streak to boot. Nadal beat Novak Djokovic in the semifinals 7-6 (4), 6-3 to advance to his first final in Rome since 2014. The top seed was challenged, winning just 64 percent of his first serve points against the Serb. Rafa still did better in big points though, offering up just three break chances and seeing Djokovic break one time. Djokovic on the other hand was broken three times on three chances. The 11th seed won just 60 percent of the points off his first serve.

The first set featured some great ground strokes from both players and the defending was superb. Nadal seemingly got to every ball, even if he came up short on a few shots. The big difference though came in the tiebreak, where the Spaniard was more aggressive in key moments. He hit two big shots, one off the forehand and then a backhand down-the-line to clinch the set. The forehand provided the big punches with 16 of Nadal’s 22 winners coming off that wing. And as always, Rafa seemed to dominate at the end of longer rallies. In rallies that went to double digit shots, it was Nadal winning 14 of 20 points. That’s something Zverev needs to be keenly aware of on Sunday.

For Zverev, he encountered stiff resistance from fourth seed Marin Cilic. Cilic was almost an afterthought in this stage, but he stuck with Zverev game for game. That included a tense first set tiebreak where Zverev fought off five set points, including one on Cilic’s serve. The second set saw Sascha rally after being broken in the opening game. He would pull even in the 8th game and then score a late break to close the match 7-6 (13), 7-5. Zverev was still rock solid on serve with a 79 percent win rate on first serve and he was broken just once on two break opportunities. The condition in Rome have not given him quite the boost on serve that he got in Madrid, where he was broken one time all week. This week, Zverev has been broken five times with all of those coming in the last three rounds.

As you’d expect off that scoreline, the semifinal showed a lot of big serves for easy points for both Sascha and Cilic. It was Cilic who had more trouble though with nine break points against his serve, while Zverev only saw two. Zverev spent the majority of the match along the baseline, going with power groundies that did give Cilic issues with their depth. Cilic didn’t challenge Zverev to alter that plan much, although I do think the Croat did a good job of mixing it up off his serve with some movement forward. Sascha did beat him with some passing shots, but the pressure was something that I think Cilic had to try.

The Formula

Let me start by saying this match-up is great for the sport. It’s not often that you go towards a Grand Slam and get to see the two players who are playing the best face off in one of the big tune-up tournaments. That is what we get on Sunday when Rafa and Sascha clash for the fourth time on tour. They actually met earlier this year in Davis Cup play with Nadal easing past Zverev 6-1, 6-4, 6-4. The three tour matches have also belonged to Nadal and the last was Sascha’s worst defeat at the hands of Nadal when he lost 6-1, 6-1 last year in Monte Carlo. The previous two meetings were both on hard courts with Nadal surviving a roller coaster five setter at last year’s U.S. Open and also beating Sascha in three at Indian Wells in 2016.

Obviously between the Monte Carlo match and the Davis Cup match, it is a troubling set-up to this one for Sascha. Zverev did have slightly better serve stats in the Davis Cup rubber with 57 percent win rate on first serve and a 50 percent win rate on second. He was worth at 47 and 44 in their Madrid meeting. Nadal broke him five times off of 12 chances in Madrid and then six of eight times in Davis Cup play. Sascha can take a small bit of confidence in that he broke Rafa twice in the Davis Cup match after not being able to even craft a break chance against him in Madrid.

Some will say – well Zverev is serving as well as he has all season right now – which is true, but he has not been able to find a way to beat Nadal’s return. Rafa sets up super deep and Zverev has been unable to trouble him much because of that positioning. It keeps Nadal well in front of the serve on most occasions and the Spaniard has doubled down on that by providing good depth on his return shot. That has forced Zverev back a step or two in too many instances which again puts the German into a bind. Nadal is then able to work Sascha along the baseline and Zverev has not been aggressive enough to get out of long rallies. Much like we saw with Nadal and Djokovic, the rallies that go double digits are going to favor the Spaniard over Zverev as well.

In that vein, Sascha needs to be more aggressive in those baseline exchanges. Nadal’s defense runs down too many of the shots he puts back across in an effort to move Rafa around. You just are not going to find a ton of success on clay with that game plan. I think for Zverev to compete with a real chance to contend, he’s got to look to hit big and hit those angles that can trouble Nadal. That means taking chances to corners of the court where Rafa has to scramble for that next shot. Zverev simply has not put himself into enough winning positions on the court against Nadal and I think that relays back to not being aggressive enough with his groundies.

The other thing he has to improve on is returning Nadal’s serve. Zverev has to find that aggressive nature there to and try to find Nadal’s backhand more with the return ball. Littering Nadal with a bunch of soft returns to his forehand side is suicide, where the Spaniard usually turns ultra aggressive and crushes that next ball into a winning position. He did it a little better in their Davis Cup match at times, but has still struggled to really provide enough depth in return – especially setting behind the baseline as he has done against Rafa.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

On clay, this is a difficult prospect for Zverev. He will certainly have confidence due to his current run on the surface, but he has been easily frustrated in their two clashes on clay. That is one of the things that can get the second seed into a ton of trouble early on. He’s got to find some success against Nadal early to improve his mental state. For me, I’d rather go aggressively at Nadal and miss shots rather than play into Nadal’s baseline rhythm and then throw a tantrum because I’m stubborn and think I can play through the King of Clay on his surface. That has always been a fault for Zverev early in his career, a lack of willingness to try a different approach against certain opponents.

For me, this is a bad match-up overall for Zverev. Nadal plays the type of tennis that Zverev has had trouble with in the past. That is physical, grueling rallies where he cannot outhit his opponent’s defense and his own defense isn’t up to snuff. Yes, his serve is improved, but the conditions in Rome still don’t translate to him getting much extra help as it did in Madrid. The plus of course is that this is best of three and that means Zverev could punch Nadal hard early and bully his way to two sets before Nadal rights the ship. The minus is that there has been zero indication on clay that Zverev is capable of doing so.

Don’t forget this is Zverev’s third straight final in three weeks. That is quite a bit of tennis, even if he’s been winning in straight a lot. The worst guy you can go against when your wheels might be going just a bit is Nadal. Look for Rafa to test those legs plenty in this one and that can also play into diminishing the Sascha serve. I think Rafa gets back on top in Rome on Sunday and heads to Roland Garros with the idea that no one can beat him in a best of five.

Prediction: Nadal wins in straight sets

The Ocho: Madrid Wrap-up

Ocho

“The Eight” …. Every week, @tennispig will give his top eight ATP singles players and top eight ATP/WTA doubles teams from the previous week. It’s a great way to monitor who is hot … and who is not. This week, it’s not all about Rafa, but it’s still about Rafa.

1. Alexander Zverev
Titles in successive weeks on the ATP World Tour, including your third career Masters title, will net you the top spot for the week. Sascha was dominant in winning the Mutua Madrid Open this past week. He faced just one break point in five matches and never had his serve broken. Zverev also didn’t drop a single set and has only lost one set during his current nine match win streak. Sascha is firmly entrenched as the #3 player in the world behind Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. He has a chance in Rome to really put himself into that upper echelon talk … which will then be a talking point when we get around to his Grand Slam record.

SASCHA

2. Dominic Thiem
The Dominator earned a spot in “The Ocho” by putting an end to Nadal’s win streaks. Rafa had won 21 straight matches before battling Thiem in the quarterfinals. The Spaniard had also won an astounding 50 straight sets on clay. Thiem’s straight sets win over Nadal 7-5, 6-3 was a big confidence boost for the Austrian who lost 6-0, 6-2 when they faced off in Monte Carlo. Following that up with his first win over Kevin Anderson after six defeats was a nice feather in his cap for the week. It helped negate the emptiness of losing the final in straights to Sascha 6-4, 6-4.

3. Denis Shapovalov
The Canadian was the surprise of the week. Shapovalov has never played a main draw match on clay before this season. Leaving out his split 1-1 mark in Davis Cup play earlier this season, Shapovalov had lost his only two tour matches on dirt coming to Madrid. A semifinal run later and he’s now made two Masters semifinals in the past year. We’ll see if he’s an actual threat on dirt as he heads to Rome this week or if he was helped a bit by the Madrid altitude. Either way, he had impressive wins over Milos Raonic and Kyle Edmund before falling to Zverev. The run boosts him to a career high ranking of #29.

4. Rafael Nadal
All good things must come to an end and that they did for Nadal in Madrid. Twenty-one straight wins. Fifty straight sets won on clay, an all-time record on the ATP World Tour. Think about that for just a second and let that wow factor set in again. To be honest, the straight sets loss to Thiem might be the worst thing that happened to the rest of the tour. I think that loss, which also knocked him out of the #1 spot in the rankings, will burn a fire inside Nadal for the next few weeks.

Dominic Thiem

As if he wasn’t still the firm favorite to take home his 11th French Open title, now you have a man who is on a mission beginning in Rome. Rome is a spot where he has not won a title since 2013, despite having won seven titles in his career at the Italian Open. The fuel for turning that around is that title #8 pushes him back to the top spot in the rankings and gets him on another roll heading to Roland Garros.

5. Bryan Brothers
It’s not often that you can celebrate a little when you’re forced into your first injury retirement ever, but the Bryans can do that today. By verge of getting to the Madrid final, the American twins boosted themselves back into the top spot in the rankings. Unfortunately, a hip injury for Bob led to a retirement in the title match against Nikola Mektic and Alexander Peya on Sunday. Despite that, the Bryans slipped ahead of another team dealing with an injury in Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic for the top spot. The Bryans are a mere 235 points ahead of Marach-Pavic who had held the top spot this year since the opening weeks of the season. No word on whether the injury to Bob will cause the twins to skip Rome this week. If they can go, they figure to be in the mix again this week if Bob is healthy. After all, they’ve made the finals of all four Masters events so far this season!

6. Kyle Edmund
The Brit moved inside the Top 20 with a quarterfinal run in Madrid. He’s now ranked a career high #19. The media oversold his win over Novak Djokovic in round two as a monumental win, although it does still count as a good one seeing that Edmund had lost all three previous matches against the Serb. For me, the bigger win was beating David Goffin in straights in round three. Goffin had been in better form and had famously come back from down 0-2 against Edmund in the 2015 Davis Cup final. He beat Edmund in the last three sets in that match 6-2, 6-1, 6-0. So this was a nice bit of revenge. Edmund is now 8-4 on clay and one to watch over the next few weeks as he runs hot and cold on this surface.

7. Nikola Mektic/Alexander Peya
This pair has quietly been moving up the rankings, especially since the clay court swing in Europe. Mektic and Peya certainly didn’t like winning a Masters title by default due to injury, but they’ll take their second title together in 2018 as a result. They also won in Marrakech. Unassumingly, they’ve slotted themselves in as the #3 team in the rankings now, a mere five points ahead of Juan-Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah at #4. Clay has been their best surface with four finals in six tournaments. They’re a threat, but face a tough opener in Rome against John Isner and Jack Sock.

8. Dusan Lajovic
I love to put consummate “pros” on the list when possible and Lajovic at age 27, fits that description. The Serb is under .500 for the year at 8-11, but he shows the difficult life of players floating in the back end of the Top 100. Lajovic made it to the main draw in Madrid through qualifying and then stunned Juan Martin Del Potro in the third round after beating Karen Khachanov and Richard Gasquet – two quality wins in their own right. He would make his first-ever Masters quarterfinal with the run and sees his ranking boosted nearly 30 spots to #66.

DUSAN

Then what does he do? After losing a tough three set match to Kevin Anderson in the quarters, he turns around and goes straight to Rome qualifying on Saturday. He would beat Florian Mayer in three, before falling to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final round on Sunday. Unfortunately he is not in the main draw, but earns the respect here for playing eight matches in eight days with a 6-2 record. Oh and that win over Del Potro was his first over a top ten player after going 0-11.