2018 Australian Open R3 Previews: Alexander Zverev vs Hyeon Chung, Juan Martin Del Potro vs Tomas Berdych

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(4) Alexander Zverev vs Hyeon Chung

Sascha Improves in Second Round Win

The fourth seed from Germany has made it through two rounds unscathed, but more importantly showed improvement from round one to round two. He did drop a set against Peter Gojowczyk last round in a 6-1, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 win in round two. Still, Alexander Zverev was in control of that match for the most part. He walloped 25 aces and had a solid 79 percent win rate on his first serve. His second was equally good at 55 percent. Sascha would face just two break points, saving one. The ground game was fairly clean with 29 unforced errors to go against 46 winners.

The good thing for Zverev is all those numbers were better than his first round win over Thomas Fabbiano. His first serve win rate was only 71 percent against the Italian and he had a slew of unforced errors with 46. Most importantly, he dropped the number of break opportunities from a whopping 14 down to just two. It will be imperative for Zverev to minimize the chances that Chung sees against his serve if the fourth seed is going to grab another win.

Chung Confident

After an injury-reduced first round win over Mischa Zverev, Hyeon Chung got a full match against Daniil Medvedev in round two. Chung won a scratchy first set in a tie break before rolling past the Russian 7-6 (4), 6-1, 6-1. Chung was all over the Russian’s serve, winning 40 percent off his first serve and 62 percent off his second. He would break Medvedev six times on 12 chances. Just as important, Chung took care of his serve well as he was broken just one time on three chances.

The Korean was a rock on serve, winning 85 percent of his first serve points and 69 percent of his second serve points. Off the ground, he had 39 winners to go with just 19 unforced errors. Chung is also playing doubles this week and helped craft the upset of the tournament yesterday. Pairing with Radu Albot, the duo stunned 2017 Australian Open champs Henri Kontinen and John Peers in straight sets in round two action. Confidence should not be a problem for Chung heading into this match.

The Formula

Chung has notched a win over Zverev in their only meeting. It came on clay last year in Barcelona with the Korean topping Sascha 6-1, 6-4. The surface played to Chung’s favor with his defense and return troubling Zverev in slower conditions. Sascha won just half his service points for that match and was broken five times on ten chances. Chung was broken just once on two tries. He managed a 73 percent win rate on first serve and 53 percent off his second.

In watching the video of that clash, it was clear than Chung controlled tempo and court position for the majority of the match. It was a baseline basher which is fine for both, but Chung made Zverev do the majority of the running. Chung did a nice job of picking on Sascha’s backhand, not so much that it was full of errors, but he lulled the German to sleep by going backhand to backhand and then would do a quick switch to Sascha’s forehand. I’m not sure if Sascha simply got overexcited to get to the forehand and try for a winner or if he just broke down from the length of the rally – but Chung won a lot of those points with that pattern.

It’s going to be some 20 degrees cooler today in Melbourne, so Sascha can’t depend on getting an extra boost from the surface speed. Although the cooler temps should aid his own fitness against a very fit player. I think he’s got to focus on going for more aggressive shots early against Chung. If he allows himself to get into those long baseline exchanges, it favors Chung’s movement and propensity for knowing the right time to come to net to upset the flow of the exchange. I’d like to see Sascha take a step in off his serves, especially if he’s able to remain consistent with his first serve. That’s a big key in this one for me. When Sascha has a good first serve going, he’s much tougher to beat. That has been one part of his game that fluctuates a bit though, so consistency is key for him to win.

Chung will set up deep on return. He was routinely well behind the baseline on clay to get a loook at Sascha’s serve and I’d expect that to be a similar set-up today. Chung is really solid off both wings on the return and I noticed in Barcelona, he was aggressive on the second serve returns. That is something I also expect to see again, he’ll take a step or two in on those serves and go for quicker kill shots. Sascha must be solid with his second serve and probably would do himself a favor to go big on those more often and not just lay them in play. I think variety in Sascha’s serve patterns will be key to keep Chung off balance. If he goes to the well too often in the same situations, Chung will tee off.

The Pig-nosticator

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that Zverev is a big favorite in this one. He’s got the number next to his name, but Chung isn’t far off in talent from the German. I think Chung has the better defensive game and return as far as consistency. Zverev is a solid mover, but lets himself get engaged too much I think in matches where he is the one doing too much running. His return is adequate and sometimes above average, but I think it’s another area where he needs to find some aggression to limit the long rallies.

The key stats to watch in this one that should tell the story for me are Zverev’s first serve win rate and the number of break chances that each player offers off their serve. Both guys have been pretty consistent in save percentage on break points with Sascha slightly better for his career at 62 percent to Chung’s 58. Both convert a little over 40 percent of their opponent’s break opportunities – solid numbers.

If you go back and look at Zverev’s Grand Slam losses the last few Slams, especially the ones where he was an unexpected loser, his inability to convert break points has really hurt him. He needs to do a solid job there today against Chung, something he didn’t do particualrly well against Gojowczyk with 17 break chances and five converted. If he allows Chung to fend off multiple break chances, the frustration could grow and break down other aspects of his game.

In the end, this one has the feel of a long match. Four or five sets for me in this one and I think this is a huge danger spot for Sascha Zverev. The winner could get a crack at Novak Djokovic in the fourth round and that will have a lot of people posturing for a Djokovic-Zverev rematch after Sascha dismantled him in Rome last season. If Sascha isn’t careful, he may not have to worry about Nole.

The 20-year-old has only been to one fourth round at a Slam. This just smells like that tricky upset type of spot for Zverev against a quality, yet unseeded player. It’s happened to him several times at Slams against the likes of Borna Coric and Fernando Verdasco last year and Daniel Evans in 2016. I think this is a big proving spot for Zverev, but I really think Chung troubles him in this one.

Pig’s Bottom Line: Chung wins in five sets

(12) Juan Martin Del Potro vs (19) Tomas Berdych

Heat Slayers

Both Juan Martin Del Potro and Tomas Berdych survived the hottest day of this year’s Australian Open in their last match-ups. For Del Potro, it was a tense four set battle against Karen Khachanov. DelPo proved just better 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-7 (0), 6-4. The Argentine did require treatment from the trainer quite a bit in the fourth set and appeared to have some sort of groin/thigh issue. His game still remained powerful enough as DelPo won 81 percent off his first serve, usually a key number for the 12th seed. The 12th seed chipped in 13 aces. He was broken just once on three chances. Del Potro saw plenty of opportunities against Khachanov’s serve with 15 break chances allowe. Del Potro only cashed on on three.

He did have a bit of trouble getting a read on the Khachanov serve with the Russian pounding out 28 aces. Del Potro was crisp off the ground however with 60 winners and 39 unforced errors. DelPo said after the match that he was happy to be back in Melbourne to experience that kind of fight, but admitted every part of his body was hurting. Certainly some of that was due to the heat, but it’s a little bit of a warning sign perhaps in the next round or two. I said before the tournament that Del Potro’s draw might not exploit any fitness issues as he appeared a bit gassed at the tail end in Auckland last week, but the weather + Khachanov did take a bit of a toll.

As for Berdych, he came through in four sets over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-3, 2-6, 6-2, 6-3. Berdych was a shade sluggish at times, but mostly found enough on a brutal day to win. The 19th seed was solid at 80 percent for his win rate on first serve with eleven aces against GGL. He faced nine break points, saving six. The biggest struggle seemed to come with the ground game where Berdych had 39 unforced errors and just 42 winners. Against Alex De Minaur in round one, that ratio was 46:46. The Czech could definitely clean it up a bit in that area if he’s to contend with Del Potro.

Only Third Meeting Since 2016

Although these two have met eight times on tour, this will be just their third clash since 2016. In 2015, it was Berdych prevailing 7-6 (4), 6-2 at Indian Wells. Last summer, Del Potro won going away in Cincinnati 5-6, 7-6 (1), 6-0. In that match, Del Potro’s first serve was a beast, taking 88 percent of the points. He had 17 aces and Berdych had trouble matching his power. The Czech won just 69 percent off his first serve and allowed eleven break chances. Del Potro converted on four of those chances.

In watching tape of this one, Berdych’s serve seemed very predictable and Del Potro was getting easy returns back that helped craft him into winnable rallies. The other thing that stood out was Del Potro’ penchant for being able to deliver the ball low to Berdych. You always hear people saying the best way to win and wear down these bigger guys is to hit the ball lower and make them lunge. In a battle between two guys right around the same height with Del Potro listed at 6’6″ and Berdych at 6’5″, it was the Argentine who was able to make Berdych bend and lunge more. It was a big advantage that caused Berdych to make his share of unforced errors just about evey time that Del Potro made him work that way.

The Formula

What I just touched on I think could be a key element in crafting victory for one of these players today. Make your opponent hunch down, lunge and extend to hit the ball. That negates their power and often leads to balls that fly into the net or out of play. Given that both may be somewhat fatigued after playing in the heat, it could be amplified if one of the other is able to execute this consistently. Today’s weather will bring relief, but I still think especially for Berdych that it would be wise to try and test Del Potro’s movement early.

First serves are huge for both with a lot of their success relying on good days in that category. When these two don’t get easy points off their firsts, they usually are up against it for the match. I would expect Berdych to try and attack the backhand return of Del Potro off his serv. Del Potro could go after either wing – looking to stretch Berdych out wide or up-the-T to throw him out of position. I don’t think the Czech has great recovery off those sort of serves and Del Potro will be able to position himself to get a good strike on a forehand if Berdych is slow to right himself on the next shot.

Off the ground, you know Berdych is going to test the backhand. One takeaway I had from watching parts of the DelPo-Khachanov match was seeing the Argentine vary his backhand more than I’ve seen in a while. He wasn’t just going with the slice floater to get it back across, he used his fair share of double handed backhands. I think he has to use that approach again. The slice is great to get the ball back in order to run around and hit the forehand, but the slice just flipped back across the net will get hit hard if Berdych moves in and attacks. The double hander from DelPo brings more power and depth to keep his opponents back, but he’s shyed away from it due to consistency issues.

If you’re Berdych, I think you want to get Del Potro on-the-run. Berdych for me is a better volleyer at the net than Del Potro and while the Argentine glides around well, he’s still not at his best when forced to move in. If Berdych can do this accurately, then he opens up the passing lanes for those passing shots that can win easier points. I think the strict baseline to baseine ralliesa are going to favor Del Potro more often than not. His forehand is just more powerful than anything Berdych has in his bag. If they go toe to toe from the baseline and Del Potro is hitting a lot of forehands, Berdych isn’t going to be in a winning position.

The Pig-nosticator

The intrigue lies with Del Potro. If he’s recovered, this is his match to lose. If he’s less than 100 percent, Berdych is smart enough to take advantage. I think the Khahcanov match took a little more from Del Potro than the Garcia-Lopez match took from Berdych, so I’d rate this pretty even. Del Potro is one of those players though who can look like he’s on death’s door and then pick himself up off the mat, so if he starts slow – don’t count him out.

I have a hard time picking this one because of Del Potro’s questionable groin/thigh issue last round. There’s really no way of knowing if that is a lingering problem or if it was limited to that match before the extra stress from the heat. That obviously can change the dynamic of this match entirely if DelPo is not close to 100 percent. I think Del Potro had to work harder than he expected last match with regards to running around the court and I think that might ultimately sap him of enough energy for Berdych to spring a moderate upset.

Pig’s Bottom Line: Berdych wins in four sets

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2017 Nitto ATP Finals Preview

NITTOFINALS

The final event of the 2017 season kicks off in London on Sunday as the top eight finishers in this season’s injury riddled rankings compete for the top prize at the Nitto ATP Finals. The field is topped by this year’s two lead horses, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. More on the field in a minute, but first a quick run-thru on the format for this event.

The eight player field is split into two, four player groups. Each group will compete in a Round Robin, playing each member of the group. The top two players will then advance to the semifinals. The winners of the group are determined by total number of wins first and foremost. Tiebreakers then trickle down to total number of matches played, head-to-head results and then down to highest percentage of sets won and highest percentage of games won.

The top player from Group A then plays the second place player from Group B in one semifinal, with the top player from Group B then playing the second place player from Group A. The two winners of the semifinal then move on to the final, where the champion is crowned. Now, let’s take a look at this year’s singles field.

Group Pete Sampras

NADAL17NITTO

2017 Record: 67-10
Titles: 6
Finals: 10

Tour Finals Record: 16-12
Titles: 0
Finals: 2
Appearance: 8th

Record vs The Field
Vs Federer: 23-15 (0-4)
Vs Zverev: 3-0 (2-0)
Vs Thiem: 5-2 (3-1)
Vs Cilic: 5-1 (2-0)
Vs Dimitrov: 10-1 (3-0)
Vs Goffin: 2-0 (2-0)
Vs Sock: 4-0 (2-0)

THIEM17NITTO

2017 Record: 48-25
Titles: 1
Finals: 3

Tour Finals Record: 1-2
Titles: 0
Finals: 0
Appearance: 2nd

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 2-5 (1-3)
Vs Federer: 2-1 (0-0)
Vs Zverev: 4-1 (1-0)
Vs Cilic: 1-0 (0-0)
Vs Dimitrov: 2-1 (1-1)
Vs Goffin: 3-6 (0-2)
Vs Sock: 2-1 (0-0)

DIMITROVNITTO17

2017 Record: 44-19
Titles: 3
Finals: 4

Tour Finals Record: 0-0
Titles: 0
Finals: 0
Appearance: 1st

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 1-10 (0-3)
Vs Federer: 0-6 (0-1)
Vs Zverev: 1-2 (0-0)
Vs Thiem: 1-2 (1-1)
Vs Cilic 1-3 (0-0)
Vs Goffin: 3-1 (2-1)
Vs Sock: 1-3 (0-1)

GOFFINNITTO17

2017 Record: 54-22
Titles: 2
Finals: 4

Tour Finals Record: 0-1
Titles: 0
Finals: 0
Appearance: 2nd (2016 alternate)

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 0-2 (0-2)
Vs Federer: 0-6 (0-1)
Vs Zverev: 0-1 (0-0)
Vs Thiem: 6-3 (2-0)
Vs Cilic 3-2 (0-1)
Vs Dimitrov: 1-3 (1-2)
Vs Sock: 3-0 (1-0)

Group Overview

Knee-Gate remains the biggest talking point leading into the start of this year’s ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in London. As of today, Nadal has said his feeling is that he will play. That seems to only reference his opening match against David Goffin with everything after that looking like a match to match question mark. As such, I will remind you that Pablo Carreno Busta is the first alternate in London and would slide into the place of any player who cannot physically go this week.

Let’s take that out of the equation for now and talk about Nadal and his season. Rafa secured the year-ending #1 spot in Paris with a win over Pablo Cuevas. That is when his announcement to withdraw from the Paris Masters came and it certainly seemed like the smart move. Nadal has already logged a lot of mileage this season due in part to making 16 tournament finals. With the “off” season for tennis players being so short, it’s imperative for Nadal to make his decisions this week based on healthy and preparations for 2018. In all honesty, this title means nothing if you wind up delaying your start to the new season because of a physical ailment.

Nadal’s season of course has been an absolute smash hit, four out of four stars. He’s added two more Grand Slam titles to his resume and clinching the year-end top spot was the cherry on top. The only real “failures” for Rafa this season have been the string of losses to Roger Federer. Since their classic Australian Open Final, it’s been a Federer smash ‘n grab each time they’ve played with the Swiss. Federer has won six out of the last six sets played and has a five match win streak overall against Nadal. If there is motivation needed ,that would do it.

Outside of the Federer issue this season, you can see that Rafa’s numbers look good with the other potential matchups in London. He’s a combined 14-1 against the rest of the field with an 8-1 mark against the rest of his Round Robin group (Thiem, Dimitrov, Goffin). Dimitrov would seem to be the biggest hurdle to winning the group as the Bulgarian has taken at least one set off of Rafa in all three losses this season and he did win his lone match in their head-to-head a little over a year ago in Beijing.

Thiem has been able to contend with Nadal and does own a win this season against him, but they have not met since Nadal crushed Thiem in straights in the French Open semifinals. That ended with Thiem being bagaled in the final set. This week in London will mark the first time in their careers that they will meet on a surface other than clay. That same thing can be said with Goffin and Nadal and perhaps that can help close the gap between Rafa and this group. Thiem hasn’t shown a great affinity for the indoor environment with a 24-24 career mark indoors.

Goffin however has produced his best win percentage indoors with a 17-6 mark this year to feed into his career record of 56-29 on indoor surfaces. Half of his four finals’ appearances this year came on indoor hard courts, so the surface could suit Goffin well. Goffin has a winning record against Thiem, but will have to produce a win against either Nadal or Dimitrov to have a shot to advance out of the group. He’s 1-4 against those two combined. The plus being that lone win came against Dimitrov indoors in Rotterdam earlier this season.

Key Round Robin Matches

Thiem vs Dimitrov
This day one match could go a long way in determining the second player to come out of this group. They have split two meetings in 2017 with Thiem taking the last, but that was on clay in Madrid. It also went 11-9 in the third set tiebreak to decide, so Dimitrov likely will feel that the surface switch here favors him. Dimitrov made the final in Stockholm, an indoor event, and has produced good results consistently indoors with a 54-32 record all-time. That includes 10-3 this season with a title indoors in Sofia.

A loss, especially for Thiem, could put him squarely behind the eight ball with Nadal and Goffin left to play. He’s 1-5 against those two this season. A win for Dimitrov gives him a solid shot to go 2-1 at least in the group, where winning a set off of Nadal might be enough to kill any tiebreaks to advance to the semifinals.

Nadal vs Dimitrov
If Nadal is going to falter in the group, this feels like the match. Dimitrov has stretched Nadal to five sets in Melbourne and three sets the other two times they have met on tour in 2017. His issue in the best of three format has been starting strong or finish strong – he’s done neither against Nadal who has dropped the second set against the Bulgarian both in Beijing and Shanghai. In both cases, Nadal recovered to take the final sets 6-1 & 6-3.

I don’t think Dimitrov necessarily needs a win to squeeze something good out of this encounter. With the Tour Finals format, winning a set in a loss, is important and the world #6 seems like he can do that at the least. If Dimitrov takes a set or wins, I think he’s a shoe-in to move into the semifinals out of this group.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

All eyes will be pinned on Nadal for health reasons and of course any looming prospect of one last #Fedal showdown in 2017. In all honesty, thet is about the only thing left to prove for Rafa this season is that he can beat Federer. I expect Rafa will participate in his opening match and that’s when he will know whether his knee is going to hold up for the tournament. The gut feeling is that he’ll sub out at some point and Carreno Busta will be slotted in as a replacement.

That means this group is difficult to predict. Carreno Busta’s inclusion could tip the scales to Thiem with The Dominator at 4-0 in his career against PCB. It would also be an obvious boost for Dimitrov to avoid Nadal with a 1-10 career mark despite some more competitive matches this year. Dimitrov is 2-2 against Carreno Busta, losing the last two on clay and Goffin is 0-1 with their last match coming in 2013. With the tricky guessing game here, my picks will be Dimitrov and Thiem to move out of this group and into the semifinals.

Group Boris Becker

FED17NITTO

2017 Record: 49-4
Titles: 7
Finals: 8

Tour Finals Record: 52-12
Titles: 6
Finals: 10
Appearance: 15th

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 15-23 (4-0)
Vs Zverev: 2-2 (1-1)
Vs Thiem: 1-2 (0-0)
Vs Cilic: 7-1 (1-0)
Vs Dimitrov: 6-0 (1-0)
Vs Goffin: 6-0 (1-0)
Vs Sock: 3-0 (1-0)

ZVEREV17NITTO

2017 Record: 54-20
Titles: 5
Finals: 6

Tour Finals Record: 0-0
Titles: 0
Finals: 0
Appearance: 1st

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 0-3 (0-2)
Vs Federer: 2-2 (1-1)
Vs Thiem: 1-4 (0-1)
Vs Cilic: 3-1 (1-0)
Vs Dimitrov: 2-1 (0-0)
Vs Goffin: 1-0 (0-0)
Vs Sock: 1-1 (0-0)

NITTOCILIC17

2017 Record: 44-19
Titles: 1
Finals: 3

Tour Finals Record: 1-5
Titles: 0
Finals: 0
Appearance: 3rd

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 1-5 (0-2)
Vs Federer: 1-7 (0-1)
Vs Zverev: 1-3 (0-1)
Vs Thiem: 0-1 (0-0)
Vs Dimitrov: 3-1 (0-0)
Vs Goffin: 2-3 (1-0)
Vs Sock: 0-2 (0-0)

SOCKNITTO17

2017 Record: 36-19
Titles: 3
Finals: 6

Tour Finals Record: 0-0
Titles: 0
Finals: 0
Appearance: 1st

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 0-4 (0-2)
Vs Federer: 0-3 (0-1)
Vs Zverev: 1-1 (0-0)
Vs Thiem: 1-2 (0-0)
Vs Cilic 2-0 (0-0)
Vs Dimitrov: 3-1 (1-0)
Vs Goffin: 0-3 (0-1)

Group Overview

Federer’s pristine record in 2017 is remarkable and the addition of two more Grand Slam trophies to his collection mark one of the greater achievements in history for the 36-year-old who many thought was done collecting hardware at majors. On top of that, he’s been able to turn the tables of nemesis Rafael Nadal with four wins this season over the Spaniard. He’s done all that and played the lightest schedule of any of the London participants, smartly scheduling his season to maximize his chances to do exactly what he wound up doing – winning Grand Slam titles.

Federer can’t bee too displeased with his group, even with two other top five players included in Zverev and Cilic. Zverev holds the 2-2 record against Fed, including 1-1 this season. What should be noted however is the win for Sascha came at the Rogers Cup, when Federer’s health was an issue. In Halle the month before, Federer blasted Zverev off the grass courts 6-1, 6-3. Since Zverev’s surprise title at the Rogers Cup, he’s gone just 8-7 and appears to be limping to the finish line for 2017. None of his eight wins have come against top 2- players and four of the seven losses he has suffered, have come to players outside of the Top 40. Couple that with a well-rested Federer and I think the Swiss will like his chances just fine.

Cilic appears to have the worst road in this group with a 2-12 record against Federer, Zverev and Sock in his career. He’s also just 1-5 at this event in his career. The positives for Cilic are that he has played well since the U.S. Open with three semifinal runs in the four tournaments that he has played. The bad will come with two of his four losses in that span coming to Adrian Mannarino and Julien Benneteau, players he is expected to beat more often than not.

Sock is the fresh face as he makes his debut. He’ll be brimming with a little extra swagger after taking the title in Paris last week, but that’s to be taken with a grain of salt. Sock’s draw was incredibly kind most of the way with just one player (Lucas Pouille) ranked inside the top 38. His last two opponents, Julien Benneteau and Filip Krajinovic, were ranked 83rd and 77th respectively. The American has only faced one of his three group-mates this season, losing to Federer at Indian Wells. He’s beaten Cilic twice and split with Sascha in two matches, taking the last one indoors in Stockholm last year.

Key Round Robin Matches

Federer vs Zverev
This will be billed as the best match of the group, but the hype may not live up the result. This is the confidence builder or eroder for Sascha in my opinion and it could well serve as the same for Federer. The Swiss shouldn’t be lacking for confidence based on losing just four matches all year, but Zverev has contended well against him outside of the Halle whitewash this year. A win for Sascha in this spot could elevate him to the top spot out of this group, which might keep him from seeing Nadal in the semifinals. That would be an optimal outcome.

For Federer, he won’t really care too much how he gets out of the group as long as he gets out of the group. Certainly he’d rather see Nadal in a finals setting than going through him in the semis with the prospects of playing another match after going through a physical Nadal match. That should make all matches equally important to Federer. You’d think though that he has this one circled due to that loss in Montreal. It’s one of the few blemishes on a glorious season and one that Fed can erase in London.

Zverev vs Sock
This could also serve as an elimination match. If Federer is Federer, he’s going to lock up one of the two spots to advance out of this group. Cilic looks like he’ll have a tough time getting out of the group with a poor track record in London and bad numbers against all the players in this group. That could leave Sascha and Sock to joust for the final qualification spot. These two have not met since their three set thriller; 6-7 (4), 7-06 (4), 6-4, in the Stockholm semifinals last year. That came just a month after Zverev had dismantled Sock 6-4, 6-2 in Beijing.

Sock has momentum on his side, but that could be fleeting with an opener against Federer to start his debut appearance at the ATP Tour Finals. The pluses for Sock are that Sascha has not played his best tennis the last half of the season and he looks vulnerable to anyone in the field at this point. This match likely will come down to which player wins those key break points against their own serve. Both players can get into a rhythm on serve with some easier holds, but both usually sport more holes than consistency on serve. That will leave them open to exploitation. The winner of this one really should be in the driver’s seat for a spot in the semis.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

I won’t say Federer is quite a lock to get one of the two semifinal spots out of this group, but everything certainly looks to align well for him. If he somehow gets stunned in the Round Robin stages, the feeling for me is that Marin Cilic will have had something to do with that outcome. Overall, I think Federer gets the top spot and then I get an odd feeling that it comes down to Cilic and Sock for the other.

Zverev’s luke warm finish to the season has me thinking that he may struggle to get more than a win in the group stages. First timers have had some sporadic success at this event with Kei Nishikori as the last first timer to advance to the semis in 2014. Stan Wawrinka did it the year before in 2013. You’d think Zverev would be the better bet over Sock as a first timer to do the trick this year, but I’m not sure that is the case. I’m also not sure that I think Sock can get two wins in this group to get through.

I’ll go Federer and Cilic here, despite Cilic’s lackluster record against the field.

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

It will be disappointing not to see a Nadal-Federer final to cap off what has been a great “retro” year for tennis fans with the two 30-somethings ruling the roost. However, if we don’t get that in the name of Nadal being healthy for 2018, I’m okay with that. For me, this tournament looks tailor-made for Federer. He’s worked the smartest schedule of any player and should be the freshest.

It will likely be on Fed to keep the Big Four’s stranglehold on this tournament, where Nikolay Davydenko was the last non-Big Four member to win back in 2009. Federer’s last win in London came in 2011 Who Fed could play in a final is the big question with Thiem and Dimitrov the two guys I’m looking to have the best chance if Nadal is out due to the knee. In the end, I’m sticking with Federer to keep the Big Four’s streak going and finish off a fantastic season.

2017 Rolex Paris Masters Preview

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Federer Withdrawal Effectively Ends Chase For #1

Shortly after winning the Swiss Indoors Basel for the 8th time on Sunday, Roger Federer announced that he would be skipping the Rolex Paris Masters to recover for the year-end ATP World Tour Finals. It was a long shot for Federer to overtake Rafael Nadal for the top spot in the rankings, but now it’s just about a dona deal. Nadal will need just one win in Paris this week to clinch the year-end number one ranking. What should be bigger for Nadal however is a chance to win this event for the first time ever. That’s right – Nadal has never won this event in his career. His best finish was making the final in 2007, where he lost to David Nalbandian. Since then, he’s made just four trips to Paris with two quarterfinal and two semifinal finishes. He enters this week as the top seed with something prove perhaps in a season where he’s done that over and over.

With Federer out, the next seed in the field is Marin Cilic who takes the #3 slot. Cilic made the semifinals here last year, his best finish in Paris. He’s just 9-8 overall in his career at this event. Coming in at number four is Alexander Zverev, who will make his Rolex Paris Masters debut. The rest of the top eight seeds includes Dominic Thiem (5), Grigor Dimitrov, David Goffin and Pablo Carreno Busta. None of those players has been past the round of 16 in Paris in the past. Of the rest if the seeded field, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (11) has the best history here as the title winner in 2008. Juan Martin Del Potro is the 13th seed with the next best record at 7-5. He’s made the quarterfinals twice in 2009 and 2013.

Lucas Pouille slides into the ghost seed spot at #17 due to the Federer withdrawal and takes over Federer’s spot in the draw. That should be good news for the Vienna Open champion, who will get the benefit of a better draw. Pouille won the all-French final in Vienna on Sunday, pounding Tsonga 6-1, 6-4 to claim his third title of the season. He’ll have some expectation on him with that outing and getting slotted into Federer’s spot. Defending champion Andy Murray will of course not be defending the title due to ending his season early this year due to injury. It will be on Nadal to continue the dominance of the Big Four by himself this year. Murray and Djokovic are responsible for the last four titles in Paris with Djokovic taking three of those from 2013-20-15. David Ferrer was the last non-Big Four member to win the Paris title back in 2012.

Early Bird Specials

Upsets have been regular among the seeds taking part in their opening matches in Paris. Over the last five years, at least three seeds have been dropped in their openers in four of five years. Last year saw four seeds lose early and while it’s been the lower seeds normally who are most prone, Paris has seen some exceptions to that pattern. Most famously, Novak Djokovic was stunned as the second seed in 2012 by Sam Querrey. Last year saw qualifier Jan-Lennard Struff craft another big upset when he took down third seed Stan Wawrinka.

So who could follow suit this year? Let’s have a look.

3. Marin Cilic
The scheduling Gods may pit Cilic and Borna Coric against each other again. Coric takes on fellow qualifier Jan-Lennard Struff. Struff already has that scalp of Wawrinka under his belt, so he should not be taken lightly. Coric has taken a set off of Cilic in each of the three losses he has suffered at the hands of Cilic this season. He’s getting closer and perhaps playing him two weeks in a row could help him have his best chance.

4. Alexander Zverev
Sascha is that high seed who could find trouble this week. Zverev waits for the winner between Steve Johnson and Robin Haase. Johnson beat Zverev in their lone career meeting last year at Indian Wells. Zverev is 2-0 against Haase, but the Dutchman took him five sets at this year’s Australian Open. With Sascha having no experience at this tournament, it could be an opportunity for Haase or Johnson to stun the German.

6. Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov gets one of two Frenchmen to open, either Richard Gasquet or Benoit Paire. Gasquet had been tough on Dimitrov until recent times with the Bulgarian winning the last two in their series. Gasquet still leads the h2h 5-2 overall. Paire owns two wins in three tries against Dimitrov and has taken a set off of him each time they’ve met. They have not played since Paire beat Dimitrov in Tokyo in 2015. Either way, I expect Dimitrov to have a tough time in his opener and this has never been a great tournament for him.

7. David Goffin
This is another match-up based alert with Goffin in good form after running to the Basel semifinals this past week. His first match in Paris with be against “Mr.Paris” David Ferrer or Adrian Mannarino. Ferrer has surprisingly found himself with great results at this tournament. The Spaniard is 21-11 all-time in Paris with one title. He did lose his opener last year to Isner, but otherwise has finished in the quarters or better in five of his last six trips. He also holds a 2-0 edge over Goffin in their careers. The Belgian would much prefer Mannarino who he is 3-0 against all-time.

8. Pablo Carreno Busta
The 2017 U.S. Open semifinalist has found things have not gone his way since that career best achievement. PCB is just 1-4 since the U.S. Open final. He’ll battle either Vasek Pospisil or Nicolas Mahut in his opener. Pospisil and Mahut have not been in good form, but both are capable or springing the upset. PCB beat Mahut in straights at the U.S. Open, but Mahut is better in these controlled indoor conditions. Exepct a tussle for PCB, but I’d put him on the lower side of the upset scale due to the poor form of his prospective opponents.

9. John Isner
Isner faces Diego Schwartzman or Viktor Troicki. He’d probably rather avoid Troicki who is 5-3 against the American, including a win against him recently in Shanghai. Isner did surprisingly make the final here in Paris last year, but as usual his style makes him prone to losing tight matches. We saw that against Philipp Kohlschreiber last week in Vienna.

11. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsonga is on this list because he’s in the dreaded Championship Match hangover mode after losing to Pouille in Vienna on Sunday. Often, runners-up have trouble recovering in their next tournaments with plenty of losses in their first or second matches. Tsonga opens against either Denis Shapovalov or Julien Benneteau. El Shapo has not been able to follow up his summer success late in the season with just one win in his last four matches since the U.S. Open. Benneteau might be the tougher up. He’s 4-6 against Tsonga, but lost in straights to him in Antwerp. Tsonga should probably get through his first match, but he’s worth monitoring.

12. Kevin Anderson
Anderson is just 3-4 since losing the U.S. Open final, so he’s definitely going on this list. He starts with the winner between Fernando Verdasco and Andrey Rublev. Both came definitely rattle the big man’s cage and cause an upset. Verdasco pulled out from Basel last week, but I have not found anything that says he isn’t 100 percent ready to go this week. He’s 4-3 against Anderson, including 2-1 this season with one of those wins coming indoors in Stockholm recently. Rublev lost a four setter to Anderson back in 2015 at the U.S. Open in their lone meeting. The Russian does own one career win against Verdasco on clay, but comes in with losses in four of his last five matches. I’d rate Verdasco the bigger threat.

13. Juan Martin Del Potro
Although his match-up will favor the Argentine, two long weeks of tennis will not. DelPo surprisingly to me was able to work his way to a second straight final in successive weeks in Basel. He put together a decent showing in losing in three sets to Federer. At this point though, he’s got a shot to make the field in London and that keeps him grinding again in Paris. He opens against qualifier Joao Sousa or Paolo Lorenzi. Sousa is the intriguing one as he took on Del Potro last week in Basel. DelPo controlled most of the match, but did drop a set in the 6-1, 4-6, 6-1 victory. Lorenzi is on a seven match losing skid and is 1-3 against Sousa, but that lone win came in five sets over Sousa at this year’s U.S. Open. Given DelPo’s likely fatigue, he’s certainly set up for trouble early in Paris.

15. Albert Ramos-Vinolas
He could be in for rough opener regardless of who wins between Pablo Cuevas and Karen Khachanov. Of course, Cuevas has dropped ten straight matches and Khachanov has just one win in his last seven. However, a win could help turn their fortunes around quckly and put them into a good match-up against ARV. Cuevas owns a 4-1 head-to-head record against ARV with one of those wins coming indoors in Valencia, Spain back in 2010. Khachanov’s power could be tougher for ARV to cope with and the Russian is 1-0 against Cuevas. Khachanov was a tough out in Vienna last week. He lost in three sets to Tsonga.

17. Lucas Pouille
Even though Pouille gets the advantage of slotting in for Federer, his first match is going to be difficult. Pouille takes on the survivor between Feliciano Lopez and Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Both players own wins in their careers against Pouille with PHH at 1-1 and Lopez at 1-2. All matches they have played against Pouille went the distance in best of three settings. If Pouille is going to make a run, it should get easier after round two – if he survives.

Outsider’s Edge

Twice in the last five years, an unseeded player has crashed the final in Paris. Last year it was John Isner who ultimately lost to Andy Murray. Back in 2012, it was Jerzy Janowicz as a qualifier who did the trick. 2016 broke a string of three straight years where no unseeded player advanced as far as the quarterfinals. The feeling this year is that with all the injuries and weekly turmoil, an unseeded player or two could definitely make some big noise in Paris. Here’s a look at a few guys to watch.

Steve Johnson
Johnson hasn’t been a big performer down the stretch during a trying season, but his draw could give him an opening to make a run. He has to get past Haase to open, but then would match up against Alexander Zverev in round two. I still think that is a winnable match at this stage of the season for the American. Johnson also has Del Potro in his part of the quarter, who I sitll think is a burnout candidate for the week. He will have to earn everything he gets, but there is some potential if he can get out of the gates quickly.

Richard Gasquet/Benoit Paire
Also in the same part of the draw as Johnson, the winner of this all-French first rounder has the potential to grow into a darkhorse threat. The winner gets Grigor Dimitrov to start. Dimitrov has been strong down the stretch, but he’s got a spot in London wrapped up, so his motivation for the week is all within his brain. If he’s uncaring about this week, then the draw opens for one of these Frenchmen with Isner as the only seed in the way after Dimitrov to play for a quarterfinal spot.

David Ferrer
“Mr.Paris” may be fading into the sunset some in his career, but the Spaniard is 2-2 indoors in the past two tournaments and simply has found something special most years in Paris. He will have to beat Goffin in round two if he gets there and might have to go through Tsonga for a chance to get at a quarterfinal spot. Ferrer has three wins in four tries against Tsonga, but they have not met since 2013.

Kyle Edmund
Edmund comes in of a semifinal run in Vienna, so he’s got some confidence on this surface. His quarter features Pouille and Sock as the seeds in his way to a quarterfinal. That’s not a bad draw for him. He starts with Evgeny Donskoy and then would see Sock in round two if he wins. Edmund crushed Sock in Atlanta this summer in straights. If he sees Pouille, it would be a rematch of their semi in Vienna that Pouille won in three.

Hugues-Herbert/Lopez
The winner of their first round battle takes on Pouille and I mentioned previously how both have played him tough in the past. An upset there and either one of these guys could be an unlikely runner towards a quarterfinal spot.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (1)
Pablo Carreno Busta (8)
Sam Querrey (10)
Albert Ramos-Vinolas (15)

Breakdown
Nadal will feel good this week that there is little pressure on him to perform with Federer out of the draw. What I mean there is that the focus won’t be on the possibility of a Fedal match, but more on Nadal clinching the #1 spot with a single win in Paris. Toss in this draw with no real scary seeds and Rafa should feel like he’s got it in him to make a deep run. He opens with eirher Mischa Zverev or Hyeon Chung, either of which is a nice match-up for the top seed. Ramos-Vinolas is the only seed in his way before the round of 16 and ARV may not make it that far.

The bottom of the quarter features Carreno Busta and Querrey. Both seeds really have no excuse if they don’t wind up squaring off in the round of 16. They are easily the talents in this part of the draw, but have to shake off recently slumps. Yuichi Sugita is an interesting floater in this part of the quarter as he opens with Filip Krajinovic. A win would match him against Querrey. It’s not a great match-up, but Querrey has lost his first match in two of his last three tournaments. I think Sam has too much power for Sugita, but watch the man from Japan any way – he could be an X-Factor.

Without Federer in the mix, all eyes fall squarely on Nadal. I think he’s got plenty of motivation this week and shouldn’t feel much pressure. This draw is as good as any for him to break his run of not winning the title in Paris.

Quarter #2
Alexander Zverev (4)
Grigor Dimitrov (6)
John Isner (9)
Juan Martin Del Potro (13)

Breakdown
Dimitrov arrives with the best form. He wisely pulled out of Vienna last week to rest and that should benefit him. He is 8-3 since the U.S. Open with two losses to Nadal and one to Del Potro. That’s nothing to be ashamed of this year. I think he’s in that spot where if he makes it past a tough opener, but then he gets an easier route after that. Isner is the only seed in his way to the round of 16 and he beat the big man in Cincinnati this year, one of the quickest courts on tour. I think there is a chance that he won’t have to contend with him if Troicki beats Schwartzman in round one.

In Zverev’s half, Sascha too could get rolling if he avoids early trouble. Steve Johnson is a possible second round opponent and then only Del Potro is seeded in front of him to keep him from making the quarterfinals. Given Del Potro’s heavy schedule, Sascha has a chance to do well in Paris his first time through as long as he gets off to a good start.

This quarter for me falls to Zverev or Dimitrov if they avoid that early trouble, but could go off the rails if either one of them loses early. Then I would look to Gasquet, Paire and Johnson as spoilers. I’ll give a slight edge to Dimitrov because of his form post-U.S. Open.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Marin Cilic (3)
David Goffin (7)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (11)
Roberto Bautista Agut (14)

Breakdown
Cilic and Goffin both bring the form to Paris this week that makes them obvious favorites in this quarter. Goffin has not been great here with just a 3-3 record. Before last year’s semifinal showing, Cilic hadn’t been burning up Paris either – so there is some hope for the rest of the quarter. Cilic should have the edge to get further, even if he has to battle Coric again for the fourth time this year. Coric still has not proven he can beat Cilic. If he gets past the early hurdle, Cilic has the edge to get to the quarters as he holds a 3-1 edge of Bautista Agut for their careers.

Goffin’s half gets easier if he avoids Ferrer or at least that is my feeling. Ferrer has the guts and game to push Goffin, so that potential second round match is a big potential landmine for the Belgian. Tsonga has an advantageous draw with Shapovalov or Benneteau first up. If he can shake off a poor final in Vienna, perhaps he can wow the home crowd. Tsonga holds a 4-2 edge over Goffin, including a win indoors in Rotterdam early this season. If Tsonga gets his head on straight this week, he could make some noise.

The feeling for me is Cilic or Goffin won’t be involved in deciding who gets to the semifinals. Goffin seems more likely to fall earlier with some tougher match-ups. I think this comes down to Cilic or Tsonga, although I won’t count out Ferrer in Paris.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Dominic Thiem (5)
Kevin Anderson (12)
Jack Sock (16)
Lucas Pouille (17)

Breakdown
The seeds here all look prone to me and this quarter smells like the one that could have an unseeded player run through it. There are candidates with Verdasco a possibility as he could have good match-ups against Anderson in round two and he’s beaten Thiem in their only career meeting. Thiem has lost four of his last five and at the end of a long season, is always prone to losing earlier than expected. I can see the Verdasco-Rublev winner making a push here.

In the other half, Sock and Pouille are the seeds. Again, there are plenty of dangerous floaters waiting for them. Sock likely faced Edmund in his opener and Pouille gets Herbert or Lopez, both of whom can be tough on him. Pouille for me is one who can grow into a contender if he avoids the early upset. Sock I still get the feeling that he’ll find some way to muck it up as he goes. I look to Pouille or Edmund to be involved in the business end of this quarter.

Pouille has the form that could carry over into a deep run and he’s certainly the best form of any of the seeds in this section. If Pouille flops, then I would look to one of the unseeded players to make a move – Verdasco, Rublev or Edmund as my favorites among that group.

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

It’s not often that you seed Nadal entering a tournament that has been around for a good bit without every having won it. This is one of those rare weeks and a week without Federer than opens up for him to change that. Cilic, Dimitrov and Tsonga are among the other seeds that I would look to if Rafa happens to falter. I’m not sure he will, but they are the ones for me who look likeliest to pick up the pieces if he does.

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

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.