2017 Rolex Paris Masters Preview

PARIS17

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.

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2017 Swiss Indoors Basel SF Preview: Marin Cilic vs Juan Martin Del Potro

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Juan Martin Del Potro looks to continue his superiority over Marin Cilic as the two clash for a spot in the Swiss Indoors Basel final. Del Potro has won six straight over Cilic and nine of eleven overall in the series.

(2) Marin Cilic vs (4) Juan Martin Del Potro

Cilic was forced to work hard by qualifier Marton Fucsovics in the quarterfinals as the defending champion escaped with a 7-6 (3), 5-7, 7-6 (4) victory. Cilic went up two breaks in the third for a 4-1 lead before Fucsovics broke back twice to even the set at 5-5. Fucsovics ran out of gas in the tiebreak, losing the first five points as the second seed took grip of the breaker and held on for the win. Cilic’s second serve was a huge detriment to his game after the opening set, where he won 69 percent of those points. He won a paltry 26 percent of his second serve points in set two and then just 42 percent in set three. He wobbled in general on serve after the opening set, broken five times on nine chances over the final two sets.

Del Potro also went the distance as he dispatched sixth seed Roberto Bautista Agut 6-2, 2-6, 6-4. DelPo also didn’t show the best of serves for the day, taking just 64 percent of his first serve points and 57 percent off his second serve. Despite the lower win rate on first serve, the Argentine was broken just three times on five chances. DelPo took advantage of a weak second serve from RBA, taking 59 percent of the points. He would break the Spaniard four times on seven chances.

It seemed fairly apparent that Del Potro was feeling the effects of two long weeks after taking the Stockholm title last week. Following the match, he said “I survived, I’m still standing.” Del Potro would say that he’s been having some problems with his body due to the number of matches played and that certainly is something to think about heading into Saturday’s semifinal.

DelPo Domination, Grain of Salt Version

While Del Potro owns the shiny 9-2 mark against Cilic, they have played just once since 2013. That meeting came last year during the Davis Cup final. DelPo won an absolute war in five sets 6-7 (4), 2-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-3. Prior to that clash, they had not played since Del Potro beat Cilic in straights at the Paris Masters at the end of the 2013 season. Their head-to-head series dates back to the 2009 Australian Open, where DelPo beat Cilic in four sets. While the numbers look to heavily favor Del Potro, the lack of match play in recent years suggests that Cilic has a very good shot in this one. You can probably bet that the Croat will be keen on getting revenge for blowing that two sets to love lead last Fall. That came in the fourth rubber of the Davis Cup final with Croatia ahead 2-1. One set would have given Cilic and his country the title.

This time around, Del Potro is in fine form with seven straight wins and victories in 11 of his last 12 matches overall. Cilic has been solid as well with a 9-2 record since the U.S. Open. What’s not to like about Del Potro is all that match play in the last week and his admission that his body is most definitely feeling the effects. What’s to like for Del Potro is that Cilic himself did not look great against Fucsovics. So, it’s not as if Cilic can just show up and expect to win this one due to fatigue from his opponent. That leaves Saturday’s tilt as a fascinating one potentially.

CHECKLIST 
Your pig is busting out a new format here for the previews to test and see if it will stick for the rest of the season and beyond, so fire away with critiques or kudos @tennispig.

SERVE

Cilic: Despite his woes against Fucsovics on Friday, the Croat generally has been in ryhthm this week and rolling on serve. Borna Coric had trouble even touching the serve for most of their second round match with Cilic winning 93 percent of his first serve and 73 percent off his second. Those numbers fell to 75 and 44 against Fucsovics in the quarters. The five breaks of serve against him were the most he has suffered since losing in the semis in Tokyo to Adrian Mannarino. The Frenchman busted his serve six times and bageled the Croat in the final set.

There is no secret to the Cilic serve. It’s raw power and rhythm. When it is on, he’s nearly impossible to break. A big key is getting his first serve in consistently. As Fucsovics showed, when you can see more second serves – Cilic becomes vulnerable.

Del Potro: Fatigue certainly looked to be a big part of his lower numbers against Bautista Agut. DelPo had won 86 percent of his first serve points before the quarters, where he saw just a 64 percent win rate against RBA. The Argentine had been broken just once on five chances prior to his last match, where RBA broke him three times on five chances. Much like Cilic, Del Potro’s service struggles come when he cannot find the measure on his first serve.

He winds up putting more pressure on his second serve and becomes inconsistent. With the mind already set on fatigue from his comments, this is going to be an area to monitor early in this match. If DelPo is giving into the fatigue, the legs will go and the power on his serve will be greatly diminished. That will give a good returner like Cilic a golden opportunity on return.

√ Cilic

DEFENSE

Cilic: His return doesn’t get much love, but it rates in the Top 20 among the percentage of points won off his opponents’ first and second serves. Cilic is at his best when he is aggressive on return, punishing the ball and pushing his opponents back with solid depth on that first ball. That gives him the option on the next ball to either be even more aggressive or start working his opponent from the baseline in a comfortable position. Look for him to be more aggressive on Del Potro’s second serve of course, but he shouldn’t be afraid to grip it and rip it off the Argentine’s first either. As for defense in rallies, Cilic moves fairly well and has become a bit more competent at the net in the last year plus. He still doesn’t look to head to net all that often, but has the confidence now that he can get the job done.

Del Potro: The fourth seed will look to punish the second serve of Cilic if he gets enough looks. For the season, he’s winning right at 49 percent off his opponents’ second serves. That’s a shade below Cilic at 51 percent, but still a solid number. If Cilic struggles like he did against Fucsovics, DelPo needs to jump on those second serves. The forehand return is obviously the biggest weapon, so Cilic will need to vary his deliveries and try to find the backhand a bit more often. Off the ground, Del Potro wants to get himself into stationary positions where he can wallop the forehand or backhand as often as possible. He’s employed the slice off the backhand more as a defensive mechanism this year in order to get around to the forehand on his next shot. He should not be shy about using that strategy against Cilic.

Even

GROUNDIES

Cilic: The forehand is the weapon of choice, but the double hander off the backhand side could be a difference maker on Saturday. He brings power and the ability to nail winners off that wing. The defending champ will stay mainly along the baseline, but has the edge for me in being able to move to net. With a potentially physically compromised opponent, Cilic should definitely pick some spots to force DelPo forward. Match point against Fucsovics showed his ability in this area.

Del Potro. Much like Cilic, the forehand is the unstoppable force on most nights. Unlike Cilic, Del Potro’s backhand can be a bit of an issue still. He’s incorporated the slice backhand to enable himself to get back around to more forehands. That will be a big part of what he can or cannot do against Cilic. If he is unable to use the slice effectively, he may go to more of the double handed look. It’s improved as the year has gone on, but I think Cilic has the edge in the backhand battle in this one.

√ Cilic

PIG-POURRI

Cilic: The “other” stuff that can effect a match, mainly what’s between the ears. Going into this match, Cilic does need to put the Davis Cup final behind him. It would be hard for him not to think about that, but it also could give him confidence knowing that he only needs two sets against Del Potro on Saturday. He got that in the DC final.

Del Potro: The fatigue angle is obviously something I’ve beaten to death, but it’s an issue. I thought coming into this week that DelPo was a candidate to lose earlier than this round because of that possibility. He’s done well to get to this point and certainly is one of the sport’s best gladiators. He’ll fight as long as he has breath in his body, but will his body allow him to fight for long? That is the question

√ Cilic

The Pig’s Bottom Line

It’s not an ideal set-up for either guy with both coming off some problems in their last match. I think there is less concern for Cilic though from a physical standpoint than there is for Del Potro. On even ground, this is a 50-50 match despite the past wins for Del Potro because many of them came prior to his slew of injury issues. In this spot, I think Cilic has a chance to end the losing streak if he comes out firing on serve. I think that is a key to put pressure on Del Potro to match. If he can make Del Potro work in his service games and move him around on court, all the better for the second seed. DelPo is never without a chance to win, but I think he’ll need a poor effort from Cilic.

Prediction: Cilic wins in three sets

2017 Swiss Indoors Basel QF Preview: David Goffin vs Jack Sock

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It could be the highlight match of the quarters in Basel as David Goffin and Jack Sock square off for third time. The Belgian has won both their previous matches with the last coming on clay in Rome in 2016. That was a 6-4, 6-4 win for Goffin.

(3) David Goffin vs (5) Jack Sock

Goffin has gotten back on track this week after an unexpected early loss in Antwerp last week to Stefano Tsitsipas. The third seed has taken care of both Peter Gojowczyk and Hyeon Chung in straight sets. The latest win came against Chung 6-4, 6-1. Goffin has been solid on serve, winning right at 76 percent of his first serve points this week and 57 percent off his second. As usual though, his serve has been leaky enough to be broken four times in the two matches on seven break chances. Goffin has done a fantastic job of working into his opponents’ serves, breaking Gojo and Chung eleven times and creating a whopping 27 break chances.

For Sock, it’s been a tougher go as he barely survived his opener against qualifier Vasek Pospisil in the opening round 3-6, 7-6 (7), 7-5. He was pushed to three sets again in round two against Robin Haase, but came through 6-4, 2-6, 6-4. Sock has won 72 percent of his first serve points this week and just over 60 percent off his second. Like Goffin, his serve has some holes and that has led the American to be broken five times off of 18 chances. Sock has been efficient in break his opponents though to offset that, taking half of the ten break chances he has seen through two rounds.

Offense vs Defense

This match should shape up to be a classic offense versus defense type of set-up. Not that Goffin does not possess good weapons off both wings, but Sock brings the biggest weapon to the table with his ferocious forehand. The big issue with Sock of course is harnessing that power with precision. When he’s on, his forehand is massive and he can overpower opponents with depth and precision. When it’s not, he sprays forehands long and wide and that seems to throw his whole game off point.

The surprising aspect to Sock is that his serve is not more potent. For a player with such an electric forehand, his serve is too often problematic against top tier competition. He’s right at his career averages again this season with his 1st and 2nd serve win rates at 73 percent and 53 percent. The problem is finding consistency for Sock. He can go through a match where he wins over 80 percent with a big first serve and then find himself struggling to win 60 percent in the next match. It’s not just quality returners that punish him either, so it seems that a lot of Sock’s service deficiencies are mental in nature.

That’s where Goffin shows to be a superior player most days. He’s a fighter and he makes the most out of what he has. His service numbers are comparable to Sock on the season and that should be troubling to the American given Goffin’s slighter frame. What Goffin also has is great speed and agility to dig out balls that most cannot return. His defense makes up for the breaks he allows off his serve. Sock isn’t a sloth by any means with good net skills thanks to his early doubles play in his career, but from a pure speed and agility standpoint – Goffin is better.

Match Tactics

The surface should aid Sock some with his power as a potential equalizer. On the slower courts on clay in Rome durign their last meeting, Goffin picked apart Sock’s serve for four breaks on seven chances. Sock was especially poor with his second serve winning just 39 percent of the points. Goffin was steady with 74 and 67 percent win rates off his first and second serves. He was broken two times on four chances, but his ability to break back was a key again. That is where Goffin aligns himself with some of the best in the business. He’s going to get broken on serve like a Novak Djokovic, like an Andy Murray. And much like those two, he doesn’t get down on himself, he keeps grinding and has the ability to get back on serve during the course of a set to put himself into a winning position.

That is a key for Friday to me. if Sock is able to draw first blood with a break, he must find a way to grind out the set and not give that break back. More often than not, Goffin can break back and then find that bonus break to go ahead. That is a crusher for an opponent mentally. I think Sock needs to find an early rhythm on serve to give himself an easier time. If he is constantly under pressure on serve like Goffin’s previous two opponents, it won’t bode well his his chances. I’d like to see Sock aggressive from ball one, going big on serve and then looking to finish with quick 1-2 punches off the ground.

To do so, that means Sock needs to hit his serves with precision and depth. Variety would be a key point to me as I’ve seen Sock fall into patterns with little change to where he’s going on serve. That leads to trouble and would give a good returner like Goffin easier strikes against him. When play gets into rallies, Sock obviously will need to find his forehand as much as possible. You would expect Goffin to test Sock’s backhand though when at all possible. Sock simply does not have the consistency and variety off that wing in most matches to be a consistent threat. The American would do well to try and use that slice backhand that aided the development of Steve Johnson so well to try and give himself time to set back up for a forehand on the next shot.

For Goffin, he’s perfectly fine with getting involved in gritty baseline rallies. His forehand and backhand really are a shade underrated when you consider his size and what he can do off both wings. The double handed backhand especially provides a bit of pop you don’t expect and he really does well to craft himself into winning positions, where he can use that shot up the line or cross court effectively. The forehand is a bit less impactful for me, but not a minus by any means. The best trait he has for most of his shots is his balance. Perhaps Sock can test that by trying to pull Goffin into the net a bit more with some shorter shots, where Sock might have the advantage in the volley game.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Goffin has been in superb form for most of the post-U.S. Open swing, while Sock has become the dictionary definition of mediocrity over the last six months. Sock was 19-4 at the end of March after a solid back-to-back showing at Indian Wells and Miami. Since then? He’s 11-14. A win here would get him back to a semifinal for the first time since Washington, D.C. in early August. I don’t see the consistency in Sock to pull of the upset here without a lot of help from Goffin. That would mean a poor serving day from the Belgian and an A-level effort from Sock.

The surface might give Sock his best chance to be competitive against Goffin and perhaps pull off an upset. He’s going to need to find a way to get more freebies off his serve though and I don’t know that Goffin will give up enough to give him that opening. Give Sock a chance to win a set off of the Belgian in this one, but I think the third seed is too solid overall and advances.

Prediction: Goffin in straight sets

2017 Swiss Indoors Basel R2 Preview: Marin Cilic vs Borna Coric

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Marin Cilic will seek to continue the dominance of his countryman when the pair meet for a spot in the Swiss Indoors Basel quarterfinals on Thursday. Cilic has beaten Coric all four times they have met, including twice this season.

(2) Marin Cilic vs Borna Coric

Cilic had an abbreviated start to his title defense in Basel as he played just one set in his opener against Florian Mayer. Mayer had substituted in late for Fernando Verdasco, but retired after Cilic won the opening set 6-3. The second seed would win 20 of his 24 points on serve in the set and never faced a break point. He would break Mayer once on three break chances. The win inched Cilic’s record indoors this season to just 3-2 and it did help him qualify for the ATP World Tour Finals in London.

Coric was able to reverse his poor fortune against Henri Laaksonen on Wednesday in his first round match in Basel. Coric has lost to Laaksonen both times they had met in the past, including earlier this month in Shanghai. Coric was able to rally after dropping the opening set in a tiebreak for the 6-7 (8), 6-1, 6-3 win. The young Croat had a 73 percent win rate off his first serve and 58 percent off his second. He was broken just one time and that came in the first set. He managed to save the two other break points against his serve in the second set.

Coric Closer in 2017

Despite his 0-4 mark against Cilic, Coric has shown improvement against him. Cilic crushed Coric in their first career meeting in Shanghai back in 2015 by a score of 6-1, 6-2. Cilic led by a set at 6-2 the next time they met when Coric retired in Cincinnati. This season in two meetings however, Coric has managed to take a set off of Cilic each time. The first came indoors in Rotterdam early in the season, where Cilic won 6-1, 2-6, 6-4. The second would come soon after outdoors in Acapulco as Cilic survived 6-3, 2-6, 6-3.

The main difference as expected is in the serve numbers. Coric’s does not have that pop and precision that Cilic can find. As a result, Coric has given out two dozen break chances against Cilic in those two meetings in 2017. Cilic converted on six of those break points. This week’s second seed has only faced eight break chances against his own serve, with Coric taking two in each match. When you stick their serve numbers under the microscope for the season, you see Cilic sporting win rates at 80 and 54 percent off his 1st and 2nd serves. Coric comes in at 71 and 53. Coric has faced 32 more break points against his serve this season (289 to 255). Coric has done that in 14 less matches, which highlights the seemingly constant pressure he finds against his serve.

Match Tactics

As always with Cilic, the first serve is a major weapon when it is firing. The struggles for him can come when he fails to land it consistently – 50 percent or under – and allows his opponent more looks at his second serve. That will be part of Coric’s hope for Thursday in finding a way to win. Coric has a good return game, so if he sees enough seconds, he can do some damage. However, if Cilic has that rhythm going on his first serve – he is nearly unbreakable and will put consistent pressure on Coric to match him serve for serve.

That is where the openings can come for Cilic whose own return game is pretty solid. If Coric is pressured into matching Cilic on serve, then the second seed can look to attack and be aggressive on return. Both are going to prefer playing from the baseline, but I’d look for Cilic to cheat in a little bit – especially on second serves – to have the chance to really power up on return shots. If Cilic has that option, he can use his power and pace to put Coric into deeper defensive positions. That should in turn, allow him to dictate play in rallies and position himself well to win points.

I think for Coric to have a chance to pull off the upset, Coric will need to be good with his first serve and try to get Cilic into some extended rallies. Coric’s speed and defense could be problematic for Cilic over the long haul, but only if he can challenge Cilic’s movement. If Cilic gets too many dead-red looks off the ground, he is as good as anyone off the forehand and backhand with putting those away from winners.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

I outlined in the tournament preview the issues that the #2 seed has had recently in Basel. Since Juan Martin Del Potro won the title in 2012 as the second seed, only Rafael Nadal (2014) has advanced as far as the quarters as the second seed. Cilic has played well since the U.S. Open with consecutive semifinal showings in Tokyo and Shanghai, so he might be immune to the curse. I think Cilic will need a sub-par day serving combined with Coric playing some of his best tennis. It’s possible, but Cilic has shown that he has too much power and too much serve for Coric in the past. I do think Coric can take a set again and then who knows, but the feeling is that Cilic will get the job done in three.

Predicton: Cilic wins in three sets

2017 Swiss Indoors Basel Preview

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No Nadal Means Federer Can Close Points Gap

This week, there will be no talk of another #Fedal showdown after Rafael Nadal withdrew from the Swiss Indoors Basel due to knee soreness. Rafa probably needed the break after playing in back-to-back finals in Shenzhen and Shanghai, the latter of which ended in his fifth straight defeat at the hands of Federer. Federer now assumes the top seed for this event that he has won seven times in the past. If the Swiss continues his home dominance in Basel, a trophy would net him 500 points in his efforts to chase down Nadal for the year-end #1 ranking. With both the Paris Masters and Nitto ATP World Tour Finals still on tap, the Swiss isn’t dead in that effort yet despite a nearly 2,000 point deficit heading into this week.

The second seed for this event will be Marin Cilic. The Croat is the defending champion in Basel. He was consistent in the Far East swing, making the final of the Japan Open and losing in the semifinals of the Shanghai Masters to Rafael Nadal. Cilic holds a 10-3 all-time mark in Basel after last year’s tournament win, also making the quarterfinals on two other occasions. Rounding out the top four seeds for the Swiss Indoors Basel are David Goffin and Juan Martin Del Potro. Goffin may be running a bit low on gas after a heavy post- U.S. Open schedule. After winning back-to-back titles in Shenzhen and Tokyo, he’s gone just 1-2. That include an unexpected quarterfinal loss in Antwerp this week to Stefano Tsitsipas.

Del Potro has looked solid the last two weeks with a semifinal run in Shanghai and a title win on Sunday in Stockholm. DelPo won this event twice in 2012 and 2013. The remaining seeds are led by #5 Jack Sock. Roberto Bautista Agut makes his Basel debut as the 6th seed. Adrian Mannarino and Mischa Zverev finish off the seeded field. Zverev did make the semifinals last year as a qualifier in his first run at this event.

Early Bird Specials

Basel has been a beacon for early upsets of seeded players, especially seeds in the top four. In the last four years, the #2 seed has dropped his first match in three of those four years. Multiple seeds have lost their first matches in Basel in three of those four years as well with three seeds knocked out early in 2016. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the seeds who could be in peril early in the draw this week.

2. Marin Cilic
Cilic gets that pesky #2 seed after Nadal’s withdrawal from the tournament and I outlined above how poorly the second seed has done early here in Basel recently. Cilic draws Fernando Verdasco to open in what will be their 13th career meeting. They’ve contested two of those matches indoors in Paris in 2009 and 2011, splitting the spoils with both going three sets. Verdasco had not done much this season, but comes off of one of his better tournaments with a semifinal showing in Stockholm. He lost a three set thriller in a tiebreak to eventual champion Juan Martin Del Potro. I don’t know that the Spaniard pulls off the stunner, but it sets up to be a tough match for Cilic where he could be pushed hard.

3. David Goffin
Given Goffin’s form the last few weeks, I’d keep him on this list. He faces qualifier Peter Gojowcztk to open in Basel. Gojo showed he can win at this level and on this surface with the win in Metz earlier this Fall. He’s been spottier in finding wins since then, but is rarely thrashed off the court. With match play already under his belt, the German could have a chance to shake things up. Goffin is 7-3 all-time in Basel, but most of those wins came during his 2014 finals run.

5. Jack Sock
Sock opens against his former doubles pal Vasek Pospisil and that might make this one more interesting that it is on paper. On paper, Pospisil hasn’t even been getting out of qualifying mostly. If you count his qualifying matches, the Canadian is 5-11 in his last 16 matches with just one of those wins in a main draw. Sock has been equally unimpressive, ending a five match losing skid last week in Stockholm. The American lost his next match to Fognini and just really has not had much momentum in the back half of the season. I don’t think much of Pospisil, but I’d say the same about Sock and that means this could be an upset.

7. Adrian Mannarino
The Frenchman draws Belgian Ruben Bemelmans who is coming off a semifinal on home turf in Antwerp last week. Perhaps that was just a product of playing on home soil with Bemelmans scoring three wins – one more than he had at the ATP level all year long. Mannarino has been up an down since the U.S. Open. He made the Tokyo final, but also has lost his opening match in two of four tournaments. Keep him on upset alert here.

Outsider’s Edge

Unseeded players have made deep runs at the Swiss Indoors Basel routinely in recent times. An unseeded player has made the semifinals in each of the last four seasons with two of those four years seeing two unseeded players in the semis. That includes last year when Mischa Zverev crashed the party as a qualifier. As with most events, there are a few outsiders to watch this week, so let’s break it down.

Peter Gojowczyk
He’s got the difficult opener with Goffin, but if he finds his way past the Belgian than he could really make another run on this surface. Jack Sock is the other seed in his quarter and he is definitely beatable in his current form.

Henri Laaksonen
You’ve gor the hometown vibe for the Swiss, although he is 0-4 in his previous treks to Basel. He does open against Borna Coric who he has beaten twice already this season though and then he would see the Cilic-Verdasco survivor in round two. It might be curtains if it is Cilic, but stranger things have happened – especially with the two seed at this tournament.

Julien Benneteau
The Frenchman has been playing fairly well indoors of late, including a finals run at the Challenger level and a quarterfinal run in Antwerp last week. He made the quick turnaround through qualifying here and opens with Donald Young. Benneteau could have to go through Del Potro in round two, but there is a feeling for me that DelPo might flame out after a long week in Stockholm. Bautista Agut is the other seed in Benneteau’s quarter.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Roger Federer (1)
Adrian Mannarino (7)

Breakdown
Federer starts against Frances Tiafoe who could play him tough for a little but, but the American rarely is able to finish matches strongly against top tier competition. Fed’s second rounder would be Benoit Paire or Steve Johnson on tap. Paire has lost four straight since making the final in Metz. Johnson has some decent results, but nothing overwhelming. It’s a toss-up who wins that one. Either way, Federer is 6-0 combined against them and likely to push to the quarterfinals. In the other half, Mannarino may be out early with a tough opener against Bemelmans. The survivor gets Yuichi Sugita or Denis Shapovalov. Sugita has been in good form with a semifinal and two quarterfinals in three of his last four tournaments. He could be the unseeded player who makes a little noise.

In the end, Federer can’t be unhappy with this draw. There isn’t a player in the mix really who has had any sort of success against the Swiss. Expect to see Fed alive and well in the business end in Basel.

Quarter #2 Seeds
David Goffin (3)
Jack Sock (5)

Breakdown
I can see an unseeded player getting into the semifinal mix in this quarter. Goffin and Sock have both been in iffy form the last few weeks and will have threats in their way. Goffin has Gojowczyk to start and then would face either Hyeon Chung or Paolo Lorenzi in round two. That match should be easier than his opener, if he survives. Sock reasonably could make a nice run this week with Pospisil in round one and then either Robin Haase or Marco Chiudinelli. Haase hasn’t won since his surprising semifinal at the Rogers Cup this summer. Chiudinelli rarely wins at this level, but maybe he’s got the right formula against a player on a losing streak.

This really is a decent set-up for Sock. I’m just not sure he’s capable of taking advantage of it at this point. With me expecting upsets, this could well end up being Goffin vs Sock for a spot in the semifinals. Tepid nod to Sock in this quarter with Gojowzczyk as the rank outsider.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Juan Martin Del Potro (4)
Roberto Bautista Agut (6)

Breakdown
Del Potro arrives as the form player with the Stockholm title in his back pocket and also a trip to the Shanghai Masters semis in his last two tournaments. That is part of the reason I am a little bit hesitant on his prospects this week. I do think he’s fairly safe in round one against Joao Sousa, but round two could be a speed bump. DelPo would see either Donald Young or Julien Benneteau. Both are crafty enough to push the Argentine if he’s less than 100 percent motivated. The other half of the quarter sees Bautista Agut as the lead seed. He starts with Mikhail Kukushkin. Kuku should at least force RBA to show up ready in round one. Alexandr Dolgopolov or Ryan Harrison awaits in round two. I don’t know that either has the consistency to KO RBA in that spot.

Del Potro has been brutal on RBA the last two times that they have met, so if that is the quarterfinal match-up, Del Potro is the favorite to advance. I’ll give the slight edge to Del Potro with a little rest, although I will not be shocked if he exits before that point either.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Marin Cilic (2)
Mischa Zverev (8)

Breakdown
Cilic looks the part of a player who would be driving to a second straight final possibly out of this quarter. The seed next to his name though is a historical landmine. Verdasco will test him out of the gates and if Borna Coric is able to finally get past Henri Laaksonen, he could provide a stiff test. Coric has taken a set off of Cilic the last two times they have met. In the other half, Zverev has a winnable opener against Leonardo Mayer. His second round foe could wind up tougher. American Jared Donaldson battles qualifier Marton Fucsovics in round one. Fucsovics hasn’t been an easy out, so he could be a tough match-up an capable of springing some upsets.

Cilic makes all the sense in the world here, but I’m a historical buffoon and I’ll say he is not in the mix. I think that could leave this quarter to someone like Verdasco or Zverev or even Coric.

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

Do you go against the guy who is 61-9 in Basel with seven titles and 12 finals appearances in all in Basel? It is impossible to not like Federer to at least get through to the final. I do think there are some guys who could challenge him in the final. Cilic and Del Potro are those guys. Hopefully some mish mash of that trio is the final we get here, because I think it would be pretty high quality. In the end though, I’ve got to go with Federer to get the title and close that points gap on Nadal just a little bit.