2018 Wimbledon Final Preview: Kevin Anderson vs Novak Djokovic

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(8) Kevin Anderson vs (12) Novak Djokovic

Who Recovers Better?

Sunday’s final is set up to be an absolute war of attrition with the way the semifinals played out. On one hand, you have Kevin Anderson who outlasted John Isner 26-24 in the decisive 5th set in a match that lasted six hours and 36 minutes. On the other, you have Novak Djokovic who outlasted Rafael Nadal 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9), 3-6, 11-9. That match lasted five hours and 15 minutes over two days with the pair finishing up Saturday with the final two sets. Ive said it many times before, but playing Rafael Nadal in a five set match seems more like a seven or eight set match. There were more physical rallies, so when you couple in Anderson getting a complete day off on Saturday – I do think we’re close to even on fatigue.

I won’t get into the skewed numbers as far as winners for Anderson in the quarters, but one number really sticks out and that is just 24 unforced errors. That is less than half what Isner had for the match. Big Kev sported a solid win rate of 84 percent on 1st serve and 59 percent on second serve. Those numbers will be challenged by a much better returner on Sunday in Djokovic. The 8th seed was broken just twice on five break chances, while crafting four breaks of the previously unbeatable serve of Isner on eleven chances. There were plenty of unreturnable serves from Isner, but Anderson stayed tough mentally and was able to take some big rips to get clean winners. That allowed Anderson to keep Isner at 78 percent on his first serve win rate and under 50 percent on his second. Considering again the dominance of the Isner serve prior to the quarterfinals, that is solid, solid work.

Djokovic’s match was the obvious polar opposite of Anderson-Isner with a ton of long rallies that tested the Serb’s will power and shot making ability. One of the bigger surprises though had to be Djokovic’s serve. His first serve win rate was 76 percent which is an elite number against Nadal’s return. Djokovic was broken four times on eleven chances, but he came up with some timely first serves when he needed them most. The 12th seed racked up 23 aces. That was his best showing since round two when he tomahawked 18 against Kyle Edmund. The big difference though again was who he was hitting these against with Nadal still ranked as one of the very best returners in the game.

All around, we got glimpses of the Djokovic of old during this match mixed in with some of the inconsistency that still plagues him at times. His return was marvelous and his ground game solid with both the backhand and forehand showing well. The Serb finished with 73 winners and 42 unforced errors, the exact same numbers as Nadal. An area where I think he’s still challenged some is at the net, but he finished with 30/44 points won there while Nadal won 37/50 and really controlled the volley game at times. I think the big thing for Djokovic to take from this battle was how he responded mentally to the challenge. He looked dog tired at times from running down unending shots from Nadal, but he found a gear to get over the finish line that he had not shown since making his last Slam final in 2016 at the U.S. Open.

The Formula

This is Anderson’s second Grand Slam final with his first coming last Fall at the U.S. Open, a straight sets loss to Nadal 6-3, 6-3, 6-4. For Djokovic, this is his 22nd Slam final. He is 12-9 in thos previous finals, including a 3-1 mark at Wimbledon. Even though he has not been in this position for nearly two years, you have to give him a slight experience edge. I say only slight because this is a big moment for him. After he got walloped in the quarters at the French Open by Marco Cecchinato, he was distraught and was still in a fragile state of mind. The grass court season has changed that though with the Serb finding a groove to the Queen’s Club final and then obviously continuing that form through to where he is now.

I think for both players this match really starts with the mental game. Anderson has to overcome the marathon fifth set against Isner, while Djokovic has to do the same with the Nadal experienxe while playing for the third straight day. This is by far the biggest test he faces physically since his return and Anderson has that big serve to help carry him through the early going if his legs allow for it. I don’t think there will be much hiding what sort of physical condition Anderson is in to start the match. This will be his 7th career match against Djokovic with the last coming at Wimbledon in 2015. Anderson had the Serb on the ropes down two sets to love before Djokovic rallied for a 6-7 (6), 6-7 (6), 6-1, 6-4, 7-5 victory. Overall, Djokovic leads the series 5-1 with Anderson’s lone win coming in their first clash in Miami in 2008. Djokovic also beat him in straights at Wimbledon in 2011 in their only other grass court clash.

At the time of their last meeting, Djokovic was playing in his third straight Wimbledon final and was the defending champion and eventual repeat champion in 2015. What Anderson can take from that match is that he has the game to trouble the Serb and that was even before Big Kev really became the larger threat that he is at this moment. His first serve in that last meeting won 83 percent of the points, but he struggled at 41 percent on second serve. Djokovic would eventually break him five times on eight chances. Anderson had trouble making inroads against the Serb in key moments with Djokovic saving seven of eight break chances against his serve. Djokovic would win 74 and 69 percent of the points off his first and second serves respectively.

I did go to the tape from that last meeting to take a look at what worked and what didn’t for both. Djokovic really pounded the ball from the baseline in that one, keeping Anderson pushed back with great depth. Even when Anderson got to forehands, he always seemed to be moving backwards to get to them. Djokovic did a good job of not letting Anderson get into stationary strike positions. For Anderson, his best serve seemed to be from the deuce court targeting the Djokovic backhand. He challenged to Serb to stretch down the T quite a bit and found some of his best finishes off those serves. In general, Djokovic did a good job of making contact even on Anderson’s biggest serves and finding a way to recover to keep in the points.

One of the places where Djokovic seemed naturally more at ease in that match was at the net. Anderson does move forward more with his 1-2 combo of big first serve and aggressive ground stroke off the return ball, but he those mainly come on offense. He doesn’t seem to want to get involved defensively too often at the net, unless the point dictates it. I think that is an area Djokovic can exploit in this one. If the Serb is continuing to place his serve well with Anderson getting caught returning short balls or making poor contact – Djokovic has to look to aggressively move in and finish those off. As he did with Rafa, look for drop shots to be part of that plan too. There is nothing a tired player hates more than a drop shot.

I think Anderson is going to have to look for the same go big or go home type of return game that suited him well against Isner. Djokovic is probably going to do a better job of mixing in different serves to change that up, whereas Isner was about pure power and if Anderson made solid contact – it was going to go back the other way in a hurry. Against Djokovic, look for the Serb to target the backhand. In doing so, proper placement should yield more opportunities for Djokovic to move in some and finish with his forehand which has been very solid of late.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

To be honest, I think there is quite a bit of guesswork before this one in trying to figure out what is left in the tank for both men. If this were full rest, even Steven, Djokovic wants to get Anderson sucked into baseline ralliesa nd work the legs. Anderson’s bread and butter in making himself into a Slam contender has been an aggressive game built off his first serve and quick ground strokes to keep from getting into those rallies. You still tend to think Djokovic’s return is going to be a difference maker in this match, even if he’s feeling it after the Nadal match – but that remains to be seen. I think Anderson’s legs are a question mark just as much and it would effect the bigger aspect of his game with his serve.

In reality I think this could finish a lot of different ways. None of us know how these two are truly going to feel on court until we see them. I go back to what I said about a Nadal five set match taking more than a regular toll on the a person who survives it. If you look back to the five set matches he has lost at Grand Slams, here’s the result in the match immediately following someone who beat Nadal in five sets.

Gilles Muller 2017, lost in 5 to Cilic (Wimbledon)
Lucas Pouille 2016, lost in 3 to Monfils (US Open)
Fernando Verdasco 2016, won in 4 over Sela (Australian Open)
Fabio Fognini 2015, lost in 3 to Lopez (US Open)
Lukas Rosol 2012, lost in 3 to Kohlschreiber (Wimbledon)

just once in these five has a player managed to follow up a win over Nadal in five with a win in the next round and that was Verdasco. The plus for Verdasco was that it was round one of the first Slam of the season, so fatigue was not quite as heavy. Here at Wimbledon, it’s Djokovic’s longest and most grueling match of a shortened season. The plus obviously is that his opponent is just as compromised from playing a 50 game fifth set in the last round.

I think getting to stretch out the five sets against Nadal over two days was probably the factor that I think helps the Serb the most. Although he is playing a third straight day, he didn’t get run through the five set ringer all at once. Perhaps that helps the body reponds a bit better. If there is one thing you should have learned about Kevin Anderson by now in his rise into the top five (as of Monday), it’s that his mental strength is at an elite level. He’s right up there with Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray at this point. I think that means this can be competitive, but again this is a lot of guessing. In the end, I think Djokovic’s return and Anderson’s lesser return equal Slam title #13 for Novak Djokovic and another one for the Big Four.

Prediction: Djokovic wins in four sets

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2018 Wimbledon SF Preview: Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic

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(2) Rafael Nadal vs (12) Novak Djokovic

Big Four Representing, Turning Back Clock

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will hope to keep Father Time in check for another round as they both bid for what has become a rare spot for both in the Wimbledon final. For Nadal, he’s seeking his first trip back since 2011 and Djokovic has not been to the final since 2015. Djokovic is also looking for his first Slam final of any sort since the 2016 U.S. Open. It’s an understatement to say this is a huge opportunity for both, especially with Roger Federer going out in the quarterfinals. Nadal comes in off a grueling five set win over Juan Martin Del Potro 7-5, 6-7 (7), 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. The match lasted four hours and 47 minutes and had a bit of everything, including eight serve and volley attemps from Nadal. He would win seven of those eight points.

Nadal was tremendous at the net, taking 36/47 points he played there and Rafa made some incredible volleys. He would finish with 67 winners and 34 unforced errors. The second seed was still very good with his serve numbers, taking 74 percent of the points off his first serve and 62 percent off his second. He was broken just two times on seven chances. As expected, he put a bit more pressure on the Del Potro serve with ten break points seen and four converted. Rafa did a marvelous job of finding inventive ways to get his racquet on the DelPo serve, including using some interesting chip sliced backhand late in the match. The variety seemed to give Nadal an edge with Del Potro not getting full power on the next shot, which allowed Rafa to turn aggressive with the next ball that he hammered well off both wings.

Djokovic’s path through the quarterfinals was not as taxing with the Serb taking down Kei Nishikori 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2. Djokovic has now beaten Nishikori 14 times in 16 career meetings. Djokovic was on point with his first serve, sporting an 85 percent win rate. He was subpar with a 40 percent win rate off his second serve with Nishikori breaking him three times on seven chances. The Serb would gobble up Nishikori’s serve, taking 41 percent of his first serve points and breaking the man from Japan seven times on 14 opportunities. On top of that, the 12th seed was nearly perfect at the net, taking 19/21 points played.

In reviewing the tape, the Serb’s forehand really stood out. He looked very aggressive off that wing and seemed bent on taking bigger cuts off that wing. The biggest moment likely came early in the third set as Djokovic still seemed to be stewing in his own brain over dropping the second set. He was making more errors and Nishikori was taking the ball earlier, challenging Djokovic to step his game back up. The Serb would make some key holds on break points, seemingly revving up his confidence to help him run away with the match after holding at 3-2 in the third.

Above all, we’re seeing some of the younger Djokovic’s testy behavior again. He’s been angry at the crowd, the sun and the chair umps and it’s more reminiscent of the good old days when he was reeling off title after title. Djokovic has said that anger can be a good thing for him as it seems to focus him a bit more on court, so perhaps you can expect him to look that way again on Friday. The crowd surely is going to be pro-Nadal, so the Serb will be looking to use that as fuel to try and get to his 5th Wimbledon final and perhaps add to his 12 career Grand Slam titles, something that never seemed too realistic just a few short months.

The Formula

This will be the 52nd meeting between Nadal and Djokovic. The last came on clay in Rome, where Rafa won expectedly 7-6 (4), 6-3. Nadal has won two straight in the series, both on clay with the two having played just three times on grass. The last came at the 2011 Wimbledon final where the Serb prevailed 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3. Nadal does own the other two wins, one coming via retirement from Djokovic at Wimbledon in the 2007 semifinals with a blister and back problem. Grass figures to give Djokovic a much better chance in this one than he had on clay when they last met, but this figures to be a real war.

I turned on the tape from the 2011 encounter even though both are much different players at age 32 (Nadal) and 31 (Djokovic) then they were seven years ago. Still, it yields some help in looking at how they play each other on this surface.. The number on thing about this match-up is that net points figure to be rare. Nadal played a lot late against Del Potro because he had to cut down on all the free swinging forehands that Del Potro was getting. Djokovic will pick spots to come in, but more often his net play is dictated simply by how points develop and not a pre-conceived effort to move forward. That means a lot of baseline to baseline tennis is coming your way.

We know that it makes sense to go away from the Nadal forehand, but he’s shown some very good consistency and aggression with his backhand this tournament. I do still expect to see Djokovic to test that wing more and he’d be wise to try to get the ball low. We’ve seen Nadal struggle to handle those low skidding shots at times on grass. When Djokovic has been in control this tournament, he’s dictating play from the back with his forehand. I’d look for him to look to create those angles east and west along the baseline against Nadal in an effort to push the Spaniard wide. When he gets him wide, he should get the chance to flip the action quickly and finish with a shot cross court.

Djokovic will be weary of the Nadal forehand as the second seed’s best runs of play have come when he’s been able to consistently pound the forehand in succession in rallies. If he gets around to more and more forehand, he’s been able to push his opponents back beyond the baseline with depth and precision. That should again allow him to move forward off any short returns from those shots and finish moving forward with a volley or another fierce forehand. Most of the match play between these two says that whomever is able to be consistent and aggressive with more forehands is going to be in control and have the best chance to win.

Serve is obviously big with both men possessing stellar return games. Nadal has been super solid on serve this fortnight. His precision and depth have been able to keep the returner mostly pinned back in a neutral or minus position on the baseline. Djokovic will be the biggest challenge to Nadal’s serve with his flexibility as a huge plus. The Serb is good at making those extended reach shots on return without necessarily losing a lot of velocity. That will be something he must do in order to keep Nadal from getting aggressive early on the next shot. Look for Nadal to go after the backhand in return as Djokovic doesn’t get quite as much control and power when extended off that wing in return.

Serves up the T against both player’s backhands were a big part of their meeting seven years ago in watching the tape. When both players laid down their first serves with accuracy, they left the returner lunging to make contact. Even with some great stab saves, the returners were left in compromising court position that the server moved in on and took advantage of quickly. I think Nadal has the harder time making those returns with Djokovic again proving better at those stab shots with his range and flexibility. The other item I’d look for both to utilize quite a bit is the drop shot. Nadal has been fantastic at using it to make his opponents pay for setting up too deep in return and staying back a step behind the baseline. I think Djokovic will try not to drift back too far because of this and vice versa. For me, I think Rafa’s touch has shown a bit better consistency in this area.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

The thing I am interested to see in this one is how Djokovic reacts to suffering on court in a physical match. For all the good he has done in rebuilding his confidence on grass, he’s yet to be put to a lengthy physical test as he’s likely to see against Rafa. That’s where I still think there is some potential for physical frailty for the Serb without having had to play the point construction and defense he’s likely to need for victory against the Spaniard. Rafa comes off a grueling match, but it has been his only stiff challenge at this year’s event. I don’t think fitness is any concern for Nadal. He thrives on this and takes the court knowing he’s the fitter player.

I think Djokovic has to find early success against the Nadal serve, which is easier said than done. The Spaniard has done a beautiful job transitioning with a bit more aggressiveness on serve to suit the surface. That should challenge Djokovic to adjust in return. He’s got to keep Nadal pushed back with depth of return or he’s going to have to work extra long in rallies to get himself back into winning court position. That’s usually not a winning formula against Nadal. It’s somewhat difficult to know exactly how well Djokovic is playing on grass at the moment as he has taken advantage of a good draw that has not challenged him to answer the bell and raise his level. He’s going to have to do that against Nadal. Nadal has already proven he’s willing and able to answer.

Prediction: Nadal wins in four sets

2018 Wimbledon QF Preview: Rafael Nadal vs Juan Martin Del Potro

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(2) Rafael Nadal vs (5) Juan Martin Del Potro

Nadal Hunting For Best Wimbledon Result Since 2011

When Rafael Nadal takes the court against Juan Martin Del Potro on Wednesday, he will have a chance to get to his first Wimbledon semifinal since he made his last final here back in 2011. The lefty has been on a big roll with four straight sets wins this time around, avoiding trouble and big hitters who can challenge him from the baseline. That is due to change with Del Potro, but first let’s look at how Rafa got here. In the fourth round, he faced a player in Jiri Vesely who has a big serve, but lacks the consistency off the ground to trouble Nadal. That was very much true in Nadal’s 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 win.

Rafa was a rock on serve with win rates of 78 and 74 percent off his first and second serves. His placement and Vesely’s lack of putting much on return gave Rafa plenty of control from neutral positions along the baseline – the place you do not want to try and battle against Nadal. Vesely got a look at one break point and did convert. Nadal has been broken just four times in all through four rounds. His ground game showed well with 37 winners to just 12 unforced errors. It was the lowest number of UEs from Nadal, who has been under 20 in that category in each of his four matches. The big thing again that fueled Nadal was his return and defense. He pressured the Czech into eight break chances and took five. Nadal continued to set up about a foot or more behind the baseline in return and then aggressively moved in to hammer his returns.

Del Potro Fends Off Simon to Earn Another Slam Semifinal

The fifth seeded Argentine had trouble shaking loose from Gilles Simon, but Del Potro was able to find his best in the tie breaks to secure the 7-6 (1), 7-6 (5), 5-7, 7-6 (5) victory. Simon’s defense and return led DelPo to play longer rallies with the Argentine tallying a tournament worst 63 unforced errors in the win. He did crush 78 winners – just 13 less than he had racked up in the three previous rounds combined. Part of that was the game play, but a lot of that was due to the longer match played after DelPo beat his first three opponents in straights.

Del Potro won 75 percent of his first serve points, but just 47 percent of his second serve points. He was broken five times on 15 chances, by far his worst numbers of the tournament. Prior to the Simon match, DelPo has only seen three breaks of serve against him, all coming in his round three encounter against Benoit Paire. He was also challenged to play at the net more, taking 19/33 points. Simon would win 36/52 points at the net as he made a concerted effort to get forward. Overll, Del Potro showed match toughness to get the win, but having trouble getting through Simon on the baseline does not bode well for his meeting against Nadal.

The Formula

This is the 16th time that Nadal and Del Potro will lock horns with Rafa owning a 10-5 edge, including 3-1 at Grand Slams. Their last two meetings have come at Slams with Nadal rolling over Del Potro at this year’s French Open 6-4, 6-1, 6-2. Nadal also crushed Del Potro at last year’s U.S. Open, taking the match 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-2. Overall, most of their meetings have come from quite a while back with just three since 2016. All three have gone to Nadal with the most enthralling being their semifinal meeting at the Rio Olympics where Nadal prevailed 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (5).

First and foremost for Del Potro, he has to solve Nadal’s serve. He has only broken Rafa once over those last three meetings. It’s not because of a shortage of chances with Del Potro getting 18 cracks at a break, but only able to convert one time. If you watch the highlights from some of these most recent encounters, I think Del Potro does himself a disservice by sitting too deep behind the baseline in return. He’s adopting a page from Nadal’s book to get a better look at the tricky lefty’s serve, but in doing so, he’s been leaving himself vulnerable to Nadal drop shotting him to death. He will certainly be playing closer to the baseline on grass, but he’s got to find some depth on return. That’s been the other issue. He’s gotten plenty of swings on Rafa’s serves, but there are too many times that he’s left the ball short with Nadal moving in and getting aggressive to control the rally from that point.

Del Potro isn’t a slouch in the return department. I wouldn’t rate him too far above average, but he has great reach due to his size and the ability to hit clean winners. I think he has to be a bit more aggressive in return in this one. He has to hit with more authority and purpose. He should have a chance to do that with the return position pushed up. Nadal’s tailing action on his serve does a nice natural job of pushing away from the Argentine, so that a lot of his returns wind up being more on an extended position that neutralizes some of that natural power for Del Potro. On grass, Rafa doesn’t get quite as much of that tailing action that he does on other surfaces, but he adds more aggressiveness to his serves that will get on Del Potro more quickly. Del Potro has to react quickly and make decisive swings. Look for Nadal as most do – to pick on the Del Potro backhand.

That will carry over into the ground exchanges where Del Potro will try to employ the backhand slice to keep the ball from Rafa’s prime strike zone. Nadal isn’t afraid to switch around and hit that double handed backhand though that might neutralize some of that tactically. A lot of how this match turns out will of course be dictated by who gets to more forehands in the baseline to baseline game. I think DelPo needs it more than Rafa, but he has to avoid staying too deep in order to stay in front of the shots. If he’s playing behind the baseline as we’ve seen in the past, Nadal gets those opportunities to mix in drop shots and craft impossible angles that Del Potro may not catch up with behind the baseline.

I think for Del Potro to have a chance of pulling off the win, he’s got to find consistency and power on his first serve to start. His first serve can be overpowering, but he’s prone to inconsistencies with it that can lead to too many second serves. Nadal doesn’t play as deep on grass as he does elsewhere, but he’s still going to be a bit behind the baseline to try and get a better measure of the fifth seed’s serve. DelPo has to find those angles out wide to the Nadal backhand and force the Spaniard to become more of a defensive returner than one who can turn the return offensive right away.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Del Potro has the things in his repertoire that are needed to beat Nadal on grass. Big serve. Huge ground strokes. The problem for me is he had trouble breaking down Simon in the last round who doesn’t have the return of Nadal and isn’t at the same level as Nadal from the baseline. That match stretched out over two days due to darkness, which means that Del Potro is playing three straight days. While he may have only played a set on Tuesday, there was plenty of stress to it. I don’t think this is the ideal way to head into a match against Nadal in a best of five setting.

The good thing for Del Potro in this situation is that Nadal has not faced the pure power that he possesses yet at the All-England Club this year. I think the Argentine’s chances to pull this one out will hinge on him finding a rhythm early on serve and taking some aggressive shots in return with the hope of rattling Rafa. Nadal has really only faced some slight stress during the Mikhail Kukushkin match, where the Kazakh’s low shots made life difficult for the world number one to get clean cuts. He won’t find that against Del Potro and I expect that with fresher legs that he will be able to wear Del Potro down in this one, unless the Argentine finds another gear that we have not seen this fortnight

Prediction: Nadal wins in four sets

2018 Wimbledon QF Preview: Roger Federer vs Kevin Anderson

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(1) Roger Federer vs (9) Kevin Anderson

Fed Seeks 16th Career Wimbledon Semifinal

It’s a perfect nine for nine so far this tournament for Roger Federer as he has advanced through four rounds without dropping a set. The latest victim was Adrian Mannarino with Fed taking it 6-0, 7-5, 6-4. was about flawless on serve, with a 90 percent win rate on first serve and 52 percent off his second. The Swiss saved all four break points against his serve, while cashing in on five breaks against the Frenchman on a dozen opportunities. Four the tournament, those were the first four break chances against the Swiss’ serve. Fed has been posting elite numbers with his first serve win rate at 90 percent or better in all four rounds.

The Fed ground game was clean against Mannarino with 44 winners to just 20 unnforced errors. So far, the top seed has amassed 163 winners with only 55 unforced errors. Federer has been able to control the points off his serve as well as bringing quality consistency from the baseline. Both his forehand and backhand have been solid as he has been able to wear down his opponents with quality depth and superb shot making at times. His net play has been borderline absurd with the top seed winning 72 of the 91 points played in that area. On top of that, he’s been returning the ball fairly well – taking at least 35 percent of the first serve points from each opponent. That figures to be a major challenge against the serve of Anderson however. Fed has converted 19 breaks on 46 chances so far this tournament.

Anderson Finally Gets Past Round Four

Kevin Anderson will already feel like he’s accomplished plenty at Wimbledon this year. He became the first South African to make a Wimbledon quarterfinal and broke through after failing in the fourth round three of the last four years. His 7-6 (4), 7-6 (2), 5-7, 7-6 (4) win over Gael Monfils also offered up another first – his first win over the Frenchman in his fifth try. Anderson was still steadu with an 82 percent win rate off his first serve and was decent at 55 percen off his second. Big Kev was broken four times however on just five chances. The 9th seed has previously been broken just twice in the first three rounds. Anderson really helped himself by getting to net, taking 43/62 points. He’d gone to net just 63 times all tournament before the Monfils match.

Anderson did have 44 unforced errors, but smashed 53 winners, including 20 aces. He has had at least 20 aces in every match with a high of 34. In watching some of the tape from the Monfils match, Big Kev was impressive in his shot making from the baseline. He was consistent enough with his ground strokes to provide quality depth that pushed Monfils from side to side and kept him pinned back. That enabled Anderson to craft those key points, where he was able to pounce at the right time to finish off shots at the net. I think once again the most impressive thing about Anderson is his mental strength. This was a difficult match with some very physical points, but he stayed strong in the tough moments and came through with a big win.

The Formula

For Anderson, step one has to be figuring out how to take a set off of Federer. He has not done that in their previous four meetings. The last came in 2015 in Cincinnati, where Fed destroyed Anderson 6-1, 6-1 in their most lopsided meeting. All three other meetings came before that one and they have never met on grass. If there is a plus in losing to the same player four times, it is that the losses came before Anderson’s dramatic improvement. This won’t be the same Anderson that Federer sees on Wednesday. He’s become a bit of a Federer clone in his playing style – wanting to hammer the first serve and then look to move forward to finish off points more quickly. With that said, the serve is an obvious jumping off point for both players.

Federer has that smooth delivery and when he finds a rhythm as he has in London, he’s nearly unbreakable. It’s not all about getting aces with that first serve – his high this tournament is 16 with totals of 8, 10 and 12 in the other matches – it’s about precision to put the returner on their heels from the first point. Anderson isn’t a great returner, but he is adequate and can take advantage of poor placement. For me, Federer is going to feel comfortable as long as he’s getting good depth with his serves. If he is able to keep Anderson back along the baseline, then Federer turns the next shot into his advantage. I think he’ll look to challenge Anderson’s backhand and his famous short slice off the backhand will challenge Anderson to make shots off of low balls. That’s not a wheelhouse move for a taller player.

On the other side, Anderson’s serve has more natural power than Federer’s and that is a way for him to hang in this match. I think the first issue he may come across though is some fatigue from the Monfils match, which could directly effect his legs and serve. This will be apparent early if it is a problem. If it’s not, then Anderson is going to find his fair share of easy points with the angles he can create. He will want to extend Federer off the court when he goes to the forehand with the hope that even if Fed gets contact, it will be soft and Anderson will have a short ball to club on the return. If his serve is on, he can effectively jam Federer’s backhand return by bodying him. Fed may be left with a chip approach to try and get something on the end of those serves.

Net play figures to be a very integral part of this match. Both players have shown great prowess on the volley. Both will throw in some serve and volley action to challenge the other’s volley skills. Anderson is very good at that, but not quite as consistent as Federer is with his net volleys. Getting the serve down is the obvious key to executing this part of the game, which is again where I am curious to see if Anderson shows any fatigue from the physical match against Monfils last round. I expect Federer will look to exploit Anderson more in return with this tactic as I think his the South African’s return game is a definite notch below Federer’s. I do think if he’s capable though that Anderson needs to get to net consistently like he did against Monfils to try and wear the Swiss down a bit.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

I do think grass gives Anderson his best chance to break through and grab a set off of Federer finally, but I think the set up is less than ideal. Monfils made Anderson work hard, while Federer has seemingly run through most of his matches without much sweat. I think the early going in this match is a huge momentum boost or real shot to the confidence of Anderson. He needs to start fast and match Federer serve for serve without finding himself up against multiple break points. The more chances he’s facing of losing his serve early, the easier it is for this match to slip away from him in a hurry.

Federer is facing a different type of player in this match, so there is going to be some adjustment fo him and I think that could give Anderson a chance in the opening set. The thing that holds me back though is that Anderson’s return game may not be able to make enough of a dent against Federer’s serve to offer the South African more than a tie break chance to try and steal a set. Anderson is 3-1 in tie breaks at Wimbledon this year, while Federer has yet to play one. Fed did go 5-2 in breakers in the two grass court prep tournaments in Stuttgart and Halle, so it’s not like he isn’t ready to go if needed.

In the end, I can see a tight set or two, but I do think Anderson is going to be a bit compromised physically in this one and he has already achieved his goal of a personal best at Wimbledon. As if Federer needed any help, he may have gotten a slight assist from Gael Monfils last round and should advance one step closer to his 12th Wimbledon final.

Prediction: Federer wins in straight sets

2018 Wimbledon R4 Preview: Kevin Anderson vs Gael Monfils

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(9) Kevin Anderson vs Gael Monfils

Golden Opportunity

When Kevin Anderson and Gael Monfils battle on Monday, a big prize awaits the winner – their first ever Wimbledon quarterfinal. Anderson is into the fourth round for the fourth time in the last five years, but he has been stopped short each time. This may present another abrupt ending with Monfils owning a 5-0 mark against Anderson in their careers. Monfils is in uncharted territory with this being his best finish already after taking down 11th seed Sam Querrey in the third round. Monfils and Anderson are not strangers to making Slam quarters with the Frenchman owning eight trips to that stage and Anderson with two, both of which have come at the U.S. Open in the last three years.

Anderson comes into this round in solid form after taking down Philipp Kohlschreiber in straights 6-4, 7-5, 7-5. The South African has won two of his three matches thus far in straights with Andreas Seppi as the only player to take a set from the 9th seed. In the Kohlschreiber match, Anderson pounded the German with his first serve as he racked up 22 aces and took 87 percent of the first serve points. Big Kev would be broken just once on four break points. He has only been broken two times all tournament on just ten break opportunities. Anderson’s ground game was super clean after his sloppiest performance against Seppi in the prior round. He had just 12 unforced errors with his ground strokes after 28 against Seppi.

Monfils found some of his best against Querrey in round three, being broken just one time on two break chances. It was a good improvement after Paolo Lorenzi broke the Frenchman four times in their round two match. La Monf would rebound after dropping the opening set to Querrey to roll to a 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 win. Monfils did a good job against the American’s big serve with four breaks of serve on eight chances. For the tournament, Monfils has converted on eleven of 25 break points and his chances of springing another upset hinge on his return game against Anderson’s massive serve.

La Monf’s first serve has been the other big part of his success through three rounds. He has won 75 percent or better on first serve in each round and has been above a 50 percent win rate on second serve with the exception of his first round win over Richard Gasquet. The one question mark that will hover over the Frenchman heading into this match is the injury bug. Monfils did take a medical timeout inn the Querrey match to treat a groin problem. He said afterward that the physio was able to loosen him up and the advice he got to play looser and go for it seemed to really take hold after the magic rubdown. The episode again showcases the fragility of mind and body for Monfils as he admitted afterward that he was very concerned with the injury until the physio assured him he would not hurt himself by going 100 percent again.

The Formula

Though this is the sixth all-time meeting between the two, this is the first on grass and that gives this a different feel. The last time they met was at the Shanghai Masters in 2016 with Monfils edging the match 7-6 (4), 6-3. In fact, Anderson has not won a single set off of Monfils in any of their matches. Admittedly, only two of the meetings have taken place since 2016, so the past results have to be taken with a grain of salt. Anderson has completely changed his playing style since some of those earlier meetings, but there is still a big mental hurdle here with Monfils’ dominance in the previous match-ups. Let’s take a look at how Monfils has done it.

Return. In Shanghai, Monfils broke Anderson twice and created eight break opportuntiies. The biggest thing was that he ate into the South African’s serve, which won just 69 percent of the points. Playing Sam Querrey last round should be advantageous for this match-up as Anderson possesses a powerful righty serve too. Monfils adopted a return position a good foot or so behind the baseline and he utilized that and his athletic ability to get on the end of some big serves that many would not get. He will need to find those “gets” against Anderson. The 9th seed will be charged with staying consistent and accurate on serve to keep Monfils from dragging him into longer baseline rallies.

Anderson often does that by finding an early rhythm against his opponents. Anderson has the big serve that can really stretch Monfils out wide, when he goes after the Frenchman’s forehand. That’s the biggest Monfils weapon and he can hit those stretched balls in return that keep him alive into a rally. Anderson wants that 1-2 punch. Get in that big serve that pushes Monfils back with depth or off balance east and west, and then move forward to pounce on the short ball with an aggressive forehand. The more you see that combo, the better position that Anderson is going to be in as he tries to break through against La Monf.

For Monfils, the task will also be to stay equal with Anderson on serve. I talked about his consistency issues at times, but he will again be up against just an average returner. Anderson is decent off both wings in return, but if La Monf is hitting his spots as he did against Querrey – then the Frenchman will have chances to aggressively finish off short balls too. Anderson can grip it and rip it in return on occassion, so Monflls needs the precision consistently to avoid the South African getting those good rips on return. Don’t be surprised to see Anderson challenge Monfils to come to net more than the Frenchman wants to when he gets good return contact. Anderson is still underrated as a volleyist and while Monfils can make plays at the net, more of his seem to be the acrobatic highlight reel type whereas he might make more miscues on more straight foreward volleys than Anderson does.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

This is one of the most interesting matches of the day to me. The history would lend you to believe Monfils should be the favorite here, but I do think grass and the newer version of Kevin Anderson negate a lot of that history. Anderson’s serve is obviously the biggest key in this match. If he’s winning well over 80 percent off his first serve, I don’t think that Monfils is going to match him over the course of five sets. Monfils needs to find ways to get on the end of those big first serves and keep Anderson’s win rate in the mid to lower 70s or worse. Keep your eye on that number tomorrow and I think you’ll have a good idea of which way the match is going.

Monfils certainly isn’t without a chance in this one after beating a similarly styled player last round. Besides serving well, Monfils’ return was a big factor in that one as he did not let Querrey get too many short balls that the American could move forward on and attack at the net. Anderson may not go to net quite as often as Querrey likes to on grass, but it’s definitely something he does well and will look to do when the point is constructed in his favor. If Monfils is able to keep Anderson back on the baseline with good returns, then the volley game won’t be as big a factor and I would expect Monfils would be in position for another upset.

I didn’t think that Monfils could keep pace with Querrey on serve, but he did and I think that may have worn on Sam as the match progressed. If there is one thing that Anderson has become very good at in his rise the last few years, it’s staying in matches mentally. Expect Monfils to have some highlight shots, but this one feels like Anderson gets it done with a consistent serve and you can never rule out Monfils’ brain going off track if he picks up another injury scare as he did last round. I am hopeful that this one plays out healthy for both and if it does, this could be a real grind.

Prediction: Anderson wins in four sets