2017 Shanghai Rolex Masters Preview

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Nadal, Federer Lead Field

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

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

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

Lower Seeds Yield More Experience

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

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

Early Bird Specials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outsider’s Edge

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

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

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

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

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

Draw Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2017 U.S. Open R3 Preview: Kyle Edmund vs Denis Shapovalov

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Kyle Edmund can equal his best Grand Slam result with a win over Denis Shapovalov in Friday’s third round match at the U.S. Open. The Brit’s best Slam finish was making the fourth round at this event last year. Every win for Shapovalov now puts him into career bests as he’s won his first two Grand Slam matches of his career this week in New York.

Kyle Edmund vs (q) Denis Shapovalov

Edmund had little trouble in dispatching Steve Johnson for the second straight week as the unseeded Brit topped the American 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 (4). That win came about a week after Edmund beat Johnson in three sets in Winston-Salem. Edmund was fairly sound in his second round match and took advantage of a wealth of errors from Johnson (46 unforced). Edmund won 72 percent of his first serve points and a steady 59 percent off his second serve for the match. He was broken twice on seven chances. Through two rounds, Edmund has been broken just three times. He has just 28 winners against Johnson with 24 unforced errors. That was a bit sloppier than his 37/22 ratio in his straight sets dismissal of Robin Haase in round one.

Shapovalov electrified the crowd at Ashe under the lights as he took out 8th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-4, 6-5, 7-6 (3) in round two. El Shapo has won both his matches in straight sets. Against Tsonga, the Frenchman had few clues against his serve as the Canadian won 77 percent of his first serve points and 56 percent of his second serve. Tsonga only saw four break chances and could convert just one. Shapovalov was broken just twice in the opening round when he beat Russian Daniil Medvedev. In round two, The Canadian qualifier was clean with his big hitting style to the tune of 28 winners and only 19 unforced errors. Tsonga clearly didn’t bring his “A” game with just a 73 percent win rate on first serve and Shapovalov broke him three times after the 8th seed was unbreakable in round one against Marius Copil

Rubber Match

Edmund and Shapovalov are meeting for the third time this season. The first was the infamous Davis Cup match where El Shapo walloped a line judge with a ball in frustration. Edmund took that match 6-4, 6-2, 2-1 when Shapovalov was disqualified due to that incident. El Shapo got his revenge this summer on grass when they met at Queen’s Club. Shapovalov edged Edmund 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-4. That match-up showed how much Shapovalov had grown since the Spring, but actually saw Edmund win more points (96-94). Both have nearly identical stat lines, winning just over 80 percent of their 1st serve points and both at 60+ percent on second serve.

Certainly this match is expected to be more like the Queen’s Club match in terms of competition. Both players have played very well this this week and will know the opening they have with a victory in one of the most open Grand Slam draws in over a decade.Shapovalov honestly has become a favorite I think because of the media hype behind him. I don’t know that he’s a huge favorite for me as this one looks pretty even as a 50-50 type call. It could well come down to which guy is mentally stronger and with young players, that is often the most difficult part of the game. Remember, Shapovalov is 18 and Edmund is only 22.

Match Tactics

Likely this match is going to feature plenty of play from the baseline. Both of these guys possess big forehands, although I do think from a pure power standpoint that Edmund’s is bigger. Off the backhand side, I give El Shapo the edge in that category. His ona hander can do damage from the back of the court, so it will be on Edmund to try and put Shapovavlov off balance so he cannot unload off that wing. I’m not sure there will be much net play in this one as both prefer to stick to the baseline and that really makes this difficult to decipher. I do think Shapovalov is a bit more comfortable at the net than Edmund, so some key points could go his way if he chooses to employ that tactic in crucial moments.

Shapovalov to me, did a better job of when to make the rare move in to finish points off at the net. I don’t know that Edmund is quite that comfortable doing that, so if El Shapo makes Edumund go north to south – I think that favors the Canadian. From the baseline, both players will look to hit their forehands with power and pace. Shapovalov did a good job against Tsonga of hitting those stationary shots from deep, so Edmund would do well to keep Shapovalov on the run to negate his stationary power. Likewise, El Shapo should want to keep the Brit on the move to keep his accuracy lower in finishing off points.

Serve-wise, both have the ability to get cheap points, but the consistency is key. First serves will be of the upmost importance as the second serves of both will be far more vulnerable. For me, the main focal points of this match are consistency and who does it better and who has to go out of their comfort zone to try and find solutions. Neither player has really had to stray out of their comfort zone along the baseline much through two rounds which speaks to their pre-match game plans and also a little to what the opposition did not do.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

This should be a fascinating watch and it’s already obvious that Shapovalov’s flare for the game is drawing fans, which is great for tennis and bodes well for him from a confidence standpoint as well. That this will be played on Ashe again for El Shapo I think is a boost as he’s now already seen those court conditions, albeit at night, but it could give him some advantage over Edmund early. Playing on Ashe should also bring out a bigger crowd, which I also think plays to Shapovalov’s flare for showmanship.

I have seen quite a few around the Interwebs quick to dismiss the Canadian as over-hyped and perhaps ripe for the taking today. He’s being established as the favorite now and with this wonky draw at this year’s U.S. Open, from round to round, you’re going to find these spots where young players who win against bigger favorites the round prior now have expectation laid on them. That will be a little something new for Shapovalov, but you don’t get the feeling that this 18-year-old cares much whether people expect him to win or lose. He just wants to go out and do his job and prove to people that he belongs.

This match is obviously very close to a toss-up on skill level. Seeing either player win as their last match proved should not surprise and truly they might split a series of ten matches right down the middle. The one thing I do expect is to see momentum swings and some drama on Ashe this afternoon. I get the feeling this one will go long and I think El Shapo and his golden locks will continue to dazzle in the end.

Prediction: Shapovalov wins in four sets

2017 U.S. Open R2 Preview: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs Denis Shapovalov

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It is set to be the culmination of a long day of action at the U.S. Open when 8th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and qualifier Denis Shapovalov finish the action at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Wednesday night. The two face off for the first time in round two play in New York.

(8) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs (q) Denis Shapovalov

It was a clean start to the Open for Tsonga as he dispatched Marius Copil in straight sets 6-3, 6-3, 6-4. The win was the Frenchman’s first on an outdoor hard court since making the quarterfinals at the Australian Open. Tsonga has his first serve humming, taking 49 of 52 points played. His second serve was less effective with a 44 percent win rate, but was only needed 27 times. He smashed 13 aces to offset four double faults. Tsonga tallied 38 winners to 28 unforced errors. The 8th seed saved all four of the break points against his serve, while chewing into Copil’s serve over and over with 13 break chances, converting four of them.

Shapovalov notched his maiden Grand Slam main draw win in straight sets fashion as well, controlling the action in a 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 crush job over Daniil Medvedev. Shapovalov grinded through the match, winning 72 percent of his first serve points and 54 percent off his second. He broke the Russian seven times on 12 chances, while being broken two times on four opportunities. The lefty was comfortable with his tactics and not challenged to change much a he outhit Medvedev from the baseline. His one handed backhand was again a thing of beauty more often than not and allowed him to control court positioning.

Tsonga Feeling Good, Shapovalov Ready for His Close-Up

The 32-year-old Frenchman was pleased to get through his round one match in an easy manner and has said he felt he was ready to see good results after two tough losses in Montreal and Cincinnati during the hard court build-up to the Open. Tsonga lost a three setter to Sam Querrey at the Rogers Cup and then a tight straight sets decision to Ivo Karlovic at the Western & Southern Open. Tsonga has made the quarterfinals each of the last two seasons at the U.S. Open and obviously brings a wealth of experience that he hopes will be an edge against his lesser experienced opponent.

Shapovalov followed up his improbable semifinal run at the Rogers Cup with his first Grand Slam win and now gets a chance to showcase his skills on the biggest stage, the night time finisher on Ashe on Day 3. The 18-year-old became a household name with an upset win over Rafael Nadal at the Rogers Cup as well as a win against Juan Martin Del Potro that same week. His enthusiastic style and firy demeanor made him a big draw for his opener in Court 7 against Medvedev. Now, he will have to likely contend with playing in front of perhaps the largest crowd he’s ever seen at Ashe on Wednesday night.

What to Expect

There is certain to be some feeling out in the first set for both players with this being their first career meeting. The edge goes to Tsonga there for me with the way he was pounding his first serve in the opening round. That is something Shapovalov simply cannot match. Shapovalov does provide some pop with his ground strokes, but he won’t be getting the freebies that Tsonga can create with his serve. For Shapovalov, it has to be deception, variety and placement with his serve that throws Tsonga off. One of the things I recall the most from El Shapo’s win over Nadal was Rafa really not getting a great read on the lefty serve. That forced him to stand way behind the baseline and it really let Shapovalov dictate a lot with his ground strokes.

I don’t expect Tsonga will be standing two feet behind the baseline on return. What he will need to do is get clean returns on Shapovalov’s serve that allow him to be in good position when the rallies start. The Tsonga backhand for me is still the target for the opposition and I would expect if the Canadian wants to shock the world again, he’s going to try and get as many balls to the Frenchman’s backhand as possible. When Tsonga gets around on his forehand, we know it is fierce and it is powerful. Jo knows how to play quick and aggressive points and that is something he should look for against Shapovalov.

For me, Tsonga needs to make Shapovalov uncomfortable by using a wide variety on his ground strokes. Don’t simply go toe-to-toe from the baseline where the teen has shown he is most comfortable. Force him to come in and I think importantly as well, keep him on the move. Shapovalov is still slight in his physical build, whereas Tsonga is every bit of his 6’2″, 200 pound frame. He’s got over 30 pounds on his counterpart, but might move just as well when he’s fully fit and that’s where he says he is at right now.

For Shapovalov, he wants to dictate from the back of the court where he can use that one handed backhand as a weapon from anywhere. When he hits it with power and accuracy, he can hit it up the line or cross court equally well for winners. He’s shown good patience in crafting points when he is in the zone, so again that is where I think Tsonga needs to make him uncomfortable. Don’t let him sit still along the baseline and measure his shots. Make him move in and volley and most importantly, serve big and serve well. If Tsonga is hitting 90+ percent as a win rate off his first serve, he’s not going to be beat by many.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

This has the makings of a real barn burner under the lights if Shapovalov doesn’t get buried early. That is the danger for me if the kid is a bit too amped up and falters with his serve early. Tsonga isn’t likely to donate much back in those cases, so he could run away with a set quickly if the Canadian drops serve. For Shapovalov, I think the first set is very important. I don’t know that he necessarily has to win it, but being competitive will be a good boost for the match.

Tsonga has a fantastic record against lefties in his career at 56-19 and 4-2 this season. I think Shapovalov’s serve could be the big trouble spot in this one as he will need to find an extra gear if Tsonga continues with what he showed in round one. I’m not sure he’s got that in his repertoire yet. This should be a fun one though with some big shot making rallies that wow the crowd and the crowd could play a big role in Shapovalov having a shot to score an upset in this one. I feel like the crowd will be split and looking to cheer those hot shots and then looking to lift up whomever is trailing in the match in an effort to see a thriller.

This could be epic …. or epically disappointing. I feel like there’s not a lot of in-between. I go for something close to epic.

Prediction: Tsonga wins in five sets

2017 U.S. Open Preview: Quarter #4

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Seeds
Marin Cilic (5)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (8)
Pablo Carreno Busta (12)
Lucas Pouille (16)
David Ferrer (21)
Albert Ramos-Vinolas (28)
Diego Schwartzman (29)
Robin Haase (32)

Battle Tested Vets Might Be Shown Up

This final quarter of the draw got a little switcheroo with Andy Murray’s late withdrawal. Marin Cilic now is the lead seed in a quarter and comes to New York with health questions. He’s been out since Wimbledon due to an abductor injury he sustained in London. When healthy, he is an obvious threat at Slams still. Since a subpar Australian Open, Cilic made the quarterfinals at Roland Garros and then the final at Wimbledon. The U.S. Open brings back fond memories of course as the site of his lone Grand Slam conquest.

Last year’s third round exit in New York was Cilic’s worse since 2011 and broke a streak of three straight quarterfinal or better finishes. If he proves he is healthy, he is the obvious one to beat here. Tsonga brings no momentum to the proceedings, but a good tradition in New York that includes two straight quarterfinal finishes. He may just need to find some early wins to gain confidene after a poor summer that saw him lose both his hard court tuneups. The vet with the best form shockingly is David Ferrer who had not won more than two matches at a tournament prior to winning the title on clay in Bastard post-Wimbledon.

When the surface switched to hard courts, Ferrer kept going wth a third round run in Montreal followed up with a semifinal trip in Cincinnati. A guy who was an after thought is now one you cannot overlook. The real intrigue could lie with a couple of talented 20-somethings who are mid-seeds in Carreno Busta and Pouille. Pouille, a 2016 quarterfinalist at the U.S. Open, has struggled to follow up his surprising 2016 campaign. Still, he’s got all the game you could want and a fairly workable draw. You also have two unseeded players who look boom or bust in Steve Johnson and Kyle Edmund that I’ll talk about more below.

Cilic’s Half Looks a Three Horse Race

With Cilic, Pouille and Ferrer all in one half of this quarter – they look to be the most probable contenders for quarterfinal spots. Cilic of course must prove his health first and he gets that opportunity in round one against Tennys Sandgren. On his best day, Sandgren might be able to hold serve with Cilic and sneak out a tight set or two. With Cilic fully fit, Cilic should overpower the American and move to round two. You should learn plenty from Cilic as that match wears on, but Sandgren might steal a set early with the Croat rusty. If he is healthy, then his route to the fourth round looks very nice. He has Schwartzman as the seed in his way and not a whole lot more. A fun first rounder in this part of the draw could be Janko Tipsarevic and Thanasi Kokkinakis. The Aussie could score some wins here with Schwartzman as a possible second round opponent, if he beats Carlos Berlocq in round one.

Ferrer and Pouille are the seeds in the other part opposite Cilic. Pouille has a wiley vet in Ruben Bemelmans to open. If he works past the Belgian, he could see American Jared Donaldson. Donaldson opens with Nikoloz Bashilasvhili. Donaldson made waves last year with a run through qualifying at the U.S. Open and a third round finish. He comes in off an unexpected semifinal run in Cincy that should fuel him. Donaldson beat Pouille in an earlier meeting at the Rogers Cup in two tiebreak sets and could be a dark horse in this section. He’s also inconsistent enough to lose in round one.

Ferrer gets Mikhail Kukushkin in round one and he is 7-0 lifetime in that match-up, but will face a stern test. Kukushkin is a veteran player who has made a habit of being a tough out in New York. He beat Dimitrov in 2015 and took Cilic to five sets the next round. He also played Ferrer once here in 2013 and lost in four. I would not be surprised if kukushkin made life tough on ferrer. The survivor looks to be in good shape with Menendez-Maceiras or Donskoy up in round two. Donskoy does have a big ground game, but has really struggled to make much of that at this level on a consistent basis. You have to like a healthy Cilic here and don’t be surprised if Donaldson makes another run at the expense of Pouille.

Tsonga’s Half Looks Prime for Unexpected Results

Tsonga opens with Marius Copil who serves big and hits big. Copil has never matched up well with top tier players though and the 26-year-old has just one Grand Slam win. Still, Tsonga has has had a proclivity for losing to power players like this over the last few months with two losses to Querrey, one to Karlovic and one to Muller. Copil isn’t in that class, but he can certainly bang power for power with Tsonga for a bit. Tsonga will need to be sharp. If he wins, we could get a highly entertaining round two if qualifier Denis Shapovalov can earn his first Slam win in round one against Daniil Medvedev. Medevedev has been off his game of late, so Shappy should have a chance to earn that maiden victory. If it’s Tsonga-Shapovalov in round two, you’ll get two demonstrative players going head-to-head in a match made from heaven for the crowd.

Haase is the seed opposite that part of this section and he has a difficult path in round one against Kyle Edmund. Edmund has been up and down this summer, but has the tools to win on this surface. Outside of Haase’s surprise Rogers Cup run, outdoor hard courts traditionally are not his thing. He is 2-7 lifetime at the U.S. Open and an upset could definitely be in the cards in round one. The winner there sees either Steve Johnson or Nicolas Almagro. Almagro is returning after knee surgery in late May. Johnson has been up an down as we all know with his head swimming still following the passing of his father. I like that spot for him to win and you can bet the crowd will be 100 percent behind him. He could relish a chance to avenge a loss to Edmund last week in Winston-Salem. Don’t be surprised if Johnson is motivated and emotional enough to score some wins.

The other half of this segment is led by two seeded Spaniards in Carreno Busta and Ramos-Vinolas. Neither is the allergic type to hard courts, so they actually have a good opportunity in this part of the draw. Carreno Busta has a smoother path with qualifier Evan King in his opener and then either Cameron Norrie or Dmitry Tursunov. PCB really should make it to round three unless he is an absolute mess. Ramos-Vinolas faces Denis Istomin, which might sound difficult. Looking at Istomin’s 2017 since beating Novak Djokovic in Australia however and it looks easier. Istomin has lost his first match in seven of his last eight tournaments. That should put ARV into round two against Nicolas Mahut or Marton Fucsovics. Fucsovics normally doesn’t win at this level on this surface.

I’m not big on Tsonga despite his past history here and especially with some of the dangerous young floaters in his segment of the draw. I can see taking advantage here or a feel good story with Steve Johnson.

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

Most of this quarter hinges on the health of Cilic. If he’s healthy and finds his game after the layoff, he certainly has the goods to get through this quarter. If not, then this looks wide open with guys like Carreno Busta and Pouille hopeful among the seeds. However, I could definitely see the unseeded uprising here if the upsets fall early on. Johnson, Shapovalov, Edmund and Medvedev all have possibilities if things fall right. With the way things have gone, it’d be just about right if Ferrer survived here somehow. I look to either a healthy Cilic or Carreno Busta or a resurgent Pouille as the best shots. If the unseeded streak ends, give me Johnson and all the feels.

2017 Rogers Cup SF Preview: Alexander Zverev vs Denis Shapovalov

SASCHASHAPRC17

Alexander Zverev can make it two straight finals with a win over Canadian wild card Denis Shapovalov. The 18-year-old has been the story of the last few days after upsetting top seed Rafael Nadal and moving into the semifinals. He is the youngest player to contest a Masters 1000 semifinal in ATP World Tour history.

(4) Alexander Zverev vs (WC) Denis Shapovalov

Normally a 20-year-old making consecutive finals would be the big story, but 18-year-old Dennis Shapovalov has forced himself into the spotlight over Alexander Zverev this week. Shapovalov stunned Rafael Nadal in a three set thriller in the third round and then followed that up with a 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 win in the quarterfinals over Adrian Mannarino. Oh and he also beat Juan Martin Del Potro in round two, albeit a pretty poor version of the Argentine. Shapovalov may not be playing the cleanest tennis, but he’s been bold and come up large at key moments this week.

As for Zverev, there has been no let down after taking the Citi Open crown last weekend. Zverev did struggle early against Richard Gasquet in his opener, but rallied past the Frenchman in a third set tiebreak. Since then, he’s rolled through a pair of straight sets wins over Nick Kyrgios and Kevin Anderson. Sascha has been broken just three times through three rounds with two of those coming in his opener. He’s been consistent, although not over powering on serve this week as he’s taken just over 70 percent of the total points played. He’s also been clinical in converting break points as the tournament has progressed. After securing just two breaks on eight chances against Gasquet, he’s scored six breaks on his last nine chances in the last two rounds.

Under Pressure

One of the things that has served Shapovalov well this week is his ability to contend with pressure. Obviously there is a lot playing the top seed in Rafael Nadal, a big name like Del Potro and then trying to get to a Masters semifinal. Even though he’s fallen behind, he’s shown the ability to keep grinding and found a way to get back into matches. Shapovalov doesn’t look like much physically as a stringy six footer without a lot of weight behind him. Still, his ground strokes have been breath taking at times this week, showing power and precision. His one-handed backhand has been a big weapon and he’s shown plenty of whip with his lefty forehand as well.

Zverev meanwhile has performed well under a different kind of pressure, the growing pressure of expectation. After winning the Citi Open last week, I’ll be honest – I didn’t expect him back in this position again. He had tough times turning around after titles earlier in the season, but has shown great growth mentally this week with another run towards a possible final. The real litmus test was his opener against Gasquet. Sascha certainly did not have his best, but buoyed by that now epic 49 shot rally late in the match, he fought off multiple match points and found a way to win. That’s the makings of a great player – not playing your best, but grinding out positive results.

Match Tactics

Despite seemingly playing with unending confidence and never, this could be a really nervy spot for Shapovalov. He’s one step away from his first ATP level final and it’s in his home country. Up until now, he’s been playing with house money. He’s not the favorite obviously, but there is now a certain expectation placed on him after following up the Nadal win with a win. If I’m Sascha Zverev, I try to expose those nerves early and often. That means Sascha needs to start with his serve in rhythm to put pressure on his Canadian counterpart to match him. Shapovalov has been doing enough on serve to win, but there have been opportunities missed by his opponents. The Canadian has seen 22 break chances against him the last two rounds, but managed to save 17 of those chances. With Zverev converting at a high clip, Shapovalov will need to do better and allow less looks at breaks.

He can do that with good variety and placement on his serve. Having not played Zverev, it should be advantageous to him early. Vice versa, Zverev should have an edge serving early as well with both players trying to get a measure of the other. The longer Shapovalov can go without letting Sascha see break chances, the better his confidence will be that he can keep contending. He went after Mannarino’s backhand return to help set up better court position on Friday, but he may not get that luxury with Zverev as a better quality returner. If Zverev is able to get good returns on serve, then Shapovalov will want to move himself into a centered position on the baseline. That’s where he’s done a lot of damage this tournament with the ability to hit the ball inside-put off either wing from this position.

For me, Zverev has the edge if the battle involves more movement along the baseline. He’s shown the ability to hit winners on the run consistently. Shapovalov has good movement, but I’m not sure if he can consistently hit winners moving east to west. He does however possess very good skills north to south from what I have seen and he looks comfortable at net. Zverev is good there as well, but as he prefers to stick to the baseline, Shapovalov might look to force him in a few times to see how that works.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Everyone will be eager to see if Shapovalov can keep his run going. He’s obviously beaten really good players this week, but I think to that end, players who have made plenty of mistakes to keep him in matches. I think if Zverev continues zoned in as he’s been for the better part of two weeks, Shapovalov will meet his match. That’s not to suggest that Shapovalov can’t raise his level and score another upset, but I think Zverev is a guy playing with confidence and precision. Del Potro was not. Nadal made some strategic mistakes to me in staying too far behind the baseline on return and Mannarino simply didn’t have the power and precision to take the best advantage.

Credit to Shapovalov for beating those guys and taking advantage of those things and proving that he can contend with his own weapons. The feeling for me however is that Sascha has too much in all departments if he employs solid strategy in this one. I could see Shapovalov taking a set with Sascha having to figure out the young Canadian’s game, but in the end, I see Zverev advancing to his sixth final of the season.

Prediction: Zverev wins in three sets