2018 French Open Men’s Draw Preview

RGFULLPREVIEW

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pig-nosticator

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

Eliminati

Qualifier (Sock)
Borna Coric (Kohlschreiber)

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

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

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

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

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

The Pig-nosticator

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

Eliminati

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pig-nosticator

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

Eliminati

Qualifer (Kyrgios)

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

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

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

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

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

The Pig-nosticator

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

Eliminati

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

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

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

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

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

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2018 French Open Preview: Seeded Eliminati Ratings

RGPREV2

In the first part of this year’s French Open preview, I touched on the “it” players in Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev. I also dove a bit into the history of seeds and how they have fared over the past eight years (2010-2017). Incorporated into that mix was a look at the top ten seeds and their Eliminati Ratings or basically, how prone they would be to a round one upset. The second part of the preview continues there and hits from seeds 12-32. Again since this is based solely on form, past Roland Garros history. Grand Slam history and some of the historical seed history in Paris, make sure you actually look at the draw when it comes out to draw your own conclusions. The draw makes the biggest difference in determining who can fall to the Eliminati!

Again these seeds are based on current rankings and no withdrawals or non-participation known outside of Roger Federer and Milos Raonic.

12. Sam Querrey
Querrey is another player who opted to participate in the final prep tournaments for Roland Garros. He is in rain-delayed Geneva, where play finally got back underway today after stalling out yesterday and early today due to weather. It’s easy to see why Querrey chose to play this week with two losses in his only clay court matches in Houston and Rome during this swing. Roland Garros has been a horror show for the American traditionally with 2013’s third round run as his best. He’s been an opening round casualty three straight years and eight of eleven overall. Two of the last three opening round losses came to great defenders in Hyeon Chung (2017) and Borna Coric (2015) with Bjorn Fratangelo the culprit in 2016.
ELIMINATI RATING: 5

13. Roberto Bautista Agut
The 30-year-old Spaniard has not lost in the opening round since he first broke into the main draw in 2013. The last two years in Paris he has been consistent with a pair of fourth round finishes. The form coming in is decent at 6-4 during the Euro swing on clay. He get dumped out in round one at the Australian Open this year with a straight sets loss to Verdasco. That is a tough match-up for a seed in round one. That was his first opening round loss at Slam since his very first – the Australian Open in 2012. RBA is a guy who has never made it past round four at Slam, but generally is consistent enough to avoid early trouble. Watch the draw though just to make sure he doesn’t get some sort of bad luck.
ELIMINATI RATING: 1

14. Jack Sock
Sock is in the midst of an underwhelming campaign with a 5-10 record after losing to Taylor Fritz today in Lyon. The American has slipped out of the top ten, where spades being spades, he did not belong any how. He’s had a bad run of one and dones at Grand Slams recently with three of his last four played going that way, including this year’s Australian Open and last year’s French Open. He was also a first-up casualty in his opener for the 2018 season in Auckland. Sock has gone out in his opener in three of his eight tournaments since Melbourne though, so he’s at least found a bit of the winning touch here and there. Still, he hasn’t put together back-to-back wins all season – so I’m not expecting a ton from him. As for his Eliminati status … he’s on the watch list. Last year’s opening round loss to Jiri Vesely was preceded by a five round win in the opening round over Robin Haase in 2016. Give his current state, a struggle to avoid an upset is definitely more likely than not.
ELIMINATI RATING: 4

15. Lucas Pouille
Another one of my favorite punching bags this season and for good reason. The Frenchman who made two Slam quarterfinals in 2016 has been lost at sea for most of 2018. Pouille lost his opener in three of the four clay court tournaments he played in this Spring and has two other one and dones this season. It’s been rather shameful for Pouille after such a promising start where he made three finals early in the season and won the Open Sud de France. The wheels have obviously come off since then and he may feel some pressure at his “home” Slam. Pouille lost in round one at the Australian Open, but that has been a real horror show where he is 0-5 in his career. In Paris, Pouille has lost his opener twice in the last five years, but has escaped round one each of the last two years. Both of those came against Julien Benneteau, so perhaps if they aren’t magnetized to each other this year – Pouille will have even more of a worry.
ELIMINATI RATING: 4

16. Kyle Edmund
The Brit has really come on since returning to healthy with a solid 10-5 mark on clay this season. Those ten wins are almost half of the 23-year-old’s total ATP wins on this surface, so his confidence is escalating. Madrid was especially good to him with wins over Novak Djokovic and David Goffin. He also made the final in Marrakech, albeit without beating a player ranked higher than #38 at the time (Richard Gasquet). His semifinal run at the Australian Open showed that he’s got the mentality for the five set grind, but the French Open will be a test. This is just his fourth run in Paris, but he has avoided a first round calamity so far. The match-up might make it more interesting, but the Brit looks fairly safe to avoid a first round exit.
ELIMINATI RATING: 1

17. Tomas Berdych
Berdych will be a focal point of many looking for round one upsets and rightfully so with the Czech going 0-3 on clay this season. All of those have been one and dones. He hasn’t won since the Miami Open in March and has just two wins in that stretch from March to the present. Berdych has not lost in the opening round at a Slam since 2013 and you guessed it, that came at Roland Garros at the hands of Gael Monfils. Berdych has made two quarterfinals in Paris since that loss, but definitely does not having the winning touch right now. The 32-year-old may be in obvious decline, but he’s still had his moments at Grand Slams as recently as last summer’s semifinal run at Wimbledon. As such, he may be able to lean on his experience to escape early trouble. Still, I have a feeling he could be in for a tough draw and that might make the escape act that much tougher for a player short on confidence right now.
ELIMINATI RATING: 4

18. Fabio Fognini
The Italian is in Geneva this week after a very solid week in Rome, where he made the quarterfinals. He beat Thiem and took a set off of Nadal to remind everyone of the potential he carries with him every week. Then you roll the calendar back to Madrid, Munich and Monte Carlo to find a 1-3 mark with two opening losses to Marco Cecchinato and Leonardo Mayer to see his vulnerability each week. Fognini has a first round exit at a Slam ten of the eleven years he has been on tour in main draws. Generally, Roland Garros has been a more consistent source of avoiding that fate, but it did happen last in 2016. The French Open is the site of his only career Grand Slam quarterfinal (2011), so clearly this is his best Slam. Trust however is rarely earned by Fognini, so you definitely have to see who he is playing in round one before making up your mind.
ELIMINATI RATING: 2

19. Kei Nishikori
Nishikori will be playing at his first Grand Slam since Wimbledon last summer, where he finished in the third round. He was forced to miss both the U.S. Open and Australian Open due to the wrist injury. He’s shown enough on clay since coming back to consider him a sleeper perhaps in the right draw to make some noise. He made the Monte Carlo final and also the quarters last week in Rome. The wrist is still a bit of a worry though as he was forced to retire in his only match at the Barcelona Open with soreness. That came after the long week in Monte Carlo, so his total fitness in this best of five format is going to be a question. When healthy, he’s been a huge Slam threat with quarterfinals made in five of his last eleven. Since his only first round exit at Roland Garros in 2014, he’s made the quarterfinals twice and fourth round the other year. He should be properly rested here, so I think the first round is one he should expect to navigate for a win.
ELIMINATI RATING: 1

20. Novak Djokovic
Djokovic’s run to the Rome semifinals assured him of staying in the seeded field for this year’s French Open, where he has no been unseeded since 2006. Rome obviously gave him a nice confidence boost after a very difficult time trying to get untracked this Spring after the elbow procedure. The glaring question for the Serb will be how his body holds up playing best of five for however long he lasts. In round one, I won’t say that shouldn’t be a bother, because his level of play does still spike up and down a bit. It would be historical however if he was taken out in the opening round. Djokovic has a streak of 47 straight Grand Slams played without losing in the first round. He’s never lost in round one in Paris. I don’t think he’s quite a zero because he needs to prove he can win three sets, but he’s probably closer to a zero rating than one for me.
ELIMINATI RATING: 1

21. Nick Kyrgios
If you’re thinking it’s been a while since we’ve seen Kyrgios, you’re right. He last played singles in Houston in early April going 1-1. He’s sat out the rest of the clay court season with his right elbow still a big concern. He decided to play Lyon this week, but only in doubles to test the elbow. Teaming with Jack Sock, the pair won their opener on Monday and were scheduled to play again today – weather permitting. Let’s assume he stays in the draw for now. Roland Garros has not been a great place for NK with a 5-5 mark, but only one first round exit in 2014 to Milos Raonic. Last year, he was beaten in round two by Kevin Anderson. Slams were tough on him late in 2017 with successive one and dones at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. He started this year strong with a fourth round run in Melbourne, but his body has yet again been failing him since then. Given his physical frailty, there’s an obvious chance he loses early if he plays at all.
ELIMINATI RATING: 5

22. Philipp Kohlschreiber
Kohlschreiber put together a really solid clay court swing, going 10-5 with the highlight being a trip to the Munich final. Outside of his Lamine Ouhab in Marrakech, his losses came to higher ranked players. The problem for the German though has been lackluster Grand Slam results in the last three years. Since 2015, he’s had eight first round exits at Slams. That includes this year’s Australian Open and each of the last two years in Paris. At 34, he might be playing some of his better tennis consistently right now. I’d still rate him a possibility though with his recent history and also that he could wind up with a tough opponent.
ELIMINATI RATING: 3

23. Stan Wawrinka
The 2015 champion won’t have much expectation on him after missing the last three months to full recover from last season’s knee surgery. The Swiss returned to tour action last week in Rome, losing to Steve Johnson. He’s also enrolled in Geneva this week, where he has won the last two titles. Right now, it is all about getting match play for Wawrinka. He says the knee feels good, but his rhythm is obviously not there after so much time away from the court. Stan has only lost two first round matches at Slams since 2014. One was at the French Open that year and the other one at Wimbledon in 2017. He’s an obvious threat when healthy here with a run of three straight years winning the title, making the semis and making the final last year. Monitor his progress or lack thereof in Geneva this week. The more matches he gets, I think the less worry I’d have about him in round one and vice versa. I think you still have to temper your expectations though and look at who he draws in round one.
ELIMINATI RATING: 3

24. Denis Shapovalov
El Shapo gets his first seeded Slam appearance in Paris. The Canadian teen has acquitted himself well on this surface during his first full run at this part of the season. After a slow start, he made the semifinals in Madrid and then won a couple in Rome before losing to Nadal. This is going to be his first main draw appearance at Roland Garros, so that is a big change for him. Let’s not forget, he’s only played in three Slams so far in his career with last year’s U.S. Open fourth round run as the highlight. Being that clay is still probably a surface that his game isn’t the best suited for and that he’s a first timer here, there is certainly some chance of an upset early.
ELIMINATI RATING: 3

25. Adrian Mannarino
The Frenchman has a definite clay court allergy at 12-33 all-time on the surface, 1-4 this season. He’s lost his opener at Roland Garros seen of the nine years that he has been in the main draw. Even Captain Obvious feels guilty.
ELIMINATI RATING: 5

26. Filip Krajinovic
The 26-year-old Serb is making a rare appearance in a main draw at a Grand Slam. This will be just his 8th Slam played, but third in Paris. Of those previous seven appearances, he’s only won in the main draw one time at the 2015 U.S. Open. Throw in that he has not played since Miami due to a lingering Achilles injury. Given his struggles on clay, he’s a huge candidate for one and done status if he is able to give it a go at all.
ELIMINATI RATING: 5

27. Damir Dzumhur
Dzumhur has been a first round loser three of the four years that he has played this event. He’s gone just 2-5 during the build-up tournaments with three first match losses. He’s not terrible on the surface overall, but he’s struggled to grab wins at the ATP level on dirt lately. Since the beginning of 2017, he’s just 4-12 on the surface.
ELIMINATI RATING: 4

28. Andrey Rublev
A back injury has kept the 20-year-old Russian sidelined for long periods since he picked it up during his Miami Open loss to Vasek Pospisil. He played in Monte Carlo in April and challenged Thiem pretty well before losing in three sets. He has not appeared in a match since that time in an effort to get healthy. When healthy, this big hitter is a threat on this surface as he showed in winning his lone ATP title last year in Umag on clay. He’s only played in six Slams so far in his career and this will be just his second time at the French Open. Rublev lost in round one last year and has to be an iffy proposition in round one this year with his lack of match play coupled with the back problem.
ELIMINATI RATING: 4

29. Richard Gasquet
The Gasman has not lost his opener at Roland Garros since 2010. He does however have three one and dones in his last six Slams played. Gasquet started the clay season well with a semifinal run in Marrakech and a quarterfinal finish in Monte Carlo. He’s 1-3 since with two opening match losses. Gasquet has had some bad luck with injuries at Slams the last few seasons with his back and knee being the culprits. For the purposes of this though, we’re looking at the here and now. His history says he will probably have a good chance to get through round one, again depending on the opponent. His recent losses though are still a bit of a cause for concern along with his injury history.
ELIMINATI RATING: 2

30. Feliciano Lopez
Despite not being associated with clay court success, the lefty has only dropped his opener in Paris once in the last five years. That did break a string of three straight opening round losses from 2010-2013 and he had lost his opener nine of the first 12 years he played in Paris. He’s turned it around some though and was 3-4 during the Euro swing with just one opening round loss. Lopez has lost in the opening round in three of the last five Grand Slams.
ELIMINATI RATING: 3

31. Gilles Muller
This is his worst surface and worst Slam by far. Muller has lost in round one six of the eight years that he has made the main draw. He was 1-3 in three tournaments played on clay leading up to Roland Garros with a pair of one and dones. He should be very high on your list of potential seeded upset victims in round one.
ELIMINATI RATING: 5

32. Fernando Verdasco
There will be plenty of seeds happy to see the Spaniard slip into the final spot in the seeded field, so they don’t have to worry about drawing him. Verdasco may not be a deep threat at this stage of his career, but he’s still capable of pulling off early upsets. Ask Bautista Agut about Melbourne this year and Alexander Zverev about last year in Paris. The Spaniard had his best Slam result in the last three years by making the fourth round at Roland Garros in 2017. The 34-year-old has been mediocre on dirt this year after a scintillating run to the Rio final. He’s still super fit and works about as hard as anyone. This is his first time being a seed since the 2015 French Open, when he also was seeded 32nd.
ELIMINATI RATING: 2

So there you have it, the entire seeded field over the course of the first two parts of this preview have been dissected as to their possible shots at being early elimination candidates. In the final part of the preview tomorrow, I’ll take a look at the unseeded players who could produce some of these potential upsets.

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The Ocho v.12

ocho

“The Eight” …. Every week, @tennispig will give his top eight ATP singles players and top eight ATP/WTA doubles teams from the previous week. It’s a great way to monitor who is hot … and who is not. It’s clay court season, so who do you think has the top spot again?

1.Rafael Nadal
There aren’t really any superlatives left that describe what Nadal does on clay at this point. For the second straight week, he won a clay court tournament for the 11th time in his career. Last week it was Monte Carlo, this week it was Barcelona where Center Court is named after his greatness. Oh and all he did along the way was keep winning in straight sets. Nadal has now won 46 straight sets on clay and he has tallied 401 match wins on this surface. Rafa is also still ranked number one and gets a well deserved rest this week before Madrid and Rome.

RAFA

2. Stefanos Tsitsipas
If not for Rafa, the 19-year-old Greek’s week might have ranked as the best. Still, it was a massive run for the talented teen as he made his first ATP final in Barcelona before losing to Nadal. In making the final, he became the first Greek to make one since 1973! He also laid waste to four seeds in the process. This week, he moves up to a career best #44 in the rankings. Expectation will rise with this result, so now it’s on the Greek to prove this wasn’t a one week thing.

3. Marco Cecchinato
The 25-year old Italian is the luckiest of all losers this week. After dropping his final round qualifying match to Jurgen Zopp in Budapest last week, he was issued a spot in the main draw after Laslo Djere withdrew to shuffle the deck in the main draw at the Hungarian Open. Cecchinato used this second life to the fullest, beating seeds Damir Dzumhur, Jan-Lennard Struff and Andreas Seppi en route to the final. There, he edged John MIllman7-5, 6-4 to claim his first ATP title. He moves up 33 spots in the rankings to #59 this week.

4. David Goffin
Goffin slips onto the list this week after making the semifinals in Barcelona this week. After missing nearly a month due to an eye injury, the Belgian appears to be rounding into form with a quarterfinal run last week in Monte Carlo. It was a battle for Goffin from the opening match in Barcelona, where he trailed a set and 5-1 to Marcel Granollers. That would be the first of three straight rallies from a set down at the Barcelona Open. Wins over Roberto Bautista Agut and Karen Khachanov will boost his confidence. A loss to Nadal that ended with a bagel in set two shouldn’t derail his confidence. Goffin was obviously running on fumes and facing the King of Clay.

5. Marc Lopez/Feliciano Lopez
The highlight doubles squad of the week is Team Lopez. Marc and Feliciano took home the doubles titles in Barcelona and took the customary plunge into the pool to celebrate their first ATP title together since winning the French Open in 2016. It had been a tough start to 2018 for the Spaniards, going 3-8 before this past week. They may have caught a lucky break with Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic withdrawing ahead of their potential quarterfinal showdown, but the Lopezes took advantage and beat Aisam Ul-Haq Qureshi and Jean-Julien Rojer 7-6 (5), 6-4 in the championship match. The win shoots them up 15 spots to #12 in the doubles rankings and within easy shouting distance of the top eight.

LOPEZ

6. Novak Djokovic
Djokovic is here again for all the wrong reasons. The Serb still can’t seem to find himself with a three set loss in his opener to Martin Klizan in Barcelona. The loss dropped the Serb to just 5-5 this season. I think there was some expectation of struggle for a guy working his way back from an elbow issue that required surgery, but the most disheartening part of this struggle has to be the lack of finishing power for the 12-time Grand Slam champ.

If you scan back to his comeback after the Australian Open, three of the Serb’s last four losses have come in three sets. He lost at Indian Wells to Taro Daniel 6-1 in the third, to Dominic Thiem in Monte Carlo 6-3 in the third and last week to Martin Klizan at 6-3 in the third. So that’s 0-3 in deciding sets this season for a guy who sports right around a 75 percent win rate in that category for his career.

Djokovic continues to tinker with anything in an effort to recapture his former glory with one of the latest notes being that he’s gone to a lighter racquet to reduce the wear and tear on his elbow. Can I say what we’re all thinking though as one of the problems – EAT SOME GLUTEN. The Serb looks rail thin and I don’t think that’s helping when he gets to those deciding sets. If you believe the ATP site, he’s listed at 170 pounds – about 18-19 pounds less than both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. He doesn’t need to pack on that bulk, but I really do think this lighter weight isn’t helping him from wearing down an an era of the heaviest hitters of all time from the baseline.

7. Kei Nishikori
A week after looking like he was finally on track with a run to the Monte Carlo final, Nishikori predictably pulled up lame in Barcelona. He was forced to retire after dropping his opening set to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez due to pain in his surgically repaired wrist. Nishikori said it’s nothing he is worrying about long term, but rather something he has to deal with on clay. He says with the slower conditions, he uses more spin in his shots and that puts more stress on the wrist. Still, it doesn’t seem as if Nishikori is going to progress to the point of being a true contender again from week to week any time soon. He will be hit and miss, but hopefully can continue to heal and gain strength to be a factor during the summer hard court swing.

8. Lucas Pouille
Finally, there’s Lucas Pouille who seemingly left his game at the Davis Cup quarterfinals. Pouille led his countrymen to victory of Italy with two five set wins and it appears to have carried over to tour play. I can forgive the three set loss to Mischa Zverev in Monte Carlo, which was a quick turnaround from playing those Davis Cup matches. Losing to John Millman when he was defending the title in Budapest though? With all due respect to Millman’s finals run at that 250 event, Pouille should not be losing to a player who had not won a single clay court match at this level in his career prior to this past week. Pouille has now lost his opening match in five of eight tournaments in 2018. For a player inside the Top 20 at #18, that’s very poor.

2018 Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell Preview

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Another Week, Another Nadal Dominated Tournament

The ATP World Tour stops in Barcelona this week and with most of these big clay court tournaments, it is one that has been dominated by Rafael Nadal. The native of Mallorca sports a 53-3 record all-time at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell and is responsible for taking home the title ten times in the past 13 years. Nadal is looking to win the title for the third straight year after Kei Nishikori broke up Rafa’s dominant run from 2005-2013, where only Fernando Verdasco broke up what would have been a nine year run of titles for Nadal.

Nadal has only failed to win the tournament three times in 13 trips to Barcelona. He’s automatic in finals here, going a perfect ten for ten. Rafa comes in looking for his 11th title at a second straight tournament after accomplishing that feat in a dominant run in Monte Carlo last week. That culminated with a win over Nishikori in the final 6-3, 6-3. The Spaniard is now 29-1 on clay since being forced to retire from the French Open in 2016 due to injury.

Nishikori Leads Other Seeds

Things finally started clicking for Kei Nishikori in his finals run in Monte Carlo last week. This week’s 14th seed outdid his entire win total in 2018 last week, grabbing five wins before losing the final to Nadal. He had just four ATP level wins this season prior to Monte Carlo. Further up the seeded ladder this week behind Nadal are Grigor Dimitrov, Dominic Thiem and David Goffin rounding out the top four. Thiem is the only one with some success at this tournament, having made the final in 2017. Dimitrov is 0-2 and Goffin 1-2 in their brief visits to Barcelona.

The rest of the top eight is highlighted by Novak Djokovic at #6. Pablo Carreno Busta preceeds him at #5 with Diego Schwartzman and Roberto Bautista Agut completing the top eight. This is surprisingly just Djokovic’s second trip ever to Barcelona and highlights the desperation mode he is currently in as he seeks to find better form. The Serb did score his first wins since January with a third round run in Monte Carlo last week. It ended with a thud though as Thiem wore him down in three sets.

Among the remaining seeds, Spaniards Albert Ramos-Vinolas (10) and Feliciano Lopez (12) are two-time Barcelona Open quarter finalists. Fernando Verdasco slips in at #15, a winner here back in 2010. Verdasco has lost his opener two of the last three trips, dropping his first match last year to Andrey Rublev. Karen Khachanov closes out the seeds at #16. The Russian made the quarters here last year. Perhaps the highlight seed not mentioned yet is #9 Hyeon Chung. Chung made the quarters last year as well, but has not played since Miami. Chung’s season has been nothing short of consistent with quarterfinal appearances in six straight tournaments.

Six of the seeds have three matches or less under their belt all-time at this tournament, which ties us to The Eliminati – the ones who erase seeds from the tournament in their first matches. Barcelona has been a breeding ground for Eliminati, especially against top ten seeds. At least five seeds have been dumped out in their openers in three of the last four years in Barcelona. That includes nine top ten seeds. Let’s see who could join the parade this week.

ELIMINATI

Dusan Lajovic
The Serb has to get past Spanish wildcard Pedro Martinez, but if he does, he’ll get a second round date against 12th seed Feliciano Lopez. Lopez does own a 2-1 mark against Lajovic, but all three matches have gone to three sets including their last at Indian Wells in 2017. Lopez has done better at avoiding first-up losses this season with only two and he hasn’t lost his opener in Barcelona since 2014. Still, Laovic would present a tougher out and give some potential for an upset.

Martin Klizan/Federico Delbonis
The now weekly Djokovic watch includes either Klizan or Delbonis to meet him first. Delbonis has won the last two in the series against Klizan, so the Argentine could be favored to meet Djokovic. Djokovic might prefer Klizan who he has beaten all four times they have played over Delbonis who he has not battled with yet in his career. Djokovic did a nice job with his start in Monte Carlo, but his fitness still looks somewhat sketchy. I don’t know that either one of these guys can take full advantage, but nothing seems simple for Djokovic from week-to-week and especially here where he has not played but one time back in 2006.

Ivo Karlovic
Karlovic battles Tommy Robredo in round one. Should the big man get by the Spaniard, he will get another shot at Roberto Bautista Agut. Karlovic won their lone meeting last year on clay in Madrid in three sets. RBA has made the quarters here, but the last two years have been earlier exits. Last year, he lost to Ramos-Vinolas in round two. In 2-16, Khachanov beat him in round one. Karlovic’s serve would make a potential second rounder versus RBA could be a tight one.

Guido Pella
The Argentine opens against Peter Gojowczyk. A win would get him a date against Verdasco. They have split two career meetings with Pella winning on clay in Buenos Aires this year and Verdasco returning the favor at Indian Wells. Pella certainly will have a chance to get the best of the Spaniard, even on home soil.

Benoit Paire/Nicolas Jarry
The winner gets a shot at Pablo Carreno Busta. PCB has never won back to back matches in Barcelona and comes in having not played since Miami. Paire has played PCB five times and owns a couple of wins on clay, including their last in Madrid and here in Barcelona in 2011. Jarry has never played the Spaniard, but has shown some good prowess on clay during the Spring in making his first ATP final in Sao Paulo. Carreno Busta will have a tough time regardless of who makes it.

Pablo Cuevas
Cuevas could get a shot at #11 Adrian Mannarino, who is making his Barcelona debut. Cuevas is 2-0 against the Frenchman with both wins coming on clay. Cuevas will need to beat qualifier Ricardo Ojeda Lara to open, but should have a good chance to score the upset against Mannarino if he makes it to round two.

Tennys Sandgren/Malek Jaziri
The survivor of this round one match will battle Andrey Rublev in round two. Jaziri beat the Russian last year on the Challenger circuit on clay. Sandgren should have a shot to show better this week after a bad travel schedule and little prep time coming from Houston on Sunday last week to a match in Monte Carlo within a couple of days. Sandgren made his first final at this level in Houston on dirt and I think either guy here has a chance to challenge the 20-year-old Russian in round two.

Corentin Moutet/Stefanos Tsitsipas
The winner faces 7th seed Diego Schwartzman in round two. Schwartzman has not played here before and was woeful in his loss to Richard Gasquet in Monte Carlo last week. Moutet made it through qualifying and does own a win over the Greek indoors last year in Challenger play. Tsitsipas has done more at the ATP level so far, but that looks like a real dog fight in round one. The winner I think will have a chance against Schwartzman who seems to be struggling just a bit with his consistency from match to match.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
(1) Rafael Nadal: 53-3 (10x Winner)
(6) Novak Djokovic: 0-1
(12) Feliciano Lopez: 20-17
(14) Kei Nishikori: 19-4 (2x Winner)

Breakdown
The names will draw attention to this quarter, but form points only to Nadal as the likely semifinalist. With Nadal and Nishikori in this section, you have the two players responsible for the four most recent titles with the last two to Nadal and the two before that to Nishikori. Djokovic is clearly an outlier at this point and a quarterfinal run this week would feel pretty solid given the draw. Djokovic opens against either Martin Klizan or Federico Delbonis. That’s not easy, so any win is a good win. If he advances, he could see Lopez for a spot in the quarters. Lopez likely will need to beat Dusan Lajovic to get to that point. Djokovic is 9-1 against Lopez.

If we don’t get a repeat of the Monte Carlo final between Nadal and Nishikori in round three, it could be due to Nishikori suffering a letdown. The match-up is good for him though against either Yuichi Sugita or Guillermo Garcia-Lopez before the potential Nadal rematch. Rafa shouldn’t have any problems doing his part with Adrian Haider-Maurer or Roberto Carballas Baena in round two. My take on Nishikori’s Monte Carlo run is that it was a plus for him, but still several steps away from really being able to contend against someone like Nadal on this surface.

The Pig-nosticator

Short and sweet. It’s Nadal to push through to the semifinals. The bigger question will be whether Djokovic is there to get a shot to go against him in the quarters. Those two haven’t met since Nadal destroyed Djokovic in straights in Madrid last year. I think for the Serb it is a match he needs. Losing big will not push him back any further, but contending with the King of Clay in his current form could do a ton for his confidence.

Sizzle
Rafael Nadal

Fizzle
Feliciano Lopez

Quarter #2 Seeds
(4) David Goffin: 1-2
(8) Roberto Bautista Agut: 4-4
(9) Hyeon Chung: 3-2
(16) Karen Khachanov: 5-2

Breakdown
For me, this could be the quarter of the tournament. There are quality players among the seeds and Chung’s return to action will hopefully continue what has been a sensationally consistent season for the 21-year-old. Starting with Goffin’s half, the Belgian looks like he has his timing back after a a quarterfinal run last week in Monte Carlo that included a win over Bautista Agut. I think he’s only going to get better with more match play. He will open against either Mikhail Kukushkin or Marcel Granollers. Both players have wins over Goffin, but current form on clay would say Goffin survives.

Goffin is seeded to see Khachanov in round three. The Russian made the quarterfinals last year in Barcelona and was fairly solid in Monte Carlo before losing to Nadal. He has to get past Mischa Zverev or Leonardo Mayer in round two. Both can cause some issues, but I think the Russian has the better game if he serves well. Khachanov could be a big test for Goffin’s recovery. He’s pushed Goffin to three sets in two of the four meetings and owns his one win against three losses on clay against the Belgian here last year.

In the other half, Bautista Agut might have a tough time getting a win if he faces Ivo Karlovic to open. Karlovic takes on Tommy Robredo in round one. Karlovic’s serve alone has given RBA some problems in the past, so an upset is very possible if that match-up takes place. Chung is the one to watch here with the Korean getting a good early draw against either Bjorn Fratangelo or lucky loser Alexei Vatutin in round two. Chung us 1-1 against RBA, beating him in Shanghai last Fall. I think Karlovic’s serve would honestly be a bigger threat to stopping the 9th seed,

The Pig-nosticator

This quarter looks very open as I could make a good case for Goffin, Chung or Khachanov getting through here. You might not even want to count out someone like Karlovic or a stunner from say the Mischa Zverev-Leonardo Mayer winner in making a big run. An unseeded player has made the semifinals in three of the last four years in Barcelona. For me, Goffin is the guy though if he can find his consistency again right away this week. I do think Chung has a good shot to continue his quarterfinal streak however.

Sizzle
David Goffin
Hyeon Chung

Fizzle
Roberto Bautista Agut

Quarter #3 Seeds
(3) Dominic Thiem: 6-3
(7) Diego Schwartzman: 0-0
(10) Albert Ramos-Vinolas: 12-8
(15) Fernando Verdasco: 15-10 (2010 – W)

Breakdown
Thiem looked pretty solid in his return from an ankle injury. He got beat down by Nadal in the quarterfinals, but that just isn’t a black mark against anyone at this point. The Austrian made the final here last year, so he’ll be banking on making another big run this week. His first match comes against Joao Sousa or Jaume Minar. Sousa has been a very comfortable match-up with Thiem winning six of seven matches. Minar is a 20-year-old with some talent on clay and he’s likely to get the crowd support. Don’t write him off.

Thiem is seeded to see Verdasco for a spot in the quarters. Verdasco will have to get past Peter Gojowczyk or Guido Pella. If he can, then we might get an upset. Verdasco is 3-0 against the 3rd seed and owns a straight sets win over him on clay already in 2018. In the other half, Schwartzman debuts at this tournament. The Argentine was pounded in his second match in Monte Carlo last week by Richard Gasquet, which doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence in spit of the Frenchman’s recent good run. Schwartzman will face qualifier Corentin Moutet or Stefanos Tsitsipas. Don’t be surprised if one of those youngsters doesn’t push him the 7th seed pretty hard.

That could leave Ramos-Vinolas to make a third quarterfinal run in Barcelona. ARV has been a bit mediocre lately, but gets a boost with the draw. He could face Jared Donaldson for the second straight week after beating the American in straights in Monte Carlo. Donaldson has to get past Rogerio Dutra Silva first. For me, I would be a bit surprised if Ramos-Vinolas doesn’t at least get the opportunity. He would definitely benefit from Schwartzman losing early though with an 0-2 mark against the Argentine.

The Pig-nosticator

I think there could be some upsets among the top seeds in this quarter. Schwartzman could potentially join the pile of top ten seeds who have lost their openers in the last few years. Thiem won’t like having Verdasco possibly in his way, but this might be his week to make a move after getting to test the ankle last week and coming away with positive results. For me though, I look to Ramos-Vinolas or Verdasco to sneak through this section.

Sizzle
Albert Ramos-Vinolas

Fizzle
Diego Schwartzman

Quarter #4 Seeds
(2) Grigor Dimitrov: 0-2
(5) Pablo Carreno Busta: 3-6
(11) Adrian Mannarino: 0-0
(13) Andrey Rublev: 1-1

Breakdown
This quarter looks top heavy amongst the seeds with Mannarino having no experience here and Rublev having leveled off from a hot start to the season in January. The lack of success among the seeds in this final quarter means this sucker could be wide open. Dimitrov will be the favorite after recapturing some form in Monte Carlo. Dimitrov’s semifinal run was his best in a while. He faces Gilles Simon or Ilya Ivashka to start. Simon gave Dimitrov some trouble in the past with a 5-3 record against the Bulgarian, but Dimitrov won the last two meetings in 2016.

Rublev is opposite of Dimitrov in that half. The Russian will face tough opposition against either Sandgren or Jaziri in his opener. An upset is definitely possible there. Dimitrov likely won’t be bothered if Rublev makes it with the 3rd seed having beaten Rublev twice since losing to him last year at the U.S. Open. As usual, this looks like a spot for Dimitrov to make a run – but can he take advantage? The other half with Carreno Busta looks open to an unseeded player making a run.

PCB will be up against it versus Benoit Paire or Nicolas Jarry in his opener. Mannarino may also not be longed for a run with an opener likely against Cuevas. I think it’s fairly realistic that Cuevas or the Paire-Jarry winner could emerge as a quarter finalist. Cuevas is 1-2 against Dimitrov, but the win came on clay in 2015. Paire is 2-1 against Dimitrov, although they have not met since 2015 and never on clay. Still, this quarter gets tricky with the dangerous floaters.

The Pig-nosticator

Dimitrov is an obvious contender, but his lack of success here coupled with some dangerous unseeded players could yield some upsets. I’d look for that Paire-Jarry winner or Cuevas to have a very good chance to push into the semifinal mix.

Sizzle
Grigor Dimitrov

Fizzle
Pablo Carreno Busta
Adrian Mannarino

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

It’s another week on clay and another week of Rafael Nadal vs The World. I think it’s to the point now that you look at the draw and say what Nadal matches could maybe be close. Nadal-Djokovic? Not so sure. Nadal-Chung or Nadal-Goffin? Maybe a bit closer. Nadal-Thiem or Nadal-Dimitrov? What changes from what he did to them in Monte Carlo? The bottom line is this is Nadal’s tournament and barring an injury, you’d fancy him to get #11 in Barcelona this week.

2018 BNP Paribas Open R3 Preview: Jack Sock vs Feliciano Lopez

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(8) Jack Sock vs (28) Feliciano Lopez

Opportunity Beckons

This quarter of the draw opened up some with the early exit for fourth seed Alexander Zverev. Seeds Diego Schwartzman and Kyle Edmund have also been erased early, leaving Sock as the top remaining seed in the quarter. Lopez meanwhile has quietly made three quarterfinals this season, including last week in Acapulco. The 36-year-old will be seeking his first win against a top ten opponent since he beat Marin Cilic for the Queen’s Club title on grass last summer. Both players got through their openers in straight sets with Sock beating Thomas Fabbiano 6-2, 7-5. Lopez defeated Ernesto Escobedo 6-4, 6-3.

Sock looked destined to go the distance against the Italian as he trailed 2-5 in set two. The American would reel off five straight games though to close out the match in two. Sock was pretty solid overall with an 80 percent win rate on first serve and 61 percent on second. He smashed seven aces and was broken just once on two chances. The 8th seed would manage four breaks of serve against Fabbiano on eight opportunities. He did a lot of work against the Italian’s second serve, taking 62 percent of the points played.

Lopez was in a superb rhythm on serve with 16 aces for his match against Escobedo. He never faced a break point and dominated with an 87 percent win rate off his first serve. The Spaniard was also solid on second serve, taking 67 percent of the points. When Lopez is in that sort of rhythm, he’s still very capable of pulling off upsets of higher seeded players like Sock. He did enough in return to secure three breaks of serve against Escobedo on six chances.

The Formula

This is match number four between these two with Sock leading 2-1. The last meeting came on clay in Houston last Spring, where Sock prevailed in three sets. Sock also won in 2016 on hard courts in Shanghai in three sets with Lopez’ lone win coming indoors in 2013 in Memphis. The Houston clash was very close with the Spaniard actually winning more points in the match (100-98) despite losing 7-6 (6), 1-6, 6-4. The match was very even with both winning right around 60 percent of their service points.

One of the biggest challenges for Lopez in the two most recent meetings has been with the amount of break points that he has allowed Sock to see. Sock has seen 21 over those last two matches, while allowing Lopez to see just 12. Interestingly though, both players secured six breaks of serve total. So Lopez has done a better job with fewer chances, but still has been unable to get a win. For Lopez, a big part of his attack will be going after Sock’s backhand both in return and off the ground. It’s by far the weaker wing for the American with his forehand still a fearsome shot when it’s in rhythm.

Let’s start on serve. When Lopez attacks the backhand return of Sock, he can definitely control the points quickly if he’s showing the power and precision he did against Escobedo. When Lopez is able to stretch Sock or body him to cause weak returns, he’s shown that he is unafraid to move in and finish at the net. The Spaniard’s doubles skills come in handy there and he’s still a good volleyer and mover at 36. I think Sock needs to be decisive and aggressive off his backhand return. He may not get the ball past Lopez when he moves in, but he can’t give him easy layups at the net.

For Sock, it is usually about rhythm and avoiding second serves. In three of his four losses this season, his second serve win rate as been 46 percent or under. Not surprisingly, he has been broken 15 times in those matches on 29 chances. In his two wins in 2018, his second serve win rate has been 60 percent or better and he was broken just once. I think where Sock struggles on serve is just sometimes seemingly not being precise enough and not always seemingly serving with a purpose. When he puts oomph on his serve and is precise, he has great depth and can push the returner back. For me, consistently doing that is what is separating him from doing greater things with his talent.

When they get into ground rallies, both have big forehands and both will do well to aim more for the backhand of the other. Both Sock and Lopez do employ a slice on their backhand and I think it’s Lopez who does a bit more with it. Sock tries to use it to run around to the forehand, but sometimes just seems to use it to use it. I’d rather see him go with the double hander with more power. If he goes with the slice without purpose too much, Lopez can move in and pound the forehand. If Sock is going to float the slice to Lopez, he needs to put enough on it to keep it on Lopez’ backhand.

The Pig-nosticator

This is certainly a big moment for both. For Sock, it is a chance to jump start a poor start to 2018 and it couldn’t come at a better time with a lot of points to defend in Indian Wells and Miami. The winner gets either Sam Querrey or Yuki Bhambri for a realistic shot at a Masters quarterfinal. For Sock, I think it’s about finding the serve early and avoid second serves, where Lopez can step in a be aggressive. For the Spaniard, he needs that big first serve like he had working against Escobedo. When he’s got that working, he’s free to be aggressive and will use some serve and volley to add pressure to Sock.

Based on their previous history, I think you can expect this one to be competitive unless one of them shows up flat. I think Sock’s comeback against Fabbiano after faltering early in the second set could actually be a big benefit to his confidence. He will know now that if he keeps grinding, he can persevere through adversity. Lopez for me has the game to win this match, but he’s more prone at his age to looking fantastic in one match and then going a bit flat in the next. I don’t know that he’ll fall apart here, but I think if Sock can keep his game dynamic with the forehand and first serve – this is his to win.

Prediction: Sock wins in three sets