2017 U.S. Open R2 Preview: Gael Monfils vs Donald Young

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It could be the popcorn match of the day as Gael Monfils meets Donald Young in second round play at the U.S. Open. The pair have met twice, splitting the two matches with the last coming in 2011.

(18) Gael Monfils vs Donald Young

Monfils got away to a winning start on Wednesday with a 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-4 win over Jeremy Chardy in round one. Monfils had some trouble getting his first serve in consistently, landing just 49 percent. When he did, he was overpowering as he won 80 percent of his first serve points. He racked up 18 aces and was adequate on second serve, winning 59 percent of the points. The 18th seed was broken twice on four break chances. La Monf had 37 winners, but did tally 28 unforced errors.

Young finished his rain delayed opener against Maximillian Marterer on Wednesday, completing the 6-3, 1-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory. Young was fairly steady on serve, taking 79 percent of the points off his first serve and 51 percent off his second. The lefty was broken three times on six chances. Young was able to break his opponent five times on eight chances. Young now seeks consecutive wins for the first time since Nottingham this summer. The American has only won back-to-back matches in two of his last 12 tournaments.

Past History Irrelevant

Though they have met twice before, it has been nearly six years since Young beat Monfils in a three set thriller in Bangkok. And it’s been nine years since La Monf destroyed a teenaged Young 6-1, 6-1 at the Western & Southern Open. They have both changed some, but still have the traits that they did back in the day. Monfils despite efforts to reign in his showmanship is still more showboat than sane and Young still has the wheels to get to most shots, but has not improved on his serve enough to be a consistent threat against the best.

That is where we start this one on a breakdown basis – the serve. It’s a huge edge to Monfils when he has a rhythm on serve. He’s got easy power and can serve absolute missiles as evidenced by the large number of aces in round one. That first serve is lethal, but as proven again in round one – inconsistent. If Monfils is having trouble landing those first serves with consistency, Young can use his return and athleticism to give himself better chances to craft winning points. For the American, it’s about consistency. He’s not going to get those easy points off aces, but he can use precision and variety to keep Monfils off balance on return.

Ground Battle Should Be Electric

Where this match has potential to shine and delight is when these two get into extended ralliesl. Truly, Monfils is better served going with big serving and then using that as an opportunity to move in and finish off quicker points. But Monfils being Monfils, you’ll see plenty of times where the proceedings turn into a baseline slug fest. Both players are skilled athletes and among the best “gets” on defense with their speed and agility. Where Monfils can tire himself and get off track is when he’s making those unbelievable gets out wide or well back on the court that put him in a poor position for the rest of the point.

For Young, he needs to hit with depth and direction. His lefty forehand is the better weapon. If he can use his ground strokes to work Monfils across the court in these baseline battles, he should get some opportunities to use the court positioning to his advantage. For that, I mean that if he’s hitting the proper angles, etc. – he should be able to move in as the rally advances and finish off with some volleys at the net. That is an area where Young excels.

For Monfils, he’d love to be able to sit back along the baseline and bash back and forth with Young. La Monf has the best weapon on the court in his forehand that he can hit pretty skillfully on the run as well. His best points though should come when he gets his feet set and can choose the proper forehand cross court or down-the-line to finish. To do that, he’ll need that serve to be on point to get Young off balance to start rallies. I do believe the longer the rally, that might actually work to Young’s advantage.

Young’s key them will be finding something on return against Monfils. There are going to be a fair share of blistering serves that are unreturnable. Applaud those, move on and re-set. That has to be the mindset for Young. I would expect Monfils to try and target the Young backhand return as Young’s forehand with its whip and spin will give him better opportunity I think to get back a good ball to set the American up to stay in rallies.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

This is an interesting match-up. On their best days with A+ efforts, Monfils is a cut above Young in just about every category. But when do you know if La Monf is going to give you that world class effort and stay in a match mentally from the first ball to the last? Young for shortcomings is a guy who brings a lunch pail to every match. He may get blown off the court now and again, but it’s not due to lack of effort. That is why I think this is dangerous for Monfils. Young is not going to back down and as we’ve seen in the past at the U.S. Open, the crowd loves to get behind the Americans. They also love a good show, which is why Monfils will get plenty of applause as well.

There is upset potential here depending on what level of engagement Monfils brings to this match. That makes his matches always difficult to predict. I’ll go with Young to pull it off, but won’t be surprised if Monfils shows up and wins in tight straight sets either. I do think this one will have some highlight reel material from the rallies, so here’s to hoping the show is good and then let the actual result sort itself out.

Prediction: Young wins in four sets

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2017 U.S. Open Preview: Quarter #1

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Seeds
Rafael Nadal (1)
Grigor Dimitrov (7)
David Goffin (9)
Tomas Berdych (15)
Gael Monfils (18)
Fabio Fognini (22)
Richard Gasquet (26)
Pablo Cuevas (27)

Nadal Seeking More in New York

As the lead seed in the tournament, a lot will be expected of Rafael Nadal in spite of his mediocre results on hard courts this summer. It’s been four years since Nadal has been past the fourth round at the U.S. Open. Last year, he lost a tough five setter to Lucas Pouille in that round to deny him from his first trip to the U.S. Open quarterfinals since 2013, when he last won this event. The good news for Rafa is that he is healthy and making the trip to New York for the third straight year after missing two out of three U.S. Opens between 2012 and 2014. Nadal’s Slam pedigree in 2017 has been solid with a finals appearance at the Australian Open, a dominating win at the French Open and a pretty quality showing by making the fourth round at Wimbledon, which has been a house of horrors for him the past few trips. Rafa will be expecting to do much more in New York however with the absentees reducing the field of experienced contenders by quite a bit.

Top Half Has Some Pitfalls for Rafa

Nadal will open against Dusan Lajovic, whom he slapped routinely in straight sets in their lone meeting at the French Open in 2014. Lajovic went just 1-2 in the build-up tournaments he took part in at Cincinnati and Winston-Salem. The Serb has played just twice in the main draw here and is 0-2, so Rafa should find himself a relatively smooth opening round round. The second round could prove a bit riskier with summer wonder Tommy Paul a possible opponent. Paul opens with Taro Daniel. Daniel isn’t a push over, just ask Jack Sock and Kyle Edmund about him from the Rio Olympics last year. That however marks the last wins at an ATP-level tournament on this surface. Paul meanwhile built his confidence with quarterfinal runs in Atlanta and D.C. as his two best runs of his pro career. The question now is if Paul can follow that up at the Grand Slam level, where he has never won a main draw match. He is just 20-years-old though, but this feels like a big chance for him to keep building on that momentum by at least getting to round two.

Nadal will of course be favored to move on and his round three opponent looks likely to be Richard Gasquet or Yuichi Sugita. Sugita opens with French wild card Geoffrey Blancaneaux. The 19-year-old is making his debut in an ATP main draw at the U.S. Open. He’s won several Futures titles this year, but clay looks like his best surface at this stage. It’s a big ask even if Sugita isn’t exactly a terror. Gasquet gets lucky loser Leonardo Mayer in round one. Gasquet won their lone previous meeting at the Paris Masters in 2015 in straights. Gasquet has been a consistent performer in New York outside of last year’s first round exit to Kyle Edmund. He has made the third round or better four of the last five years, including the semifinals in 2013. The only worry with Gasquet as usual is his physical status. Injuries have been a bother for him the last few years with a recurring back issue one that crops up from time to time.

In the other half of the top half of the quarter, Berdych and Fognini are the seeds. Berdych has some question surrounding a rib injury he suffered in Los Cabos. Berdych returned in Cincinnati, but looked worse for the wear in a three set loss to Juan Martin Del Potro. The Czech matches up against Ryan Harrison in round one, whom he has beaten three out of three times. That includes wins at the Australian Open and Wimbledon this season. Berdych is 31-13 all-time in New York and has not lost in round one since 2010. If healthy, you like him in that spot. A win would get him a date with either Alexandr Dolgopolov or Jan-Lennard Struff. Berdych is 4-1 against Dolgopolov and 1-0 against Struff.

The other side opens Fognini opening against a qualifier in fellow-Italian Srefano Travaglia. Travaglia is much more in tune with his game on clay, but showed enough promise in qualifying that Fognini should be alert. Fognini has lost his opener in New York four times, but none since 2013. It might be a tougher than expected match, but Fognini should get through. Round two would then pit either Italian against Viktor Troicki or Norbert Gombos. Troicki has been a regular first-up loser at tournaments lately, having dropped his first match at a tournament in six of his last seven tournaments. Gombos doesn’t do much on hard courts at this level, but he’s a veteran player who can take advantage if Troicki plays poorly.

This top half doesn’t seem to have many outsiders who could upset the order of things for the most part. Tommy Paul would be more interesting if he didn’t draw Nadal in round two. This looks conducive for Nadal to have a great shot to get to the quarterfinals with Fognini being that one guy who can zone in and cause Rafa trouble, but that wouldn’t come until round four.

Now or Never For Dimitrov in Bottom Half

Seventh seeded Grigor Dimitrov will have plenty of attraction this week for more than his looks. His win at Cincinnati albeit against a depleted field will have given him some confidence heading to the U.S. Open. The problem as outlined in my earlier look at “The Contenders” in New York is Dimitrov’s poor record here. He has made the fourth round twice, in 2014 and 2016, but has three first round exits and a second round exit in his other trips. Dimitrov starts with qualifier Vaclav Safranek. The 23-year-old Czech is another debutant at an ATP main draw and at a Grand Slam. That should afford Dimitrov a chance to avoid a shaky start. A win nets the 7th seed a tougher time with Aljaz Bedene or Andrey Rublev in round two. He has never played either one with Rublev for me as the bigger danger.

The Russian teen has only played the main draw at the U.S. Open once, but has shown a liking for the bright lights of Grand Slam play. He scored his first two Slam wins in Melbourne and London this season. He’s already played three five set matches out of his six career main draw matches at Slams. I think Rublev can cause some problems for Dimitrov in a match where the pressure will be on Dimitrov. Survival there would get Dimitrov or Rublev anyone from Cuevas to Winston-Salem finalist Damir Dzmuhur or perhaps rejuvenated qualifier Cedric-Marcel Stebe. Cuevas is the seed, but he’s never made it past the second round and Dzumhur will be a sheik first round upset pick over Cuevas.

In the other segment of this half of the quarter, your seeds are Goffin and Monfils. Goffin arrives with very uneven results since returning from an ankle injury at the French Open. The 9th seeded Belgian is 3-4 since returning, just 1-2 on hard courts. He’s never made it past round three at the U.S. Open and has two first round exits to his credit. Goffin might be fortunate that he gets Julien Benneteau in round one with the Frenchman coming off a retirement in Winston-Salem due to an elbow injury. If Goffin gets out of round one, round two will feature him against Guido Pella or “The Shark” Steve Darcis. Pella is the tougher out to me with Darcis still struggling with some physical issues where he is difficult to predict from match to match.

As for Monfils, he’s in familiar territory as he arrives at a Slam with question marks surrounding him. Perhaps this time it’s not as bad with illness being what prevented Monfils from playing at the Western & Southern Open in Cincy. He did make the third round at the Rogers Cup, losing a tough three set match to Roberto Bautista Agut. Monfils as always is one of the “outsiders” even as a seed who is boom or bust just about every time he takes the court. He made the semis at the U.S. Open last year, but was a first round retirement casualty the year prior. Monfils faces Jeremy Chardy to open and Chardy did beat him last time they met at Wimbledon in 2016.

Chardy however is without a match since Wimbledon, but not one to be underestimated in this spot. It feels like Monfils can get out of round one in reasonable fashion, then he’s going to have a shot to make another deep run. The winner gets either Donald Young or qualifier Maximillian Marterter. Young is obviously a danger at this tournament, where he seems to revel in playing the role of spoiler. He’s difficult to predict though as his best runs have come in 2011 and 2015 with plenty of early exits in between. Young was 3-5 during the hard court summer swing, but definitely did not look overmatched even in losing. A Monfils-Young third rounder could be a great watch between two great athletes.

There is danger here to prevent Dimitrov from getting to his first U.S. Open quarterfinal. I think if he gets past a potentially tricky round two match, he should at least get a shot to go to the quarters with a potentially blockbuster fourth round match against Goffin, Monfils or Young most likely.

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

The glamour quarterfinal match-up obviously would be some mish mosh of Nadal against Dimitrov or Nadal against Monfils. A large part of me does not expect it to be Nadal-Dimitrov, simply I don’t trust in Dimitrov at this tournament unless he gets some help. Of course in this year of anything is possible, perhaps it is possible. I do think Nadal gets to the quarters and has a great shot at getting back to the semifinals for the first time since 2013. I’d favor Monfils or a surprise unseeded player over Dimitrov, just the way the Pig’s gut feels on this one.

2017 U.S. Open Seed Report

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I’ve already laid out the wasteland that is the seeded field and the possible contenders this year with so many absentees. In case you’ve been under a rock, last year’s champion Stan Wawrinka is joined by Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori as top ten players who will not be present at this year’s U.S. Open. That leaves a lot of wiggle room among the seeded field to jockey for position at the business end of the tournament. The top seed is Rafael Nadal with Roger Federer now a de-factor #2 in the same half of the draw after Murray’s late withdrawal announcement. Marin Cilic will slot into Murray’s spot in the draw and is labelled as the fifth seed. Alexander Zverev has his highest seeding at a Slam as the #4 and the sheik pick to the click if you’re straying from the Nadal-Federer narrative at Grand Slams in 2017.

Being a seed at a Slam is always tricky business and as we like to do before each Slam, let’s take a look at how the seeds have fared over the last six years:

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There wasn’t much straying from the pattern with the four semifinalists coming from the top ten seeds. Only with Marin Cilic’s shock win as the #14 seed in 2014 have we seen a seed outside the top ten involved in the semis. That could definitely change with the turnover at the top this year. Juan Martin Del Potro did make sure that an unseeded player made the quarterfinal field in 2016 for the first time since 2008 when Mardy Fish and Gilles Muller both made it without a number next to their names.

Our other area of pique interest are the first round upsets of seeds and last year saw five, up from just three in 2015. David Goffin (12) was the highest seed to fall in round one a year ago, continuing a trend of top 12 seeds losing in five of the last six years as you look over that chart. With that in mind, we must check out the seeds and the players who could be most prone to being sent home in round one.

Early Bird Specials

8. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsonga went 0-2 in the hard court swing this summer and he has not found much momentum from the French Open through the present time. He is just 3-5 in that stretch. Tsonga has turned up well at the U.S. Open with two straight quarterfinal appearances, but this version of Tsonga doesn’t look to be at that level. His first round foe is Marius Copil who has a big serve and big forehand. If Tsonga is flat, Copil is capable of contending in this match and pushing the Frenchman to turn up his best tennis in months. This again is a lower tier upset alert, but still one that given Tsonga’s play recently …. could happen.

10. John Isner
Isner faces off against Pierre Hugues-Herbert in round one. Isner beat him in their only career meeting at Roland Garros 7-6, 7-6, 7-5. Isner did not look good in Winston-Salem last week, either struggling with low energy or lack of motiviation. That makes it a litte bit dangerous for him, although I would expect him to amp it back up for the Open. Isner hasn’t fallen in round one at this tournament since 2008, but with the way his matches play out, it’s always a possibility to be close and tense. PHH doesn’t figure to be able to contend serve for serve with Isner over the course of five sets, but if he serves well enough – there is always a chance that the sets come down to a key point or two. Keep the upset alarm ready, although probably not as likely as others.

11. Roberto Bautista Agut
RBA is on fire after winning the Winston-Salem Open, but that also brings with it the potential for fatigue. Couple that with a veteran opponent in Andreas Seppi and you see why he’s on this list. RBA has been a pretty consistent performer the last three years at the U.S. Open with no worse than a third round finish. He also did come in last year off losing the Winston-Salem final, but he did have a tough time putting away Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the first round in four sets that included two tiebreaks. Seppi played his first matches since Wimbledon at Winston-Salem and was strong in making the third round with a 2-1 record. The Italian is only 9-13 in New York, but he also hasn’t lost in round one since 2012 and owns the lone win head-to-head against RBA in Miami way back in 2012. Monitor this one as it could be a lengthy battle with some upset potential.

13. Jack Sock
Sock’s summer was mediocre to poor if you throw out his semifinal showing at the Citi Open. Outside of that result, Sock went 2-3 with disheartening losses to Kyle Edmund, David Ferrer and Yuichi Sugita. Sock did make the fourth round for the first time last year at the U.S. Open, but arrives with out much to show since March. He opens against Jordan Thompson who can be dangerous on this surface. The Aussie made two Challenger finals on hard courts this summer and took Sascha Zverev to a third set tiebreak in D.C. before losing in round two. Thompson is only 2-9 at Slams, but with Sock’s recent run of mediocrity, this could be a tough first one test for the American.

17. Sam Querrey
Querrey draws Gilles Simon to start with the Frenchman having beaten him four out of the six times that they have met. That is the bad news. The good news is that Simon is in the midst of a putrid year with a 12-18 overall record. Querrey had a good summer, winning the Los Cabos title and going 3-2 between Montreal and Cincinnati. Simon has lost his opening match in six of his last eight tournaments, so that should be a boost to Querrey’s confidence. The American somewhat surprisingly has never done much at the U.S. Open and will head to this year’s version looking to end a two year streak of losing in the opening round. Despite Simon’s struggles that makes this a mental spot for Querrey and that could be a hazardous situation if Simon is getting enough balls back in play.

18. Gael Monfils
La Monf is in that prototypical boom or bust spot he always seems to be in at Grand Slams. He pulled out of Cincinnati with an illness, but physically we believe that he isn’t carrying an injury into New York. Still, he draws Jeremy Chardy in round one and his fellow Frenchman beat him the last time they played at Wimbledon in 2016. Chardy won an up and down five setter in that one. The plus for Monfils is that Chardy hasn’t played a match since Wimbledon this season. Still, being a veteran player who is going up against a familiar foe makes this a potentially tricky match between the two. Keep Monfils on upset alert as he’ll need to get going early to avoid being sent packing.

25. Karen Khachanov
This is new territory for the 21-year-old from Russia. Khachanov is seeded at a Slam for the first time and will have some slight expectation on him. He faces a veteran in Yen-Hsun Lu who got hot on the Challenger circuit in the last month and will provide a stern test in round one. Khachanov is making just his second appearance at the U.S. Open with a 1-1 career mark. He was 2-2 in hard court tuneups with losses to Sugita and Carreno Busta. Lu hasn’t done much in main draws this year and is only 2-10 in New York. Still, being a veteran against an inexperienced youngster – there is a slight chance or a struggle here for the Russian.

27. Pablo Cuevas
Cuevas is just 4-8 all-time as the U.S. Open, but has avoided the first round upset bug the last two years. He goes up against a form player in round one through in Damir Dzumhur. Dzumhur made an unexpected trip to the Winston-Salem Open final, where he lost 6-4, 6-4 to Bautista Agut. He also made the semis in Los Cabos earlier in the summer, so his hard court prowess is showing. Going up against someone like Cuevas who isn’t a world beater on hard courts makes this a popular upset selection – but Dzumhur will have to overcome a long week in Winston-Salem and a quick turnaround. That gives Cuevas a shot.

29. Diego Schwartzman
It’s an all-Argentine first rounder with Schwartzman taking on Carlos Berlocq. Schwartzman is 1-3 all-time at the Open with Berlocq just 2-7. Berlocq has lost his opener three of the last four times he’s been to New York, but this match feels like it will be competitive. Neither is generally at home on hard courts, so that makes this feel like a 50-50 call.

30. Adrian Mannarino
The Frenchman is in a tight spot in his opener against Ricardas Berankis. Berankis has never lived up to the hype that followed him earlier in his career after he won the juniors title at the U.S. Open a decade ago. He has however played Mannarino well with two wins in three career matches. That included a three set win last year indoors in St.Petersburg. Mannarino has a couple of third round finishes in his career here, but lost his opener last year to Ryan Harrison. He did play well on the summer swing, making the quarters in Los Cabos and Montreal, but this match-up smells a bit dangerous for him.

31. Feliciano Lopez
It’s been a very blase for the Spaniard who is 21-18 on the season. Lopez is just 2-3 in the hard court swing this summer and he has lost his opener in nine tournaments this season, including three of his last five. The lefty has also dropped his opener in two of the three Grand Slams this year. He has a tough match-up to start against Andrey Kuznetsov. Lopez does own two wins in two tries against the Russian, but it has been nearly two years since they last met. Kuznetsov isn’t in great form, but he’s competent on these courts with two consecutive third round appearances. Those both happened to include wins over lefties from Spain in Fernando Verdasco in 2014 and Albert Ramos-Vinolas last year.

32. Robin Haase
Haase had one stellar tournament this summer with a surprise run to the Rogers Cup semifinals. He lost his only other match on hard courts in Cincinnati to Mannarino. He will face off against Kyle Edmund to start and that is a tough one, potentially one of the most competitive first round matches this year at the Open. Edmund book-ended his summer with semifinal showings in Atlanta and Winston-Salem. In between, he lost first-up matches in Montreal and Cincinnati. Haase is 2-7 at the Open for his career, while Edmund put forth his best Slam result of his young career here last year by making round four. This has definite upset potential for Edmund.

Keep following @tennispig for a ton of U.S. Open preview material as well as live tweets during the Open + match previews as the tournament advances.

2017 Western & Southern Open Preview

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Questions Among the Top Four Seeds

The U.S. Open hard court series hits its high note this week as the tour stops in Cincinnati for the Western & Southern Open. For many, this is the final tuneup before the U.S. Open. The new week arrives with new questions. We thought the biggest would be how Rafael Nadal bounced back after his shock loss to Denis Shapovalov in Montreal last week. Now, even with Alexander Zverev as the biggest story – the key question is how healthy is Roger Federer? Zverev truly played some of his best tennis and was a deserving winner in the Rogers Cup final on Sunday. However, there was little doubt that Federer seemed tight and not-so-fluid in the second set. Many observers believe the Swiss tweaked his back at some point with the focus on his change in service motion from set one to set two. Federer was typically mum after the match, so it remains to be seen what his status will be for this week.

As for the man who is the current main attraction on the ATP World Tour in Sascha Zverev, he arrives on a ten match winning streak and with plenty of confidence. The key for Sascha this week as was the case in Montreal is balance. Winning your second Masters title and beating Federer will obviously have him on an emotional high, so it’s big if he can prove again that he can come off that feeling and continue his run of great play. Zverev will serve as the fourth seed in Cincy behind Nadal, Federer and Dominic Thiem. Thiem himself will have something to prove with a 1-2 mark for his summer swing on hard courts. His loss to Diego Schwartzman in his opener last week in Montreal will be particularly troubling. The Austrian will want to gain some momentum this week.

Number One Ranking in Sight for Nadal or Federer

As for Nadal, he’ll look to shake off the disappointment of last week and focus on recapturing form at the Western & Southern Open with an eye on the top spot in the rankings. From the sounds of his comments after losing to Shapovalov in Montreal, one wouldn’t be wrong in thinking he fully expected to be in that spot entering the week. Instead, he’s still just behind Andy Murray at #2 by just 195 points. With Murray out this week again due to injury, Rafa can regain the top spot for the first time since 2014 if the chips fall right for him. Federer also has plenty to say about that if healthy enough to compete. Rafa lost in the round of 16 last year, so has plenty of points to gain with each win after that round. Federer did not play Cincinnati at all in 2016 due to injury, so will have nothing but points to gain with each win.

Seeded Field Struggling

If we’re honest, most of the seeded field in Cincinnati not named Sascha Zverev will be looking to establish a rhythm and find their best form this week. One player we won’t see is Kei NIshikori, who pulled out with a wrist injury. Nishikori has been set to be seeded fifth, a slot that will now go to lucky loser Janko Tipsarevic. Sixth seed Milos Raonic arrives off an injury concern last week in Montreal where he lost his opening match. He revealed after that he had played through some pain in his left wrist. The Canadian does not believe it to be a long term issue. What has been an issue for Raonic is his uneven play. He is a two-time semifinalist at this tournament, making that round last year.

The seventh seed this week is Grigor Dimitrov who has become the poster child for struggling on tour. Last week showcased that again as he beat Mischa Zverev in his opener before losing to Robin Haase going away 7-6, 4-6, 6-1. Dimitrov did have his best run here last year in making the semifinals, scoring four of his nine career wins in Cincinnati in that stretch. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (8) comes to the midwest with a poor record at this event (2-5) and just one match since Wimbledon. That was last week’s three set loss to Sam Querrey at the Rogers Cup.

David Goffin slots in as the 9th seed and another player who has been rough around the edges of late. The Belgian returned to tour in late July after missing time with an ankle injury. He is 3-3 since returning with his losses coming to unexpected sources like Ivan Dodig, Robin Haase and Hyeon Chung. Goffin is 5-3 in his career in Cincy, never making it past the round of 16. Tomas Berdych rounds out the top ten seeds. The Czech pulled out of Montreal last week with a rib injury or perhaps due to his lengthy run in Los Cabos the week prior. He made the final in Mexico, where he lost to Thanasi Kokkinakis in a grueling three set match.Berdych is 18-12 all-time at this tournament with semifinal runs in 2011 and 2013.

The last part of the seeded field includes Pablo Carreno Busta, Roberto Bautista Agut and a glut of Americans. The American contingent has the most history here. That includes 14th seed John Isner who won his Sunday opener against Viktor Troicki in straight sets. Isner has not done well since making the final in 2013. Since then, he has failed to get past the second round in two of the past three years. Sam Querrey (15) is 10-10 in Cincy, but has also not been past round two in the last six years. The final seed, Gilles Muller, won his opener on Sunday against Ryan Harrison in three sets. It was his first victory in just two career matches at this event.

Early Bird Specials

Last year was the lowest number of first-up upsets in Cincinnati a good bit. Only two seeds lost their openers last year. Prior to that, four seeds lost first-up in 2015, three in 2014 and six in 2013. Interestingly, a top eight seed has not lost their opener in Cincy since 2014. That could be up for a change this year with so many in this seeded field short on form and results of late. Let’s take a look at the players who could be most likely to struggle early.

3. Dominic Thiem
An intriguing opponent awaits Thiem either way the first round match between Fabio Fognini and Daniil Medvedev shakes down. Medvedev was unable to get off the ground in Montreal last week after his surprise run to the quarterfinals the week before in D.C. Fognini has a good run on clay after Wimbledon with a title in Gstaad. He did make a shock run to the quarterfinals in 2014 in Cincinnati, but has lost his first match each of the last two years. Thiem whipped Fognini in their lone career meeting on clay back in 2015 and he’s never played Medvedev. Both Fognini and Medvedev can play that smash and grab style on hard courts, so both can pose problems for Thiem and both can be overwhelmed when they are not hitting their spots. Keep the upset alert button handy in any case.

6. Milos Raonic
Keeping the Canadian here simply because we’re not sure what percentage that wrist is going to be at to start this week. He’ll face either Nikoloz Basilashvili or Borna Coric. Raonic is 1-0 against both, but consider Coric a possible trouble spot for the Canadian. Coric has taken to these courts well in two previous trips with wins over Alexander Zverev (2015) and then Nadal and Kyrgios last year. With Raonic up and down this year, there’s every reason to believe that match could be very tight.

7. Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov is a regular on this list and why not? He has stretched his streak of non first-up losses to four straight tournaments now, but he’s been pushed to three sets both in DC and Montreal in his first match before losing in the next round. He has lost his first-up match in five tournaments this year. Dimitrov gets Feliciano Lopez or Hyeon Chung to open this week. Lopez is 2-2 against Dimitrov, including a win on grass this year and a three set loss last year in Cincy in a third set tiebreak. Chung played well against Dimitrov in a four set loss at the Australian Open. Chung beat Lopez last week in Montreal, so it will be an intriguing first round clash that could lead to an even more intriguing second round match.

8. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsonga wasn’t done any favors with his draw. He is going to face the winner of Ivo Karlovic vs Jiri Vesely. Tsonga would probably prefer Vesely who he beat in a strenuous four set Davis Cup win on hard courts in 2016. Karlovic is 2-1 against the Frenchman with both wins coming on grass at Wimbledon. The plus for Tsonga is neither arrives with much done on this surface lately. Vesely has beaten Karlovic twice, but the last meeting came in 2015 at the U.S. Open. Either player is definitely capable of giving Tsonga fits with their power, especially considering Tsonga’s poor record here.

9. David Goffin
An easy inclusion on this list even if his first round opponent is about as trustworthy as a politician. Goffin faces Nick Kyrgios to start. The Aussie did put together two wins in a row in Montreal last week, his best showing since Madrid way back in May. His performance against Alexander Zverev in his loss was less than inspiring, but he at least showed some mobility and his shoulder held up. Does that mean he holds up this week? Of course not. He has beaten Goffin both times they have played in the past though with the last coming in Miami earlier this season when the Belgian was playing reasonably well. With the quick conditions in Cincy, Kyrgios will be a big bother for Goffin – IF he cares to be. That is the question.

10, Tomas Berdych
Berdych draws the first round Juan Martin Del Potro short stick this week. DelPo was up and down again last week. Looking decent in a win against John Isner in Montreal before looking very flat against Denis Shapovalov in the next round. He is 4-3 against Berdych. The Berdman has won both of their meetings on this surface, including the last at Indian Wells last season. With Berdych’s status unknown with the rib and DelPo always seemingly unknown with the wrist, this really looks 50-50.

12. Roberto Bautista Agut
RBA faces off against Jared Donaldson who brings some confidence to Cincy after back-to-back third round runs in D.C. and Montreal. The Spaniard was solid in his own right last week with a quarterfinal run at the Rogers Cup, where he lost to Federer 6-4, 6-4. RBA is just 2-3 at this event however and lost in round one to Nicolas Mahut last year. JD is 2-2 at this event in two career trips and he took Stan Wawrinka to three sets in a loss last year. If he finds his serve early, he’s a threat to upset.

Outsider’s Edge

Cincinnati has been a regular haven for outsiders the past five years with an unseeded player crashing the semifinals each year. That includes John Isner’s 2013 finals appearance as an outsider. With some of the questions surrounding this week’s seeded field, there could definitely be room for a new addition to the outsider’s club at the Western & Southern Open. Let’s take a look at some possibilities.

Nadal’s Quarter
There are too many unseeded possibilities in this quarter to list them individually. Yes, Nadal will be expecting to make a big run here, but he’s lost in the round of 16 each of his last two trips to the midwest. In this quarter, there is Nick Kyrgios, Kevin Anderson, Alexandr Dolgpolov, Ivo Karlovic and Jiri Vesely. Kyrgios, Dolgopolov and Anderson would have to go through each other in round two in some combination, but could benefit from having Tsonga and Goffin as the lead seeds in that half of the quarter. That would keep them away from Nadal longer if the Spaniard is able to make a run. Anderson probably carries the best form, but is 0-4 against Nadal. He might need help to get through to the semifinals out of this group.

Steve Johnson/David Ferrer
Johnson continues to ride the roller coaster from week to week and he gets another tough opener with David Ferrer. Ferrer scored two of his best wins this season last week at the Rogers Cup against Kyle Edmund and Jack Sock. He also took a set off of Federer before losing in three sets. The winner of their first round match gets to take advantage of Nishikori’s injury withdraw in round two. Ferrer is 2-0 against Johnson and perhaps arriving with the most confidence he has had in a long time. The winner would only have Carreno Busta seeded in their way to the quarterfinals and Thiem or Querrey as the possible seed blocking a semifinal. It’s a weaker draw that could open up nicely.

Fabio Fognini/Daniil Medvedev
The winner of their first round clash will have to beat Thiem in round two, but that’s not an unimaginable task right now on this surface. A couple wins and they could be in the driver’s seat for a quarterfinal run or better.

Gael Monfils
The Frenchman scored wins over Johnson and Nishikori last week to boost his confidence. He lost a tough three set match to Bautista Agut in round three in a third set tiebreak, but appears to be trending upward. He’s in the quarter with Zverev and Raonic as the top seeds. His half could be easier to at least push to the quarterfinals as La Monf is 3-3 against Raonic and had beaten RBA three straight before last week’s loss.

Karen Khachanov
The Russian’s potential this week would hinge on Federer’s status. Khachanov opens against Diego Schwartzman in round one. Schwartzman did beat him in Miami this year in three sets, but the quicker conditions in Cincy could help the Russian in this one. The winner would meet Federer in round two if the Swiss is able to go. Khachanov lost to Fed 6-4, 7-6 in Halle this year and proved he can stick with him in quick conditions. If things fall right, he would likely only need to get past Sock to get to the quarters. Then, it’s Dimitrov and Berdych as the highest seeds in the other part of the quarter to block a semifinal berth. It’s a long shot sure, but there is potential depending on what happens with Federer.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (1)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (8)
David Goffin (9)
Gilles Muller (16)

Breakdown
Nadal’s route to the quarterfinals could run through Muller, a repeat of their five set classic at Wimbledon this year. Muller has taken a set off of Rafa in their last two meetings and likely would provide another stiff test. Nadal will face Richard Gasquet or John Parick Smith to start. He is 14-0 against Gasquet and will likely feel comfortable in either case. Muller would need to get past Mikhail Youzhny or Albert Ramos-Vinolas in round two to make that rematch come true.

In the bottom half, Goffin and Tsonga are shaky seeds. Kevin Anderson could be the one to take advantage in this part of the draw if he gets past Dolgopolov to begin. Anderson made the Citi Open final and then followed up with a quarterfinal run last week. There is no Sascha Zverev in his way this week, so if he’s not fatigued, watch out for him again. I’d favor Tsonga over Goffin as far as the seed who could reasonably do better here.

For me, I think this quarter could boil down to the potential Nadal-Muller match in round three. Rafa will have confidence from getting those tough wins over the big lefty, but it also leaves this quarter the potential for someone other than Rafa to get through to the semis.

Quarter #2 Seeds
Dominic Thiem (3)
Pablo Carreno Busta (11)
Sam Querrey (15)

Breakdown
The departure of Nishikori in this quarter leaves room for some jostling in this quarter. Thiem is the lead seed, but far from a sure shot. His first match may be his toughest with either Fognini or Medvedev waiting. If the Austrian gets past that, he could get on a better roll. Querrey has a nice match-up in his half of the quarter to begin with Stefan Kozlov. His next match could be tougher with either Adrian Mannarino or Robin Haase as the foe. Mannarino is 2-0 against Querrey and Haase played very well in Montreal last week. I would not be surprised if this half of the quarter did fall to Thiem so long as he can get past his opener.

In the bottom half, Carreno Busta is the only seed with Janko Tipsarevic sliding into Nishikori’s slot. Carreno Busta could have a nice path with Paolo Lorenzi to open and then either Fernando Verdasco or Mischa Zverev. PCB is 1-1 against Zverev and 2-1 against Verdasco. Neither has been good of late on hard courts. Carreno Busta will have to overcome his lack of experience in this venue with just one career match, but he’s got the talent to make the run.

This quarter looks like it’s either Thiem or a total blowup with an unseeded player making their way through. Thiem has yet to master this Masters swing in his young career, so it’s not definite that he will this time around. Still, I do like him here if he gets past that opener. But that is a fairly large IF.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Alexander Zverev (4)
Milos Raonic (6)
Roberto Bautisra Agut (12)
John Isner (14)

Breakdown
All of a sudden, Zverev isn’t a future star – he’s a current star. This is sure to be a test for Sascha as one of the few players in the draw playing for a third straight week. No matter the form, that is a big ask for a player to continue to roll day after day. As usual in these situations, the first match could be the trickiest. Zverev faces either Frances Tiafoe or qualifier Maximillian Marterer. That will help alleviate some of the stress as both are inferior players to Sascha. He has already handled Tiafoe in straight sets twice at the Aussie Open and Wimbledon. Isner looks the larger threat from ending his run. Isner will need to get by Donald Young or Tommy Paul next round, but could be waiting for Zverev in round three. Sascha is 3-0 against Isner, including two wins this year, but Big John has taken a set off of him in each match. With a lot of mileage on Zverev, I would not be surprised if Isner ended Sascha’s win streak.

In the other half, Raonic arrives with the health question and is definitely a candidate for an early exit if the wrist is still bothersome. Coric, if he takes down Basilashvili in round one, could be the one to do it. Bautista Agut has the tough opener against Donaldson and then could face Monfils for a second straight week. This definitely looks like a part of the bracket that could see an unseeded player sneak through. Think Monfils or Donaldson, but Coric could also be a possibility with a good track record of playing tough in Cincy.

If Zverev can avoid burn out this week, you’d be a fool to bet against him as I did last week in Montreal. He’s the form player on tour the last few weeks and has proven it over and over. A healthy and in-form Raonic would obviously be tough here, but he’s neither coming into this week. If not Sascha, Bautista Agut is an interesting and under-the-radar seed to sneak into the mix. Monfils or Donaldson to me seems the likelier of the unseeded guys to surprise.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Roger Federer (2)
Grigor Dimitrov (7)
Tomas Berdych (10)
Jack Sock (13)

*See Updated thoughts below due to Federer announcing he would withdraw due to a back injury

Breakdown
The pluses for Federer this week are listed above. None of the seeds have been particularly consistent lately and none of them have traditionally bothered the Swiss. The big question for Fed is health. With the U.S. Open less than two weeks away, he’s going to be very careful not to overextend himself. Grand Slams are what it’s all about for the Swiss at this stage. Fed seemed to characterize his problems on Sunday as the aches and pains you would expect after being on vacation for a while and then playing a full week. To me, it sounds like he will give it a go in Cincy. If healthy, Federer has a good path to the quarters although Khachanov potentially in round two would be a tough out as laid out earlier. Sock has Yuichi Sugita to start and then may face Kyle Edmund in round two. Edmund smoked him in Atlanta.

In the other half, you have the enigma that is Dimitrov and the questionable status of Berdych. There are dangerous floaters like Del Potro, Benoit Paire, Feliciano Lopez and Hyeon Chung in this half as well. I trust Berdych more than Dimitrov since the Czech efforted well in Los Cabos. If he’s healthy, Berdych has a shot to get going if he can work past DelPo – that’s the big one for him early. This is pretty wide open with everyone here lacking consistency, so it’s really a pretty big guessing game as to who the quarterfinalist could be.

The hope will be that Federer’s body responds to a few days off and some treatment. If he bounces back, Cincy has always been pretty good to the Swiss. He is a seven time champ here after all. If he falters, it’s a big guessing game to the next best shot. I’d meagerly side with Berdych.

Federer’s withdrawal announcement on Monday gives everyone in this quarter some hope, albeit there are still many, many questions here. The winner of the R1 clash between Schwartzman and Khachanov is the immediate beneficiary with Thomas Fabbiano as their second round opponent instead of Federer. Jack Sock would be the seed to benefit the most, but his lackluster history in Cincy and uneven play this summer still makes him a big question. Kyle Edmund could be a quarterfinal sleeper in this part of the draw now, if he can get going early.

The other obvious duo to benefit by Federer’s exit are the other seeds in this quarter, Dimitrov and Berych, who both had poor records against the Swiss. Both have tough paths just to avoid early upsets though, so in all, this quarter now really looks like it is ripe for the taking by anyone who can get hot early. I still look to the winner of that Schwartzman-Khachanov match as a big player as to what shakes out in this quarter now.

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

Going into Montreal last week, it was all about Fedal. A Nadal loss to Shapovalov and Federer’s withdrawal changes that dynamic this week. Zverev is an obvious choice too, but as well as he’s playing, a third consecutive week of play is going to be a major challenge. Marin Cilic was a surprise winner in Cincinnati last year as the 12th seed and I could see Cincy falling to an unexpected name this year too. End of the day though, the motivation is there for Nadal especially this week and he’s in full health. I’ll give a small edge to him, but something weird in me (wine) says watch out for Thiem.

2017 Rogers Cup R2 Preview: Kei Nishikori vs Gael Monfils

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Kei Nishikori opens his campaign in Montreal against Gael Monfils. This is the fourth career meeting between the two with Nishikori taking all three of the previous meetings. Monfils has taken a set in each of the losses.

(5) Kei Nishikori vs Gael Monfils

Rest definitely will have helped Kei Nishikori after he looked gassed in his final two matches at the Citi Open last week. Nishikori lost in the semifinals to eventual champ Alexander Zverev 6-3, 6-4. He was made to work hard in just about every match last week as his ground strokes were off their normal level. Nishikori made a ton of unforced errors #KeiSpray and he was not as efficient converting break points as we often see him. He did force 36 break points, but converted on just ten. That 28 percent conversion clip is well below his season average of 43.

Monfils opened his Rogers Cup run with a three set win over Steve Johnson on Monday 2-6, 7-6 (1), 6-1. After the slow start, Monfils was unbreakable on serve the rest of the way. Monfils’ second serve was the major flaw in the opening set, winning just two of eleven points played. He was broken twice on four chances. The second and third sets saw the Frenchman win 42 of 51 points played on serve with no break chances. Monfils said he had trouble moving early in the match, but felt much more “fluid” as the match progressed. Keep those comments in mind for Wednesday’s round two battle.

Monfils’ Snatches Defeat From The Jaws of Victory

Of their three encounters in the past, two came last year on hard courts in Miami and Rio at the Olympics. Both times, Nishikori edged Monfils in a final set tiebreak. Monfils isn’t far off from beating Nishikori obviously, but he’s got his issues in those big points. The most glaring of those losses as the Olympic loss where Monfils held a 6-3 lead in the tiebreak before Nishikori stunned him with five straight points for the win. The loss kept Monfils out of the medal round.

In Miami, Nishikori again fended off multiple match points (5) to secure the win. Monfils led 5-4 with Nishikori serving in the third set of that clash. Nishikori fell into a 0-40 hole, but dug out three times to stay on serve and eventually win it in the tiebreak. The way those two matches went against Monfils late, you have to figure there is some residual build-up in his brain that could come into play in this next chapter.

The Health Factor

There is no doubt that Nishikori and Monfils at 100 percent are scintillating shot makers who can beat anyone, but their bodies have been their biggest adversaries in their careers. Monfils has missed more time this season due to knee problems. Nishikori has had wrist and hip problems at times this season which have caused him to miss some time. Coming into this week, Nishikori certainly needed the off days in between D.C. and Montreal. He played some lengthy matches at the Citi Open and looked well worn out by the end of his run. Monfils as mentioned earlier complained that he had trouble loosening himself up early against Steve Johnson. So as usual, both players fitness levels will be something to watch on Wednesday.

Match Tactics

Serve is always going to favor Monfils in this match-up. He has easy power on his serve and can dominate the proceedings this way, when he’s in the zone. Nishikori is tasked with getting on the end of Monfils’ big first serve consistently. The man from Japan had a difficult time reigning in Alexander Zverev’s power in their semifinal clash last week in D.C., so it could be problematic for him if he’s less than 100 percent. Monfils will know that he should get some chances against the Nishikori serve, that’s just the way it goes with Nishikori’s serve not nearly as powerful. Monfils is converting 39 percent of the break points he sees this season. He converted three breaks on four chances against Johnson.

Nishikori will try to use variety as a way to get his serve going into a better pattern. At times, he does get a rhythm where he can dominate, but there were lots of service games in D.C. where he was fighting hard too many times. He needs some easier holds to conserve energy and stress. Even if he’s not getting cheap points, better accuracy and variety can help Nishikori win the court position battle. It’s imperative for him to get good position off his serve. Monfils is one of the handful of players who are as athletic as Nishikori and can match his movement when healthy. If Nishikori starts in good position, then he can work Monfils around the court and force him to make quicker decisions or bail out on points.

When these two go toe-to-toe along the baseline, you can expect some spectacular rallies at times depending on how well they are moving. You probably won’t see two guys who are better at hitting the ball on-the-run. Nishikori has the edge off the backhand side, while Monfils’ forehand is a missile. Both obviously have some consistency issues, so targeting their weaker wing will be a plus. I do think when Nishikori can get zoned into the center of the court, his backhand is a key advantage with the ability to hit it cross-court and down-the-line for winners. Monfils does that more sporadically.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

There are some questions coming into this one with Monfils at least having answered a few of his during that round one comeback against Johnson. Still, Monfils’ body from match to match is capable of a letdown, so I think he’s got to prove he’s feeling good early on. Nishikori’s return game was not on point late last week as he struggled to convert break chances against Tommy Paul and then really had no answeres for Sacha Zverev’s serve. That is a definite worry against Monfils who already has a match under his belt.

Nishikori has done well avoiding first-up losses this year with just one coming back in February to Thomaz Bellucci in Rio. This is a real challenge though in this spot, but Monfils has failed too many times against top ten players to feel overly confident of an upset. La Monf is 0-4 against the top ten this season and he’s lost ten straight dating back to his last top ten win. That came in 2016 over Milos Raonic at this event in Toronto. So that is 1-12 in 2016 and 2017 against the top ten. Maybe he changes his luck this time, but that trend says he finds ways to lose more often than he does to win.

Prediction: Kei Nishikori wins in three sets