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 BMW Open Preview

BMWOPEN18

Zverev Seeking Back-to-Back Title History

Alexander Zverev leads the field in Munich this week as he looks to defend his title at the BMW Open. Sascha would become just the third player in the history of this 45 year old tournament. The last player to win consecutive titles in Munich was Argentine Franco Squillari in 1999 and 2000. The first to achieve that mark was also an Argentine, Guillermo Perez-Roldan in 1987 and 1988. Zverev could also continue the recent dominance of Germans winning the title at this tournament. Four of the past six winners have been from the home country.

Zverev has made the semifinals and finals in succession in Munich and certainly looks the part of the favorite. Behind him in the seeded field this week are Roberto Bautista Agut, Diego Schwartzman and Hyeon Chung to round out the top four. RBA had a solid and somewhat surprising quarterfinal run in Barcelona last week. He’s a two-time semifinalist at the BMW Open, making that round last year and in 2015. Schwartzman will make his debut in Munich with very little in the way of form, going just 3-5 since winning the title in Rio earlier this season. Chung will be looking to bounce back from an ankle injury suffered in training last week that forced him from the Barcelona Open. Chung has not played since Miami in late March. He was a semifinalist here a year ago.

Back Half of Seeded Field Provides Intrigue

The last four seeds give this tournament depth and possibilities. Fabio Fognini, three-time Munich champion Philipp Kohlschreiber, Gael Monfils and Yuichi Sugita close out the seeds from five to eight. Fognini has had mixed success in Munich, making the final in 2014 and the semis in 2016. Last year, he was an opening round loser to qualifier Guido Pella. Pella did however make the final, so it wasn’t exactly a shameful loss – well any more than usual for the Italian.

Kohlschreiber looms as a threat, having won the title in Munich in 2007, 2012 and 2016. He has managed a finals appearance in four of the last six years. Monfils as always is a question of health, having not played since Indian Wells due to a back injury. He may also be using some spare equipment as it was reported that all of his racquets arrived broken after his flight on Lufthansa. Sugita makes his Munich debut and is carrying a five match losing skid on clay into this week. He has not won on dirt since a surprise quarterfinal in Barcelona last season with Barcelona being the only tournament where he has won main draw matches at this level on clay.

Qualifiers’ Quality History

I mentioned earlier that Guido Pella made the final last year in Munich as a qualifier. He’s not alone in that accomplishment as a qualifier has made the semifinals in three of the last four years. That includes Martin Klizan winning the title as a qualifier in 2014. Guess who’s back? Klizan is as a qualifier again this year. The Slovakian slots into the Chung-Monfils quarter. That’s not easy company, but both haven’t played in a bit, while Klizan carries good form on clay. He could have a shot to do some damage again.

The other qualifiers include Germans Daniel Masur and Dustin Brown, along with Marius Copil. Copil has a tough opener against Casper Ruud. If he gets past Rudd, it’s Bautista Agut in round two. Masur gets Jan-Lennard Struff for the 2nd straight year in round one in Munich. He lost in straights last year. Brown’s draw is interesting against Maximillian Marterer in round one. Marterer is 1-8 at this level on clay. Brown hasn’t been out of the opening round in Munich since 2014, but could have a shot this time around. A win sets him up against the struggling Schwartzman, so there is room for something if Brown can get out of his opener.

ELIMINATI

Seeds have done fairly well early in Munich in recent times. Last year was the first time since 2014 that multiple seeds lost their openers. That included last year’s top seed Gael Monfils losing in his first match. With that in mind, let’s take a look to see if there are any Eliminati members ready to strike the seeds this week.

Yannick Maden
The 28-year-old German made the quarterfinals in Budapest after making the main draw through qualifying. He will face Sugita to start. I highlighted his struggles on clay, so there is every reason for Maden to believe he can get another main draw win this week.

Mirza Basic
I wouldn’t normally be looking to the Bosnian to win on clay, but he draws Monfils to open. Monfils has not played in more than six weeks and apparently won’t be playing with his own racquets this week either after the airline snafu. Monfils can certainly be a threat on clay when healthy, but this is also a 250 event where effort level may be minimal. La Monf has lost his opener in two of three trips to Munich in the past.

Dustin Brown/Maximillian Marterer
I mentioned in the qualifiers section about Schwartzman struggling. The Argentine hasn’t scored back-to-back wins since winning the Rio Open title. He could well avoid trouble in his opener, but I do think Brown with his quirky game could be a bother.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
(1) Alexander Zverev: 8-3 (W – 2017)
(8) Yuichi Sugita: 0-0

Breakdown
You can’t handcraft a much better draw for Sascha. His opener comes against either wildcard Yannick Hanfmann or Marcos Baghdatis. On clay where Zverev won’t be challenged to alter his baseline slugging style much, you have to love his chances against either player. Sugita may be one and done in the other half of the quarter. With three Germans in that section, this could well be a German vs German quarterfinal. Maden’s current form could speak to a second straight quarterfinal, while Struff definitely looks the part here too with a quarterfinal run on Budapest last week too.

The Pig-nosticator

If Zverev doesn’t make the semifinals here, it will be a major upset.

Sizzle
Alexander Zverev
Jan-Lennard Struff

Fizzle
Yuichi Sugita

Quarter #2 Seeds
(4) Hyeon Chung: 3-1
(7) Gael Monfils: 1-3

Breakdown
Certainly there are health question marks for both seeds in this quarter. Chung will try to shake off an ankle injury and if he does, he’ll look to make his 7th straight ATP quarterfinal this week. Chung has the draw to make it there with the bye and then either Mikhail Kukushkin or Matthias Bachinger. If healthy, he should be there. For Monfils, so many things already are so odd that perhaps it’s one of those weeks where he makes a run. He did well on the South American swing on dirt earlier in the season, but he needs match play to find his rhythm again. With Basic first and then possibly an in-form Klizan, that may be difficult to achieve.

The Pig-nosticator

I’d love to see a Chung-Monfils quarterfinal in this one as it could provide some insane athletic displays of defense. It seems a bit far fetched though, especially given Monfils poor record here and conditioning coming to Munich. Klizan could be the sneaky selection in this quarter, although he has played a lot of tennis the past week and a half. For me, a health Chung is the choice.

Sizzle
Hyeon Chung
Martin Klizan

Fizzle
Gael Monfils

Quarter #3 Seeds
(3) Diego Schwartzman: 0-0
(5) Fabio Fognini: 7-4

Breakdown
Schwartzman seems way too talented to continue to struggle for results on a surface that can favor his speed and hitting from the baseline. This could be a week where it comes together somewhat with a decent early draw. I do think Dustin Brown will be tough, but on clay that is still favorable for the Argentine. Fognini any other week I might have on upset alert against Marco Cecchinato, who just won his first ATP title in Budapest on Sunday. Fognini is 2-0 against him however and will catch him off a week where his fellow Italian had to go through qualifying to get to the final. I think that plus quick travel and the turnaround will stunt his chances of an upset. Fognini for me is the one to beat in this section. His second round opponent will be Marton Fucsovics or Dudi Sela. If it gets to a Schwartzman-Fognini quarterfinal, they’ve split two meetings with Fognini winning the lone clay court clash.

The Pig-nosticator

Even with both seeds a little iffy, I do think this quarter sets up well for one of them to make the semifinals. Fognini seems the wiser choice, but when is expecting Fognini to do well somewhere a wise choice?

Sizzle
Fabio Fognini

Fizzle
None

Quarter #4 Seeds
(2) Roberto Bautista Agut: 4-2
(6) Philipp Kohlschreiber: 29-10 (3x Winner)

Breakdown
This could be the strongest quarter. Bautista Agut comes in with some form after his Barcelona run. RBA should have a chance to chase another semifinal in Munich with either Copil or Ruud first up. Kohlschreiber has to face the big serve of Ivo Karlovic in round one, but he’s won his last two against the big man. On clay, I think Kohlschreiber has a good shot to fend off that challenge. A win could see another German vs German match with Mischa Zverev likely to be in that spot. The “other” Zverev battles Andreas Haider-Maurer in round one. Haider-Maurer is still seeking his first main draw win since 2015, an 0-12 stretch.

The Pig-nosticator

RBA looks the favorite here, although I do think Mischa’s serve and volley could make things interesting if that is the match-up. The Spaniard is also 2-1 against Kohlschreiber, including a win on clay against him in Monte Carlo in 2015. Still, Kohlschreiber’s success here would suggest he has a better than average shot of making another semifinal despite some mediocre form.

Sizzle
Philipp Kohlschreiber

Fizzle
None

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

Zverev is looking to become the first top seed to win in Munich since Andy Murray in 2015. His draw looks conducive to getting a shot at that, although there is a big challenge that could be waiting in the semifinals if Chung wins out. We all remember what Chung did to Zverev at the Australian Open, don’t we? Kohlschreiber owns a couple of wins over Sascha, including one here back in 2015 – but Zverev won the last on grass last season. The funny feeling I have is Diego Schwartzman this week. He would give Sascha more of that Chung-like defensive challenge if that happened in this tournament. And certainly don’t discount Chung himself if he proves his health early on.

I think this an extremely open tournament despite the obvious star power of the top seed. I think it goes elsewhere. Schwartzman is stuck in the chitlens this week and Kohlschreiber for the old school pick. If the qualifier run continues here, then Martin Klizan seems an all too obvious choice …

2018 BNP Paribas Open R2 Preview: John Isner vs Gael Monfils

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(15) John Inser vs Gael Monfils

Isner Looks to Resurrect Himself

John Isner will hope that a trip to Indian Wells will cure what ails his 2018 season. Thus far, Isner is just 1-5 with four opening match losses out of five tournaments played. The American has made the fourth round in three of the last four years at the BNP Paribas Open, but faces a stiff challenge from Gael Monfils. Monfils leads the head-to-head 5-4 and whipped Isner at this very tournament last year 6-2, 6-4. It was the fourth win for the Frenchman in their last five meetings. Isner’s lone win in that stretch came at the 2013 U.S. Open.

Monfils came to Indian Wells off of a solid run through the South American clay swing, where he made the quarterfinals or better in Quito, Buenos Aires and Rio. He’s already played a match at Indian Wells, beating Matthew Ebden 6-3, 6-3 in round one. Monfils will be seeking to make the fourth round for a third straight season at Indian Wells. He made the fourth round, losing to Dominic T hiem last year. In 2016, he made the quarterfinals – his best finish at the BNP Paribas Open.

The Formula

Last year’s match between these two was their first since 2014. It was a night match, whereas this year’s tussle will be first up at 11:00 am local time. Monfils’ wins the last two teams have featured the Frenchman going through in straight sets without dishing out any break chances. Monfils had plenty of success targeting the backhand return of the American and you can bet that will be at the top of the list again on Sunday. He did a nice job of stretching Isner wide and that was usually a winning run of play from the Frenchman that followed. He can take the short ball and finish with aggression as he moves in, typically finishing with a power forehand.

Isner will set up deep in return, hoping to get some big swings. If Monfils is hitting his marks though, Isner isn’t likely to trouble him much. Monfils won 68 percent of his first serve points against Ebden and was broken only once. I would expect that win rate to be higher against Isner. In the last to wins against Big John, Monfils has averaged right around an 80 percent win rate with his first serve. He has actually out aced Isner 14-13 in those matches, but generally does his damage without getting that many freebies. Isner will have to hope Monfils is off his game some on serve and generally should try to be as aggressive as possible to keep Monfils pinned back to the baseline.

As for Isner’s serve, you will see Monfils set up at least a foot behind the baseline when Isner is prepping for his ball toss. From there, the Frenchman mixed it up in their last meeting. He would move back to the baseline a few times and also stayed set in that deep position as well. Isner was adept at taking the short ball off of any returns that Monfils did not get much on. He moved in well and looked to finish off the rally quickly on the next shot. Isner definitely does not want to get into very many long baseline exchanges with Monfils. We know who plays better defense and we know that a fatigued Isner is a less effective serving Isner.

The Pig-nosticator

Isner’s numbers are a tick below his career averages this season. His win rates on 1st and 2nd serve are at 76 and 54 percent, down two percent in both categories over his career numbers. The biggest difference in his game so far this season has been his inability to save break chances as well as he has in the past. His career average is 70 percent. This season, he’s saving just 52 percent of the break chances against his serve. Monfils converted four of six break chances against Isner and converts at a 46 percent clip this season. Over the past year, he ranks in the top 20 in that category.

Obviously that makes this a not-so-great match-up for Isner with his current struggles. I think if he has any shot to ward off Monfils in this one, it stems from building his confidence with some early success. Isner has lost the first set in all six matches he has played in 2018. He’s only come back the one time against Radu Albot in Delray Beach to capture a win. Isner has also been very poor in tie breaks this season,just 1-5. His career wing percentage in breakers is around 61 percent.

I think it’s a pretty straight forward formula for Monfils. Hold serve and see if Isner cracks under pressure as he has been prone to do this season. Until he proves different, I’d go against Isner avoiding the upset on Sunday.

Prediction: Monfils wins in three sets

2018 Rio Open QF Preview: Diego Schwartzman vs Gael Monfils

RIO-MONF-DIEGO

(6) Diego Schwartzman vs Gael Monfils

Monfils Making Most of Rio Debut

Gael Monfils has showcased his usual rainbow of results this week. In his opener against Horacio Zeballs, Monfils broke Zeballos as he tried to serve out the match and was able to gut out a 7-5, 3-6, 7-5 win. In round two, he battled top seed Marin Cilic over two days due to rain. Monfils led Cilic by a set with the second set in a tie break when play was stopped on Wednesday. At 7-7 on resumption, Cilic would put Monfils up immediately against a set point after holding serve. The Frenchman responded by winning the final three points to take the 6-3, 7-6 (8) win.

Monfils has been consistent on serve this week, winning 75 percent off his first serve and 63 percent off his second. He was broken five times overall on ten break chances. Monfils’ defense against Cilic’s power was rock solid. The Croat could not find big enough shots to get the ball past La Monf in a lot of the rallies. Cilic’s first serve wasn’t effective either at just a 66 percent win rate. Monfils’ return was responsible for some of that, but there wasn’t a ton offered up variety wise from Cilic either to make the Frenchman uncomfortable.

For Schwartzman, it was a relative easy-go against Federico Delbonis in round two. He won 6-2, 6-3 with Delbonis unable to bring much in the way of aggressive play. That allowed Schwartzman ample opportunity to pounce on the lefty’s serve. He would break Delbonis six times on nine chances. Schwartzman won 28 of Delbonis’ 49 service points. The sixth seed was aggressive off the ground, pushing Delbonis around the court with superior depth. He will want to improve his second serve as it was a big stain on the victory with just a 35 percent win rate for the Argentine.

The Formula

The only previous meeting between these two was a roller coaster five setter at the 2015 French Open. Monfils as you would expect had the bigger numbers on serve with 21 aces to just four for Schwartzman. Monfils’ win rate on first serve was a solid 79 percent, while Diego managed 68. Schwartzman struggled to find his best on serve all match, allowing Monfils to see 17 break points. He would save eleven. Monfils was broken four times on eight chances. Monfils already said just after beating Cilic that he will need to be more aggressive against the Argentine than he was against the Croat due to Diego’s speed.

A big part of that aggressive game plan will be the Monfils’ serve. When he’s locked in, his first serve can absolute obliterate an opponent. He used this effective in their French Open meeting to push Schwartzman back with superior depth and placement. If Monfils has that serve popping, he keeps Schwartzman off balance in return and gives himself the chance to go aggressive on the next shot back from Diego. Schwartzman’s job is to find a way to get something solid on the return ball. Perhaps he sets up even deeper behind the baseline to get a better look. He has certainly improve all-around since that last meeting, but I think the power of Monfils is still something to contend with here for the sixth seed.

For Schwartzman on serve, he needs to avoid the second serve as much as possible. He can get in a rhythm on his first serve, where he can keep good court position and then craft the rally to his liking. If he’s forced to the second serve too often, watch for Monfils to be aggressive and move inside the baseline to unload in return. Monfils will want to avoid the long rallies with Schwartzman, even if his athleticism is going to keep him matched up against Diego’s speed. Too many of those rallies leads to tired legs in the heat and humidity and that will take away some oomph from the Frenchman’s serve.

The Pig-nosticator

This may be the highlight match of the tournament with two great athletes who get to balls that very few others can on this surface. Monfils is taking advantage of his second life in Rio after he looked done in round one against Zeballos. I really thought this might be a week where he would be out quick after playing now in three straight tournaments. The key for him obviously is staying aggressive in all aspects of his game to keep these points shorter. I think some of the problem is that Monfils enjoys putting on a show in some of those longer rallies, so Schwartzman will have some opportunities to drag him into his web.

If Schwartzman can keep this match rally-oriented, I think it benefits him in the end. With his improved ground strokes in the past few years, I think he has the ability to tempt Monfils to go bash for bash from the baseline off either wing. This will be a challenge for Monfils after playing two guys in Zeballos and Cilic who didn’t really make him work off the ground. In those cases, Monfils was afforded plenty of time from the baseline to craft whatever he wanted. He doesn’t get that luxury against the speedy Argentine and I think if Diego can force Monfils to cover all areas of the court in the ground exchanges, I trust his fitness just a bit more than the Frenchman’s.

Prediction: Schwartzman wins in three sets

2018 Rio Open #TinyTuesday Preview

TT-RIO

TUESDAY IN RIO

(7) Pablo Cuevas vs (wc) Thiago Monteiro
H2H: Cuevas leads 3-0

Quick Notes
Cuevas has only dropped one set in three career meetings against the Brazilian, two of which were in Brazil – Rio in 2016 and Sao Paulo in 2016. He is just 2-3 this season, losing his first match on clay in 2018 last week in Buenos Aires to Gael Monfils. Cuevas did win this tournament in 2016, but is just 3-3 in three other trips.

Montiero had a nice run to the Quito semifinals, but was flat in losing in Buenos Aires to Fernando Verdasco. He’s had a good history of being a pesky out in Rio though with a highlight win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2016. Last year, he made the quarters and generally has his best results on clay.

Keys to Victory
Cuevas dominated Monteiro on serve in all three wins, all of which came on clay in 2016. The 7th seed averaged an 85 percent win rate on first serve and was broken just twice in those meetings. It was no coincidence that Monteiro won a set in the match where he broke Cuevas.

For Monteiro, his return has to be better. I think he needs to be aggressive and challenge Cuevas to move off the baseline. Also, he must get around to his forehand. His lefty FH does pack a punch and will be the most effective weapon for him.

Prediction: Cuevas wins in three sets

Gael Monfils vs Horacio Zeballos
H2H: 1st meeting

Quick Notes
Monfils looked sluggish in his 6-2, 6-1 loss to Dominic Thiem in the Buenos Aires semifinals. He had trouble matching the Austrian’s power from the baseline. He is now 4-2 on clay, but has never played this tournament. The weather can be harsh with the combo of heat and humidity.

Zeballos broke a three match losing skid in Buenos Aires last week with an opening round win over Mario Cecchinato. The Argentine won one and lost one in Rio last year. He had a solid year on dirt in 2017 at 15-12, including a semifinal run in Barcelona and a fourth round result at Roland Garros.

Keys to Victory
Fitness and desire for Monfils. This is his third straight week playing in South America and La Monf is scheduled to play Indian Wells and Miami in March. That’s a lot of tennis, probably too much tennis for anyone, especially one who always seems to pick up an injury. Last week was a longer run of matches for the Frenchman and with just a few days turnaround, Rio will be challenging.

Zeballos’ serve. The lefty has a big first serve and can match Monfils in the power department there, which is a plus. Monfils lost to the lone lefty he faced this year, dropping a three set match to Monteiro in Quito. He was 4-3 against lefties in 2017, but the veteran lefties were the ones who troubled him most. I think if Zeballos finds his serve early, this is a potential upset.

Prediction: Zeballos wins in three sets

(2) Dominic Thiem vs Dusan Lajovic
H2H: Thiem leads 3-0

Quick Notes
Thiem comes in off his first title in nearly a year after winning in Buenos Aires. The last title? It was here in Rio. It is a short turnaround, but this is a comfortable match-up for the Austrian. As usual when he is successful, he’s been pretty dominant with his first serve against Lajovic in their three meetings with win rates 80 percent or better in two of three matches.

Lajovic got his first win of the season last week in Buenos Aires against Facundo Bagnis. He would lose to Monfils in the next round. He is just 2-4 all-time in Rio with two opening round losses in four trips. He lost to Thiem here last year in the second round in straights.

Keys to Victory
First serve. Thiem’s entire game takes on a better look when his first serve is popping and he’s winning a high percentage of points. Normally if he’s 75 percent or better, especially on clay, he’s going to be in position to win. Starting in a good rhythm would be helpful too.

For Lajovic, it’s dealing with Thiem’s power. In looking at the tape from last year in Rio, Lajovic set up super deep in return and still couldn’t find a way to get past Thiem’s pop off both wings. He’s got to be more aggressive with his ground strokes. The Serb did move in against Thiem after engaging in baseline exchanges, but Thiem was able to find the passing shots too easily. Lajovic needs to put more oomph on his shots when he moves in to challenge Thiem to make even harder passing shots.

Prediction: Thiem wins in straight sets