2017 Wimbledon R3 Preview: Roger Federer vs Mischa Zverev

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Roger Federer and Mischa Zverev meet for third time this season with a spot in Wimbledon’s fourth round as the prize. Federer has won the two previous encounters in straight sets. The last came in Halle on grass where the Swiss won 7-6 (4), 6-4.

(3) Roger Federer vs (27) Mischa Zverev

Federer got a full match in the second round against Dusan Lajovic after his first round match against Alexandr Dolgopolov was cut short due to injury. Federe was broken in his opening service game in the 1st set, but then found his way back for a 7-6 (0), 6-3, 6-2 win. Fed was solid on serve, taking 81 percent of the points off his first and second serves. He was not broken after that initial break of the match. He saved the next three break chances against him. His ground game was decent with 31 winners to 15 unforced errors. He would break Lajovic four times on eleven chances. After the match, Federer admitted to feeling anxious prior to the match for some reason, but once his nerves settled, it was curtains for Lajovic.

Zverev looked as if he would cruise into round three after blasting Mikhail Kukushkin off the court in the first two sets in round two. Kukushikin would mount a rally however that forced the 27th seeded German to rally for a five set win 6-1, 6-2, 2-6, 3-6, 6-4. Zverev’s second serve was leaky in the Kukushkin match, winning just 37 percent of the points played. His first serve was not consistent as he won 69 percent of the points overall. It will be a bit concerning to Mischa that his first serve fell off significantly after the first two sets where he was winning 80 percent of the points. Even in the final set, he would win just 62 percent of the points off his first serve. He would combat those difficulties by executing his serve and volley game plan well, racking up 58 winners to just 24 unforced errors.

Halle Signaled Mischa’s Best Against Federer

The close straight sets loss to Federer last month in Halle marked Zverev’s best effort against the Swiss. It was a stark contract to the 6-1, 7-5, 6-2 whipping at the Australian Open in January. It was also a massive improvement from the double bagel beat down Federer delivered the last time the met on grass in Halle in 2013. What’s different? Certainly Zverev is a more consistent player than four years ago when they met on grass and certainly grass allows his serve and volley style better success than the hard courts in Melbourne.

The biggest difference last month over previous encounters was better serving from Mischa. The German was broken just once on four chances, winning 75 percent off his first serve and 55 percent off his second serve. That was a big uptick in form from Melbourne when he won just 53 percent of his first serve points and 52 percent off his second serve. Zverev was broken six times on 15 chances in that meeting. Don’t forget the most important aspect of the serve and volley is being able to serve at a high level to set yourself up for your volley game.

Tactically Speaking

Having just played, it will be interesting to see any tweaks these two make for each other on Saturday. Federer talked about the differences between Melbourne and Halle in how Zverev returned his serves. He said Mischa took a deeper stance on grass, something he was not expecting. As such, he’s not quite certain if Zverev will keep with that on Saturday or switch it up a bit. Fed said the main thing going into this match is getting used to hitting against a lefty on a short turn-around. As such, he’ll be warming up against lefties and then working on-the-fly to adjust to the varying serves and angles the lefty can bring from his serves.

For Federer, the big thing on grass is always his serve. When he’s in the zone, his serve is almost impossible to return and he gets a ton of cheap points. Watching their Halle encounter, I noticed that when Fed was hitting his spots out wide or up-the-T, Zverev was almost always out of position if he was able to make a return. That left Federer the chance to move in and finish off the point quickly. Off the ground, Federer did his share of serve and volley work in Halle against Mischa, but he also didn’t mind doing a little baseline grinding. When he did, the key to him winning points was hitting with authority off the forehand and backhand sides.

I think a huge key for Federer is being decisive in hitting the ball off return and off the ground. He has to remain proactive and not reactive. He can’t try to anticipate where Zverev will go when he gets to net. The Swiss has to choose his shoot and hit it with power. If Zverev gets his racquet on the ball and nails a volley for a winner, so be it. I think variety is a good thing for Federer when Zverev attacks the net. Don’t always try to extend him out wide and don’t always go right at him. Switch it up and leave him guessing.

As for Zverev, the serve must be better than it was against Kukushkin. In Halle, Zverev had success with his variety and he’s got to be able to hit with precision again on Saturday. Much like Federer, when Mischa extends his opponent with precise serving – it keys his volley game at the net and results in winners more often than not. Zverev said he came in against Kukuskin almost every time and there were not very many moments in Halle when he didn’t come in against Federer on his serve. Unless his legs are still feeling it from the five set match last round, don’t expect Mischa to stray from the serve and volley. Also, look for him to go at Federer’s backhand which has been a bit iffy early on this week.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

It’s difficult to see the upset potential here given that Zverev is 0-9 in sets played against Federer in their careers. Admittedly, Halle signaled that he can stay with Federer better in sets on grass at this stage and that does mean something. It will only mean something though if Federer is struggling. If Zverev can serve at a high level, it means he’ll have the chance to finish off those volleys at the net for easy points. The problem is that was an up and down proposition last round.

I’m not overly concerned about Zverev’s ability to recover from that five set match as it barely ran over three hours due to his tactics. He should be just fine from a fitness standpoint. That means it comes down to execution. I think the sets will be tight and perhaps Zverev can break the streak and steal one, but most signs point to Federer getting this done in straight sets.

Prediction: Federer wins in straight sets

2017 Wimbledon R2 Preview: Lucas Pouille vs Jerzy Janowicz

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Lucas Pouille will look to further cement himself as a grass court threat as he takes on Jerzy Janowicz in round two at Wimbledon on Wednesday. Pouille’s round one win over Malek Jaziri marked 10th win on grass in his last 12 matches on the surface. Janowicz scored his first Grand Slam win in over two years by winning his opener. He hasn’t won consecutive matches at a Slam since making the third round at the Australian Open in 2015.

(14) Lucas Pouille vs Jerzy Janowicz

Pouille received a stiff test in the opening round against Malek Jaziri. Pouille flashed a good overall game to secure a tight 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (2) victory. The Frenchman led with a booming first serve that took 84 percent of the points played. He had a little trouble landing it consistently at 56 percent, which meant quite a few second serves. The 14th seed accounted well for himself off his second serve by taking 59 percent of the points. Pouille was broken two times on six chances, while pressuring Jaziri into four breaks on a dozen break point opportunities. His ground game was solid with 50 winners and 33 unforced errors.

Janowicz, a 2013 semifinalist at Wimbledon, was solid in taking his opening round match against Denis Shapovalov. The Pole edged the Canadian in four sets; 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (2). Janowicz controlled his service games well, taking 88 percent of his first serve points. He had just five aces to go with six double faults. He did a great job of winning the big points, saving eight of nine break points against his serve. He would break Shapovalov just twince on eleven chances. His ground game produced 32 winners to offset 22 unforced errors. The win was his third on grass this season with a quarterfinal run at Stuttgart producing the other two.

Power Plays

You won’t find either of these guys looking to finesse the ball much on grass. Pouille wants to start with a booming first serve and still prefers sticking to the baseline mainly. Janowicz’s main issue will be keeping good court position off of Pouille’s serves. In watching Jerzy’s return on grass, the thing I noticed against better players/servers is that he tends to get himself into poor position on return. Janowicz seems content at-times to try to chip the ball back and that is when someone like Pouille should be aware and ready to charge and put the ball away at the net.

I think that is a distinct advantage for Pouille in this one as well in that he is much more willing to come forward on grass. He doesn’t serve and volley, but he’s very adept at picking the opportune time to move in when he gets his opponent into a bad position on the court. I think he can have success doing that by pushing Janowicz deep on the baseline both in the ground exchanges and on serve. Janowicz seems mostly committed to keeping himself along the baseline for rallies, which means he has to hit his ground strokes with precision and power. I’m not certain he can do that consistently against Pouille.

So where does Janowicz find his chances in this one? I think it has to start with his serve. It doesn’t produce the freebies it did during his prime run a few years ago, but it’s still very effective. He needs to have his first serve humming in this one as he did in round one. If he’s landing his first serve consistently, he becomes a much more productive player. Pouille does set up deep behind the baseline against bigger servers and figures to do that to start against Jerzy. It gives him a better shot at getting a return in, so it will be up to Janowicz to mix up that next shot. I’d expect some of the drop shots he loves to have some success in these situations if he can consistently nail them.

Jerzy will also need to be aggressive on that next shot off the return. He can’t be complacent in getting into ground rallies back and forth every time. He needs to move Pouille from side to side which will give him chances to punish Pouille down the line with both his forehand and backhand.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Don’t be fooled into thinking Janowicz doesn’t have a chance against the Frenchman. He does, but he needs to play a complete game. That means a consistently big serve and his ground strokes need accuracy. Pouille will be tough to break down if he is pounding in that first serve and it will put pressue on the Pole to match. That’s not something he is as good at doing at this stage in his career. I think as long as Pouille is able to pick the right spots to come forward and executes those points well, this is his match. I don’t expect him to be passive and that should keep him on the path to success.

Prediction: Pouille wins in four sets

2017 Wimbledon R1 Preview: Dominic Thiem vs Vasek Pospisil

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It’s a dangerous first round encounter for Dominic Thiem as he battles Vasek Pospisil. Theim won their only previous encounter, a hotly contested three set win for the Austrian on clay in Munich back in 2015. Thiem won 9-7 in a third set tiebreak.

(8) Dominic Thiem vs Vasek Pospisil

It was less than stellar preparation for Thiem this year on grass ahead of Wimbledon. Last year at this time, Thiem was glowing with a title win at Stuttgart over Roger Federer. This year? He went 1-2 combined in Halle and Antalya with losses to Robin Haase and Ramkumar Ramanathan. It’s easy to forget than Thiem is just 23-years-old with his quick rise into the top ten and two straight semifinal trips at the French Open. That youth means Thiem is still a greenhorn on the green stuff with just a 10-10 record on grass. Most of those wins came in his back-to-back runs in Stuttgart and Halle last year. At Wimbledon, he’s 2-3 and has not advanced past round two.

Pospisil is two years removed from his shock appearance in the Wimbledon quarterfinals. He’s found life difficult on tour in general, falling from a career best 29th all the way back outside the top 100 in the past two years. He’s only recent worked back inside the top 100 after starting the year ranked #133. Last year, the Canadian was beaten in the opening round at Wimbledon by Albert Ramos-Vinolas. This year, he’s been forced to go through qualifying a lot so he has plenty of match play on grass with a dozen matches over three pre-Wimbledon tournaments. He qualified for the Ricoh Open, Gerry Webber Open and AEGON International and went 3-3 in main draw action. The 27-year-old has gone 4-22 against top ten players and last beat a top ten player at Indian Wells when he upset Andy Murray.

Grass Troubles

Thiem’s run in Stuttgart last year says that he can have some success on this surface. Even if Roger Federer wasn’t quite 100 percent, a win over Roger on grass is a major feat for a young player. To follow that up with a win over Philipp Kohlschreiber for the title in Germany is a solid accomplishment. The thing Thiem did very well in the Stuttgart run was serve big, especially tomahawking his first serve. That’s long been a formula for succes in Thiem’s early career. When his first serve is popping, he’s so much more difficult to beat.

The things that have prevented him from finding success outside of that run last summer on grass are some of the same things that plague Stan Wawrinka on grass. Much like Wawrinka, Thiem prefers to dictate matches from the baseline and hard courts and clay in particular allow him to control matches better in that manner. Thiem doesn’t have to come to net as much as you do on grass and that’s why he’s been much more comfortable on non-grass surfaces. Thiem does move well laterally and north-to-south and can come to net well. That separates him from Wawrinka a bit on grass and is why you can see a potential uptick for him on this surface if he dedicates himself to that tactic.

Pospisil’s Chance to Resurrect His Career

This is a massive chance for Pospisil to continue to turn his career around. He has not shy about putting in the work to rebuild his ranking, dropping down to the Challenger level to do so. Pop started the year off with Aussie Mark Woodforde in his camp as a new coach. That partnership flamed out before the French Open however and the Canadian decided to step away from the game by skipping Roland Garros. Pospisil freely admitted he was both physically and mentally drained by a string of Challenger play between Indian Wells and Roland Garros. If you recall, Pospisil dumped longtime coach Federic Fontage in 2016 after a dismal 6-19 start to the season, so he’s still searching for something that will click for him as far as a coach.

He did train with former coach Fred Niemeyer, who is coaching Tennis Canada, prior to the start of the grass court season. Pop does seem to at least have an idea for what he wants to do on the surface, so that is good heading into this match. Pospisil has always utilized the serve and volley, but it’s obviously a better tactic on grass. He executed this perfectly in his upset of Murray at Indian Wells and he’ll be hoping it will work its magic against Thiem on Tuesday. Any wins for Pospisil this week will help boost his ranking with nothing to defend from last year. He has a similar path to the North American hard court swing after this having won just two of six matches during that swing in 2016.

Match Tactics

As I touched on above, you can expect to see Pospisil going with plenty of serve and volley against Thiem. That tactic is only as good as the serve and that’s something Pospisil has found trouble with at times. On grass, he’s been better at utilizing his power and it’s the first serve that powers him much as it does Thiem. The key to the serve and volley is hitting your spots on serve with proper placement and velocity. That in turn leaves your opponent in poor return position and more often than not, putting the ball back into your wheelhouse. That’s when Pospisil rushes the net and uses his volley skills that have been honed by years of playing doubles on tour.

How does Thiem combat that tactic? Return will go a long way in dictating what he can do against Pospisil’s serve and volley tactics. If Thiem isn’t able to square up and get some solid returns then Pospisil is going to control his service games easily and take it to the 8th seed. Pospisil will want to keep the points compact and aggressive to avoid the baseline war that Thiem would love to see take place in this one. Thiem’s tactic is to get the return game going in order to get those baseline exchanges working. When they go baseline-to-baseline, things will favor Thiem. He’s got superior weapons and variety off the forehand and especially backhand side.

When Thiem can get into those baseline exchanges, he’ll want to move Pospisil deep on the court to keep him from being able to move in and execute more volley work. The deeper you see Pospisil on the court, I think the more you will see Thiem in control of the scoreboard. Thiem’s serve will be just as important in crafting things to his benefit. The first serve is the key. Dom can throw down absolute bombs, but when he’s not going right, his consistency floats in and out of matches. If Pospisil is executing his serve well and Thiem is not, then the Austrian is going to be ripe for an upset.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

I think this is a scary match-up for Thiem against a player who will challenge him likely to play a bit out of his comfort zone along the baseline. If Pospisil can win 80 percent or better on first serve and avoid too many second serves, I think he’s in it to win it. Thiem’s confidence isn’t especially high after a very mediocre prep run and you get the feeling that he needs success early to alleviate any thoughts that center on grass not being his best surface.

This looks like a real nice spot for Pospisil to play spoiler. but I would expect plenty of roller coaster moments in this one.

Prediction: Pospisil wins in five sets

2017 Wimbledon Draw Preview

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Will the old guard continue their dominance over Grand Slams yet again or is it time for a new name to make an impression by taking the trophy? We’ll find out over the next two weeks. History suggests that the title at the All-England Club will still likely come down to Andy Murray, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic. After all, those three have won 13 of the last 14 men’s singles titles at Wimbledon.

There has at least been a few outsiders to that “big three” in the past few years that have been playing the final few days of Wimbledon with a chance to make history. Milos Raonic and Tomas Berdych made the semifinals last year as seeds outside the top five. Raonic made his first Slam final here in 2016. In 2015, Richard Gasquet crashed the semifinals as the 21st seed along with the familiar names of Murray, Federer and Djokovic. In 2014, Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic both made the semifinals as seeds outside the top five, #11 and #8 respectively. 2013 continued the trend with 8th seed Juan Martin Del Potro and 24th seed Jerzy Janowicz slipping into the semis along with Djokovic and Murray.

Relative “outsiders” aka those outside “The Big Four” can make inroads at Wimbledon and be in the mix at the business end of the tournament. Whether one of those can push into the final and actually upset the apple cart by taking the title has yet to be done since the era of Federer began at Wimbledon with the first of his nine titles in 2003. With all that to chew on, let’s break down the brackets and see who might sneak into the semifinals this year.

Quarter #1 Seeds
Andy Murray (1)
Stan Wawrinka (5)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (12)
Lucas Pouille (14)
Nick Kyrgios (20)
Sam Querrey (24)
Fabio Fognini (28)
Fernando Verdasco (31)

Top Half Breakdown (Murray)
Murray will be a bit weary of a potential second round meeting with Dustin Brown. The Scot opens against lucky loser Alexander Bublik first and it is his first go around at Wimbledon. He did get his first Slam win at the Australian Open earlier this year against Pouille, so there’s definitely some talent there. Bublik will be an interesting test for Murray because the Russian-born 20-year-old loves to play trick shots. That might be good practice for a potential meeting with Brown in round two, who also has an unorthodox style on grass. Fognini is the seed opposite of Murray in this portion of the bracket in the battle for a third round spot. I fancy the winner of Jiri Vesely vs Illya Marchenko to have a good shot to beat the Italian. Fognini has only made it past round two twice at Wimbledon in eight trips.

In the bottom portion of this half, you’ve got two heavy hitters in Pouille and Kyrgios as the seeds. Pouille has the better match-up in the opening round against Malek Jaziri. The Frenchman will be hoping to match last year’s surprise quarterfinal run. He played well in the lead-up to Wimbledon, winning in Stuttgart before crashing out in Halle to Florian Mayer. Pouille’s second round match-up will be tough against either Denis Shapovalov or Jerzy Janowicz. Both have big games. Shapovalov might be more confident after a good showing at Queen’s Club where he beat Kyle Edmund and then lost a tight three setter to Berdych. Kyrgios has Pierre Hugues-Herbert to start and he’ll be tested if there are any lingering issues with his hip or shoulder. Round two could feature Kyrgios against Benoit Paire who opens against Rogerio Dutra Silva. Paire owns two wins over NK, including one at the 2014 Australian Open. If a seed makes it through to round four, you’d fancy it to be Pouille rather than Kyrgios.

Murray wouldn’t mind that one bit as he’s beaten Pouille four out of four times and all have been in straight sets. The big thing for the Scot will be fitness. He’s battled a hip issue in recent times, but claims to be feeling better. That will play out early I would think with the unorthodox guys he could face testing his movement with their odd-timed shots.

Bottom Half Breakdown (Wawrinka)
Wawrinka had turned the tide of his past Wimbledon failures with successive quarterfinal runs in 2014 and 2015. Last year however brought him back to the land of the early exit as he was taken down in round two by Del Potro. The Swiss again has a difficult draw with up and comer Daniil Medvedev to start. The Russian made three straight quarterfinals in the grass build-up tournaments, including the semifinals last week in Eastbourne. Two things Medvedev has yet to do however are winning a Grand Slam match and beating a top ten player. He’ll attempt both against Wawrinka who has lost in round one five times at Wimbledon.

Survival for Wawrinka in round one would see him meet Tommy Haas or Ruben Bemelmans and perhaps feel better about making a deeper run. Verdasco is seeded to be the third round opponent, but he’s got to get past Kevin Anderson in round one. If he does, you’d like Verdasco’s chances to beat Andreas Seppi or Nortbert Gombos in round two. If it comes down to Wawrinka and Verdasco for a spot in round four, they’re level at 3-3 lifetime and 1-1 on grass. The Swiss does hold the edge at 2-0 in Slams, including a 2015 meeting at Wimbledon.

The other part of this half sees Tsonga as the lead seed along with Querrey. Tsonga takes on Brit Cameron Norrie. Tsonga has a great track record at Wimbledon with a career mark of 28-9. He has had more off years however recently with a second round exit in 2013 and third round exit in 2015. Last year, he did make the quarterfinals. Norrie shouldn’t be much of a bother unless Tsonga is totally off his game and a second round match against Simone Bolelli or Yen-Hsun Lu also looks good for the 12th seed. That could leave him in round three to face Querrey. The American faces Thomas Fabbiano to start and then would see either Carlos Berlocq or Nikoloz Basilashvili.

In what looks to be a fairly weak part of the quarter, it would be a bit surprising not to see Tsonga vs Querrey for a spot in the fourth round.

Predictions
In spite of the questions we have about Andy Murray heading into Wimbledon, this appears to be a good set-up for him similar to Roland Garros. There, he got off to a solid start and then grew into the tournament and found a rhythm. He will look for the same here and the match-ups should play for him to get to the quarters. It should come down to how healthy the hip is for the top seed. Opposite of him, I think there is room for an uprising. It might not necessarily be an unseeded player who takes the reigns and makes the quarters. Think Querrey or Verdasco, but don’t discount Anderson of Medvedev if they can get off to the shock start.

Projected Quarterfinalists: Murray, Querrey

Quarter #2 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (4)
Marin Cilic (7)
Kei Nishikori (9)
Gilles Muller (16)
Roberto Bautista Agut (18)
Ivo Karlovic (21)
Steve Johnson (25)
Karen Khachanov (30)

Top Half Breakdown (Nadal)
It’s an interesting half of this quarter with Nadal as the lead seed. He’s got big servers/hitters in Muller, Karlovic and Khachanov in this part of the draw. That isn’t great news for Rafa who has struggled against guys who can hit big and paint lines on this surface. Since back-to-back finals appearances in 2010 and 2011, Nadal is just 5-4 at Wimbledon without advancing past round four. He’s lost in the first or second round in three of his last four trips. Granted he is playing with great confidence, but grass is going to be a true test of how his overall game stands. He opens against John Millman who has been tough the last two years here. I don’t think Millman scores the upset, but if Rafa has trouble finding a rhythm on grass, the Aussie could certainly make him work hard.

Round two against either Denis Istomin or Donald Young could prove the tougher spot for Rafa. Neither owns a win against Nadal, but only Istomin has met him on grass and that went three at Queen’s Club back in Nadal’s hey-day when he won Wimbledon in 2010. Istomin’s big, flat ground strokes could prove to be a tough test if he’s up against Nadal. I think the Spaniard would prefer to see Young. Opposite of this spot, it’s Khachanov against Andrey Kuznetsov. That could be a thriller, but Khachanov has the better, bigger game suited to grass. A win would see him against qualifier Andrew Whittington or Thiago Monteiro. Khachanov really has no excuse not to get to round three. Even if Nadal is there, Khachanov could be the fly-in-the-ointment who takes out a top seed.

The other part of this half has Muller and Karlovic as the seeds. Both don’t have easy paths to winning a few matches. Karlovic opens against Aljaz Bedene who has beaten him before and is comfortable on grass. Muller starts with wild card Martin Fucsovics who won a grass court Challenger. If Karlovic survives round one, then he’s got a better second round match-up against either Renzo Olivo or Damir Dzumhur who probably won’t be able to handle his serve. Muller? He could see Lukas Rosol who battles Henri Laaksonen to start. I don’t fancy Muller to make it past round two and there’s a chance Fucsovics could stun him in round one, albeit he will need Muller to have an off day to help.

My surprise in this half of the quarter would be if it doesn’t get blown up with upsets. I feel that this one has the dangerous floaters and big serving/hitting double digit seeds like Karlovic and Khachanov who could make runs.

Bottom Half Breakdown (Cilic)
This part of the quarter also looks as if it could go upside down. Cilic has been in solid form on grass with a trip to the Queen’s Club final and a semifinal showing at the Ricoh Open. His draw is rough though with Philipp Kohlschreiber to start and then either Viktor Troicki or Florian Mayer if he makes it to round two. Kohlschreiber is skilled on grass and will contend if his serve holds up. Troicki owns two wins on grass against Cilic and Mayer’s funky game could give Cilic some problems if that is the match-up. Cilic is going to have to earn every set if he makes it past the first two rounds. Steve Johnson is the player seeded to be in the third round opposite of the Croat and his draw looks good. He starts with Nicolas Kicker and then would see either Facundo Bagnis or Radu Albot in round two. Johnson can’t ask for better match-ups in his favor on this surface. He might need an upset of Cilic to be done before round three to have a shot to advance farther. Cilic has made three straight quarterfinals at Wimbledon though and will still be very difficult to knock out.

In the other portion of this part of the quarter, it’s Nishikori and Bautista Agut as the seeds. Nishikori’s main issue could once again be his body. He bailed out of Halle due to a back issue, the third straight year that he’s done so. Both previous years, NIshikori’s body wound up failing him at Wimbledon – last year in round four and in 2015 in round two. Round one should be okay for the 9th seed against Marco Cecchinato who is more comfortable on clay. It’s round two that could undo Nishikori with either Sergiy Stakhovsky or Julien Benneteau waiting. Bautista Agut should advance out of round one against Adrian Haider-Maurer, but could find it more difficult in round two. He’ll see either Marius Copil or Peter Gojowyczk. Copil beat Gojo in a competitive French Open match in May. Copil is coping with a shoulder issue though that forced him to retire at the Nottingham Challenger in the semifinals. He is a big server and a legit threat on grass if his body holds up. He’d be the more difficult out for RBA.

Cilic has the tougher draw to make a deep run, but I think we all trust him more to do that than we trust Nishikori’s body to hold up. Let’s also remember that this has been Nishikori’s worst Slam with the fourth round as his best finish. If his body holds though, the match-ups get better at least until a potential showdown with Cilic.

Predictions
If Nadal and Cilic both make it through to the quarterfinals, I will be stunned. I won’t be surprised if Cilic makes it four straight quarterfinals despite the difficult draw. He’s been serving at a high level on grass and has the power to KO even the toughest opponents in his way. I think the surprise comes in Nadal’s half of the quarter. Khachanov is the guy I think could surprise here and he’s seemingly been close to busting out, so perhaps this is his stage. If an unseeded player is going to make a move, it will likely be in Cilic’s half and at Cilic’s expense.

Projected Quarterfinalists: Khachanov, Cilic

Quarter #3 Seeds
Roger Federer (3)
Milos Raonic (6)
Alexander Zverev (10)
Jack Sock (17)
Grigor Dimitrov (13)
John Isner (23)
Albert Ramos-Vinolas (25)
Mischa Zverev (27)

Top Half Breakdown (Raonic)
The 2016 finalist heads to Wimbledon without much grass court prep. Raonic lost his lone tune-up match to Kokkinakis at Queen’s Club, although he did little wrong outside of a few points in both tiebreaks. Raonic has found good success at Slams here at Wimbledon with a semifinal showing in 2014 and then last year’s final. He opens with big serving Jan-Lennard Struff. The German is going to make Raonic play well to win. Struff lost to Pouille twice on grass, but extended him to three sets both times in Stuttgart and Halle. Don’t be surprised if Struff extends Raonic to four or five sets. A win would get Raonic a shot against either Mikhail Youzhny or Nicolas Mahut. Mahut’s serve and volley would be the trickier of the two match-ups. Ramos-Vinolas is seeded to meet Raonic in round three, but I’m not counting on it. He meets Jordan Thompson in round one who just beat him on grass. Even if he survives, he could see young Russian Andrey Rublev in round two. Rublev has started to get positive results on grass this summer and he would be a tough out as well if he beats Stefano Travaglia in round one.

The other half of this part of the bracket has Zverev as the lead seed. Sock is also in this part of the draw and despite some very mediocre results in 2017, the American has a nifty draw that could see him get through to round three without a ton of trouble. He faces qualifier Christian Garin to open. Garin had never played on grass before making the main draw through qualifying, so his confidence will get a boost. Sock hasn’t played since a poor showing at the French Open, but he never plays in the pre-Wimbledon swing. Last year’s third round loss to Raonic was his best finish at the All-England Club. With Garin and then either Thomaz Bellucci or Sebastian Offner in round two, Sock should have a chance to match that result. Sascha Zverev opens against Evgeny Donskoy. Donskoy has big ground strokes, so if his serve holds up, he could push the 10th seed a bit. The survivor there gets either Robin Haase or Frances Tiafoe. Tiafoe still doesn’t own a main draw win on grass, while Haase has played reasonably well on grass lately. Remember Haase had a 2-1 lead on Zverev at the Australian Open before Sascha rallied to win in five. That would be an intriguing second rounder.

There are some early tests here for both Raonic and Zverev. I like Raonic’s path a bit better and Sascha still has to prove he can be a deep threat here to me. He made round three last year, losing to Berdych. I think he can equal or better that, but my brain is starting to stick a little bit on how tough Donskoy and Haase could potentially be for him.

Bottom Half Breakdown (Federer)
Federer heads to London with confidence after winning the Halle title. He had the hiccup against Tommy Haas in Stuttgart, but that appears to have been due to rust, so he’ll be expecting to be around at the tail end of the tournament again. He opens with Alexandr Dolgopolov. Dog is 0-3 against Fed and retired at the Ricoh Open. Expect Fed to move on and play either Stefan Tsitsipas or Dusan Lajovic which appears to be another comfortable match-up. Round three might be his first “test” with the survivor of the round one clash between Mischa Zverev and Bernard Tomic favored to be there. Fed just beat Zverev in straights in Halle, his fourth win over Mischa and he’s also 4-0 against Tomic. As long as Fed stays consistent, the fourth round looks like a fairly smooth path.

The other part of this half sees Dimitrov and Isner as the seeds. I’ve touched on Isner already and his struggles this year. He goes against Taylor Fritz in round one and could well be one and done. Whoever survives round one gets Dudi Sela or Marcel Granollers. The Isner-Fritz winner should be expecting to get to the third round. Dimitrov meanwhile opens against Diego Schwartzman, which should allow him for a winning start. The Bulgarian would then face Marcos Baghdatis or James Ward. Baghdatis sucumbed to the sweltering heat in Antalya last week in the semifinals. He also retired in Stuttgart, so his health is a real question. Ward has been derailed by injuries and has not won an ATP match since he made round three at Wimbledon in 2015. Maybe this is his time against a weakened opponent? Either way, Dimitrov might think abou a new line of work if he can’t get through these first two rounds.

Dimitrov has lost in the third round the last two years at Wimbledon since his semifinal rn back in 2014. I think you have to like his chances to get there and probably a step farther to round four where he could meet Federer.

Predictions
If Raonic can get his serve humming early, I like him to get through a tougher part of this quarter. Federer has the road for success laid out in front of him, it’s up to him to execute his game plan consistently. So far in 2017, there’s been very few times when Fed has failed to do just that.

Projected Quartefinalists: Raonic, Federer

Quarter #4 Seeds
Novak Djokovic (2)
Dominic Thiem (8)
Tomas Berdych (11)
Gael Monfils (15)
Feliciano Lopez (19)
Richard Gasquet (22)
Juan Martin Del Potro (29)
Paolo Lorenzi (32)

Top Half Breakdown (Thiem)
Thiem is still a big question mark on grass for me. Yes, he won the Stuttgart title last season, but outside of that he’s just 7-10 on grass in other tournaments. At Wimbledon, he has yet to find his stride with two straight second round exits after a first round ouster in his 2014 debut. He draws Vasek Pospisil to open in what could be a trendy upset pick. Pop is far removed from the player who made the quarters here in 2015, but he’s got the serve and volley game to trouble Thiem who prefers to hug the baseline. Thiem’s build-up this year was less than stellar with a 1-2 mark and losses to Haase and Ramkumar Ramanathan. If he escapes round one, things could get better with Gilles Simon or Nicolas Jarry in round two. Simon would figure to be tougher, but Thiem is 5-2 against him and has beaten the Frenchman four straight times.

Lorenzi is seeded to be the third round foe in this part of the draw. The Italian is 0-6 at Wimbledon. He opens against Horacio Zeballos who is 0-4 here, so something will give. That should give the winner between Janko Tipsarevic and Jared Donaldson hope of making round three. Tipsarevic hasn’t scored but two wins on grass this year, but his three losses to Cilic, Troicki and Seppi look better than Donaldson’s career results on the greenery. The American has just two career wins on grass and makes his Wimbledon main draw debut. Tipsarevic surprisingly has a terrible record here despite possession a good power game. The Serb is 11-12, but has lost in round one in five of his last six trips.

Opposite of that part of the draw, things look more interesting with seeds Berdych and Gasquet. Berdych opens with a tough one against Jeremy Chardy who hasn’t found a win in four tries against the Czech, but played him close in this same round two years ago. If Berdych advances, he gets Borna Coric or Ryan Harrison. Neither has shown much on grass, but Coric did effort well here last year with two five set matches in two rounds. He beat Stakhovsky and loss to Seppi. Harrison hasn’t won here since 2012 and hasn’t won a main draw ATP match on grass since Eastbourne in 2013. I don’t think either is going to particular worry Berdych in round two. Gasquet has to get by David Ferrer in round one, but grass is a better surface for the Frenchman. A win sets him up against either Steve Darcis or Ricardas Berankis. Darcis has done virtually nothing on grass since his round one shocked over Nadal in 2013 at Wimbledon.

Gasquet-Berdych looks likely in round three. It would be meeting #17 that has gone lopsided in favor of Berdych recently with the Czech taking six of the last seven meetings. Surprisingly though, they have never met on grass. The winner of that potential match would be my favorite to get through to a quarterfinal.

Bottom Half Breakdown (Djokovic)
All hail the Eastbourne champion. The Serb definitely gained some confidence with his run to the title this past week and that should really serve him well. He didn’t beat a bunch of nothings either, so he should feel probably about as good about his game as can be expected. Andre Agassi is expected to be with him for the tournament (we think), so it will be interesting to see what, if any effect that has on Djokovic. As for his draw, he gets Martin Klizan first. That’s a comfortable match-up with Djokovic 3-0 against him and Klizan not much of a threat on grass. A win gets either Ernesto Escobedo or Adam Pavlasek. Escobedo is raw on this surface still, but Pavlasek barely plays on it. The American can win in this spot, but Djokovic should ease through to round three.

The intrigue lies opposite of this with Juan Martin Del Potro opening against Thanasi Kokkinakis. There is no telling if DelPo’s groin is 100 percent, but you’d hope the rest has helped him heal. If he’s fit, then he may simply need to find his rhythm to become an automatic threat in London. You know Djokovic saw his name in the draw and probably got a little uncomfortable. Kokkinakis has the big serve and game to contend with Del Potro, but has his own physical struggles that keep him from being consistent match-to-match. He could spring an upset like he did against Raonic, but fall apart immediately in round two. If DelPo is healthy, I think he’ll survive and then see either Ernests Gulbis or Victor Estrella Burgos. Gulbis hasn’t played on grass since losing in round one here last year to Jack Sock. I’d be disappointed if we didn’t see Djokovic-Del Potro in round three.

In the other part of this half, Monfils and Lopez are the lead seeds. Monfils looked fairly solid in Eastbourne in making the final. La Monf lost in the opening round last year and has never made it past round three at Wimbledon, so he looks challenged to get that done this year. He opens against a dangerous qualifier in Daniel Brands. The German veteran actually owns three wins against Monfils, but those came three or more years ago. Brands did make the fourth round in 2010 and he’s got a big serve. Monfils can’t afford to slack off. The winner gets Kyle Edmund or Alexander Ward. Edmund has lost five straight on grass and has been a disappointing first round exit each year since 2013 at Wimbledon. Ward is playing the main draw for just the second time. Edmund needs to step up and win in this spot, but his confidence may be lacking. The Monfils-Brands winner should be the one to watch into round three.

Lopez has been in marvelous form on grass this summer, a nice return to good things for the three-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist. He’s 9-1 on grass this year with the Queen’s Club title in tow. He draws Adrian Mannarino to start. The Frenchman made the Antalya final, so he’s got some grass game as well. Mannarino did make round four at the All-England Club in 2013, so he can contend against Lopez. The Spaniard has beaten him twice, but their Australian Open match in 2015 was close until Mannarino succumbed to heat exhaustion. The winner gets Antalya champ Yuichi Sugita or Brydan Klein. Sugita has looked much better on grass with the Antalya title and the Surbiton Challenger title on grass this summer. I would be concerned with too many matches on his legs though. He’s played 14 matches on grass with that last week in the heat in Turkey. Klein is 0-2 all-time at Wimbledon, but he’s played a lot on this surface and I would not be surprised if he pulled off the upset over a fatigued Sugita.

Lopez is the one to watch as he carries in some great form and is very comfortable on this surface. Even if he goes toe-to-toe with Monfils, I’d like the Spaniard’s chances of being in the fourth round.

Predictions
If Del Potro’s groin wasn’t a concern coming in, I’d be more apt to say Djokovic might have more trouble early, but even a healthier DelPo could not beat Novak in three other meetings in 2017. I do like where the Serb is at coming to London though and as long as he doesn’t get off to a slow start and keeps his confidence up, he should be in the quarterfinal mix. A Djokovic-Lopez fourth round match could be much better than the 9-1 head-to-head in favor of the Serb suggests. The guy who could swoop in and take advantage of Djokovic’s tougher road is Berdych.

Projected Quarterfinalists: Berdych, Djokovic

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

Outside of Federer, the top players in this tournament still have key questions upon arrival. For Murray, it’s whether his hip is an issue and whether his game will be back in rhythm after the early exit at Queen’s Club. For Djokovic, it’s whether his title in Eastbourne signals that everything is moving back into a positive direction or if he’s still prone to getting the yips? And then Nadal obviously will simply have to prove that he can win on grass again.

It’s still very hard to see an outsider claiming the title at Wimbledon, but that seems to be our mantra going into every Grand Slam. I think the closest one could get to an outsider would be someone like Raonic or Cilic. Raonic is the one to keep an eye on for me again this year. He’s got that huge game that can trouble Federer, Djokovic and Murray. The Canadian especially will have a little swagger if he goes against Fed, having beaten the Swiss last year in the semis and in Brisbane earlier in 2016. I think Murray and Djokovic still hold the key edge over him due to their return games, but Fed is obviously not in that elite class of returning.

I think in order right now, I’d say Federer, Djokovic and then Murray as possible winners. Murray could elevate himself a notch if he proves the hip is a non-issue within the first two rounds. If Murray crashes early, Cilic is the guy who could step into the top half of the draw and take control as somewhat of a “surprise” guy. Down on the bottom, it’s harder to see Federer, Djokovic or Raonic not involved in the other spot in the final. I’ll go Andy-Novak with about two percent confidence!

2017 AEGON International SF Preview: Novak Djokovic vs Daniil Medvedev

NOLEMED17

A spot in the AEGON International final awaits the winner when top seed Novak Djokovic squares off against Daniil Medvedev. It marks their second career meeting with Djokovic taking the first in Davis Cup play earlier this season. Medvedev retired from that match one game into the fourth set due to cramps. The Russian had taken the opening set before Djokovic rallied to take the next two.

(1) Novak Djokovic vs Daniil Medvedev

Djokovic said he was satisfied with his ability to overcome Donald Young in the quarterfinals 6-2, 7-6 (9). After a smooth first set, the top seed missed out on a trio of break chances early in the second, before Young broke him to take a 5-4 lead. The American had a set point in the next game on serve, but faltered as Djokovic broke right back to even the set at 5-5. Young would see one more set point in the tiebreak, but Djokovic held firm and finally finished him off on his fourth try at match point.

The stats read solid for the top seed, winning 80 percent of his first serve points and 60 percent of his second serve points. He was broken just the one time on four chances. Defensively, he was into Young’s serve often as he kept Young under a 70 percent win rate on his first serve. Djokovic would break Young three times, but needed ten chances to do so. It was a solid follow-up to his opening win against Vasek Pospisil in straights. There, Djokovic was not broken and won just over 72 percent of his service points. He would break the Canadian twice on five chances.

As for Medvedev, there was some question surrounding his shoulder coming into the week. He had injured it during warm-ups at Queen’s Club in a three set loss to Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals. The Russian has shown no ill effects with wins over seeds Sam Quierrey and Steve Johnson sandwiched by a three set win over Robin Haase. This marks his first grass court semifinal at this level, but it is the third straight week he has been to the quarterfinals on the green stuff.

In his most recent match, he edged Johnson 6-3, 2-6, 6-3. He controlled the proceedings for the most part with his serve. He won 78 percent of the points off his first serve and 71 percent of the points off his second. He was broken twice for the second straight match and he’s now seen his serve drop five times in Eastbourne this week. Still, he’s managed to win at least 78 percent of his first serve points in all three matches and has avoided having to play too many second serves.

Pulling the Ripcord or Taking the Title?

We are definitely at that moment during the week leading up to a Grand Slam where the inevitable question is asked whether a player is wiser to continue his push at a tournament for the current week or bail out and rest with bigger things on the horizon? For Djokovic, he came to Eastbourne looking for some consistency and peace of mind with his game on grass. I think he’s largely accomplished that to this point, but it doesn’t seem wise to undo his rhythm with a tank job in this spot. If the Serb does pull the ripcord on this week in Eastbourne, I would expect him to come up with some “nagging” injury to give Medvedev a walkover.

Medvedev would honestly be the guy who could use a break. He’s played every week of the short grass court season and played two extra matches of qualifying the first week at the Ricoh Open. He’s played eleven matches with six going the distance. Even though the shoulder issue from last week hasn’t flared up, overuse in a short span could be a detriment to what this 21-year-old might be able to achieve the next two weeks at the All-England Club.

Make no mistake about it, he’s said grass is his favorite surface and his play is showing exactly what a threat he will be in the draw. There won’t be many wanting to play this youngster brimming with confidence. So is it more appropriate to say ripcord or rest for the Russian rather than the common perception of it being Djokovic who would consider that? I would not be stunned to see a walkover or a rollover on Friday when these two meet and that would be a shame.

Second Career Meeting

A shame because their first meeting in February in Davis Cup play was cut short when Medvedev cramped up and had to quite while trailing two sets to one in the fourth. The Russian had taken it to the Serb to open their match indoors in Belgrade. A shame also because Djokovic was not fully fit in that match, still suffering from shoulder pain that required attention during the match. So what can we take from a match that showed both men less than 100 percent? A little.

For his part, Djokovic says the shoulder pain prevented him from playing points the way that he wanted to and that certainly allowed Medvedev to dictate the action through the first set and half. The 21-year-old took the opening set and actually led 3-0 in the second as he broke the Serb five times early on. That is when the cramps appeared to start effecting his game as Djokovic roared back to take set two 6-4 and then crushed Medvedev 6-1 in the third.

It was easy to see that Medvedev was not moving well as the match progressed and Djokovic pounced on the advantage despite his own injury worry. Despite the dominant scoreline after the first set and a half, Djokovic’s numbers showed the shoulder’s impact on his game. He would win just 60 percent of his first serve points and 52 percent off his second serve. He had 37 unforced errors to just 21 winners. The Serb was broken five times and gave Medvedev 14 chances.

Oppositely, Medvedev’s numbers show some on the cramps and some of Djokovic simply getting him with his vintage return game. The Russian would win just 57 percent off his first serve and 47 percent off his second. The telling stat was winners versus unforced errors, finishing with 24 winners and 41 unforced errors. Thirty-two of those UEs came after set one and just 12 winners came in that same span. His legs certainly were not allowing him to get set and fire with his ground strokes consistently.

Semifinal Strategy

If Djokovic is coming into this ready to play, I think he’s going to want to get this match over and done with as quickly as possible. Whether Medvedev’s cramps were a product of the Serb’s ability to grind his opponents across the court or not, that is going to be a pretty good starting point for Djokovic. He doesn’t want to let Medvedev set up shop in stationary positions, where he can pummel the ball with his power. When the Russian can set his feet and fire, his forehand is a monster and his two-hander off the backhand side is effective.

Look for Djokovic to try and move his Russian foe from side-to-side as much as possible and he’ll of course sprinkle in some Djoko-droppers to test his north-south movement. We can all cringe when those drop shots come as you never know whether Djokovic is going to be in harmony with that shot. When he is, he’s almost impossible to play against because of the variety he brings off both wings.

There should be plenty of baseline exchanges here as Medvedev prefers that position and Djokovic does his best defending and point crafting from deeper on the court. The key for Medvedev is going to be his serve. He has to find a way to get some easier points off serve against Djokovic. The numbers he’s put up this week would work against Djokovic, but I think we all know that he’ll face a much stiffer challenge on return against the Serb than he did against the likes of Querrey, Haase and Johnson – all of whom do not adorn the cover of “Slick Returners Monthly” at any point in time.

With Medvedev not getting aces as consistently as he did on some of the other grass courts that he’s played at, you would think that says his shoulder is obviously under 100 percent. If power doesn’t get it done, then he needs precision and variety. Even in his darkest struggles, Djokovic has almost always shown the ability to return. I think that is a big difference in this one, especially with Medvedev maybe a few MPHs slower than his norm.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

It’s the business end of a 250 the week before a Slam, so theoretically anything can happen. I still do think if Djokovic is playing this match, he’s playing to win and win in a timely manner. Medvedev has the tools to trouble Djokovic, but I’m not certain at less than 100 percent that he’ll be able to bring enough consistency to really put the Serb in trouble. I think he’ll need help from Djokovic to truly contend and of course in the past 12 months, Djokovic has obliged plenty of players with that scenario.

Medvedev may have some success early if his serve is popping, but I do think Djokovic will work into his serve and begin making inroads as the match progresses. If he keeps his own serve on par with what he has shown so far in Eastbourne, then I think he’ll edge this and move into what has become a rare final in 2017 for the world’s number four ranked player.

Prediction: Novak Djokovic wins in straight sets