2017 Shanghai Rolex Masters Preview

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Nadal, Federer Lead Field

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

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

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

Lower Seeds Yield More Experience

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

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

Early Bird Specials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outsider’s Edge

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

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

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

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

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

Draw Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2017 China Open QF Previews

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The top three seeds remain alive as quarterfinal play takes place on Friday in Beijing. Top seed Rafael Nadal leads the charge against John Isner.

(1) Rafael Nadal vs (6) John Isner

Nadal and Isner are meeting for the second time in the last few weeks after Isner defeated Nadal in Laver Cup play. That is the only time that Isner has managed to beat Rafa with Nadal holding a 6-0 edge in official ATP World Tour events. After a tough opener versus Lucas Pouille, Nadal had an easier time in round two against Karen Khachanov. Rafa kept constant pressure on the young Russian’s serve as he broken him three times on ten chances. Nadal would not allow a break off of six chances against his own serve. He had solid win rates at 70 and 68 percent off his serve, albeit the first serve was down from 81 percent against Pouille. The top seed has been broken just once on ten chances through two rounds.

Isner blasted another opponent off the court in the second round, taking care of Leonardo Mayer easily 6-0, 6-3. That came after he whipped Malek Jaziri 6-2, 6-3 in round one. Isner pounded out eight aces against Mayer and let him see just one break point, that the American was able to save. Isner won 84 percent of his first serve points and 57 percent of his second serve points. Both were down slightly from against Jaziiri, when he won 93 and 62 percent respectively. There were no break chances against Isner in that match.

The meeting at the Laver Cup was the first between Nadal and Isner since 2015, when Rafa won twice against Isner on clay. At the Laver Cup, Isner edged Nadal 7-5, 7-6 (1). In the match, Nadal lost serve twice with Isner dropping serve once. Isner was especially dominant on serve in the second set, where he lost just two points on serve. That is obviously a huge key heading into this one and Isner should have some confidence from that win. It will be interesting to see how Nadal adjusts to seeing a big serve again, although you’d expect his court positioning to remain fairly consistent. Rafa almost always plays deep behind the baseline to set himself up for a better shot on return and in rallies.

For Isner, he knows he has to serve at an elite level to win. One break can easily decide a set in this matchup, so the American will want to put the pressure on Nadal’s serve with some easy holds of his own. I wouldn’t expect much more than the usual power display from Isner and attempts to finish points quickly when Rafa does get a racquet on those serves. Isner shouldn’t be afraid to move in on the second ball to accomplish that feat. Nadal must continue to serve solidly and try to get Isner into rallies where he can wear the big man down a bit in an attempt to take the American’s legs. That in turn could take a little bite off the serve and make a big difference in critical points late in the match.

I said in the tournament preview that this matchup might be the toughest of the tournament for Nadal and I do expect it to be just that. I also expect Rafa will take the Laver Cup experience and have himself in better position for success. This should be tight and Isner can easily pull off an upset, but I’ll side with Rafa just barely.

Prediction: Nadal wins in three sets

(2) Alexander Zverev vs Andrey Rublev

These two young stars will contest their second clash of 2017. Zverev crushed Rublev in Monte Carlo on clay 6-3, 6-1 early in the Spring. Certainly a lot has changed for the 19-year-old Rublev since then with his first Grand Slam quarterfinal coming at the U.S. Open. After a horrid transition back to the tour after the USO, Rublev has scored two big wins this week over Jack Sock and Tomas Berdych. Impressively, he has rallied from down a set both times to pull away to victory. The latest against Berdych saw Rublev roll late 1-6, 6-4, 6-1 to get to the quarters in his first trip to Beijing. He will need improvement to get past Zverev though with 18 double faults in the first two rounds combined. His serve has been a bit faulty, broken five times on 15 chances.

For Zverev, he rebounded from an early flame out in Shenzhen last week to win both his matches at the China Open in straight sets this week. The latest came on Thursday with a 6-4, 6-2 thumping of Fabio Fognini. After Fognini broke Sascha for the only time in the match to even the first set at 4-4, the second seed proceeded to win eight of the next ten games to secure a relatively simple win in the end. The win rates on serve were solid for Zverev at 75 and 56 percent with both numbers down a bit from his first round win over Kyle Edmund. Zverev has been broken twice on four chances so far this tournament.

Their Monte Carlo meeting featured a serve clinic from Sascha as he won 88 percent of the points on first serve and 65 percent off his second. He we rarely threatened, only forced to save two break points. Rublev looked completely overwhelmed with a faulty serve that was broken four times on six chances. He would win just 46 percent of the points off his first serve in that match. The serve has been the sticking point for Rublev in his development. It’s big enough to dominant, but he has had some issues landing his first serve consistently. His second serve until recently has been more of a liability. That will be something Zverev will look to pounce on Friday.

For Sascha, I think the recipe is the same as usual. Find rhythm on serve early and the rest of his game seems to flow well off of that. This will be a baseline basher for sure with both preferring to do damage from the back of the court. Zverev would do well to focus on Rublev’s backhand, which is the weaker side. Zverev is more solid off both wings, which will make it harder for Rublev to break him down in rallies. I see Rublev’s best chance to contend if he can serve consistently big with his first serve and find the range on his power forehand early and often. If not, Zverev could find a similar scoreline to Monte Carlo.

Prediction: Zverev wins in straight sets

(3) Grigor Dimitrov vs (5) Roberto Bautista Agut

This could wind up being the most competitive of the quarterfinals in Beijing. Dimitrov and RBA will be meeting for the third time, splitting the wo previous meetings. This will be their first match against each other since the 2014 Australian Open where Dimitrov won in four sets. Dimitrov has been fairly solid this week in beating Damir Dzumhur and Juan Martin Del Potro. He edged DelPo 7-6 (6), 7-5 last round. His win rates on serve have been steady at around 745 percent on first serve through the two rounds of play and 58 percent off his second. He has had to fend off 16 break chances so far, saving 13. He has converted six of 12 break chances against his opponents.

Bautista Agut has barely broken a sweat in beating Ze Zhang 6-1, 6-3 and then leading Aljaz Bedene 6-0, 4-0 when the Brit retired with a knee injury. RBA Has only been forced to save three break chances against his serve, all of which he has done successfully. He’s won a lofty 82 percent of his first serve points through the first two rounds. It’s difficult to gauge exactly where his form is this week heading into the match after he played an outmatched and then injured opponent. This will be a truer test against Dimitrov.

Both their previous matches took place on hard courts with Dimitrov winning the Australian Open battle and RBA beating him here in Beijing in straights back in 2013. Serve was a big determining factor in the wins for both with the opponent serving much less effectively in losing. Both won’t really overpower on serve, but really more on placement to get easy points or set themselves up well for the next ball. In the ground rallies, both are good at crafting points overall. Dimitrov has more variety I think to his ground game, but that has also been a detriment with Dimitrov unsure of what shot to use as a finisher. RBA is more simplistic off both wings, hitting the ball flat but with effectiveness.

Consistency would be a good key word for both of these guys and it’s RBA that I find normally has better overall consistent in these even or plus matchups. The Spaniard may not beat the elite players on tour, but guys in his weight class like Dimitrov are guys I think he feels comfortable going against. This is RBA’s furthest progression in Beijing in three visits, while Dimitrov has now made the quarters or better in each of his last three trips. With Dimitrov showing some confidence this week, I tilt the scales back from slightly favoring RBA to making this about dead even. Waffle time.

Prediction: Bautista Agut wins in three sets

(8) Nick Kyrgios vs (q) Steve Darcis

A very unexpected matchup here with Kyrgios looking fairly engaged so far this week. He overcame a slow start against Mischa Zverev last round to rally for a 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 win. Kyrgios has been electric on serve this week with 23 aces and only one break of serve against him. He has won a rock solid 85 percent off his first serve through two rounds with his second serve stout at a 73 percent win rate. The Aussie has been ruthless in converting breaks against his opponents, taking eight breaks on ten chances this week.

With back-to-back wins this week, Darcis broke a five month drought of not winning more than one match at an ATP-level event. He dispatched of both fourth seeded Pablo Careeno Busta and qualifier Dusan Lajovic in straight sets. The Belgian’s serve has also only been broken once on eight chances against. He’s kept steady win rates on both first and second serve around 77 and 60 percent respectively. Darcis is crediting his new coach this season, Yannis Demeroutis, with keeping him in better physical condition as the season progressed. The Belgian says he believes that is why he might be playing some of his best tennis late in the season, including his usual Davis Cup heroics for Belgium.

This will be the first all-time meeting between Kyrgios and Darcis. Job one for Darcis will obviously be trying to figure out a way to interrupt NK’s serve. The Aussie has been in rhythm all week with simple holds the norm for him. Darcis will have to be prepared to see plenty of balls go as not returnable and hope that he can bide his time to find a few openings to punish. Any time you go up against an elite serve, it’s obviously imperative to take care of your own as well. Darcis has the ability to get a roll and get easy holds too and he’s shown a good ability to fight off break points this week. He’ll need to be about perfect in that category to have a chance in the quarterfinals.

The method of operation off the ground will be similar with both wanting to hit big from the forehand side and finish points quickly. Kyrgios is deadliest when his serve is in rhythm and he is able to keep his opponent off balance for simple 1-2 punches on his serve for quick points. Darcis will need to find a way to push Kyrgios into longer rallies than that, perhaps looking to chip the ball back to give Kyrgios some offspeed looks for the next ball. Darcis should obviously look to go to Kyrgios’ backhand whenever possible to stay away from the power off his forehand.

This may seem like a mismatch to most, but I pointed out in the tournament preview than an unseeded player has made it to the semifinals three years in a row at this event. Rublev is the other player with a shot to extend that streak, but Darcis for me seems a better option. This one I think either falls into an upset or Kyrgios blows the Belgian off the court. I’ll go with insanity please.

Prediction: Darcis wins in three sets

2017 China Open Preview

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Nadal Leads Beijing Field

The ATP World Tour continues its tour of the Far East with more of the big names returning to play this week. That includes the top seed in Beijing in 2017 U.S. Open Champion Rafael Nadal. Nadal sports a 20-5 all-time record in Beijing, but has only won the title once back in 2005. He should benefit from a weaker draw with more Top 20 players opting to play Tokyo this week. Behind Nadal in the draw are second seed Alexander Zverev who will be playing the China Open for just the second time. Sascha was a quarterfinalist last year. Rounding out the top four seeds are Grigor Dimitrov and Pablo Carreno Busta. Dimitrov made the final last year, losing to Andy Murray. PCB made a quarterfinal run in 2016 in his Beijing debut.

The rest of the seeded field features Roberto Bautista Agut, John Isner, Tomas Berdych and Nick Kyrgios. Berdych has the most experience of those remaining seeds with an 11-4 record and one title (2011). Kyrgios is the lone seeded player who has not played at this tournament in the past. The Aussie will be looking to get back on the winning track after losing his first round U.S. Open match to John Millman. Kyrgios did look solid in Laver Cup play with a win over Berdych and a tough match tiebreak loss to Roger Federer. He could be primed for a strong finish to the season with his health seemingly not a looming question mark every week at this point.

Top Seed Traditionally Decides Title

The top seed has won in Beijing five straight seasons and six of the last six trips to Beijing overall. That’s been Novak Djokovic five of those times with Andy Murray joining him last year. That could mean good things for Rafa this week if he can overcome his own lack of success at this tournament. He has made the final three times in his six trips, but has only been able to close out the title match once against Guillermo Coria in 2005 when the tournament wasn’t a 500-level tournament. Rafa also has a bit of a problematic draw that I’ll get to below.

Seeds in general have fared well in Beijing with only three of the past 12 semifinalists being unseeded players. They have also done a pretty solid job at avoiding early upsets with only four seeds losing their openers in the last four years. 2017 of course has been a different type of season with injuries and inconsistency, so perhaps more seeds could be in peril this year. With that in mind, let’s take a look at this week’s seeds who could be prone to an early upset.

Early Bird Specials

1. Rafael Nadal
Nadal could not have asked for a much tougher round one matchup. He opens with Lucas Pouille who scored the stunning upset of Nadal at the 2016 U.S. Open in five sets. The good news for Rafa is that version of Pouille has not been seen consistently in 2017. Pouille has lost his first match at three of his last four tournaments overall. The Frenchman went 1-1 in his first main draw appearance here last year. I would keep this on the lower side of the upset scale, but Pouille has the game to trouble Nadal if he can find it.

2. Alexander Zverev
Sascha goes on this list after a very mediocre showing last week in Chengdu, where he barely beat Steve Darcis in his opener and then lost to red hot Damir Dzumhur in the next round. Perhaps it was the turnaround from the Laver Cup that had him not quite at his best, but he’ll bear watching this week with a tough opener against Kyle Edmund. The Brit wasn’t great in Chengdu either, losing to Donaldson in his second match – but he did contest a solid match against Zverev in their lone meeting on clay last season. Edmund was forced to retire due to injury after splitting the first two sets. I also think this might be on the lower tier of upset possibilities, but late in the season you never know who is motivated.

3. Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov faces off against Damir Dzumhur in round one .Dzumhur is red hot after winning his first ATP title in St.Petersburg, he followed that with a semifinal push in Shenzhen last week. That included a win over Sascha Zverev. With Dimitrov not having played since the U.S. Open, there is definitely a chance he could come out flat this week.

4. Pablo Carreno Busta
PCB plays for the first time since making his first Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open. He could be rusty early and that gives qualifier Steve Darcis a shot in round one. Darcis showed improvement in Shenzhen last week, winning a rare main draw match and pushing Alexander Zverev to a third set tiebreak before losing in the next round. Maybe it’s his Davis Cup heroics propelling him to a late season surge, but the Belgian definitely isn’t without a chance here if his body holds up. That would be my lone concern on him being competitive.

7. Tomas Berdych
A tough early match for Berdych against Jared Donaldson. Donaldson had a decent week in Chengu as he made the quarterfinals. Berdych got some match play in at the Laver Cup, so he’ll be ready to go this week in a tournament that has been good to him for the most part. The Czech has lost twice in his first match though and one of those came in his last trip here in 2015. This will be a tricky one and I won’t be stunned if the American gets the W.

8. Nick Kyrgios
I put the Aussie on this list simply because of who he is and what he has said about it being difficult to get up for tournaments sometimes based on matchups. He opens with Nikoloz Basilashvili, which is going to be one of those “meh” matchups in Kyrgios’ mind. Basilashvili is one of those guys who does have a good enough game to contend with top tier guys. If NK find a rhythm, he can get rolling and make this an easy match. He could also show up a bit disinterested and turn this into a tight one.

Outsider’s Edge

While seeds traditionally have settled who raises the trophy in Beijing, unseeded players have managed to weasel their way into the semifinals consistently in recent times. Grigor Dimitrov parlayed that into a finals visit last year. Only Marin Cilic has made it to the final as an unseeded player other than Dimitrov since 2011. It could be slim pickings to find a player who could make the final, but there are several unseeded players who could make noise this week.

Juan Martin Del Potro
DelPo is back for the first time since the U.S. Open and he’s got some possibilities to ruffle the pecking order. The Argentine opens against Pablo Cuevas and then would see the winner of Dimitrov-Dzumhur in round two. Bautista Agut is the only other seed in his path to the semifinals and DelPo has beaten RBA twice this season, including a straight sets crush job at the U.S. Open. If he gets on a run, we could get Rafa vs Del Potro in the semis.

Dusan Lajovic
The Serb qualified to get into the main draw this week and comes in after a quarterfinal run in Chengdu. He scored the seeded scalp of Albert Ramos-Vinolas last week and will face Spaniards again this week. Lajovic starts with Fernando Verdasco who has lost his openers in five of his last nine tournaments. The Serb has beaten Nando twice in three meetings. A win could net him an encounter with Carreno Busta in round two. Those two have split two career meetings with PCB winning the most recent at Indian Wells this year. With some heightened expectations for the Spaniard now, it’s possible he could cave in early with this being his first matches since his U.S. Open semifinals run.

Jared Donaldson, Jack Sock, Andrey Rublev, Robin Haase, Fabio Fognini
The stacked unseeded quarter belongs to Alexander Zverev and Tomas Berdych. All of the players listed above could reasonably cause some shockwaves this week. Sock and Rublev face off in round one as do Haase and Fognini. The two survivors will reasonably be tough outs for Zverev and Berdych if they advance to round two. Both Sascha and the Berd have first round matches that they will need to be up for or it will be an early exit in Beijing. I would not be surprised if one of these unseeded players cut up this quarter and made a deep run.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (1)
John Isner (6)

Breakdown
Nadal has some youngsters he’ll need to take care of, but the feeling is that the veteran is still better suited to the grind at the end of the season. He starts with Pouille and a win there could get him a visit from Karen Khachanov. The young Russian has been disappointing of late, but is someone who can turn it on at any time. He starts with Chinese wild card Di Wu. Wu used to be a competent Challenger-type on this surface, but has fallen off. A loss for Khachanov would be poor.

Isner could be a dark horse here, especially after beating Nadal at the Laver Cup in straight sets. The American has had mostly mediocre season save for a good stretch right after WImbledon where he won back-to-back titles in Newport and Atlanta. He is 9-4 lifetime in Beijing with one finals trip way back in 2010. Isner opens against Malek Jaziri. The winner gets either Leonardo Mayer or Paolo Lorenzi. This is a winnable stretch for Isner to get another shot at Rafa. Rafa is 6-0 against Isner at official ATP World Tour events.

Bottom line for me in this quarter is I think it falls to a seed, be it Nadal or Isner. I’ll give Nadal the small edge.

Quarter #2 Seeds
Grigor Dimitrov (3)
Roberto Bautista Agut (5)

Breakdown
Dimitrov has the tougher draw, possibly going back to back against Dzumhur and then Del Potro. DelPo is of course the big X-factor in this section. He should have a chance to get off to a good start against Pabloc Cuevas who has lost six straight coming into the China Open. If we get Dimitrov vs Del Potro, it will be the third time we’ve seen it this season. Dimitrov won the last time in Cincinnati in a disappointing match for the Argentine, whereas DelPo won the first meeting this year in Rome on clay. Overall, Del Potro is 6-1 against Dimitrov.

The bottom half looks ripe for Bautista Agut to get a couple of relatively smooth wins with an opener against wild card Ze Zhang. A win would see RBA go up against either Marcel Granollers or Aljaz Bedene. Bedene has played RBA tough in four meetings, taking a pair from the Spaniard. He would be the tougher out for sure, but I think Bautista Agut’s overall consistency is a better bet to push through to the quarterfinals.

This looks like it could come down to Dimitrov, Del Potro or Bautista Agut as your likely semifinalist. RBA might get the benefit of the draw if Dimitrov and DelPo take enough out of each other in a potential quarterfinal. Slight nod to RBA to inch through in this section.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Pablo Carreno Busta (4)
Nick Kyrgios (8)

Breakdown
This quarter looks like it could have some upheaval to it. Kyrgios is still always going to be a question mark on motivation. He could get on a roll and be in the semis or he could go out round one to Basilashvili. I’m not keen on Kyrgios’ route as he could see Mischa Zverev in round two. Zverev starts with Jan-Lennard Struff. I wouldn’t be stunned if Mischa turned up in the quarterfinals as I could see his serve and volley giving NK some problems again. He won their lone career meeting in Shanghai last year.

The other half features Carreno Busta who opens with qualifier Steve Darcis. Darcis has been short on wins on tour, but looked better in Shenzhen last week. His game can trouble a rusty Carreno Busta, but I think PCB’s overall game likely gets him through if he can find some rhythm. The survivor there gets either Verdasco or Lajovic. This part of the draw looks like it could go any which way. The biggest surprise to me in this quarter might be seeing a seed in the semifinals.

Watch out for Zverev and Darcis here as outsiders and Lajovic might have a hand in an upset or two as well.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Alexander Zverev (2)
Tomas Berdych (7)

Breakdown
The thought here will be that one of the seeds seizes control of this quarter. That isn’t necessarily a good bet though with plenty of unseeded talent in this quarter. Zverev starts with Edmund in round one and a win would see him battle Fognini or Haase. Sascha is 3-0 against those two combined, but recall that Haase took him to five sets at the Australian Open this year. Berdych has the tough opener against Jared Donaldson and then would meet the survivor of Jack Sock and Andrey Rublev.

Rublev was predictably out of sorts in Chengdu where he was punished in round one 6-2, 6-1 by Yen-Hsun Lu. This could be a golden opportunity for Sock who has been short on big wins in the last three to four months. Berdych has been fairly disappointing since making the Wimbledon semifinals, so an earlier than expected exit might not be too shocking all things considered. This is a tough quarter to predict and part of me thinks one of the Americans might slip through. If they don’t, I think I trust Sascha just a shade more than Berdych to punch into the semis.

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

You might think it easy for Nadal to let off the pedal a bit here in the latter part of the season, but let’s be honest – that isn’t in his DNA. I think he has the goods here to continue the top seed’s run of success in Beijing. If he falters, don’t be shocked if John Isner isn’t part of the championship mix. I think this is a big spot for Sascha Zverev to prove or disprove his spot in the rankings. He wasn’t overly impressive in his first tournament back last week following his U.S. Open disappointment, so he has plenty or prove. In the end though, this smells like Rafa’s tournament to lose.

2017 U.S. Open Preview: Quarter #1

USOPENQ117

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

Nadal Seeking More in New York

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

Top Half Has Some Pitfalls for Rafa

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

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

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

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

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

Now or Never For Dimitrov in Bottom Half

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017 U.S. Open Seed Report

USOSEEDS17

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

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

USOPENSEEDCHART17

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

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

Early Bird Specials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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