2018 Australian Open QF Preview: Grigor Dimitrov vs Kyle Edmund

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(3) Grigor Dimitrov vs Kyle Edmund

Dimitrov’s Best Comes Against Kyrgios

Up until his fourth round clash against Nick Kyrgios, Grigor Dimtirov had left a lot to be desired in his run in Melbourne. That changed with a scintillating 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (4) win over the 17th seed from Australia. Dimitrov defended well against the aggressive tactics of Kyrgios and more importantly, cleaned up his serve. After struggling the previous two rounds, the third seed landed his first serve consistently at 70 percent. That helped make his still faulty second serve less of a problem, although he still won just 40 percent of the points. Off his first serve, he won 80 percent and smashed 16 aces. He would be broken three times, but on just five chances. Double faults again were more of an issue than you’d like with Dimitrov tallying seven.

Still, he found his best in the biggest moments of that match. Dimitrov had just 27 unforced errors and a whopping 64 winners. That’s monumentally improved from the last two rounds where he totaled 113 unforced errors combined against Mackenzie McDonald and Andrey Rublev. I think part of that is attributed to Dimitrov making a concerted effort to get around to more forehands. I saw it in return and in the ground rallies. It was a smart move considering his backhand had been misfiring a lot through the first three rounds. The biggest key though was his movement and defense, some of the best I’ve seen from Dimitrov since this last time last season.

Edmund Powers Past Seppi

Things didn’t look great for Kyle Edmund early against Andreas Seppi in round four. He took a medical timeout with the score sitting at 6-5 and needing to hold serve to get to a tie break. The Brit was experiencing discomfort in his serving shoulder. After a rubdown, he did hold, but Seppi took the opening set 7-6 (4). Edmund was not deterred however as his shoulder held up and allowed him to power past the Italian 7-5, 6-2, 6-3 over the final three sets. It was especially impressive considering the early shoulder trouble and having to come back from an early break down in set two. The win put the 23-year-old into his first Grand Slam quarterfinal.

For the match, Edmund smashes 22 aces and was dominant with his first serve sporting an 80 percent win rate. His second was solid at 58 percent and he was broken just the one time on six chances. His ground game was a bit sloppy early with 40 total unforced errors in the match. Edmund would tally 63 winners. He also gradually worked into Seppi’s service games as the Italian appeared to be suffering from a shoulder issue too. Edmund broke Seppi five times on 15 chances. Since beating (11) Kevin Anderson in five to start the tournament, he has not had to face a seeded player. This will be a step up, but with his big first serve and forehand – the Brit won’t be without a chance.

The Formula

These two have met twice with Dimitrov winning both times in three sets. The most recent came in Brisbane earlier this month. That is where Edmund suffered an ugly ankle spraind that botched his chance to knock off Dimitrov. The Bulgarian won 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-4. The injury occurred at 4-4 in the final set and Edmund was clearly hampered as Dimitrov closed it out. I think Edmund will be keen to prove that he can beat Dimitrov after two close calls. Dimitrov won their other meeting on hard courts in Washington, D.C. in 2017 7=-5, 4-6, 6-3.

Dimitrov has been able to match Edmund serve for serve in the previous two meetings. He has been consistent with the first serve winning 82 and 83 percent of the points and his second winning 62 and 68 percent. The double fault issue has been apparent in both matches though with nine doubles in each match-up for the Bulgarian. You get the feeling all of these doubles are going to catch him at some point. Edmund has only broken Dimitrov once on ten chances and in Brisbane, he only saw two chances total. Dimitrov oppositely has broken the Brit four times on 16 chances combined.

Both matches, Edmund has not been able to boost his first serve win rate into the 80s where it needs to be, winning 75 and 74 percent. I think that is where we start in this match-up with first serve. Dimitrov elevated his against Kyrgios and Edmund has to figure out how to contend with that. Dimitrov did a really good job of stretching the Brit out wide to the forehand side and the backhand some as well to negate his power on return.

It helped set up Dimitrov with some quick 1-2 punches off his serve for easy points. Dimitrov offered good variety in his serve pattern, so Edmund was unable to adjust as well on return. Edmund tried adjust to a deeper position in return, but he just could not find the right measure on Dimitrov’s serve to be effective enough. Edmund did have success in coming in with some aggressive returns on second serve and that is always a good idea, especially if Dimitrov reverts to having issues landing his first serve.

As for Edmund’s booming first serve, his best efforts in Brisbane came when he handcuffed Dimitrov with body serves. The Bulgarian was forced to either chip back with backhands or take an awkward position to get to his forehand. Obviously, he’ll need to mix it up, but the body serves might be his best shot to get Dimitrov into poor position on return and help Edmund create some good chances off the second ball.

Into the ground rallies, Edmund has the power forehand that can dominate the action. He’s going to have to go for it in rallies to avoid falling prey to Dimitrov’s defense in long rallies. I don’t think Edmund can afford to get involved in a bunch of those, so look for him to take some aggressive shots early whether they work or not. Targeting Dimitrov’s backhand is still a good idea to me, make him prove he can hit it with consistency and purpose. If Dimitrov is flicking in too many slice backhands, Edmund has to be able to pounce on those and go for big shots off either wing.

The Pig-nosticator

 

This should be a good one and don’t overlook Edmund, even though he doesn’t have the experience at this stage of a Grand Slam. Having just played Dimitrov a few weeks ago, I think that takes some of the nerves out of this and he’s got nothing to lose in this spot. Most are already drooling about a Nadal-Dimitrov rematch before either sets foot on court for their quarterfinal today. As usual with a player with less experience, I think the need to get off to a good start though is higher. Winning the opening set would be a big boost to Edmund’s confidence, while it likely would not rattle Dimitrov one way or the other.

I do think this is a dangerous spot for the third seed, coming off an electric win and the unavoidable look ahead to the semifinals, possibly against Rafa. I think that is where a lot of the battle lies for Dimitrov in this one: staying focused on Edmund. If he does, the Brit has proven tough on him twice and may have beaten him earlier his year if not for the injury – he’s got the weapons to trouble the third seed. If Dimitrov sticks to a game plan of working Edmund around the court and staying aggressive with his forehand though, I think he wears Edmund down gradually. If not, the Brit has the ability to pull of an upset that wouldn’t be that far fetched.

Pig’s Bottom Line: Dimitrov wins in five sets

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2018 Australian Open R4 Preview: Grigor Dimitrov vs Nick Kyrgios

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(3) Grigor Dimitrov vs (17) Nick Kyrgios

Focused Kyrgios Thriving

This season started off differently when looking at Nick Kyrgios. The brash, often hot-headed Aussie had spoken openly about his philanthropic side and wanting to help kids. It has given him more of a purpose on court with money won going towards those efforts. So far, so good. Kyrgios came to Melbourne with expectations swirling around him from the Aussie faithful after winning the Brisbane International. To date, he has not disappointed at the Australian Open. His latest win came over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. It was a stern challenge, but one Kyrgios passed 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5).

Kyrgios overcame a pretty great performance from Tsonga, who has nearly untouchable on his first serve – winning 87 percent of the points. Kyrgios in turn, won 79 percent of his first serve points. They matched each other with 28 aces. Tsonga scored two breaks on five chances, while NK got just one on four chances. Kyrgios’ best moments came in the tie breaks obviously and his low unforced error count (34) was a big boost with Tsonga having 16 more winners, but also eleven more UEs than his Australian counterpart. Kyrgios’ rally from down 2-5 in the final set tie break to reel of five points was electric for the crowd and showed another hint of the “new” Nick.

Dimitrov Wins, But Still Seems Off

The third seeded Bulgarian came through a tough test of his own in round three, surviving 30th seed Andrey Rublev 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. It was a more inspiring effort than his five set roller coaster against Mackenzie Macdonald in round two, but Dimitrov still leaves you with that feeling that he’s not found his best yet in 2018. Both Dimitrov and Rublev alternated with struggles on serve and in their ground games. They combined for a ridiculous 28 double faults and it was Dimitrov surprisingly with more (15). His second serve was a big trouble spot again with the third seed taking just 38 percent of the points played.

Both players were under pressure on serve with Dimitrov seeing 19 break points off the Russian’s serve, cashing in on six. Rublev could only convert four of 15 and missed some key opportunities to put more stress on Dimitrov. The Bulgarian did find better rhythm with his groundies later in the match to tally 45 winners with Rublev only sporting 29. Dimitrov’s unforced error count was poor though with 61 and Rublev tallying 59. It wasn’t the cleanest match, but for Dimitrov, it did show good mentally that he was able to overcome a slew of mistakes to beat the guy who took him out at last year’s U.S. Open in straight sets.

The Formula

This is meeting number four between Dimitrov and Kyrgios and their second encounter this season. Kyrgios broke a two match losing skid when he topped Dimitrov 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 in the Brisbane semifinals earlier this month. Kyrgios finally made some inroads on Dimitrov’s serve that had troubled him in the Bulgarian’s wins over him at Indian Wells in 2015 and Cincinnati last summer. Dimitrov had win rates well over 80 percent on his first serve in the wins, but fell to 73 percent in Brisbane. After breaking Dimitrov just twice in the two previous matches, he would pressure him into three breaks on six chances in Brisbane.

Kyrgios said after beating Dimitrov that he switched up his tactics from the previous meetings and it worked. He was aggressive all-around, coming to net and going for big returns. It’d be difficult to think that NK won’t employ similar tactics in this match. Let’s start with the obvious, Kyrgios should have the edge in serve. So far in Melbourne, it’s been solid, but not quite at that elite level. NK has only won over 80 percent off his first serve once in three matches. He has been broken three times on just nine chances, so he’s still doing a good job of not letting opponents have too many chances.

Dimitrov’s serve just flat out needs to be better. The third seed has allowed 26 break chances against the last two rounds and if he’s giving out double digit chances against Kyrgios, that is deadly. Second serve is going to be a massive talking point for Dimitrov in this one. To win two straight matches with your second serve win rate at 38 and 28 percent is pretty impressive, usually that’s a death blow. Credit a decent first serve percentage, averaging 66 percent in those two matches, as part of being able to overcome the bad second serving. Dimitrov will need that first serve consistency again, but really does have to find something more on second. If I am the Aussie, I’m super aggressive on all second serves from Dimitrov.

For Kyrgios, that aggressiveness he talked about incorporating last time against Dimitrov should be a game plan again with his own serve. Nick utilized this well in Brisbane, coming to net to put pressure on Dimitrov off his serve. He had success doing that consistently, but didn’t overuse it either. Kyrgios did a good job of stretching Dimitrov on return with power up-the-T and out wide and that will be another key. The more he gets Dimitrov off balance on return, the easier it is for Nick to finish with a quick 1-2 punch.

For Dimitrov, he’ll need to find more on return. He’s just chipping or flipping the ball back a bit too much against big servers. He did it against Rublev, but was fortunate not to pay for it too much. Against Kyrgios, the Aussie showed that he can take mediocre returns and convert those into quick and aggressive points. I think Dimitrov needs to be aggressive in return. He set up in a normal position against NK in Brisbane, so he has the opportunity to hit solid returns if Nick isn’t hitting his spot. I think if Dimitrov simply is happy to chip it back, he is putting himself into losing court position more often than not.

The Pig-nosticator

Dimitrov still needs to avoid getting into too many baseline to baseline clashes. Rublev had his best success against Dimitrov in those situations and Kyrgios has better variety and power to exploit those changes. For me, Dimitrov’s lull to start 2018 has involved his lack of aggression at times. He’s been too keen on getting into rallies and a lot of that starts with lackluster returning. That’s why I think his chances in this one hinge on him being the guy who turns up the aggression. You know Kyrgios will bring that, but Dimitrov simply cannot try to be a defender and expect to find consistent success.

Look for Kyrgios to go after the backhand of Dimitrov, which has been the more exploitable wing of late. For Dimitrov, he’d do well to do the same – but caannot simply settle for flipping slice backhands back and forth. That is where I think his aggressiveness needs to be on display. The player who does a better job of turning those defensive backhands into offensive forehands will likely have the leg up in this match-up. The key stats likely will be Dimitrov’s second serve win rate and the number of break points allowed. The higher he is on second serve winners and lower he is on break chances allowed, the better shot he has to fend off the 17th seed.

To me, all of Dimitrov’s work in 2018 has been less than what you would expect from someone that is being talked about as a true contender in Melbourne. I think it will take something special for him to win tonight. This is Kyrgios’ country and he is getting another match under the lights in front of a friendly crowd that is growing to embrace him. Dimitrov is capable of stepping up, but I just have not seen it consistently so far to make me believe he wins this one.

Prediction: Kyrgios wins in four sets

2018 Australian Open R3 Preview: Grigor Dimitrov vs Andrey Rublev

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(3) Grigor Dimitrov vs (30) Andrey Rublev

Dangerous Draw for Dimitrov

The third seed admitted he was fortunate to survive American qualifier Mackenzie Macdonald in the second round. Dimitrov escaped with the 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 0-6, 8-6 win. Particularly flummoxing is that bagel set in the fourth. You would figure a supposed contender to be in the title mix would not have that sort of set, never mind it coming after he looked to have seized control of the match. Red flag warning. One of the biggest problems for Dimitrov in round two was his second serve that won a putrid 28 percent of the points. The third seed from Bulgaria also wasn’t particularly slick with his ground strokes with 48 winners and 52 unforced errors.

Dimitrov was broken five times on eleven chances, while he crafted five breaks on 12 chances off Macdonald. Dimitrov seemed to have problems handling Macdonald’s serve early and an aggressive game plan. He also admitted to not feeling great during the match. Red flag warning. The plus obviously is that he was able to will himself through to the third round despite all of that, but his game obviously needs to pick up or he’ll be in real trouble tonight against Andrey Rublev.

Russian Off to Hot Start in 2018

The 20-year-old from Russia started the season with a scintillating run to the Doha final. Gael Monfils handled him rather easily 6-2, 6-3 to take the title, but it was a nice rebound from the end of 2017. Sure, Rublev did make his first-ever Grand Slam quarterfinal at the U.S. Open, but then he slipped. The Russian went just 3-6 before the NextGen Finals in Milan, losing his first match in his last three tournaments. At the NextGen Finals, he turned it back up a notch before losing to Hyeon Chung.

Now, he’s followed the Doha run with a solid five set win over David Ferrer in round one and a four set win over Marcos Baghdatis last round. There have been some issues for the Russian through those two rounds, most notably a rash of double faults – 29 total. His risky ground strokes have yielded a ton of unforced errors (144) with 116 winners. His serve has been up and down with the 30th seed broken 13 times in two matches on 25 break opportunities.

It’s probably the weakest part of his game still with consistency really lacking at times in his service games. The double fault issues has become a real scar on his game early this season. Even in Doha, he was struggling with doubles. He tallied 36 in five matches. Rublev still generates a lot of power off his serve in spite of a slight frame – at last check he’s listed at 6’2″, but just 150 pounds. Consistency must improve though for him to become a legitimate threat I think to the top players on tour.

The Formula

This is their second meeting on tour with Rublev beating Dimitrov at last year’s U.S. Open in straight sets in the second round 7-5, 7-6 (3), 6-3. Rublev was much more solid there with a winner to unforced error ratio right at 39:39 and only three double faults. It was actually Dimitrov who had the double faults issue with eleven. He dumped 39 unforced errors to 35 winners. Dimitrov again struggled on second serve with a win rate at just 40 percent. He was broken four times on ten chances, while Rublev saved eight of ten break chances against him.

In that match, Rublev was clearly the aggressor. He consistently went after Dimitrov’s backhand both with his ground strokes and his serve. Dimitrov seemed a bit passive and too happy to just float the ball back into Rublev’s strike zone. The match turned into mostly a baseline to baseline exchange and Rublev’s power was pushing Dimitrov deep behind the baseline far too often, giving him the better court positioning. It was Rublev who actually seemed to come in more often and almost always, it was the right decision that helped him finish a point.

It will be interesting then to see how Dimitrov learned from their first encounter. Clearly the baseline to baseline bashfest is what Rublev would prefer. He was hitting the ball cleaner during that U.S. Open run, so perhaps Dimitrov is going to let it play out early with the same strategy to see if the Russian can consistently beat him. The danger there is if Rublev is on, he can and Dimitrov may already be in a deep hole by the time he tries a strategy chance. For me, it would be smart for Dimitrov to challenge Rublev to come to net more. Unfortunately, Dimitrov does not seem all that comfortable doing this enough in matches.

What we saw from Macdonald against Dimitrov in round two is that Dimitrov defintiely feels pressure when his opponent comes to the net. The third seed made some delicious passing shots, but he also made plenty of errors or poor shots that Macdonald was able to feast on at the net. Again, this isn’t a big part of Rublev’s game – but I do see him looking to come in at opportune moments again like he did in New York last Fall. When it’s pound for pound, ground vs ground, Rublev’s forehand is the biggest weapon on the court. Dimitrov offers greater variety off both wings, but I think needs to bring back some aggressiveness to his ground strokes that was lacking at times last round.

The other big thing for me is the return game. While Rublev has consistency issues with his serve, Dimitrov was a litte light on solid returns against Macdonald last round. He’s got a habit of chipping the ball back off his backhand that really gives his opponent a chance to move in and pounce. Rublev did this well against him the first time and should be looking for those chances again. Dimitrov will need to get better contact on return or he’s going to have trouble avoiding Rublev’s forehand. I would expect Dimitrov to go after Rublev’s backhand side more often on serve as well, looking in that same vein to set himself up with a better shot on the second ball if Rublev doesn’t get much on his own return.

The Pig-nosticator

This should be a fascinating watch. Dimitrov obviously did not have his best in round two after rolling over Dennis Novak in the opening round. And Rublev hasn’t been at his sharpest yet, so he too can improve. This match goes down at Rod Laver and the unfortunate sound of things is that despite the ridiculous temperatures, the extreme heat policy may again not be in effect today because of low humidity. That means the roof is likely to be open and you start to think who survives better in those conditions?

Neither player has been outside in the brutal heat yet, so it’s an adjustment for both. Many though will question if Rublev’s slighter frame will hold up, while Dimitrov has worked hard on fitness the past few years. It will also be of interest to see if either goes with quicker points because of the conditions. Rublev is better for me at taking the ball early and he might be better suited to turn up the aggressiveness even more to avoid long rallies. Also keep in mind that on top of the heat, wind is going to be an issue.

Given how things have gone for both, this one looks set for a roller coaster ride and four or five sets unless one of them really wilts in the heat. I think if Dimitrov avoids too many second serves, it will set up much better for him to reverse the result from their first meeting. Rublev has the ability to tee off on those weaker second serves and it will put a ton of pressure on the third seed if he’s forced into that again. For Rublev, he won’t go away from the grip it and rip it style on the ground, but needs to keep the unforced errors down closer to the same number if not lower than his winners. Keep an eye on those stat lines as telling aspects of this match’s outcome.

There is obvious upset potential here, but that depends on Rublev raising his game a bit more and Dimitrov being wishy washy again like he was against Macdonald. Tough to predict, but I am not as keen on Dimitrov being a legitimate contender as most seem to be. Maybe round two was a hiccup, maybe it was foreshadowing the future. Mmmm shadows.

Pig’s Bottom Line: Rublev wins in five sets

2018 Brisbane International Semifinals Preview

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Ryan Harrison vs Alex De Minaur

Rare Air For Both

It’s a big opportunity for both Ryan Harrison and Alex De Minaur when they clash at the Brisbane International semifinals. For Harrison, it’s a shot to make just his third career final at this level. The 25-year-old American busted his ATP title cherry last year with a win in Memphis. De Minaur has already made monumental strides this week, scoring his best win over 24th ranked Milos Raonic earlier in the week. His three wins over Steve Johnson, Raonic and Michael Mmoh have landed him in his first ATP semifinal. De Minaur certainly wasn’t expected to be here, but now has the opportunity of his young career to get to an ATP final.

Harrison’s path has been muted in the bottom half of the draw with the exodus of second seed Andy Murray due to injury. Harrison beat Leonardo Mayer in a three setter in round one and then beat “lucky loser” Yannick Hanfmann in a three set battle in round two. In the quarters, Harrison pushed through when Denis Istomin retired down a set and 4-2 in the second due to a hip injury. It’s been rather low key for Harrison this week due to the opponents he has played, but the atmosphere certainly will be greater with the Aussie as his opponent on Saturday.

The Formula

Harrison’s serve has been a highlight this week. He has 39 aces through three rounds and is sporting a win rate right at 80 percent off his first serve. That’s well above his career number of 71 percent. He has found himself in trouble quite a bit with 20 break chances given out this week, but he’s managed to come up big and save his serve 17 times. His second serve has been steady with 58 percent as his lowest number of points won this week. He’ll need another big game in this area I think to help negate the crowd. If Harrison can get some cheap points via ace and discourage De Minaur some with that, it could create openings for Harrison on the Aussie’s serve.

The 18-year-old De Minaur has done a good job of taking care of his serve, broken just twice on a dozen chances. He saw little trouble against Mmoh in the quarters, demolishing the American 6-4, 6-0. Mmoh had 26 unforced errors and never got things going on his serve as De Minaur broke him four times on seven chances. For the week, De Minaur has converted nine breaks off of 26 chances. Harrison has converted nine of 22. That figures to be a big tipping point in this match with the Aussie likely to feel a bit of pressure being in line for his first final and knowing the home crowd will be hoping for an all-Aussie final with Nick Kyrgios.

This should be a good battle when it goes into ground rallies. De Minaur moves well as you would expect someone of his slighter frame at 5’11”. Despite that frame though, the Aussie generates good power off both wings. Still, it’s his defense and counter punching ability that will or won’t get him through this one. He’ll look to frustrate Harrison by getting to the extra ball and forcing the American to make extra shots. De Minaur has shown a nice return game against some big servers this week as well, especially off the backhand side. He’s been impressive in his ability to get the racket on the ball and make solid returns there that seem to catch his opponents off guard.

For Harrison, his forehand can be a big weapon. I think there is far more confidence off that wing, but he does hit a fairly decent two hander off the backhand side as does De Minaur. It will be interesting to see which side Harrison chooses to target. Of the tape I watched on the Aussie, he looks really comfortable hitting the backhand. I might be more apt to go after his forehand, not that it isn’t solid, but often you can get more over hitting off that wing and that help Harrison find some success.

The Pig-nosticator

This is a tough one to call. Harrison has been pushed to three sets twice and before Istomin’s hip acted up, that match was very close. De Minaur certainly hasn’t shown much in the way of nerves in scoring several big wins this week, but this is uncharted territory. Playing at home surely will help De Minaur a bit with nerves if he has himself in a winning position. It will be interesting to see if Harrison can put some match pressure on him early, something that De Minaur has not faced this week as he has not dropped a set.

I think if Harrison allows De Minaur to continue to be a front runner, then the teen has a great chance to win without having to feel a ton of pressure. Harrison has finished well this week, winning both of his three set matches going away in the third (6-2) over Hanfmann and Mayer. The longer they play, it could favor the American who should have less nerves to deal with in this one. Even though it’s the undercard, this one might be a bit more fascinating to watch.

Pig’s Bottom Line: Ryan Harrison wins in three sets

(1) Grigor Dimitrov vs (3) Nick Kyrgios

Marquee Match Should Invigorate Sluggish Starter Kyrgios

Nick Kyrgios has never been bashful about playing low key matches on outer courts; he hates them. This will be far from that as the only seeds left in Brisbane will fight it out for a spot in the final. Perhaps that will be a catalyst for Kyrgios to start with more energy on Saturday. NK admitted he had little energy against Alexandr Dolgopolov when the match started and it showed as the Dog slapped him around 6-1 in set one. Kyrgios however would settle into a rhythm on serve in set two and he powered through with a 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 win. He’ll definitely want to avoid such a start against Dimitrov who has beaten him twice in two previous meetings.

For Dimitrov, he’s been pushed in both his matches this week. He was stretched to three sets again in the quarterfinals against Kyle Edmund. An ankle injury to the Brit with the score tied at 4-4 in the third may have turned the tide for the defending champion and allowed him to secure a 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-4 escape. Edmund was definitely a bit limited with his movement after the ankle injury, so who knows how the match would have played out if he hadn’t been injured. To Dimitrov’s credit, he has found a way through to this point. He needed to fight off two match points against John Millman in his opening three round win, so the Bulgarian has certainly felt the pressure of tight moments and come through with the W two times.

Kyrgios Needs to Solve The Serve

The two prior meetings between Dimitrov and Kyrgios both took place on outdoor hard courts. In 2015, Dimitrov edged Kyrgios in a thriller 7-6 (2), 3-6, 7-6 (4) at Indian Wells. Dimitrov won in straights last year in Cincinnati 6-4, 7-5. Both times, Dimitrov really dictated things well with his serve. His first serve win rate was a combined 84 percent. He was broken two times, both at Indian Wells, one eight total chances. Kyrgios was the lesser man on serve, taking just 76 percent off his first serve in comparison and being broken two times on four chances in Cincy and one time on two chances at Indian Wells. It was the second serve that was the biggest problem with NK winning under 50 percent of the points in both matches.

In looking back at these matches, it wasn’t so much that Dimitrov was getting cheap points off his serve to dominate. Rather, he served precisely and often was able to get Kyrgios into bad court position or NK himself used bad footwork in hitting poor balls that the Bulgarian cashed in for points. The Cincinnati match especially I saw more lazy footwork on tape from Kyrgios that led to errors than Dimitrov necessisarily pushing him around from his serve. For me, I think the Aussie needs to be more engaged on return – something we saw when he locked in on Dolgopolov in the final two sets in the quarters.

As for Kyrgios’ own serve, Dimitrov did an admirable job in both matches of getting his racket on the ball. He chipped back some backhand returns and stretched for some forehand returns that seemed to frustrate Kyrgios a bit at times. When the action got into longer rallies, Dimitrov was able to target Kyrgios in backhand-to-backhand exchanges or force him into bad positioning when he tried to unleash his forehand. Kyrgios will need better balance overall to turn the tables on the top seed this time around.

The Formula

Kyrgios needs to start fast and show energy from ball one. He got away with that against Dolgopolov and the knee problem he had in his opener was the issue early that caused him to drop set one to Matthew Ebden. I don’t think he can afford a slow start against Dimirov, who has proven that he knows how to beat NK. Kyrgios showed what he can do once he’s loose and in rhythm. It’s not something he showed enough in Cincinnati and it’s something he struggled with in the tense moments in their Indian Wells meeting. With the home crowd in Brisbane, that could be a key factor in helping Kyrgios stay more level in his play.

As per usual with Nick, the most success for him in the ground game comes with quicker and more aggressive points. He’ll need to dictate that better from the forehand side against Dimitrov to try and bully the Bulgarian. Dimitrov has done a good job of mixing tactics against NK by coming to the net some and forcing the Aussie out of his baseline comfort zone. Especially given Kyrgios’ knee – even if it isn’t an issue – expect Dimitrov to test it out by mixing those tactics in again. When he does, Kyrgios has to be prepared and do a better job of volleying near the net.

For Dimitrov, the backhand-to-backhand exchanges are always going to be a good place to go. His variety and technique are superior off that wing, although Kyrgios does have a powerful two hander when he chooses to go for it. Up-the-line will be his best bet at getting winners with that shot. Although Dimitrov can’t match Kyrgios power for power off the forehand, his is solid and can be used effectively to move Kyrgios around the court. Dimitrov has been doing a better job of crafting points with that in mind and enabling himself to use his arsenal of shots to finish off points more readily.

The Pig-nosticator

I said at the beginning of the tournament that I felt Kyrgios was a good shot to get hot to start 2018 and win this thing. My feeling was that Dimitrov was going to get booted before the final and this could well be that spot. Dimitrov has flirted with danger so far, but so has Kyrgios with his up and down play – both physically and mentally. NK can’t afford to have those lulls against Dimitrov or it is curtains.

My feeling is this one may more resemble the tight three setter they played at Indian Wells in 2015. Despite his physical issues early in the tournament, Kyrgios seems in a pretty good place mentally when you hear him speak after matches. I think he’s lifted some of the bad boy burden off of himself with his philanthropic endeavors and allowing the public to see a different side of him, rather than just the media hyped on-court outbursts. It helps that he’s given the title of “Resident Jackass” in Australia to Bernard Tomic, who seems all too happy to accept.

This is pretty much a toss up, but I’ll stick will El Gut.

Pig’s Bottom Line: Kyrgios wins in three sets

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2018 Brisbane International R16 Preview: Grigor Dimitrov vs John Millman

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(1) Grigor Dimitrov vs John Millman

Seeded Exodus Leaves Door Wide Open for Dimitrov

The week begin in Brisbane with high profile names expected to return from long layoffs with second seed Andy Murray and fourth seed Milos Raonic highlighting in that area. Now, Murray is sidelined due to lingering hip pain that could see him opt for surgery and Raonic lost in straight sets to young Aussie Alex De Minaur. That leaves Brisbane with just two seeds, Dimitrov and a now-hobbled Nick Kyrgios. That should mean the defending champion has a great opportunity to become just the second player in the history of this tournament to repeat.

The 26-year old Bulgarian has made a habit of starting well in the early Aussie tournaments. In addition to winning Brisbane last year, he made the Sydney final in 2016 and the semifinals in Brisbane in 2015. He’s also made the quarters and semis in Melbourne with those two solid showings in Brisbane, so it could be a real catalyst to greatness for the #3 player in the world to win again this week. Despite not playing a singles match this week, Dimitrov should have the lay of the land on this surface due to his experience here and also doubles play with Ryan Harrison this week. They’re in the semifinals to battle Henri Kontinen and John Peers.

Raising the Ceiling of Expectation

Dimitrov has long had heavy expectation laid on him from the days of “Baby Fed” to making his first Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon in 2014, people have been expecting greatness from Dimitrov. It’s difficult to say he’s really lived up to the hype at this juncture and even with the Tour Finals win last Fall, there was a caveat with Dimitrov not having to play either Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal en route to that title. But here he is with his best ranking of his career to start the season and here he is HEALTHY when the main contenders to the Slam Thrones are almost all very questionable, outside of Federer, in that category.

The lofty ranking of course means the possibility of better draws for Dimitrov, but also the crushing weight of not just being thought of as a contender when it comes to Slams – but possibly due to injuries – being one of the favorites. That is where I start with hesitation and trepidation when looking at Dimitrov in 2018. He should be proud of winning the Tour Finals last year as he joins a short list of players to do so in the era of the Big Four. At the same time, he should know that his best chances to win are NOW when the Big Four are down to Federer most likely for the Australian Open. If not now, when?

He’d no doubt love to earn a Grand Slam title by beating the best of the best, but history doesn’t care and neither should Dimitrov. You win with what is in the draw of the tournament you’re playing in and for Dimitrov, he’s going to be thought of as a top favorite until and or If the likes of Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka return and prove their health. It starts in Brisbane and it starts with Aussie John Millman. Millman who has never made an ATP level final and sports an 0-8 record against top ten opponents.

First Tour Meeting

This will mark the second time that Dimitrov and Millman have played, but their first at this level. Way back in 2010, Millman beat Dimitrov in qualifying at the Nottingham Challenger on grass. Millman does have a match under his belt, beating Peter Polansky in round one 7-6 (4), 6-0. The Aussie was very good with his first serve, taking 17 of 20 points played. He did scuffle with his second however, losing seven of ten points. Millman was not broken on one break chance against his serve. The win was his third in eight career matches in Brisbane. He’s made a habitt of being a tough out here however, taking a set off of Federer in 2015 and Murray back in 2012.

The 28-year-old is trying to get back into the top 100 after falling from his high of #60 in May 2016. Some of that was due to injury. He’s begun to right that ship with a third round showing at the U.S. Open last season highlighting a year that was delayed by five months due to a groin issue. For his part, Millman says he will be comfortable heading into this match as he’s used to facing high seeeds in his time in Brisbane. He’s hoping that he’ll catch Dimitrov with some rust on his game and have a shot to score a monumental upset.

The Formula

There’s little secret that Dimitrov’s serve can at-times be one of his weaker attributes. He’s fairly solid with it overall, but doesn’t always get the cheap and free points needed. His career marks show him with win rates at 75 and 52 percent with respect to first and second serves. He has become pretty adept at saving break chances against his serve, now sporting a career mark at 63 percent in that category. He posted a career high 70 percent in break point save rate last year, a big helper to his rise in the rankings. Dimitrov remains right around 38 percent in break conversion rate against his opponents.

If Dimitrov takes care of his serve, his ground game usually takes care of the rest against inferior competition. His variety makes him special and hard to defend against, especially from the backhand side. His forehand hasn’t always been a go-to option, but he showed more willingness to dictate the action with his forehand last season, especially during his Tour Finals run. His movement is good, so expect to see Dimitrov lead with the forehand in an effort to push Millman around the court. When it comes to the backhand, Dimitrov’s one hander is solid and he can go with a slice or pure power at any time. That makes it hard to defend and he’s shown a growing confidence in knowing when to use the proper shot off that wing.

For Millman, it’s a no brainer that the serve needs to be solid. The worst thing to do when in underdog mode is to be behind on your serve, either in games or down a break or multiple breaks. That just amplifies the pressure and more often than not, it leads to breakdowns in other parts of the game. Millman doesn’t possess the fire power of Dimitrov off either wing, so he’ll need placement to try and keep Dimitrov off balance. If it’s a stand-still baseline exchange, it’s going to favor Dimitrov. He hits with better accuracy and power, but would still do well to move Millman north and south with some play towards the net.

The Pig-nosticator

Millman’s best chance is going to be jumping on Dimitrov early and hoping for a lackadaisical start to 2018 for the defending champ. Dimitrov started fast during his championship run last year, but he also didn’t have to wait around until Thursday to get in his first match. I think there is a definite chance that Millman can utilize a good start and crowd support to at least take a set off of the top seed. Whether or not he can pull of the stunner and get the outright win is another story.

I do expect a battle, but I also think Dimitrov will have the goods when he needs to have them.

Pig’s Bottom Line: Dimitrov wins in three sets