2018 French Open Men’s Draw Preview


Even without the qualifiers slotted in, you can get a feel for this year’s men’s draw at the French Open. Here’s my thoughts.

Quarter #1 Seeds
(1) Rafael Nadal
(6) Kevin Anderson
(11) Diego Schwartzman
(14) Jack Sock
(22) Philipp Kohlschreiber
(24) Denis Shapovalov
(27) Richard Gasquet
(28) Feliciano Lopez

Nadal could not have asked for much better in this quarter. He opens against Alexandr Dolgopolov who is 2-7 against Rafa, pounded in straights in their two meetings in Brisbane and the U.S. Open in 2017. Gasquet is the seed he could see in round three. The Frenchman starts with Andreas Seppi (6-1) and then would face Mikhail Youzhny or Malek Jaziri. Good chance Rafa can move his record to 16-0 against the Gasman. I don’t see much in this portion of the draw that will stray too far from the expected. Nadal shouldn’t drop a set through at least round three.

The next segment of this quarter has Sock and Shapovalov as the seeds. Sock gets a TBD qualifier in round one, while Shapovalov battles John Millman. The Aussie had some moments on dirt, including a run to the Budapest final this season and a Challenger title to boot. Millman did pull out of Lyon with a hip problem, so that should give El Shapo some help. The dangerous floater here will be whomever wins between Ryan Harrison and Maximillian Marterer. The winner gets Shapovalov. Sock COULD NOT ASK for a sweeter early draw with a qualifier and then either Yuki Bhambri or Yen-Hsun Lu. I’ve still got money that he’ll muck it up.

Down in the bottom half, Anderson and Feliciano Lopez are seeds in one segment. Anderson draws Paolo Lorenzi to open. The 6th seed is 4-0 against the Italian, but Lorenzi has played him tough. Don’t be surprised if there is some sweat to the result in that one. Even more could await in round two with Aljaz Bedene or Pablo Cuevas next. Remember Bedene won the first set off of Anderson in Rome before the big man retired. Cuevas is 0-2 against Anderson, but took him the distance both times. Lopez gets a qualifier first and then either Mischa Zverev or Florian Mayer. That’s not a bad draw for the Spaniard. Still, there is some reasonable expectation of upsets in this part of the draw with Anderson needing to watch out the most.

The other segment has Schwartzman and Kohlschreiber as the seeds. The Schwartz gets Frencie Calvin Hemery in round one. This is Hemery’s Grand Slam debut and clay is a decent surface for him. Tuogh ask though even against the Argentine who has been struggling. Winenr gets Mirza Basic or a qualifier and will fancy themselves a spot in the third round. Kohlschreiber, poor Kohlschreiber. He gets Borna Coric in round one and his French Open losing skid could easily hit a third straight year in oen of the toughest first round matches for a seed. Coric beat him the last time they played on clay in Marrakech last season with Kohlschreiber owning two wins before that with one on clay in 2016. Could be one of the best matches of round one. The survivor gets Matthew Ebden or Thomas Fabbiano.

The Pig-nosticator

If he stays fully healthy, I don’t see the challenge for Nadal in this quarter. I honestly would be a bit stunned if he drops a set in reaching the semifinals. The intrigue will lie around who might sneak into that other quarterfinal slot. Albert Ramos-Vinolas was the last unseeded quarterfinalist at Roland Garros in 2016. Then you have to go back to 2011 and Juan Ignacio Chela and Fabio Fognini to find the next two. Coric could have a claim if he gets rolling with the early upset and that Bedene-Cuevas winner could also have some intrigue in that race.


Qualifier (Sock)
Borna Coric (Kohlschreiber)

Quarter #2 Seeds
(3) Marin Cilic
(5) Juan Martin Del Potro
(9) John Isner
(16) Kyle Edmund
(17) Tomas Berdych
(18) Fabio Fognini
(25) Adrian Mannarino
(31) Albert Ramos-Vinolas

Big hitting types litter the top of the seeded field in this quarter. Cilic’s segment has Mannarino as the other seed. I talked about Mannarino’s clay allergy earlier in part two of the preview and Steve Johnson could extinguish him in the opening round. SJ89 is 3-1 against Mannarino. The survivor there will get Evgeny Donskoy or Jan-Lennard Struff. Cilic gets a date with James Duckworth in round one and then Tennys Sandgren or a qualifier in round two. I think this segment sets up nicely for Cilic to get into the fourth round with Johnson perhaps holding some third round possibilities.

The next segment of the quarter holds Edmund and Fognini as the seeds. Edmund plays super hustle Alex De Minaur in his opener. The Brit beat him in straights in Estoril this season and with the Brit’s current form, a repeat seems more likely than an upset. That would get Edmund up against Marton Fucsovics or Vasek Pospisil in round two. Fucsovics holds some intrigue with wins over Ramos-Vinolas and Wawrinka in Geneva this week. He’s got clay court chops. Edmund crushed him last year on a hard surface in Winston-Salem, but clay could make a rematch much closer. Fognini opens with Pablo Andujar. Fogs is 3-1 against him, but they haven’t played since 2015. I’d favor Fognini still. A win there and it’s Dudi Sela or a qualifier in the next round.

To the other half of this quarter and Del Potro. The Argentine heads in with an injury concern with his groin. He is scheduled to battle Nicolas Mahut in round one. Healthy, this is a no brainer. Not healthy, Mahut cuold maybe take advantage, although I think it’d be more likely that he gets a walkover if DelPo is still not ready. That could open this part of the draw some with Julien Benneteau or Leonardo Mayer awaiting the winner. This is Benneteau’s final go-round, so expect the effort to be there for him and the crowd to be on his side even more. He is probably glad not to play Lucas Pouille for the third year in a row in round one. With the questions around Del Potro, Ramos-Vinolas may have a shot if he escapes round one. The 31st seed gets Mikhail Kukushkin to open and then Jordan Thompson or a qualifier. ARV has been pretty poor lately, but has made the quarters and fourth round here the last two tries.

The final segment in this quarter sports John Isner and Tomas Berdych. Isner draws fellow American Noah Rubin to start. Rubin got some nice match play in Geneva this week and took a set off Fognini before falling in three. I don’t know that his serve is going to allow him to stick with Isner, but he’s got speed and agility and won his first title on clay at a Challenger even this season. It will be an interesting watch perhaps. The winner takes on Horacio Zeballos or Yuichi Sugita. Sugita is 3-12 on clay all-time, while Zeballos has his best Grand Slam showing here last year with a fourth round finish. Do the math. Keep in mind Zeballos is 0-3 vs Isner, but plays him tough most times – if that match were to occur in round two. Berdych draws Jeremy Chardy to open. In spite of Berdych’s struggles, he should pass. He’s 5-0 against Chardy who might be in worse form. Pierre-Hugues Herbert or a qualifier waits for the winner.

The Pig-nosticator

If Del Potro were fully fit, this quarter would take on a much different feel. With him hurting and I think unlikely to go far if he even suits up – Isner could step into position for a shot at a quarterfinal in one half here in all reality. I also mentioned in the other previews that Berdych is still someone to watch out for at Slams. He could be a sneakier shot for a quarter. The other half for me looks like it could come down to Cilic or Edmund. Edmund’s path is tougher, so this really could shape up for Cilic to have a shot at another Slam semifinal. Don’t discount Isner being in the mix though if this opens up right for him.


Steve Johnson (Mannarino)
Mikhail Kukushkin (Ramos-Vinolas)

Quarter #3 Seeds
(4) Grigor Dimitrov
(8) David Goffin
(10) Pablo Carreno Busta
(13) Roberto Bautista Agut
(20) Novak Djokovic
(21) Nick Kyrgios
(30) Fernando Verdasco
(32) Gael Monfils

Right away this quarter grabs you with “name” power and also a ton of question marks with the health of Kyrgios and Monfils being at the top of that list. Toss in Dimitrov’s struggles and you have the makings of a very wide open quarter. Let’s start with Dimitrov’s segment, where the fourth seed begins against Viktor Troicki. That is not the match-up the Bulgarian wanted to see as Troicki has beaten him two times, including here at Roland Garros in 2016. Dimitrov won their last meeting in Sofia last Spring. Troicki did pull out of Rome and I did not find the reason, so that makes this spot even more interesting. The winner gets Jared Donaldson or Nicolas Jarry. Both of those guys are heavy hitters and Jarry especially has shown some real ability to beat good players on dirt. Even if Dimitrov escapes round one, round two might prove very difficult too. Verdasco is the seed opposite of Dimitrov and he starts with Yoshi Nishioka. The winner advances to meet Taylor Fritz or a qualifier. The other name Dimitrov doesn not want to see is Verdasco who beat him at Indian Wells this year and always plays him very close.

The segment above this has plenty of intrigue wih Bautista Agut and Djokovic as the seeds. RBA opens against Denis Istomin, who hasn’t won a match since Miami. A win would see the Spaniard take on either Marcos Baghdatis or a qualifier. On this surface, it should be advantage RBA. Djokovic awaits an assigned qualifier to start and then could face David Ferrer in round two. Ferrer also will be matched against qualifier in round one. Qualifiers were 5-11 in last year’s French Open and 4-12 in 2016. Marco Trungeletti did knock out #10 Marin Cilic that year. Before that, you have to go back to 2012 when Michael Berrer beat #30 Jurgen Melzer for the last. Ferrer however may fall into the trap. He’s 0-2 in his lone warm-up matches on clay and just 7-9 this season. It would also be a first for Ferrer, who has not lost his opener at Roland Garros since he started coming here in 2013. Djokovic has a nice draw in this spot to make a run for the fourth round. He’s 6-1 vs RBA.

In the other half, Goffin and Monfils are grouped together in one segment. The 8th seeded Belgian gets tricky Robin Haase in round one. Haase’s lone win over Goffin came on clay last year in Gstaad. Should Goffin survive, he finds Ivo Karlovic or Corentin Moutet in round two. Either will be advantageous for Goffin. As for Monfils, health is the biggest problem. He did play Lyon, where he lost to Marterer. La Monf is 1-4 on clay during this Euro swing. This is his 12th French Open and he has not lost in round one since his first in 2005. Getting fellow Frenchie, 19-year-old Elliot Benchetrit could make things easier, but we’ll have to see if Monfils can get through a best of five. The winner gets Laslo Dere or a qualifier. Dere can be pesky on this surface. A healthy Monfils could challenge Goffin for a spot in round four, but that doesn’t seem the case this year as of this writing.

The final segment is led by seeds Pablo Carreno Busta and Nick Kyrgios. There are some dangerous floaters here with Budapest champion Marco Cecchinato up against Marius Copil in round one. The winner tackles a qualifier or Kyrgios who has missed chunks of time with a balky right elbow. He is testing it playing doubles this week with Jack Sock in Lyon and they’re still alive in the semifinals, so it appears he’ll give it a go in Paris. That doesn’t mean he’s anywhere close to being ready for best of five tennis. NK gets a qualifier first-up. Carreno Busta gets a qualifier first-up and then Federico Delbonis or another qualifier. Delbonis is the danger, going 4-1 against PCB altough that lone Carreno Busta win was at RG in 2016. Still, this segment looks ripe for some turbulence.

The Pig-nosticator

I’m not going out on a limb by any means in saying that Dimitrov won’t make the semifinals out of this quarter. Hell, he won’t make the quarterfinals in my opinion. I think that leaves this quarter open for Goffin to make a move and yes, Novak Djokovic suddenly looks like a real cheeky pick to make a deep run with this draw. Bautista Agut and Verdasco might wind up being his main road blocks to getting a quarterfinal. A quarterfinal given where the Serb was before last week in Rome would still be a major accomplishment and he’s certainly capable of beating Goffin or anyone else from this quarter. I think the key for Djokovic is conserving energy in the early rounds and not having to play more tennis than necessary.


Qualifer (Kyrgios)

Quarter #4 Seeds
(2) Alexander Zverev
(7) Dominic Thiem
(12) Sam Querrey
(15) Lucas Pouille
(19) Kei Nishikori
(23) Stan Wawrinka
(26) Damir Dzumhur
(29) Gilles Muller

All eyes will be on a possible Zverev-Thiem quarterfinal in this quarter. There is a lot of tennis before that can happen. Let’s start with Sascha’s half. Zverev as laid out is second in line behind Nadal right now as far as form on this surface. He will begin his RG campaign against Ricardas Berankis and I would not expect a ton of trouble on this surface. The second round will be a bit tougher with Jiri Vesely or Dusan Lajovic waiting. If I’m Sascha, give me Vesely who will likely play into a big baseline ball bash that will favor the second seed. Lajovic is a grittier competitor who took down Gasquet and Del Potro in Madrid. His Slam resume isn’t impressive, but the 27-year-old would be the tougher out to me. Dzumhur is the seed opposite of Sascha in this segment and he gets a qualifier to open. Should he pass, Dzumhur takes on Gregoire Barrere or Radu Albot in round two. I can see a potential upset in that spot.

In the segment above this, seeds Pouille and Wawrinka are very iffy. I touched on Pouille’s stagnant season since February and Wawrinka’s play in Geneva didn’t inspire much. The Swiss got a win, but was bageled in his straight sets loss to Fucsovics on Thursday. Pouille’s saving grace is that he gets Daniil Medvedev in round one. He is 2-0 against the Russian who sports a gnarly 2-10 record on clay in his career. A win would get Pouille a shot at Peter Gojowyczk or Cameron Norrie. Gojo is in the Geneva semis and has actually been in a nice groove on clay. Norrie won his first Slam match at the U.S. Open last year, but it might be a stretch for him to get #2 on clay. Wawrinka has Guillermo Garcia-Lopez first-up and the Spaniard last beat him in 2014 in round one at this very tournament. “Random” draw strikes again. Otherwise, the Swiss is 7-3 against him with three straight wins since that loss. In his current state, Stan is really primed to go one and done. The beneficiary might be Karen Khachanov, who opposes Adreas Haider-Maurer in round one. Khachanov has had a hard time getting clutch wins on dirt, but if Wawrinka goes out – don’t be surprised to see him in the third round.

In the other half where Thiem leads, the Austrian will first have to overcome the stupidity of his decision to play in Lyon this week. Thiem is tied 1-1 with Garcia-Lopez in the quarters there headed into Friday. So if he wins, he’s likely pull double duty Friday to keep their Saturday final in line after some rainy days. Thiem will get a qualifier to open and while that match may not bite him, a potential second rounder against Stefanos Tsitsipas is where I am looking at trouble for the chronically over playing Austrian. Tsitsipas also plays a qualifier and then would have a chance that his hot run on clay, including a win over Thiem in Barcelona, is no fluke. The 19-year-old is a little down the last few weeks, but the talent is there to cause trouble. The other seed here is Muller who rarely plays well here and gets a qualifier in round one. If he moves on, it’s Matteo Berrettini or another qualifier in round two. Berrettini has proven competitive on dirt lately and could definitely be a little bit of a surprise runner.

Your other segment has Querrey and Nishikori as the seeds. Querrey continued his dud of a clay court season with a loss to Guido Pella in Geneva, although it was tight with three tie breaks played. Sam has still had difficulty here and goes against another American, Frances Tiafoe. Tiafoe made the final in Estoril earlier this Spring, but has fallen off a bit since that tournament. He lost to Querrey last year in Shanghai and the 20-year old still has just two Slam wins, none in Paris. I do expect in this spot though that Big Foe can push Querrey and possibly cause the upset if he keeps his serve together. The survivor goes up against Nikoloz Basilashvili or Gilles Simon, As for Nishikori, he’ll battle 21-year-old Frenchie Maxime Janvier in the opening round. A win could net us another Nishikori-Paire match. Paire starts against Roberto Carballes Baena. Paire has been dealing with a back problem, but scored two good wins in Rome. Nishikori-Paire is at 3-2 for Kei and 2-0 for Kei on clay.

The Pig-nosticator

If not now … when for Alexander Zverev? There’s a not-yet-ready Stan Wawrinka here and an out-of-whack Lucas Pouille to block him from his first Slam quarterfinal. Maybe Khachanov. The point being is that Sascha is the in-form talent here and this is his time to get that monkey off his back. If he doesn’t get it done with this set up, then it’s going to be an even bigger mental block for him. As for the quarter overall, in spite of the Thiem over scheduling again, you can’t count him out after two straight semis at Roland Garros. There are two obvious stumbling points for him and that would be Tsitsipas in round two and Nishikori in the fourth round.

All that SHOULD play well for Sascha even if Thiem gets through, he could be about out of gas after that path. The other guy who I think could take down Sascha is Nishikori, who would also have run a tough gauntlet. I think it’s important that Sascha finds a rhythm in round one and starts impressively. He needs to get things done the way that the Slam stalwarts do – win quickly early and conserve your energy for the tough matches that define your tournament in the fourth round and beyond


Frances Tiafoe (Querrey)
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (Wawrinka)
Qualifier (Muller)


Has anything really changed over the course of the last two tournaments to dissuade anyone from picking outside of Nadal to win this thing? Yes, he does have a loss to Thiem. Yes, Zverev had him on the ropes. Now however, it’s guts and glory time in a best of five on clay. This is Nadal’s domain. Roland Garros is his house. I think Madrid and Rome showed that perhaps there are a few players who could catch Rafa on an off day and make him work hard, but you have to win three sets off of him now. Two was hard enough for most. I don’t think his half of the draw could be much better and IF there is going to be a colossal upset, it has to come in a final in my opinion.

That leaves us looking at the bottom half. Zverev still has so much to prove at Grand Slams, but you have to like the way he is playing coming to Paris. I think there are two big X-factors in his half named Djokovic and Nishikori. Nishikori is in Sascha’s quarter and has that combination of defense and offense from the baseline that can hassle Sascha. That is the way I think he can be beat is by a player who can wear him down with his style plus great defense. Djokovic also fits that bill, but would have to navigate a tough draw just to get a shot at him in a semifinal. I’m not sure his consistency is quite there, but with the right breaks – who knows?

I think a repeat of the Rome final would be a fitting end to the clay court season, even if Rafa destroys Sascha in the end. I still don’t think it’s going to go down that way though. If there is a big surprise, it could be among the semifinalists and I am thinking quarter #2 with the likes of Isner, Edmund and yes even Berdych possibly in the mix if Cilic slips up. Bottom line – Rafa is not likely to be denied his 11th French Open title. Enjoy the show because you never know when it’s going to be the last time you get to enjoy Nadal on clay.


2018 French Open Preview: Top Ten Seeds


Rafa, Sascha … And Then ?

Roland Garros may not be the house that Rafael Nadal built, but it’s the house that he owns residency in with everyone else paying an entry fee to watch the ten-time champion style and profile. And why wouldn’t you? He’s 79-2 in his career at this tournament. Last year’s run to his 10th title was vintage Rafa with all seven wins coming in straight sets. Of the 20 sets played, only three saw his opponent win as many as four games. That was echoed in Nadal’s work on dirt this season until an expected loss to Dominic Thiem in Madrid. It ended a streak of 50 straight sets won on clay. Rafa does head into this year’s edition of the French Open on solid ground though with three clay court titles in 2018 and a 17-1 mark on the surface since winning last year’s French Open title. That includes his furious rally to win the title at the Rome Masters’ event last week over Alexander Zverev.

Speaking of Zverev, there is no doubt that he has played a not so distant second fiddle to Nadal on clay this season. Sascha is 16-2 on clay with the loss to Rafa in Rome and Kei Nishikori in Monte Carlo. In between, he was dominant with 13 straight wins, where he lost just two sets. The big question of course is if now is finally the time that the 21-year-old will step up and grab his first quarterfinal at a Grand Slam? is 14-11 record at Slams doesn’t inspire confidence, after all, he has played well leading into Slams before and still failed to get past round four. In fact, he’s only been to round four once and that came last year at Wimbledon. At Roland Garros, this is just his third trip into the main draw with a 2-2 mark. Last year, he lost in round one to Fernando Verdasco after making the third round in 2016.

These are you top two seeds with Roger Federer again skipping the French Open to rest up for the grass court season, where he has his best chance to add to his trophy case. So outside of Nadal and Zverev, Dominic Thiem is an obvious throw into the mix after making two straight French Open semifinals, but his form has been shaky at times. He does have the Nadal scalp to give him confidence though and clearly seems like the guy outside of Nadal and Zverev who you could say should be around in the quarterfinals and possibly later. t

Novak Djokovic will be back this year, but is just beginning to show some signs of life and may not be cut out for the grind of best of five tennis at a high level just yet. And there is Stan Wawrinka, a former champion at Roland Garros, rushing to find some form in Geneva as he finally feels healthy from last season’s knee surgery that has kept him sidelined for most of 2018. It’s a tough road though to find legit contenders outside of Nadal and Zverev at the moment.

The good news for Zverev, who has not been able to break through at a Slam, is that the top three seeds have a tradition in the past eight years of making the semifinals all but once. The bad news of course is those top three seeds are traditionally a mix of Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka. The last top four seed to make a round one exit was Wawrinka in 2014 at the hands of Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Top ten seeds in general have not been immune to going down early in Paris. Here’s a look with this handy chart of how the seeds have fared from 2010-2017.


So for five years straight, at least one top ten seed has fallen in the opening round and six of the last eight years overall. Given the up and down play of everyone not named Nadal and Zverev, you get the feeling that streak may not be in jeopardy of ending this year. Barring any injury withdrawals, here is a look at the players who will place in the top ten seeds this year with some historical data on how they have fared in Paris. I’m also including an “Eliminati Rating” from zero to five with zero being a player I don’t think is in danger of losing in round one and five being a player who could very well get knocked out.

1. Rafael Nadal
Nadal could draw Zverev in round one and I think I would still rate him a zero. Usually the only questions surrounding Rafa in the early rounds are whether or not he will drop a set. There was one rare scare back in 2011 when John Isner took Rafa to five sets and held a two sets to one lead. Otherwise, it’s been straight sets eleven out of 13 years that the Spaniard has played Roland Garros. Daniel Brands is surprisingly the only other player to snag a set in the opening round off of Nadal.

2. Alexander Zverev
I highlighted Sascha’s first round loss to Verdasco last year, which was especially disappointing given that Zverev had won in Rome just weeks before the French Open. That right there does give pause to consider how prone Sascha will be in the opening round this year. I will say that I believe his level right now is higher than he’s shown over an extended period probably anywhere in his career, but Grand Slams may be as much mental for him ow as anything with his past failures. The plus for Zverev comes with his ranking and likely the best draw he’ll have seen at this tournament. As long as he doesn’t get some oddball bad luck from the draw, I do think he’ll be in good shape in round one.

3. Marin Cilic
In eleven years, Cilic has lost in the opening round three times at Roland Garros. The most recent was in 2016 at the hands of Marco Trungeletti. Perhaps some of that failure can be attributed to making the final in Geneva the week prior. That was also his only first round loss at a Grand Slam in his last 23 played. Cilic also comes in with some good form on clay after making a semifinal run in Rome, something he desperately needed after going 1-2 combined in Monte Carlo and Istanbul in the Euro clay court swing. That being said, clay is his worst surface, but one he has still won nearly 62 percent of his career matches. He also made the quarters at Roland Garros last year. I suspect the draw should do him a favor of a decent first round draw, so I think he’s a minimal shot to lose in his opener.

4. Grigor Dimitrov
Anyone who has been reading me for a good bit will know that Dimitrov’s rating is going to be high. He’s one of the most frustrating players on tour to me with a boatload of talent, but wildly inconsistent results for a player who has now been back in the top ten for the past nine months. At age 27, Dimitrov was expected to have done more I think at this stage no matter the competition around him. To this point, a Slam semifinal at Wimbledon in 2014 and last year at the Australian Open are his best. Sandwiched in between those two semifinals are two French Open first round exits. In the past year, he has made a quarterfinal and semifinal in Australia, but third, second and fourth round exits at the other three Slams. Paris has been his worst with four first round losses in seven trips. He did break a three year losing skid last year by making round three, but heads to Roland Garros with three straight losses and two straight in his opening match of a tournament.

5. Juan Martin Del Potro
There is a big risk that Del Potro will not be participating in France at all. He suffered a tear in his groin in a match against David Goffin that forced him to retire from the match. I don’t see the point in risking health in the middle of the year when skipping this event could get him healthy enough for Wimbledon. For argument’s sake though, a quick look at his history in Roland Garros shows that DelPo has grown into a competent player on clay with a quarterfinal (2012) and a semifinal (2009) to his credit. Last year was the first time since 2012 that Del Potro had played here though and he lost in round three to Andy Murray in straights. Even before the injury, Del Potro was just 1-2 in completed match in Madrid and Rome. His health though is the obvious big issue here and I think there’s a good chance that if he did give it a go, he might not make it through the entire match.

6. Kevin Anderson
The thigh injury that forced Anderson out in Rome doesn’t appear to have any lingering effects as he’s been seen on the practice courts at Roland Garros already this week. Anderson had a nice run in Madrid to the semifinals albeit with a weak draw, but has otherwise not been great on clay this season. For his career, Anderson is 14-8 at the French Open. He was forced to retire in his fourth round match against Cilic last year due to a hamstring injury. The fourth round is his best finish with Anderson making that round three times. He’s only lost his opener twice in Paris with the last coming to Stephane Robert in 2016. Given a relative lack of success on clay this year, I would keep Anderson on the upset watch list. He did lose his first rounder in Australia this year, his fourth opening round loss in his last eight Slams played.

7. Dominic Thiem
For reasons unknown to the rest of the world, Thiem is playing in Lyon this week before the French Open. Despite the early loss to Fabio Fognini in Rome, I don’t think that’s the reason he’s playing. The Austrian was obviously in good enough form on clay with successive quarterfinal showings in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, before making the Madrid final. That included the Nadal upset, so why not rest this week? I don’t think he knows how. Other than the opinion of most that he plays too much tennis, Thiem is on the very low end of potential first round upset victims. The 24-year-old has made the semis each of the last two years at Roland Garros and has only lost his opener in two of the 17 Grand Slams he has participated in during his career. None have come in Paris and none since 2015.

8. David Goffin
The French Open is the site of one of the Belgian’s two career Slam quarterfinals back in 2016. He has lost in the opening round here twice, but not since 2014. He’s also only lost his opener once in his last 12 Slams played. Goffin comes in with relatively decent form with quarterfinal or better finishes in three of the four clay court tournaments he played in during the Euro swing. He’s still a guy who may never be a legitimate threat at the tail end of Slams, but early on he usually acquits himself well enough. In the last three years, he has only lost one set in the opening round in Paris. Unless he’s given a tough veteran type player in the draw, I think he’s in a good shape to avoid the Eliminati.

9. John Isner
The American is a bit surprisingly playing in Lyon this week, but perhaps feels he needs more match play after losing his Rome opener to Albert Ramos-Vinolas last week. Isner has been in decent enough form on clay at 3-3 over three tournaments. Most as per Isner’s M.O. have been tight and involved multiple tiebreaks. That of course also makes him an intriguing possibility at getting taken out in any round. He has only lost twice in the opening round in Paris with the last time coming in 2011. He did however fall in the Australian Open in round one this year, his first Slam opening round loss since the same tournament in 2014. Isner can obviously play well on any surface with his serve if he keeps points short and aggressive. He’s also going to be prone to an upset if he’s matched up with someone who can match him serve for serve and then steal some tiebreaks.

10. Pablo Carreno Busta
The Spaniard made his first Slam quarterfinal here last season. PCB was pretty good with results in the Euro swing with semifinal showings in Estoril and Barcelona along with a quarterfinal last week in Rome. The one thing that will scare you a bit if you’re thinking of backing him early is the streak he got on of first-up losses after making the semis at the U.S. Open last year. PCB lost five of his last six tournaments in 2017 in his first match. In 2018, those have been less frequent, but he still has three first-up losses. During his rise in the last year plus, he has avoided a first round exit at six straight Slams, but does have seven in 16 career Slam appearances.

11. Diego Schwartzman
I’m sticking the Argentine in here because he could snag the #10 seed if Del Potro withdraws before the tournament. Regardless, Schwartzman should be high in your Eliminati ratings. He has avoided opening match losses better lately, but still had two of those in the five tournaments played during the Euro swing. I’ve touched on it weekly about his struggles since winning the Rio Open in February. He’s lost his opener in three of eight tournaments and failed to secure back-to-back wins in seven of those eight tourneys. Even if he survives round one, I won’t be expecting him to go too deep even if this surface favors him. He has only lost once in four trips to the main draw at Roland Garros and just once in his last five Slams played. This is still a guy for me though who is low on confidence, so the draw could make the difference between being one and done or not.

This is the first in a three part preview of this year’s French Open. Tomorrow, I will take a look at the rest of the seeded field and their histories in Paris. I’ll break them down with more Eliminati Ratings and then finale in this series will look at the unseeded players who may be the Eliminati members

2018 Italian Open R2 Preview: Grigor Dimitrov vs Kei Nishikori


(3) Grigor Dimitrov vs Kei Nishikori

Dimitrov Seeks End to Rome Skid

The third seed arrives in Rome looking for his first win at the Italian Open since 2015. Grigor Dimitrov has lost three straight at this tournament, including his openers in each of the last two years. The draw has not been friendly to him with Alexander Zverev taking him out in 2016 and then Juan Martin Del Potro in 2017. Now, he faces Kei Nishikori who owns a 3-1 career record against him. This will mark their first meeting however since Brisbane at the beginning of the 2017 season, when Dimitrov scored his only win.

As for recent times, the third seed comes to Rome on a two match losing streak after being knocked out in Barcelona by Pablo Carreno Busta and losing his opener to Milos Raonic in Madrid. Dimitrov is getting into a rut again of going one and done in too many tournaments with three of those in his last six tournaments played. It’s no coincidence because Dimitrov has struggled at this time of the season, going one and done in four of six tournaments in 2017 leading up to Roland Garros.

Nishikori meanwhile does have a match under his belt to open this week, beating Feliciano Lopez 7-6 (5), 6-4. Nishikori was solid with a 78 percent win rate on first serve and 62 percent on his second. He was only broken once on three chances. Overall, he did a nice job attacking the Lopez backhand and his ground strokes looked forceful and accurate. The win ended a three match losing streak since Nishikori made the Monte Carlo final. He had wrist soreness that forced him out in Barcelona and then lost to Novak Djokovic in the opening round in Madrid last week.

The Formula

Two things have really triggered Dimitrov’s struggles against Nishikori; serve and his inability to convert a solid percentage of break chances. In the Brisbane win, Dimitrov was solid on serve with a 79 percent win rate off his first serve. He was broken twice, but saved five more break points. Against the Nishikori serve, he converted well with three breaks on six chances. In the previous three match-ups, Dimitrov had converted just two of 17 opportunities and twice had not broken the Nishikori serve at all. That has to change if he’s going to stave off an upset.

For Dimitrov’s serve, he has to be precise and force Nishikori out wide. In watching bits of tape from their meetings over the years, the Bulgarian has had success in serving wide and sending Nishikori scrambling. The Brisbane meeting particularly highlighted what aggressive play can do for Dimitrov. His ground strokes were aggressive for the most part and he seemed able to control the court positioning better because of it. Look for Dimitrov to try to get some of those quicker 1-2 punches from serve to an aggressive shot off of a short ball. There were occasions where Dimitrov was very effective crossing Nishikori up with body serves, where Nishikori didn’t seem to know what he wanted to do. That might be a good try again in this one to mix in with those wide serves.

Nishikori’s return is solid and he will look to be super aggressive if Dimitrov is forced to too many second serves. Dimitrov has only had a 50 percent or better win rate off his second serve twice in four meetings. Those came in his only win and a tight 7-6, 7-5 loss in Miami in 2014. Nishikori’s own serve comes and goes to, but he’s usually been solid in fending off key break chances against Dimitrov. I would look for Nishikori to target the Dimitrov backhand, which is less effective in return. He has a habit of floating the ball back from that wing which would give Nishikori chances to move in and hammer home winners.

The intrigue in the ground exchanges will center around the backhand for both players. Nishikori is more consistent off that wing for me with a powerful double hander that he can hit down the line and cross court for winners. Dimitrov has the variety edge, but sometimes that is a bad thing with too many options for him. He does utilize the slice pretty well and that is something he should look to use against Nishikori to keep the ball lower and out of the man from Japan’s strike zone. He can then mix in his more power packed one hander to keep Nishikori guessing.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

I think this match starts with an edge to Nishikori with play in conditions already plus Dimitrov’s woeful recent history in Rome. Nishikori has done a better job of controlling court position with the exception of the loss in Brisbane. That will be a key to watch early on. Who is doing more running? Both men will have their moments where they are left scrambling defensively along the baseline to chase down shots. Both also excel at doing that with Nishikori a better on-the-move shot maker.

This will be the first meeting on clay after all four of the previous matches took place outdoors on hard courts. I think dirt favors Nishikori who is still one of the best pure athletes on tour despite his myriad of injuries the past few years. One area that I feel that Dimitrov can challenge him the best though is play at the net. Nishikori is better at moving forward off his serve to get to short balls, whereas I think from a pure volley perspective, the Bulgarian has the better shot making ability. If Dimitrov can lay some soft shots off for Nishikori to chase near the net, he could get some key points in that manner.

I look for a lot of ebb and flow to this match with both prone to being broken on this surface their fair share. I think if there a shock and awe result, it’s more likely to be Nishikori coming out and flattening Dimitrov on straight sets. Dimitrov has seen two of his three openers in clay this year go the distance with the last being the loss to Raonic last week. For me this feels like it could be another three set match and another loss for the Bulgarian.

Prediction: Nishikori wins in three sets

2018 Italian Open Preview


Rafa’s Roman Drought & Sascha’s Scintillating Form

Rafael Nadal begins the week in an unfamiliar spot, coming off of a loss. It’s well documented now that Dominic Thiem put an end to Nadal’s 21 match win streak and 50 straight sets won on clay streak last week in Madrid. Nadal is also seeking to end a three year streak in which he has not advanced past the quarterfinals in Rome. Rafa has won the title at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia seven times, but he’s been stopped by Thiem, Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka the last three years at this event in the quarterfinal round. You can bet that he’ll have some extra motivation to re-establish himself after the events in Madrid and with that history in the back of his mind.

Rounding out the top four seeds behind Nadal are defending champion Alexander Zverev, Grigor Dimitrov and Marin Cilic. Zverev comes in as a big threat with his recent hot streak seeing him enter Rome with a nine match win streak and successive titles in Munich and Madrid. This is just his third trip to Rome with last year’s title run accounting for six of his seven career wins at this tournament. Dimitrov is a one-time semifinalist here (2014), but has lost his last three matches in Rome. That includes first match losses the last two years to Zverev and Juan Martin Del Potro. Cilic has made the quarters twice, including last year. He arrives in mediocre form at-best with a 2-3 record on clay in 2018.

The Usual Suspects

The remainder of the seeded field features most of the usual suspects in what will be a final tune-up for Roland Garros for many. Juan Martin Del Potro slots in at number five, coming off a 1-1 run in Madrid that was ended in a three set loss to Dusan Lajovic. DelPo has made the quarters twice in Rome, including last season. He’ll be hoping to get a few more matches at-minimum under his belt with last week’s Madrid action as his first since March. Dominic Thiem heads to Rome as the sixth seed, coming off a week that saw him end Nadal’s win streaks and get to his second consecutive Madrid final. Rome has been a solid stop for the Austrian with improvement in each of his three trips, culminating with a semifinal run last year.

Kevin Anderson is in at #7 after a somewhat surprising run to the semis in Madrid. It would be more surprising to see him do anything like that in Rome, where the big man is just 6-7 and has never been past round three. John Isner is 8th and coming off a quarterfinal in Madrid. He made the semis in Rome last year, so he is one to watch. David Goffin slips in behind him with two quarter final runs on his Roman resume. The Belgian wasn’t particularly good in Madrid, losing 6-3, 6-3 to Kyle Edmund in his second match. That broke a string of back-to-back quarterfinal or better finishes in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. Pablo Carreno Busta is 10th, but just 1-2 in his brief stops in Rome.

Of the remaining seeds, Novak Djokovic will obviously have eyes on him again as the #11. He is a four time winner in Rome with the last coming in 2015. The Serb still can’t seem to find his way to consistency after scoring what he called a big win for his confidence in Madrid against kei Nishikori. That was followed by a three set loss to Edmund. Back-to-back wins seem like a low-ball goal for Djokovic at this point. Anything to boost his confidence. American Jack Sock (13) got off to a winning start in one of Sunday’s sprinkling of main draw matches, beating David Ferrer in straights to run his record in Rome to 4-3.

Diego Schwartzman, Tomas Berdych and Lucas Pouille round out the bottom three of the seeds. Schwartzman scored back-to-back wins last week in Madrid for the first time since February when he went on his title run in Rio. He’s never won in two career matches in Rome. Berdych as usual has a load of experience here at 19-12 with his best run coming in 2013, when he made the semifinals. Berdych has not won on clay in two matches this season and sports a three match losing streak. The 32-year-old hasn’t been bounced before round three in Rome since 2009, but this year could be a test to that streak.


Last year’s Rome Masters featured the most opening match upsets for the seeds in the last four years. Four seeds were one and done, including top seed Andy Murray. Prior to that, just one seed had fallen in their opening matches in 2015 and 2016. Main draw play began on Sunday in Rome and one seed is already out with Sam Querrey (12) losing in straights to Peter Gojowczyk. He could be the first of multiple seeds to take an early exit in Rome. Let’s see which players could join the Eliminati and taken down a seed in their opener.

Denis Shapovalov
El Shapo comes off a great week in Madrid in which he made his second Masters semifinal. Not a lot was expected of the 19-year-old who had little experience on this surface in ATP main draws. He gets Tomas Berdych (15) to open. These two have played once and it came on grass last year at Queen’s Club. Berdych barely won 7-6 (4), 6-7 (4), 7-5. With Shapovalov high on confidence and Berdych without a win since March, this is a spot to look for a possible upset.

Kei Nishikori/Feliciano Lopez
The winner of this first round match battles third seed Grigor Dimitrov in round two. Nishikori owns three wins against Dimitrov, but it was Dimitrov who scored the last win in Brisbane in 2017. Lopez has a couple of wins over Dimitrov in five tries, but both have come on grass. Still, Dimitrov has not had good recent history here, so either Nishikori or Lopez could add to those woes.

Alexandr Dolgopolov
It’s the weekly Novak Djokovic watch. The Serb gets Dolgopolov to start in Rome. The Dog is 0-5 against Djokovic, but has won a set off of him in three of those five previous encounters. They have not met since 2016 and Dolgopolov has only played one match since the Australian Open, a loss in Marrakech to Andrea Arnaboldi, who is ranked #221. It’s been a wrist issue that has sidelined him for most of the season. Whether he is near 100 percent now is debatable, but the same can be said of Djokovic physically and mentally.

Federico Delbonis/Albert Ramos-Vinolas
The winner gets John Isner. Delbonis owns a win over the American, while Ramos-Vinolas took Isner to three sets in Rome last year. Isner has good results since winning the Miami Open, but he also had trouble stringing together results in successive weeks early in the season. This is his first back-to-back spot since early in the season and I think that gives the possibility for one of these guys to push Isner hard and possibly pull off a win.

Aljaz Bedene/Gilles Muller
The survivor takes on Kevin Anderson who has struggled at this tournament in the past. Muller owns three wins in five matches, including a win on clay last year in Estoril. Bedene 0-2 against Anderson and they have not met since 2014. Both Bedene and Muller have not been in good form of late, so put this one lower on the list of possibilities.

Nicolas Jarry
The qualifier gets another crack at Diego Schwartzman (14). Diego has beaten him in straight sets three times this season with the last coming in Davis Cup play in April. Schwartzman may have rebuilt a bit of confidence last week, but his lack of success here and Jarry having played qualifying could give the Chilean his best shot to take down the Argentine.

Borna Coric/Stefanos Tsitsipas
This could be one of the better matches of the tournament and it’s in round one! Coric has been in good form for most of the last two months and Tsitsipas’ rise to prominence in the last month has come on clay. It will be a tough match against Juan Martin Del Potro for either, but neither has faced the Tower of Tandil and that may actually work in their favor. Coric’s defense could give Del Potro some problems and Tsitsipas has shown that he can go toe-to-toe with most from the baseline. DelPo will need to rev it up this week to avoid being one and done.

Andreas Seppi
The Italian wildcard gets a chance to exact revenge on 16th seed Lucas Pouille. One of Pouille’s last wins came in April in Davis Cup play, one of which was a five set win over Seppi. Outside of that, Pouille has lost four straight openers are tournaments and that makes him a prime target in Rome. Seppi has lost three of his last four openers in Rome, but this feels like a spot where he can contend.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
(1) Rafael Nadal: 51-6 (7x winner)
(6) Dominic Thiem: 8-3
(12) Sam Querrey: 4-10
(15) Tomas Berdych: 19-12

All of a sudden, there is a bit more intrigue in a Nadal quarter on clay. That’s not solely based on his loss last week in Madrid, but also due to his recent stall outs in Rome in the quarters. Toss in that Thiem is opposite of him in this quarter and you have something to look forward to again. As for Nadal’s early draw, he will see Fernando Verdasco or Damir Dzumhur first. There have been times when Verdasco has played him tough, but Verdasco has been middling on clay since his surprise run to the Rio Open final. Look for Nadal to come out firing. Berdych is seeded to see him in round three, but the Czech has Shapovalov to open. The survivor there gets Daniil Medvedev or Robin Haase. The Russian owns two wins over Haase, but both are on grass. He’s 2-9 on clay, so I think Haase takes that one. I think the Berdych-Shapovalov winner has the best shot to get through to face Nadal.

Thiem will have to put the loss to Zverev in the Sunday final in Madrid behind him quickly. He faces the winner of the circus match of round one between Fabio Fognini and Gael Monfils. Monfils has won the last two from Fognini and leads the h2h 4-3 all-time. Right now though, this is as big a toss up as you can find. La Monf might at least be healthy now. Fognini has dropped three straight on clay, including his last two openers. The good news for Thiem is that he is a combined 6-0 against Fognini and Monfils. Gojowczyk and Lorenzo Sonego both won on Sunday and face off for a spot in round three to likely face Thiem. Sonego is a talented 23-year-old who made his first ATP quarterfinal in Budapest this year.

The Pig-nosticator

Just like last week, we could be in for another Nadal-Thiem quarterfinal. The one I worry about is Thiem who played a full week for the first time in a long time. The positives though are that his draw is favorable and he is usually good at shaking off finals’ losses. It’s something he did in this same spot last year. I think we get Rafa and Dom again and you can bet that Nadal will have that circled as a big motivational factor this week.

Rafael Nadal

Tomas Berdych

Quarter #2 Seeds
(3) Grigor Dimitrov: 6-5
(8) John Isner: 8-7
(11) Novak Djokovic: 42-7 (4x winner)
(13) Jack Sock: 4-3

If there is a quarter that could yield an unseeded semifinalist, this might be it. Rome has seen an unseeded semifinalist in each of the last two years. Isner arrives in the best form, but figures to have a bit tougher time in Rome, where the conditions won’t be quite as favorable as they are in Madrid for him. I highlighted in the Eliminati that Isner’s first match against Delbonis or Ramos-Vinolas could be his only one. Should he survive there, he is seeded to meet Djokovic in round three. Djokovic has his own problems with Dolgopolov to start. If he can overcome the quirky game of The Dog, then he has a legit shot to piece together consecutive wins for perhaps just the third time this year. His next opponent after Dolgopolov would be Nikoloz Basilashvili or Filippo Baldo. If not now – then when for Djokovic?

In Dimitrov’s half, the Bulgarian is in a tough spot against either Nishikori or Lopez and at a tournament where he has not had much success lately. He could easily be one and done. The survivor of that section would be seeded to see Jack Sock. Sock took down David Ferrer on Sunday to start off hot in Rome. He now waits for either Karen Khachanov or a resurgent Philipp Kohlschreiber. The German parlayed his Munich finals run into a third round finish in Madrid. Khachanov and Kohlschreiber have split two matches with the German winning the most recent, while the Russian won on clay in 2016. Khachanov flopped in Madrid after some decent results in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. This is his Rome debut. I think either one presents a problem for Sock, so reasonably an unseeded quarter finalist could sneak out of this section.

The Pig-nosticator

Based on the draw, I think this is a week where Djokovic can put some things together. Dolgopolov is a tough opponent to open against, but The Dog is as out of sorts as Djokovic. A win for the Serb and I think he gets at least to round three. I don’t fancy Dimitrov or Sock in this quarter, so I really feel like the Khachanov-Kohlschreiber winner could be a dark horse runner here. Don’t overlook that Delbonis-ARV winner either.

Novak Djokovic

Grigor Dimitrov

Quarter #3 Seeds
(4) Marin Cilic: 9-9
(7) Kevin Anderson: 6-7
(10) Pablo Carreno Busta: 1-2
(14) Diego Schwartzman: 0-2

This appears to be another open quarter with only Cilic having some modest historical success in Rome. The Croat made the quarterfinals last year, but has been in mediocre form on dirt at best. He gets a chance to start strong with Ryan Harrison as his first opponent. The American beat Yuichi Sugita to start on Sunday, but is 1-6 against Cilic. A loss for Cilic would be somewhat surprising, but he hasn’t done a ton to inspire confidence. The winner there could see just about anyone in the third round. Schwartzman opens against jarry and despite the 3-0 margin, might be in for a battle. If Gasquet gets through, he’s 2-0 against Schwartzman and just beat him in Monte Carlo earlier in the Spring. He could be a sneaky quarter finalist in this section.

Anderson’s half is interesting with Carreno Busta as the other seed. PCB has not had any sort of success in Rome and is 1-4 against Anderson, although that win came in Miami earlier this year. Anderson will face Bedene or Muller in round two. Muller historically has been a tough match-up for him, so that’s the player he won’t want to see. Carreno Busta faces Jared Donaldson to open. It is their first meeting and Donaldson is 0-3 on clay along with five one and dones this year. The survivor takes on Steve Johnson. The American beat Stan Wawrinka in his return to the court 6-4, 6-4. The Swiss had been rehabbing his knee since retiring in Marseille in mid-February. He at least looked healthy, but needs matches now. As for Johnson, he could be a dark horse.

The Pig-nosticator

This draw is made for Cilic to get back on a roll, but you have to get that first win before you can roll. The unseeded players to monitor here are Gasquet and Johnson, both of whom could help blow up the draw.

Marin Cilic

Diego Schwartzman
Pablo Carreno Busta

Quarter #4 Seeds
(2) Alexander Zverev: 7-1 (W – 2017)
(5) Juan Martin Del Potro: 8-5
(9) David Goffin: 7-3
(16) Lucas Pouille: 2-2

Zverev is definitely the hunted this week with his recent hot streak in addition to being the defending champion. His opener could be interesting with either Frances Tiafoe or Matteo Berrettini as the opponent. Tiafoe was a bit of a surprise finalist in Estoril, but that showcases is ability. Tiafoe does own a win over Zverev last summer in Cincinnati. Zverev had beaten him in straights at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2017. After two straight finals runs, it wouldn’t be that odd to see Sascha struggle early and Tiafoe might have a long shot chance. Pouille is opposite of him in this section, but the Frenchman has been struggling. Seppi has a real shot to beat him. The winner would get Kyle Edmund or Malek Jaziri. Edmund will draw lots of attention and has played Pouille tough even in losing the last two times they have met.

The other half of this quarter features Del Potro and Goffin. Del Potro is another one who might be one and done with a tough match against either Coric or Tsitsipas. As for Goffin, he faces Leonardo Mayer in round one. Mayer is 0-2 against him, but took him to three in Rome the last time that they met. The Argentine will be a tough out, but I think Goffin survives. A tougher match could await in round two with Pablo Cuevas a likely opponent. Cuevas has won their only meeting and is a tough out on dirt. If we get DelPo vs Goffin, it’s 1-1 with no meetings since 2016. I think clay favors the Belgian. Goffin is also 4-0 against Coric and beat Tsitsipas on clay in Monte Carlo. I think this part of the draw plays well for Goffin if he can get off to a good start.

The Pig-nosticator

It will be interesting how Zverev plays with some expectation on him this week. I think in Madrid despite being the second seed, all eyes were on Nadal and then more on Thiem after he beat Rafa. This week as the defending champ and with the Madrid title in his pocket, he’s clearly expected to produce. Del Potro looms at the biggest threat with the Argentine beating him two of two meetings, although neither is on clay. Goffin’s defense will be an issue if he makes it, but Zverev has beat him in the past. I think this quarter is tough to call since I still don’t trust Zverev’s serve to be as consistently powerful as it was in Madrid.

David Goffin

Lucas Pouille


Is this is a big week for Nadal? I mean even if he continues his run of losing in the quarterfinals in Rome, is it going to make you think he has less of a chance to win another Frenh Open title in a few weeks? Hardly. Certainly I think Nadal would love to lay down the gauntlet again and get another streak going, but unless he gets stunned in one of his first two matches – I don’t think a title run makes or breaks Rafa for the ultimate prize on clay. The top seed has only won in Rome once in the last four years, so perhaps it is wise to look at non-Nadal options. Zverev certainly is the easy number two, but I am looking at Goffin this week as an intriguing option. Keep in mind however that the #1 and #2 seeds have combined to make seven of the possible eight finals’ slots in the past four years in Rome. Only last year when Murray lost early, did the #1 not get to the final. In all honesty, tennis could use a Nadal-Zverev final ahead of Roland Garros to provide some possible talking points. Right now, those are the two best players on this surface with Thiem still as the other likely option in the mix.

2018 Mutua Madrid Open Preview


The Streaks Hit Madrid

The Mutua Madrid Open heads into its 10th year on clay with Rafael Nadal leading the field as the defending champion. Rafa is a five-time winner in Madrid with four of those titles coming since the flip from hard courts to clay at this tournament. Rafa has made the final seven of the nine years that Madrid has been played on dirt and make it seven of eight if you exclude the Smurf clay year in 2012. Nadal enters this week refreshed with a week off and carrying a 19 match win streak on dirt, including 46 straight sets won.

This week also marks the return of Juan Martin Del Potro, who we have not seen since Miami. DelPo is in the midst of a banner season at 21-4 with two titles. He’s seed fourth this week and he has made the semifinals twice since the switch to clay in Madrid. Alexander Zverev and Grigor Dimitrov slot in between Rafa and DelPo as the 2nd and 3rd seeds. Both have a single quarterfinal to their credit at this tournament with Sascha making it most recently last year.

Rounding out the top eight seeds are Dominic Thiem, John Isner, Kevin Anderson and David Goffin. Thiem made the final last year and Goffin made his lone semifinal in Madrid in 2017 as well. Both come in with reasonably good form. Of the remaining seeds, Novak Djokovic will draw the most attention at #10. The floundering Serb has won here twice with the last title run coming in 2016. He heads into the week with a 5-5 record and not much to speak of in the way of confidence or form. Expectationns will remain low until proven otherwise.

The clear secondary story this week to Rafa though is the return of Del Potro. Through the first three months of the season, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin Del Potro had distanced themselves from the field in my opinion. Del Potro has not played since Miami, so this will be his first work on clay since last year’s French Open. He’s played just 16 matches on dirt since 2013, so this will obviously be a big test. His baseline game says he can be a factor, but rust says he will need some matches before that happens.


Stan Wawrinka isn’t in Madrid this year as he continues to rehab from knee surgery. That’s bad news for “The Eliminati” with Wawrinka responsible for three of the last four big upsets in Madrid. The Swiss lost as the third seed twice and as the fourth seed in his opener in three of the last four years. Roger Federer also fell victim to the early exit back in 2015, dropping his opener in 2015. Overall, seeds have been upset in their opening matches at the Mutua Madrid Open 14 times in the last four years. That is 25 percent casualty rate. Here’s a look at some of the players who could help boost those numbers in 2018.

Adrian Mannarino
The Frenchman really doesn’t enjoy playing on clay with a 28 percent winning percentage on the surface for his career. He does however draw 13th seed Diego Schwartzman who has not won back-to-back matches since winning the Rio Open in February. He’s been beaten twice in that span in his opener and despite this being a better surface for the Argentine, Mannarino could have a shot against a player low on confidence.

Borna Coric
Coric faces off against 9th seed Pablo Carreno Busta in round one. PCB lost big in the quarters if the Estoril Open on Saturday to Frances Tiafoe. He’s also just 1-3 for his career in Madrid. Coric has split two career hard court matches with the Spaniard with the last coming in Doha this season. The Croat won that won in a third set tiebreak. Coric hasn’t been great on clay recently, but he did make the quarters in Madrid last year through qualifying. He should make life tough on PCB in round one.

Robin Haase/Hyeon Chung
The winner of his first round match takes on 8th seed David Goffin. Goffin has turned his season back in the right direction since returning from the eye injury, but both Haase and Chung have some success against him. Haase has beaten him on clay, the only win for the Dutch in four tries. Chung is 1-2 with no meetings on clay. Either way, I think Goffin will be in for a battle in his opener. I do think he probably squeaks by, but I wouldn’t be surprised either if he was taken out.

Kei Nishikori
Normally this would be a semifinal or finals match-up, but with Nishikori and Novak Djokovic both looking to recapture their best – we get this in round one! Despite an 11-2 lead for the Serb, I think this is a tough match-up for him. Djokovic hasn’t lost to Nishikori since the famous 2014 U.S. Open win for Nishikori, but this is probably the worst form he’s had in that same span. Their last meeting was a walkover win for the Serb in 2017. Nishikori had wrist trouble again in Barcelona that forced his withdrawal, so this truly is a battle of attrition that seems very hard to predict.

Benoit Paire
Paire faces off against Lucas Pouille who has not lost to his countryman in three career matches, yet looks like a shaky favorite in this opener. Pouille has lost his opener in three straight tournaments and is just 1-2 in his career in Madrid. Paire has had some back problems and perhaps has little chance here, but Pouille needs to prove he can win again before I trust him not to choke in his opener.

Guillermo Garcia-Lopez/Ryan Harrison
The winner of this first rounder gets #7 John Isner in round two. Isner has not played since early April in Houston, when he lost in the quarters to Steve Johnson. Isner is also returning to Madrid for the first time since 2015. Both Garcia-Lopez and Harrison have wins over Isner on their resume with Harrison beating his fellow American two of the last three meetings. Harrison is 5-0 against GGL and would be the tougher out to me. A rusty Isner whose matches often hinge on a few key points could be prone to the upset.

Pablo Cuevas
An easy inclusion on the list this week as he goes against #12 Jack Sock in round one. Sock is just 4-7 this season, but has avoided an opening match loss since Acapulco. Cuevas however is a tough customer on dirt, but he’s only 1-2 in the Euro swing after making a couple of quarterfinals during the South American clay swing early in the year. Cuevas did make the semifinals in Madrid last year though, so he’s a threat.

Leonardo Mayer
Mayer starts with 15th seed Fabio Fognini. The Italian has a 3-1 mark against the Argentine, but Mayer won against him for the first time in straight sets in Buenos Aires this year. Fognini is just 4-9 at this event and looked really poor in his loss to Jan-Lennard Struff when he last saw him in Monte Carlo. I think Mayer has a solid shot to get the win.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
(1) Rafael Nadal: 47-10 (5x Winner)
(5) Dominic Thiem: 6-2
(9) Pablo Carreno Busta: 1-3
(12) Diego Schwartzman: 1-1

There is some interest early in Nadal’s half with Gael Monfils as a possible second round opponent. Monfils has been struggling with a back problem for months, but did return to the court last week in Munich. La Monf is 2-13 against Nadal, last beating him in 2009. I don’t expect that will change, but it could be a good litmus test for both Rafa and Monfils who is desperate for some form. Otherwise, Nadal looks locked into a quarterfinal berth at minimum with Schwartzman as the only seed in his way. Schwartzman would do well to get to a meeting with Nadal with a tricky match against Mannarino to start and then either Pablo Andujar or Feliciano Lopez in round two.

The bottom half provides a bit more competition with Thiem and Carreno Busta. Thiem should be 100 percent finally after working back from the Miami ankle injury. He made the quarters in both Monte Carlo and Barcelona upon returning, but was really outclassed in both losses. One to Nadal, the other to Stefanos Tsitsipas. Carreno Busta as laid out in The Eliminati will be up against it to start against Borna Coric. The survivor there takes on either Struff or qualifier Marius Copil. Thiem gets Mischa Zverev or Federico Delbonis in his opener.
Thiem will feel comfortable against either with a 5-0 record against PCB and a beatdown of Coric 6-1, 6-4 in Madrid last year.

The Pig-nosticator

This looks primed for another Nadal-Thiem clash in the quarterfinals. The problem of course is that Rafa has clubbed the Austrian the last two times they have played since Thiem beat the Spaniard on clay in Rome last year. That was the last time that Rafa lost on clay and I’m sure he’ll remember that again in this spot.

Rafael Nadal

Diego Schwartzman
Pablo Carreno Busta

Quarter #2 Seeds
(4) Juan Martin Del Potro: 14-6
(6) Kevin Anderson: 5-7
(11) Roberto Bautista Agut: 8-4
(14) Tomas Berdych: 23-13

Berdych is out on day one courtesy of Richard Gasquet. The means Del Potro has no seeds to go through to get to the quarterfinals. DelPo starts with Julien Benneteau or Damir Dzumhur. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Tower of Tandil struggled a little against either with plenty of rust to shake off. A win would get Del Potro into position to face Gasquet or possibly Karen Khachanov. Khachanov faces Dusan Lajovic in round one. Lajovic beat Khachanov on clay two years ago, but Khachanov is in better form now and more mature. Del Potro will have his chance against any of that group with Gasquet 1-6 against him and Khachanov 0-2. Gasquet looms to me as the dark horse with decent current form.

In the other half, Bautista Agut opens against Jared Donaldson. The winner gets either Munich finalist Philipp Kohlschreiber or Yuichi Sugita. Given Sugita’s lack of clay court success, Kohlschreiber is more likely. Kohlschreiber just beat RBA in Munich, but was 0-2 against him before getting the home boost. RBA may pay him back quickly if that match-up happens again. Anderson should have every chance to be in position to make the quarters with either Mikhail Kukushkin or Roberto Carballes Baena awaiting in round two. Anderson got to shake off the rust in Estoril, although he did lose to an in-form Tsitsipas. Still, this is a great early draw for him.

The Pig-nosticator

I think the expectations for Del Potro should remain modest this week. Sure, he could hit the ground running and find form right away – but chances are he will be rusty. I think that opens the door for someone like Anderson or Bautista Agut in this quarter. RBA is 1-0 against Anderson, but they have not met since 2013. An unseeded player has made the semifinals twice in the past four years in Madrid, so if you’re thinking along those lines – Kohlschreiber and Khachanov could fill that bill.

Roberto Bautista Agut


Quarter #3 Seeds
(3) Grigor Dimitrov: 9-5
(8) David Goffin: 4-4
(10) Novak Djokovic: 23-7 (2x Winner)
(15) Lucas Pouille: 1-2

The obvious form goes to both Dimitrov and Goffin heading into this one. Dimitrov made the semis in Monte Carlo and then followed that up with a quarterfinal run in Barcelona. Having struggled at times on dirt, this is good news for him heading to Madrid. There is a chance that he could face Milos Raonic in his opener. The Canadian returns this week after withdrawing a few weeks ago in Monte Carlo due to a knee injury. He gets qualifier Nicolas Kicker to begin. If he wins, he’ll try to reverse a 1-3 mark against Dimitrov. I touched in Pouille playing Paire to open. The winning Frenchman from tha encounter takes on Denis Shapovalov, who beat Tennys Sandgren on Sunday. It’s another week where I feel dirty saying it, but this draw falls well for Dimitrov.

The other half features Goffin and Djokovic as the seeds. Goffin will have a challenge in his opener with either Haase or Chung. Chung may be ready to step it back up a notch after returning from an ankle injury this past week. He got two dominant wins in Munich before Sascha Zverev beat him in an error-filled performance by the Korean. Djokovic vs Nishikori will be an intriguing opener. Both need the win for their confidence. Both have plenty of questions. Nishikori’s is more physical after he pulled out of Barcelona with a wrist problem. He has said the extra spin needed on clay puts more wear on his surgically repaired wrist. Djokovic should have a shot to get a win. The second round could be more dangerous with either Daniil Medvedev or Kyle Edmund up next.

The Pig-nosticator

Dimitrov would probably love nothing more than getting a crack at Goffin whom he is 7-1 against in their careers. There really isn’t a terrible match-up for him in this quarter gives the current form and health questions of the contenders, unless this is the week that Djokovic finally puts somethings together. Dimitrov has lost six of seven to the Serb, but that one win was in Madrid in 2013. If we’re looking for those sneaky unseeded players, the obvious ones to monitor are Chung and Nishikori.

Grigor Dimitrov

Lucas Pouille

Quarter #4 Seeds
(2) Alexander Zverev: 3-1
(7) John Isner: 9-6
(12) Jack Sock: 3-3
(15) Fabio Fognini: 4-9

This quarter looks top heavy with Zverev arriving with a title on clay in his back pocket, while the rest of the seeds have done little on the surface this season. The big plus for Zverev in this quarter is that there isn’t a player who is going to challenge him to alter his usual playing style. He could open against Tsitsipas, which would be a nice young guns type battle. The Greek however may be running on fumes after two long weeks of play. That may give Evgeny Donskoy an edge in round one. Either way, Zverev should be in round three with Fognini seeded to meet him. I’m not sure that happens. Leonardo Mayer could do some Eliminati stuff to the Italian in round one and if not, Fernando Verdasco may be up in round two. Verdasco beat Fognini on clay earlier this year and also owns a 4-0 mark against Mayer. He could be the unseeded player to watch in this half.

In the other half, it’s the two Americans leading the charge. Both may not make much of their week in Madrid though with Isner drawing either Garcia-Lopez or Harrison in his opener. Sock is in for a rough one potentially against Cuevas. I would not be surprised if both were one and done this week. Should Isner survive, I’d favor him to make more of a run. Sock would still potentially have to get past Albert Ramos-Vinolas in round two. ARV beat Sock in five at the French Open two years ago. This looks like a rather open section of the draw where Cuevas and Ramos-Vinolas could be the unseeded party crashers. Cuevas gets the nod as the bigger threat.

The Pig-nosticator

Zverev is the form player, but there are some interesting opponents that he could draw in this quarter. I do like Sascha early to continue that roll from Munich, but late he could run into trouble oddly enough – if the American seeds don’t take care of business. Cuevas is the dark horse without a doubt.

Alexander Zverev

Jack Sock


Once more, I think we’re into the mode of who plays Nadal in the final as the real intrigue to the week. Zverev and Dimitrov should both have a path to getting there, it’s on them to see who takes better advantage. I think Zverev’s early matches are a a shade easier and Dimitrov does have some potential pitfalls if some players find their best in his quarter. It’s been nothing but top eight seeds in the finals in Madrid the last three years. 2014 was the last time a double digit seed made it with 10th seed Kei Nishikori doing the trick.

I don’t see any double digit seeds I believe in to make that call, but keep those eyes firmly on Pablo Cuevas if he gets out of round one against Sock. Not only is Cuevas a semifinalist from a year ago, he’s also beaten Zverev on clay in the past year. Madrid has never seen an unseeded finalist since the switch to clay in 2009. This could be a year to change that with Cuevas and names like Chung and Nishikori in that bottom half that could shake things up. When the week closes though, I think the only big question regarding Nadal is whether or not his successive sets win streak is still intact. At this point, taking a set off of Nadal on dirt is quite an accomplishment.

I’m going out on a small limb to say that does indeed happen this week, but Rafa gets to the winner’s circle next Sunday for yet another clay court title.