2017 Western & Southern Open Final Preview: Grigor Dimitrov vs Nick Kyrgios

NKDIMITROVWSO17

Two enter, only one shall leave as champion. It’s golden opportunity for Grigor Dimitrov and Nick Kyrgios today when they meet in the Western & Southern Open final. Both are contesting their first Masters-level final with Dimitrov winning their lone meeting before today in three sets at Indian Wells in 2015.

(7) Grigor Dimitrov vs Nick Kyrgios

Upsets and withdrawals have led to an unexpected final in Cincinnati on Sunday, but about as good as organizers could have hoped for given the field that was left. Dimitrov followed up a semifinal run in 2016 with a trip to the finals this year and he’s done it with solid serving and timely tennis. Both those things were on display on Saturday as Dimitrov topped John Isner 7-6 (4), 7-6 (10) in the semifinals. The 7th seed won 83 percent of his first serve points and saved both break chances against his serve. He popped ten aces and also posted a stout 63 percent win rate on second serve. Dimitrov did not break Isner, but if there’s probably not much better preparation for facing Kyrgios’ bullet serve than seeing Isner’s rockets yesterday.

As for Kyrgios, he followed up his upset of top seeded Rafael Nadal with a pesky 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) win over a rejuvenated David Ferrer. Kyrgios was nearly flawless on his first serve, taking 43 of 48 points. He had a small struggle on second serve, taking just 62 percent of the points. He smashed 14 aces to offset four double faults. Kyrgios was not broken on three chances against his serve. Surprisingly, it was the first match since his opener against David Goffin where Kyrgios was not broken in Cincy this week.

Tournament Tally

For the week, Dimitrov has produced some of his best serving of the season. The big thing for him has been consistency and that has led him to being broken just one time on ten chances. His win rate on first serve is averaging right at 83 percent. It would be in the upper 80s if not for a pedestrian 73 percent win rate against Juan Martin Del Potro. Otherwise, Dimitrov has been consistently winning over 80 percent on his first serve. His second hasn’t looked much worse, winning no less than 63 percent of the points in any match. Dimitrov has also gotten his fair share of freebies with 36 aces.

Kyrgios has been broken three times on 15 chances, an average of just three break points against through five matches this week. Kyrgios has been nearly unstoppable with his first serve in rhythm this week. He’s winning right at 88 percent off his first serve this week. His second has been just as good, winning over 70 percent of the points in four of his five matches. NK’s last match against Ferrer was his worst with his second serve, taking just 52 percent of the points. Kyrgios has 57 aces for the week, an average of just over ten per match.

Match Tactics

Kyrgios wants to play at lightning speed. Serve big, get cheap points, rinse and repeat. Don’t be surprised to see Dimitrov try to slow the tempo some in an effort to upset Kyrgios’ rhythm and timing. If Kyrgios gets into that quick and aggressive rhythm on serve early and keeps it, he’ll be nearly impossible to break and less likely to lose. Dimitrov’s mentality won’t change much if any from his semifinal against Isner. He will know that a lot of balls are going to fly past him on serve. He has to move on and set up for the next ball. Kyrgios will want to continue to place the ball with speed and accuracy, so that when Dimitrov does get a return, the next ball is an easy put away for the Aussie with the Bulgarian in bad court position off the return.

Dimitrov won’t get as many free points as Kyrgios, but he can be just as effective on serve and will need to be. Placement is a key for the Bulgarian and you’d expect him to target the backhand return of NK more often. When he goes out wide to the forehand side, Dimitrov will need to put enough mustard on his serve to take Kyrgios into an off-balance position. That will in turn allow Dimitrov control of the court and the option to make Kyrgios run. Off the ground, Kyrgios obviously wants to nail that forehand as many times as often. His backhand is adequate, but a bit more of a set-up shot than a finisher. Dimitrov can finish can use his one hander off the backhand side equally to finish and set up shots.

If there are longer ground rallies, Dimitrov should feel better about his variety winning out. I think a key for Dimitrov as always is being aggressive and decisive off the ground. When he doesn’t overthink shots, he’s much more lethal and will cause more trouble for Kyrgios. Given Kyrgios’ pace of play, things could work to Dimitrov’s advantage in that regard. Look for Kyrgios to continue to hit big and go for winner as he’s done all week. Errors will come, but he’ll hope he again has more winners in his bag.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Their match at Indian Wells in 2015 was an interesting one where Kyrgios twisted an ankle late in the third set. NK said it definitely effected him as he was broken for the only time after that happened. Dimitrov would pull out the win 7-6 (2), 4-6, 7-6 (4). That match could be plenty of what we see today with few break chances and one or two breaks of serve perhaps making the difference in the match. Dimitrov has two title wins this year, while Kyrgios is playing his first final since Tokyo last fall.

NK has proven to be very tough in finals at 3-1, while Dimitrov is 6-5 overall in ATP finals. While Dimitrov did have good practice for Kyrgios’ serve against Isner, I wonder if he can replicate the tense mindset of knowing that one break is deadly. Kyrgios has played his best stretch of tennis for the season and has been engaged and focused – at least as much as you can expect from him. This truly to me is about as much of a 50-50 match as you can find right now on tour. I’ll give the slight edge to Kyrgios in this one, where Dimitrov might not do much wrong, but still fall on the wrong side of the result.

Prediction: Kyrgios wins in straight sets

2017 Western & Southern Open R3 Preview: Grigor Dimitrov vs Juan Martin Del Potro

DIMITROVDELPOCINCY17

Juan Martin Del Potro looks to continue his mastery of Grigor Dimitrov as they meet in the third round at the Western & Southern Open. DelPo has beaten Dimitrov five out of five, including earlier this year on clay in Rome.

(7) Grigor Dimitrov vs Juan Martin Del Potro

Dimitrov scored a 7-6 (5), 6-4 win over Feliciano Lopez ot start his campaign in Cincinnati on Wednesday. The 7th seed had an outstanding serve working with eleven aces overall as he took 85 percent of the points played off his first serve. He would save all three break points against his serve. Dimitrov secured the lone break of the match early in set two, the only time he broke Lopez on six chances. The win was Dimitrov’s second straight over Lopez in this same tournament, where Dimitrov barely survived their second round encounter last year in a third set tiebreak.

Del Potro had a relatively smooth second round match over qualifier Mitchell Krueger. DelPo edged the American 6-4, 6-4. He was forced to save five break chances in the match and came through each time with flying colors. Del Potro would win 77 percent of the points on his first serve and a stout 62 percent off his second serve. He was not as overpowering as he was at times against Tomas Berdych in his opener in Cincy, where he won 3-6, 7-6 (1), 6-0. DelPo blasted 18 aces in that match and won 88 percent off his first serve.

Dimitrov’s Dilemma

There’s an obvious gap when you face a player five times and win just two sets off of him. Such is the case for Dimitrov against Del Potro. He won just his second set off the Argentine in their Rome meeting this season, but fell 3-6, 6-2, 6-3. They played twice last year with DelPo prevailing in straight sets once indoors on a hard surface and once on grass. The other two meetings came indoors in 2013 with JMDP winning in straights both times.

The major class gap seems to come on serve, where Dimitrov is routinely allowing twice as many break opportunities as DelPo in these head-to-head meetings. In Rome, Del Potro saw eleven break chances and cashed in four times. Dimitrov saw just five break opportunities and secured two breaks overall. DelPo’s first serve has been a difference maker as well in the last three matches with JMDP scoring at least an eleven percent higher win rate on 1st serve points in each match.

This seems to be a recurring theme with Dimitrov when he goes up against a better class of player, especially ones who possess big fire power like the Argentine. He simply has trouble more often than not matching the pressure of staying serve for serve with his opponent. The Lopez match on Wednesday was a step in the right direction, but now he needs to show consistency on serve in this one as well.

Match Tactics

Serve is obviously a big part of the equation in this one. The surface in Cincinnati is conducive to adding some speed to the ball and Dimitrov has actually had some of his better serving days here in the last few years. Last year’s semifinal run by the Bulgarian saw him winning 76 percent of better of his first serve points through three rounds, before he faltered in the semifinals against Marin Cilic at 67 percent. In 2015, he won 84 percent of his first serve points in his first two matches before expectedly seeing lower against Andy Murray in the quarterfinals. He still had a 71 percent first serve win rate in that loss, a respectable number against the Scot.

So there could be some hope for Dimitrov despite the lopsided numbers as this one takes place. Del Potro has still been very inconsistent from match to match with his numbers taking a bit of a dip against Krueger last round after a mostly solid start to finish against Berdych in round one. The wrist still bugs DelPo now and again, so that is expected and just something he’s having to live with at this point. Del Potro has dished out five break chances in each of his matches so far this week. Dimitrov may be able to produce a bit better on his serve and see an extra chance or two off Del Potro’s, which might make serve close to even on this surface.

On return, Del Potro likes to set up deep beyond the baseline and he’s used that tactic against Dimitrov to help him craft points well. It affords him the opportunity to try and use his wing span to help cover the court and get to more forehands. With the quicker conditions in Cincy, Dimitrov might do more damage if he keeps an aggressive mind set and also isn’t afraid to drop in some short shots to push DelPo to come to net. I would expect a similar stance from Dimitrov on return in playing deep to try to get his racquet on Del Potro’s big first serve. The player who is able to find better success from deep will certainly have a leg up in this battle.

Off the ground, there’s still no secret that Del Potro wants to wallop that forehand every chance he gets. He’s integrated a backhand slice to help him run around more forehands and has grown a bit more comfortable doing it. He’ll still hit the double hander too, but it just doesn’t pack the same punch it did before all of his wrist issues. As for Dimitrov, the challenge always seems to be picking the right weapon to finish off points. He has plenty, but often isn’t aggressive enough at finishing points for my liking. Against an aggressive player like Del Potro, he has to be quick and decisive with his ground strokes.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

I think Dimitrov has to be willing to change up his tactics in this match. Coming in some would be a good change and force DelPo to show his north-south movement. I think DelPo is much better east-west, especially along the baseline. If Dimitrov gets too comfortable with keeping this as a baseline to baseline battle, then Del Potro is going to have the chance to dictate points the way he wants it. Both players have been pretty unpredictable this summer with DelPo riding the roller coaster of highs and lows more so than Dimitrov. Dimitrov simply has had more lows since his hot start to the season with very few highs.

This is a huge opportunity for both players with their quarter really opening up when Federer withdrew due to injury. The bottom half is open even more with Alexander Zverev dismissed on Wednesday. The winner here is going to be looked at as the favorite perhaps to get to the final and both definitely need that confidence booster ahead of the U.S. Open. No result would surprise here and for some reason, my gut is leaning to Dimitrov breaking through in this spot. Could be gas, but I’ll trust the gut.

Prediction: Dimitrov wins in three sets

2017 Western & Southern Open Preview

WSO17INGRID

Questions Among the Top Four Seeds

The U.S. Open hard court series hits its high note this week as the tour stops in Cincinnati for the Western & Southern Open. For many, this is the final tuneup before the U.S. Open. The new week arrives with new questions. We thought the biggest would be how Rafael Nadal bounced back after his shock loss to Denis Shapovalov in Montreal last week. Now, even with Alexander Zverev as the biggest story – the key question is how healthy is Roger Federer? Zverev truly played some of his best tennis and was a deserving winner in the Rogers Cup final on Sunday. However, there was little doubt that Federer seemed tight and not-so-fluid in the second set. Many observers believe the Swiss tweaked his back at some point with the focus on his change in service motion from set one to set two. Federer was typically mum after the match, so it remains to be seen what his status will be for this week.

As for the man who is the current main attraction on the ATP World Tour in Sascha Zverev, he arrives on a ten match winning streak and with plenty of confidence. The key for Sascha this week as was the case in Montreal is balance. Winning your second Masters title and beating Federer will obviously have him on an emotional high, so it’s big if he can prove again that he can come off that feeling and continue his run of great play. Zverev will serve as the fourth seed in Cincy behind Nadal, Federer and Dominic Thiem. Thiem himself will have something to prove with a 1-2 mark for his summer swing on hard courts. His loss to Diego Schwartzman in his opener last week in Montreal will be particularly troubling. The Austrian will want to gain some momentum this week.

Number One Ranking in Sight for Nadal or Federer

As for Nadal, he’ll look to shake off the disappointment of last week and focus on recapturing form at the Western & Southern Open with an eye on the top spot in the rankings. From the sounds of his comments after losing to Shapovalov in Montreal, one wouldn’t be wrong in thinking he fully expected to be in that spot entering the week. Instead, he’s still just behind Andy Murray at #2 by just 195 points. With Murray out this week again due to injury, Rafa can regain the top spot for the first time since 2014 if the chips fall right for him. Federer also has plenty to say about that if healthy enough to compete. Rafa lost in the round of 16 last year, so has plenty of points to gain with each win after that round. Federer did not play Cincinnati at all in 2016 due to injury, so will have nothing but points to gain with each win.

Seeded Field Struggling

If we’re honest, most of the seeded field in Cincinnati not named Sascha Zverev will be looking to establish a rhythm and find their best form this week. One player we won’t see is Kei NIshikori, who pulled out with a wrist injury. Nishikori has been set to be seeded fifth, a slot that will now go to lucky loser Janko Tipsarevic. Sixth seed Milos Raonic arrives off an injury concern last week in Montreal where he lost his opening match. He revealed after that he had played through some pain in his left wrist. The Canadian does not believe it to be a long term issue. What has been an issue for Raonic is his uneven play. He is a two-time semifinalist at this tournament, making that round last year.

The seventh seed this week is Grigor Dimitrov who has become the poster child for struggling on tour. Last week showcased that again as he beat Mischa Zverev in his opener before losing to Robin Haase going away 7-6, 4-6, 6-1. Dimitrov did have his best run here last year in making the semifinals, scoring four of his nine career wins in Cincinnati in that stretch. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (8) comes to the midwest with a poor record at this event (2-5) and just one match since Wimbledon. That was last week’s three set loss to Sam Querrey at the Rogers Cup.

David Goffin slots in as the 9th seed and another player who has been rough around the edges of late. The Belgian returned to tour in late July after missing time with an ankle injury. He is 3-3 since returning with his losses coming to unexpected sources like Ivan Dodig, Robin Haase and Hyeon Chung. Goffin is 5-3 in his career in Cincy, never making it past the round of 16. Tomas Berdych rounds out the top ten seeds. The Czech pulled out of Montreal last week with a rib injury or perhaps due to his lengthy run in Los Cabos the week prior. He made the final in Mexico, where he lost to Thanasi Kokkinakis in a grueling three set match.Berdych is 18-12 all-time at this tournament with semifinal runs in 2011 and 2013.

The last part of the seeded field includes Pablo Carreno Busta, Roberto Bautista Agut and a glut of Americans. The American contingent has the most history here. That includes 14th seed John Isner who won his Sunday opener against Viktor Troicki in straight sets. Isner has not done well since making the final in 2013. Since then, he has failed to get past the second round in two of the past three years. Sam Querrey (15) is 10-10 in Cincy, but has also not been past round two in the last six years. The final seed, Gilles Muller, won his opener on Sunday against Ryan Harrison in three sets. It was his first victory in just two career matches at this event.

Early Bird Specials

Last year was the lowest number of first-up upsets in Cincinnati a good bit. Only two seeds lost their openers last year. Prior to that, four seeds lost first-up in 2015, three in 2014 and six in 2013. Interestingly, a top eight seed has not lost their opener in Cincy since 2014. That could be up for a change this year with so many in this seeded field short on form and results of late. Let’s take a look at the players who could be most likely to struggle early.

3. Dominic Thiem
An intriguing opponent awaits Thiem either way the first round match between Fabio Fognini and Daniil Medvedev shakes down. Medvedev was unable to get off the ground in Montreal last week after his surprise run to the quarterfinals the week before in D.C. Fognini has a good run on clay after Wimbledon with a title in Gstaad. He did make a shock run to the quarterfinals in 2014 in Cincinnati, but has lost his first match each of the last two years. Thiem whipped Fognini in their lone career meeting on clay back in 2015 and he’s never played Medvedev. Both Fognini and Medvedev can play that smash and grab style on hard courts, so both can pose problems for Thiem and both can be overwhelmed when they are not hitting their spots. Keep the upset alert button handy in any case.

6. Milos Raonic
Keeping the Canadian here simply because we’re not sure what percentage that wrist is going to be at to start this week. He’ll face either Nikoloz Basilashvili or Borna Coric. Raonic is 1-0 against both, but consider Coric a possible trouble spot for the Canadian. Coric has taken to these courts well in two previous trips with wins over Alexander Zverev (2015) and then Nadal and Kyrgios last year. With Raonic up and down this year, there’s every reason to believe that match could be very tight.

7. Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov is a regular on this list and why not? He has stretched his streak of non first-up losses to four straight tournaments now, but he’s been pushed to three sets both in DC and Montreal in his first match before losing in the next round. He has lost his first-up match in five tournaments this year. Dimitrov gets Feliciano Lopez or Hyeon Chung to open this week. Lopez is 2-2 against Dimitrov, including a win on grass this year and a three set loss last year in Cincy in a third set tiebreak. Chung played well against Dimitrov in a four set loss at the Australian Open. Chung beat Lopez last week in Montreal, so it will be an intriguing first round clash that could lead to an even more intriguing second round match.

8. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsonga wasn’t done any favors with his draw. He is going to face the winner of Ivo Karlovic vs Jiri Vesely. Tsonga would probably prefer Vesely who he beat in a strenuous four set Davis Cup win on hard courts in 2016. Karlovic is 2-1 against the Frenchman with both wins coming on grass at Wimbledon. The plus for Tsonga is neither arrives with much done on this surface lately. Vesely has beaten Karlovic twice, but the last meeting came in 2015 at the U.S. Open. Either player is definitely capable of giving Tsonga fits with their power, especially considering Tsonga’s poor record here.

9. David Goffin
An easy inclusion on this list even if his first round opponent is about as trustworthy as a politician. Goffin faces Nick Kyrgios to start. The Aussie did put together two wins in a row in Montreal last week, his best showing since Madrid way back in May. His performance against Alexander Zverev in his loss was less than inspiring, but he at least showed some mobility and his shoulder held up. Does that mean he holds up this week? Of course not. He has beaten Goffin both times they have played in the past though with the last coming in Miami earlier this season when the Belgian was playing reasonably well. With the quick conditions in Cincy, Kyrgios will be a big bother for Goffin – IF he cares to be. That is the question.

10, Tomas Berdych
Berdych draws the first round Juan Martin Del Potro short stick this week. DelPo was up and down again last week. Looking decent in a win against John Isner in Montreal before looking very flat against Denis Shapovalov in the next round. He is 4-3 against Berdych. The Berdman has won both of their meetings on this surface, including the last at Indian Wells last season. With Berdych’s status unknown with the rib and DelPo always seemingly unknown with the wrist, this really looks 50-50.

12. Roberto Bautista Agut
RBA faces off against Jared Donaldson who brings some confidence to Cincy after back-to-back third round runs in D.C. and Montreal. The Spaniard was solid in his own right last week with a quarterfinal run at the Rogers Cup, where he lost to Federer 6-4, 6-4. RBA is just 2-3 at this event however and lost in round one to Nicolas Mahut last year. JD is 2-2 at this event in two career trips and he took Stan Wawrinka to three sets in a loss last year. If he finds his serve early, he’s a threat to upset.

Outsider’s Edge

Cincinnati has been a regular haven for outsiders the past five years with an unseeded player crashing the semifinals each year. That includes John Isner’s 2013 finals appearance as an outsider. With some of the questions surrounding this week’s seeded field, there could definitely be room for a new addition to the outsider’s club at the Western & Southern Open. Let’s take a look at some possibilities.

Nadal’s Quarter
There are too many unseeded possibilities in this quarter to list them individually. Yes, Nadal will be expecting to make a big run here, but he’s lost in the round of 16 each of his last two trips to the midwest. In this quarter, there is Nick Kyrgios, Kevin Anderson, Alexandr Dolgpolov, Ivo Karlovic and Jiri Vesely. Kyrgios, Dolgopolov and Anderson would have to go through each other in round two in some combination, but could benefit from having Tsonga and Goffin as the lead seeds in that half of the quarter. That would keep them away from Nadal longer if the Spaniard is able to make a run. Anderson probably carries the best form, but is 0-4 against Nadal. He might need help to get through to the semifinals out of this group.

Steve Johnson/David Ferrer
Johnson continues to ride the roller coaster from week to week and he gets another tough opener with David Ferrer. Ferrer scored two of his best wins this season last week at the Rogers Cup against Kyle Edmund and Jack Sock. He also took a set off of Federer before losing in three sets. The winner of their first round match gets to take advantage of Nishikori’s injury withdraw in round two. Ferrer is 2-0 against Johnson and perhaps arriving with the most confidence he has had in a long time. The winner would only have Carreno Busta seeded in their way to the quarterfinals and Thiem or Querrey as the possible seed blocking a semifinal. It’s a weaker draw that could open up nicely.

Fabio Fognini/Daniil Medvedev
The winner of their first round clash will have to beat Thiem in round two, but that’s not an unimaginable task right now on this surface. A couple wins and they could be in the driver’s seat for a quarterfinal run or better.

Gael Monfils
The Frenchman scored wins over Johnson and Nishikori last week to boost his confidence. He lost a tough three set match to Bautista Agut in round three in a third set tiebreak, but appears to be trending upward. He’s in the quarter with Zverev and Raonic as the top seeds. His half could be easier to at least push to the quarterfinals as La Monf is 3-3 against Raonic and had beaten RBA three straight before last week’s loss.

Karen Khachanov
The Russian’s potential this week would hinge on Federer’s status. Khachanov opens against Diego Schwartzman in round one. Schwartzman did beat him in Miami this year in three sets, but the quicker conditions in Cincy could help the Russian in this one. The winner would meet Federer in round two if the Swiss is able to go. Khachanov lost to Fed 6-4, 7-6 in Halle this year and proved he can stick with him in quick conditions. If things fall right, he would likely only need to get past Sock to get to the quarters. Then, it’s Dimitrov and Berdych as the highest seeds in the other part of the quarter to block a semifinal berth. It’s a long shot sure, but there is potential depending on what happens with Federer.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (1)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (8)
David Goffin (9)
Gilles Muller (16)

Breakdown
Nadal’s route to the quarterfinals could run through Muller, a repeat of their five set classic at Wimbledon this year. Muller has taken a set off of Rafa in their last two meetings and likely would provide another stiff test. Nadal will face Richard Gasquet or John Parick Smith to start. He is 14-0 against Gasquet and will likely feel comfortable in either case. Muller would need to get past Mikhail Youzhny or Albert Ramos-Vinolas in round two to make that rematch come true.

In the bottom half, Goffin and Tsonga are shaky seeds. Kevin Anderson could be the one to take advantage in this part of the draw if he gets past Dolgopolov to begin. Anderson made the Citi Open final and then followed up with a quarterfinal run last week. There is no Sascha Zverev in his way this week, so if he’s not fatigued, watch out for him again. I’d favor Tsonga over Goffin as far as the seed who could reasonably do better here.

For me, I think this quarter could boil down to the potential Nadal-Muller match in round three. Rafa will have confidence from getting those tough wins over the big lefty, but it also leaves this quarter the potential for someone other than Rafa to get through to the semis.

Quarter #2 Seeds
Dominic Thiem (3)
Pablo Carreno Busta (11)
Sam Querrey (15)

Breakdown
The departure of Nishikori in this quarter leaves room for some jostling in this quarter. Thiem is the lead seed, but far from a sure shot. His first match may be his toughest with either Fognini or Medvedev waiting. If the Austrian gets past that, he could get on a better roll. Querrey has a nice match-up in his half of the quarter to begin with Stefan Kozlov. His next match could be tougher with either Adrian Mannarino or Robin Haase as the foe. Mannarino is 2-0 against Querrey and Haase played very well in Montreal last week. I would not be surprised if this half of the quarter did fall to Thiem so long as he can get past his opener.

In the bottom half, Carreno Busta is the only seed with Janko Tipsarevic sliding into Nishikori’s slot. Carreno Busta could have a nice path with Paolo Lorenzi to open and then either Fernando Verdasco or Mischa Zverev. PCB is 1-1 against Zverev and 2-1 against Verdasco. Neither has been good of late on hard courts. Carreno Busta will have to overcome his lack of experience in this venue with just one career match, but he’s got the talent to make the run.

This quarter looks like it’s either Thiem or a total blowup with an unseeded player making their way through. Thiem has yet to master this Masters swing in his young career, so it’s not definite that he will this time around. Still, I do like him here if he gets past that opener. But that is a fairly large IF.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Alexander Zverev (4)
Milos Raonic (6)
Roberto Bautisra Agut (12)
John Isner (14)

Breakdown
All of a sudden, Zverev isn’t a future star – he’s a current star. This is sure to be a test for Sascha as one of the few players in the draw playing for a third straight week. No matter the form, that is a big ask for a player to continue to roll day after day. As usual in these situations, the first match could be the trickiest. Zverev faces either Frances Tiafoe or qualifier Maximillian Marterer. That will help alleviate some of the stress as both are inferior players to Sascha. He has already handled Tiafoe in straight sets twice at the Aussie Open and Wimbledon. Isner looks the larger threat from ending his run. Isner will need to get by Donald Young or Tommy Paul next round, but could be waiting for Zverev in round three. Sascha is 3-0 against Isner, including two wins this year, but Big John has taken a set off of him in each match. With a lot of mileage on Zverev, I would not be surprised if Isner ended Sascha’s win streak.

In the other half, Raonic arrives with the health question and is definitely a candidate for an early exit if the wrist is still bothersome. Coric, if he takes down Basilashvili in round one, could be the one to do it. Bautista Agut has the tough opener against Donaldson and then could face Monfils for a second straight week. This definitely looks like a part of the bracket that could see an unseeded player sneak through. Think Monfils or Donaldson, but Coric could also be a possibility with a good track record of playing tough in Cincy.

If Zverev can avoid burn out this week, you’d be a fool to bet against him as I did last week in Montreal. He’s the form player on tour the last few weeks and has proven it over and over. A healthy and in-form Raonic would obviously be tough here, but he’s neither coming into this week. If not Sascha, Bautista Agut is an interesting and under-the-radar seed to sneak into the mix. Monfils or Donaldson to me seems the likelier of the unseeded guys to surprise.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Roger Federer (2)
Grigor Dimitrov (7)
Tomas Berdych (10)
Jack Sock (13)

*See Updated thoughts below due to Federer announcing he would withdraw due to a back injury

Breakdown
The pluses for Federer this week are listed above. None of the seeds have been particularly consistent lately and none of them have traditionally bothered the Swiss. The big question for Fed is health. With the U.S. Open less than two weeks away, he’s going to be very careful not to overextend himself. Grand Slams are what it’s all about for the Swiss at this stage. Fed seemed to characterize his problems on Sunday as the aches and pains you would expect after being on vacation for a while and then playing a full week. To me, it sounds like he will give it a go in Cincy. If healthy, Federer has a good path to the quarters although Khachanov potentially in round two would be a tough out as laid out earlier. Sock has Yuichi Sugita to start and then may face Kyle Edmund in round two. Edmund smoked him in Atlanta.

In the other half, you have the enigma that is Dimitrov and the questionable status of Berdych. There are dangerous floaters like Del Potro, Benoit Paire, Feliciano Lopez and Hyeon Chung in this half as well. I trust Berdych more than Dimitrov since the Czech efforted well in Los Cabos. If he’s healthy, Berdych has a shot to get going if he can work past DelPo – that’s the big one for him early. This is pretty wide open with everyone here lacking consistency, so it’s really a pretty big guessing game as to who the quarterfinalist could be.

The hope will be that Federer’s body responds to a few days off and some treatment. If he bounces back, Cincy has always been pretty good to the Swiss. He is a seven time champ here after all. If he falters, it’s a big guessing game to the next best shot. I’d meagerly side with Berdych.

Federer’s withdrawal announcement on Monday gives everyone in this quarter some hope, albeit there are still many, many questions here. The winner of the R1 clash between Schwartzman and Khachanov is the immediate beneficiary with Thomas Fabbiano as their second round opponent instead of Federer. Jack Sock would be the seed to benefit the most, but his lackluster history in Cincy and uneven play this summer still makes him a big question. Kyle Edmund could be a quarterfinal sleeper in this part of the draw now, if he can get going early.

The other obvious duo to benefit by Federer’s exit are the other seeds in this quarter, Dimitrov and Berych, who both had poor records against the Swiss. Both have tough paths just to avoid early upsets though, so in all, this quarter now really looks like it is ripe for the taking by anyone who can get hot early. I still look to the winner of that Schwartzman-Khachanov match as a big player as to what shakes out in this quarter now.

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

Going into Montreal last week, it was all about Fedal. A Nadal loss to Shapovalov and Federer’s withdrawal changes that dynamic this week. Zverev is an obvious choice too, but as well as he’s playing, a third consecutive week of play is going to be a major challenge. Marin Cilic was a surprise winner in Cincinnati last year as the 12th seed and I could see Cincy falling to an unexpected name this year too. End of the day though, the motivation is there for Nadal especially this week and he’s in full health. I’ll give a small edge to him, but something weird in me (wine) says watch out for Thiem.

2017 Rogers Cup Preview

COUPEROGERS17

Resilient R’s Lead the Field

Injuries will deprive the crowd in Montreal from some of the top tier ATP stars this week, but few will probably care that much as 2017’s main attractions in Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will be playing at this year’s Rogers Cup. Novak Djokovic is done for 2017 with an elbow issue. Stan Wawrinka joined him this past week, by announcing he will skip the remainder of the season to have a procedure done to correct a knee injury. Also missing will be Andy Murray, who has battled hip problems the most in recent months. Marin Cilic is also out this week due to his foot injury suffered at Wimbledon. There is a lot missing, but there is Roger and there is Rafa. That’s enough for most this week.

Nadal comes in with the number seed this week and everyone talking his stalking of the number one overall spot with Djokovic and Murray losing points by the week. Nadal has enjoyed success at the Rogers Cup in both locations (Montreal/Toronto) with three titles, the last of which came in Montreal in 2013. This will be Rafa’s first trip back since 2015, when he was walloped in the quarterfinals by Kei NIshikori. Federer arrives up north with the possibility of ending a lengthy streak without a title at this event. The Swiss has won the title twice, but not since 2006. This is his first time playing the Rogers Cup since 2014 and first time back in Montreal since 2011. As if they need it, both should have plenty of motivation this week.

Rounding out the top four seeds are Dominic Thiem and new Citi Open champion Alexander Zverev. Both will look for their first win at the Rogers Cup with Thiem sporting an 0-3 career mark and Zverev at 0-1. Zverev will also be playing in Montreal for the first time, but obviously comes in red hot off the D.C. title. Falling in behind those two in the seeded field are Kei Nishikori as the fifth seed, Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to round out the top eight. Tsonga won the title in 2014 in Toronto, while Nishikori and Raonic have both been to the final one time. Nishikori did it last year in Toronto, while Raonic did the trick in Montreal in 2013. Both arrive with plenty of baggage this week after some mediocre tennis played in Washington, D.C.

Last Half of Seeds Have Plenty of Question Marks

There is plenty of intrigue and Scooby Doo face to go around in the final eight spots in the seeded field. David Goffin (9) is back on hard courts for the first time since the Spring. He’s looked sluggish on clay in his return from that ankle injury and will be seeking to find some form. John Isner is seeded 14th after skipping the Citi Open last week to rest after back-to-back titles in Newport and Atlanta. Isner is just 9-7 all-time at the Rogers Cup. Slotting in behind him is Jack Sock who made sure his mouth made more of a mark in D.C. than his play. In case you missed it, Sock called the Stadium Court surface at the Citi Open the “worst on tour”after he was routinely dismissed in straight sets by Kevin Anderson in the semifinals. It was the same court that Sock played on in each of his three wins up to that point last week.

And then there is 16th seed Nick Kyrgios. The same Nick Kyrgios who has retired from his last three matches on tour due to lingering shoulder and hip issues. That includes last week’s Citi Open, which begs the question as to exactly what the hell Kyrgios is doing stepping out on court this week? I’m confused and amazed that no one can give NK direction at this point. He’s obvious less than 100 percent and likely will play himself right out of the U.S. Open if he continues to try and struggle through his issues.

Early Bird Specials

Early upsets have been a part of this tournament whether it is held in Toronto or Montreal. Last year in Toronto, five seeds went down in their openers. The year before in 2015 in Montreal, five seeds also were dumped out – including third seed Stan Wawrinka. 2014 saw just two seeds lose first-up, but 2013 was on that familiar path with five seeded upsets. That year, the #3 seed David Ferrer was the highest seed to lose. If you trickle back to 2011 in Montreal, Nadal as the second seed was taken down early in his opener. There’s a bit of a history of a top seed going down early in Montreal, so let’s take a look at this week’s seeds who might be prone to that early exit.

4. Alexander Zverev
You’re probably scratching your head and asking how stupid is this guy? Yes, Zverev is coming off a great week in D.C. where he played some of his best tennis in recent memory. However, coming off the high of a title has been tricky for the youngster to handle. The D.C. win was his fourth title this season. In two of the three previous times he’s won a title this season, he’s been one and done in his next tournament. That makes this a dangerous spot. He will face Canadian wildcard Brayden Schnur or Richard Gasquet to start. Gasquet would be the obvious tougher out, but Sascha has beaten him twice this season already. I’d keep alert in this one, but if Sascha can keep his emotional level up, he may just survive the early upset bid.

5. Kei Nishikori
An incredibly bad draw for Nishikori with either Steve Johnson or Gael Monfils as his first opponent. Combine that with his iffy play in D.C. and you see why Kei is on upset alert. His game was definitely off at the Citi Open with his ground strokes very error prone. Neither Johnson or Monfils is in incredible great form. Johnson has lost his only two matches at the Rogers Cup, while Monfils made the semis last year in Toronto and has only lost his first-up at this event once in seven tries. Given Johnson’s collapse in D.C. and his continued emotional stress, Monfils could well be the opponent. Nishikori is 3-0 against La Monf, but all three have gone the distance. He’s 4-0 against Johnson, but given his fragile play last week, I’d keep Nishikori on upset alert early.

6. Milos Raonic
Raonic continued his baffling season in Washington, D.C. last week with more mediocrity as he won one and lost one, with Jack Sock taking him out in straight sets. He could be tasked with facing Daniil Medvedev in his first match. Medvedev was solid in a quarterfinal run in D.C. last week, but will need to beat Adrian Mannarino to start. If he does, Medvedev showed that he’s got the ability to match good players. Raonic’s serve and ground game is lacking consistency, so even though the Russian isn’t going to match the pure power of Raonic, he could easily stay in sets and steal them late.

8. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsonga could be pitted against his Wimbledon nemesis Sam Querrey in his opener in Montreal. Querrey has to get past qualifier Vincent Millot to start, but does have the confidence boost of winning the title in Los Cabos last week. If it is Tsonga vs Querrey, Tsonga still holds a 4-2 edge in the head-to-head, but Querrey did win their marathon five set match at Wimbledon the last time out. Tsonga had won three in a row against the American before that loss. Tsonga has usually played well here with a 16-4 record with his only early exit at the Rogers Cup coming when it was hosted in Toronto in 2012. Still, Tsonga has lost his first match in three of his last seven tournaments, so he’s far from a sure thing to advance.

9. David Goffin
With Goffin still searching for his best since returning the the ankle injury he suffered at the French Open, you have to watch out for him not being tip top in his opener. He faces Yuichi Sugita, which wouldn’t normally be a daunting task. In this spot though, Sugita could be troublesome. He lost a tough three set match to Grigor Dimitrov in a rare foray into Canada. He’s been off since Wimbledon, but is a decent hard court player who could push Goffin a bit.

11. Pablo Carreno Busta
PCB is an injury question after retiring from his last match in Bastad. A recurring abdominal injury took him out, the same one that kept him from playing any during the grass court swing. That sets him up poorly against big hitting Russian Karen Khachanov. Khachanov is still green at just 21 and he’s playing this North American swing on hard courts for the first time. He did win his 1st ATP title on an outdoor hard court in Chengdu last fall, so he’s full capable on the surface. PCB won their lone meeting, which came on clay in Monte Carlo. If the Spaniard tries giving it a go this week, I do fancy Khachanov having a good shot at scoring the scalp.

14. John Isner
Based on the match-up and the way Isner matches go, you have to have the American on the list of potential upset victims. He draws Juan Martin Del Potro to open with the Argentine holding a 5-2 record against him. The plus for Isner is that DelPo looked a bit worse for the wear in his D.C. loss to Nishikori. If Isner can find his rhythm again that carried him through Newport and Atlanta, I think he has a good shot to avoid the upset bug.

16. Nick Kyrgios
You would be daft not to include Kyrgios in a section focusing on early upset bids. Kyrgios has had a bevy of health issues this year and he’s been unable to complete a match in three straight tournaments. The physical issues seem to weigh on him mentally as soon as things go wrong in matches and he seems unable to tune out the pain or uncertainty of what his body can or cannot do. I’m not in the “know” here, but it is perplexing to me that someone who appears to be less than 100 percent is continuing to play week after week with the same results. Maybe he’s been told that he can’t do any further damage by playing, but it certainly appears to be damaging his psyche during matches. He opens against Viktor Troicki. We haven’t seen Troicki since he played just 17 minutes in his first round match at Wimbledon before retiring. So perhaps it will be a race of who retires first in their round one clash.

Outsider’s Edge

Unseeded players have a good history of deep runs recently at the Rogers Cup. In three of the last four years, an unseeded player has crashed the semifinals. They have also claimed two or more quarterfinal spots each year since 2012 and have had at least one quarterfinal spot occupied every year since 2010.

Let’s take a look at the non-seeds who could be capable of joining that group this week in Montreal.

Daniil Medvedev
The Russian is on this list again this week with a workable draw that could see him make an impact again. If he gets past Mannarino, he does have Raonic to contend with, but Milos obviously is much more beatable these days than in the past. If he can get past those two, it might be Goffin or an unseeded player in his path to a potential quarterfinal bid. Not impossible, but certainly he does have work to do.

Feliciano Lopez/Yuichi Sugita
A longshot here, but he’s also in this same quarter as Medvedev where there are a lot of questions. Lopez hasn’t been in a great vein of form this year, but opens against Hyeon Chung who has struggled to gain form after a long injury layoff. A win for Lopez and he could get Goffin or Sugita if the Japanese springs the upset. I’m not sold that Goffin is going to pull it all together with what he has shown so far in his return from injury, so there is a chance for someone to steal a quarterfinal spot. Heck, it could even be Sugita himself.

Richard Gasquet
Gasquet has a decent history at this tournament with a 19-8 career mark and a finals appearance in Toronto in 2012. This is his first trip back to Canada since 2014 and he hasn’t played since Wimbledon. Still, he could catch Alexander Zverev with his head still in the clouds after his DC title run this past week. That is who Gasquet will play in round two if he survives Schnur in his opener. Obviously an upset of Zverev and he’ll be keyed to get a quarterfinal spot or better. Keep in mind Kyrgios is also in this part of the quarter, so there are some openings possible for a big run from someone unexpected.

Sam Querrey
The Los Cabos champion will need to adjust his body clock quickly, but there is a path for him if he can do accomplish that feat. As laid out above, he would have to face Tsonga early, but if he gets by the Frenchman, his chances grow immensely. Only Carreno Busta or Khachanov might be in his path from that point on.

Kevin Anderson
Big Kev will have some increased confidence after his DC finals run, but will need to overcome the Championship Match loss hangover that we often see. Getting Dudi Sela first should help with that, although Sela has qualifying under his belt and is a tough out. Anderson’s serve should be too much though if he’s not fatigued. A win gets him either Carreno Busta or Khachanov. Then it could come down to Tsonga or Querrey to block his route to a third Rogers Cup quarterfinal. Working against him? His two quarterfinal appearances were both in Toronto and he’s 0-2 in his last two trips to Montreal.

Steve Johnson/Gael Monfils
The winner of their first round clash will be one to watch. They get Nishikori in round two and that would be the toughest opponent in their way to a deep run likely with Roberto Bautista Agut as the other seed blocking a quarterfinal run.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (1)
Milos Raonic (6)
David Goffin (9)
John Isner (14)

Breakdown
Even with a lot of down time, Nadal will surely like his draw in this quarter. Raonic has seen better days, Goffin has yet to find his best and Isner is 0-6 against the top seeded Spaniard. Those being his main competitors, Rafa should be looking to take care of business for the business end of the tournament. He will open against Borna Coric or Mikhail Youzhny. Coric does own two wins against Rafa, but came in tougher spots for the Spaniard. He was injured when they played the first time in Basel and obviously out of gas last year when Coric beat him in Cincinnati. That came just a few days after Nadal took the bronze at the Rio Olympics after several taxing three set matches. I would expect Rafa to be up for that one in a big way. Isner or Del Potro is likely to be in his path to a quarterfinal. I don’t think the current version of Del Potro is a bigger threat than Isner right now.

The bottom half of the quarter may wind up falling to Raonic, despite his mediocre form. The other seed in that half is Goffin and he has questions to answer before you expect anything from him on this surface. Goffin COULD rev things up certainly, but that’s a big ask right now. Raonic has always had trouble with Goffin (2-2), so he’d be happy to see him out before a potential round three match. I do think Medvedev is the danger to the seeds in this part with Raonic potentially his first scalp, but the Russian shouldn’t overlook round one opponent Adrian Mannarino.

Unless Nadal is woefully out of form after the layoff from Wimbledon, it’s hard to look part him in this quarter. With the top ranking in his sights, not to mention a realistic shot at the U.S. Open, expect Rafa to be focused this week.

Quarter #2 Seeds
Alexander Zverev (4)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (8)
Pablo Carreno Busta (11)
Nick Kyrgios (16)

Breakdown
This is a maturity moment for Zverev. Coming off a big title win, it’s time for the 20-year-old to show he is a consistent contender. I talked previously about his early ousters in two of the three tournaments he has played after winning his other titles this season and that is a worry. He is young, so there is that room for growth in that area. This is a perfect time to prove it in a quarter where he certainly is the form coming to Montreal. Kyrgios is the seed in his way to the quarterfinal and unless NK has been to a magic healer, it’s difficult to think his body will hold up long enough for him to be a big bother. I think the trickiest match for Zverev will be his first, especially if it’s a craft vet like Gasquet. Keep an eye on Frances Tiafoe in this half as well. He still is having trouble getting wins, but he’s so damn competitive in his losses that you feel like some day soon he’s going to take off. With Kyrgios in shaky health, Tiafoe might string together a couple wins here if he can get past Paolo Lorenzi in round one.

The bottom half of the quarter looks wide open. Tsonga has been a bit off his game of late and could face Sam Querrey early. Carreno Busta is an injury concern, which could open up this part of the draw to an unseeded player like Khachanov or Kevin Anderson. I really do think the seeds will fall in this part of the quarter with Anderson or Querrey as the form players looking most likely to run deep. Don’t discount Khachanov though if he can find a rhythm and get some confidence from knocking off Carreno Busta or even possibly an injury sub.

The easy answer here would be Zverev. I still hold back just a bit from that though with a slight question whether he’ll find that mental consistency needed to hit the reset button this week. If he can put DC in the rear view and get back to work proving his worth again, then he should be the one to get through this quarter. If not, then I really think this will be the spot where an unseeded player will keep that semifinal streak intact.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Dominic Thiem (3)
Grigor Dimitrov (7)
Tomas Berdych (10)
Lucas Pouille (13)

Breakdown
This shapes up as perhaps the most competitive quarter for me. Thiem didn’t look bad despite losing in his second match in DC last week. He simply could not find enough fire power to overcome Anderson’s power. This week, he’ll be charged with find a win at the Rogers Cup first. To break his 0-3 mark, he’ll have to beat Diego Schwartzman or Reilly Opelka. He may not fancy seeing another big server like Opelka across the net, but Opelka doesn’t have the ground game Anderson had to trouble Thiem as much. Pouille is the other seed in Thiem’s half and Pouille again will be needing to prove his worth on hard courts as well. He didn’t play poorly in DC, but lost to some super play from Tommy Paul. He faces Jared Donaldson to start, which won’t be easy. Donaldson does have a big game, but has had trouble stepping up in weight class. If Pouille survives, he could face another challenge with Donald Young or Benoit Paire possible in round two. Pouile does not want to see Young who has already beaten him twice this season in Indian Wells and Miami. An upset is certainly possible there if Young gets past Paire.

In the bottom half, it’s a pair of enigmas with Berdych and Dimitrov as the lead seeds. Dimitrov has a better draw to me with Mischa Zverev or Norbert Gambos up first. Zverev has had plenty of problems on hard courts outside of his miracle Melbourne run. Dimitrov has performed better when this tournament has been in Toronto, so it remains to be seen if he can get it done in Montreal. Berdych was okay in Los Cabos as he made the semifinals, but lost in three to Thanasa Kokkinakis. He won’t be too disappointed with that and opens with a winnable match against NIkoloz Basilashvili this week. A win would get him Albert Ramos Vinolas or Robin Haase. ARV has lost four of five and Haase hasn’t played much in this stretch prior to the U.S. Open in prior years. Berdych did lose to Haase in Dubai earlier this year outdoors though, so keep an eye out if that is the match-up.

Thiem could take advantage if Pouile is taken out earlier than expected. It would be big seeing as Pouille has taken both their career meetings. Thiem has split two meetings with Dimitrov this year with the Bulgarian taking the one one on a hard court in Brisbane. Berdych is 2-0 against Thiem, but this week’s third seed wasn’t far off beating him on grass at Wimbledon a couple months ago. A lot of guess work here. I’ll guess something weird like Dimitrov. Cue the awkward silence.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Roger Federer (2)
Kei Nishikori (5)
Roberto Bautista Agut (12)
Jack Sock (15)

Breakdown
Federer, like Nadal, should be fairly pleased with his draw as well. He’s got a clearly wonky Nishikori as the top seed to contend with and then guys like Bautista Agut and Sock who probably won’t cause him to lose a ton of sleep. He will get either Vasek Pospisil or Peter Polasnky to start. Both seem like agreeable match-ups even after a lengthy layoff. A win there and it’s Sock as the seed in his way to the quarterfinals. Sock has qualifier Pierre-Hugues Herbert in round one and then the survivor between David Ferrer and Kyle Edmund. Edmund crushed Sock in straights in Atlanta and could be a dangeround unseeded player if he gets out of round one.

The other half has Nishikori abd Bautista Agut. Rest will help Nishikori some after he looked very fatigued in his last two matches. Rest may not solve his relatively poor play however. He was making a lot of errors off his ground strokes that he normally does not make. His serve was mediocre, but that is who Kei Nishikori is really. If he survives Johnson or Monfils in round two, then it’s likely Bautista Agut or maybe Ryan Harrison. RBA is more consistent, but hasn’t played here much either. Bautista Agut could weave his way through to the quarterfinals almost by default here if Nishikori is still out of sorts.

Smart money certainly says Federer gets through this quarter. A full fit and in-form Nishikori would potentially contend here, but he doesn’t seem to fit either of those categories right now.

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

The talking heads will be hyping #Fedal 38 from the opening ball. After playing three times from January-March, they haven’t met since. The path is certainly there for it to happen, but there could be a guy named Sascha Zverev who upsets that dream final. Or in a perfect Canadian world, Milos Raonic. That seems far fetched, but Nadal certainly has the tougher road to the final in my opinion. As such, I’d grade Federer just a slight bit higher shot to win the title in Montreal. After all, it is Roger’s Cup right? *Barf*

2017 Citi Open Preview

CO17

Monfils Seeks Back-to-Back Titles

Washington, D.C. is the host site for the Citi Open as main draw play on Monday. Gael Monfils is the returning champ and seeded sixth in this year’s draw. He’s been stellar at this stop in his career. Monfils has only played D.C. three times, but has made a semifinal run in 2007, a finals run in 2011 and last year’s title run. La Monf will be hoping that his luck continues at the Citi Open after losing his lone match at the Umag Open on clay in Croatia last week. This year’s top seed is 7th ranked Dominic Thiem, who will be making his D.C. debut. Rounding out the top four seeds are 2015 champ Kei Nishikori, 2014 champ Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov.

As a 500-level event, there are 48 players in this week’s field and that means a lot more intrigue with many stronger players returning to the court for the first time since Wimbledon. The rest of the top eight seeds includes 2016 semifinalist Alexander Zverev, Monfils, Lucas Pouille and two-time D.C. quarterfinalist Jack Sock. There are 16 seeded players in all this week with red hot John Isner in as the #9 seed. Isner has won consecutive titles in Newport and Atlanta, and has fared well here in the past. Isner is 25-9 all-time in D.C. with finals trips in 2007, 2013 and 2015.

The Citi Open will also see the return of Nick Kyrgios who has been M.I.A. since pulling out at Wimbledon due to a recurring hip injury. Juan Martin Del Potro is also in this week as the 13th seed with a near perfect 14-1 record at this tournament. DelPo is a three-time winner in D.C. in 2008, 2009 and 2013. This will be his first trip back since winning that last title four years ago.

Early Bird Specials

With this tournament being the first hard court tournament for many of these players since the Spring, there has been plenty of room for early upsets. Last year was the low water mark since the field expanded to 48 players in 2013, with just three seeds falling in their opening matches in D.C. Prior to that, from 2013-2015, at least five seeds had gone one and done each year with six being the most in 2014.

Let’s take a look at this year’s seeds and see if we can identify the next batch of upsets.

1. Dominic Thiem
I include Thiem here because it’s his first year playing D.C. and this is still the time of year where he has yet to get going right away. He’s usually in pretty decent condition by the U.S. Open, but early in the hard court swing in the summer, I think he could be slow out of the gates. He’ll get either Vasek Pospisil or Henri Laaksonen which will help. He just beat Pospisil in straights at Wimbledon and Laaksonen is better on clay. I think Thiem will get off okay, but you still have to think about an upset due to the layoff and surface.

4. Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov takes a wild card entry this week to get into the Citi Open field. Dimitrov is only 5-4 during his career in D.C. and did lose his opener last year to Daniel Evans. Dimitrov has had plenty of trouble with early losses again this year, losing his first match at five of his last nine tournaments. His first encounter this year could be tough with Kyle Edmund or Hyeon Chung fitting that bill. Chung is still working his way back from an ankle injury, but Edmund played solid tennis in Atlanta and could pose the biggest threat. Chung did give Dimitrov a run in Australia this year though, so if his fitness is improved, he could make Dimitrov work hard for a win as well.

8. Jack Sock
Sock was again fairly underwhelming with a win and a loss in Atlanta. Kyle Edmund beat a lethargic effort from Sock 6-4, 6-1 in his second match at the BB&T Atlanta Open. In D.C., he’ll face either Marius Copil or qualifier Sekou Bangoura. Sock did make back-to-back quarterfinals here in 2015 and 2016, but is lacking form at the moment. Copil would likely be the much tougher opponent as he sports a similar style of play, but again neither Copil or Bangoura looks especially tempting in the form category to call an upset. Sock however looks poor enough where you cannot rule it out.

10. Nick Kyrgios
Kyrgios withdrew from Atlanta with the hip still a bother, but drew plenty of attention by playing in a “celebrity” type basketball game in Australia last week after that announcement. Until he proves his health, I would keep Kyrgios on upset alert every week. He will play either Go Soeda or Tennys Sandgren in his round two opener in D.C. He’s never played at the Citi Open and while Soeda and Sandgren don’t inspire fear, Kyrgios needs to prove he can make it through a match. I’d keep this on the lighter side of the upset alert, but anything seems possible with NK.

12. Mischa Zverev
Outside of his quarterfinal run at the Australian Open this season, Zverev has always been more miss than hit on outdoor hard courts. Mischa went 1-3 in the Spring on outdoor hard courts and is 58-78 all-time on the surface. He will draw either qualifier Ramkumar Ramanathan or Guido Pella to start. Neither is particularly dangerous on this surface, but given Zverev’s struggles on everything but grass recently – it may not be easy for him to advance.

14. Steve Johnson
Johnson gets the tough draw and by now, everyone knows that his mental state will be called into question as he continues to deal with the death of his father in recent months. Johnson does have history on his side with back-to-back semifinal showings in D.C. His opener this year will come against Daniil Medvedev or Reilly Opelka. Both have big games that can match Johnson, but it’s Medvedev who would pose the biggest risk. The Russian is lacking on this surface since making the Chennai Open final in the opening week of the season, but he’s got the big serve and ground strokes to keep pace with Johnson. If he wins in round one and is healthy, he’s a threat.

15. Kevin Anderson
Anderson had a string of quarterfinal finishes here from 2012-2014, but has crashed out in his opener each of the last two years. He lost to Alexander Zverev in 2015 and Malek Jaziri in 2016. Fate dictates that he could see Jaziri again in his opener if the 33-year-old gets past an Italian qualifier. Jaziri only owns that one win against Anderson, but he did also play him tough in a straight sets loss at Roland Garros this season. He took Anderson to tiebreaks in two of those sets, so he knows what to expect from the big man. It would be an interesting rematch in round two.

16. Ryan Harrison
The Atlanta runner-up slips into the final seeded slot in D.C. Harrison is just 4-4 all-time at the Citi Open and could face Marcos Baghdatis to open. Baghdatis faces qualifier Edan Leshem. The 20-year-old Israeli is contesting his first main draw match at the ATP level in 2017 and just his fourth overall. Baghdatis has not been in a good groove, but should like his chances over an inexperienced player. If he wins, Baghdatis is 2-0 against Harrison with both career wins on hard courts. That includes a four set win at last year’s U.S. Open.

Outsider’s Edge

Unseeded players have done a pretty solid job of making at least one deep run in D.C. since the field expanded back in 2013. 2016 was the first year since the expansion that an unseeded player did not make the semifinals. It was also the first year in that span that an unseeded player failed to make the quarterfinals. it was a sharp change from 2015 when half the quarterfinal spots went to unseeded players. In 2013 and 2014, two quarterfinal spots went to unseeded players, so it has definitely been a trend with the field of 48.

Who can spring a surprise this year? Let’s look.

Daniil Medvedev
It might be a stretch to think the young Russian can make noise this week. This will be his first go-round for the summer hard court swing, so he’ll be learning on the job. Still, his game is big enough to trouble on this surface if he can find his rhythm. He’s in a part of the draw with Johnson and Dimitrov as seeds. I think Johnson would be the tougher one to get past, but that’s only if Steve has his head in the game and that’s really going to vary still from match to match with the emotional roller coaster he’s been on.

Kyle Edmund
Edmund may have found the confidence needed to produce some good results this week as well. He made the semifinals in Atlanta last week, beating Baghdatis and Sock as well as taking Harrison to a third set. If his body holds up, he should eventually grow into a dangerous hard court player with his big forehand as a major weapon. He opens with Chung whose quickness can cause problems. Chung didn’t look all that interested in his first match back last week after a lengthy injury layoff, so if Edmund can find his serve – he should win. A win would then set him up against Dimitrov who you never really know about at this point.

Malek Jaziri
The Tunisian vet is one of those scrappy guys who has actually made round three at the Citi Open two of the past three years. Making his draw more intriguing is that if he gets past qualifier Alessandro Bega in round one, he could see 15th seed Kevin Anderson next. His lone win in five tries against Anderson? Last year in D.C. He might still have to get past Thiem to get to the quarters, but he’d certainly have some confidence at that point.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Dominic Thiem (1)
Gael Monfils (6)
Mischa Zverev (12)
Kevin Anderson (15)

Breakdown
This is an interesting quarter that appears pretty top heavy, but with some strings attached. With Thiem having never played here and Monfils being Monfils, you never know if the highest seeds will make it through. Monfils, if healthy, would seem to be the smaller risk in this quarter with his solid history in D.C. His draw to get to a quarterfinal looks fairly simple with Zverev the only seed in his way. Monfils will open with Stefan Kozlov or Yuki Bambri. That should allow for a good start. Monfils has never played Zverev, so that could be an intriguing battle if it happens. Mischa’s serve and volley game is tougher to do consistently on hard courts, but it would challenge Monfils to stay in things mentally.

As for Thiem, the draw is good, it’s whether he’s able to start strong that is the question. I think it says something about his aspirations this summer that he’s playing in D.C. this week and not at home in Austria on clay. As such, he should be focused. The biggest question for him in his half of the quarter is whether or not he can beat Kevin Anderson. Anderson is 5-0 against Thiem. I think the Austrian wouldn’t mind if someone did him a favor and knocked off Big Kev before their potential third round meeting.

If Monfils shows up ready to go, this looks like a good quarter for him to get through. The unseeded players in this section outside of Jaziri don’t inspire much in the way of an upset frame of mind. Thiem could still be a viable semifinal option here if he gets his game going well to start. Avoiding Anderson would be helpful and he’s 3-0 vs Monfils. La Monf has less questions in his part of the draw, so that’s my guess on this quarter’s semifinalist.

Quarter #2 Seeds
Milos Raonic (3)
Jack Sock (8)
John Isner (9) * WITHDREW
Ryan Harrison (16)

Breakdown
It was supposed to be Isner and Harrison arriving with the best form, having just played each other in the Atlanta final on Sunday. That changed though as John Isner pulled out of the draw after two straight weeks of winning in Newport and Atlanta. Inserted into his spot in the draw is lucky loser Marc Polmans, who is much more known for his doubles play than singles. Polmans will be playing just his second main draw match in singles at the ATP level.

Let’s start down in the bottom half of this quarter where Sock is now the only seed. Sock again might be weary if he sees Copil in his opener. Copil is a hard hitting, hard serving type who can keep pace with the American. Sock’s game still doesn’t look quite right, so I think he’s ripe for the picking again this week early on. If he survives his second rounder, then his draw may have opened up with Isner’s departure. Either Jared Donaldson or Dudi Sela will now see Polmans, instead of Isner. That’s a marked improvment for both men and should put a spring in both their steps for their round one clash. Sela is the tougher out to me with Donaldson still trying to find his best this season. It’s an opportunity though for Donaldson to get back on track a week after a disappointing finish in Atlanta.

Up top, Raonic arrives in D.C. with his consistency still a major issue. He hasn’t had a bad season, but it’s been a battle almost every step of the way. The dominant play that he was known for in his rise up the rankings has been very hit or miss this year. He’s still an obvious threat on the surface and facing either Nicolas Mahut or Thomas Fabbiano to open his D.C. campaign should afford him the chance to get off with a win. Harrison as laid out earlier, could face a stiff test with Marcos Baghdatis as a potential first opponent. Baghdatis needs to get past qualifier Edan Leshem and in spite of Baggy’s poor recent run, I still think he’s the better of that pairing. The interesting thing will be to see if Harrison can carry over his Atlant success this week. He was mired in a big slump in singles play prior to last week.

All of a sudden, Raonic looks a firmer favorite in this quarter due to Isner withdrawing from the tournament on Monday. The Canadian’s up and down play still doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence for me though and Harrison is someone to watch. If Harrison can avoid an early upset, he’s got confidence against Raonic with a 2-1 career mark. That includes a four set win at last year’s U.S. Open. Without Isner, I think this gives both Sock and Harrison a boost. Sock probably needs help to get Raonic out of this quarter before a potential quarterfinal to have a shot with Raonic holding an 8-2 record against Sock. For me, this could come down to a Raonic-Harrison match in the third round with the winner looking to be in the best shape to keep moving forward.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Grigor Dimitrov (4)
Alexander Zverev (5)
Nick Kyrgios (10)
Steve Johnson (14)

Breakdown
The only seed arriving without baggage for me is Zverev. He’s been pretty steady all season and gets to work in person with Juan Carlos Ferrero for the first time. Sascha added Ferrero to his coaching team earlier in the season, but has only been able to communicate with him from afar to this point. It will be interesting to see what JCF can add in person. As for the draw, Zverev will need to be careful in his opener. He will get either Jordan Thompson or Ruben Bemelmans. On this surface, I’d expect that to be Thompson. The Aussie may not be ready for prime time yet, but he’s proven to be a tough out on hard courts in the past.

Even if it’s Bemelmans, Zverev will need to find his game quickly against an opponent who already has court time under their belt. Kyrgios is the big question mark in the top half with Sascha. When healthy, he’s capable of beating anyone on this surface, but I don’t know that NK is near 100 percent yet. Kyrgios has two wins over Sascha, both on hard courts this season. If NK is struggling against either Soeda or Sandgren in his opener, don’t expect the Aussie to be around long. If his hip isn’t a hindrance, his serve is fully capable of carrying him over either one of those players. I think you’ll know a lot about his fitness in that match.

In the other half, the question mark that is Grigor Dimitrov is the lead seed. Dimitrov has the tough opener with either Edmund or Chung. Either one could knock him off and Dimitrov as outlined above, has had plenty of early exits in 2017. Johnson is a tricky pick in this half. Based on history, you’d give Johnson a legit shot to make a run. The question is how he is mentally with the passing of his father still weighing on him. Having had several weeks away from the game could have helped him heal a bit more in that respect. Johnson too will have a tough opener though with Medvedev or Opelka. If Johnson starts strong there, then watch out. He’ll be on the path to potentially make it three straight semifinal appearances in D.C.

This quarter is a 50-50 coin flip for me as to whether it’s all seeds doing the damage or it gets blown up with upsets. I think with the tougher draws in the bottom half for Dimirov and Johnson, we could see something funky here. Also remember that Zverev didn’t do much after D.C. on the North American hard court swing, so he still has plenty to prove.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Kei Nishikori (2)
Lucas Pouille (7)
Gilles Muller (11)
Juan Martin Del Potro (13)

Breakdown
No one is happier to see grass courts in the rear view than Nishikori, it’s just not a great surface for him. Hard courts however do jive with NIshikori’s superb baseline game and I expect that he is really ready to get back on the surface and prove himself again. Del Potro being in his half is a real landmine though with the Argentine holding a 5-1 recording against this week’s second seed. DelPo won their lone meeting this season on clay in Rome. Nishikori has either Tim Smyczek or Donald Young to open and that shouldn’t be much of an issue. Del Potro waits for either qualifier Alexios Halebian or Lukas Lacko. Unless Nishikori and Del Potro can’t shake off the rust, we should get a round three treat between the two.

The other half is interesting with Pouille and Muller as the seeds. Pouille has never played at the Citi Open and Muller is just 2-2 here the past two years. The positives for both again are rooted in the draw being pretty weak in their part of the quarter. Pouille will be facing either Tommy Paul or Casper Ruud in his first match. Paul did put together his best ATP results last week in Atlanta by making the quarterfinals, where he was dismantled in straights by Muller. Ruud has been better on clay in his young career, but he does like playing from the baseline and has some big groundies. He should contend well against Paul.

Pouille has been inconsistent to say the least this year and hard courts have not been good for him. He made the semifinals in Dubai early in the season, but is just 6-5 on the season on the surface. From a talent level, it’s difficult to see Paul or Ruud beating him. Looking at Pouille v.2017 though, you can’t say he’s a shoe-in. Muller gets the winner between Dimitry Tursunov and Mitchell Krueger, so I can see him winning to start. With Pouille’s inconsistencies, Muller may have a shot to break his win one, lose one streak in D.C. this week.

For me, this quarter should come down to the winner of the Nishikori-Del Potro match in round three. That should serve as a catalyst for either to push through their quarterfinal match and into the semis. History says Del Potro, but he has only strung together as many as three wins in a row twice in nine tournaments played this season. Interestingly enough, the #2 and #13 seeds have been heavily involved in the championship mix at the Citi Open recently. The #2 seed has won the last three titles and the #13 seed has been the runner-up twice in that same span. One of those streaks ends, but I think the Nishikori-Del Potro winner is going to be a real threat to the title regardless.

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

The top seed has only been in the final at the Citi Open once (2013) since the field expanded to 48 players and I think that streak may continue this week. The top half of the draw doesn’t have Isner in it now and that means Monfils (gulp) is the guy who might look the best to make a deep run. The bottom half I do focus on that fourth quarter with Nishikori and Del Potro as a potentially pivotal match that I hope we don’t get robbed of this week. The guy who may sneak in with less attention despite being a top tier seed is Sascha Zverev, if the German #NOWGen gets it going quickly.

I think the winner comes from the bottom half of the draw with Nishikori, Zverev and Del Potro as the guys who may have the best chances. Despite that lopsided head-to-head, something in the Pig’s gut this week is saying Nishikori. This is the time of year when he usually turns it back up a notch. Or it could just be gas. I ate at Movie Tavern last night.