2017 Mercedes Cup R2 Preview: Grigor Dimitrov vs Jerzy Janowicz

GRIGSJERZY

Grigor Dimitrov finally gets started at Stuttgart as he goes up against The Polish Burger-meister, Jerzy Janowicz. The Pole started his campaign this week with a three set victory over Andrey Kuznetsov.

(2) Grigor Dimitrov vs Jerzy Janowicz

Dimitrov makes a rare trip outside of England to start off his grass court season. Last year’s trip to Stuttgart was the Bulgarian’s first time playing somewhere other than Queen’s Club to start the grass court season since 2010. That was back when Dimitrov was still splitting time between Challengers at the ATP Tour. Last year, Dimitrov was dumped out in his opener by Juan Martin Del Potro 6-4, 6-2. He had a poor grass campaign overall, losing to Janko Tipsarevic in his Queen’s Club opener, before seeing the exit door in round three at Wimbledon.

Janowicz has been relatively healthy in 2017 and won a Challenger event earlier this season. His ranking is up to 155 and he’s ready for second round play. His win over Kuznetsov was his first main draw ATP win since February in Sofia, Bulgaria. Against Kuznetsov, the Pole was pretty solid. He staved off six of seven break chances, winning 77 percent of his first serve points and 55 percent off his second. He tallied five aces and five double faults. In the end, he would win just two more points overall than the Russian (91-89).

Jerzy Being Jerzy, Still Rebuilding Ranking

The match against Kuznetsov probably gained more attention for a point violation against Janowicz than the result. The Pole was cited for obscenity, but claimed that he was reading an advertising sign about hamburgers, telling the chair ump that he said “I like burgers.” That wasn’t Janowicz’s first fun with a chair umpire this season. In March, while playing Dennis Shapovalov at a Challenger, Janowicz received three code violations in five minutes. That resulted in a game penalty at the Guadalajara-based event. The Pole would ultimately lose in a third set tiebreak.

Janowicz, a one-time Wimbledon semifinalist in 2013, has played more Challengers than ATP events again in 2017 in order to work his way back from injury and elevate his ranking. The Pole has been besieged by injuries since that magical run. Later in 2013, it was a back injury that caused him some issues. In 2014, he played with a broken bone in his foot in a season where he went just 24-26. Then, it was a knee injury in late 2015 that stalked him into 2016 and had him sidelined for about six months.

He would finally get healthy around the time of the Rio Olympics. Janowicz returned there, losing to Gilles Muller. He would then hit the Challenger circuit to finish the year in an effort to rebuild his ranking and confidence. The one-time Top 20 player was ranked at 280 to end last season. He’s currently at #155.

Second Meeting This Season

The two players met earlier in Bulgaria in one of Janowicz’s rare forays back into ATP main draws. Dimitrov edged him in three sets 4-6, 6-3, 7-5. That marked Dimitrov’s second win in three tries over the Pole. Dimitrov beat him previously on clay in Rome in 2015 with Janowicz winning their first career clash on hard courts in Cincinnati in 2014. Their most recent meeting in Sofia saw plenty of big serving from both. Dimitrov tallied 15 aces in the match with Jerzy adding 17.

The difference in the match wound up being better second serves from Dimitrov, who won 70 percent of his second serve points. Jerzy won just 52 percent by comparison. Dimitrov would fight off six of seven break points, while converting two of six against Janowicz. It was a very small margin of victory with Dimitrov tallying just six more points overal (99-93).

At the time, Dimitrov was on a roll early in the season. He went on to win the title in Sofia, his second in just three tournaments played. The other came in Brisbane and he had also made the semifinals at the Australian Open. He was 14-1 after the title in Sofia. Now? He is 21-9, going jusy 7-8 since Sofia. That includes four first match losses at tournaments.

Strategy Session

There shouldn’t be much surprise to Janowicz’s play on Thursday. The 6’8″ Pole wants to use his power to serve big and he’s still got the agility to rush the net. That’s a dangerous combination on grass, if he’s hitting his mark on serve. The interesting thing is that Jerzy stayed glued to the baseline almost exclusively in their meeting indoors earlier this season. Changing that up some with some serving and volleying would not be unwise.

For Dimitrov, it’s going to be about finding a rhythm. He’ll have had plenty of practice on grass, but a big load of Haas that did for Roger Federer on Wednesday. Practice helps you get a feel for the surface, but it’s match play that Dimitrov needs. His sluggish starts on grass in recent years don’t suggest that it’s going to be all that smooth.

Going up against a guy who can serve big is also not high on the wish list of things you’d ask for in your first match of the season on grass. In their Sofia meeting, Janowicz went after Dimitrov’s backhand side a lot with his serve to solid results. I would not expect him to stray from trying that again in this one. Jerzy’s power left Dimitrov locked up several times and not able to consistently get solid strikes on his return from that wing. That led to some easy 1-2 punches for Janowicz off the serve to Dimitrov’s backhand.

Dimitrov did a better job of mixing his serves to both Janowicz’s forehand and backhand, which left him guessing. That led to some quicker and more aggressive points for Dimitrov. It also allowed Dimitrov more opportunity to come to net and that is something he needs to do on grass. Janowicz doesn’t have the best return, so as long as the second seed gets his rhythm rocking early – he should be able to get some easier holds as the match grows.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Upsets have already hit the seeds in Stuttgart with Federer, Johnson and Troicki all going out in their openers. Dimitrov certainly is not immune to early upsets as that became a pattern on clay. I do think Jerzy has the tools and the extra match play to challenge him in this one. The Pole was able to contend well against him earlier in the season. but he’s still been lacking in results when he’s played top tier players. An upset wouldn’t surprise given Dimitrov’s mediocre form, but I’ll give the Bulgarian this one as I believe he’ll be able to ramp up his game as the match moves on.

Prediction: Dimitrov wins in three sets

Three Little Pigs: Australian Open Day 2

3 Little Pigs2

It’s a look at three key matches on Day 2 in Melbourne. Today’s Three Little Pigs focuses on Australian Legend Lleyton Hewitt in his final opening round match at the Australian Open, plus what to expect from Americans John Isner and Jack Sock on Tuesday.

(wc) Lleyton Hewitt vs (wc) James Duckworth
Two Australian wild cards will face off in round one, but the crowd support will be decidedly one sided with Lleyton Hewitt. As publicized, Hewitt is not just playing in his final Australian Open, it is his final tournament as a player. These two have never met, so there figures to be plenty of back and forth in this one. It’s difficult to know whose nerves will be tighter, Hewitt with the prospect of  playing his final match of Duckworth with the prospect of being villafied for taking out a legend? Duckworth jokingly (maybe) told reporters that if he won, he would walk to the net and apologize to Hewitt afterwards. That shows you how much the younger players in Australia revere the country’s elder statesman.

One thing is likely in this one and that is a lengthy match. Duckworth has played a pair of five set matches in the opening round in two of the last three years in Melbourne. Hewitt’s last two losses at the Australian Open? You guessed it, five setters. Duckworth has the edge in serve, which has been Hewitt’s undoing in recent years. However, you cannot underestimate the fight that you get from Hewitt and he brings forth effort and defense still at his “advanced” age of 34. Win or lose, do yourself a favor and check this one out on Centre Court. Watching Hewitt even with a decline in skill level over the years is worth the price of admission. Few players work harder or give more on court than Rusty.

Prediction
Hewitt wins in five sets

(10) John Isner vs Jerzy Janowicz
An interesting clash of what should be power vs power. Isner comes into this after dropping his last match in Auckland to eventual champion, Roberto Bautista Agut. It remains to be seen if he was simply checking out early or if Isner will have trouble. He was broken three times in that match, which is not a great sign. For Janowicz, he chose not to play in any of the tournaments prior to Melbourne. Instead, he’s been in Melbourne practicing for quite some time. The last and only meeting between these two came during Hopman Cup play last January with Isner winning 7-6 (10), 6-4.

Isner hasn’t made it past the third round since 2010, but also has only lost in the opening round once since 2010. That came in 2014 when he retired due to injury. Tuesday, he’ll have to dea with the heat and the equally big game of his Polish counterpart. Janowicz has a string of three straight third round appearances in Melbourne and you can expect to see lots of big serves and big forehands in this one. The area where Isner is better is the serve. His consistency is better than Janowicz’s, but the Pole can bring the heat. Against Isner. who doesn’t always do much in the return game, this has the feel of a tight four set match with tiebreaks coming into play. The Pig’s gut says upset.

Prediction
Janowicz wins in four sets

(25) Jack Sock vs (q) Taylor Fritz
This match features two of the Americans who could lead the revival of U.S. tennis. Sock is the more accomplished player at 23 and comes off a solid week in Auckland, before he fell ill and had to withdraw during the final. That is a key point for this match as that just happened on Saturday. Any lingering effects could help Fritz level the playing field even more. Fritz made it through qualifying to get into his first Grand Slam main draw and pulled off a great Houdini act. He trailed Mischa Zverev 4-0 in the third set of the final round of qualifying before he reeled off the last six games to pull off a stunning result.

Sock is going to see somewhat of a mirror image across the net in Fritz. Fritz is 6’4″ and has a powerful serve along with quick strike ground strokes. What he does not have is Sock’s experience in main draws. Sock has 26 career Grand Slam matches with a 14-12 record. The interesting note is that only two of those have come in Melbourne, so some of that experience could be negated as Sock himself has only played the main draw once back in 2014.

Fritz carries an eight match win streak into this one with a Challenger title early this season and his run through qualifying. This will be the second time that he has played someone ranked inside the Top 30. Fritz lost to then-14th ranked Feliciano Lopez last year at the Aegon Open Nottingham on grass in straight sets. If health isn’t an issue, Sock should likely have a bit better consistency at this stage. If Sock is still less than 100 percent, Fritz has a realistic shot at pulling off a stunning upset.

Prediction
Sock wins in four sets

Fine Swine: ATP Basel R1 Preview – Kohlschreiber vs. Janowicz

epa04570524 Jerzy Janowicz of Poland in action against Hiroki Moriya of Japan during their first round match at the Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, 20 January 2015. The Australian Open tennis tournament goes from 19 January until 01 February 2015. EPA/Filip Singer Dostawca: PAP/EPA.

Janowicz Looks To Break A Losing Streak
Photo: EPA



The German has won the last two meetings against Jerzy Janowicz. The Pole does own the only win in their only encounter on an indoor hard court back in 2012 in Paris.

Philipp Kohlschreiber vs. (Q) Jerzy Janowicz
Kohlschreiber looks to continue his good form on this surface of late. The German made the semifinals in Metz in September and the quarterfinals last week in Moscow. Janowicz has continued to be hit and miss as he battled a knee injury. While the knee has held up and responded to treatment, his results continue to be average. After making a Challenger final on this surface in late September, he played Vienna last week. After knocking off the tournament’s fifth seed Dominic Thiem, Janowicz was beaten by Steve Johnson in three sets. To his credit, Johnson did make the final at the Erste Bank Open and played well in a three set loss to David Ferrer.

Janowicz has a small leg up on Kohlschreiber to start the week after playing two qualifying matches to get into the main draw. The Pole beat both Jamie Munar and Mikhail Youzhny in straight sets. His serve was good, but not overpowering in either match which could be a slight warning sign. Janowicz has only played here once before this year and that was in 2014 when Denis Istomin routed him 6-1, 6-1. Kohlschreiber has not played Basel since 2009. The German is just around .500 on the surface in his career, but has a 6-4 mark on indoor courts this season on tour.

The surface in Basel is medium-fast and should suit Janowicz’s serve, but he did still struggle just enough to raise some question marks in qualifying. He allowed seven break chances in two matches, so Kohlschreiber will know he can likely get a look at some break opportunities. Kohlschreiber had his own struggles on serve last week in Moscow. He barely survived his opener against a young Russian qualifier in three sets where he allowed 17 break chances. He was broken six times in that match.

This is a bit of a similar set up with Janowicz already adapted to the court conditions, while the German lacks real time play this week. If Janowicz is going to pull off the mild upset, he will need to parlay that extra time on court into a quick start. He should be able to dominate on serve early as Kohlschreiber likely will need time to adapt to how the conditions effect the big righty’s serve. Other than that, this match comes down to consistency off the ground. Kohlschreiber usually is better in that area, but Janowicz can bring a bigger game. The usual issue with Janowicz when he loses is shot selection.

It is usually easy to tell when the Pole is feeling good enough with his game that he can win these sort of matches. When he starts with a dominant serve that often alleviates the need to try too many of the often ridiculously timed drop shots. Those shots tend to plague his matches when he is on the wrong end of the score line. He has a good one though that can be utilized perfectly in the correct spots, but overuse and it can lead to a flurry of free points for his opponent.

it’s a tenuous prediction with Janowicz still not in the best of form, but the courts should really work better for him and give him the opportunity to get off to a winning start in the main draw.

Prediction
Janowicz wins in three sets

Pig-pourri: ATP Winston-Salem, Seeded Upset Alert

WSOpen

ATP Winston-Salem Open Preview
In Winston-Salem, the top four seeds this week are Gilles Simon, Kevin Anderson, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Viktor Troicki. For Simon, it is his first year playing here and he could use the match play. Simon is just 1-2 through the Montreal and Cincinnati swing. Anderson got a few wins under his belt last week in Cincinnati as he advanced to the third round with wins over Leonardo Mayer and Jack Sock before losing to Roger Federer in the third round. Tsonga was strong in trying to defend his 2014 Rogers Cup title as he made the quarters in Montreal, but slumped with a first-up loss to Fernando Verdasco in Cincinnati. Troicki continued his poor form since blowing a two set lead in Davis Cup play in July. He is 0-3 on the North American hard court swing with losses to Sam Groth, Mikhail Youzhny and Mardy Fish.

There are 16 seeds in this 48 player field with all seeds getting a first round bye. Having a top seed here means very little with the highest seed to win the tournament in its brief history being John Isner as a three seed in 2012. The top two seeds have never made the final, so that is bad news for Simon and Anderson. Of the remaining 12 seeds outside the top four, Sam Querrey is the one who has played here the most. He is 10-3 with semifinal showings the last three years. Querrey is seeded seventh this year. 16th seeded Jerzy Janowicz is the only seeded player to have made a Final at this event, doing so last year as an unseeded player. Last year’s Champion, Lukas Rosol, is here to defend the title as an unseeded player.

Planting The Seeds
250 level tournaments are usually full of upsets with regards to the seeds. That means you can expect some seeds to fall in their first matches of the week. In the four year history of the Winston-Salem Open, at least four seeds have lost their first matches each year. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the seeds most likely to fall into that category this week.

#3 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
This is his first year playing Winston-Salem and normally, he is resting for the U.S. Open at this stage. His first match comes against Denis Istomin or Donald Young. Tsonga is 4-0 against Istomin, but has never faced Young. Tsonga looks boom or bust this week. I just have a hard time seeing him being engaged the entire week to make a title run.

#5 Guillermo Garcia-Lopez
A simple selection as he has been out with injury since Hamburg. He also will be facing a tough first-up match against either Robin Haase or Yen-Hsun Lu. Haase has played Winston-Salem every year and has a 7-4 record at this event. Lu made the semis in 2014 and the quarters in 2013, so he could surprise as an unseeded player. Whomever survives that opener is a legit upset candidate of what may be a rusty Garcia-Lopez.

#6 Thomaz Bellucci
Bellucci will be prone to an upset from a player more suited to the surface. He usually efforts well against similar players on hard courts, but it could be tough for him against either James Duckworth or a qualifier. The qualifying field is pretty strong, so monitor who wins those matches on Sunday. Bellucci lost his first match last year in Winston-Salem to Frank Dancevic.

#9 Benoit Paire
Benoit Paire is Benoit Paire. That means he has to be on this list because he’s got the Forrest Gump box of chocolates label every week. You never know what you are going to get. He challenged Novak Djokovic very well in the first set of their second round match in Cincinnati, but then predictably fell apart in the second set. His hard court record at the ATP level has been poor in the last year. His win over Gilles Muller in the opening round in Cincy was his first main draw win on the surface since last year’s U.S. Open. Paire gets James Ward or the rising Hyeon Chung. Chung is could give Paire fits with his speed and defensive abilities that would really challenge the Frenchman’s ability to be consistency off the ground.

#10 Joao Sousa
Sousa’s win over Kohlschreiber last week in Cincinnati was his first on an outdoor hard court since Dubai early in the season. The win broke a four match losing streak. Sousa has played this tournament two straight years, but failed to win in the main draw. He will get the winner of Pablo Carreno-Busta and Tommy Haas. Neither is at their best, but both certainly can challenge Sousa on this surface.

#13 Steve Johnson
Johnson has fallen apart since making the semifinals of the Citi Open. He was sporting some leg strapping the following week in Montreal where he was crushed by David Goffin 6-2, 6-2. Last week, he failed to get out of qualifying in Cincinnati. He gets either Sam Groth or Jared Donaldson to open. Johnson runs hot and cold, so a win and he may be making a run this week. Still, nothing recently points to that happening.
#15 Temuraz Gabashvili
Gabashvili will come out swinging for the fences with his free swinging game again this week.  He has not played since Washington, D.C. when he shocked Andy Murray. This is the type of smaller tournament that Gabashvili could thrive at without a lot of pressure. That is if he can get by his first opponent. He will play either Cincinnati surprise semifinalist Alexandr Dolgopolov or Thanasi Kokkinakis. Both players are very capable of beating him.

#16 Jerzy Janowicz
A finalist in Winston-Salem last year, Janowicz may his work cut out for him this week. He could face a finals rematch with Lukas Rosol right away or Rogers Cup surprise package Ernests Gulbis. Janowicz scored a couple of wins in Cincinnati last week, but they came against Gael Monfils who didn’t appear to put forth a full effort and inconsistent youngster Jared Donaldson. Whether it is Rosol or Gulbis, Janowicz should be on high alert.

I Feel The Need, The Need For Seed!
A look at how seeds do at the business end of this tournament. In the past, seeds have done well to make the quarterfinals and semifinals. At least five seeds have made the quarters each year since 2011. In the semis, last year was the first time that at least three seeds did not make that round. Only two seeds made the semifinals in 2014, but all four semifinal slots had been seeded the two previous years. An unseeded player has crashed the final twice in the four year history of the tournament. Once last year with Jerzy Janowicz and again in 2011 with Julien Benneteau also as a qualifier. Neither one was able to win the title. The last two years, players seeded 7th in Lukas Rosol and 9th in Jurgen Melzer were your winners.

Unseeded players to watch this week as potential party crashers: Lukas Rosol, Ernests Gulbis, Sam Groth, Yen-Hsun Lu, Robin Haase and Mikhail Kukushkin.

3 Little Pigs: ATP Rome, Monday May 11th

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Dimitrov Opens #ibi15 vs. Janowicz



A full slate of action in Rome on Monday as players get in their final preparations for the French Open. Here’s a look at three matches worth nothing.

Straw House: Juan Monaco
This looks like a competitive one with Monaco battling qualifier Dusan Lajovic. Monaco has been in a win one, lose one track for three straight tournaments in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid. Lajovic is 7-7 in ATP main draws on clay this season, so he is not over matched. He was solid in his final qualification match as he crushed top seed Borna Coric 6-4, 6-1 to qualify. Monaco has dropped his 1st match in Rome the last two seasons, so this is a definite upset shot for the Serb. Lajovic is a talent and with some quali matches under his belt, expect him to push Monaco to be at his best if he’s going to survive. I’d look for this one possibly to go the distance if Monaco can get settled in, but I do like Lajovic to pull it off.

Sticks House: (12) Gilles Simon
An interesting clash in the 1st round with Sock looking the better of the two on clay this season as far as results go. Simon has been off for several weeks since losing in the quarters in Bucharest to Gimeno-Traver. Sock lost in his 2nd match last week to Tsonga in a third set tie break. Simon has the decided experience advantage with an 11-8 mark in Rome, while Sock has played just one match last year in qualis. Simon never runs too deep in Rome, but that mainly is due to his draw. His losses the last three years are Nadal, Federer and Ferrer.

This is a quarter with Nadal seeded 4th and Wawrinka seeded 8th. Simon could find himself pushing for a quarterfinal spot with some luck. Wawrinka is the seed who would block him in the 3rd round, but he’s not been at his best in months. Simon’s backboard style of play is going to force Sock to be at a grade-A level to win this one. I think Sock can stay in this one for a bit if his serve is solid, but once they get into rallies, Simon should take over and force Sock into uncomfortable shots that he generally does not hit with the consistency to win this sort of match.

Brick House: (10) Grigor Dimitrov
A good opener on Center Court for Monday. Dimitrov, seeded 10th, will be looking to follow up a solid week in Madrid where he lost in the quarterfinals to Rafael Nadal. He’s got semifinal points to defend this week after a run last year that was also ended by Nadal. Janowicz meanwhile will be searching for his 1st win on clay this season. He’s trying to work his way closer to 100% after missing almost a month of action. He has lost his 1st up in both Monte Carlo and Madrid since returning. This will be the second meeting between these two. Janowicz took the other one which came last Summer in Cincinnati in three sets.

With Janowicz still not looking quite fit, this should be Dimitrov’s to take. This is a competitive quarter with Federer and Berdych as the top seeds. Dimitrov is seeded to match up with Berdych again in the 3rd round. He took out Berdych last year in the same spot. Berdych is playing better tennis I think than Dimitrov for the most part, so it will a tough go to get to the quarters. That means building confidence early with some wins is a necessity.