2017 Western & Southern Open Preview

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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

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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 Wimbledon Draw Preview

WIMBLEDONPREV17

Will the old guard continue their dominance over Grand Slams yet again or is it time for a new name to make an impression by taking the trophy? We’ll find out over the next two weeks. History suggests that the title at the All-England Club will still likely come down to Andy Murray, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic. After all, those three have won 13 of the last 14 men’s singles titles at Wimbledon.

There has at least been a few outsiders to that “big three” in the past few years that have been playing the final few days of Wimbledon with a chance to make history. Milos Raonic and Tomas Berdych made the semifinals last year as seeds outside the top five. Raonic made his first Slam final here in 2016. In 2015, Richard Gasquet crashed the semifinals as the 21st seed along with the familiar names of Murray, Federer and Djokovic. In 2014, Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic both made the semifinals as seeds outside the top five, #11 and #8 respectively. 2013 continued the trend with 8th seed Juan Martin Del Potro and 24th seed Jerzy Janowicz slipping into the semis along with Djokovic and Murray.

Relative “outsiders” aka those outside “The Big Four” can make inroads at Wimbledon and be in the mix at the business end of the tournament. Whether one of those can push into the final and actually upset the apple cart by taking the title has yet to be done since the era of Federer began at Wimbledon with the first of his nine titles in 2003. With all that to chew on, let’s break down the brackets and see who might sneak into the semifinals this year.

Quarter #1 Seeds
Andy Murray (1)
Stan Wawrinka (5)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (12)
Lucas Pouille (14)
Nick Kyrgios (20)
Sam Querrey (24)
Fabio Fognini (28)
Fernando Verdasco (31)

Top Half Breakdown (Murray)
Murray will be a bit weary of a potential second round meeting with Dustin Brown. The Scot opens against lucky loser Alexander Bublik first and it is his first go around at Wimbledon. He did get his first Slam win at the Australian Open earlier this year against Pouille, so there’s definitely some talent there. Bublik will be an interesting test for Murray because the Russian-born 20-year-old loves to play trick shots. That might be good practice for a potential meeting with Brown in round two, who also has an unorthodox style on grass. Fognini is the seed opposite of Murray in this portion of the bracket in the battle for a third round spot. I fancy the winner of Jiri Vesely vs Illya Marchenko to have a good shot to beat the Italian. Fognini has only made it past round two twice at Wimbledon in eight trips.

In the bottom portion of this half, you’ve got two heavy hitters in Pouille and Kyrgios as the seeds. Pouille has the better match-up in the opening round against Malek Jaziri. The Frenchman will be hoping to match last year’s surprise quarterfinal run. He played well in the lead-up to Wimbledon, winning in Stuttgart before crashing out in Halle to Florian Mayer. Pouille’s second round match-up will be tough against either Denis Shapovalov or Jerzy Janowicz. Both have big games. Shapovalov might be more confident after a good showing at Queen’s Club where he beat Kyle Edmund and then lost a tight three setter to Berdych. Kyrgios has Pierre Hugues-Herbert to start and he’ll be tested if there are any lingering issues with his hip or shoulder. Round two could feature Kyrgios against Benoit Paire who opens against Rogerio Dutra Silva. Paire owns two wins over NK, including one at the 2014 Australian Open. If a seed makes it through to round four, you’d fancy it to be Pouille rather than Kyrgios.

Murray wouldn’t mind that one bit as he’s beaten Pouille four out of four times and all have been in straight sets. The big thing for the Scot will be fitness. He’s battled a hip issue in recent times, but claims to be feeling better. That will play out early I would think with the unorthodox guys he could face testing his movement with their odd-timed shots.

Bottom Half Breakdown (Wawrinka)
Wawrinka had turned the tide of his past Wimbledon failures with successive quarterfinal runs in 2014 and 2015. Last year however brought him back to the land of the early exit as he was taken down in round two by Del Potro. The Swiss again has a difficult draw with up and comer Daniil Medvedev to start. The Russian made three straight quarterfinals in the grass build-up tournaments, including the semifinals last week in Eastbourne. Two things Medvedev has yet to do however are winning a Grand Slam match and beating a top ten player. He’ll attempt both against Wawrinka who has lost in round one five times at Wimbledon.

Survival for Wawrinka in round one would see him meet Tommy Haas or Ruben Bemelmans and perhaps feel better about making a deeper run. Verdasco is seeded to be the third round opponent, but he’s got to get past Kevin Anderson in round one. If he does, you’d like Verdasco’s chances to beat Andreas Seppi or Nortbert Gombos in round two. If it comes down to Wawrinka and Verdasco for a spot in round four, they’re level at 3-3 lifetime and 1-1 on grass. The Swiss does hold the edge at 2-0 in Slams, including a 2015 meeting at Wimbledon.

The other part of this half sees Tsonga as the lead seed along with Querrey. Tsonga takes on Brit Cameron Norrie. Tsonga has a great track record at Wimbledon with a career mark of 28-9. He has had more off years however recently with a second round exit in 2013 and third round exit in 2015. Last year, he did make the quarterfinals. Norrie shouldn’t be much of a bother unless Tsonga is totally off his game and a second round match against Simone Bolelli or Yen-Hsun Lu also looks good for the 12th seed. That could leave him in round three to face Querrey. The American faces Thomas Fabbiano to start and then would see either Carlos Berlocq or Nikoloz Basilashvili.

In what looks to be a fairly weak part of the quarter, it would be a bit surprising not to see Tsonga vs Querrey for a spot in the fourth round.

Predictions
In spite of the questions we have about Andy Murray heading into Wimbledon, this appears to be a good set-up for him similar to Roland Garros. There, he got off to a solid start and then grew into the tournament and found a rhythm. He will look for the same here and the match-ups should play for him to get to the quarters. It should come down to how healthy the hip is for the top seed. Opposite of him, I think there is room for an uprising. It might not necessarily be an unseeded player who takes the reigns and makes the quarters. Think Querrey or Verdasco, but don’t discount Anderson of Medvedev if they can get off to the shock start.

Projected Quarterfinalists: Murray, Querrey

Quarter #2 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (4)
Marin Cilic (7)
Kei Nishikori (9)
Gilles Muller (16)
Roberto Bautista Agut (18)
Ivo Karlovic (21)
Steve Johnson (25)
Karen Khachanov (30)

Top Half Breakdown (Nadal)
It’s an interesting half of this quarter with Nadal as the lead seed. He’s got big servers/hitters in Muller, Karlovic and Khachanov in this part of the draw. That isn’t great news for Rafa who has struggled against guys who can hit big and paint lines on this surface. Since back-to-back finals appearances in 2010 and 2011, Nadal is just 5-4 at Wimbledon without advancing past round four. He’s lost in the first or second round in three of his last four trips. Granted he is playing with great confidence, but grass is going to be a true test of how his overall game stands. He opens against John Millman who has been tough the last two years here. I don’t think Millman scores the upset, but if Rafa has trouble finding a rhythm on grass, the Aussie could certainly make him work hard.

Round two against either Denis Istomin or Donald Young could prove the tougher spot for Rafa. Neither owns a win against Nadal, but only Istomin has met him on grass and that went three at Queen’s Club back in Nadal’s hey-day when he won Wimbledon in 2010. Istomin’s big, flat ground strokes could prove to be a tough test if he’s up against Nadal. I think the Spaniard would prefer to see Young. Opposite of this spot, it’s Khachanov against Andrey Kuznetsov. That could be a thriller, but Khachanov has the better, bigger game suited to grass. A win would see him against qualifier Andrew Whittington or Thiago Monteiro. Khachanov really has no excuse not to get to round three. Even if Nadal is there, Khachanov could be the fly-in-the-ointment who takes out a top seed.

The other part of this half has Muller and Karlovic as the seeds. Both don’t have easy paths to winning a few matches. Karlovic opens against Aljaz Bedene who has beaten him before and is comfortable on grass. Muller starts with wild card Martin Fucsovics who won a grass court Challenger. If Karlovic survives round one, then he’s got a better second round match-up against either Renzo Olivo or Damir Dzumhur who probably won’t be able to handle his serve. Muller? He could see Lukas Rosol who battles Henri Laaksonen to start. I don’t fancy Muller to make it past round two and there’s a chance Fucsovics could stun him in round one, albeit he will need Muller to have an off day to help.

My surprise in this half of the quarter would be if it doesn’t get blown up with upsets. I feel that this one has the dangerous floaters and big serving/hitting double digit seeds like Karlovic and Khachanov who could make runs.

Bottom Half Breakdown (Cilic)
This part of the quarter also looks as if it could go upside down. Cilic has been in solid form on grass with a trip to the Queen’s Club final and a semifinal showing at the Ricoh Open. His draw is rough though with Philipp Kohlschreiber to start and then either Viktor Troicki or Florian Mayer if he makes it to round two. Kohlschreiber is skilled on grass and will contend if his serve holds up. Troicki owns two wins on grass against Cilic and Mayer’s funky game could give Cilic some problems if that is the match-up. Cilic is going to have to earn every set if he makes it past the first two rounds. Steve Johnson is the player seeded to be in the third round opposite of the Croat and his draw looks good. He starts with Nicolas Kicker and then would see either Facundo Bagnis or Radu Albot in round two. Johnson can’t ask for better match-ups in his favor on this surface. He might need an upset of Cilic to be done before round three to have a shot to advance farther. Cilic has made three straight quarterfinals at Wimbledon though and will still be very difficult to knock out.

In the other portion of this part of the quarter, it’s Nishikori and Bautista Agut as the seeds. Nishikori’s main issue could once again be his body. He bailed out of Halle due to a back issue, the third straight year that he’s done so. Both previous years, NIshikori’s body wound up failing him at Wimbledon – last year in round four and in 2015 in round two. Round one should be okay for the 9th seed against Marco Cecchinato who is more comfortable on clay. It’s round two that could undo Nishikori with either Sergiy Stakhovsky or Julien Benneteau waiting. Bautista Agut should advance out of round one against Adrian Haider-Maurer, but could find it more difficult in round two. He’ll see either Marius Copil or Peter Gojowyczk. Copil beat Gojo in a competitive French Open match in May. Copil is coping with a shoulder issue though that forced him to retire at the Nottingham Challenger in the semifinals. He is a big server and a legit threat on grass if his body holds up. He’d be the more difficult out for RBA.

Cilic has the tougher draw to make a deep run, but I think we all trust him more to do that than we trust Nishikori’s body to hold up. Let’s also remember that this has been Nishikori’s worst Slam with the fourth round as his best finish. If his body holds though, the match-ups get better at least until a potential showdown with Cilic.

Predictions
If Nadal and Cilic both make it through to the quarterfinals, I will be stunned. I won’t be surprised if Cilic makes it four straight quarterfinals despite the difficult draw. He’s been serving at a high level on grass and has the power to KO even the toughest opponents in his way. I think the surprise comes in Nadal’s half of the quarter. Khachanov is the guy I think could surprise here and he’s seemingly been close to busting out, so perhaps this is his stage. If an unseeded player is going to make a move, it will likely be in Cilic’s half and at Cilic’s expense.

Projected Quarterfinalists: Khachanov, Cilic

Quarter #3 Seeds
Roger Federer (3)
Milos Raonic (6)
Alexander Zverev (10)
Jack Sock (17)
Grigor Dimitrov (13)
John Isner (23)
Albert Ramos-Vinolas (25)
Mischa Zverev (27)

Top Half Breakdown (Raonic)
The 2016 finalist heads to Wimbledon without much grass court prep. Raonic lost his lone tune-up match to Kokkinakis at Queen’s Club, although he did little wrong outside of a few points in both tiebreaks. Raonic has found good success at Slams here at Wimbledon with a semifinal showing in 2014 and then last year’s final. He opens with big serving Jan-Lennard Struff. The German is going to make Raonic play well to win. Struff lost to Pouille twice on grass, but extended him to three sets both times in Stuttgart and Halle. Don’t be surprised if Struff extends Raonic to four or five sets. A win would get Raonic a shot against either Mikhail Youzhny or Nicolas Mahut. Mahut’s serve and volley would be the trickier of the two match-ups. Ramos-Vinolas is seeded to meet Raonic in round three, but I’m not counting on it. He meets Jordan Thompson in round one who just beat him on grass. Even if he survives, he could see young Russian Andrey Rublev in round two. Rublev has started to get positive results on grass this summer and he would be a tough out as well if he beats Stefano Travaglia in round one.

The other half of this part of the bracket has Zverev as the lead seed. Sock is also in this part of the draw and despite some very mediocre results in 2017, the American has a nifty draw that could see him get through to round three without a ton of trouble. He faces qualifier Christian Garin to open. Garin had never played on grass before making the main draw through qualifying, so his confidence will get a boost. Sock hasn’t played since a poor showing at the French Open, but he never plays in the pre-Wimbledon swing. Last year’s third round loss to Raonic was his best finish at the All-England Club. With Garin and then either Thomaz Bellucci or Sebastian Offner in round two, Sock should have a chance to match that result. Sascha Zverev opens against Evgeny Donskoy. Donskoy has big ground strokes, so if his serve holds up, he could push the 10th seed a bit. The survivor there gets either Robin Haase or Frances Tiafoe. Tiafoe still doesn’t own a main draw win on grass, while Haase has played reasonably well on grass lately. Remember Haase had a 2-1 lead on Zverev at the Australian Open before Sascha rallied to win in five. That would be an intriguing second rounder.

There are some early tests here for both Raonic and Zverev. I like Raonic’s path a bit better and Sascha still has to prove he can be a deep threat here to me. He made round three last year, losing to Berdych. I think he can equal or better that, but my brain is starting to stick a little bit on how tough Donskoy and Haase could potentially be for him.

Bottom Half Breakdown (Federer)
Federer heads to London with confidence after winning the Halle title. He had the hiccup against Tommy Haas in Stuttgart, but that appears to have been due to rust, so he’ll be expecting to be around at the tail end of the tournament again. He opens with Alexandr Dolgopolov. Dog is 0-3 against Fed and retired at the Ricoh Open. Expect Fed to move on and play either Stefan Tsitsipas or Dusan Lajovic which appears to be another comfortable match-up. Round three might be his first “test” with the survivor of the round one clash between Mischa Zverev and Bernard Tomic favored to be there. Fed just beat Zverev in straights in Halle, his fourth win over Mischa and he’s also 4-0 against Tomic. As long as Fed stays consistent, the fourth round looks like a fairly smooth path.

The other part of this half sees Dimitrov and Isner as the seeds. I’ve touched on Isner already and his struggles this year. He goes against Taylor Fritz in round one and could well be one and done. Whoever survives round one gets Dudi Sela or Marcel Granollers. The Isner-Fritz winner should be expecting to get to the third round. Dimitrov meanwhile opens against Diego Schwartzman, which should allow him for a winning start. The Bulgarian would then face Marcos Baghdatis or James Ward. Baghdatis sucumbed to the sweltering heat in Antalya last week in the semifinals. He also retired in Stuttgart, so his health is a real question. Ward has been derailed by injuries and has not won an ATP match since he made round three at Wimbledon in 2015. Maybe this is his time against a weakened opponent? Either way, Dimitrov might think abou a new line of work if he can’t get through these first two rounds.

Dimitrov has lost in the third round the last two years at Wimbledon since his semifinal rn back in 2014. I think you have to like his chances to get there and probably a step farther to round four where he could meet Federer.

Predictions
If Raonic can get his serve humming early, I like him to get through a tougher part of this quarter. Federer has the road for success laid out in front of him, it’s up to him to execute his game plan consistently. So far in 2017, there’s been very few times when Fed has failed to do just that.

Projected Quartefinalists: Raonic, Federer

Quarter #4 Seeds
Novak Djokovic (2)
Dominic Thiem (8)
Tomas Berdych (11)
Gael Monfils (15)
Feliciano Lopez (19)
Richard Gasquet (22)
Juan Martin Del Potro (29)
Paolo Lorenzi (32)

Top Half Breakdown (Thiem)
Thiem is still a big question mark on grass for me. Yes, he won the Stuttgart title last season, but outside of that he’s just 7-10 on grass in other tournaments. At Wimbledon, he has yet to find his stride with two straight second round exits after a first round ouster in his 2014 debut. He draws Vasek Pospisil to open in what could be a trendy upset pick. Pop is far removed from the player who made the quarters here in 2015, but he’s got the serve and volley game to trouble Thiem who prefers to hug the baseline. Thiem’s build-up this year was less than stellar with a 1-2 mark and losses to Haase and Ramkumar Ramanathan. If he escapes round one, things could get better with Gilles Simon or Nicolas Jarry in round two. Simon would figure to be tougher, but Thiem is 5-2 against him and has beaten the Frenchman four straight times.

Lorenzi is seeded to be the third round foe in this part of the draw. The Italian is 0-6 at Wimbledon. He opens against Horacio Zeballos who is 0-4 here, so something will give. That should give the winner between Janko Tipsarevic and Jared Donaldson hope of making round three. Tipsarevic hasn’t scored but two wins on grass this year, but his three losses to Cilic, Troicki and Seppi look better than Donaldson’s career results on the greenery. The American has just two career wins on grass and makes his Wimbledon main draw debut. Tipsarevic surprisingly has a terrible record here despite possession a good power game. The Serb is 11-12, but has lost in round one in five of his last six trips.

Opposite of that part of the draw, things look more interesting with seeds Berdych and Gasquet. Berdych opens with a tough one against Jeremy Chardy who hasn’t found a win in four tries against the Czech, but played him close in this same round two years ago. If Berdych advances, he gets Borna Coric or Ryan Harrison. Neither has shown much on grass, but Coric did effort well here last year with two five set matches in two rounds. He beat Stakhovsky and loss to Seppi. Harrison hasn’t won here since 2012 and hasn’t won a main draw ATP match on grass since Eastbourne in 2013. I don’t think either is going to particular worry Berdych in round two. Gasquet has to get by David Ferrer in round one, but grass is a better surface for the Frenchman. A win sets him up against either Steve Darcis or Ricardas Berankis. Darcis has done virtually nothing on grass since his round one shocked over Nadal in 2013 at Wimbledon.

Gasquet-Berdych looks likely in round three. It would be meeting #17 that has gone lopsided in favor of Berdych recently with the Czech taking six of the last seven meetings. Surprisingly though, they have never met on grass. The winner of that potential match would be my favorite to get through to a quarterfinal.

Bottom Half Breakdown (Djokovic)
All hail the Eastbourne champion. The Serb definitely gained some confidence with his run to the title this past week and that should really serve him well. He didn’t beat a bunch of nothings either, so he should feel probably about as good about his game as can be expected. Andre Agassi is expected to be with him for the tournament (we think), so it will be interesting to see what, if any effect that has on Djokovic. As for his draw, he gets Martin Klizan first. That’s a comfortable match-up with Djokovic 3-0 against him and Klizan not much of a threat on grass. A win gets either Ernesto Escobedo or Adam Pavlasek. Escobedo is raw on this surface still, but Pavlasek barely plays on it. The American can win in this spot, but Djokovic should ease through to round three.

The intrigue lies opposite of this with Juan Martin Del Potro opening against Thanasi Kokkinakis. There is no telling if DelPo’s groin is 100 percent, but you’d hope the rest has helped him heal. If he’s fit, then he may simply need to find his rhythm to become an automatic threat in London. You know Djokovic saw his name in the draw and probably got a little uncomfortable. Kokkinakis has the big serve and game to contend with Del Potro, but has his own physical struggles that keep him from being consistent match-to-match. He could spring an upset like he did against Raonic, but fall apart immediately in round two. If DelPo is healthy, I think he’ll survive and then see either Ernests Gulbis or Victor Estrella Burgos. Gulbis hasn’t played on grass since losing in round one here last year to Jack Sock. I’d be disappointed if we didn’t see Djokovic-Del Potro in round three.

In the other part of this half, Monfils and Lopez are the lead seeds. Monfils looked fairly solid in Eastbourne in making the final. La Monf lost in the opening round last year and has never made it past round three at Wimbledon, so he looks challenged to get that done this year. He opens against a dangerous qualifier in Daniel Brands. The German veteran actually owns three wins against Monfils, but those came three or more years ago. Brands did make the fourth round in 2010 and he’s got a big serve. Monfils can’t afford to slack off. The winner gets Kyle Edmund or Alexander Ward. Edmund has lost five straight on grass and has been a disappointing first round exit each year since 2013 at Wimbledon. Ward is playing the main draw for just the second time. Edmund needs to step up and win in this spot, but his confidence may be lacking. The Monfils-Brands winner should be the one to watch into round three.

Lopez has been in marvelous form on grass this summer, a nice return to good things for the three-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist. He’s 9-1 on grass this year with the Queen’s Club title in tow. He draws Adrian Mannarino to start. The Frenchman made the Antalya final, so he’s got some grass game as well. Mannarino did make round four at the All-England Club in 2013, so he can contend against Lopez. The Spaniard has beaten him twice, but their Australian Open match in 2015 was close until Mannarino succumbed to heat exhaustion. The winner gets Antalya champ Yuichi Sugita or Brydan Klein. Sugita has looked much better on grass with the Antalya title and the Surbiton Challenger title on grass this summer. I would be concerned with too many matches on his legs though. He’s played 14 matches on grass with that last week in the heat in Turkey. Klein is 0-2 all-time at Wimbledon, but he’s played a lot on this surface and I would not be surprised if he pulled off the upset over a fatigued Sugita.

Lopez is the one to watch as he carries in some great form and is very comfortable on this surface. Even if he goes toe-to-toe with Monfils, I’d like the Spaniard’s chances of being in the fourth round.

Predictions
If Del Potro’s groin wasn’t a concern coming in, I’d be more apt to say Djokovic might have more trouble early, but even a healthier DelPo could not beat Novak in three other meetings in 2017. I do like where the Serb is at coming to London though and as long as he doesn’t get off to a slow start and keeps his confidence up, he should be in the quarterfinal mix. A Djokovic-Lopez fourth round match could be much better than the 9-1 head-to-head in favor of the Serb suggests. The guy who could swoop in and take advantage of Djokovic’s tougher road is Berdych.

Projected Quarterfinalists: Berdych, Djokovic

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

Outside of Federer, the top players in this tournament still have key questions upon arrival. For Murray, it’s whether his hip is an issue and whether his game will be back in rhythm after the early exit at Queen’s Club. For Djokovic, it’s whether his title in Eastbourne signals that everything is moving back into a positive direction or if he’s still prone to getting the yips? And then Nadal obviously will simply have to prove that he can win on grass again.

It’s still very hard to see an outsider claiming the title at Wimbledon, but that seems to be our mantra going into every Grand Slam. I think the closest one could get to an outsider would be someone like Raonic or Cilic. Raonic is the one to keep an eye on for me again this year. He’s got that huge game that can trouble Federer, Djokovic and Murray. The Canadian especially will have a little swagger if he goes against Fed, having beaten the Swiss last year in the semis and in Brisbane earlier in 2016. I think Murray and Djokovic still hold the key edge over him due to their return games, but Fed is obviously not in that elite class of returning.

I think in order right now, I’d say Federer, Djokovic and then Murray as possible winners. Murray could elevate himself a notch if he proves the hip is a non-issue within the first two rounds. If Murray crashes early, Cilic is the guy who could step into the top half of the draw and take control as somewhat of a “surprise” guy. Down on the bottom, it’s harder to see Federer, Djokovic or Raonic not involved in the other spot in the final. I’ll go Andy-Novak with about two percent confidence!

2017 Wimbledon Preview: Historical Analysis of Seeds, Qualifiers & Wild Cards

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Wimbledon 2017: Is the Narrative Any Different?

The more things change, the more they stay the same. That seems to be the mantra when it comes to Grand Slams and Wimbledon has been no different. In spite of several high profile upsets in the past five years or so, the business end at the All-England Club still comes down to those familiar names: Federer. Murray. Djokovic. Just one time since 2003 has that not been the case and his name was Rafael Nadal in 2010. There will be plenty of talk again about the perceived vulnerability of both Djokovic and Murray, although Novak has done some good this week in Eastbourne to squash that with a run to the title.

There will be intrigue about Rafael Nadal in a season of resurgence for the Spaniard. One in which he is coming off his 10th French Open title and his record stands at a stout 43-6. One in which he has yet to play on grass and a career that has derailed at Wimbledon since his 2010 triumph and 2011 finals trip. In the past five years at the All-England Club, Rafa has lost in the first or second round in three of his four trips to London. And the the conversation will inevitably circle back around to the top dog, Roger Federer. He of the 18 career Grand Slam wins and the same man who turns 36 next month, yet arguably is playing the best tennis of his career in 2017.

That’s where the conversation starts. This preview starts focused more on the numbers, the seeds in particular. It gives insight into how top heavy Grand Slams usually are at the end of the day. The “outsiders” who crash the party at the end as unseeded players are few and far between. The seeds don’t all hold up of course and without much doubt even the top ten seeds will see an upset or two within the first few days. So let’s take a look at how the 32 seeds have done over the past five years at Wimbledon to give us some clues in our hunt for those upsets and the best bets to be around when the latest champion is crowned.

The Exodus Doesn’t Always Start Early

It has been three straight years at Wimbledon that a top ten seed has not lost in round one. After a run from 2010-2013 that saw six seeds in the top eleven lose in their openers, not a single seed within the top 16 seeds has been ousted in round one from 2014-2016. The highest seed to lose in round one a year ago was (17) Gael Monfils. In 2015, it was 19th seed Tommy Robredo who was the highest seed gone in round one and 2014’s earliest exit belonged to 18th seeded Fernando Verdasco.

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In the last two years, only four seeds have been taken down in round one each year. In 2014 that number was six. The larger number of seeded upsets in round one was coming in the years between 2010-2013 when at least seven seeds went down in three of those four years. Twice, eight seeds were done in round one in that span. Interestingly, round two has been a bigger danger spot for top ten seeds in recent times. In three of the last four trips to the All-England Club, two top ten seeds have been dumped out in round two. The one year that missed that trend, 2014, three top 13 seeds lost in round two. So if you’re looking to hit big on an upset, round two is your better try.

Early Bird Specials

4. Rafael Nadal
Nadal simply has to be on this list because of his recent history at this event. Perhaps his rediscovered game in 2017 will be immune to a letdown here, but the surface still does not play to Rafa’s strengths. He opens with John Millman. The Aussie doesn’t seem to fit the heavy hitter who has taken Rafa down early at Wimbledon, but he’s played well here the last few years. In 2016, he made the third round and in 2015, he lost a tough five set match to Marcos Baghdatis in round two. If Nadal can’t find a rhythm in round one, Millman has the tools to push him.

Round two might be the bigger risk though with Donald Young or Denis Istomin waiting. Young hasn’t been great on grass, but he does have confidence after back-to-back quarterfinal runs at Queen’s Club and Eastbourne. Istomin’s big hitting, flat style looks to be the bigger threat, but he’s had trouble picking up wins really all year since his historic win over Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open. That alone though will be red alert for Rafa. Nadal will like his 5-0 mark against Istomin, although their most competitive match came on grass at Queen’s Club in 2010 – the same year Rafa won Wimbledon.

5. Stan Wawrinka
A lot of attention will be paid to Wawrinka’s first round encounter with Daniil Medvedev and rightfully so. The Russian has been on a roll on grass this season with three straight quarterfinal or better finishes. Stan only played Queen’s Club and lost in his first match to Feliciano Lopez, but a lack of grass prep is not new for the Swiss. He rarely does well in the pre-Wimbledon buildup and grass is still his worst surface results-wise. To that point, he lost in round two at Wimbledon last year to Juan Martin Del Potro. That broke a string of two straight quarterfinal finishes which were preceeded by three first round losses in the previous four years. The “off” year was a second round exit.

Medvedev is likely to be a popular upset pick over Wawrinka by many and if his serve and shoulder hold up, it’s not unthinkable. If you’re going deeper and looking for that tricky round two that often is the bigger bite – it could be Tommy Haas or Ruben Bemelmans. Haas will be playing in his final Wimbledon and what better way to say goodbye then with a big scalp of one of the premier players in tour? Haas owns two wins over Wawrinka in two tries, but none have come since 2014.

We know Haas had the big upset of Federer in Stuttgart to start the grass court season this summer, but some of that has to be attributed to Roger’s lengthy downtime. Still, there will be confidence from that and he has not looked over matched in any of his grass court matches in the past few weeks. The Belgian qualifier Bemelmans also shouldn’t be glazed over. He is competent and experienced on this surface. Keep the Stanimal on upset alert for two rounds at least.

7. Marin Cilic
Cilic has been in good form on grass this summer with a 6-2 record, including a finals loss at Queen’s Club to Feliciano Lopez. The draw however puts Cilic on this list. The Croat has Philipp Kohlschreiber to open with in round one. Cilic is 6-3 against the German, but Kohlschreiber won their most recent meeting in 2016 indoors at Rotterdam. Kohlschreiber has been a threat on this surface, but mostly in the German-based tournaments. At Wimbledon, he hasn’t been past round two since a quarterfinal run in 2012.

So again, round two could be more dangerous with Viktor Troicki or Florian Mayer waiting. Cilic is 6-5 against Troicki, but the Serb has taken both grass court meetings (2015). Cilic and Mayer have split four career meetings. The lone grass court clash came at Wimbledon in round one in 2010 with Mayer winning in straight sets. Cilic will earn anything he gets in London.

8. Dominic Thiem
The Austrian belongs on this list because he’s still over scheduling and he’s still a questionable threat on grass. At Wimbledon, he’s yet to get beyond the second round. This year, he’s got a tough opener against Vasek Pospisil. The one-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist scored a few wins during the grass build-up tournaments and will be hoping that his confidence carries over. He should feel reasonably good, having beaten Thiem in their only career meeting. That came on clay in 2015 in Munich, a surface that suits Thiem much more so than Pospisil.

If Thiem survives round one, he could be in better shape to set a personal best at Wimbledon. His second round opponent would be either Nicolas Jarry or Gilles Simon. He’s 5-2 against Simon, having beaten the Frenchman four straight times. Jarry is in his first main draw at Wimbledon and still searching for his maiden Grand Slam win.

9. Kei Nishikori
Mr.Fragile heads into another Slam with injury questions after retiring in Halle with a back injury. It’s become customary for Kei as it was his third straight season bailing out of the Gerry Weber Open due to back issues. That’s been a bad sign for Nishikori who ultimately retired each of the past two years at Wimbledon. Last year he did manage to get to the fourth round, but 2014 saw him duck out in round two. It was a rib problem that got him in 2016 and a calf problem in 2015. Likely, both stemmed from the back issue that took him down in Halle before Wimbledon.

Round one may not be the issue for Nishikori either with Italian Marco Cecchinato up first. This will be Cecchinato’s first match on grass and doesn’t suit his game well. He’s better on clay and even hard courts where he can use his speed to defend. If Nishikori isn’t hurting still, I doubt round one is his exit point. Round two however will be a test. He’ll face either Julien Benneteau or Sergiy Stakhovsky. Stakhovky has beaten Nishikori twice, but both meetings were back in 2011. Nishikori took down Benneteau in four sets last year at Wimbledon and is 4-1 against him.I’d put Nishikori on the lighter side of the upset potential, but you have to monitor him due to the injury history.

Other Seeds On Upset Alert

20. Nick Kyrgios
Lingering hip and shoulder issues keep Kyrgios in the early upset watch in London. He did play at the Boodles exhibition after retiring at Queen’s Club against Donald Young with the hip as the problem. He beat Kohlschreiber 6-4, 6-4 at Boodles, so perhaps he’s going to be fine. NK matches up against Pierre-Hugues Herbert in round one. PHH might be better known for his doubles play, but that is part of what makes him dangerous – his volleying skills. If Hugues-Herbert serves well to match Kyrgios, his serve and volley style can challenge Kyrgios to provide his best tennis to win.

21. Ivo Karlovic
Aljaz Bedene battles Karlovic in round one. The Brit has three wins over the #21 seed with two coming via retirement. Karlovic is a pretty good serve and volley guy on grass and he did make the Ricoh Open final this season. If Karlovic channels his form from earlier this summer on grass then he should be fine, but it’s been an inconsistent season. That means Bedene might have a shot.

23. John Isner
Taylor Fritz is the competition in round one. With Isner, you know anyone who can serve big is going to have a shot to keep the match close and perhaps steal some sets. Isner has not looked very strong this summer, so Fritz could get himself his maiden Grand Slam win if he can bring his serve consistently. It was popping in qualis, so the #NextGen (barf) could become the #NOWGen with a win over Isner.

25. Albert Ramos-Vinolas
The Spaniard made the third round at Wimbledon last year for the first time, but grass is still obviously not his best surface. Couple that with a tough opening match-up against Jordan Thompson and ARV could be sent packing early. Thompson scored his biggest career win in upsetting Andy Murray at Queen’s Club this year. He also made a Challenger final on grass, so he appears to be growing with his game on grass. That means he is dangerous and will arrive confident

27. Mischa Zverev
A repeat of this past week’s match in Eastbourne where Tomic easily worked past Zverev 6-3, 6-3. A lot of people still back Zverev as a game changer on this surface because of his serve and volley tactics, but he has really struggled to win on grass in non-German tournaments. This is his first trip back to the main draw at Wimbledon since 2011. Tomic hasn’t lost in the opening round here since 2012. It may be tough to beat the same player two weeks in a row, but it’s also a big confidence builder to have easily beaten that same player. Keep an eye on this one.

29. Juan Martin Del Potro
No grass prep for Del Potro due to a nagging groin injury which is a little bit troublesome. He starts with Thanasi Kokkinakis which might be a good thing. Even though Kokkinakis scored an impressive upset of Raonic at Queen’s Club, his consistency still isn’t quite there due to some nagging soreness from shoulder issues. In a best of three, the Aussie might have a chance to stick it to DelPo with his serve. In a best of five, I think it’s going to be difficult as long as Del Potro is fit. Now if DelPo isn’t 100 percent fit either, then this is a war of attrition that could go the distance and go to either guy.

31. Fernando Verdasco
This is mostly match-up based with Kevin Anderson as his first round foe. Anderson hasn’t done much to inspire confidence in 2017, but his big serving style can do damage on grass. Verdasco leads to head-to-head 3-2, but it was Anderson winning against him on grass last year. The Spaniard has not been able to escape the opening round two of the last three years and will be pressed to play consistently to win this year.

Outsider’s Edge

Our seed history chart shows that there have been a few outsiders crashing the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in recent history. Last year was the first time since 2012 that seeds comprised all eight quarterfinal slots. In five of the last seven years, at least one unseeded player has made it to the quarterfinals. That has been the stopping point however with no unseeded players advancing farther since 2008 when both Marat Safin and Rainier Schuettler did the trick.

It’s difficult to pluck an unseeded player out of the draw who might make noise simply because of the large field and multiple scenarios that usually have to happen in order for the unseeded player to move on. Still, we can identify the spots in the draw that MIGHT present chances to some. Here’s a look at each quarter and potential scenarios to see non-seeds advance deep through the tournament.

Quarter #1
Stan Wawrinka’s half of the quarter offers some opportunity for the unseeded players. It starts with Wawrinka’s opener against Daniil Medvedev. A second round opponent would be Tommy Haas or Ruben Bemelmans. Haas is playing in his final Wimbledon and he’s been competitive on grass this season, including the famous win over Federer in Stuttgart. The other seeds here also don’t arrive with a ton of confidence.

(12) Tsonga went 1-1 at Queen’s Club and lost in round one at the French Open, his first Grand Slam R1 exit since 2007. (24) Querrey stunned by making his first Slam quarterfinal here last year, including the shock win over Djokovic. This year, he went 2-2 in the grass build-up. That’s not a negative as he didn’t do a ton right before Wimbledon last year either. (31) Verdasco draws a tough assignment with Kevin Anderson in round one as I talked about above. Anderson won their only grass court match last year in Nottingham.

Wawrinka and Verdasco’s portion of this quarter could open up with an early upset and that looks the likeliest route for an unseeded player to make a run.

Quarter #2
Nadal’s quarter for me is the one that looks more likely to open up. The top seeds all have questions from Nadal’s recent struggles at Wimbledon to Nishikori’s health to Cilic’s match-ups. It might not necessarily be a non-seed who surprises here as one of the lower seeds, #30 Karen Khachanov, could be one to watch. The Russian is still green on the green, making his Wimbledon main draw debut this year. Still, he showed his strength in Halle with a semifinal run and could be a threat regardless of whether Nadal is able to find success or not.

The bottom half of the corner with Nishikori and Cilic looks like it’s one early upset from opening up for the right taker. The Viktor Troicki-Florian Mayer winner could be a non-seed to contend with, but also pay attention to a lower seed like (25) Steve Johnson. He’d probably need Cilic to lose early to have a realistic shot at making a deep run.

Quarter #3
This is the one where most won’t see a non-seed making the quarterfinals with Federer and Raonic as the lead seeds. Toss in that the unseeded players who might offer the most trouble like Bernard Tomic or Robin Haase are stuck with very difficult routes to success. They’d likely need multiple upsets and in this quarter, that’s a longer shot than others.

Quarter #4
The top half of this quarter with 8th seeded Dominic Thiem looks like the speed bump spot. Thiem opens with Vasek Pospisil who presents a challenge right away. If Thiem survives though, he faces easier matches after that. The bottom half has a strong seeded field led by Djokovic, Gael Monfils, Feliciano Lopez and Juan Martin Del Potro. It seems unlikely this part of the draw produces an unseeded quarterfinalist.

Deep Impact: Qualifiers & Wild Cards

Qualifiers and wild cards have a good recent history at Wimbledon of finding the middle rounds of the tournament. Every year since 2011, at least one qualifier has managed to get to round three. That has been the cutoff point for qualifiers. The last two years, qualifiers have gone just 6-10 in round one matches. Those numbers were on the winning side of the ledger in 2012 (10-6) and 2013 (9-7), but have seen qualifiers with a losing round one record in three straight seasons.

Wild cards have traditionally done more damage than qualifiers. They have made some big runs with two of those coming in the past three years. In 2015, American wild card Denis Kudla surprised by getting to the fourth round and the year before, it was Aussie Nick Kyrgios who claimed a quarterfinal slot as a wild card. Overall, wild card entries have seen at least one spot in the round of 32 in three of the past five years. Last year was a low for wild cards with just a 1-5 mark in round one. They had been 8-8 in the previous two years in 2014 and 2015.

So, let’s hunt down this year’s candidates to do a little damage from the quali field as well as the wild card entries. Wild cards look a bit harder to see making noise this year, but I spy at least one who you can root for to put a scare into some higher ranked players.

(WC) Tommy Haas
That is the 39-year-old German, who is giving it one last go at the All-England Club, where he has only played once since 2014. The German made one big run at Wimbledon with a semifinal finish in 2009, but otherwise has been a bit mediocre here mostly. Still, he’s in the part of the draw where he could benefit from an upset of Stan Wawrinka in round one by Daniil Medvedev. Even if Wawrinka doesn’t lose, Haas could still like his chances of getting to round three against the Swiss who has lost in round one or two in five of the last seven years here. He has to beat Bemelmans first though and the Belgian is no slouch on this surface.

(Q) Lukas Rosol
The Czech is a long time removed from his 15 minutes when he beat Rafael Nadal in round two back in 2012. Still, he’s been a tough out at Wimbledon for years and may finally have some confidence coming into the week after running through qualis. He has a winnable opener against Henri Laaksonen who has never won a main draw grass match at this level. A win for Rosol and he’d see either 16th seed Gilles Muller or wild card Martin Fucsovics. Don’t assume it will be Muller who has lost in round one at Wimbledon four times in nine trips. Even if it is, Muller has only made the third round twice at this tournament and Rosol’s game matches his fairly well.

*Keep an eye on (WC) Martin Fucsovics. I’m not as enamored with his ability to spring a round one upset against Muller, but he won a grass Challenger and will bring some confidence to that match-up.

(Q) Sergiy Stakhovsky
It seems like we’re revisiting all the “biggest upsets of the decade at Wimbledon” here doesn’t it? Stakhovsky has never been able to follow up his colossal upset of Roger Federer in 2013, but like Rosol, he’s typically been a difficult out. He opens against fellow-qualifier Juliean Benneteau who he is 3-1 against. A win would get Stak a look at 9th seed Kei Nishikori who he is 2-0 against, albeit both wins came years ago and don’t have much bearing now. Still, Nishikori is a health question again and Stakhovsky can hit big and still knows how to serve and volley on this surface. He’ll be a threat if he makes it to round two to get a round deeper or more with Bautista Agut as the other seed in the area.

*Don’t discount Benneteau if he wins. His numbers aren’t great against Nishikori, but he’s been pretty good on grass this summer.

(Q) Andrey Rublev
The 19-year-old Russian picked a good time to get on a roll on grass. The Russian scored his first main draw wins on the surface in Halle beating Albert Ramos-Vinolas and Mikhail Youzhny, before falling to Khachanov in three. He was solid in qualis and goes against qualifier Stefano Travaglia who is also making his main draw debut at Wimbledon. A win could get Rublev another match against Ramos-Vinolas with a reasonable shot to get to round three.

(Q) Taylor Fritz
The American has a first round “showdown” with 23rd seed John Isner and it’s easy to see that one could come down to a few key points in tiebreaks if Fritz matches Isner’s serve. He may not even have to be perfect with Isner looking less than solid in his losses to Cilic and Gasquet on grass this summer. Isner barely got past Dusan Lajovic in three sets at Eastbourne to get his lone grass court win this year. An upset by Fritz and he’s set up well for a legit shot at round three with either Dudi Sela or Marcel Granollers waiting in round two.

Is that enough information? For today, yes. Don’t fret though as I’ll be breaking down the entire men’s draw quarter-by-quarter as well with my whimsical predictions. So be sure to keep following @tennispig or subscribe to the blog, so you don’t miss a word on Wimbledon.

2017 AEGON Championships Preview

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Queen’s Club is Dandy for Andy

Queen’s Club in London is one of the big stops this week as players sneak in more grass court preparation ahead of Wimbledon. The AEGON Championships have belonged to Andy Murray. This year’s top seed is a five-time champion at this event, including winning each of the last two seasons. He is 30-5 during his career at this tournament and has followed up two of his last three title wins at Queens’ Club with the title at Wimbledon.

Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic and Marin Cilic round out this week’s top four seeds. Cilic is the best among that group, winning the title in 2012 and racking up a 20-8 career mark at Queen’s Club. Raonic did however make the final here last year, losing to Murray. The rest of the seeded field includes Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Grigor Dimitrov, Tomas Berdych and Nick Kyrgios. Tsonga made the final in 2011, while Dimitrov won his lone title on grass here in 2014. Both Tsonga and Kyrgios will be making their debuts on grass this season. Both will be looking to get positive results this week after early exits at Roland Garros in their last action.

Early Bird Specials

For purposes of this week’s tournament, I’ll only focus on the last two years at Queen’s Club. That is when the field of competitors was reduced from 56 to 32. With just 32 players in the field, there are no byes for the seeds in the opening round. Last year, three seeds were one and done at the AEGON Championships. In 2015, just one seed lost in round one during Queen’s Club’s first year with just 32 players.

With the quick transition from clay to grass, there is definitely room for seeded upsets every year. Let’s focus on the ones who should be on upset alert early on this week in London.

2. Stan Wawrinka
No favors done for the Swiss as he lands Spaniard Feliciano Lopez in round one. Lopez has a superb record on grass at 67-37. He will come in off a tough three set loss in the Mercedes Cup final on Sunday. Lopez is 15-11 all-time at Queen’s Club and is a one-time finalist in 2014. Even his losses are usually very tough on his opponents. Wawrinka has found the going tough at this tournament outside of a semifinal in 2014. In 2015, he lost in round two to Kevin Anderson.

Last year, he was upset by Fernando Verdasco in the opening round. The second seed is 4-2 against Lopez lifetime and he did win on grass against him at Wimbledon in 2014. That was their last meeting and it was settled 7-6, 7-6, 6-3 with only one break of serve. That could be a similar set-up to this time around. Lopez played four straight three set matches in Stuttgart, so there is a chance of fatigue helping Wawrinka out.

4. Marin Cilic
Cilic has a tough draw with John Isner as his opening opponent. Isner ended a six match losing streak to Cilic last year with a win at the Paris Masters. He followed that up with a three set win in Rome this Spring on clay. Cilic does have the match play advantage after making the Ricoh Open semifinals this past week. He lost to Ivo Karlovic in three, with Karlovic taking his two sets in tiebreaks. Could that be a similar scenario with Isner?

It’s possible. An overwhelming number of Isner’s sets on grass have been decided in tiebreaks. Of his seven matches on grass in 2016, 13 of 23 sets went to breakers and another of those sets was a 19-17 loss at Wimbledon to Tsonga. The lone grass court clash between Cilic and Isner went five sets at Wimbledon in 2015. Three of those sets went to tiebreaks and the deciding set ended 12-10 in favor of Cilic. Isner won two of the three tiebreak sets.

5. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsongs opens against fellow Frenchie, Adrian Mannarino. Mannarino got in a few grass court matches last week at the Ricoh Open and that makes him a bit dangerous here. Tsonga comes in off a very disappointing first round loss at the French Open. Grass traditionally has been good for Tsonga, but he’s coming back to Queen’s Club for the first time since 2014. Mannarino has been serviceable on this surface and does own a win on clay against Tsonga this year at Monte Carlo. The surface should suit Tsonga better, but there’s definitely a chance for him to get caught cold in this spot.

Outsider’s Edge

Even before the reduction in the number of players who head to Queen’s Club each year, outsiders did not have much success has far as bringing home the title. They have however played a role late in the tournament fairly routinely. Last year, you had three unseeded players in the quarterfinals and one (Bernard Tomic) in the semifinals. In 2015, five unseeded players made the quarters with two advancing to the semis. Kevin Anderson would be the first unseeded player to get into the final in 2015 since Mardy Fish did the trick in 2010.

With that to chew on, who has a shot to make some late noise in London this week? Here’s a look at a few players with the draws to be around at the end of the week.

Nicolas Mahut
It’s a tall task for the grass assassin who had traditionally has done much better at the Ricoh Open, where he was a three time champion. Still, he’s a good serve and volley sort suited to this surface. He is stuck in Milos Raonic’s quarter though with a tough young Russian Daniil Medvedev to open. Raonic was tremendous on grass last year with back-to-back finals at Queen’s Club and Wimbledon. Still, he’s not been consistent this year, so perhaps Mahut could have a shot to upset the apple cart.

Feliciano Lopez
A big fat duh here based on his career numbers and how well he played in Stuttgart. The Spaniard is obviously boom or bust with second seed Stan Wawrinka in his way to start. A win though and Lopez might only have Berdych (7) standing in his way to the semifinals. The same Berdych he just beat in Stuttgart.

John Isner
Isner easily could go out in round one to Cilic, but he’s in a quarter with a lot of similar players who like to serve big and rely on that to move them along on grass. Cilic and Kyrgios are the seeds in his way to a semifinal surprise. An upset over Cilic in round one and he’s likely to see Steve Johnson who has beaten him three straight times, including twice in 2017. Speaking of Stevie J ….

Steve Johnson
He’s got an interesting opener against 19-year-old American qualifier Stefan Kozlov. Kozlov is one of the young talents in the US has quite a bit of grass court experience and isn’t overwhelmed by the surface. He beat Johnson at the Ricoh Open in 2016 on grass. Johnson ripped him apart at Delray Beach earlier this year in straights to repay that favor. Johnson lost a tough match to Philipp Kohlschreiber in Stuttgart last week that he might still be thinking about after blowing a late lead. If he’s able to focus this week, he’s got that big serve and forehand combo that works on grass.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Andy Murray (1)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (5)

Breakdown
This is a tricky quarter with some big servers here opposite of Murray. Starting with Murray’s half of the quarter, he opens against Aljaz Bedene who has played decently on grass. Murray did win their only career meeting last year at this tournament 6-3, 6-4. With increased confidence from a solid run at Roland Garros, I don’t think Murray will start slow here although Bedene should play him tough. A win for Murray and it’s either Sam Querrey or British wildcard Cameron Norrie. Querrey is going to be a tough out regardless of when and whom he might lose; remember he made his first Slam quarterfinal on grass at Wimbledon last year with the now famous win over Novak Djokovic in round three. Murray has handled Querrey seven out of eight career meetings, including twice on grass.

Newly minted Ricoh Open champion Gilles Muller is one to watch in the opposite half. He opens against Nikoloz Basilashvili. Muller’s big serve propelled him through the Dutch grass court tournament, where he was only broken twice in four matches. If he wins to open, he could see Tsonga in round two. Tsonga is 3-1 against the big lefty, but their Wimbledon meeting in 2015 went five. This part of the quarter could be the one with some upsets with Tsonga still up and down in form this year. If Tsonga falters, Muller would be the guy who might take advantage.

Quarter #2 Seeds
Marin Cilic (4)
Nick Kyrgios (9)

Breakdown
There is a whole lot of electric serving to be had in this quarter with Cilic, Kyrgios, Isner and Steve Johnson. In Cilic’s half, he’s up against it to start against Isner. The survivor gets either Johnson or Kozlov. Legitimately, I think Cilic, Isner or Johnson could make it to the quarters out of that part of the draw. In the bottom half, Kyrgios has Donald Young to open and that’s a good match-up for the Aussie. Kyrgios beat Young earlier this year on hard courts at Acapulco and grass won’t negate the power advantage he has over Young. The big question with Kyrgios is health. He’s been battling shoulder and hip issues off and on for months, but is reporting to be pain free heading into the week.

The under-the-radar first round match opposite of Kyrgios-Young is Janko Tipsarevic against Viktor Troicki. They have split four career meetings with Troicki winning on grass last time they met in 2013 at Wimbledon. Troicki was a quick exit in Stuttgart last week to Benoit Paire, while Tipsarevic lost in three sets in his second match at the Ricoh Open to Marin Cilic. The winner could pose a significant threat to Kyrgios or Young if he manages an upset.

Something in my gut tells me that this is a quarter where an unseeded player will get through. Isner or Johnson would be the favorite to do that, but don’t discount that Troicki-Tipsarevic winner. The wildcard would be a healthy Kyrgios, but I’m not putting my money on board that boat just yet.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Milos Raonic (3)
Grigor Dimitrov (6)

Breakdown
A lot will be expected of Raonic after his run on grass last season. His increased success with volleying paid off large during this stretch in 2016. In his half of the quarter, he goes against Thanasi Kokkinakis to start. The 21-year-old Aussie is still getting his legs back under him after missing the first five months of the season due to injury. He does have some grass play under his belt from the Ricoh Open last week, beating Mikhail Youzhny and then losing to Medvedev. If he wasn’t still working his way back, I might fancy him to push Raonic some. In this spot, I think he’ll have a tough time matching Raonic’s serve. A win gets Raonic Mahut or Medvedev. That will be the tougher test for the third seed.

In the other half, Dimitrov will look to shake off his early exit from Stuttgart last week. The Bulgarian gets Ryan Harrison to open. On this surface, that’s advantage Dimitrov. A win gets him a date against Julien Benneteau or James Ward. Much like Raonic, that will be the tougher test likely for Dimitrov. Benneteau made it through qualis and took out Mahut in ‘s-Hertogenbosch last week. He’s got a good grass court game and has split four meetings with Dimitrov. None of those have come since 2014 however. Dimitrov still doesn’t inspire confidence, so I would not be totally shocked if he was out in round two.

This should be Raonic’s quarter to take as long as he gets into a rhythm early.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Stan Wawrinka (2)
Tomas Berdych (7)

Breakdown
This is the toughest quarter to me. Wawrinka has Feliciano Lopez to get his grass campaign started. That’s tough. A win gets him either Pierre Hugues-Herbert or Jeremy Chardy. That’s likely much easier for the Swiss, especially Chardy who he is 5-0 against in their careers. In the other half, Berdych starts with Steve Darcis. The Shark does own two wins against Berdych, including one on grass in the 2012 London Olympics. Darcis has exactly one win on grass in a main draw since then.

Berdych should get through which means either Kyle Edmund or Denis Shapovalov in round two. Edmund gets on grass for the first time this season. He was a quarterfinalist at the AEGON Championships a year ago, taking a set off of Murray in a loss. Edmund is still very green on the green. Shapovalov made it through qualifying and has the big game to contend against Edmund in round one.

This could wind up going to the seeds if Lopez is fatigued from Stuttgart. If it comes down to Wawrinka vs Berdych, the Swiss owns the head-to-head 11-5. Wawrinka has won six straight over the Czech.

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

Some might be a bit reserved to look to the top seed after Roger Federer flamed out in Stuttgart last week. This is a different set-up though. Murray hasn’t been off for multiple months and really looked like the best version of Andy Murray we’ve seen in a while in Paris. This tournament is comfortable for him and his top half fo the draw looks conducive to at least a 6th trip to the Queen’s Club final.

The othe half seems more of a crap shoot with Raonic probably the expected finalist. I’m not so sure that I am sold on that. Wawrinka needs to get past Lopez first, but I think if he’s able to do so, watch out for the Swiss. Grass isn’t his best surface, but he can slug it out over most of this field if he’s on his game.

For me, I think the title resides with one of the top three seeds this week. Murray the obvious favorite, but Wawrinka perhaps the surprise – if you can say that about a second seed and I think you can about Stan on grass – if things open up for him early. I’ll still go with Andy in the end, but in a season of surprises, it would not be totally shocking if he fails to repeat.