2018 French Open Men’s Draw Preview

RGFULLPREVIEW

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pig-nosticator

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

Eliminati

Qualifier (Sock)
Borna Coric (Kohlschreiber)

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

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

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

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

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

The Pig-nosticator

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

Eliminati

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pig-nosticator

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

Eliminati

Qualifer (Kyrgios)

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

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

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

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

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

The Pig-nosticator

If not now … when for Alexander Zverev? There’s a not-yet-ready Stan Wawrinka here and an out-of-whack Lucas Pouille to block him from his first Slam quarterfinal. Maybe Khachanov. The point being is that Sascha is the in-form talent here and this is his time to get that monkey off his back. If he doesn’t get it done with this set up, then it’s going to be an even bigger mental block for him. As for the quarter overall, in spite of the Thiem over scheduling again, you can’t count him out after two straight semis at Roland Garros. There are two obvious stumbling points for him and that would be Tsitsipas in round two and Nishikori in round four. All that SHOULD play well for Sascha even if Thiem gets through, he could be about out of gas after that path and the other guy who I think could take down Sascha in Nishikori would also have run a tough gauntlet. I think it’s important that Sascha finds a rhythm in round one and starts impressively. He needs to get things done the way that the Slam stalwarts do – win quickly early and conserve your energy for the tough matches that define your tournament in the fourth round and beyond

Eliminati

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

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

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

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

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

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2018 French Open Preview: Seeded Eliminati Ratings

RGPREV2

In the first part of this year’s French Open preview, I touched on the “it” players in Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev. I also dove a bit into the history of seeds and how they have fared over the past eight years (2010-2017). Incorporated into that mix was a look at the top ten seeds and their Eliminati Ratings or basically, how prone they would be to a round one upset. The second part of the preview continues there and hits from seeds 12-32. Again since this is based solely on form, past Roland Garros history. Grand Slam history and some of the historical seed history in Paris, make sure you actually look at the draw when it comes out to draw your own conclusions. The draw makes the biggest difference in determining who can fall to the Eliminati!

Again these seeds are based on current rankings and no withdrawals or non-participation known outside of Roger Federer and Milos Raonic.

12. Sam Querrey
Querrey is another player who opted to participate in the final prep tournaments for Roland Garros. He is in rain-delayed Geneva, where play finally got back underway today after stalling out yesterday and early today due to weather. It’s easy to see why Querrey chose to play this week with two losses in his only clay court matches in Houston and Rome during this swing. Roland Garros has been a horror show for the American traditionally with 2013’s third round run as his best. He’s been an opening round casualty three straight years and eight of eleven overall. Two of the last three opening round losses came to great defenders in Hyeon Chung (2017) and Borna Coric (2015) with Bjorn Fratangelo the culprit in 2016.
ELIMINATI RATING: 5

13. Roberto Bautista Agut
The 30-year-old Spaniard has not lost in the opening round since he first broke into the main draw in 2013. The last two years in Paris he has been consistent with a pair of fourth round finishes. The form coming in is decent at 6-4 during the Euro swing on clay. He get dumped out in round one at the Australian Open this year with a straight sets loss to Verdasco. That is a tough match-up for a seed in round one. That was his first opening round loss at Slam since his very first – the Australian Open in 2012. RBA is a guy who has never made it past round four at Slam, but generally is consistent enough to avoid early trouble. Watch the draw though just to make sure he doesn’t get some sort of bad luck.
ELIMINATI RATING: 1

14. Jack Sock
Sock is in the midst of an underwhelming campaign with a 5-10 record after losing to Taylor Fritz today in Lyon. The American has slipped out of the top ten, where spades being spades, he did not belong any how. He’s had a bad run of one and dones at Grand Slams recently with three of his last four played going that way, including this year’s Australian Open and last year’s French Open. He was also a first-up casualty in his opener for the 2018 season in Auckland. Sock has gone out in his opener in three of his eight tournaments since Melbourne though, so he’s at least found a bit of the winning touch here and there. Still, he hasn’t put together back-to-back wins all season – so I’m not expecting a ton from him. As for his Eliminati status … he’s on the watch list. Last year’s opening round loss to Jiri Vesely was preceded by a five round win in the opening round over Robin Haase in 2016. Give his current state, a struggle to avoid an upset is definitely more likely than not.
ELIMINATI RATING: 4

15. Lucas Pouille
Another one of my favorite punching bags this season and for good reason. The Frenchman who made two Slam quarterfinals in 2016 has been lost at sea for most of 2018. Pouille lost his opener in three of the four clay court tournaments he played in this Spring and has two other one and dones this season. It’s been rather shameful for Pouille after such a promising start where he made three finals early in the season and won the Open Sud de France. The wheels have obviously come off since then and he may feel some pressure at his “home” Slam. Pouille lost in round one at the Australian Open, but that has been a real horror show where he is 0-5 in his career. In Paris, Pouille has lost his opener twice in the last five years, but has escaped round one each of the last two years. Both of those came against Julien Benneteau, so perhaps if they aren’t magnetized to each other this year – Pouille will have even more of a worry.
ELIMINATI RATING: 4

16. Kyle Edmund
The Brit has really come on since returning to healthy with a solid 10-5 mark on clay this season. Those ten wins are almost half of the 23-year-old’s total ATP wins on this surface, so his confidence is escalating. Madrid was especially good to him with wins over Novak Djokovic and David Goffin. He also made the final in Marrakech, albeit without beating a player ranked higher than #38 at the time (Richard Gasquet). His semifinal run at the Australian Open showed that he’s got the mentality for the five set grind, but the French Open will be a test. This is just his fourth run in Paris, but he has avoided a first round calamity so far. The match-up might make it more interesting, but the Brit looks fairly safe to avoid a first round exit.
ELIMINATI RATING: 1

17. Tomas Berdych
Berdych will be a focal point of many looking for round one upsets and rightfully so with the Czech going 0-3 on clay this season. All of those have been one and dones. He hasn’t won since the Miami Open in March and has just two wins in that stretch from March to the present. Berdych has not lost in the opening round at a Slam since 2013 and you guessed it, that came at Roland Garros at the hands of Gael Monfils. Berdych has made two quarterfinals in Paris since that loss, but definitely does not having the winning touch right now. The 32-year-old may be in obvious decline, but he’s still had his moments at Grand Slams as recently as last summer’s semifinal run at Wimbledon. As such, he may be able to lean on his experience to escape early trouble. Still, I have a feeling he could be in for a tough draw and that might make the escape act that much tougher for a player short on confidence right now.
ELIMINATI RATING: 4

18. Fabio Fognini
The Italian is in Geneva this week after a very solid week in Rome, where he made the quarterfinals. He beat Thiem and took a set off of Nadal to remind everyone of the potential he carries with him every week. Then you roll the calendar back to Madrid, Munich and Monte Carlo to find a 1-3 mark with two opening losses to Marco Cecchinato and Leonardo Mayer to see his vulnerability each week. Fognini has a first round exit at a Slam ten of the eleven years he has been on tour in main draws. Generally, Roland Garros has been a more consistent source of avoiding that fate, but it did happen last in 2016. The French Open is the site of his only career Grand Slam quarterfinal (2011), so clearly this is his best Slam. Trust however is rarely earned by Fognini, so you definitely have to see who he is playing in round one before making up your mind.
ELIMINATI RATING: 2

19. Kei Nishikori
Nishikori will be playing at his first Grand Slam since Wimbledon last summer, where he finished in the third round. He was forced to miss both the U.S. Open and Australian Open due to the wrist injury. He’s shown enough on clay since coming back to consider him a sleeper perhaps in the right draw to make some noise. He made the Monte Carlo final and also the quarters last week in Rome. The wrist is still a bit of a worry though as he was forced to retire in his only match at the Barcelona Open with soreness. That came after the long week in Monte Carlo, so his total fitness in this best of five format is going to be a question. When healthy, he’s been a huge Slam threat with quarterfinals made in five of his last eleven. Since his only first round exit at Roland Garros in 2014, he’s made the quarterfinals twice and fourth round the other year. He should be properly rested here, so I think the first round is one he should expect to navigate for a win.
ELIMINATI RATING: 1

20. Novak Djokovic
Djokovic’s run to the Rome semifinals assured him of staying in the seeded field for this year’s French Open, where he has no been unseeded since 2006. Rome obviously gave him a nice confidence boost after a very difficult time trying to get untracked this Spring after the elbow procedure. The glaring question for the Serb will be how his body holds up playing best of five for however long he lasts. In round one, I won’t say that shouldn’t be a bother, because his level of play does still spike up and down a bit. It would be historical however if he was taken out in the opening round. Djokovic has a streak of 47 straight Grand Slams played without losing in the first round. He’s never lost in round one in Paris. I don’t think he’s quite a zero because he needs to prove he can win three sets, but he’s probably closer to a zero rating than one for me.
ELIMINATI RATING: 1

21. Nick Kyrgios
If you’re thinking it’s been a while since we’ve seen Kyrgios, you’re right. He last played singles in Houston in early April going 1-1. He’s sat out the rest of the clay court season with his right elbow still a big concern. He decided to play Lyon this week, but only in doubles to test the elbow. Teaming with Jack Sock, the pair won their opener on Monday and were scheduled to play again today – weather permitting. Let’s assume he stays in the draw for now. Roland Garros has not been a great place for NK with a 5-5 mark, but only one first round exit in 2014 to Milos Raonic. Last year, he was beaten in round two by Kevin Anderson. Slams were tough on him late in 2017 with successive one and dones at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. He started this year strong with a fourth round run in Melbourne, but his body has yet again been failing him since then. Given his physical frailty, there’s an obvious chance he loses early if he plays at all.
ELIMINATI RATING: 5

22. Philipp Kohlschreiber
Kohlschreiber put together a really solid clay court swing, going 10-5 with the highlight being a trip to the Munich final. Outside of his Lamine Ouhab in Marrakech, his losses came to higher ranked players. The problem for the German though has been lackluster Grand Slam results in the last three years. Since 2015, he’s had eight first round exits at Slams. That includes this year’s Australian Open and each of the last two years in Paris. At 34, he might be playing some of his better tennis consistently right now. I’d still rate him a possibility though with his recent history and also that he could wind up with a tough opponent.
ELIMINATI RATING: 3

23. Stan Wawrinka
The 2015 champion won’t have much expectation on him after missing the last three months to full recover from last season’s knee surgery. The Swiss returned to tour action last week in Rome, losing to Steve Johnson. He’s also enrolled in Geneva this week, where he has won the last two titles. Right now, it is all about getting match play for Wawrinka. He says the knee feels good, but his rhythm is obviously not there after so much time away from the court. Stan has only lost two first round matches at Slams since 2014. One was at the French Open that year and the other one at Wimbledon in 2017. He’s an obvious threat when healthy here with a run of three straight years winning the title, making the semis and making the final last year. Monitor his progress or lack thereof in Geneva this week. The more matches he gets, I think the less worry I’d have about him in round one and vice versa. I think you still have to temper your expectations though and look at who he draws in round one.
ELIMINATI RATING: 3

24. Denis Shapovalov
El Shapo gets his first seeded Slam appearance in Paris. The Canadian teen has acquitted himself well on this surface during his first full run at this part of the season. After a slow start, he made the semifinals in Madrid and then won a couple in Rome before losing to Nadal. This is going to be his first main draw appearance at Roland Garros, so that is a big change for him. Let’s not forget, he’s only played in three Slams so far in his career with last year’s U.S. Open fourth round run as the highlight. Being that clay is still probably a surface that his game isn’t the best suited for and that he’s a first timer here, there is certainly some chance of an upset early.
ELIMINATI RATING: 3

25. Adrian Mannarino
The Frenchman has a definite clay court allergy at 12-33 all-time on the surface, 1-4 this season. He’s lost his opener at Roland Garros seen of the nine years that he has been in the main draw. Even Captain Obvious feels guilty.
ELIMINATI RATING: 5

26. Filip Krajinovic
The 26-year-old Serb is making a rare appearance in a main draw at a Grand Slam. This will be just his 8th Slam played, but third in Paris. Of those previous seven appearances, he’s only won in the main draw one time at the 2015 U.S. Open. Throw in that he has not played since Miami due to a lingering Achilles injury. Given his struggles on clay, he’s a huge candidate for one and done status if he is able to give it a go at all.
ELIMINATI RATING: 5

27. Damir Dzumhur
Dzumhur has been a first round loser three of the four years that he has played this event. He’s gone just 2-5 during the build-up tournaments with three first match losses. He’s not terrible on the surface overall, but he’s struggled to grab wins at the ATP level on dirt lately. Since the beginning of 2017, he’s just 4-12 on the surface.
ELIMINATI RATING: 4

28. Andrey Rublev
A back injury has kept the 20-year-old Russian sidelined for long periods since he picked it up during his Miami Open loss to Vasek Pospisil. He played in Monte Carlo in April and challenged Thiem pretty well before losing in three sets. He has not appeared in a match since that time in an effort to get healthy. When healthy, this big hitter is a threat on this surface as he showed in winning his lone ATP title last year in Umag on clay. He’s only played in six Slams so far in his career and this will be just his second time at the French Open. Rublev lost in round one last year and has to be an iffy proposition in round one this year with his lack of match play coupled with the back problem.
ELIMINATI RATING: 4

29. Richard Gasquet
The Gasman has not lost his opener at Roland Garros since 2010. He does however have three one and dones in his last six Slams played. Gasquet started the clay season well with a semifinal run in Marrakech and a quarterfinal finish in Monte Carlo. He’s 1-3 since with two opening match losses. Gasquet has had some bad luck with injuries at Slams the last few seasons with his back and knee being the culprits. For the purposes of this though, we’re looking at the here and now. His history says he will probably have a good chance to get through round one, again depending on the opponent. His recent losses though are still a bit of a cause for concern along with his injury history.
ELIMINATI RATING: 2

30. Feliciano Lopez
Despite not being associated with clay court success, the lefty has only dropped his opener in Paris once in the last five years. That did break a string of three straight opening round losses from 2010-2013 and he had lost his opener nine of the first 12 years he played in Paris. He’s turned it around some though and was 3-4 during the Euro swing with just one opening round loss. Lopez has lost in the opening round in three of the last five Grand Slams.
ELIMINATI RATING: 3

31. Gilles Muller
This is his worst surface and worst Slam by far. Muller has lost in round one six of the eight years that he has made the main draw. He was 1-3 in three tournaments played on clay leading up to Roland Garros with a pair of one and dones. He should be very high on your list of potential seeded upset victims in round one.
ELIMINATI RATING: 5

32. Fernando Verdasco
There will be plenty of seeds happy to see the Spaniard slip into the final spot in the seeded field, so they don’t have to worry about drawing him. Verdasco may not be a deep threat at this stage of his career, but he’s still capable of pulling off early upsets. Ask Bautista Agut about Melbourne this year and Alexander Zverev about last year in Paris. The Spaniard had his best Slam result in the last three years by making the fourth round at Roland Garros in 2017. The 34-year-old has been mediocre on dirt this year after a scintillating run to the Rio final. He’s still super fit and works about as hard as anyone. This is his first time being a seed since the 2015 French Open, when he also was seeded 32nd.
ELIMINATI RATING: 2

So there you have it, the entire seeded field over the course of the first two parts of this preview have been dissected as to their possible shots at being early elimination candidates. In the final part of the preview tomorrow, I’ll take a look at the unseeded players who could produce some of these potential upsets.

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2018 Italian Open QF Preview: Novak Djokovic vs Kei Nishikori

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(11) Novak Djokovic vs Kei Nishikori

Serb Surging, But Bigger Test Awaits

When you’re desperate for wins and confidence, you’ll take every win you can get. That describes Novak Djokovic’s current status pretty well as the Serb has won three straight matches at a tournament for just the second time this season. His latest win was a straight sets 6-1, 7-5 win over Albert Ramos-Vinolas. Djokovic has won all three matches this week in Rome in straights en route to his first quarterfinal of 2018. The 11th seed has displayed some of his best serving of the season, albeit against guys not known as gifted returners. His first serve win rate was under 80 percent for the first time this week against Ramos-Vinolas, finishing at 73 percent thanks to a late wobble on serve.

He’s been stingy for the most part, allowing just one break of serve in three matches. That’s a massive confidence builder despite the competition being in the form of Alexandr Dolgopolov, Nikoloz Basilashvili and Ramos-Vinolas. From what I’ve seen in the highlight packages this week, Djokovic’s serve has been more effective with the Serb sporting better accuracy and depth. He’s often been able to stretch the returner a bit wide, opening up the court better for the next ball. Djokovic has also mixed in some aggressive net rushing when he gets soft contact back off the return.

I think both are positive signs for him, but he still needs the consistency from match to match to be a bit higher. The let down late in the second set against Ramos-Vinolas could have wound up sending the match to three sets, but to his credit, Djokovic did break back and eventually closed the match out. Against someone like Nishikori, even with the past dominance, you don’t want to let a dangerous player back up off the mat like he did with the Spaniard on Thursday

Nishikori Seeking to End Prolonged Djokovic Losing Streak

Kei Nishikori blasted his way into the quarterfinals by dismantling Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-1, 6-2. Nishikori was rarely troubled by the German as he won 74 percent of his service points without being broken. Kohlschreiber mounted just two break chances with Nishikori fighting both of them off. Oppositely, the man from Japan was all over the German’s serve for four breaks on seven chances. Nishikori would win 53 percent of the points played on Kohlschreiber’s serve. That’s been the story through three rounds with Nishikori coming up with big break conversions to the tune of eleven breaks now on 26 chances.

Nishikori’s best asset this week has been his aggressive play. He stated after his somewhat miraculous win over Grigor Dimitrov in round two that the key moment in that match was when he stopped letting Dimitrov dictate the points. Nishikori scored two critical breaks in the final two sets of that match, when trailing 4-3. As for the Kohlschreiber match, Nishikori played a comfortable baseline match. He hammered the ball, especially his backhand, to attack and keep the German pinned back. Nishikori’s return provided depth that sent Kohlschreiber into recovery mode off his serve, instead of attacking with the next ball. That almost always works out well for the returner.

This will be the second clash between Djokovic and Nishikori in the past two weeks. It was Djokovic who won his 11th straight over Nishikori 7-5, 6-4 in opening round play in Madrid. That is eleven straight matches since Nishikori’s stunning U.S. Open win in 2014. Nishikori has now taken just one set out of the last 16 played since the beginning of 2016. There wasn’t much to separate the two last time with similar serve stats. It was the Serb who had the better play in key moments though, staving off five of six break chances againsth is serve. Djokovic would convert three breaks of Nishikori on seven chances.

The Formula

It’s nice to be able to go right to the tape from just a week or so ago to break down what worked for Djokovic this time around, especially considering they had not played since late 2016. For me, one of the biggest things was Djokovic’s aggressive level of play. I think playing someone he considered as a big win had the Serb mentally in the match from ball one. Where he was most aggressive was his forehand. This was evident in return, where Djokovic upped that aggression on second serves and took some big cracks with the forehand that went for winners.

It has always been apparent in this match-up that Djokovic does not fear Nishikori’s serve. He has had few issues getting into both the first and second serves of Nishikori. If that doesn’t change, Nishikori stands little chance to reverse how things have gone against the Serb. Nishikori’s issue has been trying to beat the length of Djokovic who has a tremendous wingspan, enabling him to stretch for some balls that “normal” returners might not get. Djokovic is also still one of the best at recovering off those stretched moments and getting back to the next ball. For me, Nishikori needs to take a page from the Serb’s game plan and go more aggressive himself.

When he gets those stretched moments on Djokovic, he needs to move in and attack with purpose. I think he’s often simply tried to beat Djokovic in those instances by putting the ball into the court opposite of where the Serb just made the save. Nishikori would do well to mix that up tactically and go right back at Djokovic on occasion. Even if the Serb pivots and is able to make the shot, it gives him something else to think about That might make him just a step slower then next time Nishikori has an open part of the court to go to – a step that might prevent Djokovic from tracking down a potential winner.

There will certainly still be plenty of lengthy baseline rallies in this match. Djokovic needs to be weary of the Nishikori backhand as he bigger weapon. Kei’s forehand is solid, but the double handed backhand is the money maker for me. Nishikori hits it with power and pace equally well to any area on court. Djokovic has never shied away from that wing, but he’s got to be careful about where his shot puts Nishikori into position for the backhands. If Nishikori gets time to settle and rip, he’s going to challenge Djokovic with great depth and usually a fantastic angle.

One of the ways that Djokovic has done a good job of keeping out of Nishikori’s strike zone is varying the pace of his own backhand. I’ve noticed he has utilized a change-up of sorts that elevates the bounce of his backhand. That doesn’t allow for as clean a strike on the ball for his opponent. I still don’t think patience is the best option for Nishikori in those rallies. He has to find an opening and take some risks. Djokovic is hitting the ball cleaner and with more confidence, so there is likely going to be less opportunity to break him down in a longer rally.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

The head-to-head says it all. Djokovic was short on confidence and wins in Madrid and once again took down Nishikori. I think the one thing that gives Nishikori a shot to perhaps at least start fast is that this will be the Serb’s biggest test this week and an entirely different look from what he’s seen in his first three opponents. Nishikori needs to find a way to put some stress on the Serb to test that mental aspect that is still one of the most suspect things surrounding this version of Djokovic.

It is difficult seeing Nishikori coming through with the win in this one, although it is sometimes tougher to beat the same player in successive weeks. I don’t expect that Djokovic’s serve will be quite the weapon it has been for most of the week with Nishikori as a quality returner. Thus, I can see Nishikori perhaps stealing a set in this one and he might even be in the driver’s seat for a minute in a set. In the end though, I think Djokovic has shown that he knows how to break Nishikori’s serve down and consistently beat him in the big points from the baseline.

Prediction: Djokovic wins in three sets

2018 Italian Open R2 Preview: Grigor Dimitrov vs Kei Nishikori

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(3) Grigor Dimitrov vs Kei Nishikori

Dimitrov Seeks End to Rome Skid

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

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

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

The Formula

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

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

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

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

The Pig’s Bottom Line

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

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

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

Prediction: Nishikori wins in three sets

2018 Mutua Madrid Open Preview

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The Streaks Hit Madrid

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

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

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

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

ELIMINATI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Draw Preview

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

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

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

The Pig-nosticator

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

Sizzle
Rafael Nadal

Fizzle
Diego Schwartzman
Pablo Carreno Busta

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

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

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

The Pig-nosticator

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

Sizzle
Roberto Bautista Agut

Fizzle
None

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

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

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

The Pig-nosticator

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

Sizzle
Grigor Dimitrov

Fizzle
Lucas Pouille

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

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

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

The Pig-nosticator

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

Sizzle
Alexander Zverev

Fizzle
Jack Sock

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

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

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

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