2017 Rogers Cup R2 Preview: Kei Nishikori vs Gael Monfils

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Kei Nishikori opens his campaign in Montreal against Gael Monfils. This is the fourth career meeting between the two with Nishikori taking all three of the previous meetings. Monfils has taken a set in each of the losses.

(5) Kei Nishikori vs Gael Monfils

Rest definitely will have helped Kei Nishikori after he looked gassed in his final two matches at the Citi Open last week. Nishikori lost in the semifinals to eventual champ Alexander Zverev 6-3, 6-4. He was made to work hard in just about every match last week as his ground strokes were off their normal level. Nishikori made a ton of unforced errors #KeiSpray and he was not as efficient converting break points as we often see him. He did force 36 break points, but converted on just ten. That 28 percent conversion clip is well below his season average of 43.

Monfils opened his Rogers Cup run with a three set win over Steve Johnson on Monday 2-6, 7-6 (1), 6-1. After the slow start, Monfils was unbreakable on serve the rest of the way. Monfils’ second serve was the major flaw in the opening set, winning just two of eleven points played. He was broken twice on four chances. The second and third sets saw the Frenchman win 42 of 51 points played on serve with no break chances. Monfils said he had trouble moving early in the match, but felt much more “fluid” as the match progressed. Keep those comments in mind for Wednesday’s round two battle.

Monfils’ Snatches Defeat From The Jaws of Victory

Of their three encounters in the past, two came last year on hard courts in Miami and Rio at the Olympics. Both times, Nishikori edged Monfils in a final set tiebreak. Monfils isn’t far off from beating Nishikori obviously, but he’s got his issues in those big points. The most glaring of those losses as the Olympic loss where Monfils held a 6-3 lead in the tiebreak before Nishikori stunned him with five straight points for the win. The loss kept Monfils out of the medal round.

In Miami, Nishikori again fended off multiple match points (5) to secure the win. Monfils led 5-4 with Nishikori serving in the third set of that clash. Nishikori fell into a 0-40 hole, but dug out three times to stay on serve and eventually win it in the tiebreak. The way those two matches went against Monfils late, you have to figure there is some residual build-up in his brain that could come into play in this next chapter.

The Health Factor

There is no doubt that Nishikori and Monfils at 100 percent are scintillating shot makers who can beat anyone, but their bodies have been their biggest adversaries in their careers. Monfils has missed more time this season due to knee problems. Nishikori has had wrist and hip problems at times this season which have caused him to miss some time. Coming into this week, Nishikori certainly needed the off days in between D.C. and Montreal. He played some lengthy matches at the Citi Open and looked well worn out by the end of his run. Monfils as mentioned earlier complained that he had trouble loosening himself up early against Steve Johnson. So as usual, both players fitness levels will be something to watch on Wednesday.

Match Tactics

Serve is always going to favor Monfils in this match-up. He has easy power on his serve and can dominate the proceedings this way, when he’s in the zone. Nishikori is tasked with getting on the end of Monfils’ big first serve consistently. The man from Japan had a difficult time reigning in Alexander Zverev’s power in their semifinal clash last week in D.C., so it could be problematic for him if he’s less than 100 percent. Monfils will know that he should get some chances against the Nishikori serve, that’s just the way it goes with Nishikori’s serve not nearly as powerful. Monfils is converting 39 percent of the break points he sees this season. He converted three breaks on four chances against Johnson.

Nishikori will try to use variety as a way to get his serve going into a better pattern. At times, he does get a rhythm where he can dominate, but there were lots of service games in D.C. where he was fighting hard too many times. He needs some easier holds to conserve energy and stress. Even if he’s not getting cheap points, better accuracy and variety can help Nishikori win the court position battle. It’s imperative for him to get good position off his serve. Monfils is one of the handful of players who are as athletic as Nishikori and can match his movement when healthy. If Nishikori starts in good position, then he can work Monfils around the court and force him to make quicker decisions or bail out on points.

When these two go toe-to-toe along the baseline, you can expect some spectacular rallies at times depending on how well they are moving. You probably won’t see two guys who are better at hitting the ball on-the-run. Nishikori has the edge off the backhand side, while Monfils’ forehand is a missile. Both obviously have some consistency issues, so targeting their weaker wing will be a plus. I do think when Nishikori can get zoned into the center of the court, his backhand is a key advantage with the ability to hit it cross-court and down-the-line for winners. Monfils does that more sporadically.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

There are some questions coming into this one with Monfils at least having answered a few of his during that round one comeback against Johnson. Still, Monfils’ body from match to match is capable of a letdown, so I think he’s got to prove he’s feeling good early on. Nishikori’s return game was not on point late last week as he struggled to convert break chances against Tommy Paul and then really had no answeres for Sacha Zverev’s serve. That is a definite worry against Monfils who already has a match under his belt.

Nishikori has done well avoiding first-up losses this year with just one coming back in February to Thomaz Bellucci in Rio. This is a real challenge though in this spot, but Monfils has failed too many times against top ten players to feel overly confident of an upset. La Monf is 0-4 against the top ten this season and he’s lost ten straight dating back to his last top ten win. That came in 2016 over Milos Raonic at this event in Toronto. So that is 1-12 in 2016 and 2017 against the top ten. Maybe he changes his luck this time, but that trend says he finds ways to lose more often than he does to win.

Prediction: Kei Nishikori wins in three sets

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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 Citi Open R3 Preview: Kei Nishikori vs Juan Martin Del Potro

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It’s a high profile showdown in round three at the Citi Open as Kei Nishikori and Juan Martin Del Potro battle for the 7th time. Del Potro has won five of the previous six matches, including a straight sets win in Rome earlier this season on clay.

(2) Kei Nishikori vs (13) Juan Martin Del Potro

Nishikori overcome an error prone game off the ground in his opener to squeak past Donald Young 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (5) in round two. Nishikori missed a ton of shots usually in his strike zone late on Tuesday night into Wednesday morning. He also only converted on five breaks out of 17 chances against Young’s serve. Credit to Donald for coming up with some clutching serving in those instances, but Nishikori definitely could have made life easier for himself. Overall, Nishikori wasn’t that great on serve either as he won just 61 percent of his service points. He was broken four times on seven chances, but none came in the final set. Truly, it was a difficult opener for the #2 seed who not only was playing for the first time since Wimbledon, but also saw the start of the match delayed several hours due to rain. I would expect some improvement on Thursday.

As for Del Potro, he overcame a bit of a shaky first set to dispatch Lukas Lacko with less trouble 7-5, 6-2 to begin his campaign in D.C. Del Potro was mostly unstoppable on serve thanks to his first serve. The Argentine landed 69 percent of his first serves, taking 84 percent of the points. He struggled with the few second serves that he was forced to put into play, winning just six of 17 points. DelPo was broken twice on three chances. He did break Lacko five times on eight chances in the match. Del Potro has now won 15 straight matches in D.C., having won the title here three times in the past. He lost his first match here in 2007, but has not lost since then with this being his first trip back since 2013.

Nishikori Breaks Skid in Basel, Del Potro Resumes Control in Rome

When you beat someone five out of six times, winning 12 out of 14 total sets, you’re doing something right and you’re doing something right consistently. I’ll take the lopsided lead for the Argentine with a grain of salt however with only two meetings coming in the last two years. Those two have been split with DelPo winning in Rome on clay and Nishikori beating JMDP last Fall in Basel 7-5, 6-4 indoors. Let’s focus on that one first where despite getting 14 aces, Del Potro was the one under fire more on serve. He faced ten break chances in the Basel match with Nishikori converting twice. Oppositely, DelPo had a tough time making inroads on the Nishikori serve that won 85 percent of the first serve points and went unbroken for the match. Nishikori would fight off eight break points. Del Potro also made it known after the match that he felt exhausted as the quarterfinal clash was his 8th match in less than two weeks after he won the Stockholm title the previous week.

As for their meeting on clay this year in Rome, Del Potro was a bit more consistent with his serve, but Nishikori still forced two breaks, but only on two chances. Nishikori’s serve was broken three times on five chances by Del Potro. Del Potro’s serve was the more effective as he won 83 percent off his first serve and 50 percent off his second. Nishikori managed just a 65 percent win rate on his first serve and 54 percent on his second. DelPo was a strong crowd favorite in the match, which he said definitely helped fuel him. In the match itself, Nishikori was unable to take away the DelPo forehand much and that was a massive boost for the Argentine who controlled things off the ground with that weapon.

Serve Favors Del Potro Again

There will be no fatigue concern this time for Del Potro as there was in Basel last year and that has to be a scary thought for Nishikori whose only two sets won off DelPo came in the match. There has really been little surprise in this series as to how things have played out. Their first meeting came in 2008 during the U.S. Open. DelPo bested Nishikori 6-3, 6-4, 6-3. That began a run of four straight matches from 2008-2012 where the Argentine would beat Nishikori each time they met in straight sets with two coming on outdoor hard courts and the last two on grass. The majority of the time in those meetings, Del Potro was the better server and Nishikori struggled to match him. That led to more pressure on the Nishikori serve and more break opportunities for Del Potro.

Start there for this match as well. Nishikori had his fair share of struggles against Donald Young in his opener, winning just 61 percent of the points off his first serve. That number has to be better against Del Potro. Nishikori did do an effective job mixing up his serves, but too often did not have enough on them to do damage. Del Potro crushed 15 aces against Lacko, but will be seeing a much tougher returner this time around. DelPo has really struggled mostly against the elite returners in the game this year. Andy Murray beat him in straights at Roland Garros, seeing 17 break chances off the DelPo serve and converting on six.

Novak Djokovic crushed him 6-1, 6-4 in Rome as he broke DelPo four times on five chances, winning 43 percent of the points off the Argentine’s serve. Djokovic also beat him in three sets both in Acapulco and Indian Wells. The Serb broke Del Potro five times in each match, seeing 20 total break chances. Djokovic won 43 percent of the return points played off the DelPo serve combined in those two matches. Of course Del Potro did not have those problems when he faces Nishikori in Rome, so it remains to be seen if he simply has Nishikori’s number or if this week’s second seed can step up and do some of the damage Murray and Djokovic did earlier in the year.

Difference Makers

The obvious key then is for Kei to get his racquet on Del Potro’s serves with solid returns. He can’t just get grazing touches on them that sends the ball back into Del Potro’s strike zone. The Argentine will be able to punish those with his fearsome forehand. You would expect that Nishikori will attempt to get as many balls to Del Potro’s backhand as possible. That’s the way you beat the Argentine. Del Potro plays a lot now with the one handed slice off his backhand and he’s become more effective with it to try and set up his forehand. Still, Nishikori will take a bunch of backhands from Del Potro as his chance to exert his own ground strokes. Those strokes were misfiring a lot against Donald Young in round two or Nishikori likely would have put that match away in two sets. Nishikori will need to find the measure and rhythm of his ground game early in this one.

Nishikori’s two handed backhand can be a major weapon in this one, if he finds that rhythm. He is capable of hitting it from all angles for winners and he can use it effectively if he can get enough backhand to backhand exchanges. Del Potro will use that backhand slice to try to change court positioning in his favor to get himself in position to wallop that forehand. His effectiveness there is second only to his first serve for me as far as the tell-tale signs of his chances to win. When Del Potro is able to get in position to hit forehands, he’s been at his best. If he does that against Nishikori, he’ll ba able to give himself the opportunity to negate Nishikori’s speed and agility by obliterating the ball with accuracy and power into the corners.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

There is plenty of intrigue in this one despite the lopsided head-to-head. Del Potro’s play in Rome when they last met was some of his best this season. Since then, his results and consistency have not been at that level. On the other hand, he’s at a tournament where he has now won 15 straight matches, so this surface really jives with his game. For Nishikori, he’s back on hard courts where he has produced his best results. He’s no slouch in D.C. as the 2015 Citi Open champion.

What he has to prove is that he can elevate his game from what we saw against Young earlier this week. Quite frankly, that sort of performance will put him down in straight sets to Del Potro. With Del Potro, the wrist problems are always there when you try to predict his matches. He’s admitted that the wrist still bothers him with certain weather conditions, etc. I said in my preview for this match that I thought the winner here could ride the momentum of this potential win into the final. I said my gut said Nishikori for some reason when little else would seem to point that way.

One match is often a difficult way to predict the next for players coming off a lengthy break as they are in this spot after Wimbledon. For me, I expect better from Nishikori in this match, but will it be enough against a guy who has rarely even dropped a set to him? Fill me with idiot juice.

Prediction: Nishikori wins in three sets

2017 Citi Open Preview

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Monfils Seeks Back-to-Back Titles

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

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

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

Early Bird Specials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outsider’s Edge

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

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

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

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

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

Draw Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!