Federer Withdrawal Effectively Ends Chase For #1
Shortly after winning the Swiss Indoors Basel for the 8th time on Sunday, Roger Federer announced that he would be skipping the Rolex Paris Masters to recover for the year-end ATP World Tour Finals. It was a long shot for Federer to overtake Rafael Nadal for the top spot in the rankings, but now it’s just about a dona deal. Nadal will need just one win in Paris this week to clinch the year-end number one ranking. What should be bigger for Nadal however is a chance to win this event for the first time ever. That’s right – Nadal has never won this event in his career. His best finish was making the final in 2007, where he lost to David Nalbandian. Since then, he’s made just four trips to Paris with two quarterfinal and two semifinal finishes. He enters this week as the top seed with something prove perhaps in a season where he’s done that over and over.
With Federer out, the next seed in the field is Marin Cilic who takes the #3 slot. Cilic made the semifinals here last year, his best finish in Paris. He’s just 9-8 overall in his career at this event. Coming in at number four is Alexander Zverev, who will make his Rolex Paris Masters debut. The rest of the top eight seeds includes Dominic Thiem (5), Grigor Dimitrov, David Goffin and Pablo Carreno Busta. None of those players has been past the round of 16 in Paris in the past. Of the rest if the seeded field, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (11) has the best history here as the title winner in 2008. Juan Martin Del Potro is the 13th seed with the next best record at 7-5. He’s made the quarterfinals twice in 2009 and 2013.
Lucas Pouille slides into the ghost seed spot at #17 due to the Federer withdrawal and takes over Federer’s spot in the draw. That should be good news for the Vienna Open champion, who will get the benefit of a better draw. Pouille won the all-French final in Vienna on Sunday, pounding Tsonga 6-1, 6-4 to claim his third title of the season. He’ll have some expectation on him with that outing and getting slotted into Federer’s spot. Defending champion Andy Murray will of course not be defending the title due to ending his season early this year due to injury. It will be on Nadal to continue the dominance of the Big Four by himself this year. Murray and Djokovic are responsible for the last four titles in Paris with Djokovic taking three of those from 2013-20-15. David Ferrer was the last non-Big Four member to win the Paris title back in 2012.
Early Bird Specials
Upsets have been regular among the seeds taking part in their opening matches in Paris. Over the last five years, at least three seeds have been dropped in their openers in four of five years. Last year saw four seeds lose early and while it’s been the lower seeds normally who are most prone, Paris has seen some exceptions to that pattern. Most famously, Novak Djokovic was stunned as the second seed in 2012 by Sam Querrey. Last year saw qualifier Jan-Lennard Struff craft another big upset when he took down third seed Stan Wawrinka.
So who could follow suit this year? Let’s have a look.
3. Marin Cilic
The scheduling Gods may pit Cilic and Borna Coric against each other again. Coric takes on fellow qualifier Jan-Lennard Struff. Struff already has that scalp of Wawrinka under his belt, so he should not be taken lightly. Coric has taken a set off of Cilic in each of the three losses he has suffered at the hands of Cilic this season. He’s getting closer and perhaps playing him two weeks in a row could help him have his best chance.
4. Alexander Zverev
Sascha is that high seed who could find trouble this week. Zverev waits for the winner between Steve Johnson and Robin Haase. Johnson beat Zverev in their lone career meeting last year at Indian Wells. Zverev is 2-0 against Haase, but the Dutchman took him five sets at this year’s Australian Open. With Sascha having no experience at this tournament, it could be an opportunity for Haase or Johnson to stun the German.
6. Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov gets one of two Frenchmen to open, either Richard Gasquet or Benoit Paire. Gasquet had been tough on Dimitrov until recent times with the Bulgarian winning the last two in their series. Gasquet still leads the h2h 5-2 overall. Paire owns two wins in three tries against Dimitrov and has taken a set off of him each time they’ve met. They have not played since Paire beat Dimitrov in Tokyo in 2015. Either way, I expect Dimitrov to have a tough time in his opener and this has never been a great tournament for him.
7. David Goffin
This is another match-up based alert with Goffin in good form after running to the Basel semifinals this past week. His first match in Paris with be against “Mr.Paris” David Ferrer or Adrian Mannarino. Ferrer has surprisingly found himself with great results at this tournament. The Spaniard is 21-11 all-time in Paris with one title. He did lose his opener last year to Isner, but otherwise has finished in the quarters or better in five of his last six trips. He also holds a 2-0 edge over Goffin in their careers. The Belgian would much prefer Mannarino who he is 3-0 against all-time.
8. Pablo Carreno Busta
The 2017 U.S. Open semifinalist has found things have not gone his way since that career best achievement. PCB is just 1-4 since the U.S. Open final. He’ll battle either Vasek Pospisil or Nicolas Mahut in his opener. Pospisil and Mahut have not been in good form, but both are capable or springing the upset. PCB beat Mahut in straights at the U.S. Open, but Mahut is better in these controlled indoor conditions. Exepct a tussle for PCB, but I’d put him on the lower side of the upset scale due to the poor form of his prospective opponents.
9. John Isner
Isner faces Diego Schwartzman or Viktor Troicki. He’d probably rather avoid Troicki who is 5-3 against the American, including a win against him recently in Shanghai. Isner did surprisingly make the final here in Paris last year, but as usual his style makes him prone to losing tight matches. We saw that against Philipp Kohlschreiber last week in Vienna.
11. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsonga is on this list because he’s in the dreaded Championship Match hangover mode after losing to Pouille in Vienna on Sunday. Often, runners-up have trouble recovering in their next tournaments with plenty of losses in their first or second matches. Tsonga opens against either Denis Shapovalov or Julien Benneteau. El Shapo has not been able to follow up his summer success late in the season with just one win in his last four matches since the U.S. Open. Benneteau might be the tougher up. He’s 4-6 against Tsonga, but lost in straights to him in Antwerp. Tsonga should probably get through his first match, but he’s worth monitoring.
12. Kevin Anderson
Anderson is just 3-4 since losing the U.S. Open final, so he’s definitely going on this list. He starts with the winner between Fernando Verdasco and Andrey Rublev. Both came definitely rattle the big man’s cage and cause an upset. Verdasco pulled out from Basel last week, but I have not found anything that says he isn’t 100 percent ready to go this week. He’s 4-3 against Anderson, including 2-1 this season with one of those wins coming indoors in Stockholm recently. Rublev lost a four setter to Anderson back in 2015 at the U.S. Open in their lone meeting. The Russian does own one career win against Verdasco on clay, but comes in with losses in four of his last five matches. I’d rate Verdasco the bigger threat.
13. Juan Martin Del Potro
Although his match-up will favor the Argentine, two long weeks of tennis will not. DelPo surprisingly to me was able to work his way to a second straight final in successive weeks in Basel. He put together a decent showing in losing in three sets to Federer. At this point though, he’s got a shot to make the field in London and that keeps him grinding again in Paris. He opens against qualifier Joao Sousa or Paolo Lorenzi. Sousa is the intriguing one as he took on Del Potro last week in Basel. DelPo controlled most of the match, but did drop a set in the 6-1, 4-6, 6-1 victory. Lorenzi is on a seven match losing skid and is 1-3 against Sousa, but that lone win came in five sets over Sousa at this year’s U.S. Open. Given DelPo’s likely fatigue, he’s certainly set up for trouble early in Paris.
15. Albert Ramos-Vinolas
He could be in for rough opener regardless of who wins between Pablo Cuevas and Karen Khachanov. Of course, Cuevas has dropped ten straight matches and Khachanov has just one win in his last seven. However, a win could help turn their fortunes around quckly and put them into a good match-up against ARV. Cuevas owns a 4-1 head-to-head record against ARV with one of those wins coming indoors in Valencia, Spain back in 2010. Khachanov’s power could be tougher for ARV to cope with and the Russian is 1-0 against Cuevas. Khachanov was a tough out in Vienna last week. He lost in three sets to Tsonga.
17. Lucas Pouille
Even though Pouille gets the advantage of slotting in for Federer, his first match is going to be difficult. Pouille takes on the survivor between Feliciano Lopez and Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Both players own wins in their careers against Pouille with PHH at 1-1 and Lopez at 1-2. All matches they have played against Pouille went the distance in best of three settings. If Pouille is going to make a run, it should get easier after round two – if he survives.
Twice in the last five years, an unseeded player has crashed the final in Paris. Last year it was John Isner who ultimately lost to Andy Murray. Back in 2012, it was Jerzy Janowicz as a qualifier who did the trick. 2016 broke a string of three straight years where no unseeded player advanced as far as the quarterfinals. The feeling this year is that with all the injuries and weekly turmoil, an unseeded player or two could definitely make some big noise in Paris. Here’s a look at a few guys to watch.
Johnson hasn’t been a big performer down the stretch during a trying season, but his draw could give him an opening to make a run. He has to get past Haase to open, but then would match up against Alexander Zverev in round two. I still think that is a winnable match at this stage of the season for the American. Johnson also has Del Potro in his part of the quarter, who I sitll think is a burnout candidate for the week. He will have to earn everything he gets, but there is some potential if he can get out of the gates quickly.
Richard Gasquet/Benoit Paire
Also in the same part of the draw as Johnson, the winner of this all-French first rounder has the potential to grow into a darkhorse threat. The winner gets Grigor Dimitrov to start. Dimitrov has been strong down the stretch, but he’s got a spot in London wrapped up, so his motivation for the week is all within his brain. If he’s uncaring about this week, then the draw opens for one of these Frenchmen with Isner as the only seed in the way after Dimitrov to play for a quarterfinal spot.
“Mr.Paris” may be fading into the sunset some in his career, but the Spaniard is 2-2 indoors in the past two tournaments and simply has found something special most years in Paris. He will have to beat Goffin in round two if he gets there and might have to go through Tsonga for a chance to get at a quarterfinal spot. Ferrer has three wins in four tries against Tsonga, but they have not met since 2013.
Edmund comes in of a semifinal run in Vienna, so he’s got some confidence on this surface. His quarter features Pouille and Sock as the seeds in his way to a quarterfinal. That’s not a bad draw for him. He starts with Evgeny Donskoy and then would see Sock in round two if he wins. Edmund crushed Sock in Atlanta this summer in straights. If he sees Pouille, it would be a rematch of their semi in Vienna that Pouille won in three.
The winner of their first round battle takes on Pouille and I mentioned previously how both have played him tough in the past. An upset there and either one of these guys could be an unlikely runner towards a quarterfinal spot.
Quarter #1 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (1)
Pablo Carreno Busta (8)
Sam Querrey (10)
Albert Ramos-Vinolas (15)
Nadal will feel good this week that there is little pressure on him to perform with Federer out of the draw. What I mean there is that the focus won’t be on the possibility of a Fedal match, but more on Nadal clinching the #1 spot with a single win in Paris. Toss in this draw with no real scary seeds and Rafa should feel like he’s got it in him to make a deep run. He opens with eirher Mischa Zverev or Hyeon Chung, either of which is a nice match-up for the top seed. Ramos-Vinolas is the only seed in his way before the round of 16 and ARV may not make it that far.
The bottom of the quarter features Carreno Busta and Querrey. Both seeds really have no excuse if they don’t wind up squaring off in the round of 16. They are easily the talents in this part of the draw, but have to shake off recently slumps. Yuichi Sugita is an interesting floater in this part of the quarter as he opens with Filip Krajinovic. A win would match him against Querrey. It’s not a great match-up, but Querrey has lost his first match in two of his last three tournaments. I think Sam has too much power for Sugita, but watch the man from Japan any way – he could be an X-Factor.
Without Federer in the mix, all eyes fall squarely on Nadal. I think he’s got plenty of motivation this week and shouldn’t feel much pressure. This draw is as good as any for him to break his run of not winning the title in Paris.
Alexander Zverev (4)
Grigor Dimitrov (6)
John Isner (9)
Juan Martin Del Potro (13)
Dimitrov arrives with the best form. He wisely pulled out of Vienna last week to rest and that should benefit him. He is 8-3 since the U.S. Open with two losses to Nadal and one to Del Potro. That’s nothing to be ashamed of this year. I think he’s in that spot where if he makes it past a tough opener, but then he gets an easier route after that. Isner is the only seed in his way to the round of 16 and he beat the big man in Cincinnati this year, one of the quickest courts on tour. I think there is a chance that he won’t have to contend with him if Troicki beats Schwartzman in round one.
In Zverev’s half, Sascha too could get rolling if he avoids early trouble. Steve Johnson is a possible second round opponent and then only Del Potro is seeded in front of him to keep him from making the quarterfinals. Given Del Potro’s heavy schedule, Sascha has a chance to do well in Paris his first time through as long as he gets off to a good start.
This quarter for me falls to Zverev or Dimitrov if they avoid that early trouble, but could go off the rails if either one of them loses early. Then I would look to Gasquet, Paire and Johnson as spoilers. I’ll give a slight edge to Dimitrov because of his form post-U.S. Open.
Quarter #3 Seeds
Marin Cilic (3)
David Goffin (7)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (11)
Roberto Bautista Agut (14)
Cilic and Goffin both bring the form to Paris this week that makes them obvious favorites in this quarter. Goffin has not been great here with just a 3-3 record. Before last year’s semifinal showing, Cilic hadn’t been burning up Paris either – so there is some hope for the rest of the quarter. Cilic should have the edge to get further, even if he has to battle Coric again for the fourth time this year. Coric still has not proven he can beat Cilic. If he gets past the early hurdle, Cilic has the edge to get to the quarters as he holds a 3-1 edge of Bautista Agut for their careers.
Goffin’s half gets easier if he avoids Ferrer or at least that is my feeling. Ferrer has the guts and game to push Goffin, so that potential second round match is a big potential landmine for the Belgian. Tsonga has an advantageous draw with Shapovalov or Benneteau first up. If he can shake off a poor final in Vienna, perhaps he can wow the home crowd. Tsonga holds a 4-2 edge over Goffin, including a win indoors in Rotterdam early this season. If Tsonga gets his head on straight this week, he could make some noise.
The feeling for me is Cilic or Goffin won’t be involved in deciding who gets to the semifinals. Goffin seems more likely to fall earlier with some tougher match-ups. I think this comes down to Cilic or Tsonga, although I won’t count out Ferrer in Paris.
Quarter #4 Seeds
Dominic Thiem (5)
Kevin Anderson (12)
Jack Sock (16)
Lucas Pouille (17)
The seeds here all look prone to me and this quarter smells like the one that could have an unseeded player run through it. There are candidates with Verdasco a possibility as he could have good match-ups against Anderson in round two and he’s beaten Thiem in their only career meeting. Thiem has lost four of his last five and at the end of a long season, is always prone to losing earlier than expected. I can see the Verdasco-Rublev winner making a push here.
In the other half, Sock and Pouille are the seeds. Again, there are plenty of dangerous floaters waiting for them. Sock likely faced Edmund in his opener and Pouille gets Herbert or Lopez, both of whom can be tough on him. Pouille for me is one who can grow into a contender if he avoids the early upset. Sock I still get the feeling that he’ll find some way to muck it up as he goes. I look to Pouille or Edmund to be involved in the business end of this quarter.
Pouille has the form that could carry over into a deep run and he’s certainly the best form of any of the seeds in this section. If Pouille flops, then I would look to one of the unseeded players to make a move – Verdasco, Rublev or Edmund as my favorites among that group.
AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO ….
It’s not often that you seed Nadal entering a tournament that has been around for a good bit without every having won it. This is one of those rare weeks and a week without Federer than opens up for him to change that. Cilic, Dimitrov and Tsonga are among the other seeds that I would look to if Rafa happens to falter. I’m not sure he will, but they are the ones for me who look likeliest to pick up the pieces if he does.