Federer Takes Wildcard in Pursuit of #1 Spot
The big news this week ahead of the start of the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam was the late inclusion of Roger Federer via wildcard. Fed made the decision as he chases the #1 spot in the rankings with a chance to become the oldest player to ever do so. Andre Agassi holds the current record when he hold the top spot at age 33 in 2003. At 36, Federer could dwarf that achievement if he makes the semifinals this week. This is the Swiss’ first trip back to the Dutch tournament since 2013. He is also the last top seed to win or make a final in Rotterdam, accomplishing that in 2012. Slotted behind Fed are Grigor Dimitrov, Alexander Zverev and David Goffin to round out the top four spots.
Dimitrov is making his first appearance since the Australian Open, after skipping his home tournament in Sofia this past week to rest a sore shoulder. The Bulgarian had his best result in Rotterdam last season with a semifinal run to push his career mark to 8-6 at this tournament. Zverev is just 2-3 in three trips to this tournament with a pair of opening match losses. Goffin ended a losing skid in Rotterdam last year with a run to the final. He scored all four of his career wins at this tournament last year after losing his first match in 2013, 2015 and 2016.
The back half of the seeded field features two former winners in Stan Wawrinka (2015) and Tomas Berdych (2014), who are seeded 5th and 6th. Along with Federer, they are the only players in Rotterdam this week who have won the title previously. Fed won it twice in 2005 and 2012. Montpellier champion Lucas Pouille and Gilles Muller fill out the seeds. Muller slots into the final seeded spot after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was forced to pull out of the tournament due to a hamstring injury suffered at the Open Sud de France on Saturday.
The ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament has been a bit odd. The top seed has had a hellacious time being involved in the business end of the tournament, failing to even be in the semifinal mix since 2012. In spite of that, there have not been a large amount of upsets for seeds in their first matches over the last four years. A single seed has fallen in their opener three of the last four years with two going down in 2016. You have to go back to 2013 to find the biggest seed dump early when four seeds were taken down in the opening round.
In the current climate of seemingly interchangeable parts outside of Roger Federer, seeds seem to always have potential to be stung and taken out early. Let’s take a look at our weekly list of “The Eliminati” – the players who could pull of some seeded scalps in round one.
The Dutch wildcard draws Stan Wawrinka in the opening round. The Swiss got a few needed wins in Sofia last week, but his legs looked a big heavy by the time he was upset in the semifinals by Marius Copil. The 21-year-old Dutchman has nothing in his brief history that says he should upset a top ten player, going 0-2 in his lone main draw matches. One of those came to Gilles Muller last year in Rotterdam. Still, Wawrinka has admitted that he’s short of being match fit after playing three matches in successive days last week. He’ll have had a couple days of rest, but given that he’s still working his way back into shape – stranger things have happened. Still, I’d rate this pretty low on possibilities.
On paper and this surface, you would think that conditions would favor third seed Alexander Zverev in this match-up. History though shows that Ferrer has beaten Sascha in both career meetings, once on clay and once outdoors on a hard court in Beijing in 2016. That was their last meeting, ending 6-7 (4), 6-1, 7-5 for the Spaniard. The positives for Zverev are that the Spaniard has not played here since 2011 and is 0-3 in this last three matches. Those losses came to Juan Martin Del Potro, Andrey Rublev and Karen Khachanov. All play similar baseline power games, something Sascha does better than any of those three. Ferrer is always in a match if he can see enough second serves from his opponent, so this still is one that could happen if Sascha isn’t on top of his service games.
The Russian made it into the main draw through qualifying. His serve was decent, but will need to be steadier if he wants to pull off the upset against Gilles Muller. Muller won one and lost one last week in Sofia with Copil beating him in the quarterfinals. The big lefty has avoided losing early in Rotterdam in his previous three trips, but Medvedev might present one of his tougher first round matches here. The Russian is still very up and down as he tries to establish himself at this level – winning the Sydney title and then going just 1-2 since raising that trophy. I think Muller’s serve and volley plus bigger power could trouble the Russian, but again there’s still an opportunity for an upset.
Which version of Paire do we get this week? Last week he looked alternately dangerous and disinterested as usual all in one tournament in Montpellier. He draws David Goffin first though and he’s 3-1 against the Belgian. That includes a tough three set match last year indoors in Metz. Goffin’s lone win came in Shanghai in 2016. I mentioned earlier about Goffin’s track record before last year’s finals run, so there is a fairly good recipe for an upset in this one. The question is whether Paire can keep it together and win in Rotterdam. He’s just 1-4 in main draw matches at this tournament.
Another young Russian (20) who has plenty of weapons to trouble the best. He gets Lucas Pouille, the seventh seed who just won the Montpellier title on Sunday. Pouille was lucky to be in that position after being blown off the court by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s power, until Tsonga suffered a hamstring injury in their semifinal match. That pushed Pouille into the final and he took full advantage as he topped Richard Gasquet for his fifth career title. Rublev is another guy who struggles to match pure power, but this isn’t that sort of match-up. The big thing for the Russian is finding groove on serve. Pouille has the quick turnaround to deal with and he’s only played one career match in Rotterdam, a loss.
Sugita faces Grigor Dimitrov in the opening round. Dimitrov spanked him when they met in Cincinnati last year after Sugita fought hard in a three set loss to this week’s second seed when they first met at the Rogers Cup in 2016. Sugita never really had a chance last week in Montpellier as he came off a lengthy schedule in Davis Cup play with heavy travel. This week should be a more realistic tell of his form. He’s a tough cookie and with Dimitrov needing to prove healthy, you have to at least acknowledge that Sugita has a chance
Singles Draw Preview
Quarter #1 Seeds
(1) Roger Federer: 23-6 (W – 2005, 2012)
(5) Stan Wawrinka: 6-1 (W – 2015)
Federer opens with qualifier Ruben Bemelmans. The two have never met. Bemelmans isn’t a total schlep on this surface with four finals at the Challenger level over the last two years indoors, including one title. He also made the semifinals in Antwerp last Fall, beating Nick Kyrgios along the way. It’s a big ask, but he could catch Federer with some rust to start, so Bemelmans could push him the distance. You’d think once Federer finds his game though, that this is his match to win. The survivor gets either Philipp Kohlschreiber or Karen Khachanov. The Russian won their only previous encounter on clay. Kohlschreiber has yet to win in an abbreviated start to the season with only two matches under his belt. That should favor Khachanov who was playing last week in Montpellier. The German made the semis in Rotterdam in 2016 and beat Lucas Pouille last year. He’s not without a chance against Khachanov who has problems at times with finding his consistency.
The bottom half features Wawrinka who did score a couple nice wins in Sofia last week, his first action since the Australian Open. He had the Dutch wildcard Greekspoor to start. Again, you would think the Swiss takes that one unless his body is hurting from playing more matches last week than he’s been used to in a good while. If he wins, he’ll battle either Robin Haase or Thiemo de Bakker. The Dutchmen have split two career meetings at this level, but have battled four other times in Challengers and Futures play, also splitting those clashes. de Bakker is 3-8 in Rotterdam, while Haase is 4-9 and has lost his first match here in six of the last seven years.
With Wawrinka still not near his best, this quarter should belong to Federer and get the job done in his quest for the #1 rankings. His second match might be his toughest, but I think only if it’s Khachanov. Tough to call a match against Kohlschreiber tough for him considering that the Swiss is 12-0 against him. If he gets Wawrinka in the quarters, he will be looking for his fifth straight win against Stan and 21st in 24 tries.
Quarter #2 Seeds
(3) Alexander Zverev: 2-3
(9) Gilles Muller: 4-3
Zverev is drawn into a tricky opener against David Ferrer, but I do think he will get through that one. Sascha should have added confidence from his Davis Cup heroics, handing the Germans their tie over Australian with two big singles wins. Should Sascha move on, he will face the winner between Joao Sousa and Andreas Seppi. Sousa is 2-0 against Seppi with his last win coming against the Italian indoors at the Paris Masters. Sousa went 1-1 in Sofia last week, while Seppi gets in as a lucky loser after falling to Martin Klizan in qualifying. Seppi is 7-9 all-time in Rotterdam and has lost his opener in three of his last four trips. Sousa is 0-2. It is a real toss up with both having some decent runs in their careers indoors. Both match-ups should favor Sascha, but they won’t be easy.
In the bottom half, it’s Muller against Daniil Medvedev in a potential upset spot. I think Muller has a bit more power and his serve and volley game could hassle the Russian. As such, I think he might avoid the upset bid. The winner will take on the survivor between Richard Gasquet and qualifier Pierre-Hugues Herbert. PHH lost a tough three setter to Gasquet last week in Montpellier. That was their first match against each other and outside of Montpellier where Gasquet rarely loses, Herbert may have a shot to exact some quick revenge. I think the Muller-Medvedev winner has a shot to make a run.
Quarter #3 Seeds
(4) David Goffin: 4-4
(6) Tomas Berdych: 19-8 (W – 2014)
Goffin has the potential difficult opener against Benoit Paire and the winner there could see former champion Martin Klizan in the second round. Klizan came through qualifying again this year and faces off against Feliciano Lopez in the opening round. Lopez looks to line up as a loser in his spot again. He’s lost eight of nine matches in his career in Rotterdam. Klizan definitely looks like he could make a move to the quarterfinals at least, especially if Paire can help him by eliminating Goffin. Goffin’s loss to Gasquet in Montpellier was somewhat puzzling to me last week as he looked ready to make a push for the title, but was shaky against the Frenchman. So much like Paire – which Goffin shows up in Rotterdam?
The other half sees Berdych starting against Mischa Zverev. The German has a pretty good record indoors in recent years. Zverev does own a couple of wins in five tries against Berdych, but the majority of their meetings came before 2013, They met once last year on clay and it was Berdych who won. Zverev may contend well in this spot, so Berdych definitely needs to have his best from the opening ball. The winner gets Jan-Lennard Struff or Viktor Troicki. Struff went 7-5 indoors last year. Troicki made the quarters in Sofia last week, losing to Wawrinka in the quarters. The Serb has the experience advantage here, but is so inconsistent from week-to-week that I would not be surprised to see Struff win.
People don’t like to trust Berdych, but the Czech has good records against the contenders here at 2-1 against Goffin, 2-0 against Paire and 4-0 against Klizan. He could sneak through here and into the semis.
Quarter #4 Seeds
(2) Grigor Dimitrov: 8-6
(7) Lucas Pouille: 0-1
Pouille arrives with the form after scoring a somewhat surprising title win in Montpellier against Richard Gasquet on Sunday. Dimitrov arrives with the health questions surrounding his shoulder. Dimitrov has the better draw in this quarter despite getting a potential road block in Sugita in round one. A win would net him an easier second round foe against either young Canadian Felix Augure-Aliassime or Filip Krajinovic. The 17-year old phenom from Canada is making his ATP debut in this spot. Krajinovic had the miracle run as a qualifier to the Paris Masters final late last season, losing to Jack Sock. It’s going to be tough for Felix to win, but interesting to watch.
Pouille has the more difficult half of this quarter with Andrey Rublev to open. The second round would pit him against either Sofia finalist Marius Copil or Damir Dzumhur. I think Rublev is the tougher battle to get through, but Dzumhur is a feisty sort who had some big success indoors late in 2017. Based on talent, this should be Pouille or Rublev’s half to push into the quarters. Rublev like many of the young Russians is having difficulty putting things together from match to match with his serve and he has a habit of letting his temper influence the proceedings too often. He needs early success I think and a win over Pouille would do that of course.
This is a quarter that could get flipped upside down and might show the most promise for an unseeded player to make their way into the semifinals. Keep in mind that an unseeded player has made the semifinals in three of the last four years.
Each tournament previewed, the Pig-nosticator will list out @tennispig‘s picks to sizzle and fizzle for the week. Don’t forget that if something you peruse through in the preview provides you with something helpful – a visit to the Tip Jar would be kindly appreciated.
AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO …
ALl eyes will once again be on Roger Federer in his bid to become the oldest player to hold the #1 ranking on the ATP World Tour. Things should set up well for Fed to get that done, but he might run into trouble in the semis against Alexander Zverev. The bottom half of the draw looks more open to an unseeded player making a run. An unseeded player has made the final twice in the last four years and one of those guys is back in a similar position in Martin Klizan. Also keep an eye on Rublev and maybe Medvedev if either can find some consistency.
Bottom line – Federer is the rightful favorite and I think Zverev is a natural second choice after finding some confidence and form in Davis Cup play. Berdych is one I think you still keep track of because he could take advantage of some upsets in the bottom half.
Doubles Draw Preview
Top Half Breakdown
Kubot-Melo got away to a winning start on Monday in a dangerous spot against Raven Klaasen and Michael Venus. The top seeds prevailed 7-6 (2), 7-5. Kubot-Melo are in just their second trip to Rotterdam, having lost in the quarterfinals last year. The third seeds, Pierre Hugues-Herbert and Nicolas Mahut are also in this half. The French pair made the semifinals here last year. With the loaded field, Kubot-Melo will face tough tests all along the way. Their quarterfinal match comes against either Ivan Dodig and Rajeev Ram or the Zverev brothers, Alexander and Mischa. Dodig-Ram lost their first match together for this season in Montpellier last week.
The Zverevs have a good history of being factors when they play doubles together. They went 10-7 as a combo last year, including a title in Montpellier and a finals trip in Halle. They only lost their first match of a tournament twice in eight tournaments played, but one was here in Rotterdam. If the Zverevs win, they would face Kubot-Melo for the third time in the last two seasons. They’re 0-2, but took the top seeds to a super tie break in both previous meetings. Herbert-Mahut open against Marcin Matkowski and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi. The French should prevail. The winners get the winner between Lucas Pouille/Karen Khachanov vs Rohan Bopanna/Edouard Roger-Vasselin. Bopanna-ERV are 4-2 on the season and seem the likelier winners.
The top seeds have not been involved in the final in this tournament since Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic won the titles in 2010. That doesn’t bode well for Kubot-Melo. Nicolas Mahut however has had a magic touch at this tournament with multiple partners. He won with Vasek Pospisil in 2016 and with Michael Llodra in 2014. Herbert-Mahut might have a shot, but the danger for them could be Bopanna and Roger-Vasselin. I like the survivor of that potential match to push through to the final.
Bottom Half Breakdown
This half includes 2018’s unbeaten pairing of Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic. The top ranked duo is 14-0. This is their first run in Rotterdam. This half also includes Rojer-Tecau as the other seeds. Rojer-Tecau have the most experience as a duo in this tournament, having gone 11-3 in their careers together. They won the title in 2015. Marach-Pavic will need to be alert against Dutch qualifiers Thiemo de Bakker and Sander Arends. Arends teamed with Antonio Sancic last week in Montpellier to make the semis. Having match play already, they could be a bit dangerous. The survivors get Damir Dzumhur and Filip Krajinovic. They beat Andrey Rublev and Nenad Zimonjic 6-3, 6-3 in round one.
In the other part of this half with Rojer-Tecau, the fourth seeds play Marc and Feliciano Lopez in round one. Rojer-Tecau have dominated the Spaniards 3-1 in head-to-head matches, including a 6-4, 6-4 win last year in Rotterdam. A win and they could be looking at Robin Haase and Matwe Middelkoop in the quarters. The Dutch pair have been hot early this season with titles in Pune and Sofia. They take on a pair of young Dutchman in the opening round and should get through. Haase-Middelkoop will be a dangerous duo if they face the fourth seeds and they could pull off the upset.
As long as Marach-Pavic don’t get caught cold in round one, this again looks like their half of the draw to take. A clash with Rojer-Tecau would be mouth watering with the teams splitting two matches in 2017. Marach-Pavic winning indoors in Vienna, while Rojer-Tecau won outdoors in Shanghai. Hard to go against Marach-Pavic who were hot indoors late last season too.
AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE CAUSED THE PIG SAID SO …
If you believe the top seed curse here, you take Kubot-Melo out of the mix. Marach-Pavic have to be the favorites until they lose, but there are plenty of dangerous teams in this loaded field, including the vets Rojer and Tecau. Herbert-Mahut have the magic #3 seed that has belonged to the Rotterdam title holders three times in the past five years, so you have to look at them as well. If we’re talking unseeded outsiders that could snatch the titles, look no further than Haase-Middelkoop or perhaps Bopanna-ERV.
I think when it’s money time though, a seed is going to take the victory this week. For me, it’s a toss up between Marach-Pavic and Herbert-Mahut. I have a gut feeling this is the spot where Marach-Pavic may finally lose a match this season.