The Ocho v.7


“The Eight” …. Every week, @tennispig will give his top eight ATP singles players and top eight ATP/WTA doubles teams from the previous week. It’s a great way to monitor who is hot … and who is not. This week, injuries again feature plus the dust up from proposed changes to the Davis Cup.

1. Juan Martin Del Potro
The 29-year-old Argentine won his biggest title in years, taking the title in Acapulco over Kevin Anderson. The 500-level win pushed DelPo up to #8 in the latest rankings. That is his highest ranking since August 2014. He showed a great combination of power and defense at the Abierto Mexicano Telcel in making his second final of the season, the other coming in Auckland. With Indian Wells and Miami missing some name players, DelPo could be poised for a big month. He will have to overcome a poor history in both Indian Wells and Miami in recent years to do so. The last time he did anything of note at either tournament was making the Indian Wells final in 2013.

2. Nicolas Jarry
The 22-year-old has gone from relative unknown to promising up and comer during the course of the last month. It was highlighted by making his first ATP final in Sao Paulo this past week. he would lose to Fabio Fognini, but the Chilean’s 9-3 run in Quito, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo combined have boosted him up to a career high ranking of 61. Not too shabby for a guy who started the season ranked 113th.

Nicolas JARRY (CHI)


3. Kevin Anderson
Anderson was on the losing end of the Acapulco final, but he has quietly become perhaps the one of the top five most consistent players on tour. His ranking slips one notch to #9 this week, but he’s now made three finals in four tournaments played. His lone disappointment coming due to a tough draw in Melbourne, where he lost an opening round thriller against Kyle Edmund. When you’re looking at options not named Federer to put into the title mix in Indian Wells and Miami, Anderson is a guy you have to consider a threat to at least be around in the semifinals.

4. Lucas Pouille
Speaking of close calls and one title, that’s exactly where Lucas Pouille finds himself right now. He too has made three finals in 2018, including the final in Dubai this past week where he lost to Roberto Bautista Agut. Pouille has one title in Montpellier to his credit as well as a career high ranking at #12 this week. After shaking off his opening loss for the year at the Australian Open, the Frenchman has found probably the best consistency of his young career. He will be interesting to watch this month as the competition level steps up in Indian Wells and Miami. Pouille has just one top 20 “win” this year and that came against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who was leading him In Montpellier when he was forced to retire. So perhaps this is a little smoke and mirrors-ish by the Frenchman.

5. Jamie Murray & Bruno Soares
Murray and Soares got their first title of the season in Acapulco and 7th as a team to make it two straight years winning the doubles titles in Mexico. It was a critical win for Murray-Soares who take a big jump up from #9 to #4 in the rankings ahead of the Indian Wells-Miami double. There figures to be a lot of reshaping of the doubles rankings in March outside of the top spot where Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic still hold nearly a 1,500 point lead on second place Jean-Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah. There are big points to be had in Indian Wells and Miami though and Murray-Soares could be heating up just at the right time to continue working up the ladder.


6. Alexander Zverev
Sascha makes the list for the wrong reasons unfortunately. Just when it looked like he was rounding into his best form of the season, Zverev suffered a knee injury in Acapulco against Del Potro. He was able to finish the match, losing in straights, but said afterward that the pain in his knee got worse as the match wore on. That’s not promising news for the world #5 whose status is up-in-the-air for Indian Wells. It wouldn’t be the worst idea to skip Indian Wells and not risk anything. Zverev only earned 45 points at Indian Wells in 2017 and has more to defend after making the quarters in Miami last year.

7. David Goffin
Another bad add to “The Ocho” this week. Goffin will be one of the many missing Indian Wells as the Belgian said his vision is still not 100 percent after the freak accident in Rotterdam. If you missed it, Goffin was hit in the eye by a ball off his own racquet in a match against Grigor Dimirov. It doesn’t sound good that Goffin has also already announced himself unavailable for Belgium’s Davis Cup tie with the United States in April. Of course that is good news for the Americans who now figure to be the favorites to advance to the semifinals in that match-up.

8. Davis Cup Reformat
I had to throw this at the tail end of the list, even though it’s close to a week old now in discussion and has been pushed out of he news cycle. There’s going to be a lot more time to digest this before the ITF officially votes on the proposed changes, but the one thing that has come out of this flawed proposal is that it has sparked discussion. Discussion about the Davis Cup/World Cup of Tennis. When is the last time you were talking about your fellow tennis fans about the Davis Cup? Not often I would guess. So, there’s that.

Listen, the current format needs tweaking for certain. The hope from here is that players and ITF officials can come together with some frank and productive discussion to tweak the proposal. It’s flawed in the time of year they want to stick it in and it’s flawed in trying to smash what could be a good idea into a one week tournament that doesn’t really set it apart from any other tournament. The World Cup style format though is intriguing if they can figure out a way to satisfy the greed for the money that is being pumped into this proposal and common sense scheduling. Stay tuned.


2018 ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament R1 Preview: Lucas Pouille vs Andrey Rublev


(7) Lucas Pouille vs Andrey Rublev

Pouille Looking to Build on Montpellier Title

Lucas Pouille arrives in Rotterdam on the heels of his fifth ATP title, after beating Richard Gasquet for the crown at the Open Sud de France on Sunday. Pouille got a stay of execution in the semifinals when he looked down and out to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the second set. Tsonga suffered a hamstring tear that saw Pouille through to the final. He took full advantage to deliver the title. Four of Pouille’s seven career ATP finals appearances have come on indoor hard courts, perhaps a good omen for this week in Rotterdam where there are a lot of questions amongst the seeds.

As for Rublev, the 20-year-old Russian has gotten off to a solid start this season. He made the Doha final in the opening week of the season. He followed that with a third round finish at the Australian Open and he went 2-1 in Montpellier last week in making a quarterfinal run. The Russian has basically beat players you would expect him to beat, but he’s been unable to raise his level to match the likes of Gael Monfils, Grigor Dimitrov and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Those are his three losses this year. The wins in Montpellier last week broke a four match losing skid on indoor hard courts for Rublev dating back to last year.

The Formula

Pouille is playing doubles again this week, teaming with Karen Khachanov. They scored a win over Rohan Bopanna and Edouard Roger-Vasselin on Tuesday. That should help him adjust to court conditions, although I do question how much he is playing doubles in tournaments. I think as he matures, he’s still just 23, he’s got to do a better job of picking and choosing fewer tournaments to play both singles and doubles. I digress. As for this match-up, first serve is going to be a key for both players. Rublev has been under 70 percent for his first serve win rate in his three losses this season. It’s a key number to track against Pouille.

The Frenchman has slowly been improving his first serve the last few seasons and it remains a key to his best tennis. I think the points in which he struggles with his first serve mainly relate to a lack of variety. In some of his losses, he’s stubbornly gone to the well with the same types of serves in the same situations too often. That has given his opponents an easier time of things on return. When he mixes and matches better, he has more success. Rublev has had issues matching big power players like Tsonga in Montpellier and it was Tsonga who caused Pouille similar issues with his depth and power both on serve and off the ground.

For this one, these two are a bit more on even ground as far as power. Pouille has the advantage off the backhand with a beautiful two handed approach that packs a wallop. Rublev’s two hander is a bit erratic at times, so Pouille would be wise to test that wing. Rublev will do his best to run around to the forehand when he can. It is his best shot and it is vicious when it’s on. Rublev is much better from a static position along the baseline, where he can set his feet and grip it and rip it. Pouille’s forehand is big as well and perhaps a shade more consistent than Rublev’s. The 7th seed rates the better mover here with good volley skills at the net.

The Pig-nosticator

If Rublev is going to craft an upset in this spot, it has to start with his first serve. He needs to land it consistently and place it well against Pouille. He needs to be able to stretch Pouille in return to set himself up to make aggressive moves for the next shot. Rublev may not enjoy going to net nearly as much as Pouille, but he’s good at moving in for the kill when he gets a weak return. Pouille likely will target the Rublev backhand in return and look to fly to the net as well. I think that is where Pouille can frustrate the Russian and when Rublev gets frustrated, he can lose his cool.

That is a big factor in this one as it is in all Rublev matches. His mental game is perhaps the area where he needs the most work. He sulks and gets down on himself rather quickly at times and can see things unravel in a hurry. If Pouille is controlling the action with his serve and forcing Rublev to move north to south, I think we could see Rublev blow his lid if he’s consistently getting outclassed on shot making in those situations. Rublev has to challenge Pouille in return and get some depth on those returns to keep Pouille in more of a neutral position, where the Russian can then get him into baseline rallies.

This is far from a one sided affair in my book. Pouille will have some added confidence, but Rublev matches him fairly well albeit maybe just a tick below in most categories. Still, I think that is a small margin and if Pouille isn’t quite clicking, then the Russian certainly has a chance to score the win. I think consistency can lack for both players, but Pouille seems to have a bit more right now.

Prediction: Pouille wins in three sets

2018 ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament Preview


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.

Tallon Griekspoor
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.

David Ferrer
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.

Daniil Medvedev
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.

Benoot Paire
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.

Andrey Rublev
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.

Yuichi Sugita
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.

The Pig-nosticator

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.

Roger Federer
Martin Klizan

David Goffin
Lucas Pouille


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

1. Kubot-Melo
2. Marach-Pavic
3. Herbert-Mahut
4. Rojer-Tecau

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 Pig-nosticator

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.

The Pig-nosticator

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.


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.


2018 Open Sud de France Final Preview: Lucas Pouille vs Richard Gasquet


(2) Lucas Pouille vs (5) Richard Gasquet

King Richard IV

Richard Gasquet again proved to be the best of the best in Montpellier in the semifinals with a scintillating three set upset of top seed David Goffin. Gasquet started strong in winning the opening set and then overcome being bageled in set two to pull off the 6-4, 0-6, 6-3 win. The Frenchman was brilliant on serve in sets one and three with a first serve win rate over 90 percent. Goffin could not dent the Gasquet serve in those two sets without a single break point seen. It was a stark contrast to the second set where Gasquet won just six of 18 points on serve, and was broken three times.

When Gasquet was rolling in the first and last sets, he displayed great power not only with his trademark one handed backhand, but with his serve as well. He got a lot more “free” points with his serve than I thought he would have a chance to get against the Belgian. Gasquet had eight aces in the match with seven coming in the two sets that he won. The fifth seed was also aggressive when he was able to stretch Goffin with his serve. He moved to net freely and finished off points quickly, a big key in beating a good defender like Goffin. Gasquet also did a nice job on the Goffin serve, breaking him five times on eight chances.

Lucky Lucas

There’s no way other way to shine it than to say that Lucas Pouille is lucky to be in the final. He was getting handled quite easily by third seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-1, 5-4 when something went wrong for Tsonga. While serving out the match, Tsonga hurt himself and that in part allowed Pouille to break back to 5-5. Tsonga walked straight to the chair and pronounced himself done after that and it was Pouille moving into the final as a result. Given that both had pulled out of Davis Cup play last weekend with nagging injuries, it had looked like things were looking up for both until Saturday. Tsonga had pulled out with a knee strain, but it’s uncertain if that is what caused his exit in Montpellier.

Pouille struggled with consistency the entire match, landing just 47 percent of his first serves. That let Tsonga get a lot of looks at Pouille’s second serve. JWT would take 18 o the 28 points played off Pouille’s second serve. I didn’t think Pouille used enough variety on serve and that let Tsonga get in some really good depth with his return shots that knocked Pouille into poor court positions again. Tsonga’s aggressive serving had Pouille pushed back in return for the majority of the match, which allowed JWT to get easy finishes moving to net. Pouille’s best moments came when he was aggressive in return, moving inside the baseline and taking the action to Tsonga.

The Formula

Pouille has won three straight over Gasquet with two last year coming indoors in Marseille and Vienna. Overall, the second seed has won three of four meetings – but it was in Montpellier that Gasquet found his lone win in 2015. In their last meeting in Vienna, Gasquet struggled to land his first serve at just 49 percent. Pouille took full advantage, winning 71 percent of the points off Gasquet’s second in a 7-6 (5), 6-1 victory. Marseille was similar with Pouille winning 53 percent of Gasquet’s second serve points. He would pester Gasquet into three breaks off of eleven opportunities to emerge victorious 7-5, 6-3.

So what did Gasquet do right in their meeting in Montpellier in 2015? He pulled out some of the serving we saw against Goffin in the semis, winning 84 percent of his first serve points and 63 percent off his second. He was broken just once on a single break chance seen. Quite frankly, Gasquet’s amazing 24-4 mark in Montpellier defies common sense and that was on display against Goffin. He is just so comfortable on this court and that is a good place to start.

He will need some of the serving he showed against Goffin to have an optimal chance to win. His placement was solid and he had more pace than I’ve seen from him on most occasions. Pouille is a decent returner with good variety, but if Gasquet can find some of that power again to push Pouille back with good depth of shot – then Gasquet is going to be in a winning position. Gasquet, a six time finalist in Montpellier, has shown good movement coming forward this week and solid finishing skills with the volleys at the net.

In reviewing the tape of their meetings last year, it is clear that Pouille isn’t going to shy away from Gasquet’s backhand. Pouille’s two hander is really solid and he uses the slice effectively. What he knows he has over Gasquet is a power forehand. When things were working for him in Marseille and Vienna, he chose the right moments to flip rallies and finish with a forehand winner. For Gasquet, I think he needs to be more aggressive off the ground against Pouille in those backhand-to-backhand exchanges. Gasquet seemed too happy to exchange shots without thinking about going for a kill shot. I think to win on Sunday, he’ll need to mix in that aggression to avoid giving Pouille the opportunity to go big first.

The Pig-nosticator

I mean you have to be an idiot to pick against Gasquet in Montpellier and I’ve been accused, but after seeing Gasquet find a way through Goffin on Saturday – surely he can find a way against Pouille, right? Pouille obviously can beat Gasquet and can do it indoors. What he needs to bring his variety on serve to keep Gasquet guessing. I think that was part of the problem against Tsonga who had a good read on the Pouille serve. Pouille must pump in the first serve effectively as well.

For Gasquet, a repeat of his serving performances in sets one and three against Goffin would be great, but I expect a bit less consistency. Getting bageled in a set when you win is still a bit of a worry that things can go that far off. That Gasquet got it back together after that though is a huge positive mentally. Gasquet needs to stay aggressive with his one handed backhand. He has done a good job this week of choosing the right times to pump up the power off that wing. Gasquet can use that to stay away from Pouille’s forehand and force the second seed to match him off the backhand side in crafting more winners.

Unless Pouille has an other worldly serving day, King Richard should be crowned with his fourth Open Sud de France crown on Sunday.

Prediction: Gasquet wins in straight sets


2018 Open Sud de France SF Preview: Lucas Pouille vs Jo-Wilfried Tsonga


(2) Lucas Pouille vs (3) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Davis Cup Injury Scares in the Rear View

Perhaps it is appropriate that Lucas Pouille and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are meeting in France in the semifinals. Both pulled out of Davis Cup play last weekend due to late injury woes. For Pouille, it was a stiff neck and for Tsonga, it was a knee strain. Neither has seemed bother much this week in winning their matches. Pouille has had the much more relaxed path, demolishing qualifier Carlos Taberner 6-1, 6-2 and dispatching of Benoit Paire 6-1, 6-4. Paire was abysmal with his second serve pounded by Pouille. The second seed won 14 of the 23 points played and broken Paire four times.

Only a late wiggle in the second set by Pouille allowed Paire to get back on serve at 4-4, but as you would expect – Paire gave Pouille another shot and he converted to close out the set at 6-4. Pouille’s level dipped just a bit after the lackluster first from Paire with his win rates on serve falling from 86 to 76 percent on first serve and 56 to 47 percent on second serve. Overall, I thought Pouille displayed great power play over Paire. He had him pushed back on the court for most of the match and took full advantage by moving in aggressively to finish points when possible.

Tsonga faced two stiff tests this week in Montpellier and passed both. In his opener, he came through three tie breaks against Nicolas Mahut. That set him up for a tight quarterfinal battle with 7th seed Andrey Rublev. Tsonga edged the young Russian 6-4, 7-6 (1). JWT won 74 percent off his first serve and 57 percent off his second . Rublev struggled, winning just 69 percent off his first and a paltry 40 percent off his second. Tsonga only dropped serve once in the second set and was able to break right back. He would dash out to a 6-0 lead in the tie break before finishing Rublev off 7-1.

Jo was at his best when he was walloping his first serve with authority. He pushed Rublev back deeper in return and gave himself the advantage on the next ball. Tsonga moved in well when he achieved this and was able to finish off points quickly against Rublev. Tsonga did some of his best work on return by mixing up his style. When he went aggressive and moved inside the baseline, he really controlled court position over the Russian. His movement north and south and east and west was very solid and made a big difference overall.

The Formula

Tsonga leads the head-to-head 2-1 with both scoring a win indoors. Pouille got the last one in Vienna last Fall 6-1, 6-4 to claim the title at the Erste Bank Open. Tsonga had beaten Pouille 6-4, 6-4 earlier in the year in Marseille for that title. Their first meeting came on clay in Monte Carlo back in 2016 with JWT winning in straights. Tsonga’s serve in Vienna was lacking, especially with his second serve taking just 32 percent of the points. Pouille was able to break JWT three times on seven chance. In Marseille, Pouille didn’t see a single break point.

Tsonga was definitely lacking in their Vienna meeting and to me, it looked like the fatigue of playing two straight finals caught up with him. JWT did not move well and seemed to bail out of points quite a bit. Pouille needs to expect an electric Tsonga on Saturday. That could mean more of the Tsonga he saw in Marseille. The Tsonga won dominated on serve with win rates at 91 and 77 percent off first and second serves. Tsonga was also good on return against Pouille in that one, aggressively returning the ball low to Pouille’s forehand. Pouille made quite a few unforced errors in those situations.

For Pouille, he’s got to find better variety on serve. Tsonga was not fooled at all in that match and it let JWT get some big returns of Pouille’s serve. That let him initiate the rallies and he controlled them with power and pace. Pouille had some success in that one going wide and stretching Tsonga out. He was very keen to serve and volley in those situations and finished well at the net. If he wants to keep Tsonga off balance, I think he needs that sort of precision serving on Saturday. For Tsonga, I think he just needs to find his rhythm early. Pouille couldn’t really keep up with him in Marseille when Jo was getting his serves where he wanted them to go.

Off the ground, Tsonga will continue to run around to his forehand when at all possible. His backhand has been pretty solid this week, but Pouille likely would target the backhand more if he can. Pouille’s two handed backhand is a good weapon, but a shade inconsistent. If he can find the measure of his backhand, especially to utilize down-the-line, I think Pouille ups his chances to win. Both players move well and finish well at the net, but Pouille seems the more baseline-centric of the two. Tsonga has shown much more willingness to aggressively attack the net consistently, although both do it well especially when they control court position with their serve.

The Pig-nosticator

This is difficult to predict with both playing solid so far this week. I do like Tsonga being tested more in both matches to come through with key points in key moments. Pouille really hasn’t had that pressure yet. I think Tsonga’s power on serve can be a big difference maker again. He has the ability to push Pouille back and wide in return to get aggressively to the next ball. Pouille can do that on serve, but isn’t nearly as consistent. For Pouille, I think mixing his tactics is the biggest key. If he doesn’t vary what he does, Tsonga keys in and tees off.

I think Pouille needs the quick start in this one as he has not had any adversity to deal with yet this week. For Tsonga, he’s shown big in big moments and I think he’d be fine playing with the lead or having to rally. I do think this is a real toss up dependent on what tactics we see. I don’t expect Pouille to repeat his feat in Vienna, where JWT was obviously not 100 percent. This should see both at full power and for me, that’s Tsonga still with the advantage as long as his serve stays steady.

Prediction: Tsonga wins in three sets