2017 Shanghai Rolex Masters QF Preview: Marin Cilic vs Albert Ramos-Vinolas

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Marin Cilic seeks to avenge a 2011 loss to Albert Ramos-Vinolas in Shanghai when the pair square off with a spot in the Shanghai Rolex Masters semifinals on the line. Ramos-Vinolas also won their most recent encounter on clay in Monte Carlo earlier this year.

(4) Marin Cilic vs Albert Ramos-Vinolas

It’s been two straight forward matches for Marin Cilic this week as he beat both Kyle Edmund and Steve Johnson in straight sets en route to the quarterfinals. Cilic took out Johnson yesterday 7-6 (1), 6-4. Over the two matches, he has faced just five break points against his serve and has yet to be broken. Cilic’s win rate on first serve is an impressive 63 percent with the sixth seed winning 97 of the 127 points played off his serve this week. That is just over three-quarters of the points at 76 percent. He has only seen six break chances against his opponents in two rounds, but has been clinical in converting on three of those chances. A win will put him in back-to-back semifinals after he made the same run in Tokyo last week.

For Ramos-Vinolas, he’s been forced to work a bit harder this week. His latest win was 7-6 (4), 6-4 over Jan-Lennard Struff. Struff had upset 11th seeded Kevin Anderson in the second round. Ramos-Vinolas was solid on serve against the German, taking 76 percent of the points on serve. He was broken one time on four chances, while converting on two of six against Struff. Through three rounds this week, ARV has only been broken twice. The Spaniard has been very solid on serve, taking at least 76 percent of the points off his first serve and more impressively, 69 percent or better in each match off his second.

Sixth Career Meeting

Cilic leads the head-to-head three wins to two. It was Ramos-Vinolas who broke Cilic’s three match win streak in Monte Carlo this year via a 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-2 win on clay. Cilic struggled to find his serve in that match, seeing a dozen break points against him. ARV would convert on half of those, while saving three of five break opportunities against his serve. Cilic was especially poor with his second serve with a win rate at just 43 percent. That was compounded with the Croat only landing 51 percent of his first serves in play, forcing him to 44 second serves in the match.

Their only other meeting in the last two years came at the Australian Open in 2016. Cilic edged Ramos-Vinolas in straights 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (4). Cilic’s serve was stout that day with ARV only breaking him once on that lone break point. Otherwise, Cilic was dominant as he took 86 percent of the points off his first serve with 17 aces landed. The Spaniard scuffled a bit with win rates at 72 percent off his first serve and 54 percent off his second. Cilic would break him three times on six chances. ARV also had more unforced errors than winners with 34 UEs to just 23 winners. Cilic had a 37/30 split on winners and unforced errors for the match.

Their other three meetings came between 2011-2013. The first came at this same tournament in Shanghai back in 2011, where Ramos-Vinolas prevailed 6-3, 6-4. Cilic again had second serve issues in that match, winning just 44 percent of the points and landing just 53 percent of his first serves. Cilic scored his first win over ARV in 2012 6-4, 7-6 (5) on clay in Hamburg. Cilic had second serve issues again (45 percent), but Ramos-Vinolas was terrible on serve overall. The Spaniard won just 57 percent of the points off his first serve and 45 percent off his second. Cilic would follow up with another straight sets win at Indian Wells in 2013 by a score of 7-6 (7), 6-2.

Match Tactics

There’s no secret to what propels Cilic’s game, it starts with his serve. When the Croat lands his first serve consistently, he is nearly impossible to break. That has shown this week with Cilic landing 61 percent and 64 percent of his first serves in the first two rounds. It’s usually when he’s struggling closer to 50 percent on landing that first serve that he finds the most trouble. That is when his opponent gets more opportunities to tee off on an inferior second serve. Ramos-Vinolas will hope that he gets a rash of second serves to look at in this one, as he’ll likely have a hard time getting much done against the first serve if Cilic stays in rhythm.

The ground battle is likely to take place mostly along the baseline as both are comfortable there and prefer hitting their strokes from the back of the court. Cilic has the obvious power advantage, but Ramos-Vinolas is one of those crafty guys who can work rallies well into winning positions. He won’t overwhelm you off either wing, but he is precise with his shots when he stays in good court position. I’d expect ARV to try and go to the Cilic backhand, which isn’t as lethal as the forehand. Still, Cilic has shown the ability on plenty of occasions to hit the double hander for winners to anywhere on the court.

Cilic is a much steadier striker of the ball when he’s able to stay in a more neutral position to set his feet and power through his shots. Ramos-Vinolas would do well to get the Croat on the move if possible to help alleviate some of the controlled explosioon that comes off his ground strokes when he is stationary. Both can come to net when needed, but won’t likely be looking to explore that too much. I do think Ramos-Vinolas would be wise however to mix that into his strategy to force Cilic to prove that he can hit winning volleys.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

At first glance, you might think Ramos-Vinolas doesn’t have a big chance to pull off the upset because of Cilic’s serve. Remember though that Cilic was in a similar groove last week in Tokyo before running up against Adrian Mannarino and he completely fell apart by match’s end. It’s not that I necessarily expect a repeat, but things can change quickly in tennis. I do think Ramos-Vinolas has a chance to score the scalp here if he keeps his serve near the level we have seen most of the week. That is good enough to stick with Cilic and try to convert some key points that could swing the match in the favor of the Spaniard.

Ramos-Vinolas is only 2-7 against Top 10 players this season, but one of those was against Cilic in Monte Carlo with the other over Andy Murray in the same tournament. Five of his seven losses this eyar have come to Murray, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. There’s no shame in that game. ARV was one of the featured players in the Outsider’s Edge segment in the preview fo Shanghai this week as a potential dark horse semifinal type. Unseeded players have accounted for three of the last 12 semifinal spots in Shanghai between 2013-2016.

I like Ramos-Vinolas to etch his name alongside that small group.

Prediction: Ramos-Vinolas wins in three sets

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2017 Shanghai Rolex Masters Preview

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Nadal, Federer Lead Field

The ATP World Tour makes one of its final two Masters stops for the season in Shanghai this week for the Shanghai Rolex Masters. Defending champion Andy Murray is not here to defend the title as he sits out the remainder of the season to recover from a string of injury problems. Rafael Nadal leads this year’s field as the top seed and is fresh off winning the title at the China Open on Sunday over Nick Kyrgios. Roger Federer hits the courts for his first tour stop since the U.S. Open. Fed did participate in the Laver Cup a few weeks ago, so he shouldn’t be entirely rusty.

Surprisingly, this has been one of the least successful stops for both players throughout their careers. Nadal has never won the title in seven trips to Shanghai. His best finish was making the final in his first year in Shanghai back in 2009. Federer won the title in 2014, but has only made one other final at this event (2010) in five visits. Both Nadal and Federer were first-up losers the last time they visited Shanghai with Nadal losing to Viktor Troicki last year and Federer dropping his opener to Albert Ramos-Vinolas in 2015.

Following Nadal and Federer in the seeded field are Alexander Zverev, Marin Cilic, Dominic Thiem, Grigor Dimitrov, Pablo Carreno Busta and David Goffin to round out the top eight. Among those players, Cilic and Goffin have the best finishes with each making one quarterfinal in Shanghai in their careers. Zverev makes his second appearance at this tournament, making the round of 16 last year. Cilic is just 5-7 in Shanghai with first-up losses in two of the last three years. Both Thiem and Dimitrov have never been past the second round and PCB is 0-1 with a loss last year in his lone trip.

Lower Seeds Yield More Experience

The remainder of the seeded field has more experience and success at this event. That is highlighted by 9th seed Roberto Bautista Agut who made the final in 2016. That was his best showing after going just 3-2 the two prior years. Sam Querrey is the 10th seed and he arrives with a 3-5 record in Shanghai and a loss in his only match since the U.S. Open. Kevin Anderson and John Isner are both 7-7 all-time at this tournament, seeded 11th and 12th respectively. Anderson’s best run was a quarterfinal finish in 2015, while Isner has never been past the round of 16. Rounding out the final seeds are Nick Kyrgios at 13, Jack Sock, Lucas Pouille and Juan Martin Del Potro.

Kyrgios comes in off a good run in Beijing that ended with a flop against Nadal in the final on Sunday where he lost 6-2, 6-1. Kyrgios made the quick trip to Shanghai to play doubles on Monday with Pouille, so I would watch out for the potential for burnout for the Aussie this week. Sock made the quarterfinals in 2016 and sports a 6-3 record in Shanghai. Pouille’s best finish was making the round of 16 last year, while Del Potro is a one-time finalist in 2013. The Argentine won his opening match against Nikoloz Basilashvili on Monday. That marked DelPo’s first win in Shanghai since that 2013 title run.

Early Bird Specials

Upsets are hit and miss in Shanghai as far as the seeds in their first matches. Last year, six seeds dropped out in their openers. 2015 however saw just two seeds lose early, but 2014 saw seven seeds go one and done. If you travel back to 2013, you also saw just two seeds lose early on. So if it is an odd-even year type of split, there could be fewer upsets among the seeds this year. Regardless, a top four seed has been taken down three straight years, so that is a trend to watch.

Here’s a look at the seeds who could be in trouble early this year with 9th seed Roberto Bautista Agut already falling victim to the upset bug.

4. Marin Cilic
This is a tricky opener for Cilic. The Croat made a deep run in Tokyo last week, but got bageled in his final set loss to Adrian Mannarino in the semifinals. He will face Kyle Edmund who already has a match under his belt in Shanghai. The Brit beat Jiri Vesely in straights to start on Sunday. Given that Cilic has lost two of his last three openers in Shanghai, this does carry legit upset possibilities.

5. Dominic Thiem
It’s late in the season and that makes Thiem an easy inclusion most weeks for getting knocked out early. He still hasn’t cut down on his scheduling enough to keep himself from getting burned out late. Thiem has dropped both of his matches since the U.S. Open and he’ll face a tough match-up against either Troicki or Denis Shapovalov. Troicki has two wins over Thiem in two meetings with the last coming indoors last Fall. The Serb has not looked great in two losses on the Far East swing though, so Shapovalov could be there instead. The Canadian will be playing his first tour match since the U.S. Open, but he did have a match against Alexander Zverev at the Laver Cup. Either way, I think Thiem is going to have to play well to avoid the upset.

7. Pablo Carreno Busta
PCB battles Alberto Ramos-Vinolas to start his Shanghai campaign. Ramos-Vinolas took down Joao Sousa to open play in Shanghai, so he’s got the match play edge. PCB is 2-0 against ARV however, but both wins have come on clay and gone the distance. The last came earlier this year in Buenos Aires. The win for ARV to start Shanghai could be the confidence builder he needed after ending a three match losing skid. These two are pretty evenly matched, so I think this is a 50-50 type of call.

8. David Goffin
Goffin has won titles in successive weeks and finally looks back to his best after taking a bit to get going following that nasty ankle injury at the French Open. The big problem for him could be fatigue with two straight weeks of play. His opener is Gilles Simon who will force Goffin to work in rallies, which again could hit on that fatigue angle. Simon is not in the best form, but has played a match already in Shanghai conditions and his backboard style of defense could keep him in this one with a chance to win.

10. Sam Querrey
Querrey takes on Yuichi Sugita in round one. On paper, Querrey’s power would figure to be too much for Sugita, but late in the season, there is no telling. Sugita is 5-2 since the U.S. Open, but three of those matches have come via retirement. Querrey has played just once, losing to Richard Gasquet last week in straights in Tokyo. I would keep this in the lower tier of upset possibilities, but 2017 has shown us to expect the unexpected.

13. Nick Kyrgios
Kyrgios draws Steve Johnson to start and I touched on it earlier about Kyrgios’ quick turnaround to play doubles on Monday after losing the Beijing final on Sunday. Johnson scored a couple of wins last week in Tokyo before losing to Diego Schwartzman in the quarterfinals. He’s no sure thing to step up here to score the upset, but given Kyrgios’ heavier workload and lack of much prep time – Johnson does have a good shot here to take Kyrgios down.

14. Jack Sock
Sock opens with qualifier Alexandr Dolgopolov. The American arrives on a four match losing skid. Dog has been his roller coaster self on this Far East swing. He made a run to the Shenzhen final and then lost his second match in Tokyo to Steve Johnson. He’s looked solid in two wins in qualifying and that could give him a leg up on Sock. Sock does own one win over Dolgopolov, but that came three years ago in Tokyo.

Outsider’s Edge

Unseeded players have made some noise in Shanghai over the last four years. Last year, one of the semifinal spots went to an unseeded player. In 2014, two unseeded players made the semis and it was Gilles Simon who made the final against Federer. There do appear to be a couple of the quarters that are weaker than the others and that’s where you might find an unseeded player with a chance to advance.

Kyle Edmund
He has the second round match against Cilic and that’s the obvious win or go home match. A win for the Brit and then he’s got a real shot to do damage. In a quarter with Carreno Busta, Anderson and Kyrgios as seeds – an early upset could really change the dynamic of the draw. Whether Edmund can find the consistency to do that is the big question. He hasn’t really shown it much lately, but it’s a new week.

Steve Johnson
Johnson gets the chance to take advantage of a travel weary Nick Kyrgios early and that could help propel him deep in his quarter. He might need Edmund or someone else to do him a favor though with Marin Cilic in his path to the quarters. Cilic is 3-0 against Johnson.

Albert Ramos-Vinolas
ARV is in the same quarter as Johnson. He faces fellow Spaniard Carreno Busta to start. A win there and Kevin Anderson is the only seed in his way to the quarters. ARV might not seem like a great choice, but he did make the round of 16 here a couple years ago and he’s had some success on hard courts.

Troicki/Shapovalov
The winner gets Thiem in round two and I talked about the upset possibilities there. If the survivor between these two gets past Thiem, it’s just John Isner standing in the way of at least a quarterfinal berth. Shapovalov seems the smarter try if you’re guessing, but there’s no telling how the 18-year-old will fare in his first trip to Shanghai.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (1)
Grigor Dimitrov (6)
Sam Querrey (10)
Lucas Pouille (15)

Breakdown
All eyes will be on Nadal as the world #1 heads to Shanghai on a roll and looking to add another trophy to a brilliant 2017 season. Nadal will open against Jared Donaldson who survived a tough three set opener against Pablo Cuevas. Donaldson is 0-5 in his career against the Top 10 and this doesn’t look like the spot for that first win. A win for Nadal pits him against either Pouille or Fognini in the round of 16. Both those players have given Nadal some tough matches in the past and that is the speed bump spot for Rafa. If he makes it past round three, then he should be in good shape to see it through to the semifinals.

The bottom of this quarter features Dimitrov and Querrey as the seeds. Dimitrov takes on the winner between Ze Zhang and Ryan Harrison. That should give Dimitrov an opportunity to build on a good week in Beijing, where he made the semifinals in losing to Nadal. Querrey has Sugita to start with the survivor taking on Frances Tiafoe. Tiafoe got a rare win at this level in round one, beating Benoit Paire 6-4, 6-4. Tiafoe’s run through qualis has given him some confidence this week and he won’t be an easy out for Querrey or Sugita. The issue for Tiafoe will be that he’s only won back-to-back main draw wins once this season (Cincinnati).

Nadal is not a shoe-in to get through this quarter. That third round against Fognini or Pouille will be tough. I’d be a fool to go against him though with what he has shown and you know he has the motivation still, having not won here in his career. If Rafa did falter early, the beneficiary might win up being Dimitrov

Quarter #2 Seeds
Marin Cilic (4)
Pablo Carreno Busta (7)
Kevin Anderson (11)
Nick Kyrgios (13)

Breakdown
This is a quarter that looks like it could be wide open. Cilic’s end in Tokyo was a bit bothersome, although he’ll be looked to as a front runner here. His track record in Shanghai suggests he may not be involved in the mix late. Kyrgios as mentioned will be dealing with possible fatigue from the long week in Beijing and short travel to turn around and play doubles to start this tournament. For Cilic, a win over Edmund might set him up to get back into a good grove. I do think Edmund will challenge him and could potentially pull off an upset. The winner between Johnson-Kyrgios will battle Di Wu, who beat Jeremy Chardy in round one. If Cilic doesn’t go out early, then I do like him to make some noise later here. He’s 3-0 against Johnson and 1-1 vs Kyrgios.

Either Carreno Busta or Ramos-Vinolas will be in round three. There, they could see Anderson. Anderson has a match-up in round one against Adrian Mannarino. Anderson is 2-1 against him, although none have come since 2014. Mannarino will have to fight off the dreaded championship match loss syndrome. Anderson wasn’t great in Tokyo however, so there might be a small possibility of an upset if the Frenchman turns up with his head screwed on straight. The winner there gets the survivor between Mischa Zverev and Jan-Lennard Struff. Zverev beat Struff in three last week in Beijing, so it’s a 50-50 call. If Anderson doesn’t find his best, I like the survivor of the all-Spaniard clash between PCB and ARV to move into the quarters.

I do think this quarter has unseeded possibilities. Of course, Cilic could negate that with a hot start. If Cilic gets past his opener, that’s my choice here – otherwise, the weirdness could fall to someone like Johnson or Ramos-Vinolas.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Alexander Zverev (3)
Dominic Thiem (5)
John Isner (12)
Juan Martin Del Potro (16)

Breakdown
Zverev comes in off a solid week in Beijing that ended flat with another loss to Kyrgios. Sascha’s serve is still a bit loose and that shows when he’s up against players who can rock and roll in rhythm on serve consistently. He should be afforded a good start with either Paolo Lorenzi or Aljaz Bedene to face him in his opener. A win for Sascha there and he would be in line to take on the winner of the Del Potro-Andrey Rublev match. Both came through in three sets in the opening round. Rublev scored a couple nice wins in Beijing last week against Jack Sock and Tomas Berdych. Del Potro will be a tough task, but it’s baseline vs baseline. As always with the Russian, if he can lock in on his first serve – he will have a shot to pull off the upset. Del Potro will be the tougher out for Zverev if the third round with Sascha having blown Rublev off the court twice now.

In the other half, Thiem will be up against it early as he faces either Shapovalov or Troicki. I do think much like Cilic that if he can get out of his opener, then he could get on a roll. The third round could likely see Isner. Isner has to get past qualifier Dusan Lajovic in round one, but then he would have Stefanos Tsitsipas in round two. Both are winnable for Isner and he looked good at the China Open last week, even in losing to Nadal in the quarters. If this comes down to Thiem and Isner, they have split two career meetings with Isner winning on hard courts and Thiem on clay. I think this surface would favor Isner just slightly.

I do think a seed takes this quarter, but I am looking to the double digits here with either isner or Del Potro. I give Isner the slight nod with an easier draw.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Roger Federer (2)
David Goffin (8)
Roberto Bautista Agut (9)
Jack Sock (14)

Breakdown
Bautista Agut is out already, losing his opener to Hyeon Chung. That opens one half of the draw up, where Goffin is the in-form player and lead seed. The Belgian is on a major roll with back-to-back titles in Shenzhen and Tokyo. Of course with that comes a lot of match play and the potential for fatigue to hit him this week. He faces Simon to start and that won’t be easy. They have split two career meetings with the Frenchman taking him to three sets both times. Simon got just his second win in his last seven matches to begin his week in Shanghai. Even though RBA is out and Goffin is the form player, this part of the draw could go to an unseeded player. Watch Richard Gasquet here as the Frenchman battles Chung next. Gasquet was decent in Tokyo and just saw Goffin in a loss there, so revenge could be on tap.

In the other half, all eyes will be on Federer who returns to tour for the first time since his surprising loss to Del Potro in the U.S. Open quarters. Fed should be keen to get back on track and step up to the level that Nadal has set. The Swiss starts against either Jordan Thompson or Diego Schwartzman. Both of those potential match-ups should be fairly comfortable for Federer. Sock is the seed opposite Federer in this half, but he could be one and done with Dolgopolov to open. The survivor of that one goes against Felciano Lopez. Lopez edged Ivo Karlovic in two tiebreaks in round one.

This sets up as a good quarter for Federer as the best seed is someone he’s beaten five times in five meetings (Goffin). I’m not sure Goffin will get to the quarterfinals to test that record or not, but I do think Federer is the guy who can get through this part of the draw.

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

Let’s not start hyping a Fedal final in this one. Far too often that has been a match-up that we’ve waited or again this year, but they have found a way not to happen as the season has worn on. I would say this week looks like that is a possibility, but I see pitfalls for both players before the final that could keep it from happening. Double digit seeds have made a habit of popping into the final with Bautista Agut doing it as the 15th seed last year and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga doing it as the #16 in 2015.

If Shanghai falls that way, I think it would be at the expense of Federer’s spot in the final with Isner and Del Potro as the double digit seeds I think have a shot. In Nadal’s half of the draw, the double digit seeds look like longer shots to meke it. In the end, it’s difficult to go against an in-form Nadal. Federer’s gaps in between tournaments can be both and help and hindrance. In this case, I think it might be more of the hindrance.

2017 U.S. Open Preview: Quarter #4

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Seeds
Marin Cilic (5)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (8)
Pablo Carreno Busta (12)
Lucas Pouille (16)
David Ferrer (21)
Albert Ramos-Vinolas (28)
Diego Schwartzman (29)
Robin Haase (32)

Battle Tested Vets Might Be Shown Up

This final quarter of the draw got a little switcheroo with Andy Murray’s late withdrawal. Marin Cilic now is the lead seed in a quarter and comes to New York with health questions. He’s been out since Wimbledon due to an abductor injury he sustained in London. When healthy, he is an obvious threat at Slams still. Since a subpar Australian Open, Cilic made the quarterfinals at Roland Garros and then the final at Wimbledon. The U.S. Open brings back fond memories of course as the site of his lone Grand Slam conquest.

Last year’s third round exit in New York was Cilic’s worse since 2011 and broke a streak of three straight quarterfinal or better finishes. If he proves he is healthy, he is the obvious one to beat here. Tsonga brings no momentum to the proceedings, but a good tradition in New York that includes two straight quarterfinal finishes. He may just need to find some early wins to gain confidene after a poor summer that saw him lose both his hard court tuneups. The vet with the best form shockingly is David Ferrer who had not won more than two matches at a tournament prior to winning the title on clay in Bastard post-Wimbledon.

When the surface switched to hard courts, Ferrer kept going wth a third round run in Montreal followed up with a semifinal trip in Cincinnati. A guy who was an after thought is now one you cannot overlook. The real intrigue could lie with a couple of talented 20-somethings who are mid-seeds in Carreno Busta and Pouille. Pouille, a 2016 quarterfinalist at the U.S. Open, has struggled to follow up his surprising 2016 campaign. Still, he’s got all the game you could want and a fairly workable draw. You also have two unseeded players who look boom or bust in Steve Johnson and Kyle Edmund that I’ll talk about more below.

Cilic’s Half Looks a Three Horse Race

With Cilic, Pouille and Ferrer all in one half of this quarter – they look to be the most probable contenders for quarterfinal spots. Cilic of course must prove his health first and he gets that opportunity in round one against Tennys Sandgren. On his best day, Sandgren might be able to hold serve with Cilic and sneak out a tight set or two. With Cilic fully fit, Cilic should overpower the American and move to round two. You should learn plenty from Cilic as that match wears on, but Sandgren might steal a set early with the Croat rusty. If he is healthy, then his route to the fourth round looks very nice. He has Schwartzman as the seed in his way and not a whole lot more. A fun first rounder in this part of the draw could be Janko Tipsarevic and Thanasi Kokkinakis. The Aussie could score some wins here with Schwartzman as a possible second round opponent, if he beats Carlos Berlocq in round one.

Ferrer and Pouille are the seeds in the other part opposite Cilic. Pouille has a wiley vet in Ruben Bemelmans to open. If he works past the Belgian, he could see American Jared Donaldson. Donaldson opens with Nikoloz Bashilasvhili. Donaldson made waves last year with a run through qualifying at the U.S. Open and a third round finish. He comes in off an unexpected semifinal run in Cincy that should fuel him. Donaldson beat Pouille in an earlier meeting at the Rogers Cup in two tiebreak sets and could be a dark horse in this section. He’s also inconsistent enough to lose in round one.

Ferrer gets Mikhail Kukushkin in round one and he is 7-0 lifetime in that match-up, but will face a stern test. Kukushkin is a veteran player who has made a habit of being a tough out in New York. He beat Dimitrov in 2015 and took Cilic to five sets the next round. He also played Ferrer once here in 2013 and lost in four. I would not be surprised if kukushkin made life tough on ferrer. The survivor looks to be in good shape with Menendez-Maceiras or Donskoy up in round two. Donskoy does have a big ground game, but has really struggled to make much of that at this level on a consistent basis. You have to like a healthy Cilic here and don’t be surprised if Donaldson makes another run at the expense of Pouille.

Tsonga’s Half Looks Prime for Unexpected Results

Tsonga opens with Marius Copil who serves big and hits big. Copil has never matched up well with top tier players though and the 26-year-old has just one Grand Slam win. Still, Tsonga has has had a proclivity for losing to power players like this over the last few months with two losses to Querrey, one to Karlovic and one to Muller. Copil isn’t in that class, but he can certainly bang power for power with Tsonga for a bit. Tsonga will need to be sharp. If he wins, we could get a highly entertaining round two if qualifier Denis Shapovalov can earn his first Slam win in round one against Daniil Medvedev. Medevedev has been off his game of late, so Shappy should have a chance to earn that maiden victory. If it’s Tsonga-Shapovalov in round two, you’ll get two demonstrative players going head-to-head in a match made from heaven for the crowd.

Haase is the seed opposite that part of this section and he has a difficult path in round one against Kyle Edmund. Edmund has been up and down this summer, but has the tools to win on this surface. Outside of Haase’s surprise Rogers Cup run, outdoor hard courts traditionally are not his thing. He is 2-7 lifetime at the U.S. Open and an upset could definitely be in the cards in round one. The winner there sees either Steve Johnson or Nicolas Almagro. Almagro is returning after knee surgery in late May. Johnson has been up an down as we all know with his head swimming still following the passing of his father. I like that spot for him to win and you can bet the crowd will be 100 percent behind him. He could relish a chance to avenge a loss to Edmund last week in Winston-Salem. Don’t be surprised if Johnson is motivated and emotional enough to score some wins.

The other half of this segment is led by two seeded Spaniards in Carreno Busta and Ramos-Vinolas. Neither is the allergic type to hard courts, so they actually have a good opportunity in this part of the draw. Carreno Busta has a smoother path with qualifier Evan King in his opener and then either Cameron Norrie or Dmitry Tursunov. PCB really should make it to round three unless he is an absolute mess. Ramos-Vinolas faces Denis Istomin, which might sound difficult. Looking at Istomin’s 2017 since beating Novak Djokovic in Australia however and it looks easier. Istomin has lost his first match in seven of his last eight tournaments. That should put ARV into round two against Nicolas Mahut or Marton Fucsovics. Fucsovics normally doesn’t win at this level on this surface.

I’m not big on Tsonga despite his past history here and especially with some of the dangerous young floaters in his segment of the draw. I can see taking advantage here or a feel good story with Steve Johnson.

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

Most of this quarter hinges on the health of Cilic. If he’s healthy and finds his game after the layoff, he certainly has the goods to get through this quarter. If not, then this looks wide open with guys like Carreno Busta and Pouille hopeful among the seeds. However, I could definitely see the unseeded uprising here if the upsets fall early on. Johnson, Shapovalov, Edmund and Medvedev all have possibilities if things fall right. With the way things have gone, it’d be just about right if Ferrer survived here somehow. I look to either a healthy Cilic or Carreno Busta or a resurgent Pouille as the best shots. If the unseeded streak ends, give me Johnson and all the feels.

2017 U.S. Open Seed Report

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I’ve already laid out the wasteland that is the seeded field and the possible contenders this year with so many absentees. In case you’ve been under a rock, last year’s champion Stan Wawrinka is joined by Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori as top ten players who will not be present at this year’s U.S. Open. That leaves a lot of wiggle room among the seeded field to jockey for position at the business end of the tournament. The top seed is Rafael Nadal with Roger Federer now a de-factor #2 in the same half of the draw after Murray’s late withdrawal announcement. Marin Cilic will slot into Murray’s spot in the draw and is labelled as the fifth seed. Alexander Zverev has his highest seeding at a Slam as the #4 and the sheik pick to the click if you’re straying from the Nadal-Federer narrative at Grand Slams in 2017.

Being a seed at a Slam is always tricky business and as we like to do before each Slam, let’s take a look at how the seeds have fared over the last six years:

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There wasn’t much straying from the pattern with the four semifinalists coming from the top ten seeds. Only with Marin Cilic’s shock win as the #14 seed in 2014 have we seen a seed outside the top ten involved in the semis. That could definitely change with the turnover at the top this year. Juan Martin Del Potro did make sure that an unseeded player made the quarterfinal field in 2016 for the first time since 2008 when Mardy Fish and Gilles Muller both made it without a number next to their names.

Our other area of pique interest are the first round upsets of seeds and last year saw five, up from just three in 2015. David Goffin (12) was the highest seed to fall in round one a year ago, continuing a trend of top 12 seeds losing in five of the last six years as you look over that chart. With that in mind, we must check out the seeds and the players who could be most prone to being sent home in round one.

Early Bird Specials

8. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsonga went 0-2 in the hard court swing this summer and he has not found much momentum from the French Open through the present time. He is just 3-5 in that stretch. Tsonga has turned up well at the U.S. Open with two straight quarterfinal appearances, but this version of Tsonga doesn’t look to be at that level. His first round foe is Marius Copil who has a big serve and big forehand. If Tsonga is flat, Copil is capable of contending in this match and pushing the Frenchman to turn up his best tennis in months. This again is a lower tier upset alert, but still one that given Tsonga’s play recently …. could happen.

10. John Isner
Isner faces off against Pierre Hugues-Herbert in round one. Isner beat him in their only career meeting at Roland Garros 7-6, 7-6, 7-5. Isner did not look good in Winston-Salem last week, either struggling with low energy or lack of motiviation. That makes it a litte bit dangerous for him, although I would expect him to amp it back up for the Open. Isner hasn’t fallen in round one at this tournament since 2008, but with the way his matches play out, it’s always a possibility to be close and tense. PHH doesn’t figure to be able to contend serve for serve with Isner over the course of five sets, but if he serves well enough – there is always a chance that the sets come down to a key point or two. Keep the upset alarm ready, although probably not as likely as others.

11. Roberto Bautista Agut
RBA is on fire after winning the Winston-Salem Open, but that also brings with it the potential for fatigue. Couple that with a veteran opponent in Andreas Seppi and you see why he’s on this list. RBA has been a pretty consistent performer the last three years at the U.S. Open with no worse than a third round finish. He also did come in last year off losing the Winston-Salem final, but he did have a tough time putting away Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the first round in four sets that included two tiebreaks. Seppi played his first matches since Wimbledon at Winston-Salem and was strong in making the third round with a 2-1 record. The Italian is only 9-13 in New York, but he also hasn’t lost in round one since 2012 and owns the lone win head-to-head against RBA in Miami way back in 2012. Monitor this one as it could be a lengthy battle with some upset potential.

13. Jack Sock
Sock’s summer was mediocre to poor if you throw out his semifinal showing at the Citi Open. Outside of that result, Sock went 2-3 with disheartening losses to Kyle Edmund, David Ferrer and Yuichi Sugita. Sock did make the fourth round for the first time last year at the U.S. Open, but arrives with out much to show since March. He opens against Jordan Thompson who can be dangerous on this surface. The Aussie made two Challenger finals on hard courts this summer and took Sascha Zverev to a third set tiebreak in D.C. before losing in round two. Thompson is only 2-9 at Slams, but with Sock’s recent run of mediocrity, this could be a tough first one test for the American.

17. Sam Querrey
Querrey draws Gilles Simon to start with the Frenchman having beaten him four out of the six times that they have met. That is the bad news. The good news is that Simon is in the midst of a putrid year with a 12-18 overall record. Querrey had a good summer, winning the Los Cabos title and going 3-2 between Montreal and Cincinnati. Simon has lost his opening match in six of his last eight tournaments, so that should be a boost to Querrey’s confidence. The American somewhat surprisingly has never done much at the U.S. Open and will head to this year’s version looking to end a two year streak of losing in the opening round. Despite Simon’s struggles that makes this a mental spot for Querrey and that could be a hazardous situation if Simon is getting enough balls back in play.

18. Gael Monfils
La Monf is in that prototypical boom or bust spot he always seems to be in at Grand Slams. He pulled out of Cincinnati with an illness, but physically we believe that he isn’t carrying an injury into New York. Still, he draws Jeremy Chardy in round one and his fellow Frenchman beat him the last time they played at Wimbledon in 2016. Chardy won an up and down five setter in that one. The plus for Monfils is that Chardy hasn’t played a match since Wimbledon this season. Still, being a veteran player who is going up against a familiar foe makes this a potentially tricky match between the two. Keep Monfils on upset alert as he’ll need to get going early to avoid being sent packing.

25. Karen Khachanov
This is new territory for the 21-year-old from Russia. Khachanov is seeded at a Slam for the first time and will have some slight expectation on him. He faces a veteran in Yen-Hsun Lu who got hot on the Challenger circuit in the last month and will provide a stern test in round one. Khachanov is making just his second appearance at the U.S. Open with a 1-1 career mark. He was 2-2 in hard court tuneups with losses to Sugita and Carreno Busta. Lu hasn’t done much in main draws this year and is only 2-10 in New York. Still, being a veteran against an inexperienced youngster – there is a slight chance or a struggle here for the Russian.

27. Pablo Cuevas
Cuevas is just 4-8 all-time as the U.S. Open, but has avoided the first round upset bug the last two years. He goes up against a form player in round one through in Damir Dzumhur. Dzumhur made an unexpected trip to the Winston-Salem Open final, where he lost 6-4, 6-4 to Bautista Agut. He also made the semis in Los Cabos earlier in the summer, so his hard court prowess is showing. Going up against someone like Cuevas who isn’t a world beater on hard courts makes this a popular upset selection – but Dzumhur will have to overcome a long week in Winston-Salem and a quick turnaround. That gives Cuevas a shot.

29. Diego Schwartzman
It’s an all-Argentine first rounder with Schwartzman taking on Carlos Berlocq. Schwartzman is 1-3 all-time at the Open with Berlocq just 2-7. Berlocq has lost his opener three of the last four times he’s been to New York, but this match feels like it will be competitive. Neither is generally at home on hard courts, so that makes this feel like a 50-50 call.

30. Adrian Mannarino
The Frenchman is in a tight spot in his opener against Ricardas Berankis. Berankis has never lived up to the hype that followed him earlier in his career after he won the juniors title at the U.S. Open a decade ago. He has however played Mannarino well with two wins in three career matches. That included a three set win last year indoors in St.Petersburg. Mannarino has a couple of third round finishes in his career here, but lost his opener last year to Ryan Harrison. He did play well on the summer swing, making the quarters in Los Cabos and Montreal, but this match-up smells a bit dangerous for him.

31. Feliciano Lopez
It’s been a very blase for the Spaniard who is 21-18 on the season. Lopez is just 2-3 in the hard court swing this summer and he has lost his opener in nine tournaments this season, including three of his last five. The lefty has also dropped his opener in two of the three Grand Slams this year. He has a tough match-up to start against Andrey Kuznetsov. Lopez does own two wins in two tries against the Russian, but it has been nearly two years since they last met. Kuznetsov isn’t in great form, but he’s competent on these courts with two consecutive third round appearances. Those both happened to include wins over lefties from Spain in Fernando Verdasco in 2014 and Albert Ramos-Vinolas last year.

32. Robin Haase
Haase had one stellar tournament this summer with a surprise run to the Rogers Cup semifinals. He lost his only other match on hard courts in Cincinnati to Mannarino. He will face off against Kyle Edmund to start and that is a tough one, potentially one of the most competitive first round matches this year at the Open. Edmund book-ended his summer with semifinal showings in Atlanta and Winston-Salem. In between, he lost first-up matches in Montreal and Cincinnati. Haase is 2-7 at the Open for his career, while Edmund put forth his best Slam result of his young career here last year by making round four. This has definite upset potential for Edmund.

Keep following @tennispig for a ton of U.S. Open preview material as well as live tweets during the Open + match previews as the tournament advances.

2017 U.S. Open: Contenders List

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Unpredictable Tournament Could Be On Tap

The U.S. Open might well consider replacing its usual log with a huge question mark for 2017 as the year’s final Grand Slam has more questions than answers heading towards opening day. Three of last year’s four semifinalist will not even be participating in this year’s event due to injury. 2016 champion Stan Wawrinka had to shut down his season due to a knee injury that required surgery. Runner-up, Novak Djokovic, also cut his season short due to recurring elbow problems. 2016 Semifinalist Kei Nishikori is also on the shelf for the remainder of 2017 with a wrist problem. Another potential top ten seed in this year’s tournament dropped out within the past day with Milos Raonic withdrawing due to ongoing issues with his left wrist that also required surgery. Add to that the questionable status of both Andy Murray and Marin Cilic, and you’re missing a great deal of the players who normally are talked about as having a shot to be in the championship mix.

Where does that leave us? #Fedal of course. However, the resurgent Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer arrive with their own questions in New York. Nadal has retaken the overall #1 ranking for the first time in three years, but has looked mortal in the North American hard court swing this summer. Nadal went just 3-2 in Montreal and Cincinnati, beaten by Denis Shapovalov at the Rogers Cup and then totally overpowered by Nick Kyrgios 6-2, 7-5 at the Western & Southern Open. Certainly no one should rule Rafa out as he’s shown well in all three Grand Slams this season, but there are definitely some questions now that he will need to answer if he’s going to make a big run in New York.

And then there is Federer. The ageless Swiss Maestro who most had at the top of their list for potential winners at the U.S. Open will still be there, but now he arrives with an injury cloud of his own. After running roughshod over the field at Wimbledon, Federer took a break until the Rogers Cup. In his own words, Federer said that his body felt a bit more sore than usual, but that is wasn’t entirely unexpected when going from vacation mode back to work mode. Despite not playing nearly as crisply and dominantly as he did in London, Federer still weaved his way to the final in Montreal against Alexander Zverev. That is where trouble popped up however as Federer appeared to be suffering physically as the match wore on. We would find out afterwards that his problematic back was again to blame. As such, Fed and his team decided rest and rehab was best as he skipped Cincinnati.

Now, three weeks or so in the future, we’ll have to take a bit of a wait and see attitude with Federer. Yes, he will be ready to go in the opening round, but now you have to wonder just a bit how his body will hold up in the best of five conditions you’re subject to in Grand Slams. All of a sudden, one tweaked back has dangled that question mark over the head of the Swiss who has won two of the three Grand Slams played this season.

Previous Champions Arrive With Issues Too

With all of the previously mentioned players who are M.I.A. due to injury plus the questions about Nadal and Federer, this COULD be one of the more wide open Grand Slams on the men’s side in quite some time. Could being the operative word as we know the furious five – Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray and Wawrinka – will still have three members operating in New York. Despite the rhetoric, that group has won 48 of the last 50 Grand Slams on the ATP World Tour. The exceptions of course both coming at the U.S. Open courtesy of Juan Martin Del Potro in 2009 and Marin Cilic in 2014.

You COULD include Del Potro and Cilic on the list of contenders, but both carry their own baggage. DelPo has been unable to find a ton of consistency with his wrist seemingly an omnipresent thought for him in his matches. Some matches he flashes the big and dominant game that makes him dangerous, but too often, he’s struggled to serve with consistency and his ground game has gone flat. Cilic? He’s an obvious player to make some noise, except he’s been sidelined with an abductor injury this summer. We all remember Cilic’s tearful and painfully poor performance in the Wimbledon final against Federer. That was due in part to this injury, so it remains to be seen if he’s fit and if he can find some form on-the-fly in New York.

There’s also this Scottish fellow you may have heard of – Andy Murray? Murray has been M.I.A. since Wimbledon, desperately attempt to gain fitness after struggling for months with a hip injury. Murray wisely chose to skip the hard court build-up to the U.S. Open to prevent further damage, but is he anywhere close to being 100 percent now? We don’t know for sure, but it seems highly unlikely that the Scot would be 100 percent physically and MENTALLY fit for the U.S. Open.

It’s no secret that Murray wore himself out in both those categories last year to chase down the #1 ranking. He seemingly never recovered to start the season with his body failing him with elbow and hip problems along with bouts with the flu at different times. The 2012 U.S. Open champ is likely to take the court still, but will be woefully short on match play conditions and rhythm. For a player who relies a lot on his fitness and getting a rhythm from regular work on the court, this seems a poor set-up to him finding much success in New York.

The Name on Everyone’s List is Sascha

On a short and different list of contenders this year, Alexander Zverev is the name that has elevated to the top of the list. Sascha’s name is now on the top of every pundit’s tongue as the next “break-through” Grand Slam champion and rightfully so after a wonderful summer of results. Zverev won the Citi Open to kick off his hard court campaign and then secured his second Masters title of the year with the win over Federer at the Rogers Cup. Sascha did run out of gas in Cincinnati with first-up loss to Frances Tiafoe, but that was hardly surprising given his busy summer.

While the world’s 6th ranked player is now considered a contender, do look over the peripherals. He’s 6-5 against the top ten this year, but 0-2 against them in Grand Slams this year and he does not own a top ten win at a Slam. The good news? Three players ranked in the top ten won’t be playing this year – Wawrinka, Djokovic and Nishikori and two more – Murray and Cilic – are injury concerns. That still leaves Nadal, Federer, Thiem and Dimitrov to contend with in that realm however for a player who is still seeking his first Grand Slam quarterfinal.

That’s right and it’s easy to forget that Zverev has not been past the fourth round at Slam. It’s also easy to forget that at 20 years of age, he could just be entering his reign of terror over the tour. Still, he’s never been past round two at the U.S. Open and his Slam resume this season reads disappointing five set losses to Nadal at the Australian and Raonic at Wimbledon, plus a thudding first round loss to Fernando Verdasco at the French Open. I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that we were all a bit giddy about Sascha’s prospects of being a contender there after he won the title in Rome right before Roland Garros.

Still, Zverev looks more like a player maturing at this point, rather than a player who still questions whether he belongs. He belongs. He’s now firmly inside the top ten and looking like a possibility to finish the season as high as #4 if he continues along his current trajectory. I think for me, this tournament is all about Zverev’s mental preparation and how he handles the pressure of increased expectation. With all the missing players and his recent success on this surface, he’ll be expected to do much more than just making it to the fourth round. Barring a really poor draw, anything less than getting that first Slam quarterfinal under his belt in New York will be a failure.

Dimitrov: Uprising or Downsizing?

Another player who figures to hear his name bandied about as a possible party crasher late in New York is Grigor Dimitrov. Coming off his first Masters title in Cincinnati, that’s enough to pump up expectation for the Bulgarian. He’s also back into the top ten for the first time since the summer of 2014. Not coincidentally, that was during Dimitrov’s best Slam performances in a calendar year when he made the Australian Open quarterfinals and then the semifinals at Wimbledon. This year? He was red hot making the semifinals in Australia, but had fizzled out by March. He had mediocre showings at the French (third round loss) and Wimbledon (fourth round pummeling to Federer).

The beginning of the summer also didn’t bring much hype for Dimitrov with early exits to Daniil Medvedev at the Citi Open and Robin Haase at the Rogers Cup. That changed though with the result in Cincinnati last week. Dimitrov beat Felciano Lopez, Del Potro, Yuichi Sugita, John Isner and Nick Kyrgios en route to the title. You will notice there isn’t a top ten player in the bunch and only Isner was in the top 20, although Kyrgios is now there due to his Cincinnati result.

The big question for Dimitrov is if he can turn around his poor history at the U.S. Open. He is just 7-6 all-time in New York with the majority of those wins coming in 2014 and 2016 during runs to the fourth round. He has avoided first round exits that plagued him from 2011-2013, but he hasn’t really done much more than beat the beatable and lose to the toughest player he meets at the earliest stage in the tournament. This is a big proving ground for Dimitrov or disproving ground as the case might wind up. I’m not sold on the uprising quite yet, so I think he might need a favorable draw to make a real run at the business end of things.

The Best of the Rest is a Bit of a Mess

The highest seed that I didn’t include above is Dominic Thiem and I think it’s for good reason. Thiem has had a fairly poor summer for someone who should be doing more as a top ten player. Thiem is just 3-3 in D.C., Montreal and Cincinnati this summer. Poor losses to Diego Schwartzman to end his Rogers Cup run and David Ferrer to stop him in Cincy have me hesitant to think the Austrian is going to be a major factor at the U.S. Open. This is after all that time of the year where early overs cheduling seems to wear Thiem down the most.

Thiem is 8-3 in his young career in New York, but wear and tear have looked to be big factors in his losses the last few years. His debut in New York came in 2014 where he breezed into the fourth round before getting pounded 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 by Tomas Berdych. 2015 saw a tough loss to Kevin Anderson in the third round in straight sets. 2016 saw Thiem get back to the fourth round again, but retire mid-match against Del Potro with a knee injury. Thiem could still be a thought late in the tournament, but to me he needs some easy early round wins to avoid over taxing his body.

Someone who will need to abide by that same formula to have any outside shot to be in the mix late would be Nick Kyrgios. Listen, we’re still not sure from week to week what sort of shape Kyrgios’ body is in, but Cincy showed that he’s still a threat when he’s rocking in rhythm with his serve. That will be a massive key in New York as to what sort of chance he will have to make some late noise. The obvious worry though is how his body will hold up with shoulder and hip injuries derailing him at different times during the season. We saw that at Wimbledon, where he had to retire in round one. He completrly went away in a second round loss to Kevin Anderson at Roland Garros 7-5, 4-6, 1-6, 2-6 and his supposed strongest Slam in Melbourne ended with a 10-8 5th set upset to Andreas Seppi.

If we’re being honest, Kyrgios has been a big disappointment at Slams since making the Wimbledon quarterfinals in 2014 and following that with a quarterfinal in Australia the following year. The U.S. Open has been a horror show for him with the hip doing him in last year in round three against Illya Marchenko. The year before he had the terrible draw with Andy Murray in round one and in 2013, he lost to Tommy Robredo in round three. That is the farthest he has been, but at 22m surely the Aussie has plenty of time to start righting that course. Fitness will be the biggie and as mentioned, easy and straight forward matches are needed early. Kyrgios hasn’t spent enough time building his endurance, so playing lengthy best of five matches will be a burden on his mind and body. That he has those past injuries to kind of fall back on as a bailing out point is what worries the most with his mind usually not in the mood to put up a fight if things go off point and he feels less than 100 percent.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t wrap this up with one of last year’s quarterfinalists who has somewhat predictably fallen off this season. A year ago at the end of the U.S. Open, Lucas Pouille was being talked about as a future stud. He had knocked off Rafael Nadal in a gritty five set match to get to his second straight Grand Slam quarterfinal, after first turning the trick at Wimbledon. In 2017, little has gone right for Pouille in the first three Slams. He was a first round exit to Alexander Bublik in Australia and then made a third round exit in Paris and a second round exit in London.

Sure, Pouille has a couple of titles under his belt this season too, but in the big tournaments he has rarely made a peep. His Masters record this season is 5-6 and his Slam record is 3-3. This summer he has no traction with losses in both his tuneup matches to Tommy Paul in DC and Jared Donaldson in Montreal. At the beginning of the season, you could have made a case that the Frenchman would be one to potentially watch in the second week of Slams. This year, wins have been tougher to come by in those big matches. It’s not to say that he can’t find that again at the U.S. Open, but it seems more wishful thinking right now than probability.

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

So there you have it. Did I miss someone you think has a chance to stun the world? Do Gael Monfils or Kevin Anderson inspire visions of grandeur? Is there a Gaston Gaudio in the crowd? An unseeded player who will truly shock the world like the Argentine did at the 2004 French Open. Never say never, but 48 of the last 50 Grand Slams have belonged to a group of five players. Their numbers have dwindled though due to injury and realistically you’d say Nadal and Federer are the only members of the furious five who you can see raising the trophy. Andy Murray’s body is an unknown, but from what we’ve seen this season, it would take a lot for Murray to find his way to the end.

I probably touched on the eventual winner this year in New York somewhere above. Perhaps Nadal. Perhaps Federer. Perhaps we get a first timer. I can’t recall the last Grand Slam that had this many question marks and missing players, and quite frankly that might be why this becomes one of the more memorable Slams. There are going to be some players who step up and step into the spotlight – that is the feeling here – they could be ones like Zverev or Thiem – that we’ve been waiting to break that glass ceiling of the furious five. The other feeling is whether they do it themselves or make someone rev up their game to beat them – that Nadal and Federer will still have a say in crowning the 2017 U.S. Open champion.

Keep following me @tennispig for full men’s draw previews of both singles and doubles.