2018 BNP Paribas Open Preview


Absentees Mean Federer, Djokovic Expected to Peak Interest

The first Masters 1000 event of 2018 is set with Roger Federer leading the field in Indian Wells for the BNP Paribas Open. The tournament also marks the return of Novak Djokovic, who has been sidelined by continued elbow problems since his fourth round Australian Open exit courtesy of Hyeon Chung . Djokovic is seeded 10th in the 96 player field, the “Mini Major” in Indian Wells features one of the largest fields of players outside of the four Grand Slams. It takes on a Slam type of vibe with the event stretching for more than a week with main draw play beginning on Thursday. Federer is back as the defending champion and top seed. He will be seeking his sixth title at Indian Wells, tied with Djokovic for the most career titles at this event. That’s good for event organizers with some recognizable names out this week in the form of Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, David Goffin, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet. All are sidelined with injury issues.

There are 32 seeded players in the draw overall. All the seeds get a first round bye. Rounding out the top ten behind Federer are Marin Cilic, Grigor Dimitrov, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Juan Martin Del Potro, Kevin Anderson, Jack Sock, Lucas Pouille and Novak Djokovic. Djokovic is the obvious intrigue of the week. The Serb looked like he was rounding back into form in Melbourne, before the Chung defeat and subsequent announcement that the pain in his right elbow had returned. He’s had a medical procedure done since then, so this tournament will be a huge test of how healthy that elbow is now.

Top Ten Seeds With Iffy Histories in Indian Wells

Djokovic is obviously a player whose return to health can be a real game changer to the landscape of the ATP World Tour. He’s 49-7 all-time at Indian Wells with the five titles. His exit in the fourth round last year was the first time since 2010 that he had not made at least the semifinals at the BNP Paribas Open. Among the rest of the top ten, it’s been hit and miss for most of them in the desert. Cilic’s best run was a 2016 quarterfinal finish, but he lost his opener last year to Taylor Fritz. Third seed Grigor Dimitrov has never been past round three and Zverev is making just his third trip, with a fourth round finish in 2016 as his best so far.

Red hot Juan Martin Del Potro is the most experienced top ten seed outside of the Federer and Djokovic with an 18-7 record at Indian Wells. A lot of that has come well in the past though with the 2013 finals run as his best. He’s struggled some since then at Indian Wells, but that was due mainly to poor draws that pit him against seeds early as he built his way back up in the rankings the last few years. This time, he is the hunted. The interesting high seeds to watch are Sock and Pouille for me. Sock had the semifinal run here last year, but has been pretty poor to start the season. Pouille has had a hot start, but as I mentioned in the Ocho, he doesn’t have a top 20 win this year. He has a lot to prove in big tournaments like this one.

Other Seeds to Watch

The seeded field outside of the top ten offers a bit of everything from grizzled veterans like Tomas Berdych and David Ferrer to up and comers like Kyle Edmund and Hyeon Chung, and more first timers like Andrey Rublev. Pablo Carreno Busta is the first seed outside the top ten at #11. The 26-year olf Spaniard has had his issues escaping his openers at tournaments since last Fall, but comes in as a surprise semifinalist from last year.He had only been out of the first round once in his previous three trips. Berdych is 21-13 at this event, but has only been as far as the quarterfinals once since 2014. Roberto Bautisa Agut slots in at 13 and comes in with form after winning in Dubai. His track record here though suggests he may have a tough time making a deep run with three straight third round finishes.

Diego Schwartzman is the 14th seed, but also is short on success with a 1-3 record at Indian Wells. John Isner and Sam Querrey are the only Americans outside of Sock to be seeded, they come in at #15 and #18. Isner in particular would normally be one to watch with a 21-10 mark at this tournament. He’s been to the fourth round or better in three of the last four years, including a semifinal run in 2014. He is ice cold in 2018 though at just 2-5. Fabio Fognini at 16 has shown better recently at Indian Wells with a third round run last year and fourth round run three years ago. He comes off a title in Sao Paulo, but is just 7-8 overall here in his career. As always, he seems boom or bust from round two onward.

Among the back half of the seeds, the ones that catch the eye are Nick Kyrgios at 17, Kyle Edmund at 21, Kei Nishikori at 22 and Hyeon Chung at 23. Kyrgios made the quarters last year after two lackluster trips prior to 2017. Health is the key issue for NK as he plays for the first time since picking up an elbow injury in Davis Cup play in early February. He’s a big time threat to do damage if he’s near 100 percent and finds form. Edmund too is battling back from injury, missing time due to a hip injury. He hasn’t played since Melbourne and is will be playing just his fourth match at the BNP Paribas Open. If the Brit is fit, it will be interesting to see if he can follow up on that Australian Open run and re-establish himself as one to watch.

Nishikori was a disappointing early exit to Denis Shapovalov in Acapulco last week. This is the time of year that the man from Japan had proclaimed would see his physical form round into its best shape in returning from last year’s wrist surgery. He’s a back-to-back quarter finalist in 2016 and 2017 and needs to get a big run here or in Miami you feel to get his confidence back up. As for Chung, his next match in Indian Wells will be just his second. He lost last year in round one to Albert Ramos-Vinolas. Chung looks fit since returning from his blister issues with back-to-back quarterfinal appearances in Delray Beach and Acapulco. This is a step up and where people are going to put some loftier expectations on the 21-year-old. It’s a great opportunity for him to show he’s a big tournament player and a consistent threat.


The Eliminati have had a large presence in Indian Wells in recent times. At least seven seeds have been dumped in their openers. There have been at least nine seeds ousted early in five of the last seven years here and top tier seeds have not been immune. Last year, you might remember that Andy Murray flopped as the top seed in his opener against Vasek Pospisil. Along with Cilic and Tsonga, he was one of three top ten seeds to fall in round two last year. Outside of 2016 when Benoit Paire was the highest seed to lose his opener at #19, at least one top ten seed has lost their opener every year since 2011.

Let’s take a look at the players who may well add more seeds to the list this week. Here are the Eliminati!

Benoit Paire
This is contingent of Paire not having French Brain in round one against a qualifier. The winner of that match gets a shot at 25th seed Filip Krajinovic. The Serb has been a rapid riser into the top 30, but is playing the main draw here for just the second time. He’s 0-1. Krajinovic is in off a semifinal run in Dubai, but he has zero top 50 wins this season.

Julien Benneteau/Jeremy Chardy
This is a better spot for Benneteau with the winner of the All-French first rounder getting a shot at 16th seed Fabio Fognini. Chardy has been free falling for a while now and is just 2-4. Benneteau took Fognini to five sets in Australia in their third round clash and is 1-1 against the Italian. Fognini arrives in good form, but it’s Fognini and that means nothing.

Ivo Karlovic/Maximilian Marterer
Karlovic would have the big chance against 12th seed Tomas Berdych if he gets there. Ivo is 5-3 against the Czech although they haven’t met since 2015 on grass in Halle. Karlovic’s first order is getting his first opening round win in Indian Wells since 2014. Marterer is another riser in the rankings now at #73. The German has a Challenger title under his belt this season along with solid third round finishes in Melbourne and a quarterfinal run in Sofia. Givern Berdych’s up and down play, perhaps Marterer would have a shot to get the scalp too.

Denis Shapovalov
El Shapo makes his Indian Wells debut this year against qualifier Ricardas Berankis, A win gets him a date with 30th seed Pablo Cuevas. Cuevas was a surprise quarter finalist here last year, where he picked up half of his six career wins in Indian Wells. This is a tough draw for the veteran though and Shapovalov’s electric game could certainly cause an upset if he gets it going early.

Fernando Verdasco/Guido Pella
Given third seed Grigor Dimitrov’s brain lock at this event in his career, it probably doesn’t matter if it is Verdasco of Pella in this spot. Both have a win against him with Pella’s coming last year in Miami. Verdasco’s win over Dimitrov came back in 2014 on clay and they have not met since 2015. Still, he has taken Dimitrov to three sets in all three meetings and he’s shown some good resiliency early on this season. Dimitrov will likely be pressed in his opener and could easily go down early yet again.

Taylor Fritz/Reilly Opelka
Both Americans will have some hope against 30th seed Andrey Rublev. The Russian has never played on the courts at Indian Wells, so either player will have match play in conditions in his favor. Fritz has been playing better early this year and will have good vibes in his home state, where he sprung upsets of Benoit Paire and Marin Cilic here last year. Opelka’s serve alone will make him dangerous. Rublev has been solid early on, but got worked over by David Ferrer in Acapulco and now faces the challenges of playing Masters events in a heavy early season workload.

Borna Coric/Donald Young
Coric will be favored to be in this spot as he is 2-0 against Young, who has struggled to find his best play in 2018. The winner faces 19th seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas. ARV has normally been able to avoid opening round losses in Indian Wells, but could face a stiff challenge after a lackluster Golden Swing in South America. He made the Quito final and then struggled to get consistent results.

Jared Donaldson
The American comes in off his first ATP semifinal in Acapulco. If he can stay hot, he’ll have an excellent shot to improve his record against 11th seed Roberto Bautista Agut to 2-0. Donaldson beat RBA in straights last August in Cincinnati. RBA is in good form though, so this could potentially be a very good and competitive match. Bautista Agut has been all or nothing this year with five tournaments played – two times he’s won the title and the other three, he has gone down in his opening match. Donaldson faces Evan King in round one.

Horacio Zeballos/Yuichi Sugita
The winner gets 11th seed Pablo Carreno Busta. The Spaniard continues to have issues getting past his opening match. He’s now lost his first match in eight of his last eleven tournaments played. Sugita beat Carreno Busta in their lone meeting last year, while Zeballos has never played PCB.

Steve Johnson/Daniil Medvedev
A tough draw for Nick Kyrgios with either of these guys in his way to start his Indian Wells campaign. Medvedev is 2-0 against Johnson with both wins coming against SJ during his tailspin in 2017. Johnson pulled out of Acapulco with an ankle injury, so his fitness could be a concern. That could give Medvedev even more of an advantage. Kyrgios has never met the Russian and is 0-1 against Johnson, retiring in Shanghai against him last year after dropping a tie break in the opening set. Either guy could pose a big threat to the Aussie.

Karen Khachanov
Khachanov has to get by fellow Russian Evgeny Doskoy in round one, which may not be so easy. If he does though, he could present a tough out against Kevin Anderson. Anderson would probably love nothing more than to see Donskoy in this spot instead. He’s 3-0 against Donskoy. This is Khachanov’s second trip here beating Tommy Robredo last year, before dropping out against David Goffin in three sets.

Frances Tiafoe/Ernesto Escobedo
This is a big moment for Tiafoe. This will be his first match since winning his first ATP title in Delray Beach last month. Getting consistent wins at this level has been a key issue for the young American and Escobedo has beaten him twice at the Challenger level. Tiafoe is 1-2 at this event. The winner gets #28 Feliciano Lopez, who lost his opener here last year after making the fourth round or better three straight previous trips.

Gael Monfils
Monfils has to get past Matthew Ebden in round one, but if he does, he has a great shot of knocking off an out of form John Isner. Monfils has won four of their last five meetings, including their last which was at Indian Wells in 2017.

Viktor Troicki/Marton Fucsovics
The survivor gets 2nd seed Marin Cilic. Troicki is 4-5 against the Croat with Cilic breaking a five match losing skid against him when they last met in Cincinnati in 2016. Fucsovics was impressive in making round four in Australia, but has played in just one Challenger event since that tournament. Troicki might have the better shot to shock Cilic, but the Serb hasn’t won at Indian Wells since 2011 – a streak of five straight opening round losses will be on the line when he faces Fucsovics.

Peter Gojoczwyk
The German needs to get past Denis Istomin in round one to be relevant, but if he does – then Kyle Edmund beware. A rusty Brit will be facing a guy who already has made his first ATP final this season and has a couple of top 20 wins in 2018. I like Edmund’s power, but the downtown since January could be the big X-factor against a guy on a roll.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
(1) Roger Federer: 57-11 (W – 2004, 2005, 2006, 2012, 2017)
(5) Dominic Thiem: 7-4
(12) Tomas Berdych: 21-13
(16) Fabio Fognini: 7-8
(20) Adrian Mannarino: 6-5
(23) Hyeon Chung: 0-1
(25) Filip Krajinovic: 0-1
(30) Pablo Cuevas : 6-5

As if Roger Federer needed any favors, he seems to get one with this part of the draw. Krajinovic is the other seed in the top half with Fed. The Swiss will get either Ryan Harrison or Federico Delbonis in round two. Harrison owns one win against the Argentine back in 2014 in Miami. Delbonis did make the fourth round here in 2016, so he’s not a pushover. Harrison has had problems with big serves this year. Delbonis can produce that, but struggles with consistency. Even though Delbonis beat Federer on clay in 2013, you’d have to say this is a nice path for Fed to get to the third round. Krajinovic goes against Paire or qualifier Mitchell Krueger. Paire would be a danger, depending on what version of the Frenchman shows up.

In the bottom portion of this top half, Fognini arrives in form and has Mannarino as the only seed to go through. He does have a potentially tough opener against either Julien Benneteau or Jeremy Chardy. I think Benneteau would provide the stiffer competition. Fognini has played reasonably well here, where I THINK he gets through still. Mannarino comes off the bye to face the winner of Marius Copil and qualifier Peter Polansky. Polansky is 0-4 in main draw matches at this level in 2017. Mannarino is 6-5 at Indian Wells and hasn’t lost his opener since 2014. Much like Fognini, I THINK he gets through, but Mannarino is dodgy at times. If this plays out to a Fognini-Mannarino showdown for a spot opposite of Federer in the fourth round,

As for the bottom half led by Thiem, the Austrian might have a little bit of a risky opener against either Radu Albot or Stefano Tsitsipas. Both have been playing reasonably well, but also likely won’t ask Thiem to alter his baseline bashing style. If he gets through, he likely won’t see Cuevas in round three. Cuevas has to go through Denis Shapovalov or qualifier Ricardas Berankis and I don’t like his chances to do that. It would be nice to see Shapovalov get an immediate chance for revenge after Thiem pummeled him in Acapulco last week. I expected more of El Shapo there and I always like to see if young players can learn quickly from their mistakes the first and second times they play the upper echelon guys. Berankis got a hard court win over Cuevas in 2015, so he might have a shot to take him down regardless of who moves to round two.

In the other portion of this half, Hyeon Chung and Tomas Berdych are the seeds. I’ve talked Berdych already about being potential upset fodder against either Ivo Karlovic or Maximillian Marterer. Should the Czech skirt that danger, it should be Chung that he faces for a shot to go through to round four. Chung will play either Lukas Lacko or Dusan Lajovic to open. Chung has looked solid since returning from the layoff due to the blisters he suffered in Melbourne. I do like him to get through to round three and honestly, as long as his serve doesn’t totally desert him – he should be in position to possibly get a healthy shot against Federer.

The Pig-nosticator

It’s difficult to see Federer tripping up before the semifinals. I think the one interesting match here would be the rematch against Chung in the quarterfinals. We didn’t get to see a healthy Hyeon Chung in their Australian Open match. Federer might still dismantle him, but it’d be nice to see the Korean get a chance to prove himself one way or the other at full health.

Hyeon Chung

Filip Krajinovic
Pablo Cuevas

Quarter #2 Seeds
(3) Grigor Dimitrov: 5-6
(7) Kevin Anderson: 10-8
(11) Pablo Carreno Busta: 4-4
(13) Roberto Bautista Agut: 5-4
(17) Nick Kyrgios: 4-2
(19) Albert Ramos-Vinolas: 8-5
(26) Damir Dzumhur: 1-2
(27) Andrey Rublev: 0-0

There is not much history among the seeds here making deep runs. Outside of Kyrgios’ quarterfinal run last year, the seeds have all been unable to be involved in the tail end of this tournament. Dimitrov will open against the winner between Fernando Verdasco and Guido Pella. He’s going to have a tough time against either one and might not have to worry about the third round jinx if he’s not careful. Should he survive, things might actually get better as the draw wears on. Opposite of him is Rublev, who will face either Taylor Fritz or Reilly Opelka. It is feasible the third round could be two seeds against each other or two seeds not even involved.

In the other portion of this top half, two Spaniards – Bautista Agut and Ramos-Vinolas are the seeds. RBA gets the winner between Jared Donaldson and Evan King. If it’s Donaldson, I already looked at that one for you in the Eliminati and I think there is upset potential for the American. Ramos-Vinolas faces either Borna Coric or Donald Young. Young has actually had some nice runs at Indian Wells, but not in even numbered years. He’s been one and done in 2012, 2014, 2016 and could well make it 2018. Ramos-Vinolas might get the nod in this section. He crushed Donaldson in straights at the Australian Open this year.

In the bottom half of the quarter, Kevin Anderson is the lead seed. If he can get by his opener against either Karen Khachanov or Evgeny Donskoy, then his road opens up. A third round match likely would come against 26th seed Damir Dzumhur. Dzumhur would play Nicolas Kicker or Jiri Vesely in round two. I think those are both favorable for the Bosnian. I get the feeling that either Dimitrov or Anderson is going to join that top ten seed club. The club where a top ten seed has lost in their opener at Indian Wells consistently over the last seven years. Dimitrov seems more obvious, which might mean Anderson is the one who loses.

In the other part of this half, Carreno Busta and Kyrgios are your seeds. PCB is so hard to trust these days with his early struggles at tournaments. Neither Zeballos or Sugita inspires as a big threat, but playing Carreno Busta says they do. Kyrgios also has a potential landmine in his opener with either Steve Johnson or Daniil Medvedev on tap. A long layoff for NK means he will need to find his serve early with both Johnson and Medvedev capable of matching him in that category. I would not be surprised to see this part of the draw open up for maybe Medvedev if his first serve is popping. I think between the Russian and Kyrgios, you probably have a likely fourth round candidate.

The Pig-nosticator

Anderson is the form guy here and the most consistent guy, but he’s drawn tough early. I think if he escapes from his opener unscathed, then he’s got every reason to believe he can at least get to the quarters and maybe one step further. Dimitrov looks to be in a similar spot, where if he avoids early trouble then he could find a groove. The guy who could sneak through this quarter if he avoids the early upset is obviously Bautista Agut.

Daniil Medvedev
Albert Ramos-Vinolas

Grigor Dimitrov

Quarter #3 Seeds
(4) Alexander Zverev: 4-2
(8) Jack Sock: 8-6
(9) Lucas Pouille: 1-2
(14) Diego Schwartzman: 1-3
(18) Sam Querrey: 13-12
(21) Kyle Edmund: 1-2
(28) Feliciano Lopez: 12-15
(32) Milos Raonic: 16-6

There is a lot of young talent among the seeds, but also plenty of question marks surrounding those players. Let’s start with Zverev. The knee injury he sustained in Acapulco I am thinking is not a huge issue at this point. If it was, Sascha had nothing to lose by skipping this tournament to rest for Miami where he has more points to defend. He will open against Mikhail Youzhny or Joao Sousa. I could see either one at least making Sascha earn everything in round two, but if healthy, he should pass through.

Milos Raonic is the seed in the other portion of this top half, the all-Canadian top half. Raonic has been unable to recapture any sort of form with a disappointing 1-3 record this season. He takes on one of two qualifiers – Vasek Pospisil or Felix Auger-Aliassime. Pospisil has been playing well in Challengers, but is still seeking win #1 at the ATP level in a main draw this year. Felix is still hunting for ATP win #1 and he’s looked a bit unsteady in transitioning to Challengers and ATP main draws. Against a player he is familiar with some though, it could be an entertaining round one with Pospisil. Tough to feel confident with Raonic, but he’s better than both of these guys if he can find his rhythm. That’s been a big issue though, so anything is possible.

Opposite of that quadrant, you’ll see a tasty looking section with Edmund and Schwartzman as the seeds. Schwartzman looked good on clay, but now has to transition that back to hard court success. Diego gets either Marcos Baghdatis or Yoshi Nishioka in round two. That’s winnable despite his lack of success at Indian Wells. It would be disappointing for him to not advance to round three. Edmund gets either Denis Istomin or Pete Gojowczyk in his opener. Gojo has much better form and would be a tougher out for the Brit. Gojo is 11-6 this season with wins over Sock, Krajinovic, Isner and Steve Johnson. He won’t go quietly.

In the other half of this quarter, it’s Sock and Pouille with some possibilities. Sock should be afford a good start against either Thomas Fabbiano or Bradley Klahn. A first-up loss should have him really evaluating his preparation, technique, everything. Opposite of him is Lopez at #28. He will have his hands fill with either Frances Tiafoe or Ernesto Escobedo. This is a huge chance for Tiafoe to continue his momentum from winning in Delray Beach. A Sock-Tiafoe third rounder would be big for American tennis.

In the other portion of this half, Pouille also should get off on the good foot with either Yuki Bhambri or Nicolas Mahut first-up. Sam Querrey is the seed opposite of the Frenchman. Querrey gets the winner between Mikhail Kukushkin and Mischa Zverev. Kukushkin does have two wins over Querrey, but they came ages ago on clay. Querrey has lost his opener at Indian Wells in two of the last three years, but I think he comes through in this spot. Querrey could go further with a 2-0 record against Pouille, who as I have beat into the ground, has not really scored too many impressive wins despite his runs to three finals this season.

The Pig-nosticator

This quarter could take on a decidedly American look by the business end. Sock’s draw is conducive to him perhaps getting his game together after a sluggish start to 2018. Querrey also looks to be in a prime spot to make a run with favorable match-ups. Zverev’s half looks wide open with so many health and form questions about Sascha, Edmund and Raonic. Could Schwartzman sneak through here? Seeds have had a death grip on the quarterfinals and beyond the last three years with no unseeded players making the quarters since Benneteau did it in 2014. Raonic is a deep sleeper is he can rediscover a consistent forehand.

Sam Querrey

Kyle Edmund

Quarter #4 Seeds
(2) Marin Cilic: 9-10
(6) Juan Martin Del Potro: 18-7
(10) Novak Djokovic: 49-7 (W – 2008, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2016)
(15) John Isner: 21-10
(22) Kei Nishikori: 10-9
(24) Gilles Muller: 5-7
(29) David Ferrer: 10-12
(31) Philipp Kohlschreiber: 14-11

This is a loaded quarter that could provide some of the bigger moments of this tournament. Cilic does not have the greatest history here and his opener against either Viktor Troicki or Marton Fucsovics won’t be an easy win by any means. Should he advance, things could pick up with Philipp Kohlschreiber as the other seed in this quadrant. Kohlschreiber starts with Tim Smyczek or Laslo Djere. The German has made the third round each of the last three years and in spite of a poor start this year, might have a shot to get there again. Kohlschreiber is 6-4 against Cilic, so he won’t be hopeless if those two square off.

Opposite of that section, things could be open for seeds to fall with Isner and Muller as the seeds in that quadrant. Isner has done well here, but likely could face Gael Monfils in round two. That could spell curtains for the American. Muller will face either Pierre Hugues-Herbert or Gilles Simon. Neither Frenchman is tearing it up currently, so Muller should feel good about his chances. Simon does have a couple of wins against Muller back in 2014 and 2015, so perhaps he will make things rougher than expected. If Cilic wants to make a run for #1 as he’s talked about, this is the type of draw he needs to take advantage of and make at least the quarterfinals.

The other half of the quarter is star studded. Del Potro leads the way after his Acapulco title and should carry the swagger of a player in super form. DelPo has a good draw to at least get through to round four. His opener will come against either Jan-Lennard Struff or Alex de Minaur. De Minaur’s defense might make a Del Potro meeting interesting, but I’m not sure the Aussie teen can keep pace with the Argentine’s power. Opposite of Del Potro is David Ferrer. The Spaniard will contend with either Nikoloz Basilashvili or Tennys Sandgren in round two. Even though Ferrer’s form has been sketchy, he could have a shot to get to round three with this draw.

The other quadrant here is sure to attract all eyes with Djokovic and Nishikori. Djokovic returns for the first time since Melbourne, looking to re-establish himself. The Serb will play Cameron Norrie or Taro Daniel to open. You’d favor him if his elbow is healed, but we’ll have to see. As for Nishikori, it’s time for him to put up or shut up. He’s had a month of play to get the rust off and this looks like the time to surge or be prepared to struggle. Nishikori will need to beat Victor Estrella Burgos or Leonardo Mayer to set up a clash in the third with Djokovic. Djokovic leads the head-to-head 11-2 with the last full match coming at the Tour Finals in 2016, a win for the Serb. Nishikori hasn’t beaten Djokovic since his shock win at the 2014 U.S. Open

The Pig-nosticator

This is very difficult to call without knowing what Djokovic is going to bring to the table. Despite Cilic’s lack of recent success in Indian Wells, his draw screams quarterfinals. Del Potro will be the big pick of most to make the quarters and possibly go further. He will have to earn it, especially if Djokovic is fit and finds form. The Serb is 14-4 against him and a big roadblock. For me, I think this is Djokovic or Del Potro if Djokovic proves fit.

Juan Martin Del Potro

John Isner


So is this just another week of As Roger Wins? It very well could be, but there is some potential to see Federer pushed this week. Del Potro comes in hot, but will have some pressure on him to perform with the consistency shown in Acapulco. Djokovic’s return could ignite several rivalries with Federer of course being the big one, but only one we would see in a final. It’s still tough to go against Federer with a better draw, while Del Potro or Djokovic would likely have to go through the other and more to get to the final.


2018 Rio Open Preview


Thiem Looking to Stay Hot

Dominic Thiem is back to defend the title as the Rio Open enters its fifth year of existence. The Austrian is 8-1 in his two trips to Rio and comes in hot after winning the Argentina Open on Sunday. Thiem is seeded second behind Marin Cilic. It’s an interesting choice for Cilic to play on clay this week. The Croat looks like he’s trying to grab some points this week and stay near the site of the Abierto Mexicano Telcel in Acapulco the following week. This will be Cilic’s debut in Rio. Rounding out the top four seeds are Pablo Carreno Busta and Albert Ramos-Vinolas. Carreno Busta made last year’s final and Ramos-Vinolas was a semifinalist in 2017. Both Spaniards have played each of the previous four years of the Rio Open.

The back half of the seeds also include plenty of Rio experience with Fabio Fognini slotting in as the #5. The Italian made the final in 2015, but has not progressed past round two the last two years. Diego Schwartzman is the sixth seed with a 3-3 record in Rio. Pablo Cuevas won the title in Rio in 2016 and is seeded 7th. Fernando Verdasco fills out the seeded field as the #8. This will be his first trip to Rio. Seeds have had a rough go of it early in Rio traditionally with five seeds losing in round one last year and four dropping out in 2016. In the first two years of the tournament in 2014 and 2015, two seeds lost their openers in each year.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at this week’s Eliminati, the players who could provide some early fireworks with some seeded upsets.


Thiago Monteiro
The home standing Brazilian starts against 7th seed Pablo Cuevas, who has beaten him all three times they have met previously. All came on clay. Monteiro has scored some nice wins already this year on clay though with a win over Gael Monfils in Quito and taking Ramos-Vinolas to a third set tie break in the same tournament. Cuevas lost his first clay match of the season to Monfils last week in Buenos Aires. He did win the title in Rio in 2016, but last year was a first round casualty. This might not be the biggest chance, but Monteiro made the quarters here in 2017 and scored perhaps his biggest win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in round one in Rio in 2016. There’s a chance he elevates his game against Cuevas for the upset.

Thomaz Bellucci
Even though Bellucci is 0-4 against Fabio Fognini, it’s still Fognini, so you never know what he’s going to bring this week. Fognini’s first match since the Australian Open came in Buenos Aires last week and it was a straight sets loss to Leonard Mayer. Bellucci is working his way back after being suspended at the start of the season. He is just 1-2 on the season, but scored that first win in Buenos Aires last week and took Diego Schwartzman to three sets before losing. Bellucci scored a nice upset of Kei Nishikori last year in round one in Rio and he’s proven a tough out at this tournament.

Leonardo Mayer
Another one where the head-to-head doesn’t say that Mayer has much chance. He’s 0-3 against 8th seed Fernando Verdasco. They haven’t played since 2014 however and Verdasco has never played in Rio. Mayer made the quarters in Buenos Aires last week, beating Fognini and taking Monfils to three sets. The draw back is that Mayer is 0-2 in his career in Rio and has not been here since 2015. I still think is another one though that looks to be a competitive first rounder with upset potential.

Marco Cecchinato
The Italian is on this list simply because he matches up against Pablo Carreno Busta in round one. The Spaniard has had a rough go of it since making the U.S. Open semifinals last year. He’s lost his opener in eight of ten tournaments since that time. Cecchinato’s big problem? Winning at this level. He is just 3-26 at the ATP level, but all four wins have come on clay. I think it’s a long shot even with Carreno Busta’s struggles, but it’s at least a dartboard shot because of those struggles.

Singles Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
(1) Marin Cilic: 0-0
(6) Diego Schwartzman: 3-3

This is an interesting quarter with Cilic playing for the first time in Rio. I’m not sure what to make of his intentions for the week and getting qualifier Carlos Berlocq in round one could be interesting. That match play on the surface could give Berlocq an early edge. Cilic won their previous encounter way back in 2011 in Rome on dirt. The survivor could have a very tough second round engagement, but it’s also an iffy proposition in guessing with Gael Monfils. Monfils opens against Horacio Zeballos. La Monf improved on his Quito quarterfinal with a semifinal in Buenos Aires, but was woeful against Thiem in the semis (6-2, 6-1). If Monfils is already tired from playing back-to-back touraments, a third straight might not be a good spot for him. Zeballos could definitely take advantage. Just in case – Monfils has beat Cilic twice in two meetings, both on hard surface. Cilic is 2-0 against Zeballos on clay, but both were tough matches.

In the other half, Schwartzman might pick up the pieces. He opens against Casper Ruud, whom he thumped on straights in January at the Australian Open. I don’t think clay makes it any easier for Ruud to reverse that result. The winner will battle either Jiri Vesely or Federico Delbonis. Vesely and Delbonis have only faced off at the ATP level once and it was a Delbonis win on hard courts in Miami. They have met twice on the Challenger circuit though with Vesely winning both times, including the Prostejov Challenger in 2017. Delbonis has better form on clay, making the Buenos Aires’ semifinals last week. He has made the quarters twice in Rio, while Vesely is 0-1.

There are tough match-ups for Cilic around every corner in this quarter. The top seed has only won this tournament once and I don’t think that changes. Schwartzman looks like the likely beneficiary, although the Vesely-Delbonis winner has every chance to sneak out of this segment too. At least one unseeded player has made the semifinals every year and twice have been involved in the final.

Quarter #2 Seeds
(4) Albert Ramos-Vinolas: 5-4
(7) Pablo Cuevas: 8-3 (W – 2016)

This quarter looks difficult to predict. Ramos-Vinolas is the lead seed and brings decent form. He made the Quito final to start this clay swing in South America and then predictably was an early casualty the week after in Buenos Aires. He opens with Rogerio Dutra Silva. The Brazilian can be tricky, but I think a full week of rest should have ARV good to start. The survivor there gets a crack at either Guillermo Garcia-Lopez or Nicolas Jarry. Both have made their quarterfinals in their lone clay action this season with GGL’s looking a bit more impressive in Buenos Aires with a win over Carreno Busta. Jarry is a talent on this surface though, he’s just yet to prove it at the ATP level.

In the bottom half, Cuevas opens against Monteiro. As I laid out above, I do think there’s a shot for an upset in that one. The winner contends with Guido Pella or qualifier Corentin Moutet. Moutet is an intriguing 18-year-old from France who scored a couple of wins in Quito. He won’t be an easy out after getting some match play in conditions in Rio. Cuevas is hit or miss here for me, so this quarter could really open up if he loses early.

Quarter #3 Seeds
(3) Pablo Carreno Busta: 5-4
(5) Fabio Fognini: 8-4

There is a lot of talent in this quarter, but also a lot of inconsistency. Carreno Busta looked like he was ready to put the nightmare end to 2017 behind him after a fourth round run at the Australian Open. Two opening losses on clay later and it’s anybody’s guess what he will do each week. He’s now lost his first match in eight of the ten tournaments that he’s played since making the U.S. Open semifinals. PCB opens with qualifier Mario Cecchinato. The Spaniard beat him at a clay Challenger in 2015 and might be able to grab a win in this spot. Surprise Buenos Aires finalist Aljaz Bedene will have to cope with the quick turnaround and championship hangover against Adrian Haider-Maurer in round one. That makes him a prime pick to lose early except that Haider-Maurer hasn’t won an ATP main draw match since Beijing in 2015.

The other half sees Fognini open with Bellucci. Again, even with the lopsided head-to-head, I do think the home standing Brazilian is going to have a shot to win. Fognini is boom or bust just about every week he plays. He’s been good at avoiding early upsets in Rio though, so that is a plus for round one at least. The winner there gets Tennys Sandgren or qualifier Robert Carballes Baena. Sandgren got smoked in Buenos Aires qualies last week. It was his first match since Melbourne though, so look for some improvement this week. He’s not bad on dirt. RCB was a shock winner in Quito earlier in the month, but lost in Buenos Aires the following week in his opener.

If a seed gets through, Fognini is the obvious better choice over Carreno Busta. This definitely could be a quarter though where an unseeded player makes some noise even with perhaps some less shiny options. Bellucci might seem far fetched, but keep an eye on him. The RCB-Sandgren winner is the definite second look at an unseeded X-factor.

Quarter #4 Seeds
(2) Dominic Thiem: 8-1 (W – 2017)
(8) Fernando Verdasco: 0-0

No worries for me for Thiem on fatigue this week. His Buenos Aires run was comfortable with all four wins in straight sets and a couple of them total demolition jobs. Thiem begins with Dusan Lajovic whom he has beaten three times on clay, including here last year. A win gets Thiem a date against the winner behind Gerald Melzer and Pablo Andujar. Melzer beat Andujar in their only ATP meeting, but also has another win at the Challenger level over him. Andujar hasn’t won an ATP level match since Doha in 2016.

Verdasco has the tough opener against Leonardo Mayer. The winner advances to play either Victor Estrella Burgos or Nicolas Kicker. VEB flipped to hard courts to play New York last week after going 1-1 in Quito. Kicker made the quarters in Rio last year out of qualifying. This is a tougher draw, but he could be an intriguing quarterfinal sleeper in this part of the draw. If he can get past VEB, watch for him to give Verdasco or Mayer a pretty good match. The one bit of intrigue here would be a quarterfinal clash between Thiem and Verdasco. The Spaniard is 2-0 against Thiem, but neither meeting has come on clay. That could be a neutralizer for the second seed to grab his first win against Verdasco.

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.

Dominic Thiem

Marin Cilic
Pablo Carreno Busta


Given Thiem’s form, he seems a smart choice. The conditions in Rio can often dictate a lot with very humid and warm weather at this time of year. That generally leans itself to guys who have shown the ability to adapt to this weather. Thiem is one, Fognini and Cuevas are two others with good histories in Rio. Among the unseeded players, Delbonis could be one to watch – if he can get out of round one against Vesely.

Doubles Draw Preview

1.Kubot-Melo (2017 QF)
2. Murray-Soares (2017 SF)
3. Cabal-Farah (2014,2016 W)
4. Gonzalez-Peralta (Rio Debut)

Top Half Breakdown
Kubot-Melo had a difficult draw last week in Rotterdam as they lost to Ivan Dodig and Rajeev Ram in their second match. This week, they will again have a tough draw. Clay wasn’t great for this duo last year with a record of 8-4. Four of those came in a Madrid title run. They have qualifiers to begin with, but their quarterfinal match will be rough. They will face either Thomas Belluci and Andre Sa or Buenos Aires champions Andres Molteni and Horacio Zeballos. The top seed has never won this tournament or even been involved in the final. With this draw, I don’t expect that will change in 2018.

The other quarter in this half features the two-time champs, Juan-Sebastien Cabal and Robert Farah. They have made the final three of the four previous years and come off a finals run on clay in Buenos Aires. This back-to-back swing in Buenos Aires & Rio has been very good to them. They open against Nikola Mektic and Alexander Peya. On clay, that should favor the third seeds. The winner advances to play either Pella-Schwartzman or Vasilevski/Podlpnik-Castillo. Those two teams squared off at the Australian Open with Vasilevski and Podlpnik-Castillo winnning in three sets. That’s a toss-up and I think either will provide a stern test for Cabal-Farah in the quartefinals.

Bottom Half Breakdown
Murray-Soares are back for the first time since their second round exit at the Australian Open. They get Brazilian wild cards Fabiana de Paula and Thiago Monteiro. That should afford them a winning start. The quarterfinals would see them against either Roman Jebavy and Leonardo Mayer or Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Albert Ramos-Vinolas. It’s a mish mosh pairing for both. Ordinarily, I’d look to go against Murray-Soares on clay, but I’m not sure that any of these other teams have big aspirations in doubles. I’d keep an eye on Jebavy-Mayer. Jebavy is a pretty decent doubles guy and Mayer can be good on his day. If they have chemistry, perhaps they can ruffle some feathers.

The other quarter sees seeds Gonzalez-Peralta open against Fabio Fognini and Marc Lopez. The fourth seeds haven’t had much luck in 2018, going 2-4 overall with first-up losses in three of four tournaments. Fognini is underrated in doubles and Lopez is usually fairly solid. Again, its a chemistry thing as to whether they can put it together for the upset. Given that, perhaps the seeds survive round one. The winner gets the survivor between Carreno Busta and Cuevas versus Monfils and Marcelo Demoliner. PCB and Cuevas have previous time together in doubles. If healthy, they are threats in this draw.

The Pig-nosticator

Carreno Busta-Cuevas



Unseeded teams won the first two versions of the Rio Open, but it has been seeds winning the last two years. As I mentioned earlier though, the top seeded team has yet to be involved in the doubles final. I don’t think Kubot-Melo are going to change that with a difficult draw. Cabal-Farah are 13-2 all-time at this event with three finals appearances and two titles. This is a tougher draw, but on clay, they still might be the best team here. If this goes to an unseeded team, keep your eyes on the Buenos Aires champs Molteni-Zeballos or Carreno Busta-Cuevas. The team that could really sneak through and win despite not being their best on dirt is Murray-Soares, so it could come down to them or Cabal-Farah.

The Ocho v.3: Australian Open Wrap Up


This is my weekly look at the top eight players and/or doubles teams that you need to know about based on last week’s action. This week’s volume of “The Ocho” puts a wrap on the Australian Open.

Roger Federer
There was #RoofGate to start the proceedings of the men’s Australian Open Final along with a wobble from the GOAT, but in the end, the result was more greatness from Roger Federer. The Swiss staked claim to his 20th Grand Slam title and 6th in Australia with his five set win over Marin Cilic. The raw emotion during his victory speech should remind you of how fortunate we are to live in a time where we get to watch the likes of Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and even Stan Wawrinka. All are superb players, but Federer no doubt is the best and perhaps the most passionate about this sport. This is truly a Golden Age of tennis that we’re unlikely to see again for a long time.

Next for Roger Federer is the decision on whether or not to play on clay this season. Given Fed’s fantastic management of his season last year which included skipping clay, I would be stunned if he played anything on clay this season. He’s a smart scheduler and at this stage in his career, he seems to simply map out his seasons according to where he has the most success on hard courts and grass. With clay not being the best for his aggressive game plan, I think he’ll be off in April and May. His win serves notice that he’s not done winning Slams and that the gap between Fed and the rest of the field is still substantial in a best of five format.


Marin Cilic
Cilic certainly deserves a spot on the list. His gutsy comeback effort against Rafael Nadal before the Spaniard got injured was a positive sign for the three-time Grand Slam finalist. His turn around against Federer in the Aussie Final after getting smoked in the opening set also displayed good mental strength from the Croat, something a good portion of the tour is lacking. Sure, he didn’t win the end despite having some opportunities, but in today’s current state of tennis, Cilic has clearly put himself into the mix at the business end of Slams.

With injuries derailing Nadal, Djokovic and Murray – and Wawrinka still far from fit, Cilic really is a clear cut second option behind Federer until the others prove their health. He’s made two finals in the last three Slams and at least the quarterfinals in three of the last four. Cilic has made admirable strides to adjust his game in the past few years with more aggressive play moving forward, instead of being just a baseline ball basher. At 29, he might have a better window than you think of adding a second Slam title. If he stays healthy, he should be a player again at Wimbledon, but needs to improve on his results at the U.S. Open.

Oliver Marach-Mate Pavic
You simply cannot start a season better than Marach and Pavic. This dynamic duo is now 14-0 and have won all three tournaments that they have played in 2018. The cherry on top of course was taking the Australian Open doubles titles 6-4, 6-4 over Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah. The wins have given Marach-Pavic a nice cushion for the top spot in the rankings and the Aussie titles served notice that this team is very much for real. They’ve now made two Slam finals out of the last three played. The big thing for this team now is consistency and playing from the position of being the hunted. Remember this team hasn’t even quite had a year of playing together under their belts – could they actually get better?


Timea Babos-Kristina Mladenovic
Babos and Mladenovic denied Russians Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina from completing the “career Grand Slam” in Melbourne. Their 6-4, 6-3 win gave Babos her first Slam title, while Mladenovic laid claim to her fourth. The win puts Babos-Mladenovic into the top spot in the rankings. They lead Makarova-Vesnina by 700 points. They could be a formidable team again if they continue to play regularly. In 2015, they went 31-14 together and won three titles that season. The duo said they only split because of the Rio Olympics last year and that they had been eyeing a rekindling of their successful partnership since late last season. Keep an eye on them with the WTA doubles scene ripe for a team to take charge.

Kyle Edmund
It was either give Hyeon Chung a third trip to “The Ocho” or recognize that the Brits aren’t hapless and hopeless without Andy Murray. Chung will surely be back on this list and Edmund could very well become a regular too. The 23-year-old made his first Grand Slam semifinal in Melbourne with his biggest scalp coming against 3rd seed Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals. His power forehand was the best weapon on the court in that match-up and he made Dimitrov pay for not avoiding it. Edmund was noticeably less in the semis against Marin Cilic with a hip problem nagging him a bit. Still, he moves to a career high #26 in the rankings and looks likely to become the top ranked British player with Murray sidelined at least until the summer. Edmund’s power baseline game and good court movement should give him a chance to translate this unexpected run into more confidence and more success. The time is now to build the next great Brit.

Grigor Dimitrov
The Bulgarian is on this list for the wrong reasons. He was the popular pick to make a break through at the Australian Open this season, but he has not played consistent tennis in 2018. His apex came in a scintillating encounter in the fourth round against Nick Kyrgios, where he looked like the player who could make that break through. Those hopes quickly turned to disappointment in a wobbly four set loss to Edmund in the quarterfinals. Now, Dimitrov is saying he has a shoulder problem that could keep him from playing his home tournament in Sofia in a few weeks.

He’s also complained of fatigue, saying he did not get enough off-time at the end of last season after playing in the Tour Finals for the first time. That’s not good news for the guy many thought might finally make the big leap in 2018 to being a true Grand Slam contender. His story should again serve as a warning to players coming up in the ranks in their early 20s. Schedule smarter and learn that EARLY in your career. I do get that last year was Dimitrov’s first Tour Finals appearance and scheduling after that was something new – but scheduling before was not.

Playing Beijing, Shanghai and Stockholm back-to-back-to-back in September and October was not smart scheduling. At 26, he needs to be keenly aware of over playing now to avoid burnout. With the injuries to the top dogs, he should be in prime position to take advantage and be a major player. That won’t happen without smarter scheduling and some rest now to take care of his shoulder.

Juan Sebastian Cabal-Robert Farah
What a terrific run in Melbourne for maybe the most-unheralded veteran doubles team on the ATP World Tour. Cabal-Farah have been partners since 2010 with the 31-year-olds having won ten doubles titles together over that span. They do some of their best work on clay which could bode well in the coming months. Clay was also the site of their best Grand Slam result until Melbourne. They made the semifinals at Roland Garros in 2017, losing to the eventual champs Ryan Harrison and Michael Venus. Their finals run in Melbourne could be a huge catalyst for the Colombians to get a spot in London this year, something they have been unable to achieve in the past.

Ben McLachlan
If you’re saying WHO right now, I’ll forgive you. McLachlan was part of the feel-good story in men’s doubles. He teamed up with Jan-Lennard Struff on an improbable run to the semifinals at the Australian Open. The two had never played before and McLachlan wasn’t even sure if he could get into the main draw due to his ranking. They wound up stunning top seeds Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo in the quarterfinals and took Marach-Pavic to a deciding tie break in the semis. Not too shabby for the 25-year-old McLachlan, who was playing in just his fourth ATP-level tournament.

Perhaps he should be more of a regular as he’s won a title in Tokyo with Yasutaka Uchiyama last Fall and now this recent Slam success. The native of New Zealand could have a chance to enhance his doubles reputation in Davis Cup play for Japan, the home country of his mother. McLachlan was nominated to the team that is hosting Italy this week. Uchiyama is also on the squad and the duo should reprise their partnership. McLachlan is also scheduled to play at the Open Sud de France in Montpellier in February as his next foray into ATP-level play.

If he continues to develop this sort of consistency, he can say goodbye to having to toil away in Futures and Challenger tournaments. I think the next step is finding someone who would be willing to be a regular partner at the ATP level. Perhaps it’s Struff and this is the “mystery team” that I referenced in the doubles preview earlier this month? It would be fun to see if they continue to pair up!



2018 Australian Open Final Preview: Roger Federer vs Marin Cilic


(2) Roger Federer vs (6) Marin Cilic

Blistering Bad Luck

When Marin Cilic advanced to his second career Grand Slam final last summer at Wimbledon, I was excited to see a competitive match between Roger Federer and the Croat. After all, the quick grass in London and Cilic’s commitment to come forward would make for an entertaining show. It did in 2016 when Federer was forced to go five sets to beat Cilic in the Wimbledon quarterfinals. A repeat performance however was never in the cards. Cilic had a blister return on his left foot that left him hobbled and broken with the lasting image of the final being pictures of Cilic sitting in his chair in anguish. Federer would roll 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 to capture Grand Slam title #19.

It was a bit surreal then to see Hyeon Chung succumb to the same fate at Rod Laver Arena yesterday during his semifinal showdown with Roger Federer. From the beginning, there was something very off for Chung. Federer wasn’t exactly on fire in the opening set with a 32 percent first serve percentage. Surely, Chung with his defense and a return game that had fueled his special run in Melbourne would take advantage. Not even close. That was the signal something was off. Chung sprayed balls wide and long and near the end of the first set simply was not even moving for balls that he had gobbled up in previous rounds defensively. Mercifully at 6-1, 5-2 for Federer – Chung threw in the towel.

Just The Stats Ma’am

It’s been a relative breeze for Roger Federer in Melbourne this year. He still hasn’t dropped a set en route to his 30th career Grand Slam final. Fed has only seen two seeds all tournament and they were familiar punching bags (29) Richard Gasquet and (19) Tomas Berdych whom the Swiss is a combined 37-8 against now in his career. His other victims were Aljaz Beden, Jan-Lennard Struff, Marton Fucsovics and the hobbled Hyeon Chung. Bedene was the highest ranked out of that bunch at #49.

For the tournament, Federer’s first serve win rate has been a stellar 83 percent. His second serve has produced a steady win rate at 62 percent. He really only struggled with his second serve in the Gasquet match, where he won just 42 percent of the points. Otherwise, he’s been well above the 50 percent mark in all his matches. As you would expect with those numbers, he’s been difficult to break with opponents converting just five breaks on a ridiculously low 13 chances through six rounds of play.

Federer has converted 23 breaks of his opponents’ serves on 61 chances with double digit opportunities in all but one match. Off the ground, it’s been a bit up and down at times for the second seed, but mostly solid. He has racked up 238 winners with 157 unforced errors. The few times that his opponents have forced him into tight sets, he’s been better in the big moments. Fed has gone 3-0 in tie breaks in Melbourne.

For Cilic, he’s had a tougher path with top seed Rafael Nadal and 10th seed Pablo Carreno Busta in his way along with Kyle Edmund in the quarterfinals. Cilic also beat Vasek Pospisil, Joao Sousa and Ryan Harrison to get to this point. As with Federer, the Croat’s first serve has been special. He’s won 84 percent of the points played and 58 percent off his second. Only Nadal really made inroads on the second serve with Cilic losing 62 percent of the points in that match. Otherwise, it’s been pretty steady.

For the tournament, the sixth seed has been broken just nine times off of 29 opportunities. Cilic has converted 27 breaks on a whopping 73 break points seen against his opponents. His bigger ground game and serve has netted 343 winners to offset 243 unforced errors. Cilic is 6-2 in tie breaks this week with Nadal and Carreno Busta responsible for dealing him his only setbacks in breakers.

The Formula

It’s been tough sledding for Cilic against Federer with the Croat only sporting one win in nine previous matches. Of course that one was massive with Cilic beating Federer in straight sets at the 2014 U.S. Open in the semifinals en route to his lone Grand Slam title. They have played three times since with Federer taking all three. The last came during Round Robin action at last year’s Nitto ATP World Tour Finals. Fed outlasted Cilic 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-1. Federer’s serve was super solid that day winning 77 percent of the first serve points and 70 percent off the second. Cilic was lower at 70 and 60. The big difference being that Fed allowed just one break chance, while Cilic allowed nine. Federer would break him three times.

That has been a too familiar pattern for Cilic in this series. In their last two meetings, Cilic has seen just two break chances. In their epic five set match at Wimbledon in 2016, he got a look at eight with Fed saving all but one. Cilic dished out nine break chances and saved seven. So what can Cilic do to create more break chances in this final? In looking at some tape from their last two meetings, Federer has been an absolute beast when he’s targeted Cilic’s backhand on return. That seems to be the focal point early and he continues to go after that side if Cilic doesn’t prove he can handle the velocity and placement.

That’s been the issue. Federer’s placement has taken Cilic off balance out wide when serving from the ad court and up the middle, when serving from the deuce court. It’s been far too easy for Federer to get Cilic stretched on serve in those positions, which allows the Swiss to move in and attack on the second ball. More often than not, Fed is finishing those points off on that next ball or within a few strokes with Cilic left scrambling. The only real way for Cilic to combat that would be setting up deeper behind the baseline to try an stay in front of the serve. I’m not talking Nadal depth, where he’s literally in the front row of the crowd sometimes, but maybe back a foot or so behind the baseline. The extra space might help, but if Federer is on target and in rhythm, the chances will probably still be few.

Cilic will know he likely won’t see many chances off Federer to break, so job one really has to be taking care of his own serve. It could take a while for Federer to catch up to Cilic’s serve in this one. The Swiss did face Struff early who has a big serve and Berdych who has a big first serve, but Cilic can deal it at another level than those two. The key for Cilic is landing the first serve. He’s been consistent in Melbourne in doing this and it’s propelled his entire game. Cilic seems to like to attack Federer’s backhand with his serve the most, so expect to see that plenty. Fed has resorted to chipping back a lot of those returns which can give Cilic the chance to move in and pounce on the next ball with power and pace. When he does this well, Cilic is either getting straight up winners off that shot or extending Federer east and west in a rally that he is able to control.

The ground stroke battle has become more fun in recent times between these two with Cilic’s willingness now to play more at the net. He’s become a much better volleyer in the last couple of years, but Federer will still do well to challenge Cilic to show he can finish shots at the net consistently. We know Roger can because it’s become his bread and butter. Federer has also been baiting his opponents more and more with that short slice off the backhand that forces them to commit to coming in or getting poor contact if they stay back too far. I think that is even tougher for Cilic to handle due to his height. When Federer hits it properly, that’s normally going to lead Cilic to come to net lunging for the ball. So even if he gets it back over, the next shot can be an easy put-away for the Swiss.

Cilic has chosen to mix up his tactics more with Federer, staying back along the baseline at times and then coming in. It hasn’t seemed to bother Fed much to be honest. I think the Swiss would be happy to have a volley contest against Cilic. Cilic can do some lovely stuff at the net, but his net game just isn’t as consistent as Federer’s. The Croat would do well to try to work Federer harder on the baseline early for me – stretch him east and west. I think that is what people were expecting Chung to do in the semis, but of course that never materialized due to the injury. Cilic’s power and pace off both wings can send Roger scrambling from east to west in rallies. I think doing this early and then mixing in the net rushes after he’s perhaps taken something from the Swiss’ legs would be smart.

The Pig-nosticator

Federer and Cilic have met four times at Slams and only the 2016 Wimbledon quarterfinal was a competitive classic. Federer smoked Cilic in last year’s Wimbledon final and for the most part in their four set affair at the 2011 U.S. Open. Cilic devastated Federer in straights famously in that 2014 U.S. Open meeting. So does this one follow the blowout path? I don’t think it does. Federer has not been challenged in the least to produce his very best tennis, while Cilic has been in some real battles against Carreno Busta and Nadal. I’m still waiting for someone to put some scoreboard pressure on Federer to see how he responds. Cilic is a guy who can do that.

Cilic has taken the opening set three times against Federer in their nine meetings. One resulted in his lone win, while the other two saw the Croat push the Swiss the distance. Getting on the board early is big. If you look at Federer’s recent Slam resume, when he loses the opening set he has struggled to put opponents away. He lost to Juan Martin Del Potro at last year’s U.S. Open after losing the opening set. Frances Tiafoe took him to a fifth set at the same tournament after taking the opening set in round one. In fact, the last eleven times that Fed has dropped his opening set at a Slam dating back to the Aussie Open in 2015 – he’s lost seven times and been taken to five sets three times before winning.

The first set is usually huge, although one of those five set rallies for Fed came against Cilic in that 2016 Wimbledon classic. And Fed had no problem coming from a set down against Cilic at the Tour Finals last Fall. Still, for Cilic’s confidence and perhaps to rattle Federer who has not faced much adversity at all this tournament, I think it would be HUGE for the sixth seed to get out of the gates well. Belief is a big part of crafting upsets and especially with the lopsided history between the two, Cilic could use a positive start.

I’m not of the mind that an upset isn’t possible in this one. Cilic is experienced and he’s gone toe-to-toe with Federer enough times that he’s not going to be in awe. I really think this could rival their 2016 Wimbledon meeting from a dramatic standpoint. The two key things to watch for me in this one – Federer’s serve to Cilic’s backhand. If Cilic doesn’t figure out how to defend that, he’s not going to be in good shape and Fed is going to be in position to win #20. And then the Cilic serve itself. If he’s in rhythm and Federer can’t find the measure on return, this is a tight match and the Croat has a real shot at Grand Slam win #2.

Pig’s Bottom Line: Federer wins in five sets


2018 Australian Open SF Preview: Marin Cilic vs Kyle Edmund


(6) Marin Cilic vs Kyle Edmund

Cilic Brings Experience

We’ll never know what might have been if Rafael Nadal wasn’t injured in the quarterfinals, but Marin Cilic is here and it’s a credit to him for being close to making his second Slam final in the past six months. Cilic rebounded from a sluggish start to push Nadal in an injury shortened 3-6, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 2-0 win. Nadal’s injury came in the fourth set with the match still very much in doubt. For the match, Cilic smacked 20 aces to go with eight double faults. His first serve got better as the match wore on, finishing with a 77 percent win rate. His second was vulnerable however as the 6th seed won just 38 percent of the points. Nadal was only able to break him twice on ten chances.

Cilic brought his usual big ground game to the proceedings and it was an off and on night for the Croat. He tallied 83 winners, but also had 62 unforced miscues. He also was able to feel off of Nadal’s weakening serve with 19 break chances. Cilic would cash in on five of those, really beating up on Rafa’s second serve. Cilic took 68 percent of the points played off the Spaniard’s second serve. The win put Cilic into his fourth Grand Slam semifinal. Hia last coming at Wimbledon last season, where he would move to the final and lose to Roger Federer. Cilic is 2-1 in his career in Slam semifinals with his lone loss coming in the 2015 U.S. Open to Novak Djokovic.

Edmund Powers Past Dimitrov

The quarterfinals were supposed to be a set up for a Nadal-Dimitrov rematch from 2017, but both Cilic and Kyle Edmund had other designs. It was the 23-year-old Brit who stunned third seeded Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. Edmund won behind his bludgeoning forehand that Dimitrov never really tried to shy away from. It was apparent that it was the biggest weapon the court and helped Edmund rack up 46 winners. His go big or go broke style also produced 48 unforced errors, but that sort of brave play as the reason he won.

Dimitrov seemed too engaged in his finesse game as he had done far too much this tournament and Edmund made him pay over and over. The Brit would break Dimitrov five times, while getting a look at 15 total break opportunities. In turn, Edmund saved six of the nine break chances against his serve. He would win 75 percent off his first serve, but just 43 percent off his second. I also thought Edmund showed good court coverage in this one against a really good defender in Dimitrov. He didn’t get to every ball, but he showed that he’s not a sloth with his movement.

The Formula

This is career meeting #2 between Cilic and Edmund. The first came last Fall at the Shanghai Masters. Cilic edged the Brit 6-3, 7-6 (5). In that one, Edmund was powerless to stop the Cilic serve. The Croat won 83 percent off his first and 74 percent off his second serve, while saving all three break chances against him. Edmund was less effective with win rates at 75 percent on first serve and just 46 percent on second. Cilic did a really effective job of controlling the ground game in this match, making Edmund do far more work defensively to keep pace.

Let’s start with the ground game. Both bring power packed forehands to the battle. From a pure power standpoint, Edmund’s actually probably has a few more MPHs behind it, but I think Cilic’s is the more accurate of the two. Cilic didn’t show an avoidance for Edmund’s forehand in their Shanghai meeting, but he tried to keep Edmund from being in perfect striking positions too often when he did go after that wing. That’s a big key. If you give Edmund time to set his feet and fire, that forehand is coming back at you like a cannon ball. Making sure that he’s not perfectly set, even if not on the run, will be something Cilic must routinely do.

Both definitely won’t be shy on the backhand. Both prefer the double handed approach, but can use the slice effectively as well. I think the slice would be more important for Edmund, who likely will try to run around to hit as many forehands as possible. Cilic is very comfortable with his backhand and the two hander packs a wallop and does damage. When he is able to control rallies and move his opponent, the backhand can be a huge weapon cross court. It can either be a straight up winner or stretch his opponent, where Cilic can move in for the next ball, be aggressive and pounce to finish the point.

To that end, their movement on the court will be interesting to watch. While Cilic is tall at 6’6″ – he moves well on the court and has greatly improved his volley skills at the net in recent years. He won’t be afraid to move in. I think Edmund has also shown a nice ability to get forward despite being thought of more as a baseline hugger. I think the key for me is who utilizes that aspect better with their serve. Not that we’re going to see serve and volley tactics, but who hits their serve with power and precision that allows for the second ball to be taken by moving forward and going for the kill shot.

Cilic did a nice job with this tactic at points against Nadal last round and I think it falls in line with his improved volley execution going to net. This can be especially effective if Cilic is in rhythm on serve and forcing Edmund to make stretched returns. That leaves the second ball ripe for a quick attack forward. The Brit’s serve has been a bit more up and down than Cilic’s and to maximize his shot to win, Edmund is going to need to be consistent. That win rate on first serve needs to be near 80 percent or better. Cilic has met that number in all but two matches, his opener against Vasek Pospisil (77) and last round versus Nadal (77).

In the return game, I think Cilic is underrated. He hits the ball clean off both wings, so it is more difficult to target one side or the other. I went back to Edmund’s opener against another power server in Kevin Anderson, to get a better grasp on what his return looks like right now against that sort of player. His backhand was the more exploitable side, especially if he was forced to just chip back body serves. Cilic may look to mix that in some. When Edmund gets good position, his return game is solid with pretty good foot work overall. It’s up to Cilic to extend him on return, so that Edmund can’t get solid contact.

The Pig-nosticator

This is that stage of Grand Slams where I do tend to think that experience is a bigger plus than in previous rounds. Cilic has been to a pair of Grand Slam finals, so he knows what it takes to win. Edmund? We’re talking about a guy without a single ATP title or finals appearance. That should not be overlooked in this spot. Cilic’s ability to turn around his match against Nadal before the injury is a testament to his improved mental strength which I have questioned at points. That would have been an easy match for him to roll over after the way the first set looked, where Nadal was making more and more inroads on his serve.

Edmund has the big game to match Cilic for the better part of a set. He showed that in Shanghai in their only meeting, but I think he also showed that he gradually wore down a bit against the pressure brought on by the Cilic serve and power game. There is an obvious confidence boost for the Brit after getting his first top ten scalp with the Dimitrov win to raise his record to 1-14 over the top ten. This feels different though. He didn’t just see Cilic a few weeks ago like he did with Dimitrov and this match carries a larger weight with a Grand Slam final as the prize.

There is however, the Nadal factor. Cilic comes in off a nearly four hour long work day against Nadal. Cilic may not have engaged in a large number of elongated rallies, but the mileage does still add up against Rafa. Mentally, he worked hard in that one, so there is always a chance that Cilic comes out with low energy following that match and Edmund can pounce early. I don’t think that is the only way the Brit can win, but it would be a huge boost for him if Cilic comes out with his tank half empty. The positive for Cilic is that he won’t be working nearly as hard on the ground in this one, so long as his serve is catalyzing the rest of his game consistently from the jump.

Grand Slams don’t have a rich history of unseeded players making the final. The Australian Open is the most recent case though and that’s been 12 years since Marcos Baghdatis made the 2006 final. The French Open’s last unseeded finalist was Argentine Mariano Puerta in 2005. For Wimbledon, it was Goran Ivanesevic as a wild card in 2001. The U.S. Open has had the longest drought since an unseeded player made the final – it was 1998 when Mark Phillippoussis accomplished that feat. Edmund can definitely take a set or sets off of Cilic. I think though if Cilic is aggressive and firing well early, this could be the case where the sets are competitive, but Cilic finds a way to get it done in the bigger moments.

Pig’s Bottom Line: Marin Cilic wins in straight sets