2017 Western & Southern Open Final Preview: Grigor Dimitrov vs Nick Kyrgios

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Two enter, only one shall leave as champion. It’s golden opportunity for Grigor Dimitrov and Nick Kyrgios today when they meet in the Western & Southern Open final. Both are contesting their first Masters-level final with Dimitrov winning their lone meeting before today in three sets at Indian Wells in 2015.

(7) Grigor Dimitrov vs Nick Kyrgios

Upsets and withdrawals have led to an unexpected final in Cincinnati on Sunday, but about as good as organizers could have hoped for given the field that was left. Dimitrov followed up a semifinal run in 2016 with a trip to the finals this year and he’s done it with solid serving and timely tennis. Both those things were on display on Saturday as Dimitrov topped John Isner 7-6 (4), 7-6 (10) in the semifinals. The 7th seed won 83 percent of his first serve points and saved both break chances against his serve. He popped ten aces and also posted a stout 63 percent win rate on second serve. Dimitrov did not break Isner, but if there’s probably not much better preparation for facing Kyrgios’ bullet serve than seeing Isner’s rockets yesterday.

As for Kyrgios, he followed up his upset of top seeded Rafael Nadal with a pesky 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) win over a rejuvenated David Ferrer. Kyrgios was nearly flawless on his first serve, taking 43 of 48 points. He had a small struggle on second serve, taking just 62 percent of the points. He smashed 14 aces to offset four double faults. Kyrgios was not broken on three chances against his serve. Surprisingly, it was the first match since his opener against David Goffin where Kyrgios was not broken in Cincy this week.

Tournament Tally

For the week, Dimitrov has produced some of his best serving of the season. The big thing for him has been consistency and that has led him to being broken just one time on ten chances. His win rate on first serve is averaging right at 83 percent. It would be in the upper 80s if not for a pedestrian 73 percent win rate against Juan Martin Del Potro. Otherwise, Dimitrov has been consistently winning over 80 percent on his first serve. His second hasn’t looked much worse, winning no less than 63 percent of the points in any match. Dimitrov has also gotten his fair share of freebies with 36 aces.

Kyrgios has been broken three times on 15 chances, an average of just three break points against through five matches this week. Kyrgios has been nearly unstoppable with his first serve in rhythm this week. He’s winning right at 88 percent off his first serve this week. His second has been just as good, winning over 70 percent of the points in four of his five matches. NK’s last match against Ferrer was his worst with his second serve, taking just 52 percent of the points. Kyrgios has 57 aces for the week, an average of just over ten per match.

Match Tactics

Kyrgios wants to play at lightning speed. Serve big, get cheap points, rinse and repeat. Don’t be surprised to see Dimitrov try to slow the tempo some in an effort to upset Kyrgios’ rhythm and timing. If Kyrgios gets into that quick and aggressive rhythm on serve early and keeps it, he’ll be nearly impossible to break and less likely to lose. Dimitrov’s mentality won’t change much if any from his semifinal against Isner. He will know that a lot of balls are going to fly past him on serve. He has to move on and set up for the next ball. Kyrgios will want to continue to place the ball with speed and accuracy, so that when Dimitrov does get a return, the next ball is an easy put away for the Aussie with the Bulgarian in bad court position off the return.

Dimitrov won’t get as many free points as Kyrgios, but he can be just as effective on serve and will need to be. Placement is a key for the Bulgarian and you’d expect him to target the backhand return of NK more often. When he goes out wide to the forehand side, Dimitrov will need to put enough mustard on his serve to take Kyrgios into an off-balance position. That will in turn allow Dimitrov control of the court and the option to make Kyrgios run. Off the ground, Kyrgios obviously wants to nail that forehand as many times as often. His backhand is adequate, but a bit more of a set-up shot than a finisher. Dimitrov can finish can use his one hander off the backhand side equally to finish and set up shots.

If there are longer ground rallies, Dimitrov should feel better about his variety winning out. I think a key for Dimitrov as always is being aggressive and decisive off the ground. When he doesn’t overthink shots, he’s much more lethal and will cause more trouble for Kyrgios. Given Kyrgios’ pace of play, things could work to Dimitrov’s advantage in that regard. Look for Kyrgios to continue to hit big and go for winner as he’s done all week. Errors will come, but he’ll hope he again has more winners in his bag.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Their match at Indian Wells in 2015 was an interesting one where Kyrgios twisted an ankle late in the third set. NK said it definitely effected him as he was broken for the only time after that happened. Dimitrov would pull out the win 7-6 (2), 4-6, 7-6 (4). That match could be plenty of what we see today with few break chances and one or two breaks of serve perhaps making the difference in the match. Dimitrov has two title wins this year, while Kyrgios is playing his first final since Tokyo last fall.

NK has proven to be very tough in finals at 3-1, while Dimitrov is 6-5 overall in ATP finals. While Dimitrov did have good practice for Kyrgios’ serve against Isner, I wonder if he can replicate the tense mindset of knowing that one break is deadly. Kyrgios has played his best stretch of tennis for the season and has been engaged and focused – at least as much as you can expect from him. This truly to me is about as much of a 50-50 match as you can find right now on tour. I’ll give the slight edge to Kyrgios in this one, where Dimitrov might not do much wrong, but still fall on the wrong side of the result.

Prediction: Kyrgios wins in straight sets

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2017 Rogers Cup SF Preview: Alexander Zverev vs Denis Shapovalov

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Alexander Zverev can make it two straight finals with a win over Canadian wild card Denis Shapovalov. The 18-year-old has been the story of the last few days after upsetting top seed Rafael Nadal and moving into the semifinals. He is the youngest player to contest a Masters 1000 semifinal in ATP World Tour history.

(4) Alexander Zverev vs (WC) Denis Shapovalov

Normally a 20-year-old making consecutive finals would be the big story, but 18-year-old Dennis Shapovalov has forced himself into the spotlight over Alexander Zverev this week. Shapovalov stunned Rafael Nadal in a three set thriller in the third round and then followed that up with a 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 win in the quarterfinals over Adrian Mannarino. Oh and he also beat Juan Martin Del Potro in round two, albeit a pretty poor version of the Argentine. Shapovalov may not be playing the cleanest tennis, but he’s been bold and come up large at key moments this week.

As for Zverev, there has been no let down after taking the Citi Open crown last weekend. Zverev did struggle early against Richard Gasquet in his opener, but rallied past the Frenchman in a third set tiebreak. Since then, he’s rolled through a pair of straight sets wins over Nick Kyrgios and Kevin Anderson. Sascha has been broken just three times through three rounds with two of those coming in his opener. He’s been consistent, although not over powering on serve this week as he’s taken just over 70 percent of the total points played. He’s also been clinical in converting break points as the tournament has progressed. After securing just two breaks on eight chances against Gasquet, he’s scored six breaks on his last nine chances in the last two rounds.

Under Pressure

One of the things that has served Shapovalov well this week is his ability to contend with pressure. Obviously there is a lot playing the top seed in Rafael Nadal, a big name like Del Potro and then trying to get to a Masters semifinal. Even though he’s fallen behind, he’s shown the ability to keep grinding and found a way to get back into matches. Shapovalov doesn’t look like much physically as a stringy six footer without a lot of weight behind him. Still, his ground strokes have been breath taking at times this week, showing power and precision. His one-handed backhand has been a big weapon and he’s shown plenty of whip with his lefty forehand as well.

Zverev meanwhile has performed well under a different kind of pressure, the growing pressure of expectation. After winning the Citi Open last week, I’ll be honest – I didn’t expect him back in this position again. He had tough times turning around after titles earlier in the season, but has shown great growth mentally this week with another run towards a possible final. The real litmus test was his opener against Gasquet. Sascha certainly did not have his best, but buoyed by that now epic 49 shot rally late in the match, he fought off multiple match points and found a way to win. That’s the makings of a great player – not playing your best, but grinding out positive results.

Match Tactics

Despite seemingly playing with unending confidence and never, this could be a really nervy spot for Shapovalov. He’s one step away from his first ATP level final and it’s in his home country. Up until now, he’s been playing with house money. He’s not the favorite obviously, but there is now a certain expectation placed on him after following up the Nadal win with a win. If I’m Sascha Zverev, I try to expose those nerves early and often. That means Sascha needs to start with his serve in rhythm to put pressure on his Canadian counterpart to match him. Shapovalov has been doing enough on serve to win, but there have been opportunities missed by his opponents. The Canadian has seen 22 break chances against him the last two rounds, but managed to save 17 of those chances. With Zverev converting at a high clip, Shapovalov will need to do better and allow less looks at breaks.

He can do that with good variety and placement on his serve. Having not played Zverev, it should be advantageous to him early. Vice versa, Zverev should have an edge serving early as well with both players trying to get a measure of the other. The longer Shapovalov can go without letting Sascha see break chances, the better his confidence will be that he can keep contending. He went after Mannarino’s backhand return to help set up better court position on Friday, but he may not get that luxury with Zverev as a better quality returner. If Zverev is able to get good returns on serve, then Shapovalov will want to move himself into a centered position on the baseline. That’s where he’s done a lot of damage this tournament with the ability to hit the ball inside-put off either wing from this position.

For me, Zverev has the edge if the battle involves more movement along the baseline. He’s shown the ability to hit winners on the run consistently. Shapovalov has good movement, but I’m not sure if he can consistently hit winners moving east to west. He does however possess very good skills north to south from what I have seen and he looks comfortable at net. Zverev is good there as well, but as he prefers to stick to the baseline, Shapovalov might look to force him in a few times to see how that works.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Everyone will be eager to see if Shapovalov can keep his run going. He’s obviously beaten really good players this week, but I think to that end, players who have made plenty of mistakes to keep him in matches. I think if Zverev continues zoned in as he’s been for the better part of two weeks, Shapovalov will meet his match. That’s not to suggest that Shapovalov can’t raise his level and score another upset, but I think Zverev is a guy playing with confidence and precision. Del Potro was not. Nadal made some strategic mistakes to me in staying too far behind the baseline on return and Mannarino simply didn’t have the power and precision to take the best advantage.

Credit to Shapovalov for beating those guys and taking advantage of those things and proving that he can contend with his own weapons. The feeling for me however is that Sascha has too much in all departments if he employs solid strategy in this one. I could see Shapovalov taking a set with Sascha having to figure out the young Canadian’s game, but in the end, I see Zverev advancing to his sixth final of the season.

Prediction: Zverev wins in three sets

2017 Monte Carlo Masters R16 Preview: Rafael Nadal vs Alexander Zverev

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If their first two meetings are any indicator of what to expect on Thursday, it could be another topsy-turvy thrill ride when Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev meet in Monte Carlo. The winner gets a trip to the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters quarterfinals.

(4) Rafael Nadal vs (14) Alexander Zverev

It looked like an easy day at the office for Rafael Nadal after one set in his opener against Kyle Edmund on Wednesday. Rafa was all over Edmund’s serve, breaking the Brit three times as he bagled him in a nearly flawless first set. It looked like an early day still in the second set when Nadal broke Edmund for the fourth time for a 2-1 lead, but he would be broken back in the next game to put the action back on serve. They would swap breaks again later in the set as Edmund this time blew the break lead, but was able to close out the second set 7-5 with a third break of the Nadal serve. Rafa would win just 18 of 35 points off his serve in the set after taking 12 of 15 in the swift moving first set.

The third set would see Edmund’s level dip on serve again as the Brit was broken three times late with Nadal finishing off a 6-0, 5-7, 6-3 win in two hours and 18 minutes. At times, Nadal looked like the King of Clay, but Edmund’s variety on the day really caused him some struggles. Perhaps we can chalk this one up to Rafa’s first match on clay and he’ll improve from here, but he’ll definitely need to sharpen his game if he hopes to win an unprecedented tenth title in Monte Carlo this week.

As for Sascha Zverev, he’s been on cruise control through two rounds. He picked off Feliciano Lopez in straight sets with a bagel set of his own to open en route to a 6-0, 6-4 win. The 14th seed was broken just once on two chances as he won 31 of 43 service points. Lopez was flat with his serve, winning just 26 of 57 points. The Spaniard faced nine break points and saw his German counterpart convert four of those. It was a perfect follow-up for Zverev, who spanked Andreas Seppi 6-1, 6-2 to start his campaign in Monte Carlo earlier in the week. His serve has been solid and he will need that, if he hopes to beat Nadal.

Close Encounters of the Thrilling Kind

Nadal and Zverev have met twice before with both meetings on hard courts. The most recent was a five set roller coaster ride at the Australian Open in January. Nadal prevailed 4-6 6-3 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 6-2 in a match that seemed to fuel his belief that he was back on top of his game. It was a four hour grind that saw Rafa seeming more spry in the fifth set as Zvrev dealt with cramping issues. Zverev’s keys to getting a two sets to one lead were aggressive play on his ground strokes and solid serving. It was no coincidence that he struggled in the final two sets, when his serve failed him and he was forced into too many baseline rallies that Rafa controlled.

For Nadal, his serve got better as that match wore on. He did face seven break points, but came up big by saving five of them. Zverev conversely was pressured into 16 break points, saving eleven. Nadal did a lot of his damage off Sascha’s second serve, taking 58 percent of the points. Nadal would win 62 percent of the points off his own second serve. Zverev’s big ground game produced 74 winners to go against 58 unforced errors. Nadal only had 34 winners and 43 UEs.

Their first meeting at Indian Wells in 2016 was also a classic with Nadal somehow surviving 6-7 (8), 6-0, 7-5. Zverev had match point on Rafa, but it was the Spaniard who proved the better closer. He would win 15 of the final 16 points in the match. The numbers were pretty familiar in that meeting with Nadal again facing less break chances (7) to Zverev’s (10). Rafa would be broken only three times compared to seven for Sascha. Zverev was again under 50 percent on his win rate off his second serve and he also had eleven double faults, the same number he produced in Melbourne against Nadal this year.

Aggressive Play Key for Zverev

The word that Rafael Nadal used after both meetings was aggressive to describe Zverev’s play when he had Nadal on the ropes in both their previous clashes. What Zverev lacked was the consistency to maintain the needed level of aggression to beat Nadal over the course of either match. That again figures to be the key factor on Thursday. Zverev obviously has the big game to trouble Nadal. His ground strokes are powerful and his two-handed backhand is a real weapon.

In looking back, the thing that stuck out to me in their Australian Open meeting again was the number of times that Zverev didn’t seem to mind getting into grinding baseline exchanges with Nadal. Granted, the 19-year-old did have a fair amount of success in those rallies early. However, you could just tell he was playing with fire the more times he engaged Nadal in those exchanges. Nadal had it in his mind that he could profit later in the match by keeping Sascha in those rallies, even if it meant losing points, games or a set early.

That’s the risky proposition for Zverev in this one. He’s comfortable from the baseline and prefers to play baseline to baseline with most opponents. It’s not that it doesn’t equate to a winning formula for this week’s 14th seed, his record proves it does. It is just that against experienced guys like Nadal, Djokovic and Murray who eat up baseline exchanges for breakfast – you have to be at peak performance nearly all match to have that strategy pay off with a win.

So while Zverev shouldn’t put any drastic changes into his game plan this time around, he does need to find a balance between engaging in those longer exchanges and looking to end some points more quickly.

What’s on Second?

With respect to Abbott & Costello, serve in this match won’t be about WHO is on first, but about WHAT is on second. As in, what do both players have to offer off their second serves. AS laid out before, one of the key differences in both previous matches has been Nadal’s ability to eat up Zverev’s second serve. Nadal is WHAT is on second. If he repeats the feats of the two previous matches by winning more than half the points off second serve, Zverev will be in trouble. Sascha needs to do a better job taking care of his serve against the Spaniard in general. Any time you allow a quality defender and returner like Nadal to see double digit break chances, you’re likely to find yourself down on the scoreboard.

Zverev’s double fault issues against Nadal also highlight the added pressure that Nadal puts on your as the match wears on. Zverev simply must do a better job with his service consistency throughout the course of the match. As for Nadal, he did not have a great serving day against Edmund to open, but it worked. He’ll need better in that category too as he won less than 40 percent off his second serve. The usual plus for Rafa is that he doesn’t have as many second serves in play, so having a lower win rate there is not always a killer. Still, the more the German sees of that Rafa second serve, the better off he’ll be and he absolutely must take advantage of what likely will be relatiively few chances.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

It’s simple in theory as to how this gets decided. For Nadal, he wants to lure Zverev into those punishing baseline exchanges. He has exhibited patience when he’s not controlling these types of rallies, knowing that if he does what is proper to his game, he’ll eventually control the pace and placement with that top spin forehand. Nadal doesn’t need to be perfect on serve, but he does need to come up with the big points to fight off break points. He has done a good job of that most of the season thus far.

For Zverev, be aggressive and consistent. From ball one on serve to ball 274 played off the ground, exercise your power game and keep going for it. Don’t be afraid to make unforced errors by hitting big. That’s the way of the world in modern tennis, especially if you want to knock off an elite player. Rafa has shown that he is on that level again. So Sascha must bring that consistent firepower off the ground and he must minimize the inconsistency on serve. You’ll know his chances of winning likely by looking at his save percentage on break points against his own serve.

On faster hard courts, Zverev’s power game has troubled Nadal at times, but Rafa has problem solved for wins both times. I think the slower conditions on clay will only benefit him more. It will give him more time to get to balls and Zverev likely will remain too glued to the baseline. Again, I don’t think its necessarily a bad tactic for Sascha to remain in that comfort zone along the baseline, but he must be willing to switch it up and move towards the net. That is something Kyle Edmund did some on Wednesday and it did throw off Nadal a little bit.

I won’t be surprised to see Zverev again with a lead in this one, he’s that good. Over the course of three sets however, I expect Nadal to once again where him down if Zverev chooses to continually engage in lengthy rallies. This should be a good one and Nadal’s toughest test in getting to the semifinals after Grigor Dimitrov was snuffed out by Jan-Lennard Struff on Wednesday.

Prediction: Nadal wins in three sets

2017 Monte Carlo Masters R2 Preview: David Goffin vs Nicolas Almagro

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David Goffin and Nicolas Almagro meet for the fifth time with a spot in the round of 16 at the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters up for grabs. Goffin won the most recent meeting at last year’s French Open in five sets.

(10) David Goffin vs Nicolas Almagro

It was fairly smooth sailing for the 10th seed as he crushed fellow Belgian Steve Darcis 6-2, 6-1 to start his week in Monte Carlo. There should be some cause for alarm though as Goffin had a lot of trouble consistently getting his first serve in play at just 51 percent. When he did get his first serve in-play, he won just 12 of 22 points. Goffin off-set that by winning 86 percent of his second serve points. He was also routinely into Darcis’ serve, converting on five of 13 break chances overall. Goffin would save both break chances against his own serve.

Almagro rallied from a set down as he knocked out qualifier Martin Klizan 4-6, 6-3, 6-1. The Spaniard was mostly consistent on serve, winning 51 of 76 points altogether. He was broken twice on six break chances. Almagro did get better as the match progressed though with only one break chance allowed over the final two sets in which he was not broken. The Spaniard was able to get into Klizan’s serve a lot in the match with 14 break chances. He would convert five of those with four coming in the last two sets combined.

2016 French Open Meeting

Prior to last May at Roland Garros, these two had met three other times, but none had come since 2013. Last year showed that Almagro still has the chops on dirt to trouble some of the best players on the planet. Goffin edged out their third round match 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2. Almagro had the tougher time on serve that day, landing just 50 percent of his first serves in play. That made the big difference with Goffin able to win 52 percent of the points off Almagro’s second serve.

Goffin would break the Spaniard seven times on 14 chances. Goffin’s defense and return skills once again showed up large when he needed them too. Goffin was able to keep his own service games a bit cleaner in Paris, winning 57 percent of his second serve points and equaling Almagro with 73 percent won on first serve. The Belgian faced 13 break chances, but was able to save nine of them.

Keys to Advancing

This is now Goffin’s fifth trip to Monte Carlo, yet he has never been past the round of 16. He made it that far last year for the first time before losing to Marcel Granollers. One of Almagro’s three wins over Goffin did come at this tournament back in 2013, but the Belgian is obviously a different class of player in 2017. Almagro has made the round of 15 four times previously, but has also failed to progress beyond that point. One of them will get a chance to change that in the next round.

As for the match itself, this should be another tight one. Almagro possesses a serve that on its day can control the action and give him easier holds. One of Goffin’s main weaknesses has always been his service consistency. On slower surfaces, that means he’s usually likely to see break opportunities against his serve. His key is fighting those off. This season, Goffin has saved 65 percent of the break points he has faced. Last year, Goffin saved 62 percent, so he’s improved in that category. Almagro will be weary of facing break points himself with Goffin cashing in 39 percent of the breaks he has faced this season. That is a solid number.

Off the ground, Goffin wants to utilize his speed and defense. That’s his bread and butter. Almagro typically will engage in those baseline to baseline rallies. It plays somewhat into Goffin’s strengths, by allowing him to chase down balls. It can also aid Almagro’s cause though as Nico still possesses a deadly one-handed backhand. If he positions Goffin correctly in rallies, he’ll have chances to finish him off with that shot down-the-line or cross court. He’s capable of producing both shots, but also has diminished some in the consistency category there with age and injury the last few years.

For Goffin, he simply wants to grind Almagro around the court. He’s steady off both wings, so Goffin won’t mind if the exchanges run to the forehand or backhand. When he’s locked in, he can produce some beautiful ground strokes that can match any tier of performer on the ATP World Tour. The Belgian would do well to test the Spaniard’s forehand more often than the backhand, but don’t expect him to be afraid to get after either wing.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

There should be plenty of classic clay end-to-end exchanges between these two. Almagro will go into this one knowing that he’s beaten Goffin before and also challenged him to play his best last time out to beat him. The Spaniard has had trouble winning matches in 2017 however, so it is a more difficult ask for him to score the upset in this one. The win over Klizan broke a four tournament skid, where he had lost his opening match.

Sometimes like a shooter in basketball needing to see the ball go through the net to break a slump, all a tennis player needs is one win to start feeling more confident. I think Almagro will perform pretty well against a familiar and beatable opponent, but the feeling is that Goffin has just a little bit better edge to his game right now.

Prediction: Goffin wins in three sets

2017 Monte Carlo Rolex Masters Preview

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Federer Skipping Monte Carlo, Nadal Back For More

The clay court season goes into full swing with the first Masters 1000 on the surface for 2017. The tournament will be missing arguably the best player on tour this season in Roger Federer. Fed is likely to skip all clay events until the French Open, something that was not entirely unexpected as he tries to protect his body from the lengthy season. Also MIA this week will be Kei Nishikori and Nick Kyrgios. Nishikori has only played Monte Carlo once in his career, so his exclusion is hardly surprising. Kyrgios decided to stay away this week to rest after a heavy schedule lately that included leading Australia into the Davis Cup semifinals.

While those names are missing, the big boys are back together this week with Andy Murray leading the field as the top seed. The Scot is a three-time semifinalist in Monte Carlo, including last year. He has never won this tournament. Second seed Novak Djokovic is a two time winner, one of two players to break up Rafael Nadal’s dynasty in Monte Carlo. Djokovic won in 2013 and 2015. Rafa has won this tournament an astounding nine times in the past 12 years, including the 2016 title. He’s in as the fourth seed. The other outsider who snuck in a championship was Stan Wawrinka in 2014. The Swiss is in the field this week as the third seed.

Rafa’s Playground

The Spaniard holds a marvelous 58-4 record in Monte Carlo all-time. He has the nine titles to his credit and he’s made ten finals in the last 12 years. Last year marked a return to the throne in Monte Carlo after missing out on a title win since 2012. Outside of Federer, Nadal has been producing the most consistent results of anyone on tour. He’s 19-5 this season with three of those losses to the Swiss Maestro. Rafa has made the final in three of the five tournaments he has played this season, but he’s yet to hoist a trophy above his head. That could change this week.

The list of contenders is short in most Masters events. Of the past 63, 56 have been won by Murray, Djokovic, Federer or Nadal. Only Wawrinka and this week’s 9th seed, Tomas Berdych, have even played the final in Monte Carlo. The rest of the seeds have yet to make significant dents at this tournament outside of a pair of semifinal runs by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2013 and 2016. Tsonga has had a solid year at 17-4, but has not played since Indian Wells due to the birth of his first child.

Early Bird Specials

The good news for the seeds is that in recent times, Monte Carlo has yielded few early upsets. Last year saw just two seeds lose their openers, but it was the massive shocker that stole the headlines with top seed Novak Djokovic stunned by Jiri Vesely. In the three years prior to 2016, a total of seven seeds have lost their first match. To put that under the microscope, that means that just eight players out of 64 in the last four years have been sent packing in their openers.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at what might be a short list of early upsets.

2, Novak Djokovic
Despite a 10-1 mark against his first opponent, Gilles Simon, Djokovic must be on this list. He skipped Miami due to elbow problems and the lingering concerns that his health, both physically and mentally, is less than 100 percent has to be factored into play. Anyone can see that something is not right with the Serb at this point in the season. Playing into the mental health angle here is last year’s loss to Vesely. It still ranks as a top ten all-time upset. Djokovic did win in Davis Cup play since sitting on Miami, but was reportedly still feeling some discomfort in his elbow. Having to grind out a win against someone like Simon isn’t normally a difficult ask for Djokovic, but these days, nothing appears easy for the Serb.

5. Marin Cilic
An easy inclusion on this list as the Croat continues to struggle this season at just 5-7 overall. He has lost his opener in four of seven tournaments he has played this season. Cilic will get the survivor of Borna Coric vs Jeremy Chardy. Chardy would be the tougher task with Cilic holding a 4-0 advantage over Coric, but standing at 2-2 against Chardy. This is Cilic’s first trip back to Monte Carlo since a 2015 quarterfinal run.

9. Tomas Berdych
Berdych did make the final in 2015 in Monte Carlo, but he followed that up by a first-up loss to Damir Dzumhur last year. In three of the last four years, Berdych has failed to win back-to-back matches at this tournament. He has played reasonably well this season at 13-6. He will face qualifier Andrey Kuznetsov. The Russian took him to a final set tiebreak in St.Petersburg in their lone meeting last year with Berdych edging out the win.

13. Pablo Carreno Busta
The lack of luck of the draw pits PCB against Fabio Fognini in round one. That’s rough. The plus for the Spaniard is that he’s 4-0 against the Italian with two clay court wins, including earlier this year in Sao Paulo. Fognini arrives this week after making the semifinals in Miami Monte Carlo has been hugely hit or miss for Fognini with a semifinal run in 2013, but a poor loss to Paolo Lorenzi in the opening round last year. You never know what you’ll get from Fognini and that’s what always makes him dangerous, even against someone who has beaten him four out of four times.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Andy Murray (1)
Marin Cilic (5)
Tomas Berdych (9)
Albert Ramos Vinolas (15)

Breakdown
Murray will hope he’s had enough time to recover from a hugely disappointing loss to Vasek Pospisil in Indian Wells. I won’t expect a hangover as Indian Wells has been a Murray death trap lately. Monte Carlo has been better to him recently with his increased prowess on dirt. He made the semifinals last year for the third time in his career. This is definitely a winnable quarter for the world number one. He opens with Gilles Muller or Tommy Robredo. Robredo might be the bigger trouble on this surface with the Spaniard always at his best on this surface.

Ramos and Kohlschreiber look the likeliest to get in Murray’s way to a quarterfinal. Kohlschreiber might suffer from the old championship hangover though after a difficult loss to Borna Coric in the Grand Prix Hassan final in Marrakech on Sunday. Carlos Berlocq could pick the German off in round one. The bottom of the quarter looks open with struggler Marin Cilic as the lead seed along with Berdych. Berdych has a tough road if he survives Kuznetsov in round one, he would face Tommy Haas or Benoit Paire. Paire made a Challenger final on clay and then followed with a semifinal run in Marrakech. He’s 0-2 vs Berdych, but always capable of springing an upset if switched on.

Berdych and Haas had some legendary clashes back in the day on grass and clay (five setters at Wimbledon & Davis Cup). Haas finally got his first win of 2017 last week in Houston and showed decently against Jack Sock in a three set loss. Both could pose a risk to Berdych. Cilic gets Marrakech champ Coric or Jeremy Chardy and looks ripe for the upset. The bottom of his quarter definitely looks as if it could open up some. There’s usually a non-seed that sneaks into the quarterfinals in this tournament and it would not be shocking to see this part of the draw produce that opposite of Murray.

Quarter #2 Seeds
Stan Wawrinka (3)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (7)
Lucas Pouille (11)
Pablo Cuevas (16)

Breakdown
Wawrinka is 19-8 in Monte Carlo and he has been a steady performer here since 2009. He won the title in 2014 and has made the quarters or better four more times in the span. His half of the quarter has only Cuevas as a seed to contend against. Wawrinka will open with either Mischa Zverev or Jiri Vesely. Vesely just beat Zverev in Marrakech in straights and did well to make the semifinals, where he lost to Coric. Wawrinka owns a win over Vesely in straight sets at the 2014 U.S. Open. but this could be tougher with Vesely playing well.

Cuevas opens against Viktor Troicki, who is 3-0 against the 16th seed in their careers. All three meetings have come on hard surfaces however. On clay, Cuevas is the better talent and has a title to his credit on the surface earlier this year in Brazil. Last year was Cuevas’ first main draw participating in Monte Carlo, where he went 1-1, losing a three setter to Milos Raonic in the second round. Troicki isn’t totally lost on clay as he did make the semifinals here back in 2011, but you’d expect Cuevas to find a way.

The bottom half features the two Frenchmen as the seeds with Tsonga and Pouille. Tsonga as mentioned will be returning to tour for the first time in more than a month. He will need to play well to beat either Adrian Mannarino or Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in his opener, but will be the obvious favorite to advance. Pouille got a needed win in Davis Cup play after being dumped out of both Indian Wells and Miami by Donald Young. Pouille’s best finish was making the round of 16 here last year. He opens with Ryan Harrison and then could have a tough time against Paolo Lorenzi or Marcel Granollers. Pouille has met Lorenzi once, a tough three set win in Bucharest last year. Both Lorenzi and Granollers can spring an upset on clay.

Tsonga has the pedigree at this tournament and the form earlier this year to be in the quarterfinal mix, if he can get off to a good start. Wawrinka might be a bit shaky early, but if he gets out of the first few rounds – he’ll have a legit shot to not just get through this quarter, but perhaps through this half of the draw and into the final.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (4)
Grigor Dimitrov (8)
Roberto Bautista Agut (12)
Alexander Zverev (14)

Breakdown
All eyes will be on Nadal this week. The defending champion has been playing well this season and will have his focus on dominating his surface. With Murray and Djokovic still showing vulnerabilities and Federer skipping out, Nadal is the main man. His domination here should give him the confidence necessary to come in with some swagger. He’ll play one of two Brits first, either Daniel Evans or Kyle Edmund. That should afford him to get off to a comfortable start. Zverev is the other seed in Rafa’s half and the obvious danger. Zverev starts with Andreas Seppi, so he’ll need to be steady to win. Survival there would see Zverev play either Feliciano Lopez or Daniil Medvedev for a likely shot at Nadal.

The other half of the quarter is led by Dimitrov and Bautista Agut as the seeds. Dimitrov has cooled a bit since a red hot start to the season, but should have a chance to do some damage with this draw. He’ll face qualifier Jan-Lennard Struff or wildcard Casper Ruud to start. That won’t be easy, but it’s a match he needs to win. RBA has made back-to-back round of 16 showings in Monte Carlo and could match that. He starts with Nikoloz Basilashvili. A win could set him up against Diego Schwartzman. The Argentine plays “Lost Boy” Bernard Tomic. Tomic is 2-6 this season and has a pretty harsh clay allergy at 17-31 during his ATP career. Schwartzman should win. Don’t be shocked if the Argentine pushes RBA to be his best or go home early.

Dimitrov has made the quarterfinals in Monte Carlo in 2013 and 2015. The odd-year could see him match that. The match of the quarter should be Nadal vs Zverev, if it comes to fruition. Their two meetings have been terribly entertaining with Rafa winning in five sets in Melbourne this year and somehow fighting off Zverev in Indian Wells last year when Sascha had the match on his racquet. Overall, you have to like Nadal in this quarter.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Novak Djokovic (2)
Dominic Thiem (6)
David Goffin (10)
Pablo Carreno Busta (13)

Breakdown
Djokovic’s potential injury woes make this quarter vert interesting. There is some great talent among the seeds with #10 David Goffin already through to round two after an easy win over Steve Darcis on Sunday. Djokovic is 28-8 in Monte Carlo, but the Vesely loss last year and his questionable health right now make him an iffy proposition to get through here. Certainly if he’s feeling more fit, then this gets more interesting. Either way, Djokovic has a difficult path to get out of this quarter. He has Simon to open and then likely Carreno Busta or Fognini to get to a quarterfinal. There, he could see Thiem or Goffin. Nothing easy on tap for the Serb.

As for the half with Thiem and Goffin, Thiem has a bit easier path due to the bye. He’ll get Federico Delbonis or Robin Haase to start. Thiem made the round of 16 last year in MC after a couple of first round flameouts. Clay suits him. Goffin will have the tougher time with either Martin Klizan or Nicolas Almagro next round. Almagro owns three wins over Goffin, although all were in 2012-2013. Their last clash was at Roland Garros in 2016 where the Belgian survived in five. Klizan and Almagro have split two meetings on clay and neither is in great form. Klizan did get through qualifying though, while Almagro will be searching for his first win since January when he takes the court. Edge Klizan.

If we get Thiem vs Goffin in the round of 16, it will be the 9th career meeting with Goffin ahead 5-3. Three career meetings on clay though have seen Thiem edge Goffin, 2-1. The winner there could well be the favorite to get through to the semis if Djokovic is still sputtering. Keep an eye on Carreno Busta here too. He’s kind of the forgotten guy of the seeds with all the big names, but he’s very good on this surface. I’d look to Thiem or Djokovic here though most likely with too many question marks around Djokovic to feel comfortable saying he should get it done.

Outsider’s Edge

Non-seeds traditionally are not big players in the business end in Monte Carlo. Fognini was the last unseeded player to make it as far as the semifinals here and that came in 2013. Since then, just unseeded players have made it as far as the quarterfinals. There are some players who could fit the bill of unseeded quarterfinalist this week. As highlighted above, look to Quarter #1 where Berdych and Cilic look vulnerable. Coric, Chardy and Paire could find their way with Coric as the in-form best shot to do so. It it happens elsewhere, it could be Fognini again. He’ll have to beat Carreno Busta just to get to round two and still might have Djokovic in his way to a quarterfinal. It’s Fabio though, so who knows. He could go home on the first day or make a run.

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

This is a statement week. Yes, there is still plenty of time before the French Open, but this is someone’s chance to stake claim to momentum as we hit the next six weeks to Roland Garros. Nadal looks the part of the favorite this week, especially without his 2017 road block, Roger Federer, to contend with in Monte Carlo. Certainly we shouldn’t discount Andy Murray or Novak Djokovic, but the latter has a lot of questions to answer before he can be considered a top tier contender this week.

Murray could set up nicely in his half to at least pop his cherry on making a final here, but could have Wawrinka as the major speed bump on his path. If there is a lower seed that could make noise this week, think new Daddy Tsonga or Dominic Thiem. In the end, I’ll be mainstream this week in thinking that Nadal can get on the board with his first title of 2017 and 10th in Monte Carlo.