The Doubles DL: 2017 U.S. Open Men’s Preview

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Frenchies The Form Team In New York

The men’s doubles draw begins play on Wednesday and it is the 2016 U.S. Open champions, Nicolas Mahut and Pierre Hugues-Herbert, who arrive with the best form. The French duo won back-to-back Masters titles at the Rogers Cup and Westerm & Southern Open after suffering a mostly mediocre season to that point. Herbert-Mahut have elevated themselves from being ranked outside the top ten into the third slot in the rankings as the U.S. Open begins. They are seeded third in New York.

Leading the field will be the current #2 team in the rankings, Henri Kontinen and John Peers. Kontinen-Peers won the Citi Open title earlier this summer, but struggled in both Masters events as they failed to get past the quarterfinals in either event. Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo slot in as the #2 seeds this week. They are the current top ranked team and have also scuffled some since losing to Kontinen-Peers in the Citi Open final. Kubot-Melo did make the semis in Cincinnati, where they lost to Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares – the 2016 U.S. Open champs.

Rounding out the top four seeds are Murray-Soares. Last year’s champions have been solid this year, but have found consistency fleeting. This summer is a perfect example as they won two of their three titles this year on grass and then lost in the second round at Wimbledon. They started the hard court swing with a semifinal run at the Citi Open and made the finals in Cincinnati, losing to Herbert-Mahut. In between, they dropped their opener at the Rogers Cup to Benoit Paire and Gael Monfils.

Four First Timers Among Top Ten Seeds

In addition to the veteran duos at the top of the seeded field, there are several teams that will debut together at this year’s U.S. Open. That does not include the fifth seeded Bryans or the 7th seeded tandem of Raven Klaasen and Rajeev Ram. It does include Ivan Dodig and Marcel Granollers who have not played together since Wimbledon .Coincidentally, they lost to the French Open champions Michael Venus and Ryan Harrison on London. Venus-Harrison are seeded 8th and bring some big match swagger as they have won the French and made the quarters at Wimbledon. They struggled for results outside of Slams, but did make the Cincy semifinals last week to bring some confidence to the tournament.

Other first timers inside the top ten seeds include Wimbledon runners-up Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic as the 9th seeds. Marach-Pavic spent time apart after Wimbledon, but reunited to make the Rogers Cup semifinals. They lost in Cincy to Venus-Harrison last week. The 10th seeds are also teaming up for their first U.S. Open with Rohan Bopanna and Pablo Cuevas taking that spot. Bopanna-Cuevas also have not tagged up together for a bit, havin last played together at the French Open.

Among the remaining seeds in the top 16, Team Lopez with Marc and Feliciano have the best finish. They Spaniards made the semifinals in 2016. They are seeded 11th, but have been dreadful this year. Team Lopez has lost their opening match in nine of the 14 tournaments they have played. Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau bring the most experience at the tail end of the field with a 6-3 record. Their best finish was a quarterfinal run in 2015. They do come in hot after taking the Winston-Salem doubles titles, the team’s third titles together this season.

History Lesson

If this year’s Grand Slams and recent U.S. Open history have told us anything, it is that it does not pay to be a top seed if you’re going to win the titles. So far this year, we’ve seen Kontinen-Peers win the Australian Open as fourth seeds. The top seeds in Melbourne were Herbert-Mahut, who crashed out in the quarterfinals. At the French Open, unseeded Michael Venus and Ryan Harrison took home the trophies with the first seeds, Kontinen-Peers, losing in the first round. And at Wimbledon, Kubot-Melo were seeded 4th as they won the titles. The top seeds Kontinen-Peers were beaten in the semifinals.

At the U.S. Open specifically, the top seed has only won once in the last five years with the Bryans doing that in 2014. The top seeds have managed to make the semifinals three of those five years, but have failed to advance to the final two of three times. Unseeded teams have made a recent living of advancing to the semifinals with four teams doing that in the last three years. There are a few unseeded teams I see that could do a little damage, although I am a bit hesitant to say they can continue that semifinal tradition. Here’s a look at those dangerous floaters.

Outsider’s Edge

Eyserric-Skugor
This is a team with some experience. They have teamed up three times over the past two years and made the final in each event. All were on clay and two were at the Challenger level, but still there is chemistry for this team.

Cerretani-Polmans
This is an interesting team with the 35-year-old American James Cerretani and the 20-year-old Aussie Marc Polmans. They have already teamed up this year at the Citi Open and took Murray-Soares to a 19-17 match tiebreak in the quarterfinals after beating Venus-Harrison in their opener. This team is one to watch.

Molteni-Shamasdin
Another unseeded team that has experience playing togther this season. This duo has a dozen matches under their belts and they did make the finals in Atlanta, losing to the Bryans. They are in a weaker part of the draw with Rojer-Tecau and Gonzalez-Young as the seeds in their path to a possible quarterfinal. Although Rojer-Tecau played well in Winston-Salem, their season has been up and down – so there is room for an upset against them still.

Podlipnik Castillo-Vasilevski
This is the team that might have the best shot to stun and keep the unseeded semifinals streak alive in U.S. Open doubles. This mostly Challenger playing duo made the Wimbledon quarterfinals this year, knocking out Klaasen-Ram. They are perhaps the weakest part of the fourth quarter, where they could reasonably make a quarterfinal run. They would have to get through Herbert-Mahut potentially to get to a semifinal, unless someone else takes care of them first.

Benneteau-Roger Vasselin
The two Frenchman are experienced, albeit better suited to getting results on grass. Still, they are a team that should not be overlooked and they will test the #2 seeds potentially early on in round two. If they score an early knockout punch of Kubot-Melo, then this team has a chance to pick up steam and be a real threat.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Kontinen-Peers (1)
Klaasen-Ram (7)
Bopanna-Cuevas (10)
Peralta-Zeballos (14)

Top Half Breakdown
Kontinen-Peers campaign should be afforded a good start against Americans William Blumberg and Spencer Papa. It would be difficult to think that duo will trouble the top seeds too much in round one. Round two could be a bit more difficult. They will play either Daniel Nestor and Dominic Inglot or Russians MIkhail Elgin and Daniil Medvedev. I’d say Nestor-Inglot look much more likely and they at least got their chemistry back by playing a match in Winston-Salem last week. Again, I would be hard pressed to say they will challenge Kontinen-Peers terribly, but Kontinen-Peers have only played at the U.S. Open once and lost last year in their second match. I still fancy them to move to round three.

Peralta-Zeballos are the seeds opposite of the top seeds in the top half. They are in good form, having made the Winston-Salem final. They bring veteran experience in a weak section of the draw where they start with James Cerretani and Marc Polmans. Don’t sleep on those two. Both are solid doubles players and having played together a few matches this summer, they showed good chemistry. They MIGHT be that unseeded team that makes some noise. If they get the upset early, they play the winner of Juan-Sebastien Cabal and Leonardo Mayer against Carlos Berlocq and Albert Ramos-Vinolas. The winner of that Peralta-Zeballos vs Cerretani-Polmans match looks like the favorite to meet Kontinen-Peers in round three to me.

Bottom Half Breakdown
The section with Klaasen-Ram and Bopanna-Cuevas as the seeds looks a bit more difficult to predict. Klaasen-Ram open with Rogerio Dutra Silva and Paolo Lorenzi. Klaasen-Ram haven’t made it past the third round of any of the Slams this year, but should at least get the shot to improve on that here. If the 7th seeds win their opener, they play either the team of Nicolas Monroe and J.P. Smith or Jonathan Eysseric and Franko Skugor. Eyserric-Skugor I touched on above in Outsider’s Edge and they could be the tricky ones in this section.

Bopanna-Cuevas open against Bradley Klahn and Scott Lipsky. Even with the long layoff for Bopanna-Cuevas, I think they get through there. That sets them up against either Steve Johnson and Tommy Paul or Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini. The Italians might have better chemistry, but haven’t been able to reproduce the magic they had a few years ago. Paul has played some doubles, but not with Johnson. He did play with Taylor Fritz at the U.S. Open in 2015, so he at least has some experience on the big stage. Still a big ask for them to win their first time playing together with likely very little practice time as both are playing singles as well.

Quarter #2 Seeds
Murray-Soares (4)
Dodig-Granollers (6)
Rojer-Tecau (12)
Gonzalez-Young (15)

Top Half Breakdown
Murray-Soares open against Austrians Julian Knowle and Alexander Peya. Knowle-Peya have played together sporadically over the years without much in the way of good results. The fourth seeds should advance with relatively little in the way of problems. Their secound round match figures to be much tougher with either Spaniards Pablo Carreno Busta and Fernando Verdasco awaiting or Marcus Daniell and Marcelo Demoliner. All four of those players are experienced in doubles play and will present a significant test for Murray-Soares. Daniell-Demoliner have done well at the Australian Open and at Wimbledon, going three rounds in each Slam. Don’t underestimate the Spaniards, but I think Daniell-Demoliner might just get through. They did lose their lone match against Murray-Soares in straights on clay earlier this season.

The other part of this section features Gonzalez-Young. They open with Robert Lindstedt and Jordan Thompson. Gonzalez-Young have not been able to reproduce the magic that brought them the unexpected trip to the French Open finals as they have gone 0-3 in their other matches played. Lindstedt is the regular doubles guy, but Thomspon has played plenty of doubles this year mainly with fellow Aussies to good results. He teamed with Thanasi Kokkinakis at Wimbledon, knocking off Rojer-Tecau in round one. At the French, he paired with Nick Kyrgios and made the third round. They knocked off Herbert-Mahut in round one. There is a pattern there if he can find a rhythm with Lindstedt for them to KO Gonzalez-Young.

The winner there goes up against either Andreas Molteni and Adil Shamasdin or Vasek Pospisil and Nenad Zimonjic. Molteni-Shamasdin have teamed up for a dozen matches this year, going 8-4. That might give them the edge in round one and this part of the draw could open up for them with Gonzalez-Young not being the strongest seeds.

Bottom Half Breakdown
Dodig-Granollers will need to refind their rhythm together and that makes them prone in round one against Wesley Koolhof and Artem Sitak. Koolhof-Sitak have gone 5-4 together this season, including a trip to the Atlanta final. They will be a tough out in round one. The survivor will battle Thomas Fabbiano and Yuichi Sugita or Alessandro Giannessi and Florian Mayer. I’d definitely side with either Dodig-Granollers or Koolhof-Sitak moving to round three.

Rojer-Tecau lead the other segment and will look to build on their Winston-Salem title with a run this week. They open with Damir Dzumhur and Dusan Lajovic. It would be stunning if the 12th seeds blew that win. They could wind up going against all-Argies with Diego Schwartzman and Guido Pella looking stronger and more experienced than Hyeon Chung and Yen-Hsun Lu. I really like Rojer-Tecau as the hot team here and they could easily ride that through to the quarterfinals, but their season has been a bit of a rollercoaster. They are one of those teams that has not been able to beat the truly elite doubles teams this year at all. On top of that, Dodig-Granollers did beat them at the French Open this year in three. Still, they are hot at the right time.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Herbert-Mahut (3)
Venus-Harrison (8)
Lopez-Lopez (11)
Baker-Mektic (13)

Top Half Breakdown
Herbert-Mahut will be expected to be major players in who wins the U.S. Open titles this year. They open against Robin Haase and Matwe Middelkoop. Don’t be surprised if the Dutch tandem challenges the third seeds some in that opener. They are both competent in doubles, so the French duo will need to be on point. The winners match up against either Christopher Eubanks and Christian Harrison or Mischa Zverev and Mikhail Youzhny. You would expect that Herbert-Mahut should get through this section and into the third round.

The other bracket in this half has Brian Baker and Nikola Mektic as the 13th seeds. This duo was hot early in the year with titles in Memphis and Budapest. They reformed last week in Winston-Salem for the first time in two months. They made the semis, but were oblierated 6-1, 6-0 by Rojer-Tecau. Baker-Mektic start with Malek Jaziri and Andrey Kuznetsov. The expectation should be for a seeded win. That sets them up against David Marrero-Benoit Paire or Steve Darcis-Dudi Sela. All four are decent doubles players, but won’t have the chemistry of Baker-Mektic. It would be a disappointment for the 13th seeds to not be in round three.

Bottom Half Breakdown
Venus-Harrison were not afforded a great draw with a dangerous French pairing as their first round foes in Fabrice Martin and Jeremy Chardy. Martin-Chardy have teamted up three times this season and made two finals, taking home the titles early in the season in Doha. This is a dangerous first round match-up and there is big time upset potential here. The winner gets either Marcin-Matkowski-Max Mirnyi or Taylor Fritz-Reily Opelka. Matkowski-Mirnyi would be the outsiders to watch. They played well on grass together, making the Wimbledon quarterfinals. Whether they can reproduce that in New York is a big question. I would not be surprised though if this part of the draw was blown up early.

On the other side, the Spaniards Marc and Feliciano Lopez might have a better draw, but do not have any sort of form coming into this week. They open against Andre Begemann and Divij Sharan. Sharan is without his normal partner Purav Raja as both decided to split prior to the U.S. Open believing their ranking as a team would not get them into the draw. So Raja is teaming with Leander Paes, while Sharan goes with the German. Even with the Spaniards in poor form, it’s a lot to ask for these two to mesh on the fly. Team Lopez MIGHT be able to snag an increasingly rare win.

The winner gets either Podlipnik Castillo-Vasilevski or Mannarino-Seppi. Podlipnik Castillo-Vasilevski are the ones to watch out for here. These are talented and experienced guys with chemistry. You probably didn’t notice, but they made the Wimbledon quarterfinals this year. Most of their work has been done at Challengers, where they have been ripping it up with three titles and four total finals appearances. They come in hot off one of those titles at the Portoroz Challenger. In a weak part of the draw, they have serious dark horse capability.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Kubot-Melo (2)
Bryans (5)
Marach-Pavic (9)
Groth-Qureshi (16)

Top Half Breakdown
Kubot-Melo begin their U.S. Open campaign against the mish mosh team of Ken Skupski and Guillermo Duran. The second seeds should get through with minimal hassle. Round two is where it could be testier with veteran Frenchmen Julian Benneteau and Eduoard Roger-Vasselin as likely opponents. Benneteau-ERV open against Basilashvili and Haider-Maurer, the latter of whom retired in his singles match in round one. Benneteau-ERV have only played together once this season, but have been regular partners in the past. Grass however has been their best surface with hard courts not producing the best results in the last two seasons when they have paired up. Do remember however that Roger-Vasselin teamed up with Fabrice Martin at the Rogers Cup to beat the current world #1s. An upset is definitely not unimaginable.

The other side of this half features Sam Groth and Aisam-Ul-Haq-Qureshi as the seeds. Both are solid doubles players, but have no experience together. That makes round one against Russians Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev intriguing. Neither of the Russians are regular doubles players, but they have played enough to be threatening. I would expect Groth-Qureshi to probably get out of round one, but maybe just barely. That’s where they will see either Paes-Sharan or Tipsarevic-Troicki. Leander Paes is playing in his 24th U.S. Open, but he hasn’t made big runs at Slams much in the past two years. He did team with Radek Stepanek to win the USO titles in 2013, but hasn’t been past round three since then. The all-Serb squad teams up for the second straight Slam. They went 1-1 at Wimbledon. Based solely on doubles prowess, Paes and Sharan are the pick, but not overly confident in that selection.

Bottom Half Breakdown
This could be a great segment of the draw with the Bryans and Marach-Pavic as the seeds. Those two played once this season with Marach-Pavic winning on grass in Stuttgart during their magnificent summer grass swing that ended in a Wimbledon finals appearance. After starting the summer well with titles in Atlanta, the Bryans have been unable to get past the top tier teams as the tournaments grew bigger and the fields got more battled tested. They lost in the semis in D.C. to Kubot-Melo and then were beaten by their nemesis team, Herbert-Mahut, both in Montreal and Cincinnati. The French are 5-0 lifetime against the Bryans.

The Bryans open with the all-Czech tandem of Roman Jebavy and Jiri Vesely. They have played together quite a bit this season, but appear best suited to clay where they did win a title in Istanbul. The Bryans should be alert though as this might be a tough test, especially given their struggles of the past few years. A win there might see them against dangerous Aussies Nick Kyrgios and Matt Reid. Kyrgios-Reid play Joao Sousa and Jan-Lennard Struff in round one. Kyrgios-Reid are 5-3 when teamed up in 2017 with wins over a couple of the seeds in this year’s field in Bopanna-Cuevas and Baker-Mektic. They are an X-factor in this segment, although the Bryans did beat them in Miami in straights.

Marach-Pavic open with young Americans Vasil Kukov and Danny Thomas. They are making their ATP and Grand Slam debut. As such, Marach-Pavic should get off to a comfortable start. A win would set them up against either Sa-Oswald or Krajicek-Withrow. The American team of Krajicek-Withrow have played together a ton this year, but all at lower level events. They might have a shot to upset Sa-Oswald who have not played together, but I would not expect them to go further than round two. Marach-Pavic really should be in great position heading to round three. They could get the Bryans in a great potential match, but I’m not sold the twins will be there.

Guesstimated Quarterfinals
Kontinen-Peers vs Bopanna-Cuevas
Murray-Soares vs Rojer-Tecau
Herbert-Mahut vs Podilpnik Castillo-Vasilevski
Marach-Pavic vs Benneteau-ERV

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

I think three of the four top seeds in this tournament have beneficial draws conducive to deep runs. Kontinen-Peers, Herbert-Mahut and Murray-Soares are those teams. You have to consider the third seeded Frenchman the favorites with their dominance at the two Masters events over the last month. It would be fitting for them to put a cherry on top of that big month with the titles in New York, where they won the first of two Slams together. A win would also catapult the Frenchies into the second spot in the rankings and possibly make for a really tight race down the stretch.

Murray-Soares have the most to lose here, defending champions’ points that could see them plummet in the rankings to where their spot in London at the end of the year will really have to be earned again. It would be fitting to see the two teams that have played cat and mouse at #1 and #2 most of this season face off with Kontinen-Peers and Kubot-Melo, but this doesn’t feel like that spot. Kontinen-Peers however could get right back on the heels of Kubot-Melo for the top spot if they take home the title. Kubot-Melo have nothing to lose this week since they were not a team last year, all points won add to their lead at the top.

I still really like Marach-Pavic as seeded “outsiders” with a chance to be in the mix at the end. They’ve shown the ability to beat Kontinen-Peers and played that epic five set final at Wimbledon against Kubot-Melo, so they are near or at the same level as the dogs. I will still go with a slod nod to Herbert-Mahut with Marach-Pavic and Kontinen-Peers as my secondary choices. Longshots seeded outside the top ten would include Rojer-Tecau and perhaps one of those unseeded teams like Benneteau-ERV if they can produce a stunner early.

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The Doubles DL: Loaded Field in Cincinnati

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Herbert-Mahut Make Big Move

It’s been a rather mediocre season for the French duo of Pierre Hugues-Herbert and Nicolas Mahut. Still, two big wins now have them in the thick of the race for a spot in the ATP World Tour Finals. Herbert-Mahut topped Rohan Bopanna and Ivan Dodig 6-4, 3-6, 10-6 to take the Rogers Cup doubles titles. It was just their second title this year, but the other also came in a Masters-level event in Rome this Spring. The win in Montreal catapulted the Frenchies five spots in the rankings and put them into fourth place. They now stand just a few hundred points behind the Bryans for third, but also just 15 points ahead of Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares who dropped down to the 5th spot.

PHHMahut

Slotting in behind Murray-Soares in 6th are Raven Klaasen and Rajeev Ram who moved up a spot from last week. Klaasen-Ram had a semifinal run in Montreal to give them the slim five point lead over Michael Venus and Ryan Harrison who stand in 7th. The French Open champs continue to struggle for wins in non-Slams, although they did end a four match losing skid on Monday in Cincinnati. Ivan Dodig and Marcel Granollers dropped down to the final spot in the race for London at #8. They will drop out of the race with Dodig partnering regularly with Rohan Bopanna at least through the U.S. Open. Bopanna-Dodig are ranked 22nd with just three tournaments played, but one big title could push them into the London conversation.

The top three spots were unchanged with Marcelo Melo and Lukasz Kubot remaning as the #1 team despite losing their opener in Montreal. They hold a 1,710 point lead over Henri Kontinen and John Peers. The Bryans remained in third, still well behind the #2 spot by 1,295 points. Unlike singles where many of the top players are missing in Cincinnati this week, the top seven men’s doubles teams are all in action at the Western & Southern Open this week with more positional jockeying likely ahead of the U.S. Open.

Cincinnati Features Battle For Overall #1 Ranking

Outside of the team races, there is also an interesting race for the #1 overall doubles player shaping up on the ATP tour. Marcelo Melo assumed the top spot in early July after winning the Wimbledon titles with Kubot. He took that spot from Henri Kontinen who had moved up to #1 overall with little fanfare in April despite Kontinen-Peers struggling at the time for positive results. Now in Cincinnati, it’s possible that Kontinen could recapture the #1 spot from Melo. Kontinen-Peers will again be the top seeds this week. After winning the Citi Open the week before, they were disappointing quarterfinal losers to Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic. Marach-Pavic look poised to get into the mix for London if they can secure a few wins this week.

Kubot-Melo will be seeded second and are in a rare spot where they have lost two straight matches after a 17 match win streak that started with the grass court swing. They were upset in their opener last week in Montreal by Fabrice Martin and Eduoard Roger-Vasselin with the top ranked team looking flat. Murray-Soares are seeded third in Cincy with the Bryans rounding out the top four seeds.

Western & Southern Preview

Play has already begun in Cincinnati with several doubles matches going down on Monday. So here is a look at the draw in progress with some quick thoughts on what could shake down in Cincinnati where there will be a different champion for the third straight year with the now defunct team of Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo winning here last year.

Kontinen-Peers Quarter (1)
It’s a tricky quarter for the top seeds with Marach-Pavic seeded 8th and placed in the other half of the quarter. Kontinen-Peers will open against Roberto Bautista Agut and David Ferrer, who beat Paolo Lorenzi and Albert Ramos-Vinolas in a super tiebreak on Monday. Marach-Pavic have a tougher get with Harrison and Venus as their first foes. Harrison and Venus beat Steve Johnson and Daniel Nestor in round one action 6-2, 6-3. Marach-Pavic were back together in Montreal for the first time since losing the Wimbledon final. Their chemistry was still there with an upset win over Kontinen-Peers before losing to the eventual champions, Herbert-Mahut.

Kontinen-Peers might be keen to get a shot at redemption against Marach-Pavic this week, but the quick conditions in Cincinnati will give the big game of Pavic a chance to shine again. Venus-Harrison could factor in as well after finally shaking off that losing streak, which makes this quarter really wide open.

Bryans Quarter (4)
Bob and Mike won’t be too happy to see Herbert-Mahut stuck in this quarter. The French duo beat them last week in Montreal and have now won all four career meetings between the two teams. The Bryans will face either Alexander Zverev and Leander Paes of the Spaniards, Marc and Feliciano Lopez. Team Lopez has been down this year, but contended two of the testiest Grand Slam matches of 2016 against the Bryans. They won both at Roland Garros and the French Open in three sets. They are just 8-14 together this season and have lost five straight. It will be an all-French opener on the other side with Herbert-Mahut battling Martin-ERV. Martin and Roger-Vasselin took down John Isner and Donald Young 10-6 in a super breaker to open on Monday.

This is another difficult quarter to predict with tough teams around every turn. You’d like to thnk Herbert-Mahut might be about to reel off a big win streak after last week, but their opener is tough. If they make it through that, then you like their chances although the Bryans have rarely been stopped short of the semifinals in Cincinatti.

Murray-Soares Quarter (3)
This might be the toughest quarter overall in a loaded field. Murray-Soares have been a bit up and down in the last month or so after winning two titles on grass early in June. Last week in Montreal, they dropped their opener to Gael Monfils and Benoit Paire. This week, they face Spaniards Fernando Verdasco and Pablo Carreno Busta. Both are excellent doubles players, so this will not be easy. Verdasco-PCB won their opener in Cincy against Dominic Thiem and Karen Khachanov. On the other side, 6th seeds Klaasen-Ram have a tough task as well with Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau as their first opponents. Rojer-Tecau defeated Jared Donaldson and Stefan Kozlov in straight sets on Monday. These two teams played once before back in 2015 when Klaasen-Ram prevailed 11-9 in a super tiebreak. Rojer-Tecau are a tough out, but have had problems beating top tier teams this season.

If this comes down to the two seeded teams, it could be one of the better matches of the tournament. Murray-Soares and Klaasen-Ram met four times last year with both teams winning twice. Three of the four matches went the distance. Give Klaasen-Ram a slight edge.

Kubot-Melo Quarter (2)
It’s been rare for Kubot-Melo to struggle for wins and a two match losing skid isn’t quite cause for alarm just yet. They do get a good early draw this week. They will face either Diego Schwartzman and Mischa Zverev or Nikola Mektic and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi. Mektic-Qureshi would certainly be the more problematic team if they win, but certainly a very winnable match still for the top ranked duo. On the other side of the quarter, 7th seeds Rohan Bopanna and Ivan Dodig should be afforded a chance to meet Kubot-Melo in the quarters. The 7th seeds take on either Jack Sock and Jackson Withrow or Juan-Sebastien Cabal and Fabio Fognini. The chemistry of Bopanna-Dodig should be enough to see them past either team.

This is one semifinal spot that definitely should fall to a seeded team. Bopanna-Dodig are dangerous and in rhythm after making the Rogers Cup final. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the title mix again this week in Cincy.

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

Last week, I said it felt like we wouldn’t get another #1 vs #2 situation like we saw in the Citi Open final and this week again has that sort of feel to it. It’s a loaded field with a small draw, so that means tough matches almost every round for the seeds. For me, that also means more chances for upsets. If one of the top two teams is going to get to the final, I’d give a slight advantage to Kubot-Melo who have a slighty better draw over Kontinen-Peers. For me, Bopanna-Dodig and Marach-Pavic are the teams to watch this week as possible “outside” title contenders.

WTA: Makarova-Vesnina Take Over Top Spot

Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina have firmly established themselves as contenders to the throne as the WTA’s best team. The Russians won the Rogers Cup titles in Toronto last week and in doing so, moved past Martina Hingis and Yung Jan Chan for the top spot in the rankings. They now hold a 450 point lead of Hingis-Chan who lost in their second match last week in Canada. The newly minted number ones are the top seeds in Cincinnati this week. The Russians have won ten straight matches.

MAKVES

Hingis-Chan will be seeded second this week for the Western & Southern Open. Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycove serve as the third seeds. They made the semifinals in Toronto last week. Sania Mirze and Shuai Peng are slated in as the fourth seeds. Mirza’s disasterous recent run continued in Canada last week, where Peng was forced to withdraw due to a knee injury. The pair had won their opener at the Rogers Cup. Of late, Mirza’s partners have had trouble staying health with Yaroslava Shvedova, Coco Vandeweghe and Kirsten Flipkens all coming up injured while partnership with the former world #1.

Still waiting for that Hingis and Mirza reunion. Am I the only one who sees the sense it makes?

The Doubles DL: Rogers Cup Previews

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Top Teams Edging Further Ahead

As the summer hard court swings to back-to-back Masters events, the doubles draw will again feature all the teams in the running for the ATP World Tour Finals. Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo remain well ahead in the top spot in the rankings as the only team qualified for London. Last week however, they saw a 17 match win streak ended in the Citi Open final at the hands of the second ranked team, Henri Kontinen and John Peers. Kontinen-Peers had been fairly mediocre since winning the Australian Open, but they have now turned it back up a notch with the season in its final few months. Kontinen-Peers now also have two wins over Kubot-Melo this year with the third meeting between the two at Wimbledon seeing Kubot-Melo taking it in a tense five set thriller. For Kubot-Melo, they have been the most consistent team still with five titles and two other finals appearances in 2017.

The top two duos on the ATP Tour look to have separated themselves quite a bit in the rankings race. Kubot-Melo come to Montreal with a large lead still at around 1,900 points over Kontinen-Peers. Kontinen-Peers put some space between themselves and the third ranked Bryans. Kontinen-Peers lead the Bryans by about 1,300 points. Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares round out the top four in the rankings. They come to the Rogers Cup just 75 points behind the Bryans for third. Last week showcased these top four teams who were all in the semifinals. Clearly at this point, these four teams have established themselves with good consistency in the last four to six weeks.

Other Seeds Provide Depth to Draw

This week marks the return of French duo Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Herbert-Mahut have not played together in doubles since a second round exit at Wimbledon. This week’s fifth seeds have not been able to capture the magic of 2015 and 2016 this season. They are just 16-8 after winning 73 combined matches the previous two seasons. They have just one title this season, winning in Rome – which was also their only finals appearance in 2017. Behind them in the sixth slot are Raven Klaasen and Rajeev Ram. Klaasen-Ram scored both their titles early in the year on hard courts in Delray Beach and Indian Wells. As a team, they are just 1-2 all-time at this event.

Rohan Bopanna and Ivan Dodig reunited as the 7th seeds. They have teamed up just one other time this year at Queen’s Club, where they made the semifinals. Both played with different partners last week in DC with both losing in the quarterfinals. The 8th seeds are Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic who are back together for the first time since losing that epic five set battle in the Wimbledon final to Kubot-Melo. They went 11-3 on grass as they seemed to find a groove after going just 7-7 since they first teamed up for the Miami Open. It will be interesting to see if they can rekindle the chemistry that propelled them from non-factors to the #11 spot in the rankings. They are just over 300 points back of the 8th spot, so they could move up rapidly again if they catch fire.

ATP Rogers Cup Draw Preview

The top half features top seeds Kontinen-Peers, Herbert-Mahut, the Bryans and Marach-Pavic. Kontinen-Peers didn’t get the best of draw as they could see Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau in their opener. Rojer-Tecau battle Santiago Gonzalez and Donald Young in round one. Gonzalez-Young will be tough in their own right. The surprise French Open finalists have been a tough out everywhere they have played. Rojer-Tecau do own a win over Kontinen-Peers from early in the season in Dubai. Either team has upset potential even with Kontinen-Peers in good form. Marach-Pavic are the other seeds in their top quarter who could block them from the semifinals. Do watch out for the team of Nikola Mektic and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi. They are a first time pairing, but both are skilled doubles players. They open against Juan-Sebastian Cabal and Pablo Carreno Busta. Cabal’s regular partner Robert Farah is still recovering from an injury suffered from Wimbledon, forcing his fellow Colombian to seek new partners.

In the other quarter in this half, Herbert-Mahut and the Bryans are the seeds. Herbert-Mahut will see either Marc and Feliciano Lopez in round two or Lucas Pouille and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Herbert-Mahut are 1-3 against Team Lopez over the last season and a half. The Bryans had a six match winning streak halted by Kubot-Melo in the Citi Open semifinals. They have had trouble beating the elite teams on tour this season. They will face either Michael Venus and Ryan Harrison or Grigor Dimitrov and Juan Martin Del Potro. Venus-Harrison have had trouble outside of Slams where they are a combined 9-1 with the French Open title and Wimbledon quarterfinals appearance. Outside of those two tourneys, they are just 5-6. They have lost both matches they have played on this hard court swing. Perhaps they can change that luck this week against Dimitrov and Del Potro.

This is a difficult half to call. Kontinen-Peers have a tough road to get to the final. The pluses are that the Bryans have lost to them twice and Herbert-Mahut have not found much consistency this season. Marach-Pavic are the X-factor for me. If their chemistry is still there, they could make a push this week. Of the unseeded duos to monitor, I think the winner of the Rojer-Tecau/Gonzalez-Young match could stun Kontinen-Peers and use that as a catalyst to a big run.

Bottom Half Sets up for Kubot-Melo to Get Back On Track

Kubot-Melo are seeded second in the bottom half with Murray-Soares, Bopanna-Dodig and Klaasen-Ram as the other seeds in this half. Kubot-Melo will get either all-Canadian pair Frank Dancevic and Amil Shamasdin or all-French duo Fabrice Martin and Eduoard Roger-Vasselin to start. The all-French pair would be a tougher match-up, I think. Klaasen-Ram will likely face Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil in round two. The Canadians face Roberto Bautista Agut and David Ferrer in the opening round. The Spaniards will be pesky, but Nestor-Pop really should win in the end. Klaasen-Ram might be the team to cause the most issues for Kubot-Melo. They beat Kubot-Melo in the Indian Wells final, but Kubot-Melo beat them at the Ricoh Open on grass in June.

In the other half, Murray-Soares may have to deal with Sam Querrey and Steve Johnson in their opener. Johnson-Querrey battle Paolo Lorenzi and Albert Ramos-Vinolas in a very winnable match for the Americans. Focus might be the thing that keeps the Americans from pulling off the upset. Johnson is already out of the singles draw and Querrey is likely to be a little big heavy legged from travel after last week’s Los Cabos victory. Bopanna-Dodig will open against the one-off team of Karen Khachanov and Dominic Thiem who upset Nicholas Monroe and Jack Sock in a super breaker on Monday in round one. Those one-off teams do pull their fair share of round one stunners, but often flame out after that. Bopanna-Dodig should have an edge there as both Khachanov and Thiem focus more on singles.

This one smells like a highly competitive half that likely comes down to one of the seeds getting through: Kubot-Melo, Murray-Soares or Klaasen-Ram. Murray-Soares made the final last year in Toronto, but lost to Kubot-Melo twice early in the year on hard courts in Miami and Indian Wells. Both came in super breakers, so the difference between the two is small.

2007 was the last time a team outside the top four seeds took home the Rogers Cup doubles titles. This week doesn’t look like that streak might end, although perhaps one of the lower seeds could slip into the mix like Klaasen-Ram or Marach-Pavic. I don’t think we’re going to get 1 versus 2 again this week with Kontinen-Peers for me the more likely not to get to the final.

Toronto Could Tilt WTA Doubles Race

It will be an interesting week in Toronto for the Rogers Cup doubles draw on the WTA side. The Citi Open didn’t have many glamour names taking part last week as second seeds Shuko Aoyoma and Renata Voracova beat unseeded duo Eugenie Bouchard and Sloane Stephens in the championship match. The top seeds, Sania Mirza and Monica Niculescu, were ousted in the semis by Bouchard and Stephens. It continued a long slump for Mirza without a finals appearance. This week, she’ll partner up with Shuai Peng who has been announced as Mirza’s partner during the hard court swing to the U.S. Open. They are seeded fourth this week.

Wimbledon champions Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina return for the first time since their triumph in London. They serve as the top seeds this week and sit just 260 points behind Martina Hingis and Yung Jan Chan to the top spot in the rankings. Makarova-Vesnina are the defending champions. Hingis-Chang will be seeded second in Toronto. They have combined to secure five titles this season, but have fallen short in both Grand Slams they have participated in together in 2017.

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The third seeds are an interesting combo with Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova teaming up. Remember they won the bronze medal in Rio last year, so they do have some chemistry. Strycova was Mirza’s regular partner when the year started, but they split as Strycova wanted to focus more on her singles career. Safarova of course is without her regular partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands who continues her long rehab from that knee injury suffered at Wimbledon.

The other team to watch out for in the bottom half with Hingis-Chan and Safarova-Strycova is the all-Aussie combo of Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua. They rank fourth in the year-end race right now and have been a consistent threat. They made the French Open final and the quarters in Wimbledon. They have three titles together this season. Much like the Bryans on the men’s side though, they have struggled to beat the top teams when presented with the chance.

This would be a great week to get the #1 vs #2 seeds and the #1 vs #2 teams in the final. Hingis-Chan beat the Russians on clay earlier this season, so let’s see who is better on hard courts heading towards the U.S. Open.

The Doubles DL: Citi Open Features Top Teams

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Top Teams Clash at Citi Open

As the hard court season moves into high gear, all the top doubles teams will be in action this week in Washington, D.C. Interestingly enough with the ATP’s convoluted rankings system for doubles and seeding, the top ranked team is not seeded #1 in D.C. Henri Kontinen and John Peers enter as the top seeds despite trailing Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo by over 2,000 points for the top spot in the rankings. Kontinen and Peers are however ranked higher in the individual doubles players’ rankings, so they get the nod as #1 with Kubot-Melo slotted in as the second seeds. Rounding out the top four seeds this week are Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares as the number threes and Atlanta champions, the Bryans Brothers, as the number four seeds.

Kontinen-Peers made the semifinals here last season. The Bryans are former four-time champions with their last Citi Open titles coming in 2015. Both Kubot-Melo and Murray-Soares are competing in D.C. for the first time. Kubot did team with Alexander Peya last year though to make the final. 2016 Citi Open champs, Daniel Nestor and Edouard Roger-Vasselin, are not competing together this year. ERV is teaming with Steve Johnson, while Nestor partners with Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi.

The top half of the draw with Kontinen-Peers and Murray-Soares as the seeds has plenty of danger in it. In addition to the Johnson-ERV combo, there are also the Zverev Brothers teaming up, Ivan Dodig and Mate Pavic as well as French Open champs Michael Venus and Ryan Harrison. Dodig-Pavic are hot coming in off the doubles titles on clay in Hamburg. Last week was the first time the two Croats had paired up since 2013. They have played five tournaments together in their careers and made the finals three times. There is obvious chemistry and danger for the other teams in this draw.

They open against the Zverevs and would need to beat Kontinen-Peers to get to the semifinals. Kontinen-Peers have been fairly mediocre since their Australian Open win, but do come in off a quarterfinal run at Wimbledon. Still, I expect them to be pushed in their part of the draw. Venus-Harrison stumbled last week in doubles continuing their off again, on again play outside of Grand Slams. Watch them this week, but Murray-Soares should feel okay with their draw that seems them open with Johnson-ERV and then possibly playing Venus-Harrison.

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Bottom Half Features World’s Top Team

The bottom half of the draw is where you’ll find the surging Bryan Brothers and the world #1s, Kubot and Melo. Kubot-Melo look to have an advantageous draw, perhaps the best of the seeds. The 2017 Wimbledon champs opened Monday with a 7-5, 7-5 win over Dominic Thiem and Robert Lindstedt. As you can see above, they’re also the first team to qualify for the year-end Tour Finals. That speaks to what they’ve done already this season. Kubot-Melo now wait for either Grigor Dimitrov and Lucas Pouille or Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau in the quarterfinals. Kubot-Melo carry a 15 match win streak into the next round and they’ve also gone 12-2 on outdoor hard courts this season. They set up as the ones to beat despite their #2 seeding.

The Bryans did a nice job in Atlanta last week, but figure to face stiffer competition this week. That starts in round one where they face Nicholas Monroe and Jack Sock. Monroe-Sock are no strangers as they’ve already teamed up once this year in Miami, where they made the final against Kubot-Melo. It marks the 7th straight year that they have played at least one tournament together. It’s also interesting to note that Sock is playing doubles for a second straight week after teaming with his brother Eric in a first round loss last week in Atlanta. Sock has stayed with a lighter slate of doubles and still doesn’t appear interested in adding them back to his Grand Slam schedule, but is obviously dangerous with the right partner.

Keep the Bryans on upset alert in round one with the winners likely to control that quarter for a semifinal run. The winner plays either Rohan Bopanna and Donald Young or the aforementioned team of Nestor-Qureshi. Nestor-Qureshi played a little together last season, going 5-3. They are a bit intriguing in this part of the draw, but might need the Bryans out to have a big chance at running deep.

In the end, Kubot-Melo have a nice draw to get to the final and further solidify their spot at the top of the rankings. The other finals spot looks to come down to Kontinen-Peers, Dodig-Pavic or Murray-Soares. Doubles could use a 1 vs 2 in this one in what is a pretty good rivalry that no one is noticing. Kontinen-Peers beat Kubot-Melo on clay in Rome and then Kubot-Melo won one of several thrillers they played at Wimbledon, when they took down Kontinen-Peers 9-7 in a 5th set in the semifinals. Let’s put the rubber match on a hard court this week in D.C. to see who’s got whose number in 2017.

Mirza Partners Without Peng for D.C.

After announcing that she’ll team with Shuai Peng heading towards the U.S. Open, Sania Mirza goes off of that proclamation as she teams with Monica Niculescu this week at the Citi Open. Don’t read anything into it. This was planned as Mirza-Peng have planned on teaming up for the Rogers Cup and Western & Southern Open for their preparation for the U.S. Open. Mirza needed a partner and chose Niculescu whom she teamed up with in 2016 to win the New Haven doubles title. This will be just their third time teaming together and first since New Haven. Mirza is seeking her second title of the season this week. She hasn’t won since the opening week in Brisbane, where she paired up with Bethanie Mattek-Sands for the titles.

Niculescu is an interesting partner and an underrated doubles player. Don’t forget she just made the final at Wimbledon alongside Hao-Ching Chan. Niculescu won her 8th career doubles title earlier this season in Biel, Switzerland. She teamed with Su-wei Hsieh for that trophy. Last year, she won three doubles titles with three different partners, including Mirza of course in New Haven. They look to be the team to beat this week without a doubt.

They hold the top seed in D.C. this week in a fairly week draw. The second seeds this week are Shuko Aoyama and Renata Voracova. Aoyama-Voracova are teaming up or the first time in 2017 with their last tournament together coming last season in Nottingham on grass. They have had some success together in the past with a finals run on clay in Nurnberg last year and another in Auckland in 2015. Back in 2014, they won their lone title together in Tokyo. In this weak draw, they look the likeliest challengers.

Last Week’s Wrap/Rankings Update

There were familiar names in the winner’s circle on the three ATP World Tour stops last week. I already mentioned the Bryans winning in Atlanta and Dodig-Pavic taking the Hamburg titles. The third champions’ pair last week came in Gstaad in the form of Austrians Oliver Marach and Philipp Oswald. It was a nice presto change-o for Marach who switched from Pavic at Wimbledon to Oswald on clay. Marach flips partners again this week, pairing with Nikola Mektic in D.C. where they open with Kontinen-Peers.

There was only one really noteworthy move in the men’s doubles rankings last week and that was the Bryans moving up to number three. After winning in Atlanta, they slipped past Murray-Soares for the third spot. They stand just 75 points ahead of Murray-Soares heading to DC this week. The rest of the top eight spots in the race for London remained the same.

If you dig doubles, make sure you keep up with @tennispig and join me on Tuesdays for the down low on doubles.

The Doubles-DL: Rajeev Ram to Focus on Doubles

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Bryans Lead Field in Atlanta

The Bryan Brothers return to action in Atlanta on Tuesday. They are the top seeds in the draw and currently find themselves ranked fourth despite winning just one title this season. Opposite of them are Slam specialists Michael Venus and Ryan Harrison aka Team Venison. Venus-Harrison enter the week just 145 points behind the Bryans. The third seeds in Atlanta are Nicholas Monroe and Donald Young with Purav Raja and Divij Sharan seeded fourth. Raja-Sharan won their opener against Treat Huey and Robert Lindstedt in a super tiebreak on Monday.

One of the fun teams to watch in Atlanta will be Jack Sock teaming with his brother Eric. It will be the first time the Sock Brothers have teamed up for a professional event. It’s a great story after Eric’s battle a few years ago with bilateral pneumonia and a rare infection called Lemierre Syndrome. Eric was on life support for eight days during that stretch, so being able to play alongside his brother this week is a dream come true for both. They will play Hyeon Chung and Jeevan Nedunchezyihan. Even if they lose big, it’s a great story.

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As for the draw itself, the Bryans have a tough opener against Aussies Matt Reid and John Patrick Smith who are coming off a finals loss in Newport over the weekend. They’ll be a tough out. Monroe-Young are the seeds in the top half with the Bryans and are both solid doubles players that have played together many times. Still, if the Bryans can escaped round one, this is a draw conducive to a finals run.

In the bottom half, Venus-Harrison have to contend with Raja-Sharan and Santiago Gonzalez and Scott Lipsky, who are dangerous floaters in this half. Gonzalez-Lipsky won their opener Monday and battle Raja-Sharan for a semifinal spot. Gonzalez-Lipsky have played together in Atlanta three previous times with the quarters as their best finish. Raja-Sharan won their lone meeting back in 2014 in clay in Houston. Venus-Harrison seem the class of the bottom half, but in a 250-level event I’m wondering about their motivation. They did win their first title together at a 250 in Estoril this season, but they are just 1-3 in non-Slams since that win.

Regular Teams Off

Most of the teams taking part in the clay tournaments in Gstaad and Hamburg are mix and match for the week as most regular tandems are off for the week. That will change next week in Washington at the Citi Open. Wimbledon champions and world #1s Marcelo Melo and Lukasz Kubot are confirmed to lead the field along with Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares, the Bryans, Venus-Harrison and more. Both halves of the Wimbledon runners-up, Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic, will also be in the field. They will however be with different partners with Marach pairing with Nikola Mektic and Pavic teaming with Ivan Dodig for the second straight week. Dodig-Pavic are currently taking part in the German Open in Hamburg.

Ram Will Focus on Doubles

Rajeev Ram made it official this week as he announced his retirement from singles play on the ATP World Tour. It does not come as a surprising move with Ram ranked #237 in singles. Ram went 57-93 in his ATP singles career with two career titles, both coming on grass in Newport. The 33-year-old has found success in doubles easier to come by with 13 career titles. His best success has come recently with Raven Klaasen. The duo has won six titles in the past three season and lost a thrilling super tiebreak to Henri Kontinen and John Peers in last year’s ATP World Tour Finals championship match.

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Ram has three titles this season in the doubles rank with his last coming with Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi in Newport. His other two titles came with Klaasen at Delray Beach and Indian Wells. Klaasen-Ram are currently ranked 7th in the doubles race for London. Ram said the wear and tear the last few years of playing singles and doubles had begun to take its toll on his body. Ram lost his final singles match last week in Newport to Matthew Ebden.

Mirza Chooses Peng for Hard Court Season

On the WTA front, Sania Mirza will play with her sixth different partner this year as the season flips to hard courts. Mirza has announced that she will pair with Shuai Peng as the season heads towards the U.S. Open. Peng is a two-time Grand Slam winner who started the season in a winning partnership with Andrea Hlavackova. They won the titles in Shenzhen to start the season and followed that up with a finals appearance at the Australian Open. They would make the final in Dubai before parting ways after Miami, where they made the semifinals.

Peng played with Ying-Ying Duan during the clay swing with a 2-2 mark ending with a third round exit at the French Open. Peng has not played doubles since Roland Garros. Apparently this partnership has been in the making for some time, but this is the first time that the stars have aligned for Mirza and Peng to play together. Mirza will be hoping that this partnership can return her to the winner’s circle. Mirza has just one title this season which came during her first tournament this season in Brisbane, teaming up with Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

Keep following @tennispig for the low-down on doubles.