Monfils Seeks Back-to-Back Titles
Washington, D.C. is the host site for the Citi Open as main draw play on Monday. Gael Monfils is the returning champ and seeded sixth in this year’s draw. He’s been stellar at this stop in his career. Monfils has only played D.C. three times, but has made a semifinal run in 2007, a finals run in 2011 and last year’s title run. La Monf will be hoping that his luck continues at the Citi Open after losing his lone match at the Umag Open on clay in Croatia last week. This year’s top seed is 7th ranked Dominic Thiem, who will be making his D.C. debut. Rounding out the top four seeds are 2015 champ Kei Nishikori, 2014 champ Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov.
As a 500-level event, there are 48 players in this week’s field and that means a lot more intrigue with many stronger players returning to the court for the first time since Wimbledon. The rest of the top eight seeds includes 2016 semifinalist Alexander Zverev, Monfils, Lucas Pouille and two-time D.C. quarterfinalist Jack Sock. There are 16 seeded players in all this week with red hot John Isner in as the #9 seed. Isner has won consecutive titles in Newport and Atlanta, and has fared well here in the past. Isner is 25-9 all-time in D.C. with finals trips in 2007, 2013 and 2015.
The Citi Open will also see the return of Nick Kyrgios who has been M.I.A. since pulling out at Wimbledon due to a recurring hip injury. Juan Martin Del Potro is also in this week as the 13th seed with a near perfect 14-1 record at this tournament. DelPo is a three-time winner in D.C. in 2008, 2009 and 2013. This will be his first trip back since winning that last title four years ago.
Early Bird Specials
With this tournament being the first hard court tournament for many of these players since the Spring, there has been plenty of room for early upsets. Last year was the low water mark since the field expanded to 48 players in 2013, with just three seeds falling in their opening matches in D.C. Prior to that, from 2013-2015, at least five seeds had gone one and done each year with six being the most in 2014.
Let’s take a look at this year’s seeds and see if we can identify the next batch of upsets.
1. Dominic Thiem
I include Thiem here because it’s his first year playing D.C. and this is still the time of year where he has yet to get going right away. He’s usually in pretty decent condition by the U.S. Open, but early in the hard court swing in the summer, I think he could be slow out of the gates. He’ll get either Vasek Pospisil or Henri Laaksonen which will help. He just beat Pospisil in straights at Wimbledon and Laaksonen is better on clay. I think Thiem will get off okay, but you still have to think about an upset due to the layoff and surface.
4. Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov takes a wild card entry this week to get into the Citi Open field. Dimitrov is only 5-4 during his career in D.C. and did lose his opener last year to Daniel Evans. Dimitrov has had plenty of trouble with early losses again this year, losing his first match at five of his last nine tournaments. His first encounter this year could be tough with Kyle Edmund or Hyeon Chung fitting that bill. Chung is still working his way back from an ankle injury, but Edmund played solid tennis in Atlanta and could pose the biggest threat. Chung did give Dimitrov a run in Australia this year though, so if his fitness is improved, he could make Dimitrov work hard for a win as well.
8. Jack Sock
Sock was again fairly underwhelming with a win and a loss in Atlanta. Kyle Edmund beat a lethargic effort from Sock 6-4, 6-1 in his second match at the BB&T Atlanta Open. In D.C., he’ll face either Marius Copil or qualifier Sekou Bangoura. Sock did make back-to-back quarterfinals here in 2015 and 2016, but is lacking form at the moment. Copil would likely be the much tougher opponent as he sports a similar style of play, but again neither Copil or Bangoura looks especially tempting in the form category to call an upset. Sock however looks poor enough where you cannot rule it out.
10. Nick Kyrgios
Kyrgios withdrew from Atlanta with the hip still a bother, but drew plenty of attention by playing in a “celebrity” type basketball game in Australia last week after that announcement. Until he proves his health, I would keep Kyrgios on upset alert every week. He will play either Go Soeda or Tennys Sandgren in his round two opener in D.C. He’s never played at the Citi Open and while Soeda and Sandgren don’t inspire fear, Kyrgios needs to prove he can make it through a match. I’d keep this on the lighter side of the upset alert, but anything seems possible with NK.
12. Mischa Zverev
Outside of his quarterfinal run at the Australian Open this season, Zverev has always been more miss than hit on outdoor hard courts. Mischa went 1-3 in the Spring on outdoor hard courts and is 58-78 all-time on the surface. He will draw either qualifier Ramkumar Ramanathan or Guido Pella to start. Neither is particularly dangerous on this surface, but given Zverev’s struggles on everything but grass recently – it may not be easy for him to advance.
14. Steve Johnson
Johnson gets the tough draw and by now, everyone knows that his mental state will be called into question as he continues to deal with the death of his father in recent months. Johnson does have history on his side with back-to-back semifinal showings in D.C. His opener this year will come against Daniil Medvedev or Reilly Opelka. Both have big games that can match Johnson, but it’s Medvedev who would pose the biggest risk. The Russian is lacking on this surface since making the Chennai Open final in the opening week of the season, but he’s got the big serve and ground strokes to keep pace with Johnson. If he wins in round one and is healthy, he’s a threat.
15. Kevin Anderson
Anderson had a string of quarterfinal finishes here from 2012-2014, but has crashed out in his opener each of the last two years. He lost to Alexander Zverev in 2015 and Malek Jaziri in 2016. Fate dictates that he could see Jaziri again in his opener if the 33-year-old gets past an Italian qualifier. Jaziri only owns that one win against Anderson, but he did also play him tough in a straight sets loss at Roland Garros this season. He took Anderson to tiebreaks in two of those sets, so he knows what to expect from the big man. It would be an interesting rematch in round two.
16. Ryan Harrison
The Atlanta runner-up slips into the final seeded slot in D.C. Harrison is just 4-4 all-time at the Citi Open and could face Marcos Baghdatis to open. Baghdatis faces qualifier Edan Leshem. The 20-year-old Israeli is contesting his first main draw match at the ATP level in 2017 and just his fourth overall. Baghdatis has not been in a good groove, but should like his chances over an inexperienced player. If he wins, Baghdatis is 2-0 against Harrison with both career wins on hard courts. That includes a four set win at last year’s U.S. Open.
Unseeded players have done a pretty solid job of making at least one deep run in D.C. since the field expanded back in 2013. 2016 was the first year since the expansion that an unseeded player did not make the semifinals. It was also the first year in that span that an unseeded player failed to make the quarterfinals. it was a sharp change from 2015 when half the quarterfinal spots went to unseeded players. In 2013 and 2014, two quarterfinal spots went to unseeded players, so it has definitely been a trend with the field of 48.
Who can spring a surprise this year? Let’s look.
It might be a stretch to think the young Russian can make noise this week. This will be his first go-round for the summer hard court swing, so he’ll be learning on the job. Still, his game is big enough to trouble on this surface if he can find his rhythm. He’s in a part of the draw with Johnson and Dimitrov as seeds. I think Johnson would be the tougher one to get past, but that’s only if Steve has his head in the game and that’s really going to vary still from match to match with the emotional roller coaster he’s been on.
Edmund may have found the confidence needed to produce some good results this week as well. He made the semifinals in Atlanta last week, beating Baghdatis and Sock as well as taking Harrison to a third set. If his body holds up, he should eventually grow into a dangerous hard court player with his big forehand as a major weapon. He opens with Chung whose quickness can cause problems. Chung didn’t look all that interested in his first match back last week after a lengthy injury layoff, so if Edmund can find his serve – he should win. A win would then set him up against Dimitrov who you never really know about at this point.
The Tunisian vet is one of those scrappy guys who has actually made round three at the Citi Open two of the past three years. Making his draw more intriguing is that if he gets past qualifier Alessandro Bega in round one, he could see 15th seed Kevin Anderson next. His lone win in five tries against Anderson? Last year in D.C. He might still have to get past Thiem to get to the quarters, but he’d certainly have some confidence at that point.
Quarter #1 Seeds
Dominic Thiem (1)
Gael Monfils (6)
Mischa Zverev (12)
Kevin Anderson (15)
This is an interesting quarter that appears pretty top heavy, but with some strings attached. With Thiem having never played here and Monfils being Monfils, you never know if the highest seeds will make it through. Monfils, if healthy, would seem to be the smaller risk in this quarter with his solid history in D.C. His draw to get to a quarterfinal looks fairly simple with Zverev the only seed in his way. Monfils will open with Stefan Kozlov or Yuki Bambri. That should allow for a good start. Monfils has never played Zverev, so that could be an intriguing battle if it happens. Mischa’s serve and volley game is tougher to do consistently on hard courts, but it would challenge Monfils to stay in things mentally.
As for Thiem, the draw is good, it’s whether he’s able to start strong that is the question. I think it says something about his aspirations this summer that he’s playing in D.C. this week and not at home in Austria on clay. As such, he should be focused. The biggest question for him in his half of the quarter is whether or not he can beat Kevin Anderson. Anderson is 5-0 against Thiem. I think the Austrian wouldn’t mind if someone did him a favor and knocked off Big Kev before their potential third round meeting.
If Monfils shows up ready to go, this looks like a good quarter for him to get through. The unseeded players in this section outside of Jaziri don’t inspire much in the way of an upset frame of mind. Thiem could still be a viable semifinal option here if he gets his game going well to start. Avoiding Anderson would be helpful and he’s 3-0 vs Monfils. La Monf has less questions in his part of the draw, so that’s my guess on this quarter’s semifinalist.
Quarter #2 Seeds
Milos Raonic (3)
Jack Sock (8)
John Isner (9) * WITHDREW
Ryan Harrison (16)
It was supposed to be Isner and Harrison arriving with the best form, having just played each other in the Atlanta final on Sunday. That changed though as John Isner pulled out of the draw after two straight weeks of winning in Newport and Atlanta. Inserted into his spot in the draw is lucky loser Marc Polmans, who is much more known for his doubles play than singles. Polmans will be playing just his second main draw match in singles at the ATP level.
Let’s start down in the bottom half of this quarter where Sock is now the only seed. Sock again might be weary if he sees Copil in his opener. Copil is a hard hitting, hard serving type who can keep pace with the American. Sock’s game still doesn’t look quite right, so I think he’s ripe for the picking again this week early on. If he survives his second rounder, then his draw may have opened up with Isner’s departure. Either Jared Donaldson or Dudi Sela will now see Polmans, instead of Isner. That’s a marked improvment for both men and should put a spring in both their steps for their round one clash. Sela is the tougher out to me with Donaldson still trying to find his best this season. It’s an opportunity though for Donaldson to get back on track a week after a disappointing finish in Atlanta.
Up top, Raonic arrives in D.C. with his consistency still a major issue. He hasn’t had a bad season, but it’s been a battle almost every step of the way. The dominant play that he was known for in his rise up the rankings has been very hit or miss this year. He’s still an obvious threat on the surface and facing either Nicolas Mahut or Thomas Fabbiano to open his D.C. campaign should afford him the chance to get off with a win. Harrison as laid out earlier, could face a stiff test with Marcos Baghdatis as a potential first opponent. Baghdatis needs to get past qualifier Edan Leshem and in spite of Baggy’s poor recent run, I still think he’s the better of that pairing. The interesting thing will be to see if Harrison can carry over his Atlant success this week. He was mired in a big slump in singles play prior to last week.
All of a sudden, Raonic looks a firmer favorite in this quarter due to Isner withdrawing from the tournament on Monday. The Canadian’s up and down play still doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence for me though and Harrison is someone to watch. If Harrison can avoid an early upset, he’s got confidence against Raonic with a 2-1 career mark. That includes a four set win at last year’s U.S. Open. Without Isner, I think this gives both Sock and Harrison a boost. Sock probably needs help to get Raonic out of this quarter before a potential quarterfinal to have a shot with Raonic holding an 8-2 record against Sock. For me, this could come down to a Raonic-Harrison match in the third round with the winner looking to be in the best shape to keep moving forward.
Quarter #3 Seeds
Grigor Dimitrov (4)
Alexander Zverev (5)
Nick Kyrgios (10)
Steve Johnson (14)
The only seed arriving without baggage for me is Zverev. He’s been pretty steady all season and gets to work in person with Juan Carlos Ferrero for the first time. Sascha added Ferrero to his coaching team earlier in the season, but has only been able to communicate with him from afar to this point. It will be interesting to see what JCF can add in person. As for the draw, Zverev will need to be careful in his opener. He will get either Jordan Thompson or Ruben Bemelmans. On this surface, I’d expect that to be Thompson. The Aussie may not be ready for prime time yet, but he’s proven to be a tough out on hard courts in the past.
Even if it’s Bemelmans, Zverev will need to find his game quickly against an opponent who already has court time under their belt. Kyrgios is the big question mark in the top half with Sascha. When healthy, he’s capable of beating anyone on this surface, but I don’t know that NK is near 100 percent yet. Kyrgios has two wins over Sascha, both on hard courts this season. If NK is struggling against either Soeda or Sandgren in his opener, don’t expect the Aussie to be around long. If his hip isn’t a hindrance, his serve is fully capable of carrying him over either one of those players. I think you’ll know a lot about his fitness in that match.
In the other half, the question mark that is Grigor Dimitrov is the lead seed. Dimitrov has the tough opener with either Edmund or Chung. Either one could knock him off and Dimitrov as outlined above, has had plenty of early exits in 2017. Johnson is a tricky pick in this half. Based on history, you’d give Johnson a legit shot to make a run. The question is how he is mentally with the passing of his father still weighing on him. Having had several weeks away from the game could have helped him heal a bit more in that respect. Johnson too will have a tough opener though with Medvedev or Opelka. If Johnson starts strong there, then watch out. He’ll be on the path to potentially make it three straight semifinal appearances in D.C.
This quarter is a 50-50 coin flip for me as to whether it’s all seeds doing the damage or it gets blown up with upsets. I think with the tougher draws in the bottom half for Dimirov and Johnson, we could see something funky here. Also remember that Zverev didn’t do much after D.C. on the North American hard court swing, so he still has plenty to prove.
Quarter #4 Seeds
Kei Nishikori (2)
Lucas Pouille (7)
Gilles Muller (11)
Juan Martin Del Potro (13)
No one is happier to see grass courts in the rear view than Nishikori, it’s just not a great surface for him. Hard courts however do jive with NIshikori’s superb baseline game and I expect that he is really ready to get back on the surface and prove himself again. Del Potro being in his half is a real landmine though with the Argentine holding a 5-1 recording against this week’s second seed. DelPo won their lone meeting this season on clay in Rome. Nishikori has either Tim Smyczek or Donald Young to open and that shouldn’t be much of an issue. Del Potro waits for either qualifier Alexios Halebian or Lukas Lacko. Unless Nishikori and Del Potro can’t shake off the rust, we should get a round three treat between the two.
The other half is interesting with Pouille and Muller as the seeds. Pouille has never played at the Citi Open and Muller is just 2-2 here the past two years. The positives for both again are rooted in the draw being pretty weak in their part of the quarter. Pouille will be facing either Tommy Paul or Casper Ruud in his first match. Paul did put together his best ATP results last week in Atlanta by making the quarterfinals, where he was dismantled in straights by Muller. Ruud has been better on clay in his young career, but he does like playing from the baseline and has some big groundies. He should contend well against Paul.
Pouille has been inconsistent to say the least this year and hard courts have not been good for him. He made the semifinals in Dubai early in the season, but is just 6-5 on the season on the surface. From a talent level, it’s difficult to see Paul or Ruud beating him. Looking at Pouille v.2017 though, you can’t say he’s a shoe-in. Muller gets the winner between Dimitry Tursunov and Mitchell Krueger, so I can see him winning to start. With Pouille’s inconsistencies, Muller may have a shot to break his win one, lose one streak in D.C. this week.
For me, this quarter should come down to the winner of the Nishikori-Del Potro match in round three. That should serve as a catalyst for either to push through their quarterfinal match and into the semis. History says Del Potro, but he has only strung together as many as three wins in a row twice in nine tournaments played this season. Interestingly enough, the #2 and #13 seeds have been heavily involved in the championship mix at the Citi Open recently. The #2 seed has won the last three titles and the #13 seed has been the runner-up twice in that same span. One of those streaks ends, but I think the Nishikori-Del Potro winner is going to be a real threat to the title regardless.
AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO ….
The top seed has only been in the final at the Citi Open once (2013) since the field expanded to 48 players and I think that streak may continue this week. The top half of the draw doesn’t have Isner in it now and that means Monfils (gulp) is the guy who might look the best to make a deep run. The bottom half I do focus on that fourth quarter with Nishikori and Del Potro as a potentially pivotal match that I hope we don’t get robbed of this week. The guy who may sneak in with less attention despite being a top tier seed is Sascha Zverev, if the German #NOWGen gets it going quickly.
I think the winner comes from the bottom half of the draw with Nishikori, Zverev and Del Potro as the guys who may have the best chances. Despite that lopsided head-to-head, something in the Pig’s gut this week is saying Nishikori. This is the time of year when he usually turns it back up a notch. Or it could just be gas. I ate at Movie Tavern last night.