2017 Swiss Indoors Basel Preview

SWISS17

No Nadal Means Federer Can Close Points Gap

This week, there will be no talk of another #Fedal showdown after Rafael Nadal withdrew from the Swiss Indoors Basel due to knee soreness. Rafa probably needed the break after playing in back-to-back finals in Shenzhen and Shanghai, the latter of which ended in his fifth straight defeat at the hands of Federer. Federer now assumes the top seed for this event that he has won seven times in the past. If the Swiss continues his home dominance in Basel, a trophy would net him 500 points in his efforts to chase down Nadal for the year-end #1 ranking. With both the Paris Masters and Nitto ATP World Tour Finals still on tap, the Swiss isn’t dead in that effort yet despite a nearly 2,000 point deficit heading into this week.

The second seed for this event will be Marin Cilic. The Croat is the defending champion in Basel. He was consistent in the Far East swing, making the final of the Japan Open and losing in the semifinals of the Shanghai Masters to Rafael Nadal. Cilic holds a 10-3 all-time mark in Basel after last year’s tournament win, also making the quarterfinals on two other occasions. Rounding out the top four seeds for the Swiss Indoors Basel are David Goffin and Juan Martin Del Potro. Goffin may be running a bit low on gas after a heavy post- U.S. Open schedule. After winning back-to-back titles in Shenzhen and Tokyo, he’s gone just 1-2. That include an unexpected quarterfinal loss in Antwerp this week to Stefano Tsitsipas.

Del Potro has looked solid the last two weeks with a semifinal run in Shanghai and a title win on Sunday in Stockholm. DelPo won this event twice in 2012 and 2013. The remaining seeds are led by #5 Jack Sock. Roberto Bautista Agut makes his Basel debut as the 6th seed. Adrian Mannarino and Mischa Zverev finish off the seeded field. Zverev did make the semifinals last year as a qualifier in his first run at this event.

Early Bird Specials

Basel has been a beacon for early upsets of seeded players, especially seeds in the top four. In the last four years, the #2 seed has dropped his first match in three of those four years. Multiple seeds have lost their first matches in Basel in three of those four years as well with three seeds knocked out early in 2016. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the seeds who could be in peril early in the draw this week.

2. Marin Cilic
Cilic gets that pesky #2 seed after Nadal’s withdrawal from the tournament and I outlined above how poorly the second seed has done early here in Basel recently. Cilic draws Fernando Verdasco to open in what will be their 13th career meeting. They’ve contested two of those matches indoors in Paris in 2009 and 2011, splitting the spoils with both going three sets. Verdasco had not done much this season, but comes off of one of his better tournaments with a semifinal showing in Stockholm. He lost a three set thriller in a tiebreak to eventual champion Juan Martin Del Potro. I don’t know that the Spaniard pulls off the stunner, but it sets up to be a tough match for Cilic where he could be pushed hard.

3. David Goffin
Given Goffin’s form the last few weeks, I’d keep him on this list. He faces qualifier Peter Gojowcztk to open in Basel. Gojo showed he can win at this level and on this surface with the win in Metz earlier this Fall. He’s been spottier in finding wins since then, but is rarely thrashed off the court. With match play already under his belt, the German could have a chance to shake things up. Goffin is 7-3 all-time in Basel, but most of those wins came during his 2014 finals run.

5. Jack Sock
Sock opens against his former doubles pal Vasek Pospisil and that might make this one more interesting that it is on paper. On paper, Pospisil hasn’t even been getting out of qualifying mostly. If you count his qualifying matches, the Canadian is 5-11 in his last 16 matches with just one of those wins in a main draw. Sock has been equally unimpressive, ending a five match losing skid last week in Stockholm. The American lost his next match to Fognini and just really has not had much momentum in the back half of the season. I don’t think much of Pospisil, but I’d say the same about Sock and that means this could be an upset.

7. Adrian Mannarino
The Frenchman draws Belgian Ruben Bemelmans who is coming off a semifinal on home turf in Antwerp last week. Perhaps that was just a product of playing on home soil with Bemelmans scoring three wins – one more than he had at the ATP level all year long. Mannarino has been up an down since the U.S. Open. He made the Tokyo final, but also has lost his opening match in two of four tournaments. Keep him on upset alert here.

Outsider’s Edge

Unseeded players have made deep runs at the Swiss Indoors Basel routinely in recent times. An unseeded player has made the semifinals in each of the last four seasons with two of those four years seeing two unseeded players in the semis. That includes last year when Mischa Zverev crashed the party as a qualifier. As with most events, there are a few outsiders to watch this week, so let’s break it down.

Peter Gojowczyk
He’s got the difficult opener with Goffin, but if he finds his way past the Belgian than he could really make another run on this surface. Jack Sock is the other seed in his quarter and he is definitely beatable in his current form.

Henri Laaksonen
You’ve gor the hometown vibe for the Swiss, although he is 0-4 in his previous treks to Basel. He does open against Borna Coric who he has beaten twice already this season though and then he would see the Cilic-Verdasco survivor in round two. It might be curtains if it is Cilic, but stranger things have happened – especially with the two seed at this tournament.

Julien Benneteau
The Frenchman has been playing fairly well indoors of late, including a finals run at the Challenger level and a quarterfinal run in Antwerp last week. He made the quick turnaround through qualifying here and opens with Donald Young. Benneteau could have to go through Del Potro in round two, but there is a feeling for me that DelPo might flame out after a long week in Stockholm. Bautista Agut is the other seed in Benneteau’s quarter.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Roger Federer (1)
Adrian Mannarino (7)

Breakdown
Federer starts against Frances Tiafoe who could play him tough for a little but, but the American rarely is able to finish matches strongly against top tier competition. Fed’s second rounder would be Benoit Paire or Steve Johnson on tap. Paire has lost four straight since making the final in Metz. Johnson has some decent results, but nothing overwhelming. It’s a toss-up who wins that one. Either way, Federer is 6-0 combined against them and likely to push to the quarterfinals. In the other half, Mannarino may be out early with a tough opener against Bemelmans. The survivor gets Yuichi Sugita or Denis Shapovalov. Sugita has been in good form with a semifinal and two quarterfinals in three of his last four tournaments. He could be the unseeded player who makes a little noise.

In the end, Federer can’t be unhappy with this draw. There isn’t a player in the mix really who has had any sort of success against the Swiss. Expect to see Fed alive and well in the business end in Basel.

Quarter #2 Seeds
David Goffin (3)
Jack Sock (5)

Breakdown
I can see an unseeded player getting into the semifinal mix in this quarter. Goffin and Sock have both been in iffy form the last few weeks and will have threats in their way. Goffin has Gojowczyk to start and then would face either Hyeon Chung or Paolo Lorenzi in round two. That match should be easier than his opener, if he survives. Sock reasonably could make a nice run this week with Pospisil in round one and then either Robin Haase or Marco Chiudinelli. Haase hasn’t won since his surprising semifinal at the Rogers Cup this summer. Chiudinelli rarely wins at this level, but maybe he’s got the right formula against a player on a losing streak.

This really is a decent set-up for Sock. I’m just not sure he’s capable of taking advantage of it at this point. With me expecting upsets, this could well end up being Goffin vs Sock for a spot in the semifinals. Tepid nod to Sock in this quarter with Gojowzczyk as the rank outsider.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Juan Martin Del Potro (4)
Roberto Bautista Agut (6)

Breakdown
Del Potro arrives as the form player with the Stockholm title in his back pocket and also a trip to the Shanghai Masters semis in his last two tournaments. That is part of the reason I am a little bit hesitant on his prospects this week. I do think he’s fairly safe in round one against Joao Sousa, but round two could be a speed bump. DelPo would see either Donald Young or Julien Benneteau. Both are crafty enough to push the Argentine if he’s less than 100 percent motivated. The other half of the quarter sees Bautista Agut as the lead seed. He starts with Mikhail Kukushkin. Kuku should at least force RBA to show up ready in round one. Alexandr Dolgopolov or Ryan Harrison awaits in round two. I don’t know that either has the consistency to KO RBA in that spot.

Del Potro has been brutal on RBA the last two times that they have met, so if that is the quarterfinal match-up, Del Potro is the favorite to advance. I’ll give the slight edge to Del Potro with a little rest, although I will not be shocked if he exits before that point either.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Marin Cilic (2)
Mischa Zverev (8)

Breakdown
Cilic looks the part of a player who would be driving to a second straight final possibly out of this quarter. The seed next to his name though is a historical landmine. Verdasco will test him out of the gates and if Borna Coric is able to finally get past Henri Laaksonen, he could provide a stiff test. Coric has taken a set off of Cilic the last two times they have met. In the other half, Zverev has a winnable opener against Leonardo Mayer. His second round foe could wind up tougher. American Jared Donaldson battles qualifier Marton Fucsovics in round one. Fucsovics hasn’t been an easy out, so he could be a tough match-up an capable of springing some upsets.

Cilic makes all the sense in the world here, but I’m a historical buffoon and I’ll say he is not in the mix. I think that could leave this quarter to someone like Verdasco or Zverev or even Coric.

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

Do you go against the guy who is 61-9 in Basel with seven titles and 12 finals appearances in all in Basel? It is impossible to not like Federer to at least get through to the final. I do think there are some guys who could challenge him in the final. Cilic and Del Potro are those guys. Hopefully some mish mash of that trio is the final we get here, because I think it would be pretty high quality. In the end though, I’ve got to go with Federer to get the title and close that points gap on Nadal just a little bit.

Advertisements

2017 U.S. Open R4 Preview: Sam Querrey vs Mischa Zverev

SAMMISCHAUSO17

Sam Querrey can make it back-to-back Grand Slam quarterfinal appearances with a win on Sunday as he battles 23rd seed Mischa Zverev for the first time. Zverev can make it two quarterfinals in 2017 with another surprise win after first completing that feat at the Australian Open.

(17) Sam Querrey vs (23) Mischa Zvrev

Querrey dropped his first set at this year’s Open in round three, but battled back to down Radu Albot 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-4. After being broken in the first set, the American was never pressured after that as he won 80 percent of his first serve points and 66 percent off his second. He was broken the one time on two tries and smashed 19 aces. After the hot opening set from Albot, Querrey was able to make inroads and break him four times on nine opportunities. For the week, Querrey has a first serve win rate around 82 percent with 48 aces, 38 of which have come in the last two rounds.

Zverev stunned most by dismantling 10th seed John Isner in straight sets in round three 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (5). Isner was off the mark with his serve, especially his second that won just 38 percent of the points. Zverev was able to break Isner three times on five chances. Mischa’s serve and volley tactics wore down the American and the German was super clean off the ground with 34 winners and just seven unforced errors. Isner had 41 miscues. Zverev was not broken in the match and only saw three break points against his serve. That was a big change from the two five setters in rounds one and two, where Mischa allowed for 20 break chances with this opponents cashing in six times.

Mischa S&V Unit

The 29-year old German’s serve and volley tactics got big notice early in the season when Zverev upset Andy Murray at the Australian Open. Murray had no tactical answer for Mischa who played some brilliant tennis and at other times just seemed to frustrate Murray enough with his tactics that the Scot made the crucial mistakes. Querrey certainly will have to be ready for an entirely different challenge on Sunday. Unlike Isner however, Querrey isn’t bad at the net as an experienced doubles player and Sam certainly moves better than Isner.

The challenge for the 17th seed is going to be quick thinking decision making off of Zverev’s serves. You know with little doubt that Mischa will serve and volley about 90 percent of the time, so the pressure comes with the return of serve for Querrey. For me, you have to be decisive in what you do. You cannot let Mischa’s movement dictate your return too often or you’ve already lost the point. Obviously the smartest play will be to try and hit away from Zverev, but Mischa is skilled at mixing up his direction to where that is difficult to pinpoint.

I’m always interested to see if anyone can pressure Zverev by using the serve and volley against him, but it’s so rare now that not many players even attempt it. Querrey certainly does not fir the bill, although I think his volley skills are good enough that he could pull it off in spurts. In basketball the saying is that teams who like to press, don’t like to be pressed. I’d be interested to see if someone like Zverev who basically presses you at the net would enjoy having that tactic coming back at home. One thing Querrey should look to do is implementing some lobs here and there. Make Zverev pay for his aggressive net rushes and even if you don’t win the point, it at least gives him something to think about.

Other Tactical Talk

An obvious need for Querrey is to hold his own serve and not allow Zverev many chances. The more easy holds that the American can get, the less energy he also will be expending in his own service games. He will extend himself plenty against the serve and volley, so those service games are a must for him to hold. Querrey has obviously done very well in that category since a slow start against Gilles Simon in round one. A critical factor will also be how well Querrey converts on break chances. If he’s serving well and getting break chances, one break in a set can hand him a win.

When Querrey can get into longer rallies with Zverev, he will likely target the forehand of the German. It’s a weakness in that it lacks a ton of punch, so forehand to forehand exchanges should favor Querrey. Zverev’s backhand is more adequate and consistent. Zverev will obviously try to target the American’s backhand when there are rallies to stay away from his powerful forehand. Querrey’s two handed backhanded is decent though, but not as big a threat certainly to rack up winners.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Nothing is impossible in the bottom half of the draw where we are guaranteed a first time Grand Slam finalist. Most expected Zverev to run out of gas after two five set matches and it was Isner who looked like the tank was on empty instead. I do think Mischa needs to get off to a good start more so than Querrey. Even with what he did last round, there are miles on those legs for the German and they do add up. For Querrey, I think he needs to find that service rhythm early and often and he should be okay. That will give him chances to stay even with Mischa, even if the serve and volley is working its magic.

Both of these players are approaching 30 and this is a once in a lifetime chance, so you can expect to see some effort from both to move ahead one more round. I think Querrey is the more consistent player especially on this surface and if he doesn’t have a dip in his serve level, I would expect that pressure will wear on Zverev some as the match moves on. Mischa may execute the serve and volley exquisitely again, but if he’s falling behind in his service games – Querrey should be able to pick him apart more readily. I do think this will be a challenge and a good match, but give me Querrey to advance.

Prediction: Querrey wins in four sets

2017 U.S. Open Preview: Quarter #3

USOQ317

Seeds
Alexander Zverev (4)
John Isner (10)
Jack Sock (13)
Sam Querrey (17)
Gilles Muller (19)
Mischa Zverev (23)
Karen Khachanov (25)
Kevin Anderson (28)

Sascha Looks to Serve Up First Slam Quarterfinal Berth

Alexander Zverev arrives at this year’s U.S. Open not just as a young upstart with a bright future, but a young upstart with a bright present. His summer has brought him two titles at the Citi Open and Rogers Cup. Now? It’s time for him to take the next step and prove that he is a legitimate threat at Grand Slams. To date, his best result at a Slam was this year’s fourth round run at Wimbledon. At the U.S. Open, he’s only been twice and only been as far as the second round. This should be a year of firsts in New York if Zverev continues to harness his big weapons off the ground and can find the serving that was so consistent in D.C. and especially Montreal. That is the key for me as Zverev can match groundies with almost anyone, but has lacked a bit of consistency in the serving department.

The good thing for Zverev ahead of this year is that his quarter is full of what look to be comfortable match-ups. Among the seeds, you can’t find anyone who brings the all-around game that he does. The best you can see is some bigger servers like Isner, Querrey and Muller who might be able to keep sets close and get Zverev to crack under some pressure late in sets on serve. Muller does own a win over Zverev this season, while Zverev has handled Isner on all three occasions that they have met. Muller may be the biggest stumbling block for Sascha

Zverev’s Half Looks Comfortable

For Sascha, he should be in good shape early with qualifier Darian King to start and then either Borna Coric or Jiri Vesely in round two. Coric does own a win over Sascha, but that came in 2015 in Cincinnati and that seems quite a while ago now. The seed expected to see him in round three is Kevin Anderson and that’s been a comfortable 4-0 match-up in favor of the fourth seed, including a couple more wins this summer. If Zverev is in good form, he shouldn’t find it that difficult to work through to round four against this lot.

Opposite of Zverev in this half are Sock and Muller as seeds. I already outlined Sock’s struggles this summer and he will need to arrive with a better mindset to start against a tough Aussie in Jordan Thompson. If he doesn’t serve better, he’ll find himself out of the tournament early. A win for Sock would get him John Patrick Smith or Thomas Fabbiano and I would fancy the American to get to round three at that point. Muller starts with Bernard Tomic who is always capable, but rarely caring in one that Muller could blast him off the court rather easily if the Aussie is in paycheck mode.

A win for Muller would see him through to a second round date with Paolo Lorenzi or Joao Sousa. Neither inspires much confidence of fighting off the big serving lefty, although Muller was a bit skittish this summer with losses to Tommy Paul in D.C. and Albert Ramos-Vinolas in Cincinnati. Still, you’d think he has a good shot for round three and a possible showdown with Sock. Sock owns a three set win over Muller back in 2015 at Indian Wells in a third set tiebreak. If he gets to that match, Sock may actually have a shot to keep his momentum going with the crowd behind him.

Zverev really has as good a draw as you can ask for to get a shot at his first Slam quarterfinal. I think the looming threat might be Muller or Sock if he gets hot and finds some confidence, but I would still feel pretty decent about Sascha’s chances to get through to round four.

Bottom Half Looks Wide Open

With John Isner and Sam Querrey as the lead seeds, you can see why there might be plenty of room for upheaval in the other half of this quarter. Isner started the summer red hot with another title in Atlanta and a good run to the semifinals in Cincinnati. The issue could be some fatigue from a long summer. Surprisingly as usual, Isner has only been as far as round four once since his lone quarterfinal run in 2011. He opens with Pierre Hugues-Herbert whose serve would not seem to match up well, but Isner matches can often turn on just one or two points in a serve-centric setting. A win for Isner would set him up against Hyeon Chung or Horacio Zeballos. Chung found some decent results later in the summer after returning from an ankle injury. I wouldn’t expect either to match Isner punch of punch if he’s near 100 percent.

Mischa Zverev is the seed opposite Isner in that segment. He opens against American teen Thai-Son Kwiatkowski and I would expect Mischa’s savvy to prove too much in round one. A win would net him a match against either Lukas Lacko or Benoit Paire. Both would be tricky for Zverev and on any given day could certainly spring an upset. Interestingly, Mischa might be the one guy who could KO Isner earlier in the draw. He’s beaten him the last two times that he played him, including at this year’s Australian Open and on clay in Geneva.

Querrey’s part of this half has the talented Khachanov in it as well. Querrey has Gilles Simon to open with and the Frenchman has beaten him four of six meetings overall. Even if he is not in great form, Simon’s vanilla style seems to give Querrey some problems. If Querrey survives round one, then he would see the winner between Christopher Eubanks and Dudi Sela. Eubanks might have the serve to stick with Querrey, but he’s short on experience. Sela has beaten Querrey a few times, but been outmatched their last two meetings.

Khachanov has Yen-Hsun Lu to start and then would face the winner of Ernest Escobedo versus Radu Albot. This is a good set-up for Khachanov who has more power than anyone in that group. Khachanov hasn’t yet harnessed his skills into wins at Grand Slams, but this could be his time to secure a few wins. If he gets by Lu, he has a real shot to challenge for a spot as deep as the fourth round. His serve is going to be the big question. It’s got pop, but producing consistent results with it will be the question as he goes round to round. Off the ground, his power will pose problems.

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

Alexander Zverev has all the talent in this quarter and is the multi-dimensional threat to beat. The question is whether his serve will let him down or mentally, whether he will get caught up reading his own headlines. His brother could be a sneaky sort in this quarter even though he’s not had great results since early in the season. His serve and volley style is unique though and has the ability to throw opponents off course. At the end of the day, this feels like a Zverev, Zverev, Sock or Muller quarter. Kevin Anderson definitely can push deep in this quarter, but having to get through Sascha Zverev is going to make it near impossible if he doesn’t play the match of the year. For me, this is Sascha’s time to shine and he needs to take advantage of the guys who are missing, not to mention being in the half of the draw without Nadal and Federer.

2017 Citi Open Preview

CO17

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.

Outsider’s Edge

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.

Daniil Medvedev
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.

Kyle Edmund
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.

Malek Jaziri
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.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Dominic Thiem (1)
Gael Monfils (6)
Mischa Zverev (12)
Kevin Anderson (15)

Breakdown
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)

Breakdown
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)

Breakdown
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)

Breakdown
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.

2017 Wimbledon R3 Preview: Roger Federer vs Mischa Zverev

FEDMISCHA17

Roger Federer and Mischa Zverev meet for third time this season with a spot in Wimbledon’s fourth round as the prize. Federer has won the two previous encounters in straight sets. The last came in Halle on grass where the Swiss won 7-6 (4), 6-4.

(3) Roger Federer vs (27) Mischa Zverev

Federer got a full match in the second round against Dusan Lajovic after his first round match against Alexandr Dolgopolov was cut short due to injury. Federe was broken in his opening service game in the 1st set, but then found his way back for a 7-6 (0), 6-3, 6-2 win. Fed was solid on serve, taking 81 percent of the points off his first and second serves. He was not broken after that initial break of the match. He saved the next three break chances against him. His ground game was decent with 31 winners to 15 unforced errors. He would break Lajovic four times on eleven chances. After the match, Federer admitted to feeling anxious prior to the match for some reason, but once his nerves settled, it was curtains for Lajovic.

Zverev looked as if he would cruise into round three after blasting Mikhail Kukushkin off the court in the first two sets in round two. Kukushikin would mount a rally however that forced the 27th seeded German to rally for a five set win 6-1, 6-2, 2-6, 3-6, 6-4. Zverev’s second serve was leaky in the Kukushkin match, winning just 37 percent of the points played. His first serve was not consistent as he won 69 percent of the points overall. It will be a bit concerning to Mischa that his first serve fell off significantly after the first two sets where he was winning 80 percent of the points. Even in the final set, he would win just 62 percent of the points off his first serve. He would combat those difficulties by executing his serve and volley game plan well, racking up 58 winners to just 24 unforced errors.

Halle Signaled Mischa’s Best Against Federer

The close straight sets loss to Federer last month in Halle marked Zverev’s best effort against the Swiss. It was a stark contract to the 6-1, 7-5, 6-2 whipping at the Australian Open in January. It was also a massive improvement from the double bagel beat down Federer delivered the last time the met on grass in Halle in 2013. What’s different? Certainly Zverev is a more consistent player than four years ago when they met on grass and certainly grass allows his serve and volley style better success than the hard courts in Melbourne.

The biggest difference last month over previous encounters was better serving from Mischa. The German was broken just once on four chances, winning 75 percent off his first serve and 55 percent off his second serve. That was a big uptick in form from Melbourne when he won just 53 percent of his first serve points and 52 percent off his second serve. Zverev was broken six times on 15 chances in that meeting. Don’t forget the most important aspect of the serve and volley is being able to serve at a high level to set yourself up for your volley game.

Tactically Speaking

Having just played, it will be interesting to see any tweaks these two make for each other on Saturday. Federer talked about the differences between Melbourne and Halle in how Zverev returned his serves. He said Mischa took a deeper stance on grass, something he was not expecting. As such, he’s not quite certain if Zverev will keep with that on Saturday or switch it up a bit. Fed said the main thing going into this match is getting used to hitting against a lefty on a short turn-around. As such, he’ll be warming up against lefties and then working on-the-fly to adjust to the varying serves and angles the lefty can bring from his serves.

For Federer, the big thing on grass is always his serve. When he’s in the zone, his serve is almost impossible to return and he gets a ton of cheap points. Watching their Halle encounter, I noticed that when Fed was hitting his spots out wide or up-the-T, Zverev was almost always out of position if he was able to make a return. That left Federer the chance to move in and finish off the point quickly. Off the ground, Federer did his share of serve and volley work in Halle against Mischa, but he also didn’t mind doing a little baseline grinding. When he did, the key to him winning points was hitting with authority off the forehand and backhand sides.

I think a huge key for Federer is being decisive in hitting the ball off return and off the ground. He has to remain proactive and not reactive. He can’t try to anticipate where Zverev will go when he gets to net. The Swiss has to choose his shoot and hit it with power. If Zverev gets his racquet on the ball and nails a volley for a winner, so be it. I think variety is a good thing for Federer when Zverev attacks the net. Don’t always try to extend him out wide and don’t always go right at him. Switch it up and leave him guessing.

As for Zverev, the serve must be better than it was against Kukushkin. In Halle, Zverev had success with his variety and he’s got to be able to hit with precision again on Saturday. Much like Federer, when Mischa extends his opponent with precise serving – it keys his volley game at the net and results in winners more often than not. Zverev said he came in against Kukuskin almost every time and there were not very many moments in Halle when he didn’t come in against Federer on his serve. Unless his legs are still feeling it from the five set match last round, don’t expect Mischa to stray from the serve and volley. Also, look for him to go at Federer’s backhand which has been a bit iffy early on this week.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

It’s difficult to see the upset potential here given that Zverev is 0-9 in sets played against Federer in their careers. Admittedly, Halle signaled that he can stay with Federer better in sets on grass at this stage and that does mean something. It will only mean something though if Federer is struggling. If Zverev can serve at a high level, it means he’ll have the chance to finish off those volleys at the net for easy points. The problem is that was an up and down proposition last round.

I’m not overly concerned about Zverev’s ability to recover from that five set match as it barely ran over three hours due to his tactics. He should be just fine from a fitness standpoint. That means it comes down to execution. I think the sets will be tight and perhaps Zverev can break the streak and steal one, but most signs point to Federer getting this done in straight sets.

Prediction: Federer wins in straight sets