2017 Citi Open Preview

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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

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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

2017 Wimbledon Draw Preview

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Will the old guard continue their dominance over Grand Slams yet again or is it time for a new name to make an impression by taking the trophy? We’ll find out over the next two weeks. History suggests that the title at the All-England Club will still likely come down to Andy Murray, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic. After all, those three have won 13 of the last 14 men’s singles titles at Wimbledon.

There has at least been a few outsiders to that “big three” in the past few years that have been playing the final few days of Wimbledon with a chance to make history. Milos Raonic and Tomas Berdych made the semifinals last year as seeds outside the top five. Raonic made his first Slam final here in 2016. In 2015, Richard Gasquet crashed the semifinals as the 21st seed along with the familiar names of Murray, Federer and Djokovic. In 2014, Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic both made the semifinals as seeds outside the top five, #11 and #8 respectively. 2013 continued the trend with 8th seed Juan Martin Del Potro and 24th seed Jerzy Janowicz slipping into the semis along with Djokovic and Murray.

Relative “outsiders” aka those outside “The Big Four” can make inroads at Wimbledon and be in the mix at the business end of the tournament. Whether one of those can push into the final and actually upset the apple cart by taking the title has yet to be done since the era of Federer began at Wimbledon with the first of his nine titles in 2003. With all that to chew on, let’s break down the brackets and see who might sneak into the semifinals this year.

Quarter #1 Seeds
Andy Murray (1)
Stan Wawrinka (5)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (12)
Lucas Pouille (14)
Nick Kyrgios (20)
Sam Querrey (24)
Fabio Fognini (28)
Fernando Verdasco (31)

Top Half Breakdown (Murray)
Murray will be a bit weary of a potential second round meeting with Dustin Brown. The Scot opens against lucky loser Alexander Bublik first and it is his first go around at Wimbledon. He did get his first Slam win at the Australian Open earlier this year against Pouille, so there’s definitely some talent there. Bublik will be an interesting test for Murray because the Russian-born 20-year-old loves to play trick shots. That might be good practice for a potential meeting with Brown in round two, who also has an unorthodox style on grass. Fognini is the seed opposite of Murray in this portion of the bracket in the battle for a third round spot. I fancy the winner of Jiri Vesely vs Illya Marchenko to have a good shot to beat the Italian. Fognini has only made it past round two twice at Wimbledon in eight trips.

In the bottom portion of this half, you’ve got two heavy hitters in Pouille and Kyrgios as the seeds. Pouille has the better match-up in the opening round against Malek Jaziri. The Frenchman will be hoping to match last year’s surprise quarterfinal run. He played well in the lead-up to Wimbledon, winning in Stuttgart before crashing out in Halle to Florian Mayer. Pouille’s second round match-up will be tough against either Denis Shapovalov or Jerzy Janowicz. Both have big games. Shapovalov might be more confident after a good showing at Queen’s Club where he beat Kyle Edmund and then lost a tight three setter to Berdych. Kyrgios has Pierre Hugues-Herbert to start and he’ll be tested if there are any lingering issues with his hip or shoulder. Round two could feature Kyrgios against Benoit Paire who opens against Rogerio Dutra Silva. Paire owns two wins over NK, including one at the 2014 Australian Open. If a seed makes it through to round four, you’d fancy it to be Pouille rather than Kyrgios.

Murray wouldn’t mind that one bit as he’s beaten Pouille four out of four times and all have been in straight sets. The big thing for the Scot will be fitness. He’s battled a hip issue in recent times, but claims to be feeling better. That will play out early I would think with the unorthodox guys he could face testing his movement with their odd-timed shots.

Bottom Half Breakdown (Wawrinka)
Wawrinka had turned the tide of his past Wimbledon failures with successive quarterfinal runs in 2014 and 2015. Last year however brought him back to the land of the early exit as he was taken down in round two by Del Potro. The Swiss again has a difficult draw with up and comer Daniil Medvedev to start. The Russian made three straight quarterfinals in the grass build-up tournaments, including the semifinals last week in Eastbourne. Two things Medvedev has yet to do however are winning a Grand Slam match and beating a top ten player. He’ll attempt both against Wawrinka who has lost in round one five times at Wimbledon.

Survival for Wawrinka in round one would see him meet Tommy Haas or Ruben Bemelmans and perhaps feel better about making a deeper run. Verdasco is seeded to be the third round opponent, but he’s got to get past Kevin Anderson in round one. If he does, you’d like Verdasco’s chances to beat Andreas Seppi or Nortbert Gombos in round two. If it comes down to Wawrinka and Verdasco for a spot in round four, they’re level at 3-3 lifetime and 1-1 on grass. The Swiss does hold the edge at 2-0 in Slams, including a 2015 meeting at Wimbledon.

The other part of this half sees Tsonga as the lead seed along with Querrey. Tsonga takes on Brit Cameron Norrie. Tsonga has a great track record at Wimbledon with a career mark of 28-9. He has had more off years however recently with a second round exit in 2013 and third round exit in 2015. Last year, he did make the quarterfinals. Norrie shouldn’t be much of a bother unless Tsonga is totally off his game and a second round match against Simone Bolelli or Yen-Hsun Lu also looks good for the 12th seed. That could leave him in round three to face Querrey. The American faces Thomas Fabbiano to start and then would see either Carlos Berlocq or Nikoloz Basilashvili.

In what looks to be a fairly weak part of the quarter, it would be a bit surprising not to see Tsonga vs Querrey for a spot in the fourth round.

Predictions
In spite of the questions we have about Andy Murray heading into Wimbledon, this appears to be a good set-up for him similar to Roland Garros. There, he got off to a solid start and then grew into the tournament and found a rhythm. He will look for the same here and the match-ups should play for him to get to the quarters. It should come down to how healthy the hip is for the top seed. Opposite of him, I think there is room for an uprising. It might not necessarily be an unseeded player who takes the reigns and makes the quarters. Think Querrey or Verdasco, but don’t discount Anderson of Medvedev if they can get off to the shock start.

Projected Quarterfinalists: Murray, Querrey

Quarter #2 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (4)
Marin Cilic (7)
Kei Nishikori (9)
Gilles Muller (16)
Roberto Bautista Agut (18)
Ivo Karlovic (21)
Steve Johnson (25)
Karen Khachanov (30)

Top Half Breakdown (Nadal)
It’s an interesting half of this quarter with Nadal as the lead seed. He’s got big servers/hitters in Muller, Karlovic and Khachanov in this part of the draw. That isn’t great news for Rafa who has struggled against guys who can hit big and paint lines on this surface. Since back-to-back finals appearances in 2010 and 2011, Nadal is just 5-4 at Wimbledon without advancing past round four. He’s lost in the first or second round in three of his last four trips. Granted he is playing with great confidence, but grass is going to be a true test of how his overall game stands. He opens against John Millman who has been tough the last two years here. I don’t think Millman scores the upset, but if Rafa has trouble finding a rhythm on grass, the Aussie could certainly make him work hard.

Round two against either Denis Istomin or Donald Young could prove the tougher spot for Rafa. Neither owns a win against Nadal, but only Istomin has met him on grass and that went three at Queen’s Club back in Nadal’s hey-day when he won Wimbledon in 2010. Istomin’s big, flat ground strokes could prove to be a tough test if he’s up against Nadal. I think the Spaniard would prefer to see Young. Opposite of this spot, it’s Khachanov against Andrey Kuznetsov. That could be a thriller, but Khachanov has the better, bigger game suited to grass. A win would see him against qualifier Andrew Whittington or Thiago Monteiro. Khachanov really has no excuse not to get to round three. Even if Nadal is there, Khachanov could be the fly-in-the-ointment who takes out a top seed.

The other part of this half has Muller and Karlovic as the seeds. Both don’t have easy paths to winning a few matches. Karlovic opens against Aljaz Bedene who has beaten him before and is comfortable on grass. Muller starts with wild card Martin Fucsovics who won a grass court Challenger. If Karlovic survives round one, then he’s got a better second round match-up against either Renzo Olivo or Damir Dzumhur who probably won’t be able to handle his serve. Muller? He could see Lukas Rosol who battles Henri Laaksonen to start. I don’t fancy Muller to make it past round two and there’s a chance Fucsovics could stun him in round one, albeit he will need Muller to have an off day to help.

My surprise in this half of the quarter would be if it doesn’t get blown up with upsets. I feel that this one has the dangerous floaters and big serving/hitting double digit seeds like Karlovic and Khachanov who could make runs.

Bottom Half Breakdown (Cilic)
This part of the quarter also looks as if it could go upside down. Cilic has been in solid form on grass with a trip to the Queen’s Club final and a semifinal showing at the Ricoh Open. His draw is rough though with Philipp Kohlschreiber to start and then either Viktor Troicki or Florian Mayer if he makes it to round two. Kohlschreiber is skilled on grass and will contend if his serve holds up. Troicki owns two wins on grass against Cilic and Mayer’s funky game could give Cilic some problems if that is the match-up. Cilic is going to have to earn every set if he makes it past the first two rounds. Steve Johnson is the player seeded to be in the third round opposite of the Croat and his draw looks good. He starts with Nicolas Kicker and then would see either Facundo Bagnis or Radu Albot in round two. Johnson can’t ask for better match-ups in his favor on this surface. He might need an upset of Cilic to be done before round three to have a shot to advance farther. Cilic has made three straight quarterfinals at Wimbledon though and will still be very difficult to knock out.

In the other portion of this part of the quarter, it’s Nishikori and Bautista Agut as the seeds. Nishikori’s main issue could once again be his body. He bailed out of Halle due to a back issue, the third straight year that he’s done so. Both previous years, NIshikori’s body wound up failing him at Wimbledon – last year in round four and in 2015 in round two. Round one should be okay for the 9th seed against Marco Cecchinato who is more comfortable on clay. It’s round two that could undo Nishikori with either Sergiy Stakhovsky or Julien Benneteau waiting. Bautista Agut should advance out of round one against Adrian Haider-Maurer, but could find it more difficult in round two. He’ll see either Marius Copil or Peter Gojowyczk. Copil beat Gojo in a competitive French Open match in May. Copil is coping with a shoulder issue though that forced him to retire at the Nottingham Challenger in the semifinals. He is a big server and a legit threat on grass if his body holds up. He’d be the more difficult out for RBA.

Cilic has the tougher draw to make a deep run, but I think we all trust him more to do that than we trust Nishikori’s body to hold up. Let’s also remember that this has been Nishikori’s worst Slam with the fourth round as his best finish. If his body holds though, the match-ups get better at least until a potential showdown with Cilic.

Predictions
If Nadal and Cilic both make it through to the quarterfinals, I will be stunned. I won’t be surprised if Cilic makes it four straight quarterfinals despite the difficult draw. He’s been serving at a high level on grass and has the power to KO even the toughest opponents in his way. I think the surprise comes in Nadal’s half of the quarter. Khachanov is the guy I think could surprise here and he’s seemingly been close to busting out, so perhaps this is his stage. If an unseeded player is going to make a move, it will likely be in Cilic’s half and at Cilic’s expense.

Projected Quarterfinalists: Khachanov, Cilic

Quarter #3 Seeds
Roger Federer (3)
Milos Raonic (6)
Alexander Zverev (10)
Jack Sock (17)
Grigor Dimitrov (13)
John Isner (23)
Albert Ramos-Vinolas (25)
Mischa Zverev (27)

Top Half Breakdown (Raonic)
The 2016 finalist heads to Wimbledon without much grass court prep. Raonic lost his lone tune-up match to Kokkinakis at Queen’s Club, although he did little wrong outside of a few points in both tiebreaks. Raonic has found good success at Slams here at Wimbledon with a semifinal showing in 2014 and then last year’s final. He opens with big serving Jan-Lennard Struff. The German is going to make Raonic play well to win. Struff lost to Pouille twice on grass, but extended him to three sets both times in Stuttgart and Halle. Don’t be surprised if Struff extends Raonic to four or five sets. A win would get Raonic a shot against either Mikhail Youzhny or Nicolas Mahut. Mahut’s serve and volley would be the trickier of the two match-ups. Ramos-Vinolas is seeded to meet Raonic in round three, but I’m not counting on it. He meets Jordan Thompson in round one who just beat him on grass. Even if he survives, he could see young Russian Andrey Rublev in round two. Rublev has started to get positive results on grass this summer and he would be a tough out as well if he beats Stefano Travaglia in round one.

The other half of this part of the bracket has Zverev as the lead seed. Sock is also in this part of the draw and despite some very mediocre results in 2017, the American has a nifty draw that could see him get through to round three without a ton of trouble. He faces qualifier Christian Garin to open. Garin had never played on grass before making the main draw through qualifying, so his confidence will get a boost. Sock hasn’t played since a poor showing at the French Open, but he never plays in the pre-Wimbledon swing. Last year’s third round loss to Raonic was his best finish at the All-England Club. With Garin and then either Thomaz Bellucci or Sebastian Offner in round two, Sock should have a chance to match that result. Sascha Zverev opens against Evgeny Donskoy. Donskoy has big ground strokes, so if his serve holds up, he could push the 10th seed a bit. The survivor there gets either Robin Haase or Frances Tiafoe. Tiafoe still doesn’t own a main draw win on grass, while Haase has played reasonably well on grass lately. Remember Haase had a 2-1 lead on Zverev at the Australian Open before Sascha rallied to win in five. That would be an intriguing second rounder.

There are some early tests here for both Raonic and Zverev. I like Raonic’s path a bit better and Sascha still has to prove he can be a deep threat here to me. He made round three last year, losing to Berdych. I think he can equal or better that, but my brain is starting to stick a little bit on how tough Donskoy and Haase could potentially be for him.

Bottom Half Breakdown (Federer)
Federer heads to London with confidence after winning the Halle title. He had the hiccup against Tommy Haas in Stuttgart, but that appears to have been due to rust, so he’ll be expecting to be around at the tail end of the tournament again. He opens with Alexandr Dolgopolov. Dog is 0-3 against Fed and retired at the Ricoh Open. Expect Fed to move on and play either Stefan Tsitsipas or Dusan Lajovic which appears to be another comfortable match-up. Round three might be his first “test” with the survivor of the round one clash between Mischa Zverev and Bernard Tomic favored to be there. Fed just beat Zverev in straights in Halle, his fourth win over Mischa and he’s also 4-0 against Tomic. As long as Fed stays consistent, the fourth round looks like a fairly smooth path.

The other part of this half sees Dimitrov and Isner as the seeds. I’ve touched on Isner already and his struggles this year. He goes against Taylor Fritz in round one and could well be one and done. Whoever survives round one gets Dudi Sela or Marcel Granollers. The Isner-Fritz winner should be expecting to get to the third round. Dimitrov meanwhile opens against Diego Schwartzman, which should allow him for a winning start. The Bulgarian would then face Marcos Baghdatis or James Ward. Baghdatis sucumbed to the sweltering heat in Antalya last week in the semifinals. He also retired in Stuttgart, so his health is a real question. Ward has been derailed by injuries and has not won an ATP match since he made round three at Wimbledon in 2015. Maybe this is his time against a weakened opponent? Either way, Dimitrov might think abou a new line of work if he can’t get through these first two rounds.

Dimitrov has lost in the third round the last two years at Wimbledon since his semifinal rn back in 2014. I think you have to like his chances to get there and probably a step farther to round four where he could meet Federer.

Predictions
If Raonic can get his serve humming early, I like him to get through a tougher part of this quarter. Federer has the road for success laid out in front of him, it’s up to him to execute his game plan consistently. So far in 2017, there’s been very few times when Fed has failed to do just that.

Projected Quartefinalists: Raonic, Federer

Quarter #4 Seeds
Novak Djokovic (2)
Dominic Thiem (8)
Tomas Berdych (11)
Gael Monfils (15)
Feliciano Lopez (19)
Richard Gasquet (22)
Juan Martin Del Potro (29)
Paolo Lorenzi (32)

Top Half Breakdown (Thiem)
Thiem is still a big question mark on grass for me. Yes, he won the Stuttgart title last season, but outside of that he’s just 7-10 on grass in other tournaments. At Wimbledon, he has yet to find his stride with two straight second round exits after a first round ouster in his 2014 debut. He draws Vasek Pospisil to open in what could be a trendy upset pick. Pop is far removed from the player who made the quarters here in 2015, but he’s got the serve and volley game to trouble Thiem who prefers to hug the baseline. Thiem’s build-up this year was less than stellar with a 1-2 mark and losses to Haase and Ramkumar Ramanathan. If he escapes round one, things could get better with Gilles Simon or Nicolas Jarry in round two. Simon would figure to be tougher, but Thiem is 5-2 against him and has beaten the Frenchman four straight times.

Lorenzi is seeded to be the third round foe in this part of the draw. The Italian is 0-6 at Wimbledon. He opens against Horacio Zeballos who is 0-4 here, so something will give. That should give the winner between Janko Tipsarevic and Jared Donaldson hope of making round three. Tipsarevic hasn’t scored but two wins on grass this year, but his three losses to Cilic, Troicki and Seppi look better than Donaldson’s career results on the greenery. The American has just two career wins on grass and makes his Wimbledon main draw debut. Tipsarevic surprisingly has a terrible record here despite possession a good power game. The Serb is 11-12, but has lost in round one in five of his last six trips.

Opposite of that part of the draw, things look more interesting with seeds Berdych and Gasquet. Berdych opens with a tough one against Jeremy Chardy who hasn’t found a win in four tries against the Czech, but played him close in this same round two years ago. If Berdych advances, he gets Borna Coric or Ryan Harrison. Neither has shown much on grass, but Coric did effort well here last year with two five set matches in two rounds. He beat Stakhovsky and loss to Seppi. Harrison hasn’t won here since 2012 and hasn’t won a main draw ATP match on grass since Eastbourne in 2013. I don’t think either is going to particular worry Berdych in round two. Gasquet has to get by David Ferrer in round one, but grass is a better surface for the Frenchman. A win sets him up against either Steve Darcis or Ricardas Berankis. Darcis has done virtually nothing on grass since his round one shocked over Nadal in 2013 at Wimbledon.

Gasquet-Berdych looks likely in round three. It would be meeting #17 that has gone lopsided in favor of Berdych recently with the Czech taking six of the last seven meetings. Surprisingly though, they have never met on grass. The winner of that potential match would be my favorite to get through to a quarterfinal.

Bottom Half Breakdown (Djokovic)
All hail the Eastbourne champion. The Serb definitely gained some confidence with his run to the title this past week and that should really serve him well. He didn’t beat a bunch of nothings either, so he should feel probably about as good about his game as can be expected. Andre Agassi is expected to be with him for the tournament (we think), so it will be interesting to see what, if any effect that has on Djokovic. As for his draw, he gets Martin Klizan first. That’s a comfortable match-up with Djokovic 3-0 against him and Klizan not much of a threat on grass. A win gets either Ernesto Escobedo or Adam Pavlasek. Escobedo is raw on this surface still, but Pavlasek barely plays on it. The American can win in this spot, but Djokovic should ease through to round three.

The intrigue lies opposite of this with Juan Martin Del Potro opening against Thanasi Kokkinakis. There is no telling if DelPo’s groin is 100 percent, but you’d hope the rest has helped him heal. If he’s fit, then he may simply need to find his rhythm to become an automatic threat in London. You know Djokovic saw his name in the draw and probably got a little uncomfortable. Kokkinakis has the big serve and game to contend with Del Potro, but has his own physical struggles that keep him from being consistent match-to-match. He could spring an upset like he did against Raonic, but fall apart immediately in round two. If DelPo is healthy, I think he’ll survive and then see either Ernests Gulbis or Victor Estrella Burgos. Gulbis hasn’t played on grass since losing in round one here last year to Jack Sock. I’d be disappointed if we didn’t see Djokovic-Del Potro in round three.

In the other part of this half, Monfils and Lopez are the lead seeds. Monfils looked fairly solid in Eastbourne in making the final. La Monf lost in the opening round last year and has never made it past round three at Wimbledon, so he looks challenged to get that done this year. He opens against a dangerous qualifier in Daniel Brands. The German veteran actually owns three wins against Monfils, but those came three or more years ago. Brands did make the fourth round in 2010 and he’s got a big serve. Monfils can’t afford to slack off. The winner gets Kyle Edmund or Alexander Ward. Edmund has lost five straight on grass and has been a disappointing first round exit each year since 2013 at Wimbledon. Ward is playing the main draw for just the second time. Edmund needs to step up and win in this spot, but his confidence may be lacking. The Monfils-Brands winner should be the one to watch into round three.

Lopez has been in marvelous form on grass this summer, a nice return to good things for the three-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist. He’s 9-1 on grass this year with the Queen’s Club title in tow. He draws Adrian Mannarino to start. The Frenchman made the Antalya final, so he’s got some grass game as well. Mannarino did make round four at the All-England Club in 2013, so he can contend against Lopez. The Spaniard has beaten him twice, but their Australian Open match in 2015 was close until Mannarino succumbed to heat exhaustion. The winner gets Antalya champ Yuichi Sugita or Brydan Klein. Sugita has looked much better on grass with the Antalya title and the Surbiton Challenger title on grass this summer. I would be concerned with too many matches on his legs though. He’s played 14 matches on grass with that last week in the heat in Turkey. Klein is 0-2 all-time at Wimbledon, but he’s played a lot on this surface and I would not be surprised if he pulled off the upset over a fatigued Sugita.

Lopez is the one to watch as he carries in some great form and is very comfortable on this surface. Even if he goes toe-to-toe with Monfils, I’d like the Spaniard’s chances of being in the fourth round.

Predictions
If Del Potro’s groin wasn’t a concern coming in, I’d be more apt to say Djokovic might have more trouble early, but even a healthier DelPo could not beat Novak in three other meetings in 2017. I do like where the Serb is at coming to London though and as long as he doesn’t get off to a slow start and keeps his confidence up, he should be in the quarterfinal mix. A Djokovic-Lopez fourth round match could be much better than the 9-1 head-to-head in favor of the Serb suggests. The guy who could swoop in and take advantage of Djokovic’s tougher road is Berdych.

Projected Quarterfinalists: Berdych, Djokovic

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

Outside of Federer, the top players in this tournament still have key questions upon arrival. For Murray, it’s whether his hip is an issue and whether his game will be back in rhythm after the early exit at Queen’s Club. For Djokovic, it’s whether his title in Eastbourne signals that everything is moving back into a positive direction or if he’s still prone to getting the yips? And then Nadal obviously will simply have to prove that he can win on grass again.

It’s still very hard to see an outsider claiming the title at Wimbledon, but that seems to be our mantra going into every Grand Slam. I think the closest one could get to an outsider would be someone like Raonic or Cilic. Raonic is the one to keep an eye on for me again this year. He’s got that huge game that can trouble Federer, Djokovic and Murray. The Canadian especially will have a little swagger if he goes against Fed, having beaten the Swiss last year in the semis and in Brisbane earlier in 2016. I think Murray and Djokovic still hold the key edge over him due to their return games, but Fed is obviously not in that elite class of returning.

I think in order right now, I’d say Federer, Djokovic and then Murray as possible winners. Murray could elevate himself a notch if he proves the hip is a non-issue within the first two rounds. If Murray crashes early, Cilic is the guy who could step into the top half of the draw and take control as somewhat of a “surprise” guy. Down on the bottom, it’s harder to see Federer, Djokovic or Raonic not involved in the other spot in the final. I’ll go Andy-Novak with about two percent confidence!

2017 AEGON International R2 Preview: Mischa Zverev vs Bernard Tomic

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The rain-plagued AEGON International is scheduled for a flurry of activity on Thursday as they try to squeeze in matches and stay on schedule. One of the first matches of the day is second round action between Mischa Zverev and Bernard Tomic. The two have not met in their ATP careers.

(6) Mischa Zverev vs Bernard Tomic

Zverev was able to get away to a winning start in a tight contest against Ryan Harrison that was completed on Wednesday. The German edged Harrison 6-4, 7-6 (9). Zverev was steady, winning 77 percent of his first serve points and 65 percent off his second serve. He was broken just once on four tries, tallying five aces and six double faults overall. The win rates off his serve are on-par with what Mischa showed in both Stuttgart and Halle. The ability to win a high percentage off his second serve is a continued and good trend for the 29-year-old.

Tomic got in his first round match against qualifier Norbert Gambos on Monday, meaning he will have had two days off since beating the Slovak 7-6 (3), 6-3. His serve numbers were solid, taking just over 70 percent of the overall points off his serve. The 71 percent win rate off his second serve was especially encouraging. He was broken once on three chances. He had six aces compared to two double faults. It was a steady showing an much improved over his poor show against Richard Gasquet at Queen’s Club last week. He lost 6-3, 6-3 and was putrid on his second serve (33% win rate) and below average at 62 percent on his first serve. He was broken four times on five chances.

Tomic The Tank Engine

The rain this week really puts a lot of these players in a pickle, not that guys like Tomic need much of a shove to consider whether they want to be at a tournament for an extended period or not. The rain delay of the past two days means the winner of this match will pull double duty (weather permitting) on Thursday. That means logically that you have to ask yourself who may be willing to put in that effort and who may not?

The tricky part of deciphering that is that when you think you think you know someone’s tendencies, you find out that they don’t always follow them. For Tomic, you’ve seen and read it a hundred times over about the history of matches in which he’s given zero actual f*cks. The automatic thinking is why would someone who has a history of tanking be willing to produce two matches of effort in the week prior to a Grand Slam?

That’s good thinking. It’s also dangerous thinking because honestly – there’s not much between the ears for the Aussie – so a hot whisper of “win the tournament” could just as easily get caught in there for a nanosecond. There’s also the danger that you get a “full” effort from Bernie in the first match and then he goes “Barnyard” to ditch out of match two, which would come against the winner of Gael Monfils vs Cameron Norrie.

So I progress with caution as if this will be on the up and up, but always suggest you draw your own conclusion in these muddied conditions before a Slam.

Match Tactics

From a tactical standpoint, this could be interesting. You have Zverev who loves to serve and volley, whereas Tomic is a baseline hugger. One would think that the effort level of the Aussie will be easy to spot when Zverev goes aggressive and comes to the net. Tomic hasn’t particularly played a ton of players on grass who employ that tactic, so I am intrigued to see his response. Intrigue may lead to straight *eye roll* hell if he goes into “Tomic The Tank Engine” mode.

If Tomic positions himself properly off his return, he has the weaponry to be a pest to Zverev. His length can help him cover some of that volleying near the net and Tomic doesn’t necessarily need to come all the way in to be effective. Rather, if he comes in a foot or so off the baseline, he would give himself better positioning. There, he can either respond to volleys with shots at the net or to try passing shots as Zverev hugs the net. If he doesn’t fully engage in this one, then you’ll see plenty of flat footed “Barnyard” as Zverev sends shots past him.

One way for Tomic to negate having to effort 100 percent against the Zverev serve and volley is serving well himself. Despite his 6’5″ stature, Tomic doesn’t serve big enough for my tastes at a consistent level. Then again, you can pretty much just say from a talent standpoint, Tomic doesn’t play at a consistent level for anyone’s tastes. I digress. With his size and on this surface, he should get more free points if he’s locked in on serve. That in turn gives him chances to take off some points and to pick his spots to come in against Zverev.

As for Zverev, he wants to continue to serve well to start. It’s been a big part of his formula for success on German grass. Now, he wants that to continue to translate to the grass in the U.K. He has to serve well to be able to deliver on his serve and volley tactics. That means hitting his spots in order to craft himself into good position at the net to finish points off quickly and effectively. When he does stay back, Tomic should have the advantage. Zverev doesn’t particularly wow you with his ground strokes. They are solid, but the Aussie has more power to utilize from the back of the court. That’s why you’ll see Mischa in as much as possible to enhance his chances of winning.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Zverev’s record on grass outside of Germany in the past two years is poor. His win in round one here was his first non-German grass court win in a main draw since Wimbledon in 2009. That is surprising given his serve and volley tactics, but also shows that perhaps he’s just begun executing them better with age. Andy Murray can attest to that from Australia earlier in the year.

I think the serve and volley style can annoy players who we generally think of as lazy and “Tomic The Tank Engine” is one of those guys. Still, grass has suited Tomic’s game better than any other surface, especially in a non-Australian setting. Tomic has talked openly recently about how he was suffering from burnout in the first part of the season. The 24-year-old says sometimes he feels like he’s 30 already because of the amount of tennis he’s played on tour at a young age. He said he’s just beginning to feel better now and looking for that one tournament where he can “get his energy back” and pick himself back up.

is that Eastbourne? Your Pig told you he had one of those dumb feelings this week that the Aussie might show up with something more than a one and done or two and barbecue. I’m gonna keep the needle on all-day doofus and take Tomic in three to win here and then probably rev the engine up if double duty is called upon for Thursday.

Prediction: Tomic wins in three sets

2017 AEGON International Preview

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AEGON International Returns to Eastbourne

A familiar grass court stop returns to the ATP World Tour this week. After playing the AEGON International the past two years in Nottingham, the tournament goes back to Eastbourne this year. The tournament was hosted in Nottingham from its beginning in 1995 through 2008, before moving to Eastbourne from 2009 to 2014. An unexpected participant this week is top seed Novak Djokovic who took a wild card entry into the tournament.

Traditionally, Djokovic has skipped the grass court lead-ins to Wimbledon with 2010 as the last year that he had taken part in a grass court tournament (Queen’s Club) before Wimbledon. It speaks volumes to where his confidence is at to me, but it seems a very wise choice too given his rude exit at the French Open.

Rounding out the top four seeds are Gael Monfils, John Isner and Steve Johnson. Johnson won this event last year in Nottingham, but has never played on the courts in Eastbourne. Monfils and Isner have never played this tournament at Eastbourne with both last playing this tournament in 2008 in Nottingham. Monfils did make the semifinals that year.

There is a bit more experience at this tournament in the back end of the seeded field with Sam Querrey, Mischa Zverev, Richard Gasquet and Diego Schwartzman finishing out the seeds. Querrey has had success in both locations for the AEGON International, making the semifinals in Eastbourne in 2014 and the final in Nottingham in 2015. Gasquet is a two-time winner of this tournament. but those wins came duing the AEGON International’s first run in Nottimgham. The Frenchman won the title in 2005 and 2006. He made the final during the last run in Eastbourne in 2014.

All Eyes on Djokovic

It’s a rare occasion to see a top four player in the field of a 250-level event, although grass does see that a bit more often due to its shortened swing on the tour. Still, this is a first for Djokovic and is a double edged sword. A title run would certainly boost Djokovic’s confidence after being demolished in the French Open quarterfinals by Dominic Thiem. Conversely, an early loss could further damage the Serb’s frail psyche. It’s a calculated gamble for him, but certainly with his mediocre 2017, something he needs if he’s going to be a player at the business end of Wimbledon.

Djokovic has been tight lipped since taking the wild card entry, only saying that he looked forward to fine tuning his grass court game this week. The Serb will again be without new “coach” Andre Agassi this week. Agassi seems more like a consultant to me than a coach at this point as he works around his busy personal schedule. He is likely to be with Djokovic for some or all of Wimbledon, but a player lacking right now in results and confidence would seem to need more than a part-time consultant.

It’s been seven years since Djokovic has been at this stage of the season with only one title to his credit, so whether he admits it or not, I do believe this is a very big week for him.

Early Bird Specials

Data on this tournament for upsets would be somewhat useless due to the changing locations in recent years and the bigger field size in Nottingham. I think most know by now that tournaments the week before Grand Slams can yield a variety of things from players due to questionable motivation from some. That can leave the door open for others to slide in and take advantage of seeds who don’t feel the need to expend a lot of energy this week.

So let’s focus solely on the seeds and the match-ups that look a bit rough for the seeds coming into the week as potential early upsets.

1. Novak Djokovic
The Serb is going to open against either Jiri Vesely or Vasek Pospisil. While neither is having much of a season, we all famously know about Vesely’s win over Djokovic in Monte Carlo last year. Vesely chose to play a clay Challenger after the French Open and won it, but that’s not exactly helpful to getting going on grass. Pospisil got into the main draw through qualifying, so he could have a leg up. Vesely did make the fourth round at Wimbledon last year though and has always been tough on grass because of his big game. Pospisil would provide a bit more of a serve and volley challenge. Either way, Djokovic’s opening match could be tough as he gets his first taste of the greenery. Given how his season has gone, you have to have him on early upset alert for his first grass court match.

3. John Isner
Isner looked off his game against Marin Cilic in his first grass match last week at Queen’s Club. The big serving American had the requisite aces (14) you’d expect, but he won just 71 percent of his first serve points and a paltry 39 percent off his second. His opening match in Eastbourne could be extremely difficult depending on what happens between Jeremy Chardy and Dusan Lajovic in round one. Chardy is the talent. He’s 2-2 on grass this year with both losses to a scorching hot Feliciano Lopez. Lajovic has just one career win on grass, so Chardy should be the expected winner. The Frenchman is 4-0 against Isner with three of those wins on hard surfaces. He’ll pose a big threat in round two if that is the match-up.

8. Diego Schwartzman
Classic case of a David vs Goliath with the power of Jared Donaldson serving as goliath in this scenario against the diminutive Argentine. Schwartzman makes his 2017 grass debut in this tournament and he’s 0-5 lifetime on grass. Donaldson had one prep match at Queen’s Club, losing in qualifying to Tobias Kamke in straight sets. His lone grass court win came in Newport last year, so it’s not like he’s got a tremendous advantage even with his power. Still, with both not having great grass results – the power player still gets a slight nod and a chance to score the upset.

Outsider’s Edge

Here, I think it is important to look at this tournament’s history regardless of whether it’s been in Nottingham or Eastbourne. It just gives you insight into how the week before Slams can go. Last year in Nottingham, seeds ruled the roost. Seven of the eight quarterfinal slots went to seeds and it was sixth seed Steve Johnson beating second seed Pablo Cuevas for the title. In 2015 however, three of the four semifinalists including champion Denis Istomin, were unseeded.

The last year in Eastbourne (2014) before the location flip saw Felciano Lopez win as the third seed over top seed Richard Gasquet. Two of the semifinalist were not seeded though and that trend was also there in 2013 when Lopez won for the first time as an unseeded player with Ivan Dodig also not seeded as a semifinalist. So 2016 seems to be the deviation from the pattern and as such, let’s identify some unseeded players who could be in the mix late this week at the AEGON International.

Nicolas Mahut/Robin Haase
This could be one of the most competitive matches of the tournament and it happens in round one. Both players are solid on this surface although Mahut has struggled this season with just a 1-2 mark. Haase made the quarterfinals in Stuttgart beating David Ferrer and Dominic Thiem in that span. Mahut owns the lone win in this head-to-head and it came at his best grass court tournament, the Ricoh Open, in 2015.

The survivor of this first rounder likely goes against fifth seed Sam Querrey who opens against an injured Daniil Medvedev (shoulder). Mahut is 1-1 against the American on grass and Querrey has not met Haase at all. Either one could score the win and find themselves in the quarterfinals and with a legit shot a the semifinals with Steve Johnson as the other seed in this quarter.

Jeremy Chardy
I touched on Chardy’s chances to knock off John Isner if the Frenchman gets out of round one. Gasquet could ultimately block him from anything else in this tournament, but he’s got a chance to make some noise.

Kevin Anderson
Anderson exited the French Open early due to illness, but should be recovered here. His big game has always been good on grass. He’ll need to find his serve rhythm and consistency from the down time, but he’ll be a tough out. He opens with Bellucci and then could see Gasquet, whom he has beaten three of the last four times they have met. A path to the semifinals isn’t all that far fetched, if he gets off to a good start against Thomaz Bellucci.

Bernard Tomic
Although I hesitate to put the Aussie on this list, he avoids a big name seed early which could suit him better. Tomic opens against qualifier Norbert Gambos. If Tomic wins, then it’s likely Mischa Zverev who opens with Ryan Harrison. While Zverev has had good results on grass, they’ve come almost exclusively in Germany. This seems like one of those spots where Tomic could get to a quarterfinal just to keep his name in the conversation on grass for a couple more days before he inevitably blows up.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Novak Djokovic (1)
Diego Schwartzman (8)

Breakdown
On paper, this looks like a quarter that Djokovic should get through. The toughest match may indeed be his opener against either Vesely or Pospisil. A win there and he could face anyone really. Schwartzman opens against Donaldson in a match where neither player has produced much on grass. The winner there gets either Donald Young or Kyle Edmund. It would be easy for American fans to get hopeful after Young made the quarters at Queen’s Club with an injury shortened win over Nick Kyrgios and a straight sets win over Viktor Troicki. Still, Young 12-21 on grass for a reason. Edmund lost a tough three set match to Denis Shapovalov. The Brit still has not found consistently positive results on grass in spite of a game that would seem to be suited for some success. The winner of that Young-Edmund match should sneak into the quarterfinal mix given the relative weakness of the other players.

Even given Djokovic’s question marks, this is a quarter he has to win and should be expected to win. Anything less and it’s another massive setback for the Serb.

Quarter #2 Seeds
Steve Johnson (4)
Sam Querrey (5)

Breakdown
This should be a highly competitive quarter and might have been even more so if Daniil Medvedev was headed here in full health. The Russian scored back-to-back quarterfinals at ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Queen’s Club, but appeared to injury his should against Grigor Dimitrov in a three set loss in London. The good news was that he finished the match after injuring the shoulder in warmups, so he still took a set. The bad news of course is that he has this to contend with ahead of Wimbledon. He starts against Querrey and I would expect the Russian to be very cautious with the shoulder and there could even be a chance he pulls out of the tournament. Querrey will still have to worry though as he would face Mahut or Haase in round two.

Johnson has the better route to a deep run this week. He gets a bye and then opens against Thomas Fabbiano or Frank Skugor. Johnson should expect to win and be in the quarterfinals. Johnson might prefer Haase in a potential quarterfinal as he stands a combined 0-5 against Querrey and Mahut. This quarter looks like it might be one of those that goes to an unseeded player.

Quarter #3 Seeds
John Isner (3)
Richard Gasquet (7)

Breakdown
This quarter also could feature a run by an unseeded player. Isner opens against the Chardy-Lajovic winner and as laid out, Chardy has four wins over Isner in four tries. In the other half, Gasquet gets American Frances Tiafoe to open. Tiafoe has not won a main draw match on grass yet at this level and asking for that against Gasquet seems unlikely. Gasquet likely sees Kevin Anderson in round two. Anderson opens against Bellucci in a favorable match-up for the big serving South African. Anderson can definitely push Gasquet who lost to Big Kev on clay and hard courts last year with Anderson taking three of their four meetings in the last two seasons.

I don’t expect much from Isner after his poor showing at Queen’s Club, so watch Chardy and Anderson if this goes to an unseeded player. It won’t be easy to get past Gasquet though who looked solid in Halle before losing in the semifinals to Alexander Zverev.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Gael Monfils (2)
Mischa Zverev (6)

Breakdown
As usual, it’s one big question mark when Monfils comes to town. The Frenchman missed time before the French Open, but still made the fourth round. Last week in his grass debut, he lost to Gasquet in three sets. La Monf pounded 22 aces, but also let Gasquet see 15 break points. Monfils could improve with the match play. Grass has not been his favorite, but he does have a booming serve that makes him a threat. He should get off to a winning start with either Cameron Norrie or Horacio Zeballos as his first opponent.

The other half has more questions with Zverev opening against Ryan Harrison. Harrison does own a 4-3 mark against the German, but Zverev has won their last two meetings. Harrison has not figured out grass for the most part, but he had some good results in Eastbourne. In 2012, he made the semifinals and he went 1-1 the following year. Since then, he’s 0-7 in main draw matches on grass at this level. A win for Zverev and he likely sees Bernard Tomic who is up against Norbert Gambos in round one.

Monfils has the draw to make the semifinals here, but he’s still so hard to trust. He’s rarely played the week before Grand Slams, so this is new territory. Whether that equals a more motivated Monfils or not is the question. If not La Monf, I still have the crazy notion that Tomic could pull a rabbit out of his ass this week.

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

Djokovic’s focus level this week will be a key to how he does. I think he needs this title ahead of Wimbledon and I am expecting his effort level to be there. Whether the results follow is the question. Gasquet looks like the better option in the bottom half to make a run if he’s engaged this week. If an Anderson or Chardy gets on a roll in that bottom half though, you could see an unseeded player in the final and those are the two I would watch.