2017 Mercedes Cup SF Preview: Feliciano Lopez vs Mischa Zverev

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It’s an all unseeded semifinal as Feliciano Lopez and Mischa Zverev go at it for a spot in the Mercedes Cup final. Lopez has yet to make a final in 2017, while Zverev could make his second of the season with a win.

Feliciano Lopez vs (6) Mischa Zverev

The Spanish lawnmower shot his way into the semifinals after rallying from a set down to take out third seeded Tomas Berdych 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-4. The match featured lots of big serving with Lopez laying down 19 aces and the Czech hitting 21. The Spaniard played the break points better, saving all nine against his serve. He has only been broken three times through three rounds. Lopez converted two key breaks in the last two sets against the third seed to secure the win. In the end, it was as tight as you can get with Lopez winning 100 points to 97 for Berdych.

Zverev won an all-German affair, taking down Tommy Haas 6-4, 6-4. It was a bit predictable that Haas was unable to match the level from the previous round when he ousted top seed Roger Federer. Haas fought all the way through, but his serve was lacking and he barely made any inroads against Mischa’s serve. Zverev won a whopping 35 of 38 points off his first serve. He was landing 72 percent of his first serves, which served him well as Haas won eight of the 15 points played off Zverev’s second serve. The match continued a strong of serving for Zverev who has been broken just once on 14 chances, eleven of which came last round against Yannick Hanfmann.

Zverev Looks to Reverse The Trend

The 29-year-old German will have to do something he has failed to do so far in his career to reach the final in Stuttgart: win a set off of Feliciano Lopez. Lopez is 3-0 all-time against the German with straight sets wins each time. The last meeting was in 2016 in the second round of the Western & Southern Open. Lopez dominated 6-3, 6-1. He also tallied wins indoors in Kuala Lumpur in 2015 and outdoors on a hard surface at the Sunrise Challenger in 2009.

The difference maker in those matches has been a blistering first serve from Lopez. The Spaniard has won 80 percent or more of the points off his first serve in all three matches. Mischa has managed just one break of serve in the six sets played, while the Spaniard has routinely been able to get to his German counterpart’s serve. Lopez converted ten of 20 break opportunities against Zverev.

Serve & Volley Party

This match-up features two guys who love to employ the serve and volley. It’s really going to be an interesting test of like tactics. It’s all going to start with the serve and both men have been on point serving this week. The difference would seem to be that Zverev has had few to no answers for Lopez’s serve in the past and this surface plays even better to it. That means break chances will likely be few for the German.

It will be a little bit different for Lopez to see the serve and volley against him. I don’t think Zverev used it consistently in their previous meetings, but it’s become more of his game plan in the last year. Playing on grass, it’s a must and a plus. It really becomes a matter of which player can get more done on return. I like that Lopez has seen a big serve with Berdych on Friday and that could make a difference. He may find more success against Zverev’s serve, which can keep Mischa’s volleying from being as effective.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Zverev certainly has a chance in this one despite Lopez’s more marquee career on grass. Zverev has found some of his best grass results in Germany and is sure to get the home crowd on his side. All that may not be enough though if Lopez continues his hot serving and precise, aggressive work off the ground. Unless the Spaniard has an off serving day or Zverev can steal a set, maybe two in tiebreaks – I think Lopez works into Sunday’s final.

Prediction: Lopez wins in straight sets

2017 Mercedes Cup Preview

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Shifting Surfaces

The quick turn from clay to grass begins in earnest this week with Stuttgart as one of the two ATP World Tour stops. It also marks the return of Roger Federer, who has not played since winning the Miami Open in March. It was a calculated move by the Swiss to skip the entire clay court season to focus on spots where he had better chances to add to his record 18 Grand Slam titles. Wimbledon has always been eyed as the best shot for Federer to add to his trophy case because of how well the Swiss has performed on grass. He’s 152-23 on the surface for his career with 15 of his 91 career titles on grass.

Stuttgart is a relatively new stop on tour for grass court tennis. Up until 2015, Stuttgart was a clay court tournament. In the two years on grass, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem have won here. Last year, Thiem scored one of his best non-clay wins by beating Federer in three sets in the semifinals at the Mercedes Open. Thiem will not be participating this year nor will Rafael Nadal. This year, it’s Federer leading the field as the top seed. Grigor Dimitrov is slated in as #2 with Tomas Berdych and Lucas Pouille rounding out the top four seeds. Eighth seed Viktor Troicki was a finalist in 2015 at this event, which is the best showing among the seeds since Stuttgart went green.

Seed Report

1. Roger Federer
Federer debuted in Stuttgart last season and made the semifinals before losing out to Thiem. I would not expect much in the way of rust for Federer here as he has been solely prepping for grass for weeks now. That should give him a leg up on most who are transitioning over from clay.

2. Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov’s lone visit to the grass courts in Stuttgart ended with a one and done last year. The 26-year-old gained one of his better results in months by making round three at Roland Garros. That is the sad state of affairs that his season has become after making the Australian Open semifinals. On grass, he’ll hope for rebirth. He is 28-19 on the green stuff in his career.

3. Tomas Berdych
Speaking of disappointments, enter Berdych. The Czech was knocked out in Paris in round two by Karen Khachanov. That’s not a terrible result given the young Russian’s nice showing at the French Open. Berdych at 31 has had a reasonably good season at 23-11. He’s been good on grass at 58-25 overall. This will be his first trip to Stuttgart since they flipped to grass.

4. Lucas Pouille
The Frenchman has been up and down this season; mediocre in Paris with a five set loss to Albert Ramos-Vinolas, where he really fell apart after going up 2-1. It’s not often that young players come out of the gates and have big success on grass, but Pouille’s power game translated well at Wimbledon last summer. He made his first Slam quarterfinal on this surface in 2016, but is still just 4-5 all-time on grass. He lost to John Millman here last year in his opener, which at the time made him 0-4 on grass. This year figures to tell us whether Pouille knows grass or he was a one hit wonder on it at Wimbledon.

5. Steve Johnson
Johnson will be making his debut at Stuttgart this season. It’s been an emotional few weeks for the American since the passing of his father. He showed very well at the French Open by making round three. He’s 18-13 on grass in his career with really good results last summer, winning the title in Nottingham and then making the 4th round at Wimbledon. He may have to battle his emotions again, but his big hitting, aggressive game suits this surface. He could be a dark horse this week, but he also may have to continue battling through a wave of emotions.

6. Mischa Zverev
Zverev made the quarterfinals here in the first year that Stuttgart went green in 2015. He beat Thiem and Andreas Seppi, before losing in a third set tiebreak to Marin Cilic. His serve and volley tactics obviously can be successful on this surface, but he hasn’t had the opportunity to show that in recent years. Due to his run of the past months, he will get to play the main draw at Wimbledon for the first time since 2011. That should be an exciting proposition for him and playing on home soil could ignite him to good things this week.

7. Gilles Simon
Simon went 1-1 last year in Stuttgart in his first trip back since they went to grass. He lost in the quarters in three sets to Juan Martin Del Potro, bageled in the final set. Simon has a respectable 38-28 mark on grass in his career and 2015 was excellent for him on grass to remind you of his prospects. That year, he made the semis at Queen’s Club and then the quarters at Nottingham and Wimbledon. Of course last year, he was just 2-3 on the surface and 2017 has been mediocre at-best as he comes in off a round one exit at the French Open.

8. Viktor Troicki
Troickiy followed up his 2016 finals appearance here by flaming out in his opener last year against Florian Meyer in straight sets. The Serb is 28-23 on grass. Like Simon, he stunk on the surface last year at 1-3 but went 10-4 on grass in 2015. In addition to the Stuttgart final, he also made the semis at Queen’s Club and the 4th round at Wimbledon. As usual, Troicki will be a big time hit or miss proposition this week.

Early Bird Specials

In the brief history of Stuttgart on grass, there have been multiple upsets of seeds in their first matches both years. In 2015, two seeds lost their openers with Feliciano Lopez (3) as the highest seed to go down. Last year, four seeds were one and done, including second seed Marin Cilic. It’s not a coincidence that seeds flame out early with this being the first tournament on grass and many players lack the proper preparation. With that in mind, let’s look at which seeds could be sent packing early.

Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov will see either Jerzy Janowicz or Andrey Kuznetsov to start. Janowicz hasn’t had much to crow about at this level in a few years, but we know he’s dangerous on grass (12-8) if he’s healthy. He’s reasonably healthy for this swing for the first time since 2015. He went 1-1 in Stuttgart that year with a loss to Philipp Kohlschreiber. Kuznetsov is 7-11 on grass with a third round showing at Wimbledon last year. Dimitrov has never played the Russian, but he is 2-1 versus Janowicz. That includes a three set win indoors in Sofia earlier this season. On grass, Janowicz could get the extra oomph to make Dimitrov play his best to win.

Tomas Berdych
Potentially a bad match-up for Berdych in his opener with Bernard Tomic possibly up against him. Tomic opens with Stephane Robert. This is a surface that Tomic has shown some excellence on, but also shown his usual Barnyard antics as well in losses. Tomic made the quarters here in 2015. Last year, he made the semis at Queen’s club and the 4th round at Wimbledon. Berdych is 4-0 against Tomic with two tight four set wins on grass at Wimbledon in 2013 and 2014 over the Aussie. Not much in Tomic’s 2017 might suggest an upset, but it will still be a fairly difficult draw for the Czech to start.

Lucas Pouille
I put Pouille on this list simply because we don’t really know yet whether the Frenchman is going to be the guy pre-Wimbledon 2016 who could not win on grass or the guy who showed up at Wimbledon and surprised his way to the quarterfinals. Given an uneven run in 2017 as well, I think he’ll need to be alert in his opener against either qualifier Lukas Lacko or Jan-Lennard Struff. Lacko can be tough on this surface and has the match play advantage. Lacko has a win over Pouille in Challenger play way back in 2013 and he did play him tough in a two tiebreak loss in Rotterdam last year. Struff has the power to match Pouille on serve, but is just 3-11 on grass.

Gilles Simon
A big dat duh on this one with Simon pitted against Feliciano Lopez. Lopez is a three-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist. The Spaniard’s serve and volley tactics have made him a danger on grass for years at 63-36 overall. He is 0-2 at this event though and the green stuff hasn’t been as kind the past few years. He’s 3-2 against Simon though and two wins came on grass in 2013. He beat the Frenchman earlier this season on clay in a third set tiebreak in Madrid. Given Simon’s murky form, this is a definite upset possibility and surely will be a popular one among Pig-nosticators.

Viktor Troicki
The Serb is about as reliable for consistency as his opponent, Benoit Paire. That makes their R1 clash an absolute 50-50 for me, Paire could lose 6-1, 6-0 or spring the upset. We just don’t ever know with him, so that’s why I think Troicki has to be on upset alert. The two have not met in their careers.

Outsider’s Edge

Seeds have been a mainstay at the business end of things in Stuttgart in its first two years. Only Del Potro crashed the semifinals as a wild card last year to break the seeds’ stronghold on the semis. There have however been five quarterfinalists of the 16 in Stuttgart’s history that have been unseeded. Even more interesting, three of them have been qualifiers. Mischa Zverev did it in 2015 and both Radek Stepanek and Florian Mayer did it last year.

He could join them as surprises in the quarters? Let’s look.

(q) Lukas Lacko
I ID’ed Lacko earlier as one to watch against Pouille potentially in round one. He’s 2-1 against his opponent Jan-Lennard Struff, even though they have not met since 2015. Still with Struff’s struggles on grass, Lacko could have a chance. A win over Pouille and voila, unseeded quarterfinalist.

Marcos Baghdatis/Philipp Kohlschreiber
This could be the best first round match in Stuttgart between these two veterans who both play well on grass. Baggy owns a 5-2 head-to-head advantage with two wins on grass, but those were a decade ago in Halle and s’-Hertogenbosch. Neither player arrives in great form with Baghdatis winless in six straight. He did get some grass play in at the Surbiton Challenger though, losing to Dudi Sela. If he scores the upset over Kohlschreiber, he may see Steve Johnson whom he lost to in their lone career meeting in 2014 in Auckland.

Kohlschreiber has lost four of five since making the Casablanca final on clay. Kohlschreiber has always played well on grass, especially in Germany. Stuttgart may not be quite a good to him as Halle, but he made the final last year and the quarters in 2015. A win over Baghdatis would likely set him up against Johnson. The two have never met. A win though and it’s quarterfinal city for the third straight year for Kohlschreiber here and he will be someone who people expect to have that chance.

Benoit Paire
As laid out above, Paire is the ATP’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’ll get – I mean outside of a brain meltdown as some point. But even with those meltdowns, his game is good enough to win on this surface. Troicki is a tough opener, but that’s winnable. All of a sudden, a win gives Paire a quick shot at the quarters with a match against either qualifier Peter Gojowczyk or Nikoloz Basilashvili. In their own right, Gojo or Basilashvili might have just as good a shot at the quarters if Paire is their opponent.

The Berdych Quarter
This quarter has several “specialists” who could do damage. Tomic. Lopez. Mayer. ll three have had past success on grass and despite mediocre or poor play coming in, they could easily cause some upsets. Berdych could well get through, but this is a very competitive quarter that I think will spring some upsets.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Roger Federer (1)
Mischa Zverev (8)

Breakdown
Federer could have an interesting opener with either Tommy Haas or Pierre-Hugues Herbert. The crowd surely would love to see the German veteran Haas against Federer. Fed likely would probably like seeing Haas as the Swiss is 13-3 against him. Their grass court encounters have usually been fun and competitive although that might be asking a lot of Haas at this stage. Zverev opens with Malek Jaziri in a winnable match and then gets one of two qualifiers Yannick Hanfmann or Martin Fucsovics. I’d be surprised if this didn’t wind up an all-seeded quarterfinal between Federer and Zverev. Fed is 3-0 versus Mischa, including this year’s straight sets win at the Australian Open and a double bagel on grass in Halle in 2013. Even with the extended layoff, It would be a massive shock to see Federer not in the semis with this draw.

Quarter #2 Seeds
Tomas Berdych (3)
Gilles Simon (7)

Breakdown
If a seed is going to fail to get to the semifinals, this quarter looks like it could produce that result. Berdych has the potential tough opener against Bernard Tomic if he makes it past Robert. Simon’s first-up is Feliciano Lopez, an equally tough task on this surface. The winner of that clash then sees either Florian Mayer or Jeremy Chardy. Mayer in particular has been good on grass for years and will have the crowd on his side. For me, this bottom half of the quarter seems more likely to see the seed (Simon) eliminated before the quarterfinals. Berdych may not be spectacular, but he’s steady and that’s not something you can say about Tomic. I still won’t be surprised though if the Aussie puts it together to score the upset. For me, this quarter comes down to Berdych, Mayer or Lopez.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Lucas Pouille (4)
Steve Johnson (5)

Breakdown
This quarter may also be a favorite for a potential unseeded semifinalist – mostly due to Kohlschreiber’s inclusion. The Baghdatis-Kohlschreiber survivor in round one will definitely have a shot to knock off Johnson. Pouille SHOULD be the guy to beat here, but he has to prove it. The opener against Lacko or Struff will be a test. If he passes, he could well see Kohlschreiber who beat him earlier this season on an indoor hard surface. If it’s Johnson, that would be a real power forehand vs power forehand match. Kohlschreiber will be the sheik upset pick in this quarter, but don’t be shocked if Pouille proves his mettle and make it out.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Grigor Dimitrov (2)
Viktor Troicki (8)

Breakdown
Dimitrov is the clear favorite in this draw, but nothing has been too clear for Dimitrov the last few months. This is a quarter where you’d like to see the two seeds get through. Dimitrov and Troicki have had some great battles in their five career matches. Dimitrov edged ahead in the head-to-head with a 6-3, 6-3 win in Sofia earlier this year. They have not met on grass, but three of their five matches have gone the distance. The unseeded players here like Paire, Janowicz and Kuznetsov are still threats, but most have more questions than answers coming into the week. It’s really hard to trust most of the players in this quarter, but I’ll give a slight nod to Troicki who has had some past success here. He should be back as he was in 2015, playing with no pressure with more of that on Dimitrov.

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

No one in their right mind will pick against Federer, especially on grass. About the only thing going against Federer is that the top seed has not won on grass here since the switch in 2015. He’s obviously the guy to change that trend. If he’s even 75 percent of the play we saw January-March, that’s likely better than anyone here. The one guy who intrigues me to play Federer in a final is Pouille, much like seeing Thiem do it last year. I am not predicting by any means that a similar upset would be in the cards, but I think Pouille’s style can perhaps contend with Federer if the Frenchman gets in the groove. Of course, he’s just as likely to lose his opener and leave Federer without any top tier competition in the end.

2017 Barcelona Open Day 2 Preview

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Day two in Barcelona sees the first seeds in action. Fourth seed Dominic Thiem is the highest seed to play on Tuesday. He’ll battle Kyle Edmund. Edmund beat Chardy to open up his week on Monday in straight sets. The Brit will be hoping to set off a wave of seeded upsets at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell. There have been plenty of those in recent times, as you Pig takes a look at Tuesday’s tasty treats.

Early Bird Specials

Seeded players in Barcelona should definitely be on alert Tuesday as there have traditionally been quite a few first-up scalps of seeds in the last four years. Last year, three seeds lost their openers with Roberto Bautista Agut (5) as the highest seed to be taken down. The three years prior to 2016, at least four seeds have lost their first matches with a high of eight seeds going down in 2014. One of the key culprits in those massacres has been David Ferrer. This year’s 13th seed is a four-time Barcelona finalist, but he’s lost his first match twice in his last three trips. Ferrer did make the semifinals in 2015 and missed out on the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell last year.

He’s on obvious upset alert on Tuesday. Here’s a look at which other seeds could be in peril with him.

8. Alexander Zverev
Sascha had a decent run in Monte Carlo last week before Rafael Nadal demolished him in the round of 16 by a 6-1, 6-1 scoreline. He’s got a tough opener with homestanding Nicolas Almagro as his opponent. This has long been a great stop for Almagro on tour with the Spaniard sporting a 25-13 record here. Almagro did drop his opener last year to Temuraz Gabashvili and flopped marvelously in Monte Carlo after opening a big lead on David Goffin. So perhaps Zverev won’t be in much trouble. Still, Almagro is capable on his day and this is just Zverev’s second trip to Barcelona. He made the round of 16 last year, but lost to Malek Jaziri.

13. David Ferrer
This seems like a big, fat duh of an inclusion on this list for Tuesday. Ferrer has been in poor form when healthy this year. He sits at just 3-6 on the season and has not played since the Miami Open in March. The 35-year-old seems to finally be grinding down from all the wear and tear on his body after a pretty amazing post-30-year-old career. He’s beaten his opponent, Kevin Anderson, three of five times in their careers. That includes two wins on clay, but none have come since 2014. This is a tough spot with rust likely for Ferrer and a big serve on the opposite side of the net.

14. Mischa Zverev
The other Zverev brother is matched against Daniel Evans to start his campaign in Spain. Evans hasn’t been at his best on clay, but an upset against Thiago Monteiro on Monday will give him hope in this one. The Evans win over Monteiro was just his third credited on the ATP Tour. It should be noted his two previous “wins” both came in dead rubbers in Davis Cup play. The win over his more accomplished Brazilian counterpart on Monday did see him dole out a dozen break points, but he saved eight. Zverev is 0-2 on clay this season with first-up losses to Jiri Vesely back-to-back in Marrakech and Monte Carlo. The elder Zverev is just 11-32 all-time on dirt in his ATP career. Added confidence for Evans with the Monday win could spell trouble for the German here.

17. Benoit Paire
A bigger, fatter duh than Ferrer to put on this list. Note that Paire became a seed at #17 when Kei Nishikori withdrew with a wrist injury. I think at this point, Paire has earned my new nickname for him – “Cypress Hill” – because he has shown that he is indeed, insane in the membrane; insane in the brain! Following a nice semifinal run on clay in Marrakech, Paire lost to 70-year-old Tommy Haas in Monte Carlo in his opener last week. Tommy is really 39, but Paire’s post-match ramblings included, “today age didn’t matter. Even against a player of 70 years I would have lost today because I wasn’t able to play at all.”

Paire went on to conclude that if he was at full-strength, he would have won 6-2, 6-2 instead of losing 6-2, 6-3. The sideshow opens with Marcel Granollers, who took down Jaziri in straights on Monday. Granollers is 3-1 vs Paire, altough Cypress Hill won their lone clay meeting in Rome in 2013. As usual, no telling what version of Paire shows up – so give Granollers a good shot to pull off the seeded upset.

Spanish Armada Seeking Deep Runs Again

The Spanish contingent had a decent opening to the week. Barcelona traditionally has rolled out multiple quarterfinalists from their home country in this tournament. On Monday, five Spaniards were in action with two taking on each other. In that match, Albert Montanes scored the upset win over Guillermo-Garcia Lopez. The big loss for Spain on Monday came at the hands of Tommy Robredo, who was beaten by lucky loser Yuichi Sugita. Spanish winners on Monday included Montanes, Nicolas Almagro and Marcel Granollers.

Spain already is guaranteed to have a shot to get one slot with Montanes playing (16) Feliciano Lopez in the next round. The winner is likely to play top seed Andy Murray for a shot at the quarters. Figure multiple Spaniards in the mix again this year in the quarters with Rafael Nadal the obvious leader as the second seed. Albert Ramos-Vinolas (10) should have a shot as well, but will need to be weary of talented teen Casper Ruud in his opener. ARV could play Bautista Agut for a shot at a quarterfinal spot. Granollers could be a sneaky pick to get to the final eight, but he’ll need to beat Paire and then possibly #15 Joao Sousa.

Doubles Trouble

Just a day into the Barcelona Open, the second seeded tandem is out. Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares continued a so-so 2017 with a first round loss to Fabrice Martin and Eduoard Roger-Vasselin, losing 10-3 in the super tiebreak. The top seeds this week are Henri Kontinen and John Peers. They get the deja vu start in Barcelona against Rohan Bopanna and Pablo Cuevas. That’s the same duo who eliminated them in the quarterfinals last week in Monte Carlo. Bopanna-Cuevas went on to win the titles. They open against each other on Tuesday.

The other top seeds this week in Barcelona are Ivan Dodig and Marcel Granollers as the three seeds with Team Lopez, Marc and Feliciano, as the four seeds. Team Lopez is one to watch this week. The Spanish duo made the finals in Monte Carlo last week ,their best showing on the year. They beat Kubot-Melo and Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert en route to their second final of the season. They made the semifinals here last year, losing to Cuevas and Granollers.

Kontinen-Peers remain the top ranked doubles team, mostly based on winning the Australian Open titles. Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo remain #2 in the rankings, about 500 points behind Kontinen-Peers. The Bryan Brothers are third, but close to 1,000 points behind the top spot. Neither team is in Barcelona this week and it was the Bryans who took the Barca title last season.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

The highlight of Tuesday’s slate for me is the doubles rematch between Kontinen-Peers and Bopanna-Cuevas. It will be interesting to see if they can build on the momentum of last week as the duo had not produced great results prior to Monte Carlo. I would be semi-shocked if Kontinen-Peers didn’t exact some revenge, but it could wind up in the super tiebreak again where anyone can win.

As for singles, look for multiple seeds to fall. I’m keen on one of the Zverev’s going down with Mischa the likelier. I also think Ferrer and Paire struggle. One of them might survive, but it won’t be easy for either one.

2017 Open Sud de France Preview

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Home Cookin’

The post-Australian Open swing goes indoors in Europe with Montpellier, France as one of two stops this week on the ATP World Tour. This tournament has been a haven from French champions since its inception in 2010. A Frenchman has hoisted the trophy five of six years with Richard Gasquet taking three of the last four titles. In three of the last four years, it’s been an all-French final in Montpellier with at least two French semifinalists in each of the tournament’s six years. There are seven Frenchman already in the main draw this year with another nine vying to get through qualifying. Expect the French to again have a lot ot say about who wins the title.

Davis Cup Hangovers

With Davis Cup play finishing up on Sunday, there are several plays in this field who will be making a quick transition to Montpellier. That includes Richard Gasquet. Gasquet is seeded third this week behind Marin Cilic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga with Alexander Zverev rounding out the top four seeds in the 28 player singles field. Both Gasquet and Zverev will be coming off of weekend Davis Cup duty. Rounding out the top eight seeds are Feliciano Lopez, Mischa Zverev, Marcel Granollers and Fernando Verdasco. Lopez and Zverev were also on Davis Cup duty, but only played doubles. Still, they don’t have the fortune of the first round bye like Gasquet and Sascha Zverev. That leaves them a bit vulnerable in round one with less time to adjust to the surface.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Marin Cilic (1)
Feliciano Lopez (5)

Breakdown
Cilic lost his lone match in Montpellier last year to Alexander Zverev in a difficult draw. This year, he has the opening bye again with either Dustin Brown or Guillermo Garcia-Lopez awaiting in round two. Cilic has had a poor start to the year with just a 1-2 record with losses to Jozef Kovalik in Chennai and Daniel Evans in round two at the Australian Open. Both Brown and GGL pose a risk for Cilic. The Spaniard is 3-1 against Cilic with Cilic’s lone win indoors back in 2008 at his home tournament in Zagreb. Brown’s quirky game would be a first time experience for Cilic and thus, could cause him some early hassle.

Lopez will get a yet-to-be determined qualifier to open. If he survives that, the second round looks pretty perilous with either Benoit Paire or Karen Khachanov in the way. Paire did make the final here in 2013, but has been a first round casualty two of the other three years he has played here. Khachanov has to face the dreaded DC turnaround after playing for Russia in Serbia over the weekend. He’s got plenty of talent to test Paire though, so an upset there is still possible. Don’t be surprised if this quarter gets blown up and an unseeded player sneaks through to the semis.

Quarter #2 Seeds
Richard Gasquet (3)
Mischa Zverev (6)

Breakdown
Gasquet’s biggest issue will be travelling from Tokyo from Davis Cup action. The good news is that Gasquet had what amounted to a practice session in his straight sets whipping of Taro Daniel on Friday. Getting the bye will definitely help him adjust. His first match will come against either Malek Jaziri or a qualifier. It should be a good early-go for Gasquet. Zverev also comes off Davis Cup duty. He played doubles and was trounced in a dead rubber on Sunday. That’s not good news and neither is playing Daniel Evans in round one. The only good thing for Zverev there is that Evans will likely be more gassed after playing two matches this weekend in Canada and then making the trip overseas.

I’d give the edge to Mischa then with less travel despite his poor showing on Sunday. Evans has a lot more to contend with and I believe this match is scheduled for Tuesday. The winner gets either Frenchman Quentin Halys or Illya Marchenko. Halys is a big hitter who could blow someone off the court, but his consistency has not been great. Zverev could have been done just enough favors here to sneak through to the quarters. All in all though, this looks like a nice draw for Gasquet.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Alexander Zverev (4)
Marcel Granollers (7)

Breakdown
Zverev comes in off a disappointing finish to Germany’s Davis Cup tie with Belgium. Sascha was beaten by Steve Darcis on Sunday to hand the Belgians the tie. The youngster now has to turn around from that disappointment quickly. He’ll face either Aljaz Bedene or Borna Coric in round two after an opening bye. Coric beat Sascha in their lone meeting at the Cincinnati Masters in 2015. He’s never played Bedene. It’s still advantage Zverev to me in these conditions, but if he’s got any sort of DC hangover, he could be in trouble.

Granollers has a difficult opener against Jeremy Chardy. They’ve split four career meetings with none coming since 2013. Both haven’t been great indoors, so it’s a toss-up. The winner will face either Paul-Henri Mathieu or a qualifier in round two. This part of the draw looks very open with a ton of questions. Zverev is certainly the most talented player in this quarter, but I fear the DC turnaround could be tough on him. He did make the semis here last year though, so at least the surface suits him.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (2)
Fernando Verdasco (8)

Breakdown
Tsonga returns to Montpellier for the first time since 2010 when he made the semifinals. The draw looks advantageous with Pierre-Hugues Herbert or a qualifier first-up in round two. On the other side, Verdasco faces a still-to-be-determined qualifier in round one. The survivor goes up against either Daniil Medvedev or Tobias Kamke. Medvedev was forced out of his Davis Cup rubber against Novak Djokovic, so his status is very much up-in-the-air. That should please Verdasco who may have less to do in order to make a deeper run. The Spaniard is making his Montpellier debut. He’s at .500 for his career indoors. His big hitting style can do well here and a Tsonga-Verdasco quarterfinal looks quite possible. Tsonga holds a 4-2 edge head-to-head, but it was Verdasco who won in 2015 when they last faced in Cincinnati.

Early Bird Specials

Last year’s Open Sud de France produced five seeded upsets in their opening matches. That was a high over the past four years. In three of the last four years, at least two seeds have dropped out in their openers. Cilic, the Brothers Zverev and Granollers are the players that look to have the toughest tests. I think at least two of them could be checking out early.

Outsider’s Edge

Last year’s semifinals saw just one seed (Gasquet) along with a qualifier and two other unseeded players. That broke a string of two straigh years with all seeded semifinalists. With the Davis Cup switch up for some of these players, it could be another rough time for the seeds early on and that could leave the business end of the tournament open for some unseeded players. I look to the first quarter where Dustin Brown, GGL, Paire and Khachanov are very dangerous floaters. Even with the top seed in that quarter, I would not be surprised to see that quarter find an unseeded semifinalist.

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

The Richard Gasquet Invitational looks primed for another potential encore performance. Gasquet was able to get in a match in Tokyo that should have his confidence back after his debacle against Grigor Dimitrov in Melbourne. If history holds, the two French players who look to have the best shot at contending here are Gasquet and Tsonga. Tsonga is 5-4 against Gasquet with a win last year coming via retirement at Wimbledon, their first meeting since 2013. They have split two career meetings indoors. With Tsonga in better shape this year, it’s possible he could end Gasquet’s reign. Either way, I think the champion here will be French, but it might just be Tsonga.