2018 BMW Open R2 Preview: Philipp Kohlschreiber vs Mischa Zverev

BMW17PKMZ

(6) Philipp Kohlschreiber vs Mischa Zverev

Munich Royalty vs The Serve & Volley

Philipp Kohlschreiber has crafted himself a pretty nifty career at the age of 34. He;s won eight career titles with half of them coming inside Germany. That includes winning here in Munich on three separate occasions, the last coming in 2016. He’s 30-10 overall at this tournament and despite his ranking and seeding is considered a pretty good shot to see his fifth final at the BMW Open. He’s made the final in four of his last six trips to Munich. He opened with a straight sets win over Ivo Karlovic 7-5, 6-4.

Against Karlovic, it was the German whose serve was rarely returned. The sixth seed won 83 percent of the points off his first serve and 75 percent off his second. He never faced a break point in the match. Karlovic got his usual freebies with 15 aces, but was shaky enough to allow a half dozen break chances with Kohlschreiber converting one in each set. The good thing for Kohlschreiber in that one is that Karlovic does employ the serve and volley, something he’ll see the majority of the match against Mischa Zverev. Kohlschreiber did a beautiful job hitting passing shots and also flicking balls back to Karlovic in low positions that the big man could not make good contact with on the volley attemps.

Zverev made relatively easy work of Andreas Haider-Maurer who hasn’t won a match since Captain America and Iron Man were still on speaking terms. Zverev won 6-4, 6-3 to score his surprising fourth win of the season on clay. The 30-year-old is just 23-45 on the surface for his career. The numbers look effective with win rates of 69 and 60 percent off first and second serves combined. He was broken two times on four chances. Haider-Maurer gave him eight looks at break opportunities with Mischa taking five of them.

The Formula

This will be just the second meeting all-time between the two Germans. Zverev took the only other meeting back in 2008 indoors in Rotterdam. Zverev squeaked by in straights 7-5, 7-5. Kohlschreiber was awful on serve, winning just 53 percent of the points. Zverev broke him five times on eleven chances. Zverev took better care of his own serve, winning 67 percent of the points. He was broken three times on six chances.

Mischa’s poor record on clay is a result of the serve and volley not being as effective on the slower surface. He’ll be harder pressed to get that tactic to work against Kohlschreiber, who is a solid net player. The slower surface also allows Kohlschreiber more time to set up in return and choose a strategy to beat Zverev as he rushes the net. The low balls he used in return against Karlovic can be effective against Mischa as well. Zverev is no where near as tall, but is still a taller athlete at 6’3″ compared to Kohlschreiber who is five inches shorter. Any time you can make a volleyer stretch or lunge to make a shot, you should have the advantage for the next shot – if there is one.

When Kohlschreiber serves, look for him to use the serve and forehand combo as his best pattern of play. He’s got a nice one handed backhand, but it is a little bit more prone to mistakes. Zverev would do well to target than side some both in return and in the volley exchanges. I think if Kohlschreiber is getting off more forehands, then this match could see a lot of one way traffic with the sixth seed possessing a better serve overall. Look for him to go after Zverev’s forehand every chance he can get in this one as it rates as the weaker wing, with both of Zverev’s ground strokes being fairly pedestrian if he’s trying any baseline exchanges.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

This is a comfortable tournament for Kohlschreiber and despite the loss to Zverev earlier in their careers, I think the match-up favors him on this surface. Zverev will need an off day from Kohlschreiber in the serving department to compete for an upset in this spot. Certainly Kohlschreiber isn’t a flawless player, but having seen the serve and volley in Karlovic will be a benefit. That should really set him up nicely against a player with a far inferior serve. Look for Kohlschreiber to move on to the quarterfinals.

Prediction: Kohlschreiber wins in straight sets

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2018 Abierto Mexicano Telcel #TinyTuesday Preview

ACAPULCO-TT

TUESDAY IN ACAPULCO

(6) Juan Martin Del Potro vs Mischa Zverev
H2H: Del Potro leads 1-0

Quick Notes
Del Potro went 1-1 in Delray Beach, his first matches since the Australian Open. The Argentine went 1-1 in Acapulco last year, losing to Novak Djokovic in round two in three sets. Zverev broke a five match losing skid with a first round win in Marseille last week. The German has still lost his opening match at eight of his last 12 tournaments. DelPo won the only previous meeting in straight sets at the 2009 Australian Open.

Keys to Victory
First serve for Del Potro. It’s often the tell-tale sign of whether or not the Argentine is going to win a match. In his loss to Frances Tiafoe at Delray Beach, his 1st serve win rate was 67 percent. In his loss to Tomas Berdych, it was 62 percent and 67 percent against Roberto Bautista Agut in a loss in the Auckland final. The close to 80 percent, the better his chances of winning.

For Zverev, he’s got to find a rhythm with his serve and volley early. He could definitely throw DelPo for a loop if he’s hitting his serve with precision and getting to net to finish off points. For the Argentine, he’s got to be aggressive on return and look to hit those big passing shots that are necessary to beat the serve and volley technique.

Prediction: Del Potro wins in straight sets

(1) Rafael Nadal vs Feliciano Lopez
H2H: Nadal leads 9-4

Quick Notes
Nadal returns for the first time since injuring his hip during a quarterfinal loss at the Australian Open. Motivation shouldn’t be a factor, but match fitness and rhythm will be a question mark until he proves it. Rafa has been in this position plenty though, so it’s not a huge concern. Lopez is 4-4 this season and owns a two match winning streak in this head-to-head. Those two wins came on hard courts, but were back in 2014 and 2015 when Lopez was playing more consistently in singles.

Keys to Victory
Rafa will be looking to find consistency in his game as quickly as possible. It starts with the serve in order to avoid letting Lopez put too much pressure on the top seed. I think Nadal will be comfortable getting into his trademark long rallies to work up a lather and give himself chances to hit his forehand and backhand to find their measure during match play.

Lopez’s first serve can be extremely effective. When he is in position to win, the first serve win rate for Lopez is in the high 70s or better with a good amount of aces. When he’s struggling, the number dips low. Against a quality returner like Rafa, if he can keep this number in the mid 70s, he’s going to have a chance to pull off an upset or at least be right in each set.

Prediction: Nadal wins in three sets

(2) Alexander Zverev vs Steve Johnson
H2H: Johnson leads 1-0

Quick Notes
Zverev has lost two of his last three matches with a disappointing effort against Andreas Seppi being the last one. Sascha did not have a good serve that day and struggled for consistency overall. Johnson comes in off his best week in months, having made the Delray Beach semifinals last week. It was the first time he had scored back-to-back wins since Shanghai last Fall, a stretch of six tournaments.

Keys to Victory
Serve for both. Johnson is a very serve driven player in that if his serve is not popping and getting him easy points, he usually doesn’t grind through to find other ways to win. Likewise, Zverev seems to dip in level overall when his serve isn’t producing the needed. Johnson as always will need to get to the forehand as much as possible. He’ll look to use that slice backhand in rallies to do so.

In their first meeting in Miami in 2016, Johnson won in straight sets with both going to tie breaks. Zverev out aced Johnson 14-3, but his 1st serve win rate was just 70 percent while Johnson’s was at 88. I think Zverev has improved his first serve as he’s packed on more muscle in the last few years. He needs to match Johnson and go after the American’s backhand. Zverev is more even off both wings and should be able to do damage in longer rallies as a result. This is his Acapulco debut, so he will have to adapt to conditions.

Prediction: Zverev wins in three sets

Kei Nishikori vs Denis Shapovalov
H2H: 1st meeting

Quick Notes
Both come in off semifinal runs at 250s with Nishikori doing that indoors in New York and Shapovalov in Delray Beach last week. Nishikori now has ten matches under his belt in working back from wrist surgery and New York saw him with his biggest test, a third set tie break loss to Kevin Anderson in the semis. El Shapo is still looking for a top tier win in 2018, but has been solid at 5-4. He has not beaten a player inside the top 50 this season. Nishikori is ranked #26, but obviously is a top ten talent.

Keys to Victory
Nishikori is one of those players whose serve can come and go during a match. In mounting this comeback from injury, he has been pretty solid overall on serve. I think a key for Kei is being aggressive on the return ball. He wants to be the one controlling the rallies and that is normally a good way to set yourself up for success. I’d also look for him to try and get to El Shapo’s backhand. His backhand is good, but not as good as his forehand.

Shapovalov’s forehand. This is such a big weapon for the Canadian teen. His one handed backhand is good as well, but the lefty forehand is wicked. It provides great depth that can push his opponent back. Even with Nishikori’s agility, if Shapovalov is on with his forehand, he’ll have chances to aggressively finish points by pushing Kei back and finishing off points at the net.

This should be an aesthetically pleasing match, likely the best of the day for me.

Prediction: Kei Nishikori wins in three sets

2018 Australian Open Preview: The Eliminati

ELIMINATI

As with every tournament, I try to highlight the seeds who will be most prone to an early exit. We like to call the players who can spring those upsets – The Eliminati. The ones who eliminate. As with any tournament, Grand Slams are not immune to seeing seeds get sent packing after round one. Over the past five years, at least four seeds have gone down in round one in four of five years. Only 2014 saw less than four seeds go down in the opening round with just two losing their first match.

AO18

In 2017, there were exactly four seeds who were one and done – led by 16th seeded Lucas Pouille. Last year did mark the first time since 2012 that no seed inside the top eleven lost in round one. Rafael Nadal is the highest seeded player to fall in round one since 2013. Rafa was seeded 5th when Fernando Verdasco stunned him in round one in 2016. Five top 12 seeds have gone down in their first matches in that same span with the #11 seed having a penchant for doing the deed. In 2013, 2015 and 2016, the #11 seed lost in round one. Overall, 22 seeds have lost in round one since 2013.

So with this year’s injury questions among some of the big names in the tournament and a number of players in the unfamiliar role as seeds, let’s take a look at who could play the role of “The Eliminati” in Melbourne this year.

Paolo Lorenzi
The Italian opens against 28th seed Damir Dzumhur. Dzumhur is certainly a player on the rise as the 25-year-old Serb comes off his most successful season on tour. A season where he won his first two ATP titles. Dzumhur however has three first round exits in his last eight Slams played. That includes two last year, one of which came in Melbourne with a tough first round match-up against Viktor Troicki. Lorenzi is just 2-6 at the Australian Open, but has usually been a tough out. Last year, he beat Aussie James Duckworth in round one and took the aforementioned Troicki to five sets before losing in round two. Couple in that Dzumhur injured a hamstring in Sydney last week and you have a match that could yield an upset.

Dusan Lajovic
Lajovic meets another 20-something now in a seeded position in #25 Diego Schwartzman. The Argentine broke out last year, culminating with his first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the U.S. Open. Schwartzman still fell in the opening round at Wimbledon and has five first round exits in his last eight Slams. He may be on the rise, but Melbourne has not been kind to him with jut a 1-3 record. He won his first main draw match last year. Lajovic is another middling type, but another that has proven to be a tough out at this tournament. 2016 saw him outlast Sam Querrey who retired in round one before losing in five to Roberto Bautista Agut. Last year, he beat Pierre Hugues-Herbert to start, then was done in straights to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Might rate this lower on the scale of possibility, but I think Lajovic makes Diego earn it in a long match if he survives.

Mikhail Youzhny
Even though the Russian has seen better days and we haven’t seen him since 2017, you have to mark him as a possible member of The Eliminati. He faces 31st seed Pablo Cuevas who is just 1-5 all-time in Melbourne. Cuevas has lost his opener four of the five times he has played here, so that makes him a big question mark no matter the match-up. At 35, Youzhny is losing more in the first round than during his hey day. He’s lost his Slam opener three times in his last seven Slams since 2017. Cuevas did get a rare win in Auckland this past week, but in this match-up of vets – he still seems vulnerable.

David Ferrer
I’m a big fan of (30) Andrey Rublev, but this is not a great draw for him in the first round. Rublev did start the season very well in Doha by making the final, before being demolished by Gael Monfils. He chose to rest last week, while David Ferrer was making a run to the semifinals in Auckland. Rublev has the experience of his first Slam quarterfinal last fall in New York, but this feels different. Ferrer has changed his game to play some shorter, more aggressive points – but as he showed against Del Potro, he can still make you work all around the court. Being the opening round, I expect him to flash some of that. If Rublev doesn’t avoid the long ground rallies, he could be in some trouble.

Kyle Edmund
The lone clash between Edmund and 11th seed Kevin Anderson was a five set affair at last years French Open. Anderson prevailed 6-7, 7-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-4. Edmund arrives after skipping last week to rest an injured ankle he suffered in Brisbane against Grigor Dimitrov. A match that he well could have won if not for the injury, so his form was decent. Anderson too has started the season strong with a finals run in Pune, where he lost to Gilles Simon. Anderson had a streak of three straight fourth round finishes in Melbourne ended last year, when he lost to Rajeev Ram in the opening round. Anderson is healthier than last year, so that might help him avoid this trappy spot. Still looks like a potential barn burner if Edmund is recovered from his ankle injury.

Yuichi Sugita
Sugita matches against 8th seed Jack Sock and by verge of his disinterested performance in Auckland last week, you have to keep him in upset alert. Sock did get his best finish in Melbourne last year, making the third round. Sugita beat Sock last year in Cincinnati during a career best run at a Masters event, making the quarterfinals. The negative for Sugita is that he’s only making his second foray into the main draw and is 0-1 for his career in Melbourne. Sugita is also only 2-6 all-time in main draws at Slams, so he’s got some history to overcome. Still, Sock has been in and out of too many matches and warrants being on the list.

Guido Pella
If there is a top ten seed who could fall, 5th seed Dominic Thiem might be it. Thiem faces Pella who is 2-0 against the Austrian. One of those wins came on hard courts in Chengdu last Fall and the other on clay in Rio in 2016. Thiem has also been dealing with a virus that forced him out of the Qatar Open after making the semifinals. Thiem’s best finish at the Aussie Open was last year’s fourth round run. The plus is he has only lost his opener once in four trips down under. I still rare this as a shot though with Pella off to a hot start this season with a semifinal run on Doha.

Fernando Verdasco
As he’s aged, Verdasco has arguably become one of the more feared first round match-ups at Grand Slams. Obviously the 2016 win over Nadal will be talked about, but so should his 3-1 mark against (20) Roberto Bautista Agut. That’s who he faces in round one. RBA comes in fresh off the Auckland title. He has gone back-to-back years making the fourth round in Melbourne and always seems a solid shot to make that point. Verdasco hasn’t jumped out impressively, going 1-2 in the pre-Aussie Open build-up, so I’d rank this one a little bit lower on the upset scale.

Ricardas Berankis
Berankis gets first crack at (9) Stan Wawrinka. The Swiss has not played an ATP level match since undergoing knee surgery following Wimbledon last season. Wawrinka admitted he is probably not in a complete match fit state heading into this tournament and that is why I think he’s got to be on the upset list. On top of that, to hear his comments about being unsure about his future after surgery and battling that mentally – I’m not sure Stan is anywhere close to where he needs to be to play a Grand Slam. Still, he’s a three-time Slam champ who could get hot and make a run if his knee feels good. This one looks like a long shot though with Berankis just 1-7 in the last two years.

Jared Donaldson
It’s tough to figure out if Donaldson is going to break out or not. Many thought his third round Wimbledon run last season was priming him to do even more at the U.S. Open. He wound up going out in the second round in five sets in a tough draw to Lucas Pouille. He’s never won a main draw match in Australia and wasn’t overly impressive is going 2-2 in the pre-Aussie build-up. Still, he’s got a big game and he gets #21 Albert Ramos Vinolas who has yet to taste victory in two matches this season. ARV is also just 1-6 in his career in Melbourne, so perhaps this is the chance Donaldson needs to grab his first AO win.

Hyeon Chung
Ching draws (32) Mischa Zverev and despite Zverev’s nifty run last year that included his defeat of Andy Murray, the German just does not have a great record on outdoor hard courts. His unexpected quarterfinal run last season accounts for four of his five career wins in Melbourne. Zverev had been a first round out in four of the previous five times he had been in the main draw. Chung scored good wins over Gilles Muller and John Inser in Brisbane and Auckland. Zverev will be a different challenge with his serve and volley tactics, but Chung has seen Mischa before and beat him – in Paris last year indoors and on clay in qualies in Houston in 2015. His athleticism matches well with Zverev’s tactics.

Feliciano Lopez
The lefty is in a familiar match-up against American (13) Sam Querrey to open. The two have met nine times with the Flodonis winning six ot those meetings, including three of four on outdoor hard courts. Querrey has struggled with the Australian swing for most of his career, but has at least been average here most years. He’s only made it as far as the third round, but Querrey has done that five times. Lopez lost in the first round in Melbourne last year for the first time since 2009. The Spaniard was adequate in the two pre-Aussie tourneys that he played, while Querrey lost his lone match in Auckland to Jiri Vesely. Querrey could survive this, but the match-up historically has been tough – so the match itself could be very good competitively.

This is the first of three parts to preview the 2018 Australian Open. Follow @tennispig all tournament for previews and more info.

The Tip Jar

2018 Brisbane International Preview

BRISBANE18

Happy New Year! Please make sure you visit The Tip Jar while you’re on the blog today. If the mood strikes you at any point during the season to make a donation to your Pig, I’m in your corner for life. I’m also looking to pay it forward, so keep that in mind. If that’s not your thing, its okay – I appreciate you visiting the site nonetheless and welcome your feedback!

Big Four Facing Uncertain Starts to 2018

The 2018 ATP World Tour begins with a stop in Brisbane, Australia ahead of three other tournaments kicking off on New Year’s Day in Sydney, Doha and Pune. The start of the season has already been marred by health questions surrounding both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Nadal announces his withdrawal from the Brisbane International, saying that he was still not fit to compete after ending last season prematurely due to a knee injury. Nadal is hopeful that he can continue to train and be ready for the Australian Open, but that is certainly a big question mark for the ATP’s top ranked player.

Djokovic reported feeling some pain in his surgically repaired right elbow this week, which caused him to skip the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi. The Serb seems likely to miss the Qatar Open in Doha, which starts on Monday. Djokovic has not played since Wimbledon last year. He will be replaced in Abu Dhabi by Andy Murray, who is crafting his own return from a hip injury that ended his 2017 campaign early. As of now, Roger Federer looks to be the lone member of the “Big Four” who will enter the 2018 season healthy. Fed is starting his season at the Hopman Cup in Perth this weekend.

Opportunity Beckons for Next Generation & Twenty-Somethings

With the lingering questions about the health of Nadal, Djokovic and Murray, it’s obvious that there is no better time than the present for other players to step into the spotlight and grab some glory. One of those twenty-somethings of whom something will be expected of this season is this week’s top seed, Grigor Dimitrov. Dimitrov capped off his 2017 by winning the Nitto ATP Finals. That pushed Dimitrov to a career-best 3rd in the rankings. He finished the season 49-19, but was not a factor in three of the four Grand Slams.

Dimitrov will need to strive for better consistency over the course of the season and not get into those stretches where he can’t win matches like he did in March & April. In that span, Dimitrov flopped in Indian Wells and Miami, losing his opener at the Miami Open. He followed that with successive first round losses in Marrakech and Monte Carlo. It’s been too familiar for Dimitrov who found the same thing with five straight first-up losses in May & June of 2016.

Brisbane will also feature one of the game’s most mercurial players in Nick Kyrgios. The Aussie is the third seed behind Dimitrov and Andy Murray. Kyrgios comes off another up and down season, finishing 2017 at 31-17 with no titles won. Health and effort were once again front row and center for Kyrgios last season with shoulder and hip ailments limiting him. NK was another young player who made no impression at Slams, losing in the first round at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and in the second round both at the Australian and French Opens.

2018 might signal a new version of Kyrgios. The 22-year-old has shown his philanthropic side since late last Fall when he announced the start of his own foundation to benefit underprivileged children. It has shown a side that the mainstream media has not focused on in the past and perhaps has given Kyrgios a bit more focus. Kyrgios said he heads into the new season healthier than last year and he’s been training with the Australian Davis Cup team in the past month. Could this be the year where things come together for the uber talented Aussie?

ELIMINATI

Spruced up for 2018, it’s a look at the seeds in the draw and those who might spring those upsets on the seeds – aka The Eliminati. Recently, Brisbane has been an anti-upset location for seeds with only six dropping their openers in the last four years. In 2015 and 2016, just one seed was taken down early. And since 2014, just one top four seed has been eliminated in their first match. Perhaps that could change in 2018 with some different names in the seeded field and a couple players – Murray and Raonic – coming on off lengthy layoffs.

Here is a look at who could play the part of the Eliminati in Brisbane in the early going.

John Millman
The home standing Aussie will take on a qualifier in round one with the prize being a date against top seed Grigor Dimitrov. Dimitrov is the defending champion of this event and has made the semifinals or finals in three of his five trips, but he’s got a big target on his back this time as the #3 player in the world. Millman has a history of being a tough out at this tournament, losing in three sets to Murray in 2012 and Federer in 2015 in his last two trips to Brisbane. Keep an eye on Millman if he passes his first round test.

Ryan Harrison/Leonardo Mayer
The winner of this first round match gets a shot at (2) Murray. The Scot has been rehabbing an injured hip since losing in five sets to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon last summer. He made his return to the court in exhibition play against Roberto Bautista Agut this week, losing 6-2 in Abu Dhabi. The 30-year old was a late sub for Novak Djokovic, so perhaps he was off the mark after not expecting to play. Still, he showed rust and both Harrison and Mayer have taken sets off of him in the past. Given his lack of competitive match play, this would be an opportune time for one of these two to jump on the second seed and get a win.

Steve Johnson
The American could cause a shock if he gets to round two, where he would face fourth seed Milos Raonic. Raonic ended his 2017 campaign early in Tokyo due to a calf injury. It was the last in a string of injuries that derailed the Canadian last season with wrist and leg injuries leading Raonic to a 29-12 mark with no titles won. Raonic’s last title came at this tournament in 2016, so he will be hoping that a return to this tournament will jump start his season. Johnson could be dangerous in this spot, if he gets past talented Aussie Alex de Minaur in round one. The American will have to overcome a poor history at this event to do so (1-3) though.

Qualifier
Mischa Zverev was one of the surprises of the early going in 2017 with his shocking defeat of Murray at last year’s Australian Open that pushed him into the first Slam quarter of his career. That looks like more of an anomaly for the German vet who often struggles on outdoor hard courts. This will be his third main draw in Brisbane with just a 1-2 record previously. Given that he’ll go against someone with play in match conditions, he could be ripe for an upset if the qualifier can handle his serve and volley tactics.

Alexandr Dolgopolov
The Dog heads into another season with the same M.O. that has followed him during his career; a player who can beat almost anyone when he gets on a roll, but a player who can lose to anyone, any week. Dolgopolov takes on sixth seed Diego Schwartzman in round one. Schwartzman won their lone meeting back in 2016 in three sets on clay in Buenos Aires. Schwartzman comes off his most successful ATP season, where he made his first-ever Grand Slam quarterfinal at the U.S. Open. This is his second straight trip to Brisbane. Last year, he went 1-1 in beating Querrey and losing to Raonic. Dolgopolov has some modest success in Brisbane at 8-6 for his career.

Draw Preview

*Career record at Brisbane in (parenthesis)*

Quarter #1 Seeds
(1) Grigor Dimitrov: 14-4 (2017-W)
(5) Gilles Muller: 1-2

Breakdown
Dimitrov has shown a great affinity for Brisbane in his career with two finals appearances and quarterfinal or better finishes in four of five trips to this tournament. There are plenty of pitfalls in this quarter however that could preclude Dimitrov from getting that sort of result again. Fifth seed Gilles Muller owns three wins in his last four meetings with Dimitrov, including two wins last season. Muller will need to be careful in round one against Hyeon Chung, but could be a serious contender to the crown if he gets rolling.

The floaters here worth watching will meet in round one with Denis Shapovalov going head-to-head against Kyle Edmund. These two met three times, all in 2017, with El Shapo taking two of three. Interestingly, two of the matches were settled via retirement. That includes their last at the U.S. Open, where Shapovalov won when Edmund retired down two sets to one and 0-1 in the fourth.

This figures to be an intriguing season for the 18-year-old Shapovalov who struggled outside of his two big finishes at the Rogers Cup (SF) and U.S. Open (R16). El Shapo went just 2-6 after his U.S. Open heroics. There will be some lofty expectations due to those marquee results, but perhaps they should be tempered some with this season being the Canadian’s first “full” season at this level. Still, the winner between Shapovalov and Edmund will be a tough out for Muller or Chung, which makes this quarter much more of a toss up than you might think.

Quarter #2 Seeds
(3) Nick Kyrgios: 0-0
(6) Diego Schwartzman: 1-1

Breakdown
Kyrgios will make his Brisbane debut and should be expected to be on a show this week. The Aussie has a workable draw that should give him a shot at making the semifinals. He will either American Frances Tiafoe or Aussie Matthew Ebden in his opener. Both have talent and could pull off an upset, but I think Kyrgios’ serve is too electric for either player to keep up with.

Schwartzman’s side of the quarter could go any which way. The Argentine showed that he can win on this surface as he scored 22 of his career 35 wins on outdoor hard courts during his breakout campaign last year. That turned around an 8-16 mark prior to 2017. He faces the tricky game of Dolgopolov to open and then would get Horacio Zeballos or a qualifier. With what else inhabits this quarter, Kyrgios really should get through here as long as his serve is rolling to start the season.

Quarter #3 Seeds
(4) Milos Raonic: 9-3 (2016 – W)
(8) Mischa Zverev: 1-2

Breakdown
Raonic has played well down under in previous seasons and should be out to prove himself healthy to start the new year. The 27-year-old has been one of the more outspoked players this offseason when it comes to the ATP calendar. Raonic believes the season should end with the U.S. Open in order to give players proper rest and it’s not really that bad of an idea. In any case, Raonic’s serve and power should play well in this quarter – but he will be tested. Steve Johnson still looks like the biggest potential landmine for the fourth seed.

Zverev will try to keep his opponents off balance per usual with his serve and volley tactics. The 8th seed actually might have a better set up on his side of the quarter with a couple of qualifiers and Federico Delbonis in the mix. The qualifying field isn’t exceptionally strong with top seed Alexander Bublik already beaten by Aussie John Patrick Smith. I don’t generally trust the German outdoors, but he might be lined up to win a few in this quarter.

Quarter #4 Seeds
(2) Andy Murray: 9-0 (2012, 2013 – W)
(7) Damir Dzumhur: 0-0

Breakdown
Murray will look to keep his perfect record intact in Brisbane as he looks to get some match play under his belt before Melborne. Murray looked sluggish in his debut in the Abu Dhabi exhibition, but said that was too be expected after the long layoff. The Scot is hopeful that his body will respond better this week in Brisbane, but sounds like he’s not necessarily expecting to make a deep run. I’m not going to be stunned if Murray loses his opener to Ryan Harrison or Leonardo Mayer.

Dzumhur debuts in Brisbane with his opener against Denis Istomin. Istomin is closing in on the one year mark since his stunning defeat of Novak Djokovic at last year’s Australian Open. Istomin returned to his normal inconsistency after Melbourne, going 17-18 with a title in Chengdu late in the season. Between the Aussie Open and Chengdu, Istomin tallied about half his wins for the season.

The 25-year-old Dzumhur scored his maiden ATP title in 2017 in St.Petersburg and followed it up with his second in Moscow. The Serb has shown good skill on hard courts, but has just two wins in January over the last three years. He’ll have to prove himself all over again to start the year off. Given Murray’s sketchy physical condition, Dzumhur could take advantage of this quarter and get through to the semifinals. He will have a tough time in round two against either Jared Donaldson or Jordan Thompson. The winner of that match has definite darkhorse possibilities.

The Pig-nosticator

Each tournament previewed, the Pig-nosticator will list out @tennispig‘s picks to sizzle and fizzle for the week. Don’t forget that if something you peruse through in the preview provides you with something helpful – a visit to the Tip Jar would be kindly appreciated.

Sizzle
Nick Kyrgios
Milos Raonic
Jared Donaldson

Fizzle
Andy Murray
Hyeon Chung

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

The top seed has been involved in the business end in Brisbane, but has won just once in the last four years (Federer – 2015). Among the top three seeds are three former champions at this stop on the tour in Dimitrov, Raonic and Murray. I’d erase Murray off the list of contenders until he can prove he’s fit enough to handle several matches in a row. Raonic is a shorter question mark and can blister opponents with his serve. The positives for Dimitrov are that he is 3-1 against Raonic if it came down to that for the title. The negative is that Dimitrov has a tougher route prior to that possibly showdown with Gilles Muller and Nick Kyrgios in his path to the final.

Dimitrov is 2-0 against Kyrgios, but 2-3 against Muller. A win this week would make him the first repeat champion since Murray did the trick in 2012 and 2013. Damir Dzumhur is the sleeper for me amongst the seeds. The #7 seed is in Murray’s quarter and could benefit from the Scot not being up to snuff yet, but there are dangerous floaters like Jared Donaldson, Jordan Thompson, Leonardo Mayer and Ryan Harrison who could spring some surprises as non-seeded players. Non-seeds haven’t done much the last few years at the Brisbane International though with Lleyton Hewitt as the last non-seed to make the final (2014) and Dimitrov as the last non-seed to win the title (2013).

Bottom line – Kyrgios is the gut pick with Dzumhur as the longer shot. Dimitrov may prove me wrong by rolling this week, but I just have a feeling that he’s going to get got before the final.

2017 Swiss Indoors Basel Preview

SWISS17

No Nadal Means Federer Can Close Points Gap

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

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

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

Early Bird Specials

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

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

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

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

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

Outsider’s Edge

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

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

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

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

Draw Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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