2018 Wimbledon Preview

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Will The Federer-Nadal Slam Streak Push to Seven?

The narrative to start Wimbledon this year is no longer about whether Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal can add another Grand Slam title to their resume, it’s now back to the point of whether or not anyone can beat them? Since the improbable Federer-Nadal final at the 2017 Australian Open that ended with Federer claiming the crown, the 1A/1B “GOATS” have alternated Slam titles in each of the last six. Federer won his year’s Australian Open and Nadal answered with yet another French Open title. That brings us to Wimbledon, where Fed won last year for the first time since 2012. From 2013-2017, it was Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic taking home two titles each at the All-England Club.

The case can be made that Federer is in no worse shape than he was form-wise heading into last year’s Wimbledon. In 2017, he lost his Stuttgart opener to Tommy Haas and then went on to win the title the following week in Halle. The Haas loss wasn’t unexpected as it was the Swiss’ first match since March, as he took his clay court sabbatical. This year, Federer was pushed to three sets in his opener in Stuttgart against Mischa Zverev, but then found his game and ran to the title over Milos Raonic. The following week though he would fall short in the Halle final to an unexpected source in Borna Coric.

Fed arguably looked a bit shaky at times, needing a masterful escape over Benoit Paire in the second round and then dodging two tight matches that ended 7-6, 7-5 against Matthew Ebden and Denis Kudla in successive rounds. For me, last week wasn’t all that poor from Federer considering he had not played since March again and was playing back-to-back tournaments where he made finals’ runs. He may not have been his sharpest, but I think the two weeks showed that he’s still elite on grass, but perhaps has given some players a bit more hope after seeing a non-grass savant like Coric take him down.

As for Nadal, Wimbledon will be the first time we’ve seen him in a grass court match since last year’s tournament. He showed reasonably well for a man who had not played on the surface since 2015. Rafa would lose a thrilling five set match against Gilles Muller in round four at 15-13 in the fifth seed. He’s seemingly shaken off the shock exits he had back in 2011 and 2012, but has not been to a final since making it back-to-back in 2010 and 2011. Nadal has been practicing on grass in Mallorca and played some competitive matches at the Aspall Tennis Classic against the likes of Matthew Ebden and Lucas Pouille. Rafa edged Ebden 7-6 (3), 7-5 and lost to Pouille 7-6, 7-5.

Those should serve as important warm-ups for Rafa with Ebden having been in solid form on grass and Pouille, despite a mostly poor run since the end of February, is a a solid test on the surface. Nadal’s challenge of course will come when he plays against power players who can utilize the speed of the surface to avoid lengthy rallies with Nadal. He won’t have that to open with the Spaniard set to battle Dudi Sela. I’ll focus more on the draw itself later, but the quick first peak at his quarter and you see few of those types who can catch lightning in a bottle and serve him off the court.

Murray Withdraws, Djokovic Confident

The big news on Sunday was the withdraw of Andy Murray. The Scot said after consulting with his team that playing best of five tennis right now is not the best thing for his continuing recovery from hip surgery. I think this was 100 percent the right idea if Murray is trying to work towards 100 percent fitness in the coming months. I think his ultimate goal is to be fit and match tough as the U.S. Open rolls around. That leaves us without at least one of the “Big Four” for the fourth straight Grand Slam.

Novak Djokovic will return to the scene of the crime in London. Last year, this is the tournament where his elbow flared up and forced him to retire in the quarterfinals. Djokovic has rebounded from his disappointing exit at the French Open, going to Queen’s Club and putting together a finals run. He put together some of his more consistent tennis of the season in beating the likes of Grigor Dimitrov, future Antalya champ Adrian Mannarino and in-form Jeremy Chardy. The Serb fell short in three sets in the final to Marin Cilic, but came away sounding like a man brimming with some much needed confidence.

Djokovic said after Queen’s Club that he feels like he’s playing his best tennis in the last 12 months. That 12 months of course includes last year’s Wimbledon where the elbow issues took a turn for the worse, forcing him to pull out of the tournament after advancing to the quarterfinals. I don’t think it’s off base to suggest that this tournament might be the definitive mental hurdle that the Serb needs to clear to feel “all the way back” to being a consistent threat again. As a three-time winner of this event, he can certainly be a danger, but will need to prove that consistent play from Queen’s Club can carry over into the best of five format.

ELIMINATI

Upsets in round one of a Grand Slam are a given. It’s simply a matter of how many seeds fall and who is the biggest victim. In 2017, six seeds fell in the opening round with 5th seed Stan Wawrinka as the highest seed to go one and done. He was the first top ten seed to lose in round one in London since 2013. That was the year that Rafael Nadal was stunned by Steve Darcis. Looking below, you can see that at least four seeds have been shown the door in the opening round every year since 2010 …

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With the state of men’s tennis and a lack of consistency among so many players from week to week, there could certainly be quite a few upsets in the early going. Here is a look at who could join the illustrious list of Eliminati members, those who take down seeds in their opening matches.

Daniil Medvedev
Despite his recent heroics in Halle, Borna Coric has never been one associated with great success on grass. Perhaps the winds of change are taking him in a new direction off of that win, but meeting the big hitting Russian in round one is a challenge. Medvedev lost their only career meeting at last year’s Next Gen Finals, but he’s proven capable on grass with an 11-7 career mark. He was also responsible for last year’s biggest upset, beating Wawrinka in round one at the All-England Club. His year has been plagued by inconsistency, but I think there’s a realistic chance that Medvedev pushes Coric hard in this opener.

Gael Monfils
This could be a fun first rounder with Monfils set to go against Richard Gasquet. They have played 16 times with La Monf holding a 9-7 edge. He comes in with some decent form for the first time in a while after making the semifinals in Antalya. They split two grass court meetings in 2017 with Monfils winning in Eastbourne and Gasquet taking the match in Halle. Gasquet won the Libema Open on grass and then predictably was out of gas in Halle the week after with an opening loss to Leonard Mayer. Gasquet lost in round one last year to David Ferrer for the first time since 2006 when he lost to Roger Federer. Monfils has only been dumped out in round one two times in nine tries all-time at Wimbledon. This is tough to call and that of course means Monfils could win.

Evgeny Donksoy
The Russian has never won at Wimbledon in four tries, but he draws Philipp Kohlschreiber who is on a three year losing skid at the All-England Club. Granted two of the three losses were to Novak Djokovic and Marin Cilic, but the German has lost his opener five of the last seven trips to London. He was not even quite up to snuff with his usual modus operandi of playing well on grass in Germany this year, so despite Donskoy’s lack of success, this might be tricky. I would put this on the lower end of possibilities as Kohlschreiber is clearly a better grass court player, but has to overcome some mental hurdles in this spot.

Nicolas Jarry
The Chilean may not have a Grand Slam win to his credit or a grass court win for that matter, but he draws Filip Krajinovic to open and that gives him a chance for me. Krajinovic has not played since March due to a leg injury. He withdrew from all grass court events he was scheduled to play at, which also leads you to wonder if he’s recovered or not. Even if he’s ready, Krajinovic has no wins on this surface either. I think Jarry despite being more known for his clay court prowess, has the “big” game that can do some damage on a quick surface. He’s got a real shot here if Krajinovic even laces up his sneakers.

Denis Kudla
Kudla rekindles memories of his 2015 fourth round run at Wimbledon by making a surprise semifinals run in Halle in recent weeks. Kudla scored some impressive wins over Lukas Lacko, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Yuichi Sugita before falling in a tight two setter to Federer. He draws Lucas Pouille in the opening round. The Frenchman went 2-2 in the grass build-up tournaments and also beat Nadal in exhibition play. Pouille has avoided first round trouble the last two years at Wimbledon, but he’s been prone to one and dones in 2018 with five of his last seven tournaments going that way.

Radu Albot
Albot is nothing to talk about on grass, but neither is Pablo Carreno Busta. The Spaniard is 0-5 all-time on grass and has once again chosen to skip any of the build-up tournaments. Carreno Busta is 0-3 at Wimbledon with losses to David Ferrer, Monfils and Raonic. Albot isn’t in that class, but I think you can see that PCB isn’t one who will have a ton of confidence on this surface. On talent, PCB should be the pick, but this smells ripe.

Frances Tiafoe
The American gets a shot at Fernando Verdasco in round one. Tiafoe got two credible wins at Queen’s Club with wins over Leonardo Mayer and Jared Donaldson. Tiafoe got an opening round win against Robin Haase last year at Wimbledon and sets his sights on Verdasco who was 1-3 on grass this summer. Verdasco has lost his opener three of the last four years in London and will likely have a tough time against the American who has the power to hit big winners on grass if his consistency holds up.

Maximillian Marterer
The German draws one of the bigger surprises on grass this summer in Damir Dzumhur. Dzumhur won the title in Antalya on Saturday over Mannarino and also won sets off of Sugita and Kyrgios in the two German tournaments. Dzumhur has never made it past round two and most will be inclined to think his hot run means he’ll avoid any early trouble. I think despite Marterer making his Wimbledon main draw debut, he”ll push the 27th seed some in the first round.

Jeremy Chardy
A rough draw for Denis Shapovalov as Chardy has been on fire on grass this summer. The Frenchman won the Surbitron Trophy on grass on the Challenger circuit and then followed that with a finals appearance at the Libema Open and a semifinal run at Queen’s Club. Shapovalov is just 1-4 on grass, competing pretty well on the surface, but failing to find the winning touch. Chardy would rank near the top of possibilities in scoring a first round upset for me.

Matteo Berrettini
The Italian has never won on grass, but he draws the great disappointment known as Jack Sock. The American has gone one and done in five of his last six tournaments. That includes losing in QUALIFYING at Eastbourne last week to Daniel Brands. Sock has also failed to win a main draw match at Slam since escaping with a first round win at last year’s Wimledon. Until Sock proves that 2018 is anything but the big pile of suck that it’s been, I wouldn’t trust him to win what looks like a great and winnable match-up.

Matthew Ebden
Ebden is 0-3 against David Goffin, but he’s been in solid form on grass this summer. He has utilized the serve and volley that can cause trouble on grass. Goffin is making his return to Wimbledon after missing last year. He made the fourth round in both 2015 and 2016, but had lost his opener in two of three trips – albeit it against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Andy Murray. Goffin lost his lone tune-up against Feliciano Lopez at Queen’s Club and probably has enough to win here, but Ebden could make it tricky.

Alex De Minaur
The Aussie was a disappointing loser to Mikhail Kukushkin at Eastbourne, but had been on a big run on grass on the Challenger circuit. He won the title in Nottingham and made the final at Surbiton. He will face Marco Cecchinato who scored his first wins on grass this past week in Eastbourne against Denis Istomin and John Millman. This is a like versus like match-up for me with two guys who like to use their defense and speed to track down balls and force their opponent to hit the extra shot. This could wind up being a real competitive opening rounder and De Minaur has the ability to grab the win after getting some needed rest.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
(1) Roger Federer: 92-11 (8x winner)
(8) Kevin Anderson: 12-10
(11) Sam Querrey: 17-10
(16) Borna Coric: 1-4
(22) Adrian Mannarino: 15-10
(23) Richard Gasquet: 28-12
(25) Philipp Kohlschreiber: 11-13
(32) Leonardo Mayer: 8-10

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Breakdown
The top seeded Swiss should feel good about this quarter. Outside of Borna Coric’s unexpected win over him in Halle, he has pretty much owned the seeds in this quarter. Fed will open against Dusan Lajovic, a near repeat of their lone meeting that came during last year’s second round. The Swiss topped Lajovic 7-6 (0), 6-3, 6-2. I’d say Fed’s path looks pretty clear until the fourth round. In the top half with Fed, Coric and Mannarino figure to be the seeds to watch. Mannarino has made round four twice in his career, including last year. The Frenchman went 5-3 in three grass tournaments this summer and he’s got the net skills that play well to this surface. I like his draw and prefer him over Coric to meet Federer in round four.

Coric has to overcome his poor history here and a rough match-up with Medvedev to start. Let’s not forget that the Croatian had a 2-7 record on grass until last week. Wins over Alexander Zverev and Fed in Halle will breed confidence, but not as much as a first round win over Medvedev might. I think if Coric gets that notch under his belt, then watch out. Mannarino does hold a 2-0 edge over him in their careers however, with a win on grass in Antalya last year. I think if you’re looking for dangerous floaters in this half, Medvedev is obvious, but another Russian could also be of interest. Mikhail Youzhny at 36 is in the twilight of his career, but he’s been competitive on grass. He’s had to fight through qualifying this summer and did not win a main draw match, but he showed tough against the likes of Thiem, Mischa Zverev and Robin Haase in losing first round matches. He draws Ivo Karlovic in round one, who he is 4-1 against. That includes a grass court win in Halle last year. I’m not suggesting a deep, deep run, but Youzhny could surprise into the third round.

The bottom half of the quarter is led by Anderson and Querrey. Anderson has made the fourth round three times since 2014 and Querrey has made the quarters and semis in the last two trips to Wimbledon. Querrey could face in interesting clash in round two if Sergiy Stakhovsky gets past Joao Sousa in round one. Stak found some of his best form in winning the Ilkey Trophy last week, a Challenger level grass court tournament. The 32-year-old has always been a tough out here and could make life challenging for Querrey despite a 1-3 record against him. The Gasquet-Monfils match in round one in this half could go a long way in determining a deep runner in this section. Both have good records against Querrey with Gasquet at 3-1 and Monfils at 2-0. If they don’t take too much out of each other in round one and can stay healthy and on schedule, look for a Frenchman to slot into round four.

The other part of this bottom half sees Anderson and Kohlschreiber as the seeds. Anderson was a quick exit at Queen’s Club, losing a tough three set match to Leonardo Mayer, so he doesn’t have much match play on grass this summer. Still, the 8th seed hasn’t needed much to get going on grass in the past. He did lose in round one in 2016, but was against a tough nut in Istomin. This year, he draws easier with Norbert Gombos to open. The tougher test could come in round two against Andreas Seppi. The Italian will need to beat John Patrick Smith to make that happen. JPS is still looking for his first Slam win, but he’s not a slouch on grass. Don’t be surprised if Seppi has a tough time against him. Should Seppi survive, Anderson gets another shot at him with their only meeting a straight sets win for the South African at Wimbledon last year.

The other intrigue lies with Kohlschreiber. He’s had trouble winning in London, but has a draw that could be conducive to a few wins. He starts with Donskoy who is not at his best on this surface. Gilles Muller could await in round two. The big lefty draws American Michael Mmoh in round one. Mmoh is in as a lucky loser, while Muller is hoping to turn around a poor season. He was a surprise quarter finalist last year, but had not been past round two in his last four trips to Wimbledon. Kohlschreiber beat Muller in Dubai in 2017, their only career meeting. If it comes down to those two in round two, it should be a good veteran match-up and tough to call. Muller is the tougher out for Anderson, who is 3-2 against the South African. If he gets on a roll, then you could look for an upset.

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Roger Federer
Adrian Mannarino

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Sam Querrey
Borna Coric

The Pig-nosticator

I don’t think you can definitely say this should be Federer with ease. I do think he played fairly well this summer in the grass court build-up, but he also showed some vulnerability at times. That being said, beating Fed in a best of five on grass takes on a different air – much like trying to beat Nadal in a best of five on clay. The feeling for me is that a younger player like Coric or Medvedev who don’t know they should lose to Federer are the ones to be more scared of as the Swiss moves on. The other guy who would be an X-factor if he survives Gasquet is Monfils. He’s got four wins over Fed and relishes the spotlight.

All of that set up and I’m still not stupid enough to pick against Federer before the semifinals.

Quarter #2 Seeds
(3) Marin Cilic: 27-11 (F – 2017)
(6) Grigor Dimitrov: 15-8
(9) John Isner: 10-9
(13) Milos Raonic: 20-7 (F – 2016)
(17) Lucas Pouille: 5-4
(20) Pablo Carreno Busta: 0-3
(28) Filip Krajinovic: 1-5
(31) Stefanos Tsitsipas: 0-1

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Breakdown
This is a quarter full of talent, but only one proven commodity and that is Marin Cilic. The third seed should have lofty expectations here with four quarterfinals in his last five Slams played, including two finals appearances. He’s been to four straight quarterfinals here with last year’s final being his best finish. He starts against Yoshi Nishioka, which should afford the 2018 Queen’s Club champion a comfortable first round win. The top half where Cilic lives isn’t likely to have a lot of questions for Cilic until he gets to round four, where he is seeded to face Milos Raonic. Krajinovic is the other seed and as laid out earlier, he hasn’t played in three months. I don’t expect much from him, so an unseeded player like Jarry or the winner between Mackenzie McDonald and Ricardas Berankis, could find themselves in round three against Cilic.

Raonic is again an injury question after pulling out of Queen’s Club with a strained perctoral muscle. He should be fine, but he’s still fragile. When on, he showed again that he is a threat on grass with a run to the Stuttgart final. He gets Brit Liam Broady to open. The intrigue in this half could hinge on what form of Lucas Pouille we get. The 17th seed has a difficult opener against American wild card Denis Kudla. Should he survive, then we may well see a Pouille-Raonic clash in round three. Raonic holds a 3-0 edge and just beat Pouille in Stuttgart earlier this summer on grass.

In the bottom half, the lead seeds are Dimitrov and Isner, but the guy I am most interested to watch is Stefanos Tsitsipas. The Greek teen has continued to improve on all surfaces this year and should at least get his maiden Wimbledon win this year. As for Dimitrov, his season has gone off the rails since making the Rotterdam final. He’s gone just 9-9 since that tournament. Wimbledon has been his second most successful tournament behind the Australian Open, but he’s failed to come close to his best run to the semifinals back in 2014. He’s made round three twice and the fourth round (2017) once since that highlight moment. On paper, seeing Stan Wawrinka might be a cause for concern in round one, but Dimitrov has a good head-to-head record against him and grass has not suited the Swiss the best. The real showdown for me could come in round three is Tsitsipas can take care of business against Gregor Barriere and then either Malek Jaziri or Jared Donaldson.

In the other section of this quarter, you’re staring and John Isner and Pablo Carreno Busta as the seeds. I told you of PCB’s allergy to grass and despite a winnable opener, I don’t think the Spaniard does much again. He could get that first grass court win there, but then likely goes out in round two to the survivor between Cameron Norrie and Aljaz Bedene. Bedene seems more likely with more experience, having made round three here last year. He also owns a couple wins over PCB in their careers. Isner goes to Wimbledon with no grass prep, but his first round opponent, Yannick Maden, doesn’t seem the sort to upset him. The challenge lies in round two where he faces Steve Johnson or Ruben Bemelmans. Johnson has been especially tough on him with four straight wins and Bemelmans This part of the draw could really open up for someone like Johnson or Bedene to sprout a mild surprise.

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Marin Cilic
Stefanos Tsitsipas

Fizzle
John Isner
Pablo Carreno Busta

The Pig-nosticator

I think this quarter swings on a possible Cilic-Raonic match in the fourth round. The hope is that Raonic is healthy to make that one to watch. Cilic is 2-1 against him, but their matches usually hinge around one or two breaks to decide things. I think with all eyes on Cilic due to his recent Slam success, Dimitrov should really play loose and free in this spot. His part of the draw and overall experience, could have him primed for at least a quarterfinal run. I think the important thing for him is not struggling out of the gate against Wawrinka. It’s hard to pick against Cilic with the Croat showing good mental strength in Slams of late and owning favorable records against the top dogs in this section. Raonic sticks out as the alternate runner here for me if he can stay away from the injury bug.

Quarter #3 Seeds
(4) Alexander Zverev: 6-3
(7) Dominic Thiem: 5-4
(12) Novak Djokovic: 58-10 (3x winner)
(15) Nick Kyrgios: 10-4
(21) Kyle Edmund: 2-6
(24) Kei Nishikori: 13-9
(27) Damir Dzumhur: 3-5
(30) Fernando Verdasco: 22-15

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Breakdown
Zverev could not have asked for much worse than what has been laid on him in this quarter. After making his break through at the French Open to get to his first Slam quarterfinal, Sascha has lost two straight matches. That includes a loss to Coric on grass in Stuttgart, although admittedly I think Coric did play great in that match. I do think his early draw here looks pretty good with James Duckworth to open and then either Taylor Fritz or Lorenzo Sonego in round two. The real battle could begin in round three, where Sascha is slated to meet (27) Dzumhur. Dzumhur has surprised on grass and had Zverev on the ropes in their five set war at the French Open in May. I think grass would help Zverev more so if that match unfolds, but it could still be a tricky one.

More trouble could come in round four should Sascha get that far with Kei Nishikori and Nick Kyrgios as the seeds in the other quadrant of this half. Kyrgios is going to be the most watched, but he has some tough customers in his way. He opens against Istomin, then could see hard hitting Marius Copil in round two and perhaps fellow Aussie Bernard Tomic in round three. Yes, Tomic is still alive and perhaps perfectly cast as a lucky loser entry after getting blown own in the final round of qualifying. Nishikori likely could have something to say about this section too with the man from Japan opening against Christian Harrison. He could then see Tomic or Hubert Hurkacz, another lucky loser, in round two.

Tomic has actually won two straight from Nishikori, both in 2016. We know this is the Aussie’s best surface and he reminded of that with a semifinal run at the Libema Open this summer, losing to Gasquet in three sets. The 25-year-old lost in round one last year, but has a quarterfinal and a couple of fourth round finishes to his credit at Wimbledon. If I am Nishikori, I’d rather not face Tomic in round two. He could blow him out, but Tomic could also show up and be capable of making things very interesting. Most will hope for another installment of Zverev-Kyrgios, but I think there are enough factors/players here that we see something different.

In the other half, lead seeds are Dominic Thiem and the resurgent Novak Djokovic. Djokovic is going to get a long look from most who believe the Serb’s run at Queen’s Club is an indicator that he’s not far off of being a major factor again. Best of five tennis will be the challenge to his consistency and I think his challenge early is to take care of business without expending extra energy. He begins with Tennys Sandgren who has still not won a Grand Slam match outside of Australia. A win nets the 12th seed a shot against Horacio Zeballos or Guido Andreozzi. The path for me looks clean until round three where Djokovic is seeded to meet Edmund, but Yuichi Sugita could also be a factor. Edmund won’t be afraid of Djokovic after scoring his first win over the Serb in Madrid this Spring. The Brit’s bigger challenge is a poor record on grass (5-14) and little success at the All-England Club.

The other quadrant with Thiem has a lot of dangerous unseeded players. Thiem begins against Marcos Baghdatis, who once upon a time was one of those players. He’s not in that category at this time. I expect Thiem to advance to round two, where he could find big trouble in Karen Khachanov. The big hitting Russian faces David Ferrer to start with the Russian having beaten the Spaniard in three sets indoors earlier this season. Grass should play well to Khachanov’s power. Khachanov would pose an interesting risk to Thiem’s stay in London. Khachanov is 7-3 on grass and made round three last year. He’s got that quick 1-2 punch of big serve and big groundies that can trouble on this surface.

The other part of this segment sees Verdasco against Tiafoe in round one and Marton Fucsovics against Julien Benneteau. That is pretty wide open and you could reasonably see any of those guys into round three with the exception perhaps of Fucsovics who has had some health issues lately. For me, that leaves Thiem or Khachanov as the guy likely to be set up for a showdown against Djokovic in round four.

Sizzle
Novak Djokovic

Fizzle
Kei Nishikori
Fernando Verdasco

The Pig-nosticator

Djokovic is going to be a popular pick here and even if he still has not proven to be his best, I think you do see why you would like him better than unprovens like Zverev and Kyrgios. Kyrgios was consistent here until losing in round one last year, having made the fourth round twice and a quarterfinal in the previous three trips. He says he is as healthy as he’s been in a long time, but Nishikori is a road block even on grass. Nishikori is 3-0 against him, although grass definitely might be Nick’s best shot to turn that around. I think this will come down to which one of three guys conserves his energy better early on – Zverev, Kyrgios and Djokovic. Sascha knows first hand how important that is now after the run of five setters in France wore him out late. I lean slightly to Djokovic with everyone else, but do think Kyrgios is capable albeit tough to trust in best of five sets.

Quarter #4 Seeds
(2) Rafael Nadal: 43-10 (2x winner)
(5) Juan Martin Del Potro: 17-8
(10) David Goffin: 10-6
(14) Diego Schwartzman: 0-3
(18) Jack Sock: 4-5
(19) Fabio Fognini: 10-9
(26) Denis Shapovalov: 0-1
(29) Marco Cecchinato: 0-1

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Breakdown
Nadal’s chances on grass always seem to come down to how many power players might stand in his way. In that regard, this is one of the best draws he could have hoped for with a fairly simple early route. Rafa plays Dudi Sela in round one and that should afford him a solid start. The second round would pit him against Mikhail Kukushkin or Vasek Pospisil. Pospisil has struggled to get back to the form that saw him as a quarter finalist at Wimbledon back in 2015. Since then, the Canadian is 1-8 at Slams. A win could do wonders for him, but I don’t know that he would truly challenge Nadal at this point. Rafa’s third round opponent is anyone from a group including Cecchinato, De Minaur, Pierre-Hugues Herbert and newly minted Eastbourne champ, Mischa Zverev. There are a lot of gritty, speedy defenders in that bunch – but no one who is going to overpower Rafa. I think Nadal gets through to round four.

It’s Diego Schwartzman and Fabio Fognini as the seeds in the other section in this half. Schwartzman is still searching for his first grass court win and may get it against Mirza Basic in the opening round. The second round would be tougher with either Jiri Vesely or Florian Mayer waiting. Vesely just made the semis in Antalya and would be the bigger ask. Mayer at one time was a quarter finalist here (2012), but has been hampered by injuries the last few years. It would be a shocker even against Schwartzman I think to see him push through a few rounds. Fognini begins with Taro Daniel who doesn’t seem the sort to win on grass. The interesting match-up could come in round two if Simone Bolelli can utilize his lucky loser status and get a win against Pablo Cuevas in round one. Cuevas is 1-4 on the surface, so Bolelli surely has a shot. That would then pit two doubles partners against each other in round two with Bolelli liking grass better than Fognini.

The other half of the quarter sees Del Potro and Goffin as the highest seeds. Del Potro’s problem comes in round two with Feliciano Lopez as a potential opponent. Del Potro will need to get past Petr Gojowyczk first , but if he does he finds himself against a serve and volley type who will test him. Lopez has Federico Delbonis in round one. Lopez is a three time quarter finalist at Wimbledon, but he has only been as far as round four since his last QF in 2011. Should we see Del Potro versus Lopez, be weary of the upset potential. The other match in this segment to watch is round one with Shapovalov against Chardy. Chardy has been red hot on grass and he could have an inside track to round three. He may have to get past fellow Frenchie Benoit Paire who now faces Jason Jung in round one instead of Andy Murray. There is some definite potential for an unseeded player to get to round four in this part of the draw.

In Goffin’s segment, the Belgian has tricky Matthew Ebden to being. If he survives. then he will see either Albert Ramos-Vinolas or Stephane Robert. Ramos-Vinolas has made round three the last two years at Wimbledon but doesn’t seem likely to repeat that feat. The other seed here is Jack Sock. I don’t need to beat a dead horse, he has been awful this year. Once again he is presented with a draw that could lead him to a few wins, but he hasn’t shown any interest in winning this season. He faces Berrettini in round one and then either Gilles Simon or Nikoloz Basilashvili in round two. Basilashvili is the one to watch here and he could sneak into round three if Sock continues to suck. Goffin has made round four his last tro trips to London and could be in for another if he avoids trouble against Ebden early.

Sizzle
Rafael Nadal

Fizzle
Jack Sock
Denis Shapovalov

The Pig-nosticator

This is the exact kind of draw that I think Nadal would have loved to have crafted himself. It’s definitely a possibility that he could run through this quarter and into his first Wimbledon semifinal since 2011. Del Potro’s power would be the big test in this quarter, but the Argentine might not even be around by the quarters where he would potentially face Nadal. Feliciano Lopez would be the other intriguing contender if he can pull off some upsets. He’s beaten Rafa two straight times, but it’s been almost three years since their last meeting. Grass would however be a great chance for him to frustrate Nadal and avoid playing long rallies. That’s a big if though because he has a tough path to getting to that point. Either way, I thnk Nadal has an opportunity to play for a spot in the semis with the draw.

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

Is there an end in sight to the Federer-Nadal strangle hold on winning Slams? Grass is one surface that has become tougher in the era of the big server to repeat feats on. Federer was the last player to win back-to-back at Wimbledon, but that came from 2003-2007 during his era of complete dominance on this surface. Since then, it’s been all Big Four winning the titles, but none have been able to go back-to-back. Does Federer break the string? It’s obviously possible, but I think this is a tough draw LATE. He has to go through Cilic potentially in the semifinals and Cilic has shown that he is on par with Fed at Slams.

Their last three Slams have seen Federer win in five at the Australian Open this year and in five at Wimbledon in 2016. That came on the heels of Cilic’s stunning victory over Fed at the 2014 U.S. Open, where he won his lone Slam title. I think Cilic has a real shot if they play again to get a rare win. That could leave the door open for someone like Nadal or Djokovic to take advantage of perhaps a slightly compromised Cilic. The Big Four will still have a ton to say about who wins the title this year, but I’m going with Cilic. He’s consistent and this is his best Slam.

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2018 French Open Men’s Draw Preview

RGFULLPREVIEW

Even without the qualifiers slotted in, you can get a feel for this year’s men’s draw at the French Open. Here’s my thoughts.

Quarter #1 Seeds
(1) Rafael Nadal
(6) Kevin Anderson
(11) Diego Schwartzman
(14) Jack Sock
(22) Philipp Kohlschreiber
(24) Denis Shapovalov
(27) Richard Gasquet
(28) Feliciano Lopez

Breakdown
Nadal could not have asked for much better in this quarter. He opens against Alexandr Dolgopolov who is 2-7 against Rafa, pounded in straights in their two meetings in Brisbane and the U.S. Open in 2017. Gasquet is the seed he could see in round three. The Frenchman starts with Andreas Seppi (6-1) and then would face Mikhail Youzhny or Malek Jaziri. Good chance Rafa can move his record to 16-0 against the Gasman. I don’t see much in this portion of the draw that will stray too far from the expected. Nadal shouldn’t drop a set through at least round three.

The next segment of this quarter has Sock and Shapovalov as the seeds. Sock gets a TBD qualifier in round one, while Shapovalov battles John Millman. The Aussie had some moments on dirt, including a run to the Budapest final this season and a Challenger title to boot. Millman did pull out of Lyon with a hip problem, so that should give El Shapo some help. The dangerous floater here will be whomever wins between Ryan Harrison and Maximillian Marterer. The winner gets Shapovalov. Sock COULD NOT ASK for a sweeter early draw with a qualifier and then either Yuki Bhambri or Yen-Hsun Lu. I’ve still got money that he’ll muck it up.

Down in the bottom half, Anderson and Feliciano Lopez are seeds in one segment. Anderson draws Paolo Lorenzi to open. The 6th seed is 4-0 against the Italian, but Lorenzi has played him tough. Don’t be surprised if there is some sweat to the result in that one. Even more could await in round two with Aljaz Bedene or Pablo Cuevas next. Remember Bedene won the first set off of Anderson in Rome before the big man retired. Cuevas is 0-2 against Anderson, but took him the distance both times. Lopez gets a qualifier first and then either Mischa Zverev or Florian Mayer. That’s not a bad draw for the Spaniard. Still, there is some reasonable expectation of upsets in this part of the draw with Anderson needing to watch out the most.

The other segment has Schwartzman and Kohlschreiber as the seeds. The Schwartz gets Frencie Calvin Hemery in round one. This is Hemery’s Grand Slam debut and clay is a decent surface for him. Tuogh ask though even against the Argentine who has been struggling. Winenr gets Mirza Basic or a qualifier and will fancy themselves a spot in the third round. Kohlschreiber, poor Kohlschreiber. He gets Borna Coric in round one and his French Open losing skid could easily hit a third straight year in oen of the toughest first round matches for a seed. Coric beat him the last time they played on clay in Marrakech last season with Kohlschreiber owning two wins before that with one on clay in 2016. Could be one of the best matches of round one. The survivor gets Matthew Ebden or Thomas Fabbiano.

The Pig-nosticator

If he stays fully healthy, I don’t see the challenge for Nadal in this quarter. I honestly would be a bit stunned if he drops a set in reaching the semifinals. The intrigue will lie around who might sneak into that other quarterfinal slot. Albert Ramos-Vinolas was the last unseeded quarterfinalist at Roland Garros in 2016. Then you have to go back to 2011 and Juan Ignacio Chela and Fabio Fognini to find the next two. Coric could have a claim if he gets rolling with the early upset and that Bedene-Cuevas winner could also have some intrigue in that race.

Eliminati

Qualifier (Sock)
Borna Coric (Kohlschreiber)

Quarter #2 Seeds
(3) Marin Cilic
(5) Juan Martin Del Potro
(9) John Isner
(16) Kyle Edmund
(17) Tomas Berdych
(18) Fabio Fognini
(25) Adrian Mannarino
(31) Albert Ramos-Vinolas

Breakdown
Big hitting types litter the top of the seeded field in this quarter. Cilic’s segment has Mannarino as the other seed. I talked about Mannarino’s clay allergy earlier in part two of the preview and Steve Johnson could extinguish him in the opening round. SJ89 is 3-1 against Mannarino. The survivor there will get Evgeny Donskoy or Jan-Lennard Struff. Cilic gets a date with James Duckworth in round one and then Tennys Sandgren or a qualifier in round two. I think this segment sets up nicely for Cilic to get into the fourth round with Johnson perhaps holding some third round possibilities.

The next segment of the quarter holds Edmund and Fognini as the seeds. Edmund plays super hustle Alex De Minaur in his opener. The Brit beat him in straights in Estoril this season and with the Brit’s current form, a repeat seems more likely than an upset. That would get Edmund up against Marton Fucsovics or Vasek Pospisil in round two. Fucsovics holds some intrigue with wins over Ramos-Vinolas and Wawrinka in Geneva this week. He’s got clay court chops. Edmund crushed him last year on a hard surface in Winston-Salem, but clay could make a rematch much closer. Fognini opens with Pablo Andujar. Fogs is 3-1 against him, but they haven’t played since 2015. I’d favor Fognini still. A win there and it’s Dudi Sela or a qualifier in the next round.

To the other half of this quarter and Del Potro. The Argentine heads in with an injury concern with his groin. He is scheduled to battle Nicolas Mahut in round one. Healthy, this is a no brainer. Not healthy, Mahut cuold maybe take advantage, although I think it’d be more likely that he gets a walkover if DelPo is still not ready. That could open this part of the draw some with Julien Benneteau or Leonardo Mayer awaiting the winner. This is Benneteau’s final go-round, so expect the effort to be there for him and the crowd to be on his side even more. He is probably glad not to play Lucas Pouille for the third year in a row in round one. With the questions around Del Potro, Ramos-Vinolas may have a shot if he escapes round one. The 31st seed gets Mikhail Kukushkin to open and then Jordan Thompson or a qualifier. ARV has been pretty poor lately, but has made the quarters and fourth round here the last two tries.

The final segment in this quarter sports John Isner and Tomas Berdych. Isner draws fellow American Noah Rubin to start. Rubin got some nice match play in Geneva this week and took a set off Fognini before falling in three. I don’t know that his serve is going to allow him to stick with Isner, but he’s got speed and agility and won his first title on clay at a Challenger even this season. It will be an interesting watch perhaps. The winner takes on Horacio Zeballos or Yuichi Sugita. Sugita is 3-12 on clay all-time, while Zeballos has his best Grand Slam showing here last year with a fourth round finish. Do the math. Keep in mind Zeballos is 0-3 vs Isner, but plays him tough most times – if that match were to occur in round two. Berdych draws Jeremy Chardy to open. In spite of Berdych’s struggles, he should pass. He’s 5-0 against Chardy who might be in worse form. Pierre-Hugues Herbert or a qualifier waits for the winner.

The Pig-nosticator

If Del Potro were fully fit, this quarter would take on a much different feel. With him hurting and I think unlikely to go far if he even suits up – Isner could step into position for a shot at a quarterfinal in one half here in all reality. I also mentioned in the other previews that Berdych is still someone to watch out for at Slams. He could be a sneakier shot for a quarter. The other half for me looks like it could come down to Cilic or Edmund. Edmund’s path is tougher, so this really could shape up for Cilic to have a shot at another Slam semifinal. Don’t discount Isner being in the mix though if this opens up right for him.

Eliminati

Steve Johnson (Mannarino)
Mikhail Kukushkin (Ramos-Vinolas)

Quarter #3 Seeds
(4) Grigor Dimitrov
(8) David Goffin
(10) Pablo Carreno Busta
(13) Roberto Bautista Agut
(20) Novak Djokovic
(21) Nick Kyrgios
(30) Fernando Verdasco
(32) Gael Monfils

Breakdown
Right away this quarter grabs you with “name” power and also a ton of question marks with the health of Kyrgios and Monfils being at the top of that list. Toss in Dimitrov’s struggles and you have the makings of a very wide open quarter. Let’s start with Dimitrov’s segment, where the fourth seed begins against Viktor Troicki. That is not the match-up the Bulgarian wanted to see as Troicki has beaten him two times, including here at Roland Garros in 2016. Dimitrov won their last meeting in Sofia last Spring. Troicki did pull out of Rome and I did not find the reason, so that makes this spot even more interesting. The winner gets Jared Donaldson or Nicolas Jarry. Both of those guys are heavy hitters and Jarry especially has shown some real ability to beat good players on dirt. Even if Dimitrov escapes round one, round two might prove very difficult too. Verdasco is the seed opposite of Dimitrov and he starts with Yoshi Nishioka. The winner advances to meet Taylor Fritz or a qualifier. The other name Dimitrov doesn not want to see is Verdasco who beat him at Indian Wells this year and always plays him very close.

The segment above this has plenty of intrigue wih Bautista Agut and Djokovic as the seeds. RBA opens against Denis Istomin, who hasn’t won a match since Miami. A win would see the Spaniard take on either Marcos Baghdatis or a qualifier. On this surface, it should be advantage RBA. Djokovic awaits an assigned qualifier to start and then could face David Ferrer in round two. Ferrer also will be matched against qualifier in round one. Qualifiers were 5-11 in last year’s French Open and 4-12 in 2016. Marco Trungeletti did knock out #10 Marin Cilic that year. Before that, you have to go back to 2012 when Michael Berrer beat #30 Jurgen Melzer for the last. Ferrer however may fall into the trap. He’s 0-2 in his lone warm-up matches on clay and just 7-9 this season. It would also be a first for Ferrer, who has not lost his opener at Roland Garros since he started coming here in 2013. Djokovic has a nice draw in this spot to make a run for the fourth round. He’s 6-1 vs RBA.

In the other half, Goffin and Monfils are grouped together in one segment. The 8th seeded Belgian gets tricky Robin Haase in round one. Haase’s lone win over Goffin came on clay last year in Gstaad. Should Goffin survive, he finds Ivo Karlovic or Corentin Moutet in round two. Either will be advantageous for Goffin. As for Monfils, health is the biggest problem. He did play Lyon, where he lost to Marterer. La Monf is 1-4 on clay during this Euro swing. This is his 12th French Open and he has not lost in round one since his first in 2005. Getting fellow Frenchie, 19-year-old Elliot Benchetrit could make things easier, but we’ll have to see if Monfils can get through a best of five. The winner gets Laslo Dere or a qualifier. Dere can be pesky on this surface. A healthy Monfils could challenge Goffin for a spot in round four, but that doesn’t seem the case this year as of this writing.

The final segment is led by seeds Pablo Carreno Busta and Nick Kyrgios. There are some dangerous floaters here with Budapest champion Marco Cecchinato up against Marius Copil in round one. The winner tackles a qualifier or Kyrgios who has missed chunks of time with a balky right elbow. He is testing it playing doubles this week with Jack Sock in Lyon and they’re still alive in the semifinals, so it appears he’ll give it a go in Paris. That doesn’t mean he’s anywhere close to being ready for best of five tennis. NK gets a qualifier first-up. Carreno Busta gets a qualifier first-up and then Federico Delbonis or another qualifier. Delbonis is the danger, going 4-1 against PCB altough that lone Carreno Busta win was at RG in 2016. Still, this segment looks ripe for some turbulence.

The Pig-nosticator

I’m not going out on a limb by any means in saying that Dimitrov won’t make the semifinals out of this quarter. Hell, he won’t make the quarterfinals in my opinion. I think that leaves this quarter open for Goffin to make a move and yes, Novak Djokovic suddenly looks like a real cheeky pick to make a deep run with this draw. Bautista Agut and Verdasco might wind up being his main road blocks to getting a quarterfinal. A quarterfinal given where the Serb was before last week in Rome would still be a major accomplishment and he’s certainly capable of beating Goffin or anyone else from this quarter. I think the key for Djokovic is conserving energy in the early rounds and not having to play more tennis than necessary.

Eliminati

Qualifer (Kyrgios)

Quarter #4 Seeds
(2) Alexander Zverev
(7) Dominic Thiem
(12) Sam Querrey
(15) Lucas Pouille
(19) Kei Nishikori
(23) Stan Wawrinka
(26) Damir Dzumhur
(29) Gilles Muller

Breakdown
All eyes will be on a possible Zverev-Thiem quarterfinal in this quarter. There is a lot of tennis before that can happen. Let’s start with Sascha’s half. Zverev as laid out is second in line behind Nadal right now as far as form on this surface. He will begin his RG campaign against Ricardas Berankis and I would not expect a ton of trouble on this surface. The second round will be a bit tougher with Jiri Vesely or Dusan Lajovic waiting. If I’m Sascha, give me Vesely who will likely play into a big baseline ball bash that will favor the second seed. Lajovic is a grittier competitor who took down Gasquet and Del Potro in Madrid. His Slam resume isn’t impressive, but the 27-year-old would be the tougher out to me. Dzumhur is the seed opposite of Sascha in this segment and he gets a qualifier to open. Should he pass, Dzumhur takes on Gregoire Barrere or Radu Albot in round two. I can see a potential upset in that spot.

In the segment above this, seeds Pouille and Wawrinka are very iffy. I touched on Pouille’s stagnant season since February and Wawrinka’s play in Geneva didn’t inspire much. The Swiss got a win, but was bageled in his straight sets loss to Fucsovics on Thursday. Pouille’s saving grace is that he gets Daniil Medvedev in round one. He is 2-0 against the Russian who sports a gnarly 2-10 record on clay in his career. A win would get Pouille a shot at Peter Gojowyczk or Cameron Norrie. Gojo is in the Geneva semis and has actually been in a nice groove on clay. Norrie won his first Slam match at the U.S. Open last year, but it might be a stretch for him to get #2 on clay. Wawrinka has Guillermo Garcia-Lopez first-up and the Spaniard last beat him in 2014 in round one at this very tournament. “Random” draw strikes again. Otherwise, the Swiss is 7-3 against him with three straight wins since that loss. In his current state, Stan is really primed to go one and done. The beneficiary might be Karen Khachanov, who opposes Adreas Haider-Maurer in round one. Khachanov has had a hard time getting clutch wins on dirt, but if Wawrinka goes out – don’t be surprised to see him in the third round.

In the other half where Thiem leads, the Austrian will first have to overcome the stupidity of his decision to play in Lyon this week. Thiem is tied 1-1 with Garcia-Lopez in the quarters there headed into Friday. So if he wins, he’s likely pull double duty Friday to keep their Saturday final in line after some rainy days. Thiem will get a qualifier to open and while that match may not bite him, a potential second rounder against Stefanos Tsitsipas is where I am looking at trouble for the chronically over playing Austrian. Tsitsipas also plays a qualifier and then would have a chance that his hot run on clay, including a win over Thiem in Barcelona, is no fluke. The 19-year-old is a little down the last few weeks, but the talent is there to cause trouble. The other seed here is Muller who rarely plays well here and gets a qualifier in round one. If he moves on, it’s Matteo Berrettini or another qualifier in round two. Berrettini has proven competitive on dirt lately and could definitely be a little bit of a surprise runner.

Your other segment has Querrey and Nishikori as the seeds. Querrey continued his dud of a clay court season with a loss to Guido Pella in Geneva, although it was tight with three tie breaks played. Sam has still had difficulty here and goes against another American, Frances Tiafoe. Tiafoe made the final in Estoril earlier this Spring, but has fallen off a bit since that tournament. He lost to Querrey last year in Shanghai and the 20-year old still has just two Slam wins, none in Paris. I do expect in this spot though that Big Foe can push Querrey and possibly cause the upset if he keeps his serve together. The survivor goes up against Nikoloz Basilashvili or Gilles Simon, As for Nishikori, he’ll battle 21-year-old Frenchie Maxime Janvier in the opening round. A win could net us another Nishikori-Paire match. Paire starts against Roberto Carballes Baena. Paire has been dealing with a back problem, but scored two good wins in Rome. Nishikori-Paire is at 3-2 for Kei and 2-0 for Kei on clay.

The Pig-nosticator

If not now … when for Alexander Zverev? There’s a not-yet-ready Stan Wawrinka here and an out-of-whack Lucas Pouille to block him from his first Slam quarterfinal. Maybe Khachanov. The point being is that Sascha is the in-form talent here and this is his time to get that monkey off his back. If he doesn’t get it done with this set up, then it’s going to be an even bigger mental block for him. As for the quarter overall, in spite of the Thiem over scheduling again, you can’t count him out after two straight semis at Roland Garros. There are two obvious stumbling points for him and that would be Tsitsipas in round two and Nishikori in the fourth round.

All that SHOULD play well for Sascha even if Thiem gets through, he could be about out of gas after that path. The other guy who I think could take down Sascha is Nishikori, who would also have run a tough gauntlet. I think it’s important that Sascha finds a rhythm in round one and starts impressively. He needs to get things done the way that the Slam stalwarts do – win quickly early and conserve your energy for the tough matches that define your tournament in the fourth round and beyond

Eliminati

Frances Tiafoe (Querrey)
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (Wawrinka)
Qualifier (Muller)

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

Has anything really changed over the course of the last two tournaments to dissuade anyone from picking outside of Nadal to win this thing? Yes, he does have a loss to Thiem. Yes, Zverev had him on the ropes. Now however, it’s guts and glory time in a best of five on clay. This is Nadal’s domain. Roland Garros is his house. I think Madrid and Rome showed that perhaps there are a few players who could catch Rafa on an off day and make him work hard, but you have to win three sets off of him now. Two was hard enough for most. I don’t think his half of the draw could be much better and IF there is going to be a colossal upset, it has to come in a final in my opinion.

That leaves us looking at the bottom half. Zverev still has so much to prove at Grand Slams, but you have to like the way he is playing coming to Paris. I think there are two big X-factors in his half named Djokovic and Nishikori. Nishikori is in Sascha’s quarter and has that combination of defense and offense from the baseline that can hassle Sascha. That is the way I think he can be beat is by a player who can wear him down with his style plus great defense. Djokovic also fits that bill, but would have to navigate a tough draw just to get a shot at him in a semifinal. I’m not sure his consistency is quite there, but with the right breaks – who knows?

I think a repeat of the Rome final would be a fitting end to the clay court season, even if Rafa destroys Sascha in the end. I still don’t think it’s going to go down that way though. If there is a big surprise, it could be among the semifinalists and I am thinking quarter #2 with the likes of Isner, Edmund and yes even Berdych possibly in the mix if Cilic slips up. Bottom line – Rafa is not likely to be denied his 11th French Open title. Enjoy the show because you never know when it’s going to be the last time you get to enjoy Nadal on clay.

2018 French Open Preview: Seeded Eliminati Ratings

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In the first part of this year’s French Open preview, I touched on the “it” players in Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev. I also dove a bit into the history of seeds and how they have fared over the past eight years (2010-2017). Incorporated into that mix was a look at the top ten seeds and their Eliminati Ratings or basically, how prone they would be to a round one upset. The second part of the preview continues there and hits from seeds 12-32. Again since this is based solely on form, past Roland Garros history. Grand Slam history and some of the historical seed history in Paris, make sure you actually look at the draw when it comes out to draw your own conclusions. The draw makes the biggest difference in determining who can fall to the Eliminati!

Again these seeds are based on current rankings and no withdrawals or non-participation known outside of Roger Federer and Milos Raonic.

12. Sam Querrey
Querrey is another player who opted to participate in the final prep tournaments for Roland Garros. He is in rain-delayed Geneva, where play finally got back underway today after stalling out yesterday and early today due to weather. It’s easy to see why Querrey chose to play this week with two losses in his only clay court matches in Houston and Rome during this swing. Roland Garros has been a horror show for the American traditionally with 2013’s third round run as his best. He’s been an opening round casualty three straight years and eight of eleven overall. Two of the last three opening round losses came to great defenders in Hyeon Chung (2017) and Borna Coric (2015) with Bjorn Fratangelo the culprit in 2016.
ELIMINATI RATING: 5

13. Roberto Bautista Agut
The 30-year-old Spaniard has not lost in the opening round since he first broke into the main draw in 2013. The last two years in Paris he has been consistent with a pair of fourth round finishes. The form coming in is decent at 6-4 during the Euro swing on clay. He get dumped out in round one at the Australian Open this year with a straight sets loss to Verdasco. That is a tough match-up for a seed in round one. That was his first opening round loss at Slam since his very first – the Australian Open in 2012. RBA is a guy who has never made it past round four at Slam, but generally is consistent enough to avoid early trouble. Watch the draw though just to make sure he doesn’t get some sort of bad luck.
ELIMINATI RATING: 1

14. Jack Sock
Sock is in the midst of an underwhelming campaign with a 5-10 record after losing to Taylor Fritz today in Lyon. The American has slipped out of the top ten, where spades being spades, he did not belong any how. He’s had a bad run of one and dones at Grand Slams recently with three of his last four played going that way, including this year’s Australian Open and last year’s French Open. He was also a first-up casualty in his opener for the 2018 season in Auckland. Sock has gone out in his opener in three of his eight tournaments since Melbourne though, so he’s at least found a bit of the winning touch here and there. Still, he hasn’t put together back-to-back wins all season – so I’m not expecting a ton from him. As for his Eliminati status … he’s on the watch list. Last year’s opening round loss to Jiri Vesely was preceded by a five round win in the opening round over Robin Haase in 2016. Give his current state, a struggle to avoid an upset is definitely more likely than not.
ELIMINATI RATING: 4

15. Lucas Pouille
Another one of my favorite punching bags this season and for good reason. The Frenchman who made two Slam quarterfinals in 2016 has been lost at sea for most of 2018. Pouille lost his opener in three of the four clay court tournaments he played in this Spring and has two other one and dones this season. It’s been rather shameful for Pouille after such a promising start where he made three finals early in the season and won the Open Sud de France. The wheels have obviously come off since then and he may feel some pressure at his “home” Slam. Pouille lost in round one at the Australian Open, but that has been a real horror show where he is 0-5 in his career. In Paris, Pouille has lost his opener twice in the last five years, but has escaped round one each of the last two years. Both of those came against Julien Benneteau, so perhaps if they aren’t magnetized to each other this year – Pouille will have even more of a worry.
ELIMINATI RATING: 4

16. Kyle Edmund
The Brit has really come on since returning to healthy with a solid 10-5 mark on clay this season. Those ten wins are almost half of the 23-year-old’s total ATP wins on this surface, so his confidence is escalating. Madrid was especially good to him with wins over Novak Djokovic and David Goffin. He also made the final in Marrakech, albeit without beating a player ranked higher than #38 at the time (Richard Gasquet). His semifinal run at the Australian Open showed that he’s got the mentality for the five set grind, but the French Open will be a test. This is just his fourth run in Paris, but he has avoided a first round calamity so far. The match-up might make it more interesting, but the Brit looks fairly safe to avoid a first round exit.
ELIMINATI RATING: 1

17. Tomas Berdych
Berdych will be a focal point of many looking for round one upsets and rightfully so with the Czech going 0-3 on clay this season. All of those have been one and dones. He hasn’t won since the Miami Open in March and has just two wins in that stretch from March to the present. Berdych has not lost in the opening round at a Slam since 2013 and you guessed it, that came at Roland Garros at the hands of Gael Monfils. Berdych has made two quarterfinals in Paris since that loss, but definitely does not having the winning touch right now. The 32-year-old may be in obvious decline, but he’s still had his moments at Grand Slams as recently as last summer’s semifinal run at Wimbledon. As such, he may be able to lean on his experience to escape early trouble. Still, I have a feeling he could be in for a tough draw and that might make the escape act that much tougher for a player short on confidence right now.
ELIMINATI RATING: 4

18. Fabio Fognini
The Italian is in Geneva this week after a very solid week in Rome, where he made the quarterfinals. He beat Thiem and took a set off of Nadal to remind everyone of the potential he carries with him every week. Then you roll the calendar back to Madrid, Munich and Monte Carlo to find a 1-3 mark with two opening losses to Marco Cecchinato and Leonardo Mayer to see his vulnerability each week. Fognini has a first round exit at a Slam ten of the eleven years he has been on tour in main draws. Generally, Roland Garros has been a more consistent source of avoiding that fate, but it did happen last in 2016. The French Open is the site of his only career Grand Slam quarterfinal (2011), so clearly this is his best Slam. Trust however is rarely earned by Fognini, so you definitely have to see who he is playing in round one before making up your mind.
ELIMINATI RATING: 2

19. Kei Nishikori
Nishikori will be playing at his first Grand Slam since Wimbledon last summer, where he finished in the third round. He was forced to miss both the U.S. Open and Australian Open due to the wrist injury. He’s shown enough on clay since coming back to consider him a sleeper perhaps in the right draw to make some noise. He made the Monte Carlo final and also the quarters last week in Rome. The wrist is still a bit of a worry though as he was forced to retire in his only match at the Barcelona Open with soreness. That came after the long week in Monte Carlo, so his total fitness in this best of five format is going to be a question. When healthy, he’s been a huge Slam threat with quarterfinals made in five of his last eleven. Since his only first round exit at Roland Garros in 2014, he’s made the quarterfinals twice and fourth round the other year. He should be properly rested here, so I think the first round is one he should expect to navigate for a win.
ELIMINATI RATING: 1

20. Novak Djokovic
Djokovic’s run to the Rome semifinals assured him of staying in the seeded field for this year’s French Open, where he has no been unseeded since 2006. Rome obviously gave him a nice confidence boost after a very difficult time trying to get untracked this Spring after the elbow procedure. The glaring question for the Serb will be how his body holds up playing best of five for however long he lasts. In round one, I won’t say that shouldn’t be a bother, because his level of play does still spike up and down a bit. It would be historical however if he was taken out in the opening round. Djokovic has a streak of 47 straight Grand Slams played without losing in the first round. He’s never lost in round one in Paris. I don’t think he’s quite a zero because he needs to prove he can win three sets, but he’s probably closer to a zero rating than one for me.
ELIMINATI RATING: 1

21. Nick Kyrgios
If you’re thinking it’s been a while since we’ve seen Kyrgios, you’re right. He last played singles in Houston in early April going 1-1. He’s sat out the rest of the clay court season with his right elbow still a big concern. He decided to play Lyon this week, but only in doubles to test the elbow. Teaming with Jack Sock, the pair won their opener on Monday and were scheduled to play again today – weather permitting. Let’s assume he stays in the draw for now. Roland Garros has not been a great place for NK with a 5-5 mark, but only one first round exit in 2014 to Milos Raonic. Last year, he was beaten in round two by Kevin Anderson. Slams were tough on him late in 2017 with successive one and dones at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. He started this year strong with a fourth round run in Melbourne, but his body has yet again been failing him since then. Given his physical frailty, there’s an obvious chance he loses early if he plays at all.
ELIMINATI RATING: 5

22. Philipp Kohlschreiber
Kohlschreiber put together a really solid clay court swing, going 10-5 with the highlight being a trip to the Munich final. Outside of his Lamine Ouhab in Marrakech, his losses came to higher ranked players. The problem for the German though has been lackluster Grand Slam results in the last three years. Since 2015, he’s had eight first round exits at Slams. That includes this year’s Australian Open and each of the last two years in Paris. At 34, he might be playing some of his better tennis consistently right now. I’d still rate him a possibility though with his recent history and also that he could wind up with a tough opponent.
ELIMINATI RATING: 3

23. Stan Wawrinka
The 2015 champion won’t have much expectation on him after missing the last three months to full recover from last season’s knee surgery. The Swiss returned to tour action last week in Rome, losing to Steve Johnson. He’s also enrolled in Geneva this week, where he has won the last two titles. Right now, it is all about getting match play for Wawrinka. He says the knee feels good, but his rhythm is obviously not there after so much time away from the court. Stan has only lost two first round matches at Slams since 2014. One was at the French Open that year and the other one at Wimbledon in 2017. He’s an obvious threat when healthy here with a run of three straight years winning the title, making the semis and making the final last year. Monitor his progress or lack thereof in Geneva this week. The more matches he gets, I think the less worry I’d have about him in round one and vice versa. I think you still have to temper your expectations though and look at who he draws in round one.
ELIMINATI RATING: 3

24. Denis Shapovalov
El Shapo gets his first seeded Slam appearance in Paris. The Canadian teen has acquitted himself well on this surface during his first full run at this part of the season. After a slow start, he made the semifinals in Madrid and then won a couple in Rome before losing to Nadal. This is going to be his first main draw appearance at Roland Garros, so that is a big change for him. Let’s not forget, he’s only played in three Slams so far in his career with last year’s U.S. Open fourth round run as the highlight. Being that clay is still probably a surface that his game isn’t the best suited for and that he’s a first timer here, there is certainly some chance of an upset early.
ELIMINATI RATING: 3

25. Adrian Mannarino
The Frenchman has a definite clay court allergy at 12-33 all-time on the surface, 1-4 this season. He’s lost his opener at Roland Garros seen of the nine years that he has been in the main draw. Even Captain Obvious feels guilty.
ELIMINATI RATING: 5

26. Filip Krajinovic
The 26-year-old Serb is making a rare appearance in a main draw at a Grand Slam. This will be just his 8th Slam played, but third in Paris. Of those previous seven appearances, he’s only won in the main draw one time at the 2015 U.S. Open. Throw in that he has not played since Miami due to a lingering Achilles injury. Given his struggles on clay, he’s a huge candidate for one and done status if he is able to give it a go at all.
ELIMINATI RATING: 5

27. Damir Dzumhur
Dzumhur has been a first round loser three of the four years that he has played this event. He’s gone just 2-5 during the build-up tournaments with three first match losses. He’s not terrible on the surface overall, but he’s struggled to grab wins at the ATP level on dirt lately. Since the beginning of 2017, he’s just 4-12 on the surface.
ELIMINATI RATING: 4

28. Andrey Rublev
A back injury has kept the 20-year-old Russian sidelined for long periods since he picked it up during his Miami Open loss to Vasek Pospisil. He played in Monte Carlo in April and challenged Thiem pretty well before losing in three sets. He has not appeared in a match since that time in an effort to get healthy. When healthy, this big hitter is a threat on this surface as he showed in winning his lone ATP title last year in Umag on clay. He’s only played in six Slams so far in his career and this will be just his second time at the French Open. Rublev lost in round one last year and has to be an iffy proposition in round one this year with his lack of match play coupled with the back problem.
ELIMINATI RATING: 4

29. Richard Gasquet
The Gasman has not lost his opener at Roland Garros since 2010. He does however have three one and dones in his last six Slams played. Gasquet started the clay season well with a semifinal run in Marrakech and a quarterfinal finish in Monte Carlo. He’s 1-3 since with two opening match losses. Gasquet has had some bad luck with injuries at Slams the last few seasons with his back and knee being the culprits. For the purposes of this though, we’re looking at the here and now. His history says he will probably have a good chance to get through round one, again depending on the opponent. His recent losses though are still a bit of a cause for concern along with his injury history.
ELIMINATI RATING: 2

30. Feliciano Lopez
Despite not being associated with clay court success, the lefty has only dropped his opener in Paris once in the last five years. That did break a string of three straight opening round losses from 2010-2013 and he had lost his opener nine of the first 12 years he played in Paris. He’s turned it around some though and was 3-4 during the Euro swing with just one opening round loss. Lopez has lost in the opening round in three of the last five Grand Slams.
ELIMINATI RATING: 3

31. Gilles Muller
This is his worst surface and worst Slam by far. Muller has lost in round one six of the eight years that he has made the main draw. He was 1-3 in three tournaments played on clay leading up to Roland Garros with a pair of one and dones. He should be very high on your list of potential seeded upset victims in round one.
ELIMINATI RATING: 5

32. Fernando Verdasco
There will be plenty of seeds happy to see the Spaniard slip into the final spot in the seeded field, so they don’t have to worry about drawing him. Verdasco may not be a deep threat at this stage of his career, but he’s still capable of pulling off early upsets. Ask Bautista Agut about Melbourne this year and Alexander Zverev about last year in Paris. The Spaniard had his best Slam result in the last three years by making the fourth round at Roland Garros in 2017. The 34-year-old has been mediocre on dirt this year after a scintillating run to the Rio final. He’s still super fit and works about as hard as anyone. This is his first time being a seed since the 2015 French Open, when he also was seeded 32nd.
ELIMINATI RATING: 2

So there you have it, the entire seeded field over the course of the first two parts of this preview have been dissected as to their possible shots at being early elimination candidates. In the final part of the preview tomorrow, I’ll take a look at the unseeded players who could produce some of these potential upsets.

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The Ocho v.10

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“The Eight” …. Every week, @tennispig will give his top eight ATP singles players and/or top eight ATP/WTA doubles teams from the previous week. It’s a great way to monitor who is hot … and who is not. It was a slow week with just a pair of 250s on the men’s side in Houston and Marrakech, but there were some definite stories to review.

1. Steve Johnson
The American has had a difficult time of it since his father’s passing last year. Johnson claimed his first title of the season, successfully defending the championship from 2017 in Houston this past week. He beat a very pesky Tennys Sandgren 7-6 (2), 2-6, 6-4. It was an emotional victory for Johnson who celebrated the win last year with his father, who would pass suddenly the next month. It’s been an up and down ride for Johnson since then with another up coming this weekend when he gets married. Congratulations on that and here’s the best tradition in tennis, jumping into the pool at the River Oaks Country Club to celebrate a title!

2. Pablo Andujar
It’s been an incredible two months for the 32-year-old Spaniard. He’s now won ten straight matches, including taking the title in Marrakech on Sunday over Kyle Edmund. That win catapulted him 200 spots in the rankings to #154. It is a remarkable achievement for a player who has undergone multiple elbow surgeries in the past year and started 2018 ranked near #1,800.

3. Kyle Edmund
The Brit finally appears healthy again after missing a chunk of the season due to the hip injury he suffered during his inaugural Grand Slam semifinal in Melbourne in January. This past week, he had a solid run on clay and made his first ATP-level final at the Grand Prix Hassan II. He would lost in straights to Andujar 6-2, 6-2 by Andujar, but the run still fueled a rise in the rankings to a career best #23. If he remains healthy, Edmund looks like he could back up these early results as the season wears on.

4. Tennys Sandgren
The 27-year-old American had not been heard of much since his shock quarterfinal run at the Australian Open. A 2-5 record over five tournaments would have a lot to do with that, but in Houston, he emerged again as a story line. This time it was all for his play an making his first ATP-level final in Houston. He would lose a tough final to Johnson, but now finds himself inside the Top 50 for the first time. Sandgren’s run moved him up eight spots to #47.

5. Novak Djokovic
In a slow week of 250s, Djokovic gets a spot in “The Ocho” because of coaching news. The Serb has reunited with former coach Marian Vajda, which appears to have paid dividends immediately. Djokovic obliterated Dusan Lajovic earlier today 6-0, 6-1 in opening round action at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters. Djokovic and Vajda worked together for more than a decade before parting ways last season. It’s been very obvious that Djokovic has been missing a spark as he tries to recapture form and perhaps this is the first step back to relevance. We’ll know more when the competition kicks up a notch with in-form Borna Coric next up for the Serb.

6. Nikola Mektic/Alexander Peya
This doubles duo has quietly put together a solid start to 2018 that sees them ranked #4 in the doubles race. More importantly, they finally captured their first titles together in Marrakech, beating Benoit Paire and Edouard Roger-Vasselin. In fact, due to rain delays, they had to win two matches on the same day to get the titles. Mektic-Peya have now made three finals in 2018 with two coming on clay. Keep an eye on them as the clay court season in Europe gets into full swing.

7. Nick Kyrgios
I feel guilty putting Kyrgios on the list this week, but it was really a slow week and he lost to Ivo Karlovic in the Houston quarterfinals. NK is just 3-2 since making the fourth round of the Australian Open. Health was a concern for the past six weeks with an elbow injury forcing him to miss time. Hopefully he’s just a bit rusty and learning to trust his body again, but the results need to begin coming now if he is indeed healthy. The Aussie is ranked 25th in the mushy part of the ATP rankings. Clay hasn’t been a great surface for him so far, so I’ll temper my expectations the next month or so with eyes on the grass court season being his time to step up or stay in middling mode.

8. Jared Donaldson
I added the American into the last spot even though he didn’t play last week. I told you it was a slow week, but Donaldson deserves to be on the list for his blow-up with the chair umpire in Monte Carlo earlier today. Here’s the whole exchange with Donaldson complaining about a line call that went against him as did most of the action in losing 6-3, 6-3 to 15th seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas.

 

2018 Miami Open R4 Preview: Alexander Zverev vs Nick Kyrgios

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(4) Alexander Zverev vs (17) Nick Kyrgios

Road to the Quarterfinals

Alexander Zverev has been forced to work three sets for both wins he has this week in Miami. The latest came against David Ferrer in the third round 2-6, 6-2, 6-4. Zverev was sluggish in the opening set with his first serve not generating enough against the Ferrer return. The Spaniard would limit Sascha to a 56 percent win rate on his first serve in the opening set, breaking the German twice on three chances. Ferrer was nearly flawless with his first serve, taking 12 of 13 points in the set.

Sascha was able to begin the turnaround in set two by attacking the Ferrer serve. Zverev would break the Spaniard five times over the final two sets with Ferrer winning just 14 of 25 first serve points in those sets. A huge key was Ferrer’s struggle to land his first serve, averaging about 44 percent in sets two and three. Zverev also ramped up his first serve win rate to 88 percent in the two sets that he won, including taking 14 of 15 first serve points in the final set. He was still broken once in each set.

Kyrgios showed that his opening win against Dusan Lajovic was perhaps what we should again expect of the Aussie as he eased past Fabio Fognini in round three 6-3, 6-3. Kyrgios wasn’t quite as dominating on serve as he was against Lajovic, but he still did not face a single break chance. NK won 76 percent off both his first and second serves, down from 88 and 83 in round two. Give some credit to Fognini who has a better return than Lajovic, but Kyrgios never looked seriously threatened against Fognini.

In part that was due to Fognini’s inability to match Kyrgios on serve. The Italian could not land his first serve consistently, which was problematic. At just 48 percent, that let Kyrgios see a ton of second serves. The Aussie would take 45 percent of those points, while Fognini dominated when he landed his first serve with an 86 percent win rate. Seeing so many second serves, allowed Kyrgios to break Fognini three times on five chances. Overall, Kyrgios was able to stick to a quick and aggressive ground game and that obviously paid dividends.

Hype Rarely Matches Results

This will be the sixth time that Zverev and Kyrgios have met already in their young careers and quite frankly, the matches have not lived up to the hype we’ve had for them. Kyrgios leads the head-to-head 3-2. Four of the meetings came last season with the two being at Indian Wells and Miami. Kyrgios won both; 6-3, 6-4 in Miami and 6-4, 6-7 (9), 6-3 in Miami. Zverev would score his lone win 6-4, 6-3 at the Rogers Cup with Kyrgios taking the final meeting in Beijing in straight sets. Their most recent match was in Davis Cup play in Februry with Zverev rolling 6-2, 7-6 (3), 6-2. It should be noted that Kyrgios was struggling with the elbow injury that kept him off the tour after that tournament until this week in Miami.

In all, that is four straight sets matches out of five played. Straight sets matches certainly don’t mean blowouts, but for me these matches have lacked drama – especially in the Kyrgios’ wins. It’s a pretty simple formula for Kyrgios in this match-up: his serve is miles more consistent and dominant than Zverev’s. The two times that Zverev did win, he was able to break the Aussie’s serve multiple times, both of which mostly had to do with Kyrgios’ being less than 100 percent physically.

In the three Kyrgios’ wins, he was not broken and only allowed one break chance in total. If Zverev is going to avoid a loss to an apparently healthy Kyrgios, he’s going to have to find a way to get into the Kyrgios’ serve as well as taking much better care of his own. The Zverev serve has improved in power over the last year, but consistency wise – he still seems to be lacking a bit too much.

The Formula

For Zverev, this match-up has been a nightmare both physically and mentally against a healthy Kyrgios. That appears to be what he is facing today, so what does he do to change the previous results? It has to start with more consistent serving and a quick start to enhance his mental belief that he can win. Sascha has already been broken seven times in two rounds. Kyrgios? No break chances allowed in two. The difference between the two seems to be the angles that Kyrgios is able to create with his size and serve motion. For some reason, Sascha has been unable to consistently find those same angles with his serve. That means less chances for free points, something that Kyrgios thrives at when he is in rhythm.

Those angles often mean that Kyrgios will stretch Zverev wide and push him off balance. That leaves NK the option to be aggressive on the return ball or to punish Sascha with more running with a soft shot. The Aussie has mixed those tactics up fairly well, sometimes not necessarily hitting a proper shot, but one that winds up being effective in the long run. For Sascha, he is going to have to either take a deep position in return or hope Kyrgios isn’t hitting those angles. If he sets up deep, he will need to make solid contact with the return and hope to get NK to engage in some rallying.

I think another part of what Kyrgios has done when healthy in this match-up is mix in some net rushing tactics. That plays against what Zverev likes to do, which is hugging and slugging from the baseline. The more running you make the German do, generally, the better your results wind up being. Zverev has the athleticism to track down shots and make them on the run with his length, but he’d much prefer banging from the baseline. Don’t expect Kyrgios to let him do that much. That is a way that Zverev can win this one because he does offer better from the backhand side and can hit the forehand well if he gets to set him up stationary along the baseline.

Kyrgios’ power on the forehand trumps Zverev’s and it’s the shot he looks to often. NK does have a decent double hander off the backhand side and he’s not afraid to mix in the slice. I’d look for Kyrgios to go with the big serve first and then look to tomahawk the forehand in the next ball or two to end points quick. It’s on Zverev to try and mix it up to get Kyrgios out of that pattern. A lot of that will rely on the depth he can get in return, which has been problematic with this match-up.

The Pig-nosticator

The head-to-head says Zverev can beat Kyrgios, but really the times he has won, Kyrgios has been physically compromised. It appears that Kyrgios isn’t suffering from the elbow problems that plagued him during their Davis Cup meeting, but I still have some reasonable doubt in the back of my mind if he is actually pressured to perform at a peak level. Zverev can offer that, but will need to be firing on all cylinders. For me, Zverev should go big with every serve. He’s not going to win going soft on his second serves and he’s not going to win if his first serve doesn’t carry some oomph with it.

It should be apparent early what we’re in for with this match. If Kyrgios finds that serve rhythm, hitting those hard to reach angles with power, then it’s likely not going to go Zverev’s way. If Zverev is able to find a way into making some solid contact on return, then we could have ourselves a solid match. These match-ups haven’t really lived up to the hype, other than seeing some circus shots from both – more from Kyrgios – which I think kind of tells you that he’s far too comfortable with a match-up when he feels he can let tweeners and an array of drop shots, etc. fly without getting punished for them not being well timed.

The winner faces Borna Coric in the quarterfinals and realistically will probably be looked upon as the favorite to make the final out of the top half. I’ll be honest, I’ve had a terrible time of calling the correct winner the last couple of times they have met. For me, form says Kyrgios and a lot of what I said above says Kyrgios. So, if you go by the logic of all of that, Zverev seems the winner, right? Pig intestines or maybe French brain.

Prediction: Zverev wins in three sets