2017 AEGON Championships Preview

AEGON17

Queen’s Club is Dandy for Andy

Queen’s Club in London is one of the big stops this week as players sneak in more grass court preparation ahead of Wimbledon. The AEGON Championships have belonged to Andy Murray. This year’s top seed is a five-time champion at this event, including winning each of the last two seasons. He is 30-5 during his career at this tournament and has followed up two of his last three title wins at Queens’ Club with the title at Wimbledon.

Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic and Marin Cilic round out this week’s top four seeds. Cilic is the best among that group, winning the title in 2012 and racking up a 20-8 career mark at Queen’s Club. Raonic did however make the final here last year, losing to Murray. The rest of the seeded field includes Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Grigor Dimitrov, Tomas Berdych and Nick Kyrgios. Tsonga made the final in 2011, while Dimitrov won his lone title on grass here in 2014. Both Tsonga and Kyrgios will be making their debuts on grass this season. Both will be looking to get positive results this week after early exits at Roland Garros in their last action.

Early Bird Specials

For purposes of this week’s tournament, I’ll only focus on the last two years at Queen’s Club. That is when the field of competitors was reduced from 56 to 32. With just 32 players in the field, there are no byes for the seeds in the opening round. Last year, three seeds were one and done at the AEGON Championships. In 2015, just one seed lost in round one during Queen’s Club’s first year with just 32 players.

With the quick transition from clay to grass, there is definitely room for seeded upsets every year. Let’s focus on the ones who should be on upset alert early on this week in London.

2. Stan Wawrinka
No favors done for the Swiss as he lands Spaniard Feliciano Lopez in round one. Lopez has a superb record on grass at 67-37. He will come in off a tough three set loss in the Mercedes Cup final on Sunday. Lopez is 15-11 all-time at Queen’s Club and is a one-time finalist in 2014. Even his losses are usually very tough on his opponents. Wawrinka has found the going tough at this tournament outside of a semifinal in 2014. In 2015, he lost in round two to Kevin Anderson.

Last year, he was upset by Fernando Verdasco in the opening round. The second seed is 4-2 against Lopez lifetime and he did win on grass against him at Wimbledon in 2014. That was their last meeting and it was settled 7-6, 7-6, 6-3 with only one break of serve. That could be a similar set-up to this time around. Lopez played four straight three set matches in Stuttgart, so there is a chance of fatigue helping Wawrinka out.

4. Marin Cilic
Cilic has a tough draw with John Isner as his opening opponent. Isner ended a six match losing streak to Cilic last year with a win at the Paris Masters. He followed that up with a three set win in Rome this Spring on clay. Cilic does have the match play advantage after making the Ricoh Open semifinals this past week. He lost to Ivo Karlovic in three, with Karlovic taking his two sets in tiebreaks. Could that be a similar scenario with Isner?

It’s possible. An overwhelming number of Isner’s sets on grass have been decided in tiebreaks. Of his seven matches on grass in 2016, 13 of 23 sets went to breakers and another of those sets was a 19-17 loss at Wimbledon to Tsonga. The lone grass court clash between Cilic and Isner went five sets at Wimbledon in 2015. Three of those sets went to tiebreaks and the deciding set ended 12-10 in favor of Cilic. Isner won two of the three tiebreak sets.

5. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsongs opens against fellow Frenchie, Adrian Mannarino. Mannarino got in a few grass court matches last week at the Ricoh Open and that makes him a bit dangerous here. Tsonga comes in off a very disappointing first round loss at the French Open. Grass traditionally has been good for Tsonga, but he’s coming back to Queen’s Club for the first time since 2014. Mannarino has been serviceable on this surface and does own a win on clay against Tsonga this year at Monte Carlo. The surface should suit Tsonga better, but there’s definitely a chance for him to get caught cold in this spot.

Outsider’s Edge

Even before the reduction in the number of players who head to Queen’s Club each year, outsiders did not have much success has far as bringing home the title. They have however played a role late in the tournament fairly routinely. Last year, you had three unseeded players in the quarterfinals and one (Bernard Tomic) in the semifinals. In 2015, five unseeded players made the quarters with two advancing to the semis. Kevin Anderson would be the first unseeded player to get into the final in 2015 since Mardy Fish did the trick in 2010.

With that to chew on, who has a shot to make some late noise in London this week? Here’s a look at a few players with the draws to be around at the end of the week.

Nicolas Mahut
It’s a tall task for the grass assassin who had traditionally has done much better at the Ricoh Open, where he was a three time champion. Still, he’s a good serve and volley sort suited to this surface. He is stuck in Milos Raonic’s quarter though with a tough young Russian Daniil Medvedev to open. Raonic was tremendous on grass last year with back-to-back finals at Queen’s Club and Wimbledon. Still, he’s not been consistent this year, so perhaps Mahut could have a shot to upset the apple cart.

Feliciano Lopez
A big fat duh here based on his career numbers and how well he played in Stuttgart. The Spaniard is obviously boom or bust with second seed Stan Wawrinka in his way to start. A win though and Lopez might only have Berdych (7) standing in his way to the semifinals. The same Berdych he just beat in Stuttgart.

John Isner
Isner easily could go out in round one to Cilic, but he’s in a quarter with a lot of similar players who like to serve big and rely on that to move them along on grass. Cilic and Kyrgios are the seeds in his way to a semifinal surprise. An upset over Cilic in round one and he’s likely to see Steve Johnson who has beaten him three straight times, including twice in 2017. Speaking of Stevie J ….

Steve Johnson
He’s got an interesting opener against 19-year-old American qualifier Stefan Kozlov. Kozlov is one of the young talents in the US has quite a bit of grass court experience and isn’t overwhelmed by the surface. He beat Johnson at the Ricoh Open in 2016 on grass. Johnson ripped him apart at Delray Beach earlier this year in straights to repay that favor. Johnson lost a tough match to Philipp Kohlschreiber in Stuttgart last week that he might still be thinking about after blowing a late lead. If he’s able to focus this week, he’s got that big serve and forehand combo that works on grass.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Andy Murray (1)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (5)

Breakdown
This is a tricky quarter with some big servers here opposite of Murray. Starting with Murray’s half of the quarter, he opens against Aljaz Bedene who has played decently on grass. Murray did win their only career meeting last year at this tournament 6-3, 6-4. With increased confidence from a solid run at Roland Garros, I don’t think Murray will start slow here although Bedene should play him tough. A win for Murray and it’s either Sam Querrey or British wildcard Cameron Norrie. Querrey is going to be a tough out regardless of when and whom he might lose; remember he made his first Slam quarterfinal on grass at Wimbledon last year with the now famous win over Novak Djokovic in round three. Murray has handled Querrey seven out of eight career meetings, including twice on grass.

Newly minted Ricoh Open champion Gilles Muller is one to watch in the opposite half. He opens against Nikoloz Basilashvili. Muller’s big serve propelled him through the Dutch grass court tournament, where he was only broken twice in four matches. If he wins to open, he could see Tsonga in round two. Tsonga is 3-1 against the big lefty, but their Wimbledon meeting in 2015 went five. This part of the quarter could be the one with some upsets with Tsonga still up and down in form this year. If Tsonga falters, Muller would be the guy who might take advantage.

Quarter #2 Seeds
Marin Cilic (4)
Nick Kyrgios (9)

Breakdown
There is a whole lot of electric serving to be had in this quarter with Cilic, Kyrgios, Isner and Steve Johnson. In Cilic’s half, he’s up against it to start against Isner. The survivor gets either Johnson or Kozlov. Legitimately, I think Cilic, Isner or Johnson could make it to the quarters out of that part of the draw. In the bottom half, Kyrgios has Donald Young to open and that’s a good match-up for the Aussie. Kyrgios beat Young earlier this year on hard courts at Acapulco and grass won’t negate the power advantage he has over Young. The big question with Kyrgios is health. He’s been battling shoulder and hip issues off and on for months, but is reporting to be pain free heading into the week.

The under-the-radar first round match opposite of Kyrgios-Young is Janko Tipsarevic against Viktor Troicki. They have split four career meetings with Troicki winning on grass last time they met in 2013 at Wimbledon. Troicki was a quick exit in Stuttgart last week to Benoit Paire, while Tipsarevic lost in three sets in his second match at the Ricoh Open to Marin Cilic. The winner could pose a significant threat to Kyrgios or Young if he manages an upset.

Something in my gut tells me that this is a quarter where an unseeded player will get through. Isner or Johnson would be the favorite to do that, but don’t discount that Troicki-Tipsarevic winner. The wildcard would be a healthy Kyrgios, but I’m not putting my money on board that boat just yet.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Milos Raonic (3)
Grigor Dimitrov (6)

Breakdown
A lot will be expected of Raonic after his run on grass last season. His increased success with volleying paid off large during this stretch in 2016. In his half of the quarter, he goes against Thanasi Kokkinakis to start. The 21-year-old Aussie is still getting his legs back under him after missing the first five months of the season due to injury. He does have some grass play under his belt from the Ricoh Open last week, beating Mikhail Youzhny and then losing to Medvedev. If he wasn’t still working his way back, I might fancy him to push Raonic some. In this spot, I think he’ll have a tough time matching Raonic’s serve. A win gets Raonic Mahut or Medvedev. That will be the tougher test for the third seed.

In the other half, Dimitrov will look to shake off his early exit from Stuttgart last week. The Bulgarian gets Ryan Harrison to open. On this surface, that’s advantage Dimitrov. A win gets him a date against Julien Benneteau or James Ward. Much like Raonic, that will be the tougher test likely for Dimitrov. Benneteau made it through qualis and took out Mahut in ‘s-Hertogenbosch last week. He’s got a good grass court game and has split four meetings with Dimitrov. None of those have come since 2014 however. Dimitrov still doesn’t inspire confidence, so I would not be totally shocked if he was out in round two.

This should be Raonic’s quarter to take as long as he gets into a rhythm early.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Stan Wawrinka (2)
Tomas Berdych (7)

Breakdown
This is the toughest quarter to me. Wawrinka has Feliciano Lopez to get his grass campaign started. That’s tough. A win gets him either Pierre Hugues-Herbert or Jeremy Chardy. That’s likely much easier for the Swiss, especially Chardy who he is 5-0 against in their careers. In the other half, Berdych starts with Steve Darcis. The Shark does own two wins against Berdych, including one on grass in the 2012 London Olympics. Darcis has exactly one win on grass in a main draw since then.

Berdych should get through which means either Kyle Edmund or Denis Shapovalov in round two. Edmund gets on grass for the first time this season. He was a quarterfinalist at the AEGON Championships a year ago, taking a set off of Murray in a loss. Edmund is still very green on the green. Shapovalov made it through qualifying and has the big game to contend against Edmund in round one.

This could wind up going to the seeds if Lopez is fatigued from Stuttgart. If it comes down to Wawrinka vs Berdych, the Swiss owns the head-to-head 11-5. Wawrinka has won six straight over the Czech.

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

Some might be a bit reserved to look to the top seed after Roger Federer flamed out in Stuttgart last week. This is a different set-up though. Murray hasn’t been off for multiple months and really looked like the best version of Andy Murray we’ve seen in a while in Paris. This tournament is comfortable for him and his top half fo the draw looks conducive to at least a 6th trip to the Queen’s Club final.

The othe half seems more of a crap shoot with Raonic probably the expected finalist. I’m not so sure that I am sold on that. Wawrinka needs to get past Lopez first, but I think if he’s able to do so, watch out for the Swiss. Grass isn’t his best surface, but he can slug it out over most of this field if he’s on his game.

For me, I think the title resides with one of the top three seeds this week. Murray the obvious favorite, but Wawrinka perhaps the surprise – if you can say that about a second seed and I think you can about Stan on grass – if things open up for him early. I’ll still go with Andy in the end, but in a season of surprises, it would not be totally shocking if he fails to repeat.

2017 Davis Cup QF Preview: France vs Great Britain

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France vs Great Britain
Surface: Indoor Clay

Tie Lacks Star Power, But Should Feature Competitive Rubbers

On paper, seeing France battling Great Britain conjures up all sorts of dream match-ups. Richard Gasquet, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gilles Simon or Gael Monfils tussling with an Andy Murray-led Great Britain. Eh, not so fast. France won’t feature any of those high octane performers and Murray is again sitting out for the Brits. The tie might be less interesting from a big name perspective, but it could actually wind up being more competitive.

France will be led by Lucas Pouille in singles. Nicolas Mahut, Jeremy Chardy and Pierre-Hugues Herbert round out the lineup. Mahut-Herbert will obviously carry the baton in doubles, but the second singles player will be an interesting choice. Chardy has just three Davis Cup rubbers to his credit with none since 2011. Mahut has just two singles rubbers amongst his seven overall matches in Davis Cup play. It was Gasquet and Simon who helped lead France to an easy 3-0 win over Japan in round one. Only Mahut-Herbert are back from that first round rubber in January. The draw announcement earlier on Thursday does show that the French will at least opener with Chardy as the second singles player.

The Brits will be more straight forward in who they are playing. We know singles will go to Daniel Evans and Kyle Edmund. Evans and Edmund led the Brits to victory over a Milos Raonic-less Canadian side in the first round. The Brits were forced to a fifth rubber in that one though that Edmund took home over inexperienced Denis Shapovalov in straight sets. Jamie Murray and Dominic Inglot are set to reprise their doubles roles this weekend. They delivered a win against Canada and are 2-1 when paired together in DC play.

Pouille The Key

It’s an understatment that Lucas Pouille has a ton of pressure on him in this home tie. Since a semifinal run in Dubai, Pouille has reverted to his poor form from the start of the season. He lost to Donald Young in successive weeks in Indian Wells and Miami with just a single win to show during that Masters 1000 stretch. On top of that, France’s #1 for this weekend has won just one live Davis Cup rubber. He lost to Marin Cilic in last year’s semifinals, where Croatia edged France 3-2. Pouille also dropped. His first victory in DC play came in the quarterfinals in 2016 as he beat Czech Jiri Vesely to help France get past the Czech Republic 3-1.

As for potential match-ups this weekend, Pouille will face Edmund for the second time and Evans for the first. Edmund scored the win over Pouille to start this year in Brisbane when Pouille retired with a foot injury. Pouille should be healthy now, but hardly is in a much better place. Edmund arrives in mediocre form as well with a 7-8 mark on the season. Since the tie with Canada, Edmund went 3-4 on tour. No really poor losses, but no wins to indicate he can be counted on for sure to deliver a win this weekend. Evans comes in off a pretty poor loss to Ernest escobedo in the opening round in Miami a few weeks back. His form has dipped quite a bit since his fourth round run at the Australian Open, which came on the heels of a finals trip in Sydney.

So even with Pouille in poor form, he’s really no worse off than Evans or Edmund upon arrival this weekend. The big obvious boost for him is playing in front of the home crowd in Rouen. I’m not sure if the indoor clay surface will give him a major advantage. Edmund has proven he can win on clay in this setting with two of his career wins in Davis Cup play coming on clay last year against Serbia. Evans has just two rubbers on clay (1-1) and is far less comfortable on the surface compared to Edmund and Pouille, who might be the most comfortable on the surface among this weekend’s singles participants.

Chardy, The X-Factor

With Chardy’s inclusion on Day One, he is instantly the biggest wildcard to me for either side. His career is littered with a lot of disappointing results, but he’s shown enough ability to pull off monumental wins. The 2013 Australian Open still sticks out to me, where Chardy made the quarterfinals. Along the way, he scored a huge upset in round three over Juan Martin Del Potro. DelPo was coming off a 2012 season where he made the quarterfinals in three of the four Grand Slams that year, so it was a big scalp for the Frenchman.

Chardy doesn’t face a “big” name per say this weekend, so that does alleviate a little pressure that might cause him to crack in most cases. I think if France gets one win from him against either Evans on Day One or against Edmund on Day Three, they’re going to feel good that they will be in position to win the tie.

Dynamic Doubles Rubber On Tap

The highlight of the weekend really should be the doubles rubber between Mahut-Herbert and Murray-Inglot. You have four experienced and solid doubles players involved in that match. The French duo have had their struggles both on the ATP World Tour and this competition. On tour in 2017, the duo is 13-4, but lacks the big wins they saw at this point in 2016. In Davis Cup play, they are 2-1 together, but lost arguably the biggest match of last year’s semifinal against Croatia. That was a four set loss to Ivan Dodig and Marin Cilic that put France down 2-1 and gave Cilic the close-out fourth rubber against Gasquet.

Murray-Inglot have been precise in winning their last two rubbers together in four sets. They almost lost famously 9-7 in a fifth set against the Bryan Brothers back in the World Group first round in 2015. Murray has retained a solid partnership on tour with Bruno Soares this season and arrives with consistently good form. Inglot’s season highlight on tour was making the Marseille doubles final alongside Robin Haase. They would lose in the super tiebreak to Nicolas Mahut and Julien Benneteau. Inglot should be eager to see Mahut-Herbert as he lost 16-14 in a super breaker to the French pair last month in Miami with Florin Mergea as his partner.

This really is an intriguing clash and one all doubles lovers should salivate over. It’s difficult to call the winner here. Home court definitely will have Mahut-Herbert amped up, but Murray-Inglot have plenty of big match experience to call upon. This rubber may not ultimately decide who wins this tie, but the winners are likely to put their side within a win of advancing. That makes this a big momentum changer depending on what happens on Friday.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

The opener between Pouille and Edmund is a real tone setter for both countries. Pouille wants nothing more than to put his foot down and give France an early lead to keep the pressure of himself and Chardy in singles. The Brits realistically will be perfectly fine with a split on Friday, knowing they have every chance to win the doubles rubber and then need just one win Sunday to complete the road win.

I think the scary thing here is that this same duo of Edmund and Evans struggled in Canada against Vasek Pospisil. With all due respect to the slightly resurgent Canadian, Pouille is a better all-around player and poses a sizeable risk to the Brits. I think Edmund is capable of stealing one against Pouille, but Evans on clay doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence. Edmund may need to win twice for the Brits to advance, whereas I think Pouille and Chardy could split and then give Mahut-Herbert a chance to serve as difference makers.

That’s a more confortable equation for a win this weekend to me.

Prediction: France wins 3-2

The Doubles DL: ATP Rotterdam Preview + Hingis Changes Partners

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We’re about six weeks into the new season and it’s about time to see some jockeying for position in the doubles ranks. With 500-level tournaments in Rotterdam this week, Rio next week and Dubai after that, points are there to be taken. All of that leads up to the Masters double in Indian Wells and Miami in March.

Here’s a look at this week’s points grab in Rotterdam.

Mahut Seeks Back-to-Back Titles

World #1 Nicolas Mahut is back to defend the 2016 doubles titles at the ABN AMRO World Team Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. He’ll do it with a different partner however, after winning the 2016 titles with Vasek Pospisil. This time around, he’s with his regular partner Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Both are also playing singles this week. They are the top seeds in the doubles draw, but are still seeking their first title in 2017.

Top Half Seeds
Mahut-Herbert (1)
Dodig-Granollers (3)

Breakdown
Mahut-Herbert will need to be sharp in their opener. They will go up against Marin Cilic and Nenad Zimonjic. Zimonjic teamed with Viktor Troicki last week in Montpellier, where he won his 54th career doubles title and first since 2014. Cilic-Zimonjic obviously aren’t regular partners, but they could provide a stiff opening test. The other seeds in this top half are Ivan Dodig and Marcel Granollers. This new duo for 2017 had a successful debut at the Australian Open with a run to the quarterfinals. They were beaten there in three sets by the Bryans. In Rotterdam, they open against random tandem Grigor Dimitrov and Lucas Pouille. Don’t sleep on those two who might be better known for singles, but are more than capable of winning.

There are some dangerous floaters in this half that could step up and surprise. Two of them play each other to open in round one. Dominic Thiem and Phillip Kohlschreiber are one team, set to battle Mate Pavic and Alexander Peya. Pavic-Peya have been hit or miss in the early days of their new partnership. They’ve played four tournaments with two semifinal showings and two first round exits. Thiem-Kohlschreiber are both adequate doubles players capable of a scalp. They teamed up several times in 2016, so they do have some chemistry. They rarely went down easy in losing, so don’t be surprised if they push Pavic-Peya to three sets or score the win.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Dodig-Granollers should have the easier path to the semifinals in this draw. A win in their opener would then see them against either Tomas Berdych-Rohan Bopanna or Dutch team Robin Haase and Glenn Smits. Mahut-Herbert might have a tougher time with their opener and then either Thiem-Kohlschreiber or Pavic-Peya. So it could well be Dodig-Granollers who are the better shot at making the final in this half.

Bottom Half Seeds
Team Lopez (2)
Kubot-Melo (4)

Breakdown
The bottom half is stacked with some tough teams outside of the seeds. Marc and Feliciano Lopez are the top seeds in this half, but the Spaniards are scuffling. Since making round three of the Australian Open, they lost a Davis Cup thriller in five sets to Marin Draganja and Nikola Mektic in Croatia. On top of that, they lost to Malek Jaziri and Albano Olivetti in their opener in Montpellier. That could have been a hangover effect, but it was still a poor loss. This week they open with Dutch qualifiers Tallon Griekspoor and Niels Lootsma. A loss there and the alarms should sound.

Team Lopez is likely to have a difficult time advancing much further regardless as they will face either Daniel Nestor and Edouard Roger-Vasselin or Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau in the quarters. Rojer has played well in this “home” tournament the last three years with two finals appearances, including a title win (2015) and a semifinal run last year. Rojer-Tecau have been stuck in neutral so far this year at 3-4, but this could be a good spot for them to make a run.

In Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo’s draw opposite of the Lopezes, they’ll have to contend with newly minted Montpellier champs, the brothers Zverev – Mischa and Sascha. Those two have a tough opener though against Dutch pair Wesley Koolhoof and Matwe Middelkoop. Koolhoff-Middelkoop have cooled since winning the doubles titles in Sydney in January, but they’re solid and likely to be eager to impress the home crowd. Kubot-Melo are still seeking their rhythm as a new team with a 2-2 record. This will be just their third tournament together and they face David Goffin and Fernando Verdasco to start. That should afford them a good start against two players not familiar with each other, although both decent in doubles.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Upsets look to be on tap in this half. I would not be surprised if neither seeded team made the semifinals, although Kubot-Melo appear to have a better shot. I’m thinking one of the Dutch-led teams makes some noise in this half, be it Rojer-Tecau or Koolhoff-Middelkoop. You can’t count out the Zverev brothers either due to their good play last week, although you wonder if Sascha would keep going if he’s on another deep run in singles?

ATP Tour Stops: Memphis, Buenos Aires

The ATP Tour also makes stops in Memphis and Buenos Aires this week. Buenos Aires looks the more interesting from a doubles perspective with Juan-Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah as the top seeds. The Colombian pair are your defending Argentina Open champions. Second seeds Pablo Cuevas and Pablo Carreno Busta are also in the mix. You’ll also see the Italians, Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini, this week in Argentina. That could be a boost after they paired up in Davis Cup play recently there. They lost in five in their rubber, but now some match play under their belts. They could be in the path of 4th seeds Julio Peralta and Horacio Zeballos, although health is a question there after they retired in the Quito final on Sunday. Zeballos has a neck injury that could be problematic.

In Memphis, the top seeds are Max Mirnyi and Treat Huey. They are just 1-2 this season, but have a nice draw for the top half of the Memphis Open draw. The other seeds in their half are Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Leander Paes. They could have a tough time getting out of round one as they go up against Brian Baker and Nikola Mektic who showed good chemsitry in Melbourne. Keep an eye on Americans Sam Querrey and Donald Young who are also in that top half. The bottom half is led by second seeds Oliver Marach and Fabrice Martin along with third seeds Robert Lindstedt and Michael Venus. Lindstedt-Venus contend with Quito champs James Cerretani and Philipp Oswald in round one, but should have the surface advantage.

One thing is certain in Memphis, there will be new champions. Two-time defending champions Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Santiago Gonzalez are not in this year’s draw.

WTA Tidbits: Hingis Dumps Coco

I touched on this at the Australian Open, but this moved seemed inevitable. Martina Hingis announced that she has split from Coco Vandeweghe. The pairing just never fully jived. Martina and Coco were together for together for six tournaments dating back to their debut last year in Cincinnati. At the time, the pairing looked to be a good one after Hingis and Sania Mirza split earlier in the year. Hingis and Vandeweghe made the Cincy final and faced off against Mirza and her new partner, Barbora Strycova. They would lose the final, but regrouped for a nice semifinal run at the U.S. Open in their next tournament together. That however was the highwater mark as the next four tournaments saw #CocoTina unable to win back-to-back matches.

The #CocoTina split is going to have a trickle down effect. Hingis announced she will team with Yung-Jan Chan, one half of the very successful Chan sisters, who just won a title in Tapei City. Hingis and Chan make their debut together at this week’s WTA Premier event in Doha. They’ll have a tough opener together against the experience team of Kiki Bertens and Johanna Larsson. Bertens-Larsson won the doubles titles in Auckland to start 2017 and have four titles together now in the last 13 months. Immediate success might not happen for Hingis-Chan aka #ChanTina (you love it) with Hingis coming in off Fed Cup play this past weekend. They’ll have to do a crash course in learning each other’s style and preferences.

Keep an eye on Hingis’ former partner as well this week. Mirza-Strycova are set to play in Doha also and will be looking to rebound from a flat performance at the Australian Open. The duo did win a couple titles together, but their Grand Slam results have not been good with a quarterfinals loss at the U.S. Open last year and then the third round dud at the Australian Open this year. Mirza and Hingis split because “the results weren’t there” and right now, that’s still the story with new partners. I’ve still got money on a Mirza-Hingis reunion this year.

The Doubles DL: Australian Open Update

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While most eyes are on the singles draw, the doubles portion of the Australian Open got underway this week as well. On the men’s side, a big upset started things off with Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares falling in round one.

ATP: Defending Champs Out, Mahut-Herbert Start Strong

They may not have been at their very best to start the season, but Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares looked primed to make a run at defending their 2016 Australian Open men’s doubles titles. Those hopes were dashed in round one by an unlikely source. Americans Sam Querrey and Donald Young sprung the massive surprise with a 6-5, 7-6 (5) win. Querrey has now been on the “right end” of two of the biggest recent Grand Slam upsets in modern memory. Querrey was teamed up with Steve Johnson in 2015 at the U.S. Open, when they ousted the top seeded Bryan Brothers. Querrey-Johnson parlayed that into a semifinal run. In Melbourne, Querrey-Young might be hoping to do the same. They won their second round match against Russians Andrey Kuznetsov and Karen Khachanov yesterday. They will face Aussies Alec Bolt and Bradley Mousley who upset 15th seeds Rohan Bopanna and Pablo Cuevas last round. It appears that the Australian Open will continue to live up to its recent reputation of unseeded teams making deep runs as one of those two teams is guaranteed a quarterfinal spot.

With Murray-Soares out, Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert garner all the attention as the top seeds. They’ve had no issues in winning two matches in straight sets, but face a large test with 11th seeds Dominic Inglot and Florin Mergea as their foes in round three. Other seeds who are still alive and looking solid are the Bryans (3) and Henri Kontinen and John Peers (4). The Bryans benefit from Murray- Soares losing as they are now the highest seeds left in the bottom half of the draw. Fifth seeds Marc and Feliciano Lopez might have something to say about hat. The Spaniards have the toughest third round test though with U.S. Open runners-up Pablo Carreno Busta and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez as their opponents.

Unseeded Party Crashers

With the tournament rolling into the third round, unseeded pairings are now getting closer and closer to locking down semifinal spots. I mentioned Querrey-Young and Bolt-Mousley earlier. One of those teams will have a shot to get there. Remember that half the semifinal slots have gone to unseeded tandems in three of the last five years in Melbourne. Carreno Busta and GGL also bear watching. If they knock off the Lopezes, it will guarantee an unseeded team moves into the semifinals with the Querrey-Young vs Bolt-Mousley winner awaiting the survivor of that all-Spanish clash.

In the top half of the draw, another unseeded team is guaranteed a quarterfinal spot. Aussies Sam Groth and Chris Guccione, who always looked like they would be tough in this draw, take on Marcus Daniell and Marcelo Demoliner in round three. The Double Ds upset 6th seeds Raven Klaasen and Rajeev Ram last round. The Aussies took down 10th seeds Treat Huey and Max Mirnyi in their last match. The other unseeded duo left is also all-Aussie with Marc Polmans and Andrew Whittington awaiting a third round clash with 11th seeds Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau.

WTA: Top Heavy Draw Continues

On the ladies side, the four top seeds are still standing as of round three. Frenc duo Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic survived a tough three set match in round two. They face 14th seeds Katerina Srebotnik and Saisai Zheng next. The reunion of Team Bucie, aka Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova, has worked albeit for just one match. Team Bucie got a walkover in round two and will be up against perhaps the hottest team on tour in Timea Babos and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Babos and the Russian won the Sydney titles prior to the AO and have looked good again this week. Big time upset potential in that clash.

Third seeds, Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova, could be headed to a showdown with one of the other hot teams from early on this season. That would be 12th seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Shuai Peng. They won the Shenzhen titles and then took Sania Mirza and Barbora Strycova to a match tiebreak in Sydney before losing. If seeds hold, that could be a great match in the quarterfinals between the Russians and Hlavackova-Peng.

The aforementioned Mirza-Strycova tandem continues to rack up wins. The fourth seeds face Japanese duo Eri Hozumi and Miyu Kato in round three. Mirza-Strycova look to be set up for a quarterfinal clash with 9th seeds Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova with both teams having advantageous third round match-ups.

Despite the top four seeds all being alive at this point, I do see room for upsets here at the tail end of the tournament. Aussie duo Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua loom as a possible quarterfinal opponent for the top seeds from France. Barty-Dellacqua already took down sixth seeds Coco Vandeweghe and Martina Hingis. The Aussies look dangerous. And as I said earlier, I would be surprised I think if BMS-Safarova made it to the semis with the tough match against Babos-Pavlyuchenkova next, although if they do win, then they could be set up nicely to the semifinals.

Bottom line right now, I think Mirza-Strycova still look the favorites to me despite their lower seeding. They’ve already beaten King-Shvedova this season and might relish a chance at revenge for their Sydney loss to Babos-Pavlyuchenkova if that is the semifinal match-up. In the top half, the Russians, Vesnina-Makarova, may sneak straight into the final – but watch out for those Aussies. They could continue to stun the field.

2017 Australian Open Doubles Preview

aomensdubs

Men’s Doubles Draw

Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares are the defending champions of this event. The year-ending #1 team is seeded second for this year’s Australian Open. Murray-Soares have gotten off to a decent start in 2017, but have yet to bring home any hardware in this first two tournaments. They will seek to be the first team since the Bryan Brothers in 2010 and 2011 to successfully defend the doubles titles. Murray-Soares will have the go against recent history as the top seeds with the Bryans as the only #1 seeds to win the Australian Open doubles titles since 2010. They did it three times in 2010, 2011 and 2013. Since 2013, Murray-Soares’ win last year as the 7th seeds was the highest seeded team to have won the titles.

Unseeded teams have a very good track record at sneaking into the championship mix in Melbourne. Over the last five years, an unseeded team has been in the final every year and have claimed half the semifinal slots in three of the last five years. Twice, an unseeded team has won the titles. Fabio Fognini and Simone Bolelli did it in 2015 and Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek did it in 2012. So here is a breakdown of the two halves of the draw with a focus on those dangerous floaters as non-seeds who could make a big splash.

Quarter #1 Seeds
1. Herbert-Mahut
8. Nestor-ERV
11. Rojer-Tecau
15. Inglot-Mergea

Breakdown
Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut are both solely focused on doubles after both were ousted in the first round in singles. They’ll hope that will help ignite a turn around as they come to Melbourne with a 1-1 mark after being upset by Jordan Thompson and Thanasi Kokkinakis in Brisbane in the quarterfinals. Herbert-Mahut were runners-up in 2015 at the AO, but crashed out early last year in round two by an unseeded team. The second round may be a trouble spot for them again with Polish duo Marcin Matkowski and Jerzy Janowicz possible or the veteran duo of Fabio Fognini and Fernando Verdasco. Although neither team is a regular pairing, the Poles both have big serves that could keep a match tight and Fognini-Verdasco boh have a wealth of experience in doubles.

Elsewhere in the top portion of this half, Daniel Nestor and Eduoard Roger-Vasselin are the highest seeds opposite of Herbert-Mahut. Seeded 8th, Nestor-ERV did make the semifinals in Brisbane, also losing to Thompson-Kokkinakis, in their lone tune-up match. They face capable Argentines Andres Molteni and Diego Schwartzman in round one. Nestor in particular has a good track record in Melbourne though with multiple partners as he has made the semifinals or better in four of the last six years. Last year, Nestor lost in the title match to Murray-Soares with Stepanek as his partner.

Dominic Inglot and Florin Mergea, along with Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau are the other seeded teams in the top portion of this draw. Both have not gotten out of the gates strong this year. Rojer-Tecau were bumped out in the quarterfinals by non-seeds Lucas Pouille and Adrian Mannarino last year when they entered this tournament as the top seeds. Inglot-Mergea did make the quarters in 2015, the last time they entered this event paired up together.

Quarter #2 Seeds
4. Kontinen-Peers
6. Klaasen-Ram
10. Huey-Mirnyi
14. Cabal-Farah

Breakdown
In this quarter, Henri Kontinen and John Peers are the highest seeds at number four with Raven Klaasen and Rajeev Ram behind them at number six. Kontinen-Peers lost their lone match in Brisbane and lost here in round two last year. They face a possible pitfall in their opener against David Marrero and Santiago Gonzalez. Marrero and Gonzalez teamed up last week in Auckland and played fairly well. They lost in the quarterfinals to eventual champions Matkowski and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi. Klaasen-Ram were quarter finalists a year ago, losing to the eventual champs. There is a chance they could see the team that beat them in Brisbane to start the year, if both make the third round. That would be Sam Groth and Chris Guccione.

The teams of Treat Huey and Max Mirnyi, and Jean-Sebastien Cabal and Robert Farah are also in this half as seeds. Cabal-Farah had a nice showing in Sydney with a semifinal run that was ended by Murray-Soares. The Colombians made the round of 16 last year and this draw could see them with a chance to make another solid run. Huey-Mirnyi had just one match of prep, a loss to Leander Paes and Andre Sa in Auckland. They will hope to reprise their success from last year in Melbourne, when they made the quarters in just their second tournament together. That could be considerably harder with Paes-Sa to open and perhaps Groth-Guccione in round two if they make it that far.

Dangerous Floaters
Koolhof-Middelkoop
Benneteau-Chardy
Paes-Sa
Groth-Guccione
Daniell-Demoliner

Wesley Koolhof and Matwe Middelkoop may be the most dangerous unseeded team in this year’s draw. The Dutchmen head to Melbourne with the Sydney titles in tow after beating Murray-Soares in the championship match. They may both be short on winning at this event, but a hot team can do major damage like Murray and Soares did last year. The draw looks kind with Rojer-Tecau as the first seeds they would see. They already beat them in Sydney. They might have Nestor and Roger-Vasselin to contend with and Herbert-Mahut are in their quarter, but they are the hot team right now on the ATP tour.

Of the other floaters here, the most dangerous duo could be home-standing Aussies Sam Groth and Chris Guccione. The pair beat Klaasen-Ram in Sydney and have won two titles together. They’re drawn to possibly face Huey-Mirnyi in round two or Paes-Sa, but if they start hot, they could see Klaasen-Ram in the third round that might be advantageous for the unseeded pair. Also, keep an eye on the French duo if Benneteau and Chardy. They don’t pair regularly, but both are solid doubles players. Chardy already has a title this year with Fabrice Martin. They will be a tough out.

The Pig’s Bottom Line
This half of the draw looks as it it could produce at least one unseeded team as a semifinalist. Koolhof-Middelkoop are the hot team, but might run into the veteran duo of Nestor-ERV along the way. I think one of those two teams takes a spot rather than the top seeds. In the other quarter, Kontinen-Peers and Klaasen-Ram certainly have the chops to be in position to run deep in Melbourne. The unseeded pairings in that half have a few more question marks, so I tend to side with a seed taking the other spot. If Kontinen-Peers get past a tough round one match, they could be that team.

Quarter #3 Seeds
3. Bryan Brothers
7. Kubot-Melo
9. Dodig-Granollers
13. Pavic-Peya

Breakdown
The Bryans are six time champs here, but have not been past round three in the past three seasons. The American twins did not play a prep tournament this year, so they will have to hit the ground running in Melbourne. They open against Benoit Paire and Paul-Henri Mathieu, which should afford them a good start. Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo are the highest seed opposite of the Bryans. They are 0-2 this year, but the losses have come to good teams. They face an experienced veteran duo in Andreas Siljestrom and Johan Brunstrom. There’s some upset potential there if they aren’t careful. Round two also poses a possible threat with Nicholas Monroe and Artem Sitak possibly waiting. Monroe-Sitak made back-to-back semifinals in Chennai and Auckland to start the year.

Of the other seeds in this quarter, Ivan Dodig and Marcel Granollers are ones to watch. Both have experience here with deep runs with Granollers making the semifinals most recently in 2016 with Pablo Cuevas. They have an easier early draw than Kubot-Melo, which could leave them to contend with the Bryans for a semifinal slot. In the Bryans half, they look to be the best bet. Mate Pavic and Alexander Peya had a nice run in Sydney to the semifinals, but could be in for a hard time against vets Jurgen Melzer and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi. The only problem for the non-seeds there is that both have susceptible serves, which should give Pavic-Peya the better chance to win. I like the seeds to be in control of this quarter, unless Kubot-Melo get booted early.

Quarter #4 Seeds
2. Murray-Soares
5. Marc and Feliciano Lopez
12. Pospisil-Stepanek
15. Bopanna-Cuevas

Breakdown
The defending champs will be happy enough with their early draw. An opening match with Sam Querrey and Donald Young should see them through to round two. They will need to be on alert in round two potentially against Jonathan Erlich and Scott Lipsky. The Auckland finalists are a solid duo, but still regularly a notch below the second seeds. Murray-Soares could be on a collision course with Bopanna-Cuevas for a quarterfinal showdown. The 15th seeds haven’t had a ton of time together early this season, but their draw gives them a good shot if they find some rhythm with each other.

The other half of this quarter looks much more competitive for the seeds. Team Lopez, last year’s French Open champions, start with Alexandr Dolgopolov and Gerald Melzer. That should be a win, but their second rounder will be much tougher. They’ll take on the winner between Jonathan Eysseric-Fabrcie Martin and Purav Raja-Divij Sharan. Raja-Sharan made the Chennai final and are a solid duo. Martin has proven to be a good doubles partner, winning a title with Chardy earlier this year. If he finds good chemsity with Eysseric they could be dangerous as well.

Vasek Pospisil and Radek Stepanek are a team I have talked up and I believe they have the ability to make a nice run here. Their second round match could be troublesome though if Spaniards Pablo Carreno Busta and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez are waiting. PCB proved to be a really good doubles player last year and this duo made the U.S. Open final. If there is an unseeded team poised for a run, they could be it.

Dangerous Floaters
Erlich-Lipsky
Carreno Busta/Garcia-Lopez
Raja-Sharan
Eyserric-Martin

As mentioned above, PCB and GGL are a team to monitor. The Spaniards surprised with their U.S. Open finals run last year, beating several quality teams along the way. They face Aussies Alex De Minaur and Max Purcell to start. The two young Aussies will need a once-in-a-lifetime match I think to win, but stranger things have happened. If the Spanards open with a win, then watch out. They would face Pospisil-Stepanek in round two, a tough match for sure. Still, #PopStep still only have a few matches together this year plus singles obligations. An upset would not be totally shocking.

Of the other floaters mentioned, it would likely take some help for them to make a serious run here. The winner of that Eyserric-Martin vs Raja-Sharan first rounder seems most likely as they could surprise the 5th seeded Lopez boys. Team Lopez was formidable in 2016, making the Tour Finals, but this is their first tournament together in 2017. They were second round losers a year ago at the AO.

The Pig’s Bottom Line
I think the Bryans have a chance to get past the third round this year, but they will need to click from Jump Street. If not, then Pavic-Peya look the nest best option for one of the semifinal spots. The other should go to Murray-Soares. I think they will at least be in position to get back to the final for a shot to defend the titles.

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

Although Murray-Soares look to have a chance to get to the semifinals or final, the recent history of the defending champions not being able to complete the double could again be true in 2017. The dream set-up would see last year’s Tour Finals champs, Kontinen-Peers, against the year-end #1s, Murray-Soares. Or perhaps seeing the Bryans get a crack at Grand Slam title #17. Dreams don’t often come true for the high seeds in Melbourne though, so expected the unexpected. If an unseeded duo strikes, watch Koolhof-Middelkoop, PCB-GGL or perhaps one of the first time French pairings for the new year like Benneteau-Chardy or Eysseric-Martin to step up.