The Doubles DL: Loaded Field in Cincinnati

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Herbert-Mahut Make Big Move

It’s been a rather mediocre season for the French duo of Pierre Hugues-Herbert and Nicolas Mahut. Still, two big wins now have them in the thick of the race for a spot in the ATP World Tour Finals. Herbert-Mahut topped Rohan Bopanna and Ivan Dodig 6-4, 3-6, 10-6 to take the Rogers Cup doubles titles. It was just their second title this year, but the other also came in a Masters-level event in Rome this Spring. The win in Montreal catapulted the Frenchies five spots in the rankings and put them into fourth place. They now stand just a few hundred points behind the Bryans for third, but also just 15 points ahead of Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares who dropped down to the 5th spot.

PHHMahut

Slotting in behind Murray-Soares in 6th are Raven Klaasen and Rajeev Ram who moved up a spot from last week. Klaasen-Ram had a semifinal run in Montreal to give them the slim five point lead over Michael Venus and Ryan Harrison who stand in 7th. The French Open champs continue to struggle for wins in non-Slams, although they did end a four match losing skid on Monday in Cincinnati. Ivan Dodig and Marcel Granollers dropped down to the final spot in the race for London at #8. They will drop out of the race with Dodig partnering regularly with Rohan Bopanna at least through the U.S. Open. Bopanna-Dodig are ranked 22nd with just three tournaments played, but one big title could push them into the London conversation.

The top three spots were unchanged with Marcelo Melo and Lukasz Kubot remaning as the #1 team despite losing their opener in Montreal. They hold a 1,710 point lead over Henri Kontinen and John Peers. The Bryans remained in third, still well behind the #2 spot by 1,295 points. Unlike singles where many of the top players are missing in Cincinnati this week, the top seven men’s doubles teams are all in action at the Western & Southern Open this week with more positional jockeying likely ahead of the U.S. Open.

Cincinnati Features Battle For Overall #1 Ranking

Outside of the team races, there is also an interesting race for the #1 overall doubles player shaping up on the ATP tour. Marcelo Melo assumed the top spot in early July after winning the Wimbledon titles with Kubot. He took that spot from Henri Kontinen who had moved up to #1 overall with little fanfare in April despite Kontinen-Peers struggling at the time for positive results. Now in Cincinnati, it’s possible that Kontinen could recapture the #1 spot from Melo. Kontinen-Peers will again be the top seeds this week. After winning the Citi Open the week before, they were disappointing quarterfinal losers to Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic. Marach-Pavic look poised to get into the mix for London if they can secure a few wins this week.

Kubot-Melo will be seeded second and are in a rare spot where they have lost two straight matches after a 17 match win streak that started with the grass court swing. They were upset in their opener last week in Montreal by Fabrice Martin and Eduoard Roger-Vasselin with the top ranked team looking flat. Murray-Soares are seeded third in Cincy with the Bryans rounding out the top four seeds.

Western & Southern Preview

Play has already begun in Cincinnati with several doubles matches going down on Monday. So here is a look at the draw in progress with some quick thoughts on what could shake down in Cincinnati where there will be a different champion for the third straight year with the now defunct team of Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo winning here last year.

Kontinen-Peers Quarter (1)
It’s a tricky quarter for the top seeds with Marach-Pavic seeded 8th and placed in the other half of the quarter. Kontinen-Peers will open against Roberto Bautista Agut and David Ferrer, who beat Paolo Lorenzi and Albert Ramos-Vinolas in a super tiebreak on Monday. Marach-Pavic have a tougher get with Harrison and Venus as their first foes. Harrison and Venus beat Steve Johnson and Daniel Nestor in round one action 6-2, 6-3. Marach-Pavic were back together in Montreal for the first time since losing the Wimbledon final. Their chemistry was still there with an upset win over Kontinen-Peers before losing to the eventual champions, Herbert-Mahut.

Kontinen-Peers might be keen to get a shot at redemption against Marach-Pavic this week, but the quick conditions in Cincinnati will give the big game of Pavic a chance to shine again. Venus-Harrison could factor in as well after finally shaking off that losing streak, which makes this quarter really wide open.

Bryans Quarter (4)
Bob and Mike won’t be too happy to see Herbert-Mahut stuck in this quarter. The French duo beat them last week in Montreal and have now won all four career meetings between the two teams. The Bryans will face either Alexander Zverev and Leander Paes of the Spaniards, Marc and Feliciano Lopez. Team Lopez has been down this year, but contended two of the testiest Grand Slam matches of 2016 against the Bryans. They won both at Roland Garros and the French Open in three sets. They are just 8-14 together this season and have lost five straight. It will be an all-French opener on the other side with Herbert-Mahut battling Martin-ERV. Martin and Roger-Vasselin took down John Isner and Donald Young 10-6 in a super breaker to open on Monday.

This is another difficult quarter to predict with tough teams around every turn. You’d like to thnk Herbert-Mahut might be about to reel off a big win streak after last week, but their opener is tough. If they make it through that, then you like their chances although the Bryans have rarely been stopped short of the semifinals in Cincinatti.

Murray-Soares Quarter (3)
This might be the toughest quarter overall in a loaded field. Murray-Soares have been a bit up and down in the last month or so after winning two titles on grass early in June. Last week in Montreal, they dropped their opener to Gael Monfils and Benoit Paire. This week, they face Spaniards Fernando Verdasco and Pablo Carreno Busta. Both are excellent doubles players, so this will not be easy. Verdasco-PCB won their opener in Cincy against Dominic Thiem and Karen Khachanov. On the other side, 6th seeds Klaasen-Ram have a tough task as well with Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau as their first opponents. Rojer-Tecau defeated Jared Donaldson and Stefan Kozlov in straight sets on Monday. These two teams played once before back in 2015 when Klaasen-Ram prevailed 11-9 in a super tiebreak. Rojer-Tecau are a tough out, but have had problems beating top tier teams this season.

If this comes down to the two seeded teams, it could be one of the better matches of the tournament. Murray-Soares and Klaasen-Ram met four times last year with both teams winning twice. Three of the four matches went the distance. Give Klaasen-Ram a slight edge.

Kubot-Melo Quarter (2)
It’s been rare for Kubot-Melo to struggle for wins and a two match losing skid isn’t quite cause for alarm just yet. They do get a good early draw this week. They will face either Diego Schwartzman and Mischa Zverev or Nikola Mektic and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi. Mektic-Qureshi would certainly be the more problematic team if they win, but certainly a very winnable match still for the top ranked duo. On the other side of the quarter, 7th seeds Rohan Bopanna and Ivan Dodig should be afforded a chance to meet Kubot-Melo in the quarters. The 7th seeds take on either Jack Sock and Jackson Withrow or Juan-Sebastien Cabal and Fabio Fognini. The chemistry of Bopanna-Dodig should be enough to see them past either team.

This is one semifinal spot that definitely should fall to a seeded team. Bopanna-Dodig are dangerous and in rhythm after making the Rogers Cup final. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the title mix again this week in Cincy.

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

Last week, I said it felt like we wouldn’t get another #1 vs #2 situation like we saw in the Citi Open final and this week again has that sort of feel to it. It’s a loaded field with a small draw, so that means tough matches almost every round for the seeds. For me, that also means more chances for upsets. If one of the top two teams is going to get to the final, I’d give a slight advantage to Kubot-Melo who have a slighty better draw over Kontinen-Peers. For me, Bopanna-Dodig and Marach-Pavic are the teams to watch this week as possible “outside” title contenders.

WTA: Makarova-Vesnina Take Over Top Spot

Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina have firmly established themselves as contenders to the throne as the WTA’s best team. The Russians won the Rogers Cup titles in Toronto last week and in doing so, moved past Martina Hingis and Yung Jan Chan for the top spot in the rankings. They now hold a 450 point lead of Hingis-Chan who lost in their second match last week in Canada. The newly minted number ones are the top seeds in Cincinnati this week. The Russians have won ten straight matches.

MAKVES

Hingis-Chan will be seeded second this week for the Western & Southern Open. Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycove serve as the third seeds. They made the semifinals in Toronto last week. Sania Mirze and Shuai Peng are slated in as the fourth seeds. Mirza’s disasterous recent run continued in Canada last week, where Peng was forced to withdraw due to a knee injury. The pair had won their opener at the Rogers Cup. Of late, Mirza’s partners have had trouble staying health with Yaroslava Shvedova, Coco Vandeweghe and Kirsten Flipkens all coming up injured while partnership with the former world #1.

Still waiting for that Hingis and Mirza reunion. Am I the only one who sees the sense it makes?

2017 Wimbledon Men’s Doubles Preview

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Defending Champions Seek History With Repeat

It’s been nine years since a team won back-to-back doubles titles at Wimbledon. In 2007 and 2008, Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic won the men’s doubles titles to become the 6th team in the Open Era to accomplish that feat. This year, Nicolas Mahut and Pierre Hugues-Herbert hope to add their name to the list. The French duo comes to London seeded second, but with just one title (Rome) to their credit. That comes on the heels of a season in 2016 when they won three Masters titles and Wimbledon together among their six overall titles. They’re also looking to make it three straight years with a Grand Slam title after winning their maiden Slam at the U.S Open in 2015.

This year’s top seeded team is Henri Kontinen and John Peers. The 2017 Australian Open champions have had plenty of difficulty following up their first Grand Slam title. Since Melbourne, Kontinen-Peers have failed to make the final of another tournament. Following Kontinen-Peers and Herbert-Mahut in the top four seeds are third seeds Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares. Murray-Soares with three titles this year, including two on grass. The current number one ranked team, Marcelo Melo and Lukasz Kubot, come to the All-England Club seeded fourth. Last week’s AEGON International champs, the Bryan Brothers follow as the fifth seeds. That was the first title for Bob and Mike one over a year. It’s been nearly three years since their last Grand Slam title when they won the U.S. Open doubles titles in 2014.

First Timer’s Club Looks to Extend Their Reign

Recent years have seen a rash of first time teams winning their maiden Grand Slam doubles title. Since the beginning of 2014, 11 of the last 14 Slams have been won by teams with players claiming their very first Grand Slam title. Wimbledon has seen that feat completed in four of the last seven years with Herbert-Mahut breaking a two year string of first timer winners when Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock won in 2014 and then Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau won in 2015. So is there a duo this year that fits the bill? Here are some notable teams without a Grand Slam title who could make some noise over the next week and a half.

(7) Raven Klaasen/Rajeev Ram
This team really seems to turn it up when the surface switches to grass. Since becoming a regular tandem around the grass court turn in 2015, Klaasen-Ram have won two Halle titles (2015-2016), and made the semis at Wimbledon last year. In the grass prep this year, this duo lost in the Ricoh Open final to Kubot-Melo and then were eliminated in the Halle semifinals by the Zverev brothers. They are stuck in a quarter that includes the hottest team right now in Murray-Soares, but the 7th seeds went 2-2 against them last year.

(16) Oliver Marach/Mate Pavic
The second hottest team on grass was this one. They made the finals in both Stuttgart and Antalya. It’s a little iffy picking them to make a deep run after they were forced to retire in the Antalya final over the weekend. I wasn’t able to find a reason whether it was purely heat related or an actual injury, so take that with a grain of salt. Still, they made finals in Stuttgart and Antalya and appear at their best right now if fully fit. They have to contend with Herbert-Mahut in their quarter, but the defending champs from France have been struggling with consistency, losing both their grass prep matches. This team could surprise in the bottom half of the draw.

Outsider’s Edge

Unseeded teams have a pretty rich history of making noise on the doubles side in the past decade at the All-England Club. Since 2007, unseeded teams have made the semifinals nine times. That’s one quarter of the semifinal slots in that span. That has included non-seeds Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil winning the titles in 2014 as well as several teams making the final. That included last year’s French runners-up Julien Benneteau and Edouard Roger-Vasselin. So who are the dangerous floaters in this year’s draw? Here are a few to monitor with legit chances for deep runs.

Julien Benneteau/Vasek Pospisil
An interesting tandem here. You have half of the 2016 runners-up in Benneteau and a former champ in Pospisil. Benny and Pop did team up once before, way back in 2014 in Beijing on a hard surface. They had good chemistry, making the final before losing to Rojer-Tecau. They’ll be dangerous and could take down a seeded duo early with Ivan Dodig and Marcel Granollers, the 8th seeds, in their way potentially in round two. Dodig-Granollers have been a solid team, but had no grass court play together this year. If Benny-Pop show that chemistry again and pull of that early upset, the top quarter where a shaky Kontinen-Peers reside, could open up for this unseeded duo.

Leander Paes/Adil Shamasdin
Paes is in rare territory, playing with the same partner for the third straight tournament. The man of a billion playing partners has found a good groove with Shamasdin. They have meshed well since their first team-up this season at the Leon Challenger early in the season, where they won the titles. They rejoined for the first time since that triumph when the surface switched to grass, taking the AEGON Ilkey Trophy doubles crown. They followed that up with a semifinal showing last week at the Antalya Open. They open against Julian Knowle and Philipp Oswald and then could see 14th seeds Florin Mergea and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi who have not found much success lately when paired up. They’re stuck in the quarter with Kubot-Melo though, so getting to the quarterfinals will be difficult, yet not impossible if they continue to click.

Santiago Gonzalez/Donald Young
It’s hard to know what to make of this team after their improbable run to the French Open final. They are slated to start against the defending champions (Herbert-Mahut) so this team will be boom or bust out of the gates. I’m intrigued to see how they work together this time around and facing an experienced duo. They stunned Murray-Soares at the French Open, so there’s definitely a vibe here between the two that works. If they can pull off the stunner in round one, then they obviously will have a shot to build a reputation as Grand Slam specialists.

Draw Predictions

Quarter #1 Seeds
Kontinen-Peers (1)
Dodig-Granollers (6)
Harrison-Venus (10)
Nestor-Martin (13)

Projected Quarterfinalists
Kontinen-Peers
Benneteau-Pospisil

Quarter #2 Seeds
Kubot-Melo (4)
Bopanna-ERV (8)
Rojer-Tecau (9)
Mergea-Qureshi (13)

Projected Quarterfinalists
Kubot-Melo
Bopanna-ERV

Quarter #3 Seeds
Murray-Soares (3)
Klaasen-Ram (7)
Cabal-Farah (12)
Peralta-Zeballos (15)

Projected Quarterfinalists
Klaasen-Ram
Murray-Soares

Quarter #4 Seeds
Herbert-Mahut (2)
Bryans (5)
Lopez-Lopez (11)
Marach-Pavic (16)

Projected Quarterfinalists
Bryans
Marach-Pavic

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

The two teams headed into this tournament with form and solid chemistry are Murray-Soares and Kubot-Melo. Both have won two titles on grass in June and will be expecting deep runs. Kubot-Melo are in the top half with Kontinen-Peers who just have not been the same team since winning in Australia. There are some tough duos in this half, but Kubot-Melo look like they have what it takes to be in the final. If there is a shock unseeded duo though, it’s Benneteau-Pospisil that I think have the best shot to get to a final, albeit an extremely tough path to do so.

In that bottom half, Murray-Soares have the tougher potential road to match them. Klaasen-Ram will be a difficult out if that plays out to be the quarterfinal match-up. A win there and they may still have to see the defending champs, Bryans or another hot team like Marach-Pavic to work into the final. This half seems much more open to a seed outside the top four moving to the final.

Kubot and Melo have been the best team since winning the Indian Wells title. They’ve added three more and should be eager to make up for their flop to Harrison-Venus at the French Open. They are definitely the team to beat for me with the best route. I think their finals opponent comes from the group of Murray-Soares, Klaasen-Ram or the Bryans. If the first timer’s club strikes again, I do fancy that Klaasen-Ram might be the team to continue that streak.

2017 AEGON International Preview

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AEGON International Returns to Eastbourne

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

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

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

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

All Eyes on Djokovic

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

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

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

Early Bird Specials

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

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

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

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

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

Outsider’s Edge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Draw Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FRAGBDC17

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