The Doubles DL: Loaded Field in Cincinnati

doubles-dl

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?

The Doubles DL: Rogers Cup Previews

doubles-dl

Top Teams Edging Further Ahead

As the summer hard court swings to back-to-back Masters events, the doubles draw will again feature all the teams in the running for the ATP World Tour Finals. Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo remain well ahead in the top spot in the rankings as the only team qualified for London. Last week however, they saw a 17 match win streak ended in the Citi Open final at the hands of the second ranked team, Henri Kontinen and John Peers. Kontinen-Peers had been fairly mediocre since winning the Australian Open, but they have now turned it back up a notch with the season in its final few months. Kontinen-Peers now also have two wins over Kubot-Melo this year with the third meeting between the two at Wimbledon seeing Kubot-Melo taking it in a tense five set thriller. For Kubot-Melo, they have been the most consistent team still with five titles and two other finals appearances in 2017.

The top two duos on the ATP Tour look to have separated themselves quite a bit in the rankings race. Kubot-Melo come to Montreal with a large lead still at around 1,900 points over Kontinen-Peers. Kontinen-Peers put some space between themselves and the third ranked Bryans. Kontinen-Peers lead the Bryans by about 1,300 points. Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares round out the top four in the rankings. They come to the Rogers Cup just 75 points behind the Bryans for third. Last week showcased these top four teams who were all in the semifinals. Clearly at this point, these four teams have established themselves with good consistency in the last four to six weeks.

Other Seeds Provide Depth to Draw

This week marks the return of French duo Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Herbert-Mahut have not played together in doubles since a second round exit at Wimbledon. This week’s fifth seeds have not been able to capture the magic of 2015 and 2016 this season. They are just 16-8 after winning 73 combined matches the previous two seasons. They have just one title this season, winning in Rome – which was also their only finals appearance in 2017. Behind them in the sixth slot are Raven Klaasen and Rajeev Ram. Klaasen-Ram scored both their titles early in the year on hard courts in Delray Beach and Indian Wells. As a team, they are just 1-2 all-time at this event.

Rohan Bopanna and Ivan Dodig reunited as the 7th seeds. They have teamed up just one other time this year at Queen’s Club, where they made the semifinals. Both played with different partners last week in DC with both losing in the quarterfinals. The 8th seeds are Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic who are back together for the first time since losing that epic five set battle in the Wimbledon final to Kubot-Melo. They went 11-3 on grass as they seemed to find a groove after going just 7-7 since they first teamed up for the Miami Open. It will be interesting to see if they can rekindle the chemistry that propelled them from non-factors to the #11 spot in the rankings. They are just over 300 points back of the 8th spot, so they could move up rapidly again if they catch fire.

ATP Rogers Cup Draw Preview

The top half features top seeds Kontinen-Peers, Herbert-Mahut, the Bryans and Marach-Pavic. Kontinen-Peers didn’t get the best of draw as they could see Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau in their opener. Rojer-Tecau battle Santiago Gonzalez and Donald Young in round one. Gonzalez-Young will be tough in their own right. The surprise French Open finalists have been a tough out everywhere they have played. Rojer-Tecau do own a win over Kontinen-Peers from early in the season in Dubai. Either team has upset potential even with Kontinen-Peers in good form. Marach-Pavic are the other seeds in their top quarter who could block them from the semifinals. Do watch out for the team of Nikola Mektic and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi. They are a first time pairing, but both are skilled doubles players. They open against Juan-Sebastian Cabal and Pablo Carreno Busta. Cabal’s regular partner Robert Farah is still recovering from an injury suffered from Wimbledon, forcing his fellow Colombian to seek new partners.

In the other quarter in this half, Herbert-Mahut and the Bryans are the seeds. Herbert-Mahut will see either Marc and Feliciano Lopez in round two or Lucas Pouille and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Herbert-Mahut are 1-3 against Team Lopez over the last season and a half. The Bryans had a six match winning streak halted by Kubot-Melo in the Citi Open semifinals. They have had trouble beating the elite teams on tour this season. They will face either Michael Venus and Ryan Harrison or Grigor Dimitrov and Juan Martin Del Potro. Venus-Harrison have had trouble outside of Slams where they are a combined 9-1 with the French Open title and Wimbledon quarterfinals appearance. Outside of those two tourneys, they are just 5-6. They have lost both matches they have played on this hard court swing. Perhaps they can change that luck this week against Dimitrov and Del Potro.

This is a difficult half to call. Kontinen-Peers have a tough road to get to the final. The pluses are that the Bryans have lost to them twice and Herbert-Mahut have not found much consistency this season. Marach-Pavic are the X-factor for me. If their chemistry is still there, they could make a push this week. Of the unseeded duos to monitor, I think the winner of the Rojer-Tecau/Gonzalez-Young match could stun Kontinen-Peers and use that as a catalyst to a big run.

Bottom Half Sets up for Kubot-Melo to Get Back On Track

Kubot-Melo are seeded second in the bottom half with Murray-Soares, Bopanna-Dodig and Klaasen-Ram as the other seeds in this half. Kubot-Melo will get either all-Canadian pair Frank Dancevic and Amil Shamasdin or all-French duo Fabrice Martin and Eduoard Roger-Vasselin to start. The all-French pair would be a tougher match-up, I think. Klaasen-Ram will likely face Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil in round two. The Canadians face Roberto Bautista Agut and David Ferrer in the opening round. The Spaniards will be pesky, but Nestor-Pop really should win in the end. Klaasen-Ram might be the team to cause the most issues for Kubot-Melo. They beat Kubot-Melo in the Indian Wells final, but Kubot-Melo beat them at the Ricoh Open on grass in June.

In the other half, Murray-Soares may have to deal with Sam Querrey and Steve Johnson in their opener. Johnson-Querrey battle Paolo Lorenzi and Albert Ramos-Vinolas in a very winnable match for the Americans. Focus might be the thing that keeps the Americans from pulling off the upset. Johnson is already out of the singles draw and Querrey is likely to be a little big heavy legged from travel after last week’s Los Cabos victory. Bopanna-Dodig will open against the one-off team of Karen Khachanov and Dominic Thiem who upset Nicholas Monroe and Jack Sock in a super breaker on Monday in round one. Those one-off teams do pull their fair share of round one stunners, but often flame out after that. Bopanna-Dodig should have an edge there as both Khachanov and Thiem focus more on singles.

This one smells like a highly competitive half that likely comes down to one of the seeds getting through: Kubot-Melo, Murray-Soares or Klaasen-Ram. Murray-Soares made the final last year in Toronto, but lost to Kubot-Melo twice early in the year on hard courts in Miami and Indian Wells. Both came in super breakers, so the difference between the two is small.

2007 was the last time a team outside the top four seeds took home the Rogers Cup doubles titles. This week doesn’t look like that streak might end, although perhaps one of the lower seeds could slip into the mix like Klaasen-Ram or Marach-Pavic. I don’t think we’re going to get 1 versus 2 again this week with Kontinen-Peers for me the more likely not to get to the final.

Toronto Could Tilt WTA Doubles Race

It will be an interesting week in Toronto for the Rogers Cup doubles draw on the WTA side. The Citi Open didn’t have many glamour names taking part last week as second seeds Shuko Aoyoma and Renata Voracova beat unseeded duo Eugenie Bouchard and Sloane Stephens in the championship match. The top seeds, Sania Mirza and Monica Niculescu, were ousted in the semis by Bouchard and Stephens. It continued a long slump for Mirza without a finals appearance. This week, she’ll partner up with Shuai Peng who has been announced as Mirza’s partner during the hard court swing to the U.S. Open. They are seeded fourth this week.

Wimbledon champions Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina return for the first time since their triumph in London. They serve as the top seeds this week and sit just 260 points behind Martina Hingis and Yung Jan Chan to the top spot in the rankings. Makarova-Vesnina are the defending champions. Hingis-Chang will be seeded second in Toronto. They have combined to secure five titles this season, but have fallen short in both Grand Slams they have participated in together in 2017.

RCDUBS

The third seeds are an interesting combo with Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova teaming up. Remember they won the bronze medal in Rio last year, so they do have some chemistry. Strycova was Mirza’s regular partner when the year started, but they split as Strycova wanted to focus more on her singles career. Safarova of course is without her regular partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands who continues her long rehab from that knee injury suffered at Wimbledon.

The other team to watch out for in the bottom half with Hingis-Chan and Safarova-Strycova is the all-Aussie combo of Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua. They rank fourth in the year-end race right now and have been a consistent threat. They made the French Open final and the quarters in Wimbledon. They have three titles together this season. Much like the Bryans on the men’s side though, they have struggled to beat the top teams when presented with the chance.

This would be a great week to get the #1 vs #2 seeds and the #1 vs #2 teams in the final. Hingis-Chan beat the Russians on clay earlier this season, so let’s see who is better on hard courts heading towards the U.S. Open.

The Doubles-DL: Rajeev Ram to Focus on Doubles

doubles-dl

Bryans Lead Field in Atlanta

The Bryan Brothers return to action in Atlanta on Tuesday. They are the top seeds in the draw and currently find themselves ranked fourth despite winning just one title this season. Opposite of them are Slam specialists Michael Venus and Ryan Harrison aka Team Venison. Venus-Harrison enter the week just 145 points behind the Bryans. The third seeds in Atlanta are Nicholas Monroe and Donald Young with Purav Raja and Divij Sharan seeded fourth. Raja-Sharan won their opener against Treat Huey and Robert Lindstedt in a super tiebreak on Monday.

One of the fun teams to watch in Atlanta will be Jack Sock teaming with his brother Eric. It will be the first time the Sock Brothers have teamed up for a professional event. It’s a great story after Eric’s battle a few years ago with bilateral pneumonia and a rare infection called Lemierre Syndrome. Eric was on life support for eight days during that stretch, so being able to play alongside his brother this week is a dream come true for both. They will play Hyeon Chung and Jeevan Nedunchezyihan. Even if they lose big, it’s a great story.

SOCKS

As for the draw itself, the Bryans have a tough opener against Aussies Matt Reid and John Patrick Smith who are coming off a finals loss in Newport over the weekend. They’ll be a tough out. Monroe-Young are the seeds in the top half with the Bryans and are both solid doubles players that have played together many times. Still, if the Bryans can escaped round one, this is a draw conducive to a finals run.

In the bottom half, Venus-Harrison have to contend with Raja-Sharan and Santiago Gonzalez and Scott Lipsky, who are dangerous floaters in this half. Gonzalez-Lipsky won their opener Monday and battle Raja-Sharan for a semifinal spot. Gonzalez-Lipsky have played together in Atlanta three previous times with the quarters as their best finish. Raja-Sharan won their lone meeting back in 2014 in clay in Houston. Venus-Harrison seem the class of the bottom half, but in a 250-level event I’m wondering about their motivation. They did win their first title together at a 250 in Estoril this season, but they are just 1-3 in non-Slams since that win.

Regular Teams Off

Most of the teams taking part in the clay tournaments in Gstaad and Hamburg are mix and match for the week as most regular tandems are off for the week. That will change next week in Washington at the Citi Open. Wimbledon champions and world #1s Marcelo Melo and Lukasz Kubot are confirmed to lead the field along with Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares, the Bryans, Venus-Harrison and more. Both halves of the Wimbledon runners-up, Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic, will also be in the field. They will however be with different partners with Marach pairing with Nikola Mektic and Pavic teaming with Ivan Dodig for the second straight week. Dodig-Pavic are currently taking part in the German Open in Hamburg.

Ram Will Focus on Doubles

Rajeev Ram made it official this week as he announced his retirement from singles play on the ATP World Tour. It does not come as a surprising move with Ram ranked #237 in singles. Ram went 57-93 in his ATP singles career with two career titles, both coming on grass in Newport. The 33-year-old has found success in doubles easier to come by with 13 career titles. His best success has come recently with Raven Klaasen. The duo has won six titles in the past three season and lost a thrilling super tiebreak to Henri Kontinen and John Peers in last year’s ATP World Tour Finals championship match.

K-RAM

Ram has three titles this season in the doubles rank with his last coming with Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi in Newport. His other two titles came with Klaasen at Delray Beach and Indian Wells. Klaasen-Ram are currently ranked 7th in the doubles race for London. Ram said the wear and tear the last few years of playing singles and doubles had begun to take its toll on his body. Ram lost his final singles match last week in Newport to Matthew Ebden.

Mirza Chooses Peng for Hard Court Season

On the WTA front, Sania Mirza will play with her sixth different partner this year as the season flips to hard courts. Mirza has announced that she will pair with Shuai Peng as the season heads towards the U.S. Open. Peng is a two-time Grand Slam winner who started the season in a winning partnership with Andrea Hlavackova. They won the titles in Shenzhen to start the season and followed that up with a finals appearance at the Australian Open. They would make the final in Dubai before parting ways after Miami, where they made the semifinals.

Peng played with Ying-Ying Duan during the clay swing with a 2-2 mark ending with a third round exit at the French Open. Peng has not played doubles since Roland Garros. Apparently this partnership has been in the making for some time, but this is the first time that the stars have aligned for Mirza and Peng to play together. Mirza will be hoping that this partnership can return her to the winner’s circle. Mirza has just one title this season which came during her first tournament this season in Brisbane, teaming up with Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

Keep following @tennispig for the low-down on doubles.

2017 Hall of Fame Open Preview

DELLTECH17

Grass Court Season Finale

The grass court season comes to an end this week at the traditional stop in Rhode Island at the Tennis Hall of Fame. The tournament formerly known as the Tennis Hall of Fame Championships flips to a new name this year as the Dell Technologies Hall of Fame Open or Dell Tech Open for short. The tournament serves as the back drop for the yearly Hall of Fame induction ceremony which this year will include Andy Roddick and Kim Clijsters among others.

This is the 41st year of the tournament which features John Isner as this year’s top seed. Isner is a two time champ here, last winning in 2012. The defending champion is seeded second in this year’s draw and that is Ivo Karlovic. Karlovic finally broke through in the final last year against Gilles Muller after losing in the final of this tournament in both 2014 and 2015. Adrian Mannarino and Pierre Hugues-Herbert round out of the top four seeds. Mannarino is a two-time quarterfinalists, while PHH makes his debut in Newport this year.

As a 250-level event the week after a Grand Slam, there is definitely a lesser field in attendance. That is highlighted by the remaining four seeds among the top eight seeds. The fifth seed is Victor Estrella-Burgos followed by Lukas Lacko, Tennys Sandgren and Illya Marchenko to round out the seeded field. Only Sandgren has never played in Newport among that group. The lack of grass court success among this part of the seeded field is rather astounding with Burgos at 4-11 on the green stuff for his career. Lacko is 12-21 on grass and perhaps has the “best” pedigree among the lower seeds. He made the third round at Wimbledon in 2016, beating Karlovic in round two. He has not registered a win at the ATP level on grass since that match.

Sandgren? He played his first career grass court matches this summer, going 1-2 in the Ilkey Challenger and Wimbledon qualifying. Marchenko has sporadic success on grass with a quarterfinal run at the 2015 Ricoh Open and he made it through qualifying at Wimbledn this year. He would lose in five sets to Jiri Vesely in round one. The fact of the matter is that among the seeds, this is a very top heavy field for a 250. After Mannarino, there is plenty of inexperience and also plenty of opportunity for someone to step up and make a name for themselves this week.

Early Bird Specials

Newport has traditionally been a bad place to be a seed, although last year very much bucked that trend. No seeds were upset in their first matches in 2016 and the semifinal field was all comprised of seeded players. Prior to 2016 however, there has been plenty of upheaval among the seeds. In 2015, Rajeev Ram won the title as an unseeded player and three seeds dropped their opening matches. That included top seed John Isner. Two of the four semifinal spots went to unseeded players.

2014 was another year where the seeds actually performed well with just one early upset. Seeds would make up three quarters of the semifinal spots. 2012 and 2013 were more like what you’d expect the week after a Slam with four seeds dropping their openers each year. Nicolas Mahut would win the title in 2013 as an unseeded wild card entry and Lleyton Hewitt made the final as an unseeded wild card in 2012. The one big constant over the last four years has been the inability of the top seed to get himself into the mix. Isner was the last top seed to win the title in 2012. Since then, no top seed has even reached the semifinals.

So chew on all that as we take a look at the seeds who could be prone to early trips home this week … which would pretty much be all the seeds in my opinion.

1. John Isner
Qualifying continues on Monday, so Isner does not have a set opponent yet. He will take on the winner of a first round match between two qualifiers. There are some intriguing qualifiers who could pose a risk to Isner depending on the match-up, but that’s neither here nor there until there is something set. Isner’s form in general might be the bigger worry with the American went just 2-3 on grass and lost to Dudi Sela in the second round at Wimbledon. He’s done reasonably well here at 15-5 for his career and the first round loss his last time here in 2015 was to Rajeev Ram. Ram won the title that year. Check the match-up once qualifying is done, but keep Big John on upset alert.

2. Ivo Karlovic
Karlovic could have an interesting first battle in Newport. He gets the winner between Americans Mitchell Krueger and Denis Kudla. Kudla is two years removed from his magical grass court season where he won a Challenger title and then made round four at Wimbledon in 2015. Since then, he’s failed to follow up that momentum. He is just 6-9 on grass since then with most of those wins at the Challenger level and in Wimbledon qualifying. Should he get through though, Kudla owns two wins against Karlovic in three career matches. He beat Ivo at this tournament in 2011 and then last year in clay on Spain.

3. Adrian Mannarino
Mannarino seems like a candidate to potentially take control of his draw if the seeds above him falter, but he also faces a possible landmine in his opener. He gets the winner between Taylor Fritz and Tobias Kamke. Neither is in superb form, but Fritz has efforted well on grass recently. He made it through Wimbledon qualifying before losing to Isner in round one. He also made the quarterfinals at the Ilkey Challenger and should expect to beat Kamke who played on clay last week. Fritz has played Mannarino twice and lost to him narrowly in three sets in Acapulco on hard courts earlier this year. He’ll be a threat if his serve is on.

4. Pierre Hugues-Herbert
Huge danger sign for the Frenchman in that he could open against a player who just hosed him in straight sets in June on grass. PHH opens against either Stefan Kozlov or Adrian Menendez-Maceiras. Kozlov is the danger. The young American torched him 6-4, 6-2 in qualifying at Queen’s Club. Maybe it was just a bad day for Herbert who had eight double faults in that match, but that rematch would make for a real tricky opener.

5. Victor Estrella Burgos
Burgos has been in the midst of a terrible season, losing his opening match at tournaments in eight of his last nine. He faces veteran Konstantin Kravchuk to start. Kravchuk is just 2-4 on grass this season, but his losses have been very tight for the most part. He has never won on grass at this level though, so it’s a bit of an ask for him to break through. Still with Burgos struggling, there may not be a better time for he Russian to nab his first win on grass.

6. Lukas Lacko
Lacko’s experience on grass is a plus, but his first round opponent has the ability to serve him off the court. American Reilly Opelka is that man. He’s got a monster serve, but his problem has been replicating it from set to set and in key moments. What you like about Opelka’s chanes to pull off the win though are that Lacko’s struggled a bit on grass this year against guys who can bring it on serve like Marius Copil and Jan-Lennard Struff.

The top seed in the quali field is Ramkumar Ramanathan who made a run to the Antalya quarterfinals a couple of weeks back, beating Dominic Thiem along the way. Sam Groth is also in the quali field as has the serve that can stick with Isner. Aussie John Patrick Smith is potential trouble if he makes it through the final round. He’s a 2015 semifinalist here and he is playing this tournament for the third straight season.

7. Tennys Sandgren
I touched on his lack of experience on grass and that he could get Novikov first-up would be a worry. It would be a big feather in his cap if he won his first match here to notch that inaugural grass court win at the ATP level. Still, he’s coming back from playing hard courts in Winnetka last week and none of his grass court matches suggested particularly that he’s taken to the surface jut yet. Whether it’s Novikov or Chiudinelli, he should be on upset alert.

8. Illya Marchenko
In spite of an experience edge, Marchenko could also be marked for an early upset. His resume on this surface at the ATP level reads six wins and 12 losses. He opens against American Bjorn Fratangelo who had a couple of decent quarterfinal showings on grass at the Challenger level this summer. The 23-year-old has still not recorded a grass court win at the ATP level however, so he has that to contend with in this spot. Still, there’s nothing especially noteworthy about Marchenko’s game, so Fratangelo might have a shot to get that W.

Outsider’s Edge

Unseeded players have a rich tradition of making noise in Newport. I previously mentioned Rajeev Ram winning the title in 2015 as a wild card entry, so there’s that. If you look back at the last five years and toss out last year’s seed-fest, you’ll find that unseeded players have nailed down seven of the 12 semifinal spots between 2012 and 2015. Three of the last ten finals spots have also gone to unseeded players, so there is definitely opportunity here. So of that can be attributed to the specialized surface and some of it can be attributed to the field of players that is usually lacking among the seeds.

As such, there are always unseeded players with room to make big runs. Here are a few to watch this week.

(WC) Rajeev Ram
A big fat duh on this one. The 2015 champ is 17-6 all-time at this tournament with two title runs. Three out of the last four years however, Ram has not progressed past the second round. This year, he opens against a yet-to-be determined qualifier and then would see either Lacko or Opelka. It’s a very winnable part of the draw for Ram to push through to the semifinals. Check the opening match-up and if it’s favorable, Ram could be some to consider backing as a dark horse this week.

Dennis Novikov
The 23-year-old Russian-born, now Americanized Novikov is in another soft part of the draw. He opens against Marco Chiudinelli. The Swiss competition has lost seven of his last ten overall. Novikov played a lot on grass this summer, mostly at Challengers. He made it through qualifying three times on grass with the lone exception coming at Wimbledon, where he lost in the final round. Last year, Novikov made the main draw at Wimbledon and got to the second round. He’s got some grass game. A win over Chiudinelli would get him a shot against Sandgren or a qualifier. That’s a fairly winnable section which could get him to the quarterfinals. He might find John Isner there. It’s a longshot that he’d get there, but there is a route for him to win a few this week.

Taylor Fritz
The Fritz Express has derailed over the past 18 months or so. In early 2016, Fritz was being touted as the next “it” guy in American tennis after winning a Challenger to start the season and showing well in a five set loss at the Australian Open against Jack Sock in round one. Fritz would make his first ATP level final in Memphis the next month. He would make a couple more quarterfinals in a solid season. Fritz’s 2017 has been full of change with a newborn child in his life now. His ranking is back outside the Top 100 now, well up from his career best #53 about 11 months ago.

I mentioned above that a win over Kamke in round one would get him a shot against Mannarino. Mannarino has been playing well on grass, so it would be a big win for Fritz who took him the distance in their last meeting. He’s in the same quarter as Lacko and Ram in what could be the most competitive section of the draw. Fritz is still just 19, so it’s not like he’s in danger of being labelled a bust. Still, there needs to be a time when the switch flips on again for him and this could be a spot for him to do just that. He’ll need to find the best version of his serve to do so.

Stefan Kozlov
The 19-year-old American has shown enough on grass that he can be included in the mix of outsiders. He beat Steve Johnson at Queen’s Club this year and also beat his potential second round opponent, Hugues-Herbert, in qualifying in that same tournament. This will be his third straight year playing in Newport, so he should be comfortable. That might make him dangerous, but it all depends on whether or not his serve is working. That’s been the part of his game that has struggled to develop consistency just yet.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
John Isner (1)
Tennys Sandgren (7)

Breakdown
If there is a spot to break the #1 seed curse at Newport, this would be it. Isner is in a weak quarter, although the qualifiers who get plugged in after Monday might make it a bit more interesting. Still, having Sandgren as the other seed here is a big bonus for Isner. Unless there is a difficult qualifier in the mix, Isner should be in the quarterfinals. He would see Sandgren, Dennis Novikov or Marco Chiudinelli. Murderer’s Row that is not. Novikov is still the guy I would watch out for here if there is a surprise. If Isner can find a serve rhythm, it will be tough for most to match him still.

Quarter #2 Seeds
Pierre Hugues-Herbert (4)
Illya Marchenko (8)

Breakdown
Herbert is a guy who could do some damage here if he can harness his serve. That’s been one of his biggest problems on tour. As a top ten doubles player, he’s got the requisite volley skills that are handy on grass, so you would expect he could do some good things. He is only 5-7 on grass in his career. He will get either Stefan Kozlov or Adrian Menendez-Maceiras in his opener. As discussed earlier, Kozlov beat him recently on grass and could be a danger or it could ignite the revenge factor for PHH. I think if he gets past his opener, he has a chance to get through this quarter.

Marchenko has his own issues with Fratangelo to open. The winner of that gets either Michael Mmoh or Akira Santillan. Santillan is an intriguing prospect this week. The Australian won at Winnetka this past week on hard courts, so he comes in hot. He’s a real novice on grass, getting his first taste of it this year. He’s shown okay on it though with Challenger level matches and Wimbledon qualifying. His opener against Mmoh is a winnable match-up with the American also shy on grass experience.

This quarter is hard to predict. Santillan is the X-factor I think if he can get an opening round win, then he could keep rolling with his recent hot streak. Kozlov is also a guy who theoretically could come through here with some favorable match-ups.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Adrian Mannarino (3)
Lukas Lacko (6)

Breakdown
Mannarino almost seems too easy a choice to come through this quarter. Still, he has been in form on grass with a finals appearance in Antalya followed by making the fourth round at Wimbledon. His toughest test might be his first if he faces Taylor Fritz. In the other half, Lacko is going to be hard pressed to get much done with a hard draw. He starts against the big serving Reilly Opelka and then surviving that likely gets him a date with Rajeev Ram. Ram beat Opelka in Wimbledon qualifying, so he might have a good read on that big serve if that is the match-up. I think this could come down to Mannarino or Ram. Mannarino is 3-1 against Ram (including Challengers and qualifying), but the lone win for Ram – you guessed it – Ram beat Mannarino in a third set tiebreak at Newport in 2015.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Ivo Karlovic (2)
Victor Estrella Burgos (5)

Breakdown
If you look this quarter, you don’t see anyone who has the serve to go toe-to-toe with Karlovic. Yet so many of his matches come down to a few key points that it’s up in the air even against guys without power serves. Burgos for example owns the lone win over Karlovic in their one career meeting in Quito, Ecuador. That was on clay however, where grass figures to give Karlovic a better edge. Karlovic may only need to get past Kudla in round two to feel comfortable, that’s if Kudla can beat fellow American Mitchell Krueger. Burgos has Kravchuk to start with and then the survivor gets Peter Gojowcyzk or Thai Sun Kwiatkowski. Gojo is one to monitor. The German hadn’t done much on grass before making the main draw at Wimbledon through qualifying. He also won his first round match against Marius Copil before losing to Roberto Bautista Agut in four sets.

It’s hard to get excited about too much in this quarter outside of Karlovic. Ivo is 14-5 in Newport with three straight finals trips. Since making the Ricoh Open final though, he has lost three straight on grass. Still, Newport suits him and he’s actually shown quite decent with the serve and volley here in the past.

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

Karlovic looks to have a pretty good path to making it four finals appearances in a row at this tournament. Mannarino might be the toughest out in that half of the draw, but Karlovic has beaten him three of four times and that includes once this year on grass. Maybe Isner is the one to end the four year streak of the top seed not getting to the semifinals or final, but I just don’t trust his body at this stage. I think the top half could set up for a weird finalist or perhaps Herbert to actual find his best for a week. He’s capable, but just hasn’t shown the consistency in singles lately. If Karlovic wins, he becomes the 5th player to win back-to-back titles in the history of this tournament. He’d be the first since John Isner in 2011 and 2012.

2017 Wimbledon Men’s Doubles Preview

WIMBDUBS17

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.