2017 Rogers Cup SF Preview: Roger Federer vs Robin Haase

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Roger Federer is one win away from his first Rogers Cup final since 2014. Federer takes on Robin Haase, who is playing in his third semifinal of the season.

(2) Roger Federer vs Robin Haase

Federer looked much better in the quarterfinals as he came in off a somewhat shaky performance at-times against David Ferrer. In the quarters, he took down another Spaniard in Roberto Bautista Agut 6-4, 6-4. Federer’s serve was improved, taking 81 percent of the points off the first and 73 percent off the second. The Swiss was broken once on three chances. That was a big area of improvement after Ferrer saw 13 break chances against Fed and converted three of them.

Haase won in three sets for the second straight round as he rallied for a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 win over Diego Schwartzman. Haase’s first serve was lethal, winning 84 percent of the points. That helped him overcome a large struggle on second serve, where the Dutchman won just 11 of 35 points played. That was in line with his opponent with Schwartzman also unable to find the range with his second serve with Haase taking 23 of 36 points played. Haase broke the Argentine six times on 14 chances, while saving three of seven break points against his serve.

First Meeting Since 2012

Federer and Haase have met just once and it came in Davis Cup play five years ago on clay. Federer won 6-1, 6-4, 6-4. Obviously in this spot, Federer is the heavy favorite. Give Haase credit this week for putting together a nice stretch on a surface that traditionally has not been too kind to him. Haase’s serve has been an unexpected helper en route to the semifinals with 39 aces through four rounds. He has been broken seven times overall.

Federer had two Fed-like wins over Peter Polansky in his opener and then against Bautista Agut in the quarters. Sandwiched in between was what looks like an anomaly with the poor showing against Ferrer. His serve was not effective consistently in that one and the bigger issue was an error-prone ground game that plagued him in key moments. That allowed Ferrer to take the opening set before Federer found better over the last two sets. Perhaps it gives the field some hope that the Swiss is still human if nothing else.

Match Tactics

For Haase to have any chance to contend well against Federer, he’s got to flash that big first serve that has led him to this point. Aces will be welcomed. The Dutchman is adequate off the ground with a decent forehand and two-hander off the backhand side. Of the few times I have seen him, Haase doesn’t seem to have a great variety from either wing. He does hit the ball solid though and he will stay in rallies. I think he’ll want to test the Federer backhand as most try and see how solid it is on Saturday. Any time Haase can get the Swiss into extended rallies will be a bonus, especially with Fed doing everything he can to keep points short and sweet.

For Federer, if his serve is solid, he’s difficult to break down. If he is hitting his serve with power and precision, he’s putting his opponent into poor positions on return. That in turn will set him up to move to net and finish off points quickly and more often than not, effectively. Haase isn’t bad at the net, so Federer will need to make sure he’s choosing wisely or the Dutchman does have the volley skills to respond. As usual, expect Federet to get around to the forehand as much as possible in longer rallies where he is most comfortable.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Federer finds himself in the pole position with the slew of upsets this week and I would bet he’ll be very focused in this match with the prospects of Alexander Zverev being his likely finals opponent. As long as Fed doesn’t come out of the gates slow or nervy, it’s difficult to see Haase troubling the Swiss in the end.

Prediction: Federer wins in straight sets

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.

Pig-pourri: ATP Topshelf Open Draw Rehash

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Mahut Could Make Waves Yet Again #TSO15



With several of the top seeds set for their first matches of the tournament, things have already changed in s-Hertogenbosch. Already ousted this week are 7th seed Fernando Verdasco via wild card Robin Haase in straight sets on Wednesday. 9th seeded Vasek Pospisil lost a tough battle to unseeded Gilles Muller on Wednesday in three and 4th seeded Guillermo Garcia-Lopez also fell today to qualifier Marius Copil. With those “upsets” – a term loosely used in these 250 level events – let’s take a look at how the quarters now shape up as the quarter finals loom.

Goffin Quarter
Goffin is the 2nd seed and he’ll be playing his 1st match of the tournament Thursday. He faces unseeded Jurgen Melzer. The Austrian worked through qualifier Kenny De Schepper in his opener 6-4, 6-7, 6-3. The lefty will provide a stern test for Goffin who still is very green, pardon the pun, on grass at this stage. He’s lost seven of his last eight on the surface since making the 3rd round of Wimbledon back in 2012. It’s also been four months since he faced a lefty. I still like the upset potential there. Otherwise, 8th seed Joao Sousa still looks enticing to win this quarter. He was up & down against Istomin, but won going away in three. He gets qualifier Ilya Marchenko. Marchenko’s win over a struggling Mikhail Youzhny in the 1st round was his first win on grass in an ATP main draw since 2011.

Garcia-Lopez Quarter
As I outlined prior to the start of the Topshelf Open, unseeded players routinely get to the semifinals at this event. That will be the case in this quarter with seeds Pospisil & Garcia-Lopez already headed out of town. It should be a serve fest for the semifinal spot as Gilles Muller takes on Marius Copil. Both players have 27 aces through their first two matches. Copil was much better on-serve against Garcia-Lopez, but Muller has been almost unbreakable with just one break opportunity handed out so far this tournament. They’ve split two matches in their careers with one going the distance back in 2013 on an indoor hard surface that Copil won. The other saw Muller win in two tie breaks on carpet in 2010. It’s a coin flip really, but Muller’s serve has been slightly less touchable so far. Give him a very small edge, but it won’t be a surprise if Copil continues his run.

Karlovic Quarter
The good doctor pounded his way to the quarter finals with 25 aces in a double tie break win over Tatsuma Ito. He will face Haase who dispatched of Verdasco 7-6, 6-3 on Wednesday. It was a definite surprise given the way the two have performed on grass in the past. Haase had seemed allergic to it with a 10-23 record prior to this week. Haase has a good enough serve to stick with Ivo into some tie breaks, so expect one or two to decide who makes it to the semis. Karlovic has kept with his career mark by going 10-12 in tie breaks this year, winning around 5-% for his career. Haase has been much worse at just 35%, but did win the TB over Verdasco. He has won his last four tie breaks on grass. In what could come down to just a point or two difference, let’s give Haase the chance to continue to add to his best finish at this tournament by reaching the semis.

Bautista-Agut Quarter
This was the quarter I thought might see an non-seed work through and it could still happen. Third seeded Roberto Bautista-Agut and 8th seed Adrian Mannarino are alive in this quarter. Mannarino has played a match, beating Lu 6-4, 6-3. He wasn’t great, but he was good enough. He catches qualifier Marco Chiudinelli who outlasted Benoit Paire in 3; 7-6, 2-6, 7-6. Chiudinelli wasn’t expection, but he was also just good enough. This is already the Swiss’ best showing on grass, but I think Mannarino puts an end to that in the quarters. Chiudinelli is just 8-11 career-wise against lefties in ATP main draw events. It is Mannarino though, so anything is possible. I still like Mahut to take out RBA in the other match. RBA did get him here last year in the quarters in three sets. This time he comes in cold with this being his 1st grass court match. Mahut needs to serve well, but should have a shot for revenge.

Tournament Outlook
It’s booked that we’ll get at least one non-seed in a semifinal due to the upsets that have already happened. I think at least one other quarter sees another get through and maybe more than just the one quarter. I also like a non-seed to be playing for a title come Sunday. With the way the draw has panned out already, Muller or Copil might have a leg up on that. Don’t count out those pesky vets though with Mahut & Melzer still in play.

3 Little Pigs: Indian Wells March 17th

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Everyone knows the fairy tale of the Three Little Pigs. Three houses built of different material to try to withstand the onslaught of the wolf. Here, we look at three players today and what the day holds for them from the houses of straw, sticks and bricks. Don’t worry, no one will blame you if you’re singing to Rick James’ “Brick House” by the time you finish reading the last word in today’s column.

Straw House: Robin Haase
Haase scored an impressive upset over Stan Wawrinka in his last match 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. That came in spite of him losing his six previous encounters to Wawrinka, so you would think his confidence would be high after knocking out the 7th ranked player on the ATP tour. It was just Haase’s 4th Top 10 win in his career. That in part is what has him in the Straw House today as marquee wins can be hard to follow up for players unaccustomed to that success. While Haase is a tour vet, beating players of Wawrinka’s caliber are not the norm for him. He faces Lukas Rosol today who won a rollercoaster ride over Martin Klizan last time out 4-6, 6-0, 6-3. It was Rosol’s first main draw win in nearly two months to break a three match ATP losing streak (five if you factor in Davis Cup). Today’s meeting is the fourth between these two with Rosol leading the H2H, 2-1. Only one encounter came on hard courts, that was a three set win for Haase. The other two were both on clay where Rosol prevailed. This is a toss-up with both searching for an elusive spot in the 4th round. Expect some huffing and puffing in perhaps a three set affai, something tells this little piggy it could be Rosol who sneaks through.

Stick House: Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov’s 2015 has been chock full of rather average results to this point. It’s definitely a disappointing start to the year for a guy that many have earmarked to be the next big thing for several years. That he was barely able to push past Nick Kyrgios who had not played in nearly two months in his last match should raise a red flag. Dimitrov very well could have lost that match if not for an akle injury suffered by Kyrgios. Kyrgios suffered the ligament injury on what turned out to be a break point for him that put him up 5-4 in the 3rd. He had to call on the trainer though and was obviously compromised as he was broken right away. To his credit, Kyrgios did finish the match as Dimitrov won in a third set tie break. We found out in the past day that Kyrgios will miss up to four weeks due to that injury. So what does that say about Dimitrov? He’s fortunate to be here, very much like a house of sticks in a wind storm. He withstood the barrage, but what does today hold? Tommy Robredo is the opponent. Robredo outlasted Andrey Golubev in a three set thriller in his opener, 6-4, 6-7, 6-4. Robredo was stout on serve, winning 84% of his 1st serve points and saving five of five break chances. Dimitrov had similar 1st serve numbers vs. Kyrgios with more pop as he pumped in 16 aces, but was broken twice. This has been the spot where Dimitrov has found himself dropping out at Indian Wells each of his previous three trips. They have split their two career meetings with the last coming at the Rogers Cup last Summer where Dimitrov needed three sets to beat Robredo. Robredo won in Barcelona the year prior on clay in straight sets. With Dimitrov seemingly still not in his best form, Robredo should feel very confident of pushing the Bulgarian to the limit today. Robredo should huff, he should puff and he might just blow Dimitrov out of the draw with the upset.

Brick House: Kristina Pliskova
The 15th ranked player on the WTA tour has been solid this week with wins over Arruabarrenna and Muguruza. Her serve has been spot-on as she’s won 77% of her 1st serve points and been broken just twice. She has 18 aces through two matches and she’ll need to lay the foundation in her house today with that serve against Simona Halep. Halep had some difficulty with Varvara Lepchenko in her last match, dropping a set in route to a 6-1, 3-6, 6-1 win. Her serve has been vulnerable with 14 break points offered last match, but 12 saved. She was similiarly prone in her first match with Gavrilova where she was broken four times and dropped the opening set before recovering for a 2-6, 6-1, 6-2 win. Today’s match marks the 2nd time that Halep and Pliskova will meet this year. Halep won their first meeting in Dubai 6-4, 7-6. Halep was able to break Pliskova’s serve down on that day with five breaks of serve to counter the four that Pliskova saw off Halep’s serve. Pliskova has looked the clearner of the two players this week and there will be revenge on her racket today. If she can do a better job with her serve than she did in Dubai, she will put a ton of pressure on Halep to have to serve much better than she has all tournament. Halep looks vulnerable in this spot and if it’s humming with aces again, Pliskova’s brick house could very well stand up to the world #3 and provide another upset on the women’s side that has already seen 4th seeded Caroline Wozniacki, 5th seeded Ana Ivanovic, 7th seed Agnieszka Radwanska and 9th seeded Andrea Petkovic taken out.