2018 Miami Open Preview

MIAMI18

Can Anyone Stop Federer and Del Potro ?

The ATP World Tour makes its last hard court stop of the Spring in Florida for the Miami Open. Roger Federer finally proved mortal last week in Indian Wells, losing a tense title match to Juan Martin Del Potro in a third set tie break. For Del Potro, Indian Wells continues a hot run that began in Acapulco. The Argentine has now won titles in consecutive tournaments and has pushed up to number six in the rankings. Combined, Federer and Del Potro are 34-4 in 2019 with two titles each. Clearly, they are the current gold standard.

So the questions beckons whether there is anyone in the field in Miami this week that can break up the current dynamic duo? Federer heads in as the defending champ and has won the Miami title three times. The 36-year-old was pressed hard by Borna Coric in the semis and then by Del Potro in the final last week, so it will be interesting to see if there is any lingering fatigue. Slotted second behind Fed is Marin Cilic. Cilic was a disappointing, albeit not unexpected early exit in Indian Wells. He’s only made it as far as the quarterfinals once in Miami and that was back in 2013. Cilic has dropped his opener at this Masters event in two of his last three trips.

Rounding out the top four seeds are Grigor Dimitrov and Alexander Zverev. Both were dumped out of Indian Wells in their openers last week. Dimitrov is just 8-7 all-time in Miami with the fourth round as his best finish. He lost his opener in Miami last year. Zverev is making just his fourth trip to Florida with last year’s quarterfinal finish as his best run. Del Potro is seeded fifth this week, making the Miami trip with poor recent history. DelPo has not made it past round two in Miami since 2012. Kevin Anderson is seeded sixth and has not made it past round three in five of the last six years.

Rounding out the top eight are David Goffin and Jack Sock. Goffin returns to the court for the first time since injuring his eye in a freak accident in Rotterdam. The Belgian made the semis here in 2016, but has had trouble getting deep into the tournament most years. Sock is a 2017 quarterfinaiist, but has just two wins in seven matches this season.

Djokovic Leads Other Seeds 

Six-time Miami Open champion Novak Djokovic will be looking to prove fit this week as he slots in at #9. The Serb lost in Indian Wells last week in his opener, falling to Taro Daniel in three sets. The good news is that Djokovic is reportedly pain free in his elbow, but he’s certainly looking rusty and nervy – to be expected with just a handful of matches played in the last nine months. Tomas Berdych is seeded 10th and carries in an impressive streak to Miami. The Czech has made the quarters or better here every year since 2013.

Other seeds to watch this week include Nick Kyrgios. The 17th seed was forced to withdraw from Indian Wells last week with his right elbow still bothering him. It remains to be seen how healthy the Aussie is heading into this tournament. When healthy, he’s been a factor here with two straight semifinal runs in 2016 and 2017. Hyeon Chung is in at #19 in Miami. The South Korean is only 1-3 in his career here, but certainly is playing his best tennis again. He’ll be one to watch. Milos Raonic is seeded 20th and off his best result in eight months. Where his game is really at though is another question with Del Potro dismantling him easily in the semis last week.

The 26th seed is Kei Nishikori, who was a late withdrawal last week in California due to illness. e made the final in Miami in 2016 and will certainly be looking to elevate his level this week. Surprise Indian Wells semifinalist Borna Coric is in at #29. The Croat has a chance to build some major and unexpected momentum this week. Coric is 7-3 in his last ten matches. The ever-dangerous vet Fernando Verdasco slips in as the 30th seed this week. He’s a two-time quarterfinalist in Miami and he’s knocked off two top ten players this year. The Spaniard very likely could scare someone again this week.

ELIMINATI

Every week, we take a look at the seeds who could be in peril of losing their openers. The players capable of beating them, I call the Eliminati. Miami has been a blood bath for seeds in their openers in recent years. Last year, 14 seeds fell in their first matches – including a pair of top ten seeds. At least one top ten seed has fallen in Miami in each of the last three seasons. Overall from 2014-2017, at least eight seeds have been taken down in their openers each year.

Here is a look at the guys who could put more players in that club in 2018.

Yuki Bhambri
Because .. Jack Sock. Bhambri made it through qualifying in Indian Wells last week and scored a couple of wins in the main draw, including a stunner over Lucas Pouille. Sock certainly hasn’t shown a ton at 2-5 this season to inspire a ton of confidence. Bhambri must get past Mirza Basic first.

Cameron Norrie/Nicolas Jarry
I don’t think it matters which one of these guys wins – they both will have a chance against Diego Schwartzman. The Argentine has not been able to get untracked on hard courts after a great South American clay court swing. In fact, other than his fourth round run at the Aussie Open – Schwartzman only has one other win on hard courts in 2018. Jarry’s power didn’t both Schwartzman on clay, but perhaps it could on this surface.

Steve Johnson
The American has a round one meeting with Victor Estrella Burgos. A win would get him a shot at 18th seed Adrian Mannarino. Johnson has won the last two meetings, since losing in five sets to Mannarino at the 2014 Australian Open. Mannarino made round four last year and has not lost his opener in Miami since his debut in 2011 – but this match-up would be tough in spite of Johnson’s 1-4 record in Miami.

Frances Tiafoe
Big Foe was an early casualty in Indian Wells last week, unable to follow up on his Delray Beach title run. This week perhaps he’s back in the weeds with a bit less press and that could make him dangerous. He will need to beat Nicolas Kicker in round one, but really has to put it together to do so if we’re going to take him seriously. A win would get him a showdown against 21st seed Kyle Edmund. Edmund lost his first match at Indian Wells, his first since being injured at the Australian Open. Edmund is just 1-4 in Miami for his career and short on match play in recent months. Tiafoe would have a legit shot if he can get through and Kicker might too if things work out that way instead.

Marius Copil/Mikhail Kukushkin
I think the winner of this first rounder has a good chance to take down #32 Karen Khachanov. The Russian has yet to score a win in Miami in two trips. Khachanov has gone 1-2 since winning his 2nd career title earlier this season in Marseille. Copil and Kukushkin are two vets who are full capable of matching Khachanov and springing an upset if the Russian can’t get it together.

Evgeny Donskoy/Aljaz Bedene
The winner here will face (25) David Ferrer. Donskoy has quietly made quarterfinal runs in two of his last three tournaments. The Russian also knocked out Khachanov at Indian Wells last week. Bedene ran well on clay, but has not been a big factor on hard courts lately. Donskoy does own a win in his last match against Ferrer, a three sets win at the Rio Olympics in 2016. Ferrer has avoided first match defeats in his last two tournaments, but does have three opening match losses in 2018.

Dusan Lajovic/Horacio Zeballos
Lajovic and Zeballos are on the list simply becase we’re uncertain how healthy Nick Kyrgios is this week. If the Aussie’s elbow is good-to-go, then I don’t see an upset in this spot. I’d be surprised if Kyrgios risked it if he’s not healthy, but he waited until match day at Indian Wells to withdraw. It could be a repeat this week if he’s not fit.

Denis Shapovalov/Viktor Troicki
The survivor gets (24) Damir Dzumhur and will provide some definite upset potential. Dzumhur has made it out of his first match the last two trips to Miami, but has a tough opponent waiting either way. Troicki has lost four of his last five matches, but does own a win over El Shapo in Shanghai last season. The Canadian wonderboy is still looking to really ignite his season. Shapovalov has been decent, but unable to make a real mark on the season. Could this be his chance?

Benoit Paire
Paire plays Mischa Zverev in round one, so it’s not a given despite the German’s 0-3 mark In Miami. It is Paire after all. The winner gets a shot at Novak Djokovic and you have to keep him on upset alert until he finds his rhythm and proves health. The Serb seemed nervy after the long layoff last week, so I would expect improvement this week. Keep this on the lowest tier of the upset alert, but you just don’t know with Djokovic right now.

Jeremy Chardy/Rogerio Dutra Silva
Chardy has been unable to beat Richard Gasquet in three tries, so normally this would be something I would not consider. Gasquet though has been out since since losing in Dubai to Borna Coric. A knee injury limited him in that one and so it’s up-in-the-air if Gasquet is fully healthy heading into Miami. That gives the winner of this first round match some potential to get a seeded scalp.

Jared Donaldson/Marcos Baghdatis
Either Donaldson or Baghdatis should have a shot against 25th seed Feliciano Lopez. Lopez did make a nice fourth round run in Indian Wells, but he lost to Donaldson in straights in Acapulco. Baghdatis is also 4-1 against the Spaniard, giving whomever survives a pretty good shot to take down Lopez.

Guido Pella
If Pella can get past Mikhail Youzhny in round one, he would get a shot at Gilles Muller. Muller is just 2-9 in Miami and has lost his opening match in three tournaments this year. Pella stunned Dimitrov in Miami last year en route to the third round and could be a tough out for Muller.

Ivo Karlovic/Vasek Pospisil
Andrey Rublev awaits the winner with the 27th seeded Russian on a three match losing streak, including losing his opener in two straight tournaments. I think Karlovic would be the tougher out for Rublev, simply because of the serve and Rublev’s own serve often wobbling in and out of rhythm.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
(1) Roger Federer: 50-13 (W – 2005, 2006, 2017)
(6) Kevin Anderson: 13-8
(10) Tomas Berdych: 33-12
(16) Pablo Carreno Busta: 0-4
(21) Kyle Edmund: 1-4
(31) Fernando Verdasco: 17-15
(32) Karen Khachanov: 0-2

Breakdown
Federer’s path to the quarterfinals seems solid enough. He has Carreno Busta, Mannarino and Verdasco as the potential seeds standing in his way to that point. He opens against a qualifier with Calvin Hemery and Thanasi Kokkinakis going head-to-head in round one. Fed could then see Verdasco in round three. The Spaniard would need to get past the winner of Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Tennys Sandgren. GGL hasn’t played on hard courts since Doha, while Sandgren has match play from last week in Indian Wells. Verdasco has made round three in four of his last six trips. If it comes down to Federer and Verdasco, the Swiss is 6-0 against the lefty.

Carreno Busta has never won in Miami in four tries, but might have a shot to break that streak. He faces Denis Istomin or 18-year-old Serbian wild card Miomir Kecmanovic. Istomin would obviously be a tougher out in spite of his overall poor form. The winner in that section would see Mannarino, Steve Johnson or Victor Estrella Burgos for a shot at the fourth round. Without a ton of success in the past in Miami, this is a wide open portion of the draw. If Mannarino can get past a tricky opener, he could step up and push into round four opposite of Federer.

In the bottom half, Kevin Anderson will look to get himself back on track after a loss to Coric last week. Anderson has struggled in Miami with a quarterfinal run in 2011 as his best result. He should be afforded a good start against either Thomas Fabbiano or Nikoloz Basilashvili. The potential third round opponents for Anderson consist of Khachanov, Copil and Kukushkin. You have to like Andersn to at least find his way to the fourth round with that sort of draw.

Opposite of Anderson is the segment with Berdych and Edmund. Edmund has the tougher early draw with either Tiafoe or Kicker to open. Berdych starts with either Yoshi Nishioka or qualifier Alex de Minaur. de Minaur couldn’t keep up with the Czech in Melbourne, so it’s difficult to see much changing if he is the round one victor. Berdych’s history in Miami is good, but a healthy Edmund would definitely be a challenge. I do think Edmund should improve after getting a match under his belt last week. It looks like this quarter comes down to the seeds.

The Pig-nosticator

Only two of the last four years in Miami have seen an unseeded quarter finalist and this part of the draw doesn’t look conducive to adding to that list. The obvious question is whether anyone can stop Federer shy of the semifinals in this quarter? Most of the seeded match-ups he could see lean heavily in his favor, but if a player or two can push him to play three sets early – perhaps fatigue can help someone pull a stunner. It’s still difficult to see though.

Sizzle
Kevin Anderson

Fizzle
Karen Khachanov

Quarter #2 Seeds
(4) Alexander Zverev: 5-3
(8) Jack Sock: 7-5
(11) Sam Querrey: 9-12
(15) Fabio Fognini: 8-6
(17) Nick Kyrgios: 8-2
(24) Damir Dzumhur: 4-3
(28) David Ferrer: 31-15
(29) Borna Coric: 3-3

Breakdown
Zverev will face a big hitter in his opener with either Stefanos Tsitsipas or Daniil Medvedev waiting. He’s already beaten Medvedev easily in their only career meeting, but he has yet to face the Greek Tsitsipas. The unfamiliarity of Tsitsipas could make that match interesting if he gets to round two, but I think Sascha’s overall game wins out. Ferrer is seeded to make the third round opposite of Zverev, but could be one and done against either Donskoy or Bedene. I’d favor that to be Donskoy. Sascha would probably be fine with that seeing that Ferrer does own a couple of wins against him. Zverev did win their most recent match in Rotterdam though to secure his first win in three tries against the Spaniard.

The segment opposite of this one is intriguing with Fognini and Kyrgios as the seeds. The lack of news on Kyrgios will keep everyone guessing until his first match. If he is healthy, he’s obviously a threat to do well here. Fognini is certainly one to monitor as well, after making the semis last year. Fognini has the easier time in his opener against Spain’s Nicola Kuhn or qualifier Darian King. With Kyrgios lacking match toughness and fitness, I could see Fognini working through here and into the fourth round opposite of Zverev most likely.

In the bottom half, Americans Jack Sock and Sam Querrey are the highest seeds – but it’s Borna Coric that everyone will likely have eyes on this week. Coric put together a solid run in Indian Wells to his first Masters semifinal. A bit steadier play and he probably would have made the final and beaten Federer. Can he follow it up this week? He’s got Leonardo Mayer or Donald Young to open. He has owned Young and destroyed him again last week at Indian Wells. The match-up. Mayer is tougher, having beaten Coric twice on clay in 2014 and 2015. Coric would love to see Young instead. The winner could see Jack Sock who faces the winner between Yuki Bhambri and lucky loser Mirza Basic. Bhambri stunned Lucas Pouille at Inidan Wells, so beating Sock may not be that far fetched if he advances.

Querrey and Dzumhur are the seeds in the other segment. Querrey has not made it past round three in Miami since 2013. Querrey could see Radu Albot in his opener. Albot plays qualifier Ricardas Berankis in round one. Dzumhur, I talked about in The Eliminati with a tough opener against either Shapovalov or Troicki. This might actually wind up being a good spot for Querrey to make a push. The quarterfinal spot could come down to Sock, Querrey and Coric.

The Pig-nosticator

I think it’s time for Sascha to step up and make some noise after a quiet few months to start 2018. The two roadblocks for Zverev in this segment are a healthy Kyrgios and Coric. Coric is 2-0 against Sascha with his defense really helping work over the German.

Sizzle
Alexander Zverev
Fabio Fognini

Fizzle
Dami Dzumhur

Quarter #3 Seeds
(3) Grigor Dimitrov: 8-7
(5) Juan Del Potro: 15-9
(9) Novak Djokovic: 42-5 ( W – 2007, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016)
(13) Diego Schwartzman: 2-3
(20) Milos Raonic: 11-4
(22) Filip Krajinovic: 1-2
(26) Kei Nishikori: 20-7
(30) Richard Gasquet: 12-10

Breakdown
Tons of big names here, but only one is playing top notch tennis and that is Del Potro. Still, this is a vast difference in paths than what Federer is seeing in his quarter. Del Potro opens against either Yuichi Sugita or Robin Haase. DelPo is a combined 6-0 against the two, so expect him to move to round three. That is where he is seeded to see Kei Nishikori. Nishikori missed Indian Wells with an illness, which puts him back a step after he seemed on the cusp of making a move. Nishikori goes against Peter Gojowczyk or qualifier John Millman. It would be harsh not to get the DelPo-Nishikori match-up, but the 26th seed has to prove his game again.

Opposite of this segment, there is plenty of intrigue with Djokovic as the lead seed along with Krajinovic. Djokovic admitted after Indian Wells that he felt nervous and felt that led to many abnormal unforced errors. He will hope to calm himself this week as he looks to get some traction on the season. Nole faces either Paire or Mischa Zverev to begin. For me, Paire is the bigger challenge with his bigger ground strokes. I think Mischa’s weak serve will get eaten up by Djokovic. Krajinovic will await the winner of an all-quali first rounder between Bjorn Fratangelo and Liam Broady. There are obviously some winnable matches for Djokovic, but we will see what his form looks like this week.

In the bottom half, you’ve got Grigor Dimitrov as the 3rd seed. Dimitrov was a loser to Verdasco in his opener last week at Indian Wells. Miami has been marginally better to him historically and his early draw should be a bit better. I would say Marton Fucsovics or Maximillian Marterer could push him a little in his opener, but he should win. A win would set him up well for a likely fourth round run. Gasquet is the other seed in this section and his iffy knee wouldn’t seem to lend him to a deep run.

The other section here sees Schwartzman and Raonic as the seeds. Raonic got some needed wins last week, but his overall form still isn’t top notch. He awaits Mikael Ymer or Jan-Lennard Struff to start in Miami. Struff’s serve could help him go toe-to-toe with Raonic, but the Canadian would seem to be the better bet to come through. Schwartzman gets the winner between Cameron Norrie and Nicolas Jarry. Jarry was a revelation on clay and his big serve and forehand could translate well to hard courts. The Chilean hasn’t been on the surface since Melbourne, so we will see how he does. Norrie has been competitive of late.

The Pig-nosticator

Schwartzman hasn’t been good outdoors outside of the Australian Open. He made the fourth round there, but is just 1-4 in four other outdoor hard court tourneys this season. He could be an early casualty and that means the quarterfinals in this quarter could come down to Dimitrov and Del Potro. Nishikori is an X-factor here for me as I think DelPo could find some fatigue this week and Dimitrov simply hasn’t shown consistency from week to week to trust.

Sizzle
Kei Nishikori

Fizzle
Juan Martin Del Potro

Quarter #4 Seeds
(2) Marin Cilic: 9-9
(7) David Goffin: 11-6
(12) Roberto Bautista Agut: 7-6
(14) John Isner: 13-10
(19) Hyeon Chung: 1-3
(23) Gilles Muller: 2-9
(25) Feliciano Lopez: 11-15
(27) Andrey Rublev: 2-3

Breakdown
Cilic is just 2-2 since making the Australian Open final. His opener in Miami will be Taylor Fritz or Pierre-Hugues Herbert. I think that is a good match-up for him, although Fritz did play fairly well out west last week. It is a winnable segment though with Rublev as the other seed. The Russian has flat lined some lately and could face big serving Ivo Karlovic to open. Karlovic plays Vasek Pospisil in round one. Karlovic could actually be the toughest out for Cilic here with the Croat taking three of the last four meetings.

In the other segment in this half, Muller and Isner are the seeds in a very iffy section. Isner has a decent opening match-up against either Jiri Vesely or Lukas Lacko. In spite of his trouble getting Ws early this season, there is no excuse to lose to either of those guys if he’s going to pull out of the hole he’s dug himself. Muller has it tougher potentially with Guido Pella or Mikhail Youzhny as his first foe. Pella as I stated earlier could be a potential Eliminati member this week. I think Youzhny would be by far the easier match for Muller with the Russian struggling to match big servers. Isner could have a real shot to scoot into round four.

In the other half, it is the return of David Goffin. Goffin has been out since February when a bounced ball deflected off his racquet and into his eye. His vision has been blurry since then, but the Belgian is ready to give it a go this week. If Goffin’s vision has cleared, he could be a dark horse in this part of the draw. Goffin has made the fourth round or better in three straight trips to Miami. He will get either Ryan Harrison or Joao Sousa in round two. The survivor is seeded to see Feliciano Lopez in round three, but the Spaniard might be one and done to either Jared Donaldson or Marcos Baghdatis. If there is an unseeded player who might get a shot at a quarterfinal, it could be the Donaldson-Baghdatis winner.

It’s Roberto Bautista Agut and Hyeon Chung leading the other section. RBA has made two straight fourth round runs in Miami. Bautista Agut gets an opener against Christopher Eubanks or qualifier Michael Mmoh. That should be advantage RBA. Chung will get the survivor of a first rounder between Matthew Ebden and Gilles Simon. Chung has been a beacon of consistency in making five quarterfinals in six tournaments played this season. I like him in this section to get past Bautista Agut. That could mean a great match-up with Goffin in round four for another shot at a quarterfinal.

The Pig-nosticator

This looks like a chance for Cilic to get back on track following some subpar tournaments. It’s difficult to know if Goffin can find his game quickly enough to be a factor here, so it could be Chung who pushes for a spot in the semifinals. Double digit seeds have made a habit of making the semis in Miami with five of the last 16 Miami semifinalists fitting that mold.

Sizzle
Hyeon Chung

Fizzle
Feliciano Lopez
Andrey Rublev

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

Del Potro is the form player right now and he has a massive chance this week to cement himself as a challenger to the throne of Roger Federer in 2018. Last week’s win over Fed in Indian Wells sounded the bell for that fight and this week, DelPo goes for the knockout punch. It will be interesting to see how Federer bounces back from his first loss of the season. The top seed has made the final three of the last four years and the fourth was Federer making it in 2017 as the #4 seed.

2010 was the last time a seed outside of the top six made the final with Tomas Berdych losing to six seed Andy Roddick that year. There are some outliers who could change that like a healthy Kyrgios, Nishikori or Chung. My brain is stuck on Sascha Zverev this week as a potential winner, although Borna Coric could derail that before it comes to fruition. For me, Federer, Cilic, and Zverev should be in the mix. I still think Del Potro is going to run out of gas this week.

If you’re looking for seeded long shots, I do feel like Goffin and Nishikori can make some noise if they find a rhythm early and Chung seems like he’s becoming a weekly threat to be in the last eight.

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The Ocho: Indian Wells Wrap-up

Ocho

“The Eight” …. Every week, @tennispig will give his top eight ATP singles players and top eight ATP/WTA doubles teams from the previous week. It’s a great way to monitor who is hot … and who is not. This week, it’s a look back at Indian Wells.

1. Juan Martin Del Potro
Well who else is going to top the list than the champion of the tournament? NOBODY. Roger Federer may have been struggling some with back issues the last few rounds at Indian Wells, but all credit goes to Del Potro for the title win on Sunday. He had his back up against the wall with Federer serving for the match at 5-4 in the third with two match points. After blowing his own opportunity in the second set at 8-7 in the tiebreak to win, the Argentine fought off Fed and wound up rolling in the third set tiebreak to win his first Masters title. The win pushes DelPo into the 6th spot in the rankings and further cements him as the 1B to Federer’s 1A right now on the ATP World Tour.

DELPO

2. Roger Federer
Federer is in this spot alone for the way he fought through in the semifinals against Borna Coric. With his back certainly effecting his play some, the Swiss was able to overcome the talented Croat 5-7, 6-4, 6-4. It was a match he looked like he was destined to lose, but came up with the goods at the right time to win. It helped him run off his 17th straight win to start the season, a personal best for Fed. Despite the loss, it’s clear that Federer is still the gold standard on tour and seemingly the field will need these physical issues to crop up from time to time to give them their best chances to KO the world number one.

3. Borna Coric
The fairy tale week for Coric looked like it was going to get the perverbial cherry on top with an unexpected win over Federer, but alas it was not to be. Still, it was a first for Coric with a run to a Masters 1000 semifinal. That included upset wins over seeds Albert Ramos-Vinolas, Roberto Bautista Agut and Kevin Anderson. The win zips the 21-year-old to #36 in the latest rankings, up 13 spots from last week. He’s also just three spots behind his career best ranking of #33.

4. Grigor Dimtirov
Back on the list for all the wrong reasons as Dimitrov once again could not solve Indian Wells. This time instead of surrendering himself in the third round, Dimitrov was knocked out in his first match in round two by Fernando Verdasco. He’s still ranked fourth, but he’s again struggling to live up to expectation. This Indian Wells-Miami double has been a trouble spot for him in his career, never advancing past round four in Miami and round three at Indian Wells. Dimitrov heads to Miami on a three match losing skid with two opening match losses in his last three tournaments.

5. John Isner/Jack Sock
Isner and Sock can’t get out of their own way in singles, but the Americans came together to win the doubles titles at Indian Wells this week. Isner and Sock are now 15-5 all-time when pairing up. For Sock, who has now dropped out of the top ten in singles to #11, it’s his second doubles title this season and 10th of his career. His two doubles titles equal the number of singles’ wins he’s been able to rack up this year at just 2-5. I’m also still blocked by him on Twitter, which is still fantastic to me. Isner is just 2-6 in 2018, but has chosen to let the Pig live his life by seeing the Isner tweets.

isner-sock

6. Su-wei Hsieh/Barbora Strycova
You can’t ask for anything more than winning a prestiguous doubles title as a first time pairing. That’s exactly what Hsieh and Strycova did this past week. The duo paired up at the last minute, literally signing up for doubles ten minutes before the entry deadline. They even tried to switch partners at the last minute, but it wasn’t allowed. Good thing, eh?

hey beat Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina 6-4, 6-4 for the titles. What is more impressive is that Hsieh paired up with a different partner for the second straight tournament to beat the 2nd ranked Russians. Hsieh paired with Shuai Peng in Dubai last week to knock off Makarova-Vesnina en route to the Dubai final. Hsieh is now ranked twice in the top right with Peng at #6 and Strycova at #8 after the big win at Indian Wells.

7. Bryan Brothers
The Bryans went another week without a title, but they continue to gain momentum. Bob and Mike moved up a notch to number two in the rankings with their finals run at Indian Wells. It was their second straight tournament final after doing the same in Acapulco. The key right now is that they are producing consistent results early on and getting deep in tournaments. They head to Miami where they have made the semifinals or final in five of the last six years.

8. Matteo Berrettini
I can hear the google search engine revving up for this one and go ahead – the Italian deserves some recognition with what he is doing right now. Berrettini snuck into the Indian Wells main draw and acquitted himself well with a three set, opening round loss to Daniil Medvedev. The 21-year-old was able to parlay that into a finals run at the Irving Tennis Classic on the Challenger circuit after losing in California. It was his second Challenger final in 2018, having notched a title win in Bergamo earlier in the season.

Berrettini

He also qualified for his first Grand Slam in Australia via qualifying, He is 1-3 in main draws at the ATP level this season, but looks to be a legitimate riser and one to watch for at this stage. Berrettini is at a career high #95 this week and that is quite an achievement for him, considering that he was in the 800s last year after missing a good chunk of 2016 due to a knee injury. Berrettini is a big kid at 6’4″ tall who has shown some prowess on both hard courts and clay on the lower levels. Keep an eye on him in Miami qualifying this week.

2018 BNP Paribas Open Preview

INDIAN WELLS 18

Absentees Mean Federer, Djokovic Expected to Peak Interest

The first Masters 1000 event of 2018 is set with Roger Federer leading the field in Indian Wells for the BNP Paribas Open. The tournament also marks the return of Novak Djokovic, who has been sidelined by continued elbow problems since his fourth round Australian Open exit courtesy of Hyeon Chung . Djokovic is seeded 10th in the 96 player field, the “Mini Major” in Indian Wells features one of the largest fields of players outside of the four Grand Slams. It takes on a Slam type of vibe with the event stretching for more than a week with main draw play beginning on Thursday. Federer is back as the defending champion and top seed. He will be seeking his sixth title at Indian Wells, tied with Djokovic for the most career titles at this event. That’s good for event organizers with some recognizable names out this week in the form of Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, David Goffin, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet. All are sidelined with injury issues.

There are 32 seeded players in the draw overall. All the seeds get a first round bye. Rounding out the top ten behind Federer are Marin Cilic, Grigor Dimitrov, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Juan Martin Del Potro, Kevin Anderson, Jack Sock, Lucas Pouille and Novak Djokovic. Djokovic is the obvious intrigue of the week. The Serb looked like he was rounding back into form in Melbourne, before the Chung defeat and subsequent announcement that the pain in his right elbow had returned. He’s had a medical procedure done since then, so this tournament will be a huge test of how healthy that elbow is now.

Top Ten Seeds With Iffy Histories in Indian Wells

Djokovic is obviously a player whose return to health can be a real game changer to the landscape of the ATP World Tour. He’s 49-7 all-time at Indian Wells with the five titles. His exit in the fourth round last year was the first time since 2010 that he had not made at least the semifinals at the BNP Paribas Open. Among the rest of the top ten, it’s been hit and miss for most of them in the desert. Cilic’s best run was a 2016 quarterfinal finish, but he lost his opener last year to Taylor Fritz. Third seed Grigor Dimitrov has never been past round three and Zverev is making just his third trip, with a fourth round finish in 2016 as his best so far.

Red hot Juan Martin Del Potro is the most experienced top ten seed outside of the Federer and Djokovic with an 18-7 record at Indian Wells. A lot of that has come well in the past though with the 2013 finals run as his best. He’s struggled some since then at Indian Wells, but that was due mainly to poor draws that pit him against seeds early as he built his way back up in the rankings the last few years. This time, he is the hunted. The interesting high seeds to watch are Sock and Pouille for me. Sock had the semifinal run here last year, but has been pretty poor to start the season. Pouille has had a hot start, but as I mentioned in the Ocho, he doesn’t have a top 20 win this year. He has a lot to prove in big tournaments like this one.

Other Seeds to Watch

The seeded field outside of the top ten offers a bit of everything from grizzled veterans like Tomas Berdych and David Ferrer to up and comers like Kyle Edmund and Hyeon Chung, and more first timers like Andrey Rublev. Pablo Carreno Busta is the first seed outside the top ten at #11. The 26-year olf Spaniard has had his issues escaping his openers at tournaments since last Fall, but comes in as a surprise semifinalist from last year.He had only been out of the first round once in his previous three trips. Berdych is 21-13 at this event, but has only been as far as the quarterfinals once since 2014. Roberto Bautisa Agut slots in at 13 and comes in with form after winning in Dubai. His track record here though suggests he may have a tough time making a deep run with three straight third round finishes.

Diego Schwartzman is the 14th seed, but also is short on success with a 1-3 record at Indian Wells. John Isner and Sam Querrey are the only Americans outside of Sock to be seeded, they come in at #15 and #18. Isner in particular would normally be one to watch with a 21-10 mark at this tournament. He’s been to the fourth round or better in three of the last four years, including a semifinal run in 2014. He is ice cold in 2018 though at just 2-5. Fabio Fognini at 16 has shown better recently at Indian Wells with a third round run last year and fourth round run three years ago. He comes off a title in Sao Paulo, but is just 7-8 overall here in his career. As always, he seems boom or bust from round two onward.

Among the back half of the seeds, the ones that catch the eye are Nick Kyrgios at 17, Kyle Edmund at 21, Kei Nishikori at 22 and Hyeon Chung at 23. Kyrgios made the quarters last year after two lackluster trips prior to 2017. Health is the key issue for NK as he plays for the first time since picking up an elbow injury in Davis Cup play in early February. He’s a big time threat to do damage if he’s near 100 percent and finds form. Edmund too is battling back from injury, missing time due to a hip injury. He hasn’t played since Melbourne and is will be playing just his fourth match at the BNP Paribas Open. If the Brit is fit, it will be interesting to see if he can follow up on that Australian Open run and re-establish himself as one to watch.

Nishikori was a disappointing early exit to Denis Shapovalov in Acapulco last week. This is the time of year that the man from Japan had proclaimed would see his physical form round into its best shape in returning from last year’s wrist surgery. He’s a back-to-back quarter finalist in 2016 and 2017 and needs to get a big run here or in Miami you feel to get his confidence back up. As for Chung, his next match in Indian Wells will be just his second. He lost last year in round one to Albert Ramos-Vinolas. Chung looks fit since returning from his blister issues with back-to-back quarterfinal appearances in Delray Beach and Acapulco. This is a step up and where people are going to put some loftier expectations on the 21-year-old. It’s a great opportunity for him to show he’s a big tournament player and a consistent threat.

ELIMINATI

The Eliminati have had a large presence in Indian Wells in recent times. At least seven seeds have been dumped in their openers. There have been at least nine seeds ousted early in five of the last seven years here and top tier seeds have not been immune. Last year, you might remember that Andy Murray flopped as the top seed in his opener against Vasek Pospisil. Along with Cilic and Tsonga, he was one of three top ten seeds to fall in round two last year. Outside of 2016 when Benoit Paire was the highest seed to lose his opener at #19, at least one top ten seed has lost their opener every year since 2011.

Let’s take a look at the players who may well add more seeds to the list this week. Here are the Eliminati!

Benoit Paire
This is contingent of Paire not having French Brain in round one against a qualifier. The winner of that match gets a shot at 25th seed Filip Krajinovic. The Serb has been a rapid riser into the top 30, but is playing the main draw here for just the second time. He’s 0-1. Krajinovic is in off a semifinal run in Dubai, but he has zero top 50 wins this season.

Julien Benneteau/Jeremy Chardy
This is a better spot for Benneteau with the winner of the All-French first rounder getting a shot at 16th seed Fabio Fognini. Chardy has been free falling for a while now and is just 2-4. Benneteau took Fognini to five sets in Australia in their third round clash and is 1-1 against the Italian. Fognini arrives in good form, but it’s Fognini and that means nothing.

Ivo Karlovic/Maximilian Marterer
Karlovic would have the big chance against 12th seed Tomas Berdych if he gets there. Ivo is 5-3 against the Czech although they haven’t met since 2015 on grass in Halle. Karlovic’s first order is getting his first opening round win in Indian Wells since 2014. Marterer is another riser in the rankings now at #73. The German has a Challenger title under his belt this season along with solid third round finishes in Melbourne and a quarterfinal run in Sofia. Givern Berdych’s up and down play, perhaps Marterer would have a shot to get the scalp too.

Denis Shapovalov
El Shapo makes his Indian Wells debut this year against qualifier Ricardas Berankis, A win gets him a date with 30th seed Pablo Cuevas. Cuevas was a surprise quarter finalist here last year, where he picked up half of his six career wins in Indian Wells. This is a tough draw for the veteran though and Shapovalov’s electric game could certainly cause an upset if he gets it going early.

Fernando Verdasco/Guido Pella
Given third seed Grigor Dimitrov’s brain lock at this event in his career, it probably doesn’t matter if it is Verdasco of Pella in this spot. Both have a win against him with Pella’s coming last year in Miami. Verdasco’s win over Dimitrov came back in 2014 on clay and they have not met since 2015. Still, he has taken Dimitrov to three sets in all three meetings and he’s shown some good resiliency early on this season. Dimitrov will likely be pressed in his opener and could easily go down early yet again.

Taylor Fritz/Reilly Opelka
Both Americans will have some hope against 30th seed Andrey Rublev. The Russian has never played on the courts at Indian Wells, so either player will have match play in conditions in his favor. Fritz has been playing better early this year and will have good vibes in his home state, where he sprung upsets of Benoit Paire and Marin Cilic here last year. Opelka’s serve alone will make him dangerous. Rublev has been solid early on, but got worked over by David Ferrer in Acapulco and now faces the challenges of playing Masters events in a heavy early season workload.

Borna Coric/Donald Young
Coric will be favored to be in this spot as he is 2-0 against Young, who has struggled to find his best play in 2018. The winner faces 19th seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas. ARV has normally been able to avoid opening round losses in Indian Wells, but could face a stiff challenge after a lackluster Golden Swing in South America. He made the Quito final and then struggled to get consistent results.

Jared Donaldson
The American comes in off his first ATP semifinal in Acapulco. If he can stay hot, he’ll have an excellent shot to improve his record against 11th seed Roberto Bautista Agut to 2-0. Donaldson beat RBA in straights last August in Cincinnati. RBA is in good form though, so this could potentially be a very good and competitive match. Bautista Agut has been all or nothing this year with five tournaments played – two times he’s won the title and the other three, he has gone down in his opening match. Donaldson faces Evan King in round one.

Horacio Zeballos/Yuichi Sugita
The winner gets 11th seed Pablo Carreno Busta. The Spaniard continues to have issues getting past his opening match. He’s now lost his first match in eight of his last eleven tournaments played. Sugita beat Carreno Busta in their lone meeting last year, while Zeballos has never played PCB.

Steve Johnson/Daniil Medvedev
A tough draw for Nick Kyrgios with either of these guys in his way to start his Indian Wells campaign. Medvedev is 2-0 against Johnson with both wins coming against SJ during his tailspin in 2017. Johnson pulled out of Acapulco with an ankle injury, so his fitness could be a concern. That could give Medvedev even more of an advantage. Kyrgios has never met the Russian and is 0-1 against Johnson, retiring in Shanghai against him last year after dropping a tie break in the opening set. Either guy could pose a big threat to the Aussie.

Karen Khachanov
Khachanov has to get by fellow Russian Evgeny Doskoy in round one, which may not be so easy. If he does though, he could present a tough out against Kevin Anderson. Anderson would probably love nothing more than to see Donskoy in this spot instead. He’s 3-0 against Donskoy. This is Khachanov’s second trip here beating Tommy Robredo last year, before dropping out against David Goffin in three sets.

Frances Tiafoe/Ernesto Escobedo
This is a big moment for Tiafoe. This will be his first match since winning his first ATP title in Delray Beach last month. Getting consistent wins at this level has been a key issue for the young American and Escobedo has beaten him twice at the Challenger level. Tiafoe is 1-2 at this event. The winner gets #28 Feliciano Lopez, who lost his opener here last year after making the fourth round or better three straight previous trips.

Gael Monfils
Monfils has to get past Matthew Ebden in round one, but if he does, he has a great shot of knocking off an out of form John Isner. Monfils has won four of their last five meetings, including their last which was at Indian Wells in 2017.

Viktor Troicki/Marton Fucsovics
The survivor gets 2nd seed Marin Cilic. Troicki is 4-5 against the Croat with Cilic breaking a five match losing skid against him when they last met in Cincinnati in 2016. Fucsovics was impressive in making round four in Australia, but has played in just one Challenger event since that tournament. Troicki might have the better shot to shock Cilic, but the Serb hasn’t won at Indian Wells since 2011 – a streak of five straight opening round losses will be on the line when he faces Fucsovics.

Peter Gojoczwyk
The German needs to get past Denis Istomin in round one to be relevant, but if he does – then Kyle Edmund beware. A rusty Brit will be facing a guy who already has made his first ATP final this season and has a couple of top 20 wins in 2018. I like Edmund’s power, but the downtown since January could be the big X-factor against a guy on a roll.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
(1) Roger Federer: 57-11 (W – 2004, 2005, 2006, 2012, 2017)
(5) Dominic Thiem: 7-4
(12) Tomas Berdych: 21-13
(16) Fabio Fognini: 7-8
(20) Adrian Mannarino: 6-5
(23) Hyeon Chung: 0-1
(25) Filip Krajinovic: 0-1
(30) Pablo Cuevas : 6-5

Breakdown
As if Roger Federer needed any favors, he seems to get one with this part of the draw. Krajinovic is the other seed in the top half with Fed. The Swiss will get either Ryan Harrison or Federico Delbonis in round two. Harrison owns one win against the Argentine back in 2014 in Miami. Delbonis did make the fourth round here in 2016, so he’s not a pushover. Harrison has had problems with big serves this year. Delbonis can produce that, but struggles with consistency. Even though Delbonis beat Federer on clay in 2013, you’d have to say this is a nice path for Fed to get to the third round. Krajinovic goes against Paire or qualifier Mitchell Krueger. Paire would be a danger, depending on what version of the Frenchman shows up.

In the bottom portion of this top half, Fognini arrives in form and has Mannarino as the only seed to go through. He does have a potentially tough opener against either Julien Benneteau or Jeremy Chardy. I think Benneteau would provide the stiffer competition. Fognini has played reasonably well here, where I THINK he gets through still. Mannarino comes off the bye to face the winner of Marius Copil and qualifier Peter Polansky. Polansky is 0-4 in main draw matches at this level in 2017. Mannarino is 6-5 at Indian Wells and hasn’t lost his opener since 2014. Much like Fognini, I THINK he gets through, but Mannarino is dodgy at times. If this plays out to a Fognini-Mannarino showdown for a spot opposite of Federer in the fourth round,

As for the bottom half led by Thiem, the Austrian might have a little bit of a risky opener against either Radu Albot or Stefano Tsitsipas. Both have been playing reasonably well, but also likely won’t ask Thiem to alter his baseline bashing style. If he gets through, he likely won’t see Cuevas in round three. Cuevas has to go through Denis Shapovalov or qualifier Ricardas Berankis and I don’t like his chances to do that. It would be nice to see Shapovalov get an immediate chance for revenge after Thiem pummeled him in Acapulco last week. I expected more of El Shapo there and I always like to see if young players can learn quickly from their mistakes the first and second times they play the upper echelon guys. Berankis got a hard court win over Cuevas in 2015, so he might have a shot to take him down regardless of who moves to round two.

In the other portion of this half, Hyeon Chung and Tomas Berdych are the seeds. I’ve talked Berdych already about being potential upset fodder against either Ivo Karlovic or Maximillian Marterer. Should the Czech skirt that danger, it should be Chung that he faces for a shot to go through to round four. Chung will play either Lukas Lacko or Dusan Lajovic to open. Chung has looked solid since returning from the layoff due to the blisters he suffered in Melbourne. I do like him to get through to round three and honestly, as long as his serve doesn’t totally desert him – he should be in position to possibly get a healthy shot against Federer.

The Pig-nosticator

It’s difficult to see Federer tripping up before the semifinals. I think the one interesting match here would be the rematch against Chung in the quarterfinals. We didn’t get to see a healthy Hyeon Chung in their Australian Open match. Federer might still dismantle him, but it’d be nice to see the Korean get a chance to prove himself one way or the other at full health.

Sizzle
Hyeon Chung

Fizzle
Filip Krajinovic
Pablo Cuevas

Quarter #2 Seeds
(3) Grigor Dimitrov: 5-6
(7) Kevin Anderson: 10-8
(11) Pablo Carreno Busta: 4-4
(13) Roberto Bautista Agut: 5-4
(17) Nick Kyrgios: 4-2
(19) Albert Ramos-Vinolas: 8-5
(26) Damir Dzumhur: 1-2
(27) Andrey Rublev: 0-0

Breakdown
There is not much history among the seeds here making deep runs. Outside of Kyrgios’ quarterfinal run last year, the seeds have all been unable to be involved in the tail end of this tournament. Dimitrov will open against the winner between Fernando Verdasco and Guido Pella. He’s going to have a tough time against either one and might not have to worry about the third round jinx if he’s not careful. Should he survive, things might actually get better as the draw wears on. Opposite of him is Rublev, who will face either Taylor Fritz or Reilly Opelka. It is feasible the third round could be two seeds against each other or two seeds not even involved.

In the other portion of this top half, two Spaniards – Bautista Agut and Ramos-Vinolas are the seeds. RBA gets the winner between Jared Donaldson and Evan King. If it’s Donaldson, I already looked at that one for you in the Eliminati and I think there is upset potential for the American. Ramos-Vinolas faces either Borna Coric or Donald Young. Young has actually had some nice runs at Indian Wells, but not in even numbered years. He’s been one and done in 2012, 2014, 2016 and could well make it 2018. Ramos-Vinolas might get the nod in this section. He crushed Donaldson in straights at the Australian Open this year.

In the bottom half of the quarter, Kevin Anderson is the lead seed. If he can get by his opener against either Karen Khachanov or Evgeny Donskoy, then his road opens up. A third round match likely would come against 26th seed Damir Dzumhur. Dzumhur would play Nicolas Kicker or Jiri Vesely in round two. I think those are both favorable for the Bosnian. I get the feeling that either Dimitrov or Anderson is going to join that top ten seed club. The club where a top ten seed has lost in their opener at Indian Wells consistently over the last seven years. Dimitrov seems more obvious, which might mean Anderson is the one who loses.

In the other part of this half, Carreno Busta and Kyrgios are your seeds. PCB is so hard to trust these days with his early struggles at tournaments. Neither Zeballos or Sugita inspires as a big threat, but playing Carreno Busta says they do. Kyrgios also has a potential landmine in his opener with either Steve Johnson or Daniil Medvedev on tap. A long layoff for NK means he will need to find his serve early with both Johnson and Medvedev capable of matching him in that category. I would not be surprised to see this part of the draw open up for maybe Medvedev if his first serve is popping. I think between the Russian and Kyrgios, you probably have a likely fourth round candidate.

The Pig-nosticator

Anderson is the form guy here and the most consistent guy, but he’s drawn tough early. I think if he escapes from his opener unscathed, then he’s got every reason to believe he can at least get to the quarters and maybe one step further. Dimitrov looks to be in a similar spot, where if he avoids early trouble then he could find a groove. The guy who could sneak through this quarter if he avoids the early upset is obviously Bautista Agut.

Sizzle
Daniil Medvedev
Albert Ramos-Vinolas

Fizzle
Grigor Dimitrov

Quarter #3 Seeds
(4) Alexander Zverev: 4-2
(8) Jack Sock: 8-6
(9) Lucas Pouille: 1-2
(14) Diego Schwartzman: 1-3
(18) Sam Querrey: 13-12
(21) Kyle Edmund: 1-2
(28) Feliciano Lopez: 12-15
(32) Milos Raonic: 16-6

Breakdown
There is a lot of young talent among the seeds, but also plenty of question marks surrounding those players. Let’s start with Zverev. The knee injury he sustained in Acapulco I am thinking is not a huge issue at this point. If it was, Sascha had nothing to lose by skipping this tournament to rest for Miami where he has more points to defend. He will open against Mikhail Youzhny or Joao Sousa. I could see either one at least making Sascha earn everything in round two, but if healthy, he should pass through.

Milos Raonic is the seed in the other portion of this top half, the all-Canadian top half. Raonic has been unable to recapture any sort of form with a disappointing 1-3 record this season. He takes on one of two qualifiers – Vasek Pospisil or Felix Auger-Aliassime. Pospisil has been playing well in Challengers, but is still seeking win #1 at the ATP level in a main draw this year. Felix is still hunting for ATP win #1 and he’s looked a bit unsteady in transitioning to Challengers and ATP main draws. Against a player he is familiar with some though, it could be an entertaining round one with Pospisil. Tough to feel confident with Raonic, but he’s better than both of these guys if he can find his rhythm. That’s been a big issue though, so anything is possible.

Opposite of that quadrant, you’ll see a tasty looking section with Edmund and Schwartzman as the seeds. Schwartzman looked good on clay, but now has to transition that back to hard court success. Diego gets either Marcos Baghdatis or Yoshi Nishioka in round two. That’s winnable despite his lack of success at Indian Wells. It would be disappointing for him to not advance to round three. Edmund gets either Denis Istomin or Pete Gojowczyk in his opener. Gojo has much better form and would be a tougher out for the Brit. Gojo is 11-6 this season with wins over Sock, Krajinovic, Isner and Steve Johnson. He won’t go quietly.

In the other half of this quarter, it’s Sock and Pouille with some possibilities. Sock should be afford a good start against either Thomas Fabbiano or Bradley Klahn. A first-up loss should have him really evaluating his preparation, technique, everything. Opposite of him is Lopez at #28. He will have his hands fill with either Frances Tiafoe or Ernesto Escobedo. This is a huge chance for Tiafoe to continue his momentum from winning in Delray Beach. A Sock-Tiafoe third rounder would be big for American tennis.

In the other portion of this half, Pouille also should get off on the good foot with either Yuki Bhambri or Nicolas Mahut first-up. Sam Querrey is the seed opposite of the Frenchman. Querrey gets the winner between Mikhail Kukushkin and Mischa Zverev. Kukushkin does have two wins over Querrey, but they came ages ago on clay. Querrey has lost his opener at Indian Wells in two of the last three years, but I think he comes through in this spot. Querrey could go further with a 2-0 record against Pouille, who as I have beat into the ground, has not really scored too many impressive wins despite his runs to three finals this season.

The Pig-nosticator

This quarter could take on a decidedly American look by the business end. Sock’s draw is conducive to him perhaps getting his game together after a sluggish start to 2018. Querrey also looks to be in a prime spot to make a run with favorable match-ups. Zverev’s half looks wide open with so many health and form questions about Sascha, Edmund and Raonic. Could Schwartzman sneak through here? Seeds have had a death grip on the quarterfinals and beyond the last three years with no unseeded players making the quarters since Benneteau did it in 2014. Raonic is a deep sleeper is he can rediscover a consistent forehand.

Sizzle
Sam Querrey

Fizzle
Kyle Edmund

Quarter #4 Seeds
(2) Marin Cilic: 9-10
(6) Juan Martin Del Potro: 18-7
(10) Novak Djokovic: 49-7 (W – 2008, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2016)
(15) John Isner: 21-10
(22) Kei Nishikori: 10-9
(24) Gilles Muller: 5-7
(29) David Ferrer: 10-12
(31) Philipp Kohlschreiber: 14-11

Breakdown
This is a loaded quarter that could provide some of the bigger moments of this tournament. Cilic does not have the greatest history here and his opener against either Viktor Troicki or Marton Fucsovics won’t be an easy win by any means. Should he advance, things could pick up with Philipp Kohlschreiber as the other seed in this quadrant. Kohlschreiber starts with Tim Smyczek or Laslo Djere. The German has made the third round each of the last three years and in spite of a poor start this year, might have a shot to get there again. Kohlschreiber is 6-4 against Cilic, so he won’t be hopeless if those two square off.

Opposite of that section, things could be open for seeds to fall with Isner and Muller as the seeds in that quadrant. Isner has done well here, but likely could face Gael Monfils in round two. That could spell curtains for the American. Muller will face either Pierre Hugues-Herbert or Gilles Simon. Neither Frenchman is tearing it up currently, so Muller should feel good about his chances. Simon does have a couple of wins against Muller back in 2014 and 2015, so perhaps he will make things rougher than expected. If Cilic wants to make a run for #1 as he’s talked about, this is the type of draw he needs to take advantage of and make at least the quarterfinals.

The other half of the quarter is star studded. Del Potro leads the way after his Acapulco title and should carry the swagger of a player in super form. DelPo has a good draw to at least get through to round four. His opener will come against either Jan-Lennard Struff or Alex de Minaur. De Minaur’s defense might make a Del Potro meeting interesting, but I’m not sure the Aussie teen can keep pace with the Argentine’s power. Opposite of Del Potro is David Ferrer. The Spaniard will contend with either Nikoloz Basilashvili or Tennys Sandgren in round two. Even though Ferrer’s form has been sketchy, he could have a shot to get to round three with this draw.

The other quadrant here is sure to attract all eyes with Djokovic and Nishikori. Djokovic returns for the first time since Melbourne, looking to re-establish himself. The Serb will play Cameron Norrie or Taro Daniel to open. You’d favor him if his elbow is healed, but we’ll have to see. As for Nishikori, it’s time for him to put up or shut up. He’s had a month of play to get the rust off and this looks like the time to surge or be prepared to struggle. Nishikori will need to beat Victor Estrella Burgos or Leonardo Mayer to set up a clash in the third with Djokovic. Djokovic leads the head-to-head 11-2 with the last full match coming at the Tour Finals in 2016, a win for the Serb. Nishikori hasn’t beaten Djokovic since his shock win at the 2014 U.S. Open

The Pig-nosticator

This is very difficult to call without knowing what Djokovic is going to bring to the table. Despite Cilic’s lack of recent success in Indian Wells, his draw screams quarterfinals. Del Potro will be the big pick of most to make the quarters and possibly go further. He will have to earn it, especially if Djokovic is fit and finds form. The Serb is 14-4 against him and a big roadblock. For me, I think this is Djokovic or Del Potro if Djokovic proves fit.

Sizzle
Juan Martin Del Potro

Fizzle
John Isner

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

So is this just another week of As Roger Wins? It very well could be, but there is some potential to see Federer pushed this week. Del Potro comes in hot, but will have some pressure on him to perform with the consistency shown in Acapulco. Djokovic’s return could ignite several rivalries with Federer of course being the big one, but only one we would see in a final. It’s still tough to go against Federer with a better draw, while Del Potro or Djokovic would likely have to go through the other and more to get to the final.

The Ocho v.5

Ocho

“The Eight” …. Every week, @tennispig will give his top eight ATP singles players and top eight ATP/WTA doubles teams from the previous week. It’s a great way to monitor who is hot … and who is not.

1. Roger Federer
A no doubter for this week’s top spot. What can you say at this point about Roger Federer? He added to his legend this past week in Rotterdam, capturing his 97th career ATP singles title. That ranks second only to Jimmy Connors who had a mind boggling 109 titles won during his career. Oh yeah, he also became the oldest player (36) to ascend to the #1 spot in the rankings by making the semifinals. Just another feather in the cap of the GOAT.

FEDERER

2. New York Open
Yes, the entire tournament resides here and it’s not in this spot because of its brilliance. Anyone who watched this on TV or online saw the lack of fans at the event for the most part. Sure, a 250 in its first year will have some bumps along the way, but this was down right brutal. Until the weekend, you were lucky to find 50 bodies in the stands during the week. The Tennis Channel coverage was horrific as they took a feed from the tournament to broadcast. That left their coverage looking more like a live stream online than a live TV broadcast.

Oh and then there was the he said/she said between Ryan Harrison and Donald Young that probably drew more interest than the tournament itself. We still have no idea if Harrison actually said something racially disparaging towards Donald Young. The ATP’s “investigation” into the matter reportedly included watching tape of the event, which had the audio/video production value of a middle school video year book. They also interviewed ball boys and the chair ump, none of whom could back Young’s allegations against Harrison.

The story wound up being a big black eye for the tournament regardless and both players’ behavior according to the witnesses who did hear some of their ongoing arguments was awful, even if it was not racially charged. This tournament will need some big improvements next year. It should be a draw in a large city, but obviously not enough was done in year one to promote it properly.

3. Dominic Thiem
The Austrian crushed the competition at the Argentina Open to claim his first title in almost a year. Thiem last hoisted a trophy in Rio last February. Rio is this week’s key stop on tour, where Thiem is back to defend his title. The win in Buenos Aires featured four straight sets wins for the 6th ranked Austrian. He will be hoping that his hot early play on clay will again translate to big things at the French Open, especially with questions still surrounding Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic’s health.

4. Kevin Anderson
One of the bright spots to come out of the New York Open was Kevin Anderson. He won the title, his first since 2015 when he won in Winston-Salem. The title win over Sam Querrey elevates Anderson into the top ten rankings for the first time in his career at #9. We can mock the rankings quite a bit these days because of the flux behind Federer and Nadal, but this is still quite an accomplishment for Anderson at the age of 31. He’s now made the final in two of the three tournaments he has played at this season and will be looking for bigger things in the coming weeks.

5. Kei Nishikori
One of the other big stories to come out of New York was the continued comeback trail for Kei Nishikori. It was Nishikori’s first ATP level tournament since the Rogers Cup last summer. In his bid back from wrist surgery, he’s played a couple of Challengers early on – winning a title in Dallas. Stepping back onto the ATP scene was another positive sign of recovery for the man from Japan who lost to Kevin Anderson in the semis. Nishikori will rest up after a long week where he did say he felt a bit fatigued. His next scheduled event is Acapulco in a few weeks.

KEI

6. Pierre Hugues-Herbert & Nicolas Mahut
There is just something about Rotterdam and Nicolas Mahut in doubles. Mahut paired up with Hugues-Herbert to claim the 2018 titles at the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament over previously unbeaten Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic. For Mahut, it was his third time winning the doubles crowns in Rotterdam. He did it previously with Vasek Pospisil in 2016 and Michael Llodra in 2014. The win was a big boost for the French team as well as they catapult to #6 in the rankings after only playing the Australian Open, where they lost in round two. The titles were their first since they went back-to-back last summer in winning in Montreal and Cincinnati.

7. John Isner
Another one of the list for all the wrong reasons. Isner continued his winless run to start 2018 with a first match exit to Radu Albot at the New York Ooen. That put Isner at 0-3 to start the season with losses to Albot, Matthew Ebden and Hyeon Chung. Isner has had some trouble finding consistency with his booming serve. The aces are still there, but he’s had ups and downs in being able to control points quickly. In New York, the second serve was the struggle with only nine of 24 points won by the American. As luck would have it, Isner has a chance for redemption right away in Delray Beach this week. He plays Albot again in the opening round, hoping to get off the schneid.

8. Max Mirnyi & Philipp Oswald
Mirnyi and Oswald have quietly crated a solid start to 2018. After making the final at the ASB Classic in Auckland, they lost a tough three setter to the Bryan Brothers in second round play at the Australian Open. The duo bounced back in a big way in New York this past week, running to the first doubles titles in NY over Wesley Koolhof and Artem Sitak. They won their last three matches of the tournament in super tie breaks. The title was Mirnyi’s 51st career doubles crown, while Oswald claimed his 7th. The win marked their second title together after winning in Moscow last Fall. The win keeps the pair at #8 in the rankings.

2018 ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament Final Preview: Roger Federer vs Grigor Dimitrov

ROTT-FINAL18

(1) Roger Federer vs (2) Grigor Dimitrov

Federer Seeking 12th Straight Win, Title to Top Historic Week

This week in Rotterdam has been mainly about Roger Federer getting back to the #1 ranking. He did that by beating Robin Haase and getting to Saturday’s semifinal against Andreas Seppi. Now, there’s this pesky business about winning another title. Federer has shown some slight wobbles in his last two matches. He dropped his lone set of the week to Haase and Seppi became the first man to break Federer on Saturday. Fed still won in straight sets 6-3, 7-6 (3). The Swiss’ serve numbers were a little bit human though with a 76 percent win rate off his first serve and 56 percent on second. That marked Fed’s second straight match under 80 percent on his first serve.

He had blistered Ruben Bemelmans and Philipp Kohlschreiber in the first two rounds, taking 90 percent off his first serve. Perhaps it’s a bit of fatigue for the Swiss after playing four straight days coming off of an extended break since the Australian Open. That might play some into the Sunday final with Dimitrov’s semifinal against David Goffin cut short. More on that in a minute. As for Federer, he overcame some really good tennis from Seppi in the semis. The Italian was hitting the ball hard and crisply. We’ve seen it a couple times this week with Kohlschreiber and Seppi serving big and going toe-to-toe with Federer. The end result has been the same though with the Swiss being better in tie breaks. It’s still tough to break down Fed in crunch time and he’s now 11-0 this season.

For Dimitrov, the semifinals were shortened due to a freak accident that took out fourth seed David Goffin. One game into the second set, Goffin went for a slice backhand return of a shot from Dimitrov. The ball glanced oddly off his racquet and plowed straight into one of Goffin’s eyes. The Belgian would be unable to continue as Dimitrov passed to the final after taking set one 6-3 and Goffin taking the opening game of set two. Dimitrov improved to 7-1 all-time against Goffin in ATP play. Goffin had cracked in the fourth game of the opening set to give Dimitrov a 3-1 lead. The Bulgarian was not at his best on serve, but came up big as he saved six of six break chances. Four of those came in the closing game of the set as Dimitrov kept Goffin from creeping back on serve.

Despite lower numbers on serve, just a 68 percent win rate off his first sever, Dimitrov’s week in Rotterdam has been very solid on serve. He has been broken just once on 13 break opportunities. His win rate on first serve has been above 76 percent in his first three matches, including 82 percent the last two rounds. That is a big number for the second seed and something he could certainly use against Federer. In six career meetings against Fed, all losses, Dimitrov has only had a win rate above 70 percent twice with the high at 74 in a three set loss in Brisbane in 2016.

The Formula

These two last met in the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2017, where Federer whipped Dimitrov 6-4, 6-2, 6-4. It broke a streak in which Dimitrov had at least taken a set off of the Swiss in losing. For Federer he’s beaten Dimitrov outdoors, indoors and on grass. So how has Fed done it? Serve has been a massive part of the plan. Dimitrov has managed four breaks of serve in 16 sets. That is amazing. By contrast, Federer broke the Bulgarian five times alone in their last meeting at Wimbledon. Overall, the Swiss has broken Dimitrov 21 times.

Dimitrov has to find a way to match Federer’s serve and defense might be his best bet to take some pressure off his own service games. Perhaps he’ll take some confidence from Andreas Seppi breaking Federer for the first time all-tournament on Saturday. Seppi was aggressive on Federer’s second serve and Dimitrov will need to do the same. Federer really struggled in the opening set with just a 38 percent win rate. He was much better at 75 percent in set two. I think the main problem for Dimitrov in looking at some tape from their last two meetings is simply that he has not done enough with his return against the Swiss.

That’s not counting the times that Federer’s superior placement and velocity craft aces or quick 1-2 finishes, I’m talking about the times when Dimitrov should get a good crack in return. I just don’t think he’s generally aggressive enough and it seems to be more of a mental block than a lack of ability in executing that sort of strategy. Generally, when he is not aggressive on return, he’s not aggressive in rallies and you know Federer is rarely not aggressive in that aspect of his game. I think Dimitrov needs to take some freer swings on serve and definitely look to take a step or two in when Fed is forced to his second serve.

Dimitrov’s second serve has been a huge problem traditionally against Federer. The two times he’s taken sets off of the Swiss, he’s had better than a 50 percent win rate. When he’s lost in straights, Dimitrov was under 45 percent with the exception of their first meeting in Basel back in 2013. The Bulgarian would be wise to go after Federer’s backhand in return with Fed forced to chip a lot against Seppi. If Dimitrov hits his spots and can force the Swiss into a lot of chip returns, he’ll have opportunities to be aggressive on the next ball. It’s a simple strategy to pounce on that next ball and go for it. You can’t be passive against the GOAT.

In ground rallies, both guys have so much variety. Both have terrific one handed backhands and bring the slice off that side regularly. One thing Fed adds that Dimitrov doesn’t is that short slice that the top seed uses to push the ball back low against his opponent. That can often lead to bad court positions which Fed again will use to push to net and finish the point on the next ball. For me, Dimitrov has to try some different things. He’s a great defensive player, but trying to engage Federer in longer, baseline rallies is so difficult. I think again it goes back to him being more aggressive and looking for earlier openings to finish rallies.

The Pig-nosticator

I don’t think Dimitrov is without a shot in this one. Federer has not been on top of his game in the last two rounds, but he’s found enough in the big moments to win as he often does. Dimitrov needs a quick start because this match is as much mental as it is physical for him. He’s never won an opening set off of Federer, so doing so would go a long way in establishing some belief that he can win. It’s got to start with Dimitrov find his best precision on serve and consistently keeping Federer off balance in return.

For Federer, he needs to rediscover the serve that blew away his first two opponents. Fed threw in a few more serve and volleys against Seppi, aggressively coming in off the serve. He’s so good at the net with cat-like reflexes still at age 36, covering more ground than most. If the Swiss has his first serve pumping and isn’t forced to go to his second too much, then Dimitrov is going to have a hard time making this seventh meeting any different than the first six.

Given Federer’s dips in play the last few days, I think Dimitrov can take a set – but I just don’t know that he’s willing to be aggressive enough against Federer consistently to get the win. This should be competitive, but it’s hard to go against the GOAT until he actually loses.

Prediction: Federer wins in three sets