2018 Australian Open Preview: ATP Draw

AODRA18

2017 Story Line Will Be Impossible to Match

Last year’s story book Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal final in Melbourne is going to be impossible to match this year, right? Or could an encore produce even more of a frenzy? Think about it. Last year’s run for both Federer and Nadal were more than improbable. Federer was seeded 17th. Nadal was seeded 9th. They needed plenty of magic for the impossible to become possible. Denis Istomin delivered a big part of that early by knocking out Novak Djokovic in round two, opening up Nadal’s half of the draw. Federer got a bit of a favor with Andy Murray being outsted by Mischa Zverev, but there was still plenty of work to be done.

Federer would have to overcome two straight physical five set matches to get to the final. The first against Kei Nishikori in the fourth round and the next against his friend Stan Wawrinka in the quarters. He survived and so did Nadal, who had his own five set tests. One came against Alexander Zverev early and the other in the semifinals against Grigor Dimitrov. Rafa would pass both tests and the world was treated to a resumption of the #Fedal rivalry, one that had not been seen since the fall of 2015. The final wasn’t quite a classic, but it was what tennis needed at the time. Two all-time greats going blow for blow for a Slam title. Federer would win, but it also helped propel Nadal to a resugent season where he would win two Slams himself.

2018 Brings More Question Marks

The big stories entering this year’s “Happy Slam” are injury returns. Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic are the big names who ended 2017 with injury questions. Nadal’s centered around a knee issue that probably stemmed from the vast number of matches played. It caused him to delay his start to 2018, but he’s proclaimed himself ready to go after taking part in the Kooyong Exhibition and the Tie Breaks Ten competition.

Djokovic? There’s been a big to-do about his injured elbow that caused him to shut it down after Wimbledon. The Serb finally came out this week and said he did not have surgery on his injured elbow despite many stories saying he did. Djokovic has admitted he will adjust his serving motion this year to compensate for the wear and tear on the elbow. Djokovic says the elbow is feeling better every day, although he has admitted he might not quite be 100 percent for the start in Melbourne.

Wawrinka seems the sketchiest of the three former Australian Open champions returning from injury. The Swiss shut his season down following Wimbledon due to a knee injury and admitted there were times when he questioned if he would even return to the game. His opening presser in Melbourne gave some insight into the work its taken for him to get back to the point where he will play this week. It also showed that there is a bit of mental fatigue I think on Wawrinka to start the season due to the rehab. He likely is not 100 percent and any wins he gets this week really would be a bonus towards rebuilding his confidence for the rest of 2018.

Those are the three players most will watch along with Federer. The talk is about who is ready to step up with the question marks surrounding Nadal, Djokovic and Wawrinka. Federer is another year older – but is anyone going to write off Fed or any of these other Grand Slam champs? I wouldn’t. The younger generation with Alexander Zverev and Nick Kyrgios and even a David Goffin in his latter 20s are players being looked at to steal the crown. Time will tell if any of them or someone else can handle the pressure the way that Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Wawrinka have in the past.

Let’s take a look at where every fits into this year’s puzzle.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
(1) Rafael Nadal: 51-11 (2009 – W)
(6) Marin Cilic: 20-9
(10) Pablo Carreno Busta: 2-4
(16) John Isner: 13-9
(23) Gilles Muller: 10-11
(23) Diego Schwartzman: 1-3
(28) Damir Dzumhur: 3-3
(31) Pablo Cuevas: 1-5

Breakdown
Nadal likely would not have hand written a better draw than this one. The only other non-double digit seed is Cilic, whom Nadal is 5-1 against. He opens with Victor Estrella Burgos, which affords him a chance to find his legs in the best of five format. As does a potential second round meeting with either Nicolas Jarry or Leonardo Mayer. The first seed that Nadal would see is Dzumhur in round three, if the Serb gets there. Dzumhur hasn’t had a ton of success in Melbourne and has a tricky opener against Paolo Lorenzi. A second round match with either John Millman or Borna Coric will be even tougher. I’m not expecting Dzumhur to be around more than a round or two.

The seeded match-up for Rafa in round four would be John Isner. Isner and Schwartzman are the seeds in the section directly below the top seed. Isner has some manageable matches, starting with Matthew Ebden in round one. A second round encounter with Alexandr Dolgopolov could be Isner’s downfall. The Dog has some modest success early this season and brings his quirky game of slices and odd shot selection to the mix. If Dolgopolov beats Andreas Haider-Maurer in round one, he’ll be a tough out for Isner. Schwartzman too may be in for a short ride in Melbourne. He opens with Dusan Lajovic, whom I highlighted in The Eliminati as a player who could ruffle the Argentine’s feathers. Even if Diego survives, one of two qualifiers – Casper Ruud or Quentin Halys – has the power game to cause an upset.

In the bottom half of this quarter, Cilic has qualifier Vasek Pospisil first-up. I don’t think that will be as easy as some think. From there, his road does look a bit easier. A second round foe is either Joao Sousa or Dustin Brown. Brown could be the tougher out with Dreddy beating him last year in their lone meeting indoors in France. Cilic is 3-0 against Sousa. Cuevas is seeded to meet Cilic in round three, but his past history in Melbourne suggests he won’t make it. He opens against Mikahil Youzhny and then if he advances would see Dudi Sela or Ryan Harrison. Cuevas is 3-0 against Sela, beating him twice at Slams at the U.S. Open in both 2015 and 2016. Harrison hasn’t had great luck in Melbourne (2-7), but comes in hot off that finals run in Brisbane.

The other section in Cilic’s half is lead by Carreno Busta and Muller as the seeds. Carreno Busta has had some major problems winning since making the U.S. Open semifinals with losses in nine of this last ten matches. That includes eight first-up losses. He goes against Aussie wild card Jason Kubler and it’s a long season for PCB if he loses this one. Muller takes on Federico Delbonis in round one, who can be tricky. It’s still an advantageous draw for Muller. Gilles Simon might be the dangerman in this part of the draw. The Pune champ would get Carreno Busta if he wins potentially in round two. Simon opens with Marius Copil. The Frenchman has two wins each against PCB and Muller. Simon has made the third round or better in five straight trips down under.

The Pig-nosticator

If Rafa is healthy and by all acccounts, he looked good in his shortened pre-Aussie Open prep, he is without a doubt the favorite to go through this quarter. I honestly don’t see the threat unless Nadal is well under 100 percent. We could see a rematch of the Pune semifinal between Cilic and Simon if things shake out right for the other quarterfinal spot.

Sizzle
Rafael Nadal
Gilles Simon

Fizzle
Diego Schwartzman
Pablo Cuevas

Quarter #2 Seeds
(3) Grigor Dimitrov: 16-7
(8) Jack Sock: 4-3
(11) Kevin Anderson: 11-9
(15) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: 34-10
(17) Nick Kyrgios: 8-4
(18) Lucas Pouille: 0-4
(27) Philipp Kohlschreiber: 20-12
(30) Andrey Rublev: 1-1
­­
Breakdown
This quarter is my favorite. There are alot of highlight reel players here who could make deep runs. The focus is going to be on Dimitrov and Kyrgios obviously, but you have a lot of dangerous seeds in this quarter. For Dimitrov, his half ­­­has Tsonga, Kyrgios and Rublev stuck in it. First-up, Dimitrov should be in good shape against qualifier Dennis Novak in round one. The 24-year-old from Austria will be playing his first main draw at Slam and matching up against a Top 10 player for the first time – very tough to see him pushing Dimitrov in the end. The second round will get Dimitrov another qualifier, either Elisa Ymer or Mackenzie Macdonald. Again, hard to see him slipping up. Rublev is seeded to see him in round three, but must beat David Ferrer in his opener and then either Marcos Baghdatis or Yuki Bhambri in round two. There’s some definite upset possibility to prevent a Dimitro-Rublev match, but I’d love to see it.

The section under Dimitrov’s in the top is led by Tsonga and Kyrgios. All eyes will be on NK after his Brisbane title and his newfound attitude this season. He fought through an injury issue in Brisbane to win the title and despite ups and downs, problem solved well for wins. He opens against Rogerio Dutra Silva and a win would get him either Viktor Troicki or Alex Bolt. NK crushed Troicki in straights last year at the Rogers Cup. Tsonga as always is hard to read coming into the year. He’s 32 and pulled out of the Qatar Open due to a problem with a wrist injury. Not ideal heading to Melbourne, where Tsonga opens with qualifier Kevin King. You’d expect a mostly healthy Tsonga to win that, but he could be in trouble in round two against either Denis Shapovalov or Stefano Tsitsipas. Both possess big hitting styles that I think can match a rusty Tsonga and produce an early upset.

The bottom half is where Jack Sock resides. Plenty has been made of Sock’s lackluster first round loss in Auckland, where he seemed not to have a care in the world about playing. So much so that the tournament is considering not paying Sock his scheduled $100,000 appearance fee. He comes to Melbourne without a ton of match play and last year’s third round run was his best. He matches up with Yuichi Sugita in round one, a player who has beaten Sock in the past. Don’t look past an upset there and expect Sock to simply turn it on and win. If the American does move on, a second round encounter might see him against Ivo Karlovic.

The 38-year-old ace machine starts with Laslo Djere. 22-year-old Serb did score his first ATP win in Pune this month. Karlovic did make round three last year, but he’s also lost in round one three of the last five years. Don’t assume he’ll win easy. The other part of this section sees Kohlschreiber meeting Yoshihito Nishioka who could pose a challenge, but Kohli is normally a good early Slam player on this surface. The winner gets Andreas Seppi or French wild card Corentin Moutet. This is a pretty open section of the quarter given Sock’s attitude so far, so a consistent pro like Karlovic or Kohlschreiber could reap the benefits of Sock’s immaturity if it shows again.

The other section in the bottom is led by Anderson, who made a good run to the Pune final to start 2018. He does not have the kindest of draws though with Kyle Edmund first and possibly last year’s story, Denis Istomin, in the second. Edmund looked prett good in the pre-Melbourne swing until injuring an ankle. If he is healthy, he is a threat. Istomin faces Pierre Hugues-Herbert in round one. Istomin has had plenty of trouble since last year’s shocking runs to the fourth round, but perhaps could be invigorated by a return to Melbourne. Lucas Pouille is seeded to see Anderson in round three and he should be eager to finally get a win in Melbourne. He opens against Ruben Bemelmans and then would have either Gerald Melzer or Nikoloz Basilashvili in round two. No excuses for Pouille not to get some wins this year. Side note – Pouille is working with Tommy Haas on a trial basis as a coach during this Slam.

The Pig-nosticator

The marquee match-up here would be a Dimitrov-Kyrgios showdown in the fourth round. Kyrgios vanquished some demons by beating Dimitrov in the semis in Brisbane this year and that confidence boost could go a long way. For NK, I think getting early “professional” wins is a key for his body to hold up, if he’s to make a big run.The winner of that match looks the man to beat in this quarter. Keep your eyes on Kevin Anderson in the bottom half. He does have some tough matches, but he’s also playing with confidence and that positive attitude we saw during his U.S. Open finals run. He could swoop in for another semifinal run depending on how this quarter shakes down.

Sizzle
Nick Kyrgios
Kevin Anderson

Fizzle
Jack Sock
Andrey Rublev

Quarter #3 Seeds
(4) Alexander Zverev: 2-2
(5) Dominic Thiem: 6-4
(9) Stan Wawrinka: 36-11 (2014 – W)
(14) Novak Djokovic: 58-7 (2008, 2011, 2013, 2013, 2015, 2016 – W)
(20) Roberto Bautista Agut: 11-6
(21) Albert Ramos Vinolas: 1-6
(26) Adrian Mannarino: 3-8
(32) Mischa Zverev: 5-6

Breakdown
This quarter is loaded by name, but not by game right now. The lead seed, Sascha Zverev, has yet to prove himself at a Grand Slam. The young German third round run here last year was his best, until he finally made round four at Wimbledon. He also lost in the opening round at Roland Garros and in round two at the U.S. Open. He must find some consistency in the best of five format. Unfortunately for Sascha, the starts seem aligned against him with big shots Djokovic and Wawrinka in this quarter – no matter what level they are at to start this week. Djokovic is in Sascha’s way in his half of this quarter as the play seeded to play him in round four.

Zverev opens with Thomas Fabbiano. A win takes him to round two against either Mikhail Kukushkin or Peter Gojowczyk. Both Kuku and Gojo are solid players, they won’t roll over. Still, Sascha should be in relative control through to round there. That is where he is seeded to meet his brother (32) Mischa. It seems unlikely that happens with Mischa needing to beat Hyeon Chung in round one and then either Thanasi Kokkinakis or Daniil Medvedev in round two. I think that’s a big ask despite Mischa’s heroics here last year. Medvedev arrives off his first ATP title in Sydney and could parlay that into a good run, but I think both Chung and Kokkinakis have just as good a shot at meeting Sascha in round three. This should be a fun part of the quarter.

in Djokovic’s section of this half, it’s Ramos Vinolas as the only other seed. Djokovic is going to be tested here. He starts with Donald Young and likely faces Doha champion Gael Monfils in round two. Despite Monfils’ 0-14 mark against the Serb, this could be the perfect time to score that elusive win. Ramos Vinolas has poor history in Melbourne and a tough opener against Jared Donaldson. The survivor gets one of two wild cards, either Tim Smyczek or Aussie Alexei Popyrin who I wrote about in the Qualifiers & Wild Cards preview. It is hard not to feel like Donaldson can make a run in this section. We should know plenty about Djokovic’s elbow by the time he meets Monfils in round two, if it happens.

In the bottom half, Thiem leads he way and he’s still looking for something better in Australia. He did make the fourth round last year for the first time. His first rounder against Guido Pella will be a good test to see if Thiem is recovered from a virus that afflicted him earlier in the month. Pella has notched a couple of wins over Thiem and figures to be a tough out. The winner gets Steve Johnson or Denis Kudla in round two. Its 26th seed Adrian Mannarino who is seeded to be the third round foe for Thiem if seeds hold. His part of the draw looks advantageous with lucky loser Matteo Barrettini first up and then either Jiri Vesely or Vaclav Safranek in round two. Vesely could be a tough match-up however for Mannarino, having beaten him in Auckland in 2015.

The other section here features Wawrinka and Bautista Agut. Bautista Agut comes in with the Auckland title in his pocket and the better health of the seeds. Wawrinka faces Ricardas Berankis in round one and we will know more about his knee at that point. Stan still sounds to me like a player not just down playing his chances, but genuinely not expecting to do much. If he wins there, he faces either Tennys Sandgren or Jeremy Chardy. These are winnable matches, but it’s definite wait and see territory. RBA meanwhile will need to be on alert in round one against Fernando Verdasco, who has beaten him three of four previous meetings. If RBA gets past Verdasco, then you really feel like he should get through to the fourth round past a questionable Wawrinka.

The Pig-nosticator

There is a lot of drama I think that can take place in this quarter. Perhaps it’s the return to form of Djokovic, perhaps it’s Sascha Zverev finally breaking through to his first Grand Slam quarterfinal or better. A Sascha-Djokvic fourth round clash would bring plenty of eyes to it in lieu of Sascha’s dismantling of Nole in Rome last year. Let’s hope we get to see the match-up with a healthy Djokovic. If there is a time for RBA’s consistency to be rewarded with at least a quarterfinal, this seems like it. He’s 3-0 against Thiem and would probably fancy his chances on this surface. I won’t be stunned if the old guard gets off the mat here and takes this quarter, but I’m going with Bautista Agut here.

Sizzle
Roberto Bautista Agut
Gael Monfils

Fizzle
Stan Wawrinka

Quarter #4 Seeds
(2) Roger Federer: 87-13 (2004, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2017 – W)
(7) David Goffin: 8-4
(12) Juan Martin Del Potro: 17-8
(13) Sam Querrey: 11-11
(19) Tomas Berdych: 40-14
(22) Milos Raonic: 23-7
(25) Fabio Fognini: 5-10
(29) Richard Gasquet: 22-13

Breakdown
Having a 36-year-old come to a tournament as the odds-on favorite is phenomenal and a testament to the legend that is Roger Federer. It’s pretty impossible for him to provide more entertainment and drama than he did in capturing this title and the one at Wimbledon in 2017. He’ll give it a go though and again appears to have some tough outs standing in his way. First-up, Fed gets Aljaz Bedene. You’d expect a pretty routine win there to set up a second round clash against Jan-Lennard Struff or Soonwoo Kwon. Again, the path looks rather straight forward. Richard Gasquet is seeded to meet Fed in round three with the Frenchman opening against Blaz Kavcic. Gasquet has been the model of consistency, making round three or four in six straight trips to Melbourne. A second round match against Robin Haase might put that in jeopardy. Gasquet has won six of seven from the Dutchman, but Haase has been highly competitive in losing.

The section above this finds Querrey and Raonic as the seeds. Querrey has a difficult opener against Feliciano Lopez. The survivor there looks like a good bet to be in round three with their second round opponent being either Radu Albot or Marton Fucsovics. I would not be surprised if its Lopez. Raonic has to prove health and fitness this week. Lacko could push him some in the opening round after playing qualis, while Raonic lost his lone tune-up match. The winner likely gets Jordan Thompson, who faces Nicolas Kicker in round one. Watch Thompson here as the home standing Aussie could take advantage of upsets or poor play from Raonic. I trust Querrey slightly more than Raonic right now as a seed in this draw.

In the other half of the quarter led by Goffin, the Belgian will have a bandwagon of support behind him to push towards a third Slam quarterfinal. The 27-year-old made his second Slam quarter last year in Melbourne. The draw is nice early with Bachinger in round one and then either Julien Benneteau or Taro Daniel in round two. Fabio Fognini is seeded to meet him in round three. Fabmode has been in effect in the erly season with the Italian losing in the semifinals in Sydney. He has had a rough go of it in Melbourne traditionally though, so watch Horacio Zeballos in round one. A win would pit either player against Florian Mayer or Evgeny Donskoy. Donskoy hits hard and flat and can be tough to deal with, so he’d be the tougher out to me.

The section below features Del Potro and Berdych as the seeds, but all eyes may be on Australian wunderkind Alex De Minaur, if only for a round. De Minaur was drawn against Berdych who has been very solid in his career in Melbourne with six quarterfinals in the last seven years. De Minaur made his first ATP final in Sydney and will have a lot of hype on him coming into the week. I think he needs a fast start to compete against Berdych. The winner there meets Benoit Paire or Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Paire fell victim to De Minaur in Sydney and is usual rollercoaster self so far this year. Paire made round three here last year DelPo could well see Karen Khachanov for the second time already this season if both win their openers. DelPo starts with Frances Tiafoe in round one and Tiafoe still has been unable to consistently produce wins at this level. Khachanov takes on Peter Polansky. I’d be a bit surprised if this didn’t wind up as Berdych vs Del Potro. DelPo leads that head-to-head 5-3.

The Pig-nosticator

Federer should be fine getting to the quarterfinals I think, unless Raonic finds some other worldly and unexpected form. The intrigue seems to lie in the other half of the quarter with Goffin, Del Potro and Berdych in the mix. For Aussie fans, they’ll hope that is De Minaur somehow, but I think there is still a learning curve for the teen phenom in the best of five format that he has not played much. Del Potro’s fatigued look in the Auckland final is a bit worrying, but he also doesn’t have a draw where he’s going to be forced to run a lot.

Goffin would the exception to that going 1-1 against the Argentine. Berdych was embarrassed by Berdych in Rome in 2016 in their last meeting with a double bagel to score Goffin’s first win in three matches against the Czech. It’s hard going against Federer, but I think Del Potro has the best shot. Goffin’s win over Fed in the Tour Finals last year was his only one in seven tries and I think still more of an anomaly. Gimme Fed here with Del Potro as the outside shot to upset the apple cart.

Sizzle
Roger Federer
Juan Martin Del Potro

Fizzle
Milos Raonic
Richard Gasquet

Pig’s Bottom Line

While there are a lot of question marks coming into this one, this still has the feel of who is going to beat out Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal for a spot in the final? I do think Del Potro is one option in Federer’s quarter with Djokovic and Sascha Zverev as the next most hopeful, but with much more work to do to get that shot. For Nadal, the danger is less with his bigger tests likely not to come until the semifinals and finals – if he gets there of course. Dimitrov proved he could go toe-to-toe with him here last year, but I still don’t see Dimitrov as a legitimate contender at the very end for some reason. Kyrgios is the obvious other name to watch for in Rafa’s way. NK got the one win in three tries against Nadal last year and still holds that 2014 Wimbledon shocker.

Bottom line – I’m going with Nadal or Kyrgios if he pulls that stunning upset of Rafa first.

Advertisements

2018 Australian Open Preview: The Eliminati

ELIMINATI

As with every tournament, I try to highlight the seeds who will be most prone to an early exit. We like to call the players who can spring those upsets – The Eliminati. The ones who eliminate. As with any tournament, Grand Slams are not immune to seeing seeds get sent packing after round one. Over the past five years, at least four seeds have gone down in round one in four of five years. Only 2014 saw less than four seeds go down in the opening round with just two losing their first match.

AO18

In 2017, there were exactly four seeds who were one and done – led by 16th seeded Lucas Pouille. Last year did mark the first time since 2012 that no seed inside the top eleven lost in round one. Rafael Nadal is the highest seeded player to fall in round one since 2013. Rafa was seeded 5th when Fernando Verdasco stunned him in round one in 2016. Five top 12 seeds have gone down in their first matches in that same span with the #11 seed having a penchant for doing the deed. In 2013, 2015 and 2016, the #11 seed lost in round one. Overall, 22 seeds have lost in round one since 2013.

So with this year’s injury questions among some of the big names in the tournament and a number of players in the unfamiliar role as seeds, let’s take a look at who could play the role of “The Eliminati” in Melbourne this year.

Paolo Lorenzi
The Italian opens against 28th seed Damir Dzumhur. Dzumhur is certainly a player on the rise as the 25-year-old Serb comes off his most successful season on tour. A season where he won his first two ATP titles. Dzumhur however has three first round exits in his last eight Slams played. That includes two last year, one of which came in Melbourne with a tough first round match-up against Viktor Troicki. Lorenzi is just 2-6 at the Australian Open, but has usually been a tough out. Last year, he beat Aussie James Duckworth in round one and took the aforementioned Troicki to five sets before losing in round two. Couple in that Dzumhur injured a hamstring in Sydney last week and you have a match that could yield an upset.

Dusan Lajovic
Lajovic meets another 20-something now in a seeded position in #25 Diego Schwartzman. The Argentine broke out last year, culminating with his first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the U.S. Open. Schwartzman still fell in the opening round at Wimbledon and has five first round exits in his last eight Slams. He may be on the rise, but Melbourne has not been kind to him with jut a 1-3 record. He won his first main draw match last year. Lajovic is another middling type, but another that has proven to be a tough out at this tournament. 2016 saw him outlast Sam Querrey who retired in round one before losing in five to Roberto Bautista Agut. Last year, he beat Pierre Hugues-Herbert to start, then was done in straights to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Might rate this lower on the scale of possibility, but I think Lajovic makes Diego earn it in a long match if he survives.

Mikhail Youzhny
Even though the Russian has seen better days and we haven’t seen him since 2017, you have to mark him as a possible member of The Eliminati. He faces 31st seed Pablo Cuevas who is just 1-5 all-time in Melbourne. Cuevas has lost his opener four of the five times he has played here, so that makes him a big question mark no matter the match-up. At 35, Youzhny is losing more in the first round than during his hey day. He’s lost his Slam opener three times in his last seven Slams since 2017. Cuevas did get a rare win in Auckland this past week, but in this match-up of vets – he still seems vulnerable.

David Ferrer
I’m a big fan of (30) Andrey Rublev, but this is not a great draw for him in the first round. Rublev did start the season very well in Doha by making the final, before being demolished by Gael Monfils. He chose to rest last week, while David Ferrer was making a run to the semifinals in Auckland. Rublev has the experience of his first Slam quarterfinal last fall in New York, but this feels different. Ferrer has changed his game to play some shorter, more aggressive points – but as he showed against Del Potro, he can still make you work all around the court. Being the opening round, I expect him to flash some of that. If Rublev doesn’t avoid the long ground rallies, he could be in some trouble.

Kyle Edmund
The lone clash between Edmund and 11th seed Kevin Anderson was a five set affair at last years French Open. Anderson prevailed 6-7, 7-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-4. Edmund arrives after skipping last week to rest an injured ankle he suffered in Brisbane against Grigor Dimitrov. A match that he well could have won if not for the injury, so his form was decent. Anderson too has started the season strong with a finals run in Pune, where he lost to Gilles Simon. Anderson had a streak of three straight fourth round finishes in Melbourne ended last year, when he lost to Rajeev Ram in the opening round. Anderson is healthier than last year, so that might help him avoid this trappy spot. Still looks like a potential barn burner if Edmund is recovered from his ankle injury.

Yuichi Sugita
Sugita matches against 8th seed Jack Sock and by verge of his disinterested performance in Auckland last week, you have to keep him in upset alert. Sock did get his best finish in Melbourne last year, making the third round. Sugita beat Sock last year in Cincinnati during a career best run at a Masters event, making the quarterfinals. The negative for Sugita is that he’s only making his second foray into the main draw and is 0-1 for his career in Melbourne. Sugita is also only 2-6 all-time in main draws at Slams, so he’s got some history to overcome. Still, Sock has been in and out of too many matches and warrants being on the list.

Guido Pella
If there is a top ten seed who could fall, 5th seed Dominic Thiem might be it. Thiem faces Pella who is 2-0 against the Austrian. One of those wins came on hard courts in Chengdu last Fall and the other on clay in Rio in 2016. Thiem has also been dealing with a virus that forced him out of the Qatar Open after making the semifinals. Thiem’s best finish at the Aussie Open was last year’s fourth round run. The plus is he has only lost his opener once in four trips down under. I still rare this as a shot though with Pella off to a hot start this season with a semifinal run on Doha.

Fernando Verdasco
As he’s aged, Verdasco has arguably become one of the more feared first round match-ups at Grand Slams. Obviously the 2016 win over Nadal will be talked about, but so should his 3-1 mark against (20) Roberto Bautista Agut. That’s who he faces in round one. RBA comes in fresh off the Auckland title. He has gone back-to-back years making the fourth round in Melbourne and always seems a solid shot to make that point. Verdasco hasn’t jumped out impressively, going 1-2 in the pre-Aussie Open build-up, so I’d rank this one a little bit lower on the upset scale.

Ricardas Berankis
Berankis gets first crack at (9) Stan Wawrinka. The Swiss has not played an ATP level match since undergoing knee surgery following Wimbledon last season. Wawrinka admitted he is probably not in a complete match fit state heading into this tournament and that is why I think he’s got to be on the upset list. On top of that, to hear his comments about being unsure about his future after surgery and battling that mentally – I’m not sure Stan is anywhere close to where he needs to be to play a Grand Slam. Still, he’s a three-time Slam champ who could get hot and make a run if his knee feels good. This one looks like a long shot though with Berankis just 1-7 in the last two years.

Jared Donaldson
It’s tough to figure out if Donaldson is going to break out or not. Many thought his third round Wimbledon run last season was priming him to do even more at the U.S. Open. He wound up going out in the second round in five sets in a tough draw to Lucas Pouille. He’s never won a main draw match in Australia and wasn’t overly impressive is going 2-2 in the pre-Aussie build-up. Still, he’s got a big game and he gets #21 Albert Ramos Vinolas who has yet to taste victory in two matches this season. ARV is also just 1-6 in his career in Melbourne, so perhaps this is the chance Donaldson needs to grab his first AO win.

Hyeon Chung
Ching draws (32) Mischa Zverev and despite Zverev’s nifty run last year that included his defeat of Andy Murray, the German just does not have a great record on outdoor hard courts. His unexpected quarterfinal run last season accounts for four of his five career wins in Melbourne. Zverev had been a first round out in four of the previous five times he had been in the main draw. Chung scored good wins over Gilles Muller and John Inser in Brisbane and Auckland. Zverev will be a different challenge with his serve and volley tactics, but Chung has seen Mischa before and beat him – in Paris last year indoors and on clay in qualies in Houston in 2015. His athleticism matches well with Zverev’s tactics.

Feliciano Lopez
The lefty is in a familiar match-up against American (13) Sam Querrey to open. The two have met nine times with the Flodonis winning six ot those meetings, including three of four on outdoor hard courts. Querrey has struggled with the Australian swing for most of his career, but has at least been average here most years. He’s only made it as far as the third round, but Querrey has done that five times. Lopez lost in the first round in Melbourne last year for the first time since 2009. The Spaniard was adequate in the two pre-Aussie tourneys that he played, while Querrey lost his lone match in Auckland to Jiri Vesely. Querrey could survive this, but the match-up historically has been tough – so the match itself could be very good competitively.

This is the first of three parts to preview the 2018 Australian Open. Follow @tennispig all tournament for previews and more info.

The Tip Jar

2018 Brisbane International Preview

BRISBANE18

Happy New Year! Please make sure you visit The Tip Jar while you’re on the blog today. If the mood strikes you at any point during the season to make a donation to your Pig, I’m in your corner for life. I’m also looking to pay it forward, so keep that in mind. If that’s not your thing, its okay – I appreciate you visiting the site nonetheless and welcome your feedback!

Big Four Facing Uncertain Starts to 2018

The 2018 ATP World Tour begins with a stop in Brisbane, Australia ahead of three other tournaments kicking off on New Year’s Day in Sydney, Doha and Pune. The start of the season has already been marred by health questions surrounding both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Nadal announces his withdrawal from the Brisbane International, saying that he was still not fit to compete after ending last season prematurely due to a knee injury. Nadal is hopeful that he can continue to train and be ready for the Australian Open, but that is certainly a big question mark for the ATP’s top ranked player.

Djokovic reported feeling some pain in his surgically repaired right elbow this week, which caused him to skip the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi. The Serb seems likely to miss the Qatar Open in Doha, which starts on Monday. Djokovic has not played since Wimbledon last year. He will be replaced in Abu Dhabi by Andy Murray, who is crafting his own return from a hip injury that ended his 2017 campaign early. As of now, Roger Federer looks to be the lone member of the “Big Four” who will enter the 2018 season healthy. Fed is starting his season at the Hopman Cup in Perth this weekend.

Opportunity Beckons for Next Generation & Twenty-Somethings

With the lingering questions about the health of Nadal, Djokovic and Murray, it’s obvious that there is no better time than the present for other players to step into the spotlight and grab some glory. One of those twenty-somethings of whom something will be expected of this season is this week’s top seed, Grigor Dimitrov. Dimitrov capped off his 2017 by winning the Nitto ATP Finals. That pushed Dimitrov to a career-best 3rd in the rankings. He finished the season 49-19, but was not a factor in three of the four Grand Slams.

Dimitrov will need to strive for better consistency over the course of the season and not get into those stretches where he can’t win matches like he did in March & April. In that span, Dimitrov flopped in Indian Wells and Miami, losing his opener at the Miami Open. He followed that with successive first round losses in Marrakech and Monte Carlo. It’s been too familiar for Dimitrov who found the same thing with five straight first-up losses in May & June of 2016.

Brisbane will also feature one of the game’s most mercurial players in Nick Kyrgios. The Aussie is the third seed behind Dimitrov and Andy Murray. Kyrgios comes off another up and down season, finishing 2017 at 31-17 with no titles won. Health and effort were once again front row and center for Kyrgios last season with shoulder and hip ailments limiting him. NK was another young player who made no impression at Slams, losing in the first round at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and in the second round both at the Australian and French Opens.

2018 might signal a new version of Kyrgios. The 22-year-old has shown his philanthropic side since late last Fall when he announced the start of his own foundation to benefit underprivileged children. It has shown a side that the mainstream media has not focused on in the past and perhaps has given Kyrgios a bit more focus. Kyrgios said he heads into the new season healthier than last year and he’s been training with the Australian Davis Cup team in the past month. Could this be the year where things come together for the uber talented Aussie?

ELIMINATI

Spruced up for 2018, it’s a look at the seeds in the draw and those who might spring those upsets on the seeds – aka The Eliminati. Recently, Brisbane has been an anti-upset location for seeds with only six dropping their openers in the last four years. In 2015 and 2016, just one seed was taken down early. And since 2014, just one top four seed has been eliminated in their first match. Perhaps that could change in 2018 with some different names in the seeded field and a couple players – Murray and Raonic – coming on off lengthy layoffs.

Here is a look at who could play the part of the Eliminati in Brisbane in the early going.

John Millman
The home standing Aussie will take on a qualifier in round one with the prize being a date against top seed Grigor Dimitrov. Dimitrov is the defending champion of this event and has made the semifinals or finals in three of his five trips, but he’s got a big target on his back this time as the #3 player in the world. Millman has a history of being a tough out at this tournament, losing in three sets to Murray in 2012 and Federer in 2015 in his last two trips to Brisbane. Keep an eye on Millman if he passes his first round test.

Ryan Harrison/Leonardo Mayer
The winner of this first round match gets a shot at (2) Murray. The Scot has been rehabbing an injured hip since losing in five sets to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon last summer. He made his return to the court in exhibition play against Roberto Bautista Agut this week, losing 6-2 in Abu Dhabi. The 30-year old was a late sub for Novak Djokovic, so perhaps he was off the mark after not expecting to play. Still, he showed rust and both Harrison and Mayer have taken sets off of him in the past. Given his lack of competitive match play, this would be an opportune time for one of these two to jump on the second seed and get a win.

Steve Johnson
The American could cause a shock if he gets to round two, where he would face fourth seed Milos Raonic. Raonic ended his 2017 campaign early in Tokyo due to a calf injury. It was the last in a string of injuries that derailed the Canadian last season with wrist and leg injuries leading Raonic to a 29-12 mark with no titles won. Raonic’s last title came at this tournament in 2016, so he will be hoping that a return to this tournament will jump start his season. Johnson could be dangerous in this spot, if he gets past talented Aussie Alex de Minaur in round one. The American will have to overcome a poor history at this event to do so (1-3) though.

Qualifier
Mischa Zverev was one of the surprises of the early going in 2017 with his shocking defeat of Murray at last year’s Australian Open that pushed him into the first Slam quarter of his career. That looks like more of an anomaly for the German vet who often struggles on outdoor hard courts. This will be his third main draw in Brisbane with just a 1-2 record previously. Given that he’ll go against someone with play in match conditions, he could be ripe for an upset if the qualifier can handle his serve and volley tactics.

Alexandr Dolgopolov
The Dog heads into another season with the same M.O. that has followed him during his career; a player who can beat almost anyone when he gets on a roll, but a player who can lose to anyone, any week. Dolgopolov takes on sixth seed Diego Schwartzman in round one. Schwartzman won their lone meeting back in 2016 in three sets on clay in Buenos Aires. Schwartzman comes off his most successful ATP season, where he made his first-ever Grand Slam quarterfinal at the U.S. Open. This is his second straight trip to Brisbane. Last year, he went 1-1 in beating Querrey and losing to Raonic. Dolgopolov has some modest success in Brisbane at 8-6 for his career.

Draw Preview

*Career record at Brisbane in (parenthesis)*

Quarter #1 Seeds
(1) Grigor Dimitrov: 14-4 (2017-W)
(5) Gilles Muller: 1-2

Breakdown
Dimitrov has shown a great affinity for Brisbane in his career with two finals appearances and quarterfinal or better finishes in four of five trips to this tournament. There are plenty of pitfalls in this quarter however that could preclude Dimitrov from getting that sort of result again. Fifth seed Gilles Muller owns three wins in his last four meetings with Dimitrov, including two wins last season. Muller will need to be careful in round one against Hyeon Chung, but could be a serious contender to the crown if he gets rolling.

The floaters here worth watching will meet in round one with Denis Shapovalov going head-to-head against Kyle Edmund. These two met three times, all in 2017, with El Shapo taking two of three. Interestingly, two of the matches were settled via retirement. That includes their last at the U.S. Open, where Shapovalov won when Edmund retired down two sets to one and 0-1 in the fourth.

This figures to be an intriguing season for the 18-year-old Shapovalov who struggled outside of his two big finishes at the Rogers Cup (SF) and U.S. Open (R16). El Shapo went just 2-6 after his U.S. Open heroics. There will be some lofty expectations due to those marquee results, but perhaps they should be tempered some with this season being the Canadian’s first “full” season at this level. Still, the winner between Shapovalov and Edmund will be a tough out for Muller or Chung, which makes this quarter much more of a toss up than you might think.

Quarter #2 Seeds
(3) Nick Kyrgios: 0-0
(6) Diego Schwartzman: 1-1

Breakdown
Kyrgios will make his Brisbane debut and should be expected to be on a show this week. The Aussie has a workable draw that should give him a shot at making the semifinals. He will either American Frances Tiafoe or Aussie Matthew Ebden in his opener. Both have talent and could pull off an upset, but I think Kyrgios’ serve is too electric for either player to keep up with.

Schwartzman’s side of the quarter could go any which way. The Argentine showed that he can win on this surface as he scored 22 of his career 35 wins on outdoor hard courts during his breakout campaign last year. That turned around an 8-16 mark prior to 2017. He faces the tricky game of Dolgopolov to open and then would get Horacio Zeballos or a qualifier. With what else inhabits this quarter, Kyrgios really should get through here as long as his serve is rolling to start the season.

Quarter #3 Seeds
(4) Milos Raonic: 9-3 (2016 – W)
(8) Mischa Zverev: 1-2

Breakdown
Raonic has played well down under in previous seasons and should be out to prove himself healthy to start the new year. The 27-year-old has been one of the more outspoked players this offseason when it comes to the ATP calendar. Raonic believes the season should end with the U.S. Open in order to give players proper rest and it’s not really that bad of an idea. In any case, Raonic’s serve and power should play well in this quarter – but he will be tested. Steve Johnson still looks like the biggest potential landmine for the fourth seed.

Zverev will try to keep his opponents off balance per usual with his serve and volley tactics. The 8th seed actually might have a better set up on his side of the quarter with a couple of qualifiers and Federico Delbonis in the mix. The qualifying field isn’t exceptionally strong with top seed Alexander Bublik already beaten by Aussie John Patrick Smith. I don’t generally trust the German outdoors, but he might be lined up to win a few in this quarter.

Quarter #4 Seeds
(2) Andy Murray: 9-0 (2012, 2013 – W)
(7) Damir Dzumhur: 0-0

Breakdown
Murray will look to keep his perfect record intact in Brisbane as he looks to get some match play under his belt before Melborne. Murray looked sluggish in his debut in the Abu Dhabi exhibition, but said that was too be expected after the long layoff. The Scot is hopeful that his body will respond better this week in Brisbane, but sounds like he’s not necessarily expecting to make a deep run. I’m not going to be stunned if Murray loses his opener to Ryan Harrison or Leonardo Mayer.

Dzumhur debuts in Brisbane with his opener against Denis Istomin. Istomin is closing in on the one year mark since his stunning defeat of Novak Djokovic at last year’s Australian Open. Istomin returned to his normal inconsistency after Melbourne, going 17-18 with a title in Chengdu late in the season. Between the Aussie Open and Chengdu, Istomin tallied about half his wins for the season.

The 25-year-old Dzumhur scored his maiden ATP title in 2017 in St.Petersburg and followed it up with his second in Moscow. The Serb has shown good skill on hard courts, but has just two wins in January over the last three years. He’ll have to prove himself all over again to start the year off. Given Murray’s sketchy physical condition, Dzumhur could take advantage of this quarter and get through to the semifinals. He will have a tough time in round two against either Jared Donaldson or Jordan Thompson. The winner of that match has definite darkhorse possibilities.

The Pig-nosticator

Each tournament previewed, the Pig-nosticator will list out @tennispig‘s picks to sizzle and fizzle for the week. Don’t forget that if something you peruse through in the preview provides you with something helpful – a visit to the Tip Jar would be kindly appreciated.

Sizzle
Nick Kyrgios
Milos Raonic
Jared Donaldson

Fizzle
Andy Murray
Hyeon Chung

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

The top seed has been involved in the business end in Brisbane, but has won just once in the last four years (Federer – 2015). Among the top three seeds are three former champions at this stop on the tour in Dimitrov, Raonic and Murray. I’d erase Murray off the list of contenders until he can prove he’s fit enough to handle several matches in a row. Raonic is a shorter question mark and can blister opponents with his serve. The positives for Dimitrov are that he is 3-1 against Raonic if it came down to that for the title. The negative is that Dimitrov has a tougher route prior to that possibly showdown with Gilles Muller and Nick Kyrgios in his path to the final.

Dimitrov is 2-0 against Kyrgios, but 2-3 against Muller. A win this week would make him the first repeat champion since Murray did the trick in 2012 and 2013. Damir Dzumhur is the sleeper for me amongst the seeds. The #7 seed is in Murray’s quarter and could benefit from the Scot not being up to snuff yet, but there are dangerous floaters like Jared Donaldson, Jordan Thompson, Leonardo Mayer and Ryan Harrison who could spring some surprises as non-seeded players. Non-seeds haven’t done much the last few years at the Brisbane International though with Lleyton Hewitt as the last non-seed to make the final (2014) and Dimitrov as the last non-seed to win the title (2013).

Bottom line – Kyrgios is the gut pick with Dzumhur as the longer shot. Dimitrov may prove me wrong by rolling this week, but I just have a feeling that he’s going to get got before the final.

2017 Nitto ATP Finals Preview

NITTOFINALS

The final event of the 2017 season kicks off in London on Sunday as the top eight finishers in this season’s injury riddled rankings compete for the top prize at the Nitto ATP Finals. The field is topped by this year’s two lead horses, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. More on the field in a minute, but first a quick run-thru on the format for this event.

The eight player field is split into two, four player groups. Each group will compete in a Round Robin, playing each member of the group. The top two players will then advance to the semifinals. The winners of the group are determined by total number of wins first and foremost. Tiebreakers then trickle down to total number of matches played, head-to-head results and then down to highest percentage of sets won and highest percentage of games won.

The top player from Group A then plays the second place player from Group B in one semifinal, with the top player from Group B then playing the second place player from Group A. The two winners of the semifinal then move on to the final, where the champion is crowned. Now, let’s take a look at this year’s singles field.

Group Pete Sampras

NADAL17NITTO

2017 Record: 67-10
Titles: 6
Finals: 10

Tour Finals Record: 16-12
Titles: 0
Finals: 2
Appearance: 8th

Record vs The Field
Vs Federer: 23-15 (0-4)
Vs Zverev: 3-0 (2-0)
Vs Thiem: 5-2 (3-1)
Vs Cilic: 5-1 (2-0)
Vs Dimitrov: 10-1 (3-0)
Vs Goffin: 2-0 (2-0)
Vs Sock: 4-0 (2-0)

THIEM17NITTO

2017 Record: 48-25
Titles: 1
Finals: 3

Tour Finals Record: 1-2
Titles: 0
Finals: 0
Appearance: 2nd

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 2-5 (1-3)
Vs Federer: 2-1 (0-0)
Vs Zverev: 4-1 (1-0)
Vs Cilic: 1-0 (0-0)
Vs Dimitrov: 2-1 (1-1)
Vs Goffin: 3-6 (0-2)
Vs Sock: 2-1 (0-0)

DIMITROVNITTO17

2017 Record: 44-19
Titles: 3
Finals: 4

Tour Finals Record: 0-0
Titles: 0
Finals: 0
Appearance: 1st

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 1-10 (0-3)
Vs Federer: 0-6 (0-1)
Vs Zverev: 1-2 (0-0)
Vs Thiem: 1-2 (1-1)
Vs Cilic 1-3 (0-0)
Vs Goffin: 3-1 (2-1)
Vs Sock: 1-3 (0-1)

GOFFINNITTO17

2017 Record: 54-22
Titles: 2
Finals: 4

Tour Finals Record: 0-1
Titles: 0
Finals: 0
Appearance: 2nd (2016 alternate)

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 0-2 (0-2)
Vs Federer: 0-6 (0-1)
Vs Zverev: 0-1 (0-0)
Vs Thiem: 6-3 (2-0)
Vs Cilic 3-2 (0-1)
Vs Dimitrov: 1-3 (1-2)
Vs Sock: 3-0 (1-0)

Group Overview

Knee-Gate remains the biggest talking point leading into the start of this year’s ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in London. As of today, Nadal has said his feeling is that he will play. That seems to only reference his opening match against David Goffin with everything after that looking like a match to match question mark. As such, I will remind you that Pablo Carreno Busta is the first alternate in London and would slide into the place of any player who cannot physically go this week.

Let’s take that out of the equation for now and talk about Nadal and his season. Rafa secured the year-ending #1 spot in Paris with a win over Pablo Cuevas. That is when his announcement to withdraw from the Paris Masters came and it certainly seemed like the smart move. Nadal has already logged a lot of mileage this season due in part to making 16 tournament finals. With the “off” season for tennis players being so short, it’s imperative for Nadal to make his decisions this week based on healthy and preparations for 2018. In all honesty, this title means nothing if you wind up delaying your start to the new season because of a physical ailment.

Nadal’s season of course has been an absolute smash hit, four out of four stars. He’s added two more Grand Slam titles to his resume and clinching the year-end top spot was the cherry on top. The only real “failures” for Rafa this season have been the string of losses to Roger Federer. Since their classic Australian Open Final, it’s been a Federer smash ‘n grab each time they’ve played with the Swiss. Federer has won six out of the last six sets played and has a five match win streak overall against Nadal. If there is motivation needed ,that would do it.

Outside of the Federer issue this season, you can see that Rafa’s numbers look good with the other potential matchups in London. He’s a combined 14-1 against the rest of the field with an 8-1 mark against the rest of his Round Robin group (Thiem, Dimitrov, Goffin). Dimitrov would seem to be the biggest hurdle to winning the group as the Bulgarian has taken at least one set off of Rafa in all three losses this season and he did win his lone match in their head-to-head a little over a year ago in Beijing.

Thiem has been able to contend with Nadal and does own a win this season against him, but they have not met since Nadal crushed Thiem in straights in the French Open semifinals. That ended with Thiem being bagaled in the final set. This week in London will mark the first time in their careers that they will meet on a surface other than clay. That same thing can be said with Goffin and Nadal and perhaps that can help close the gap between Rafa and this group. Thiem hasn’t shown a great affinity for the indoor environment with a 24-24 career mark indoors.

Goffin however has produced his best win percentage indoors with a 17-6 mark this year to feed into his career record of 56-29 on indoor surfaces. Half of his four finals’ appearances this year came on indoor hard courts, so the surface could suit Goffin well. Goffin has a winning record against Thiem, but will have to produce a win against either Nadal or Dimitrov to have a shot to advance out of the group. He’s 1-4 against those two combined. The plus being that lone win came against Dimitrov indoors in Rotterdam earlier this season.

Key Round Robin Matches

Thiem vs Dimitrov
This day one match could go a long way in determining the second player to come out of this group. They have split two meetings in 2017 with Thiem taking the last, but that was on clay in Madrid. It also went 11-9 in the third set tiebreak to decide, so Dimitrov likely will feel that the surface switch here favors him. Dimitrov made the final in Stockholm, an indoor event, and has produced good results consistently indoors with a 54-32 record all-time. That includes 10-3 this season with a title indoors in Sofia.

A loss, especially for Thiem, could put him squarely behind the eight ball with Nadal and Goffin left to play. He’s 1-5 against those two this season. A win for Dimitrov gives him a solid shot to go 2-1 at least in the group, where winning a set off of Nadal might be enough to kill any tiebreaks to advance to the semifinals.

Nadal vs Dimitrov
If Nadal is going to falter in the group, this feels like the match. Dimitrov has stretched Nadal to five sets in Melbourne and three sets the other two times they have met on tour in 2017. His issue in the best of three format has been starting strong or finish strong – he’s done neither against Nadal who has dropped the second set against the Bulgarian both in Beijing and Shanghai. In both cases, Nadal recovered to take the final sets 6-1 & 6-3.

I don’t think Dimitrov necessarily needs a win to squeeze something good out of this encounter. With the Tour Finals format, winning a set in a loss, is important and the world #6 seems like he can do that at the least. If Dimitrov takes a set or wins, I think he’s a shoe-in to move into the semifinals out of this group.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

All eyes will be pinned on Nadal for health reasons and of course any looming prospect of one last #Fedal showdown in 2017. In all honesty, thet is about the only thing left to prove for Rafa this season is that he can beat Federer. I expect Rafa will participate in his opening match and that’s when he will know whether his knee is going to hold up for the tournament. The gut feeling is that he’ll sub out at some point and Carreno Busta will be slotted in as a replacement.

That means this group is difficult to predict. Carreno Busta’s inclusion could tip the scales to Thiem with The Dominator at 4-0 in his career against PCB. It would also be an obvious boost for Dimitrov to avoid Nadal with a 1-10 career mark despite some more competitive matches this year. Dimitrov is 2-2 against Carreno Busta, losing the last two on clay and Goffin is 0-1 with their last match coming in 2013. With the tricky guessing game here, my picks will be Dimitrov and Thiem to move out of this group and into the semifinals.

Group Boris Becker

FED17NITTO

2017 Record: 49-4
Titles: 7
Finals: 8

Tour Finals Record: 52-12
Titles: 6
Finals: 10
Appearance: 15th

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 15-23 (4-0)
Vs Zverev: 2-2 (1-1)
Vs Thiem: 1-2 (0-0)
Vs Cilic: 7-1 (1-0)
Vs Dimitrov: 6-0 (1-0)
Vs Goffin: 6-0 (1-0)
Vs Sock: 3-0 (1-0)

ZVEREV17NITTO

2017 Record: 54-20
Titles: 5
Finals: 6

Tour Finals Record: 0-0
Titles: 0
Finals: 0
Appearance: 1st

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 0-3 (0-2)
Vs Federer: 2-2 (1-1)
Vs Thiem: 1-4 (0-1)
Vs Cilic: 3-1 (1-0)
Vs Dimitrov: 2-1 (0-0)
Vs Goffin: 1-0 (0-0)
Vs Sock: 1-1 (0-0)

NITTOCILIC17

2017 Record: 44-19
Titles: 1
Finals: 3

Tour Finals Record: 1-5
Titles: 0
Finals: 0
Appearance: 3rd

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 1-5 (0-2)
Vs Federer: 1-7 (0-1)
Vs Zverev: 1-3 (0-1)
Vs Thiem: 0-1 (0-0)
Vs Dimitrov: 3-1 (0-0)
Vs Goffin: 2-3 (1-0)
Vs Sock: 0-2 (0-0)

SOCKNITTO17

2017 Record: 36-19
Titles: 3
Finals: 6

Tour Finals Record: 0-0
Titles: 0
Finals: 0
Appearance: 1st

Record vs The Field
Vs Nadal: 0-4 (0-2)
Vs Federer: 0-3 (0-1)
Vs Zverev: 1-1 (0-0)
Vs Thiem: 1-2 (0-0)
Vs Cilic 2-0 (0-0)
Vs Dimitrov: 3-1 (1-0)
Vs Goffin: 0-3 (0-1)

Group Overview

Federer’s pristine record in 2017 is remarkable and the addition of two more Grand Slam trophies to his collection mark one of the greater achievements in history for the 36-year-old who many thought was done collecting hardware at majors. On top of that, he’s been able to turn the tables of nemesis Rafael Nadal with four wins this season over the Spaniard. He’s done all that and played the lightest schedule of any of the London participants, smartly scheduling his season to maximize his chances to do exactly what he wound up doing – winning Grand Slam titles.

Federer can’t bee too displeased with his group, even with two other top five players included in Zverev and Cilic. Zverev holds the 2-2 record against Fed, including 1-1 this season. What should be noted however is the win for Sascha came at the Rogers Cup, when Federer’s health was an issue. In Halle the month before, Federer blasted Zverev off the grass courts 6-1, 6-3. Since Zverev’s surprise title at the Rogers Cup, he’s gone just 8-7 and appears to be limping to the finish line for 2017. None of his eight wins have come against top 2- players and four of the seven losses he has suffered, have come to players outside of the Top 40. Couple that with a well-rested Federer and I think the Swiss will like his chances just fine.

Cilic appears to have the worst road in this group with a 2-12 record against Federer, Zverev and Sock in his career. He’s also just 1-5 at this event in his career. The positives for Cilic are that he has played well since the U.S. Open with three semifinal runs in the four tournaments that he has played. The bad will come with two of his four losses in that span coming to Adrian Mannarino and Julien Benneteau, players he is expected to beat more often than not.

Sock is the fresh face as he makes his debut. He’ll be brimming with a little extra swagger after taking the title in Paris last week, but that’s to be taken with a grain of salt. Sock’s draw was incredibly kind most of the way with just one player (Lucas Pouille) ranked inside the top 38. His last two opponents, Julien Benneteau and Filip Krajinovic, were ranked 83rd and 77th respectively. The American has only faced one of his three group-mates this season, losing to Federer at Indian Wells. He’s beaten Cilic twice and split with Sascha in two matches, taking the last one indoors in Stockholm last year.

Key Round Robin Matches

Federer vs Zverev
This will be billed as the best match of the group, but the hype may not live up the result. This is the confidence builder or eroder for Sascha in my opinion and it could well serve as the same for Federer. The Swiss shouldn’t be lacking for confidence based on losing just four matches all year, but Zverev has contended well against him outside of the Halle whitewash this year. A win for Sascha in this spot could elevate him to the top spot out of this group, which might keep him from seeing Nadal in the semifinals. That would be an optimal outcome.

For Federer, he won’t really care too much how he gets out of the group as long as he gets out of the group. Certainly he’d rather see Nadal in a finals setting than going through him in the semis with the prospects of playing another match after going through a physical Nadal match. That should make all matches equally important to Federer. You’d think though that he has this one circled due to that loss in Montreal. It’s one of the few blemishes on a glorious season and one that Fed can erase in London.

Zverev vs Sock
This could also serve as an elimination match. If Federer is Federer, he’s going to lock up one of the two spots to advance out of this group. Cilic looks like he’ll have a tough time getting out of the group with a poor track record in London and bad numbers against all the players in this group. That could leave Sascha and Sock to joust for the final qualification spot. These two have not met since their three set thriller; 6-7 (4), 7-06 (4), 6-4, in the Stockholm semifinals last year. That came just a month after Zverev had dismantled Sock 6-4, 6-2 in Beijing.

Sock has momentum on his side, but that could be fleeting with an opener against Federer to start his debut appearance at the ATP Tour Finals. The pluses for Sock are that Sascha has not played his best tennis the last half of the season and he looks vulnerable to anyone in the field at this point. This match likely will come down to which player wins those key break points against their own serve. Both players can get into a rhythm on serve with some easier holds, but both usually sport more holes than consistency on serve. That will leave them open to exploitation. The winner of this one really should be in the driver’s seat for a spot in the semis.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

I won’t say Federer is quite a lock to get one of the two semifinal spots out of this group, but everything certainly looks to align well for him. If he somehow gets stunned in the Round Robin stages, the feeling for me is that Marin Cilic will have had something to do with that outcome. Overall, I think Federer gets the top spot and then I get an odd feeling that it comes down to Cilic and Sock for the other.

Zverev’s luke warm finish to the season has me thinking that he may struggle to get more than a win in the group stages. First timers have had some sporadic success at this event with Kei Nishikori as the last first timer to advance to the semis in 2014. Stan Wawrinka did it the year before in 2013. You’d think Zverev would be the better bet over Sock as a first timer to do the trick this year, but I’m not sure that is the case. I’m also not sure that I think Sock can get two wins in this group to get through.

I’ll go Federer and Cilic here, despite Cilic’s lackluster record against the field.

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

It will be disappointing not to see a Nadal-Federer final to cap off what has been a great “retro” year for tennis fans with the two 30-somethings ruling the roost. However, if we don’t get that in the name of Nadal being healthy for 2018, I’m okay with that. For me, this tournament looks tailor-made for Federer. He’s worked the smartest schedule of any player and should be the freshest.

It will likely be on Fed to keep the Big Four’s stranglehold on this tournament, where Nikolay Davydenko was the last non-Big Four member to win back in 2009. Federer’s last win in London came in 2011 Who Fed could play in a final is the big question with Thiem and Dimitrov the two guys I’m looking to have the best chance if Nadal is out due to the knee. In the end, I’m sticking with Federer to keep the Big Four’s streak going and finish off a fantastic season.

2017 Swiss Indoors Basel Preview

SWISS17

No Nadal Means Federer Can Close Points Gap

This week, there will be no talk of another #Fedal showdown after Rafael Nadal withdrew from the Swiss Indoors Basel due to knee soreness. Rafa probably needed the break after playing in back-to-back finals in Shenzhen and Shanghai, the latter of which ended in his fifth straight defeat at the hands of Federer. Federer now assumes the top seed for this event that he has won seven times in the past. If the Swiss continues his home dominance in Basel, a trophy would net him 500 points in his efforts to chase down Nadal for the year-end #1 ranking. With both the Paris Masters and Nitto ATP World Tour Finals still on tap, the Swiss isn’t dead in that effort yet despite a nearly 2,000 point deficit heading into this week.

The second seed for this event will be Marin Cilic. The Croat is the defending champion in Basel. He was consistent in the Far East swing, making the final of the Japan Open and losing in the semifinals of the Shanghai Masters to Rafael Nadal. Cilic holds a 10-3 all-time mark in Basel after last year’s tournament win, also making the quarterfinals on two other occasions. Rounding out the top four seeds for the Swiss Indoors Basel are David Goffin and Juan Martin Del Potro. Goffin may be running a bit low on gas after a heavy post- U.S. Open schedule. After winning back-to-back titles in Shenzhen and Tokyo, he’s gone just 1-2. That include an unexpected quarterfinal loss in Antwerp this week to Stefano Tsitsipas.

Del Potro has looked solid the last two weeks with a semifinal run in Shanghai and a title win on Sunday in Stockholm. DelPo won this event twice in 2012 and 2013. The remaining seeds are led by #5 Jack Sock. Roberto Bautista Agut makes his Basel debut as the 6th seed. Adrian Mannarino and Mischa Zverev finish off the seeded field. Zverev did make the semifinals last year as a qualifier in his first run at this event.

Early Bird Specials

Basel has been a beacon for early upsets of seeded players, especially seeds in the top four. In the last four years, the #2 seed has dropped his first match in three of those four years. Multiple seeds have lost their first matches in Basel in three of those four years as well with three seeds knocked out early in 2016. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the seeds who could be in peril early in the draw this week.

2. Marin Cilic
Cilic gets that pesky #2 seed after Nadal’s withdrawal from the tournament and I outlined above how poorly the second seed has done early here in Basel recently. Cilic draws Fernando Verdasco to open in what will be their 13th career meeting. They’ve contested two of those matches indoors in Paris in 2009 and 2011, splitting the spoils with both going three sets. Verdasco had not done much this season, but comes off of one of his better tournaments with a semifinal showing in Stockholm. He lost a three set thriller in a tiebreak to eventual champion Juan Martin Del Potro. I don’t know that the Spaniard pulls off the stunner, but it sets up to be a tough match for Cilic where he could be pushed hard.

3. David Goffin
Given Goffin’s form the last few weeks, I’d keep him on this list. He faces qualifier Peter Gojowcztk to open in Basel. Gojo showed he can win at this level and on this surface with the win in Metz earlier this Fall. He’s been spottier in finding wins since then, but is rarely thrashed off the court. With match play already under his belt, the German could have a chance to shake things up. Goffin is 7-3 all-time in Basel, but most of those wins came during his 2014 finals run.

5. Jack Sock
Sock opens against his former doubles pal Vasek Pospisil and that might make this one more interesting that it is on paper. On paper, Pospisil hasn’t even been getting out of qualifying mostly. If you count his qualifying matches, the Canadian is 5-11 in his last 16 matches with just one of those wins in a main draw. Sock has been equally unimpressive, ending a five match losing skid last week in Stockholm. The American lost his next match to Fognini and just really has not had much momentum in the back half of the season. I don’t think much of Pospisil, but I’d say the same about Sock and that means this could be an upset.

7. Adrian Mannarino
The Frenchman draws Belgian Ruben Bemelmans who is coming off a semifinal on home turf in Antwerp last week. Perhaps that was just a product of playing on home soil with Bemelmans scoring three wins – one more than he had at the ATP level all year long. Mannarino has been up an down since the U.S. Open. He made the Tokyo final, but also has lost his opening match in two of four tournaments. Keep him on upset alert here.

Outsider’s Edge

Unseeded players have made deep runs at the Swiss Indoors Basel routinely in recent times. An unseeded player has made the semifinals in each of the last four seasons with two of those four years seeing two unseeded players in the semis. That includes last year when Mischa Zverev crashed the party as a qualifier. As with most events, there are a few outsiders to watch this week, so let’s break it down.

Peter Gojowczyk
He’s got the difficult opener with Goffin, but if he finds his way past the Belgian than he could really make another run on this surface. Jack Sock is the other seed in his quarter and he is definitely beatable in his current form.

Henri Laaksonen
You’ve gor the hometown vibe for the Swiss, although he is 0-4 in his previous treks to Basel. He does open against Borna Coric who he has beaten twice already this season though and then he would see the Cilic-Verdasco survivor in round two. It might be curtains if it is Cilic, but stranger things have happened – especially with the two seed at this tournament.

Julien Benneteau
The Frenchman has been playing fairly well indoors of late, including a finals run at the Challenger level and a quarterfinal run in Antwerp last week. He made the quick turnaround through qualifying here and opens with Donald Young. Benneteau could have to go through Del Potro in round two, but there is a feeling for me that DelPo might flame out after a long week in Stockholm. Bautista Agut is the other seed in Benneteau’s quarter.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Roger Federer (1)
Adrian Mannarino (7)

Breakdown
Federer starts against Frances Tiafoe who could play him tough for a little but, but the American rarely is able to finish matches strongly against top tier competition. Fed’s second rounder would be Benoit Paire or Steve Johnson on tap. Paire has lost four straight since making the final in Metz. Johnson has some decent results, but nothing overwhelming. It’s a toss-up who wins that one. Either way, Federer is 6-0 combined against them and likely to push to the quarterfinals. In the other half, Mannarino may be out early with a tough opener against Bemelmans. The survivor gets Yuichi Sugita or Denis Shapovalov. Sugita has been in good form with a semifinal and two quarterfinals in three of his last four tournaments. He could be the unseeded player who makes a little noise.

In the end, Federer can’t be unhappy with this draw. There isn’t a player in the mix really who has had any sort of success against the Swiss. Expect to see Fed alive and well in the business end in Basel.

Quarter #2 Seeds
David Goffin (3)
Jack Sock (5)

Breakdown
I can see an unseeded player getting into the semifinal mix in this quarter. Goffin and Sock have both been in iffy form the last few weeks and will have threats in their way. Goffin has Gojowczyk to start and then would face either Hyeon Chung or Paolo Lorenzi in round two. That match should be easier than his opener, if he survives. Sock reasonably could make a nice run this week with Pospisil in round one and then either Robin Haase or Marco Chiudinelli. Haase hasn’t won since his surprising semifinal at the Rogers Cup this summer. Chiudinelli rarely wins at this level, but maybe he’s got the right formula against a player on a losing streak.

This really is a decent set-up for Sock. I’m just not sure he’s capable of taking advantage of it at this point. With me expecting upsets, this could well end up being Goffin vs Sock for a spot in the semifinals. Tepid nod to Sock in this quarter with Gojowzczyk as the rank outsider.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Juan Martin Del Potro (4)
Roberto Bautista Agut (6)

Breakdown
Del Potro arrives as the form player with the Stockholm title in his back pocket and also a trip to the Shanghai Masters semis in his last two tournaments. That is part of the reason I am a little bit hesitant on his prospects this week. I do think he’s fairly safe in round one against Joao Sousa, but round two could be a speed bump. DelPo would see either Donald Young or Julien Benneteau. Both are crafty enough to push the Argentine if he’s less than 100 percent motivated. The other half of the quarter sees Bautista Agut as the lead seed. He starts with Mikhail Kukushkin. Kuku should at least force RBA to show up ready in round one. Alexandr Dolgopolov or Ryan Harrison awaits in round two. I don’t know that either has the consistency to KO RBA in that spot.

Del Potro has been brutal on RBA the last two times that they have met, so if that is the quarterfinal match-up, Del Potro is the favorite to advance. I’ll give the slight edge to Del Potro with a little rest, although I will not be shocked if he exits before that point either.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Marin Cilic (2)
Mischa Zverev (8)

Breakdown
Cilic looks the part of a player who would be driving to a second straight final possibly out of this quarter. The seed next to his name though is a historical landmine. Verdasco will test him out of the gates and if Borna Coric is able to finally get past Henri Laaksonen, he could provide a stiff test. Coric has taken a set off of Cilic the last two times they have met. In the other half, Zverev has a winnable opener against Leonardo Mayer. His second round foe could wind up tougher. American Jared Donaldson battles qualifier Marton Fucsovics in round one. Fucsovics hasn’t been an easy out, so he could be a tough match-up an capable of springing some upsets.

Cilic makes all the sense in the world here, but I’m a historical buffoon and I’ll say he is not in the mix. I think that could leave this quarter to someone like Verdasco or Zverev or even Coric.

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

Do you go against the guy who is 61-9 in Basel with seven titles and 12 finals appearances in all in Basel? It is impossible to not like Federer to at least get through to the final. I do think there are some guys who could challenge him in the final. Cilic and Del Potro are those guys. Hopefully some mish mash of that trio is the final we get here, because I think it would be pretty high quality. In the end though, I’ve got to go with Federer to get the title and close that points gap on Nadal just a little bit.