2017 Swiss Indoors Basel Preview

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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.

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2017 Shanghai Rolex Masters Final Preview: Rafael Nadal vs Roger Federer

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It’s installment #38 in the greatest rivalry in men’s tennis as Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer battle for the title at the Shanghai Rolex Masters. Nadal will look to end a four match losing skid to Federer that dates back to the fall of 2015 in Basel.

(1) Rafael Nadal vs (2) Roger Federer

Sunday’s final marks the fourth time this season that we’ve been treated to #Fedal with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer battling head-to-head. Prior to their first meeting this year in the Australian Open final, the dynamic duo had not met since late in 2015 when Federer beat Nadal at the Swiss Indoors Basel. Through the first three months of the season, it seemed like the #Fedal rivalry was going to be we saw at just about every tournament. They met in Melbourne, Indian Wells and Miami – with two of the three meetings being in finals. Outside of the five set classic in Australia, Federer has dominated the other two meetings with straight sets wins.

Their Sunday meeting in Shanghai will mark the 24th time that #Fedal has happened in the final of a tournament. Nadal leads 14-9 in those finals, but has lost three straight. They have evenly split the 18 matches that have been contested outdoors on hard courts. Again however, Federer has been the hot player in that respect though with all three wins this year coming on outdoor hard courts in favor of the Swiss. This will also be the 17th time that #Fedal has occurred at a Masters-level event with Rafa owning those to the tune of 11-5.

Only Two Dropped Sets Combined

So far this week in Shanghai, both Rafa and Roger have lived up to their top billing. Nadal dropped his lone set of the week in a quarterfinal win against Grigor Dimitrov. Federer matched that by dropping the opening set against Juan Martin Del Potro in the semifinals, before rallying for the 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 win. Nadal experienced his first hiccups on serve in his 7-5, 7-6 (3) win over fourth seed Marin Cilic. After not being broken through three rounds, Cilic was able to take two breaks off Rafa on five chances. Nadal has Cilic under constant pressure however with 12 break points off the Cilic serve. Nadal converted on three. Rafa held Cilic to just a 64 percent win rate off his first serve with the Croat winning under 50 percent off his second serve.

Federer was broken in the opening set by Del Potro in the semifinals to mark the third match out of four where his opponent secured just one break for the match. The rest of the way, Federer was not threatened on serve as he took a stout 87 percnet of the points off his first serve and 56 percent off his second. The 87 percent win rate was Federer’s best of the week. He has faced just ten break points this week with half of those coming in his opener against Diego Schwartzman. The Swiss has converted on eleven breaks against his opponents this week off of 33 chances.

Nadal Looking For Big Win Amid Stellar Season

Despite a fantastic season for Nadal that has seen him win the French Open and the U.S. Open and return to the top of the rankings, you get the feeling that it’s incomplete if he doesn’t beat Federer. For Roger, a hot start to the season has fizzled somewhat and he’s seeking his first title since winning Wimbledon. He’s lost the Rogers Cup final to Alexander Zverev and then fell to Del Potro in the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open. I think this is as big a moment for him as he’ll admit outside of a Grand Slam. Even though Nadal has taken the spotlight from him with his rise to #1, another win for Federer seems as if it will give Federer almost a half claim to being the top dog on tour.

In reality, he won’t be close to Nadal in the rankings (2300 point gap) regardless, but these two have felt like 1a and 1b all season. Federer was the definite 1a through early April, but since then it’s been almost all Nadal outside of the short grass court swing. If you don’t think that drives Federer to win, you don’t know Roger Federer. This rivalry is built on one-upsmanship. If you tally up the season, Nadal has six total titles with two at Grand Slams and two more at Masters evens. Rafa also has reclaimed the #1 overall ranking spot.

Federer? He’s got five titles with two at Slams and two at Masters events. A win in Shanghai would give him six this season and make it three at Masters, one upping Rafa. And of course there would be the little matter of the Swiss being 4-0 against Nadal this season. All things considered, Federer would probably consider himself ahead of Rafa if that is the way the cards fall on Sunday. That could set up the Masters event in Paris and the Tour Finals in London as events that help cement one of these two as the King of 2017.

Match Tactics

Nadal and Federer might know more about each other’s games than most husbands and wives know about their partners. Tactically, both are going to play the match they way they prefer it. For Nadal, that’s setting up deep on return and getting balls back into play. Nadal wants to force Federer into playing rallies, where Nadal will feel that his grind and grit will win out. Federer wants to serve big and then hit Rafa with aggressive 1-2 punches off that serve. The Swiss wants to keep the points shorter and the long rallies to a minimum. Big fat duh eh?

The thing that Nadal has been able to do most of this week is serve well. That is a big point of contention in the battle against Federer. In both their Indian Wells and Miami meetings, Rafa’s serving was far inferior. The Spaniard barely won 60 percent of the points on his serve in Miami and under 60 percent in Indian Wells. Nadal was broken six times in those two matches on 14 chances. Federer faced just five break points and saved them all. Through all three meetings this year, Federer has won at least 76 percent of his first serve points. Nadal best number in that category was 66 percent in Miami.

I don’t think Nadal can win in Shanghai with similar numbers. He’s got to find something extra, which he has done against his competition up to this point in the week. Rafa will need to go after Federer’s backhand both on return and in the ground game as his best chance to exploit flaws in Fed’s game. When Federer can get around to his forehand the majority of the time, he’s a much more confident player. That is why I would be stunned if Rafa didn’t pepper Fed’s backhand early and often. Make him prove his consistency and that he can find the range off that wing for the match.

As for Federer, he wants to use his power and placement on serve to keep Nadal back with depth to throw him off balance. There are not many players who can do that consistently, but Federer has found the range more often than not in their meetings this season. That’s gone a long way into helping put him into winning positions. When he is able to keep Nadal back early with his serve, Federer gives himself the chance to move in aggressively and finish off quick points at the net. If Nadal is able to get more on his return, then he keeps Federer back and has chances to work Federer into rallies.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

This is a fitting time for these two to meet again after six month break since their last meeting. The motivation for both is easy to see – Nadal wants to end this losing skid to Federer and Federer in turn wants to extend it to stake his claim as the best of the best in 2017. This is as good a set-up as Nadal could ask for in getting another shot at Federer. I think Rafa needs to get off to a good start to give himself some confidence after dropping his last five sets to Federer. If he finds himself down a set, I think that favors Federer to get the job done.

This is difficult to predict. Form says Nadal. History this year says Federer. Somewhere in the middle is where the result shall land. Waffle.

Prediction: Federer wins in three sets

2017 Shanghai Rolex Masters Preview

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Nadal, Federer Lead Field

The ATP World Tour makes one of its final two Masters stops for the season in Shanghai this week for the Shanghai Rolex Masters. Defending champion Andy Murray is not here to defend the title as he sits out the remainder of the season to recover from a string of injury problems. Rafael Nadal leads this year’s field as the top seed and is fresh off winning the title at the China Open on Sunday over Nick Kyrgios. Roger Federer hits the courts for his first tour stop since the U.S. Open. Fed did participate in the Laver Cup a few weeks ago, so he shouldn’t be entirely rusty.

Surprisingly, this has been one of the least successful stops for both players throughout their careers. Nadal has never won the title in seven trips to Shanghai. His best finish was making the final in his first year in Shanghai back in 2009. Federer won the title in 2014, but has only made one other final at this event (2010) in five visits. Both Nadal and Federer were first-up losers the last time they visited Shanghai with Nadal losing to Viktor Troicki last year and Federer dropping his opener to Albert Ramos-Vinolas in 2015.

Following Nadal and Federer in the seeded field are Alexander Zverev, Marin Cilic, Dominic Thiem, Grigor Dimitrov, Pablo Carreno Busta and David Goffin to round out the top eight. Among those players, Cilic and Goffin have the best finishes with each making one quarterfinal in Shanghai in their careers. Zverev makes his second appearance at this tournament, making the round of 16 last year. Cilic is just 5-7 in Shanghai with first-up losses in two of the last three years. Both Thiem and Dimitrov have never been past the second round and PCB is 0-1 with a loss last year in his lone trip.

Lower Seeds Yield More Experience

The remainder of the seeded field has more experience and success at this event. That is highlighted by 9th seed Roberto Bautista Agut who made the final in 2016. That was his best showing after going just 3-2 the two prior years. Sam Querrey is the 10th seed and he arrives with a 3-5 record in Shanghai and a loss in his only match since the U.S. Open. Kevin Anderson and John Isner are both 7-7 all-time at this tournament, seeded 11th and 12th respectively. Anderson’s best run was a quarterfinal finish in 2015, while Isner has never been past the round of 16. Rounding out the final seeds are Nick Kyrgios at 13, Jack Sock, Lucas Pouille and Juan Martin Del Potro.

Kyrgios comes in off a good run in Beijing that ended with a flop against Nadal in the final on Sunday where he lost 6-2, 6-1. Kyrgios made the quick trip to Shanghai to play doubles on Monday with Pouille, so I would watch out for the potential for burnout for the Aussie this week. Sock made the quarterfinals in 2016 and sports a 6-3 record in Shanghai. Pouille’s best finish was making the round of 16 last year, while Del Potro is a one-time finalist in 2013. The Argentine won his opening match against Nikoloz Basilashvili on Monday. That marked DelPo’s first win in Shanghai since that 2013 title run.

Early Bird Specials

Upsets are hit and miss in Shanghai as far as the seeds in their first matches. Last year, six seeds dropped out in their openers. 2015 however saw just two seeds lose early, but 2014 saw seven seeds go one and done. If you travel back to 2013, you also saw just two seeds lose early on. So if it is an odd-even year type of split, there could be fewer upsets among the seeds this year. Regardless, a top four seed has been taken down three straight years, so that is a trend to watch.

Here’s a look at the seeds who could be in trouble early this year with 9th seed Roberto Bautista Agut already falling victim to the upset bug.

4. Marin Cilic
This is a tricky opener for Cilic. The Croat made a deep run in Tokyo last week, but got bageled in his final set loss to Adrian Mannarino in the semifinals. He will face Kyle Edmund who already has a match under his belt in Shanghai. The Brit beat Jiri Vesely in straights to start on Sunday. Given that Cilic has lost two of his last three openers in Shanghai, this does carry legit upset possibilities.

5. Dominic Thiem
It’s late in the season and that makes Thiem an easy inclusion most weeks for getting knocked out early. He still hasn’t cut down on his scheduling enough to keep himself from getting burned out late. Thiem has dropped both of his matches since the U.S. Open and he’ll face a tough match-up against either Troicki or Denis Shapovalov. Troicki has two wins over Thiem in two meetings with the last coming indoors last Fall. The Serb has not looked great in two losses on the Far East swing though, so Shapovalov could be there instead. The Canadian will be playing his first tour match since the U.S. Open, but he did have a match against Alexander Zverev at the Laver Cup. Either way, I think Thiem is going to have to play well to avoid the upset.

7. Pablo Carreno Busta
PCB battles Alberto Ramos-Vinolas to start his Shanghai campaign. Ramos-Vinolas took down Joao Sousa to open play in Shanghai, so he’s got the match play edge. PCB is 2-0 against ARV however, but both wins have come on clay and gone the distance. The last came earlier this year in Buenos Aires. The win for ARV to start Shanghai could be the confidence builder he needed after ending a three match losing skid. These two are pretty evenly matched, so I think this is a 50-50 type of call.

8. David Goffin
Goffin has won titles in successive weeks and finally looks back to his best after taking a bit to get going following that nasty ankle injury at the French Open. The big problem for him could be fatigue with two straight weeks of play. His opener is Gilles Simon who will force Goffin to work in rallies, which again could hit on that fatigue angle. Simon is not in the best form, but has played a match already in Shanghai conditions and his backboard style of defense could keep him in this one with a chance to win.

10. Sam Querrey
Querrey takes on Yuichi Sugita in round one. On paper, Querrey’s power would figure to be too much for Sugita, but late in the season, there is no telling. Sugita is 5-2 since the U.S. Open, but three of those matches have come via retirement. Querrey has played just once, losing to Richard Gasquet last week in straights in Tokyo. I would keep this in the lower tier of upset possibilities, but 2017 has shown us to expect the unexpected.

13. Nick Kyrgios
Kyrgios draws Steve Johnson to start and I touched on it earlier about Kyrgios’ quick turnaround to play doubles on Monday after losing the Beijing final on Sunday. Johnson scored a couple of wins last week in Tokyo before losing to Diego Schwartzman in the quarterfinals. He’s no sure thing to step up here to score the upset, but given Kyrgios’ heavier workload and lack of much prep time – Johnson does have a good shot here to take Kyrgios down.

14. Jack Sock
Sock opens with qualifier Alexandr Dolgopolov. The American arrives on a four match losing skid. Dog has been his roller coaster self on this Far East swing. He made a run to the Shenzhen final and then lost his second match in Tokyo to Steve Johnson. He’s looked solid in two wins in qualifying and that could give him a leg up on Sock. Sock does own one win over Dolgopolov, but that came three years ago in Tokyo.

Outsider’s Edge

Unseeded players have made some noise in Shanghai over the last four years. Last year, one of the semifinal spots went to an unseeded player. In 2014, two unseeded players made the semis and it was Gilles Simon who made the final against Federer. There do appear to be a couple of the quarters that are weaker than the others and that’s where you might find an unseeded player with a chance to advance.

Kyle Edmund
He has the second round match against Cilic and that’s the obvious win or go home match. A win for the Brit and then he’s got a real shot to do damage. In a quarter with Carreno Busta, Anderson and Kyrgios as seeds – an early upset could really change the dynamic of the draw. Whether Edmund can find the consistency to do that is the big question. He hasn’t really shown it much lately, but it’s a new week.

Steve Johnson
Johnson gets the chance to take advantage of a travel weary Nick Kyrgios early and that could help propel him deep in his quarter. He might need Edmund or someone else to do him a favor though with Marin Cilic in his path to the quarters. Cilic is 3-0 against Johnson.

Albert Ramos-Vinolas
ARV is in the same quarter as Johnson. He faces fellow Spaniard Carreno Busta to start. A win there and Kevin Anderson is the only seed in his way to the quarters. ARV might not seem like a great choice, but he did make the round of 16 here a couple years ago and he’s had some success on hard courts.

Troicki/Shapovalov
The winner gets Thiem in round two and I talked about the upset possibilities there. If the survivor between these two gets past Thiem, it’s just John Isner standing in the way of at least a quarterfinal berth. Shapovalov seems the smarter try if you’re guessing, but there’s no telling how the 18-year-old will fare in his first trip to Shanghai.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (1)
Grigor Dimitrov (6)
Sam Querrey (10)
Lucas Pouille (15)

Breakdown
All eyes will be on Nadal as the world #1 heads to Shanghai on a roll and looking to add another trophy to a brilliant 2017 season. Nadal will open against Jared Donaldson who survived a tough three set opener against Pablo Cuevas. Donaldson is 0-5 in his career against the Top 10 and this doesn’t look like the spot for that first win. A win for Nadal pits him against either Pouille or Fognini in the round of 16. Both those players have given Nadal some tough matches in the past and that is the speed bump spot for Rafa. If he makes it past round three, then he should be in good shape to see it through to the semifinals.

The bottom of this quarter features Dimitrov and Querrey as the seeds. Dimitrov takes on the winner between Ze Zhang and Ryan Harrison. That should give Dimitrov an opportunity to build on a good week in Beijing, where he made the semifinals in losing to Nadal. Querrey has Sugita to start with the survivor taking on Frances Tiafoe. Tiafoe got a rare win at this level in round one, beating Benoit Paire 6-4, 6-4. Tiafoe’s run through qualis has given him some confidence this week and he won’t be an easy out for Querrey or Sugita. The issue for Tiafoe will be that he’s only won back-to-back main draw wins once this season (Cincinnati).

Nadal is not a shoe-in to get through this quarter. That third round against Fognini or Pouille will be tough. I’d be a fool to go against him though with what he has shown and you know he has the motivation still, having not won here in his career. If Rafa did falter early, the beneficiary might win up being Dimitrov

Quarter #2 Seeds
Marin Cilic (4)
Pablo Carreno Busta (7)
Kevin Anderson (11)
Nick Kyrgios (13)

Breakdown
This is a quarter that looks like it could be wide open. Cilic’s end in Tokyo was a bit bothersome, although he’ll be looked to as a front runner here. His track record in Shanghai suggests he may not be involved in the mix late. Kyrgios as mentioned will be dealing with possible fatigue from the long week in Beijing and short travel to turn around and play doubles to start this tournament. For Cilic, a win over Edmund might set him up to get back into a good grove. I do think Edmund will challenge him and could potentially pull off an upset. The winner between Johnson-Kyrgios will battle Di Wu, who beat Jeremy Chardy in round one. If Cilic doesn’t go out early, then I do like him to make some noise later here. He’s 3-0 against Johnson and 1-1 vs Kyrgios.

Either Carreno Busta or Ramos-Vinolas will be in round three. There, they could see Anderson. Anderson has a match-up in round one against Adrian Mannarino. Anderson is 2-1 against him, although none have come since 2014. Mannarino will have to fight off the dreaded championship match loss syndrome. Anderson wasn’t great in Tokyo however, so there might be a small possibility of an upset if the Frenchman turns up with his head screwed on straight. The winner there gets the survivor between Mischa Zverev and Jan-Lennard Struff. Zverev beat Struff in three last week in Beijing, so it’s a 50-50 call. If Anderson doesn’t find his best, I like the survivor of the all-Spaniard clash between PCB and ARV to move into the quarters.

I do think this quarter has unseeded possibilities. Of course, Cilic could negate that with a hot start. If Cilic gets past his opener, that’s my choice here – otherwise, the weirdness could fall to someone like Johnson or Ramos-Vinolas.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Alexander Zverev (3)
Dominic Thiem (5)
John Isner (12)
Juan Martin Del Potro (16)

Breakdown
Zverev comes in off a solid week in Beijing that ended flat with another loss to Kyrgios. Sascha’s serve is still a bit loose and that shows when he’s up against players who can rock and roll in rhythm on serve consistently. He should be afforded a good start with either Paolo Lorenzi or Aljaz Bedene to face him in his opener. A win for Sascha there and he would be in line to take on the winner of the Del Potro-Andrey Rublev match. Both came through in three sets in the opening round. Rublev scored a couple nice wins in Beijing last week against Jack Sock and Tomas Berdych. Del Potro will be a tough task, but it’s baseline vs baseline. As always with the Russian, if he can lock in on his first serve – he will have a shot to pull off the upset. Del Potro will be the tougher out for Zverev if the third round with Sascha having blown Rublev off the court twice now.

In the other half, Thiem will be up against it early as he faces either Shapovalov or Troicki. I do think much like Cilic that if he can get out of his opener, then he could get on a roll. The third round could likely see Isner. Isner has to get past qualifier Dusan Lajovic in round one, but then he would have Stefanos Tsitsipas in round two. Both are winnable for Isner and he looked good at the China Open last week, even in losing to Nadal in the quarters. If this comes down to Thiem and Isner, they have split two career meetings with Isner winning on hard courts and Thiem on clay. I think this surface would favor Isner just slightly.

I do think a seed takes this quarter, but I am looking to the double digits here with either isner or Del Potro. I give Isner the slight nod with an easier draw.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Roger Federer (2)
David Goffin (8)
Roberto Bautista Agut (9)
Jack Sock (14)

Breakdown
Bautista Agut is out already, losing his opener to Hyeon Chung. That opens one half of the draw up, where Goffin is the in-form player and lead seed. The Belgian is on a major roll with back-to-back titles in Shenzhen and Tokyo. Of course with that comes a lot of match play and the potential for fatigue to hit him this week. He faces Simon to start and that won’t be easy. They have split two career meetings with the Frenchman taking him to three sets both times. Simon got just his second win in his last seven matches to begin his week in Shanghai. Even though RBA is out and Goffin is the form player, this part of the draw could go to an unseeded player. Watch Richard Gasquet here as the Frenchman battles Chung next. Gasquet was decent in Tokyo and just saw Goffin in a loss there, so revenge could be on tap.

In the other half, all eyes will be on Federer who returns to tour for the first time since his surprising loss to Del Potro in the U.S. Open quarters. Fed should be keen to get back on track and step up to the level that Nadal has set. The Swiss starts against either Jordan Thompson or Diego Schwartzman. Both of those potential match-ups should be fairly comfortable for Federer. Sock is the seed opposite Federer in this half, but he could be one and done with Dolgopolov to open. The survivor of that one goes against Felciano Lopez. Lopez edged Ivo Karlovic in two tiebreaks in round one.

This sets up as a good quarter for Federer as the best seed is someone he’s beaten five times in five meetings (Goffin). I’m not sure Goffin will get to the quarterfinals to test that record or not, but I do think Federer is the guy who can get through this part of the draw.

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

Let’s not start hyping a Fedal final in this one. Far too often that has been a match-up that we’ve waited or again this year, but they have found a way not to happen as the season has worn on. I would say this week looks like that is a possibility, but I see pitfalls for both players before the final that could keep it from happening. Double digit seeds have made a habit of popping into the final with Bautista Agut doing it as the 15th seed last year and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga doing it as the #16 in 2015.

If Shanghai falls that way, I think it would be at the expense of Federer’s spot in the final with Isner and Del Potro as the double digit seeds I think have a shot. In Nadal’s half of the draw, the double digit seeds look like longer shots to meke it. In the end, it’s difficult to go against an in-form Nadal. Federer’s gaps in between tournaments can be both and help and hindrance. In this case, I think it might be more of the hindrance.

2017 U.S. Open QF Preview: Roger Federer vs Juan Martin Del Potro

FEDJMDP

One step is left before #Fedal for the first time at the U.S. Open and that step is Roger Federer getting past Juan Martin Del Potro in the quarterfinals this evening at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Fed has dominated the series 16-5 with one of those few Del Potro wins coming famously during his lone Grand Slam title run at this tournament in 2009.

(3) Roger Federer vs (24) Juan Martin Del Potro

After a round with no questions about his back, the chatter tonight will likely include plenty of it after the Swiss took a medical timeout in his last match-up against Philipp Kohlschreiber. It didn’t seem to phase the third seed as he worked past the German in straights 6-4, 6-2, 7-5. The medical TO came in the third set and Federer said it was not a worry moving forward. His play indicated that it wasn’t a problem in the fourth round as he won a stout 88 percent off his first serve and 72 percent off his second. He never faced a break point and had a good stat line with 39 winners and 20 unforced errors. Fed was efficient in converted break chances, taking four of seven from Kohlschreiber.

Del Potro is coming off the signature match in the men’s draw so far at this year’s Open. Del Potro was looked doomed to a quick exit against sixth seed Dominic Thiem as he was reported ill when the match began. DelPo was quickly in a two sets to love hole, but then dug deep for a rally for the ages to pull of a stunning five set win; 1-6, 2-6, 6-1, 7-6 (1), 6-4. DelPo came up with two of his biggest serves when facing match points in the fourth set that he had led by a consolidated break at one point. He steadied and then raced through the tiebreak with Thiem making several costly errors. The final set was quality in tennis and drama with Thiem saving triple break point at 3-3 and then double faulting to hand DelPo the match in the end.

DelPo’s stats are not pretty thanks in large part to the brutal first two sets where he had ZERO winners. In the end, he wound up with 31 winners and a whopping 59 unforced errors. His win rates on serve were both low thanks to the lopsided early sets with the Argentine taking just 64 percent of his first serve points, but a decent 57 percenr off his second. Del Potro was broken six times on 12 chances. Only two of those breaks however came after the second set with none in either the third or fifth sets.

Second Meeting This Season

Of their 21 previous clashes, only one has come since 2013. That saw Federer defeat Del Potro 6-3, 6-4 at the Miami Open this Spring. Del Potro was just getting going after sitting out the nearly all of the first two months of the season to rest his wrist after a long 2016 season that ended with Argentina winning the Davis Cup in November. Federer was very precise in the Miami match, taking 83 percent of the points off his first serve and 60 percent off his second. Del Potro could not break him with five chances against the Swiss’ serve. Federer broke DelPo two times on seven chances with the Argentine winning just 66 percent on his all-important first serve.

Federer was the more aggressive player in Miami and that paid obvious dividends. Del Potro credited Fed with great movement in the match and said that the Swiss earned the win by playing better on break points. That is likely to be a huge point this evening when these two meet, especially with Del Potro likely to be suffering from fatigue as he battles through his illness and the emotionally draining comeback against Thiem. You got the sense after that match that Del Potro isn’t expecting to have much left tonight. He said in his post match comments that if the epic comeback win was his last win at this year’s Open, it would be enough. He added more and obviously won’t concede to Federer, but knows the task-at-hand tonight is much more difficult given his circumstances.

Match Tactics

You’re going to know a lot about Del Potro’s condition early in this match and there won’t be any magic tablet that helps him in this one. Whether the illness is still weighing on him or not, it’s his legs that I fear for the most in this match. He worked hard in the last two sets against Thiem with some great rally battles between the two. That may have taken more of a toll than the illness itself. If DelPo has fatigued legs, then his entire game is lowered several notches. It would start with the thing he needs the most to contend and that is his serve. I talked about it last round and I stick with it – Del Potro is one of those guys who must dominate with his first serve or he is in major trouble. He was somehow able to get past Thiem without his best early, but his first serve came up big late in that match. DelPo will need consistency from beginning to end to contend with and beat Federer.

For Federer, he’d be wise to test Del Potro’s fitness early and often. He’s not going to do that with extended rallies because that is against his own game plan. What the third seed likely will do is see if he can test Del Potro’s movement north and south by forcing him into the net when possible. Federer can do this a variety of ways, but will be hoping his serve helps propel most of that action. If the Swiss is hitting his mark, he’ll be getting cheap points and putting Del Potro into bad court positioning right away. That allows Fed to utilize the second ball as a quick finishing point as he moves to net. He could use some drop shots or soft volleys off those type of set ups for force Del Potro to sprint and and wear down his legs further.

As usual when the ground rallies do go longer, Federer will do everything he can to avoid Del Potro’s forehand. DelPo did a nice job against Thiem with the double handed backhand and hit it more often than he might have in any other match this year. His slice backhand was simply ineffective with Thiem moving around it too often to get the shot he wanted. If Federer is able to get around those slice exchanges, Del Potro may once again need to go more exclusively to the double handed approach from the backhand side. Del Potro will hope to use the slice effectively though as it gives him the best shot to get back around for a forehand on his next shot.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

The white wash job from Rafael Nadal over Andrey Rublev was expected with the veteran meeting a first time Slam quarterfinalist. This match-up is two seasoned pros though with the 36-year-old Swiss and the 28-year-old from Argentina. However, the set-up for Del Potro is far from ideal. Battling an illness is one thing to overcome. Battling your adrenaline or lack thereof is another thing. Del Potro was on court three and a half hours against Thiem and honestly, that’s not terrible by five set standards. I don’t think the length of the match is what might hurt him tonight. I think it’s the mental energy burned in making the 0-2 comeback.

For me, it’s an absolute must for Del Potro to show signs of life early on and that means hitting big first serves and accurately firing his forehand. As I said earlier, I don’t think this is a match he’s going to grow into and start feeling better as the match wears on. I don’t think working up a lather is going to help with any mental or physical fatigue from the Thiem match. For me, Del Potro either has it or he doesn’t. I’d love to say that he’s the ultimate warrior and finds something extra to be able to battle Federer, but most of me outside of the dreamer who wants to see another great battle, says DelPo isn’t likely to have the energy.

The one caveat to that thought is Federer’s back. It hasn’t seemed a bother the last two rounds after two very suspect rounds of tennis from the Swiss. Backs can be tricky though and can flare up with one misstep. Still, that seems like a better scenario for Del Potro being competitive than him actually having the energy to contend at a top level in this one. The roof will be closed and I am not sure that gives either guy anything extra, more so, it should alleviate any excuses with pristine conditions and no wind.

The only thing they will contend with is the noise at Ashe itself which will be more Davis Cup like than Thiem-Del Potro. You’re talking two of the top three most rabid fan bases in this sport. The pro-DelPo crowd will do their best to keep him in it and it might be louder than it has ever been inside Ashe with the roof closed … until #Fedal.

Prediction: Federer wins in straight sets

2017 U.S. Open Preview: Quarter #2

USOQ217

Seeds
Roger Federer (3)
Dominic Thiem (6)
Roberto Bautista Agut (11)
Nick Kyrgios (14)
Juan Martin Del Potro (24)
Adrian Mannarino (30)
Feliciano Lopez (31)
Philipp Kohlschreiber (33)

Federer’s Challenge Both Physical and On-Court

Federer returns to New York after missing the Open in 2016. He has not won the title here since 2008, but has won the title five times. In his last trip in 2016, Fed made the final, but was a four set loser to Novak Djokovic. Most expected the Swiss to be considered the front runner based on his extraordinary play this season and he’s definitely still one of the top choices to take home the title. However, a problematic back that flared up again at the Rogers Cup has added a question mark ahead of the Swiss’ arrival on court. Fed was smart to skip Cincinnati to rest up and the hope will be that the back is not an issue over the next two weeks. With the best of five format, it will be important for Federer to take care of business swiftly in the early rounds.

On top of the physical concerns, the draw in his quarter has some players capable of stunning Federer with power and precision. Kyrgios and Del Potro loom as the largest threats to do that, but also have their own fitness concerns in these elongated matches. Thiem is someone who won’t be shy facing Federer with two wins against the Swiss in three tries. Thiem’s baseline game is something that could rattle Federer if it’s working, but expect the Swiss to try and continue his quick and aggressive tactics as much as possible. The players who would seem to trouble him most would be someone like Kyrgios who can put a lot of pressure on the Fed serve to match his own massive serve.

Top Half Could See Good Start for Federer, Trouble Later

Federer gets young American Frances Tiafoe to being the tournament. You’ll hear a lot of chatther from the talking heads that will puff up Tiafoe’s resume since he beat Alexander Zverev in Cincinnati. While you give Tiafoe credit for securing his first top ten win, clearly, Zverev was out of gas after two long weeks prior to that tournament. Against Federer, Tiafoe will need to start fast and serve extremely well. I can Tiafoe taking a set early as Federer tries to work his way into a rhythm, but over five sets, I think Federer gets the job done. The second round should get easier with either Blaz Kavcic or Mikhail Youzhny. Youzhny has always been a comfortable match-up for Federer to the tune of 16-0 for the Swiss.

The third round is seeded for Federer to see Feliciano Lopez, but that looks doubtful. Lopez has a tough opener against Andrey Kuznetsova and then would faec either Fernando Verdasco or Vasek Pospisil. The Verdasco-Pospisil first rounder could be very good albeit with two players far from playing their best right now. I think the winner there might have a leg up to get to round three. So long as the back isn’t an issue. the match-ups for Federer are favorable at least through to the fourth round. That is where the intrigue lies opposite of Federer in this half with Kyrgios and Kohlschreiber as the seeds.

Kyrgios showed once again in Cincinnati how dangerous he can be when he’s rocking and rolling with that serve. His fitness is always a concern and the shoulder and hip problems that plagued him during different points this season are seemingly always on his mind. You like his first two rounds with the opener against John Millman and then either Malek Jaziri or Thiago Monteiro. You also know they can be scary against a player who openly admits that it’s hard to get up for non-marquee matches. I do still think he gets to round three if his body holds up. That would match his best result here and perhaps get him past a mental block before a potential Federer showdown the next round.

Kohlschreiber is a veteran who is usually solid from the baseline, which is good at this tournament. The German has lost in round one twice since 2011, last year due to injury. That broke a string of third round or better results from 2012-2015. He opens with qualifier Tim Smyczek and the winner gets either Vincent Millot or Santiago Giraldo. Kohlshchreiber has been a first round casualty at the last two Slams, but should have a chance to win a few here and set up a clash with Kyrgios in round three.

Bottom Half Could Upen Up With Upsets

The bottom half of this quarter features Thiem and Bautista Agut as the lead seeds. Also sprinkle in Del Potro and Mannarino as seeds with some interesting floaters like Ivo Karlovic, Taylor Fritz, Andreas Seppi and Thomaz Bellucci even as guys to watch out for in this part of the draw. Thiem takes on young Aussie Alex de Minaur and he seems too short on experience to trouble Thiem, but the Austrian needs to show better consistency early. A win would get Thiem a date with the survivor of Marcos Baghdatis vs Taylor Fritz. That should be an interesting first round match. Fritz found some needed wins this summer both at the Challenger level and on the ATP level with quarterfinal runs in Los Cabos and Winston-Salem. Now the question os whether or not he can do it on the big stage. The 19-year-old is 0-6 in Slams. Baghdatis also found a few wins in the summer swing, going 4-3 overall. It’s a winnable match for Fritz, but can he do this in a best of five setting finally?

Thiem has never seen Baghdatis or Fritz, so there will some nervy moments perhaps early on in the second round. Baghdatis might be more of a contender against him with his baseline play I think a bit better than Fritz, but Fritz also has more power that could trouble Thiem. The survivor heads to round three where Mannarino is seeded to be there. It could be well be Ivo Karlovic though who got some needed confidence with a few wins in Cincinnati. He also broke through finally last year in New York with his best finish, making the fourth round. If Thiem falters, I think this part of the quarter opens up for one of those unseeeded players like Karlovic or Baghdatis to surprise.

The other part of his half offers plenty of intrigue with Bautista Agut and Del Potro. RBA has the form after taking home the crown in Winston-Salem. He faces Seppi to start and that won’t be easy. If he can survive the opening round, he would face Thomaz Bellucci or Dustin Brown in round two. Bellucci has a couple of wins over RBA, although they have not met since 2015. Brown is 0-2 against him, but extended the 11th seed to three sets in both meetings. It wouldn’t be totally surprising to see Bautista Agut lose early, but he will have some rest before playing his opener. If he carries over his form, he is a threat to be in position for a quarterfinal berth.

DelPo’s main concern likely is himself. His consistency is up and down from match to match with the wrist still seemingly an issue from time to time. If he gets past Ryan Harrison to start, it should be easier in round two against either Adrian Menendez-Macerias or Patrick Kypson. This part of the bracket looks to simplistic for the RBA-DelPo round three showdown, so I expected one of them might get taken out early. If it comes down to RBA and Thiem, the Spaniard owns a 3-0 edge, but all their matches came in 2015.

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

Federer is talking all rainbows and lollipops of course ahead of the Open about his health. He says he’s felt good in practice, but the real test obviously is getting in real matches in real conditions. The concern for Federer has to be Kyrgios in a big match setting – that to me is the speed bump, but I mean it could never come to fruition because of Kyrgios’ own body and lackadaisical mindset. My feeling is it comes down to a seed in this bracket from Federer, Kyrgios, RBA and Thiem getting out to the semifinals. Bautista Agut would likely need help with Federer losing, but he has great consistency overall that can see him through against the rest of the field in this quarter. If Kyrgios is on a roll heading into a Federer showdown, I would love the upset potential there.