The Doubles DL: Rogers Cup Previews

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Top Teams Edging Further Ahead

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

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

Other Seeds Provide Depth to Draw

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

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

ATP Rogers Cup Draw Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toronto Could Tilt WTA Doubles Race

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

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

RCDUBS

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

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

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

2016 Rogers Cup: Stan Wawrinka vs Kei Nishikori

STANKEI

Stan Wawrinka seeks his first Masters final since 2014 as he faces off with Kei Nishikori in the first Rogers Cup semifinal on Saturday. Nishikori can book his second Masters final of 2016 with a win. The third seed in Toronto made the final in Miami earlier this year.

(2) Stan Wawrinka vs (3) Kei Nishikori
It’s been a pretty smooth ride for Wawrinka this week in Toronto. The second seed has yet to drop a set on his way to today’s semifinal. He walloped Kevin Anderson 6-1, 6-3 in the quarterfinals. The Swiss continued to ride a strong first serve, winning 82 percent of the points. He would break Anderson to open the match and add three more breaks off ten total chances. There has been no secret to Wawrinka’s game this week, it has been powered by his serve and solid ground strokes. On serve, he has saved nine of 11 break points this week and has not been broken since his opening match.

Nishikori as usual has been a bit more giving on serve. The third seed survived 13 break points against Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals to advance 6-3, 3-6, 6-2. Nishikori saved 11 of those break chances. The third seed really worked over Dimitrov’s serve, taking 44 percent of the points. He broke the Bulgarian four times on ten opportunities. For the week, he has now broken his opponents a dozen times. That figures to be a key factor if he springs the upset of Wawrinka on Saturday.

Today’s meeting marks the fifth time that Wawrinka and Nishikori have locked horns. The Swiss holds a 3-1 advantage with Nishikori’s lone win coming in a thrilling five set win at the 2014 U.S. Open. Wawrinka won their last meeting in Melbourne at last year’s Australian Open 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (6). Their other two meetings came in 2012 where Wawrinka beat Nishikori in straight sets on clay in Buenos Aires and then on a hard surface in Cincinnati. The m.o. has been the same for Stan in those matches as with much of his success: dominate with a big first serve. In the four matches combined, he has won 84 percent or better of his first serve points in the last three meetings.

Outside of the Australian Open meeting where Nishikori saw ten break chances, it has been hard sledding for this week’s third seed to get opportunities off the Swiss’ serve. In the other three matches combined, Nishikori has seen just nine break chances and converted on just two. Wawrinka has employed his grip it and rip it style in these matches with plenty of errors, but plenty of winners to offset that and craft himself some big wins against a top ten player. Speaking of the top ten, it is Nishikori who has struggled to score wins against his fellow members of that club. He is just 1-7 this year and 27-47 all-time. Wawrinka interestingly enough has no top ten wins this year, but only two chances.

As for game strategy, this figured to follow the plan of their previous encounters more or less. Both are very comfortable playing along the baseline on this surface. It gives Nishikori the ability to chase down balls with his defense and athleticism. For Wawrikna, it gives him the chance to use the full court and create superior angles to finish off rallies with winners from both wings. The big problem for Nishikori in this match-up has been keeping pace with Wawrinka on serve. Nishikori simply does not have the power to get enough easy points and his consistency can float up and down from set to set.

Wawrinka sometimes has trouble getting his first serve in and that would be helpful to Nishikori’s cause to get some looks at second serves. If Wawrinka is keep his first serve percentage close to 60 percent, Nishikori will have a difficult time breaking him down and his chances of winning will go down. Break points have obviously been huge in this series with Wawrinka seeing more and doing a better job of converting. He figures to likely see more again today, especially after Nishikori’s struggles against Dimitrov. Nishikori will need to deal with those pressure points better or Wawrinka will be in early control.

The bottom line here is that Nishikori simply has not been able to solve Wawrinka’s serve well enough to give himself a better chance to beat the Swiss. He can match him off the ground with big shot making and cause the Swiss some issues with his athleticism. Still, that goes all for naught if Nishikori can’t solve the serve. Given Wawrinka’s display this week and his ability to win tight sets (three tiebreak wins), The Pig digs the Stanimal to get another one in the win column against Nishikori

Prediction
Wawrinka wins in straight sets

2016 Rogers Cup QF: Milos Raonic vs Gael Monfils

MILOSMONF

Milos Raonic looks to make it three in a row over Gael Monfils as he looks to book a spot in the semifinals of the Rogers Cup on Friday. Raonic beat the Frenchman earlier this year at the Australian Open and then again at Indian Wells. Monfils rides an eight match win streak into Friday’s action.

(4) Milos Raonic vs (10) Gael Monfils
Raonic hasn’t had much to sweat about in his first two matches in Toronto. The Canadian smothered Yen-Hsun Lu 6-3, 6-3 in his opener and then crushed Jared Donaldson 6-2, 6-3 in the third round. Raonic has faced just one break point and saved it. His serve has been dominating as you would expect. His first serve has been a rock, winning 80 percent of the points so far. That helped bail him out early against Lu when he was not in rhythm with his volleys and ground strokes. He’s progressed nicely though and should feel comfortable in this match-up against Monfils. Raonic’s willingness to come to the net continues to help add a dimension to his game that few are able to match.

Monfils survived a tough third round encounter against 7th seed David Goffin 7-6 (5), 2-6, 6-4. Monfils had to re-rally in the final set after he scored an early break for a 2-0 lead. Goffin would rip off three games to go ahead before Monfils took control to win four of the last five games in the finale. Monfils may be a little worse for the wear after playing his 8th match in eight days. He was broken five times against Goffin. Last week during his title run at the Citi Open, he was broken just twice all week. His first serve win rate has also dropped this week with his legs perhaps feeling a bit of mileage. He won just 70 percent of his first serve against the Belgian. Last week most of his percentages in that regard were fluttering in the high 70s or better.

This is the 5th all-time meeting for Raonic and Monfils. The Frenchman won the first two with one coming indoors in Stockholm in 2011 and the other on grass in Halle in 2013. Raonic returned the favor this year with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 win at the Australian Open and then a 7-5, 6-3 win at Indian Wells. Raonic saw a whopping 21 break chances against the Monfils’ serve in those two matches, breaking him three times in each match. The Canadian as usual did a much better job with his own serve, winning a combined 81 percent of his first serve points. He would be broken once in each match on four total chances.

Certainly Monfils is in better form this time around as they meet for the third time this year, but he could also be feeling the effects of the most consecutive tennis he has played in over a year. His matches have not all been physically exhausting, but no matter how it adds up, eight matches in eight days plus travel is a lot. That definitely will play into Raonic’s strength and that is of course, the serve. That missile right arm has been on point this week through two rounds. The Canadian faced a lone break point in his opener against Yen-Hsun Lu and won 38 of 49 points on serve. Against Jared Donaldson on Thursday, the 4th seed won 36 of 46 points on serve and smashed 15 aces.

With Raonic having the serving edge, the ground stroke rallies will be the area where Monfils will probably try to take better advantage. Monfils would prefer to play mostly baseline exchanges here, but Raonic will definitely mix in some rushes to the net. That seems a prudent game plan against someone who might be feeling the effects of a lot of match play. Monfils definitely has the athleticism to get to those balls at the net from Raonic, but if the Canadian is crafty and hitting his spots – Monfils will be doing a lot of running without perhaps having a lot to show for it.

Monfils’ best chance on Friday is going to be keeping the rallies confined as close to the baseline as he can in order to control court positioning as he tries to run Raonic from side to side. If he can keep the action based there more, then he has a legitimate chance to keep his energy conserved somewhat and play more comfortably. That could also help his serve, by saving his legs.

At the end of the day, this just looks a bad spot for Monfils to be taking on Raonic. The match against Goffin was two hours plus and I think it definitely took a little bit out of him. Don’t be surprised if Monfils takes a set though and stretches this to three. He is playing well enough to do that, but if Raonic serves at a high level, I see nothing but a Canadian victory.

Prediction
Raonic wins in straight sets

2016 Rogers Cup: Stan Wawrinka vs Jack Sock

WAWASOCK

A place in the Rogers Cup quarterfinals awaits the winner as 2nd seed Stan Wawrinka faces off against 16th seed Jack Sock. Thursday marks the first meeting between these two.

(2) Stan Wawrinka vs (16) Jack Sock
Wawrinka survived a testy affair with Mikhail Youzhny in the second round 7-6 (3), 7-6 (8). In both sets, Youzhny had a break lead on Wawrinka, before the Swiss came storming back. His first serve did more of the damage against the Russian, winning 81 percent of the points. Wawrinka’s problem was getting that first serve in play consistently. He only hit it in 50 percent of the time. it was a bit of an uneven effort from the second seed, but when it mattered most, he secured the big points to win both breakers. The win broke a trend that saw Wawrinka lose his first match at this event two of the three previous years.

Sock meanwhile has looked calm and collected through two rounds. The 16th seeded American dismissed fellow Americans Denis Kudla and Donald Young, both in straight sets. Sock has struggled with his first serve in both matches though, barely getting in 50 percent through two rounds. It has not hindered him thus far with his second serve holding up to win 54 percent of the points against Kudla and a whopping 83 percent against Young. He has been broken just once on two chances this week. Sock is back in the third round for the second straight year. Last year, he was dumped out in this round by Novak Djokovic 6-2, 6-1.

First serve means a ton to both of these players and repeats of their efforts so far in Toronto on Thursday could mean plenty of second serve chances for their opponent. That’s not the best strategy of course. When those serves do get into play, this will be a baseline exchange fest more often than not. Wawrinka has the shots to hurt Sock from the baseline both from his forehand and backhand side. Sock will try to run around to the forehand at every opportunity. His backhand is still clearly the weaker of his two ground strokes and his forehand has been a bit more erratic that he would like here in the past couple of weeks since he lost to Borna Coric in Davis Cup play.

Consistency off the ground will likely dictate your winner in this match. Both have their moments of sublime play and both have their moments where they can’t hit a shot in between the lines. Wawrinka seems to be able to overcome those first serve problems more readily than Sock at this stage. That is where the American seems to really put himself in peril, when his first serve lands around 50 percent or less. It probably wouldn’t hurt Sock to be a bit more aggressive in taking some action to the net against Wawrinka, where his volley skills can shine.

Perhaps the biggest issue for Sock is the number next to the Swiss’ name. Sock is a paltry 2-15 against Top 10 players in his career with a 1-1 mark this year. His victory this year doesn’t seem like much considering it was against a fading David Ferrer early in the year in Auckland. His loss came at the hands of Milos Raonic in straight sets at Wimbledon. His M.O. against the ATP’s top tier has been about the same in his young career. Close sets, might take one in a best of three, but almost always falls short of getting to the pay window.

The feeling here is he will need some donation from Wawrinka to pull off the upset. Non-Slam Stan is always capable of offering that up and nearly did it against Youzhny, so Sock should not head into this thinking he has no chance. Still, his lack of success against the Top 10 is a mental hurdle he needs to clear consistently. Until he does, expect him to be blocked from getting a big win in Toronto. This should hopefully be competitive though.

Prediction
Wawrinka wins in three sets

2016 Rogers Cup: Dominic Thiem vs Kevin Anderson

THIEMKA

It is a difficult opener for 6th seed Dominic Thiem as he battles Kevin Anderson in Toronto at the Rogers Cup. Anderson advanced in round one with a straight sets win over Viktor Troicki. The South African has owned Thiem in four career meetings, having lost just one set out of eleven played.

(6) Dominic Thiem vs Kevin Anderson
Thiem comes to Toronto with little momentum as he’s fallen a bit flat following his break through at the French Open. Following his first Grand Slam semifinal at Roland Garros, Thiem lost in round two at Wimbledon to Jiri Vesely and then crashed out of his home tournament in Kitzbuhel to veteran Jurgen Melzer in his first match. It’s a tough ask for Thiem to get things turned around against a player who has never tasted defeat against him. Anderson is 4-0 vs Thiem with all four meetings on hard courts. Thiem finally took a set from Anderson the last time they met at the Paris Masters last Fall, but fell in three tiebreaks. That has been a recurring theme in their head-to-head with six tiebreaks played in their last eight sets. Anderson is 7-1 in those breakers.

For Anderson, the round one win against Troicki came as much needed relief in a season strife with injuries and inconsistency. The 7-6 (4), 6-3 win over the Serb was just his sixth on the season against eleven losses. Last year, Anderson went a career best 46-26, including his first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the U.S. Open. Anderson beat Thiem in the third round in straight sets en eoute to that feat 6-3, 7-6, 7-6. Against Troicki in his Rogers Cup opener, Anderson flashed some of his powerful serve as he crushed nine aces and controlled play with his first serve. He won 85 percent of the points played off his first serve. He was broken once on two chances. His ground strokes looked pretty solid, something that has plagued him a bit this season.

For Thiem, he must overcome his recent downturn and an 0-2 record at this event. He has had some issue getting going during the North American hard court swing prior to the U.S. Open. Thiem is 0-4 in the combined Masters swing in Canada at the Rogers Cup and Cincinnati in the last two seasons. He has improved vastly on hard courts this season, going 16-5 to tip his career record over .500 finally. The question now is whether the 22-year-old may have burned himself out a bit with a heavy schedule over the first six months of the season.

As he makes the transition back to hard courts, Thiem will be up against a player who possess the requisite power to trouble him in his first match on the surface. When you combine that with Anderson’s past success against the Austrian, it’s easy to see why an upset could be in the cards in this one. Thiem has definitely shown during his ascension into the Top 10 this season that he can win and produce on all surfaces. He won his first title on an outdoor hard court in Acapulco and showed well during the Indian Wells/Miami swing with a 4-2 mark with the losses to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Novak Djokovic.

Still, this has proven to be a tough portion of the season in the past and his play in recent weeks should temper expectations this week. Anderson meanwhile could be getting healthy at just the right time heading into the portion of the season where his game is suited to do damage. This one figures to see a lot of big first serves if both players are clicking and we’ve seen with Thiem especially that is a big key to success for him. When his first serve is in rhythm, he is awfully difficult to break and beat. Likewise, when Anderson has his humming, he will keep himself in sets and save some wear and tear from becoming involved in too many rallies.

This likely will be classic baseline ball bashing from both as their preferred method of play on this surface and in general. Thiem’s backhand certainly stands out as a huge weapon and trumps Anderson’s two hander by miles. The gap is closer on the forehands where you can give a slight edge to Anderson’s when he finds the measure of it. Thiem still sees a few more errors from that wing, but definitely has the power to rip off winners at any time.

The Pig would be a fool not to mention tiebreak records for both to finish this off, seeing as so many of their recent sets have been settled in that manner. Thiem has played 31 this season, going 18-13. That pushed his career record above .500 at 48-47. Anderson with his limited scheduled has obviously played far lees with 14 and has gone 8-6. For his career, he is 132-113 in tiebreaks. The big difference seems to be in tiebreaks versus Thiem where he is 5-1.

Bottom line is situation and history dictates that Anderson is going to have a good chance to steal this one from the sixth seed. Expect the sets to be tight and to be decided late. The Pig can see this one going the distance, but give Anderson another win over Thiem in the end.

Prediction
Anderson wins in three sets