The Ocho v.6

Ocho

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

1. Karen Khachanov
You might have expected the media darling Tiafoe or Schwartzman in this spot, but the Russian gets the nod for the top spot this week for me. That’s because of the quality opponents he put away in winning the Open 13 in Marseille. Crushing Tomas Berdych in the semifinals and then outlasting Lucas Pouille in three sets in the final set him just a notch above those two I previously mentioned. The 21-year-old edges up six spots to #41 in the rankings with his second career title. Most importantly, he got wins over a pair of top 20 players, something that has eluded him. Khachanov had just three top 20 wins all of 2017. He’s in Dubai this week and now the task for these NextGen guys is follow up big wins … with more wins. #Consistency

2. Diego Schwartzman
The diminutive Argentine impressed in Rio last week en route to winning his second ATP title and first at the 500 level or better. Schwartzman brushed aside more offensively inclined players like Gael Monfils, Nicolas Jarry and Fernando Verdasco in grabbing the title. His defense and return ability were once again on display and to serve notice that he’s going to be a factor on clay and hard courts. He’s now 10-4 on the season after a bit of a sluggish start before the Australian Open. The 25-year-old is now at a career high #18 in the latest rankings.

3. Frances Tiafoe
The 20-year-old won his maiden ATP title in Delray Beach, scoring the second top ten win along the way when he defeated Juan Martin Del Potro. The American seems to finally be fulfilling some of that potential that we’ve heard so much about in the past year plus as this result followed up a quarterfinal run at the New York Open. His seven wins this year have now almost matched his previous win total for his career. The big thing for “Big Foe” now is to continue to produce consistent wins. He climbs 30 spots to #61 this week. Staying here or better will be big in helping him gain entry into bigger tournaments with more rankings points to earn.

FOE

4. Fernando Verdasco
I love being able to put a veteran player like Verdasco on this list for the right reasons. He had a wonderful week in Rio. He teamed up with David Marrero to claim the doubles titles, his first since 2013. He also scored big wins over Fabio Fognini and Dominic Thiem in singles before falling to Schwartzman in the Rio final. At 34, Verdasco’s best days might be behind him, but he showed this past week that he can still be a threat. His forehand was ferocious and he’s still got the fitness to contend against guys a decade younger. Enjoy watching him play while he’s still around folks.

5. Raven Klaasen/Michael Venus
This was a new tag team that formed for 2018 and I talked about them a bit in my preview for 2018. The big thing for them was finding chemistry. It took a bit as the duo was just 2-3 before this past week. They put it together in Marseille however with a title run. They didn’t beat any top tier teams per say, but wins over veterans like Mergea-Nestor, Mahut-Benneteau and Daniell-Inglot in the final are a good boost for their confidence. They’re in Dubai this week as the #4 seeds. Their round one draw is tough against Rohan Bopanna and Eduoard Roger-Vasselin, but things open up after that – especially with top seeds Henri Kontinen and John Peers going down earlier today.

6. Fanny Stollar/Georgina Garcia Perez
Who is right …. and that’s what gets them on the list. Stollar, a Hungarian, won her first ATP title of any sort at home in Budapest at the Hungarian Open alongside her doubles partner Georgina Garcia Perez. It was also Garcia Perez’s first-ever ATP title. Stollar has played a bit on the WTA main tour, but Garcia Perez has been playing mainly ITF events which is similar to the Futures events on the men’s side. That shows what an accomplishment this is for these two young ladies to grab these titles.

7. Jack Sock
Good Sock – wins the Delray Beach doubles titles alongside chum Jackson Withrow. Bad Sock – loses to Reilly Opelka in the round of 16 ro run his 2018 singles record to 1-3. Sock got back to playing more doubles last year after ending the popular PopSock doubles combo with Vasek Pospisil after Wimbledon in 2016 to “focus” on singles. He is coming off his best season in 2017, where he went 41-23 and got into the Top 10 for the first time. His losses this year though have been poor to Peter Gojowczyk in Auckland, Yuichi Sugita in Melbourne and now Opelka. All were ranked outside the Top 40.

At 25, Sock is in the prime of his career, yet he still seems very inconsistent – especially at Grand Slams where he has lost in round one in three of the last four Slams. I think his ranking is higher than the skill level, but that’s the ATP in its current flux. Still, Sock needs to show more and beat players he should beat. There’s no shame losing to top tier guys, but there should be some in losing to guys who don’t win with better weapons necessarily, but beat you with better strategy and motivation.

8. Stan Wawrinka
The Swiss is on this list again for the wrong reasons. Wawrinka was forced to retire due to knee pain in his opening match in Marseille against Ilya Ivashka. While he is downplaying it as part of the process of rehabbing his surgically repaired knee, it’s still a bit concerning that it is an issue going into March. What I give him a lot of credit for is returning his appearance fee for this tournament because he felt he let the tournament down. A lot of players would have pocketed that extra money and not thought once about it. Stan gave it back to the tournament and a portion of that was donated to some charitable organizations as well.

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2018 ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament #TinyTuesday Preview

ROTT-TT

Welcome to the first edition of #TinyTuesday – here you will find a quick rundown and preview of the singles matches taking place each Tuesday at my focus tournament of the week. This week, it’s the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. Give me your feedback @tennispig !

Tuesday in Rotterdam

Jan-Lennard Struff vs Viktor Troicki
H2H: Troicki leads 1-0

Quick Notes
Troicki’s back-to-back wins in making the Sofia quarterfinals last week marked his first successive wins at the same tournament since Shanghai last Fall. He has lost his opener in six of his last ten tournaments, including twice in four tournaments in 2018. The Serb has made the quarters twice and semis once in Rotterdam

Struff played Davis Cup, losing to Nick Kyrgios in singles. Otherwise, he has only played three tour matches, going 1-2. The German has never played a main draw match in Rotterdam.

Keys to Victory
Second serve. It’s a big problem for both as far as consistency. Struff has a monster first serve that can be dominant, but it hasn’t been enough consistently because of that leaky second serve.

Confidence for Troicki. Once upon a time, the 32-year-old was ranked #12 back in 2011. His doping ban in 2013, he’s struggling to regain that sort of form. He can be on his game and contend with most, but those moments have been fewer and farther between.

Prediction: Troicki wins in straight sets

Philipp Kohlschreiber vs Karen Khachanov
H2H: Khachanov leads 1-0

Quick Notes
Kolhschreiber has yet to win a match in 2018, going 0-3. Has only lost his opener in Rotterdam once since 2012 with a 10-9 overall mark at the tournament.

Khachanov is 9-17 indoors in his young career, but 2-1 this season after making the quarterfinals in Montpellier.

Keys to Victory
Second serve. The player who is the highest above a 50-percent win rate will be in position to win this match.

Backhand consistency. Khachanov packs more power with his two hander, but Kohlschreiber’s one hander brings depth and precision. If he can hit the one hander low and force Khachanov into a defensive style against it, he’ll have chances on the next ball to pounce for points

Prediction: Khachanov wins in three sets

(9) Gilles Muller vs (q) Daniil Medvedev
H2H: 1st meeting

Quick Notes
Medvedev is 3-6 against lefties at this level with an 11-10 mark indoors in his career. Muller has only lost his opening match on an indoor hard court twice in his last ten indoor tournaments.

Keys to Victory
First serve for Medvedev. The Russian needs to win a high percentage of the points off first serve against equal or better power like Muller. Muller’s second serve is much easier to attack, so he needs to get in as many first serves as possible.

Net play. Muller likes to serve and volley which will challenge Medvedev. The Russian moves decently, but his volley skills at the net are inconsistent. If Muller can consistently get good court position off his serve, he should success with the S&V tactics

Prediction: Muller wins in three sets

(4) David Goffin vs Benoit Paire
H2H: Paire leads 3-1

Quick Notes
Paire has beaten Goffin on every surface except outdoor hard. He won indoors against the Belgian in Metz last year 7-6 (3), 5-7, 7-6 (7). Three of Goffin’s last four losses dating back to last year’s Paris Masters’ loss to Julien Benneteau have come to Frenchmen (Benneteau 2x & Gasquet).

Keys to Victory
First serve for both. Paire is much more of a threat when he isn’t floating in a weak second serve. He only lands 52 percent of his first serves on average for his career and just 50 percent this year. Against Goffin, he’s been 60 percent or above and that is a big factor.

For Goffin, work the Paire forehand. Some days it is downright brutal and certainly much weaker than his double handed backhand. His backhand can be a massive weapon.

Prediction: Paire wins in three sets

(5) Stan Wawrinka vs (wc) Tallon Griekspoor
H2H: 1st meeting

Quick Notes
Wawrinka is playing back-to-back weeks for the first time since playing Geneva and Roland Garros in successive weeks last May. He played three straight days in Sofia last week and admitted being a bit fatigued from doing that for the first time since returning from knee surgery. Griekspoor has only played two main draw matches at this level, going 0-2.

Keys to Victory
Legs. For Wawrinka, this is the next test in working his way back to full match fitness. Does he have the legs this week after playing more last week than he has in eight months?

Belief for Griekspoor. Does he have any, knowing that Wawrinka is still less than 100 percent? If he starts fast and stays close, maybe he begins to believe. He absolutely has to serve well to have any chance to sniff an upset.

Prediction: Wawrinka in straight sets

Filip Krajinovic vs (wc) Felix Auger-Aliassime
H2H: 1st meeting

Quick Notes
These two did meet on clay at the Challenger level last year, where Auger-Aliassime won in three sets. This is Auger-Aliassime’s ATP debut at the age of 17. The Canadian did make a semifinal last year indoors on the Challenger circuit, beating Alex De Minaur along the way. Krajinovic was a surprise finalist on this indoor surface at the Paris Masters last season. He’s 10-9 indoors.

Keys to Victory
Nerves for Auger-Aliassime. Not only is this his main draw debut, he’s the featured match at night on Centre Court. Am I the only one who thinks this is an odd spot for his ATP debut? Krajinovic

Dealing with pressure for Krajinovic. He’s 25 and 21-33 all-time at the ATP level, but he’s expected to beat the 17-year old phenom on Tuesday. There is some pressure in that expectation with the crowd likely to be on the youngster’s side. Surface should be a plus for the Serb.

Prediction: Krajinovic wins in three sets

The Ocho v.4

Ocho

This is my weekly look at the top eight players and/or doubles teams that you need to know about based on last week’s action. Be sure to catch the list every Monday and throw in your two cents on Twitter!

1. Mirza Basic
The 26-year old Bosnian won his first ATP title in Sofia as a qualifier. The win moves him inside the top 100 in the rankings for the first time in his career. Basic moves up 52 spots to #77. His biggest wins of the week came against Philipp Kohlschreiber and Stan Wawrinka. In 2018 in the two tournaments from which he has qualified, Basic has a title and a quarterfinal showing from the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha. So if you see Basic qualifying for the main draw this year, watch out!

BASIC

2. Roberto Carballes Baena
Another first time title winner at the ATP level, this 24-year old Spaniard took home the crowd at the Quito Open in Ecuador. He beat fellow Spaniard Albert Ramos Vinolas 6-3, 4-6, 6-4. Baena also got a big boost for his ranking as a result, rising 31 spots and slotting just in front of Basic at #76 overall. RCB also came through qualifying in Ecuador to claim his title.

3. Robin Haase-Matwe Middelkoop
The Dutch duo won their second title of 2018, taking home the doubles titles in Sofia over Alexander Peya and Nikola Mektic in a super tie break 5-7, 6-4, 10-4. Haase-Middelkoop also won the doubles titles in Pune, Indian to kick off 2018. For Middelkoop, it’s his second Sofia title as he also won there with Wesley Koolhoff in 2016. The Dutch pair remain 6th in latest doubles rankings. Haase-Middelkoop took a wildcard entry into doubles this week in Rotterdam, where they open against another Dutch wildcard entry in Jesse Timmermans and Jasper Smit.

4. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsonga is in “The Ocho” for the wrong reasons. After missing Davis Cup play due to a knee strain, Tsonga returned to tour play at the Open Sud de France. He looked locked in for a spot in the final as he was dominating second seed Lucas Pouille in the semifinals 6-1 and 5-4. That is when Tsonga apparently tore his left hamstring. He was broken in his service game to go to 5-5 and forced to retire from the match. It’s the second tournament already where an injury has limited Tsonga with a knee issue also hindering him in his loss to Nick Kyrgios at the Australian Open.

None of this is good news for the 32-year-old who was forced to skip the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam, where he was set to defend the title. Tsonga has admitted that he is going to have to start making a schedule that will allow his body to hold together better, although over play was not the case in Montpellier.

5. The Skupski Brothers
The British brothers, Ken (34) and Neal (28) won their first ATP doubles titles together in Montpellier as they made their first appearance in an ATP level final since 2013. They beat the team of Ben McLachlan and Hugo Nys. It was Ken’s fourth ATP title overall and the first for Neal. The Skupskis are in good form right now as they came to Montpellier off of winning the Quimper Challenger doubles titles. Their title victory puts them at 14th in the doubles rankings

TENNIS : Open Sud de France 2018 - Montpellier - Finale Doube - 11/02/2018

6. Maximillian Marterer
Not a lot of people have noticed the 22 year old German and his finish in Sofia last week. He made his first ATP quarterfinal, which came on the heels of Marterer making the 3rd round at the Australian Open. He was 0-14 in ATP matches before this season, but now has four wins in six matches in 2018. Marterer is now at a career best 78th in the latest rankings. He’s sinking back to the Challenger level this week as the second seed in Cherbourg.

7. Stan Wawrinka
There wasn’t anything special about Wawrinka’s showing in Sofia, but it was a promising bounce back effort from The Stanimal after he looked not ready for action really in Melbourne. In Sofia, he scored a pair of wins before losing to the eventual champion, Mirza Basic, in the semifinals. Considering he took a late entry after Grigor Dimitrov pulled out due to injury, the Swiss was pleased with his performance.

Wawrinka said after the tournament that he’s still not near his best, but it was good to get in match play. He played back-to-back-to-back days in a tournament for the first time since undergoing knee surgery last year. He’s in Rotterdam this week and probably not expecting much again, but there are at least some positive signs for him to build on. Match toughness and fitness will be the thing that really helps boost his play and he’ll only get that from more matches played.

8. Amadine Hesse-Kristina Mladenovic
The French duo delivered a quarterfinal win in Fed Cup play for France over Belgian tandem of Elise Mertens and Kirsten Flipkens 6-4, 2-6, 6-2. Mladenovic is now 10-2 in Fed Cup doubles and also was responsible for both singles wins for France this weekend. France next plays the United States in the semifinals in April.

2018 ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament Preview

ROTTERDAM18

Federer Takes Wildcard in Pursuit of #1 Spot

The big news this week ahead of the start of the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam was the late inclusion of Roger Federer via wildcard. Fed made the decision as he chases the #1 spot in the rankings with a chance to become the oldest player to ever do so. Andre Agassi holds the current record when he hold the top spot at age 33 in 2003. At 36, Federer could dwarf that achievement if he makes the semifinals this week. This is the Swiss’ first trip back to the Dutch tournament since 2013. He is also the last top seed to win or make a final in Rotterdam, accomplishing that in 2012. Slotted behind Fed are Grigor Dimitrov, Alexander Zverev and David Goffin to round out the top four spots.

Dimitrov is making his first appearance since the Australian Open, after skipping his home tournament in Sofia this past week to rest a sore shoulder. The Bulgarian had his best result in Rotterdam last season with a semifinal run to push his career mark to 8-6 at this tournament. Zverev is just 2-3 in three trips to this tournament with a pair of opening match losses. Goffin ended a losing skid in Rotterdam last year with a run to the final. He scored all four of his career wins at this tournament last year after losing his first match in 2013, 2015 and 2016.

The back half of the seeded field features two former winners in Stan Wawrinka (2015) and Tomas Berdych (2014), who are seeded 5th and 6th. Along with Federer, they are the only players in Rotterdam this week who have won the title previously. Fed won it twice in 2005 and 2012. Montpellier champion Lucas Pouille and Gilles Muller fill out the seeds. Muller slots into the final seeded spot after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was forced to pull out of the tournament due to a hamstring injury suffered at the Open Sud de France on Saturday.

ELIMINATI

The ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament has been a bit odd. The top seed has had a hellacious time being involved in the business end of the tournament, failing to even be in the semifinal mix since 2012. In spite of that, there have not been a large amount of upsets for seeds in their first matches over the last four years. A single seed has fallen in their opener three of the last four years with two going down in 2016. You have to go back to 2013 to find the biggest seed dump early when four seeds were taken down in the opening round.

In the current climate of seemingly interchangeable parts outside of Roger Federer, seeds seem to always have potential to be stung and taken out early. Let’s take a look at our weekly list of “The Eliminati” – the players who could pull of some seeded scalps in round one.

Tallon Griekspoor
The Dutch wildcard draws Stan Wawrinka in the opening round. The Swiss got a few needed wins in Sofia last week, but his legs looked a big heavy by the time he was upset in the semifinals by Marius Copil. The 21-year-old Dutchman has nothing in his brief history that says he should upset a top ten player, going 0-2 in his lone main draw matches. One of those came to Gilles Muller last year in Rotterdam. Still, Wawrinka has admitted that he’s short of being match fit after playing three matches in successive days last week. He’ll have had a couple days of rest, but given that he’s still working his way back into shape – stranger things have happened. Still, I’d rate this pretty low on possibilities.

David Ferrer
On paper and this surface, you would think that conditions would favor third seed Alexander Zverev in this match-up. History though shows that Ferrer has beaten Sascha in both career meetings, once on clay and once outdoors on a hard court in Beijing in 2016. That was their last meeting, ending 6-7 (4), 6-1, 7-5 for the Spaniard. The positives for Zverev are that the Spaniard has not played here since 2011 and is 0-3 in this last three matches. Those losses came to Juan Martin Del Potro, Andrey Rublev and Karen Khachanov. All play similar baseline power games, something Sascha does better than any of those three. Ferrer is always in a match if he can see enough second serves from his opponent, so this still is one that could happen if Sascha isn’t on top of his service games.

Daniil Medvedev
The Russian made it into the main draw through qualifying. His serve was decent, but will need to be steadier if he wants to pull off the upset against Gilles Muller. Muller won one and lost one last week in Sofia with Copil beating him in the quarterfinals. The big lefty has avoided losing early in Rotterdam in his previous three trips, but Medvedev might present one of his tougher first round matches here. The Russian is still very up and down as he tries to establish himself at this level – winning the Sydney title and then going just 1-2 since raising that trophy. I think Muller’s serve and volley plus bigger power could trouble the Russian, but again there’s still an opportunity for an upset.

Benoot Paire
Which version of Paire do we get this week? Last week he looked alternately dangerous and disinterested as usual all in one tournament in Montpellier. He draws David Goffin first though and he’s 3-1 against the Belgian. That includes a tough three set match last year indoors in Metz. Goffin’s lone win came in Shanghai in 2016. I mentioned earlier about Goffin’s track record before last year’s finals run, so there is a fairly good recipe for an upset in this one. The question is whether Paire can keep it together and win in Rotterdam. He’s just 1-4 in main draw matches at this tournament.

Andrey Rublev
Another young Russian (20) who has plenty of weapons to trouble the best. He gets Lucas Pouille, the seventh seed who just won the Montpellier title on Sunday. Pouille was lucky to be in that position after being blown off the court by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s power, until Tsonga suffered a hamstring injury in their semifinal match. That pushed Pouille into the final and he took full advantage as he topped Richard Gasquet for his fifth career title. Rublev is another guy who struggles to match pure power, but this isn’t that sort of match-up. The big thing for the Russian is finding groove on serve. Pouille has the quick turnaround to deal with and he’s only played one career match in Rotterdam, a loss.

Yuichi Sugita
Sugita faces Grigor Dimitrov in the opening round. Dimitrov spanked him when they met in Cincinnati last year after Sugita fought hard in a three set loss to this week’s second seed when they first met at the Rogers Cup in 2016. Sugita never really had a chance last week in Montpellier as he came off a lengthy schedule in Davis Cup play with heavy travel. This week should be a more realistic tell of his form. He’s a tough cookie and with Dimitrov needing to prove healthy, you have to at least acknowledge that Sugita has a chance

Singles Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
(1) Roger Federer: 23-6 (W – 2005, 2012)
(5) Stan Wawrinka: 6-1 (W – 2015)

Breakdown
Federer opens with qualifier Ruben Bemelmans. The two have never met. Bemelmans isn’t a total schlep on this surface with four finals at the Challenger level over the last two years indoors, including one title. He also made the semifinals in Antwerp last Fall, beating Nick Kyrgios along the way. It’s a big ask, but he could catch Federer with some rust to start, so Bemelmans could push him the distance. You’d think once Federer finds his game though, that this is his match to win. The survivor gets either Philipp Kohlschreiber or Karen Khachanov. The Russian won their only previous encounter on clay. Kohlschreiber has yet to win in an abbreviated start to the season with only two matches under his belt. That should favor Khachanov who was playing last week in Montpellier. The German made the semis in Rotterdam in 2016 and beat Lucas Pouille last year. He’s not without a chance against Khachanov who has problems at times with finding his consistency.

The bottom half features Wawrinka who did score a couple nice wins in Sofia last week, his first action since the Australian Open. He had the Dutch wildcard Greekspoor to start. Again, you would think the Swiss takes that one unless his body is hurting from playing more matches last week than he’s been used to in a good while. If he wins, he’ll battle either Robin Haase or Thiemo de Bakker. The Dutchmen have split two career meetings at this level, but have battled four other times in Challengers and Futures play, also splitting those clashes. de Bakker is 3-8 in Rotterdam, while Haase is 4-9 and has lost his first match here in six of the last seven years.

With Wawrinka still not near his best, this quarter should belong to Federer and get the job done in his quest for the #1 rankings. His second match might be his toughest, but I think only if it’s Khachanov. Tough to call a match against Kohlschreiber tough for him considering that the Swiss is 12-0 against him. If he gets Wawrinka in the quarters, he will be looking for his fifth straight win against Stan and 21st in 24 tries.

Quarter #2 Seeds
(3) Alexander Zverev: 2-3
(9) Gilles Muller: 4-3

Breakdown
Zverev is drawn into a tricky opener against David Ferrer, but I do think he will get through that one. Sascha should have added confidence from his Davis Cup heroics, handing the Germans their tie over Australian with two big singles wins. Should Sascha move on, he will face the winner between Joao Sousa and Andreas Seppi. Sousa is 2-0 against Seppi with his last win coming against the Italian indoors at the Paris Masters. Sousa went 1-1 in Sofia last week, while Seppi gets in as a lucky loser after falling to Martin Klizan in qualifying. Seppi is 7-9 all-time in Rotterdam and has lost his opener in three of his last four trips. Sousa is 0-2. It is a real toss up with both having some decent runs in their careers indoors. Both match-ups should favor Sascha, but they won’t be easy.

In the bottom half, it’s Muller against Daniil Medvedev in a potential upset spot. I think Muller has a bit more power and his serve and volley game could hassle the Russian. As such, I think he might avoid the upset bid. The winner will take on the survivor between Richard Gasquet and qualifier Pierre-Hugues Herbert. PHH lost a tough three setter to Gasquet last week in Montpellier. That was their first match against each other and outside of Montpellier where Gasquet rarely loses, Herbert may have a shot to exact some quick revenge. I think the Muller-Medvedev winner has a shot to make a run.

Quarter #3 Seeds
(4) David Goffin: 4-4
(6) Tomas Berdych: 19-8 (W – 2014)

Breakdown
Goffin has the potential difficult opener against Benoit Paire and the winner there could see former champion Martin Klizan in the second round. Klizan came through qualifying again this year and faces off against Feliciano Lopez in the opening round. Lopez looks to line up as a loser in his spot again. He’s lost eight of nine matches in his career in Rotterdam. Klizan definitely looks like he could make a move to the quarterfinals at least, especially if Paire can help him by eliminating Goffin. Goffin’s loss to Gasquet in Montpellier was somewhat puzzling to me last week as he looked ready to make a push for the title, but was shaky against the Frenchman. So much like Paire – which Goffin shows up in Rotterdam?

The other half sees Berdych starting against Mischa Zverev. The German has a pretty good record indoors in recent years. Zverev does own a couple of wins in five tries against Berdych, but the majority of their meetings came before 2013, They met once last year on clay and it was Berdych who won. Zverev may contend well in this spot, so Berdych definitely needs to have his best from the opening ball. The winner gets Jan-Lennard Struff or Viktor Troicki. Struff went 7-5 indoors last year. Troicki made the quarters in Sofia last week, losing to Wawrinka in the quarters. The Serb has the experience advantage here, but is so inconsistent from week-to-week that I would not be surprised to see Struff win.

People don’t like to trust Berdych, but the Czech has good records against the contenders here at 2-1 against Goffin, 2-0 against Paire and 4-0 against Klizan. He could sneak through here and into the semis.

Quarter #4 Seeds
(2) Grigor Dimitrov: 8-6
(7) Lucas Pouille: 0-1

Breakdown
Pouille arrives with the form after scoring a somewhat surprising title win in Montpellier against Richard Gasquet on Sunday. Dimitrov arrives with the health questions surrounding his shoulder. Dimitrov has the better draw in this quarter despite getting a potential road block in Sugita in round one. A win would net him an easier second round foe against either young Canadian Felix Augure-Aliassime or Filip Krajinovic. The 17-year old phenom from Canada is making his ATP debut in this spot. Krajinovic had the miracle run as a qualifier to the Paris Masters final late last season, losing to Jack Sock. It’s going to be tough for Felix to win, but interesting to watch.

Pouille has the more difficult half of this quarter with Andrey Rublev to open. The second round would pit him against either Sofia finalist Marius Copil or Damir Dzumhur. I think Rublev is the tougher battle to get through, but Dzumhur is a feisty sort who had some big success indoors late in 2017. Based on talent, this should be Pouille or Rublev’s half to push into the quarters. Rublev like many of the young Russians is having difficulty putting things together from match to match with his serve and he has a habit of letting his temper influence the proceedings too often. He needs early success I think and a win over Pouille would do that of course.

This is a quarter that could get flipped upside down and might show the most promise for an unseeded player to make their way into the semifinals. Keep in mind that an unseeded player has made the semifinals in three of the last four years.

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
Roger Federer
Martin Klizan

Fizzle
David Goffin
Lucas Pouille

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

ALl eyes will once again be on Roger Federer in his bid to become the oldest player to hold the #1 ranking on the ATP World Tour. Things should set up well for Fed to get that done, but he might run into trouble in the semis against Alexander Zverev. The bottom half of the draw looks more open to an unseeded player making a run. An unseeded player has made the final twice in the last four years and one of those guys is back in a similar position in Martin Klizan. Also keep an eye on Rublev and maybe Medvedev if either can find some consistency.

Bottom line – Federer is the rightful favorite and I think Zverev is a natural second choice after finding some confidence and form in Davis Cup play. Berdych is one I think you still keep track of because he could take advantage of some upsets in the bottom half.

Doubles Draw Preview

Seeds
1. Kubot-Melo
2. Marach-Pavic
3. Herbert-Mahut
4. Rojer-Tecau

Top Half Breakdown
Kubot-Melo got away to a winning start on Monday in a dangerous spot against Raven Klaasen and Michael Venus. The top seeds prevailed 7-6 (2), 7-5. Kubot-Melo are in just their second trip to Rotterdam, having lost in the quarterfinals last year. The third seeds, Pierre Hugues-Herbert and Nicolas Mahut are also in this half. The French pair made the semifinals here last year. With the loaded field, Kubot-Melo will face tough tests all along the way. Their quarterfinal match comes against either Ivan Dodig and Rajeev Ram or the Zverev brothers, Alexander and Mischa. Dodig-Ram lost their first match together for this season in Montpellier last week.

The Zverevs have a good history of being factors when they play doubles together. They went 10-7 as a combo last year, including a title in Montpellier and a finals trip in Halle. They only lost their first match of a tournament twice in eight tournaments played, but one was here in Rotterdam. If the Zverevs win, they would face Kubot-Melo for the third time in the last two seasons. They’re 0-2, but took the top seeds to a super tie break in both previous meetings. Herbert-Mahut open against Marcin Matkowski and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi. The French should prevail. The winners get the winner between Lucas Pouille/Karen Khachanov vs Rohan Bopanna/Edouard Roger-Vasselin. Bopanna-ERV are 4-2 on the season and seem the likelier winners.

The Pig-nosticator

The top seeds have not been involved in the final in this tournament since Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic won the titles in 2010. That doesn’t bode well for Kubot-Melo. Nicolas Mahut however has had a magic touch at this tournament with multiple partners. He won with Vasek Pospisil in 2016 and with Michael Llodra in 2014. Herbert-Mahut might have a shot, but the danger for them could be Bopanna and Roger-Vasselin. I like the survivor of that potential match to push through to the final.

Bottom Half Breakdown
This half includes 2018’s unbeaten pairing of Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic. The top ranked duo is 14-0. This is their first run in Rotterdam. This half also includes Rojer-Tecau as the other seeds. Rojer-Tecau have the most experience as a duo in this tournament, having gone 11-3 in their careers together. They won the title in 2015. Marach-Pavic will need to be alert against Dutch qualifiers Thiemo de Bakker and Sander Arends. Arends teamed with Antonio Sancic last week in Montpellier to make the semis. Having match play already, they could be a bit dangerous. The survivors get Damir Dzumhur and Filip Krajinovic. They beat Andrey Rublev and Nenad Zimonjic 6-3, 6-3 in round one.

In the other part of this half with Rojer-Tecau, the fourth seeds play Marc and Feliciano Lopez in round one. Rojer-Tecau have dominated the Spaniards 3-1 in head-to-head matches, including a 6-4, 6-4 win last year in Rotterdam. A win and they could be looking at Robin Haase and Matwe Middelkoop in the quarters. The Dutch pair have been hot early this season with titles in Pune and Sofia. They take on a pair of young Dutchman in the opening round and should get through. Haase-Middelkoop will be a dangerous duo if they face the fourth seeds and they could pull off the upset.

The Pig-nosticator

As long as Marach-Pavic don’t get caught cold in round one, this again looks like their half of the draw to take. A clash with Rojer-Tecau would be mouth watering with the teams splitting two matches in 2017. Marach-Pavic winning indoors in Vienna, while Rojer-Tecau won outdoors in Shanghai. Hard to go against Marach-Pavic who were hot indoors late last season too.

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

If you believe the top seed curse here, you take Kubot-Melo out of the mix. Marach-Pavic have to be the favorites until they lose, but there are plenty of dangerous teams in this loaded field, including the vets Rojer and Tecau. Herbert-Mahut have the magic #3 seed that has belonged to the Rotterdam title holders three times in the past five years, so you have to look at them as well. If we’re talking unseeded outsiders that could snatch the titles, look no further than Haase-Middelkoop or perhaps Bopanna-ERV.

I think when it’s money time though, a seed is going to take the victory this week. For me, it’s a toss up between Marach-Pavic and Herbert-Mahut. I have a gut feeling this is the spot where Marach-Pavic may finally lose a match this season.

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.

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