2017 Wimbledon Draw Preview

WIMBLEDONPREV17

Will the old guard continue their dominance over Grand Slams yet again or is it time for a new name to make an impression by taking the trophy? We’ll find out over the next two weeks. History suggests that the title at the All-England Club will still likely come down to Andy Murray, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic. After all, those three have won 13 of the last 14 men’s singles titles at Wimbledon.

There has at least been a few outsiders to that “big three” in the past few years that have been playing the final few days of Wimbledon with a chance to make history. Milos Raonic and Tomas Berdych made the semifinals last year as seeds outside the top five. Raonic made his first Slam final here in 2016. In 2015, Richard Gasquet crashed the semifinals as the 21st seed along with the familiar names of Murray, Federer and Djokovic. In 2014, Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic both made the semifinals as seeds outside the top five, #11 and #8 respectively. 2013 continued the trend with 8th seed Juan Martin Del Potro and 24th seed Jerzy Janowicz slipping into the semis along with Djokovic and Murray.

Relative “outsiders” aka those outside “The Big Four” can make inroads at Wimbledon and be in the mix at the business end of the tournament. Whether one of those can push into the final and actually upset the apple cart by taking the title has yet to be done since the era of Federer began at Wimbledon with the first of his nine titles in 2003. With all that to chew on, let’s break down the brackets and see who might sneak into the semifinals this year.

Quarter #1 Seeds
Andy Murray (1)
Stan Wawrinka (5)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (12)
Lucas Pouille (14)
Nick Kyrgios (20)
Sam Querrey (24)
Fabio Fognini (28)
Fernando Verdasco (31)

Top Half Breakdown (Murray)
Murray will be a bit weary of a potential second round meeting with Dustin Brown. The Scot opens against lucky loser Alexander Bublik first and it is his first go around at Wimbledon. He did get his first Slam win at the Australian Open earlier this year against Pouille, so there’s definitely some talent there. Bublik will be an interesting test for Murray because the Russian-born 20-year-old loves to play trick shots. That might be good practice for a potential meeting with Brown in round two, who also has an unorthodox style on grass. Fognini is the seed opposite of Murray in this portion of the bracket in the battle for a third round spot. I fancy the winner of Jiri Vesely vs Illya Marchenko to have a good shot to beat the Italian. Fognini has only made it past round two twice at Wimbledon in eight trips.

In the bottom portion of this half, you’ve got two heavy hitters in Pouille and Kyrgios as the seeds. Pouille has the better match-up in the opening round against Malek Jaziri. The Frenchman will be hoping to match last year’s surprise quarterfinal run. He played well in the lead-up to Wimbledon, winning in Stuttgart before crashing out in Halle to Florian Mayer. Pouille’s second round match-up will be tough against either Denis Shapovalov or Jerzy Janowicz. Both have big games. Shapovalov might be more confident after a good showing at Queen’s Club where he beat Kyle Edmund and then lost a tight three setter to Berdych. Kyrgios has Pierre Hugues-Herbert to start and he’ll be tested if there are any lingering issues with his hip or shoulder. Round two could feature Kyrgios against Benoit Paire who opens against Rogerio Dutra Silva. Paire owns two wins over NK, including one at the 2014 Australian Open. If a seed makes it through to round four, you’d fancy it to be Pouille rather than Kyrgios.

Murray wouldn’t mind that one bit as he’s beaten Pouille four out of four times and all have been in straight sets. The big thing for the Scot will be fitness. He’s battled a hip issue in recent times, but claims to be feeling better. That will play out early I would think with the unorthodox guys he could face testing his movement with their odd-timed shots.

Bottom Half Breakdown (Wawrinka)
Wawrinka had turned the tide of his past Wimbledon failures with successive quarterfinal runs in 2014 and 2015. Last year however brought him back to the land of the early exit as he was taken down in round two by Del Potro. The Swiss again has a difficult draw with up and comer Daniil Medvedev to start. The Russian made three straight quarterfinals in the grass build-up tournaments, including the semifinals last week in Eastbourne. Two things Medvedev has yet to do however are winning a Grand Slam match and beating a top ten player. He’ll attempt both against Wawrinka who has lost in round one five times at Wimbledon.

Survival for Wawrinka in round one would see him meet Tommy Haas or Ruben Bemelmans and perhaps feel better about making a deeper run. Verdasco is seeded to be the third round opponent, but he’s got to get past Kevin Anderson in round one. If he does, you’d like Verdasco’s chances to beat Andreas Seppi or Nortbert Gombos in round two. If it comes down to Wawrinka and Verdasco for a spot in round four, they’re level at 3-3 lifetime and 1-1 on grass. The Swiss does hold the edge at 2-0 in Slams, including a 2015 meeting at Wimbledon.

The other part of this half sees Tsonga as the lead seed along with Querrey. Tsonga takes on Brit Cameron Norrie. Tsonga has a great track record at Wimbledon with a career mark of 28-9. He has had more off years however recently with a second round exit in 2013 and third round exit in 2015. Last year, he did make the quarterfinals. Norrie shouldn’t be much of a bother unless Tsonga is totally off his game and a second round match against Simone Bolelli or Yen-Hsun Lu also looks good for the 12th seed. That could leave him in round three to face Querrey. The American faces Thomas Fabbiano to start and then would see either Carlos Berlocq or Nikoloz Basilashvili.

In what looks to be a fairly weak part of the quarter, it would be a bit surprising not to see Tsonga vs Querrey for a spot in the fourth round.

Predictions
In spite of the questions we have about Andy Murray heading into Wimbledon, this appears to be a good set-up for him similar to Roland Garros. There, he got off to a solid start and then grew into the tournament and found a rhythm. He will look for the same here and the match-ups should play for him to get to the quarters. It should come down to how healthy the hip is for the top seed. Opposite of him, I think there is room for an uprising. It might not necessarily be an unseeded player who takes the reigns and makes the quarters. Think Querrey or Verdasco, but don’t discount Anderson of Medvedev if they can get off to the shock start.

Projected Quarterfinalists: Murray, Querrey

Quarter #2 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (4)
Marin Cilic (7)
Kei Nishikori (9)
Gilles Muller (16)
Roberto Bautista Agut (18)
Ivo Karlovic (21)
Steve Johnson (25)
Karen Khachanov (30)

Top Half Breakdown (Nadal)
It’s an interesting half of this quarter with Nadal as the lead seed. He’s got big servers/hitters in Muller, Karlovic and Khachanov in this part of the draw. That isn’t great news for Rafa who has struggled against guys who can hit big and paint lines on this surface. Since back-to-back finals appearances in 2010 and 2011, Nadal is just 5-4 at Wimbledon without advancing past round four. He’s lost in the first or second round in three of his last four trips. Granted he is playing with great confidence, but grass is going to be a true test of how his overall game stands. He opens against John Millman who has been tough the last two years here. I don’t think Millman scores the upset, but if Rafa has trouble finding a rhythm on grass, the Aussie could certainly make him work hard.

Round two against either Denis Istomin or Donald Young could prove the tougher spot for Rafa. Neither owns a win against Nadal, but only Istomin has met him on grass and that went three at Queen’s Club back in Nadal’s hey-day when he won Wimbledon in 2010. Istomin’s big, flat ground strokes could prove to be a tough test if he’s up against Nadal. I think the Spaniard would prefer to see Young. Opposite of this spot, it’s Khachanov against Andrey Kuznetsov. That could be a thriller, but Khachanov has the better, bigger game suited to grass. A win would see him against qualifier Andrew Whittington or Thiago Monteiro. Khachanov really has no excuse not to get to round three. Even if Nadal is there, Khachanov could be the fly-in-the-ointment who takes out a top seed.

The other part of this half has Muller and Karlovic as the seeds. Both don’t have easy paths to winning a few matches. Karlovic opens against Aljaz Bedene who has beaten him before and is comfortable on grass. Muller starts with wild card Martin Fucsovics who won a grass court Challenger. If Karlovic survives round one, then he’s got a better second round match-up against either Renzo Olivo or Damir Dzumhur who probably won’t be able to handle his serve. Muller? He could see Lukas Rosol who battles Henri Laaksonen to start. I don’t fancy Muller to make it past round two and there’s a chance Fucsovics could stun him in round one, albeit he will need Muller to have an off day to help.

My surprise in this half of the quarter would be if it doesn’t get blown up with upsets. I feel that this one has the dangerous floaters and big serving/hitting double digit seeds like Karlovic and Khachanov who could make runs.

Bottom Half Breakdown (Cilic)
This part of the quarter also looks as if it could go upside down. Cilic has been in solid form on grass with a trip to the Queen’s Club final and a semifinal showing at the Ricoh Open. His draw is rough though with Philipp Kohlschreiber to start and then either Viktor Troicki or Florian Mayer if he makes it to round two. Kohlschreiber is skilled on grass and will contend if his serve holds up. Troicki owns two wins on grass against Cilic and Mayer’s funky game could give Cilic some problems if that is the match-up. Cilic is going to have to earn every set if he makes it past the first two rounds. Steve Johnson is the player seeded to be in the third round opposite of the Croat and his draw looks good. He starts with Nicolas Kicker and then would see either Facundo Bagnis or Radu Albot in round two. Johnson can’t ask for better match-ups in his favor on this surface. He might need an upset of Cilic to be done before round three to have a shot to advance farther. Cilic has made three straight quarterfinals at Wimbledon though and will still be very difficult to knock out.

In the other portion of this part of the quarter, it’s Nishikori and Bautista Agut as the seeds. Nishikori’s main issue could once again be his body. He bailed out of Halle due to a back issue, the third straight year that he’s done so. Both previous years, NIshikori’s body wound up failing him at Wimbledon – last year in round four and in 2015 in round two. Round one should be okay for the 9th seed against Marco Cecchinato who is more comfortable on clay. It’s round two that could undo Nishikori with either Sergiy Stakhovsky or Julien Benneteau waiting. Bautista Agut should advance out of round one against Adrian Haider-Maurer, but could find it more difficult in round two. He’ll see either Marius Copil or Peter Gojowyczk. Copil beat Gojo in a competitive French Open match in May. Copil is coping with a shoulder issue though that forced him to retire at the Nottingham Challenger in the semifinals. He is a big server and a legit threat on grass if his body holds up. He’d be the more difficult out for RBA.

Cilic has the tougher draw to make a deep run, but I think we all trust him more to do that than we trust Nishikori’s body to hold up. Let’s also remember that this has been Nishikori’s worst Slam with the fourth round as his best finish. If his body holds though, the match-ups get better at least until a potential showdown with Cilic.

Predictions
If Nadal and Cilic both make it through to the quarterfinals, I will be stunned. I won’t be surprised if Cilic makes it four straight quarterfinals despite the difficult draw. He’s been serving at a high level on grass and has the power to KO even the toughest opponents in his way. I think the surprise comes in Nadal’s half of the quarter. Khachanov is the guy I think could surprise here and he’s seemingly been close to busting out, so perhaps this is his stage. If an unseeded player is going to make a move, it will likely be in Cilic’s half and at Cilic’s expense.

Projected Quarterfinalists: Khachanov, Cilic

Quarter #3 Seeds
Roger Federer (3)
Milos Raonic (6)
Alexander Zverev (10)
Jack Sock (17)
Grigor Dimitrov (13)
John Isner (23)
Albert Ramos-Vinolas (25)
Mischa Zverev (27)

Top Half Breakdown (Raonic)
The 2016 finalist heads to Wimbledon without much grass court prep. Raonic lost his lone tune-up match to Kokkinakis at Queen’s Club, although he did little wrong outside of a few points in both tiebreaks. Raonic has found good success at Slams here at Wimbledon with a semifinal showing in 2014 and then last year’s final. He opens with big serving Jan-Lennard Struff. The German is going to make Raonic play well to win. Struff lost to Pouille twice on grass, but extended him to three sets both times in Stuttgart and Halle. Don’t be surprised if Struff extends Raonic to four or five sets. A win would get Raonic a shot against either Mikhail Youzhny or Nicolas Mahut. Mahut’s serve and volley would be the trickier of the two match-ups. Ramos-Vinolas is seeded to meet Raonic in round three, but I’m not counting on it. He meets Jordan Thompson in round one who just beat him on grass. Even if he survives, he could see young Russian Andrey Rublev in round two. Rublev has started to get positive results on grass this summer and he would be a tough out as well if he beats Stefano Travaglia in round one.

The other half of this part of the bracket has Zverev as the lead seed. Sock is also in this part of the draw and despite some very mediocre results in 2017, the American has a nifty draw that could see him get through to round three without a ton of trouble. He faces qualifier Christian Garin to open. Garin had never played on grass before making the main draw through qualifying, so his confidence will get a boost. Sock hasn’t played since a poor showing at the French Open, but he never plays in the pre-Wimbledon swing. Last year’s third round loss to Raonic was his best finish at the All-England Club. With Garin and then either Thomaz Bellucci or Sebastian Offner in round two, Sock should have a chance to match that result. Sascha Zverev opens against Evgeny Donskoy. Donskoy has big ground strokes, so if his serve holds up, he could push the 10th seed a bit. The survivor there gets either Robin Haase or Frances Tiafoe. Tiafoe still doesn’t own a main draw win on grass, while Haase has played reasonably well on grass lately. Remember Haase had a 2-1 lead on Zverev at the Australian Open before Sascha rallied to win in five. That would be an intriguing second rounder.

There are some early tests here for both Raonic and Zverev. I like Raonic’s path a bit better and Sascha still has to prove he can be a deep threat here to me. He made round three last year, losing to Berdych. I think he can equal or better that, but my brain is starting to stick a little bit on how tough Donskoy and Haase could potentially be for him.

Bottom Half Breakdown (Federer)
Federer heads to London with confidence after winning the Halle title. He had the hiccup against Tommy Haas in Stuttgart, but that appears to have been due to rust, so he’ll be expecting to be around at the tail end of the tournament again. He opens with Alexandr Dolgopolov. Dog is 0-3 against Fed and retired at the Ricoh Open. Expect Fed to move on and play either Stefan Tsitsipas or Dusan Lajovic which appears to be another comfortable match-up. Round three might be his first “test” with the survivor of the round one clash between Mischa Zverev and Bernard Tomic favored to be there. Fed just beat Zverev in straights in Halle, his fourth win over Mischa and he’s also 4-0 against Tomic. As long as Fed stays consistent, the fourth round looks like a fairly smooth path.

The other part of this half sees Dimitrov and Isner as the seeds. I’ve touched on Isner already and his struggles this year. He goes against Taylor Fritz in round one and could well be one and done. Whoever survives round one gets Dudi Sela or Marcel Granollers. The Isner-Fritz winner should be expecting to get to the third round. Dimitrov meanwhile opens against Diego Schwartzman, which should allow him for a winning start. The Bulgarian would then face Marcos Baghdatis or James Ward. Baghdatis sucumbed to the sweltering heat in Antalya last week in the semifinals. He also retired in Stuttgart, so his health is a real question. Ward has been derailed by injuries and has not won an ATP match since he made round three at Wimbledon in 2015. Maybe this is his time against a weakened opponent? Either way, Dimitrov might think abou a new line of work if he can’t get through these first two rounds.

Dimitrov has lost in the third round the last two years at Wimbledon since his semifinal rn back in 2014. I think you have to like his chances to get there and probably a step farther to round four where he could meet Federer.

Predictions
If Raonic can get his serve humming early, I like him to get through a tougher part of this quarter. Federer has the road for success laid out in front of him, it’s up to him to execute his game plan consistently. So far in 2017, there’s been very few times when Fed has failed to do just that.

Projected Quartefinalists: Raonic, Federer

Quarter #4 Seeds
Novak Djokovic (2)
Dominic Thiem (8)
Tomas Berdych (11)
Gael Monfils (15)
Feliciano Lopez (19)
Richard Gasquet (22)
Juan Martin Del Potro (29)
Paolo Lorenzi (32)

Top Half Breakdown (Thiem)
Thiem is still a big question mark on grass for me. Yes, he won the Stuttgart title last season, but outside of that he’s just 7-10 on grass in other tournaments. At Wimbledon, he has yet to find his stride with two straight second round exits after a first round ouster in his 2014 debut. He draws Vasek Pospisil to open in what could be a trendy upset pick. Pop is far removed from the player who made the quarters here in 2015, but he’s got the serve and volley game to trouble Thiem who prefers to hug the baseline. Thiem’s build-up this year was less than stellar with a 1-2 mark and losses to Haase and Ramkumar Ramanathan. If he escapes round one, things could get better with Gilles Simon or Nicolas Jarry in round two. Simon would figure to be tougher, but Thiem is 5-2 against him and has beaten the Frenchman four straight times.

Lorenzi is seeded to be the third round foe in this part of the draw. The Italian is 0-6 at Wimbledon. He opens against Horacio Zeballos who is 0-4 here, so something will give. That should give the winner between Janko Tipsarevic and Jared Donaldson hope of making round three. Tipsarevic hasn’t scored but two wins on grass this year, but his three losses to Cilic, Troicki and Seppi look better than Donaldson’s career results on the greenery. The American has just two career wins on grass and makes his Wimbledon main draw debut. Tipsarevic surprisingly has a terrible record here despite possession a good power game. The Serb is 11-12, but has lost in round one in five of his last six trips.

Opposite of that part of the draw, things look more interesting with seeds Berdych and Gasquet. Berdych opens with a tough one against Jeremy Chardy who hasn’t found a win in four tries against the Czech, but played him close in this same round two years ago. If Berdych advances, he gets Borna Coric or Ryan Harrison. Neither has shown much on grass, but Coric did effort well here last year with two five set matches in two rounds. He beat Stakhovsky and loss to Seppi. Harrison hasn’t won here since 2012 and hasn’t won a main draw ATP match on grass since Eastbourne in 2013. I don’t think either is going to particular worry Berdych in round two. Gasquet has to get by David Ferrer in round one, but grass is a better surface for the Frenchman. A win sets him up against either Steve Darcis or Ricardas Berankis. Darcis has done virtually nothing on grass since his round one shocked over Nadal in 2013 at Wimbledon.

Gasquet-Berdych looks likely in round three. It would be meeting #17 that has gone lopsided in favor of Berdych recently with the Czech taking six of the last seven meetings. Surprisingly though, they have never met on grass. The winner of that potential match would be my favorite to get through to a quarterfinal.

Bottom Half Breakdown (Djokovic)
All hail the Eastbourne champion. The Serb definitely gained some confidence with his run to the title this past week and that should really serve him well. He didn’t beat a bunch of nothings either, so he should feel probably about as good about his game as can be expected. Andre Agassi is expected to be with him for the tournament (we think), so it will be interesting to see what, if any effect that has on Djokovic. As for his draw, he gets Martin Klizan first. That’s a comfortable match-up with Djokovic 3-0 against him and Klizan not much of a threat on grass. A win gets either Ernesto Escobedo or Adam Pavlasek. Escobedo is raw on this surface still, but Pavlasek barely plays on it. The American can win in this spot, but Djokovic should ease through to round three.

The intrigue lies opposite of this with Juan Martin Del Potro opening against Thanasi Kokkinakis. There is no telling if DelPo’s groin is 100 percent, but you’d hope the rest has helped him heal. If he’s fit, then he may simply need to find his rhythm to become an automatic threat in London. You know Djokovic saw his name in the draw and probably got a little uncomfortable. Kokkinakis has the big serve and game to contend with Del Potro, but has his own physical struggles that keep him from being consistent match-to-match. He could spring an upset like he did against Raonic, but fall apart immediately in round two. If DelPo is healthy, I think he’ll survive and then see either Ernests Gulbis or Victor Estrella Burgos. Gulbis hasn’t played on grass since losing in round one here last year to Jack Sock. I’d be disappointed if we didn’t see Djokovic-Del Potro in round three.

In the other part of this half, Monfils and Lopez are the lead seeds. Monfils looked fairly solid in Eastbourne in making the final. La Monf lost in the opening round last year and has never made it past round three at Wimbledon, so he looks challenged to get that done this year. He opens against a dangerous qualifier in Daniel Brands. The German veteran actually owns three wins against Monfils, but those came three or more years ago. Brands did make the fourth round in 2010 and he’s got a big serve. Monfils can’t afford to slack off. The winner gets Kyle Edmund or Alexander Ward. Edmund has lost five straight on grass and has been a disappointing first round exit each year since 2013 at Wimbledon. Ward is playing the main draw for just the second time. Edmund needs to step up and win in this spot, but his confidence may be lacking. The Monfils-Brands winner should be the one to watch into round three.

Lopez has been in marvelous form on grass this summer, a nice return to good things for the three-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist. He’s 9-1 on grass this year with the Queen’s Club title in tow. He draws Adrian Mannarino to start. The Frenchman made the Antalya final, so he’s got some grass game as well. Mannarino did make round four at the All-England Club in 2013, so he can contend against Lopez. The Spaniard has beaten him twice, but their Australian Open match in 2015 was close until Mannarino succumbed to heat exhaustion. The winner gets Antalya champ Yuichi Sugita or Brydan Klein. Sugita has looked much better on grass with the Antalya title and the Surbiton Challenger title on grass this summer. I would be concerned with too many matches on his legs though. He’s played 14 matches on grass with that last week in the heat in Turkey. Klein is 0-2 all-time at Wimbledon, but he’s played a lot on this surface and I would not be surprised if he pulled off the upset over a fatigued Sugita.

Lopez is the one to watch as he carries in some great form and is very comfortable on this surface. Even if he goes toe-to-toe with Monfils, I’d like the Spaniard’s chances of being in the fourth round.

Predictions
If Del Potro’s groin wasn’t a concern coming in, I’d be more apt to say Djokovic might have more trouble early, but even a healthier DelPo could not beat Novak in three other meetings in 2017. I do like where the Serb is at coming to London though and as long as he doesn’t get off to a slow start and keeps his confidence up, he should be in the quarterfinal mix. A Djokovic-Lopez fourth round match could be much better than the 9-1 head-to-head in favor of the Serb suggests. The guy who could swoop in and take advantage of Djokovic’s tougher road is Berdych.

Projected Quarterfinalists: Berdych, Djokovic

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

Outside of Federer, the top players in this tournament still have key questions upon arrival. For Murray, it’s whether his hip is an issue and whether his game will be back in rhythm after the early exit at Queen’s Club. For Djokovic, it’s whether his title in Eastbourne signals that everything is moving back into a positive direction or if he’s still prone to getting the yips? And then Nadal obviously will simply have to prove that he can win on grass again.

It’s still very hard to see an outsider claiming the title at Wimbledon, but that seems to be our mantra going into every Grand Slam. I think the closest one could get to an outsider would be someone like Raonic or Cilic. Raonic is the one to keep an eye on for me again this year. He’s got that huge game that can trouble Federer, Djokovic and Murray. The Canadian especially will have a little swagger if he goes against Fed, having beaten the Swiss last year in the semis and in Brisbane earlier in 2016. I think Murray and Djokovic still hold the key edge over him due to their return games, but Fed is obviously not in that elite class of returning.

I think in order right now, I’d say Federer, Djokovic and then Murray as possible winners. Murray could elevate himself a notch if he proves the hip is a non-issue within the first two rounds. If Murray crashes early, Cilic is the guy who could step into the top half of the draw and take control as somewhat of a “surprise” guy. Down on the bottom, it’s harder to see Federer, Djokovic or Raonic not involved in the other spot in the final. I’ll go Andy-Novak with about two percent confidence!

2017 Wimbledon Preview: Historical Analysis of Seeds, Qualifiers & Wild Cards

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Wimbledon 2017: Is the Narrative Any Different?

The more things change, the more they stay the same. That seems to be the mantra when it comes to Grand Slams and Wimbledon has been no different. In spite of several high profile upsets in the past five years or so, the business end at the All-England Club still comes down to those familiar names: Federer. Murray. Djokovic. Just one time since 2003 has that not been the case and his name was Rafael Nadal in 2010. There will be plenty of talk again about the perceived vulnerability of both Djokovic and Murray, although Novak has done some good this week in Eastbourne to squash that with a run to the title.

There will be intrigue about Rafael Nadal in a season of resurgence for the Spaniard. One in which he is coming off his 10th French Open title and his record stands at a stout 43-6. One in which he has yet to play on grass and a career that has derailed at Wimbledon since his 2010 triumph and 2011 finals trip. In the past five years at the All-England Club, Rafa has lost in the first or second round in three of his four trips to London. And the the conversation will inevitably circle back around to the top dog, Roger Federer. He of the 18 career Grand Slam wins and the same man who turns 36 next month, yet arguably is playing the best tennis of his career in 2017.

That’s where the conversation starts. This preview starts focused more on the numbers, the seeds in particular. It gives insight into how top heavy Grand Slams usually are at the end of the day. The “outsiders” who crash the party at the end as unseeded players are few and far between. The seeds don’t all hold up of course and without much doubt even the top ten seeds will see an upset or two within the first few days. So let’s take a look at how the 32 seeds have done over the past five years at Wimbledon to give us some clues in our hunt for those upsets and the best bets to be around when the latest champion is crowned.

The Exodus Doesn’t Always Start Early

It has been three straight years at Wimbledon that a top ten seed has not lost in round one. After a run from 2010-2013 that saw six seeds in the top eleven lose in their openers, not a single seed within the top 16 seeds has been ousted in round one from 2014-2016. The highest seed to lose in round one a year ago was (17) Gael Monfils. In 2015, it was 19th seed Tommy Robredo who was the highest seed gone in round one and 2014’s earliest exit belonged to 18th seeded Fernando Verdasco.

WIMBLEDON17seedreport

In the last two years, only four seeds have been taken down in round one each year. In 2014 that number was six. The larger number of seeded upsets in round one was coming in the years between 2010-2013 when at least seven seeds went down in three of those four years. Twice, eight seeds were done in round one in that span. Interestingly, round two has been a bigger danger spot for top ten seeds in recent times. In three of the last four trips to the All-England Club, two top ten seeds have been dumped out in round two. The one year that missed that trend, 2014, three top 13 seeds lost in round two. So if you’re looking to hit big on an upset, round two is your better try.

Early Bird Specials

4. Rafael Nadal
Nadal simply has to be on this list because of his recent history at this event. Perhaps his rediscovered game in 2017 will be immune to a letdown here, but the surface still does not play to Rafa’s strengths. He opens with John Millman. The Aussie doesn’t seem to fit the heavy hitter who has taken Rafa down early at Wimbledon, but he’s played well here the last few years. In 2016, he made the third round and in 2015, he lost a tough five set match to Marcos Baghdatis in round two. If Nadal can’t find a rhythm in round one, Millman has the tools to push him.

Round two might be the bigger risk though with Donald Young or Denis Istomin waiting. Young hasn’t been great on grass, but he does have confidence after back-to-back quarterfinal runs at Queen’s Club and Eastbourne. Istomin’s big hitting, flat style looks to be the bigger threat, but he’s had trouble picking up wins really all year since his historic win over Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open. That alone though will be red alert for Rafa. Nadal will like his 5-0 mark against Istomin, although their most competitive match came on grass at Queen’s Club in 2010 – the same year Rafa won Wimbledon.

5. Stan Wawrinka
A lot of attention will be paid to Wawrinka’s first round encounter with Daniil Medvedev and rightfully so. The Russian has been on a roll on grass this season with three straight quarterfinal or better finishes. Stan only played Queen’s Club and lost in his first match to Feliciano Lopez, but a lack of grass prep is not new for the Swiss. He rarely does well in the pre-Wimbledon buildup and grass is still his worst surface results-wise. To that point, he lost in round two at Wimbledon last year to Juan Martin Del Potro. That broke a string of two straight quarterfinal finishes which were preceeded by three first round losses in the previous four years. The “off” year was a second round exit.

Medvedev is likely to be a popular upset pick over Wawrinka by many and if his serve and shoulder hold up, it’s not unthinkable. If you’re going deeper and looking for that tricky round two that often is the bigger bite – it could be Tommy Haas or Ruben Bemelmans. Haas will be playing in his final Wimbledon and what better way to say goodbye then with a big scalp of one of the premier players in tour? Haas owns two wins over Wawrinka in two tries, but none have come since 2014.

We know Haas had the big upset of Federer in Stuttgart to start the grass court season this summer, but some of that has to be attributed to Roger’s lengthy downtime. Still, there will be confidence from that and he has not looked over matched in any of his grass court matches in the past few weeks. The Belgian qualifier Bemelmans also shouldn’t be glazed over. He is competent and experienced on this surface. Keep the Stanimal on upset alert for two rounds at least.

7. Marin Cilic
Cilic has been in good form on grass this summer with a 6-2 record, including a finals loss at Queen’s Club to Feliciano Lopez. The draw however puts Cilic on this list. The Croat has Philipp Kohlschreiber to open with in round one. Cilic is 6-3 against the German, but Kohlschreiber won their most recent meeting in 2016 indoors at Rotterdam. Kohlschreiber has been a threat on this surface, but mostly in the German-based tournaments. At Wimbledon, he hasn’t been past round two since a quarterfinal run in 2012.

So again, round two could be more dangerous with Viktor Troicki or Florian Mayer waiting. Cilic is 6-5 against Troicki, but the Serb has taken both grass court meetings (2015). Cilic and Mayer have split four career meetings. The lone grass court clash came at Wimbledon in round one in 2010 with Mayer winning in straight sets. Cilic will earn anything he gets in London.

8. Dominic Thiem
The Austrian belongs on this list because he’s still over scheduling and he’s still a questionable threat on grass. At Wimbledon, he’s yet to get beyond the second round. This year, he’s got a tough opener against Vasek Pospisil. The one-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist scored a few wins during the grass build-up tournaments and will be hoping that his confidence carries over. He should feel reasonably good, having beaten Thiem in their only career meeting. That came on clay in 2015 in Munich, a surface that suits Thiem much more so than Pospisil.

If Thiem survives round one, he could be in better shape to set a personal best at Wimbledon. His second round opponent would be either Nicolas Jarry or Gilles Simon. He’s 5-2 against Simon, having beaten the Frenchman four straight times. Jarry is in his first main draw at Wimbledon and still searching for his maiden Grand Slam win.

9. Kei Nishikori
Mr.Fragile heads into another Slam with injury questions after retiring in Halle with a back injury. It’s become customary for Kei as it was his third straight season bailing out of the Gerry Weber Open due to back issues. That’s been a bad sign for Nishikori who ultimately retired each of the past two years at Wimbledon. Last year he did manage to get to the fourth round, but 2014 saw him duck out in round two. It was a rib problem that got him in 2016 and a calf problem in 2015. Likely, both stemmed from the back issue that took him down in Halle before Wimbledon.

Round one may not be the issue for Nishikori either with Italian Marco Cecchinato up first. This will be Cecchinato’s first match on grass and doesn’t suit his game well. He’s better on clay and even hard courts where he can use his speed to defend. If Nishikori isn’t hurting still, I doubt round one is his exit point. Round two however will be a test. He’ll face either Julien Benneteau or Sergiy Stakhovsky. Stakhovky has beaten Nishikori twice, but both meetings were back in 2011. Nishikori took down Benneteau in four sets last year at Wimbledon and is 4-1 against him.I’d put Nishikori on the lighter side of the upset potential, but you have to monitor him due to the injury history.

Other Seeds On Upset Alert

20. Nick Kyrgios
Lingering hip and shoulder issues keep Kyrgios in the early upset watch in London. He did play at the Boodles exhibition after retiring at Queen’s Club against Donald Young with the hip as the problem. He beat Kohlschreiber 6-4, 6-4 at Boodles, so perhaps he’s going to be fine. NK matches up against Pierre-Hugues Herbert in round one. PHH might be better known for his doubles play, but that is part of what makes him dangerous – his volleying skills. If Hugues-Herbert serves well to match Kyrgios, his serve and volley style can challenge Kyrgios to provide his best tennis to win.

21. Ivo Karlovic
Aljaz Bedene battles Karlovic in round one. The Brit has three wins over the #21 seed with two coming via retirement. Karlovic is a pretty good serve and volley guy on grass and he did make the Ricoh Open final this season. If Karlovic channels his form from earlier this summer on grass then he should be fine, but it’s been an inconsistent season. That means Bedene might have a shot.

23. John Isner
Taylor Fritz is the competition in round one. With Isner, you know anyone who can serve big is going to have a shot to keep the match close and perhaps steal some sets. Isner has not looked very strong this summer, so Fritz could get himself his maiden Grand Slam win if he can bring his serve consistently. It was popping in qualis, so the #NextGen (barf) could become the #NOWGen with a win over Isner.

25. Albert Ramos-Vinolas
The Spaniard made the third round at Wimbledon last year for the first time, but grass is still obviously not his best surface. Couple that with a tough opening match-up against Jordan Thompson and ARV could be sent packing early. Thompson scored his biggest career win in upsetting Andy Murray at Queen’s Club this year. He also made a Challenger final on grass, so he appears to be growing with his game on grass. That means he is dangerous and will arrive confident

27. Mischa Zverev
A repeat of this past week’s match in Eastbourne where Tomic easily worked past Zverev 6-3, 6-3. A lot of people still back Zverev as a game changer on this surface because of his serve and volley tactics, but he has really struggled to win on grass in non-German tournaments. This is his first trip back to the main draw at Wimbledon since 2011. Tomic hasn’t lost in the opening round here since 2012. It may be tough to beat the same player two weeks in a row, but it’s also a big confidence builder to have easily beaten that same player. Keep an eye on this one.

29. Juan Martin Del Potro
No grass prep for Del Potro due to a nagging groin injury which is a little bit troublesome. He starts with Thanasi Kokkinakis which might be a good thing. Even though Kokkinakis scored an impressive upset of Raonic at Queen’s Club, his consistency still isn’t quite there due to some nagging soreness from shoulder issues. In a best of three, the Aussie might have a chance to stick it to DelPo with his serve. In a best of five, I think it’s going to be difficult as long as Del Potro is fit. Now if DelPo isn’t 100 percent fit either, then this is a war of attrition that could go the distance and go to either guy.

31. Fernando Verdasco
This is mostly match-up based with Kevin Anderson as his first round foe. Anderson hasn’t done much to inspire confidence in 2017, but his big serving style can do damage on grass. Verdasco leads to head-to-head 3-2, but it was Anderson winning against him on grass last year. The Spaniard has not been able to escape the opening round two of the last three years and will be pressed to play consistently to win this year.

Outsider’s Edge

Our seed history chart shows that there have been a few outsiders crashing the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in recent history. Last year was the first time since 2012 that seeds comprised all eight quarterfinal slots. In five of the last seven years, at least one unseeded player has made it to the quarterfinals. That has been the stopping point however with no unseeded players advancing farther since 2008 when both Marat Safin and Rainier Schuettler did the trick.

It’s difficult to pluck an unseeded player out of the draw who might make noise simply because of the large field and multiple scenarios that usually have to happen in order for the unseeded player to move on. Still, we can identify the spots in the draw that MIGHT present chances to some. Here’s a look at each quarter and potential scenarios to see non-seeds advance deep through the tournament.

Quarter #1
Stan Wawrinka’s half of the quarter offers some opportunity for the unseeded players. It starts with Wawrinka’s opener against Daniil Medvedev. A second round opponent would be Tommy Haas or Ruben Bemelmans. Haas is playing in his final Wimbledon and he’s been competitive on grass this season, including the famous win over Federer in Stuttgart. The other seeds here also don’t arrive with a ton of confidence.

(12) Tsonga went 1-1 at Queen’s Club and lost in round one at the French Open, his first Grand Slam R1 exit since 2007. (24) Querrey stunned by making his first Slam quarterfinal here last year, including the shock win over Djokovic. This year, he went 2-2 in the grass build-up. That’s not a negative as he didn’t do a ton right before Wimbledon last year either. (31) Verdasco draws a tough assignment with Kevin Anderson in round one as I talked about above. Anderson won their only grass court match last year in Nottingham.

Wawrinka and Verdasco’s portion of this quarter could open up with an early upset and that looks the likeliest route for an unseeded player to make a run.

Quarter #2
Nadal’s quarter for me is the one that looks more likely to open up. The top seeds all have questions from Nadal’s recent struggles at Wimbledon to Nishikori’s health to Cilic’s match-ups. It might not necessarily be a non-seed who surprises here as one of the lower seeds, #30 Karen Khachanov, could be one to watch. The Russian is still green on the green, making his Wimbledon main draw debut this year. Still, he showed his strength in Halle with a semifinal run and could be a threat regardless of whether Nadal is able to find success or not.

The bottom half of the corner with Nishikori and Cilic looks like it’s one early upset from opening up for the right taker. The Viktor Troicki-Florian Mayer winner could be a non-seed to contend with, but also pay attention to a lower seed like (25) Steve Johnson. He’d probably need Cilic to lose early to have a realistic shot at making a deep run.

Quarter #3
This is the one where most won’t see a non-seed making the quarterfinals with Federer and Raonic as the lead seeds. Toss in that the unseeded players who might offer the most trouble like Bernard Tomic or Robin Haase are stuck with very difficult routes to success. They’d likely need multiple upsets and in this quarter, that’s a longer shot than others.

Quarter #4
The top half of this quarter with 8th seeded Dominic Thiem looks like the speed bump spot. Thiem opens with Vasek Pospisil who presents a challenge right away. If Thiem survives though, he faces easier matches after that. The bottom half has a strong seeded field led by Djokovic, Gael Monfils, Feliciano Lopez and Juan Martin Del Potro. It seems unlikely this part of the draw produces an unseeded quarterfinalist.

Deep Impact: Qualifiers & Wild Cards

Qualifiers and wild cards have a good recent history at Wimbledon of finding the middle rounds of the tournament. Every year since 2011, at least one qualifier has managed to get to round three. That has been the cutoff point for qualifiers. The last two years, qualifiers have gone just 6-10 in round one matches. Those numbers were on the winning side of the ledger in 2012 (10-6) and 2013 (9-7), but have seen qualifiers with a losing round one record in three straight seasons.

Wild cards have traditionally done more damage than qualifiers. They have made some big runs with two of those coming in the past three years. In 2015, American wild card Denis Kudla surprised by getting to the fourth round and the year before, it was Aussie Nick Kyrgios who claimed a quarterfinal slot as a wild card. Overall, wild card entries have seen at least one spot in the round of 32 in three of the past five years. Last year was a low for wild cards with just a 1-5 mark in round one. They had been 8-8 in the previous two years in 2014 and 2015.

So, let’s hunt down this year’s candidates to do a little damage from the quali field as well as the wild card entries. Wild cards look a bit harder to see making noise this year, but I spy at least one who you can root for to put a scare into some higher ranked players.

(WC) Tommy Haas
That is the 39-year-old German, who is giving it one last go at the All-England Club, where he has only played once since 2014. The German made one big run at Wimbledon with a semifinal finish in 2009, but otherwise has been a bit mediocre here mostly. Still, he’s in the part of the draw where he could benefit from an upset of Stan Wawrinka in round one by Daniil Medvedev. Even if Wawrinka doesn’t lose, Haas could still like his chances of getting to round three against the Swiss who has lost in round one or two in five of the last seven years here. He has to beat Bemelmans first though and the Belgian is no slouch on this surface.

(Q) Lukas Rosol
The Czech is a long time removed from his 15 minutes when he beat Rafael Nadal in round two back in 2012. Still, he’s been a tough out at Wimbledon for years and may finally have some confidence coming into the week after running through qualis. He has a winnable opener against Henri Laaksonen who has never won a main draw grass match at this level. A win for Rosol and he’d see either 16th seed Gilles Muller or wild card Martin Fucsovics. Don’t assume it will be Muller who has lost in round one at Wimbledon four times in nine trips. Even if it is, Muller has only made the third round twice at this tournament and Rosol’s game matches his fairly well.

*Keep an eye on (WC) Martin Fucsovics. I’m not as enamored with his ability to spring a round one upset against Muller, but he won a grass Challenger and will bring some confidence to that match-up.

(Q) Sergiy Stakhovsky
It seems like we’re revisiting all the “biggest upsets of the decade at Wimbledon” here doesn’t it? Stakhovsky has never been able to follow up his colossal upset of Roger Federer in 2013, but like Rosol, he’s typically been a difficult out. He opens against fellow-qualifier Juliean Benneteau who he is 3-1 against. A win would get Stak a look at 9th seed Kei Nishikori who he is 2-0 against, albeit both wins came years ago and don’t have much bearing now. Still, Nishikori is a health question again and Stakhovsky can hit big and still knows how to serve and volley on this surface. He’ll be a threat if he makes it to round two to get a round deeper or more with Bautista Agut as the other seed in the area.

*Don’t discount Benneteau if he wins. His numbers aren’t great against Nishikori, but he’s been pretty good on grass this summer.

(Q) Andrey Rublev
The 19-year-old Russian picked a good time to get on a roll on grass. The Russian scored his first main draw wins on the surface in Halle beating Albert Ramos-Vinolas and Mikhail Youzhny, before falling to Khachanov in three. He was solid in qualis and goes against qualifier Stefano Travaglia who is also making his main draw debut at Wimbledon. A win could get Rublev another match against Ramos-Vinolas with a reasonable shot to get to round three.

(Q) Taylor Fritz
The American has a first round “showdown” with 23rd seed John Isner and it’s easy to see that one could come down to a few key points in tiebreaks if Fritz matches Isner’s serve. He may not even have to be perfect with Isner looking less than solid in his losses to Cilic and Gasquet on grass this summer. Isner barely got past Dusan Lajovic in three sets at Eastbourne to get his lone grass court win this year. An upset by Fritz and he’s set up well for a legit shot at round three with either Dudi Sela or Marcel Granollers waiting in round two.

Is that enough information? For today, yes. Don’t fret though as I’ll be breaking down the entire men’s draw quarter-by-quarter as well with my whimsical predictions. So be sure to keep following @tennispig or subscribe to the blog, so you don’t miss a word on Wimbledon.

2017 AEGON Championships Preview

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Queen’s Club is Dandy for Andy

Queen’s Club in London is one of the big stops this week as players sneak in more grass court preparation ahead of Wimbledon. The AEGON Championships have belonged to Andy Murray. This year’s top seed is a five-time champion at this event, including winning each of the last two seasons. He is 30-5 during his career at this tournament and has followed up two of his last three title wins at Queens’ Club with the title at Wimbledon.

Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic and Marin Cilic round out this week’s top four seeds. Cilic is the best among that group, winning the title in 2012 and racking up a 20-8 career mark at Queen’s Club. Raonic did however make the final here last year, losing to Murray. The rest of the seeded field includes Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Grigor Dimitrov, Tomas Berdych and Nick Kyrgios. Tsonga made the final in 2011, while Dimitrov won his lone title on grass here in 2014. Both Tsonga and Kyrgios will be making their debuts on grass this season. Both will be looking to get positive results this week after early exits at Roland Garros in their last action.

Early Bird Specials

For purposes of this week’s tournament, I’ll only focus on the last two years at Queen’s Club. That is when the field of competitors was reduced from 56 to 32. With just 32 players in the field, there are no byes for the seeds in the opening round. Last year, three seeds were one and done at the AEGON Championships. In 2015, just one seed lost in round one during Queen’s Club’s first year with just 32 players.

With the quick transition from clay to grass, there is definitely room for seeded upsets every year. Let’s focus on the ones who should be on upset alert early on this week in London.

2. Stan Wawrinka
No favors done for the Swiss as he lands Spaniard Feliciano Lopez in round one. Lopez has a superb record on grass at 67-37. He will come in off a tough three set loss in the Mercedes Cup final on Sunday. Lopez is 15-11 all-time at Queen’s Club and is a one-time finalist in 2014. Even his losses are usually very tough on his opponents. Wawrinka has found the going tough at this tournament outside of a semifinal in 2014. In 2015, he lost in round two to Kevin Anderson.

Last year, he was upset by Fernando Verdasco in the opening round. The second seed is 4-2 against Lopez lifetime and he did win on grass against him at Wimbledon in 2014. That was their last meeting and it was settled 7-6, 7-6, 6-3 with only one break of serve. That could be a similar set-up to this time around. Lopez played four straight three set matches in Stuttgart, so there is a chance of fatigue helping Wawrinka out.

4. Marin Cilic
Cilic has a tough draw with John Isner as his opening opponent. Isner ended a six match losing streak to Cilic last year with a win at the Paris Masters. He followed that up with a three set win in Rome this Spring on clay. Cilic does have the match play advantage after making the Ricoh Open semifinals this past week. He lost to Ivo Karlovic in three, with Karlovic taking his two sets in tiebreaks. Could that be a similar scenario with Isner?

It’s possible. An overwhelming number of Isner’s sets on grass have been decided in tiebreaks. Of his seven matches on grass in 2016, 13 of 23 sets went to breakers and another of those sets was a 19-17 loss at Wimbledon to Tsonga. The lone grass court clash between Cilic and Isner went five sets at Wimbledon in 2015. Three of those sets went to tiebreaks and the deciding set ended 12-10 in favor of Cilic. Isner won two of the three tiebreak sets.

5. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsongs opens against fellow Frenchie, Adrian Mannarino. Mannarino got in a few grass court matches last week at the Ricoh Open and that makes him a bit dangerous here. Tsonga comes in off a very disappointing first round loss at the French Open. Grass traditionally has been good for Tsonga, but he’s coming back to Queen’s Club for the first time since 2014. Mannarino has been serviceable on this surface and does own a win on clay against Tsonga this year at Monte Carlo. The surface should suit Tsonga better, but there’s definitely a chance for him to get caught cold in this spot.

Outsider’s Edge

Even before the reduction in the number of players who head to Queen’s Club each year, outsiders did not have much success has far as bringing home the title. They have however played a role late in the tournament fairly routinely. Last year, you had three unseeded players in the quarterfinals and one (Bernard Tomic) in the semifinals. In 2015, five unseeded players made the quarters with two advancing to the semis. Kevin Anderson would be the first unseeded player to get into the final in 2015 since Mardy Fish did the trick in 2010.

With that to chew on, who has a shot to make some late noise in London this week? Here’s a look at a few players with the draws to be around at the end of the week.

Nicolas Mahut
It’s a tall task for the grass assassin who had traditionally has done much better at the Ricoh Open, where he was a three time champion. Still, he’s a good serve and volley sort suited to this surface. He is stuck in Milos Raonic’s quarter though with a tough young Russian Daniil Medvedev to open. Raonic was tremendous on grass last year with back-to-back finals at Queen’s Club and Wimbledon. Still, he’s not been consistent this year, so perhaps Mahut could have a shot to upset the apple cart.

Feliciano Lopez
A big fat duh here based on his career numbers and how well he played in Stuttgart. The Spaniard is obviously boom or bust with second seed Stan Wawrinka in his way to start. A win though and Lopez might only have Berdych (7) standing in his way to the semifinals. The same Berdych he just beat in Stuttgart.

John Isner
Isner easily could go out in round one to Cilic, but he’s in a quarter with a lot of similar players who like to serve big and rely on that to move them along on grass. Cilic and Kyrgios are the seeds in his way to a semifinal surprise. An upset over Cilic in round one and he’s likely to see Steve Johnson who has beaten him three straight times, including twice in 2017. Speaking of Stevie J ….

Steve Johnson
He’s got an interesting opener against 19-year-old American qualifier Stefan Kozlov. Kozlov is one of the young talents in the US has quite a bit of grass court experience and isn’t overwhelmed by the surface. He beat Johnson at the Ricoh Open in 2016 on grass. Johnson ripped him apart at Delray Beach earlier this year in straights to repay that favor. Johnson lost a tough match to Philipp Kohlschreiber in Stuttgart last week that he might still be thinking about after blowing a late lead. If he’s able to focus this week, he’s got that big serve and forehand combo that works on grass.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Andy Murray (1)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (5)

Breakdown
This is a tricky quarter with some big servers here opposite of Murray. Starting with Murray’s half of the quarter, he opens against Aljaz Bedene who has played decently on grass. Murray did win their only career meeting last year at this tournament 6-3, 6-4. With increased confidence from a solid run at Roland Garros, I don’t think Murray will start slow here although Bedene should play him tough. A win for Murray and it’s either Sam Querrey or British wildcard Cameron Norrie. Querrey is going to be a tough out regardless of when and whom he might lose; remember he made his first Slam quarterfinal on grass at Wimbledon last year with the now famous win over Novak Djokovic in round three. Murray has handled Querrey seven out of eight career meetings, including twice on grass.

Newly minted Ricoh Open champion Gilles Muller is one to watch in the opposite half. He opens against Nikoloz Basilashvili. Muller’s big serve propelled him through the Dutch grass court tournament, where he was only broken twice in four matches. If he wins to open, he could see Tsonga in round two. Tsonga is 3-1 against the big lefty, but their Wimbledon meeting in 2015 went five. This part of the quarter could be the one with some upsets with Tsonga still up and down in form this year. If Tsonga falters, Muller would be the guy who might take advantage.

Quarter #2 Seeds
Marin Cilic (4)
Nick Kyrgios (9)

Breakdown
There is a whole lot of electric serving to be had in this quarter with Cilic, Kyrgios, Isner and Steve Johnson. In Cilic’s half, he’s up against it to start against Isner. The survivor gets either Johnson or Kozlov. Legitimately, I think Cilic, Isner or Johnson could make it to the quarters out of that part of the draw. In the bottom half, Kyrgios has Donald Young to open and that’s a good match-up for the Aussie. Kyrgios beat Young earlier this year on hard courts at Acapulco and grass won’t negate the power advantage he has over Young. The big question with Kyrgios is health. He’s been battling shoulder and hip issues off and on for months, but is reporting to be pain free heading into the week.

The under-the-radar first round match opposite of Kyrgios-Young is Janko Tipsarevic against Viktor Troicki. They have split four career meetings with Troicki winning on grass last time they met in 2013 at Wimbledon. Troicki was a quick exit in Stuttgart last week to Benoit Paire, while Tipsarevic lost in three sets in his second match at the Ricoh Open to Marin Cilic. The winner could pose a significant threat to Kyrgios or Young if he manages an upset.

Something in my gut tells me that this is a quarter where an unseeded player will get through. Isner or Johnson would be the favorite to do that, but don’t discount that Troicki-Tipsarevic winner. The wildcard would be a healthy Kyrgios, but I’m not putting my money on board that boat just yet.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Milos Raonic (3)
Grigor Dimitrov (6)

Breakdown
A lot will be expected of Raonic after his run on grass last season. His increased success with volleying paid off large during this stretch in 2016. In his half of the quarter, he goes against Thanasi Kokkinakis to start. The 21-year-old Aussie is still getting his legs back under him after missing the first five months of the season due to injury. He does have some grass play under his belt from the Ricoh Open last week, beating Mikhail Youzhny and then losing to Medvedev. If he wasn’t still working his way back, I might fancy him to push Raonic some. In this spot, I think he’ll have a tough time matching Raonic’s serve. A win gets Raonic Mahut or Medvedev. That will be the tougher test for the third seed.

In the other half, Dimitrov will look to shake off his early exit from Stuttgart last week. The Bulgarian gets Ryan Harrison to open. On this surface, that’s advantage Dimitrov. A win gets him a date against Julien Benneteau or James Ward. Much like Raonic, that will be the tougher test likely for Dimitrov. Benneteau made it through qualis and took out Mahut in ‘s-Hertogenbosch last week. He’s got a good grass court game and has split four meetings with Dimitrov. None of those have come since 2014 however. Dimitrov still doesn’t inspire confidence, so I would not be totally shocked if he was out in round two.

This should be Raonic’s quarter to take as long as he gets into a rhythm early.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Stan Wawrinka (2)
Tomas Berdych (7)

Breakdown
This is the toughest quarter to me. Wawrinka has Feliciano Lopez to get his grass campaign started. That’s tough. A win gets him either Pierre Hugues-Herbert or Jeremy Chardy. That’s likely much easier for the Swiss, especially Chardy who he is 5-0 against in their careers. In the other half, Berdych starts with Steve Darcis. The Shark does own two wins against Berdych, including one on grass in the 2012 London Olympics. Darcis has exactly one win on grass in a main draw since then.

Berdych should get through which means either Kyle Edmund or Denis Shapovalov in round two. Edmund gets on grass for the first time this season. He was a quarterfinalist at the AEGON Championships a year ago, taking a set off of Murray in a loss. Edmund is still very green on the green. Shapovalov made it through qualifying and has the big game to contend against Edmund in round one.

This could wind up going to the seeds if Lopez is fatigued from Stuttgart. If it comes down to Wawrinka vs Berdych, the Swiss owns the head-to-head 11-5. Wawrinka has won six straight over the Czech.

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

Some might be a bit reserved to look to the top seed after Roger Federer flamed out in Stuttgart last week. This is a different set-up though. Murray hasn’t been off for multiple months and really looked like the best version of Andy Murray we’ve seen in a while in Paris. This tournament is comfortable for him and his top half fo the draw looks conducive to at least a 6th trip to the Queen’s Club final.

The othe half seems more of a crap shoot with Raonic probably the expected finalist. I’m not so sure that I am sold on that. Wawrinka needs to get past Lopez first, but I think if he’s able to do so, watch out for the Swiss. Grass isn’t his best surface, but he can slug it out over most of this field if he’s on his game.

For me, I think the title resides with one of the top three seeds this week. Murray the obvious favorite, but Wawrinka perhaps the surprise – if you can say that about a second seed and I think you can about Stan on grass – if things open up for him early. I’ll still go with Andy in the end, but in a season of surprises, it would not be totally shocking if he fails to repeat.

2017 French Open Final Preview: Stan Wawrinka vs Rafael Nadal

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Rafael Nadal seeks championship number ten at Roland Garros on Sunday. In his way is Stan Wawrinka. The Swiss is 3-0 all-time in Grand Slam finals. Nadal has never lost a final at the French Open in nine tries.

(3) Stan Wawrinka vs (4) Rafael Nadal

Wawrinka put his best foot forward late in a five set grinder against Andy Murray in the semifinals. After Murray had looked like he was closing in on a win, the Swiss powered through the fourth set tiebreak 7-3 and then rolled in stride to a 6-1 finishing set. That completed a 6-7 (8), 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (3), 6-1 victory. Wawrinka got in the zone as the match wore on, racking up 87 winners to offset 77 unforced errors. He would break the Scot nine times on 14 chances, while saving seven of the 12 break points against his serve. The Stanimal won 66 perent of his first serve points and a solid 61 percent off his second serve. The key stat that I will touch on later is that the match lasted four hours and 38 minutes in a very physical environment against the top seed.

Meanwhile, Nadal continued to run roughshod over all competitors. He got plenty of payback for his lone loss on clay this year as he crushed 6th seeded Dominic Thiem 6-3, 6-4, 6-0. Rafa rebounded from an opening break to break Thiem twice in a row as he ran through the opening set, cashing in on his second set point. Nadal would fight off a couple of break points early in set two before breaking Thiem again for the only break required in the second set. Thiem would completely go away in set three, losing all three service games as Rafa bageled him to advance to his tenth final at Roland Garros. For the match, Nadal was broken just once and was rock solid on serve, winning 71 percent off is first serve and 76 percent of the points off his second. Thiem sprayed 32 unforced errors and was pathetic on second serve, winning only 37 percent of the points.

First Meeting Since 2016

Nadal owns a sparkling 15-3 record against Wawrinka in their careers, but this will be their first meeting since Rafa downed him 6-1, 6-4 at Monte Carlo last year. Overall, Rafa is 2-1 in Slams against the Swiss, with the loss coming in the Australian Open final in 2014. On clay, Nadal leads 6-1. Wawrinka’s lone win on dirt against Nadal came in Rome in 2015. In their last clash in Monte Carlo, Wawrinka struggled mightily on serve. He won just 29 perent of his second serve points with the Spaniard breaking him four times on nine chances. Nadal was perfect on serve, staving off a lone break chance as he won 85 percent of his first serve points and 61 percent off his second.

What Can Brown Do For You?

With this one contested on clay, it’s an obvious edge to Nadal to start. Wawrinka has a decided power advantage over Nadal, but it’s negated some by the slower conditions. Stan showed of course that he can still hit through the court, so just because it’s on clay doesn’t mean he cannot win here against Nadal. Sunday’s final could be played in ideal conditions for Nadal with hot and dry conditions as the projected forecast.

For the most part, clay is going to allow Nadal to do the things Nadal does best. Use the topspin forehand to dictate rallies and court position, as well as using the slower speed to utilize his superior defense and return game. For Wawrinka, once again he’ll have to find a way to end points more quickly and not allow Rafa to dictate the game in rallies. If the Swiss is able to consistently get his big first serve in play, that is a great starting point for that.

Match Tactics

For Wawrinka, serve is important, but as he showed against Murray, the power ground strokes can make up for any shortcomings on serve. Still, Stan doesn’t want to give Nadal too many opportunities to get the break. He has been with the five breaks by Murray as the most he’s suffered in Paris. Nadal’s serve this tournament has been very good and he’s done a tremendous job of keeping the number of break chances down to a minimum. The Spaniard has only broken six times all tournament.

Nadal isn’t going to wow you with speed on his serve, but the spin and placement have been strong. More often than not, his serve is helping set him up perfectly to begin the lengthy baseline exchanges. Wawrinka’s issue returning Nadal is that he isn’t likely to get the best pace he needs to utilize his blocking technique in return. That means the Swiss will need to be brave and take some big rips on return. He’s used to employing that “go for broke style” and that’s legitimately his best strategy in this match-up.

When Wawrinka is unable to get shorter points, he’s likely to try and target Rafa’s backhand the best he can. The backhand to backhand exchanges from the baseline should favor the Swiss with his sublime one hander as a huge weapon. Stan won’t be afraid to get into some of these exchanges as he did with Murray, but he’ll again look for those earlier exit points with his power groundies to try for winners.

Nadal you figure would love nothing better than to test Wawrinka’s legs all match long. I’ve said it over and over, playing Andy Murray or Rafael Nadal in a five set match seems about as taxing as playing seven or eight sets. Wawrinka will obviously not be as fresh as Nadal and the Spaniard has to work that to his advantage over and over. He may play some safer shots in rallies to extend them to do this and it’s not a terrible strategy early on to see where Wawrinka’s fitness ranks.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

From a set-up standpoint, this is not a great spot for Wawrinka. Coming off a grinding match against Murray that lasted over four and a half hours, he can expect more of the same on Sunday. I think for Wawrinka to have a chance to pull off the upset, he must get off to a bright start. He can’t just contend well and lose the opening set, he needs to win it and show Nadal that he’s here to win the title. It would also add adversity into the mix for Nadal for the first time all tournament. Quite simply, that’s one of the few ways that I think Stan can win this match. Put some seeds of doubt into the Spaniard’s mind and let the pressure crank up.

In the end, if Nadal continues to execute his game plan as he has all tournament – title #10 at Roland Garros is his and that’s a big fat duh, right? It’s on Wawrinka to get Nadal off his game, something that perhaps only fatigue in Rome has done this year. I won’t underestimate Wawrinka in a Slam final. He’s proven to be a top notch “big match” player, but this feels like it’s almost Mission Impossible. Not that Nadal cannot be beaten on clay. Not that Nadal cannot be beaten at this tournament. But that the Swiss has to do it coming off the lengthy match against Murray with Nadal firing on all cylinders.

Look for Nadal to take #10 at Roland Garros and his 15th career Grand Slam title.

Prediction: Nadal wins in straight sets

2017 French Open SF Preview: Andy Murray vs Stan Wawrinka

ANDYSTANRG17

It’s a rematch of one of last year’s semifinals at the French Open when Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka square off for the 18th time in their careers. Murray defeated Wawrinka last year 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 to reach his first final at Roland Garros.

(1) Andy Murray vs (3) Stan Wawrinka

Before the tournament began, many wondered if Andy Murray would make the second week, let alone be in this position based on his play from pre-Paris tournaments. Murray has squashed those thoughts with a return to the gutty and gritty play that propelled him to the top spot in the rankings in 2016. His latest victim was Kei Nishikori. Murray started slow with Nishikori taking the opening set of their quarterfinal match 6-2. The Scot would roar back to sweep Nishikori in the next three sets to finish off a 2-6, 6-1, 7-6 (0), 6-1.

Murray was broken twice in the opening set, but really steadied on serve after that with Nishikori only able to break him three times in the remaining sets. Murray meanwhile ran roughshod over Nishikori’s serve, breaking the man from Japan seven times after the opening set. Nishikori would help by spraying 45 unforced errors with just 33 winners. Murray was cleaner off the ground with 31 winners and 26 UEs. The main issue early for Andy seemed to be Nishikori’s aggressive nature which caused the top seed to have to move a lot around the court. He was able to adjust to after the opening set, but should expect nothing by aggressive groundies from Wawrinka.

The “Stanimal” himself has followed a now familiar routine at Grand Slams. The Swiss has often muddled through tournaments in between Slams, only to show up on the biggest stage and move his way into the finals mix. He’s done exactly that again this year and once more, has done so with very ltitle fanfare. Most of the talk prior to the French Open centered around the middling form of Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. Even a title in Geneva did not really put Wawrinka’s name as a major talking point.

Little by little though as he often has done in the past few years, Wawrinka has gained steam and made his run. The Stanimal is in his second Slam semifinal of the season and 7th in the last ten Slams overall, impressive numbers for the now 32-year-old. He’s won in straight sets every round to this point, but not every match has been easy. Gael Monfils pushed him hard in two of their three sets in the fourth round and four of his first nine sets in Paris went to a tiebreak. There was none of that drama in the quarters though as he whipped Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-3, 6-1.

Cilic did little on serve, winning just 58 percent of his first serve points as Wawrinka broke him six times on nine chances. The Swiss’ first serve was not as effective as it has been, winning just 65 percent of the points. He did however take 79 percent off his second and was only broken once on three break chances. Wawrinka tallied 25 winners and 17 unforced errors. Those were his best numbers since round two against Alexandr Dolgopolov. He had under a 1:1 ratio in winners/unforced errors against Monfils and was just above that margin at 27:24 against Fabio Fognini in round three.

2016 Semifinal Rehash

Murray called last year’s semifinal win over Wawrinka one of the best matches that he has played on clay. His return game and defense were on point in that one as he forced Wawrinka in 15 break points. Murray would convert five breaks. More importantly, Murray was serving better than the Swiss who is more renown for his power on serve. The Scot won 79 percent of his first serve points compared to 68 for the Swiss. Murray also topped him on second serve, winning 61 percent to 51 percent. This year’s top seed also saved four of five break points against his serve.

Overall, Murray’s strategy off the ground really seemed to throw Wawrinka off his game. Andy was mixing in well-executed drop shots as well as switching up the extended rallies with some quicker, more aggressive shots to end points earlier. Murray also came to net some as the Swiss really did not seem to have a feel for what Murray was going to do next. Murray’s overall execution was exquisite and something that he has not shown much of in 2017 on a consistent basis. He’ll need to channel some of last year, but is sure to mix things up more to try and keep Wawrinka guessing.

Overall Match History

This will be their 18th meeting against each other and just the fourth to be contested on clay. Wawrinka was unbeaten against the Scot on dirt, until last year’s French Open semifinal. Murray followed up last year’s win at Roland Garros by also cruising past Wawrinka 6-4, 6-2 at the ATP World Tour Finals in Round Robin play. Last year’s two matches were the first between the pair since 2015 when Stan beat Murray in straights at the Tour Finals. Prior to that, it had been over two years since Wawrinka beat Murray in straights at the 2013 U.S. Open in the quarterfinals.

That win was the catalyst for Wawrinka’s rise to prominence as it marked his first trip to a Slam semifinal. In losing, he would cement himself as a big match player by taking Novak Djokovic to five sets in that semifinal where the Stanimal led two sets to one before the Serb rallied. Since that win over Murray, the Swiss has become a fixture in the quarterfinals at most Slams not named Wimbledon. He’s made the quarters now or better in 13 of the last 16 Grand Slams.

Stratego: Serve & Return

This promises to be a fascinating watch from a game plan perspective. You can start with the serve for each. Wawrinka certainly brings better pop on his first serve, but Murray has been as consistent as we’ve seen him in a long time on serve through five rounds. The Scot has won 69 percent or better off his first serve in each match, good numbers for a player who doesn’t feature the biggest serve in the game. Murray has been broken 15 times, but has saved 19 break chances against his serve. Wawrinka has only been broken eight times, but has also not faced anyone in the class of Murray as far as return game. The Swiss has saved 28 break points this tournament, showing that there will be definite chances for Murray to break.

One of the big things related to serve is the return game. Murray of course is one of the best in the game and it figures again to make a large difference. His ability to get on the end of Wawrinka’s serve will set him up for success in rallies. Wawrinka conversely uses the block approach to return, which can lead to bad positioning if the serve is doing things correctly. We saw it some from Monfils and it could be a useful strategy from Murray too in taking some speed off the serve so that Wawrinka’s blocking tactics are less effective. Of course Murray still needs good placement or Wawrinka can adjust and tee off on those less powerful serves.

For Wawrinka to have the most success against Murray, he must find his best first serve. The Swiss can do damage on his second serve, but will have a decision to make if his first serve is not humming. Having to put too many second serves into play against Murray will either mean the Swiss has to adopt a go big or go home risky style or risky putting himself in bad positions by “just getting it in play.” Stan’s serve has been steady this tournament, but not dominant and I think can spell trouble agains the Murray return.

Stratego II: Ground Game

Although quicker points will obviously help Wawrinka in rallies, he’s never shy about engaging in longer rallies. He may not be as quick and agile as Murray, but he’s powerful enough to withstand a barrage and finish points off with his punishing one hander off the backhand side or a walloping forehand. Obviously, Stan has to pick his battles off the ground. When the opportunity presents itself, he needs to go for those quicker ending rallies. When that is not an option, he needs to dictate the action and not become a moving target. If Murray is dictating play from the baseline, he’ll run Wawrinka down and that in turn can lead to fatigued legs. Ultimately, take the legs, take the serve. It’s always good strategy on Murray’s part.

Murray would do well to repeat his mix and match tactics from last year. He had Wawrinka off balance more often than not by not just sticking to baseline exchanges and extended rallies. That’s Murray’s bread and butter, but it’s also a tough proposition against someone like Wawrinka who can hit through the court off both wings. Murray must be brave enough to come to net and also will surely use a number of drop shots again to keep the Swiss guessing. The problem for Wawrinka is knowing when Murray might implement any of those variations. If the Scot is pulling things off correctly, the Swiss likely will be playing the guessing game again.

So how can Stan combat something like that this year? I think the number one thing is serving effectively. The bigger factor his serve can be, the better. If he’s serving big, then Murray isn’t getting the same depth and pace on the ball in return. He’ll be the one chipping the ball back more and that can play into Wawrinka’s hands of getting better court positioning and quicker points. If Murray is handling Stan’s serve and getting into his flow on defense, then it’s going to be a long day and likely a losing day for Wawrinka.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

You can argue that although Murray’s results in Paris have been some of his best this season, he’s still yet to play his best game. The slow start against Nishikori still shows plenty of vulnerability for Murray, but the match itself also shows that Murray has returned to the top of his game in “problem solver” mode. That’s often the difference in big matches, who solves the strategy of the other player the best. Last year, Wawrinka had no solutions in this match-up and Andy dominated play. If Wawrinka is to win this time, he’s got to unleash “Stanimal” on Murray early and not fall into “Stanisloth” mode where he lets his opponent dictate too much of the play.

For Wawrinka, it means aggressive serving and then aggressive ground strokes to follow and that can equal success if he’s not spraying unforced errors. As for Murray, we’ve seen it enough times that he can look shaky early, but if you allow him to grow into matches and find his defensive rhythm – you’re toast. If Wawrinka gets early chances to break, he doesn’t just need to convert … he needs to convert and consolidate EVERY TIME. Giving the break back is a confidence killer, especially against Murray.

I don’t think we’ve seen the A game of either player over the course of an entire match yet in this tournament. There have been moments where both have dominated, but also some shaky times too. I don’t think we’ll see a repeat of last year where Murray was in control for the majority of the match. To me, this has the feel of a match where we’ll see lots of momentum shifts. I tend to side just enough with Murray in this one as I believe he’s been through the tougher wars en route to this point and he’s figured out ways to win. Wawrinka has really only been challenged in certain sets and not for the duration of a match to show whether his level is good enough or not.

A win by the Swiss obviously isn’t going to stun anyone as he’s really the slight favorite due to the surface. Still, something for me says Murray has been the better problem solver and that is an edge heading into this match. Stan will need to prove his own problem solving skills at this stage to get the W. Let’s go five and entertain boys.

Prediction: Murray wins in five sets