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 Mercedes Cup R2 Preview: Steve Johnson vs Philipp Kohlschreiber

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One of the marquee matches of the early rounds at the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart pits American Steve Johnson against German grass master Philipp Kohlschreiber. Kohlschreiber made the final last year and has now tallied 36 of his 53 career wins on grass at the German-based tournaments in Halle and Stuttgart.

(5) Steve Johnson vs Philipp Kohlschreiber

Johnson was challenged in his opener by Maximillian Marter. The homestanding German pushed Johnson to three sets, but the 5th seed prevailed 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4. Johnson started slow as he was broken twice in the opening set. After that though, the American settled in and his serve powered him through. After winning just 13 of 23 service points in the opening set, Johnson won 49 of 59 over the final two sets. He did not face another break point.

Kohlschreiber won an abbreviated match to start his Stuttgart campaign. The 33-year-old rolled over Marcos Baghdatis 6-1 in the first set. Baghdatis promptly retired after the set, citing a pinched nerve in his back. Kohlschreiber took advantage of his compromised opponent, stealing 14 points out of the 25 played off Baghdatis’ serve. He would break the Cypriot three times on five chances. Kohlschreiber won ten of eleven points off his first serve, but did struggle some with his second serve. He would win just three of eight points played, but never faced a break point.

First Time Meeting, Grass Plays Well for Both

Johnson and Kohlschreiber will be meeting for the first time when they take the court for second round play at the Mercedes Cup. Kohlschreiber came to Stuttgart having lost four of his last matches since making the final in Casablance on clay. Johnson earned a lot of new fans for his gutsy showing at the French Open as he continues to deal with the sudden loss of his father. The American was visibly overcome with emotion during his matches as he made it to the third round before being eliminated by Dominic Thiem.

Johnson comes into the 2017 grass court swing off his best showing on the surface last season. He went 11-4 and won his first ATP title at Nottingham. He was solid the week prior to that win, making the quarters at Queen’s Club. He beat Richard Gasquet and took Marin Cilic to three sets in a loss. Johnson would cap off the grass season with his best Wimbledon result, a fourth round exit at the hands of Roger Federer. Johnson dumped Grigor Dimitrov out of the tournament in the third round as his highlight for the week.

Kohlschreiber normally comes alive with the switch from clay to grass, mostly for the first tournaments in his home country. Last year, he started in Stuttgart with a finals run that ended with a three set loss to Dominic Thiem. The rest of his grass court season would flame out however as he injured his hip in Halle the week after, forcing him to retire in the quarterfinals. It robbed him of a chance for revenge against Thiem. Kohlschreiber would go down in round one at Wimbledon, which has been a poor tournament for him in recent years despite the success he finds on grass in Germany. Kohlschreiber has lost in round one at Wimbledon three of the last four years since making the quarters in 2012.

Match Tactics

For Johnson, it’s all about the power serve and forehand combination. When he serves well, especially on a slick and fast surface like grass, he’s very difficult to deal with. That’s exactly what we saw after the first set against Marterer. Grass should always play into Johnson’s more aggressive ground game, although players with the proper game plan will still find a way to get the ball back to Johnson’s backhand.

The backhand slice from Johnson can continue to be effective on grass if he hits it into proper positions, but I think Kohlschreiber is comfortable hitting his delicious one-handed backhand off of that shot. That could be a big difference maker for the German. Johnson has shown improved patience on grass from the past in being willing to trade in some of those baseline exchanges with his backhand, until he finds the proper time to unleash his forehand.

For Kohlschreiber, grass is well suited to his game. He has a nifty kick serve that is hard to beat when it’s in rhythm. He’ll need his serve to be on point since Johnson seems to have found his measure after round one. The German though has rarely says he feels outclassed on this surface and he’s competed well and won against players with big serves like the 5th seeded American. Kohlschreiber’s return game has improved over the years and he’s got that underrated one-handed backhand that is a solid weapon for this surface.

I would look for Kohlschreiber to try and attack the backhand side of Johnson when possible with his one hander down-the-line perhaps being a killer shot if he finds the measure. The German also adapts his game to grass well by using the old “chip and charge” tactic at-times. That is something Johnson will need to be prepared for with the American still preferring to play the majority of the points from the baseline, even on grass where that can hurt you against the wrong opponent.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

This is a fascinating match-up with Kohlschreiber bringing a strong grass court pedigree and Johnson having proven he can indeed win on this surface, playing his style. I do expect Kohlschreiber to use that chip and charge tactic to test Johnson in this one. Johnson has the wheels to defend that, but is more comfortable away from the net for the most part. This could well come down to a tiebreak or two with Johnson now at 9-6 in breakers this season. It was a big part of what Johnson did right on grass last year, going 9-1 on grass in tiebreaks. Kohlschreiber is 6-11 in tiebreaks this season, dropping each of his last four.

Kohlschreiber is actually the favorite in this match and I think that’s mostly based on his past success on German grass. Based on match-up, this seems much more like a toss-up. Kohlschreiber might have the more complete game for grass, but the serve for Steve Johnson could be the great equalizer in this match. Guys who get into rhythm with big serves have given the German some problems this year and last.

It won’t surprise for Kohlschreiber to continue his glorious grass court record in Germany, but I think if Johnson shows the power and precision on serve that he displayed in the final two sets of round one – he can squeeze this out.

Prediction: Johnson wins in three sets

2017 Mercedes Cup Preview

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Shifting Surfaces

The quick turn from clay to grass begins in earnest this week with Stuttgart as one of the two ATP World Tour stops. It also marks the return of Roger Federer, who has not played since winning the Miami Open in March. It was a calculated move by the Swiss to skip the entire clay court season to focus on spots where he had better chances to add to his record 18 Grand Slam titles. Wimbledon has always been eyed as the best shot for Federer to add to his trophy case because of how well the Swiss has performed on grass. He’s 152-23 on the surface for his career with 15 of his 91 career titles on grass.

Stuttgart is a relatively new stop on tour for grass court tennis. Up until 2015, Stuttgart was a clay court tournament. In the two years on grass, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem have won here. Last year, Thiem scored one of his best non-clay wins by beating Federer in three sets in the semifinals at the Mercedes Open. Thiem will not be participating this year nor will Rafael Nadal. This year, it’s Federer leading the field as the top seed. Grigor Dimitrov is slated in as #2 with Tomas Berdych and Lucas Pouille rounding out the top four seeds. Eighth seed Viktor Troicki was a finalist in 2015 at this event, which is the best showing among the seeds since Stuttgart went green.

Seed Report

1. Roger Federer
Federer debuted in Stuttgart last season and made the semifinals before losing out to Thiem. I would not expect much in the way of rust for Federer here as he has been solely prepping for grass for weeks now. That should give him a leg up on most who are transitioning over from clay.

2. Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov’s lone visit to the grass courts in Stuttgart ended with a one and done last year. The 26-year-old gained one of his better results in months by making round three at Roland Garros. That is the sad state of affairs that his season has become after making the Australian Open semifinals. On grass, he’ll hope for rebirth. He is 28-19 on the green stuff in his career.

3. Tomas Berdych
Speaking of disappointments, enter Berdych. The Czech was knocked out in Paris in round two by Karen Khachanov. That’s not a terrible result given the young Russian’s nice showing at the French Open. Berdych at 31 has had a reasonably good season at 23-11. He’s been good on grass at 58-25 overall. This will be his first trip to Stuttgart since they flipped to grass.

4. Lucas Pouille
The Frenchman has been up and down this season; mediocre in Paris with a five set loss to Albert Ramos-Vinolas, where he really fell apart after going up 2-1. It’s not often that young players come out of the gates and have big success on grass, but Pouille’s power game translated well at Wimbledon last summer. He made his first Slam quarterfinal on this surface in 2016, but is still just 4-5 all-time on grass. He lost to John Millman here last year in his opener, which at the time made him 0-4 on grass. This year figures to tell us whether Pouille knows grass or he was a one hit wonder on it at Wimbledon.

5. Steve Johnson
Johnson will be making his debut at Stuttgart this season. It’s been an emotional few weeks for the American since the passing of his father. He showed very well at the French Open by making round three. He’s 18-13 on grass in his career with really good results last summer, winning the title in Nottingham and then making the 4th round at Wimbledon. He may have to battle his emotions again, but his big hitting, aggressive game suits this surface. He could be a dark horse this week, but he also may have to continue battling through a wave of emotions.

6. Mischa Zverev
Zverev made the quarterfinals here in the first year that Stuttgart went green in 2015. He beat Thiem and Andreas Seppi, before losing in a third set tiebreak to Marin Cilic. His serve and volley tactics obviously can be successful on this surface, but he hasn’t had the opportunity to show that in recent years. Due to his run of the past months, he will get to play the main draw at Wimbledon for the first time since 2011. That should be an exciting proposition for him and playing on home soil could ignite him to good things this week.

7. Gilles Simon
Simon went 1-1 last year in Stuttgart in his first trip back since they went to grass. He lost in the quarters in three sets to Juan Martin Del Potro, bageled in the final set. Simon has a respectable 38-28 mark on grass in his career and 2015 was excellent for him on grass to remind you of his prospects. That year, he made the semis at Queen’s Club and then the quarters at Nottingham and Wimbledon. Of course last year, he was just 2-3 on the surface and 2017 has been mediocre at-best as he comes in off a round one exit at the French Open.

8. Viktor Troicki
Troickiy followed up his 2016 finals appearance here by flaming out in his opener last year against Florian Meyer in straight sets. The Serb is 28-23 on grass. Like Simon, he stunk on the surface last year at 1-3 but went 10-4 on grass in 2015. In addition to the Stuttgart final, he also made the semis at Queen’s Club and the 4th round at Wimbledon. As usual, Troicki will be a big time hit or miss proposition this week.

Early Bird Specials

In the brief history of Stuttgart on grass, there have been multiple upsets of seeds in their first matches both years. In 2015, two seeds lost their openers with Feliciano Lopez (3) as the highest seed to go down. Last year, four seeds were one and done, including second seed Marin Cilic. It’s not a coincidence that seeds flame out early with this being the first tournament on grass and many players lack the proper preparation. With that in mind, let’s look at which seeds could be sent packing early.

Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov will see either Jerzy Janowicz or Andrey Kuznetsov to start. Janowicz hasn’t had much to crow about at this level in a few years, but we know he’s dangerous on grass (12-8) if he’s healthy. He’s reasonably healthy for this swing for the first time since 2015. He went 1-1 in Stuttgart that year with a loss to Philipp Kohlschreiber. Kuznetsov is 7-11 on grass with a third round showing at Wimbledon last year. Dimitrov has never played the Russian, but he is 2-1 versus Janowicz. That includes a three set win indoors in Sofia earlier this season. On grass, Janowicz could get the extra oomph to make Dimitrov play his best to win.

Tomas Berdych
Potentially a bad match-up for Berdych in his opener with Bernard Tomic possibly up against him. Tomic opens with Stephane Robert. This is a surface that Tomic has shown some excellence on, but also shown his usual Barnyard antics as well in losses. Tomic made the quarters here in 2015. Last year, he made the semis at Queen’s club and the 4th round at Wimbledon. Berdych is 4-0 against Tomic with two tight four set wins on grass at Wimbledon in 2013 and 2014 over the Aussie. Not much in Tomic’s 2017 might suggest an upset, but it will still be a fairly difficult draw for the Czech to start.

Lucas Pouille
I put Pouille on this list simply because we don’t really know yet whether the Frenchman is going to be the guy pre-Wimbledon 2016 who could not win on grass or the guy who showed up at Wimbledon and surprised his way to the quarterfinals. Given an uneven run in 2017 as well, I think he’ll need to be alert in his opener against either qualifier Lukas Lacko or Jan-Lennard Struff. Lacko can be tough on this surface and has the match play advantage. Lacko has a win over Pouille in Challenger play way back in 2013 and he did play him tough in a two tiebreak loss in Rotterdam last year. Struff has the power to match Pouille on serve, but is just 3-11 on grass.

Gilles Simon
A big dat duh on this one with Simon pitted against Feliciano Lopez. Lopez is a three-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist. The Spaniard’s serve and volley tactics have made him a danger on grass for years at 63-36 overall. He is 0-2 at this event though and the green stuff hasn’t been as kind the past few years. He’s 3-2 against Simon though and two wins came on grass in 2013. He beat the Frenchman earlier this season on clay in a third set tiebreak in Madrid. Given Simon’s murky form, this is a definite upset possibility and surely will be a popular one among Pig-nosticators.

Viktor Troicki
The Serb is about as reliable for consistency as his opponent, Benoit Paire. That makes their R1 clash an absolute 50-50 for me, Paire could lose 6-1, 6-0 or spring the upset. We just don’t ever know with him, so that’s why I think Troicki has to be on upset alert. The two have not met in their careers.

Outsider’s Edge

Seeds have been a mainstay at the business end of things in Stuttgart in its first two years. Only Del Potro crashed the semifinals as a wild card last year to break the seeds’ stronghold on the semis. There have however been five quarterfinalists of the 16 in Stuttgart’s history that have been unseeded. Even more interesting, three of them have been qualifiers. Mischa Zverev did it in 2015 and both Radek Stepanek and Florian Mayer did it last year.

He could join them as surprises in the quarters? Let’s look.

(q) Lukas Lacko
I ID’ed Lacko earlier as one to watch against Pouille potentially in round one. He’s 2-1 against his opponent Jan-Lennard Struff, even though they have not met since 2015. Still with Struff’s struggles on grass, Lacko could have a chance. A win over Pouille and voila, unseeded quarterfinalist.

Marcos Baghdatis/Philipp Kohlschreiber
This could be the best first round match in Stuttgart between these two veterans who both play well on grass. Baggy owns a 5-2 head-to-head advantage with two wins on grass, but those were a decade ago in Halle and s’-Hertogenbosch. Neither player arrives in great form with Baghdatis winless in six straight. He did get some grass play in at the Surbiton Challenger though, losing to Dudi Sela. If he scores the upset over Kohlschreiber, he may see Steve Johnson whom he lost to in their lone career meeting in 2014 in Auckland.

Kohlschreiber has lost four of five since making the Casablanca final on clay. Kohlschreiber has always played well on grass, especially in Germany. Stuttgart may not be quite a good to him as Halle, but he made the final last year and the quarters in 2015. A win over Baghdatis would likely set him up against Johnson. The two have never met. A win though and it’s quarterfinal city for the third straight year for Kohlschreiber here and he will be someone who people expect to have that chance.

Benoit Paire
As laid out above, Paire is the ATP’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’ll get – I mean outside of a brain meltdown as some point. But even with those meltdowns, his game is good enough to win on this surface. Troicki is a tough opener, but that’s winnable. All of a sudden, a win gives Paire a quick shot at the quarters with a match against either qualifier Peter Gojowczyk or Nikoloz Basilashvili. In their own right, Gojo or Basilashvili might have just as good a shot at the quarters if Paire is their opponent.

The Berdych Quarter
This quarter has several “specialists” who could do damage. Tomic. Lopez. Mayer. ll three have had past success on grass and despite mediocre or poor play coming in, they could easily cause some upsets. Berdych could well get through, but this is a very competitive quarter that I think will spring some upsets.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Roger Federer (1)
Mischa Zverev (8)

Breakdown
Federer could have an interesting opener with either Tommy Haas or Pierre-Hugues Herbert. The crowd surely would love to see the German veteran Haas against Federer. Fed likely would probably like seeing Haas as the Swiss is 13-3 against him. Their grass court encounters have usually been fun and competitive although that might be asking a lot of Haas at this stage. Zverev opens with Malek Jaziri in a winnable match and then gets one of two qualifiers Yannick Hanfmann or Martin Fucsovics. I’d be surprised if this didn’t wind up an all-seeded quarterfinal between Federer and Zverev. Fed is 3-0 versus Mischa, including this year’s straight sets win at the Australian Open and a double bagel on grass in Halle in 2013. Even with the extended layoff, It would be a massive shock to see Federer not in the semis with this draw.

Quarter #2 Seeds
Tomas Berdych (3)
Gilles Simon (7)

Breakdown
If a seed is going to fail to get to the semifinals, this quarter looks like it could produce that result. Berdych has the potential tough opener against Bernard Tomic if he makes it past Robert. Simon’s first-up is Feliciano Lopez, an equally tough task on this surface. The winner of that clash then sees either Florian Mayer or Jeremy Chardy. Mayer in particular has been good on grass for years and will have the crowd on his side. For me, this bottom half of the quarter seems more likely to see the seed (Simon) eliminated before the quarterfinals. Berdych may not be spectacular, but he’s steady and that’s not something you can say about Tomic. I still won’t be surprised though if the Aussie puts it together to score the upset. For me, this quarter comes down to Berdych, Mayer or Lopez.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Lucas Pouille (4)
Steve Johnson (5)

Breakdown
This quarter may also be a favorite for a potential unseeded semifinalist – mostly due to Kohlschreiber’s inclusion. The Baghdatis-Kohlschreiber survivor in round one will definitely have a shot to knock off Johnson. Pouille SHOULD be the guy to beat here, but he has to prove it. The opener against Lacko or Struff will be a test. If he passes, he could well see Kohlschreiber who beat him earlier this season on an indoor hard surface. If it’s Johnson, that would be a real power forehand vs power forehand match. Kohlschreiber will be the sheik upset pick in this quarter, but don’t be shocked if Pouille proves his mettle and make it out.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Grigor Dimitrov (2)
Viktor Troicki (8)

Breakdown
Dimitrov is the clear favorite in this draw, but nothing has been too clear for Dimitrov the last few months. This is a quarter where you’d like to see the two seeds get through. Dimitrov and Troicki have had some great battles in their five career matches. Dimitrov edged ahead in the head-to-head with a 6-3, 6-3 win in Sofia earlier this year. They have not met on grass, but three of their five matches have gone the distance. The unseeded players here like Paire, Janowicz and Kuznetsov are still threats, but most have more questions than answers coming into the week. It’s really hard to trust most of the players in this quarter, but I’ll give a slight nod to Troicki who has had some past success here. He should be back as he was in 2015, playing with no pressure with more of that on Dimitrov.

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

No one in their right mind will pick against Federer, especially on grass. About the only thing going against Federer is that the top seed has not won on grass here since the switch in 2015. He’s obviously the guy to change that trend. If he’s even 75 percent of the play we saw January-March, that’s likely better than anyone here. The one guy who intrigues me to play Federer in a final is Pouille, much like seeing Thiem do it last year. I am not predicting by any means that a similar upset would be in the cards, but I think Pouille’s style can perhaps contend with Federer if the Frenchman gets in the groove. Of course, he’s just as likely to lose his opener and leave Federer without any top tier competition in the end.

2017 French Open R2 Tweet-view: Steve Johnson vs Borna Coric

It’s another preview you didn’t know you needed. It’s an all-tweet preview of the round two match between 25th seed Steve Johnson and Borna Coric. Again, please share that feedback with @tennispig on whether you’re digging this shortened format that helps me in a time crunch or on days when the matches just aren’t too tantalizing. That sentiment speaks to me a lot for Day 3 at Roland Garros.

2017 French Open Preview: Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic Quarters

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The second half of the men’s draw preview takes a look at the quarters featuring two of the favorites, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Nadal is seeking an unprecedented 10th French Open title and a chance to move up further in the rankings. He heads to Paris ranked 4th on the ATP World Tour.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (4)
Milos Raonic (5)
Grigor Dimitrov (11)
Jack Sock (14)
Roberto Bautista Agut (17)
Pablo Carreno Busta (20)
Gilles Muller (26)
Gilles Simon (31)

Seed Report

Before Nadal’s unexpected loss to Dominic Thiem in Rome, there was little doubt that the 14-time Grand Slam winner was the massive favorite to win in Paris. Does one loss negate that feeling? Not much. Thiem played a terrific match and it was Nadal’s first loss on clay in 18 matches on the surface this season. There is little doubt that this is Nadal’s focal point of the season, especially since he has not won at Roland Garros since 2015.

The rest of the seeds in this quarter are definitely a notch or several notches below Nadal on this surface. Raonic has at least been able to stay on the court after missing more time with injury. His recent returns on dirt have shown both good and bad with Raonic looking a step slow at the moment. His serve still obviously makes him a threat though, but the consistency of his serve has been a little shakier recently.

Dimitrov? It seems like it was a different year when everyone was talking about the “hot” start Dimitrov was off to with a semifinal showing at the Australian Open as the penultimate moment. Now? The Bulgarian heads to Paris having lost his first match in four of his last five tournaments. The French Open has also been his worst Slam with a 3-6 record. He’s lost in round one each of the last three years.

Among the rest of the seeds, Carreno Busta looms as the best to me. PCB has been somewhat of a roller coaster on clay; winning the Estoril title, but going just 1-2 since that title. He’ll be looking to get past round two, the farthest stage he has made at the French Open in his career. Sock has been consistent in Paris, making the third or fourth round in three straight trips. He has a difficult 1st round match against Jiri Vesely, whom he barely survived in a third set tiebreak in Rome.

Among the other seeds: Bautista Agut, Muller and Simon – there isn’t a ton to be enthused about as far as potential dark horse possibilities. Bautista Agut made the fourth round last year in Paris, but his clay form this season has been so-so. He’s 6-5 on dirt, beating players he should beat, but struggling when he steps up in competition level. Muller has a poor track record at the French at 2-7 and despite making the Estoril final, clay is his most troublesome surface. Simon has made the fourth round in odd numbered years since 2011 and hasn’t missed out on the third round since 2008. His lack of consistency is worrisome from set-to-set, but his vanilla/backboard style still presents plenty of challenges on clay.

Breakdown

Nadal’s half of this quarter has Sock, Bautista Agut and Simon as the other seeds. Rafa faces Benoit Paire in round one. He’s 2-0 against the Frenchman, with both wins coming on clay in 2013. Paire can be dangerous, but over the course of a best of five against Nadal – I would be stunned if Paire can consistently trouble the lefty. Simon would be the only seed Nadal could could contend with before the fourth round. Simon has work to do just to get there with Nikolaz Basilashvili as his opener and then either Viktor Troicki or Evgeny Donskoy in round two. Troicki is an intriguing match-up with Simon 6-1 against him, but the Serb crushing Simon in straights last year at Roland Garros. Simon could definitely be an early casualty.

The other portion of his half of the quarter should have more intrigue. Sock and Vesely in round one could be very good and there’s a real possibility of an upset. The winner there gets Aljaz Bedene or Ryan Harrison. Bedene had a good Spring on clay with two clay Challenger titles and also a finals appearance in Budapest at the ATP level. His confidence is definitely higher now on this surface as evidenced with good fights against Raonic and Djokovic in recent weeks. He could definitely cause some problems.

Bautista Agut is on the other side, facing John Millman to open. A win there pits him against either Mikhail Kukushkin or Tennys Sandgren. More room for upsets here for me. At the end of the day, this could wind up being Nadal against RBA for a quarterfinal spot, but I could also see an unseeded player like Bedene, Vesely or Kukushkin/Sandgren sneaking into the mix. It shouldn’t matter with Nadal’s level most of this Spring being elite and far better than anyone in this part of the draw.’

As for the other half, Raonic is the lead seed along with Dimitrov, Carreno Busta and Muller. Raonic looks to have a draw that is conducive to a good run. He opens against Steve Darcis, who could be his most dangerous early foe. “The Shark” won the Bordeaux Challenger on clay this past week, but he’s just 4-8 in main draw action at Roland Garros. If Raonic serves to his best level, he should have plenty to get by Darcis. If not, round one becomes tricky for the Canadian. A second round match against Rogerio Dutra Silva or Mikhail Youzhny should be easier and that could lead Raonic to a third round showdown with Gilles Muller. Muller opens against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and then would get either Quentin Halys or Marco Trungeletti, who fashioned the upset of Marin Cilic at last year’s French Open. Round two could be interesting for Muller.

In the other portion of Raonic’s half, Dimitrov should at least have a shot to break his losing skid in round one as he opens against Stephane Robert. Robert is 1-9 this season. He would then face Daniel Evans or Tommy Robredo in round two. Robredo and Evans have both struggled on clay, but Robredo is 3-1 against Dimitrov – including a win in three sets on clay against him in Morocco earlier this year. Evans and Dimitrov have split two matches with Evans winning last year on hard courts in Washington, D.C. Keep Dimitrov on upset alert there.

Carreno Busta opens with Florian Mayer which should afford him the chance to get out of the gates with a win. The second round would pit PCB against either Jerzy Janowicz or Taro Daniel. Janowicz is healthy right now with some decent results on the Challenger level as he tries to rebuild his ranking. Clay is a decent surface for the Pole and he’s made the third round at the French in the past. He could provide a test for Carreno Busta … if he gets past a talented player in Daniel. Given Dimitrov’s poor run of late and poor recent history in Paris, PCB is the guy to beat in this segment of the quarter. He should have a good shot to face off against Raonic in round four.

Early Bird Specials (Upset Alert)

Vesely over Sock
Basilashvili over Simon

The Pig’s Bottom Line

This is Nadal’s quarter to lose, no doubt. If it comes down to Nadal and Raonic, Rafa is 7-2 in his career over the Canadian. That includes a 1-1 mark this season with Raonic winning in Brisbane, but Rafa repaying him in straight sets at the Australian Open. It’s hard to see Raonic changing that result on a surface that plays so much better to Nadal. If we’re being honest, this quarter is the most boring of the four this year.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Novak Djokovic (2)
Dominic Thiem (6)
David Goffin (10)
Lucas Pouille (16)
Albert Ramos-Vinolas (19)
Ivo Karlovic (23)
Steve Johnson (25)
Mischa Zverev (32)

Seed Report

This quarter will get a ton of notice due to Djokovic and his new coaching relationship with Andre Agassi. What should also be noticed here is that Thiem is playing some solid tennis on this surface and Goffin won’t be scared of a Djokovic match-up after beating the Serb earlier this year in Monte Carlo.But let’s focus on Djokovic. The Serb has had by his standards, a mediocre season. He did produce some of his best results in Rome, but was torn apart in the final by Alexander Zverev. Let’s not forget that Djokovic is the defending champion in Paris and he’s 55-11. He has also made the final at Roland Garros four of the last five years. This year though will be a challenge.He sounds rejuvenated by the coaching switch, but results are the only thing that matter here.

Thiem had some of the luster taken off a great Spring when Djokovic destroyed him in the Roma semifinals. It wasn’t unexpected to be truthful after Thiem scored a brilliant win over Nadal in the quarters after losing to the Spaniard two weeks in a row prior to that clash. Thiem is 17-4 on clay this season and probably ranks as the second most consistent performer behind Nadal in my book. Paris was the site of his first Slam semifinal last year, so expectations will be higher this year. Goffin made the quarterfinals in Paris last year and arrives with a 10-4 record on clay this season. Two of losses came to Nadal. His skill set featuring great athleticism and defense are the reason he’ll be a danger here.

Pouille and Ramos-Vinolas are in the next tier of seeds. Pouille has never been past the second round at Roland Garros. His season has been plagued by inconsistencies. He had a great run in Monte Carlo to the semifinals and won the title in Budapest. He then flopped in his openers in both Madrid and Rome. Ramos-Vinolas has also tapered off the last two tournaments with two first-up exits in Madrid and Rome. He did make the Monte Carlo final however and the quarters the week after in Barcelona, where he dropped a tough three set match against Murray. ARV was a quarterfinalist at last year’s French Open.

Rounding out the seeds are Karlovic, Johnson and Zverev. Mischa Zverev stunningly made the final in Geneva this past week. The German had dropped six of his previous seven matches on dirt prior to that run. We’ll see if that inspires him in Paris. Johnson is still coping with the passing of his father as he just returned to the court in Geneva this week after a lengthy layoff. He lost to Zverev in the quarters. Karlovic made the third round in Paris last year for the second time in the last three years after very poor results there traditionally. Karlovic is 2-2 on clay this season amidst a mediocre 7-9 season overall.

Breakdown

Djokovic opens against Marcel Granollers in what should be a comfortable win for the Serb. It could also afford him some chances to apply any specific new tactics that Agassi wants to infuse into his game. I would expect rounds one and two to provide him time to do that along with practice sessions. Round two will be perhaps a bit tougher with either Joao Sousa or Janko Tipsarevic waiting. Djokovic should advance easy enough though, maybe dropping a set. Zverev is seeded to meet him in round three.

Zverev starts against qualifier Stephano Napolitano and I’m not hesitant to wonder if the German might be in a spot of trouble there after a long week in Lyon. Should he advance, he would face either Diego Schwartzman or Andrey Rublev in the second round. I’d be fairly surprised to see Zverev around after two rounds. Djokovic should have a pretty smooth ride to round four, although his shaky serve may still provide some WTF moments.

In the other segment in this half, it’s Pouille and Ramos-Vinolas as the seeds. Pouille faces fellow Frenchie Julien Benneteau to start. They’ve met three times in their careers with Pouille winning the last two, including in qualifying at the French last year. Benny retired at the Bordeauz Challenger, so he may not be fully fit. If he is, this could be a tough match for Pouille. The winner gets Thomaz Bellucci or Dusan Lajovic. Both have chops on clay and both would present their opponent with a tough out.

Opposite Pouille, Ramos-Vinolas faces Marius Copil to open. Copil has a big serve and qualis under his belt. ARV has been fairly good this season, but arrives on a four match losing skid. Smell the upset? The survivor gets Daniil Medvedev or Behjamin Bonzi. You’ve likely never heard of Bonzi, the 20-year-old French wildcard, but he’s got some talent. He made the semis at the Bordeaux Challenger and won a Futures event on clay prior to that. Being his French Open debut, this is a big chance for him, but maybe also too big. Medvedev is on a five match losing streak though and is just coming back from a leg injury that caused him to miss time. So perhaps Bonzi does have a shot.I can’t get past thinking there will be upsets in this part of the draw.

In the other half of the quarter, it’s Thiem and Goffin as the lead seeds. Thiem opens with Bernard Tomic and then gets either Simone Bolelli or Nicolas Mahut. That should be two relatively straight forward wins. A potential third round opponent is a big question. Steve Johnson is the seed. He gets Yuichi Sugita to open. A win and it’s Borna Coric or Mathias Bourgue. Johnson missed the French Open last year, but did make the third round in his last trip in 2015. Coric has been up and down on this surface in 2017, but he’s been consistent in Paris with two trips to round three in two visits. Coric shouldn’t sleep on Bourgue who surprisingly took Andy Murray to five sets in round two last year at this event.

In Goffin’s segment, the Belgian starts with Paul-Henri Mathieu who is making his final appearance at this event. The veteran Frenchman did well to get through qualifying after being denied a spot via wild card. Even if PHM has a chip on his shoulder here, it is difficult to see him get past Goffin. If Goffin wins, it’s Sergiy Stakhovsky or Yen-Hsun Lu. The 10th seed should expect to be in round three. There, he may find his biggest challenge at that point, pun intended. Ivo Karlovic is seeded to be there, but has to get past big hitting teen Stefanos Tsitsipas in round one and then either Horacio Zeballos or Adrian Mannarino. Goffin won his lone clash against Karlovic at this year’s Australian Open, also a third round match and it came in straights.

Early Bird Specials (Upset Alert)

Copil over Ramos-Vinolas
Napolitano over Zverev

The Pig’s Bottom Line

If seeds hold, Thiem and Goffin should meet for the 9th time for the right to play Djokovic. It’s advantage Goffin so far at 6-3, but Thiem did beat him in four at the French Open in 2016. Goffin registered his second win on clay against Thiem earlier this season in Monte Carlo and also took down the Austrian in Melbourne to start off the year. That could pave the way for an electric quarterfinal featuring Djokovic and Goffin. Based on his 5-0 mark against Thiem, the Serb will be rooting for the Austrian if that match goes down.

The scariest player in this quarter is still Pouille to me because he can turn it on and be absolutely electric. Whether that comes this week or not, we shall see. If he gets going early, his style of play can cause Djokovic some issues and certainly that could open the door for himself or the Goffin-Thiem survivor as the semifinalists out of this quarter. Somewhat shaky at-times, I still think Djokovic is going to find a way through this part of the draw. Most of the match-ups still favor him and the best of five format gives him a little more wiggle room to try and work through the ups and downs he has experienced.

Keep following me @tennispig all throughout the French Open. Will be live tweeting as much as possible + match previews and more.