2017 Rolex Paris Masters Preview

PARIS17

Federer Withdrawal Effectively Ends Chase For #1

Shortly after winning the Swiss Indoors Basel for the 8th time on Sunday, Roger Federer announced that he would be skipping the Rolex Paris Masters to recover for the year-end ATP World Tour Finals. It was a long shot for Federer to overtake Rafael Nadal for the top spot in the rankings, but now it’s just about a dona deal. Nadal will need just one win in Paris this week to clinch the year-end number one ranking. What should be bigger for Nadal however is a chance to win this event for the first time ever. That’s right – Nadal has never won this event in his career. His best finish was making the final in 2007, where he lost to David Nalbandian. Since then, he’s made just four trips to Paris with two quarterfinal and two semifinal finishes. He enters this week as the top seed with something prove perhaps in a season where he’s done that over and over.

With Federer out, the next seed in the field is Marin Cilic who takes the #3 slot. Cilic made the semifinals here last year, his best finish in Paris. He’s just 9-8 overall in his career at this event. Coming in at number four is Alexander Zverev, who will make his Rolex Paris Masters debut. The rest of the top eight seeds includes Dominic Thiem (5), Grigor Dimitrov, David Goffin and Pablo Carreno Busta. None of those players has been past the round of 16 in Paris in the past. Of the rest if the seeded field, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (11) has the best history here as the title winner in 2008. Juan Martin Del Potro is the 13th seed with the next best record at 7-5. He’s made the quarterfinals twice in 2009 and 2013.

Lucas Pouille slides into the ghost seed spot at #17 due to the Federer withdrawal and takes over Federer’s spot in the draw. That should be good news for the Vienna Open champion, who will get the benefit of a better draw. Pouille won the all-French final in Vienna on Sunday, pounding Tsonga 6-1, 6-4 to claim his third title of the season. He’ll have some expectation on him with that outing and getting slotted into Federer’s spot. Defending champion Andy Murray will of course not be defending the title due to ending his season early this year due to injury. It will be on Nadal to continue the dominance of the Big Four by himself this year. Murray and Djokovic are responsible for the last four titles in Paris with Djokovic taking three of those from 2013-20-15. David Ferrer was the last non-Big Four member to win the Paris title back in 2012.

Early Bird Specials

Upsets have been regular among the seeds taking part in their opening matches in Paris. Over the last five years, at least three seeds have been dropped in their openers in four of five years. Last year saw four seeds lose early and while it’s been the lower seeds normally who are most prone, Paris has seen some exceptions to that pattern. Most famously, Novak Djokovic was stunned as the second seed in 2012 by Sam Querrey. Last year saw qualifier Jan-Lennard Struff craft another big upset when he took down third seed Stan Wawrinka.

So who could follow suit this year? Let’s have a look.

3. Marin Cilic
The scheduling Gods may pit Cilic and Borna Coric against each other again. Coric takes on fellow qualifier Jan-Lennard Struff. Struff already has that scalp of Wawrinka under his belt, so he should not be taken lightly. Coric has taken a set off of Cilic in each of the three losses he has suffered at the hands of Cilic this season. He’s getting closer and perhaps playing him two weeks in a row could help him have his best chance.

4. Alexander Zverev
Sascha is that high seed who could find trouble this week. Zverev waits for the winner between Steve Johnson and Robin Haase. Johnson beat Zverev in their lone career meeting last year at Indian Wells. Zverev is 2-0 against Haase, but the Dutchman took him five sets at this year’s Australian Open. With Sascha having no experience at this tournament, it could be an opportunity for Haase or Johnson to stun the German.

6. Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov gets one of two Frenchmen to open, either Richard Gasquet or Benoit Paire. Gasquet had been tough on Dimitrov until recent times with the Bulgarian winning the last two in their series. Gasquet still leads the h2h 5-2 overall. Paire owns two wins in three tries against Dimitrov and has taken a set off of him each time they’ve met. They have not played since Paire beat Dimitrov in Tokyo in 2015. Either way, I expect Dimitrov to have a tough time in his opener and this has never been a great tournament for him.

7. David Goffin
This is another match-up based alert with Goffin in good form after running to the Basel semifinals this past week. His first match in Paris with be against “Mr.Paris” David Ferrer or Adrian Mannarino. Ferrer has surprisingly found himself with great results at this tournament. The Spaniard is 21-11 all-time in Paris with one title. He did lose his opener last year to Isner, but otherwise has finished in the quarters or better in five of his last six trips. He also holds a 2-0 edge over Goffin in their careers. The Belgian would much prefer Mannarino who he is 3-0 against all-time.

8. Pablo Carreno Busta
The 2017 U.S. Open semifinalist has found things have not gone his way since that career best achievement. PCB is just 1-4 since the U.S. Open final. He’ll battle either Vasek Pospisil or Nicolas Mahut in his opener. Pospisil and Mahut have not been in good form, but both are capable or springing the upset. PCB beat Mahut in straights at the U.S. Open, but Mahut is better in these controlled indoor conditions. Exepct a tussle for PCB, but I’d put him on the lower side of the upset scale due to the poor form of his prospective opponents.

9. John Isner
Isner faces Diego Schwartzman or Viktor Troicki. He’d probably rather avoid Troicki who is 5-3 against the American, including a win against him recently in Shanghai. Isner did surprisingly make the final here in Paris last year, but as usual his style makes him prone to losing tight matches. We saw that against Philipp Kohlschreiber last week in Vienna.

11. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsonga is on this list because he’s in the dreaded Championship Match hangover mode after losing to Pouille in Vienna on Sunday. Often, runners-up have trouble recovering in their next tournaments with plenty of losses in their first or second matches. Tsonga opens against either Denis Shapovalov or Julien Benneteau. El Shapo has not been able to follow up his summer success late in the season with just one win in his last four matches since the U.S. Open. Benneteau might be the tougher up. He’s 4-6 against Tsonga, but lost in straights to him in Antwerp. Tsonga should probably get through his first match, but he’s worth monitoring.

12. Kevin Anderson
Anderson is just 3-4 since losing the U.S. Open final, so he’s definitely going on this list. He starts with the winner between Fernando Verdasco and Andrey Rublev. Both came definitely rattle the big man’s cage and cause an upset. Verdasco pulled out from Basel last week, but I have not found anything that says he isn’t 100 percent ready to go this week. He’s 4-3 against Anderson, including 2-1 this season with one of those wins coming indoors in Stockholm recently. Rublev lost a four setter to Anderson back in 2015 at the U.S. Open in their lone meeting. The Russian does own one career win against Verdasco on clay, but comes in with losses in four of his last five matches. I’d rate Verdasco the bigger threat.

13. Juan Martin Del Potro
Although his match-up will favor the Argentine, two long weeks of tennis will not. DelPo surprisingly to me was able to work his way to a second straight final in successive weeks in Basel. He put together a decent showing in losing in three sets to Federer. At this point though, he’s got a shot to make the field in London and that keeps him grinding again in Paris. He opens against qualifier Joao Sousa or Paolo Lorenzi. Sousa is the intriguing one as he took on Del Potro last week in Basel. DelPo controlled most of the match, but did drop a set in the 6-1, 4-6, 6-1 victory. Lorenzi is on a seven match losing skid and is 1-3 against Sousa, but that lone win came in five sets over Sousa at this year’s U.S. Open. Given DelPo’s likely fatigue, he’s certainly set up for trouble early in Paris.

15. Albert Ramos-Vinolas
He could be in for rough opener regardless of who wins between Pablo Cuevas and Karen Khachanov. Of course, Cuevas has dropped ten straight matches and Khachanov has just one win in his last seven. However, a win could help turn their fortunes around quckly and put them into a good match-up against ARV. Cuevas owns a 4-1 head-to-head record against ARV with one of those wins coming indoors in Valencia, Spain back in 2010. Khachanov’s power could be tougher for ARV to cope with and the Russian is 1-0 against Cuevas. Khachanov was a tough out in Vienna last week. He lost in three sets to Tsonga.

17. Lucas Pouille
Even though Pouille gets the advantage of slotting in for Federer, his first match is going to be difficult. Pouille takes on the survivor between Feliciano Lopez and Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Both players own wins in their careers against Pouille with PHH at 1-1 and Lopez at 1-2. All matches they have played against Pouille went the distance in best of three settings. If Pouille is going to make a run, it should get easier after round two – if he survives.

Outsider’s Edge

Twice in the last five years, an unseeded player has crashed the final in Paris. Last year it was John Isner who ultimately lost to Andy Murray. Back in 2012, it was Jerzy Janowicz as a qualifier who did the trick. 2016 broke a string of three straight years where no unseeded player advanced as far as the quarterfinals. The feeling this year is that with all the injuries and weekly turmoil, an unseeded player or two could definitely make some big noise in Paris. Here’s a look at a few guys to watch.

Steve Johnson
Johnson hasn’t been a big performer down the stretch during a trying season, but his draw could give him an opening to make a run. He has to get past Haase to open, but then would match up against Alexander Zverev in round two. I still think that is a winnable match at this stage of the season for the American. Johnson also has Del Potro in his part of the quarter, who I sitll think is a burnout candidate for the week. He will have to earn everything he gets, but there is some potential if he can get out of the gates quickly.

Richard Gasquet/Benoit Paire
Also in the same part of the draw as Johnson, the winner of this all-French first rounder has the potential to grow into a darkhorse threat. The winner gets Grigor Dimitrov to start. Dimitrov has been strong down the stretch, but he’s got a spot in London wrapped up, so his motivation for the week is all within his brain. If he’s uncaring about this week, then the draw opens for one of these Frenchmen with Isner as the only seed in the way after Dimitrov to play for a quarterfinal spot.

David Ferrer
“Mr.Paris” may be fading into the sunset some in his career, but the Spaniard is 2-2 indoors in the past two tournaments and simply has found something special most years in Paris. He will have to beat Goffin in round two if he gets there and might have to go through Tsonga for a chance to get at a quarterfinal spot. Ferrer has three wins in four tries against Tsonga, but they have not met since 2013.

Kyle Edmund
Edmund comes in of a semifinal run in Vienna, so he’s got some confidence on this surface. His quarter features Pouille and Sock as the seeds in his way to a quarterfinal. That’s not a bad draw for him. He starts with Evgeny Donskoy and then would see Sock in round two if he wins. Edmund crushed Sock in Atlanta this summer in straights. If he sees Pouille, it would be a rematch of their semi in Vienna that Pouille won in three.

Hugues-Herbert/Lopez
The winner of their first round battle takes on Pouille and I mentioned previously how both have played him tough in the past. An upset there and either one of these guys could be an unlikely runner towards a quarterfinal spot.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (1)
Pablo Carreno Busta (8)
Sam Querrey (10)
Albert Ramos-Vinolas (15)

Breakdown
Nadal will feel good this week that there is little pressure on him to perform with Federer out of the draw. What I mean there is that the focus won’t be on the possibility of a Fedal match, but more on Nadal clinching the #1 spot with a single win in Paris. Toss in this draw with no real scary seeds and Rafa should feel like he’s got it in him to make a deep run. He opens with eirher Mischa Zverev or Hyeon Chung, either of which is a nice match-up for the top seed. Ramos-Vinolas is the only seed in his way before the round of 16 and ARV may not make it that far.

The bottom of the quarter features Carreno Busta and Querrey. Both seeds really have no excuse if they don’t wind up squaring off in the round of 16. They are easily the talents in this part of the draw, but have to shake off recently slumps. Yuichi Sugita is an interesting floater in this part of the quarter as he opens with Filip Krajinovic. A win would match him against Querrey. It’s not a great match-up, but Querrey has lost his first match in two of his last three tournaments. I think Sam has too much power for Sugita, but watch the man from Japan any way – he could be an X-Factor.

Without Federer in the mix, all eyes fall squarely on Nadal. I think he’s got plenty of motivation this week and shouldn’t feel much pressure. This draw is as good as any for him to break his run of not winning the title in Paris.

Quarter #2
Alexander Zverev (4)
Grigor Dimitrov (6)
John Isner (9)
Juan Martin Del Potro (13)

Breakdown
Dimitrov arrives with the best form. He wisely pulled out of Vienna last week to rest and that should benefit him. He is 8-3 since the U.S. Open with two losses to Nadal and one to Del Potro. That’s nothing to be ashamed of this year. I think he’s in that spot where if he makes it past a tough opener, but then he gets an easier route after that. Isner is the only seed in his way to the round of 16 and he beat the big man in Cincinnati this year, one of the quickest courts on tour. I think there is a chance that he won’t have to contend with him if Troicki beats Schwartzman in round one.

In Zverev’s half, Sascha too could get rolling if he avoids early trouble. Steve Johnson is a possible second round opponent and then only Del Potro is seeded in front of him to keep him from making the quarterfinals. Given Del Potro’s heavy schedule, Sascha has a chance to do well in Paris his first time through as long as he gets off to a good start.

This quarter for me falls to Zverev or Dimitrov if they avoid that early trouble, but could go off the rails if either one of them loses early. Then I would look to Gasquet, Paire and Johnson as spoilers. I’ll give a slight edge to Dimitrov because of his form post-U.S. Open.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Marin Cilic (3)
David Goffin (7)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (11)
Roberto Bautista Agut (14)

Breakdown
Cilic and Goffin both bring the form to Paris this week that makes them obvious favorites in this quarter. Goffin has not been great here with just a 3-3 record. Before last year’s semifinal showing, Cilic hadn’t been burning up Paris either – so there is some hope for the rest of the quarter. Cilic should have the edge to get further, even if he has to battle Coric again for the fourth time this year. Coric still has not proven he can beat Cilic. If he gets past the early hurdle, Cilic has the edge to get to the quarters as he holds a 3-1 edge of Bautista Agut for their careers.

Goffin’s half gets easier if he avoids Ferrer or at least that is my feeling. Ferrer has the guts and game to push Goffin, so that potential second round match is a big potential landmine for the Belgian. Tsonga has an advantageous draw with Shapovalov or Benneteau first up. If he can shake off a poor final in Vienna, perhaps he can wow the home crowd. Tsonga holds a 4-2 edge over Goffin, including a win indoors in Rotterdam early this season. If Tsonga gets his head on straight this week, he could make some noise.

The feeling for me is Cilic or Goffin won’t be involved in deciding who gets to the semifinals. Goffin seems more likely to fall earlier with some tougher match-ups. I think this comes down to Cilic or Tsonga, although I won’t count out Ferrer in Paris.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Dominic Thiem (5)
Kevin Anderson (12)
Jack Sock (16)
Lucas Pouille (17)

Breakdown
The seeds here all look prone to me and this quarter smells like the one that could have an unseeded player run through it. There are candidates with Verdasco a possibility as he could have good match-ups against Anderson in round two and he’s beaten Thiem in their only career meeting. Thiem has lost four of his last five and at the end of a long season, is always prone to losing earlier than expected. I can see the Verdasco-Rublev winner making a push here.

In the other half, Sock and Pouille are the seeds. Again, there are plenty of dangerous floaters waiting for them. Sock likely faced Edmund in his opener and Pouille gets Herbert or Lopez, both of whom can be tough on him. Pouille for me is one who can grow into a contender if he avoids the early upset. Sock I still get the feeling that he’ll find some way to muck it up as he goes. I look to Pouille or Edmund to be involved in the business end of this quarter.

Pouille has the form that could carry over into a deep run and he’s certainly the best form of any of the seeds in this section. If Pouille flops, then I would look to one of the unseeded players to make a move – Verdasco, Rublev or Edmund as my favorites among that group.

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

It’s not often that you seed Nadal entering a tournament that has been around for a good bit without every having won it. This is one of those rare weeks and a week without Federer than opens up for him to change that. Cilic, Dimitrov and Tsonga are among the other seeds that I would look to if Rafa happens to falter. I’m not sure he will, but they are the ones for me who look likeliest to pick up the pieces if he does.

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2017 Shanghai Rolex Masters Preview

SHANGHAI17PREVIEW

Nadal, Federer Lead Field

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

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

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

Lower Seeds Yield More Experience

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

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

Early Bird Specials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outsider’s Edge

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

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

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

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

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

Draw Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017 U.S. Open Preview: Quarter #4

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Seeds
Marin Cilic (5)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (8)
Pablo Carreno Busta (12)
Lucas Pouille (16)
David Ferrer (21)
Albert Ramos-Vinolas (28)
Diego Schwartzman (29)
Robin Haase (32)

Battle Tested Vets Might Be Shown Up

This final quarter of the draw got a little switcheroo with Andy Murray’s late withdrawal. Marin Cilic now is the lead seed in a quarter and comes to New York with health questions. He’s been out since Wimbledon due to an abductor injury he sustained in London. When healthy, he is an obvious threat at Slams still. Since a subpar Australian Open, Cilic made the quarterfinals at Roland Garros and then the final at Wimbledon. The U.S. Open brings back fond memories of course as the site of his lone Grand Slam conquest.

Last year’s third round exit in New York was Cilic’s worse since 2011 and broke a streak of three straight quarterfinal or better finishes. If he proves he is healthy, he is the obvious one to beat here. Tsonga brings no momentum to the proceedings, but a good tradition in New York that includes two straight quarterfinal finishes. He may just need to find some early wins to gain confidene after a poor summer that saw him lose both his hard court tuneups. The vet with the best form shockingly is David Ferrer who had not won more than two matches at a tournament prior to winning the title on clay in Bastard post-Wimbledon.

When the surface switched to hard courts, Ferrer kept going wth a third round run in Montreal followed up with a semifinal trip in Cincinnati. A guy who was an after thought is now one you cannot overlook. The real intrigue could lie with a couple of talented 20-somethings who are mid-seeds in Carreno Busta and Pouille. Pouille, a 2016 quarterfinalist at the U.S. Open, has struggled to follow up his surprising 2016 campaign. Still, he’s got all the game you could want and a fairly workable draw. You also have two unseeded players who look boom or bust in Steve Johnson and Kyle Edmund that I’ll talk about more below.

Cilic’s Half Looks a Three Horse Race

With Cilic, Pouille and Ferrer all in one half of this quarter – they look to be the most probable contenders for quarterfinal spots. Cilic of course must prove his health first and he gets that opportunity in round one against Tennys Sandgren. On his best day, Sandgren might be able to hold serve with Cilic and sneak out a tight set or two. With Cilic fully fit, Cilic should overpower the American and move to round two. You should learn plenty from Cilic as that match wears on, but Sandgren might steal a set early with the Croat rusty. If he is healthy, then his route to the fourth round looks very nice. He has Schwartzman as the seed in his way and not a whole lot more. A fun first rounder in this part of the draw could be Janko Tipsarevic and Thanasi Kokkinakis. The Aussie could score some wins here with Schwartzman as a possible second round opponent, if he beats Carlos Berlocq in round one.

Ferrer and Pouille are the seeds in the other part opposite Cilic. Pouille has a wiley vet in Ruben Bemelmans to open. If he works past the Belgian, he could see American Jared Donaldson. Donaldson opens with Nikoloz Bashilasvhili. Donaldson made waves last year with a run through qualifying at the U.S. Open and a third round finish. He comes in off an unexpected semifinal run in Cincy that should fuel him. Donaldson beat Pouille in an earlier meeting at the Rogers Cup in two tiebreak sets and could be a dark horse in this section. He’s also inconsistent enough to lose in round one.

Ferrer gets Mikhail Kukushkin in round one and he is 7-0 lifetime in that match-up, but will face a stern test. Kukushkin is a veteran player who has made a habit of being a tough out in New York. He beat Dimitrov in 2015 and took Cilic to five sets the next round. He also played Ferrer once here in 2013 and lost in four. I would not be surprised if kukushkin made life tough on ferrer. The survivor looks to be in good shape with Menendez-Maceiras or Donskoy up in round two. Donskoy does have a big ground game, but has really struggled to make much of that at this level on a consistent basis. You have to like a healthy Cilic here and don’t be surprised if Donaldson makes another run at the expense of Pouille.

Tsonga’s Half Looks Prime for Unexpected Results

Tsonga opens with Marius Copil who serves big and hits big. Copil has never matched up well with top tier players though and the 26-year-old has just one Grand Slam win. Still, Tsonga has has had a proclivity for losing to power players like this over the last few months with two losses to Querrey, one to Karlovic and one to Muller. Copil isn’t in that class, but he can certainly bang power for power with Tsonga for a bit. Tsonga will need to be sharp. If he wins, we could get a highly entertaining round two if qualifier Denis Shapovalov can earn his first Slam win in round one against Daniil Medvedev. Medevedev has been off his game of late, so Shappy should have a chance to earn that maiden victory. If it’s Tsonga-Shapovalov in round two, you’ll get two demonstrative players going head-to-head in a match made from heaven for the crowd.

Haase is the seed opposite that part of this section and he has a difficult path in round one against Kyle Edmund. Edmund has been up and down this summer, but has the tools to win on this surface. Outside of Haase’s surprise Rogers Cup run, outdoor hard courts traditionally are not his thing. He is 2-7 lifetime at the U.S. Open and an upset could definitely be in the cards in round one. The winner there sees either Steve Johnson or Nicolas Almagro. Almagro is returning after knee surgery in late May. Johnson has been up an down as we all know with his head swimming still following the passing of his father. I like that spot for him to win and you can bet the crowd will be 100 percent behind him. He could relish a chance to avenge a loss to Edmund last week in Winston-Salem. Don’t be surprised if Johnson is motivated and emotional enough to score some wins.

The other half of this segment is led by two seeded Spaniards in Carreno Busta and Ramos-Vinolas. Neither is the allergic type to hard courts, so they actually have a good opportunity in this part of the draw. Carreno Busta has a smoother path with qualifier Evan King in his opener and then either Cameron Norrie or Dmitry Tursunov. PCB really should make it to round three unless he is an absolute mess. Ramos-Vinolas faces Denis Istomin, which might sound difficult. Looking at Istomin’s 2017 since beating Novak Djokovic in Australia however and it looks easier. Istomin has lost his first match in seven of his last eight tournaments. That should put ARV into round two against Nicolas Mahut or Marton Fucsovics. Fucsovics normally doesn’t win at this level on this surface.

I’m not big on Tsonga despite his past history here and especially with some of the dangerous young floaters in his segment of the draw. I can see taking advantage here or a feel good story with Steve Johnson.

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

Most of this quarter hinges on the health of Cilic. If he’s healthy and finds his game after the layoff, he certainly has the goods to get through this quarter. If not, then this looks wide open with guys like Carreno Busta and Pouille hopeful among the seeds. However, I could definitely see the unseeded uprising here if the upsets fall early on. Johnson, Shapovalov, Edmund and Medvedev all have possibilities if things fall right. With the way things have gone, it’d be just about right if Ferrer survived here somehow. I look to either a healthy Cilic or Carreno Busta or a resurgent Pouille as the best shots. If the unseeded streak ends, give me Johnson and all the feels.

2017 Winston-Salem Open Preview

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Last Chance to Fine Tune Ahead of U.S. Open

It’s a final shot for form as the ATP World Tour makes its final stop before the U.S. Open. This week, the Winston-Salem Open serves as a last ditch effort for many to tune their games up in preparation for the year’s final Grand Slam. It is a large field of 48 players in the singles draw for this 250-level event. Last year’s champion, Pablo Carreno Busta, is back to defend his title. In the brief six year history of this tournament, only John Isner has successfully done been able to defend the title. The American achieved that in 2011 and 2012, the first two years of the tournament. Success at Winston-Salem hasn’t often translated to bigger success at the U.S. Open, but twice the winner here has gone to the quarterfinals in New York. Isner went that route in 2011 and Kevin Anderson followed suit in 2015. Last year, Carreno Busta made it to round three at the U.S. Open following his Winston-Salem triumph.

The 48 player field affords for 16 seeds overall, all of whom receive a first round bye. The top seed does not have a good track record of going deep at this tournament. In it’s six year history, Winston-Salem has never had a #1 seed make the final and in the last four years, the top seed has not made it to the semifinals. A seeded player has always won the tournament, but it’s been the lower seeds with a better track record of late. Three of the last four champions have been seeded 7th or lower with Carreno Busta seeded 16th last year when he took home the title.

Seeded Field Full of Hit or Miss Types

One player who will not be in this week’s field is Sam Querrey. The 20th ranked American would have been one of the top seeds in Winston-Salem, but cited fatigue as he announced his withdrawal earlier this week. This year’s lead seed is Roberto Bautista Agut. RBA is 6-2 all-time at this event with last year’s finals showing of course as his best. Carreno Busta is slotted in as the second seed with John Isner as the third. With Querrey’s withdrawal, Pablo Cuevas is the next seed, but comes in at #5. Following Cuevas are Steve Johnson, Paolo Lorenzi, Fernando Verdasco, Gilles Simon and Yuichi Sugita to round out the top ten. Johnson is a one-time semifinalist (2015), while Verdasco has made the quarterfinals twice in 2013 and 2016.

The rest of the seeded field includes Viktor Troicki, Aljaz Bedene, Hyeon Chung, Borna Coric, Daniil Medvedev, Jiri Vesely and Joao Sousa who is actually the 17th seed due to Querrey pulling out of the tournament. Only Medvedev has not played at Winston-Salem among that group. Troicki has the best result of the group with a semifinal showing last year. Without a doubt, Isner is really the only “form” player you can tout among the seeded field after he made the semifinals in Cincinnati last week. Otherwise, the questions are many for the rest of the group.

Early Bird Special

As you would expect with a tournament the week before a Grand Slam, seeds fall plenty in their opening matches in Winston-Salem. You can blame that on fatigue for some, bad form for others and questionable motivation for many. Over the history of this tournament, at least four seeds have lost their first match each year. The last two years heve featured the most early upsets of seeds with half (8) the seeded field losing their openers in 2015 and six seeds losing their openers in 2016.

That means there will be plenty of honking coming from the upset vuvuzela this week. Here’s a look at the seeds who figure to have the toughest time escaping an early loss.

2. Pablo Carreno Busta
The defending champion has a difficult first match with either Julien Benneteau or Pierre-Hugues Herbert on tap. PHH is 2-0 against PCB, including a win here in 2015 when the Frenchman made the final as a qualifier. PHH did lose in his opener last year to Donald Young. Benneteau has had trouble getting wins at this level, but an opening round win can breed confidence and make him a more difficult out in round two against PCB.

7. Paolo Lorenzi
Lorenzi draws Thiago Monteiro after the Brazilian beat Alexandr Dolgopolov in straights to open round one play on Sunday. Monteiro was solid considering he had not played on hard courts since March in Miami. The win was his first on the surface at this level. Lorenzi is 5-8 on hard courts this season, but is usually tricky and fairly solid against similar or lesser opponents. Monteiro has the match play on these courts and that will be a small bonus for him, but I’d put Lorenzi on the lower side of the upset spectrum. It could still be very tough though.

6. Steve Johnson
The draw is a bit more kind to Johnson this week, but his run of first-up losses has stretched to three after losing to David Ferrer last week in Cincinnati.This time, Johnson will see either Yen-Hsun Lu or Dimitry Tursunov. Lu is 0-4 against Tursunov, but arrives with back-to-back Challenger titles on this surface. Tursunov has two main draw match wins in the last 20 months. Lu would figure to give Johnson a better go with a 2-1 record against the American, although the one Johnson win came this year in Auckland.

9. Giiles Simon
The Frenchman is 0-2 in Winston-Salem for his career and will be matched up against either Denis Istomin or Damir Dzumhur in round two. Simon will be playing on this surface for the first time since Miami back in March. He is just 3-3 on the surface this season with all three losses coming in his first matches at tournaments. Dzumur made the semis in Los Cabos a few weeks ago and could be an interesting one to watch this week in a smaller setting. Istomin hasn’t won a main draw match on this surface since his stunning fourth round run at the Australian Open this year.

10. Yuichi Sugita
Even though Sugita scored a quarterfinal result in Cincinnati last week, that’s more out of the norm for him than something to be expected in back-to-back weeks. This is Sugita’s first trip to Winston-Salem and he starts against either Taylor Fritz or Malek Jaziri. Both will present a stiff test even if they arrive with not a ton of success recently.

11. Viktor Troicki
Troicki has losses in his first match at tournaments in five of his last six tourneys played. Carlos Berlocq or qualifier Alex Bolt await the Serb in round two. Bolt won his way into the main draw on Sunday, but the 24-year-old Aussie has never won a main draw event on the ATP World Tour. Berlocq has just one main draw win in the last couple of months, so it could be Bolt’s time to get that first tour win. Berlocq is a vet though and he usually battles his ass off to the end. Despite Troicki’s struggles of late, this would seem to be a decent set up for him to break that streak of first-up losses. But can you trust him in a 250?

14. Borna Coric
Coric did not get things going in Cincy last week, so he arrives at Winston-Salem without any momentum. He did make the quarterfinals in his previous trip here in 2015, but lost his opener last year. He will face qualifier Rogerio Dutra Silva or Donald Young. Coric beat Young in their lone meeting on grass in 2015. Coric beat Dutra Silva on clay in 2016 in their only career meeting. Given that the Croat has lost his opener in seven of his last ten tournaments, it’s highly likely that either Young or Dutra Silva will have a legit shot to win.

15. Daniil Medvedev
The Russian has looked worse for the wear since his quarterfinal run at the Citi Open. He’s lost his opening match in both Montreal and Cincinnati and not looked good in either match. Medvedev will have a better match-up this time around with either Thomas Fabbiano or Kyle Edmund who went through qualifying. Fabbiano is 0-4 in main draw matches on this summer hard court swing, so Edmund should expect to get the win. I think he’s the tougher out for Medvedev and the Brit should have a chance to extend the Russian’s woes of late.

16. Jiri Vesely
Vesely has played just one match on hard courts this summer and that was a three set loss to Ivo Karlovic last week in Cincy. He will open against either Marcos Baghdatis who won his opener on Sunday against Ricardas Bernakis. Baggy is 3-0 against Vesely, including a win in Auckland at the beginning of 2017. Sound that upset vuvuzela.

17. Joao Sousa
An easy inclusion on this list with the Portugese having lost all four of his previous matches in Winston-Salem. He draws Ernests Gulbis or qualifier Marton Fucsovics. Sousa’s four first-up losses here have been to mostly good players, so perhaps a better draw will help this time around. I still think Gulbis who has found some wins lately is going to be a problematic out if he can get off with a win. Fucsovics owns one career win against El Gulbis last year on dirt, but he’s winless for his career in main draw matches on outdoor hard courts on the ATP tour.

Outsider’s Edge

Unseeded players have a rich tradition of making deep runs at this tournament as you might expect the week prior to a Grand Slam. Their motivation levels often are bit higher as they take advantage of the loose draws. An unseeded player has made the final twice in the history of this tournament and has made the semifinals three straight years. Two of the past three years, two unseeded players have crashed the semis and there have been multiple unseeded players in the quarterfinals each year except 2011.

Here is a look at this year’s potential darkhorses.

Yen-Hsun Lu
Lu has some tricky matches early against Tursunov and then Steve Johnson. Both though are match-ups that could favor him right now with neither the Russian or American in the best vein of form. This is also the section of the draw with Troicki as the other seed in the way to a quarterfinal. Lu comes in hot off the Challenger wins and this could be a quarter he takes advantage of with perhaps a bit better motivation than the rest.

Ernests Gulbis
After going more than a year without winning a main draw match on tour, Gulbis has actually been scoring wins consistently since Wimbledon .He is 5-4 and his losses have all come in three sets outside of his straight sets defeat to Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon. His draw looks conducive to a possible tun if he can get that first win in round one. The seeds in his part of the draw are Sousa and Medvedev, both beatable I think. Gulbis might seem an after-thought, but he could easily find himself in the quarterfinal mix.

Damir Dzumhur
Assuming Dzumhur can get past Istomin to start, he’s got Simon and Verdasco as the seeds potentially in his path to a quarterfinal. He’s never played either one, but showed more in Los Cabos than either has shown for most of the year on this surface. Don’t forget he also beat Stan Wawrinka in Dubai on this surface and took Del Potro to three sets at Delray Beach. He’s got some chops on this surface and seemingly just needs the confidence of that first win to get rolling.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Roberto Bautista Agut (1)
Paolo Lorenzi (7)
Yuichi Sugita (10)
Jiri Vesely (16)

Breakdown
Bautista Agut clearly is the cream of the crop here and he should be looking for some form this week after an early exit in Cincinnati last week. There is no particularly poor match-up in this quarter for him no matter how it shakes down. It could simply be a case of whether RBA wants to push to the end or get a few wins and then check out to rest for the U.S. Open. Baghdatis is the dangerous floater in this quarter with a win under his belt and a favorable R2 match-up against Vesely. Lorenzi could sneak into the quarters as a seed no one really expects much from this week. The Fritz-Jaziri winner I still think could take down Sugita and open themselves up for a darkhorse run.

Assuming RBA wants to be here for the week, I think the Spaniard is the clear pick to get to the semifinals out of this quarter.

Quarter #2 Seeds
John Isner (3)
Pablo Cuevas (5)
Aljaz Bedene (12)
Borna Coric (14)

Breakdown
This is another quarter you look at the lead seed and say, well there isn’t much to beat him here. Isner has two titles and a semifinal showing last week in Cincinnati to show for the period post-Wimbledon. It’s been five years since Isner has played here, but let’s not forget that he’s 12-0 all-time with titles in both trips to Winston-Salem in 2011 and 2012. His biggest speed bump might be Donald Young if Young can get to the third round. He’s 1-3 against Isner, but usually plays him very tough. A spot opposite of Isner in the quarters could truly go to anyone from Cuevas or Bedene to an outsider like Janko Tipsarevic or Andreas Seppi.

Much like RBA, Isner is the clear and present danger out of this quarter. He’s gotten himself on a nice roll this summer and arrives fairly fresh. I don’t see anyone in this quarter who can out serve him, so if Isner is on his game – this is his spot to make the run to the semis.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Steve Johnson (6)
Viktor Troicki (11)
Daniil Medvedev (15)
Joao Sousa (17)

Breakdown
This quarter looks ripe for a possible unseeded player to take control with all of the seeds not arriving with the greatest form. Johnson of course is a player who could easily take this, but he’s had a difficult time contending with the passing of his father and trying to turn in positive results on the court. He can flip the switch any time and perhaps this is the week with a weaker draw and better early match-ups compared to the other events he has played this summer. He may simply need the first match to fall his way to get things going in the right direction.

Two of the outsiders I highlighted are in this quarter with Lu and Gulbis. This quarter also got an unseeded boost with Kyle Edmund getting into the mix through qualifying. For me, this is the quarter where the seeds are in peril. Lu and Edmund are the more confident picks to make noise, but there’s still something burpy that says Gulbis has a shot to win a few this week and surprise.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Pablo Carreno Busta (2)
Fernando Verdasco (8)
Gilles Simon (9)
Hyeon Chung (13)

Breakdown
Carreno Busta doesn’t have an easy path to defending his title. If he survives Benneteau or Hugues-Herbert to open, he still could have to contend with Chung or perhaps upstart Andrey Rublev. It’s not an impossible task, but PCB will have to improve on his last match against Ferrer in Cincy that resulted in a fairly lopsided loss. The other half with Simon and Verdasco as the seeds also has Dzumhur, one of the outsiders I highlighted above. He’s the one to watch with those two seeds not having a ton of success on hard courts at this point in the year. Don’t discount Chung either. He looks a bit more comfortable with some match play coming back from the ankle injury and again with a lesser field, this seems like the type of tournament where he could make a bit of a run if he finds his best.

This quarter looks wide open with all the seeds having some questions about them coming into the week. Dzumhur and maybe Andrey Rublev would be the outsiders to watch in this quarter. I do think this one will fall to a seed and my order of confidence is Carreno Busta, Chung and Verdasco. Dzumhur is still my sleeper if he can get out of round one.

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

The funniest result this week would be a carbon copy result of the 2016 final with the top two seeds in 2017 getting all the way through. History though is not on the side of the top seed Bautista Agut nor with Carreno Busta defending his title. I think Isner is a better option among the top tier seeds to run to the title, especially considering how he’s done here in the past. My oddball Spidey sense “outside” selection to watch is Chung. In the end though, Isner I think has the best shot to take home the title with Carreno Busta perhaps in the mix at the business end as well as a second option.

2017 Western & Southern Open Preview

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Questions Among the Top Four Seeds

The U.S. Open hard court series hits its high note this week as the tour stops in Cincinnati for the Western & Southern Open. For many, this is the final tuneup before the U.S. Open. The new week arrives with new questions. We thought the biggest would be how Rafael Nadal bounced back after his shock loss to Denis Shapovalov in Montreal last week. Now, even with Alexander Zverev as the biggest story – the key question is how healthy is Roger Federer? Zverev truly played some of his best tennis and was a deserving winner in the Rogers Cup final on Sunday. However, there was little doubt that Federer seemed tight and not-so-fluid in the second set. Many observers believe the Swiss tweaked his back at some point with the focus on his change in service motion from set one to set two. Federer was typically mum after the match, so it remains to be seen what his status will be for this week.

As for the man who is the current main attraction on the ATP World Tour in Sascha Zverev, he arrives on a ten match winning streak and with plenty of confidence. The key for Sascha this week as was the case in Montreal is balance. Winning your second Masters title and beating Federer will obviously have him on an emotional high, so it’s big if he can prove again that he can come off that feeling and continue his run of great play. Zverev will serve as the fourth seed in Cincy behind Nadal, Federer and Dominic Thiem. Thiem himself will have something to prove with a 1-2 mark for his summer swing on hard courts. His loss to Diego Schwartzman in his opener last week in Montreal will be particularly troubling. The Austrian will want to gain some momentum this week.

Number One Ranking in Sight for Nadal or Federer

As for Nadal, he’ll look to shake off the disappointment of last week and focus on recapturing form at the Western & Southern Open with an eye on the top spot in the rankings. From the sounds of his comments after losing to Shapovalov in Montreal, one wouldn’t be wrong in thinking he fully expected to be in that spot entering the week. Instead, he’s still just behind Andy Murray at #2 by just 195 points. With Murray out this week again due to injury, Rafa can regain the top spot for the first time since 2014 if the chips fall right for him. Federer also has plenty to say about that if healthy enough to compete. Rafa lost in the round of 16 last year, so has plenty of points to gain with each win after that round. Federer did not play Cincinnati at all in 2016 due to injury, so will have nothing but points to gain with each win.

Seeded Field Struggling

If we’re honest, most of the seeded field in Cincinnati not named Sascha Zverev will be looking to establish a rhythm and find their best form this week. One player we won’t see is Kei NIshikori, who pulled out with a wrist injury. Nishikori has been set to be seeded fifth, a slot that will now go to lucky loser Janko Tipsarevic. Sixth seed Milos Raonic arrives off an injury concern last week in Montreal where he lost his opening match. He revealed after that he had played through some pain in his left wrist. The Canadian does not believe it to be a long term issue. What has been an issue for Raonic is his uneven play. He is a two-time semifinalist at this tournament, making that round last year.

The seventh seed this week is Grigor Dimitrov who has become the poster child for struggling on tour. Last week showcased that again as he beat Mischa Zverev in his opener before losing to Robin Haase going away 7-6, 4-6, 6-1. Dimitrov did have his best run here last year in making the semifinals, scoring four of his nine career wins in Cincinnati in that stretch. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (8) comes to the midwest with a poor record at this event (2-5) and just one match since Wimbledon. That was last week’s three set loss to Sam Querrey at the Rogers Cup.

David Goffin slots in as the 9th seed and another player who has been rough around the edges of late. The Belgian returned to tour in late July after missing time with an ankle injury. He is 3-3 since returning with his losses coming to unexpected sources like Ivan Dodig, Robin Haase and Hyeon Chung. Goffin is 5-3 in his career in Cincy, never making it past the round of 16. Tomas Berdych rounds out the top ten seeds. The Czech pulled out of Montreal last week with a rib injury or perhaps due to his lengthy run in Los Cabos the week prior. He made the final in Mexico, where he lost to Thanasi Kokkinakis in a grueling three set match.Berdych is 18-12 all-time at this tournament with semifinal runs in 2011 and 2013.

The last part of the seeded field includes Pablo Carreno Busta, Roberto Bautista Agut and a glut of Americans. The American contingent has the most history here. That includes 14th seed John Isner who won his Sunday opener against Viktor Troicki in straight sets. Isner has not done well since making the final in 2013. Since then, he has failed to get past the second round in two of the past three years. Sam Querrey (15) is 10-10 in Cincy, but has also not been past round two in the last six years. The final seed, Gilles Muller, won his opener on Sunday against Ryan Harrison in three sets. It was his first victory in just two career matches at this event.

Early Bird Specials

Last year was the lowest number of first-up upsets in Cincinnati a good bit. Only two seeds lost their openers last year. Prior to that, four seeds lost first-up in 2015, three in 2014 and six in 2013. Interestingly, a top eight seed has not lost their opener in Cincy since 2014. That could be up for a change this year with so many in this seeded field short on form and results of late. Let’s take a look at the players who could be most likely to struggle early.

3. Dominic Thiem
An intriguing opponent awaits Thiem either way the first round match between Fabio Fognini and Daniil Medvedev shakes down. Medvedev was unable to get off the ground in Montreal last week after his surprise run to the quarterfinals the week before in D.C. Fognini has a good run on clay after Wimbledon with a title in Gstaad. He did make a shock run to the quarterfinals in 2014 in Cincinnati, but has lost his first match each of the last two years. Thiem whipped Fognini in their lone career meeting on clay back in 2015 and he’s never played Medvedev. Both Fognini and Medvedev can play that smash and grab style on hard courts, so both can pose problems for Thiem and both can be overwhelmed when they are not hitting their spots. Keep the upset alert button handy in any case.

6. Milos Raonic
Keeping the Canadian here simply because we’re not sure what percentage that wrist is going to be at to start this week. He’ll face either Nikoloz Basilashvili or Borna Coric. Raonic is 1-0 against both, but consider Coric a possible trouble spot for the Canadian. Coric has taken to these courts well in two previous trips with wins over Alexander Zverev (2015) and then Nadal and Kyrgios last year. With Raonic up and down this year, there’s every reason to believe that match could be very tight.

7. Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov is a regular on this list and why not? He has stretched his streak of non first-up losses to four straight tournaments now, but he’s been pushed to three sets both in DC and Montreal in his first match before losing in the next round. He has lost his first-up match in five tournaments this year. Dimitrov gets Feliciano Lopez or Hyeon Chung to open this week. Lopez is 2-2 against Dimitrov, including a win on grass this year and a three set loss last year in Cincy in a third set tiebreak. Chung played well against Dimitrov in a four set loss at the Australian Open. Chung beat Lopez last week in Montreal, so it will be an intriguing first round clash that could lead to an even more intriguing second round match.

8. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsonga wasn’t done any favors with his draw. He is going to face the winner of Ivo Karlovic vs Jiri Vesely. Tsonga would probably prefer Vesely who he beat in a strenuous four set Davis Cup win on hard courts in 2016. Karlovic is 2-1 against the Frenchman with both wins coming on grass at Wimbledon. The plus for Tsonga is neither arrives with much done on this surface lately. Vesely has beaten Karlovic twice, but the last meeting came in 2015 at the U.S. Open. Either player is definitely capable of giving Tsonga fits with their power, especially considering Tsonga’s poor record here.

9. David Goffin
An easy inclusion on this list even if his first round opponent is about as trustworthy as a politician. Goffin faces Nick Kyrgios to start. The Aussie did put together two wins in a row in Montreal last week, his best showing since Madrid way back in May. His performance against Alexander Zverev in his loss was less than inspiring, but he at least showed some mobility and his shoulder held up. Does that mean he holds up this week? Of course not. He has beaten Goffin both times they have played in the past though with the last coming in Miami earlier this season when the Belgian was playing reasonably well. With the quick conditions in Cincy, Kyrgios will be a big bother for Goffin – IF he cares to be. That is the question.

10, Tomas Berdych
Berdych draws the first round Juan Martin Del Potro short stick this week. DelPo was up and down again last week. Looking decent in a win against John Isner in Montreal before looking very flat against Denis Shapovalov in the next round. He is 4-3 against Berdych. The Berdman has won both of their meetings on this surface, including the last at Indian Wells last season. With Berdych’s status unknown with the rib and DelPo always seemingly unknown with the wrist, this really looks 50-50.

12. Roberto Bautista Agut
RBA faces off against Jared Donaldson who brings some confidence to Cincy after back-to-back third round runs in D.C. and Montreal. The Spaniard was solid in his own right last week with a quarterfinal run at the Rogers Cup, where he lost to Federer 6-4, 6-4. RBA is just 2-3 at this event however and lost in round one to Nicolas Mahut last year. JD is 2-2 at this event in two career trips and he took Stan Wawrinka to three sets in a loss last year. If he finds his serve early, he’s a threat to upset.

Outsider’s Edge

Cincinnati has been a regular haven for outsiders the past five years with an unseeded player crashing the semifinals each year. That includes John Isner’s 2013 finals appearance as an outsider. With some of the questions surrounding this week’s seeded field, there could definitely be room for a new addition to the outsider’s club at the Western & Southern Open. Let’s take a look at some possibilities.

Nadal’s Quarter
There are too many unseeded possibilities in this quarter to list them individually. Yes, Nadal will be expecting to make a big run here, but he’s lost in the round of 16 each of his last two trips to the midwest. In this quarter, there is Nick Kyrgios, Kevin Anderson, Alexandr Dolgpolov, Ivo Karlovic and Jiri Vesely. Kyrgios, Dolgopolov and Anderson would have to go through each other in round two in some combination, but could benefit from having Tsonga and Goffin as the lead seeds in that half of the quarter. That would keep them away from Nadal longer if the Spaniard is able to make a run. Anderson probably carries the best form, but is 0-4 against Nadal. He might need help to get through to the semifinals out of this group.

Steve Johnson/David Ferrer
Johnson continues to ride the roller coaster from week to week and he gets another tough opener with David Ferrer. Ferrer scored two of his best wins this season last week at the Rogers Cup against Kyle Edmund and Jack Sock. He also took a set off of Federer before losing in three sets. The winner of their first round match gets to take advantage of Nishikori’s injury withdraw in round two. Ferrer is 2-0 against Johnson and perhaps arriving with the most confidence he has had in a long time. The winner would only have Carreno Busta seeded in their way to the quarterfinals and Thiem or Querrey as the possible seed blocking a semifinal. It’s a weaker draw that could open up nicely.

Fabio Fognini/Daniil Medvedev
The winner of their first round clash will have to beat Thiem in round two, but that’s not an unimaginable task right now on this surface. A couple wins and they could be in the driver’s seat for a quarterfinal run or better.

Gael Monfils
The Frenchman scored wins over Johnson and Nishikori last week to boost his confidence. He lost a tough three set match to Bautista Agut in round three in a third set tiebreak, but appears to be trending upward. He’s in the quarter with Zverev and Raonic as the top seeds. His half could be easier to at least push to the quarterfinals as La Monf is 3-3 against Raonic and had beaten RBA three straight before last week’s loss.

Karen Khachanov
The Russian’s potential this week would hinge on Federer’s status. Khachanov opens against Diego Schwartzman in round one. Schwartzman did beat him in Miami this year in three sets, but the quicker conditions in Cincy could help the Russian in this one. The winner would meet Federer in round two if the Swiss is able to go. Khachanov lost to Fed 6-4, 7-6 in Halle this year and proved he can stick with him in quick conditions. If things fall right, he would likely only need to get past Sock to get to the quarters. Then, it’s Dimitrov and Berdych as the highest seeds in the other part of the quarter to block a semifinal berth. It’s a long shot sure, but there is potential depending on what happens with Federer.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (1)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (8)
David Goffin (9)
Gilles Muller (16)

Breakdown
Nadal’s route to the quarterfinals could run through Muller, a repeat of their five set classic at Wimbledon this year. Muller has taken a set off of Rafa in their last two meetings and likely would provide another stiff test. Nadal will face Richard Gasquet or John Parick Smith to start. He is 14-0 against Gasquet and will likely feel comfortable in either case. Muller would need to get past Mikhail Youzhny or Albert Ramos-Vinolas in round two to make that rematch come true.

In the bottom half, Goffin and Tsonga are shaky seeds. Kevin Anderson could be the one to take advantage in this part of the draw if he gets past Dolgopolov to begin. Anderson made the Citi Open final and then followed up with a quarterfinal run last week. There is no Sascha Zverev in his way this week, so if he’s not fatigued, watch out for him again. I’d favor Tsonga over Goffin as far as the seed who could reasonably do better here.

For me, I think this quarter could boil down to the potential Nadal-Muller match in round three. Rafa will have confidence from getting those tough wins over the big lefty, but it also leaves this quarter the potential for someone other than Rafa to get through to the semis.

Quarter #2 Seeds
Dominic Thiem (3)
Pablo Carreno Busta (11)
Sam Querrey (15)

Breakdown
The departure of Nishikori in this quarter leaves room for some jostling in this quarter. Thiem is the lead seed, but far from a sure shot. His first match may be his toughest with either Fognini or Medvedev waiting. If the Austrian gets past that, he could get on a better roll. Querrey has a nice match-up in his half of the quarter to begin with Stefan Kozlov. His next match could be tougher with either Adrian Mannarino or Robin Haase as the foe. Mannarino is 2-0 against Querrey and Haase played very well in Montreal last week. I would not be surprised if this half of the quarter did fall to Thiem so long as he can get past his opener.

In the bottom half, Carreno Busta is the only seed with Janko Tipsarevic sliding into Nishikori’s slot. Carreno Busta could have a nice path with Paolo Lorenzi to open and then either Fernando Verdasco or Mischa Zverev. PCB is 1-1 against Zverev and 2-1 against Verdasco. Neither has been good of late on hard courts. Carreno Busta will have to overcome his lack of experience in this venue with just one career match, but he’s got the talent to make the run.

This quarter looks like it’s either Thiem or a total blowup with an unseeded player making their way through. Thiem has yet to master this Masters swing in his young career, so it’s not definite that he will this time around. Still, I do like him here if he gets past that opener. But that is a fairly large IF.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Alexander Zverev (4)
Milos Raonic (6)
Roberto Bautisra Agut (12)
John Isner (14)

Breakdown
All of a sudden, Zverev isn’t a future star – he’s a current star. This is sure to be a test for Sascha as one of the few players in the draw playing for a third straight week. No matter the form, that is a big ask for a player to continue to roll day after day. As usual in these situations, the first match could be the trickiest. Zverev faces either Frances Tiafoe or qualifier Maximillian Marterer. That will help alleviate some of the stress as both are inferior players to Sascha. He has already handled Tiafoe in straight sets twice at the Aussie Open and Wimbledon. Isner looks the larger threat from ending his run. Isner will need to get by Donald Young or Tommy Paul next round, but could be waiting for Zverev in round three. Sascha is 3-0 against Isner, including two wins this year, but Big John has taken a set off of him in each match. With a lot of mileage on Zverev, I would not be surprised if Isner ended Sascha’s win streak.

In the other half, Raonic arrives with the health question and is definitely a candidate for an early exit if the wrist is still bothersome. Coric, if he takes down Basilashvili in round one, could be the one to do it. Bautista Agut has the tough opener against Donaldson and then could face Monfils for a second straight week. This definitely looks like a part of the bracket that could see an unseeded player sneak through. Think Monfils or Donaldson, but Coric could also be a possibility with a good track record of playing tough in Cincy.

If Zverev can avoid burn out this week, you’d be a fool to bet against him as I did last week in Montreal. He’s the form player on tour the last few weeks and has proven it over and over. A healthy and in-form Raonic would obviously be tough here, but he’s neither coming into this week. If not Sascha, Bautista Agut is an interesting and under-the-radar seed to sneak into the mix. Monfils or Donaldson to me seems the likelier of the unseeded guys to surprise.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Roger Federer (2)
Grigor Dimitrov (7)
Tomas Berdych (10)
Jack Sock (13)

*See Updated thoughts below due to Federer announcing he would withdraw due to a back injury

Breakdown
The pluses for Federer this week are listed above. None of the seeds have been particularly consistent lately and none of them have traditionally bothered the Swiss. The big question for Fed is health. With the U.S. Open less than two weeks away, he’s going to be very careful not to overextend himself. Grand Slams are what it’s all about for the Swiss at this stage. Fed seemed to characterize his problems on Sunday as the aches and pains you would expect after being on vacation for a while and then playing a full week. To me, it sounds like he will give it a go in Cincy. If healthy, Federer has a good path to the quarters although Khachanov potentially in round two would be a tough out as laid out earlier. Sock has Yuichi Sugita to start and then may face Kyle Edmund in round two. Edmund smoked him in Atlanta.

In the other half, you have the enigma that is Dimitrov and the questionable status of Berdych. There are dangerous floaters like Del Potro, Benoit Paire, Feliciano Lopez and Hyeon Chung in this half as well. I trust Berdych more than Dimitrov since the Czech efforted well in Los Cabos. If he’s healthy, Berdych has a shot to get going if he can work past DelPo – that’s the big one for him early. This is pretty wide open with everyone here lacking consistency, so it’s really a pretty big guessing game as to who the quarterfinalist could be.

The hope will be that Federer’s body responds to a few days off and some treatment. If he bounces back, Cincy has always been pretty good to the Swiss. He is a seven time champ here after all. If he falters, it’s a big guessing game to the next best shot. I’d meagerly side with Berdych.

Federer’s withdrawal announcement on Monday gives everyone in this quarter some hope, albeit there are still many, many questions here. The winner of the R1 clash between Schwartzman and Khachanov is the immediate beneficiary with Thomas Fabbiano as their second round opponent instead of Federer. Jack Sock would be the seed to benefit the most, but his lackluster history in Cincy and uneven play this summer still makes him a big question. Kyle Edmund could be a quarterfinal sleeper in this part of the draw now, if he can get going early.

The other obvious duo to benefit by Federer’s exit are the other seeds in this quarter, Dimitrov and Berych, who both had poor records against the Swiss. Both have tough paths just to avoid early upsets though, so in all, this quarter now really looks like it is ripe for the taking by anyone who can get hot early. I still look to the winner of that Schwartzman-Khachanov match as a big player as to what shakes out in this quarter now.

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

Going into Montreal last week, it was all about Fedal. A Nadal loss to Shapovalov and Federer’s withdrawal changes that dynamic this week. Zverev is an obvious choice too, but as well as he’s playing, a third consecutive week of play is going to be a major challenge. Marin Cilic was a surprise winner in Cincinnati last year as the 12th seed and I could see Cincy falling to an unexpected name this year too. End of the day though, the motivation is there for Nadal especially this week and he’s in full health. I’ll give a small edge to him, but something weird in me (wine) says watch out for Thiem.