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.

Advertisements

2017 U.S. Open Preview: Quarter #4

USOQ417

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

WSO17

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

WSO17INGRID

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.

2017 Rogers Cup Preview

COUPEROGERS17

Resilient R’s Lead the Field

Injuries will deprive the crowd in Montreal from some of the top tier ATP stars this week, but few will probably care that much as 2017’s main attractions in Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will be playing at this year’s Rogers Cup. Novak Djokovic is done for 2017 with an elbow issue. Stan Wawrinka joined him this past week, by announcing he will skip the remainder of the season to have a procedure done to correct a knee injury. Also missing will be Andy Murray, who has battled hip problems the most in recent months. Marin Cilic is also out this week due to his foot injury suffered at Wimbledon. There is a lot missing, but there is Roger and there is Rafa. That’s enough for most this week.

Nadal comes in with the number seed this week and everyone talking his stalking of the number one overall spot with Djokovic and Murray losing points by the week. Nadal has enjoyed success at the Rogers Cup in both locations (Montreal/Toronto) with three titles, the last of which came in Montreal in 2013. This will be Rafa’s first trip back since 2015, when he was walloped in the quarterfinals by Kei NIshikori. Federer arrives up north with the possibility of ending a lengthy streak without a title at this event. The Swiss has won the title twice, but not since 2006. This is his first time playing the Rogers Cup since 2014 and first time back in Montreal since 2011. As if they need it, both should have plenty of motivation this week.

Rounding out the top four seeds are Dominic Thiem and new Citi Open champion Alexander Zverev. Both will look for their first win at the Rogers Cup with Thiem sporting an 0-3 career mark and Zverev at 0-1. Zverev will also be playing in Montreal for the first time, but obviously comes in red hot off the D.C. title. Falling in behind those two in the seeded field are Kei Nishikori as the fifth seed, Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to round out the top eight. Tsonga won the title in 2014 in Toronto, while Nishikori and Raonic have both been to the final one time. Nishikori did it last year in Toronto, while Raonic did the trick in Montreal in 2013. Both arrive with plenty of baggage this week after some mediocre tennis played in Washington, D.C.

Last Half of Seeds Have Plenty of Question Marks

There is plenty of intrigue and Scooby Doo face to go around in the final eight spots in the seeded field. David Goffin (9) is back on hard courts for the first time since the Spring. He’s looked sluggish on clay in his return from that ankle injury and will be seeking to find some form. John Isner is seeded 14th after skipping the Citi Open last week to rest after back-to-back titles in Newport and Atlanta. Isner is just 9-7 all-time at the Rogers Cup. Slotting in behind him is Jack Sock who made sure his mouth made more of a mark in D.C. than his play. In case you missed it, Sock called the Stadium Court surface at the Citi Open the “worst on tour”after he was routinely dismissed in straight sets by Kevin Anderson in the semifinals. It was the same court that Sock played on in each of his three wins up to that point last week.

And then there is 16th seed Nick Kyrgios. The same Nick Kyrgios who has retired from his last three matches on tour due to lingering shoulder and hip issues. That includes last week’s Citi Open, which begs the question as to exactly what the hell Kyrgios is doing stepping out on court this week? I’m confused and amazed that no one can give NK direction at this point. He’s obvious less than 100 percent and likely will play himself right out of the U.S. Open if he continues to try and struggle through his issues.

Early Bird Specials

Early upsets have been a part of this tournament whether it is held in Toronto or Montreal. Last year in Toronto, five seeds went down in their openers. The year before in 2015 in Montreal, five seeds also were dumped out – including third seed Stan Wawrinka. 2014 saw just two seeds lose first-up, but 2013 was on that familiar path with five seeded upsets. That year, the #3 seed David Ferrer was the highest seed to lose. If you trickle back to 2011 in Montreal, Nadal as the second seed was taken down early in his opener. There’s a bit of a history of a top seed going down early in Montreal, so let’s take a look at this week’s seeds who might be prone to that early exit.

4. Alexander Zverev
You’re probably scratching your head and asking how stupid is this guy? Yes, Zverev is coming off a great week in D.C. where he played some of his best tennis in recent memory. However, coming off the high of a title has been tricky for the youngster to handle. The D.C. win was his fourth title this season. In two of the three previous times he’s won a title this season, he’s been one and done in his next tournament. That makes this a dangerous spot. He will face Canadian wildcard Brayden Schnur or Richard Gasquet to start. Gasquet would be the obvious tougher out, but Sascha has beaten him twice this season already. I’d keep alert in this one, but if Sascha can keep his emotional level up, he may just survive the early upset bid.

5. Kei Nishikori
An incredibly bad draw for Nishikori with either Steve Johnson or Gael Monfils as his first opponent. Combine that with his iffy play in D.C. and you see why Kei is on upset alert. His game was definitely off at the Citi Open with his ground strokes very error prone. Neither Johnson or Monfils is in incredible great form. Johnson has lost his only two matches at the Rogers Cup, while Monfils made the semis last year in Toronto and has only lost his first-up at this event once in seven tries. Given Johnson’s collapse in D.C. and his continued emotional stress, Monfils could well be the opponent. Nishikori is 3-0 against La Monf, but all three have gone the distance. He’s 4-0 against Johnson, but given his fragile play last week, I’d keep Nishikori on upset alert early.

6. Milos Raonic
Raonic continued his baffling season in Washington, D.C. last week with more mediocrity as he won one and lost one, with Jack Sock taking him out in straight sets. He could be tasked with facing Daniil Medvedev in his first match. Medvedev was solid in a quarterfinal run in D.C. last week, but will need to beat Adrian Mannarino to start. If he does, Medvedev showed that he’s got the ability to match good players. Raonic’s serve and ground game is lacking consistency, so even though the Russian isn’t going to match the pure power of Raonic, he could easily stay in sets and steal them late.

8. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsonga could be pitted against his Wimbledon nemesis Sam Querrey in his opener in Montreal. Querrey has to get past qualifier Vincent Millot to start, but does have the confidence boost of winning the title in Los Cabos last week. If it is Tsonga vs Querrey, Tsonga still holds a 4-2 edge in the head-to-head, but Querrey did win their marathon five set match at Wimbledon the last time out. Tsonga had won three in a row against the American before that loss. Tsonga has usually played well here with a 16-4 record with his only early exit at the Rogers Cup coming when it was hosted in Toronto in 2012. Still, Tsonga has lost his first match in three of his last seven tournaments, so he’s far from a sure thing to advance.

9. David Goffin
With Goffin still searching for his best since returning the the ankle injury he suffered at the French Open, you have to watch out for him not being tip top in his opener. He faces Yuichi Sugita, which wouldn’t normally be a daunting task. In this spot though, Sugita could be troublesome. He lost a tough three set match to Grigor Dimitrov in a rare foray into Canada. He’s been off since Wimbledon, but is a decent hard court player who could push Goffin a bit.

11. Pablo Carreno Busta
PCB is an injury question after retiring from his last match in Bastad. A recurring abdominal injury took him out, the same one that kept him from playing any during the grass court swing. That sets him up poorly against big hitting Russian Karen Khachanov. Khachanov is still green at just 21 and he’s playing this North American swing on hard courts for the first time. He did win his 1st ATP title on an outdoor hard court in Chengdu last fall, so he’s full capable on the surface. PCB won their lone meeting, which came on clay in Monte Carlo. If the Spaniard tries giving it a go this week, I do fancy Khachanov having a good shot at scoring the scalp.

14. John Isner
Based on the match-up and the way Isner matches go, you have to have the American on the list of potential upset victims. He draws Juan Martin Del Potro to open with the Argentine holding a 5-2 record against him. The plus for Isner is that DelPo looked a bit worse for the wear in his D.C. loss to Nishikori. If Isner can find his rhythm again that carried him through Newport and Atlanta, I think he has a good shot to avoid the upset bug.

16. Nick Kyrgios
You would be daft not to include Kyrgios in a section focusing on early upset bids. Kyrgios has had a bevy of health issues this year and he’s been unable to complete a match in three straight tournaments. The physical issues seem to weigh on him mentally as soon as things go wrong in matches and he seems unable to tune out the pain or uncertainty of what his body can or cannot do. I’m not in the “know” here, but it is perplexing to me that someone who appears to be less than 100 percent is continuing to play week after week with the same results. Maybe he’s been told that he can’t do any further damage by playing, but it certainly appears to be damaging his psyche during matches. He opens against Viktor Troicki. We haven’t seen Troicki since he played just 17 minutes in his first round match at Wimbledon before retiring. So perhaps it will be a race of who retires first in their round one clash.

Outsider’s Edge

Unseeded players have a good history of deep runs recently at the Rogers Cup. In three of the last four years, an unseeded player has crashed the semifinals. They have also claimed two or more quarterfinal spots each year since 2012 and have had at least one quarterfinal spot occupied every year since 2010.

Let’s take a look at the non-seeds who could be capable of joining that group this week in Montreal.

Daniil Medvedev
The Russian is on this list again this week with a workable draw that could see him make an impact again. If he gets past Mannarino, he does have Raonic to contend with, but Milos obviously is much more beatable these days than in the past. If he can get past those two, it might be Goffin or an unseeded player in his path to a potential quarterfinal bid. Not impossible, but certainly he does have work to do.

Feliciano Lopez/Yuichi Sugita
A longshot here, but he’s also in this same quarter as Medvedev where there are a lot of questions. Lopez hasn’t been in a great vein of form this year, but opens against Hyeon Chung who has struggled to gain form after a long injury layoff. A win for Lopez and he could get Goffin or Sugita if the Japanese springs the upset. I’m not sold that Goffin is going to pull it all together with what he has shown so far in his return from injury, so there is a chance for someone to steal a quarterfinal spot. Heck, it could even be Sugita himself.

Richard Gasquet
Gasquet has a decent history at this tournament with a 19-8 career mark and a finals appearance in Toronto in 2012. This is his first trip back to Canada since 2014 and he hasn’t played since Wimbledon. Still, he could catch Alexander Zverev with his head still in the clouds after his DC title run this past week. That is who Gasquet will play in round two if he survives Schnur in his opener. Obviously an upset of Zverev and he’ll be keyed to get a quarterfinal spot or better. Keep in mind Kyrgios is also in this part of the quarter, so there are some openings possible for a big run from someone unexpected.

Sam Querrey
The Los Cabos champion will need to adjust his body clock quickly, but there is a path for him if he can do accomplish that feat. As laid out above, he would have to face Tsonga early, but if he gets by the Frenchman, his chances grow immensely. Only Carreno Busta or Khachanov might be in his path from that point on.

Kevin Anderson
Big Kev will have some increased confidence after his DC finals run, but will need to overcome the Championship Match loss hangover that we often see. Getting Dudi Sela first should help with that, although Sela has qualifying under his belt and is a tough out. Anderson’s serve should be too much though if he’s not fatigued. A win gets him either Carreno Busta or Khachanov. Then it could come down to Tsonga or Querrey to block his route to a third Rogers Cup quarterfinal. Working against him? His two quarterfinal appearances were both in Toronto and he’s 0-2 in his last two trips to Montreal.

Steve Johnson/Gael Monfils
The winner of their first round clash will be one to watch. They get Nishikori in round two and that would be the toughest opponent in their way to a deep run likely with Roberto Bautista Agut as the other seed blocking a quarterfinal run.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (1)
Milos Raonic (6)
David Goffin (9)
John Isner (14)

Breakdown
Even with a lot of down time, Nadal will surely like his draw in this quarter. Raonic has seen better days, Goffin has yet to find his best and Isner is 0-6 against the top seeded Spaniard. Those being his main competitors, Rafa should be looking to take care of business for the business end of the tournament. He will open against Borna Coric or Mikhail Youzhny. Coric does own two wins against Rafa, but came in tougher spots for the Spaniard. He was injured when they played the first time in Basel and obviously out of gas last year when Coric beat him in Cincinnati. That came just a few days after Nadal took the bronze at the Rio Olympics after several taxing three set matches. I would expect Rafa to be up for that one in a big way. Isner or Del Potro is likely to be in his path to a quarterfinal. I don’t think the current version of Del Potro is a bigger threat than Isner right now.

The bottom half of the quarter may wind up falling to Raonic, despite his mediocre form. The other seed in that half is Goffin and he has questions to answer before you expect anything from him on this surface. Goffin COULD rev things up certainly, but that’s a big ask right now. Raonic has always had trouble with Goffin (2-2), so he’d be happy to see him out before a potential round three match. I do think Medvedev is the danger to the seeds in this part with Raonic potentially his first scalp, but the Russian shouldn’t overlook round one opponent Adrian Mannarino.

Unless Nadal is woefully out of form after the layoff from Wimbledon, it’s hard to look part him in this quarter. With the top ranking in his sights, not to mention a realistic shot at the U.S. Open, expect Rafa to be focused this week.

Quarter #2 Seeds
Alexander Zverev (4)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (8)
Pablo Carreno Busta (11)
Nick Kyrgios (16)

Breakdown
This is a maturity moment for Zverev. Coming off a big title win, it’s time for the 20-year-old to show he is a consistent contender. I talked previously about his early ousters in two of the three tournaments he has played after winning his other titles this season and that is a worry. He is young, so there is that room for growth in that area. This is a perfect time to prove it in a quarter where he certainly is the form coming to Montreal. Kyrgios is the seed in his way to the quarterfinal and unless NK has been to a magic healer, it’s difficult to think his body will hold up long enough for him to be a big bother. I think the trickiest match for Zverev will be his first, especially if it’s a craft vet like Gasquet. Keep an eye on Frances Tiafoe in this half as well. He still is having trouble getting wins, but he’s so damn competitive in his losses that you feel like some day soon he’s going to take off. With Kyrgios in shaky health, Tiafoe might string together a couple wins here if he can get past Paolo Lorenzi in round one.

The bottom half of the quarter looks wide open. Tsonga has been a bit off his game of late and could face Sam Querrey early. Carreno Busta is an injury concern, which could open up this part of the draw to an unseeded player like Khachanov or Kevin Anderson. I really do think the seeds will fall in this part of the quarter with Anderson or Querrey as the form players looking most likely to run deep. Don’t discount Khachanov though if he can find a rhythm and get some confidence from knocking off Carreno Busta or even possibly an injury sub.

The easy answer here would be Zverev. I still hold back just a bit from that though with a slight question whether he’ll find that mental consistency needed to hit the reset button this week. If he can put DC in the rear view and get back to work proving his worth again, then he should be the one to get through this quarter. If not, then I really think this will be the spot where an unseeded player will keep that semifinal streak intact.

Quarter #3 Seeds
Dominic Thiem (3)
Grigor Dimitrov (7)
Tomas Berdych (10)
Lucas Pouille (13)

Breakdown
This shapes up as perhaps the most competitive quarter for me. Thiem didn’t look bad despite losing in his second match in DC last week. He simply could not find enough fire power to overcome Anderson’s power. This week, he’ll be charged with find a win at the Rogers Cup first. To break his 0-3 mark, he’ll have to beat Diego Schwartzman or Reilly Opelka. He may not fancy seeing another big server like Opelka across the net, but Opelka doesn’t have the ground game Anderson had to trouble Thiem as much. Pouille is the other seed in Thiem’s half and Pouille again will be needing to prove his worth on hard courts as well. He didn’t play poorly in DC, but lost to some super play from Tommy Paul. He faces Jared Donaldson to start, which won’t be easy. Donaldson does have a big game, but has had trouble stepping up in weight class. If Pouille survives, he could face another challenge with Donald Young or Benoit Paire possible in round two. Pouile does not want to see Young who has already beaten him twice this season in Indian Wells and Miami. An upset is certainly possible there if Young gets past Paire.

In the bottom half, it’s a pair of enigmas with Berdych and Dimitrov as the lead seeds. Dimitrov has a better draw to me with Mischa Zverev or Norbert Gambos up first. Zverev has had plenty of problems on hard courts outside of his miracle Melbourne run. Dimitrov has performed better when this tournament has been in Toronto, so it remains to be seen if he can get it done in Montreal. Berdych was okay in Los Cabos as he made the semifinals, but lost in three to Thanasa Kokkinakis. He won’t be too disappointed with that and opens with a winnable match against NIkoloz Basilashvili this week. A win would get him Albert Ramos Vinolas or Robin Haase. ARV has lost four of five and Haase hasn’t played much in this stretch prior to the U.S. Open in prior years. Berdych did lose to Haase in Dubai earlier this year outdoors though, so keep an eye out if that is the match-up.

Thiem could take advantage if Pouile is taken out earlier than expected. It would be big seeing as Pouille has taken both their career meetings. Thiem has split two meetings with Dimitrov this year with the Bulgarian taking the one one on a hard court in Brisbane. Berdych is 2-0 against Thiem, but this week’s third seed wasn’t far off beating him on grass at Wimbledon a couple months ago. A lot of guess work here. I’ll guess something weird like Dimitrov. Cue the awkward silence.

Quarter #4 Seeds
Roger Federer (2)
Kei Nishikori (5)
Roberto Bautista Agut (12)
Jack Sock (15)

Breakdown
Federer, like Nadal, should be fairly pleased with his draw as well. He’s got a clearly wonky Nishikori as the top seed to contend with and then guys like Bautista Agut and Sock who probably won’t cause him to lose a ton of sleep. He will get either Vasek Pospisil or Peter Polasnky to start. Both seem like agreeable match-ups even after a lengthy layoff. A win there and it’s Sock as the seed in his way to the quarterfinals. Sock has qualifier Pierre-Hugues Herbert in round one and then the survivor between David Ferrer and Kyle Edmund. Edmund crushed Sock in straights in Atlanta and could be a dangeround unseeded player if he gets out of round one.

The other half has Nishikori abd Bautista Agut. Rest will help Nishikori some after he looked very fatigued in his last two matches. Rest may not solve his relatively poor play however. He was making a lot of errors off his ground strokes that he normally does not make. His serve was mediocre, but that is who Kei Nishikori is really. If he survives Johnson or Monfils in round two, then it’s likely Bautista Agut or maybe Ryan Harrison. RBA is more consistent, but hasn’t played here much either. Bautista Agut could weave his way through to the quarterfinals almost by default here if Nishikori is still out of sorts.

Smart money certainly says Federer gets through this quarter. A full fit and in-form Nishikori would potentially contend here, but he doesn’t seem to fit either of those categories right now.

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

The talking heads will be hyping #Fedal 38 from the opening ball. After playing three times from January-March, they haven’t met since. The path is certainly there for it to happen, but there could be a guy named Sascha Zverev who upsets that dream final. Or in a perfect Canadian world, Milos Raonic. That seems far fetched, but Nadal certainly has the tougher road to the final in my opinion. As such, I’d grade Federer just a slight bit higher shot to win the title in Montreal. After all, it is Roger’s Cup right? *Barf*