2018 French Open Men’s Draw Preview

RGFULLPREVIEW

Even without the qualifiers slotted in, you can get a feel for this year’s men’s draw at the French Open. Here’s my thoughts.

Quarter #1 Seeds
(1) Rafael Nadal
(6) Kevin Anderson
(11) Diego Schwartzman
(14) Jack Sock
(22) Philipp Kohlschreiber
(24) Denis Shapovalov
(27) Richard Gasquet
(28) Feliciano Lopez

Breakdown
Nadal could not have asked for much better in this quarter. He opens against Alexandr Dolgopolov who is 2-7 against Rafa, pounded in straights in their two meetings in Brisbane and the U.S. Open in 2017. Gasquet is the seed he could see in round three. The Frenchman starts with Andreas Seppi (6-1) and then would face Mikhail Youzhny or Malek Jaziri. Good chance Rafa can move his record to 16-0 against the Gasman. I don’t see much in this portion of the draw that will stray too far from the expected. Nadal shouldn’t drop a set through at least round three.

The next segment of this quarter has Sock and Shapovalov as the seeds. Sock gets a TBD qualifier in round one, while Shapovalov battles John Millman. The Aussie had some moments on dirt, including a run to the Budapest final this season and a Challenger title to boot. Millman did pull out of Lyon with a hip problem, so that should give El Shapo some help. The dangerous floater here will be whomever wins between Ryan Harrison and Maximillian Marterer. The winner gets Shapovalov. Sock COULD NOT ASK for a sweeter early draw with a qualifier and then either Yuki Bhambri or Yen-Hsun Lu. I’ve still got money that he’ll muck it up.

Down in the bottom half, Anderson and Feliciano Lopez are seeds in one segment. Anderson draws Paolo Lorenzi to open. The 6th seed is 4-0 against the Italian, but Lorenzi has played him tough. Don’t be surprised if there is some sweat to the result in that one. Even more could await in round two with Aljaz Bedene or Pablo Cuevas next. Remember Bedene won the first set off of Anderson in Rome before the big man retired. Cuevas is 0-2 against Anderson, but took him the distance both times. Lopez gets a qualifier first and then either Mischa Zverev or Florian Mayer. That’s not a bad draw for the Spaniard. Still, there is some reasonable expectation of upsets in this part of the draw with Anderson needing to watch out the most.

The other segment has Schwartzman and Kohlschreiber as the seeds. The Schwartz gets Frencie Calvin Hemery in round one. This is Hemery’s Grand Slam debut and clay is a decent surface for him. Tuogh ask though even against the Argentine who has been struggling. Winenr gets Mirza Basic or a qualifier and will fancy themselves a spot in the third round. Kohlschreiber, poor Kohlschreiber. He gets Borna Coric in round one and his French Open losing skid could easily hit a third straight year in oen of the toughest first round matches for a seed. Coric beat him the last time they played on clay in Marrakech last season with Kohlschreiber owning two wins before that with one on clay in 2016. Could be one of the best matches of round one. The survivor gets Matthew Ebden or Thomas Fabbiano.

The Pig-nosticator

If he stays fully healthy, I don’t see the challenge for Nadal in this quarter. I honestly would be a bit stunned if he drops a set in reaching the semifinals. The intrigue will lie around who might sneak into that other quarterfinal slot. Albert Ramos-Vinolas was the last unseeded quarterfinalist at Roland Garros in 2016. Then you have to go back to 2011 and Juan Ignacio Chela and Fabio Fognini to find the next two. Coric could have a claim if he gets rolling with the early upset and that Bedene-Cuevas winner could also have some intrigue in that race.

Eliminati

Qualifier (Sock)
Borna Coric (Kohlschreiber)

Quarter #2 Seeds
(3) Marin Cilic
(5) Juan Martin Del Potro
(9) John Isner
(16) Kyle Edmund
(17) Tomas Berdych
(18) Fabio Fognini
(25) Adrian Mannarino
(31) Albert Ramos-Vinolas

Breakdown
Big hitting types litter the top of the seeded field in this quarter. Cilic’s segment has Mannarino as the other seed. I talked about Mannarino’s clay allergy earlier in part two of the preview and Steve Johnson could extinguish him in the opening round. SJ89 is 3-1 against Mannarino. The survivor there will get Evgeny Donskoy or Jan-Lennard Struff. Cilic gets a date with James Duckworth in round one and then Tennys Sandgren or a qualifier in round two. I think this segment sets up nicely for Cilic to get into the fourth round with Johnson perhaps holding some third round possibilities.

The next segment of the quarter holds Edmund and Fognini as the seeds. Edmund plays super hustle Alex De Minaur in his opener. The Brit beat him in straights in Estoril this season and with the Brit’s current form, a repeat seems more likely than an upset. That would get Edmund up against Marton Fucsovics or Vasek Pospisil in round two. Fucsovics holds some intrigue with wins over Ramos-Vinolas and Wawrinka in Geneva this week. He’s got clay court chops. Edmund crushed him last year on a hard surface in Winston-Salem, but clay could make a rematch much closer. Fognini opens with Pablo Andujar. Fogs is 3-1 against him, but they haven’t played since 2015. I’d favor Fognini still. A win there and it’s Dudi Sela or a qualifier in the next round.

To the other half of this quarter and Del Potro. The Argentine heads in with an injury concern with his groin. He is scheduled to battle Nicolas Mahut in round one. Healthy, this is a no brainer. Not healthy, Mahut cuold maybe take advantage, although I think it’d be more likely that he gets a walkover if DelPo is still not ready. That could open this part of the draw some with Julien Benneteau or Leonardo Mayer awaiting the winner. This is Benneteau’s final go-round, so expect the effort to be there for him and the crowd to be on his side even more. He is probably glad not to play Lucas Pouille for the third year in a row in round one. With the questions around Del Potro, Ramos-Vinolas may have a shot if he escapes round one. The 31st seed gets Mikhail Kukushkin to open and then Jordan Thompson or a qualifier. ARV has been pretty poor lately, but has made the quarters and fourth round here the last two tries.

The final segment in this quarter sports John Isner and Tomas Berdych. Isner draws fellow American Noah Rubin to start. Rubin got some nice match play in Geneva this week and took a set off Fognini before falling in three. I don’t know that his serve is going to allow him to stick with Isner, but he’s got speed and agility and won his first title on clay at a Challenger even this season. It will be an interesting watch perhaps. The winner takes on Horacio Zeballos or Yuichi Sugita. Sugita is 3-12 on clay all-time, while Zeballos has his best Grand Slam showing here last year with a fourth round finish. Do the math. Keep in mind Zeballos is 0-3 vs Isner, but plays him tough most times – if that match were to occur in round two. Berdych draws Jeremy Chardy to open. In spite of Berdych’s struggles, he should pass. He’s 5-0 against Chardy who might be in worse form. Pierre-Hugues Herbert or a qualifier waits for the winner.

The Pig-nosticator

If Del Potro were fully fit, this quarter would take on a much different feel. With him hurting and I think unlikely to go far if he even suits up – Isner could step into position for a shot at a quarterfinal in one half here in all reality. I also mentioned in the other previews that Berdych is still someone to watch out for at Slams. He could be a sneakier shot for a quarter. The other half for me looks like it could come down to Cilic or Edmund. Edmund’s path is tougher, so this really could shape up for Cilic to have a shot at another Slam semifinal. Don’t discount Isner being in the mix though if this opens up right for him.

Eliminati

Steve Johnson (Mannarino)
Mikhail Kukushkin (Ramos-Vinolas)

Quarter #3 Seeds
(4) Grigor Dimitrov
(8) David Goffin
(10) Pablo Carreno Busta
(13) Roberto Bautista Agut
(20) Novak Djokovic
(21) Nick Kyrgios
(30) Fernando Verdasco
(32) Gael Monfils

Breakdown
Right away this quarter grabs you with “name” power and also a ton of question marks with the health of Kyrgios and Monfils being at the top of that list. Toss in Dimitrov’s struggles and you have the makings of a very wide open quarter. Let’s start with Dimitrov’s segment, where the fourth seed begins against Viktor Troicki. That is not the match-up the Bulgarian wanted to see as Troicki has beaten him two times, including here at Roland Garros in 2016. Dimitrov won their last meeting in Sofia last Spring. Troicki did pull out of Rome and I did not find the reason, so that makes this spot even more interesting. The winner gets Jared Donaldson or Nicolas Jarry. Both of those guys are heavy hitters and Jarry especially has shown some real ability to beat good players on dirt. Even if Dimitrov escapes round one, round two might prove very difficult too. Verdasco is the seed opposite of Dimitrov and he starts with Yoshi Nishioka. The winner advances to meet Taylor Fritz or a qualifier. The other name Dimitrov doesn not want to see is Verdasco who beat him at Indian Wells this year and always plays him very close.

The segment above this has plenty of intrigue wih Bautista Agut and Djokovic as the seeds. RBA opens against Denis Istomin, who hasn’t won a match since Miami. A win would see the Spaniard take on either Marcos Baghdatis or a qualifier. On this surface, it should be advantage RBA. Djokovic awaits an assigned qualifier to start and then could face David Ferrer in round two. Ferrer also will be matched against qualifier in round one. Qualifiers were 5-11 in last year’s French Open and 4-12 in 2016. Marco Trungeletti did knock out #10 Marin Cilic that year. Before that, you have to go back to 2012 when Michael Berrer beat #30 Jurgen Melzer for the last. Ferrer however may fall into the trap. He’s 0-2 in his lone warm-up matches on clay and just 7-9 this season. It would also be a first for Ferrer, who has not lost his opener at Roland Garros since he started coming here in 2013. Djokovic has a nice draw in this spot to make a run for the fourth round. He’s 6-1 vs RBA.

In the other half, Goffin and Monfils are grouped together in one segment. The 8th seeded Belgian gets tricky Robin Haase in round one. Haase’s lone win over Goffin came on clay last year in Gstaad. Should Goffin survive, he finds Ivo Karlovic or Corentin Moutet in round two. Either will be advantageous for Goffin. As for Monfils, health is the biggest problem. He did play Lyon, where he lost to Marterer. La Monf is 1-4 on clay during this Euro swing. This is his 12th French Open and he has not lost in round one since his first in 2005. Getting fellow Frenchie, 19-year-old Elliot Benchetrit could make things easier, but we’ll have to see if Monfils can get through a best of five. The winner gets Laslo Dere or a qualifier. Dere can be pesky on this surface. A healthy Monfils could challenge Goffin for a spot in round four, but that doesn’t seem the case this year as of this writing.

The final segment is led by seeds Pablo Carreno Busta and Nick Kyrgios. There are some dangerous floaters here with Budapest champion Marco Cecchinato up against Marius Copil in round one. The winner tackles a qualifier or Kyrgios who has missed chunks of time with a balky right elbow. He is testing it playing doubles this week with Jack Sock in Lyon and they’re still alive in the semifinals, so it appears he’ll give it a go in Paris. That doesn’t mean he’s anywhere close to being ready for best of five tennis. NK gets a qualifier first-up. Carreno Busta gets a qualifier first-up and then Federico Delbonis or another qualifier. Delbonis is the danger, going 4-1 against PCB altough that lone Carreno Busta win was at RG in 2016. Still, this segment looks ripe for some turbulence.

The Pig-nosticator

I’m not going out on a limb by any means in saying that Dimitrov won’t make the semifinals out of this quarter. Hell, he won’t make the quarterfinals in my opinion. I think that leaves this quarter open for Goffin to make a move and yes, Novak Djokovic suddenly looks like a real cheeky pick to make a deep run with this draw. Bautista Agut and Verdasco might wind up being his main road blocks to getting a quarterfinal. A quarterfinal given where the Serb was before last week in Rome would still be a major accomplishment and he’s certainly capable of beating Goffin or anyone else from this quarter. I think the key for Djokovic is conserving energy in the early rounds and not having to play more tennis than necessary.

Eliminati

Qualifer (Kyrgios)

Quarter #4 Seeds
(2) Alexander Zverev
(7) Dominic Thiem
(12) Sam Querrey
(15) Lucas Pouille
(19) Kei Nishikori
(23) Stan Wawrinka
(26) Damir Dzumhur
(29) Gilles Muller

Breakdown
All eyes will be on a possible Zverev-Thiem quarterfinal in this quarter. There is a lot of tennis before that can happen. Let’s start with Sascha’s half. Zverev as laid out is second in line behind Nadal right now as far as form on this surface. He will begin his RG campaign against Ricardas Berankis and I would not expect a ton of trouble on this surface. The second round will be a bit tougher with Jiri Vesely or Dusan Lajovic waiting. If I’m Sascha, give me Vesely who will likely play into a big baseline ball bash that will favor the second seed. Lajovic is a grittier competitor who took down Gasquet and Del Potro in Madrid. His Slam resume isn’t impressive, but the 27-year-old would be the tougher out to me. Dzumhur is the seed opposite of Sascha in this segment and he gets a qualifier to open. Should he pass, Dzumhur takes on Gregoire Barrere or Radu Albot in round two. I can see a potential upset in that spot.

In the segment above this, seeds Pouille and Wawrinka are very iffy. I touched on Pouille’s stagnant season since February and Wawrinka’s play in Geneva didn’t inspire much. The Swiss got a win, but was bageled in his straight sets loss to Fucsovics on Thursday. Pouille’s saving grace is that he gets Daniil Medvedev in round one. He is 2-0 against the Russian who sports a gnarly 2-10 record on clay in his career. A win would get Pouille a shot at Peter Gojowyczk or Cameron Norrie. Gojo is in the Geneva semis and has actually been in a nice groove on clay. Norrie won his first Slam match at the U.S. Open last year, but it might be a stretch for him to get #2 on clay. Wawrinka has Guillermo Garcia-Lopez first-up and the Spaniard last beat him in 2014 in round one at this very tournament. “Random” draw strikes again. Otherwise, the Swiss is 7-3 against him with three straight wins since that loss. In his current state, Stan is really primed to go one and done. The beneficiary might be Karen Khachanov, who opposes Adreas Haider-Maurer in round one. Khachanov has had a hard time getting clutch wins on dirt, but if Wawrinka goes out – don’t be surprised to see him in the third round.

In the other half where Thiem leads, the Austrian will first have to overcome the stupidity of his decision to play in Lyon this week. Thiem is tied 1-1 with Garcia-Lopez in the quarters there headed into Friday. So if he wins, he’s likely pull double duty Friday to keep their Saturday final in line after some rainy days. Thiem will get a qualifier to open and while that match may not bite him, a potential second rounder against Stefanos Tsitsipas is where I am looking at trouble for the chronically over playing Austrian. Tsitsipas also plays a qualifier and then would have a chance that his hot run on clay, including a win over Thiem in Barcelona, is no fluke. The 19-year-old is a little down the last few weeks, but the talent is there to cause trouble. The other seed here is Muller who rarely plays well here and gets a qualifier in round one. If he moves on, it’s Matteo Berrettini or another qualifier in round two. Berrettini has proven competitive on dirt lately and could definitely be a little bit of a surprise runner.

Your other segment has Querrey and Nishikori as the seeds. Querrey continued his dud of a clay court season with a loss to Guido Pella in Geneva, although it was tight with three tie breaks played. Sam has still had difficulty here and goes against another American, Frances Tiafoe. Tiafoe made the final in Estoril earlier this Spring, but has fallen off a bit since that tournament. He lost to Querrey last year in Shanghai and the 20-year old still has just two Slam wins, none in Paris. I do expect in this spot though that Big Foe can push Querrey and possibly cause the upset if he keeps his serve together. The survivor goes up against Nikoloz Basilashvili or Gilles Simon, As for Nishikori, he’ll battle 21-year-old Frenchie Maxime Janvier in the opening round. A win could net us another Nishikori-Paire match. Paire starts against Roberto Carballes Baena. Paire has been dealing with a back problem, but scored two good wins in Rome. Nishikori-Paire is at 3-2 for Kei and 2-0 for Kei on clay.

The Pig-nosticator

If not now … when for Alexander Zverev? There’s a not-yet-ready Stan Wawrinka here and an out-of-whack Lucas Pouille to block him from his first Slam quarterfinal. Maybe Khachanov. The point being is that Sascha is the in-form talent here and this is his time to get that monkey off his back. If he doesn’t get it done with this set up, then it’s going to be an even bigger mental block for him. As for the quarter overall, in spite of the Thiem over scheduling again, you can’t count him out after two straight semis at Roland Garros. There are two obvious stumbling points for him and that would be Tsitsipas in round two and Nishikori in round four. All that SHOULD play well for Sascha even if Thiem gets through, he could be about out of gas after that path and the other guy who I think could take down Sascha in Nishikori would also have run a tough gauntlet. I think it’s important that Sascha finds a rhythm in round one and starts impressively. He needs to get things done the way that the Slam stalwarts do – win quickly early and conserve your energy for the tough matches that define your tournament in the fourth round and beyond

Eliminati

Frances Tiafoe (Querrey)
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (Wawrinka)
Qualifier (Muller)

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

Has anything really changed over the course of the last two tournaments to dissuade anyone from picking outside of Nadal to win this thing? Yes, he does have a loss to Thiem. Yes, Zverev had him on the ropes. Now however, it’s guts and glory time in a best of five on clay. This is Nadal’s domain. Roland Garros is his house. I think Madrid and Rome showed that perhaps there are a few players who could catch Rafa on an off day and make him work hard, but you have to win three sets off of him now. Two was hard enough for most. I don’t think his half of the draw could be much better and IF there is going to be a colossal upset, it has to come in a final in my opinion.

That leaves us looking at the bottom half. Zverev still has so much to prove at Grand Slams, but you have to like the way he is playing coming to Paris. I think there are two big X-factors in his half named Djokovic and Nishikori. Nishikori is in Sascha’s quarter and has that combination of defense and offense from the baseline that can hassle Sascha. That is the way I think he can be beat is by a player who can wear him down with his style plus great defense. Djokovic also fits that bill, but would have to navigate a tough draw just to get a shot at him in a semifinal. I’m not sure his consistency is quite there, but with the right breaks – who knows?

I think a repeat of the Rome final would be a fitting end to the clay court season, even if Rafa destroys Sascha in the end. I still don’t think it’s going to go down that way though. If there is a big surprise, it could be among the semifinalists and I am thinking quarter #2 with the likes of Isner, Edmund and yes even Berdych possibly in the mix if Cilic slips up. Bottom line – Rafa is not likely to be denied his 11th French Open title. Enjoy the show because you never know when it’s going to be the last time you get to enjoy Nadal on clay.

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2018 Italian Open Preview

ROME18PREVIEWOLGABOGDAN

Rafa’s Roman Drought & Sascha’s Scintillating Form

Rafael Nadal begins the week in an unfamiliar spot, coming off of a loss. It’s well documented now that Dominic Thiem put an end to Nadal’s 21 match win streak and 50 straight sets won on clay streak last week in Madrid. Nadal is also seeking to end a three year streak in which he has not advanced past the quarterfinals in Rome. Rafa has won the title at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia seven times, but he’s been stopped by Thiem, Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka the last three years at this event in the quarterfinal round. You can bet that he’ll have some extra motivation to re-establish himself after the events in Madrid and with that history in the back of his mind.

Rounding out the top four seeds behind Nadal are defending champion Alexander Zverev, Grigor Dimitrov and Marin Cilic. Zverev comes in as a big threat with his recent hot streak seeing him enter Rome with a nine match win streak and successive titles in Munich and Madrid. This is just his third trip to Rome with last year’s title run accounting for six of his seven career wins at this tournament. Dimitrov is a one-time semifinalist here (2014), but has lost his last three matches in Rome. That includes first match losses the last two years to Zverev and Juan Martin Del Potro. Cilic has made the quarters twice, including last year. He arrives in mediocre form at-best with a 2-3 record on clay in 2018.

The Usual Suspects

The remainder of the seeded field features most of the usual suspects in what will be a final tune-up for Roland Garros for many. Juan Martin Del Potro slots in at number five, coming off a 1-1 run in Madrid that was ended in a three set loss to Dusan Lajovic. DelPo has made the quarters twice in Rome, including last season. He’ll be hoping to get a few more matches at-minimum under his belt with last week’s Madrid action as his first since March. Dominic Thiem heads to Rome as the sixth seed, coming off a week that saw him end Nadal’s win streaks and get to his second consecutive Madrid final. Rome has been a solid stop for the Austrian with improvement in each of his three trips, culminating with a semifinal run last year.

Kevin Anderson is in at #7 after a somewhat surprising run to the semis in Madrid. It would be more surprising to see him do anything like that in Rome, where the big man is just 6-7 and has never been past round three. John Isner is 8th and coming off a quarterfinal in Madrid. He made the semis in Rome last year, so he is one to watch. David Goffin slips in behind him with two quarter final runs on his Roman resume. The Belgian wasn’t particularly good in Madrid, losing 6-3, 6-3 to Kyle Edmund in his second match. That broke a string of back-to-back quarterfinal or better finishes in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. Pablo Carreno Busta is 10th, but just 1-2 in his brief stops in Rome.

Of the remaining seeds, Novak Djokovic will obviously have eyes on him again as the #11. He is a four time winner in Rome with the last coming in 2015. The Serb still can’t seem to find his way to consistency after scoring what he called a big win for his confidence in Madrid against kei Nishikori. That was followed by a three set loss to Edmund. Back-to-back wins seem like a low-ball goal for Djokovic at this point. Anything to boost his confidence. American Jack Sock (13) got off to a winning start in one of Sunday’s sprinkling of main draw matches, beating David Ferrer in straights to run his record in Rome to 4-3.

Diego Schwartzman, Tomas Berdych and Lucas Pouille round out the bottom three of the seeds. Schwartzman scored back-to-back wins last week in Madrid for the first time since February when he went on his title run in Rio. He’s never won in two career matches in Rome. Berdych as usual has a load of experience here at 19-12 with his best run coming in 2013, when he made the semifinals. Berdych has not won on clay in two matches this season and sports a three match losing streak. The 32-year-old hasn’t been bounced before round three in Rome since 2009, but this year could be a test to that streak.

ELIMINATI

Last year’s Rome Masters featured the most opening match upsets for the seeds in the last four years. Four seeds were one and done, including top seed Andy Murray. Prior to that, just one seed had fallen in their opening matches in 2015 and 2016. Main draw play began on Sunday in Rome and one seed is already out with Sam Querrey (12) losing in straights to Peter Gojowczyk. He could be the first of multiple seeds to take an early exit in Rome. Let’s see which players could join the Eliminati and taken down a seed in their opener.

Denis Shapovalov
El Shapo comes off a great week in Madrid in which he made his second Masters semifinal. Not a lot was expected of the 19-year-old who had little experience on this surface in ATP main draws. He gets Tomas Berdych (15) to open. These two have played once and it came on grass last year at Queen’s Club. Berdych barely won 7-6 (4), 6-7 (4), 7-5. With Shapovalov high on confidence and Berdych without a win since March, this is a spot to look for a possible upset.

Kei Nishikori/Feliciano Lopez
The winner of this first round match battles third seed Grigor Dimitrov in round two. Nishikori owns three wins against Dimitrov, but it was Dimitrov who scored the last win in Brisbane in 2017. Lopez has a couple of wins over Dimitrov in five tries, but both have come on grass. Still, Dimitrov has not had good recent history here, so either Nishikori or Lopez could add to those woes.

Alexandr Dolgopolov
It’s the weekly Novak Djokovic watch. The Serb gets Dolgopolov to start in Rome. The Dog is 0-5 against Djokovic, but has won a set off of him in three of those five previous encounters. They have not met since 2016 and Dolgopolov has only played one match since the Australian Open, a loss in Marrakech to Andrea Arnaboldi, who is ranked #221. It’s been a wrist issue that has sidelined him for most of the season. Whether he is near 100 percent now is debatable, but the same can be said of Djokovic physically and mentally.

Federico Delbonis/Albert Ramos-Vinolas
The winner gets John Isner. Delbonis owns a win over the American, while Ramos-Vinolas took Isner to three sets in Rome last year. Isner has good results since winning the Miami Open, but he also had trouble stringing together results in successive weeks early in the season. This is his first back-to-back spot since early in the season and I think that gives the possibility for one of these guys to push Isner hard and possibly pull off a win.

Aljaz Bedene/Gilles Muller
The survivor takes on Kevin Anderson who has struggled at this tournament in the past. Muller owns three wins in five matches, including a win on clay last year in Estoril. Bedene 0-2 against Anderson and they have not met since 2014. Both Bedene and Muller have not been in good form of late, so put this one lower on the list of possibilities.

Nicolas Jarry
The qualifier gets another crack at Diego Schwartzman (14). Diego has beaten him in straight sets three times this season with the last coming in Davis Cup play in April. Schwartzman may have rebuilt a bit of confidence last week, but his lack of success here and Jarry having played qualifying could give the Chilean his best shot to take down the Argentine.

Borna Coric/Stefanos Tsitsipas
This could be one of the better matches of the tournament and it’s in round one! Coric has been in good form for most of the last two months and Tsitsipas’ rise to prominence in the last month has come on clay. It will be a tough match against Juan Martin Del Potro for either, but neither has faced the Tower of Tandil and that may actually work in their favor. Coric’s defense could give Del Potro some problems and Tsitsipas has shown that he can go toe-to-toe with most from the baseline. DelPo will need to rev it up this week to avoid being one and done.

Andreas Seppi
The Italian wildcard gets a chance to exact revenge on 16th seed Lucas Pouille. One of Pouille’s last wins came in April in Davis Cup play, one of which was a five set win over Seppi. Outside of that, Pouille has lost four straight openers are tournaments and that makes him a prime target in Rome. Seppi has lost three of his last four openers in Rome, but this feels like a spot where he can contend.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
(1) Rafael Nadal: 51-6 (7x winner)
(6) Dominic Thiem: 8-3
(12) Sam Querrey: 4-10
(15) Tomas Berdych: 19-12

Breakdown
All of a sudden, there is a bit more intrigue in a Nadal quarter on clay. That’s not solely based on his loss last week in Madrid, but also due to his recent stall outs in Rome in the quarters. Toss in that Thiem is opposite of him in this quarter and you have something to look forward to again. As for Nadal’s early draw, he will see Fernando Verdasco or Damir Dzumhur first. There have been times when Verdasco has played him tough, but Verdasco has been middling on clay since his surprise run to the Rio Open final. Look for Nadal to come out firing. Berdych is seeded to see him in round three, but the Czech has Shapovalov to open. The survivor there gets Daniil Medvedev or Robin Haase. The Russian owns two wins over Haase, but both are on grass. He’s 2-9 on clay, so I think Haase takes that one. I think the Berdych-Shapovalov winner has the best shot to get through to face Nadal.

Thiem will have to put the loss to Zverev in the Sunday final in Madrid behind him quickly. He faces the winner of the circus match of round one between Fabio Fognini and Gael Monfils. Monfils has won the last two from Fognini and leads the h2h 4-3 all-time. Right now though, this is as big a toss up as you can find. La Monf might at least be healthy now. Fognini has dropped three straight on clay, including his last two openers. The good news for Thiem is that he is a combined 6-0 against Fognini and Monfils. Gojowczyk and Lorenzo Sonego both won on Sunday and face off for a spot in round three to likely face Thiem. Sonego is a talented 23-year-old who made his first ATP quarterfinal in Budapest this year.

The Pig-nosticator

Just like last week, we could be in for another Nadal-Thiem quarterfinal. The one I worry about is Thiem who played a full week for the first time in a long time. The positives though are that his draw is favorable and he is usually good at shaking off finals’ losses. It’s something he did in this same spot last year. I think we get Rafa and Dom again and you can bet that Nadal will have that circled as a big motivational factor this week.

Sizzle
Rafael Nadal

Fizzle
Tomas Berdych

Quarter #2 Seeds
(3) Grigor Dimitrov: 6-5
(8) John Isner: 8-7
(11) Novak Djokovic: 42-7 (4x winner)
(13) Jack Sock: 4-3

Breakdown
If there is a quarter that could yield an unseeded semifinalist, this might be it. Rome has seen an unseeded semifinalist in each of the last two years. Isner arrives in the best form, but figures to have a bit tougher time in Rome, where the conditions won’t be quite as favorable as they are in Madrid for him. I highlighted in the Eliminati that Isner’s first match against Delbonis or Ramos-Vinolas could be his only one. Should he survive there, he is seeded to meet Djokovic in round three. Djokovic has his own problems with Dolgopolov to start. If he can overcome the quirky game of The Dog, then he has a legit shot to piece together consecutive wins for perhaps just the third time this year. His next opponent after Dolgopolov would be Nikoloz Basilashvili or Filippo Baldo. If not now – then when for Djokovic?

In Dimitrov’s half, the Bulgarian is in a tough spot against either Nishikori or Lopez and at a tournament where he has not had much success lately. He could easily be one and done. The survivor of that section would be seeded to see Jack Sock. Sock took down David Ferrer on Sunday to start off hot in Rome. He now waits for either Karen Khachanov or a resurgent Philipp Kohlschreiber. The German parlayed his Munich finals run into a third round finish in Madrid. Khachanov and Kohlschreiber have split two matches with the German winning the most recent, while the Russian won on clay in 2016. Khachanov flopped in Madrid after some decent results in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. This is his Rome debut. I think either one presents a problem for Sock, so reasonably an unseeded quarter finalist could sneak out of this section.

The Pig-nosticator

Based on the draw, I think this is a week where Djokovic can put some things together. Dolgopolov is a tough opponent to open against, but The Dog is as out of sorts as Djokovic. A win for the Serb and I think he gets at least to round three. I don’t fancy Dimitrov or Sock in this quarter, so I really feel like the Khachanov-Kohlschreiber winner could be a dark horse runner here. Don’t overlook that Delbonis-ARV winner either.

Sizzle
Novak Djokovic

Fizzle
Grigor Dimitrov

Quarter #3 Seeds
(4) Marin Cilic: 9-9
(7) Kevin Anderson: 6-7
(10) Pablo Carreno Busta: 1-2
(14) Diego Schwartzman: 0-2

Breakdown
This appears to be another open quarter with only Cilic having some modest historical success in Rome. The Croat made the quarterfinals last year, but has been in mediocre form on dirt at best. He gets a chance to start strong with Ryan Harrison as his first opponent. The American beat Yuichi Sugita to start on Sunday, but is 1-6 against Cilic. A loss for Cilic would be somewhat surprising, but he hasn’t done a ton to inspire confidence. The winner there could see just about anyone in the third round. Schwartzman opens against jarry and despite the 3-0 margin, might be in for a battle. If Gasquet gets through, he’s 2-0 against Schwartzman and just beat him in Monte Carlo earlier in the Spring. He could be a sneaky quarter finalist in this section.

Anderson’s half is interesting with Carreno Busta as the other seed. PCB has not had any sort of success in Rome and is 1-4 against Anderson, although that win came in Miami earlier this year. Anderson will face Bedene or Muller in round two. Muller historically has been a tough match-up for him, so that’s the player he won’t want to see. Carreno Busta faces Jared Donaldson to open. It is their first meeting and Donaldson is 0-3 on clay along with five one and dones this year. The survivor takes on Steve Johnson. The American beat Stan Wawrinka in his return to the court 6-4, 6-4. The Swiss had been rehabbing his knee since retiring in Marseille in mid-February. He at least looked healthy, but needs matches now. As for Johnson, he could be a dark horse.

The Pig-nosticator

This draw is made for Cilic to get back on a roll, but you have to get that first win before you can roll. The unseeded players to monitor here are Gasquet and Johnson, both of whom could help blow up the draw.

Sizzle
Marin Cilic

Fizzle
Diego Schwartzman
Pablo Carreno Busta

Quarter #4 Seeds
(2) Alexander Zverev: 7-1 (W – 2017)
(5) Juan Martin Del Potro: 8-5
(9) David Goffin: 7-3
(16) Lucas Pouille: 2-2

Breakdown
Zverev is definitely the hunted this week with his recent hot streak in addition to being the defending champion. His opener could be interesting with either Frances Tiafoe or Matteo Berrettini as the opponent. Tiafoe was a bit of a surprise finalist in Estoril, but that showcases is ability. Tiafoe does own a win over Zverev last summer in Cincinnati. Zverev had beaten him in straights at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2017. After two straight finals runs, it wouldn’t be that odd to see Sascha struggle early and Tiafoe might have a long shot chance. Pouille is opposite of him in this section, but the Frenchman has been struggling. Seppi has a real shot to beat him. The winner would get Kyle Edmund or Malek Jaziri. Edmund will draw lots of attention and has played Pouille tough even in losing the last two times they have met.

The other half of this quarter features Del Potro and Goffin. Del Potro is another one who might be one and done with a tough match against either Coric or Tsitsipas. As for Goffin, he faces Leonardo Mayer in round one. Mayer is 0-2 against him, but took him to three in Rome the last time that they met. The Argentine will be a tough out, but I think Goffin survives. A tougher match could await in round two with Pablo Cuevas a likely opponent. Cuevas has won their only meeting and is a tough out on dirt. If we get DelPo vs Goffin, it’s 1-1 with no meetings since 2016. I think clay favors the Belgian. Goffin is also 4-0 against Coric and beat Tsitsipas on clay in Monte Carlo. I think this part of the draw plays well for Goffin if he can get off to a good start.

The Pig-nosticator

It will be interesting how Zverev plays with some expectation on him this week. I think in Madrid despite being the second seed, all eyes were on Nadal and then more on Thiem after he beat Rafa. This week as the defending champ and with the Madrid title in his pocket, he’s clearly expected to produce. Del Potro looms at the biggest threat with the Argentine beating him two of two meetings, although neither is on clay. Goffin’s defense will be an issue if he makes it, but Zverev has beat him in the past. I think this quarter is tough to call since I still don’t trust Zverev’s serve to be as consistently powerful as it was in Madrid.

Sizzle
David Goffin

Fizzle
Lucas Pouille

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

Is this is a big week for Nadal? I mean even if he continues his run of losing in the quarterfinals in Rome, is it going to make you think he has less of a chance to win another Frenh Open title in a few weeks? Hardly. Certainly I think Nadal would love to lay down the gauntlet again and get another streak going, but unless he gets stunned in one of his first two matches – I don’t think a title run makes or breaks Rafa for the ultimate prize on clay. The top seed has only won in Rome once in the last four years, so perhaps it is wise to look at non-Nadal options. Zverev certainly is the easy number two, but I am looking at Goffin this week as an intriguing option. Keep in mind however that the #1 and #2 seeds have combined to make seven of the possible eight finals’ slots in the past four years in Rome. Only last year when Murray lost early, did the #1 not get to the final. In all honesty, tennis could use a Nadal-Zverev final ahead of Roland Garros to provide some possible talking points. Right now, those are the two best players on this surface with Thiem still as the other likely option in the mix.

The Ocho v.10

ocho

“The Eight” …. Every week, @tennispig will give his top eight ATP singles players and/or top eight ATP/WTA doubles teams from the previous week. It’s a great way to monitor who is hot … and who is not. It was a slow week with just a pair of 250s on the men’s side in Houston and Marrakech, but there were some definite stories to review.

1. Steve Johnson
The American has had a difficult time of it since his father’s passing last year. Johnson claimed his first title of the season, successfully defending the championship from 2017 in Houston this past week. He beat a very pesky Tennys Sandgren 7-6 (2), 2-6, 6-4. It was an emotional victory for Johnson who celebrated the win last year with his father, who would pass suddenly the next month. It’s been an up and down ride for Johnson since then with another up coming this weekend when he gets married. Congratulations on that and here’s the best tradition in tennis, jumping into the pool at the River Oaks Country Club to celebrate a title!

2. Pablo Andujar
It’s been an incredible two months for the 32-year-old Spaniard. He’s now won ten straight matches, including taking the title in Marrakech on Sunday over Kyle Edmund. That win catapulted him 200 spots in the rankings to #154. It is a remarkable achievement for a player who has undergone multiple elbow surgeries in the past year and started 2018 ranked near #1,800.

3. Kyle Edmund
The Brit finally appears healthy again after missing a chunk of the season due to the hip injury he suffered during his inaugural Grand Slam semifinal in Melbourne in January. This past week, he had a solid run on clay and made his first ATP-level final at the Grand Prix Hassan II. He would lost in straights to Andujar 6-2, 6-2 by Andujar, but the run still fueled a rise in the rankings to a career best #23. If he remains healthy, Edmund looks like he could back up these early results as the season wears on.

4. Tennys Sandgren
The 27-year-old American had not been heard of much since his shock quarterfinal run at the Australian Open. A 2-5 record over five tournaments would have a lot to do with that, but in Houston, he emerged again as a story line. This time it was all for his play an making his first ATP-level final in Houston. He would lose a tough final to Johnson, but now finds himself inside the Top 50 for the first time. Sandgren’s run moved him up eight spots to #47.

5. Novak Djokovic
In a slow week of 250s, Djokovic gets a spot in “The Ocho” because of coaching news. The Serb has reunited with former coach Marian Vajda, which appears to have paid dividends immediately. Djokovic obliterated Dusan Lajovic earlier today 6-0, 6-1 in opening round action at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters. Djokovic and Vajda worked together for more than a decade before parting ways last season. It’s been very obvious that Djokovic has been missing a spark as he tries to recapture form and perhaps this is the first step back to relevance. We’ll know more when the competition kicks up a notch with in-form Borna Coric next up for the Serb.

6. Nikola Mektic/Alexander Peya
This doubles duo has quietly put together a solid start to 2018 that sees them ranked #4 in the doubles race. More importantly, they finally captured their first titles together in Marrakech, beating Benoit Paire and Edouard Roger-Vasselin. In fact, due to rain delays, they had to win two matches on the same day to get the titles. Mektic-Peya have now made three finals in 2018 with two coming on clay. Keep an eye on them as the clay court season in Europe gets into full swing.

7. Nick Kyrgios
I feel guilty putting Kyrgios on the list this week, but it was really a slow week and he lost to Ivo Karlovic in the Houston quarterfinals. NK is just 3-2 since making the fourth round of the Australian Open. Health was a concern for the past six weeks with an elbow injury forcing him to miss time. Hopefully he’s just a bit rusty and learning to trust his body again, but the results need to begin coming now if he is indeed healthy. The Aussie is ranked 25th in the mushy part of the ATP rankings. Clay hasn’t been a great surface for him so far, so I’ll temper my expectations the next month or so with eyes on the grass court season being his time to step up or stay in middling mode.

8. Jared Donaldson
I added the American into the last spot even though he didn’t play last week. I told you it was a slow week, but Donaldson deserves to be on the list for his blow-up with the chair umpire in Monte Carlo earlier today. Here’s the whole exchange with Donaldson complaining about a line call that went against him as did most of the action in losing 6-3, 6-3 to 15th seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas.

 

2018 Abierto Mexicano Telcel #TinyTuesday Preview

ACAPULCO-TT

TUESDAY IN ACAPULCO

(6) Juan Martin Del Potro vs Mischa Zverev
H2H: Del Potro leads 1-0

Quick Notes
Del Potro went 1-1 in Delray Beach, his first matches since the Australian Open. The Argentine went 1-1 in Acapulco last year, losing to Novak Djokovic in round two in three sets. Zverev broke a five match losing skid with a first round win in Marseille last week. The German has still lost his opening match at eight of his last 12 tournaments. DelPo won the only previous meeting in straight sets at the 2009 Australian Open.

Keys to Victory
First serve for Del Potro. It’s often the tell-tale sign of whether or not the Argentine is going to win a match. In his loss to Frances Tiafoe at Delray Beach, his 1st serve win rate was 67 percent. In his loss to Tomas Berdych, it was 62 percent and 67 percent against Roberto Bautista Agut in a loss in the Auckland final. The close to 80 percent, the better his chances of winning.

For Zverev, he’s got to find a rhythm with his serve and volley early. He could definitely throw DelPo for a loop if he’s hitting his serve with precision and getting to net to finish off points. For the Argentine, he’s got to be aggressive on return and look to hit those big passing shots that are necessary to beat the serve and volley technique.

Prediction: Del Potro wins in straight sets

(1) Rafael Nadal vs Feliciano Lopez
H2H: Nadal leads 9-4

Quick Notes
Nadal returns for the first time since injuring his hip during a quarterfinal loss at the Australian Open. Motivation shouldn’t be a factor, but match fitness and rhythm will be a question mark until he proves it. Rafa has been in this position plenty though, so it’s not a huge concern. Lopez is 4-4 this season and owns a two match winning streak in this head-to-head. Those two wins came on hard courts, but were back in 2014 and 2015 when Lopez was playing more consistently in singles.

Keys to Victory
Rafa will be looking to find consistency in his game as quickly as possible. It starts with the serve in order to avoid letting Lopez put too much pressure on the top seed. I think Nadal will be comfortable getting into his trademark long rallies to work up a lather and give himself chances to hit his forehand and backhand to find their measure during match play.

Lopez’s first serve can be extremely effective. When he is in position to win, the first serve win rate for Lopez is in the high 70s or better with a good amount of aces. When he’s struggling, the number dips low. Against a quality returner like Rafa, if he can keep this number in the mid 70s, he’s going to have a chance to pull off an upset or at least be right in each set.

Prediction: Nadal wins in three sets

(2) Alexander Zverev vs Steve Johnson
H2H: Johnson leads 1-0

Quick Notes
Zverev has lost two of his last three matches with a disappointing effort against Andreas Seppi being the last one. Sascha did not have a good serve that day and struggled for consistency overall. Johnson comes in off his best week in months, having made the Delray Beach semifinals last week. It was the first time he had scored back-to-back wins since Shanghai last Fall, a stretch of six tournaments.

Keys to Victory
Serve for both. Johnson is a very serve driven player in that if his serve is not popping and getting him easy points, he usually doesn’t grind through to find other ways to win. Likewise, Zverev seems to dip in level overall when his serve isn’t producing the needed. Johnson as always will need to get to the forehand as much as possible. He’ll look to use that slice backhand in rallies to do so.

In their first meeting in Miami in 2016, Johnson won in straight sets with both going to tie breaks. Zverev out aced Johnson 14-3, but his 1st serve win rate was just 70 percent while Johnson’s was at 88. I think Zverev has improved his first serve as he’s packed on more muscle in the last few years. He needs to match Johnson and go after the American’s backhand. Zverev is more even off both wings and should be able to do damage in longer rallies as a result. This is his Acapulco debut, so he will have to adapt to conditions.

Prediction: Zverev wins in three sets

Kei Nishikori vs Denis Shapovalov
H2H: 1st meeting

Quick Notes
Both come in off semifinal runs at 250s with Nishikori doing that indoors in New York and Shapovalov in Delray Beach last week. Nishikori now has ten matches under his belt in working back from wrist surgery and New York saw him with his biggest test, a third set tie break loss to Kevin Anderson in the semis. El Shapo is still looking for a top tier win in 2018, but has been solid at 5-4. He has not beaten a player inside the top 50 this season. Nishikori is ranked #26, but obviously is a top ten talent.

Keys to Victory
Nishikori is one of those players whose serve can come and go during a match. In mounting this comeback from injury, he has been pretty solid overall on serve. I think a key for Kei is being aggressive on the return ball. He wants to be the one controlling the rallies and that is normally a good way to set yourself up for success. I’d also look for him to try and get to El Shapo’s backhand. His backhand is good, but not as good as his forehand.

Shapovalov’s forehand. This is such a big weapon for the Canadian teen. His one handed backhand is good as well, but the lefty forehand is wicked. It provides great depth that can push his opponent back. Even with Nishikori’s agility, if Shapovalov is on with his forehand, he’ll have chances to aggressively finish points by pushing Kei back and finishing off points at the net.

This should be an aesthetically pleasing match, likely the best of the day for me.

Prediction: Kei Nishikori wins in three sets

2018 Abierto Mexicano Telcel Preview

ACAPULCOPREVIEW18

Rafa’s Return Highlights 2018 Field in Acapulco

It’s the fifth year for the Abierto Mexicano Telcel to be contested on hard courts after being played on clay for the first 20 years of its existence. Rafael Nadal is scheduled to return to the court this week after missing about a month due to a hip injury suffered at the Australian Open. I don’t believe Nadal for a minute, when he says he isn’t concentrating on retaking the top spot in the rankings after after Roger Federer scooted past him earlier in the month. I do believe him when he says he is simply focused on this tournament first though. Nadal will also be hoping to gain a bit of revenge for losing last year’s final to Sam Querrey. Rafa is the top seed in what is a very loaded field, maybe more dangerous even with players who are not seeded.

Rounding out the top four are Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem and Jack Sock. Zverev makes his debut in Acapulco and Sock lost his opener in his lone visit to the tournament last year. Thiem has the most experience of this group with a title here in 2016. Thiem is 7-1 in two trips to Mexico, making the quarterfinals last year. Among the rest of the seeds, it’s 7th seed Sam Querrey who has had a surprisingly good run of luck in Acapulco. The defending champion also made the semis in 2016.

The other players in the seeded field are #5 Kevin Anderson, a finalist in 2014, sixth seed Juan Martin Del Potro and 8th seeded John Isner. Del Potro has never advanced past round two, while Isner is winless in two trips since the tournament flipped to hard courts. Seeds have usually been a big part of the championship mix in Acapulco with Querrey’s title run last year as an unseeded player as the only one since 2014. The top seed has had the most difficult time here with just one finals appearance in four years, a loss by Kei Nishikori in 2015.

Multiple seeds have lost their openers in Acapulco in three of the last four years since the hard court switch. With that to chew on, let’s look at this week’s Eliminati.

ELIMINATI

Ernesto Escobedo
It’s difficult not to put Jack Sock on this list these days. Yes, he did avoid his third straight one and done in Delray Beach last week, but he’s still just 1-3 on the season. Sock has lost his opening match in six of his last eleven tournaments dating back to Cincinnati alst summer. Escobedo shook off a retirement in Delray Beach qualies last week to get through qualifying in Acapulco. This is his third main draw that he has qualified for in 2018 with New York marking his best result as he made round two. They’ve never met, but this might be interesting given Sock’s struggles.

Radu Albot
I think you have to give Albot a slight shot to take down Kevin Anderson in round one. The Moldovian has played some big servers tight this season, beating John Isner once and taking him to three sets last week in Delray Beach. He also lost in three to Jiri Vesely in Auckland earlier in the season. Albot also put together a decent effort in losing in three to Kei Nishikori in New York in the quarterfinals. Anderson might be in better form than all of those combined, coming in off the New York title – but he’s had a difficult time putting opponents away in straight sets. Seven of his nine matches have gone the distance this year.

Ryan Harrison
Harrison draws John Isner who is just 1-4 this season. He did get win #1 last week in Delray Beach. Isner owns a 5-2 advantage in the head-to-head with Harrison, but they have split their only two meetings in the last two years. Four of the five sets played in those matches went to tie breaks, so there is a small margin for error for Isner. Harrison has had problems topping big servers this year with his losses coming to Nick Kyrgios, Marin Cilic, Ivo Karlovic and Reilly Opelka. Something has to give here and considering Isner’s 0-fer in Acapulco, Harrison could fancy his chances to get a rare win over Big John.

Steve Johnson
The American got some much needed wins in Delray Beach last week, making his first ATP semifinal since making the Houston final last April. He opens against Alexander Zverev who was a disappointing round of 16 loser to Andreas Seppi in Rotterdam when was last saw him. Sascha has played just two tournaments this year with the Davis Cup win over Australia arguably being his best tennis this season. Johnson beat Sascha at the Miami Open in 2016 in two tie break sets in their only previous match. The American’s previous experience in this tournament in conditions could be an advantage here, so keep Sascha on upset alert.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds 
(1) Rafael Nadal: 4-1 (record in Acapulco on hard court)
(7) Sam Querrey: 9-2

Breakdown
Nadal gets a familiar face to open with Feliciano Lopez. Lopez surprisingly has won their last two meetings, both coming on outdoor hard courts. The last came in 2015 in Cincinnati. Overall, Rafa is 9-4 against Lopez. Lopez is just 1-2 in two trips to Acapulco. Given Rafa’s time off, it’s easy to think Lopez will at least push Nadal in his opener. The winner takes on the survivor between qualifier Alexander Bublik and Thanasi Kokkinakis. Kokkinakis is again an injury question mark after pulling out of the Morelos Challenger in the semifinals due to an ankle injury. That could give the 20-year-old Bublik a chance to score his first ATP level win in 2018. In either case, as long as Rafa shakes off any rust – he looks a good shot for the quarterfinals at minimum.

The bottom half features the defending champ Querrey and he opens against Matthew Ebden. Querrey is 2-0 in his career against the Aussie and should have a shot to get out of the gates with a win. Round two would pit him against either Jared Donaldson or Nikoloz Basilashvili. Donaldson won both meetings with Basilashvili on hard courts last year. The American has dropped his opening match in his last two tournaments however and that makes this close to a 50-50 call. Querrey is a combined 4-0 against Donaldson/Basilashvili and will be confident of beating either one. This quarter could play out to a Nadal-Querrey repeat from 2017.

Quarter #2 Seeds
(4) Jack Sock: 0-1
(5) Kevin Anderson: 7-2

Breakdown
Sock will look to avoid the early upset against Escobedo. The winner gets Hyeon Chung or Donald Young. Chung returned to the court in Delray Beach after recovering from his Australian Open blisters. He made the quarterfinals and will be looking to establish himself more solidly this week. Young lost their only previous encounter on clay and has lost his opener in five of his last six tournaments played. Chung has a legit shot to squeeze through this top portion and be in the quarterfinals. Sock would likely prefer Young whom he has beaten three out of three meetings. He’s never met Sock.

Anderson has Albot first up, who could be a little dangerous. If Anderson shows up motivated as usual though, I think he’ll escape. The winner gets either Adrian Mannarino or qualifier Ricardas Berankis. The two have split four career meetings with Mannarino getting both his wins on outdoor hard courts. As long as Anderson doesn’t get caught flat out of the gates, this should set up to be a winnable quarter for him. The fifth seed is 3-1 against Mannarino and 1-0 against Berankis. I fancy Anderson in this quarter with a look to Chung as the unseeded player who could cause some upsets. An unseeded player has made the semifinals every year that this tournament has been played on hard courts.

Quarter #3 Seeds
(3) Dominic Thiem: 7-1 (W – 2016)
(6) Juan Martin Del Potro: 1-1

Breakdown
This might be the toughest quarter of the tournament with dangerous floaters like Kei Nishikori, Denis Shapovalov, David Ferrer and Andrey Rublev. An earlier than expected loss for Thiem in Rio last week might be good for him this week. The Austrian won the title here in 2016 and made the quarters last year. His first round match against qualifier Cameron Norrie is likely to afford him a winning start. Round two will be very tough against either Nishikori or Shapovalov. This is a great litmus test for Nishikori with the young Canadian with the potential to push him.

The other half features Del Potro who lost to Frances Tiafoe during Big Foe’s 1st ATP title run in Delray Beach. DelPo didn’t look top notch, so he will need to improve this week if he’s going to be a factor. He opens against Mischa Zverev, who has lost six of eight this year. The winner gets either David Ferrer or Andrey Rublev. The “random” draw pits those two against each other for the second time this year. The Russian beat Ferrer in five sets at the Australian Open. Ferrer has struggled for wins with four straight losses. The Spaniard has dropped his opener in three straight tournaments.

I think all eyes should be on Nishikori this week. He does have a tough path, but he’s 2-0 against Thiem and has beaten Del Potro in two of their last three meetings. He needs a quick start against Shapovalov, but could curry that win into a nice run. DelPo is the other guy I like here.

Quarter #4 Seeds
(2) Alexander Zverev: 0-0
(8) John Isner: 0-2

Breakdown
This quarter could get blown up early. Zverev opens with Steve Johnson who is coming off his best run in nearly a year. Sascha hasn’t played a ton of tournament tennis this year and this is his Acapulco debut. There’s a possibility that he could be out early. Either way, the winner of this first round match will be in decent shape in round two. Delray Beach runner-up Peter Gojowczyk or wild card Lucas Gomez is the foe. Gojo will have to contend with the championship loss hangover. Gomez is a 22-year old Mexican who is just 1-9 all-time as this level. He may not be the one to KO Gojo, but you’d fancy Sascha or Stevie J to make the quarters in this spot.

The other half is led by John Isner. I laid it out in the Eliminati that Ryan Harrison has every reason to feel like he can beat Isner in round one, despite the lopsided head-to-head. The survivor of that All-American first rounder gets the survivor of the Rio title rematch with Diego Schwartzman and Fernando Verdasco playing again in round one. It is often difficult to repeat success against the same opponent, but Verdasco had a long week playing singles and doubles. Diego should parlay that Rio title into at least an opening round win and this quarter could actually open up for him if he can keep the ball rolling.

The Pig-nosticator

Each tournament previewed, the Pig-nosticator will list out @tennispig‘s picks to sizzle and fizzle for the week. Don’t forget that if something you peruse through in the preview provides you with something helpful – a visit to the Tip Jar would be kindly appreciated.

Sizzle
Kei Nishikori
Kevin Anderson

Fizzle
Alexander Zverev
John Isner

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

You always have to believe that a healthy Rafael Nadal is in it to win it, but this is a stacked field with Rafa coming off a month without playing a competitive match. I’ll look elsewhere for the champ this week considering the top seed’s troubles in even getting to the final since Acapulco went to hard courts. Anderson seems logical as an option given good form and good history here. Keep eyes out for both Kei Nishikori and Hyeon Chung among the unseeded players. Both appear healthy and Nishikori especially seems like it’s just a matter of time before he gets back into the title mix.

Doubles Draw Preview

Seeds
1. Kubot-Melo: 0-1
2. Marach-Pavic: 0-0
3. Murray-Soares: 4-0 (W – 2017)
4. Bryans: 0-0

Top Half Breakdown
Kubot-Melo and the Bryans lead the top half. Since making the Aussie Open quarterfinals, Kubot and Melo have not won back-to-back matches in either Rotterdam or Rio. They have a potential landmine in the opening round with Americans Ryan Harrison and Jack Sock as their opponents. Sock teamed up with Jackson Withrow to take home the doubles crowns in Delray Beach last week. Harrison-Sock have teamed up seven times before, but not since 2014. You would expect the chemistry of Kubot-Melo to win out, but this won’t be easy. The winner gets the survivor between Alexander Sascha Zverev battling Marc and Feliciano Lopez. The Zverevs are 0-1 this year, while Team Lopez is 1-3 this year. Kubot-Melo really need to turn up here and make a run in with a winnable draw.

The other half with the Bryans will see the American twins battle Fabrice Martin and Franko Skugor. Chemistry again could be a key here with Martin-Skugor not havinh paired up since 2013. The Bryans are only 1-2 since the Australian Open, so they need to get going quick in round one. If they win, they get a shot against either Santiago Gonzalez and Julio Peralta or Rio champions David Marrero and Fernando Verdasco. The Spanish duo beat them last week in Rio in a super tie break. On hard courts, it will be interesting to see if the result is reversed. This could fall to the seeds, but keep an eye on the Marrero-Verdasco v Gonzalez-Peralta winner as a dark horse.

Bottom Half Breakdown
Marach-Pavic return to the court for the first time since suffering loss #1 of 2018 in the Rotterdam final to Pierre Hugues-Herbert and Nicolas Mahut. Outside of that loss, it’s been a blistering start to the year for the top ranked pair who have made the final of all three tournaments they have played – winning two titles. They open against qualifiers, so they should get through to the quarterfinls. There, they will face either Nikola Mektic and Alexander Peya or wild cards Marcelo Arevalo and Miguel Angel Reyes Varela. Mektic-Peya have made the finals in two of their last three tournaments and will be the tougher out.

Murray-Soares come back to Acapulco as the defending champions and off a semifinal showing in Rio last week. Their opener comes against the mish mosh pairing of Hyeon Chung and Denis Shapovalov. The winner gets either Ben McLachlan and Nicholas Monroe or Marcelo Demoliner and Sam Querrey. McLachlan has continued his solid doubles play that we saw in Melbourne, but it’s been with Hugo Nys. Switching partners to Monroe will challenge him to find some quick chemistry. If they do, they could be a sleeper team to watch. Otherwise, this could wind up being Murray-Soares vs Marach-Pavic in the semifinals. Marach-Pavic have a win over them already this season.

The Pig-nosticator

Sizzle
Marach-Pavic
Kubot-Melo

Fizzle
Bryans

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

The bottom half of this draw looks as if it could produce the champion this week. The two seeded pairs in Marach-Pavic and Murray-Soares have form and history here to make deep runs possible. If you’re looking for an unseeded duo to join the lengthy history of unseeded duos doing work here – look to Marrero-Verdasco and perhaps McLachlan-Monroe. This is a chance for a team to grab momentum heading into the Indian Wells-Miami double in March. Kubot-Melo got hot in that stretch last year and have the draw to get through in Acapulco. I do think this one falls to one of the seeds. I’d love to see another Kubot-Melo vs Marach-Pavic showdown.