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 French Open Preview: Seeded Eliminati Ratings

RGPREV2

In the first part of this year’s French Open preview, I touched on the “it” players in Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev. I also dove a bit into the history of seeds and how they have fared over the past eight years (2010-2017). Incorporated into that mix was a look at the top ten seeds and their Eliminati Ratings or basically, how prone they would be to a round one upset. The second part of the preview continues there and hits from seeds 12-32. Again since this is based solely on form, past Roland Garros history. Grand Slam history and some of the historical seed history in Paris, make sure you actually look at the draw when it comes out to draw your own conclusions. The draw makes the biggest difference in determining who can fall to the Eliminati!

Again these seeds are based on current rankings and no withdrawals or non-participation known outside of Roger Federer and Milos Raonic.

12. Sam Querrey
Querrey is another player who opted to participate in the final prep tournaments for Roland Garros. He is in rain-delayed Geneva, where play finally got back underway today after stalling out yesterday and early today due to weather. It’s easy to see why Querrey chose to play this week with two losses in his only clay court matches in Houston and Rome during this swing. Roland Garros has been a horror show for the American traditionally with 2013’s third round run as his best. He’s been an opening round casualty three straight years and eight of eleven overall. Two of the last three opening round losses came to great defenders in Hyeon Chung (2017) and Borna Coric (2015) with Bjorn Fratangelo the culprit in 2016.
ELIMINATI RATING: 5

13. Roberto Bautista Agut
The 30-year-old Spaniard has not lost in the opening round since he first broke into the main draw in 2013. The last two years in Paris he has been consistent with a pair of fourth round finishes. The form coming in is decent at 6-4 during the Euro swing on clay. He get dumped out in round one at the Australian Open this year with a straight sets loss to Verdasco. That is a tough match-up for a seed in round one. That was his first opening round loss at Slam since his very first – the Australian Open in 2012. RBA is a guy who has never made it past round four at Slam, but generally is consistent enough to avoid early trouble. Watch the draw though just to make sure he doesn’t get some sort of bad luck.
ELIMINATI RATING: 1

14. Jack Sock
Sock is in the midst of an underwhelming campaign with a 5-10 record after losing to Taylor Fritz today in Lyon. The American has slipped out of the top ten, where spades being spades, he did not belong any how. He’s had a bad run of one and dones at Grand Slams recently with three of his last four played going that way, including this year’s Australian Open and last year’s French Open. He was also a first-up casualty in his opener for the 2018 season in Auckland. Sock has gone out in his opener in three of his eight tournaments since Melbourne though, so he’s at least found a bit of the winning touch here and there. Still, he hasn’t put together back-to-back wins all season – so I’m not expecting a ton from him. As for his Eliminati status … he’s on the watch list. Last year’s opening round loss to Jiri Vesely was preceded by a five round win in the opening round over Robin Haase in 2016. Give his current state, a struggle to avoid an upset is definitely more likely than not.
ELIMINATI RATING: 4

15. Lucas Pouille
Another one of my favorite punching bags this season and for good reason. The Frenchman who made two Slam quarterfinals in 2016 has been lost at sea for most of 2018. Pouille lost his opener in three of the four clay court tournaments he played in this Spring and has two other one and dones this season. It’s been rather shameful for Pouille after such a promising start where he made three finals early in the season and won the Open Sud de France. The wheels have obviously come off since then and he may feel some pressure at his “home” Slam. Pouille lost in round one at the Australian Open, but that has been a real horror show where he is 0-5 in his career. In Paris, Pouille has lost his opener twice in the last five years, but has escaped round one each of the last two years. Both of those came against Julien Benneteau, so perhaps if they aren’t magnetized to each other this year – Pouille will have even more of a worry.
ELIMINATI RATING: 4

16. Kyle Edmund
The Brit has really come on since returning to healthy with a solid 10-5 mark on clay this season. Those ten wins are almost half of the 23-year-old’s total ATP wins on this surface, so his confidence is escalating. Madrid was especially good to him with wins over Novak Djokovic and David Goffin. He also made the final in Marrakech, albeit without beating a player ranked higher than #38 at the time (Richard Gasquet). His semifinal run at the Australian Open showed that he’s got the mentality for the five set grind, but the French Open will be a test. This is just his fourth run in Paris, but he has avoided a first round calamity so far. The match-up might make it more interesting, but the Brit looks fairly safe to avoid a first round exit.
ELIMINATI RATING: 1

17. Tomas Berdych
Berdych will be a focal point of many looking for round one upsets and rightfully so with the Czech going 0-3 on clay this season. All of those have been one and dones. He hasn’t won since the Miami Open in March and has just two wins in that stretch from March to the present. Berdych has not lost in the opening round at a Slam since 2013 and you guessed it, that came at Roland Garros at the hands of Gael Monfils. Berdych has made two quarterfinals in Paris since that loss, but definitely does not having the winning touch right now. The 32-year-old may be in obvious decline, but he’s still had his moments at Grand Slams as recently as last summer’s semifinal run at Wimbledon. As such, he may be able to lean on his experience to escape early trouble. Still, I have a feeling he could be in for a tough draw and that might make the escape act that much tougher for a player short on confidence right now.
ELIMINATI RATING: 4

18. Fabio Fognini
The Italian is in Geneva this week after a very solid week in Rome, where he made the quarterfinals. He beat Thiem and took a set off of Nadal to remind everyone of the potential he carries with him every week. Then you roll the calendar back to Madrid, Munich and Monte Carlo to find a 1-3 mark with two opening losses to Marco Cecchinato and Leonardo Mayer to see his vulnerability each week. Fognini has a first round exit at a Slam ten of the eleven years he has been on tour in main draws. Generally, Roland Garros has been a more consistent source of avoiding that fate, but it did happen last in 2016. The French Open is the site of his only career Grand Slam quarterfinal (2011), so clearly this is his best Slam. Trust however is rarely earned by Fognini, so you definitely have to see who he is playing in round one before making up your mind.
ELIMINATI RATING: 2

19. Kei Nishikori
Nishikori will be playing at his first Grand Slam since Wimbledon last summer, where he finished in the third round. He was forced to miss both the U.S. Open and Australian Open due to the wrist injury. He’s shown enough on clay since coming back to consider him a sleeper perhaps in the right draw to make some noise. He made the Monte Carlo final and also the quarters last week in Rome. The wrist is still a bit of a worry though as he was forced to retire in his only match at the Barcelona Open with soreness. That came after the long week in Monte Carlo, so his total fitness in this best of five format is going to be a question. When healthy, he’s been a huge Slam threat with quarterfinals made in five of his last eleven. Since his only first round exit at Roland Garros in 2014, he’s made the quarterfinals twice and fourth round the other year. He should be properly rested here, so I think the first round is one he should expect to navigate for a win.
ELIMINATI RATING: 1

20. Novak Djokovic
Djokovic’s run to the Rome semifinals assured him of staying in the seeded field for this year’s French Open, where he has no been unseeded since 2006. Rome obviously gave him a nice confidence boost after a very difficult time trying to get untracked this Spring after the elbow procedure. The glaring question for the Serb will be how his body holds up playing best of five for however long he lasts. In round one, I won’t say that shouldn’t be a bother, because his level of play does still spike up and down a bit. It would be historical however if he was taken out in the opening round. Djokovic has a streak of 47 straight Grand Slams played without losing in the first round. He’s never lost in round one in Paris. I don’t think he’s quite a zero because he needs to prove he can win three sets, but he’s probably closer to a zero rating than one for me.
ELIMINATI RATING: 1

21. Nick Kyrgios
If you’re thinking it’s been a while since we’ve seen Kyrgios, you’re right. He last played singles in Houston in early April going 1-1. He’s sat out the rest of the clay court season with his right elbow still a big concern. He decided to play Lyon this week, but only in doubles to test the elbow. Teaming with Jack Sock, the pair won their opener on Monday and were scheduled to play again today – weather permitting. Let’s assume he stays in the draw for now. Roland Garros has not been a great place for NK with a 5-5 mark, but only one first round exit in 2014 to Milos Raonic. Last year, he was beaten in round two by Kevin Anderson. Slams were tough on him late in 2017 with successive one and dones at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. He started this year strong with a fourth round run in Melbourne, but his body has yet again been failing him since then. Given his physical frailty, there’s an obvious chance he loses early if he plays at all.
ELIMINATI RATING: 5

22. Philipp Kohlschreiber
Kohlschreiber put together a really solid clay court swing, going 10-5 with the highlight being a trip to the Munich final. Outside of his Lamine Ouhab in Marrakech, his losses came to higher ranked players. The problem for the German though has been lackluster Grand Slam results in the last three years. Since 2015, he’s had eight first round exits at Slams. That includes this year’s Australian Open and each of the last two years in Paris. At 34, he might be playing some of his better tennis consistently right now. I’d still rate him a possibility though with his recent history and also that he could wind up with a tough opponent.
ELIMINATI RATING: 3

23. Stan Wawrinka
The 2015 champion won’t have much expectation on him after missing the last three months to full recover from last season’s knee surgery. The Swiss returned to tour action last week in Rome, losing to Steve Johnson. He’s also enrolled in Geneva this week, where he has won the last two titles. Right now, it is all about getting match play for Wawrinka. He says the knee feels good, but his rhythm is obviously not there after so much time away from the court. Stan has only lost two first round matches at Slams since 2014. One was at the French Open that year and the other one at Wimbledon in 2017. He’s an obvious threat when healthy here with a run of three straight years winning the title, making the semis and making the final last year. Monitor his progress or lack thereof in Geneva this week. The more matches he gets, I think the less worry I’d have about him in round one and vice versa. I think you still have to temper your expectations though and look at who he draws in round one.
ELIMINATI RATING: 3

24. Denis Shapovalov
El Shapo gets his first seeded Slam appearance in Paris. The Canadian teen has acquitted himself well on this surface during his first full run at this part of the season. After a slow start, he made the semifinals in Madrid and then won a couple in Rome before losing to Nadal. This is going to be his first main draw appearance at Roland Garros, so that is a big change for him. Let’s not forget, he’s only played in three Slams so far in his career with last year’s U.S. Open fourth round run as the highlight. Being that clay is still probably a surface that his game isn’t the best suited for and that he’s a first timer here, there is certainly some chance of an upset early.
ELIMINATI RATING: 3

25. Adrian Mannarino
The Frenchman has a definite clay court allergy at 12-33 all-time on the surface, 1-4 this season. He’s lost his opener at Roland Garros seen of the nine years that he has been in the main draw. Even Captain Obvious feels guilty.
ELIMINATI RATING: 5

26. Filip Krajinovic
The 26-year-old Serb is making a rare appearance in a main draw at a Grand Slam. This will be just his 8th Slam played, but third in Paris. Of those previous seven appearances, he’s only won in the main draw one time at the 2015 U.S. Open. Throw in that he has not played since Miami due to a lingering Achilles injury. Given his struggles on clay, he’s a huge candidate for one and done status if he is able to give it a go at all.
ELIMINATI RATING: 5

27. Damir Dzumhur
Dzumhur has been a first round loser three of the four years that he has played this event. He’s gone just 2-5 during the build-up tournaments with three first match losses. He’s not terrible on the surface overall, but he’s struggled to grab wins at the ATP level on dirt lately. Since the beginning of 2017, he’s just 4-12 on the surface.
ELIMINATI RATING: 4

28. Andrey Rublev
A back injury has kept the 20-year-old Russian sidelined for long periods since he picked it up during his Miami Open loss to Vasek Pospisil. He played in Monte Carlo in April and challenged Thiem pretty well before losing in three sets. He has not appeared in a match since that time in an effort to get healthy. When healthy, this big hitter is a threat on this surface as he showed in winning his lone ATP title last year in Umag on clay. He’s only played in six Slams so far in his career and this will be just his second time at the French Open. Rublev lost in round one last year and has to be an iffy proposition in round one this year with his lack of match play coupled with the back problem.
ELIMINATI RATING: 4

29. Richard Gasquet
The Gasman has not lost his opener at Roland Garros since 2010. He does however have three one and dones in his last six Slams played. Gasquet started the clay season well with a semifinal run in Marrakech and a quarterfinal finish in Monte Carlo. He’s 1-3 since with two opening match losses. Gasquet has had some bad luck with injuries at Slams the last few seasons with his back and knee being the culprits. For the purposes of this though, we’re looking at the here and now. His history says he will probably have a good chance to get through round one, again depending on the opponent. His recent losses though are still a bit of a cause for concern along with his injury history.
ELIMINATI RATING: 2

30. Feliciano Lopez
Despite not being associated with clay court success, the lefty has only dropped his opener in Paris once in the last five years. That did break a string of three straight opening round losses from 2010-2013 and he had lost his opener nine of the first 12 years he played in Paris. He’s turned it around some though and was 3-4 during the Euro swing with just one opening round loss. Lopez has lost in the opening round in three of the last five Grand Slams.
ELIMINATI RATING: 3

31. Gilles Muller
This is his worst surface and worst Slam by far. Muller has lost in round one six of the eight years that he has made the main draw. He was 1-3 in three tournaments played on clay leading up to Roland Garros with a pair of one and dones. He should be very high on your list of potential seeded upset victims in round one.
ELIMINATI RATING: 5

32. Fernando Verdasco
There will be plenty of seeds happy to see the Spaniard slip into the final spot in the seeded field, so they don’t have to worry about drawing him. Verdasco may not be a deep threat at this stage of his career, but he’s still capable of pulling off early upsets. Ask Bautista Agut about Melbourne this year and Alexander Zverev about last year in Paris. The Spaniard had his best Slam result in the last three years by making the fourth round at Roland Garros in 2017. The 34-year-old has been mediocre on dirt this year after a scintillating run to the Rio final. He’s still super fit and works about as hard as anyone. This is his first time being a seed since the 2015 French Open, when he also was seeded 32nd.
ELIMINATI RATING: 2

So there you have it, the entire seeded field over the course of the first two parts of this preview have been dissected as to their possible shots at being early elimination candidates. In the final part of the preview tomorrow, I’ll take a look at the unseeded players who could produce some of these potential upsets.

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2018 Italian Open Preview

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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.

2018 Mutua Madrid Open Preview

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The Streaks Hit Madrid

The Mutua Madrid Open heads into its 10th year on clay with Rafael Nadal leading the field as the defending champion. Rafa is a five-time winner in Madrid with four of those titles coming since the flip from hard courts to clay at this tournament. Rafa has made the final seven of the nine years that Madrid has been played on dirt and make it seven of eight if you exclude the Smurf clay year in 2012. Nadal enters this week refreshed with a week off and carrying a 19 match win streak on dirt, including 46 straight sets won.

This week also marks the return of Juan Martin Del Potro, who we have not seen since Miami. DelPo is in the midst of a banner season at 21-4 with two titles. He’s seed fourth this week and he has made the semifinals twice since the switch to clay in Madrid. Alexander Zverev and Grigor Dimitrov slot in between Rafa and DelPo as the 2nd and 3rd seeds. Both have a single quarterfinal to their credit at this tournament with Sascha making it most recently last year.

Rounding out the top eight seeds are Dominic Thiem, John Isner, Kevin Anderson and David Goffin. Thiem made the final last year and Goffin made his lone semifinal in Madrid in 2017 as well. Both come in with reasonably good form. Of the remaining seeds, Novak Djokovic will draw the most attention at #10. The floundering Serb has won here twice with the last title run coming in 2016. He heads into the week with a 5-5 record and not much to speak of in the way of confidence or form. Expectationns will remain low until proven otherwise.

The clear secondary story this week to Rafa though is the return of Del Potro. Through the first three months of the season, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin Del Potro had distanced themselves from the field in my opinion. Del Potro has not played since Miami, so this will be his first work on clay since last year’s French Open. He’s played just 16 matches on dirt since 2013, so this will obviously be a big test. His baseline game says he can be a factor, but rust says he will need some matches before that happens.

ELIMINATI

Stan Wawrinka isn’t in Madrid this year as he continues to rehab from knee surgery. That’s bad news for “The Eliminati” with Wawrinka responsible for three of the last four big upsets in Madrid. The Swiss lost as the third seed twice and as the fourth seed in his opener in three of the last four years. Roger Federer also fell victim to the early exit back in 2015, dropping his opener in 2015. Overall, seeds have been upset in their opening matches at the Mutua Madrid Open 14 times in the last four years. That is 25 percent casualty rate. Here’s a look at some of the players who could help boost those numbers in 2018.

Adrian Mannarino
The Frenchman really doesn’t enjoy playing on clay with a 28 percent winning percentage on the surface for his career. He does however draw 13th seed Diego Schwartzman who has not won back-to-back matches since winning the Rio Open in February. He’s been beaten twice in that span in his opener and despite this being a better surface for the Argentine, Mannarino could have a shot against a player low on confidence.

Borna Coric
Coric faces off against 9th seed Pablo Carreno Busta in round one. PCB lost big in the quarters if the Estoril Open on Saturday to Frances Tiafoe. He’s also just 1-3 for his career in Madrid. Coric has split two career hard court matches with the Spaniard with the last coming in Doha this season. The Croat won that won in a third set tiebreak. Coric hasn’t been great on clay recently, but he did make the quarters in Madrid last year through qualifying. He should make life tough on PCB in round one.

Robin Haase/Hyeon Chung
The winner of his first round match takes on 8th seed David Goffin. Goffin has turned his season back in the right direction since returning from the eye injury, but both Haase and Chung have some success against him. Haase has beaten him on clay, the only win for the Dutch in four tries. Chung is 1-2 with no meetings on clay. Either way, I think Goffin will be in for a battle in his opener. I do think he probably squeaks by, but I wouldn’t be surprised either if he was taken out.

Kei Nishikori
Normally this would be a semifinal or finals match-up, but with Nishikori and Novak Djokovic both looking to recapture their best – we get this in round one! Despite an 11-2 lead for the Serb, I think this is a tough match-up for him. Djokovic hasn’t lost to Nishikori since the famous 2014 U.S. Open win for Nishikori, but this is probably the worst form he’s had in that same span. Their last meeting was a walkover win for the Serb in 2017. Nishikori had wrist trouble again in Barcelona that forced his withdrawal, so this truly is a battle of attrition that seems very hard to predict.

Benoit Paire
Paire faces off against Lucas Pouille who has not lost to his countryman in three career matches, yet looks like a shaky favorite in this opener. Pouille has lost his opener in three straight tournaments and is just 1-2 in his career in Madrid. Paire has had some back problems and perhaps has little chance here, but Pouille needs to prove he can win again before I trust him not to choke in his opener.

Guillermo Garcia-Lopez/Ryan Harrison
The winner of this first rounder gets #7 John Isner in round two. Isner has not played since early April in Houston, when he lost in the quarters to Steve Johnson. Isner is also returning to Madrid for the first time since 2015. Both Garcia-Lopez and Harrison have wins over Isner on their resume with Harrison beating his fellow American two of the last three meetings. Harrison is 5-0 against GGL and would be the tougher out to me. A rusty Isner whose matches often hinge on a few key points could be prone to the upset.

Pablo Cuevas
An easy inclusion on the list this week as he goes against #12 Jack Sock in round one. Sock is just 4-7 this season, but has avoided an opening match loss since Acapulco. Cuevas however is a tough customer on dirt, but he’s only 1-2 in the Euro swing after making a couple of quarterfinals during the South American clay swing early in the year. Cuevas did make the semifinals in Madrid last year though, so he’s a threat.

Leonardo Mayer
Mayer starts with 15th seed Fabio Fognini. The Italian has a 3-1 mark against the Argentine, but Mayer won against him for the first time in straight sets in Buenos Aires this year. Fognini is just 4-9 at this event and looked really poor in his loss to Jan-Lennard Struff when he last saw him in Monte Carlo. I think Mayer has a solid shot to get the win.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
(1) Rafael Nadal: 47-10 (5x Winner)
(5) Dominic Thiem: 6-2
(9) Pablo Carreno Busta: 1-3
(12) Diego Schwartzman: 1-1

Breakdown
There is some interest early in Nadal’s half with Gael Monfils as a possible second round opponent. Monfils has been struggling with a back problem for months, but did return to the court last week in Munich. La Monf is 2-13 against Nadal, last beating him in 2009. I don’t expect that will change, but it could be a good litmus test for both Rafa and Monfils who is desperate for some form. Otherwise, Nadal looks locked into a quarterfinal berth at minimum with Schwartzman as the only seed in his way. Schwartzman would do well to get to a meeting with Nadal with a tricky match against Mannarino to start and then either Pablo Andujar or Feliciano Lopez in round two.

The bottom half provides a bit more competition with Thiem and Carreno Busta. Thiem should be 100 percent finally after working back from the Miami ankle injury. He made the quarters in both Monte Carlo and Barcelona upon returning, but was really outclassed in both losses. One to Nadal, the other to Stefanos Tsitsipas. Carreno Busta as laid out in The Eliminati will be up against it to start against Borna Coric. The survivor there takes on either Struff or qualifier Marius Copil. Thiem gets Mischa Zverev or Federico Delbonis in his opener.
Thiem will feel comfortable against either with a 5-0 record against PCB and a beatdown of Coric 6-1, 6-4 in Madrid last year.

The Pig-nosticator

This looks primed for another Nadal-Thiem clash in the quarterfinals. The problem of course is that Rafa has clubbed the Austrian the last two times they have played since Thiem beat the Spaniard on clay in Rome last year. That was the last time that Rafa lost on clay and I’m sure he’ll remember that again in this spot.

Sizzle
Rafael Nadal

Fizzle
Diego Schwartzman
Pablo Carreno Busta

Quarter #2 Seeds
(4) Juan Martin Del Potro: 14-6
(6) Kevin Anderson: 5-7
(11) Roberto Bautista Agut: 8-4
(14) Tomas Berdych: 23-13

Breakdown
Berdych is out on day one courtesy of Richard Gasquet. The means Del Potro has no seeds to go through to get to the quarterfinals. DelPo starts with Julien Benneteau or Damir Dzumhur. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Tower of Tandil struggled a little against either with plenty of rust to shake off. A win would get Del Potro into position to face Gasquet or possibly Karen Khachanov. Khachanov faces Dusan Lajovic in round one. Lajovic beat Khachanov on clay two years ago, but Khachanov is in better form now and more mature. Del Potro will have his chance against any of that group with Gasquet 1-6 against him and Khachanov 0-2. Gasquet looms to me as the dark horse with decent current form.

In the other half, Bautista Agut opens against Jared Donaldson. The winner gets either Munich finalist Philipp Kohlschreiber or Yuichi Sugita. Given Sugita’s lack of clay court success, Kohlschreiber is more likely. Kohlschreiber just beat RBA in Munich, but was 0-2 against him before getting the home boost. RBA may pay him back quickly if that match-up happens again. Anderson should have every chance to be in position to make the quarters with either Mikhail Kukushkin or Roberto Carballes Baena awaiting in round two. Anderson got to shake off the rust in Estoril, although he did lose to an in-form Tsitsipas. Still, this is a great early draw for him.

The Pig-nosticator

I think the expectations for Del Potro should remain modest this week. Sure, he could hit the ground running and find form right away – but chances are he will be rusty. I think that opens the door for someone like Anderson or Bautista Agut in this quarter. RBA is 1-0 against Anderson, but they have not met since 2013. An unseeded player has made the semifinals twice in the past four years in Madrid, so if you’re thinking along those lines – Kohlschreiber and Khachanov could fill that bill.

Sizzle
Roberto Bautista Agut

Fizzle
None

Quarter #3 Seeds
(3) Grigor Dimitrov: 9-5
(8) David Goffin: 4-4
(10) Novak Djokovic: 23-7 (2x Winner)
(15) Lucas Pouille: 1-2

Breakdown
The obvious form goes to both Dimitrov and Goffin heading into this one. Dimitrov made the semis in Monte Carlo and then followed that up with a quarterfinal run in Barcelona. Having struggled at times on dirt, this is good news for him heading to Madrid. There is a chance that he could face Milos Raonic in his opener. The Canadian returns this week after withdrawing a few weeks ago in Monte Carlo due to a knee injury. He gets qualifier Nicolas Kicker to begin. If he wins, he’ll try to reverse a 1-3 mark against Dimitrov. I touched in Pouille playing Paire to open. The winning Frenchman from tha encounter takes on Denis Shapovalov, who beat Tennys Sandgren on Sunday. It’s another week where I feel dirty saying it, but this draw falls well for Dimitrov.

The other half features Goffin and Djokovic as the seeds. Goffin will have a challenge in his opener with either Haase or Chung. Chung may be ready to step it back up a notch after returning from an ankle injury this past week. He got two dominant wins in Munich before Sascha Zverev beat him in an error-filled performance by the Korean. Djokovic vs Nishikori will be an intriguing opener. Both need the win for their confidence. Both have plenty of questions. Nishikori’s is more physical after he pulled out of Barcelona with a wrist problem. He has said the extra spin needed on clay puts more wear on his surgically repaired wrist. Djokovic should have a shot to get a win. The second round could be more dangerous with either Daniil Medvedev or Kyle Edmund up next.

The Pig-nosticator

Dimitrov would probably love nothing more than getting a crack at Goffin whom he is 7-1 against in their careers. There really isn’t a terrible match-up for him in this quarter gives the current form and health questions of the contenders, unless this is the week that Djokovic finally puts somethings together. Dimitrov has lost six of seven to the Serb, but that one win was in Madrid in 2013. If we’re looking for those sneaky unseeded players, the obvious ones to monitor are Chung and Nishikori.

Sizzle
Grigor Dimitrov

Fizzle
Lucas Pouille

Quarter #4 Seeds
(2) Alexander Zverev: 3-1
(7) John Isner: 9-6
(12) Jack Sock: 3-3
(15) Fabio Fognini: 4-9

Breakdown
This quarter looks top heavy with Zverev arriving with a title on clay in his back pocket, while the rest of the seeds have done little on the surface this season. The big plus for Zverev in this quarter is that there isn’t a player who is going to challenge him to alter his usual playing style. He could open against Tsitsipas, which would be a nice young guns type battle. The Greek however may be running on fumes after two long weeks of play. That may give Evgeny Donskoy an edge in round one. Either way, Zverev should be in round three with Fognini seeded to meet him. I’m not sure that happens. Leonardo Mayer could do some Eliminati stuff to the Italian in round one and if not, Fernando Verdasco may be up in round two. Verdasco beat Fognini on clay earlier this year and also owns a 4-0 mark against Mayer. He could be the unseeded player to watch in this half.

In the other half, it’s the two Americans leading the charge. Both may not make much of their week in Madrid though with Isner drawing either Garcia-Lopez or Harrison in his opener. Sock is in for a rough one potentially against Cuevas. I would not be surprised if both were one and done this week. Should Isner survive, I’d favor him to make more of a run. Sock would still potentially have to get past Albert Ramos-Vinolas in round two. ARV beat Sock in five at the French Open two years ago. This looks like a rather open section of the draw where Cuevas and Ramos-Vinolas could be the unseeded party crashers. Cuevas gets the nod as the bigger threat.

The Pig-nosticator

Zverev is the form player, but there are some interesting opponents that he could draw in this quarter. I do like Sascha early to continue that roll from Munich, but late he could run into trouble oddly enough – if the American seeds don’t take care of business. Cuevas is the dark horse without a doubt.

Sizzle
Alexander Zverev

Fizzle
Jack Sock

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

Once more, I think we’re into the mode of who plays Nadal in the final as the real intrigue to the week. Zverev and Dimitrov should both have a path to getting there, it’s on them to see who takes better advantage. I think Zverev’s early matches are a a shade easier and Dimitrov does have some potential pitfalls if some players find their best in his quarter. It’s been nothing but top eight seeds in the finals in Madrid the last three years. 2014 was the last time a double digit seed made it with 10th seed Kei Nishikori doing the trick.

I don’t see any double digit seeds I believe in to make that call, but keep those eyes firmly on Pablo Cuevas if he gets out of round one against Sock. Not only is Cuevas a semifinalist from a year ago, he’s also beaten Zverev on clay in the past year. Madrid has never seen an unseeded finalist since the switch to clay in 2009. This could be a year to change that with Cuevas and names like Chung and Nishikori in that bottom half that could shake things up. When the week closes though, I think the only big question regarding Nadal is whether or not his successive sets win streak is still intact. At this point, taking a set off of Nadal on dirt is quite an accomplishment.

I’m going out on a small limb to say that does indeed happen this week, but Rafa gets to the winner’s circle next Sunday for yet another clay court title.

2018 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters Preview

MCMASTERS18P

Nadal Looking to Ignite Another Run on Clay

Rafael Nadal returns to ATP World Tour play this week in Monte Carlo as the two-time defending champion at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters. Nadal returned to action last weekend during Davis Cup play with a pair of destructive wins over Philipp Kohlschreiber and Alexander Zverev in straight sets. It was the Spaniard’s first action since retiring in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open due to a hip injury. The wins should serve as a loud signal that Rafa is healthy again and the 31-year-old looks primed to run roughshod during his favorite part of the tour calendar.

Rafa says it feels like his season is starting again since he has only played one tournament so far and that could mean we’ll see a fresher Nadal heading towards the French Open. The “King of Clay” sports a 63-4 record in Monte Carlo during his career, having won the title ten times. He has only missed making the final three times in 14 trips. The world #1 heads to Monte Carlo having lost just one of his last 25 matches on dirt. He was 24-1 in 2017 with the lone loss to Dominic Thiem in Rome. Despite that, it’s not going to be easy for Rafa with Thiem, Djokovic and a rejuvenated Borna Coric all in his quarter. The plus is that those three are all stuck in the bottom half, so he will only face one of them and not until quarterfinals.

Is Djokovic Relevant?

The other player most will monitor this week is Novak Djokovic. The Serb is fresh off a clean break with his former coaching staff as he parted ways with both Andre Agassi and Radek Stepanek. In recent days, it has been reported that Djokovic has begun working with former longtime coach Marian Vajda again. Vajda was with the Serb for over a decade before Djokovic shook things up by parting with Vajda last May. That came after Djokovic lost in the quarters in Monte Carlo to David Goffin.

2018 has been an absolute nightmare for the Serb, who is just 3-3 overall. He is on a three match losing skid heading into the clay court season with opening match exits in both Indian Wells and Miami to haunt him in preparations for Monte Carlo. Perhaps that is why he decided to go with something familiar in reuniting with Vajda at least to prepare for clay court play. It’s very difficult to say that Djokovic is relevant right now with no form, definite mental stress and still a big question mark over how healthy his right elbow is at this point.

To be quite honest, any win that Djokovic gets this tournament will be a good one for him. He is in desperate search for that winning touch again and Monte Carlo might be a tough place for him to find it. Remember that this is the site of one of the bigger upsets in Djokovic’s career, when he lost to Jiri Vesely in his opener in 2016. The Serb is just 2-2 in the last two years at this tournament. So to answer my own header – at this point, Djokovic doesn’t seem like a relevant player until proven otherwise. He is beatable by anyone on any day.

The Challengers

So with Nadal the prohibitive favorite in Monte Carlo and Djokovic an unsteady choice, who are the realistic challengers to be in the finals mix outside of Rafa? That is a damn good question. None of the young guns have stepped up here in limited action with Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem both never going past the round of 16 in six combined tries. Thiem is also coming in off a “small” ankle fracture suffered at Indian Wells. That would not seem to bode well for a reversal of fortune this year.

Interestingly outside of Nadal and Djokovic, the only other repeat semifinalist in the last four years is Gael Monfils. The Frenchman has done that in successive trips in 2015 and 2016 as the 14th and 13th seed respectively. He won’t be in the mix this year however, having already announced he was skipping Monte Carlo due to – you guessed it – injury.

Of the higher seeds you might look to with Marin Cilic and Grigor Dimitrov filling the #2 and #3 slots this week – Cilic has had some modest success here at 12-9 overall. The Croat has made the quarterfinals his last two trips in 2015 and 2017. Dimitrov? He’s made the quarters twice, but has been a flop the last two years. Dimitrov lost his opener to Jan-Lennard Struff in 2017 and was done in round two in 2016 via straight sets to Gilles Simon. Couple that with his his putrid 1-3 mark over his last three tournaments, that includes two opening losses and he’s hard to see as a contender.

How about Lucas Pouille? The Frenchman comes in off two nice wins on clay in Davis Cup play in leading France to victory. He outlasted Andreas Seppi in five sets and Fabio Fognini in four. Pouille has increased his results in each of his three trips to Monte Carlo, culminating in a semifinal showing last year. Or perhaps the surprise finalist last year, Albert Ramos-Vinolas, who ousted Pouille. Ramos-Vinolas comes in with similar mediocre form after losing to qualifier Alexei Vatutin in Marrakech this week. All the Spaniard did during last year’s run was beat Andy Murray, Marin Cilic and Lucas Pouille to claim three Top 20 wins, including two of his career five wins over players in the Top 10.

I think the point being that there is a lot of guesswork behind Nadal this week in finding a player you really like to make a deep run. To that point, The Eliminati could have a field day on some higher seeds this week. Despite a small number of opening upsets for seeds in recent times, just eight seeds have fallen in their openers since 2014 in Monte Carlo, four top ten seeds have been dumped out in each of the last two years. With that in mind, let’s take a look at who the unseeded danger men are this week.

ELIMINATI

Dusan Lajovic
The Serb gets first pop at Novak Djokovic this week. Lajovic hasn’t had a ton of success at the ATP level this season at just 3-7, but comes in off winning a title at the Challenger level on hard courts. He’s only faced Djokovic once and it was in Doha back in 2015. Djokovic crushed him in straights, but this of course is not the same Djokovic. Everything is a question these days for Nole, so don’t be surprised if Lajovic plays him tough and has his fellow Serb on edge for a while.

Denis Shapovalov/Stefanos Tsitsipas
Whomever gets a shot at David Goffin in the round of 32 is going to fancy their chances of scoring an upset. Goffin has played just one match since injuring his eye in Rotterdam in February. That was a 6-0, 6-1 loss to Joao Sousa in Miami last month. The Belgian has admitted his confidence is low and his timing is off because of the injury and layoff. You get the feeling that he just needs a win to boost his confidence, but switching to clay without much match play in two months is a tough ask. Shapovalov can probably match Goffin’s speed better, but Tsitsipas has the power to trouble him too.

Guido Pella
Pella draws fellow Argentine and 10th seed Diego Schwartzman in round one. Pella has owned Schwartzman in their ATP careers with one main draw win over him at the French Open in 2016 along with three other wins on the Challenger and Futures circuits. Schwartzman has certainly come into his own since their last meeting, but history suggests this will be a tough match-up.

Alexandr Dolgopolov
The Dog has to get by Kyle Edmund in round one, no easy feat, but he does own a couple wins over the Brit albeit on grass. If he does win, he’ll take on 8th seed Pablo Carreno Busta in round two. PCB went 1-1 against Dolgopolov last year on clay with his win coming via retirement in the third set in Rio. Dog usually puts on a show even in losses as he plays in his adopted home town, so expect him to put up a big fight whether he wins or loses.

Kei Nishikori
A poor match-up for (12) Tomas Berdych in round one. Berdych is 1-4 against Nishikori, although the one win was on clay in Monte Carlo in 2012. This will be their first meeting in more than two years and perhaps Berdych has a chance to avoid the upset with Nishikori still searching for his best since returning from injury. Nishikori is just 4-3 on the season and has only played in Monte Carlo the one time when he lost to Berdych in the third round.

Fernando Verdasco/Pablo Cuevas
Either one of these two vets could give #2 seed Marin Cilic a real run for his money in the opener for the Croat. Verdasco and Cuevas are even in four meetings on clay in their careers. Verdasco has only been out of the opening round once in his last three visits, while Cuevas made a quarterfinal run here last year. Cilic has never met Cuevas, while owning a 7-5 advantage over Verdasco in their careers. They’ve split two career meetings on clay and haven’t met since Tokyo in 2016. The good news for Cilic is that he’s won five of the last six match-ups. Cuevas could be the tougher out as a result.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
(1) Rafael Nadal: 63-4 (10x Winner, 2017)
(5) Dominic Thiem: 3-4
(9) Novak Djokovic: 30-9 (W – 2013, 2015)
(16) Adrian Mannarino: 2-3

Breakdown
This quarter will draw all the attention with Nadal, Thiem and Djokovic amongst the players. It’s a tougher go for Thiem and Djokovic who are stuck in the bottom half of this quarter together. Thiem has never had much success in Monte Carlo and we’ve beaten Djokovic’s story with a sledgehammer at this point. Thiem won’t have the easiest of openers against either Robin Haase or Andrey Rublev. Rublev hasn’t won a match since Rotterdam, string of three straight one and dones. Haase would be the much tougher out with Rublev unlikely to force Thiem out of his baseline comfort zone. Haase is 3-2 against the 5th seed, but it was Thiem winning in straights here against the Dutchman last year.

Djokovic opens against fellow Serb Dusan Lajovic, who made it through qualifying. Djokovic won their lone prior clash, but that was back in 2015. Lajovic is a gritty type who could push Djokovic. The winner gets the survivor between Borna Coric and Julien Benneteau. Coric was a revelation during the Sunshine Double in Indian Wells and Miami with a semifinal and quarterfinal showing. The 21-year-old migh be a bit gassed from the heavy schedule though as he lost to Mikhail Kukushkin in Davis Cup play on clay. Coric has also lost all three matches that he has played in Monte Carlo, so perhaps Benneteau continues his woes.

The top half of the draw should belong to Nadal. The top seed opens against either Aljaz Bedene or Mirsa Basic. A win there nets Nadal a meeting with the winner between Karen Khachanov and either Gilles Simon or Adrian Mannarino. Mannarino is 2-0 in his career against Simon and Simon is coming in on short rest from the rain delated tournament in Marrakesh. Khachanov opened with a straight sets win over Thanasi Kokkinakis earlier on Sunday. The Russian has been decent on clay in his early career, so he could knock off Mannarino or Simon. None of those guys looks the part of stopping Rafa from getting to the quarters.

The Pig-nosticator

In the end, I still see this as Nadal’s quarter to lose. Thiem is probably the guy who could give him the toughest match at this stage, but he has to prove health after his ankle injury in Miami.

Sizzle
Rafael Nadal

Fizzle
Borna Coric

Quarter #2 Seeds
(4) Grigor Dimitrov: 9-5
(6) David Goffin: 7-5
(11) Roberto Bautista Agut: 7-5
(15) Albert Ramos-Vinolas: 8-6

Breakdown
What an open quarter this appears to be. Dimitrov comes in with nothing much in form. Goffin has just the one match since injuring his eye and he looked woeful. Bautista Agut has been poor at just 1-2 since winning the title in Dubai and Ramos-Vinolas has looked pretty mediocre at best in recent weeks. In Dimitrov’s half, he gets the winner between qualifier Pierre Hugues-Herbert and Paolo Lorenzi. PHH has been playing fairly well of late, so he could get the jump in that match. Dimitrov in spite of his bad run in the last month, should get through to round three.

Ramos-Vinolas is seeded to see him there, but has to get through Jared Donaldson to open. Then, either Tennys Sandgren or Philipp Kohlschreiber awaits. Sandgren is playing in his first ATP final in Houston on Sunday, so he will probably have a very difficult time, whether he wins or loses, of recovering and adjusting with the travel. Give Kohlschreiber the edge there and don’t be surprised if the German is a very tough out. He’s 16-10 all-time in Monte Carlo, although he hasn’t been able to get past round two since 2013. A lot of that has been due to tough draws, but he’s always been a tough out in that round.

In the other half, Goffin will need to find his game early as he will face either Denis Shapovalov or Stefanos Tsitsipas in his opener. It’s difficult to think Goffin is going to “click” with just one live match since February, so an upset is highly possible. In the other part of this half, Bautista Agut opens with Peter Gojowczyk. RBA should be the better player on this surface, but he’s in a slump. The survivor takes on Benoit Paire or Feliciano Lopez. Those two have split two career meetings with Paire taking the last in 2017 indoors. RBA would love to see Paire, who he is 6-0 against in their careers.

The Pig-nosticator

This quarter could go any which way. This is probably Dimitrov’s best shot at a deep run due to all the question marks, but he’s one of the top question marks here in the first place. Unseeded players don’t normally make it to the semifinals in Monte Carlo with Fabio Fognini’s run in 2013 being the last. Still, if someone is to break that trend – this might be the quarter with none of the seeds inspiring in play or history here. Goffin is the seed to watch for me. If and it’s a big if, IF he finds his timing and gets confidence in his eye, then he’s got a legit shot to get hot. Otherwise, my eyes fall to the Shapovalov-Tsitsipas winner and Kohlschreiber as dark horses.

Sizzle
Grigor Dimitrov

Fizzle
Albert Ramos-Vinolas

Quarter #3 Seeds
(3) Alexander Zverev: 3-2
(7) Lucas Pouille: 7-3
(10) Diego Schwartzman: 3-2
(13) Fabio Fognini: 11-9

Breakdown
For me, this quarter should be fun to watch. Zverev showed his prowess on clay in 2017, tallying 16 of his 38 career wins on dirt, including his unexpected title in Rome. Sascha found some form in Miami, but disappointed in losing the final to John Isner. He split clay clashes in Davis Cup play with David Ferrer and Rafael Nadal. I think those tests should help him in Monte Carlo. Zverev starts against Florian Mayer or Gilles Muller. A win puts him in position to possibly see Fognini for a spot in the quarterfinals.

Fognini takes on Ilya Ivashka in round one. Ivashka was solid in qualies, but has just one main draw win on clay at this level. Fognini is always tough to gauge. He lost his opener twice in the last three trips to Monte Carlo, but should have a good shot to avoid the hat trick. A win puts him against either Yuichi Sugita or Jan-Lennard Struff. Both of those should be advantageous match-ups on clay, but Sugita might be interesting. The man from Japan took the Italian to five sets in a Davis Cup clash earlier this season, but that was indoors on a hard surface. I will be disappointed if we don’t see a Sascha-Fab Mode showdown for a spot in the quarterfinals.

Pouille is the guy I outlined as a possible sleeper for the final in a year where it is hard to figure out who has a shot other than Nadal. Pouille opens against Mischa Zverev, who survived a three setter on Sunday against Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-2, 6-7 (4), 6-1. Pouille will have to adjust to Mischa’s serve and volley tactics, but I think he has the net game to survive. His third round opponent is seeded to be Diego Schwartzman, but he’s going to have a hard time getting there. He opens against Guido Pella and then would face either Richard Gasquet or Jeremy Chardy. Gasquet played well in Marrakesh before losing to Kyle Edmund in the semis. He looks like a potential sleeper. Pouille is 4-1 vs Gasquet.

The Pig-nosticator

The semifinal slot should come down to one of three players I think; Sascha Zverev, Pouille or Fognini. With questions continuing to scatter across the ATP landscape, this is another chance for Sascha to seize some of the limelight and show he is the next in line. I think Pouille is the danger for him and this would be their first meeting all-time. I will say this too – I don’t fancy Schwartzman this week, but if he escapes against Pella in round one, do watch out for him.

Sizzle
Lucas Pouille

Fizzle
Diego Schwartzman

Quarter #4 Seeds
(2) Marin Cilic: 12-9
(8) Pablo Carreno Busta: 5-4
(12) Tomas Berdych: 20-13
(14) Milos Raonic: 10-6

Breakdown
One of these things (Carreno Busta) is not like the other. It’s a bunch of bigger hitting seeds and then Carreno Busta in this quarter. PCB might have the more advantageus half over Cilic. The Spaniard could have to face Marrakesh finalist Kyle Edmund in his opener, but the Brit is sure to be feeling some fatigue after a long week and a quick turnaround. Edmund opens with Andreas Seppi, who might take advantage of that situation first. Carreno Busta is very much hit and miss on clay. The biggest hit coming in making the French Open quarterfinals last year, but four misses in his last six tournaments on clay, where he lost his opening match.

Opposite of Carreno Busta in this half is Berdych who has perhaps the worst first round match-up on paper against Kei Nishikori. Nishikori is 4-1 against Berdych, but of course is still trying to find his way back to scoring consistent results. Berdych looks boom or bust here, with an early win over a nemesis perhaps fueling a run. The survivor from the Berdych-Nishikori clash goes against Daniil Medvedev. The Russian held off Marton Fucsovics in first round play. That was the 22-year-old’s second win on clay in his career.

In the other half, Cilic will have the tough task of beating either Fernando Verdasco or Pablo Cuevas in his opener. That one should definitely be labelled as a possible upset. Should Cilic survive, Milos Raonic is seeded to see him in the round of 16. Raonic may have found his confidence in Miami with a quarterfinal run that ended with a tough three set loss to Juan Martin Del Potro. Raonic opens with wild card Lucas Catarina and then may see Damir Dzumhur in round two. Dzumhur starts against Marco Cecchinato. Dzumhur is just a .500 player on dirt though and hasn’t won a Masters main draw match since Miami last year. Watch out for Raonic.

The Pig-nosticator

One quarterfinal spot could come down to Cilic vs Raonic with the Croat owning a 2-1 lead, including a win on clay in their last meeting in Istanbul in 2017. Carreno Busta could be the “sleeper” here even as the #8. I’m still waiting for Nishikori to find those consistent results. This could be a sneaky week for him if he gets by Berdych, but nothing has been easy for him to this point. In the end, I think I’d favor Cilic or Raonic as the best bet to get through this quarter.

Sizzle
Milos Raonic

Fizzle
Tomas Berdych

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

Novak Djokovic will be watched closely this week for signs of life after reuniting with his former coach, but it’s Rafael Nadal who should be doing most of the heavy lifting. The ten time Monte Carlo champion looked fit and ready to roar on clay again with his Davis Cup wins a week ago. He will be bitterly disappointed I think not to start off the clay campaign with a title run. It’s difficult to see someone in the top half stopping him on the way to the final. Thiem is the likeliest candidate in a quarterfinal, but he’s got to get there first.

The bottom half provides more intrigue and I think the better shot for someone perhaps to have a chance to beat Nadal in the final … or at least play him tough. I’m eager to see if Raonic can transition his Miami success to something good on clay. He is a three-time quarterfinalist in Monte Carlo, so it’s not too big of an ask. I still rank Pouille as the one to watch in this half, but it’s likely Sascha Zverev who might provide the best test for Nadal in a final. I always think it’s put up or shut up time for Sascha and this week is no different.

I’m not going against the grain this week though – I expect Nadal to grind his way to title #11 in Monte Carlo and again serve notice that the road to a Roland Garros title is going through him again.