2017 Western & Southern Open Preview

WSO17INGRID

Questions Among the Top Four Seeds

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

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

Number One Ranking in Sight for Nadal or Federer

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

Seeded Field Struggling

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

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

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

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

Early Bird Specials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outsider’s Edge

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

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

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

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

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

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

Draw Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017 Rogers Cup Preview

COUPEROGERS17

Resilient R’s Lead the Field

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

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

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

Last Half of Seeds Have Plenty of Question Marks

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

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

Early Bird Specials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outsider’s Edge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Draw Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017 Wimbledon Semifinals Preview

WIMB17SFS

Wimbledon took an unexpected plot twist in the quarterfinals with top seed Andy Murray falling to Sam Querrey in five sets. Querrey is into his first Grand Slam semifinal, while Marin Cilic is contesting his third career Slam semifinal. The winner will advance to their first-ever final at the All-England Club

(7) Marin Cilic vs (24) Sam Querrey

Cilic was made to work against 16th seed Gilles Muller in the quarterfinals. Just two days after his legendary 15-13 win over Rafael Nadal in the 5th set of their fourth round match, the big lefty would push Cilic to five sets as well. This time however, he ran out of gas as Cilic won going away in the final set for the 3-6, 7-6 (6), 7-5, 5-7, 6-1 win. Cilic didn’t do a whole lot wrong in he match, smashing 33 aces and controlling a lot with his first serve. The Croat won 84 percent of the points off his first serve, but struggled a bit at just a 49 percent win rate off his second. He would be broken three times on seven chances. Cilic has been broken just eight times in five rounds. The 7th seed racked up 74 total winners to 34 unforced errors.

Querrey cemented his name in American tennis lore as he wore down a fading Andy Murray 3-6, 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-1, 6-1. The top seeded Scot was certainly struggling with a hop issue as the last two sets wore on, but credit Querrey who was playing perfect to his game plan of quick and aggressive points. Querrey crushed 27 aces in the match and won a solid 84 percent off his first serve and 55 percent off his second serve. Murray did break him three times, but on just seven chances with few of those coming late. The American has only been broken ten times all tournament. Querrey tallied 70 winners to 30 unforced errors.

Credit or Discredit Querrey

Plenty of people are going to write off Sam Querrey’s win as a product of Andy Murray’s hobbled physical condition by match’s end. You’d be an idiot not to say that Murray’s condition effected him greatly in the final two sets. Andy said he struggled badly on serve the final two sets with the hip obviously causing some pain that sapped his serve of its power. In turn, Murray needed to do something against Querrey’s powerful serve. He said that got tougher and tougher as he needed to move more to play defense and his body just would not allow for what was necessary.

For me, I think you take Querrey’s win with a grain of salt as you did last year with his won over a less-than-100 percent Novak Djokovic. Yes, Querrey did play some impressive and aggressive tennis, but clearly in both cases he was battling a wounded opponent. Last year, it was Djokovic with his balky shoulder and elbow and this year, Murray with the hip. None of that matters now though because Sam Querrey is still standing as a 2017 Wimbledon semifinalist. What we will find out in this round is just how much he has left in the tank. Let’s not forget that Querrey has now played three straight five set matches. The plus for Sam is that his style of play and the way those matches played out were not exactly the most taxing five set matches you’ll see. In particular with the way the end of the Murray match played out, they finished five sets in under three hours which would normally be unheard of for a match involving Murray.

Third All-Time Meeting at Wimbledon

This is going to be the fifth career match between Cilic and Querrey with three of the previous four taking place on grass. Two of them have come at Wimbledon. All four have gone to Cilic, but not without a dogfight each time. The last meeting was in 2015 on hard courts in Washington, D.C. where Cilic edged Querrey in a pair of tiebreaks. Prior to that, 2012 was the last time that they locked horns. That year, they played on grass twice with one at Queen’s Club and the other at Wimbledon. Cilic won 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 at Queen’s Club and then survived an extended third round battle at the All-England Club.

In that match, Cilic squeaked by 7-6 (6), 6-4, 6-7 (2), 6-7 (3), 17-15. That match saw eight total breaks of serve with the Croat converting five out of 16 chances, while Querrey took three on eight chances. One of the big differences in that match was second serve with the American winning only 47 percent of his points, while Cilic won 64 percent. Cilic also had more winners than Querrey (85-70) and more unforced errors (58-52). As you would expect, both served big and both looked to play shorter and aggressive points off the ground.

Their other Wimbledon encounter was back in 2009 in the second round. That match also went the distance with Cilic taking it 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-4. So you might want to make sure you stock up on snacks and beverages if you’re going to watch this one. They could be a while.

Match Tactics

The term serve-bot will probably be thrown around regarding these two and it’s not really accurate. Yes, both are going to get their share of freebies on serve, but these two both move well for their size. Querrey has been much more aggressive in his desire to come forward on grass and it’s paid dividends. The 18 shot exchange between Murray and Querrey (highlight reel fodder) exemplified Querrey’s improved movement and that he does indeed have good net skills. Cilic has worked to hone his own skills at moving forward and volleying. He’s improved a great deal over the last two years in those categories.

I think you’ll see quite a few similarities in the pattern of play from both players. Any serve that has enough juice on it that results in a poor return, expect to see the server come forward to finish off an easy point at the net. Querrey especially I think will consistently do this to avoid many lengthier rallies from the baseline. The short and aggressive style he has employed better this year is what is going to give him the best chance to win. Cilic is comfortable enough in playing baseline rallies that it could work to his advantage to see what Querrey has by getting him involved in that pattern. I don’t think Sam is going to be totally gassed, but it’s worth figuring out early. That means Cilic needs to bring his best return game.

That’s another aspect where I think he’s vastly underrated. Cilic has a Top 30 rating on return based on the ATP’s formula that uses percentage of points won off return, break conversion rate and return games won. Cilic has a better success rate at percentage of return games won versus Querrey. Cilic wins around 25 percent, while Querrey is closer to 19 percent. The American does have a slightly better rate of break conversion though at nearly 40 percent to 38 for Cilic.

Both have faced big servers at Wimbledon this year. Cilic of course just faced Gilles Muller and acquitted himself well on return, taking 30 percent of the points off the Muller serve. Against Steve Johnson (not quite as big a serve), he was even better with a 42 percent win rate on return. Querrey played Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Kevin Anderson back-to-back, taking 30 percent of the return points from Tsonga and just 25 percent from Anderson. The break conversion rate was a big difference for Querrey, getting five breaks on just ten chances. He’ll need to be efficient against Cilic in that category to win.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

I’ve often touted the element of the “First Timers” club at this stage of Grand Slams. Some players are unaffected by nerves in this spot, being just one match away from a Grand Slam final. Others freeze up and do not play their best. Querrey is a veteran at age 29, but this is a massive and unexpected spot for him. His parents were not even along for the trip until he surprised and beat Murray last round. I do think this is the best surface for success for Querrey and he’s certainly found a good rhythm, yet the feeling here is that he could be emotionally down a shade after the Murray win.

For Cilic, this is business as usual. Sure, he’s not exactly someone who is in this position every Grand Slam – but this is his third semifinal and all of those have come in the past few years. It’s more familiar territory for him and the match-up is fairly favorable. Their past history suggests the sets will be tight with either a single break of serve or a tiebreak settling things. I think Querrey needs success early, much like Muller needed it against Cilic to truly contend in that match. Coming off a series of five set matches, I would not want to find myself down a set or two. The American may be confident in that he can figure out a way to win again, but going the distance again could be playing with fire.

Cilic will want to find a service rhythm and then simply apply pressure to Querrey to match him on serve. I think if he can do that, he’ll find the big points on his racquet. It’s been eight years since Andy Roddick made the Wimbledon final, which is the last time an American male made it. Don’t get caught up in the number of sets that Querrey has played because those five set matches were relatively short. I think that means he has a chance here because of how close these two have contended against each other in the past. I won’t be stunned at this point if things fall Querrey’s way in this match. He’s had Lady Luck on his side seemingly, but I think Cilic is just a shade better on this surface still and has been in a groove for most of the grass court season. But hey – this is Cilic vs Querrey at Wimbledon, let’s at least make it five sets to decide things.

Prediction: Cilic wins in five sets

Roger Federer can get one step closer to a record breaking 8th Wimbledon title on Friday as he clashes with 11th seed Tomas Berdych. Federer was won seven straight against Berdych and 18 of 24 overall in their careers.

(3) Roger Federer vs (11) Tomas Berdych

Federer has been scary good at Wimbledon, wiping out 6th seed Milos Raonic 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (4) in the quarterfinals. The Swiss’ first serve was amazing with the 3rd seed winning 90 percent of his first serve points. Raonic barely got any looks at break chances with five as the total for the match with Federer saving them all. Four of those came in one game in the third set. The few times that Federer was in trouble, he was able to reverse course and take control with a near perfect ground game. That was evidenced in the third set tiebreak where Raonic seemed prepared to get a set with a 3-0 lead and going on serve. Fed would win seven of the final eight points including two big serves to wrap up the win. If possible, Federer is getting better as this tournament goes on with a close to flawless ground performance against Raonic that tallied 46 winners and just nine unforced errors.

Berdych won an injury shortened match against Novak Djokovic to advance to his second straight semifinal at Wimbledon. Berdych edged the opening set in a tiebreak and then broke Djokovic to get out to a 2-0 lead in set two. That is when Djokovic decided the pain in his elbow was too much as he threw in the towel. The Serb said the pain was at its worse when he was serving and hitting forehands. His subdued service numbers show that effect as he won just 29 of 47 points played on serve before retiring. In all of that, Berdych still only managed to break Djokovic’s serve the one time in the second set. It’s hard to say exactly how Berdych was performing overall due to the Djokovic injury, but one thing that was evident was a wicked first serve from the Czech. He won 93 percent of the points played there and that has been his best weapon in London.

Third Meeting in 2017

Wimbledon marks their third encounter this year with Federer rolling in straight sets at the Australian Open and then working much harder in a three set win in Miami. There, Berdych took a set and also pushed Federer to a third set tiebreak where the Swiss saved two match points before securing the win. That will breed some confidence for Berdych, but also will be that black cloud in the back of his brain if he’s got himself in winning positions again. Berdych has certainly seemed to have a bit of a mental block in recent years in trying to close out some of the big names on tour.

It was a marked improvement for Berdych in Miami as he took his first set off of Federer since 2014 (five straight matches). Unfortunately for Berdych, he may well be facing closer to the version of Fed that won the Australian Open. In that match, Federer was unstoppable on serve as he won 95 percent of the points off his first serve and never saw a break chance against him. He did manage four breaks of the Czech’s serve in that one and teed off on Berdych’s second serve for 21 of 30 points played.

This will be their third meeting on grass with both prior matches at Wimbledon. Berdych stunned Federer 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 in the quarterfinals in 2010. The Czech would go on to beat Novak Djokovic in the semifinals to make his lone Grand Slam final, where he lost in straights to Rafael Nadal. Federer won the other Wimbledon meeting way back in 2006 by a score of 6-3, 6-3, 6-4.

Match Tactics

You have to start with the serve of Federer being a focal point for this match. He had been solid overall through four rounds, but looked other worldly in the quarters against Raonic. The rhythm and precision he was hitting with on serve was nearly impossible for Raonic to touch for the better part of their three sets. Raonic was able to make a few inroads as the third set wore on, but it was already too late. So how can Berdych avoid a similar fate? First, he can hope that Federer’s level will be something less than last round. It’s an honest assessment because if it’s at that level, then this sets up for a repeat of the Australian Open in January.

The problem for Berdych is if he sets up too deep against the Federer serve, the Swiss has shown a willingness to use chips and drop shots to absolutely kill opponents for sticking back on the baseline. Go back to the Halle final against Alexander Zverev. It was cruel punishment what Federer did to Sascha in that one, but a perfect game plan by moving in and putting balls away with soft droppers again and again. If Berdych tries to maintain a more normal receiving position, then he has to find a way to get his racquet on that serve consistently. I think Berdych has to adopt a “home run” type of attitude on return. He has to hit the ball back solidly or he’s dead meat.

Any shanked returns or lunging returns that cost him court position will see Federer move swiftly to the net and put those away for easy points. Most of this means Berdych’s own serve is going to have to match Federer blow for blow. His first serve has always been very powerful and effective. It’s usually too many second serves that find the Czech in trouble. Much like Federer, Berdych will look to use his power and precision to get less than effective returns from the Swiss. That will allow him to move in when warranted to get quick and aggressive finishers in short rallies. Also expect to see plenty of quick 1-2 punches off those serves with Berdych trying to mix up his court position.

When they do set up in ground rallies that last more than a few shots, the forehand will also be the preferred weapon of choice for both. Federer was pretty effective targeting Berdych’s backhand in their meetings earlier this year and he still came to net quite a bit, even on hard courts. The Swiss is obviously more comfortable there on grass and it will force Berdych to make quick decisions to try and beat Federer. Fed is volleying well, so Berdych’s best options might be trying to beat him out wide on the backhand side to see if the Swiss can stab those effectively or not.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

It’s really hard seeing Federer flopping at this point, but you also have to be a tad realistic that he won’t be as keyed up for this match-up as he was against Raonic last round. That could give Berdych a slight opening early on to get after it and make this an interesting match. As with any player who has been almost unstoppable, you’d like to put some match pressure on them by making them play from behind for the first time to see how they respond.

Kei Nishikori did that to Fed at the Australian Open by taking set one in a match that eventually went to Federer in five. Last year at Wimbledon, it’s what both Cilic and Raonic did in highly competitive matches. The formula is pretty simple I think then for Berdych and that is to find a way to have success early with your game plan. See if you can rattle the G.O.A.T. For me that is landing that first serve and seeing if you can stick with Fed for the set and hope something good happens for you late to steal it.

Berdych is playing with much more confidence than Raonic who really didn’t stand much chance when his serve was a little flat. I think the Czech has a chance to at least take a set here and on a day when most expect Federer to roll into the final, don’t be surprised if it’s at least a bit tougher than you expect.

Prediction: Federer wins in four sets

2017 Wimbledon Quarterfinals Preview

WIMB17QF

It’s time to get down to the final four in the men’s draw as quarterfinal play is set for Wednesday at the All-England Club. Here is a look at all four of the day’s matches.

Andy Murray can make it eight out of the last nine years in the Wimbledon semifinals with a win over Sam Querrey on Wednesday. The last time that Murray missed out on the semifinals was when Grigor Dimitrov spanked him in straight sets in the 2014 quarterfinals.

(1) Andy Murray vs (24) Sam Querrey

It’s been a prototypical Andy Murray run so far at Wimbledon through four rounds. He’s been more grit than good on occasion, but fighting as hard as anyone to get the win. The fourth round against Benoit Paire exemplified this trait as Murray was broken twice in the opening set, but still found a way to wiggle through in a tiebreak to put his stamp on the match. From there, Murray gradually served a bit better and watched Paire implode with 44 unforced errors. The top seed was clean off the ground with just 25 winners compared to 50 for Paire, but just eight unforced errors. Murray would win 7-6 (1), 6-4, 6-4. The fourth round marked the third time in four matches that the Scot had ten UEs or less.

Querrey meanwhile was put to the test by big serving Kevin Anderson. Both players bombed 31 aces and didn’t allow for much off their serve. Querrey would win 83 percent of the points off his first serve and 59 percent off his second. Anderson won 85 percent and 50 percent. Querrey did make the most of the few opportunities to break Anderson, converted on two of three break chances. Anderson would fail to convert on six of seven against Querrey. The 24th seed was also more precise off the ground with just 18 unforced errors to 28 by Anderson. Querrey will take confidence into the semifinals after failing to convert on multiple match points in a fourth set tiebreak, he came back in the 5th and took it with an early break for the 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-7 (11), 6-3 win.

Historically Speaking

Murray has beaten Querrey in seven of eight matches all-time. Querrey’s lone win was on hard courts in Los Angeles in 2010 in three sets. Twice on grass, Murray has handled Querrey in straight sets. The last grass meeting was at Wimbledon in 2010. Their last meeting overall was at this year’s Australian Open where Murray trounced Querrey 6-3, 6-2, 6-4. Murray handled Querrey’s serve with ease, breaking him five times on eight chances. The American won just 55 percent of his service points overall. Murray was solid on serve, broken just one time on three chances. He would rack up 40 winners to Querrey’s 31 with Querrey having 27 unforced errors to Murray’s 22.

Grass would figure to aid Querrey’s serve a bit more over that last meeting in Melbourne. Despite the “slow” grass this year at the All-England Club, Querrey has still been dominating with his first serve winning 80 percent or more in all four matches. Certainly, that will be put to the test against an A+ returner in Murray. In their two previous grass court meetings, Murray melted the Querrey serve for nine breaks and was especially punishing on Querrey’s second serve. The American won just 21 of 65 second serve points in those meetings in Newport in 2006 and Wimbledon in 2010. The 53 percent win rate on second serve in Australia this year was by far Querrey’s best against Murray and he’ll need that to be even better in order to spring an upset.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

There’s not much surprise awaiting this match. Querrey wants to serve big and then use that to his advantage to move in when possible and finish points in a short and aggressive fashion. Murray’s goal is to get his return mojo working and trap Querrey into longer rallies where he can exploit his speed and agility advantages over the American. There is certainly enough power in Querrey’s serve and his forehand to compete against Murray. The question will be whether he can find enough consistent success with his serve to set up those quick points.

History says it will be difficult and Andy has a terrific track record against big servers. Looking at Murray’s results on grass from 2015-2016, he beat Gilles Muller, Kevin Anderson, Ivo Karlovic, Marin Cilic, Milos Raonic (2x), Nick Kyrgios, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych. Only Tsonga won more than one set off of him. Murray may not be winning with the cleanest tennis around, but his will to fight and problem solve has been pretty good. Give Querrey a set here, but I think Murray moves on.

Prediction: Murray wins in four sets

Marin Cilic looks to break what has been a quarterfinal rut in his Grand Slam career when he takes on Gilles Muller. Cilic has made three straight Wimbledon quarterfinals prior to this year without advancing. He’s just 3-6 at this stage in Slams for his career.

(7) Marin Cilic vs (16) Gilles Muller

If there has been a top ten seed who has slipped under-the-radar more than Marin Cilic has the past week, I don’t know him. All the 7th seed done is win in straight sets all four rounds. He’s now 10-2 on grass this season. His fourth round win was easy as he obliterated Roberto Bautista Agut 6-2, 6-2, 6-2. Cilic took 37 of the 67 points played off RBA’s serve and was good enough with his own to be broken just once on six chances. Cilic tallied 39 winners and 19 unforced errors. He hasn’t been perfect this week despite the straight sets scoreline as he has been broken five times. The Croat has been hitting the ball big mostly, which has led to 192 winners and just 87 unforced errors.

What else can you say about Gilles Muller but wow. 2017 has been a career-year for the 33-year old who has won his first two ATP titles and now advanced to his second career Grand Slam quarterfinal. The 15-13 5th set win over Rafael Nadal in the fourth round was epic after the big lefty nearly let a two sets to love lead slip away entirely. He stood tall in the biggest moments though, saving 14 of 16 break chances. He converted on three of eight chances against Nadal. Muller also went “bonus” style against Lukas Rosol in round two when he came through 9-7 in the 5th and has shown such a cool and collected approach in each match to get over the finish line.

Historically Speaking

This is meeting number three between these two with Cilic having won the two previous matches. That included a three set win at Queen’s Club in June. The 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 Cilic victory saw 42 combined aces and three key breaks of serve. It was Cilic who was able to do a lot more against Muller’s serve as he crafted 13 break chances, but only cashed in twice. Muller won just 74 percent of the first serve points and 49 percent off his second. Cilic’s numbers showed him with win rates at 91 and 69 percent.

Their other meeting was indoors in Rotterdam in 2016 where Cilic won 7-6 (2), 7-6 (7). Cilic again saw more off the Muller serve, although he could not convert on any of his five break chances. Muller did not see a single break chance off of Cilic in that match. Cilic again was just slightly better with the serve numbers in that one, but they were much close than what their match showed in Queen’s Club.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Despite there being very few long rallies in the nearly five hour match between Muller and Nadal, you could clearly tell in Muller’s post match comments that fatigue could be a playing partner for him on Wednesday. While he may not encounter a ton of long rallies against Cilic either, if his legs are less than steady, his serve loses power and some of the great volleying we saw from him could be far less effective. Cilic has shown to be the better returner of these two and figures to have some chances off of Muller’s serve. He needs to convert those early and plant the seeds of doubt.

Cilic has shown a desire to come forward more on grass recently and I would expect he’ll look for the opportune times to do that again. If he’s serving big and getting Muller off balance on return, he can pounce and move forward to finish off easy points. I also won’t be surprised to see him work Muller into longer rallies to test Muller’s fitness. Cilci’s forehand and backhand are both legit weapons. Look for the Croat to make Muller run laterally in an effort to put more miles on those legs.

Muller can still contend in this match if his serve stays big and consistent early on. If it’s off due to some fatigue in those legs, this one might not provide a ton of entertainment.

Prediction: Cilic wins in straight sets

Roger Federer gets a shot at revenge when he battles Milos Raonic for a semifinal spot. Last year, it was Raonic who stunned Federer in five sets to make his first Grand Slam final here at Wimbledon. This is their first meeting since that match.

(3) Roger Federer vs (6) Milos Raonic

Little has gone wrong for Roger Federer so far this year at Wimbledon. The 35-year-old has yet to drop a set through four rounds. Since his shortened first round match with Alexandr Dolgopolov, Fed has won the last three rounds in straight sets. He has been broken once in each match, but overall has given out just nine break chances in those last three matches. Fed’s win rate on first serve is solid at just a hair under 80 percent and he’s winning an astounding 75 percent off his second serve. His ground game has been clean with 116 winners in the last three rounds and just 33 unforced errors. Even more chilling for Raonic is that just 18 of those UEs have come in the last two rounds. Federer’s 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 win over Dimitrov was a clinic with the Swiss breezing through his service games more the most part and playing the quick and aggressive style that suits grass so well.

Raonic meanwhile has had to struggle to this point with his ground game in a constant state of flux. He started slowly against 10th seed Alexander Zverev in the fourth round, but was able to stabilize himself enough to pull out the 4-6, 7-5, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 win. In the early going, Raonic’s serve was out of sorts and he was spraying errors off both wings. He figured things out in rallies though by starting to use a bit more slice on his backhand that seemed to help him set up better against Zverev as the match wore on. The stats definitely showed the Raonic struggle. In the sets he lost, his winners to unforced errors ran 22:24. In the three sets that he won, Raonic’s ratio was 39:18. It is no surprise that his serve also showed much better when he was able to win sets with just seven break chances against is serve in the three sets won, while he had ten chances against his serve in the two sets he lost.

Historically Speaking

Federer leads Raonic 9-3 in their head-to-head, but it was the Canadian beating Roger last year both in Brisbane in January and then at Wimbledon. Federer had trouble getting breaks off Raonic with just two in the seven sets that they played in 2016. Raonic was able to break Federer five times. The Wimbledon meeting saw Raonic rally to secure his first Slam final via the 6-3, 6-7 (3), 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 win. Federer may still be lamenting the 12th game of the fourth set where it looked like the set was locked in on a tiebreak with Fed up 40-0 on serve. A pair of double faults in that game really set up Roger to fail. A double fault would also seal Federer’s fate in the fifth set with Raonic getting a break chance in the 4th game after the Swiss had the double fault.

There is a bit of an air of difference this year. For one, Federer is not dealing with any knee issues as he was when he fell and hurt himself in this exact match-up last year. His movement has been sharp. The second big difference is Raonic. He has struggled to find consistency off the ground for a good portion of this season and has not looked as comfortable on grass as he’s been in the past. Raonic said after the Zverev win that he still feels like shot-for-shot that he’s doing the right things, but he’s had trouble finding and maintaining a rhythm with his ground strokes. My opinion is that has carried over into some of his service games and made him less effective at times there too. That was fairly evident against Zverev who did a good job on return, especially in the first two or three sets.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

If Raonic can ever get locked in with his ground strokes, he can still be an absolute monster in this tournament. To his credit, he’s found a way to get to this stage without playing his best. That is a testament to his problem solving skills on the court. It will be interesting to see how Federer engage Raonic this year. Last year, Raonic was so comfortable on grass that he seemed to be gliding across the surface. This year? His movement has not looked as fluid at times and I think Federer will mix things up to test that movement. He doesn’t necessarily need to get Raonic into baseline rallies, but that is the area where Raonic is struggling the most off the ground. That plays a bit away from Federer’s desire to play short points and aggressively come to net.

Raonic needs to find his best serve in this spot to contend against Federer how has had his best serve for the majority of the tournament. Raonic’s serve really lacked something early against Zverev who was able to get to a lot of more balls than I was expecting. I think if Federer finds that same success then Raonic is really going to have a difficult time in this match. In last year’s match-up, when the Swiss got good swings on return, he was able to win a lot of those points by positioning himself well for the next shot. Raonic still fires ballistic missiles at opponents most of the time however, so Federer will have to make the most of what could be far less than the 17 opportunities that Zverev got in round four.

I’m sure he won’t admit it, but I think a win over Raonic would complete the cathartic cycle for Federer. I can’t say Raonic won’t win here because he is fully capable of it even with his ground strokes off. He can serve his way late into sets and then potentially steal the set with a moment or two of brilliance or a lull from Federer. That said, if Federer plays with the crispness he has shown on grass since the Tommy Haas loss, Raonic will have to play much better than we’ve seen from him to contend. Fed simply has been the more consistent player and as long as nerves don’t attack him, he should advance.

Prediction: Federer wins in five sets

Novak Djokovic will look to continue his roll on grass as he tangles with Tomas Berdych for a spot in the semifinals. Djokovic is 8-0 on grass this season and has yet to drop a set in London this year.

(2) Novak Djokovic vs (11) Tomas Berdych

The Serb’s delayed fourth round match went off without a hitch on Tuesday as the second seed dispatched Adrian Mannarino in straight sets 6-2, 7-6 (5), 6-4. Djokovic was only broken one time on two chances, while he crafted ten break opportunities against the Frenchman. He would cash in on four of those with breaks of serve. Other than giving back an early break in set two, the Serb was in control. He broke early in each set to give himself an easier route to the quarterfinals. Djokovic won 71 percent off his first serve and 67 percent off his second. The first serve win rate was a little bit lower than most of his previous matches, but in line with what you’d expect. The Serb racked up 36 winners, but had his tournament high with 24 unforced errors.

Berdych received a much stiffer challenge from 8th seed Dominic Thiem. Berdych would outlast Thiem in five sets 6-3, 6-7 (1), 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. Overall, it was a clean match from Berdych with 41 winners and just 19 unforced errors. He would win 83 percent of the points on first serve and 50 percent on second serve. He saw far more opportunity against Thiem’s serve with 13 break chances than he dished out with just five break chances against his own serve. Berdych converted on three breaks, while Thiem could only muster one break of serve. Berdych has only been broken three times all tournament with minimal opportunities given out to his opponents.

Historically Speaking

The numbers look bad, real bad if you’re a Tomas Berdych fan. Djokovic is 25-2 against the Czech. They met three times in 2016 with Djokovic taking all three in straight sets. Berdych’s last win over Djokovic? It was on clay at the Rome Masters in 2013. Djokovic is 4-1 against Berdych all-time at Grand Slams, but it was at Wimbledon in 2010 that Berdych scored one of his two wins. Djokovic returned the favor by taking out Berdych at Wimbledon in 2013 in straight sets. Those are their only two meetings on grass. The major difference between the win and the loss was Berdych’s ability to serve well in the semifinal upset in 2010.

Overall, Djokovic seems to be able to get after Berdych’s serve with relative ease. He broke the Czech a dozen times in the seven sets they played last season. Berdych meanwhile did not have that same rate of success against the Djokovic serve. Berdych broke just four times. His second serve was the real trouble maker, winning under 40 percent in two of the three 2016 matches. Berdych’s serve has been pretty exceptional on grass this season, but this will be by far the best returner he has faced and obviously the biggest challenge.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Djokovic seems a bit testy following the non-rescheduling fiasco on Monday. He also voiced his concerns over the playing surface, citing a hole he discovered on Centre Court during a match. He definitely showed some continued frustration at points against Mannarino on Tuesday for not finishing him off earlier. That’s some of the Djokovic we’ve seen this year when he’s not been at his best. That “edge” can walk a fine line between helpful motivation and bad anger that can lead to poor problem solving on the court. Fortunately for Djokovic, he’s been able to solve Berdych almost every time they’ve played.

There is no way that isn’t playing on the mind of Berdych heading into this one. The positive of course is that he’ll have that “nothing to lose” mindset in this one, but that won’t do him any good if he doesn’t bring his A+ game on Wednesday. For Berdych, he absolutely must get his first serves in consistently and make them useful. If he can hit his spots, then at least he has the chance to move forward and try to finish points off more quickly at the net. If he’s not hitting his spots, then Djokovic will eat into his serve gradually and he will break him again and again.

There is still just enough from Djokovic to suggest that he could get frustrated more readily if his game isn’t on par. It’s been pretty solid through Eastbourne and four rounds in London. There’s enough that Berdych might be able to squeeze the Serb for a set, but overall, this looks too comfortable a match-up for Djokovic. Expect him to find a way to finish it off and head back to the semifinals.

Prediction: Djokovic wins in four sets

2017 Wimbledon Draw Preview

WIMBLEDONPREV17

Will the old guard continue their dominance over Grand Slams yet again or is it time for a new name to make an impression by taking the trophy? We’ll find out over the next two weeks. History suggests that the title at the All-England Club will still likely come down to Andy Murray, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic. After all, those three have won 13 of the last 14 men’s singles titles at Wimbledon.

There has at least been a few outsiders to that “big three” in the past few years that have been playing the final few days of Wimbledon with a chance to make history. Milos Raonic and Tomas Berdych made the semifinals last year as seeds outside the top five. Raonic made his first Slam final here in 2016. In 2015, Richard Gasquet crashed the semifinals as the 21st seed along with the familiar names of Murray, Federer and Djokovic. In 2014, Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic both made the semifinals as seeds outside the top five, #11 and #8 respectively. 2013 continued the trend with 8th seed Juan Martin Del Potro and 24th seed Jerzy Janowicz slipping into the semis along with Djokovic and Murray.

Relative “outsiders” aka those outside “The Big Four” can make inroads at Wimbledon and be in the mix at the business end of the tournament. Whether one of those can push into the final and actually upset the apple cart by taking the title has yet to be done since the era of Federer began at Wimbledon with the first of his nine titles in 2003. With all that to chew on, let’s break down the brackets and see who might sneak into the semifinals this year.

Quarter #1 Seeds
Andy Murray (1)
Stan Wawrinka (5)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (12)
Lucas Pouille (14)
Nick Kyrgios (20)
Sam Querrey (24)
Fabio Fognini (28)
Fernando Verdasco (31)

Top Half Breakdown (Murray)
Murray will be a bit weary of a potential second round meeting with Dustin Brown. The Scot opens against lucky loser Alexander Bublik first and it is his first go around at Wimbledon. He did get his first Slam win at the Australian Open earlier this year against Pouille, so there’s definitely some talent there. Bublik will be an interesting test for Murray because the Russian-born 20-year-old loves to play trick shots. That might be good practice for a potential meeting with Brown in round two, who also has an unorthodox style on grass. Fognini is the seed opposite of Murray in this portion of the bracket in the battle for a third round spot. I fancy the winner of Jiri Vesely vs Illya Marchenko to have a good shot to beat the Italian. Fognini has only made it past round two twice at Wimbledon in eight trips.

In the bottom portion of this half, you’ve got two heavy hitters in Pouille and Kyrgios as the seeds. Pouille has the better match-up in the opening round against Malek Jaziri. The Frenchman will be hoping to match last year’s surprise quarterfinal run. He played well in the lead-up to Wimbledon, winning in Stuttgart before crashing out in Halle to Florian Mayer. Pouille’s second round match-up will be tough against either Denis Shapovalov or Jerzy Janowicz. Both have big games. Shapovalov might be more confident after a good showing at Queen’s Club where he beat Kyle Edmund and then lost a tight three setter to Berdych. Kyrgios has Pierre Hugues-Herbert to start and he’ll be tested if there are any lingering issues with his hip or shoulder. Round two could feature Kyrgios against Benoit Paire who opens against Rogerio Dutra Silva. Paire owns two wins over NK, including one at the 2014 Australian Open. If a seed makes it through to round four, you’d fancy it to be Pouille rather than Kyrgios.

Murray wouldn’t mind that one bit as he’s beaten Pouille four out of four times and all have been in straight sets. The big thing for the Scot will be fitness. He’s battled a hip issue in recent times, but claims to be feeling better. That will play out early I would think with the unorthodox guys he could face testing his movement with their odd-timed shots.

Bottom Half Breakdown (Wawrinka)
Wawrinka had turned the tide of his past Wimbledon failures with successive quarterfinal runs in 2014 and 2015. Last year however brought him back to the land of the early exit as he was taken down in round two by Del Potro. The Swiss again has a difficult draw with up and comer Daniil Medvedev to start. The Russian made three straight quarterfinals in the grass build-up tournaments, including the semifinals last week in Eastbourne. Two things Medvedev has yet to do however are winning a Grand Slam match and beating a top ten player. He’ll attempt both against Wawrinka who has lost in round one five times at Wimbledon.

Survival for Wawrinka in round one would see him meet Tommy Haas or Ruben Bemelmans and perhaps feel better about making a deeper run. Verdasco is seeded to be the third round opponent, but he’s got to get past Kevin Anderson in round one. If he does, you’d like Verdasco’s chances to beat Andreas Seppi or Nortbert Gombos in round two. If it comes down to Wawrinka and Verdasco for a spot in round four, they’re level at 3-3 lifetime and 1-1 on grass. The Swiss does hold the edge at 2-0 in Slams, including a 2015 meeting at Wimbledon.

The other part of this half sees Tsonga as the lead seed along with Querrey. Tsonga takes on Brit Cameron Norrie. Tsonga has a great track record at Wimbledon with a career mark of 28-9. He has had more off years however recently with a second round exit in 2013 and third round exit in 2015. Last year, he did make the quarterfinals. Norrie shouldn’t be much of a bother unless Tsonga is totally off his game and a second round match against Simone Bolelli or Yen-Hsun Lu also looks good for the 12th seed. That could leave him in round three to face Querrey. The American faces Thomas Fabbiano to start and then would see either Carlos Berlocq or Nikoloz Basilashvili.

In what looks to be a fairly weak part of the quarter, it would be a bit surprising not to see Tsonga vs Querrey for a spot in the fourth round.

Predictions
In spite of the questions we have about Andy Murray heading into Wimbledon, this appears to be a good set-up for him similar to Roland Garros. There, he got off to a solid start and then grew into the tournament and found a rhythm. He will look for the same here and the match-ups should play for him to get to the quarters. It should come down to how healthy the hip is for the top seed. Opposite of him, I think there is room for an uprising. It might not necessarily be an unseeded player who takes the reigns and makes the quarters. Think Querrey or Verdasco, but don’t discount Anderson of Medvedev if they can get off to the shock start.

Projected Quarterfinalists: Murray, Querrey

Quarter #2 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (4)
Marin Cilic (7)
Kei Nishikori (9)
Gilles Muller (16)
Roberto Bautista Agut (18)
Ivo Karlovic (21)
Steve Johnson (25)
Karen Khachanov (30)

Top Half Breakdown (Nadal)
It’s an interesting half of this quarter with Nadal as the lead seed. He’s got big servers/hitters in Muller, Karlovic and Khachanov in this part of the draw. That isn’t great news for Rafa who has struggled against guys who can hit big and paint lines on this surface. Since back-to-back finals appearances in 2010 and 2011, Nadal is just 5-4 at Wimbledon without advancing past round four. He’s lost in the first or second round in three of his last four trips. Granted he is playing with great confidence, but grass is going to be a true test of how his overall game stands. He opens against John Millman who has been tough the last two years here. I don’t think Millman scores the upset, but if Rafa has trouble finding a rhythm on grass, the Aussie could certainly make him work hard.

Round two against either Denis Istomin or Donald Young could prove the tougher spot for Rafa. Neither owns a win against Nadal, but only Istomin has met him on grass and that went three at Queen’s Club back in Nadal’s hey-day when he won Wimbledon in 2010. Istomin’s big, flat ground strokes could prove to be a tough test if he’s up against Nadal. I think the Spaniard would prefer to see Young. Opposite of this spot, it’s Khachanov against Andrey Kuznetsov. That could be a thriller, but Khachanov has the better, bigger game suited to grass. A win would see him against qualifier Andrew Whittington or Thiago Monteiro. Khachanov really has no excuse not to get to round three. Even if Nadal is there, Khachanov could be the fly-in-the-ointment who takes out a top seed.

The other part of this half has Muller and Karlovic as the seeds. Both don’t have easy paths to winning a few matches. Karlovic opens against Aljaz Bedene who has beaten him before and is comfortable on grass. Muller starts with wild card Martin Fucsovics who won a grass court Challenger. If Karlovic survives round one, then he’s got a better second round match-up against either Renzo Olivo or Damir Dzumhur who probably won’t be able to handle his serve. Muller? He could see Lukas Rosol who battles Henri Laaksonen to start. I don’t fancy Muller to make it past round two and there’s a chance Fucsovics could stun him in round one, albeit he will need Muller to have an off day to help.

My surprise in this half of the quarter would be if it doesn’t get blown up with upsets. I feel that this one has the dangerous floaters and big serving/hitting double digit seeds like Karlovic and Khachanov who could make runs.

Bottom Half Breakdown (Cilic)
This part of the quarter also looks as if it could go upside down. Cilic has been in solid form on grass with a trip to the Queen’s Club final and a semifinal showing at the Ricoh Open. His draw is rough though with Philipp Kohlschreiber to start and then either Viktor Troicki or Florian Mayer if he makes it to round two. Kohlschreiber is skilled on grass and will contend if his serve holds up. Troicki owns two wins on grass against Cilic and Mayer’s funky game could give Cilic some problems if that is the match-up. Cilic is going to have to earn every set if he makes it past the first two rounds. Steve Johnson is the player seeded to be in the third round opposite of the Croat and his draw looks good. He starts with Nicolas Kicker and then would see either Facundo Bagnis or Radu Albot in round two. Johnson can’t ask for better match-ups in his favor on this surface. He might need an upset of Cilic to be done before round three to have a shot to advance farther. Cilic has made three straight quarterfinals at Wimbledon though and will still be very difficult to knock out.

In the other portion of this part of the quarter, it’s Nishikori and Bautista Agut as the seeds. Nishikori’s main issue could once again be his body. He bailed out of Halle due to a back issue, the third straight year that he’s done so. Both previous years, NIshikori’s body wound up failing him at Wimbledon – last year in round four and in 2015 in round two. Round one should be okay for the 9th seed against Marco Cecchinato who is more comfortable on clay. It’s round two that could undo Nishikori with either Sergiy Stakhovsky or Julien Benneteau waiting. Bautista Agut should advance out of round one against Adrian Haider-Maurer, but could find it more difficult in round two. He’ll see either Marius Copil or Peter Gojowyczk. Copil beat Gojo in a competitive French Open match in May. Copil is coping with a shoulder issue though that forced him to retire at the Nottingham Challenger in the semifinals. He is a big server and a legit threat on grass if his body holds up. He’d be the more difficult out for RBA.

Cilic has the tougher draw to make a deep run, but I think we all trust him more to do that than we trust Nishikori’s body to hold up. Let’s also remember that this has been Nishikori’s worst Slam with the fourth round as his best finish. If his body holds though, the match-ups get better at least until a potential showdown with Cilic.

Predictions
If Nadal and Cilic both make it through to the quarterfinals, I will be stunned. I won’t be surprised if Cilic makes it four straight quarterfinals despite the difficult draw. He’s been serving at a high level on grass and has the power to KO even the toughest opponents in his way. I think the surprise comes in Nadal’s half of the quarter. Khachanov is the guy I think could surprise here and he’s seemingly been close to busting out, so perhaps this is his stage. If an unseeded player is going to make a move, it will likely be in Cilic’s half and at Cilic’s expense.

Projected Quarterfinalists: Khachanov, Cilic

Quarter #3 Seeds
Roger Federer (3)
Milos Raonic (6)
Alexander Zverev (10)
Jack Sock (17)
Grigor Dimitrov (13)
John Isner (23)
Albert Ramos-Vinolas (25)
Mischa Zverev (27)

Top Half Breakdown (Raonic)
The 2016 finalist heads to Wimbledon without much grass court prep. Raonic lost his lone tune-up match to Kokkinakis at Queen’s Club, although he did little wrong outside of a few points in both tiebreaks. Raonic has found good success at Slams here at Wimbledon with a semifinal showing in 2014 and then last year’s final. He opens with big serving Jan-Lennard Struff. The German is going to make Raonic play well to win. Struff lost to Pouille twice on grass, but extended him to three sets both times in Stuttgart and Halle. Don’t be surprised if Struff extends Raonic to four or five sets. A win would get Raonic a shot against either Mikhail Youzhny or Nicolas Mahut. Mahut’s serve and volley would be the trickier of the two match-ups. Ramos-Vinolas is seeded to meet Raonic in round three, but I’m not counting on it. He meets Jordan Thompson in round one who just beat him on grass. Even if he survives, he could see young Russian Andrey Rublev in round two. Rublev has started to get positive results on grass this summer and he would be a tough out as well if he beats Stefano Travaglia in round one.

The other half of this part of the bracket has Zverev as the lead seed. Sock is also in this part of the draw and despite some very mediocre results in 2017, the American has a nifty draw that could see him get through to round three without a ton of trouble. He faces qualifier Christian Garin to open. Garin had never played on grass before making the main draw through qualifying, so his confidence will get a boost. Sock hasn’t played since a poor showing at the French Open, but he never plays in the pre-Wimbledon swing. Last year’s third round loss to Raonic was his best finish at the All-England Club. With Garin and then either Thomaz Bellucci or Sebastian Offner in round two, Sock should have a chance to match that result. Sascha Zverev opens against Evgeny Donskoy. Donskoy has big ground strokes, so if his serve holds up, he could push the 10th seed a bit. The survivor there gets either Robin Haase or Frances Tiafoe. Tiafoe still doesn’t own a main draw win on grass, while Haase has played reasonably well on grass lately. Remember Haase had a 2-1 lead on Zverev at the Australian Open before Sascha rallied to win in five. That would be an intriguing second rounder.

There are some early tests here for both Raonic and Zverev. I like Raonic’s path a bit better and Sascha still has to prove he can be a deep threat here to me. He made round three last year, losing to Berdych. I think he can equal or better that, but my brain is starting to stick a little bit on how tough Donskoy and Haase could potentially be for him.

Bottom Half Breakdown (Federer)
Federer heads to London with confidence after winning the Halle title. He had the hiccup against Tommy Haas in Stuttgart, but that appears to have been due to rust, so he’ll be expecting to be around at the tail end of the tournament again. He opens with Alexandr Dolgopolov. Dog is 0-3 against Fed and retired at the Ricoh Open. Expect Fed to move on and play either Stefan Tsitsipas or Dusan Lajovic which appears to be another comfortable match-up. Round three might be his first “test” with the survivor of the round one clash between Mischa Zverev and Bernard Tomic favored to be there. Fed just beat Zverev in straights in Halle, his fourth win over Mischa and he’s also 4-0 against Tomic. As long as Fed stays consistent, the fourth round looks like a fairly smooth path.

The other part of this half sees Dimitrov and Isner as the seeds. I’ve touched on Isner already and his struggles this year. He goes against Taylor Fritz in round one and could well be one and done. Whoever survives round one gets Dudi Sela or Marcel Granollers. The Isner-Fritz winner should be expecting to get to the third round. Dimitrov meanwhile opens against Diego Schwartzman, which should allow him for a winning start. The Bulgarian would then face Marcos Baghdatis or James Ward. Baghdatis sucumbed to the sweltering heat in Antalya last week in the semifinals. He also retired in Stuttgart, so his health is a real question. Ward has been derailed by injuries and has not won an ATP match since he made round three at Wimbledon in 2015. Maybe this is his time against a weakened opponent? Either way, Dimitrov might think abou a new line of work if he can’t get through these first two rounds.

Dimitrov has lost in the third round the last two years at Wimbledon since his semifinal rn back in 2014. I think you have to like his chances to get there and probably a step farther to round four where he could meet Federer.

Predictions
If Raonic can get his serve humming early, I like him to get through a tougher part of this quarter. Federer has the road for success laid out in front of him, it’s up to him to execute his game plan consistently. So far in 2017, there’s been very few times when Fed has failed to do just that.

Projected Quartefinalists: Raonic, Federer

Quarter #4 Seeds
Novak Djokovic (2)
Dominic Thiem (8)
Tomas Berdych (11)
Gael Monfils (15)
Feliciano Lopez (19)
Richard Gasquet (22)
Juan Martin Del Potro (29)
Paolo Lorenzi (32)

Top Half Breakdown (Thiem)
Thiem is still a big question mark on grass for me. Yes, he won the Stuttgart title last season, but outside of that he’s just 7-10 on grass in other tournaments. At Wimbledon, he has yet to find his stride with two straight second round exits after a first round ouster in his 2014 debut. He draws Vasek Pospisil to open in what could be a trendy upset pick. Pop is far removed from the player who made the quarters here in 2015, but he’s got the serve and volley game to trouble Thiem who prefers to hug the baseline. Thiem’s build-up this year was less than stellar with a 1-2 mark and losses to Haase and Ramkumar Ramanathan. If he escapes round one, things could get better with Gilles Simon or Nicolas Jarry in round two. Simon would figure to be tougher, but Thiem is 5-2 against him and has beaten the Frenchman four straight times.

Lorenzi is seeded to be the third round foe in this part of the draw. The Italian is 0-6 at Wimbledon. He opens against Horacio Zeballos who is 0-4 here, so something will give. That should give the winner between Janko Tipsarevic and Jared Donaldson hope of making round three. Tipsarevic hasn’t scored but two wins on grass this year, but his three losses to Cilic, Troicki and Seppi look better than Donaldson’s career results on the greenery. The American has just two career wins on grass and makes his Wimbledon main draw debut. Tipsarevic surprisingly has a terrible record here despite possession a good power game. The Serb is 11-12, but has lost in round one in five of his last six trips.

Opposite of that part of the draw, things look more interesting with seeds Berdych and Gasquet. Berdych opens with a tough one against Jeremy Chardy who hasn’t found a win in four tries against the Czech, but played him close in this same round two years ago. If Berdych advances, he gets Borna Coric or Ryan Harrison. Neither has shown much on grass, but Coric did effort well here last year with two five set matches in two rounds. He beat Stakhovsky and loss to Seppi. Harrison hasn’t won here since 2012 and hasn’t won a main draw ATP match on grass since Eastbourne in 2013. I don’t think either is going to particular worry Berdych in round two. Gasquet has to get by David Ferrer in round one, but grass is a better surface for the Frenchman. A win sets him up against either Steve Darcis or Ricardas Berankis. Darcis has done virtually nothing on grass since his round one shocked over Nadal in 2013 at Wimbledon.

Gasquet-Berdych looks likely in round three. It would be meeting #17 that has gone lopsided in favor of Berdych recently with the Czech taking six of the last seven meetings. Surprisingly though, they have never met on grass. The winner of that potential match would be my favorite to get through to a quarterfinal.

Bottom Half Breakdown (Djokovic)
All hail the Eastbourne champion. The Serb definitely gained some confidence with his run to the title this past week and that should really serve him well. He didn’t beat a bunch of nothings either, so he should feel probably about as good about his game as can be expected. Andre Agassi is expected to be with him for the tournament (we think), so it will be interesting to see what, if any effect that has on Djokovic. As for his draw, he gets Martin Klizan first. That’s a comfortable match-up with Djokovic 3-0 against him and Klizan not much of a threat on grass. A win gets either Ernesto Escobedo or Adam Pavlasek. Escobedo is raw on this surface still, but Pavlasek barely plays on it. The American can win in this spot, but Djokovic should ease through to round three.

The intrigue lies opposite of this with Juan Martin Del Potro opening against Thanasi Kokkinakis. There is no telling if DelPo’s groin is 100 percent, but you’d hope the rest has helped him heal. If he’s fit, then he may simply need to find his rhythm to become an automatic threat in London. You know Djokovic saw his name in the draw and probably got a little uncomfortable. Kokkinakis has the big serve and game to contend with Del Potro, but has his own physical struggles that keep him from being consistent match-to-match. He could spring an upset like he did against Raonic, but fall apart immediately in round two. If DelPo is healthy, I think he’ll survive and then see either Ernests Gulbis or Victor Estrella Burgos. Gulbis hasn’t played on grass since losing in round one here last year to Jack Sock. I’d be disappointed if we didn’t see Djokovic-Del Potro in round three.

In the other part of this half, Monfils and Lopez are the lead seeds. Monfils looked fairly solid in Eastbourne in making the final. La Monf lost in the opening round last year and has never made it past round three at Wimbledon, so he looks challenged to get that done this year. He opens against a dangerous qualifier in Daniel Brands. The German veteran actually owns three wins against Monfils, but those came three or more years ago. Brands did make the fourth round in 2010 and he’s got a big serve. Monfils can’t afford to slack off. The winner gets Kyle Edmund or Alexander Ward. Edmund has lost five straight on grass and has been a disappointing first round exit each year since 2013 at Wimbledon. Ward is playing the main draw for just the second time. Edmund needs to step up and win in this spot, but his confidence may be lacking. The Monfils-Brands winner should be the one to watch into round three.

Lopez has been in marvelous form on grass this summer, a nice return to good things for the three-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist. He’s 9-1 on grass this year with the Queen’s Club title in tow. He draws Adrian Mannarino to start. The Frenchman made the Antalya final, so he’s got some grass game as well. Mannarino did make round four at the All-England Club in 2013, so he can contend against Lopez. The Spaniard has beaten him twice, but their Australian Open match in 2015 was close until Mannarino succumbed to heat exhaustion. The winner gets Antalya champ Yuichi Sugita or Brydan Klein. Sugita has looked much better on grass with the Antalya title and the Surbiton Challenger title on grass this summer. I would be concerned with too many matches on his legs though. He’s played 14 matches on grass with that last week in the heat in Turkey. Klein is 0-2 all-time at Wimbledon, but he’s played a lot on this surface and I would not be surprised if he pulled off the upset over a fatigued Sugita.

Lopez is the one to watch as he carries in some great form and is very comfortable on this surface. Even if he goes toe-to-toe with Monfils, I’d like the Spaniard’s chances of being in the fourth round.

Predictions
If Del Potro’s groin wasn’t a concern coming in, I’d be more apt to say Djokovic might have more trouble early, but even a healthier DelPo could not beat Novak in three other meetings in 2017. I do like where the Serb is at coming to London though and as long as he doesn’t get off to a slow start and keeps his confidence up, he should be in the quarterfinal mix. A Djokovic-Lopez fourth round match could be much better than the 9-1 head-to-head in favor of the Serb suggests. The guy who could swoop in and take advantage of Djokovic’s tougher road is Berdych.

Projected Quarterfinalists: Berdych, Djokovic

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

Outside of Federer, the top players in this tournament still have key questions upon arrival. For Murray, it’s whether his hip is an issue and whether his game will be back in rhythm after the early exit at Queen’s Club. For Djokovic, it’s whether his title in Eastbourne signals that everything is moving back into a positive direction or if he’s still prone to getting the yips? And then Nadal obviously will simply have to prove that he can win on grass again.

It’s still very hard to see an outsider claiming the title at Wimbledon, but that seems to be our mantra going into every Grand Slam. I think the closest one could get to an outsider would be someone like Raonic or Cilic. Raonic is the one to keep an eye on for me again this year. He’s got that huge game that can trouble Federer, Djokovic and Murray. The Canadian especially will have a little swagger if he goes against Fed, having beaten the Swiss last year in the semis and in Brisbane earlier in 2016. I think Murray and Djokovic still hold the key edge over him due to their return games, but Fed is obviously not in that elite class of returning.

I think in order right now, I’d say Federer, Djokovic and then Murray as possible winners. Murray could elevate himself a notch if he proves the hip is a non-issue within the first two rounds. If Murray crashes early, Cilic is the guy who could step into the top half of the draw and take control as somewhat of a “surprise” guy. Down on the bottom, it’s harder to see Federer, Djokovic or Raonic not involved in the other spot in the final. I’ll go Andy-Novak with about two percent confidence!