Preview and Predictions for ATP Finals

by John on November 11, 2017

The ATP Finals begin Sunday, ostensibly featuring the eight best men players in the world. There are however some illusions with the premise that the best eight are gathering at the O2 Arena in London for the prestigious year-ending tournament. Injuries have riddled the ATP Tour in 2017 like no season in recent memory and it’s no more evident than who is playing in London and who isn’t. Top seed Rafael Nadal and No. 2 seed Roger Federer lead the field, followed in order by Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Marin Cilic, Grigor Dimitrov, David Goffin and Jack Sock. Absent and out for the season are Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori. All five made the finals last year and would undoubtably be in London sans injuries. That said, there’s still no disgrace in being the best of the rest. Rafa and Roger have been the dominant forces in men’s tennis in 2017, each winning two Grand Slams apiece, and on paper should be outlandish favorites to play each other in the final. The eight qualifiers are divided into two groups of four. On Nadal’s side of the round-robin draw are Goffin, Thiem and Dimitrov, who have a combined 3-17 record against the Spaniard. Federer’s side, consisting of Zverev, Cilic and Sock, have a slightly better combined record of 3-12 against the Swiss Maestro. With such a history of dominance, the final looks to be a slam dunk for Federer and Nadal. However, in what could be a tournament director’s nightmare, Nadal and his troublesome right knee might not be 100 percent for his opening match on Monday. His status is somewhat iffy. If the Spaniard would withdraw it would be catastrophic for the tournament. Rafa pulled out of the Paris Masters before his quarterfinal match last week after experiencing discomfort in the knee during this third-round win against Pablo Cuevas. “Hopefully the knee is good,” Nadal said. “I’ve done everything I’ve needed to do in order to get ready for London… Let’s see if I am able to be 100 per cent to compete. If nothing happens, then I will play.” Nadal has qualified for the ATP Tour Finals 13 times, but never won the tournament. The No. 1-ranked Spaniard wants it badly. Federer, who has had a superlative year with a 49-4 record and seven titles, rested last week, skipping Paris to be fresh for London. At this time of the year it’s a little hard to predict how much a player has left in the tank. Everyone is a little worn down from the long season and perhaps a bit nicked up too. Still, the stakes are high. If Nadal is healthy I see him winning his group 3-0 with Dimitrov 2-1. Federer’s path to the finals is a little more difficult. Zverev has a 2-2 record against Federer, and if he’s feeling his oats could give the Swiss some trouble. Federer should battle to win his group with a 3-0 record, with Zverev coming in second at 2-1. Thus the semis will pair Nadal against Zverev and Federer versus Dimitrov. This portends very well for a Fedal final. Can’t see it any other way.

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Spanish veteran Fernando Verdasco edged 20-year-old Russian Andrey Rublev 7-6 (1), 7-6 (6) in the opening round of the Rolex Paris Masters Tuesday afternoon. It was a battle of two baseline bashers and the only real difference was Verdasco’s acumen and skill in the tie-breaks. The win propels the 33-year-old Verdasco into a second-round clash with No. 12 seed and U.S. Open finalist Kevin Anderson. Rublev will move on to play in the inaugural NextGen ATP Finals in Milan next week. Verdasco displayed Rafael Nadal- like defensive skills in neutralizing the hard-hitting Rublev’s blistering ground game, while serving 11 aces and winning 70 percent of his first service points and 52 percent of his second. Rublev, for his part, had five aces and also won 70 percent of his first serves. The Russian captured 48 percent of the points on his second. Both players held serve with ease through the first five games of the match. Serving at 2-3, Verdasco saved two break points to hold, and at 4-5 erased a set point. Rublev saved a break point of his own at 5-5 and a tie-break ensued. Verdasco captured mini-breaks on the first, fourth and eighth points for a decisive 7-1 edge in the breaker to take the first set. Verdasco held twice and led 2-1 in the second set, when four straight breaks followed. Rublev saved two match points in the 12th game to force another tiebreaker. The Spaniard converted his fifth match point, ending the scintillating duel in one hour and 48 minutes. Verdasco hit 27 winners to 23 for Rublev, and had 37 unforced errors compared to 40 for the Russian. The Spaniard saved three of five break points and Rublev six of eight.

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Defending champion Juan Martin del Potro whipped top seed Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-2 in the final of the Stockholm Open earlier this afternoon. The title was the fourth-seeded Argentine’s first of the year and 20th of his career, and will launch the Tower of Tandil into contention in the ATP Race to London. Del Potro will move up to 14th in the Race with 2135 points, 470 points behind Pablo Carreno Busta, who currently occupies the eighth and final qualifying spot for the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals. The Argentine improved to 6-2 head-to-head against Dimitrov and ran his record to 31-14 on the year. “I played the best match of the week against Grigor today. Unlucky for that, sorry Grigor,” del Potro said. “It’s amazing to come back and hold this big trophy. And hopefully I can come next year as well. I love to be in Stockholm. I like the city a lot. I like the Swedish people and you treated me very, very good this week and I would like to thank everyone.” Del Potro dominated with his serve, hitting nine aces and winning 76 percent of the points on his first serve, while saving all four break points he faced. The 29-year-old Argentine parlayed a service break in the fifth game of the match to take the opener in 42 minutes. A service break in the third game of the second set gave del Potro a 2-1 lead. Dimitrov forced three break-point opportunities in the next game, but failed to cash any of them. Delpo broke again in the seventh game and served it out in one hour and 25 minutes. Dimitrov, who is fifth in the Race to London, served five aces and saved two of five break points. The Bulgarian had captured his only two victories against del Potro earlier this year, but it wasn’t to be today. “I couldn’t have lost to a better gentleman on and off the court. Juan, congrats…you’ve been playing great the whole year, quite a few battles and wishing you the best of luck for the rest of the season,” Dimitrov said. “Unfortunately I couldn’t bring a lot more fight today. But again, Juan totally deserved it.”

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Dolgopolov Stops Dzumhur Run at Shenzhen Open

by John on September 30, 2017

Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov defeated Damir Dzumhur 6-3, 6-4 in the semifinals of the Shenzhen Open Saturday night, ending the red-hot Bosnian’s 8-match winning streak while advancing to his third final of the year. Dolgopolov, the fifth seed, will play Belgian David Goffin, seeded No. 2, in tomorrow’s final. Goffin leads the 28-year-old Dolgopolov 1-0 head-to-head, garnering a straight-sets win at the 2013 U.S. Open. Dzumhur, seeded No. 6, has been playing the best tennis of his career (18-3) over the last two months, reaching the semifinals at Los Cabos, the final at Winston-Salem and winning his maiden ATP Tour title at St. Petersburg last week. The 25-year-old Bosnian, now ranked a career-best No. 40 with the win in Russia, had beaten top seed Alexander Zverev in the quarterfinals yesterday, but didn’t have enough answers against a dialed-in Dolgopolov in the second semifinal tonight. Dolgopolov served superbly, hitting eight aces, while winning 89 percent of his first service points and saving all three break points. The two cat-quick combatants engaged in numerous baseline rallies, replete with backhand slice and wicked angles. It was all very entertaining stuff. Dolgopolov captured the only breaks of the match in the fourth game of the opening set and the ninth of the second. He wrapped things up in a tidy one hour and 12 minutes. “He had an unbelievable run so I knew he was going to make me play a lot of balls,” Dolgopolov said of his opponent. “I was really lucky to serve well today.” Goffin is rounding into peak form after missing several months this summer due to an ankle injury suffered at the French Open. “I’ll try to play more aggressive maybe,” Dolgopolov said of his matchup with the Belgian. “David is for sure a solid player. It’s nice to see him back on this level. I’ll just go and fight.”

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Juan Martin del Potro broke the hearts of FedFans last night with a convincing 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (8), 6-4 quarterfinal win over five-time U.S. Open champion Roger Federer at Flushing Meadows. The big Argentine’s victory also prevented, once again, a first-ever Federer-Rafael Nadal meeting in New York at the year-ending Grand Slam tournament. Nadal had defeated Andrey Rublev in his quarterfinal match earlier in the day and now gets del Potro instead of the Swiss Maestro in the semis on Friday. The long-awaited matchup with Federer apparently just isn’t meant to be. Del Potro beat Federer in the 2009 U.S. Open final for his lone Grand Slam title. The loss last night additionally ended Federer’s hopes for a third major title in 2017. He won the Australian Open in January and Wimbledon in July. The two players battled tooth and nail in the opening set until del Potro broke Federer in the 11th game after a nervous Federer double fault at 30-30 followed by a blistering Delpo forehand winner. Del Potro closed it out with a service winner on his first set point. Federer took the second set with a break in the fourth game to level the match at a set all. Del Potro rebounded and raced to a 4-1 lead in the third set, courtesy of a break in the second game, but Federer answered with a break of his own in the seventh. Both held the rest of the set to force a tiebreaker, which produced high drama and ultimately swung the outcome. Del Potro saved four set points, including one on a thundering forehand winner that clipped the baseline with Federer serving at 6-4. The Swiss missed a backhand sitter at 7-6 while charging the net, wasting another golden opportunity. Del Potro finally sealed it, 10-8, with a backhand return that Federer pushed long. The Argentine played error-free tennis in the final set and served huge, winning 20 of 23 service points. Federer saved two break points in the fifth game, but succumbed on the third for the only break of the set. Del Potro punctuated the win with a massive forehand down the line on the first match point. “I played my best match of the tournament,” del Potro said afterward. “I served well and hit my forehand as hard as I can. We played a great match and I think I deserved to win in the end.” Del Potro served 12 aces to 17 for Federer, and won 81 percent of his first service points to 73 percent for Federer. The Swiss hit 60 winners compared to 48 for del Potro, but committed nine more unforced errors, 41 to 32. Del Potro saved one of three break points, Federer three of six. “You know, he came up with the goods when he needed to and I helped him a little bit sometimes too maybe,” Federer said. “But he was better today, especially on the big points.”

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If the U.S. Open Men’s Draw, getting underway tomorrow, were a ship it would capsize. Way too top-heavy and top-heavy tips the boat. No. 2 seed Andy Murray’s late withdrawal yesterday only added to the disproportionate weight of the top half of the draw and axed any possibility of an enticing Rafael Nadal-Roger Federer final in a revised draw. Shame on Murray for vacillating. The Grand Slam weight ratio of the top half to bottom half is now 35-1. It was a still ridiculous 35-4 yesterday. That’s what can happen when the vagaries of chance take over. That and the fact five of the top 11 ranked men are missing in action due to a variety of injuries. On the bright side it certainly opens the possibility of a surprise finalist from the bottom 64. A look at the draw with some bold predictions. Recently anointed No. 1, Nadal heads Quarter One. The Spaniard is not a sure thing to get out this section, since his play has fallen off since a superb clay-court season, culminating in his 10th French Open title. Nadal has lost before the semifinals in three straight hard-court tournaments since Paris. His first real test could come in the fourth round where he might meet always troublesome Fabio Fognini or Tomas Berdych. Most likely awaiting a quarterfinal clash with the Spaniard looks to be Grigor Dimitrov, who won at Cincinnati a week ago and is on fire of late. The Bulgarian should advance to the semifinals. Federer tops Quarter Two and faces a tough competitor in 19-year-old American Frances Tiafoe in his opening round match Tuesday night. If all goes as projected, Federer would meet Feliciano Lopez in the third round and the enigmatic Aussie Nick Kyrgios in the fourth. Assuming Kyrgios has his head screwed on right, Fed could be in trouble. At the bottom of the quarter is Dominic Thiem, who should cruise to a quarterfinal battle with Kyrgios. Thiem moves on to the semifinals. In the bottom half of the draw things could get quite interesting. German Alexander Zverev, just 20-years old, has been the hottest player of the summer and is top dog in Quarter Three. Zverev, winner of five titles this year, including two Masters crowns, should get past potential opponents Kevin Anderson, and Gilles Muller or Jack Sock to battle Americans Sam Querrey or John Isner for a semifinal berth. Zverev accomplishes the task. Quarter Four, originally Murray’s section, is now headed by Marin Cilic, who took the Scots position in the draw. Cilic had been the second banana in Quarter Three before Murray’s withdrawal. The Croatian, winner of the 2014 U.S. Open, looks to redeem himself from a disappointing performance in this year’s Wimbledon final. Cilic, if he’s fully recovered from an adductor injury this summer, should reach the quarterfinal match of this section. Who he plays is a real mystery. Possible opponents could be Jo.Wifried Tsonga, Denis Shapovolov, Steve Johnson, Albert Ramos-Vinolas or Pablo Carreno Busta. Take your pick. Whoever it is, Cilic goes to the semis. So the semifinal matchups look to be Dimitrov versus Thiem and Zverev against Cilic. It’s a wacky year, so anything is possible.

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Alexander Zverev is #NextGen no more. For Sascha, the future is now. The 20-year-old German dealt elder statesman Roger Federer a thorough 6-3, 6-4 beatdown in the final of the Coupe Rogers in Montreal yesterday afternoon. Zverev, who evened his record against Federer at 2-2, has now won two Masters titles and five tournaments overall this year. He won at Marseille in February, Munich and Rome (Masters) in May, and Washington last week. The 6-foot-6 Zverev moved up one spot to No. 7 in the world in today’s updated ATP rankings and improved to 46-13 on the year. Federer lost for the first time in 17 matches, while dropping to 35-3 in 2017. Zverev pounded out six aces among his 20 winners, and was a powerhouse on serve as well as from the baseline. He won 80 percent of his first service points and 61 percent of his second, while dominating rallies from the back of the court. The young German saved all three of the break points he faced and won two of six against Federer’s serve. Both players move on to Cincinnati to play in the Western & Southern Open this week. “Winning two Masters 1000 titles in the same year is something amazing,” Zverev said. “I played well winning Washington and here. It’s something amazing, back-to-back weeks. I feel great. I feel like I’m playing some of the best tennis of my life. But Cincinnati is a very tough draw. I don’t know if I will be able to go far there because I am a little bit tired. But game-wise and confidence-wise, I’m super happy the way everything is standing.” Zverev came out with guns blazing and never let up. He forced a break point on Federer’s serve in the second game of the opening set and then broke the Swiss in his next service game. That was all he needed as he wrapped up the opener in 30 minutes. After holding serve to start the second set, Federer, looking to turn things around, amped up the pressure on Zverev’s serve in the following game. Zverev was up to the challenge, though, saving the three break points to squelch the rally and hold. The German captured his second break of the afternoon at 3-3 and never looked back. It was over when Federer sailed a return long on the first match point. A swift 68-minute affair. “It is a positive week in the end,” Federer said. “The final was unexpected. But it’s keeping up with the good results of this year. Playing the final was a good thing. Of course, I’m disappointed with today. I thought I would do better. I wanted to fight a bit more and make the match a bit more tighter. I had opportunities. But Zverev played extremely well. He played well all week.”

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Lucky loser Andrey Rublev won his first ATP Tour title last night, defeating No. 4 seed Italian Paolo Lorenzi 6-4, 6-2 in the final of the Croatia Open Umag. The 19-year-old Rublev had lost in the final round of qualifying, but earned a spot in the main draw when Borna Coric was forced to withdraw. Rublev took full advantage of his good fortune, beating defending champion and third seed Fabio Fognini in the quarterfinals and Croatia hope Ivan Dodig in the semis en route to the final. The #NextGenATP Russian became the seventh lucky loser to win an ATP Tour title and the first since Rajeev Ram won at Newport in 2009. With the victory, Rublev will jump 25 spots to a career-high No. 49 in the world in Monday’s updated ATP rankings. The Russian teenager played with controlled aggression throughout the 86 minute contest and showed maturity well beyond his 19 years. Lorenzi, a 35-year-old veteran and accomplished claycourt player, couldn’t keep up with the rapid-fire pace of the young Russian. Rublev broke twice early to jump out to a 4-1 lead in the opener. Lorenzi got one of the breaks back, but it wasn’t enough as Rublev wrapped up the set in 40 minutes. The Italian held twice to start the second set and led 2-1, but those were the last games he would win as Rublev reeled off five games in a row to win the match. “It’s amazing. I have no words to explain it,” Rublev said. “Especially after this tough week and all the feelings that I have been going through. Now, I’m here and it’s amazing. But now, it’s already passed and in two days I have a new match and I have to be ready 100 per cent.” Rublev will play in the German Open in Hamburg this week. “[Andrey] played remarkable throughout the week and again today,” Lorenzi said. “I wasn’t able to vary my game as much as I wanted [to] because I played slower. The match yesterday took away a lot of energy as it was very hot and humid.” Rublev served two aces and won 77 percent of the points on his first serve.

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Top seed Albano Olivetti, ranked No. 308 in the world, edged Australian Daniel Nolan 7-5, 7-6 (7) in the opening round of the Ireland F1 Futures in Dublin earlier today. The big-serving Frenchman had spent a long day of travel yesterday after losing in the final of the France F15 Futures in Corsica on Sunday. Olivetti arrived in Dublin all right, but his bags didn’t, necessitating some scrambling to get ready for his first round match. The 6-foot-8 Olivetti, who didn’t attempt to qualify for Wimbledon, has been working to hone his game and develop winning ways on the ITF Futures circuit of late. Since the end of March he’s had quite a bit of success, reaching four finals (winning two) and three semifinals. Olivetti had his big serve going today, hitting 20 aces and landing 68 percent of his first deliveries. He won 82 percent of the points on those first serves. Neither player faced a break point through the first 10 games of the opening set. Nolan blinked first, offering up the first break point opportunity in the 11th game. Olivetti jumped on the chance for the break and then held to take the first set. Nolan captured the first break of the second set to go up 3-1, but his advantage was short-lived as Olivetti broke right back. The Australian saved four break points in the sixth game to stay even at 3-3. Service prevailed through the next six games to force a tiebreaker. Nolan led 4-1 and had a set point at 6-5, but Olivetti won mini-breaks on the 12th and 16th points to take the set and match. The Australian hit three aces and won 63 percent of his fist service points, while saving four of six break points. Olivetti, who improved to 35-17 on the year, defended two of three break points. The Frenchman takes on Ryan James Storrie of Great Britain in the second round tomorrow.

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Today is a quiet day at SW19. The lush lawns at the All England Club are showing a bit of wear and tear after a week of heavy use and could use a breather. They will get just that, a one-day respite from play on this middle Sunday of the Wimbledon fortnight. But come tomorrow, Manic Monday, the players return and the action will be hot and heavy. Eight men’s and eight women’s round of 16 singles matches, along with 20 doubles matches, are on the docket as the second week pairing down begins. On the men’s side, 11 of the top 16 seeds survived the first week, including, as expected, all four of the Big 4. Three unseeded players and two seeded in the second 16 fill out the round of 16. Among the Big 4, only top seed Andy Murray dropped a set, as No. 2 seed Novak Djokovic, No. 3 Roger Federer and No. 4 Rafael Nadal cruised through their three matches unblemished. The following are the fourth round pairings. In the top half of the draw in Quarter No.1, Murray takes on unseeded Benoit Paire and No. 24 seed Sam Querrey battles fellow big server Kevin Anderson, also unseeded. Quarter No. 2 features Nadal against No. 16 seed Gilles Muller, a serve and volley virtuoso, and No. 7 seed Marin Cilic versus No. 18 seed Roberto Batista Agut. In the bottom half of the draw in Quarter No. 3, No. 6 seed Milos Raonic tackles No. 10 seed Alexander Zverev in a matchup of big servers and Roger Federer meets No. 13 seed Grigor Dimitrov. Quarter No. 4 pits No. 8 seed Dominic Thiem against No. 13 seed Tomas Berdych and Djokovic versus unseeded Adrian Mannarino. Hopefully by nightfall on this very busy day, the singles quarterfinals will be set.

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