Wimbledon ’18: Men’s singles draw analysis

WIMBLEDON – The pre-draw speculation on the men’s side of the game these days is big business.

With so many players who were at the summit not long ago having dropped in the rankings because of injuries, the early-round traps have increased exponentially.

Those traps are more than somewhat in theory, because those injured players who have taken a long time to return to form are not yet at their peak levels. At the same time, you know what they’re capable of on any given day – especially on the big stages.

Among the dangerous floaters of interest for this year’s Wimbledon were Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Gaël Monfils.

And the draw gods were not kind.

Murray vs. Paire

Murray, who as of Friday wasn’t 100 per cent decided if his surgically repaired hip was up to the rigours of best-of-five set tennis, drew the dangerous if mercurial Benoit Paire.

It seems, though, that he’ll give it a go.

Paire, silver hair and all, should have beaten Roger Federer in the first round in Stuttgart with a smidgen more belief and focus. That one could be enthralling.

Wawrinka vs. Dimitrov

As for Wawrinka, his return from knee surgeries has taken a whole lot longer than he would have hoped. His true ranking at the moment is a shocking No. 225.

And his draws so far during the grass-court season have not helped: Sam Querrey in the second round at Queen’s, and … Murray in the first round of Eastbourne after both took wild cards to get in more match play.

Wawrinka has been a Wimbledon quarterfinalist twice. And in 2015, he was unlucky not to go further as he lost 11-9 in the fifth set to Richard Gasquet.

His luck didn’t get better Friday,.

The draw gods decreed that he play 6 seed Grigor Dimitrov in the first round.

Not only is he 2-4 against Dimitrov in his career, he’s 0-4 in their last four meetings.

As for Monfils .. same story. The flashy Frenchman will square off with countryman Richard Gasquet in the first round. He leads that longtime rivalry 9-7.

The last two times they met came on grass, in Halle and at Eastbourne last year. They split the matches, and both were very close.

Monfils played just three non-clay tournaments this season, until he finally surfaced on grass in Antalya, Turkey this week as a wild card.

He pulled off two tough wins, and was only a few points away from a straight-sets win over No. 1 seed Adrian Mannarino before finally ceding 6-4 in the third set in the semifinals.

But … he tweaked his knee. Monfils’s knees are not great under ideal circumstances. So we’ll see what the next few days bring.

draw
No, Gaël Monfils wasn’t taking a nap early in the third set in Antalya Friday. He slid and messed up his left knee, although it may not have been quite as bad as first appeared. (TennisTV.com)

Other first-round matches to watch

[12] Novak Djokovic (SRB) vs. Tennys Sandgren (USA)

Whither Sandgren, who seems to have fallen off the face of the earth in recent weeks?

The American, who was a surprise quarterfinalist at the Australian Open, lost in the second round of qualifying at Wimbledon a year ago.

His fortunes have changed, as he broke into the top 50 in April. 

analysisSandgren lost in the first round of five of the six clay-court tournaments he played this spring.

The exception was Geneva, where he posted two victories. But he hasn’t been seen since. 

He had entered some events, but he hasn’t played a single point on grass while Djokovic found some of his trademark swagger – and game – as he reached the final at Queen’s Club.

The Serb couldn’t ask for a better opener. And his section of the draw is inviting, with Dominic Thiem potentially looming in the fourth round.

[26] Denis Shapovalov (CAN) vs. Jérémy Chardy (FRA)

For Shapovalov, the 2016 junior Wimbledon singles champion, this second grass-court season is proving a challenge.

He lost in the first round of Stuttgart to Prajnesh Gunneswaran of India, ranked No. 169. And he lost in the first round of Queen’s Club in two tiebreaks to big lefty-serving Gilles Muller.

That’s one tough little section.

Finally, as the No. 3 seed, he posted up a three-set victory in Eastbourne over American Jared Donaldson, only to lose to Mischa Zverev in straight sets in his next match.

His opponent, Chardy, is playing the best tennis of his life at age 31.

He’s 12-2 on grass this season with a win at the Surbiton Challenger, a loss to Gasquet in the ‘s-Hertogenbosch final and a loss to Djokovic in the Queen’s semi.

It is going to be a big challenge for Shapovalov. And he’s in an absolutely loaded little section of the draw, too.

[24] Kei Nishikori (JPN) vs. [Q] Christian Harrison (USA)

The former top-five player still isn’t close to the form he displayed before a wrist injury took him out for the latter part of 2018.

And what of Harrison, whose story we chronicled on tennis.life

This will be his Wimbledon debut and while it wasn’t an ideal draw, it will at least be a matchup in which he can use his speed, and not be served off the court.

He’ll have a lot of folks rooting for him, too.

Pierre-Hugues Herbert (FRA) vs. Mischa Zverev (GER)

This one will be as close to old-school grass-court tennis as you’re likely to get, with both players willing and keen to serve-and-volley and move forward.

Potential round-of-16 matchups

[1] Roger Federer (SUI) vs. [16] Borna Coric (CRO)
[8] Kevin Anderson (RSA) vs. [11] Sam Querrey (USA)
[3] Marin Cilic (CRO) vs. [13] Milos Raonic (CAN)
[6] Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) vs. [9] John Isner (USA)

[7] Dominic Thiem (AUT) vs. [12] Novak Djokovic (SRB)
[4] Alexander Zverev (GER) vs. [15] Nick Kyrgios (AUS)
[5] Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) vs. [10] David Goffin (BEL)
[2] Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs. [14] Diego Schwartzman (ARG)

Potential quarterfinals

Roger Federer vs. Anderson/Querrey
Cilic /Raonic vs. Isner/Dimitrov
Zverev /Kyrgios vs. Djokovic
Nadal vs. Del Potro

Upsets and revivals

There are some highly-ranked players who have made surprisingly little noise in recent month. And you’d think some of them will not make their seeding.

Then again, when it comes Slam time, so many players will rise to the occasion.

analysis

Jack Sock, the No. 18 seed, is in the throes of a mighty slump in 2018. While you wouldn’t expect him to lose to Matteo Berrettini in the first round, this might be the tournament where he can start getting on a roll.

He has a friendly section where his power will be a plus. The highest seed in it is No. 10 David Goffin, who similarly has been rather quiet of late and played just one grass-court match coming in.

No. 28 seed Filip Krajinovic of Serbia has not played since Miami – that’s more than three months now. He has entered a lot of tournaments, and pulled out of every one and were it not Wimbledon, you probably wouldn’t expect to even see him here.

He’ll have to be careful, though. If Krajinovic is not fully fit, he could end up with a “Mischa Zverev” fine for failing to take the late withdrawal money and remaining in the draw.

No. 17 seed Lucas Pouille also is struggling this season. And in wild card Denis Kudla, he faces a player in the first round fully in form on the grass and one who loves playing on it.

Top half on Monday

As it’s tradition for the defending champion to be the first to walk out on famed Centre Court, Monday at 1 p.m., so will the rest of the top of the draw follow suit along with Federer.

Among the Monday matches to keep an eye on: Federer vs. Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic, whom he defeated in straight sets in the second round a year ago.

Monfils vs. Gasquet will be another one, along with Dimitrov vs. Wawrinka. 

Stefanos Tsitsipas, the 20-year-old Greek player, is seeded at a major for the first time at No. 31 – in only his fifth career Grand Slam main draw. So far, he has one victory at this level, at the French Open last month against Carlos Taberner.

analysis

Two years ago, he was fighting Shapovalov for a spot in the junior boys’ final in one of the best junior boys’ matches we’ve ever seen on grass – if not the best. He was just a couple of points away from winning it, and went on to take the junior boys’ doubles title with Kenneth Raisma of Estonia, over Shapovalov and countryman Félix Auger-Aliassime in the final.

And look at them now.

Tsitsipas gets French qualifier Grégoire Barrere in the first round, and he’s in Dimitrov’s section of the draw.

Bucket-list week for Dorian Descloix

Dorian Descloix is a player from Montpellier, France who turns 30 next month.

You’ve probably never heard of him.

His current ATP Tour singles ranking is No. 1592. His current ATP Tour doubles ranking is … well, he doesn’t actually have one. 

His best was No. 562, more than six years ago.

So what was Descloix doing on the stadium court at the Ecuador Open in Quito this week, in the doubles semifinals with Gaël Monfils?

Well, the Tour’s media folks didn’t seem to pick up on this, other than to refer to Descloix as Monfils’s doubles partner on a promo visit to the actual Equator.

So we can only guess that Monfils did his countryman a solid by flying him down to South America with him as a training partner (and ping-pong opponent) and, in the process, wangled them a wild card into the doubles.

Montpellier man in Quito

Descloix was born in Montpellier, France and raised in Montpellier, France. He also went to university in Montpellier, France and got a wild card into the qualifying of the ATP event there five times between 2010 and 2015. Descloix also teamed up with Monfils in doubles at that event on two occasions on wild cards.

As it happens, the Montpellier tournament is the same week as this event in Quito. So he was, in fact, skipping his hometown tournament for this. 

It was totally worth it.

Descloix and Monfils upset the No. 1 seeds, Marcelo Demoliner and Purav Raja – solid doubles specialists, both – 14-12 in a match tiebreak in the first round. They saved match points, too.

And they followed it up with a 6-2, 7-5 win over Victor Estrella Burgos (the three-time defending singles champion in Quito) and Casper Ruud.

The pair bowed out in the semis, after Monfils lost a tough three-setter in singles earlier in the day.

From Cannes to Quito

Descloix hasn’t played an ATP or even a Futures event in nearly a year, although he does play regularly in French money tournaments.

And he plays the French interclubs for Tennis Club de Marignane.

In the most recent French rankings, he stands at No. 80.

In his last tournament, the ASLM Cannes Tournoi d’Hiver (total purse: 2,000 Euros) he lost to a guy with a 2/6 rating (a strong 5.0, in NTRP terms) named Hugo Vouillat. (To be fair, Vouillat had played at the Futures level for several years, but had stopped playing for awhile – hence his ringer’s ranking). But still.

The guy can play

This was only the second match Descloix had ever played in the main draw of an ATP Tour event, in singles or doubles. And it was the first ATP Tour event he had ever played outside his hometown Montpellier event.

And yet, he seemed unfazed, on the outside, by the fairy-tale quality of it. And despite his modest resumé, the guy can really play.

Descloix moves well, serves and volleys, has great hands. Which gives you yet another idea of just how tough and competitive it is out there, and how many really, really good tennis players will never make a living at the game.

The two earned $7,740 US for reaching the semifinals. Hopefully Monfils will let Descloix keep it all. The 90 ATP Tour rankings points would put Descloix at around No. 550 in the world as of Monday.

Monfils hardly plays any doubles. In fact, he’s played just two doubles matches in the last year and a half. And with the more than 9,000 feet of altitude in Quito, and the fact that it was his first tournament on red clay since Umag last July, it probably hurt him in the singles. But he’d probably do it all over again; he’s that kind of guy.

And there could be more. 

Monfils and Descloix have a wild card into the Buenos Aires event this week. They meet No. 4 seeds Andres Molteni and Horacio Zeballos in the first round.

Another Marc Lopez?

It’s unlikely Descloix will do a Marc Lopez, and use this as a springboard to a viable doubles career. But the one thing we know about tennis is that you never know.

Lopez also had a very good friend – some guy named Rafael Nadal.

It all started back in 2009, when Nadal teamed up with Lopez in Doha (and they won it) as well as Indian Wells and Miami. Lopez was pushing 27. His singles and doubles rankings had been hanging in the 200s for awhile, and it didn’t seem as though he was going to get a break.

And then his friend did him a big solid.

Who knows, had his friend Nadal not given him a solid many years before, if Marc Lopez would have enjoyed such stellar career moments? (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Now 35, Lopez is currently ranked No. 23. But he got as high as No. 3 five years ago. He has 12 titles (including the 2016  French Open and two titles at Indian Wells). He has an Olympic gold medal. And he has banked nearly $4 million in prize money.

You never know.

(All Quito screenshots from TennisTV.com)

La Monf’ v Gilou – early ‘Craziest match of 2017’ candidate

Any match involving Gaël Monfils is must-see TV, because you never know what you’re going to see.

But Monday in Madrid, the talented French showman blazed new territory along with amenable foil Gilles Simon.

The first set – 6-0 to Monfils – showed everything he’s capable of.

The second set – 6-0 to Simon, showed everything Monfils is also capable of.

Up 3-0 in the decider, Monfils’s left Achilles gave out on him. It’s the injury that has kept him out since Indian Wells in March. He returned last week, but lost his first match.

After a consultation with the trainer, it was clear there wasn’t much that could offer immediate relief. So he carried on.

Never over until it’s over

If it seemed a done deal, you don’t know Gilles Simon.

Monfils got to 5-2. He had two match points. He served for the match. He was broken to love. And then, the craziest scoreline you may ever see. Or, at least, the most symmetrical.

These two have tangled before, with wacky results.

Notably, their endless rallies at the Australian Open in 2013.

It wasn’t even the first time they went for that record:

Scoreline-wise, though, this one will be hard to top this season.

In the end, it was probably better that Simon won. There was every chance Monfils would withdraw from the tournament and give his next opponent a walkover. Rome is coming up. Most importantly, Monfils’s home Grand Slam, the French Open, looms.

The Frenchman did pass by the media mixed zone, but said in French that he was too irritated, and preferred not to say anything. He said the state of his Achilles/ankle was “average.”

Later, he apologized for the snub on Twitter. Gotta love it.

French Open concerns

As for Simon, he probably didn’t even bat an eye at it all – not even the two-cheek kiss afterwards, which isn’t unusual among the French players.

All the French players are kissin’ cousins. (Screenshot: TennisTV)

He and Monfils, along with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet, are part of an extraordinary group of French players around the same age, who all grew up together and came up the ranks together. 

There probably isn’t much he hasn’t seen.

For Monfils, though, it’s a shame. Every time he gets on a run, an injury comes around to stop his momentum. And at age 30, with a body battered and worn, he doesn’t have time on his side.

(Screenshots from TennisTV)

ATP Tour Rankings Report – April 17, 2017

The Tour calendars are not quite in sync this year. So the week ranking points are earned and added from a specific tournament won’t always be the same week the points from that same tournament a year ago drop off.

ranking
Monfils can’t make up the five spots he dropped in the rankings, because he’s not in Monte Carlo this week.

For example, in 2016, the Monte Carlo Masters was held April 10-17. Those points expired with the new rankings list released today. The 1,000 points Rafael Nadal earned for winning it a year ago have fallen off his record; that resulted in a drop of two spots today, from No. 5 to No. 7.

2016 finalist Gaël Monfils dropped 600 points, and that sent his ranking from No. 11 all the way down to No. 16. Nadal will have an opportunity to earn those points back this week; Monfils, who is not playing, cannot.

Today is also the deadline for entry into the French Open, always six weeks before the start of the tournament. A few players did themselves some good last week; one, Japan’s Taro Daniel, likely took himself out of the running.

The top 104 in the rankings gain direct entry into the men’s singles draw. But that doesn’t factor in players with injury-protected rankings, who can bump players off the bottom of that list.

Big jumps

rankings
American Jack Sock moves up to a career-high No. 14 this week.

Houston champion Steve Johnson moves up 4 spots, to No. 25.

Marrakech champion Borna Coric moves up 30 spots, to No. 49,

Houston finalist Thomaz Bellucci moves up 12 spots, to No. 53.

Aljaz Bedene, who is on a Challenger roll, moves up 7 spots to No. 69.

Andrej Martin moves up 30 spots, to No. 123.

Tommy Haas moves up 171 spots, to No. 655.

Big falls

Marcel Granollers, a first-round loser in Marrakech, drops 20 spots, to No. 65.

Pierre-Hugues Herbert drops 10 spots, to No. 90.

Damir Dzumhur drops 22 spots, to No. 92

Ricardas Berankis drops 33 spots, to No. 169.

Elias Ymer drops 30 spots, to No. 185.

New career highs

Jack Sock (USA) – No. 14

Ernesto Escobedo (USA) – No. 73

Radu Albot (MDA) – No. 81

Nicolas Kicker (ARG) – No. 96

Darian King (BAR) – No. 110

Players defending big points this week

Rafael Nadal – 500 points (2016 Barcelona champion)

Kei Nishikori – 300 points (2016 Barcelona finalist) (Not playing this week)

Fernando Verdasco – 250 points (2016 Bucharest champion)

Philipp Kohlschreiber – 180 points

Benoit Paire – 180 points

Lucas Pouille – 150 points

 

For the full ATP Tour rankings picture, click here.