Djokovic, del Potro survive to reach US Open final

NEW YORK – After five matches under Grand Slam stress and through some of the toughest playing conditions in recent memory, four were left on Friday at the US Open.

Given what had come before, it probably wasn’t a shock that the best tennis in the men’s event this year may have already been played.

But maybe not. 

There’s one more to go.

Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro will meet in Sunday’s men’s singles final. And you can only hope that it will be a compelling, close contest after the semifinals were anything but.

The first to fall was the eldest of the quartet, 32-year-old Rafael Nadal.

The defending champion retired after del Potro won the first two sets, as his right knee again prevented him from showing his best.

He first felt it at 2-2 in the first set.

Tendonitis, Chapter 15

survive

“The pain on the knee is always very similar … The problem is this time was something little bit more aggressive because was in one movement. Was not something progressive,” he said.

Nadal had it flare up in the early rounds, even having the knee wrapped during his third-round match. But it responded to treatment – until it didn’t.

It’s still the same patellar tendinitis. And Nadal, who is scheduled to play the Davis Cup semifinals next weekend, said it’s not a matter of three weeks – or six months. It’s about judging how much pain he’s willing to play with, as the tendonitis eventually responds to treatment.

Let’s just say, he knows the drill by now.

Del Potro is into his first US Open final since he won it all the way back in 2009. It is the biggest gap between Slam finals in the Open era. And the shortened match was a blessing in the sense that he won’t be going into it having had to survive a marathon in the semis.

“I cannot believe that I will have a chance to play another Grand Slam finals in here, which is my favorite tournament. So it would be special to me. Would be a big challenge, as well, because I’ve been fighting with many, many problems to get in this moment,” del Potro said.

“It will be a difficult match, of course. But anyway, I think I’ve been doing a good tournament. And in the finals, anything can happen. If I win, great. If not, I been playing a great tournament and I will be happy anyways.”

Tired Nishikori no match

Djokovic dropped a set in each of his first two rounds and was one of the players who struggled with the unbreathable conditions inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. But he has been on a major roll since then.

survive

He defeated No. 26 Richard Gasquet, unseeded Joao Sousa and John Millman and No. 21 Nishikori in straight sets through his next four rounds.

The matchup with Nishikori has always been a favorable one for him. Whatever Nishikori does well, Djokovic does more of, and better.

The Serb now has won their last 14 completed meetings, including a four-setter in the quarterfinals on his way to the Wimbledon title in July.

“I knew that coming into the match if I managed to sustain that speed of his shots, so to say, the game style, that I’ll have my chance kind of to break through and to make him feel uncomfortable and start making errors. That’s what happened,” said Djokovic, who called the match “really, really good” from his side. 

“I thought in the important moments I came up with some good second serves, some good first serves. And I was returning well. I was putting constantly pressure on him, trying to move him around the court, take away the rhythm from him, not give him the same look always.”

survive

It didn’t help Nishikori that he appeared to tweak his leg or knee early on, on a fairly harmless looking trip to the net. Nishikori attributed that misstep to cumulative fatigue. The 28-year-old also had a draining five-set win over Marin Cilic in the previous round to recover from.

But when Djokovic is playing as well as he has been in New York since those early minor bumps, there isn’t much anyone can do to derail him. The 31-year-old was literally firing on every single cylinder he had on Friday night.

“He was playing very solid everything: serve, return, groundstrokes. He was playing aggressive. Yeah, I didn’t have (a lot of) energy to stay with him. He was hitting, you know, side to side. Yeah, wasn’t easy to stay with him tonight,” Nishikori said. 

“I think I was just tired from last couple matches. I was try to give 100 per cent, but he was playing very solid. Maybe if he wasn’t Novak, I might have chance to play little better. But he was, you know, playing great tennis today. Yeah, very credit to him.”

Djokovic in rare US Open territory

With the win, Djokovic jumps into a tie with Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl as he prepares to play his eighth US Open men’s singles final. Eight is tops in the open era; Jimmy Connors and Roger Federer have made seven finals.

survive

He also officially qualified for the ATP Tour Finals. Federer also qualified; the two join Nadal.

Djokovic stood at No. 76 in the race to London before Indian Wells, No. 25 before the French Open. If he wins on Sunday, he’ll be No. 2 behind Nadal. if he loses, he’ll be No. 3, just 65 points behind del Potro.

“Probably seeing the results, consistency of the results I’ve had here, probably has been my most successful Grand Slam. Of course, I won the Australian Open six times, never lost finals there. But I think I’ve played more than 10 semifinals here. It’s definitely one of my favorite tournaments to play because of the conditions and because of the fact that I’ve played so well in each year that I keep on coming back,” Djokovic said.

“I know that I feel very comfortable here. It just allows me to feel more comfortable playing, starting the tournament and going through it. Yeah, I mean, I think I have two finals won and five losses. But, you know, hopefully I can get one better in few days.”

Men’s quarters spark court assignment debate

WIMBLEDON – It wouldn’t be a Grand Slam without a good, old-fashioned debate about court assignments and scheduling and who’s being snubbed and who’s being given preferential treatment.

And so, as we arrive at the second Wednesday of Wimbledon and the men’s quarterfinals, we see three-time champion Novak Djokovic on Centre Court.

With that, we also see seven-time champion Roger Federer “relegated” to No. 1 Court for the first time in the tournament.

Actually, for the first time in three  years.

(Relegated is such a relative term here, as it is at Roland Garros where Court Philippe Chatrier and Court Suzanne Lenglen are considered virtual co-equals. Still, it’s a status thing that seems to mean a lot to some people).

Second trip to Centre Court for Djokovic

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Djokovic has definitely been hard done by at times with the scheduling. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The way people have been whinging, you’d think Djokovic had been turned away at the door to the celebrated Wimbledon Centre Court for failing to bring a jacket and tie.

That said, it’s fairly evident over the last few years that despite his sterling resumé, he’s rarely gotten the top-two treatment accorded here to Federer and, less defendably, to Nadal.

The Serb was on Centre Court on Saturday for his third-round match against Brit Kyle Edmund, after being relegated to No. 2 Court for his second round.

Until Manic Monday, there was never a choice to be made between Federer and Djokovic in terms of courts assignments. In opposite sections of the draw, they were playing on different days.

The choice, then, has been between Djokovic and Nadal – currently the No. 1 ranked player in the world, even if he is the No. 2 seed here because of the weighted grass-court seedings.

Djokovic is currently ranked No. 21 and seeded No. 12.

Nadal on Centre every match

Nadal has won out each time there was a choice to be made between the two. The Spaniard’s match against Juan Martin del Potro will be the fifth straight time he has been on Centre Court.

And the quarterfinals are the last opportunity to play anywhere else but Centre Court.

Nadal warms up on Court 15 Wednesday morning, ahead of his match later in the day against Juan Martin del Potro. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Djokovic said, after he squeezed his Monday victory over Khachanov in under the wire, that he had heard his last-on match was likely to be cancelled had the prior match between Kevin Anderson and Gaël Monfils had gone to a fifth set.

Meanwhile, a mixed doubles match involving Brit Jamie Murray and his partner Victoria Azarenka was played on Centre Court, with the roof closed and the lights switched to finish the third set.

It could all have been even worse. The absence of Andy Murray, who is pretty much an automatic (perhaps even more than Federer) to get a Centre Court slot made life a little easier this year for a lot of people.

Mid-match relocation rare

Djokovic dealt with that last year as well. The tournament wouldn’t move his Monday match, delayed by rain under the Centre Court roof to finish it.

(Tournaments rarely relocate a match that’s already in progress to another court. But it does happen. Notably in 2014 here, Genie Bouchard’s first-round match against Magdalena Rybarikova on Court 12 was moved to Centre Court, under the roof, on a day where just about everything was wiped out by rain.

There was a specific scenario involved there. The winner was to play Brit Johanna Konta. And they needed a Centre Court slot for her. And that was going to be difficult to manage had the second-round match been delayed a day, because of the other high-profile matches that needed to be scheduled. So yes, it’s pretty much all about television).

Last year’s stubbornness about not moving Djokovic’s match meant he had to finish up Tuesday. And on Wednesday, he had to retire in his quarterfinal match against Tomas Berdych. He didn’t play the rest of the season because of his elbow injury.

Luckily, that repeat scenario was avoided. Because Djokovic would have been right to raise a huge stink if it did.

assignment
The three kings of tennis practiced side by side by side on Sunday at Aorangi Park. But for the actual match scheduling, Djokovic is often the odd man out.

Federer to No. 1 Court, TV follows

So the seven-time champion Federer therefore led things off on No. 1 Court Wednesday for the first time in the tournament, facing No. 8 seed Anderson of South Africa.

Generally, the BBC’s main station is the spot for Centre Court action, while BBC2 has No. 1 Court.

Except … as Wednesday’s coverage began, Djokovic and Nishikori were nowhere to be seen on BBC1. The BBC lunchtime news was all over its coverage of U.S. president Donald Trump and other world leaders in Brussels, and didn’t switch back to the tennis until about 1:50 p.m., when they showed the two players walking onto court (50 minutes earlier)

After that, Federer’s match was switched to BBC1, while Nishikori and Djokovic was being shown on BBC2. 

It was all a very delicate dance.

The last time Federer played on No. 1 Court was against Gilles Simon of France the same round  – the quarterfinals – three years ago. Djokovic beat Federer in that 2015 final. 

Switching the matchups

Nadal vs. del Potro is the “fan favorite” match of the day, with both players having huge followings. So Federer was moved, risking the wrath of the all-powerful Centre Court debenture holders.

It also led to some scrambling as Federer fans who had tickets for Centre Court assuming their favorite would be there, trying to swap them out for No. 1 Court.

Meanwhile, the generally accepted scheduling plan that the two players who meet in the next round should play at approximately the same time wherever possible, was turned upside down to make this change.

The winner of Federer-Anderson will play the winner of the match between Milos Raonic and John Isner. But they play one after the other on Court 1.

Same scenario on Centre Court, where the winner of Djokovic-Nishikori will play the winner of Nadal-del Potro. And yet, they follow each other.

In this configuration, Federer or Anderson, and Djokovic or Nishikori will both benefit from some extra down time before Friday’s semifinals.  

The later the better for the Americas

The later time slots are more coveted by television in North and South America – which applies to Raonic, Isner and del Potro.

1 p.m. is 8 a.m. in New York and Toronto, 9 a.m. in Buenos Aires and 5 a.m. in Los Angeles. So the later the better, as far as the television rights holders in those countries. But the same is somewhat true in Europe, where the early evening match can spill over into prime-time blocks.

So there are no correct answers to this puzzle. Even though it’s typically not about the “best tennis matchup” or about fairness to all players.

But in the end, everyone will play and win, somewhere. Someone’s nose will always be put out of joint. and Isner and Raonic are probably happy just to still be playing on the second Wednesday of Wimbledon.

They’d probably play on the Centre Court roof, if they were asked to.

Nishikori back with Dallas Challenger win

Kei Nishikori skipped the Australian summer circuit because he wasn’t quite ready, after dealing with a wrist issue during the offseason.

He missed the first Grand Slam of the season, the Australian Open.

The 28-year-old from Japan is taking baby steps in his comeback – at least by the standards of a player formerly in the top five with 11 ATP Tour titles and more than $17 million in prize money. And a return to the Challenger circuit is the first step. 

Last week at the event in Newport Beach, Calif., Nishikori fell in three sets to American Denis Novikov. Novikov is a 24-year-old ranked No. 214.

But this week at the Dallas Challenger, the No. 1 seed defeated another young American, Mackenzie McDonald, 6-1, 6-4 in the final.

As it happened, Nishikori faced Novikov again in the first round. But this time, he defeated him 6-3, 6-3. 

Nishikori didn’t roll over any of his far lower-ranked opponents on the way to the final. But he got the job done. Better yet, he got some matches in his system before handling McDonald with relative ease Saturday night.

Here he is after his semifinal win over Jason Jung.

Successful return to his roots

Nishikori hadn’t played a Challenger event since the fall of 2010, when he was just 20 but already on the comeback trail from injury. He missed 11 months after elbow surgery in 2009, after being named the ATP’s “Star of Tomorrow” in 2008.

Nishikori’s last ATP Tour event was the Rogers Cup in Montreal last summer, where he lost in a third-set tiebreak to Gaël Monfils in the first round.

The 28-year-old will return to the ATP level in a week’s time, at the New York Open on Long Island.

The New York Open is the relocated Memphis Open, where Nishikori won four straight titles between 2013 and 2016

Murray, Nishikori out. The rest? Maybes

In the “not very surprising” department, the first two of the ATP Tour’s walking wounded have officially abandoned their quests to be healthy enough to compete in the first Grand Slam of the season.

First came Japanese star Kei Nishikori, who is recovering from a wrist issue. The 28-year-old had already pulled out of two planned warmup events.

Nishikori now is out of the Australian Open. He never even made the long trip Down Under.

Second up is Andy Murray, who has been trying so hard to be back on the court as he deals with what’s becoming a chronic hip injury.

Murray went to Abu Dhabi, even though he didn’t play in the exhibition there. He played a fun set against Roberto Bautista-Agut after Novak Djokovic pulled out. And he didn’t look very good.

The Brit then traveled to Brisbane, Australia to try to make his date there.

Murray played some practice sets against top opponents, but felt he wasn’t competitive enough, or pain-free enough, to play that event.

The rest of the crew – Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka – all former Australian Open champions – are still question marks.

(Also announced Friday in Australia was that defending women’s champion Serena Williams also won’t be on hand. For a very different reason, though).

Murray headed home to assess options

Now that he’s out of the Australian Open, as well, a long trip to Australia for naught, Murray will head back to Great Britain to assess his situation.

After diligently working on rehab to try to avoid hip surgery, the Brit intimated earlier this week that the surgery option can no longer be completely off the table.

And that’s a sad state of affairs.

Nishikori in Newport Beach

Nishikori has taken a wild card into the Newport Beach Challenger, one of two new events sponsored by Oracle (whose owner, Larry Ellison, owns the Indian Wells event).

It will be Nishikori’s first appearance at the Challenger level since he lost to Amer Delic in the second round of the Champaign Challenger in Nov. 2010.

That’s a huge boost for the inaugural edition of the event, which takes place the second week of the Australian Open.

For Nishikori, the appearance in a Challenger is a savvy move, assuming he has progressed as expected from the wrist issue. He, too, wanted nothing more than to avoid surgery. He has seen how so many talented players have struggled to return after being operated on their wrists.

This way, he will be able to ease back into tennis slowly, after being out since losing in the first round of the Rogers Cup in Montreal to Gaël Monfils in early August.

He also can return playing best-of-three sets, rather than the best-of-five Grand Slam format.

Tennis.Life also is told that Nishikori has accepted a wild card into the $125,000 Dallas Challenger the week after Newport Beach. If true, that’s even better. He also is scheduled to play the inaugural New York Open in mid-February.

Nadal in the house

On the positive side, Rafael Nadal has arrived in Melbourne.

(Photo: Australian Open Twitter)

The world No. 1 played just one match before withdrawing from the ATP Tour Finals in London in November, with his right knee giving him trouble again. 

Before that, he had pulled out of the Basel tournament, and gave opponent Filip Krajinovic a walkover in the quarterfinals of the Paris Masters.

Nada withdrew from Abu Dhabi and from the Brisbane warmup event.

Along with Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka, Nadal is scheduled to test out the knee in the Tie Break Tens exhibition next Wednesday in Margaret Court Arena.

He is arriving a good 10 days before the Australian Open starts.

Where is Wawrinka? On the plane!

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Wawrinka’s Snapchat is good news – he’s on his way Down Under.

The Swiss No. 2 has been very low-profile on social media for a month. But he has been on Snapchat. And today’s posting was the best-news snap for his fans.

Wawrinka left Geneva for Abu Dhabi Thursday night. There’s a direct flight to Melbourne from there, leaving some three hours later, on Friday morning.

So it appears he will give it a go at the Tie Break Tens, and go from there.

Expectations, after knee surgery, with no matches and the best-of-five format, will no doubt be rock-bottom.

But with the loss of Murray and Nishikori, that’s at least two of the top guns who are at least going to try.

As for Milos Raonic, he lost his first match in Brisbane to young Australian wild card Alex de Minaur, 6-4, 6-4. But at least he’s back.

Whither Djoker?

The former No. 1 withdrew from the Abu Dhabi exhibition when he experienced pain in his elbow during practice before his first match. 

A day later, Djokovic pulled out of this week’s ATP Tour event in Doha.

He will be in Australia. Djokovic has signed on for Tie Break Tens event, as well as the Kooyong Classic that takes place a 10-minute drive away from Melbourne Park. It’s not known how many matches Djokovic will actually play there.

The Serb hasn’t played since retiring in the second set of his quarterfinal match at Wimbledon against Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic.

Berdych, Kyrgios end their seasons

It became a trend some time ago.

On Thursday, the latest to join the “end your season early” gang were Tomas Berdych and, later in the day, Nick Kyrgios.

Kyrgios had appeared hobbled by a number of issues in recent months – his shoulder and his knees. But mostly, a hip issue he has carried since Queen’s Club, just before Wimbledon.

He said awhile back that he would probably need surgery on it some day.

But he doesn’t want that day to be now.

“I have played a huge amount of tennis since coming back from my hip injury in Washington and unless I want this to escalate to an injury that requires surgery, I need to listen to my body and my team,” Kyrgios said in a statement released on Twitter.

“This year hasn’t been as successful as I would have liked, especially at the Slams although it has been positive in some other areas. It’s been no secret that I have had some sad moments to deal with away from the court which have added to my disappointments throughout the year.”

Berdych

Berdych’s back woes

Berdych, who began the season in the top 10, is currently down at No. 18 and announced  he’s skipping the final two weeks of the season because of persistent back pain.

It had been fairly evident in recent months that he was a mere shadow of his former self.

“I have been playing matches with back pain since Wimbledon and in my last match in Beijing I felt like it was not getting better,” Berdych wrote on Twitter.

“And I was advised by my medical team to give it a few weeks of rest, and to have treatment, in order to be completely (healthy) and pain free and to be ready to compete at the start of 2018.”

Early-birds club membership full

The two players join an ever-larger group of top-20 players on the men’s side who have called an early end to their season.

Berdych

Novak Djokovic: Retired after the first set of his quarterfinal match against Berdych at Wimbledon, announced July 26 he was shutting it down for 2017.

Stan Wawrinka: After reaching the French Open final, lost first round at both Queen’s Club and Wimbledon. Announced Aug. 4 he was having a procedure on his knee and would be out for the remainder of 2017.

Kei Nishikori: Lost his first match at the Rogers Cup in Montreal, then felt a “pop” in the wrist while practicing in Cincinnati. Announced Aug. 16 he was out for the season with a wrist issue, but was opting not to have surgery.

Andy Murray: Lost to Sam Querrey in five sets – the last two went 6-1, 6-1 – in the Wimbledon quarterfinals. Pulled out of Beijing and Shanghai Sept. 6, and out of the Paris Masters Oct. 13, which basically ended his season.

Milos Raonic: Lost his first match at the Rogers Cup in Montreal, pulled out of Cincinnati and the US Open. Underwent a procedure on his wrist, then returned for the ATP Tour event in Tokyo. Won his first match with a one-handed backhand, then withdrew before his second match with a calf issue. Raonic  withdrew from the final two events of the season earlier this week.

RG men’s quarters almost true to form

ROLAND GARROS – Milos Raonic, the No. 5 seed at the French Open, played spoilsport in what turned out to be a true-to-form final eight.

The Canadian was upset, 8-6 in the fifth set after four hours and 17 minutes, by No. 20 seed Pablo Carreño Busta in the fourth round on Sunday.

But the other seven top seeds made it. And along with Carreño Busta, they make up a top-quality, if predictable, elite eight bracket.

Which is not to say that they all arrived here in thoroughly predictable fashion.

Here’s a look at their twists and turns through the first week of the tournament.

No. 1 – Andy Murray

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Murray was in good spirits before the tournament began, and might even have avoided chiding coach Ivan Lendl for wearing the same way-too-big polo shirt two days in a row (he really did). (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The top seed went about it all bass-ackwards. He lost sets to players he probably shouldn’t have (Andrey Kuznetsov, Martin Klizan) and didn’t lose sets to players he maybe could have (Juan Martin del Potro, the powerful Russian Karen Khachanov).

But along the way the Brit appeared to rebuild some of the confidence lost along the way this season – just in time for the pointy end of the tournament.  

He even managed to make jokes!

Fitness for battle: 8

Quarter-final opponent: [8] Kei Nishikori

No. 2 – Novak Djokovic

Much was made of the new face in Team Nole, as Andre Agassi arrived with great fanfare shortly before the tournament began. 

Agassi is reportedly gone now, but promises to be back when and if Djokovic needs him. While he was here, he watched Djokovic navigate some pretty good players routinely. Except for Diego Schwartzman.

The Argentine was right in there until his body failed him in the late going of their five-setter in the third round. He even led two sets to one. With Djokovic’s up-and-down results this season, it would have been an unlikely upset, but by no means an impossible one.

Whether his earlier rounds – he had, by most measures, a good draw – were enough preparation for what his quarter-final opponent will bring to the table is a question that will be answered on Court Suzanne Lenglen Tuesday.

Fitness for battle: 8

Quarter-final opponent: [6] Dominic Thiem

No. 3 – Stan Wawrinka

The only big (Swiss) cheese in the draw this year with the absence of Roger Federer, Wawrinka’s season has been below his standards. But while it’s a cliché to say a player peaks for the Grand Slams, the 32-year-old REALLY peaks for the Slams. Which probably is why he’s won three of them, including this one.

Wawrinka faced two of the more dangerous lower seeds in the tournament in Fabio Fognini and Gaël Monfils, and got through both in straight sets. Again with Fognini, the body didn’t cooperate.

Against Monfils on Monday, everyone was hoping for a blockbuster. But these two good friends made it more like a fun match for beers in their local Swiss public park. 

When it was over, Wawrinka looked as though he almost felt badly that Monfils couldn’t put up more resistance. He knows more than most that his great friend, at 30 but with a fragile body, won’t have many more chances to make a deep run at his home-country Slam.

“It was a mentally exhausting match, I think. We were both tense. And we know each other so well. We knew how important it was, for him or for me, to play well,” Wawrinka said.

On the worrisome side, the Swiss star’s back locked up from the beginning of the match. It’s what he calls the most fragile part of his body, always managed but never worry-free.

 

Fitness for battle: 7

Quarter-final opponent: [7] Marin Cilic

No. 4 – Rafael Nadal

It appeared the nine-time French Open champion was back for real in 2017 after a great start to the season. But who knew to what extent?

His French Open prep was vintage, although stubbornly deciding to play Rome despite already having won three titles looked like a bad call when he was on fumes by the quarterfinals. He lost to Dominic Thiem there, after beating him twice earlier in the clay-court season.

Raonic, slotted to be his quarter-final opponent, might have posed a few more challenges than Nadal’s young countryman Carreño Busta. Nadal is pretty much money when he’s playing fellow Spaniards. And Carreño Busta is coming off a draining, emotional marathon win while Nadal is fresh as a margarita amarilla.

Fitness for battle: 11

Quarter-final opponent: [20] Pablo Carreño Busta

No. 6 – Dominic Thiem

With his efforts during the spring clay season, and with fellow youngster Alexander Zverev winning Rome, it figured these two would be in the mix in the second week in Paris.

But Zverev flamed out in the first round against Fernando Verdasco. And so it was left to Thiem to make his seed. He did so very much under the radar, without dropping a set and ceding more than four games in only two of the 12 sets he played. 

Had he faced David Goffin in the fourth round, rather than Horacio Zeballos, Thiem might have been tested more. But Goffin’s nasty ankle injury, suffered in the first set against Zeballos, took him out.

In the quarter-finals, we’ll find out if he has a Plan B, after getting just one game against Novak Djokovic in the Rome semi-final a few weeks ago. On the plus side, he won’t have to play him the day after he has to play Nadal.

Fitness for battle: 8

Quarter-final opponent: [2] Novak Djokovic

No. 7 – Marin Cilic

With Nadal, Djokovic and Thiem all in the final eight, no one is talking about Marin Cilic.

He’s used to that – especially in Paris, where he is a quarter-finalist for the first time in his career a year after losing in the first round, to No. 166-ranked Marco Trungelliti of Argentina.

Cilic has had a sweet draw, and hasn’t lost more than three games in any set. He caught a break in the fourth round Monday as opponent Kevin Anderson retired in the middle of the second set due to injury.

The last time Cilic faced Anderson was in the third round of the 2014 US Open. For what it’s worth, he won the tournament.

Fitness for battle: 7

Quarter-final opponent: [3] Stan Wawrinka

No. 8 – Kei Nishikori

In the third round, Nishikori caught a break when rain came to suspend his match with the younger, bigger, stronger Hyeon Chung of South Korea. When play resumed Sunday, Nishikori still looked dead on his feet, his stiff back  – or something – limiting his movement to a major degree.

Somehow, he got through that one.

Then on Monday, he faced Fernando Verdasco and looked basically the same in losing the first set 6-0. Somehow, he warmed up the body parts and got through that one as well. Let’s face it, though, he got help from Verdasco.

This is kind of the story of Nishikori’s career; his inability to keep his body as strong as his will has held him back from … who knows what?

Fitness for battle: 3

Quarter-final opponent: [1] Andy Murray

And, finally, the outlier

No. 20 – Pablo Carreño Busta

No one gives the 25-year-old a shot against his much-decorated compatriot in the quarter-finals. Maybe not even the Carreño Busta family, for all we know.

The man himself said after his win over Raonic that if he didn’t think he had a shot, he wouldn’t take the court. He might get his behind kicked, he might pull off a miracle. But he can’t ask for more than playing the clay GOAT and his good friend on a big stadium court in the French Open quarter-finals.

Hopefully his family, who had to leave to catch a flight back to Spain in the third set of his match against Raonic, will fly back to see this one.

Fitness for battle: 5

Quarter-final opponent: [4] Rafael Nadal

Nadal vs. Carreño Busta is on Court Philippe Chatrier Tuesday, while Djokovic vs. Thiem is on Court Suzanne Lenglen. You have to think the champion is going to come out of that group.

Nishikori vs. Murray and Wawrinka vs. Cilic will be Wednesday, with far less fanfare.

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.

 

World Tennis Day at MSG

World Tennis Day kicked off its 10th anniversary edition at iconic Madison Square Garden Monday with a star-studded field of past and present greats.

If there were any doubt tennis is the most international of sports, look no further than this year’s lineup.

In an increasingly saturated sports market, it’s hard to get too geeked up for all-star games or any kind of exhibitions. But World Tennis Day seems to have found some traction as 12,000 strong filled MSG to near-capacity on a Monday night in the dead of winter in the Big Apple.

So here’s to tennis and some savvy event marketing!!