The Paris Masters has reached the quarter-finals stage and with four important matches crammed into one day, this could be the make or break point of the season for plenty of the players. Read on for Mats Wilander's preview of the Paris Masters quarter-finals.
Alexander Zverev vs. Karen Khachanov
World No. 5 Alexander Zverev comes up against the impressive Karen Khachanov in the first quarter-final at this year’s Paris Masters. A place at the ATP Tour finals is already assured for the young German but he’ll be looking to carry some decent form into London after another year of what could be argued as unfulfilled potential.
Zverev’s quarter-final at this year’s French Open might be his best performance at a Grand Slam in his short career to date, but when you consider he’s got nine career titles (three from this year) you’d be expecting him to kick on and really challenge the elite.
Although Khachanov is actually a year older than his quarter-final opponent (22) and lower down the rankings at World No. 18, you’d have to say the Russian comes into their match with plenty of positives against his name. He’s been playing really well recently, as he will always go flat out and plays a really aggressive style that can cause anyone opposing him problems problems.
Zverev, on the other hand, has a tendency to retreat in a match and play to passive (that’s probably what’s cost him at Grand Slams in recent years). He might be the favourite to progress to the semi-finals but I’d certainly be wary of him trying to be too protective against Khachanov’s big game.
Marin Cilic vs. Novak Djokovic
You only have to look at these two players’ head-to-head record to see how one sided this match could be - Djokovic has won 15 of their 17 matches (88%). While Cilic’s win against the Serbian at this event last year was a good performance, his recent win at Queens was not against a full strength Djokovic.
There was plenty on the line when things got started in Paris and now at the quarter-final stage not much has changed.
While the head-to-head record tells an obvious story, it’s also the style match up that sees this one fall in Djokovic’s favour. Cilic does all his work from the base line and it’s very hard to beat Djokovic from there. Additionally, the Croatian’s biggest weapon is his serve and that’s something Djokovic is excellent at neutralising.
As if there wasn’t enough negatives for Cilic, you’ve also got the fact that Djokovic is seemingly back to his best. He’s now won 30 sets in the row off the back of victories at Wimbledon and the US Open and with the World No. 1 spot already in the bag heading to London after Nadal’s injury withdrawal, Djokovic can really let loose and end his year on a massive high.
Jack Sock vs. Dominic Thiem
You’ll struggle to find a player who’s had as big a dip in form over the last 12 months as Jack Sock. The 26-year-old American was playing in the semi-finals of the ATP Tour Finals a little over 12 months ago but since then he has struggled to get anywhere near that kind of level and he’s dropped down to World No. 23.
Thiem is in a similar position to where Sock was last year, he’s right on the fringes of qualifying for the ATP Tour Finals and currently holds the crucial eighth position in the world rankings. He looked like he was in for a solid 2018 after reaching the final at the French Open but he’s slowly dropped away and needs a big performance to end his season well.
The World No. 8 has done the same this year as he always does, played a lot of tennis. This is tournament number 26 for the 25-year-old Austrian and while he’s suffered from burn out at this point of the year in the past, he seems to have found a second wind when it matters most. Thiem might be the favourite to beat Sock but don’t forget that it was only last week that he was comprehensively beaten by Kei Nishikori.
Kei Nishikori vs. Roger Federer
It seems like the best has been saved until last at the Paris Master as Kei Nishikori’s match against Roger Federer is the highlight quarter-final. As if Nishikori’s battle to qualify for the ATP Tour Finals wasn’t exciting enough, you’ve also got a back in form Roger Federer who will be desperate to take some confidence into London with the potential to be crowned ITF Player of the Year if he claims his first ATP Tour Finals win since 2011.
The court is playing quite quick in Paris and along with having the crowd on his side, that will be a big advantage for Federer. That said, Nishikori is coming off of a good week and a decent month overall (despite a couple of losses) and he’s really coming into form at the right time - it looks like he might need to beat Federer and most likely win the tournament if we are to see him in London (this obviously depends on Thiem’s performance and whether del Potro is fit).
Despite the fact that Federer will be looking to make up for his poor second half of the season, you’d have to say that all the pressure is on his opponent. Everyone is expecting Federer to perform well (as they always do) but he’ll just show up and play his own game - that’s been enough recently but the last few months have shown that he’s beatable.
What to consider moving forward
There was plenty on the line when things got started in Paris and now at the quarter-final stage not much has changed. The race to London is heating up, the big guns are still in it, Djokovic is guaranteed his World No.1 spot for now but will want much more and even the lower ranked players will be playing for seedings at the start of next season.
As an ATP event these matches are only played over three sets but the lack of rest days that you get at Grand Slam do begin to catch up with you and fatigue will start settling in this weekend. Watch out for any gruelling matches and the potential impact that could have as we reach the semi-finals and final.