2015 French Open Week 2 Men’s Preview and Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
Week 1 at the 2015 French Open at Roland Garros stayed relatively true to form, while some surprises and upsets took place, all of the top tier contenders are still alive going into the second week, and this second week should prove to be more exciting and pivotal than the first week was. Their was a notable absence of five setters and dramatic tennis on the men’s side, but regardless, here is a retrospective of the week that was, and a lookahead to the round of 16 and onwards.
Men’s round of 16 matchups
(1)Novak Djokovic vs. (20)Richard Gasquet
Novak Djokovic hasn’t dropped a set in three matches, coming close only once, and he’s looking dominant as usual coming in to the second week of play. Novak dominated Gilles Muller and Thanasi Kokkinakis, never surrendering more than 4 games in a single set, and prior to that he got past Jarkko Nieminen, as Nieminen was only able to raise his level for 1 set, a set he eventually lost. For Kokkinakis it was good to reach the third round on clay, but the young gun posed no threat to the world #1.
Gasquet has always struggled against Djokovic, and he had to fight to reach the second week. After dominating Germain Gigounon, a qualifier, he slayed Carlos Berlocq in 5 sets, and Kevin Anderson in 4 sets. Against Berlocq he struggled and dropped the 4th set, but the match was postponed for darkness, and the next day he found renewed form to win it.
Gasquet is fun to watch, and he’ll excite the crowds, but at best taking a set off of Novak would be quite the feat, and Djokovic in 3 sets is a reasonable pick.
(6)Rafael Nadal vs. Jack Sock
Nadal has looked as sharp as Djokovic in the first week, not dropping a set against three opponents, and never surrendering more than 4 games in a single set. He beat Quentin Halys, Nicolas Almagro, and Andrey Kuznetsov in routs, and appears to be rising up and rounding in to form on his favorite red clay in Paris.
Sock is the first American man to reach the second week of the French Open in quite some time, as the young gun American is a threat on red clay with his powerful, high RPM forehand that mimics Nadal to some extent. He uses it to clobber opponents and leave then struggling to beat him. He scored two upset wins this week, the first round was a three set win over a listless Grigor Dimitrov, who appears to be lacking belief these days, and the third round was total domination over teenager Borna Coric, who had scored two hard fought wins to reach the third round over Sam Querrey, and Tommy Robredo. In between those matches, Sock dropped his only set of the first week against dirtballer Pablo Carreno Busta.
Sock is to some extent a poor man’s Nadal, and on clay Nadal has better defense, more experience, and the ability to match Sock shot for shot on the forehand side, thus this matchup isn’t great for him, and I have Rafa advancing in 3 sets. Nadal in 3 sets
(3)Andy Murray vs. Jeremy Chardy
Andy Murray has looked to be playing well in his first three matches, and he has a relatively easy fourth round encounter lined up against the inspired Frenchman Chardy who he is 6-1 against in his career, including a win this year on clay in Rome when Murray was fatigued.
The UK #1 dispatched a pair of young guns, Facundo Arguello, and Nick Kyrgios, the fan favorite Aussie, without dropping a set in rounds 1 and 3, as Murray remains a bad matchup or Kyrgios. In between, Joao Sousa challenge him for two sets, but Murray won in 4, as he fought through the Portugese’s stiff challenge.
Chardy did not enter the French Open in good form, but the home soil and French fans have really helped push him to another career performance in a slam, as reaching the second week is a great feat for him. He upset both John Isner and David Goffin to get this far, beating Goffin in straights in round 3, and Isner in 4 sets in round 2. Prior to that he beat Michael Berrer in 4 sets.
Chardy has had a nice run, but I don’t see Murray dropping a set against him as the Scot should simply move too well to be bothered by the Chardy bread and butter, Murray in 3 sets is the pick.
(7)David Ferrer vs. (9)Marin Cilic
A match that could turn out to be quite competitive, Ferrer leads the h2h over Cilic 3-2, and they haven’t met since 2011.
Ferrer was dominant in his first two matches notching routine wins over Lukas Lacko and Daniel Gimeno-Traver, but he got sloppy against Simone Bolelli, who was punching through him at times and won two sets, eventually losing in 5 as he ran out of gas late.
Cilic appears to be rapidly picking up steam with his form and momentum, he beat Robin Haase, Andrea Arnaboldi, and Leonardo Mayer without dropping a set. Dominating Mayer, who was supposed to challenge him, as the Argentine was in good form going into that match.
It’s a hard pick for me to make, but I’m going to stick with Ferrer and his steady play to win the day, as Ferrer in 5 sets is my pick. This should be a great match, style wise alone.
(5)Kei Nishikori vs Teymuraz Gabashvili
No one is surprised to see Kei Nishikori here, but Gabashvili reaching the second week of a slam is quite the story. The Georgian/Russian has always had the talent but he’s underachieved a bit. This year his baseline power game has been on point, but the Japanese #1 will be his toughest challenge yet, and the road likely ends here for him.
Nishikori only had to play two matches to reach the second week, as he got a walkover in the third round against Benjamin Becker (who upset Fernando Verdasco earlier in the week). He drilled his backhand for wins against Paul-Henri Mathieu and Thomaz Bellucci without dropping a set in the first two rounds.
Gabashvili, who has beaten Nishikori once, compared to three losses including one this year on clay in Barcelona, beat higher ranked opponents Feliciano Lopez, Juan Monaco, and Lukas Rosol without dropping a set. He’s the most surprising name left on the men’s side, and he’s had a tough draw but dealt with it magnificently.
Credit to Gabashvili for getting this far, but I have a rested Nishikori in 3 sets.
(4)Tomas Berdych vs. (14)Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Berdych just defeated Tsonga on clay in Madrid, and overall leads the h2h history, but with the French crowd rallying for Tsonga, who seems to play inspired tennis at Roland Garros, many people are looking for a different result this time, and an upset win for Tsonga.
I continue to feel Berdych isn’t getting enough credit for his results, and he continued the streak of not losing to a non top 5 player in quite some time with wins over Yoshihito Nishioka in 3 sets, and Radek Stepanek and Benoit Paire in four sets. Both Stepanek and Paire are rather odd matchups to face, but once Berdych got settled in, he put his hands firmly around the match and take control.
Tsonga has defeated Christian Lindell, Dudi Sela, and Pablo Andujar without dropping a set, though only Andujar can be considered an even halfway challenging opponent, so it’s still hard to tell where his form is right now, besides the fact he hasn’t slipped up when he shouldn’t.
Tsonga should give Tomas a great match, and he loves Paris, bit Berdych is too strong right now to lose this, and Berdych in 4 sets is my pick.
(8)Stan Wawrinka vs. (12)Gilles Simon
This match should be a slow grinding love affair with the red clay, and the Parisian crowd will increase Simon’s chances to win this one over Stan the man. Wawrinka has a minor 3-2 h2h edge but overall these two players are relatively even, as Simon manages to neutralize the Wawrinka backhand attack.
Wawrinka beat Marsel Ilhan, Dusan Lajovic, and American Steve Johnson, dropping just 1 set against Lajovic to reach the second week, as he has avoided a stumble, and even signs of trouble this time.
Simon clawed back to win in 4 against Lucas Pouille, and then upset Martin Klizan in straights before needing five sets against veteran Nicolas Mahut. Simon’s grinding could well win this, but I’m going with Wawrinka in 5 sets. He should be fresher for this one, and hasn’t had to face as difficult of opposition early on.
(2)Roger Federer vs. (13)Gael Monfils
The potential is there for either of these players to reach the final out of the bottom half, and this is a highly anticipated fourth round encounter coming up on Sunday. Monfils has won the last two meetings, both on clay against Federer without dropping a set, including this year in Monte Carlo, and thus it’s clear at a venue he loves, Roland Garros, where he feeds off the energy of the crowd to inspire his highlight worthy tennis, he’ll have a great chance to defeat a legend, and look to carve more Roland Garros history out himself as the home favorite player.
Monfils has had to scratch and claw in his all of his matches this week, as he’s the only player in the round of 16 who has played multiple five setters. He started the tournament winning in a surprise four over Edouard Roger-Vasselin, and then both Diego Schwartzman and Pablo Cuevas pushed the envelope and gave Gael all he could handle, but twice he would fight back. Against Schwartzman he was 2 sets to 1 down and then won the last two sets by a combined score of 12-4, against Cuevas he was down 2 sets to 1 and a break, only to roll off a number of games in the fourth set, and pump himself into a five set win over a choking Cuevas.
Federer should be much fresher, but he’s also older, he beat Alejandro Falla, Marcel Granollers and Damir Dzumhur without incident, not even dropping a set.
Monfils speed and variety can frustrate and both Federer, especially on clay, but Federer has actually had the edge here, and Monfils has looked shaky at times with his focus and consistency in week 1, thus Federer in 4 sets is my pick.
Predictions for the rest of the tournament:
Djokovic d. Nadal in 4
Murray d. Ferrer in 4
Berdych d. Nishikori in 4
Federer d. Wawrinka in 3
Sticking with my original picks here basically, Djokovic, Murray, Berdych and Federer have given me no reason not to trust them to reach the semis, and they should be the favorites, not just as top 4 seeds, but also based on their current level of play. Nadal is unlikely to be able to maintain against Djokovic, Ferrer seems less talented than Murray right now, I give Berdych the edge on Kei, and Wawrinka tends to struggle against Federer, Simon could perhaps be more of a challenge.
Djokovic d. Murray in 4
Federer d. Berdych in 4
Sticking to my guns here as well, Berdych and Murray can both challenge their higher ranked opponents for at least a set, but over a period of five sets, I’d give the #1 and #2 decisive advantages.
Djokovic d. Federer in 4
Djokovic should be better these days than Federer on clay, and if he loses the French Open this year, we’d have to consider it a choke in most imaginable circumstances.