2016 French Open Men’s Preview and Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
Summer tennis begins in earnest with the 2016 French Open kicking off Sunday. Two weeks of action from the red clay of Roland Garros are sure to yield thrills, spills, and more than a few upsets, as the best clay courters in men’s tennis will vie for supremacy in Paris. Here is a preview, and predictions.
May 22-June 5, 2016
Prize Money: €16,008,750
Top 8 seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Novak Djokovic (1)
2: Andy Murray (2)
3: Stan Wawrinka (4)
4: Rafael Nadal (5)
5: Kei Nishikori (6)
6: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (7)
7: Tomas Berdych (8)
8: Milos Raonic (9)
World #3 and former French Open champion Roger Federer will be missing his first Grand Slam main draw since 1999, as a back injury will snap his 16 year consecutive Grand Slam streak. That means his rival and clay legend Rafael Nadal gets his own quarter of the draw. French favorite Gael Monfils is also absent, as is another talented shotmaker, Alex Dolgopolov, but the rest of the top players are ready to go, many of them looking to benefit in Federer’s absence.
First round matchups to watch:
(31)Federico Delbonis vs. Pablo Carreno Busta
Delbonis beat PCB in Marrakech this year and he’s 4-0 in the h2h, but PCB is one of the tougher unseeded players in the draw, and this match will be a classic clay court battle, featuring long defensive rallies. PCB comes off the quarters in Geneva and he was also a finalist in Estoril. Delbonis also reached the quarters in Geneva, and prior to that he reached the semis in Istanbul and Bucharest, plus won Marrakech to help secure an RG seeding. The Argentine should beat the Spaniard in this one, but I’d expect more than 3 sets.
(20)Bernard Tomic vs. Brian Baker
The veteran Baker is a testament to hard work, tenacity, and overcoming all odds to maximize talent, no matter the circumstances. Tomic is the opposite of that, and the #20 seed is in danger of dropping his sixth straight match to likely finish the clay season without a win in 2016, and fuel swirling questions about his future in tennis. After tanking his way through the clay season, Tomic is actually facing one of the easier round 1 opponents as Baker has barely played ATP level tennis this year, regardless, the American is solid enough on clay and should give Tomic enough of a challenge that he may fold in short order.
Borna Coric vs. Taylor Fritz
Coric has struggled to be consistent on ATP clay this year, but he does have a final and a quarterfinal on the surface this spring. The young Croatian has a bright future ahead, but he’s certainly experiencing ATP World Tour growing pains right now. Fritz isn’t as sharp on clay as his fellow young gun (though he was the French Open junior finalist last year), but he did win a match in Nice after dropping two matches to Radek Stepanek in Madrid and Rome. This young American is also likely to reach at least the top 20 in due time, but now, and in the future, Coric should win this matchup on clay.
Another ATP next gen battle like the matchup above, the 19 year old Halys has less ATP experience than the 20 year old Korean Chung, but the Frenchman is going to have the crowd behind him, and most likely play better on clay, particularly in Paris. After Chung’s poor clay season, Halys should hand him a fourth straight loss.
(32)Fabio Fognini vs. Marcel Granollers
Granollers reached a pair of clay quarterfinals in the run up to the French Open, as the Spanish veteran isn’t quite done with singles yet. Fognini is on a poor three match losing streak, after reaching the semifinals in Munich and the quarterfinals in Barcelona earlier this spring. The ATP clay h2h is even between these veterans, Fognini should be better these days, but you never know with his erratic mentality, and Granollers could grab a win over a seed in Paris.
(24)Philipp Kohlschreiber vs. Nicolas Almagro
Almagro is 4-1 on ATP level clay against Kohlschreiber, and won the last two h2h meetings. The Estoril champion has been poor otherwise on tour in recent weeks, but he’s demonstrated the ability to find form and make sudden runs, as he also reached a clay final in Buenos Aires. It’ll be feast or famine for Almagro, while the fellow one-handed backhand veteran Kohlschreiber won Munich and reached the semis in Barcelona, demonstrating his own ability to find form. I have Kohlschreiber as a slight favorite, but this match has five sets written all over it, and Almagro’s fitness and mentality may let him down.
Diego Schwartzman vs. Guido Pella
Schwartzman should be the more in form player here, but he’s never beaten Pella, and this will be a tough all-Argentine war on clay. DS comes off the round of 16 in Nice, and he won Istanbul for his maiden title. Pella reached the quarters in both Bucharest and Nice, but he hasn’t had quite as good of a clay court spring (he also reached the final in Rio). Both players are on their best surface, and this match could go five sets, I have Schwartzman narrowly advancing with his undersized game.
Dimitrov had the upperhand against Troicki until he lost in a third set tiebreak final against the Serbian in Sydney earlier this year. That set the stage for Dimitrov going on to be unseeded in Paris, and struggle mentally to finish big matches and get important wins. The Bulgarian has lost three straight matches since blowing the Istanbul final, while Troicki has been mediocre on clay this year with a lack of notable results. Dimitrov *should* win this match, perhaps in straights, but his problem is his mentality, not his talent.
Sam Querrey vs. Bjorn Fratangelo
Querrey won four matches this spring on clay, a decent showing for him, while Fratangelo comes off a clay challenger final in France, and also a clay challenger title and a semifinal. The 22 year old American has been the darling of stateside clay challengers, while Querrey is the experienced and steady veteran with a low upside at this point. I have Fratangelo winning this if he’s fresh enough and perhaps leaving a mark in Paris.
The world #1 Novak Djokovic has a great chance to win his illusive first French Open title. Djokovic has been far and above the elite player on tour this year, but RG is his worst slam, and he’s more vulnerable on clay than other surfaces, as losses to Andy Murray in Rome, and Jiri Vesely in Monte Carlo this year demonstrate. Djokovic didn’t appear healthy in Rome, but he still reached the final, and he’s at least made the semifinals in recent French Opens.
To open his quest, Djokovic should roll past Yen-Hsun Lu, who is happy to collect a check on clay, and then dispatch either Marsel Ilhan or Steve Darcis, both of whom are qualifiers. Delbonis is slated to be his third round opponent, and neither the Argentine, nor PCB, or Gerald Melzer/Aljaz Bedene have anywhere near the level, or the game to threaten Djokovic. Barring injury, he should be safe to reach week 2. I have Delbonis over PCB, then over Bedene before falling to Djokovic in round 3.
The section below Djokovic featuring Roberto Bautista Agut as the highest seed is quite open. The Coric/Fritz winner has a great chance at third round money and points, as neither Tomic or Baker is an intimidating round 2 opponent. I have Coric into round 3, opposite Bautista Agut. The Spaniard hasn’t done much on clay this year, but his round 1 opponent Dmitry Tursunov has been poor and the Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu is 34 and unpredictable. He’ll open with fellow veteran Santiago Giraldo, who is no longer an ATP caliber player it seems. RBA over PHM, and then suffering an upset loss to Coric is my pick. RBA has underperformed recently, and I feel the young Coric will sense his time to rise. Coric has beaten RBA this year, but is 0-2 on clay in his career against him.
David Ferrer has been below his usual caliber this spring on clay, and suffered another bad loss when he fell in the Geneva semifinals. Still, the Spaniard should roll past Evgeny Donskoy, to setup a match with Rome quarterfinalist Juan Monaco. Monaco, an Argentine veteran, is capable of playing great on clay but he’s been fighting injuries, and he could fall to Denis Istomin round 1. I have Ferrer finding a way to vanquish Monaco, and the serve and volleyer Feliciano Lopez, to make the 4th round, more due to the ease of his draw, than his own form. Lopez has been in poor form, but lucky loser Thomas Fabbiano, and Victor Estrella/Illya Marchenko are some of the easiest opponents you can face early in a slam draw as of now. This section is quite unimpressive.
Tomas Berdych will open his French Open against Canadian Vasek Pospisil, who is poor on clay, with Malek Jaziri/Florian Mayer to follow. That’s not a difficult start, and Berdych should ease into round 3, for a big meeting with Pablo Cuevas, presuming Cuevas handles qualifier Tobias Kamke, and the Chung/Halys winner. Berdych has not had a great clay season, and I have Cuevas notching an upset. He’s a purer dirtballer, and though he hasn’t been on fire this spring, he’s still solid and crafty, enough to beat a power hitter like Berdych, who hasn’t found his range on clay this year.
The nine-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal is one of only two players in this draw to have won a French Open. Rafa, who won Monte Carlo and Barcelona earlier this spring, before losing to Andy Murray, and Novak Djokovic in Madrid and Rome, will open with the big serving Sam Groth. After that routine match, he should demolish either Facundo Bagnis or qualifier Kenny De Schepper, with Granollers/Fognini or Nicolas Mahut/Ricardas Berankis to follow. Mahut is poor on clay but he’s at home, I have him beating Berankis, but losing to Fognini, and then Nadal ousting Fognini in round 3. Fognini famously beat Rafa in a slam (US Open 2015), but on clay it shouldn’t be close, given Nadal easily dispatched Fognini in Barcelona not that long ago.
Dominic Thiem looks set to dominate the section below Nadal, the young Austrian was a finalist in Munich, won Nice this week, he also reached the quarters in Rome, and the third round in Monte Carlo this spring. Inigo Cervantes is unlikely to put up a fight in round 1, with Guillermo Garcia-Lopez a dangerous, but underdog opponent in round 2, and Alexander Zverev his likely rival in round 3. GGL opens with Thiemo De Bakker after reaching the quarters in Geneva, he has three clay quarterfinals and a semifinal in the lead up to the French Open, so if Thiem is fatigued, he could pounce. Zverev lost to Thiem in the Nice final, after losing to him in Munich, both matches on clay. The young German could be fatigued as well, but he’s had a strong young gun showing this year and he’ll need a big win over young Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert, who excels in doubles, followed by a win over Kevin Anderson, the #18 seed who has two wins on clay this year, or Stephane Robert. Given Thiem has been a cut above Zverev thus far, I see him winning that match again to reach round 4, but Zverev will still be a nice unseeded surprise in round 3.
David Goffin, and the Kohlschreiber/Almagro winner are on a collision course for round 3. The Belgian #1. who reached the quarters in Rome, should dispatch young wild card Gregoire Barrere, and then ease past Carlos Berlocq or Paolo Lorenzi to reach round 3. The Kohlschreiber/Almagro winner is likely to face Jiri Vesely, after Vesely beats Rajeev Ram. Vesely has an ATP quarterfinal and a semifinal on clay this spring, and shocked Novak Djokovic for the win of his career. He’s a talent, but he lacks consistency, thus I have Goffin over Kohlschreiber in round 3. Goffin leads Kohli 2-1 in the h2h, and he’s been the better player this season, particularly in big events.
Presuming French #1 and Monte Carlo semifinalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga can fend off the challenge of in-form qualifier J.L. Struff, he should be able to defeat Gilles Muller/Marcos Baghdatis, and setup a winnable third round contest with either Joao Sousa, or Andreas Seppi. Tsonga will have home support, though he often struggles under the pressure. Baghdatis should beat Muller on clay, but he’s poor on the surface, while Sousa, a quarterfinalist in Madrid, and semifinalist in Nice, is the favorite against Damir Dzumhur, an Istanbul quarterfinalist, and also the Nice quarterfinalist Seppi, who opens with Ernests Gulbis, an opponent who he has struggled with in past h2h matches, but is far below his previous level these days. Sousa has a h2h win over Seppi, and has been in better match form. Tsonga should be the better player on clay in their third round meeting, he’s the strongest player in this section.
The defending champion Stan Wawrinka has had an awful clay court season, and was slumping for a while, but he may have just found the form he needs to compete at the highest level, as he won the Geneva final on home clay, and just beat his round 1 opponent Lukas Rosol in the semifinals there. If Martin Klizan, who had a good early part of the season before being injured, isn’t too rusty, he could give Wawrinka a stiff challenge, first the Slovak will need to defeat Taro Daniel though, who isn’t likely to have enough game against Wawrinka on clay. With Klizan’s form questionable, I have Wawrinka getting through the first two rounds, though it may not be as smooth as many think. The Swiss veteran is alone in the national spotlight with Federer absent now, and while he’s capable of playing incredible tennis, his poor play this season has hardly inspired confidence. His round 3 opponent will also result in him being a heavy favorite, as Jeremy Chardy/Leonardo Mayer are most likely, and neither have had a great spring. The winner of that match will face Adam Pavlasek or Roberto Carballes Baena, both of whom came through qualifying, but are not top tier talents. Wawrinka over Chardy is my pick for round 3, as like Ferrer, Wawrinka will benefit from a weak draw more than anything else to reach the second week.
The Troicki/Dimitrov winner should be opposite Frenchman Gilles Simon, unless the Schwartzman/Pella winner serves as a dark horse. I have Dimitrov over Troicki, and Dusan Lajovic (who beats Denis Kudla R1), and Simon ousting recent challenger winner Rogerio Dutra Silva to setup a round 2 match with Schwartzman. Their first h2h meeting will have some upset potential given Simon hasn’t done much on clay this year. In a slam I still have to favor the veteran Frenchman to reach the third round, but I have him falling to Dimitrov, who should reverse the h2h loss on clay this year to Simon if he can pull his game together. This is a tough section to predict.
American Jack Sock gets a nice draw. The Houston finalist could be the last American standing after defeating a struggling Robin Haase, and either qualifier Dustin Brown or veteran Dudi Sela in round 2. Geneva finalist Marin Cilic should defeat Marco Trungelliti, a qualifier, and then Istanbul quarterfinalist Albert Ramos, after Ramos beats fellow dirtballer Horacio Zeballos. Cilic isn’t the most consistent higher seed in the draw, and Sock will certainly have a shot at the fourth round, but on clay I give Cilic a slight edge. It should be an intriguing matchup.
Milos Raonic has few obstacles in his quest to reach the second week. The Canadian could have a big French Open, and he’ll start with Janko Tipsarevic, who is still easing back from a series of injuries, followed by Adrian Mannarino or Mikhail Kukushkin, and most likely Lucas Pouille in round 3. Raonic reached the quarters in both Monte Carlo and Madrid on clay. Mannarino found shocking form on clay and reached the semis in Nice, while Kukushkin is poor himself. The big serving Canadian should work his way out of any early round danger, as the young Pouille likely won’t be able to stay level against Raonic’s steady serving. Pouille was a finalist in Bucharest, and a semifinalist in Rome, he’s a solid young talent who should ease past Julien Benneteau, and most likely Andrej Martin, as Daniel Munoz De La Nava is slumping. The French fans will certainly try to will him into the round of 16 though.
Andy Murray has the weakest section of the draw, and the Rome champion and Madrid finalist shouldn’t worry much about Radek Stepanek, who he beat in Madrid, and had to come through qualifying. Mathias Bourgue and Jordi Samper-Montana are both below ATP level players right now, and Ivo Karlovic, who is awful on clay, is the only other seed in Murray’s section. Murray has a clear path, as I have him facing veteran Spaniard Albert Montanes, a semifinalist in Marrakech, in round 3. Montanes should “upset” Karlovic on clay, and also beat either Laslo Djere or Jordan Thompson, both of whom lack much ATP experience. Murray will outrun, and out work Montanes in round 3.
American #1 John Isner should reach the third round, and end up opposite the erratic French favorite Benoit Paire. Isner hasn’t enjoyed clay this year, but his opening round opponent John Millman doesn’t like clay either, and I don’t see Kyle Edmund or qualifier Nikoloz Basilashvili as quite ready to step up and earn an ATP top 20 win on clay yet. Both recently won challenger titles, and don’t sleep on Edmund making the third round, but Isner’s consistency works in his favor. Paire has been struggling, but he has two semifinals on clay this spring, and neither qualifier Radu Albot, nor Teymuraz Gabashvili/Donald Young are opponents likely to defeat him. Young should win over Gabashvili given the Russian’s terrible form. I have Paire over Isner because I sense the Frenchman will do well at home, and I don’t trust Isner on clay right now.
Richard Gasquet and Nick Kyrgios always seem to run into each other, as the veteran Frenchman can’t escape his young Australian rival. Gasquet, the French #2, should ease past Thomaz Bellucci, who has been disappointing recently, and also the Querrey/Fratangelo winner, to setup the third round match with Kyrgios. NK has to defeat Marco Cecchinato, and either Adrian Ungur or Igor Sijsling, as his first three opponents are more at home on the challenger tour. Kyrgios has a semifinal and a quarterfinal on clay this spring, and he’s been a top performer at the Grand Slam level, with Gasquet playing at no better than average this clay season, I have Kyrgios winning that match and advancing into round 4. Kyrgios also has a h2h win this year against Gasquet.
Kei Nishikori vs. Andrey Kuznetsov figures to be one of the better round 2 matchups in the draw, Nisihkori has a struggling, and injured Simone Bolelli as his first opponent, while Kuznetsov opens with Benjamin Becker, a veteran who is allergic to clay. Kuznetsov has a pair of clay quarterfinals this spring and he’s a rising talent, but Nishikori has established himself as a player likely to go deep in this draw, given his semifinal showing in both Madrid and Rome, and his finalist result in Barcelona. Munich quarterfinalist Ivan Dodig should dispatch a struggling Mikhail Youzhny, and setup a meeting with Bucharest champion Fernando Verdasco. The veteran Spaniard opens with American Steve Johnson, who is poor on clay, and he should win that match, and defeat Dodig, before falling to Nishikori in round 3.
Coric is my pick to reach the second week opposite Djokovic, Fritz is an interesting opponent, and Bautista Agut can be a consistent performer who plays tough tennis on clay, but he doesn’t have the upside of the young unseeded Croatian. Zverev has to beat Herbert, and a seeded Anderson to reach round 3, and then he’ll need to reverse his result against Thiem and win. That’s a tough ask, but he could still reach the second week.
Schwartzman may lose round 1 to Pella, and Simon is one of the tougher veterans to play in Paris, but if the Argentine gets out of the first two rounds, he’ll likely run into Dimitrov again, an opponent he defeated in the Istanbul final. We could see this Argentine in the second week. Kuznetsov has the toughest early round opponent, as Nishikori looms in round 2, but if Kei plays poorly and shows up in dreadful form, we could see the Russian make a run into the second week. All of these players are relatively young, unseeded, and have strong upside potential.
Round of 16: Djokovic d. Coric in 3
Cuevas d. Ferrer in 4
Nadal d. Thiem in 4
Goffin d. Tsonga in 5
Raonic d. Cilic in 4
Wawrinka d. Dimitrov in 5
Nishikori d. Kyrgios in 4
Murray d. Paire in 3
Djokovic and Murray beat Coric and Paire respectively in Madrid and Monte Carlo, the top 2 players should ease into the quarterfinals. Nadal is 2-1 against Thiem, and won their most recent match in Monte Carlo, that match has upset potential, but over a best of 5, Nadal has a clear edge.
Goffin and Tsonga have split clay meetings, that match could go five sets, but with Tsonga normally playing worse at home, I have Goffin advancing. Ferrer is 3-0 against Cuevas but dropped a set against him in their match this year, I have an upset in that match because I don’t trust Ferrer to play well at all this week, and Cuevas is due for a surprising run.
Raonic likely outlasts Cilic in a close battle of big hitters. Wawrinka is better than Dimitrov, despite Grigor holding a 2-1 h2h edge on clay against the Swiss. Nishikori is 3-0 against Kyrgios and has two wins this season against him, on clay he should prevail.
Quarters: Djokovic d. Cuevas in 3
Nadal d. Goffin in 3
Wawrinka d. Raonic in 5
Murray d. Nishikori in 4
Murray is 6-1 against Nishikori, they play a similar style, and Murray seems to do it better, even on clay. Wawrinka vs. Raonic is tough to predict, Raonic won for the first time at this year’s AO after going 0-4 against Wawrinka. On clay, the advantage likely shifts to Wawrinka, as this is not Raonic’s best surface. However, Stan is shaky right now.
Nadal and Djokovic should be unbothered as they march towards a semifinal against each other.
Semis: Djokovic d. Nadal in 4
Murray d. Wawrinka in 4
Djokovic hasn’t lost to Nadal in the last two seasons (7-0), the world #1 beat Nadal in Paris last year, and has a win this year on clay in Rome. It will be a close and competitive match, but Djokovic has simply outpaced Nadal at this point in their careers, and I’m not sure Nadal is going to be able to get back to his prior level, even on clay. Djokovic’s superior consistency and conditioning should win out.
Wawrinka won his last three meetings against Murray, after Murray had a prior h2h edge. With that said, Murray has been in far superior form this year, and even on clay he’s established himself as an elite player. With Murray playing some of his best clay tennis, he should win the semifinal match.
Final: Djokovic d. Murray in 4
It was important for Murray’s confidence to win in Rome against Djokovic, but the world #1 was not playing at 100%, and presuming he’s healthy and fit, it’s hard to see how Murray will defeat him in a slam final, especially on clay. Djokovic won their previous two meetings this year, including the Madrid final, and he’ll be the favorite if he reaches the final. Last year in the semis Djokovic beat Murray in five sets, and it should be a competitive, and high caliber final. I tip the Serbian to win his first ever French Open title, this seems to be the year for him.
2015 French Open Week 1 Men’s Preview and Predictions (@RolandGarros) Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
It’s time for the second Grand Slam of the season, the 2015 French Open at Stade Roland Garros in Paris. This is one of the most wide open French Opens in years, as the case could be made for at least five different players to claim the title. In addition, the young guns are rising, as over a dozen players under 21 are competing in the main draw and some of them are likely to score some upsets and do well, so read on and check out what all there is offer on the men’s side of the 2015 French Open.
May 24-June 7, 2015
Prize Money: $29,500,000
Top 8 seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Novak Djokovic (1)
2: Roger Federer (2)
3: Andy Murray (3)
4: Tomas Berdych (4)
5: Kei Nishikori (5)
6: Rafael Nadal (7)
7: David Ferrer (8)
8: Stan Wawrinka (9)
World #6 Milos Raonic pulled out with a foot injury, Juan Martin Del Potro, and Tommy Haas, both injured are missing, Janko Tipsarevic, and Julien Benneteau were the other withdrawals but all of the other top players are here, including 19 of the top 20.
A rematch of an interesting encounter in Madrid, Tomic lost in a third set tiebreak to the Italian veteran Vanni, who is having a late career breakthrough and will making his grand slam main draw debut as a qualifier. Bernie has been struggling on clay as of late, and has never advanced past the second round of the French, so this match could doom the 27 seed to another early exit in Paris. Vanni is a junkballer, with a game built for clay, as he takes causes weird bounces on his shots, and utilizes the slice and drop shot to win points, rather than power hitting. Tomic has lost five straight matches, and retired in Nice, so his health is also in doubt, while Vanni may be battling fatigue after winning three straight three set matches, including one that finished 16-14 in the 3rd set.
The surprise Sao Paulo finalist will still have to work hard, but this is a winnable match for him, and while Tomic had an excellent spring hard court season, he’s been atrocious on clay, and I don’t see that changing here, thus Vanni in 4 or 5 sets is my pick.
(10)Grigor Dimitrov vs. Jack Sock
By far the best round 1 matchup, this encounter is befitting of a round of 32 or round of 16 contest with the talent that both of these under 25 year olds have at their disposal, and it’s a shame one of them will have to go home after round 1. Dimitrov is of course the favorite, though he has a relatively poor record at the French Open, and has never made it to the second week. The Madrid and Monte Carlo quarterfinalist, and Istanbul semifinalist will have to deal with Sock’s high spinning and vicious forehand that is one of the best 5 in all of men’s tennis.
Since returning from hip surgery this spring, Sock won his first ever ATP title, which came on clay in Houston, and though he is on a three match losing streak on clay, all of those matches were tough three set contests. Sock certainly seems to be improving on clay, and he’s shown tenacity this season and the ability to change the momentum of matches, while Dimitrov has been shaky at times, and really has not performed as well as his top 15 ranking would indicate. I’m still picking Dimitrov, but I see it going five sets, and you can’t count Sock out, as he’s one of the top two American men on clay, and seems to be steadily improving. He’s also fixed his fitness issues that were detrimental in best of 5 set matches.
Nicolas Almagro vs. Alexandr Dolgopolov
This should be a fun match between a pair of excellent ballstrikers who can play well above their current rankings when they are on a roll. Almagro, a three time RG quarterfinalist has not played up to his formerly top 20 self since returning from injury this season, but he does have a pair of quarterfinals and a semifinal this season in ATP clay court tournaments.
Dolgopolov has tumbled down the rankings and is out of the top 50 again, but as always he’s a dangerous shotmaker, and excellent mover who always produces highlights, win or lose. He hasn’t played particularly well on clay since early last season, but you can’t count him out against anyone, as he pushed Novak Djokovic to the brink of defeat in Miami.
The head to head is an even 2-2, and 1-1 on clay, Almagro’s recent losses have been better though, an Dolgopolov lost to the horribly out of form Ernests Gulbis in the Nice warm up tournament, so with that in mind I see Almagro pulling through in 4 or 5 sets of highlight filled tennis.
(16)John Isner vs. Andreas Seppi
In theory the 16 seed John Isner should be on upset alert, as he was not given an easy round 1 matchup, that said, Seppi hasn’t played since losing round 1 in Monte Carlo, and that indicates to me the veteran Italian all-courter had some sort of injury that prevented him from playing any further tournaments until RG. Seppi was on fire early on in the season as he recorded a run to the second week at the AO where he upset Federer, and an ATP final and semifinal in between. However his results since then have been pedestrian, and there are question marks surrounding his play right now, though he has the game to defeat Isner, as he has done so before on clay in Rome.
Isner has had a solid season on European red clay by his standards, he comes off the semis in Nice, and he also reached the quarters in Madrid, overall compiling a 9-4 record, with none of those 4 losses being bad ones. He’s not going to threaten any of the top names on clay, even with that huge serve, but he still should be good enough to get past Seppi, perhaps without dropping a set, and it would be a big disappointment if he didn’t get out of the first round here after the clay season he has had, most of all staying healthy, which is a big bonus for the American #1.
(9)Marin Cilic vs. Robin Haase
Cilic is 4-0 against Haase, including two wins on clay, and it’s unlikely he loses this one, but it’s a sleeper match, as Cilic has really struggled since returning from injury, and has yet to find the form that propelled him to his first Grand Slam, and a top 10 ranking. Haase by contrast is a very streaky player who has the technical talents to score big wins (he beat Stan Wawrinka this year in Indian Wells), but has one of the weakest mindsets in men’s tennis, and that weak mental portion of his game means he can lose to just about anyone.
Since reaching the quarters in Monte Carlo, Cilic is just 2-4, and he played relatively poorly in the Geneva warm up tournament prior to this. Haase recently won a challenger on clay, and also reached the quarterfinals in Estoril, so he’s in reasonable form. I’m still picking Cilic, but Haase likely snatches a set, and if Cilic is rusty and off his game, it will be interesting to see if Haase seizes the moment like he did against Wawrinka and scores another top 15 win.
A match to keep an eye because the seeded player could well go down in defeat, the Czech young gun lefty Vesely has a h2h win against Mayer on clay (2014 Casablanca), and though he’s had an erratic season, he has won an ATP title (Auckland), and reached a final, and a semifinal on clay. Mayer by contrast has been having a poor season, though he reached the final Nice, and though that shows his form is improving, it also indicates fatigue could play a factor in a best of 5 sets match.
This run in Nice is the best result Mayer has posted all season on clay, and Vesely is actually more talented, thus the match should be on his racquet. The issue for Jiri is his lack of consistency, he’s as talented as the other young guns such as Kyrgios, and Thiem that have made waves, but he hasn’t been able to put that together on a regular basis. I’m picking Vesely in 4 but this is a tough pick either way.
Rosol, who posted a pair of quarterfinals on clay this season, and has continued his typical rollercoaster form, likely wins this over the next great Swedish hope Ymer, but you can’t count the young gun out, given Rosol has the ability to play some of the best ball bashing tennis you’ll see, an also some of the worst error strewn disasters you can witness. The Czech comes off of qualifying for Geneva and then losing to Stan Wawrinka in round 2.
Ymer, a rising 19 year old who will be playing in his second Grand Slam main draw, after successfully qualifying and then losing in 5 sets at the Australian Open earlier this year. He recently moved to Barcelona to practice full time on clay, and it’s his best surface as he beat Nick Kyrgios in Barcelona, where he reached the round of 16, earlier this year, and had a relatively comfortable qualifying campaign where he didn’t drop a set in his last two matches. Long term Ymer is quite the talent, and he will have success in the future in Paris without a doubt, but winning this math is still likely to be a challenge, and I’m going with Rosol in 4 sets, as he’s a step up from Ymer’s usual level of competition.
Martin Klizan vs. (WC)Francis Tiafoe
The USTA wild card winner Tiafoe, who is just 17 years old, and is a former top junior, only turning pro in April of this year, actually has a punchers chance against the talented but inconsistent Klizan. Big Foe, as our writer Joe Craven calls him, reached the challenger final in Tallahassee, and the Maryland native, who is coached by Jose Higueras, went 12-3 on har-tru clay in those three USTA challenger events. He will be making his grand slam main draw debut, and he made his ATP debut last season in Washington D.C. at the Citi Open. He’s a talent, and he has plenty of charisma but this match represents a huge step up for the teen.
Klizan won the title in Casablanca this year, and also reached the semis in Barcelona but he has suffered two straight losses, and may be rusty, or not entirely healthy going into this match. Again, the favorite should win this, but don’t sleep on Tiafoe, as Klizan has his off days, and it’s unlikely the young American, who raised by immigrant parents and came from humble roots, literally being raised at a tennis facility, will be intimidated by the stage, or the ranking of his opponent.
(12)Gilles Simon vs. (WC)Lucas Pouille
An all French affair that should delight the locals, Simon has a higher ranking, more experience, and a positive record in Paris, but he retired in his last match in Rome, and pulled out of Nice, something that may be precautionary, or could be the sign that his back injury is serious. Simon had a non-headline making, so-so clay court season, and it’s not likely he’ll be high on confidence going into his home grand slam.
Pouille by contrast is a young gun trying to make a name for himself in his third French Open main draw appearance. It feels like Pouille has been tour for a while, but unlike some of the other players who are 21 and younger like himself, he has yet to pull off either a deep run in a big tournament, or a marquee win to put himself in the papers. He has a gifted forehand that can do damage and he’s a talented ballstriker, who can bend the ball to his whims, but his fitness, and at times his shot selection is lacking, and after reaching the semis in Auckland and pushing Gael Monfils to five sets at the AO back in January, he hasn’t done much, besides an upset of Dominic Thiem in Monte Carlo. He struggled in Nice, and also found himself dismantled by Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo, so he’s not exactly in great form, but this is still a match worth watching as you never know if Simon will lay an egg, perhaps due to back pain, though he tends to battle and find a way in slams.
This match is a poor matchup for Pouille as Simon is a human backboard who will massage the ball and likely be able to frustrate the young Frenchman and cause his game to leak errors, as it tends to due under pressure, but the injury concerns for Simon are serious, and that’s why I’m picking Pouille. He will need to be aggressive to get the win, and it’s a risk, but I’m bold enough to pick it.
Two-time, and defending French Open finalist Novak Djokovic is unlikely to drop even a set en route to the third round. Djokovic will open with struggling veteran lefty Jarkko Nieminen, who is fast on his feet, but has declined from his peak, and the Fin is also a player Novak has beaten twice before on clay. After that the winner of Gilles Muller/Paolo Lorenzi awaits, that’s a toss-up match as Muller is not a clay courter, and Lorenzi is a career journeyman, though at his best on clay. I’d go with Muller to get through, but he’s of little threat to Novak on this surface, and Djokovic beat him at the Aussie this year without dropping a set.
In the third round, I have Thanasi Kokkinakis, the Australian teenager, as Novak’s opponent, and it will still be a good showing for him to get that far on clay, though he’s unlikely to threaten Djokovic on this surface. Kokkinakis, who is perfect in ATP qualifying this year and recently won the Bordeaux challenger on clay, will open with qualifer Nikoloz Basilashvili, in the opening round. Basilashvili, the top Georgian player on the ATP tour, has been markedly improved this season and is nearing breakthrough status, but Kokkinakis is simply more talented, and he’s been getting better and better on clay, the more practice that he gets. His movement improving with his lanky frame, and his shots still solid from both wings, especially his forehand side. I feel Kokkinakis actually has more upside than the other part of the Aussie teenage tandem, Nick Kyrgios, and this tournament is likely to increase my belief on that.
Kokkinakis will need to defeat the Vanni/Tomic winner in round 2, if Tomic were to advance, he’ll have a 2-0 h2h against Thanasi with both matches coming this season, including in a competitive match in Indian Wells, but on clay things actually favor Kokkinakis style of play, as Tomic is not a good dirtballer. Vanni, who I have winning in my own bracket, is likely to be fatigued, and his slice and dice game is a good matchup for Kokkinakis, compared to Tomic’s junkballing. Look for Djokovic to reach the second week without dropping a set, and Kokkinakis to be a pleasant surprise in the opening week.
Estoril champion and 20 seed Richard Gasquet is another who could reach the second week without dropping a set. Gasquet will open with 26 year old Belgian qualifier Germain Gigounon, who qualified with relative ease and reached a challenger final on clay earlier this season, that said, Gigounon is making his slam debut, and has never even played an ATP main draw match, so not much should be expected of him. Gasquet’s second opponent will be either Carlos Berlocq, the veteran Argentine grinder, or surprise qualifier Illya Marchenko, who rarely plays on clay, and is a journeyman, but still tour through three qualifying matches. Berlocq has lost four straight matches, with two retirements mixed in, so he may not even be healthy, regardless, neither player is a threat to Gasquet’s versatile game, and the home French fans should enjoy his smooth strokes later on into the tournament.
In the third round, Gasquet is again likely to face a weak opponent, as Blaz Kavcic/Rendy Lu/Tim Smyczek/Kevin Anderson are his options. Kavcic and Lu are both poor on clay and rarely play on the surface, Kavcic having lost three straight. Smyczek is another player who is poor on clay, and Anderson has struggled this year on the surface as well though he did reach the semis in Houston. Given that Anderson is the highest ranked player here, has a 4-0 h2h with Smyczek, and is unlikely to be troubled by Lu/Kavcic, he should be Gasquet’s third round opponent with Gasquet advancing. With only a hard court h2h, Gasquet leads it 4-2.
The Dimitrov/Sock winner will face Pablo Carreno Busta/Victor Estrella in round 2, that’s a tough match as both players have been both good and bad on clay as of late. Estrella reached the final in Quito on clay, reached the third round in Barcelona with two upset wins, and was also a quarterfinalist in Munich, while Carreno reached the semis in Estoril but has been awful otherwise. Look for Estrella to win but then lose to Dimitrov in the next round, though Dimitrov could have problems through his first two matches.
In the third round, danger should continue to loom for the Bulgarian #1, as Croatian teenager Borna Coric is lurking as a sleeper pick to do well this tournament. The 2015 Dubai, and Nice semifinalist, who also reached the quarters in Estoril on clay this season, will open with American Sam Querrey, who reached the final in Houston on clay but has been in poor form since. Presuming Coric beats Querrey, which talent wise is likely if the Croatian can keep his head on straight, he should also beat the 18 seed Tommy Robredo, who has struggled to stay healthy this season and hasn’t played since Barcelona. Robredo’s career is slowing down, but he still should beat journeyman lucky loser Andrey Golubev. Coric represents a fresher and more difficult challenge, and though Robredo is a steady veteran and a five time quarterfinalist here, expectations have to be low for this French Open. I still have Dimitrov sneaking past Coric, perhaps in a five setter to reach the second week, Coric has beaten Nadal, and Murray over the past 12 months, so he doesn’t get intimidated, but Dimitrov still has more experience and should have that extra edge to get the job done.
Below that, we have the 9 time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal, who has a 66-1 record at the tournament, but has struggled this season, and seen his ranking drop him out of the top 5, and right into the world #1’s quarter of the draw. No matter his struggles this season, Nadal should have no problem blitzing past overmatched French youngster Quentin Halys, a wild card, but the second round should be more challenging, as he’s guaranteed to face a player who has beaten him before, the Almagro/Dolgopolov winner. Presuming it’s Almagro, Nadal has blown him out twice this season, including on clay, so Rafa is still likely safe to pencil in for the third round, and probably doesn’t drop a set. Dolgopolov is the more explosive opponent, but he’s harder to predict.
Nadal’s third round opponent shouldn’t be overly difficult, as it will be one of Adrian Mannarino/Jurgen Melzer/Andrey Kuznetsov/Malek Jaziri. Kuznetsov, who qualified in Monte Carlo and Geneva, could randomly reach the third round, as Jaziri is a good ball striker with awful fitness, not to mention not overly great on clay, and neither Mannarino, nor Melzer, who is long removed from his run to the semis here in 2010, is in good form. Mannarino is the weakest seed in the draw, and Melzer has done nothing this clay court season, so I have Nadal crushing Kuznetsov to reach the second week.
The Madrid, and Munich champion AndyMurray, is undefeated on clay this year (10-0), and is having his best season since back surgery, as he also reached the AO final, and the final in Miami. Thus, even though never being known as a clay court star, the Scotsman, who spent years as a junior training in Spain on clay, is actually a bit of a dark horse favorite to win the French Open. That’s a big ask, and I’ll tell you now I don’t see that happening unless carnage happens in the Djokovic/Nadal section, but he still should have a good tournament, and could reach this third RG semifinal, after earning his second one last year. Murray will open with lucky loser Facundo Arguello, a young Argentine who takes after the fiery former French Open champion Gaston Gaudio, Arguello has struggled to see his talent translate to the main tour level, so Murray is likely to give him the runaround and beat him without dropping a set. After that, Geneva finalist Joao Sousa, or Vasek Pospisil awaits the UK #1, Pospisil is poor on clay and has had a terrible season in singles, unable to find form, and Sousa should be tired, so Murray should reach round 3 without dropping a set. Murray is 5-0 against Sousa over the past three seasons, and he’s never lost a set against the Portugese #1.
In the third round, fearless, and charismatic Aussie teenager Nick Kyrgios will be looking to give Murray all he can handle, and not only get revenge for his previous h2h loss, but also score yet another top 10 win, after NK previously beat Roger Federer this season in a Madrid thriller, and Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon. Kyrgios pulled out of Nice with an injury, and he’s had back problems earlier this season, but overall he continues to show improvement and he’s seeded for the first time in a slam, after reaching the quarters at the AO, and reaching his first ATP final in Estoril. Kyrgios will open against the struggling Denis Istomin, and presuming he’s fit and wins that one he will face the winner of Kyle Edmund/Stephane Robert, both of whom are qualifiers. The South African born, English resident Edmund is another young gun in the draw, while Robert is one of the oldest active players on tour at 35, and has been a journeyman all throughout his career. Edmund has been more impressive in qualifying and this season, and he could even shock Kyrgios, but NK plays his best on big stages, so I still see him getting through to the third round.
With the form Murray is in, I actually don’t think the match will be that close, likely four sets or three as a motivated Murray is 2-0 in the h2h against Kyrgios and has yet to lose a set to him, Murray truly has performed well on clay this season, and the coaching team of Amelie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman really seems to have helped him improve on the surface, as his movement, and counterpunching is finally paying dividends. He’s had success at RG before as well, which should help, and he should be fit and rested.
The Isner/Seppi winner will take on Jeremy Chardy/Michael Berrer in round 2. Presuming Isner is fit, I’m pretty comfortable picking him to reach the third round with the favorable draw that he has. Chardy is just 2-4 in his last six matches, and Berrer is a career journeyman serve and volleyer in the last year of his career. He qualified without dropping a set, and of course beat Nadal this season, so he really has had a great year by his standards, and I do in fact have him upsetting Chardy given the h2h, but Isner’s relentless serves should do him in.
In that third round, David Goffin is big John’s likely opponent. Goffin, a quarterfinalist in both Rome, and Munich hasn’t been on fire like he was last Fall, but he’s still been good enough this season to beat Filip Krajinovic his round 1 opponent who is a fringe ATP player, and then Geneva semifinalist Santiago Giraldo, who has been worse this year compared to last year, and not much should be expected of. Giraldo has a big game, while Goffin is a steady ball striker, and the slow RG courts should favor the Belgian. Goffin and Isner have never met on clay (1-1 on hard courts), and as surprising as it is, Isner’s results have been slightly better on clay this year than D Goff, thus I have him reaching the round of 16, but I could certainly be wrong about that, and it’s a tough call either way.
David Ferrer, a former French Open finalist who reached the semis in both Barcelona, and Rome this spring, should blitz through the first two rounds without dropping a set, the underachieving Lukas Lacko is his round 1 opponent, and then he’ll be eyeing Daniel Gimeno-Traver or Joao Souza on the other side of the net in round 2. Souza is on a 7 match losing streak since losing the longest Davis Cup match in history, while DGT has had a career year on clay this year, with an ATP final in Casablanca, a semi in Bucharest, and a quarterfinal in Istanbul. That said, Souza is 3-0 against DGT, no matter neither player has the game to trouble Ferrer, an he’s 3-0 against DGT, including a win this year.
I foresee Simone Bolelli as the matchup for Ferrer in the third round, Bolelli is a talented shotmaker, but he struggles to be consistent, as evidenced by his lone ATP quarterfinal on clay this spring in Bucharest. He will open with serve and volleyer Steve Darcis, who has lost three straight and may not be healthy. In round 2, Bolelli is likely to get an interesting match, as the Viktor Troicki/JL Struff clash is intriguing. Struff is a talented, but underachieving 25 year old who has a challenger semi on clay this year, and isn’t mentally strong, while Troicki snapped a four match losing streak to win two matches in Rome. VT hasn’t been on the same tear he was when he came back from a doping suspension, and in his cooled off state, Bolelli should capitalize. The h2h is 3-3, but Troicki won both their hard court meetings this season. Ferrer is 5-0 against Bolelli and beat him at the French last year, so I don’t foresee the match being that close, same goes if he were to face Troicki.
The Cilic/Haase winner is set to face James Duckworth or Andrea Arnaboldi, Arnaboldi a 27 year old Italian dirtballer, had to battle to qualify. while Duckworth has been in good form, sneaking into the quarterfinals of Nice, and also reaching a challenger semi on clay this spring. The 23 year old Aussie isn’t one you would think to win on nationality alone, but I have him beating a tired Arnaboldi, before falling to Cilic in round 2.
Vesely/Mayer or Jerzy Janowicz/Maxime Hamou await in round 3, most likely the Vesely/Mayer winner. Hamou is another young French wild card who is likely to be overwhelmed by the situation, as he barely has any experience at the top level, as he made his ATP debut in Nice just last week. Regardless, Janowicz hasn’t won a set, much less a match on clay this year (0-3), so I give him little chance against Vesely/Mayer. Cilic just beat Vesely in Madrid in straights, so he should be the favorite for the round of 16, but don’t sleep on Vesely, he could reach the second week of a slam for the first time.
Tomas Berdych has had a tremendous under the radar season and he’s earned his own quarter of the draw. The 29 year old Monte Carlo finalist, and Australian Open semifinalist, who has performed well in every single tournament he’s entered, not losing before the quarterfinals, will open with young gun Japanese qualifier Yoshihito Nishioka. Nishioka is an undersized player with fast footwork, who packs a punch on his groundstrokes given his small frame, but Berdych is likely to blast him off the court. After Nishioka, who is making his Grand Slam main draw debut, Berdych should cruise past the winner of Ivan Dodig/Radek Stepanek, a pair of formerly solid players who haven’t been the same since injuries. Stepanek is an aging serve and volleyer on a three match losing streak, while Dodig has two ATP quarterfinals, including one on clay in Istanbul, but nothing else of note this season. Berdych is close to a lock for round 3.
In that third round, Fabio Fognini is his likely opponent, the Italian headcase, who has one ATP final, and one ATP quarterfinal on clay this season (Rio and Barcelona), but has struggled against opponents not named Rafael Nadal, will open with Tatsuma Ito, a Japanese player who is poor on, and rarely plays clay. After that, we could be treated to a headcase special, as Fognini is likely to face Frenchman Benoit Paire. Paire is just 1-4 in his last five matches on clay, but he’s still done well to work his ranking back up to this level. Benwa, and his gifted backhand, will open up against qualifier Gastao Elias, a fringe ATP player from Portugal. It wouldn’t shock me at all if Elias won, but regardless, unless Fognini implodes, which is always possible, he should beat Paire/Elias to reach the third round, as he’s a better player talent wise on clay. Fognini is 2-1 against Berdych on clay, but Berdych survived a third set tiebreak and defeated him in Rome, and given his consistency in the big tournaments this year, I’d give him the edge to reach week 2.
14 seed and former RG semifinalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a home fan favorite will open with Swedish qualifier Christian Lindell, as Sweden has two players in a Grand Slam main draw for the first time in years. Tsonga has been pedestrian with a lack of notable results since returning from injury, but he shouldn’t have any issue with Lindell who is making his grand slam main draw debut. Tsonga will then be a heavy favorite against either Dudi Sela or Mikhail Kukushkin. Sela is poor on clay and Kukushkin has lost three straight, so I don’t see Tsonga losing a set going into round 3.
Tsonga’s round 3 opponent will be either the Philipp Kohlschreiber/Go Soeda winner, or the winner of Pablo Andujar/Albert Ramos. Kohli was a finalist in Munich, and a quarterfinalist in Barcelona, while Soeda basically never plays on clay. Andujar/Ramos is an interesting match, they have played each other a ton of times and Andujar has won the last two meetings, including in Barcelona this year. Both players have ATP quarterfinals on clay this year, while Andujar has a final in Barcelona, regardless of winner, I have Kohlschreiber advancing into the third round. Tsonga has never lost Kohlschreiber (7-0), and with that matchup difference, and Tsonga have the home fans behind him, I favor him to go into the round of 16.
5 seed Kei Nishikori, a semifinalist in Madrid, and champion in Barcelona, will open with French veteran Paul-Henri Mathieu, who should be calling it a career soon. The 33 year old is back to being a challenger, and fringe ATP player, ranked outside of the top 100, though he used to be quite solid. After a win over PHM, Nishikori should run into the in-form, but likely fatigued Thomaz Bellucci. Bellucci won the title in Geneva, and his first round opponent Marinko Matosevic is in awful form (8 straight losses). Bellucci also qualified in Madrid, and Rome, and reached the quarterfinals in Istanbul. I’d worry about Nishikori against the big hitting Bellucci, but I feel the fatigue factor, and the fact Bellucci, who took a set off of Djokovic in Rome, tends to choke under pressure, gives Nishikori enough of an advantage to get him to round 3, perhaps with difficulty.
32 seed Fernando Verdasco should be the challenge for Nishikori/Bellucci in round 3. Verdasco will open with qualifier Taro Daniel, the fifth Japanese player in the draw (Nishikori, Soeda, Ito, and Nishioka are the others). Daniel, who trains and makes his home in Spain, plays his best on clay, and he has one ATP quarterfinal on clay, this will be his second Grand Slam main draw. Verdasco, and his huge forehand, will face the winner of Benjamin Becker/Ruben Bemelmans, after defeating the lanky Daniel. Bemelmans isn’t in great form, but Becker’s form is even worse, as he has lost six straight matches, and the veteran is not good on clay, thus I have Bemelmans winning, and then losing to Verdasco. Nando was a semifinalist in Houston but hasn’t done much else this clay season, thus Nishikori should advance, perhaps again with trouble, they battled it out in Indian Wells this year and Kei was the winner.
The 11 seed Feliciano Lopez is a poor 4-5 this spring on clay, and given all of his losses are pretty bad, expectations have to be low coming into the French for him. He will open with Teymuraz Gabashvili, who is a remarkable 14-2 over his last few tournaments. Most of those wins were in qualifying or on the challenger tour, but that’s still an impressive record, as he won two challengers in a row. Lopez is 2-0 against Gabashvili, but those matches were on a hard court, and with Gabashvili getting a bit of rest, I’m actually calling an upset, and putting him through over Flopez into round 2. The winner of Juan Monaco/Federico Delbonis awaits in what will be an all-Argentine encounter. Delbonis has a h2h win over Monaco on clay, and he has an ATP semi in Geneva, and a challenger title on the surface this spring. Monaco was a quarterfinalist in both Miami and Nice. Given his experience, I’m giving Monaco the edge by a hair. Monaco has two previous wins against Gabashvili, including a three setter this year in Indian Wells, so I have the loveable Pico into the third round.
19 seed Roberto Bautista Agut is the player most likely to face Monaco/Delbonis/Gabashvili/Lopez, in that open third round section. RBA opens with Florian Mayer, who is just 2-5 since coming back to the tour from injury. The Spaniard reached the Munich semis and the Barcelona quarters, and I also favor him to defeat Rosol/Ymer. RBA has a h2h win last season against Rosol on clay. I favor RBA to reach the round of 16, no matter who his third round opponent is, and it’s RBA/Monaco in my bracket.
The 2009 Roland Garros champion, and the only player besides Nadal with over 60 wins in Paris, is Roger Federer, the Swiss legend and #2 seed will face lucky loser Alejandro Falla in round 1. He has beaten Falla twice before in Paris, and he didn’t lose a set in those matches (overall 7-0 h2h). Federer won Istanbul, and was a finalist in Rome, so it’s unlikely that he’ll have any issue against Falla or his next opponent, which will be Marcel Granollers or Matthias Bachinger. Bachinger, a journeyman, has qualified for both slams this season with ease, but he’s 0-3 against Granollers who is 4-3 in his last seven matches, after being abysmal prior to that. Federer is 3-0 against Granollers and has only lost 1 set to him, so I honestly see the Swiss maestro reaching round 3 without dropping a set.
Federer’s third round opponent should be quite easy, as he got a great early draw. Both Ivo Karlovic and Marcos Baghdatis are poor on clay, and have lost two straight matches, Baghdatis has a h2h edge over Dr. Ivo, so I have him reaching round 2. Veteran Russian Mikhail Youzhny has been awful this season and is 3-5 on clay, retirement looms for him and Casablanca semifinalist Damir Dzumhur, a 23 year old, will look to aid in Youzhny being pushed out to pasture. I have Dzumhur beating both Youzhny and Baghdatis to surprisingly reach the third round in a very weak section of the draw. His form has slightly been superior, and he has the talent to pull it off. Federer should demolish him though.
13 seed Gael Monfils, a former semifinalist in Paris, and a fan favorite, will take on Edouard Roger-Vasselin. ERV has lost three straight, and he’s poor on clay, while Monfils was a semifinalist in both Monte Carlo, and Bucharest. Presuming Gael is heathy, which is always a question mark, he should beat ERV and the Diego Schwartzman/Andreas Haider-Maurer winner in round 2 to reach the third round. DSS/AHM is an interesting first round match that just missed my cut for matches to watch, mostly because AHM has lost three straight after previously reaching an ATP semi (Rio) and quarterfinal (Casablanca) on clay, and winning two matches in Monte Carlo. Istanbul semifinalist Schwartzman, who retired in his last match in Rome, and is a rising young gun, who has a steady compact game built for clay, should win that matchup, before falling to Monfils. DSS is promising, but I don’t think he has the weapons in his arsenal to beat the speedy and defensively sound Monfils.
A big second round match is likely to take place between Dominic Thiem, and 21 seed Pablo Cuevas. Thiem won the title in Nice, thus fatigue might play a factor in his performance, but he’s still likely to defeat Aljaz Bedene in round 1. Bedene did win the Rome challenger on clay, and reached a quarterfinal in Casablanca on the surface, so he’s improving, but likely not up to Thiem’s level. Thiem is 8-2 since struggling in the early part of the clay court season, as he seems to has found his rhythm, and his fitness right when he needed to do so for Paris. Cuevas won an ATP title in Sao Paulo on clay this year, and has two quarterfinals and a final, that one coming in Istanbul, on the surface in 2015. His form has been up and down, but credit to him for building up his ranking into a seed worthy player, and though he’s unlikely to threaten the top names, he’s a reliable dirtballer. Thiem and Cuevas hae never met, but with Thiem likely to be fatigued, I have Cuevas reaching the third round to face off with Monfils, Thiem is the flashier pick but Cuevas deserves his due, and Thiem has been hard to trust this season. A healthy Monfils should be favored other Thiem or Cuevas to reach the round of 16.
8 seed Stan Wawrinka will open with Turkish #1 Marsel Ilhan, Wawrinka has had a very shaky 2015 and is just 6-4 on clay this year. He comes off a bad loss to Delbonis in Geneva, a home tournament, and his only good result on clay this year was the semifinals in Rome, where he got routed by Federer, after beating Nadal. No matter the reasons for his struggles in 2015, I’m bearish on his chances in Paris, but not in his first two matches, as Ilhan and either Dusan Lajovic or Maximo Gonzalez are not difficult opponents who have the game to beat Stan the man. Lajovic was a quarterfinalist in Nice, while Gonzalez has lost three straight matches. Wawrinka really shouldn’t drop a set going in the first two rounds, but with his current poor form, he may do that.
In the third round, Wawrinka could face the opponent that shocked him in Paris last year, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. The all-court, multi tool Spaniard, who has two ATP titles this year, one coming on clay, along with a semifinal in Estoril, as he has put together a solid campaign thus far, will open with American Steve Johnson. Johnson is a respectable 3-5 on clay this spring, and he’s improving on the surface, but I give him little chance against an experienced dirtballer like GGL. GGL should likewise breeze past a player who isn’t comfortable on clay in round 2, either Sergiy Stakhovsky or Ricardas Berankis. Stako has lost two straight, and is 0-3 in the h2h against Rycka, but Berankis has lost three straight and been in terrible form for a couple of months now. I have GGL over Stako for a spot in the third round in my bracket.
Wawrinka has had the edge over GGL on other surfaces, but on clay their h2h is an even 3-3, and GGL has won two of their last three meetings. Wawrinka showed no signs of improvement in Geneva, and the Rome win over Nadal feels more like an aberration than anything else, to me the writing is on the wall that he’s going to struggle here, and I have GGL booting him out again for a spot in the round of 16, this would also avenge GGL’s loss to Wawrinka the AO this January.
Pouille/Simon will take on Tiafoe/Klizan in round 2, As mentioned up at the top of the preview, I have Pouille upsetting Simon, and then Klizan edging Tiafoe, setting up that second rounder. If Simon is healthy enough, he should be fine to reach round 3, and I don’t trust Klizan’s health either, while Tiafoe and Pouille lack experience. I have Pouille making a shock run to round 3 in my bracket, but this is the hardest section to pick in my mind, with Simon and Klizan having question marks.
This is by far the worst section of the draw, as just above it, the seed is Ernests Gulbis, who only has two wins this season and a bunch of losses, he defends semifinal points, and will open with qualifier Igor Sijsling, who broke a six match losing streak to qualify, and is a known choker. Gulbis could well crash and burn, but I don’t see Sijsling beating him honestly, and thus I have him into round 2 against the winner of Nicolas Mahut/Kimmer Coppejans. Coppejans is a promising 21 year old Belgian, while Mahut is 33, outside the top 100, and nearly retired. The serve and volleyer isn’t at his best on clay, and he has two straight losses. Coppejans recently won a title, and reached a final on clay at the challenger level and was strong in qualifying.
I have Coppejans defeating Mahut, and then upsetting Gulbis to reach round 3, it’s a risky pick, and Coppejans hasn’t blossomed as much as he could results wise, though he has the skills, because his mental fortitude is lacking, but I’m giving the young Belgian his due here, in such a weak section. I have Coppejans beating Pouille to reach the round of 16 as a qualifier, because he has a h2h win against him on clay, and his recent form has been slightly better, either way I give Pouille/Coppejans/Tiafoe a better shot at reaching the second week than the seed Gulbis. Given that he was a semifinalist last year, that’s shocking, but it demonstrates how far he’s fallen, and the young guns are rising.
Dark Horses (one for each quarter of the draw): Borna Coric, Jiri Vesely, Thomaz Bellucci, Kimmer Coppejans/Lucas Pouille
Coric will need to rise up and find the form that pushed him to semifinal runs in Basel and Dubai, but his run to the semis in Nice shows form and promise, and Dimitrov has been shown to be beatable this season. if Grisha slips up look for Coric to seize the day and reach the second week to do battle with Rafa, who he of course has beaten before.
Vesely will have a tricky path to week 2, as he will need to defeat Mayer, and probably Cilic, but when he’s in-form he’s a great player and he can pull that off, it’s really just a matter of which Jiri shows up. Don’t count him out for the round of 16.
Bellucci has been in tremendous form in recent weeks, fatigue could play a factor, as will mentality, but if he keeps the mojo flowing, and battles past Nishikori he could go as far as the quarterfinals. It’s not likely, but he has perhaps the most range, in terms of result, of any of the non-seeded players.
I see Coppejans or Pouille reaching the second week in a weak section, would be a career result for either player, the section is theirs for the taking, depending on which one players their best. Pouille is the slightly better aggressor, while Coppejans is more defensively sound.
Week 1 Predictions (round of 16 matchups)
Djokovic d. Gasquet in 3 Nadal d. Dimitrov in 3
Djokovic dominates the h2h against Gasquet and has two wins on clay against him, I see no reason why he won’t reach the quarterfinals, and he probably doesn’t drop a set in the process. Nadal is 6-0 against Dimitrov with 3 wins on clay, and he just beat him in Madrid in routine fashion. This is Nadal at the French, and Dimitrov has not looked like a star this year, so again Rafa could reach the quarters without dropping a set.
Murray d. Isner in 3 Ferrer d. Cilic in 4
Murray is 4-0 against Isner, including a big Davis Cup win this year, this is also clay, and Murray has a great return game, so given form and matchup, Murray in 3 or 4 sets is a safe pick. Ferrer and Cilic have a split h2h on clay, but Ferrer has been in way better form this season, so he should reach the quarters, and I believe he would beat Cilic in 3 or 4 sets.
Nishikori d. Bautista Agut in 3 Berdych d. Tsonga in 3
Nishikori has beaten RBA twice this season on clay, and three times overall, if he gets this far, I don’t see him losing before the quarterfinals as it’s a bad matchup for the Spaniard. Berdych is 7-2 against Tsonga, and just beat him in Madrid on clay, these players have been entirely divergent in terms of form in 2015, and Berdych has been strong for players the caliber that Tsonga is at right now.
Garcia-Lopez d. Coppejans in 3 Federer d. Monfils in 5
GGL or Wawrinka should simply be superior to any player that gets out of the section below them, thus it’s a great shot a slam quarterfinal for Garcia-Lopez. Monfils upset Federer in Monte Carlo and has beaten him the past two times on clay without dropping a set, that said, Federer has won both of their matches at Roland Garros, and in a best of 5 format in a Grand Slam, I give him the edge for experience alone. I don’t feel Monfils can maintain his focus and consistency long enough to win a match like that, and will give up a break in the end to put Federer through.
Picking the rest of the way
Djokovic d. Nadal in 4
The final before the final will happen in the top half men’s quarterfinal if Nadal and Djokovic meet as expected. The debate since the clay court season began in earnest in Monte Carlo has been swirling as to whether Rafa or Novak would win a best of 5 match this year at Roland Garros. Djokovic beat Nadal rather routinely in Monte Carlo, a venue that Rafa has an amazing record at, and he has won two of their last three meetings on clay. That said Nadal is 6-0 at the French Open against Novak, and he’s only been pushed to five sets one time (The 2013 semifinals). Many have said that Nadal is simply a different beast at RG, and no matter his form, or how well Novak is playing, there is a mental and surface factor that will always give Nadal an edge when they meet on Chatrier.
I’m apt to disagree, as the Rafa of late 2014/2015 has been a totally different beast, a neutered beast compared to his previous self, including on clay. He has look abysmal and lost at times on the surface this year, and it’s not that his opponents have just outplayed him, it’s that he’s beaten himself, spewing errors, and lacking confidence and consistency. He showed flashes of brilliance in Monte Carlo against Novak but he couldn’t maintain that level and the defensive skills, returning and pushing of Djokovic proved too much for him. Novak has been a total machine this year, especially when it’s mattered against the big four, and late in tournaments. I have a feeling that the world #1 is unstoppable right now, and he should be rested and motivated. If he is ever to win Roland Garros, this is his time with Nadal clearly limping into the tournament and out of the top 5. This matchup is relatively even and both guys know each other well, but the form of Novak, and his tenacity should be able to edge out Rafa, and I don’t even think it will be that close, as I have Novak winning in four sets. Soderling was the only one to beat Nadal at RG, but I don’t see it staying that way this year. Djokovic has been better able to handle intense pressure in recent months, than Nadal has, and I feel the Spaniard is under more pressure with his ranking under the threat of collapse, than Djokovic is right now, given that he’s dominating the fast surfaces and winning almost every tournament that he enters, along with baffling his other rivals Federer and Murray.
Murray d. Ferrer in 4
Murray is 0-4 against Ferrer on clay, so this would be another pick that would buck the head to head trend, but again, Murray has been in excellent form as of late, and he’s performed very well in the big tournaments. He seems to be swinging freely, he’s healthy, and also in excellent spirits with his new marriage and all. Ferrer is a solid player, but against top players, his approach is more to grind and let them beat themselves, as he lacks the weapons to outright win against a big four player. Murray has reached the semis twice before, and I don’t see reason why he won’t do so for a third time this year. His clay court game seems to finally be blossoming as he beat Nishikori and Nadal on the surface in Madrid.
Berdych d. Nishikori in 5
Nishikori is 3-1 against Berdych, but Tomas won their only match on clay (Monte Carlo 2012), additionally, Berdych has not lost to a player outside of the big four except to Wawrinka in Rotterdam, he’s been incredibly reliable this year, almost machinelike, and Kei is good on clay, and he’s been fine, but he hasn’t been up to that same level, my perception is Berdych has an extra gear right now that will push him through in this battle.
Federer d. Garcia-Lopez in 3
Federer is 3-0 against GGL, and I see no reason why the Federer/Monfils winner won’t reach the quarters, even if Wawrinka gets this far, he was awful against Federer in Rome, so regardless this should be perhaps the most routine quarterfinal, as all of the quarterfinals look promising this year.
Djokovic d. Murray in 4
Federer d. Berdych in 3
Djokovic is 2-0 against Murray on clay, and hasn’t lost to him since he had back surgery, they have met three times this year, all on hard courts and the set score was 7-2, given this is clay, if Novak gets this far, I don’t see a way he loses to Murray unless Nadal simply puts him in a wheelchair in a quarterfinal grindfest. If it’s Nadal that gets to this point, I’d actually give Murray a decent chance at reaching the final, but against Djokovic, even as a Murray fan, I have no belief that he can win right now.
Federer has thrashed Berdych twice this year without dropping a set including in Rome on clay. Federer is 4-0 against Tomas on clay, and has only lost a set to him, and that was on fast and slippery blue clay in Madrid. Berdych has been excellent and tenacious against non-big four players this season, but he’s been toothless against the games elite, and I don’t see that changing here, it’s a mental block more than anything else as to why.
Djokovic d. Federer in 4
Djokovic just routined Federer in Rome, and he’s won three of their last four meetings on clay, in a best of 5 set format, Djokovic, because of his superior stamina, especially on clay where it will be harder for the older Federer to shorten points, has the advantage these days. Federer can’t be written off, but Djokovic is more likely to win his first French Open, than Federer is to win his second. He’s the oddsmakers favorite, and I’m going with Djokovic to win the 2015 French Open, if he wins it this time, it will be a well deserved and well earned victory.