The French Open will be upon us before the conclusion of the weekend, and there are some early tests for big players. Key matches through the draw (top to bottom)have been selected for
Top seed Andy Murray faces what many might suggest is a difficult first round opponent in Andrey Kuznetsov. Certainly, that may have been the case last year. This year the Russian is struggling. He has won consecutive matches in a main draw ATP event just twice this year. He took Kei Nishikori to five exciting sets in the Australian Open. Nishikori was hurt though through much of the tournament. Therefore though Murray may not have a lot of confidence at present, it likely his opponent does not have much either.
Murray’s potential seeded meeting in the third round is Juan Martin del Potro, a tough task on any surface. However, del Potro has been suffering from a shoulder injury and the other tough player in Murray’s section, Nicolas Almagro, has not played since Rome. The Spaniard was forced to retire with a painful looking knee injury against Rafael Nadal.
Nadal himself has one of the most awkward first round matches. Benoit Paire is amongst the most inconsistent players, capable of stunning tennis that has seen him defeat Stan Wawrinka, or ugly matches where he loses quickly. Nadal’s confidence is likely at its highest point since he last won in Paris, having claimed titles in Madrid and Barcelona. Nadal knows Paire’s strengths and weaknesses and though it should be an enjoyable watch, it should also be a quick one.
Undoubtedly the meeting of the first round is that between ninth seed Alexander Zverev and Fernando Verdasco. Zverev won the most recent clay Masters in Rome. Whilst Verdasco is a former Grand Slam semi-finalist at the 2009 Australian Open, his form has fluctuated since. Yet the Spaniard is known for being one of the few to seriously trouble Nadal on clay on his day. Zverev has proven his ability to win in best of three set matches against the top players, but has yet to seriously prove it in five. This is just the kind of match that a dialled in Verdasco would enjoy. Zverev’s section is tough, with Madrid semi-finalist and clay specialist Pablo Cuevas potentially a hard third-round match.
Looking to the next section, Kei Nishikori has arguably a favourable draw. He starts against Thanasi Kokkinakis on his return from injury. Sam Querrey is his seeded opponent in round three and the American has historically performed poorly on European clay. However, Querrey has displayed a confidence in the last twelve months befitting his younger self that climbed into the top 20, and he was within a whisker of defeating Dominic Thiem in Rome. A tougher potential match than some might expect.
Former winner Stan Wawrinka starts against the qualifier Jozef Kovalik. On paper everything points to a Wawrinka win. But this is Kovalik’s surface, and though the Slovak has struggled on hard courts he does have a win against Marin Cilic this year. Stan does have a history of losing early in events to unlikely players in ATP events. The Swiss is a different story entirely at slams though. Complacency cannot be present though, as an off-key Wawrinka could quickly see things go downhill against Kovalik. A much tougher match than it looks.
Frances Tiafoe is one of the hottest players on the Challenger circuit this season, with two titles at that level on clay this year, including one in Aix-en-Provence. It has seen his ranking surge into the Top 70. Fabio Fognini remains one of the best at being consistently inconsistent. The Italian can perhaps only be rivalled in that department by Benoit Paire, and formerly Ernests Gulbis. As improved and talented as Tiafoe is, this match probably rests on Fognini and his mental state. Fognini on song will leave Tiafoe packing his bags early. Anything else and the American probably wins this one.
Richard Gasquet has another qualifier. Like Wawrinka’s match though, Arthur de Greef is not an easy prospect. A strong showing in Bordeaux and qualifying. Gasquet has only played two events since late February after injuries, and results have not been great. Defeats to Yuichi Sugita and Kevin Anderson on clay suggest the Frenchman is not at his best yet. Also, while Gasquet’s backhand remains a thing of beauty, his forehand is not packing a punch that it once did and the Frenchman has vulnerabilities in his game that certainly did not exist two or three years ago.
How could matches be previewed and not include Dustin Brown vs Gael Monfils? The most entertaining match for pure shotmaking at least is sure to be the German’s match with a home favourite. This surface does no good for Brown, whose amazing reflexes and turns are suited for fast grass not slow clay. Monfils can work this surface and will likely have enough firepower and defensive flexibility to make this a quick, if exciting encounter.
It has been a slow year for Philipp Kohlschreiber. A final appearance in a weak draw in Morocco has helped the veteran German flatter to deceive for the most part in 2017. He gave the tennis world one of the most exciting matches of the year to date when he nearly took out World No.1 Andy Murray in Dubai. Kohlschreiber has a tendency to falter later in matches though. He has a chance against Nick Kyrgios, who has been discussing injury issues. If Kohlschreiber can use his wide-sweeping backhand to good effect and keep Kyrgios from his attacking game then the veteran German can do well. A tough draw for Kyrgios.
Feliciano Lopez is unseeded in a slam for the first time in years. The veteran Spaniard’s age is finally catching up with him, and he faces a tough qualifier in Bjorn Fratangelo. Like his famous namesake Fratangelo is most at home on clay and is a former Roland Garros Junior winner. These two met in Houston. However, the faster American clay suited Lopez, whereas the slower French clay suits Fratangelo.
Other potential seeded shocks include Gilles Simon’s match with Nikoloz Basilashvili. The Frenchman seems on a slow decent from a ranking that has stayed inside the Top 30 for much of the last decade. Ivo Karlovic typically has short runs in Paris, and he faces a young Greek star Stefanos Tsitsipas who will fancy his chances.
Jelena Ostapenko cruises into the second round with a straight-set win over Petra Martic in Ostrava
Former Roland Garros champion and world number 44 Jelena Ostapenko cruised past number 5 seed Petra Martic 6-3 6-1 after 57 minutes to reach the second round at J&T Banka Ostrava Open.
Martic won her previous two head-to-head matches against Ostapenko at Indian Wells in 2018 and in Birmingham in 2019.
Ostapenko has scored her milestone 20th career over a top-20 rival. The Latvian player hit 30 winners to 15 unforced errors.
Martic got an early break in the first game and consolidated it with a hold of serve to take a 2-0 lead. Ostapenko saved two break points and held serve for 1-2 before breaking serve with a forehand passing shot in the fourth game to draw level to 2-2. The Latvian player reeled off five consecutive games to open up a 5-2 lead. Martic held serve to claw her way back to 3-5. Ostapenko served out the set at love. Ostapenko hit 20 winners to 10 unforced errors.
Ostapenko got an early break with a forehand crosscourt winner. The 2017 French Open champion went up a double break and hit a series of forehand winners to race out to a 4-0 lead extending her winning streak to five consecutive games. Martic held serve in the fifth game to close the gap to 1-4. Ostapenko held serve easily to build up a 5-1 lead with a crosscourt backhand winner. In the next game Ostapenko earned two match points, as Martic hit the netcord with a dropshot and closed out the match with a forehand down the line.
“I think I played really well well today. I just got used to playing the first couple of games, but then I played really well and I did not give her any chances to play her game, and I made so many winners. I played very smart and also used dropshots and mixed it up a little bit, which helped me, but in the deciding moments I was still aggressive. I knew Martic was going to make a lot of balls in play and I would have to be very focused and very consistent to beat her”, said Ostapenko.
Maria Sakkari reaches her third quarter final of the season in Ostrava
Maria Sakkari got through to her third quarter final of the season after beating Elina Svitolina 6-3 6-3 at the J&T Banka Open in Ostrava with five breaks and 32 winners.
Sakkari has already reached two quarter finals in 2020 in St. Petersburg and at the Western and Southern Open in New York and scored the fourth win of her career against a top 5 player.
Sakkari went up a 3-0 lead with a double break. Svitolina pulled one of the two breaks back in the fourth game to claw his way back to 1-3. Sakkari converted his third break point in the eighth game to win the first set 6-3.
Svitolina earned her first break in the third game of the second set to take a 2-1 lead. Sakkari battled to deuce four times and converted her third break points in a marathon fourth game to draw level to 2-2. Sakkari earned another brek to open up a 5-3 lead to close out the match after 1 hour and 16 minutes.
“Obviously winning against a player like Elina, the way I played I think that made me happy today. I think playing like me gives me a lot of confidence. Getting another top 5 win is very important for me. When I was starting my career, I had people telling me that I cannot play indoors. I think it was a big mistake listening to them. I have beaten very good indoor players in St. Petersburg and here in Ostrava. I have developed my game in a way that I can now be dangerous indoor sas well. My serve is big, and I am playing a little bit more aggressive. So I am super happy. I have proved these people wrong”, said Sakkari.
Grigor Dimitrov rallies from one set down to beat Pablo Andujar in Antwerp
Grigor Dimitrov came back from one set down to beat Pablo Andujar 4-6 6-3 6-4 at the European Open in Antwerp.
Andujar earned the break in the ninth game to win the first set 6-4. Dimitrov went up an early break in the second game to take the second set 6-3. The Bulgarian player raced out to a 4-1 lead with a double break in the decider. Andujar pulled one break back in the sixth game for 2-4. Dimitrov saved four match points in the eighth game to hold serve at deuce and converted his first match point in the 10th game to win the third set 6-4.
Ugo Humbert came back from one set down to beat this year’s US Open semifinalist Pablo Carreno Busta 5-7 6-3 6-4 after 2 hours and 33 minutes Humbert earned an early break in the second game of the opening set to build up a 5-2 lead. Carreno Busta fought back by winning five consecutive games with two breaks in the ninth and eleventh games to win the first set 7-5.
Humbert saved four break points in the fifth game before breaking serve in the eighth game to win the second set sending the match to the third set. Humbert fended off four break points at 2-3 in the third set and broke serve to love to take a 5-4 lead, when Carreno Busta made three consecutive groundstroke errors. Humbert has improved his win-loss record to 18-11 and won the ASB Classic title in Auckland last January. The Frenchman scored the biggest win of his career when he beat Danil Medvedev in the Hamburg quarter final.
Humbert will face either US Taylor Fritz or South African qualifier Lloyd Harris. Fritz dropped six of his first service points in his 7-6 (7-5) 6-1 win over his compatriot Reilly Opelka.
Milos Raonic beat Aljaz Bedene 6-3 7-6 (7-4) in 86 minutes setting up a second round match against Cameron Norrie. Bedene fended off two match points, when he was serving at 5-6 15-40 to force the second set to the tie-break. Raonic rallied from 1-3 down to win the tie-break 7-4. The Canadian player reached the final at the Western and Southern Open in New York and lost to Borna Coric in the semifinal in St. Petersburg.
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