2014 French Open Week 1 Men’s Preview, Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast
The pinnacle of the clay court season, Roland Garros in Paris is upon us. Here is a preview of the 2014 edition of the tournament, which is more wide open than in previous years.
May 25-June 8, 2014
Prize Money: € 11,552,000
Top 8 seeds
1: Rafael Nadal
2: Novak Djokovic
3: Roger Federer
4: Stan Wawrinka
5: David Ferrer
6: Tomas Berdych
7: Andy Murray
8: Milos Raonic
Of the ATP top 50, only the long-term injured Juan Martin Del Potro and Florian Mayer are out of the tournament.
1st round matchups to watch:
Dominic Thiem vs. Paul Henri Mathieu
The new Austrian number one is making his French Open debut against the crafty veteran PHM, who will be playing in front of a partisan French crowd. PHM has a habit for five setters in Paris (8 five set matches in his career at RG). He isn’t the player he once was and he could very well push Thiem the distance. PHM isn’t in any specifically notable form, and Thiem was poor this week in Nice, losing in 3 to Gilles Simon after nearly losing to Steve Johnson in 3 in the first round. Still, Thiem is talented and he has had a super year, qualifying for enough ATP tournaments that he was able to get direct entry for RG. I expect him to advance.
(32)Andreas Seppi vs. Santiago Giraldo
Seppi is seeded but Giraldo should be the favorite in this match as he has been in super form this clay court season. In consecutive weeks, he reached the semis in Houston, the final in Barcelona and the quarterfinals in Madrid as a qualifier. He retired in the first round after qualifying in Rome, though. Seppi is just 1-3 in his last four and hasn’t done anything special this season. He’s a reliable clay court vet and he could outlast Giraldo if the Colombian’s make or break attacking style of play comes up empty. Still, I expect Santi to get through and continue his good form, as working with former RG semifinalist Fernando Gonzalez seems to be paying off for him.
(3)Stan Wawrinka vs. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez
Wawrinka has had some up and down moments this season, but the Monte Carlo (and Australian Open) champion remains one of the top faves for the final. He will have perhaps a challenging test in the first round against the all- court Spanish vet GGL, who he is just 3-2 h2h against on clay. Wawrinka easily won a meeting last year, however, and the 2013/14 version of Wawrinka is a much improved player from the prior version. GGL won Casablanca and made the quarters in Monte Carlo but he has slowed down since, and taking a set off Wawrinka would be a success.
(Q)Damir Dzumhur vs.(26) Feliciano Lopez
The qualifier Dzumhur made his grand slam debut at the AO this year, where he reached the third round as a qualifier. He has a great chance to add more main draw wins to his career slam record this time, as Lopez is struggling, especially on clay. Feli is just 4-5 on the surface this year, while Dzumhur won a challenger on it this spring. Dzumhur is an underdog, but I think he will pull this off and knock the veteran Spaniard out in the first round.
(12)Richard Gasquet vs. Bernard Tomic
Gasquet hasn’t played any clay tournaments this season because of a back injury, while Tomic is still working back from a thigh injury. Both players should be in poor form and rusty, at least at first. All that said, Tomic has at least a puncher’s chance of upsetting Gasquet, even on clay, given he has seen more match practice. He took a set off Martin Klizan in Nice most recently. Someone has to win this match, and I’m not sure who, especially if Gasquet is rushing back because he’s French in Paris and isn’t truly ready to get back at it.
(15)Mikhail Youzhny vs. Pablo Carreno Busta
A tough match to pick, even with the ranking discrepancy: Youzhny has had a terrible season and is just 3-5 on clay this year, while PCB lost in the Dusseldorf opening round and isn’t in great form either, though he is good on clay. Depending on which version of these players shows up, we could be in for a 5 set war or a straight set drubbing. Youzhny has been so poor this season, intuition makes me want to pick PCB in 4.
Lukas Rosol vs. Jiri Vesely
Their only meeting was a 3 setter in a challenger last year on clay and the young Czech Vesely prevailed over his Davis Cup teammate Rosol. Now they meet on a larger stage and it’s a match to watch. Rosol is a competitive 7-4 on clay this season, while Vesely comes off semis in Dusseldorf where he found some good form. This one could go either way, but I lean towards the experience of Rosol to get through in 4 or 5 sets.
Rafa has struggled all clay court season by his standards with just one, rather lucky, title coming in Madrid. He’s still the favorite for the title given he’s an 8 time champion here and has won the last four French Opens.
He faces USTA wild card winner Robby Ginepri first, then Mathieu/Thiem, and I’d enjoy a Thiem-Nadal battle in round 2. It could be a good form test for Rafa and a good gut-check match for the young Thiem. Round 3 should be a weaker match for Rafa, as the out of form Vasek Pospisil is the seed, while Teymuraz Gabashvili, Leo Mayer and qualifier James Duckworth are the other options. Gaba has had a career year, but he hasn’t been special recently, while Mayer comes off quarters in Nice. Nadal should be able to find his way into the round of 16 and hopes to not drop a set.
Houston finalist and Barcelona semifinalist Nicolas Almagro looks for revenge against Jack Sock, this time on favorable clay, in round 1, and then should face Steve Johnson (who faces qualifier Laurent Lokoli in round 1). Almagro is the 21 seed and beat Sock in Houston this year. A big test should come against 16 seed Tommy Haas, who has good history in Paris in round 3, a quarterfinalist last year. Haas could have some trouble as his shoulder has been bothering him all season and he retired in his last match in Rome. Haas is 3-0 against Almagro, but I have it as Almagro vs. Nadal in the round of 16. Haas faces Jurgen Zopp in round 1, then Nice finalist Federico Delbonis in round 2, assuming Delbonis beats Dusan Lajovic.
Defending finalist David Ferrer faces Igor Sijsling in round 1, then challenger star Simone Bolleli or qualifier Andrea Arnaboldi in round 2. Ferrer’s first real test should come against Giraldo in round 3, as after Seppi, the Colombian faces Lucas Pouille or a struggling Juan Monaco. Ferrer is 3- 0 against Giraldo and 2-0 on clay and his style matches well with the aggressive shotmaker. Ferrer should make the round of 16.
11 seed Grigor Dimitrov faces Ivo Karlovic, the finalist in Dusseldorf in round 1. Dimitrov beat Karlovic in Rome recently on clay and has a clay title in Bucharest and a masters semi on clay in Rome on his record this season. He should cruise into round 3 as his round 2 opponent is qualifier Andreas Haider-Maurer or Daniel Brands. This is Brands first tournament back since having Mono. Dimitrov, in fact, seems a safe favorite for the round of 16 as his round 3 opponent, one of Kevin Anderson/Stephane Robert/Axel Michon/Bradley Klahn are all entirely unimposing. It could be any of them in round 3, as that section seems like easy points.
Wawrinka/Garcia-Lopez will face a very easy opponent on clay in round 2, in the form of Rendy Lu or Adrian Mannarino. Following that will be one of Dzumhur/Lopez/Donald Young/Dudi Sela in round 3. It’s a weak section and I’m picking Dzumhur for round 3, and Wawrinka easily in the round of 16.
A struggling 14 seed Fabio Fognini faces qualifier Andreas Beck before Benjamin Becker or Thomaz Bellucci in round 2. Fognini is terribly inconsistent right now, and if Bellucci could somehow find form I could see him in round 3.
For now I’m going with Fabio. 23 seed Gael Monfils continues to struggle to stay healthy, but plays well at RG and pulled out of Nice last week. He faces Victor Hanescu, then Albano Olivetti/JL Struff andthen probably Fognini.
I expect Monfils to defeat his fellow showman if he’s healthy, though that circus match could go either way. Fognini won a crazy 3 setter in Indian Wells this year against Monfils and also a 5 setter in the dark at the ’09 French (2-1 career on clay). They love to get in each other’s head.
Andy Murray made quarters in Rome, and though he isn’t a great clay court player, he may finally be turning the corner this season back into his top 5 form. With his first two opponents as Andrey Golubev and Marinko Matosevic/Dustin Brown, he still should make round 3 no matter what, as their is nothing notable to mention about any of those 3 on clay. In round 3, Murray could face Dusseldorf champion Philipp Kohlschreiber, who has been poor for stretches this season but found form the past two weeks, and could be tired but challenging none the less. Kohli faces Pere Riba then Sergiy Stakhovsky or Denis Istomin. Istomin has had a strong clay season with two quarters and a semi and he lost to Kohlschreiber in 3 in the Dusseldorf semis. Given Kohli should be tired and Istomin less of a possible challenge, I think Murray makes the round of 16.
Gasquet/Tomic faces Lleyton Hewitt or Carlos Berlocq in round 2, and I like the Estoril champion Berlocq to make the third round. Hewitt, Tomic and Gasquet are all rusty or outright struggling, though Hewitt can battle. 24 seed Fernando Verdasco isn’t in the best of form, but he has a weak section with with Michael Llodra first then Matt Ebden/Pablo Cuevas and a third round meeting with Berlocq would be up in the air. Berlocq won the only clay meeting last year in Bastad. I think he will reach the second week.
Fed returned from maternity leave and lost in round 1 in Rome to Jeremy Chardy, but he reached the Monte Carlo final and has a very strong comeback season. It’s hard to predict how he will do here. All that said, the 2009 champion should be able to ease into things against Lukas Lacko in round 1 and qualifiers Gastao Elias or Diego Sebastian Schwartzman in round 2. Federer should find round 3 to be a refreshing opponent as well as Dmitry Tursunov/Potito Starace/Filippo Volandri/Sam Querrey await, all poor on clay or way out of form. Fed should reach the round of 16 by virtue of his weak draw.
PCB/Youzhny will face Radek Stepanek/Facundo Arguello in round 2, and one of Ernests Gulbis/Lukasz Kubot/Julien Benneteau/Facundo Bagnis in round 3. Gulbis won the title in Nice and though he may be tired, I think he will get through, with PCB reaching round 3.
6 seed Tomas Berdych, a former semifinalist, will face Peter Polansky and then Somdev Devvarman or Aleksandr Nedovyesov in round 2. Berdych should be tested against Roberto Bautista Agut in round 3, however, as RBA has already beaten him on a hard court this year (2-1 overall h2h) and reached his first masters semi in Madrid on clay. The Spaniard has had a career year and I’m picking him to make the second week of his second straight slam and upset Berdych again. RBA must beat qualifier Paolo Lorenzi and Alejandro Falla/Benoit Paire in round 2. Paire has struggled all season.
Struggling 17 seed Tommy Robredo faces qualifier James Ward, and then probably Nice semifinalist Albert Montanes in round 2. Montanes must beat Kenny De Schepper first, and he has really struggled in the h2h against Robredo, so the higher ranked Spaniard should still make round 3, perhaps to face the boom or bust John Isner. Isner faces Pierre Hugues Herbert in round 1, then Nicolas Mahut or Mikhail Kukushkin. Isner and Robredo have never met on clay, and I just slightly lean Robredo.
The Rome champion Djokovic, who is looking to complete the career slam with an RG title, is the co-favorite this year. He faces Joao Sousa in round 1, then Jeremy Chardy or Daniel Gimeno-Traver and most likely Marin Cilic, who he has beaten this year in round 3. Cilic must beat Pablo Andujar and qualifier Miloslav Mecir/Tobias Kamke to get to that point. Expect Djokovic into the round of 16 having played 9 sets of tennis.
A semifinalist last year, 13 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga isn’t playing that well, but he gets a beatable opponent in the form of his countryman Edouard Roger-Vasselin in round 1. After that, he’ll see David Goffin/Jurgen Melzer in round 2. Tsonga is 3-1 against Melzer and Goffin hasn’t been good recently, so I still think Jo makes round 3.
In fact, I see Tsonga in the round of 16 simply because his round 3 opponent, one of Jarkko Nieminen/Michal Przysiezny/Victor Estrella/Jerzy Janowicz are weak. They are all in poor form, especially Polish players Przysiezny and Janowicz. I like Estrella to upset Janowicz in round 1 because Jerzy has been so poor recently.
Milos Raonic has had a strong, steady season: no titles and no finals but he comes off a semi in Rome and has four other quarterfinals this year. He opens with Nick Kyrgios who continues to improve but probably isn’t ready for peak red clay yet, then Rosol/Vesely in what is not the easiest round 2 matchup for such a high seed. 29 seed Gilles Simon has been terrible this year. He will face qualifier Ante Pavic round 1 and Alejandro Gonzalez/Michael Russell in round 2. His opponents are bad enough for him to get to round 3 to get blown out by Raonic.
Last but not least is the red hot Kei Nishikori, who won Barcelona and took a set off Nadal in the Madrid final before succumbing to injury. Three of his six (just 6!) losses this season have come against Nadal or Djokovic and he entered the top 10 for the first time in his career. Kei faces Martin Klizan, the Munich champion, first up and then Robin Haase/Nikolay Davydenko and one of Alex Dolgopolov/Albert Ramos/Marcel Granollers/Ivan Dodig in round 3.
As long as he’s healthy, expect Nishikori to blast through those opponents.
Dark Horses (1 per quarter): Santiago Giraldo, Carlos Berlocq, Roberto Bautista Agut, Kei Nishikori
Giraldo could make the fourth round were he to upset Ferrer and possibly the quarters if he really catches fire. Berlocq can make the second week and possibly the quarters should he beat Murray/Kohlschreiber. RBA could make the semis if he beats Federer, and Nishikori could make the final if he upsets Djokovic (and Federer/RBA).
Week 1 predictions (round of 16 matchups and picks)
Nadal d. Almagro
Dimitrov d. Ferrer
Wawrinka d. Monfils
Murray d. Berlocq
Bautista Agut d. Robredo
Federer d. Gulbis
Nishikori d. Raonic
Djokovic d. Tsonga
Almagro upset Nadal in Barcelona this year, one of those shock Nadal red clay losses this year that has made it unlike the others. Still, Nadal utterly dominates the h2h and this is best 3 out of 5 sets on clay, so I like Rafa to get through.
Ferrer is 2-0 on clay against Dimitrov and won in Monte Carlo in straights against him this year, but I just feel it’s Dimitrov’s time to break through and I’m putting him through.
Wawrinka is 3-2 against Monfils and has never met him on clay. As long as he plays ok, he should get past Monfils unless it’s peak Monfils, which is always possible.
I like Murray over Berlocq simply because of quality of play, while RBA beat Robredo in Madrid and I tip him to do so again here.
Federer should out-do a tired Gulbis, and Nishikori has been a little better than Raonic on clay this season. Milos could perhaps overpower him, something he failed to do so in Madrid losing in straights.
Djokovic should knife through Tsonga.
My Full Tournament Picks
Nadal d. Dimitrov
Wawrinka d. Murray
Federer d. Bautista Agut
Djokovic d. Nishikori
Nadal is 2-0 career on clay against Dimitrov and beat him at the AO this year in the best 3 out of 5 format. It could go 4 or 5, but Rafa probably has the edge.
Wawrinka is better on clay than Murray flat out.
RBA could beat Fed. It’s possible, but I can’t confidently pick it.
Djokovic should be tested by Nishikori, but I think he’s just too good for the Japanese number 1.
Nadal d. Wawrinka
Djokovic d. Federer
Look for Nadal to get some AO revenge. He’s 5-0 on clay career against Stan.
Fed did beat Novak in Monte Carlo, but coming off the maternity leave, Djokovic is more match ready and has otherwise done well in the h2h.
Djokovic d. Nadal
A repeat of the Rome final. Nadal has all the history on his side, but I just feel Novak has the momentum and he will finally earn the career slam against a weakened Nadal, who still isn’t playing like his usual self.