French Open 2016: Last Frenchman Standing

After the first week of play at the French capital and the completion of 112 matches, we are down to the last 16 men standing in contention for the 2nd Grandslam of the year. Of more importance to the thousands of French fans that flock the tournament annually, would be the fact that there is a French player still in the mix. In many ways, he is the prodigal son of a nation that bestowed fame on him at a very early age.

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Richard Gasquet was burdened with the expectations of an entire nation even before he reached double digits in age and many tennis experts and fans alike would say he has not achieved anywhere close to those expectations. He has now reached the final 16 at his home slam for the 5th time in the last 6 editions and will be hoping to go a few more rounds.

While that narrative will be the big story of the second sunday of the French Open, there is enough action to keep the tennis fans interested in the proceedings at Roland Garros. Let’s take a look at the 4 pre-quarterfinal matches lined up for tomorrow:

1 Richard Gasquet (FRA) [9] vs Kei Nishikori (JPN) [5]

Gasquet’s quest for a first quarterfinal at his home slam faces a big obstacle in the form of the rampant Japanese No.1 Kei Nishikori. Nishikori has had an impressive run during the clay season making the semifinals at both Madrid and Rome and being the finalist in Barcelona.

Given that only Djokovic and Nadal have been able to stop Nishikori this season, Gasquet’s battle tomrrow becomes that much more tough. Nishikori has beaten Gasquet in straight sets in both their encounters during the clay tournaments, this year. At Madrid and then at Rome, the 2014 US Open finalist scored straightforward victories over Gasquet, on his way to the semifinals.

That, then, is the bad news for Gasquet. The good news is that he had a string of 6 wins over Nishikori prior to those match-ups. It is these numbers and matches that Gasquet and his team will hope to research in an attempt to impose the patterns that worked for them, in the match on Philippe Chatrier, tomorrow.

Another advantage for Gasquet is that he is more of a natural on the red clay than Nishikori is. The super talented Frenchman will have to use his versatile single-handed backhand to create angles and rallies to break Nishikori’s rhythm and control what would be a good number of long rallies.

Prediction: Gasquet has looked very impressive through the first three rounds and is yet to drop a set. Nishikori has navigated his tricky section with a hiccup against Verdasco and while he has halted Gasquet’s winning streak against him, I believe Gasquet will open up some old wounds, with the French crowd roaring for him. Gasquet in 4 tough sets.

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2. Andy Murray (GBR) [2] vs John Isner (USA) [15]

Murray has has quite a roller coaster ride thus far at the French Open. His first two rounds, which many expected to be smooth sailing, turned out to be marathon affairs. His 3rd round against Karlovic was a walk in the park, compared to those two matches. Murray and his fans will be hoping the match against Karlovic, who is a player similar to Isner, will have Murray in control of this match.

As against Karlovic, Murray has never lost to Isner and he will need his best game to ensure it remains so. Isner has used his big serve and booming forehand to wrestle his way to the pre-quarterfinals, but he will need to play his best tennis of the season to take Murray down, on Sunday.

This is a match-up that favours Murray on the slower surface, but Isner with the huge serve will always have a say in the match. Murray will need to be up for it from the moment the ball is in play and the Karlovic match might be a good indicator that Murray has turned the corner and has settled in for the long haul in the French capital.

Prediction: Murray has always figured his way past the big servers, and playing Karlovic in the previous round should hold him in good stead against Isner. Murray in 4 sets.

3. Stan Wawrinka (SUI) [3] vs Victor Troicki (SRB) [22]

As with Murray, Wawrinka seems to have overcome the early round jitters and looks good for another deep run at a slam. In Troicki, he will be facing an opponent, he hasn’t lost to in 4 matches, however he will still have to hit the ground running to make it 5 in a row against the hard hitting Serbian.

Their last two meetings have been competitive affairs with the Swiss 2 slam champion coming through after two tough sets.  Troicki has had an impressive run, taking out Dimitrov in a 5 set battle in the first round and following that up with a victory over local hope Gilles Simon.

This match could turn into a real nightmare for the 2008 Olympic Gold medalist, should he get into one of his erratic modes, as Troicki is one of those players who can run away with the match with his big serving and aggressive shot-making of both wings.

Prediction: Wawrinka seems to have found the path to keep erratic Stan away from the match, long enough for him to be victorious and when he is in that kind of form, it would be wise to stick with him Wawrinka in a maximum of 4 sets.

4. Milos Raonic (CAN) [8] vs Albert Ramos-Vinolas

Raonic has made use of a favourable draw and the heavy conditions that reduce the advantage of conventional dirt ball players, to get into the round of 16. He will need every bit of that form to get to the quarterfinals at the clay slam for the second time in 3 years.

Ramos-Vinolas had his own turn of luck when the 10th seeded Marin Cilic was upset in the first round by the Italian Trungelliti. His last round match was all about the capability of this left handed Spaniard as he took down Jack Sock and his mighty forehand in 5 well fought sets.

They have only played once before and never before on clay and for what it was worth, Raonic won that hard fought 4 setter on a hardcourt. That was more than 3 years back and both the players are vastly improved players today and that could only mean a better quality match from a spectator point of view.

Prediction: Ramos-Vinolas has the better suited game to the condition that the red clay presents, however Raonic has demonstrated enough chops on the slower surface over the past few years. He definitely seems ready to do battle on the surface with the best of them and I think he will be ready for Ramos-Vinolas’ natural clay expertise. Raonic will win this match in 4 tough sets.

Prakash Potukuchi [ Prakash is the co-founder of Sportz Cosmos. He tweets here.]

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