French Open 2016: The Calm And The Storm

This French Open has been a story of two halves. The bottom half has been fully action packed with a lot of 5 set matches and scares for the seeded players. The top half in contrast has been more routine with things going as expected and to form. Even the biggest news in the top-half thus far, Nadal’s withdrawal was announced when the bottom half was playing.

After a relatively quiet day by bottom-half of the draw standards, are we to expect a fiery day for the top half in their pre-quarterfinals on Monday? The matches that are on the menu, certainly give us hope.

1. Ferrer (ESP) [11] vs Berdych (CZE) [7]

Two former Grandslam finalists, two proven warriors and two players with titles in Paris (albeit, not on red clay). This has a classic written all over it. Ferrer is the more competitive of the two, while Berdych is the more gifted and has more arsenal at his disposal. Ferrer is the more accomplished of the two of them on the red clay, however the conditions should even the playing field.

Such contrasts promise us a delightful match tomorrow. Interstingly both these veterans started the tournament with a less than satisfactory clay court season, but something in the Paris air has got these two going and they have had a comfortable start to their quest for a maiden grandslam.

Ferrer’s path included one of the best matches in the top-half a 4 set slugfest against Juan Monaco. Having overcome that tough challenge, Ferrer seems to have settled down into some serious form, straightsetting his fellow countryman Feliciano Lopez.

Berdych had a tricky draw from the opening round onwards and given his last match before the French Open ( a 0, 0 beatdown from Goffin), one must say the talented Czech has handled things very well. His third round win was a quite-competitive 4 set tussle with Pablo Cuevas, who has been racking up some very important big wins on the dirt.

Prediction: As one would expect, their H2H is very close and given the weather conditions forecast, a prediction would be as good as a roll of dice. I will go with Berdych in 4 tough sets.

2. Ernests Gulbis (LAT) vs David Goffin (BEL) [12]

Goffin and Gulbis entered the fourth round in contrasting styles. Goffin with a hard fought 5 set win over proven clay court warrior Nicolas Almagro and Gulbis was trailing 2-5 when Tsonga had to unfortunately retire with a groin injury. That should not takeaway anything from Gulbis who has recorded straight set wins over formidable clay court players like Andreas Seppi and the 26th seeded Sousa.

Goffin has been putting together an impressive season with semifinals in back to back Masters 1000 during the American hard court season and this might be his opportunity to make a deep run at a slam – as this quarter has been thrown wild open by Nadal’s withdrawal.

From a match-up point of view, Gulbis has the more powerful ground strokes, however Goffin has the ability to take the ball on the rise, thereby depriving Gulbis of the time he requires to set up his shots. Gulbis will have to step up his rediscovered game to get through Goffin’s consistency and defence.

Prediction: Gulbis on his day can take down anyone, but given the seasons they have had thus far, I will take Goffin to win this in 4 sets.

IMG_3667

3. Marcel Granollers (ESP) vs Dominic Thiem (AUT) [13]

So we have Thiem facing a Spanish opponent in the round of 16 as we all expected, right? Only that Spaniard is not the 14 slam winner Nadal, but Marcel Granollers. Granollers is in his third round of 16 at the French Championships. Thiem is in his first pre-quarterfinal in the only major on clay.

Thiem will be looking forward to continue his already impressive clay court season and top it off with a promising show at the greatest clay tournament of all. He has already registered a good win over another youngster Alexander Zverev in the third round and will, no doubt, be hopeful of making the most of the opportunity that has been presented by Nadal’s withdrawal.

Thiem leads their H2H record 3-0 with all encounters on clay. That should definitely help Thiem’s cause and Thiem will have to overcome the jitters he displayed early on in his match with Zverev. Granollers is an experienced campaigner and any such slip-ups from Thiem could prove disastrous.

Prediction: With the Thiem stock on the rise consistently, I will say he will take this opportunity with both hands and get through to the quarterfinals in straight sets.

4. Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1] vs Roberto Bautista-Agut (ESP) [14]

Just as he would have liked, Djokovic is relatively under the radar with all the circus surrounding Federer and Nadal with their physical fitness and Wawrinka and Murray with their early round shenanigans. The biggest jolt thus far in the Djokovic journey was the threat of darkness moving his 3rd round match to the second sunday.

He overcame that obstacle just fine and now faces his first seeded opponent in Bautista-Agut. Neither of them have dropped a set thus far in the tournament and it is certain atleast one of them will drop a set tomorrow. Unfortunately for the Spaniard, there is a good chance that it will only be him that drops the sets tomrrow.

Their H2H points to an easy win for Djokovic, all the more so given the 1,2 drubbing he inflicted on the 14th seed in Madrid, a few weeks back. Bautista-Agut will have to have a career day to have a shot at the win tomorrow and he will be a very heavy underdog in this match.

Prediction: This is the final lap in Djokovic’s quest for the elusive French Open title and though Bautista-Agut has had an impressive run thus far, he will need Djokovic to be off his game to make a dent on the Djokovic game. I expect Djokovic to take care of business in 3 competitive sets.

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

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