A rainy Sunday resulted in just a handful of matches being completed on day of the 2016 French Open. The men’s draw is thus mostly intact, and it’s a good time to take a look at some key names to watch in the men’s draw.
The favorites: Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Rafael Nadal
Djokovic has never won the French Open, and he’s lost two matches this clay season (to Jiri Vesely in Monte Carlo, and Andy Murray in Rome). Still, if the world #1 is healthy he’s the tournament favorite. Hardly anyone will stand in his way before the semifinals, where Rafael Nadal looms. Djokovic has to be happy to have a section that will allow him to win matches in an efficient fashion over the opening week.
Nadal benefited from Roger Federer’s withdrawal to grab a #4 seed. With his own section, and with the pressure off of him this year, as he’s not defending the title, and he’s not even the tournament favorite, he could surprise the doubters and end up snatching yet another title. Rafa and his fans still believe he’s the king of clay, and he’s certainly an expert on the surface. Fabio Fognini looms in round 3, with Dominic Thiem likely to follow, both opponents who have beaten Nadal in the past 12 months, but his quarterfinal match would be against either Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or David Goffin (perhaps Philipp Kohlschreiber), and besides Djokovic before the final, he should be pleased. Nadal has struggled against Djokovic in recent seasons, but Novak has shown vulnerability this year.
Murray sits alone in the bottom half as the #2 seed. Like last year, where he pushed Djokovic to five sets, he has a clay Masters title in hand, this time in Rome, and he’s been great on clay when facing most players. He’s not as well known for his clay court game, but at this point in his career he’s found a way to excel on the surface, far more than any other British player in history. An incredibly easy early draw means Kei Nishikori is likely his first tough match, that would be in the quarterfinals if Nishikori can beat Nick Kyrgios/Richard Gasquet. Given his winning record against Nishikori, you’d expect Murray to make at least the semifinals, and possibly his first ever French Open final, presuming Stan Wawrinka or someone else doesn’t spoil the party. To win the title, Murray will need to play his best tennis, and hope that the Nadal/Djokovic winner is worn down for him in the final.
Spoilers: Kei Nishikori, Stan Wawrinka, and Milos Raonic
The Japanese #1 has played well on clay this year when not facing elite competition, and he should have no issues advancing into at least the second week, where Nick Kyrgios or Richard Gasquet are tough opponents, but still a matchup he likely wins. Nishikori has struggled in big matches and moments, he took a set off Djokovic in Rome, but ended up wilting in a third set tiebreak under the pressure of trying to defeat the world #1. Murray, and perhaps Wawrinka are tough opponents, but he should still be pleased he avoided the Djokovic/Nadal half, and we could see Kei in his second career Grand Slam final.
Wawrinka was an afterthought, even though he’s the defending champion in Paris, after an awful streak of play this spring. He just won the title in Geneva though, and the home cooking seemed to inspire him, and give his strong backhand game some life. Grigor Dimitrov or Gilles Simon loom in the round of 16, and likely the big Canadian Milos Raonic, but he’s now a sudden favorite to reach at least the semifinals. Given his recent success against Murray, we could see him in another slam final, opposite Djokovic or Nadal once again.
Raonic is another player who wins most of his matches on clay, but tends to struggle when facing an elite clay courter. The Canadian is a bit of an afterthought on this surface, but he’s been improving considerably on clay, and with Wawrinka’s noted struggles this season, and a winnable section, we could see a North American player in the French Open semifinals. Raonic has to beat Lucas Pouille, and either Marin Cilic or Jack Sock before Wawrinka.
Young Guns: Borna Coric, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Nick Kyrgios, and Lucas Pouille
Coric has a chance to prove himself, after a difficult opening round match with Taylor Fritz, he’ll need to knock off the seeded Roberto Bautista Agut, a steady but relatively average player in round 3. Reaching the second week would be a big accomplishment for this teenager.
Zverev comes off his first ever ATP final in Nice, Pierre Herbert could trip him up round 1, but the seed Kevin Anderson is vulnerable. His rival, Dominic Thiem, looms in round 3, and I have Thiem going farther, given his h2h success against Zverev, and his recent ATP titles on clay as well. Thiem will look to beat Nadal for the second time this season in their likely round of 16 matchup. Don’t count the Austrian out.
Kyrgios has had some good runs on clay this season and continues to improve on the surface. He plays his best in slams when it counts, and his power game, and clutch nature actually translates well to Paris, given that his footwork and movement have improved. The Aussie already has a round 1 win, and I see him defeating his rival Richard Gasquet round 3 to make the second week.
Pouille is the most promising young Frenchman in the draw, and should outperform many of his national counterparts. After a strong season, he’s earned a seed, and that should allow him to reach round 3, opposite Milos Raonic. Pouille struggled to solve Raonic’s serve on a fast surface earlier this year, but on clay, it should be a more competitive match, and he has a great shot at week 2.
Seeds likely to exit early: Bernard Tomic, Kevin Anderson, Viktor Troicki, Gilles Simon
An injured and mentally troubled Tomic hasn’t won on clay this season, his ranking is going to plummet soon, and he’s almost certain to be gone without making any noise. Anderson isn’t great on clay to begin with, and he’s struggled to stay healthy this year. Troicki has Grigor Dimitrov round 1, and he’s not great on clay as well.
Simon is the most intriguing seed on this list, he could beat Diego Schwartzman/Guido Pella, and Dimitrov to end up in the second week, or he could go out round 2 or 3, and end up as a veteran disappointment. With Gael Monfils absent with an injury, the French fans are in need of at least a few names to perform well.
Top Players Slumping: David Ferrer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Ferrer has lost his top 10 ranking after failing to reach an ATP final this year, even in smaller 250 level events. The Spaniard is clearly declining, with age the most likely culprit. He’s normally a solid clay court player, but his game has broken down this year, and a healthy Juan Monaco could finish him in round 2. Otherwise he actually has a draw that should allow him to reach the second week, but I don’t think he’ll pose a threat after that.
Tsonga is just 5-4 on clay this year, a semifinalist last season, I have him losing to David Goffin in the round of 16, and disappointing the home fans. He tends to struggle under pressure in Paris.
Dark Horse: Pablo Cuevas
Cuevas could go as far as the quarterfinals, and I have him as the last South American remaining by the time week 2 rolls around. Tomas Berdych is one of the weaker top seeds, and on clay he’s not at his best. After Berdych in round 3, Ferrer would be next, and of course he’s beatable as well. Novak Djokovic will likely prove to be too much though. Earlier this season Cuevas, a veteran, went on a tear during the clay court golden swing in South America. He’s a true dirtballer, and plays hard.
Outlook for American Men
3rd round: John Isner and Jack Sock
Isner has been terrible on clay this year, but the American will be still be favored into round 3, given he’s a seed, and he doesn’t have any clay courters to face in the first two rounds. Benoit Paire just won a five setter today, Isner could win or lose against him, and that’ll determine who makes the second week.
Sock is locked in a fifth set with Dutchman Robin Haase (match is to be completed), but presuming he wins, Dustin Brown is likely next, with Marin Cilic to follow. The young American is nearly a reliable top 20 player these days, but clay is not his best surface.
2nd Round: Brian Baker and Bjorn Fratangelo/Sam Querrey
Baker should exploit Tomic’s misfortune, though he’s yet to really return from injury in a meaningful way. Fratangelo/Querrey will win their round 1 match and go no farther.
First round exits: Taylor Fritz, Rajeev Ram, Denis Kudla, Steve Johnson, and Donald Young
Fritz has to face Coric, which is a tough opponent, Ram, Kudla and Johnson are all poor on clay, and Johnson has to face Fernando Verdasco round 1, even as a seed. Young already lost today in a bad match against Teymuraz Gabashvili.
Outlook for French Men
Round of 16: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
I still have Tsonga as the last French player remaining, but the final rounds of the tournament are likely to be decided on the men’s side without the input of the home nation.
3rd round: Lucas Pouille, Gilles Simon, Jeremy Chardy, and Richard Gasquet
We’ve already covered Pouille, and Simon, Gasquet has a couple of easy matches before running into Kyrgios. He could win that match, given it’s on clay, and he’s beaten the Aussie on the surface before, but I don’t think he will. Chardy may lose round 1, but I see him going out to Stan Wawrinka in round 3, after a mediocre spring.
2nd round: Paul-Henri Mathieu, Quentin Halys, Nicolas Mahut, Adrian Mannarino, Jeremy Chardy, Mathias Bourgue
Mannarino just made a shocking clay semifinal in Nice, Bourgue is likely Murray’s round 2 opponent, and Mathieu could upset Bautista Agut in round 2, he’s the steady veteran who has the best chance of over performing. The young Halys is still a raw talent and not quite ready for Grand slam success yet. He’ll be like Pouille with time, given his challenger success.
First round exits: Kenny De Schepper, Stephane Robert, Pierre-Hugues Herbert, Gregoire Barrere, Julien Benneteau
Herbert has a shot against Zverev, but he’ll do far more in doubles (with Mahut) than he will in singles, that team is one of the title favorites. Robert got a wild card as a steady, but journeyman veteran. Barrere is 22 and has a bright future, but he’s yet to crack the top 200, so we’ll see what becomes of his career. Benneteau hasn’t been healthy this year.
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