The first two days of the French Open have seen notable names withdraw, a couple of major upsets on the women’s side and the top men cruise so far. With the first round wrapping up today, here are a trio of matches to keep an eye on including Jelena Ostapenko vs Victoria Azarenka:
Jelena Ostapenko vs Victoria Azarenka
This is the big one, the blockbuster of the first round as two former Grand Slam champions meet looking to kick their season into high gear. For Ostapenko, her serve and relative consistency are the problems. Playing someone like Azarenka right away will get her focused from the start, knowing she has to be at her best right away. Unfortunately, she’s playing someone who has the weapons to attack her serve. For the Belarusian, she has had the odd quality tournament every so often (she made the quarterfinals in Rome with wins over Elina Svitolina and Garbine Muguruza), but consistent deep runs have been lacking. They both have firepower, they both are looking for a jump-starter and they couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity than the one they have. Who protects their serve better will likely emerge as the winner.
Aryna Sabalenka vs Dominika Cibulkova
Another matchup of two hard-hitting, explosive players at very different points in their careers. Sabalenka’s best results still come on faster surfaces (she’s made one career clay court final, last year in Lugano) where her enormous power (especially on faster courts) can do tremendous damage. What she has going for her is that she’s facing someone who is on the back end of her career, but in many ways that’s also what makes Cibulkova dangerous. She’s still capable of producing an upset in a spot like this mainly because she can hold her own in the power department. It’s likely there will be a slew of errors to go with some dazzling winners off of the racket of both players. This should be a three-setter, so sit back and enjoy.
Nicolas Jarry vs Juan Martin Del Potro
Notice a theme here? Big man tennis at its finest as the 6’6″ Chilean matches up with the 6’6″ Argentine. Jarry came within a couple of points of winning his first career title in Geneva, losing a 10-8 third set tiebreaker to Alexander Zverev while Del Potro has done really nothing since his magnificent run to last year’s US Open final, dealing with injury issues that have kept him out for parts of the season. Throw in the pressure of defending semifinal points here and this has the makings of a big-time upset. What Jarry has to fear the most is that Del Potro is hitting his backhand better when healthy to go along with his huge serve and monstrous forehand, that wing capable of blowing anyone off the court. If DelPo can get through a stiff early test like this, that’s bad news for everyone else in the field not named Rafael Nadal.