The French Open qualifying draws are out, which means that the year’s second Major is right around the corner! But, while the main draw action doesn’t start until next Sunday, the qualifying action kicks off this week!
Don’t be fooled, though, the qualifying draw contains a host of players that could make an impact next week during the main event if they are able to get through tricky opponents and the slow Parisian red clay.
While the draw is deep and almost any player could beat anyone else, there are 4 players especially worth watching for. These 4 excellent clay court players have a great shot to be in the main draw next week and could make a lot of noise.
Who are they? Let’s find out.
Four Players to Watch in French Open Men’s Qualifying Draw
Daniel Galan has made a name for himself on the clay. He won his first Challenger title on the red clay of Lima Peru last November, taking out Thiago Tirante in 3 sets. This season, after a dip in form, he got his act together during the ATP 250 event in Santiago and made the semifinals there. This included impressive straight-set victories over Pablo Andujar and Roberto Carballes Baena.
Recently, Galan made the final of the Challenger event in Heilbronn Germany. While he fell in straight sets to Bernarbe Zapata Miralles (more on him later), it was still an impressive week of tennis that saw him obtain victories over Alessandro Giannessi, Philipp Kohlschreiber, and Mackenzie McDonald.
With a 59% career winning percentage on clay, Galan is a dangerous opponent on the surface. And with a relatively straightforward draw of Ernests Gulbis in the 1st round and Altug Celikbilek or Tatsuma Ito in the 2nd round, it will likely be the final qualifying round before Galan is seriously challenged.
And given Galan’s big, precise first serve and ability to control the baseline with his forehand, it’s like we will see Daniel Galan in the main draw of the French Open.
Whether Daniel Galan can match last year’s 3rd round appearance, though? That remains to be seen.
Surprise, surprise, Carlos Alcaraz is also on my list. The newest member of the top 100 as shown in the live rankings, this could be the last time we see Alcaraz in a qualifying draw in his career. With four clay-court Challenger titles since the coronavirus hiatus last season, Alcaraz is rising quickly. This included a Challenger title last week during the Oeiras 3 Challenger, where he beat Taro Daniel and then Facundo Bagnis to hoist the trophy.
After beating Bagnis to win the title in Oeiras, Alcaraz told the ATP’s Josh Meiseles, “To be able to get this title is something special. It’s the biggest moment of my career. I played at a high level all week, at a great tournament and against very good players. I think it’s a great preparation for Roland Garros…”
And his preparation for the French Open will be put to the test, along with is mental fortitude. The pressure is on for the 18 year-old Alcaraz to qualify, as he’s now a top 100 player and established himself as a player to watch on the clay. He’s even made the semifinals of an ATP event in Marbella, taking down recent Geneva winner Casper Ruud along the way.
But, ultimately, all that doesn’t matter now. Alcaraz needs to play 3 strong matches, although he got a very fortunate 1st round draw in the declining Lukas Lacko. After that, Alcaraz will most likely take on Zdenek Kolar and Sumit Nagal, two players that are both very consistent, but that the Spaniard should be able to hit through if he’s on his game.
Carlos Alcaraz has a career winning percentage of 72% on clay for a reason. The ball explodes off his groundstrokes, especially his forehand, he is able to hit high-quality shots into tight windows, and he moves around the court well. I expect him to qualify here and be a very dangerous qualifier in the main draw.
Another recent Challenger champion, Sebastian Baez is set to make a run through the qualifying draw this week in Paris. Don’t let the fact that the Argentinian isn’t seeded fool you, he’s one of the best players in the draw. With 3 clay-court Challenger titles this season, including a come-from-behind win over Juan Pablo Varillas to take the title in Zagreb earlier this month.
In his other Challenger finals this season, he beat good clay courters in Francisco Cerundolo and Marcelo Barrios Vera. Something that Cerundolo, Barrios Vera, and Varillas all have in common are huge forehands.
What Baez does so well is blunting opponents’ aggressive groundstrokes and then turning points around with his incredible counterpunching ability. His movement around the court is top-notch, and he gets the ball consistently deep in the court towards the opponents’ weakness. So, in these Challenger finals, Baez was able to force his opponents out of their comfort zones and exploit their weaknesses, as opposed to letting them set up shop at the baseline blasting forehands.
Baez has a 70% winning percentage on clay over the course of his career for a reason. The clay helps keep the points alive and gives him the opportunity to turn things around. It won’t be the easiest 1st round of qualifying against veteran clay courter Marco Trungelliti, but Baez is doing everything at a higher level these days.
In the final qualifying round it could be Mackenzie McDonald or Thanasi Kokkinakis. But as long as Baez plays like he has this season, expect to see his name on the qualifier list.
Bernabe Zapata Miralles
Yet another Challenger champion from earlier this month, Bernabe Zapata Miralles is a name to keep a close eye on during his qualifying campaign. Zapata Miralles first made a splash when he took down rising star Carlos Alcaraz to lift the trophy at the red-clay Cordenons Challenger after the hiatus last season. That was his 1st Challenger crown.
Then, recently in Heilbron, Zapata Miralles beat Daniel Galan in straight sets for his 2nd career Challenger title. Zapata Miralles only dropped 1 set all tournament and didn’t have too many issues defeating good clay court players in Oscar Otte, Sumit Nagal, and Dennis Novak to reach the final.
While Zapata Miralles’ forehand is unconventional, he hits the ball deep on both wings and has great placement on his groundstrokes. He’s able to control his aggression well, rarely overhitting, and defends well when his opponents go on the attack. While Zapata Miralles’ serve isn’t huge, it sets up his ground game well.
Zapata Miralles is very comfortable on clay, with a 64% career winning percentage on the dirt. He has a very manageable draw, with wild card Kyrian Jacquet in the 1st round and either wild card Matteo Martineau or the erratic Dmitry Popko in the 2nd round. A final qualifying round matchup with Bernard Tomic, wild card Arthur Fils, slumping Alex Bolt, or Marc Polmans is about as straight-forward of a draw for French Open qualifying as you can get.
Bernabe Zapata Miralles has a great shot of making the main draw, and if he gets in, watch out.
Main Photo from Getty.