French Open R2 previews: Gulbis vs. Monfils, Tsonga vs. Nieminen

A second-round showdown between Ernests Gulbis and Gael Monfils is on the Roland Garros schedule for Wednesday. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Jarkko Nieminen are also bidding for a spot in the last 32.

Ernests Gulbis vs. (WC) Gael Monfils

Gulbis and Monfils will be going head-to-head for the first time in their careers when they collide in an all-unseeded but highly-anticipated match in the second round of the French Open on Wednesday. Monfils is coming off an epic performance–his best in more than a year–in which he upset No. 5 seed Tomas Berdych 7-6(8), 6-4, 6-7(3), 6-7(4), 7-5 after four hours and three minutes. That continued a positive stretch that has come almost out of nowhere for the injury-plagued Monfils. The 81st-ranked Frenchman won the Bordeaux Challenger two weeks ago and finished runner-up to Albert Montanes last week in Nice.

A showdown between two mercurial players such as Gulbis and Monfils is almost always tough to call, but the edge here has to go to Gulbis. The 40th-ranked Latvian, who is a former French Open quarterfinalist (2008), reached the Rome third round as a qualifier and lost to Rafael Nadal 6-4 in the the third. Gulbis is 20-7 for the season, which also includes a title in Delray Beach and a fourth-round result in Indian Wells (also lost to Nadal in three sets). Whereas Monfils’ physicality is a huge question mark, Gulbis should be in perfect shape after hammering Rogerio Dutra Silva in straight sets on Monday.

Pick: Gulbis in 4

(6) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Jarkko Nieminen

Nieminen and Tsonga will be squaring off for the seventh time in their careers and for the second time this season when they meet on Wednesday. Tsonga leads the head-to-head series 4-2, but they have never faced each other on clay. A third-round Miami encounter two months ago went Tsonga’s way 6-3, 6-3. Nieminen’s two victories over his opponent came in 2008 (Adelaide) and Tokyo (2010).

Tsonga, a quarterfinalist last year, kicked off his Roland Garros campaign on Monday with an easy straight-set win at the expense of Aljaz Bedene. The eighth-ranked Frenchman is now 22-8 for the year, which is highlighted by a title in Marseille and a recent semifinal showing in Monte-Carlo. Nieminen faced another Frenchman, Paul-Henri Mathieu, in his opener and survived a five-set thriller. The 38th-ranked Finn boasts an outstanding 22-13 record for the season. Nieminen’s ball-striking is just about as good as it gets, but a powerful opponent like Tsonga can take his timing away.

Pick: Tsonga in 4

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