(1) Rafael Nadal vs. Leonardo Mayer
Nadal and Mayer will be going head-to-head for the third time in their careers when they meet in round three of the French Open on Saturday. Both of their previous encounters have gone Nadal’s way; 6-1, 6-3 at the 2012 Indian Wells Masters and 6-1, 7-5 last year on the clay courts of Acapulco. They were also scheduled to square off last season in Indian Wells, but Mayer pulled out prior to the match. The Argentine won’t want to bypass this rare opportunity in the last 32 of a Grand Slam. He has reached this point of majors on just four previous occasions (three at Roland Garros).
Mayer is a respectable 12-9 at the ATP level in 2014 following wins this week over James Duckworth and Teymuraz Gabashvili. Nadal has advanced with straight-set blowouts of Robby Ginepri and Dominic Thiem. The top-ranked Spaniard is 61-1 lifetime at this tournament and is bidding for his ninth title. He was far from his very best during the early stages of this clay-court swing, but he at least managed to snag a title in Madrid before finishing runner-up to Novak Djokovic in Rome. Nadal’s form through two rounds and his past performances against Mayer suggest more one-way traffic is in the cards.
Pick: Nadal in 3 losing 8-10 games
(28) Philipp Kohlschreiber vs. (7) Andy Murray
Murray and Kohlschreiber will be squaring off for just the second time in their careers on Friday. Their only previous meeting came four years ago on the clay courts of Monte-Carlo, where Kohlschreiber dominated 6-2, 6-1. The 24th-ranked German heated up nicely just in time for Roland Garros, and really did it from out of nowhere. Having previously showed lackluster form in 2014, Kohlschreiber reached the third round in Rome then captured a title last week in Dusseldorf.
The story is a similar one for Murray, whose start to the year was more of a recovery process in the aftermath of 2013 back surgery. Murray is rounding into form now, with a quarterfinal showing in Rome that saw him lose to Nadal 7-5 in the third. The eighth-ranked Scot has defeated Andrey Golubev and Marinko Matosevic so far this fortnight, while Kohlschreiber has rolled over Pere Riba and Denis Istomin. This should be a high-quality battle of contrasting backhands, with Murray’s superior firepower giving him more opportunities than his opponent to exploit weaknesses. More experience getting to the second week of slams also won’t hurt the favorite.
Pick: Murray in 4