Ricky Dimon of The Grandstand and Pete Ziebron of Tennis Acumen preview and pick the four best men’s singles matches on Friday at the French Open. A French-heavy slate includes Gael Monfils vs. Pablo Cuevas and Tomas Berdych Benoit Paire.
(13) Gael Monfils vs. (21) Pablo Cuevas
Ricky: Cuevas could be a trendy pick in this one given his stellar current form, prowess on clay, and Monfils’ relative struggles against Diego Schwartzman on Wednesday. But did anyone actually think Monfils was going to lose, even down two sets to one? He has to go through at least one dramatic match at each French Open and he just did in round two (although by his standards it featured only medium drama). Some more theatrics will be in store when Monfils plays Roger Federer in the fourth round, so look for him to be mostly no-nonsense against Cuevas. The Frenchman will get through a high-quality contest. Monfils 7-6(5), 6-2, 1-6, 7-5.
Pete: Including Challengers, Cuevas currently holds six clay-court titles since last June. Â However, his arrival into the third round marks the best-ever result to date in a major for the world No. 23. On the other hand, Monfils has reached the Roland Garros semis once and the quarters three other times, including last year. Through the first two rounds Cuevas has been the sharper player while Monfils was one set away from exiting the tournament in his last match. As Monfils plays with fire yet again, Cuevas concurrently continues his march, setting up a potential round of 16 match with Roger Federer–whom the Uruguayan has taken to tiebreakers twice already this year. Federer certainly appreciates the end result here as Monfils, his recent clay-court nemesis, is dismissed by Cuevas. Cuevas 7-6(4), 3-6, 7-5, 6-3.
Benoit Paire vs. (4) Tomas Berdych
Ricky: Paire has been in decent form as he returns form an injury-plagued 2014, but at No. 71 in the world he has done extremely well to reach the third round. It helps when you get to play Fabio Fognini! This is where Paire’s favorable draw ends, as Berdych has once again been one of the most consistent players on tour in 2015. Count on the Czech’s level being rock-solid throughout, while Paire goes through spurts of dreadful play mixed with spectacular shot-making. For the most part this will be straightforward. Berdych 6-3, 6-0, 7-6(3).
Pete: The last five matches that Berdych has lost have been to each member of the Big 4, including Federer twice–and each time in a Masters 1000. In fact, of the nine matches Berdych has lost this year, all but two have been to the Big 4 (Wawrinka and David Ferrer). In short, the Czech wins the matches he is expected to win. Dropping the second set against Radek Stepanek last round woke Berdych up and he took care of business immediately thereafter. This third-round matchup against Paire is one that Berdych is tipped to win…and he does convincingly. Berdych 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.
(WC) Nicolas Mahut vs. (12) Gilles Simon
Ricky: Ernests Gulbis should have been a terrible matchup for Mahut in round two, but the veteran Frenchman got the job done. Unfortunately Mahut, Simon also presents a scary matchup…and Simon isn’t Gulbis. In fact, he is the anti-Gulbis, maximizing what is a relatively small talent pool. The world No. 13 leads the head-to-head series 4-1 and all five of their previous meetings have come on fast indoor hard courts–which favor Mahut. On clay, Simon will break down his countryman without any difficulty. Simon 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.
Pete: In this, his 13th appearance at Roland Garros, Mahut finds himself advancing past the first round for only the third time. Meanwhile, Simon is attempting to match a career-best fourth-round berth for the third time. Even though this will be the fifth time that these two Frenchmen will meet in France, it will be their first ever meeting on a clay court. In a battle between two guys in their 30s, the 12th-seeded Simon wins quite handily. Simon 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.
(8) Stan Wawrinka vs. Steve Johnson
Ricky: Hypothetically this should be routine on clay. Technically, it won’t be. Not much (aside from a first-rounder vs. Marsel Ilhan) has been easy in 2015 for Wawrinka, who has mostly been a disaster since the Australian Open (aside from a Rome upset of Rafael Nadal). Whereas the Swiss may be short on confidence, Johnson is playing the best tennis of his life. The American has also been a mental giant this week in gutsy wins over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Sergiy Stakhovsky. The upset alert will go off during this match, but the discrepancy in backhands (Wawrinka’s one of the best, Johnson’s one of the worst) will be the difference. Wawrinka 6-3, 3-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2.
Pete: Yet another player in our previews is enjoying his best-ever result at Roland Garros, as Johnson continues his impressive march on the dirt. Coming into the tournament, Johnson could only manage a 3-5 record on clay in 2015. Meanwhile, following a solid start to the season and a win in Rotterdam in February, Wawrinka had been only 8-7 prior to his two wins in Paris. Going forward, Johnson will be able to build on his early-round wins over Garcia-Lopez and Stakhovsky, but it will be Wawrinka who continues to steady his game in this first-ever meeting between the upstart American and the veteran Swiss. Wawrinka 6-3, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.