Ricky Dimon of The Grandstand and Steen Kirby of Tennis Atlantic preview and pick the four best men’s singles matches on Saturday at the French Open. Fast-rising stars Jack Sock, Borna Coric, and Nick Kyrgios are all on the schedule.
Jack Sock vs. Borna Coric
Ricky: If you aren’t excited for this one, well, you’re not a hardcore tennis fan. Sock and Coric should be battling deep into Grand Slams–much deeper than the third round, in fact–for years to come. Both rising stars have already posted mammoth wins at Roland Garros. Sock upset No. 10 seed Grigor Dimitrov in the first round and Coric outlasted 18th-seeded Tommy Robredo in five sets during second-round action. As you might expect, that one was an absolute war. Coric’s fitness is no kind of question mark, but at 18 years old he is not accustomed to five-setters. Surviving another one–and withstanding Sock’s offensive barrage–may be too much to ask. Sock 6-7(5), 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Steen: I for one am pleased Jack Sock made it this far after a pair of quality wins, and it’s even more intriguing that another young gun, Coric, has done the same (though his wins were more expected in my book). This should be a close match that has the makings of a future rivalry regardless of the outcome. Sock’s forehand on this clay is a threat, while Coric has a slight edge in the all-around game. It could be a classic battle in which both will lay it all on the line. I tend to wonder how the five-setter will affect Coric fatigue-wise, and with that being the case I’m going with Sock in five sets. Sock 7-5, 4-6, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3.
(3) Andy Murray vs. (29) Nick Kyrgios
Ricky: Holy smokes this one looks good on paper. Murray is undefeated with a 12-0 record on clay this season. Kyrgios is a human highlight reel who thrives on big stages. Unfortunately, this matchup might not live up to the hype. It certainly has not in the past. Murray cruised 6-2, 6-2 last summer in Toronto and 6-3, 7-6(5), 6-3 in the quarterfinals of this year’s Australian Open. This just isn’t a good matchup for Kyrgios. Even with his firepower, the young Aussie still struggles to his through Murray’s defense. It will be even tougher to do so on the red stuff. Murray 6-2, 7-6(5), 6-4.
Steen: Murray has twice defeated Kyrgios on a hard court, as the Aussie doesn’t seem to match up as well against him as he does with Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer. That said, Kyrgios has played only three sets of tennis as he comes off a walkover, while Murray has played seven this tournament and Joao Sousa gave him a test for at least a couple of sets in their match. Kyrgios should be fresher, and given that Murray has a habit of starting slow, I could see the underdog roaring out of the gate and winning the first set or maybe even first two sets. That said, in the long run the arc of this match should favor Murray on the clay, so I have him advancing in five. Murray 4-6, 5-7, 6-4, 7-6, 6-4.
(9) Marin Cilic vs. (23) Leonardo Mayer
Ricky: Interestingly, their only previous encounter also came in the same round of this same event (Cilic prevailed 6-4, 3-6, 7-5, 6-7(5), 6-4 in 2010). The 2014 U.S. Open champion, who is on the way back from a lingering shoulder injury, said earlier this season that he hoped reach peak shape in time for Wimbledon. He appears to be on the right track with two routine victories so far in Paris. This is a tough one to call, but Mayer struggled at times with Jiri Vesely and Jerzy Janowicz. That’s not what the Argentine needed coming off a long week in Nice (finished runner-up to Dominic Thiem). Cilic 7-6(5), 6-2, 3-6, 7-5.
Steen: When they played at the 2010 French Open, it went five sets. Cilic is a weaker player than he was then, while Mayer has improved. Thus we could have the makings of an instant classic, as the style clash will be evident. Mayer has beaten tougher opponents so far in Paris, while Cilic has looked more fashionable in his wins. It’s a difficult pick, but I’m going with Cilic’s experience to win the day. Cilic 6-3, 7-5, 5-7, 6-4.
(20) Richard Gasquet vs. (15) Kevin Anderson
Ricky: This is the seventh time Gasquet and Anderson will face each other and the seventh time they will face each other in a round of 32. But it is the first time they will square off on clay, which favors Gasquet. The Frenchman already leads the head-to-head series 4-2 even though all six of their previous encounters have come on hard courts. Gasquet has endured the tougher week so far, needing five sets to get past Carlos Berlocq in a darkness-delayed match. But he required only seven total games to win the fifth set on Friday and should have plenty left in the tank to treat the home crowd to another win. Gasquet 6-7(6), 6-2, 6-4, 7-5.
Steen: Given this is clay, and in France, Gasquet should probably cruise. But Anderson has dropped just one set over two matches (against weak opponents, but still…), while Gasquet is coming off a difficult five setter against Berlocq, perhaps saved to some extent by the fact the fifth set got postponed due to darkness. Gasquet was incredibly shaky at times and got bossed around by Berlocq in their match. Anderson could dictate play similarly with his forehand, but I still have to go with Gasquet to advance. Gasquet 7-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.