Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are two rounds away from colliding in the quarterfinals of the French Open. They first have to get past Thanasi Kokkinakis and Andrey Kuznetsov, respectively, in the last 32 on Saturday.
(1) Novak Djokovic vs. Thanasi Kokkinakis
Djokovic and Kokkinakis will be going head-to-head for the first time in their careers when they do battle in round three of the French Open on Saturday. The world No. 1 set off a brief alarm when he took an injury timeout for an apparent hip or lower back problem while facing Gilles Muller on Thursday, but that appears to be a non-issue at this point. Djokovic, who opened with a routine win over Jarkko Nieminen, ended up disposing of Muller 6-1, 6-4, 6-4. The Serb is now 37-2 on the season and has won four consecutive tournaments. A fifth, of course, would give him his first title at Roland Garros.
Kokkinakis took a much more circuitous route to the last 32. The 19-year-old Australian came back from a set down to beat Nikoloz Basilashvili in four then dug out of 2-0 hole and saved three match points in the fifth to overcome countryman Bernard Tomic 3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 8-6 in round two. Kokkinakis does not fear big stages or tough opponents, but a clash that lasted more than three hours and also dealt him a nasty hip bruise is not ideal preparation. This will feature plenty of entertainment, but it should be straightforward for Djokovic.
Pick: Djokovic in 3 losing 11-13 games
Andrey Kuznetsov vs. (6) Rafael Nadal
Mired in a season-long slump, Nadal had shown occasional signs of encouragement prior to his arrival in Paris. The seventh-ranked Spaniard captured a title in Buenos Aires, defeated David Ferrer in Monte-Carlo, thrashed Grigor Dimitrov and Tomas Berdych en route to the Rome final, and twice took down John Isner. Now the question is if two strong performances at a tournament Nadal has already won nine times will lead to something more than did the aforementioned accomplishments. The former world No. 1 was in complete cruise-control mode against Quentin Halys and Nicolas Almagro to roll into the French Open third round.
Nadal is obviously a massive favorite–again–in a first-ever meeting with Kuznetsov. The 24-year-old Russian is a talented ball-striker who has impressed so far this fortnight on his favorite surface. He dismantled Malek Jaziri 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 then got the best of Jurgen Melzer 6-1, 5-7, 7-6(0), 7-5. But there is no reason to count on Kuznetsov stringing together three high-quality displays in succession. This is the first time all season that the world No. 120 has advanced two rounds in the main draw of a tour-level event. Nadal is going to enjoy another dominant day at the Parisian office.
Pick: Nadal in 3 losing 8-10 games