Montpellier R2 previews and predictions: Tsonga vs. Mahut, Khachanov vs. Berankis

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will kick off his bid to become the sixth French champion in the eight-year history of this Montpellier tournament when he faces countryman Nicolas Mahut on Thursday. Second-round action also features Karen Khachanov and Ricardas Berankis.

Nicolas Mahut vs. (3) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

It will be an all-French affair when Tsonga and Mahut go head-to-head for the fifth time in their careers at the ATP level on Thursday at the Open Sud de France. All four of their previous meetings–including three on indoor hard courts in France–have gone Tsonga’s way, but Mahut has at least managed to take a set on three occasions (the underdog squandered a set lead each of those three times). The two veterans most recently faced each other three years ago in Metz, where Tsonga prevailed 6-7(6), 6-3, 7-5.

Toiling away down at No. 19 in the world, Tsonga became a father last year and physical problems have also prevented him from putting in a maximum amount of work on the tennis court. He fared well enough, however, at the Australian Open–mounting a major comeback to topple Denis Shapovalov in five sets before succumbing to Nick Kyrgios in an entertaining four-setter. Mahut should no longer be in this tournament, but first-round opponent Dustin Brown suffered a back injury while three points from victory and was forced to retire with Mahut trailing 6-7(2), 2-5, 0-15. That marked the world No. 105’s first main-draw appearance of the year, having previously lost in qualifying in Sydney and at the Aussie Open. All signs point to Tsonga coasting into the Montpellier quarterfinals.

Pick: Tsonga in 2

(PR) Ricardas Berankis vs. Karen Khachanov

Khachanov peaked this past August with a ranking of No. 29 in the world, but he has some work to do if he wants to return to seeding position for the French Open and Wimbledon. The 21-year-old Russian, whose points from his lone ATP title in Chengdu came off the board last October, is off to a solid start this season with a 4-2 record and losses only to Juan Martin Del Potro (in Auckland and at the Australian Open). Khachanov booked his spot in the Montpellier second round by scraping past seventh-seeded David Ferrer 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4 on Tuesday.

Up next for Khachanov on Thursday is a second career encounter with Berankis. They have not squared off since a 2014 Challenger showdown on Reunion Island, where Berankis won 7-5, 6-4. The 27-year-old Lithuanian was already in his prime at that point, but his prime has not exactly produced the results that were expected of him following a stellar junior career. Berankis, whose career-high ranking is No. 50 and is currently struggling down at 117th in the world, bounced back from a low-quality loss to Wawrinka in Melbourne by finishing runner-up at the Rennes Challenger two weeks ago. Although Berankis handles pace well, a more confident Khachanov will likely showcase too much firepower on a relatively fast indoor hard court.

Pick: Khachanov in 2

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