May 29, 2021

2021 Roland Garros ATP Round One

Roland Garros time! Below are the first round predictions for the ATP. The WTA matches will be up later tonight. A side note, DC has taken the time to set up bracket competitions for the men’s and women’s draws at Roland Garros. If it goes well, we’ll be running these for all the major events so feel free to join. The normal picking competition is being run as well, so good luck and hopefully this is a great event!

Hurry up to join the Pick The Draw competitions for Roland Garros men’s and women’s tournaments! Registration closes Monday, 11:00 am CET
Djokovic vs Sandren :

Sandgren had a pretty funny post when the draws came out, sharing the results and commenting “f” on his twitter. It’s nice to see one of the grumpier fellows on tour keeping a sense of humor, but he’s only won 1 match this whole clay season, so he really should be playing the first seed in this event. That one win came against Caruso, who has struggled to produce any offense in the past few months. There are some struggling players on tour, but Caruso is a near automatic victory for most people currently, so I don’t expect Novak to struggle here. He looks like he’s enjoying playing in Belgrade and had some fun sparring today against Coria. I have a better appreciation for the clashes between the big names at this point in their careers, so I am sort of crossing my fingers that Novak and Rafael will meet in this tournament. As long as it doesn’t rain, I expect Djokovic to be focused and perform well in Paris. Djokovic in 3.

Pouille vs Cuevas :

Lucas Pouille has appeared back on tour after a long hiatus dealing with injuries. It hasn’t been smooth sailing for the powerful forehand, and the swing for the fences approach is a hard thing to implement with rust affecting one’s timing. Luckily for him, the French tennis association seems willing to throw him wildcards until he gets things back together. He just hasn’t looked that good in his tour matches, so despite some decent showings in challenger events this is a tough ask for him.

Cuevas is a dangerous player in any draw, as his athleticism and shotmaking have a Kohlschreiber-esque way of lulling players into a sense of security only to have a backhand sent past them at an absurd angle. He does things the hard way, generally just employing a big kick serve and then looking to win baseline rallies, but his one-handed backhand is one of the most suited for clay and he gets a lot of height and shape on the ball. He had a quick exit this past week to Coria who’d struggled to get across the finish line, but he won a ton of matches in Geneva including beating Dimitrov and pressing a motivated Shapovalov in his eventual exit, so the “next week malaise” was likely the factor in his loss. A week to prepare and a struggling opponent should see Cuevas reverse the result from their only previous meeting, but playing at home and with no pressure should see Pouille make things mildly competitive. Cuevas in 4.

Caruso vs Duckworth :

It’s been a rough patch for Caruso. Loss after loss for the hard hitting Italian have been accompanied by a strange difficulty in finding pace on his forehand. He’s started to lift up a bit at the end of his swing in a similar manner to how people do when they’re tired and trying to create depth. Tour players have always endured streaks and slumps, so this is a good spot for him to start turning things around. James Duckworth had a good start to the year, but hasn’t accomplished much on clay in the past. Caruso’s struggles have come against better quality players than Duckworth, who lost in straight sets to challenger level player Brancaccio last week. Hard to see a straightforward victory for Caruso, but it’d be Duckworth’s best win on clay ever. Caruso in 4.

Berankis vs Humbert :

As good as Berankis is from the baseline, it’s always been a bit funny to me how much he struggles on clay. The topspin/kick he generates isn’t really right for the surface, but many players are doing more with less. Berankis has turned in a similar streak of losses this season as Humbert has, but Humbert has played guys like Karatsev and Sinner and acquitted himself well. If you’re unfamiliar, he’s an extremely secure offensive talent who has smooth swings and a great compact service motion. He tends to struggle a bit with power, but he’s definitely still improving and last season saw his backhand make great strides. He’ll have an easier time than Berankis generating cheap points here, and on clay that’s a huge thing to have in your pocket. Humbert in 3.

De Minaur vs Travaglia :

De Minaur’s flat ballstriking isn’t well suited to clay. His footwork isn’t ideal on the surface as he tends to sprint at top-speed to a great number of balls, and he has trouble hitting through the court. He’s a hardcourt counterpuncher who thrives on consistently beating the players he’s supposed to. Power tends to be his undoing, so Travaglia will have a decent chance here. Stefano really has a big forehand, and has at times looked like he was going to jump to the next tier on tour. This clay season has been underwhelming though on his part, and I was a bit surprised to see the odds so close here. De Minaur found really good success and rhythm with his dropshots and baseline game against Munar a few weeks ago, and this is one of those spots where one player’s quality is likely to overcome their discomfort. Travaglia certainly can press ADM’s backhand to gain control of points, but he’s had some fatigue issues and De Minaur is likely to extend rallies and improve as the match progresses. De Minaur in 5.

Uchiyama vs Cecchinato :

Uchiyama’s best chance here is for Cecchinato to be completely flat. He’s currently in the finals of the Parma 250 event, and although he can implode at any moment, he played great this week. His match against Munar was highly entertaining, and Cecchinato hit to the open court relentlessly. That will be enough against Uchiyama, whose clay season has amounted to two straight set losses. Barring injury, Cecchinato in 3.

Tsonga vs Nishioka :

Tsonga is one of the coolest and classiest players I’ve ever seen, and it’s cool to see him back on tour. Retirement might be coming soon for him, as his game is still powerful but his training doesn’t seem to have him crushing worlds at the moment. He can catch fire at any moment, but Nishioka will be a healthy favorite here. Despite having a nightmarish run of losses and frequently talking to the sky and his infamous forfeiture after being unable to receive coffee during a match, Nishioka played okay last week and defeated Monfils and Musetti in recent weeks which is around the level he’ll need to bring here. Both are exceptional athletes and supremely talented, but both fall victim to playing entirely too passive which often lets lesser players ply their offense. Nishioka is at a detriment in the power game here, but he is more match-fit than Tsonga. Nishioka in 4-5.

Musetti vs Goffin :

This is somewhat unfortunate, but these are two players who have been able to lose to anyone and beat anyone in recent months. Goffin has finally kicked his slump, but it feels like he isn’t quite as sure of himself on the court at times. Musetti has shown flashes of brilliance, but he seems to play to the level of his opponent at times and gets a bit too passive. Musetti’s clay game is spectacular, and his backhand is world class. His movement and ability to extend rallies earn errors, but I’m not so sure those are the right tools to beat Goffin. Goffin isn’t looking to press too much, or hit outright winners. This should be a long match, and if Musetti wins it’ll be a very good sign towards him getting revenge on Nishioka in the next round. Hard to point to a clear favorite with two capable but inconsistent players, but this should be a good one. Goffin will be a bit fresher and a bit more experienced. Goffin in 5.

Berretini vs Daniel :

Taro Daniel seemed like he’d plop right off the tour for a while, but he’s been turning in win after win on clay in 2021. Matches where he seems completely outgunned have turned into marathons, and he’s become a very sticky opponent. Normally looking at this matchup I’d say it doesn’t matter how he plays, as Berretini is just at a better level than him, but when these two met in Belgrade Berretini was equally overqualified and still needed 3 sets to win. I’d expect a similar match here, with Daniel having a slight disadvantage after playing 3 matches in qualifying, but a small advantage from being sharp right off the bat. Daniel plays a very consistent and measured baseline game, and the outlast style is well suited to clay. He doesn’t have a huge serve or great power, but it’s a testament to his willpower that he’s able to compete at this level without those attributes. Berretini is starting to look like a threat to win any event he’s at, and I’m excited for his chances at Wimbledon with a few of the usual suspects having struggles. Tough opener here, but a winnable one for sure. Berretini in 4.

Coria vs Lopez :

Coria finally has started to look like himself, after a very strange run of losses in matches he was slated to win. He caught some flack this week from Kyrgios for taking a photo with Djokovic after their match, but it isn’t so surprising that a dude who’s constantly worrying about what people think of him would insist that other people pick up the same worries. Photos are cool. Playing Djokovic is cool. Federico Coria is a great dude. Kyrgios is like a toothbrush that fell behind the sink. It still resembles the thing that you wanted, but there’s something gross about it you just can’t overlook. Feliciano Lopez has become Gilles Muller. He doesn’t have much chance to beat players from the baseline, and his W-L record will never be positive again, but he is supremely annoying to play. A big serve usually isn’t enough to win on clay, but Lopez has taken sets off of most of the players he’s lost to in the clay swing, and he’ll likely win one or two here since Coria is very defensive-minded. Coria’s game at times resembles a wall, and it’ll be important for him to win the even rallies since Lopez will be scoring off of his serve a good chunk of the time he lands a first serve. Coria in 5.

Anderson vs Kwon :

Interesting matchup here due to circumstances more than the players themselves. Anderson played 2 great matches in Estoril before withdrawing with an undisclosed injury against Cilic. Since then, he’s played 0 events. The danger in a major is always that guys who are injured/not 100% choose to play and pick up the hefty paycheck for a first round loss rather than withdraw, so Anderson is a question mark here. Kwon has been a question mark in most of his matches this year, and despite being a very smooth player from the baseline the results haven’t really come. Too many backhand errors when going crosscourt, and for a guy without a big serve this is poison. It actually was exactly the issue Cecchinato/Tiafoe had during their extended slumps. It isn’t the sheer number of errors, but the psychological boost it gives to your opponent when they know that making an extra ball/targeting the backhand may produce a cheap point for them. If Anderson is healthy here, he should win. If his physical fitness isn’t up to par, 3/5 on clay is going to be too large of an ask for him. I don’t have the inside info unfortunately to do anything other than guess. I’d guess Kwon needs the injury though, as he’s lost to pretty much everyone in the past two events, including Pedja Krstin who’s been struggling to make a mark on tour. Anderson in 3-4.

Seppi vs Auger-Alliassime :

Andreas Seppi has always been pretty bad on clay. He hits a very flat and measured ball and is more suited to grass and hardcourt. He tends to go very low over the net and is more of a spot server than a power guy, especially at this stage of his career. FAA appears taller every time I see him play, and most impressively is that he’s winning matches while not making the best contact all the time. He just hits a bit bigger than most guys on tour on his forehand and although it lacks consistency, he has one of the better serving games of any of the next big “hopes”. FAA in 3.

Fritz vs Sousa :

Oddsmakers popped this one up at -700 for Fritz. Taylor Fritz is not -700 against anyone, but this reaction is somewhat a reflection of his decent play at the UTS clay event (beating Schwartzman and Medvedev) and Joao Sousa’s awful stretch of losses. He went from being a journeyman on tour who was a very tough out on hardcourt, and a guy who worked so hard to overcome a weak backhand that he actually had some good results on grass as well, to being a first round loser in challenger events. Some wins came in Lyon against Marcora and Rinderknech, but woof has Sousa struggled to get back on tour. Portugal thankfully has Nuno Borges pressuring his way up the rankings, but it would be nice to see their original champion get back on track. Side note : check out Nuno Borges. Easy power, a great service motion, and a smooth yet mechanically interesting ground game are what you’ll see. He looks just a bit awkward on every shot yet it comes out pure. Reminds me a little of Sampras with the natural speed/instincts around the court. For this match, 3 years ago Sousa might have been the favorite. For now, Fritz appears to have fewer struggles in tow. Fritz in 3-4.

Bourque vs Koepfer :

Matthias Bourque is one of those guys you see losing first round in a bunch of challengers, and just when you start doubting him he’ll win a title. He has talent and power, but nothing to really overwhelm an opponent. Koepfer is a similar product but he does his first round losing and random runs of brilliance at the ATP level. It’s hard to really count on Koepfer to dominate, as he plays with injuries at times and his height makes it difficult for him to win without earning it, but he should have the goods here. These are the matches where it seems like it’ll be 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 but that would take 2-3 hours of perfect tennis and our selected champions rarely turn in the immaculate performance that we hope for. Koepfer in 4-5.

Cilic vs Rinderknech :

Cilic is on a world tour of dangerous youngsters. Arthur Rinderknech was grinding on the challenger tour a few months ago. He seemed best suited to indoor hardcourt, as his main attributes are a big serve and a heavy forehand. Somehow though he has found some good quality in the clay swing, grabbing quality wins against Mikael Ymer and Jannik Sinner. So does he only beat players with cool names? If so Marin Cilic is in trouble. The tall yet gentle sea monster has kept our hope alive like a young Gael Monfils, but it’s fairly obvious at this point that he’s not going to find lightning in a bottle again. I think he still has the quality to put together great sets of tennis, but that the physical toll is a bit much for his big frame as he gets a bit older. The tour has gotten a bit more grinding since there are so many talented young players whose gameplan is to smash it on every single shot, and this means Cilic needs to do the same. Rinderknech is likely to make this a very close match, but he’s lost more tight matches to guys below Cilic’s level than he should have if this were going to be a lock for him. The upset is highly possible here, but Cilic should find his range during the match and Rinderknech is a bit slower around the claycourt due to his height. Cilic in 5.

Istomin vs Federer :

A lot has been made of Federer’s subpar return, and I think it was his unreal return to the tour last time that has spoiled us. Coming back from surgery to win the Australian Open and make all these major finals was a bit ridiculous, and this slow easing into things is a bit more realistic. I want Federer to make a deep run here, but clay is very tough on the body and Federer is less emotionally driven than some guys. It feels like he needs a reason to play at this point, and in minor events/events he doesn’t think he’ll win that is a hard thing to conjure. Still, his tennis is good enough that surface/opponent only find their way into the equation occasionally, and he could easily have forgone entry here if he wasn’t up to the task. Good result for Istomin making it through qualifying, but this is probably going to be onesided. Federer in 3-4.

Nadal vs Popyrin :

Every year Nadal loses a match or struggles in an event or misses on his serve or forehand. Every year we head into Roland Garros thinking “this is Thiem/Novak/etc’s year”. Is Nadal finished? I’m tired of falling for it. Once it comes time to actually see someone beat him for 3 full sets of tennis, we are quickly reminded just how much work that takes. The problem with beating Nadal is not opportunity, it is how focused you have to remain for the entire match in order to do that. Enter Popyrin, who seems surprised every time he wins a match. He has the power and the offense to bother Nadal, but this feels like it will be the same match that Nadal played with Sinner last year. Popyrin will impress people, but never really have a look at winning. Nadal’s serve wasn’t great leading into this event, and his forehand down the line was something he was clearly working on and struggling with, but even with that he has beaten most of his toughest contenders for RG (Djokovic, Tsitsipas, Zverev, Sinner, Carreño-Busta) in the past few weeks. He’s legendary, and a genuinely good guy. Nadal in 3.

Gaston vs Gasquet :

, b Gasp. The hero returns! Hugo Gaston is a talented lefty whose dropshot-heavy offerings made him a really fun player at last year’s event. He beat Wawrinka, and had Thiem on the ropes. Since then, he hasn’t really made an impact, nor has he arrived on tour. He lacks the power/serving that you need to net big points on hardcourt, and the dropshot is useful, but not as much when everyone knows you’re going for it. He’ll have a prime suspect for it though in Gasquet, who is quick around the court but prone to getting fatigued. Gasquet seems at times like he’s not going to show up, but after a few first round losses he finds his backhand down the line and instantly his game is back. He’s probably one of the more skilled guys on tour, so he’ll be adept at dealing with whatever funky shots Gaston comes with, and the only question here is how motivated he’ll be to grind it out if this match goes late. Beating Pedro Martinez is the match I’d circle from last week that indicates Gasquet should win here. That involves playing a lot of balls and having all your service games pressured. Gaston is likely to win a set here since Gasquet with the lead has been known to take his foot off the gas pedal, but Gaston hasn’t shown much in the past year to indicate he’s going to repeat his run, and the home-crowd will be somewhat torn between the two. Gasquet in 4.

Norrie vs Fratangelo :

Can they both lose? I have been a Cam Norrie doubter for a long time. The backhand is too flat and too rigid a swing for the pro tour, and the forehand is too whippy and inconsistent. I am upset now though because he has adjusted these things and I will have to find a new opinion of him. I know revisiting perspectives and forgiving people for the past is very unpopular, but I am going to do it here. Norrie started a few months ago to really go after his forehand. I think it was Acapulco where he just started to look to smoke the ball inside out on that wing and really had some good results. The errors came as well, but he has carried that over into the clay swing and is also hitting his backhand to a bit more effect. Where he has lost some tragic matches in the past, he began notching great wins. The result of him cutting down errors at the same time as he began playing more offense is that the pressure that he always applied to his opponents is now a bit more noticeable, and this season has seen many players get frustrated as the ball continues to come back over and over and over. The dude is working his butt off to win matches, and deserves this success.

Bjorn Fratangelo has always bored me a little. He plays such generic tennis and I just have never enjoyed that. His resurgence this season though has inspired me a bit, and I like a comeback story more than I cling to my personal preference of tennis style, so it’s cool to see him grabbing points, especially since it means I can bet against him later this year in the hardcourt swing. This is an unfortunate first round draw, as he’s been pretty solid at beating the guys he’s supposed to, and hasn’t really pulled any upsets. It’ll take a ton of work for him to beat Norrie, and the same is true for Cam. Norrie likely has the better serve, as Fratangelo tends to stop locating it as well late in matches, and Norrie’s lefty offerings can do damage from the duececourt without being perfectly placed. Being lefty is big, and the question here is whether Norrie will continue his solid play, or revert to the level of his opponent. It’s tough to supply all the offense, and so this may take a while. Fratangelo is very solid, and has some heat on his forehand when he has the opportunity, but he plays too straightforward here and Norrie should be able to solve and negate that. Norrie in 4-5.

Harris vs Sonego :

Lorezo Sonego! I got a kick out of him hyping himself up while losing a lopsided match to Korda last week, and despite his insistence on making noises very late after his swing, I am a fan of his game. Crafty dropshots, a hyper-aggressive forehand, and an all-or-nothing strategy on the serve mean that he gets more out of his game when he’s on, and sees more of the town he’s in when he’s not. Crashing out early here seems unlikely, but Lloyd Harris is a player who often looks to outlast another great offense. He has a great serve, and has made great strides in his fitness this season. The clay season has seen him losing a bunch of matches, but clay is a puzzle I think he will solve eventually. He was losing hardcourt matches in a similar manner a season or two ago, and has righted that ship. For now, Sonego should have less thinking to do to win this match. Sonego in 4.

Sinner vs Herbert :

Jannik Sinner is probably seeing a lot of investment in the futures market for Roland Garros, as he’s one of the players whose level we’re not quite sure has peaked. It’s easy to get excited about a guy who seems to get better with every event he plays, and Sinner’s game doesn’t have many holes in it. Even after saying that though, this is a tricky match. Herbert is a serve and volley talent that tends to make the court seem very small. The danger with a crafty offensive player is that they shorten points and can take you out of your rhythm. Even while typing that my brain was screaming “NO NO NO” and picturing Sinner hitting pass after pass after pass. Sinner has shown the rare ability to make you forget how good his serve is because his baseline game is so good. He’ll be able to hold enough here and his gradually applied pace in rallies will be enough to make Herbert miss. Tricky, but winnable. Sinner in 4.

Mager vs Millman :

This is one of a series of matches in this first round that I’m not quite sure of. Mager has a big serve and great power. It’s a bit like a low-rent Del Potro, but he isn’t always able to find his range and when he loses it, it can last for weeks. Millman is a complete grinder, and although his tennis is great he wins mostly by outlasting his opponents. I’m not sure if a more perfect test for Mager’s offense exists. Millman is a great competitor, but he’s more of a pusher than a counterpuncher, so Mager will have ample chances to end rallies with big shots. The serve will be a big weapon for Mager as well. This is one I’d stay far away from for gambling purposes, as backing someone on the fringe of the tour to play their best offense is not a longterm winning proposition, but flow is important and Mager has had an ok couple of weeks. Mager in 4-5.

Ymer vs Carballes Baena :

RCB has had a really rough stretch of losses, and just when he found form last week he found injury, having to withdraw against Delbonis in Belgrade. With his health in question, and with this particular turtle not actually knowing what the health issue was, my predictions here are moot. Ymer and RCB have had 4 matches split between them, and that’s the likely result here. Neither are overwhelming offensive talents, and both cover the court extremely well. Expect long rallies, and the fitter player will likely win here. I’m somewhat tempted to think that’ll be Ymer, but that’s based largely on RCB’s withdrawal. Ymer in 5.

Ramos vs Monfils :

Monfils finally won a few matches, but the cat-and-mouse game makes me squint a little bit. In the past he was good enough to play this style, but guys are just a bit better than him now, and given his emotional reaction to his losing streak, I would expect him to be a bit more motivated once he sees the finish line. This is a tough spot for him because he probably shouldn’t win this match, but it likely will take forever for him to realize that. Very few players have been more impressive on clay than ARV was during the South American swing, and he became a wall after losing the first set over and over, and turned back tons of opponents while completely exhausted. Here he’ll be fresh, and despite not having the overwhelming offense to win, he does have a heavy forehand when he has time, and Monfils will struggle to find his best tennis when he needs it, simply because he has not been in the practice of looking for his best tennis. The speed and defense are still world class, so ARV will have a long match, but I don’t see Monfils being able to win this with his current mindset. ARV in 3-4.

Schwartzman vs Lu :

Diego has just been turrrrrrible on clay this season, but only by his standards. He’s got a small benefit of being fresh for RG, and Yen-Hsun Lu is not likely to beat anyone of his caliber on clay. Schwartzman in 3.

Mannarino vs Bedene :

Mannarino’s clay struggles are well documented, but he played well last week in a loss to Verdasco. Losing to Verdasco is not the worst, but it does mean that Bedene’s pace and quality are likely a cut beyond what Adrian can manage to put up with. Bedene isn’t winning titles, but he acquits himself well every time he takes the court, and his forehand will be the best weapon out there. Bedene in 4-5.

Kohlschreiber vs Verdasco :

Vintage! I will remain a fan of Philip Kohlschreiber until he retires. He’s one of the only guys I’ve ever seen routinely hitting backhand volleys for winners from deep in the court, and his tennis acumen is something that would benefit any young player to study. The shape and variety he offers make the occasional infusion of pace that much more effective, and the only trouble now is that he’s a bit inactive. Verdasco should probably win this simply because he has more recent matches, and his lopsided loss to Molcan can be put aside because Molcan is probably in the 50-60 range on tour if we were ranking things by ability. Verdasco in 3-4.

Brooksby vs Karatsev :

Jenson Brooksby and Evan Furness played an absolute marathon in the qualifier finals, with Brooksby dropping to his knees after the final point. He seemed to put both hands on his right foot as if it was injured, and he stayed on the court for a long long time after the match, so long in fact that they literally came to remove the benches he was sitting on while he was still there. It was clear that it was an emotional moment for him, and he has really turned in some consistent performances to get there. If there’s an injury, it won’t be clear until the match, and luckily he’s drawn a guy who is likely to beat him anyway. Brooksby is a very consistent baseliner with a decent serving game and a solid penchant for getting to the net. If he were a bit more powerful, he’d already be one of the best American prospects, but he tends to stick to the challenger ranks so far. He’s sticky in rallies and this will benefit him against Karatsev, but the big hitting Russian is likely to have his way with things. So far a number of players have tried to outlast him, but his offense is such good quality that he is able to produce over and over. It will take an offensive talent to knock him out of this event. Should be a fun match as long as Brooksby isn’t injured, but Karatsev in 3.

Basilashvili vs Lajovic :

This is kinda unfortunate. Lajovic seems to finally be finding his range, and he runs into a guy who has won most of their previous matchups. Nikoloz Basilashvili is one of the biggest hitters on tour, and has eclipsed a terrible winless streak to start the season with a few finals runs and a bunch of match wins on clay. Three losses in a row give Lajovic some hope here, and I’ll be cheering for Dusan. Lajovic has a pretty rare ability to hide his direction on the one-handed backhand, and also to generate the short angle with his opponent off the court. What he’ll need here is time, as this will likely be decided by errors. Both hit a heavy ball but Lajovic is a bit more defensively talented, and this should give him a very small very tiny super minor edge. Lajovic in 5.

Alcaraz vs Zapata Miralles :

Alcaraz came in giving something like 5.5 games in the finals of the qualifying, and I said “no way”. The price tags have gotten huge for Alcaraz, but he won 6-1, 6-1 so it appears this one was legit. It’s always tough with a young talent accurately gauging the oddsmaker’s prices because the public money tends to flow in based on the name rather than the current level of play of each person (it sounds odd but most ppl betting tennis don’t watch any tennis except the matches they bet on; it’s a bit like not studying for a test and then betting money that you’ll pass). Alcaraz is legit though, and the only trouble for him here is that Bernabe will feel somewhat comfortable with the environment. Miralles won their previous meeting, and has pretty much come through the same path of challenger events that Alcaraz has, just with less fanfare and with likely a much lower ceiling. Ceilings get you wildcards and opportunities and big price tags. This should be close though, even if it is Alcaraz’s to lose. Alcaraz on a big stage should be able to problem solve, but he has lost a lot of close matches and his focus on big offense may hurt him against a more conservative opponent if he’s off. Alcaraz in 4-5.

Bagnis vs Bonzi :

Bagnis is a hard-luck fellow and I always wind up cheering for him. He has a very similar game to Pella but a bit less physical ability. The lefty game is so effective but for Bagnis he just doesn’t have that big punch to end rallies when he finally gets an easy ball. That’ll spell a long match here as a result, since Benjamin Bonzi will be playing at home and is pretty comfortable. He plays a bit like Aljaz Bedene crossed with Norbert Gombos, and that is as descriptive as I’ll get. It’s tough to say whether Bonzi’s variety will beat Bagnis’ one-dimensional approach, but it’s unlikely that either will be able to dominate affairs for a full 3 sets. Someone in 5; likely Bagnis.

Struff vs Rublev :

Hooray! These two seem like the type to skip math class to avoid an exam and then wind up wandering into a geography classroom and getting yelled at to sit down and begin their exam. I’m excited for any match where people are just going to smash the ball harder and harder until someone wins, but I’m a little disappointed with the draw for Struff as he’s very solid on clay at times and his forehand can be a huge weapon. He won’t have the consistency to beat Rublev at his best, but Rublev hasn’t been at his best on clay in the past month. Losing to Sonego is about the same as losing to Struff, but Rublev’s work ethic are likely to allow him to turn around any significant struggles. Clay is really hard work, and Rublev is a really hard worker. Rublev in 4-5.

Zverev vs Otte :

Oscar Otte is pretty good, but I won’t do my usual overselling of his chances against Zverev. I want Zverev to lose most of the time he plays, but in my defense it is only because he is a grade A knob. I do not know of a douchier fellow, but Otte is a big server and that is usually not the best recipe for beating Zverev. Zverev in 3-4, and I won’t complain about his attitude again but will point out that this is an amazing draw for him and a decent chance to win a major.

Safiullin vs Taberner :

Taberner should win this. He’s a clay specialist, and he played great in qualifing. Safiullin barely wins matches on clay, and yet he was one of the most impressive players in qualifying. The post-apocalypse tennis tour has produced some wild results and I am loving it. Safiullin has power and a big serve, but it feels like Taberner is a guy who has beaten everyone outside the top 100 on clay at one time or another. It’s hard to pick against the specialist, but a great run for Roman nonetheless and hopefully he’s able to qualify for some hardcourt events where he can really do damage. Taberner in 4.

Moutet vs Djere :

Corentin Moutet is a little sparkplug of a human being. He spazzes when he loses. He celebrates like a madman when he wins. He complains about anything and everything. I expect all of that here, and none of it will be supplied by his opponent. Laslo Djere works hard, and hits big. The results haven’t been there, but they could be worse. The UTS clay series has two things that make me confused. One is Taylor Fritz winning matches. The second is Moutet winning all of his matches. I’m not expecting guys to go out in an exhibition, but it does make this a bit closer of a prospect. I’m tempted to discount the UTS series altogether, but this still is likely to be closer. Djere is solid, but Moutet has a lot more variety on offense and his speed means he can defend well against Djere. Djere has proven a bit unlucky in recent history on the key points, and that’s tough to turn around. No clear favorite here, but I lean Djere in 5.

Kecmanovic vs Evans :

This section of the draw isn’t easy at all, and is likely to produce some injuries. These players are evenly matched and it’s likely to take a very long time for this match to conclude. Evans, whose box often looks like they just came from an afterhours club, is not well suited to clay but does great anyway. His slices are annoying, and his forehand is useful. His serve isn’t huge, but he places it great. Kecmanovic seems like he’s almost a prisoner. He’s just out there competing but the wins/losses don’t seem to affect him. He’s a very composed person, but comes across as a zombie some of the time. I know this match is winnable for him, but it’s been so long since the phenom Miomir appeared on tour, and the indifferent baseliner version of him just hasn’t been winning matches. Evans in 4.

Khachanov vs Vesely :

I’m not saying this is a reunion of a Geico ad, but these are two very ancient giant looking dudes. Khachanov is still one of my favorite players, and I feel like he eventually will get a breakthough. There isn’t a real hole in his game, but he’s been winning a lot of the close matches he gets in against top players. Vesely is a guy who did the opposite on tour. He’d lose to a lot of random names, but would notch a huge upset in the middle of that. This is a good and bad spot for him as a result. He is a big hitter and Khachanov isn’t at his most confident right now, but Khachanov’s consistency and fitness are likely to give him an edge here. The big lefty has had some withdrawals and some fatigue issues late in matches, and clay is exhausting. Khachanov in 4.

Nishikori vs Gianessi :

Gianessi isn’t really the qualifer you want to see, but Nishikori isn’t really the main draw opponent you want to see either. His resurgence has been with the same quality backhand play as he had in the past, and Gianessi will have to focus on Nishikori’s forehand in order to win this. Beating Francisco Cerundolo in qualifying is extremely good, but it will take a similar level to pressure Nishikori. This should have a lot of momentum swings, as neither player will be able to defend their serves easily. Nishikori can have fatigue/fitness issues, but he’ll be the more consistent player here and should avoid the upset. Nishikori in 4.

Hanfmann vs Laaksonen :

Yannick Hanfmann is a slightly better version of Henri Laasksonen. Both have huge serve and swing for the fences during the rallies. Laaksonen’s fitness is certainly better than Hanfmann’s, but this is a server’s duel and Hanfmann’s abiity to get to net and notch easy points means that he will likely be fresh throughout this one. Laaksonen faced a match point or two in the 3rd set tiebreaker against Juan Cerundolo, so he’ll be playing freely here. Could be a very close match, but Hanfmann sits as a small favorite. Hanfmann in 4.

Vilella vs Baustista-Agut :

Mario Vilella Martinez has a cool name, and a cool game. I’m not sure how much use it will be against RBA though. Baustista-Agut is not the best on clay, but he’s a really tough out and in the first round is unlikely to have any fitness issues. RBA in 3.

Ruud vs Paire :

Paire is Paire. Ruud in 3.

Majchrzak vs Cazaux :

Arthur Cazaux is in a spot that Kamil was a few seasons ago. Relatively new to the tour, playing some great ball, and getting some chances since he’s young. It’ll be a big hurdle to overcome since Majchrzak makes you play a ton of balls, but this is a winnable match. I feel the result will be similar thought to Majchrzak’s first few outings. The quality is there for Cazaux, but he will probably blink. Majchrzak in 4-5.

Davidovich Fokina vs Kukushkin :

Kukushkin has kinda disappeared from relevance over the past year or so, but he can get in a rhythm and be very annoying. I don’t expect him to win here, as ADF has been one of the hardest workers and best performers on clay for a while now. ADF in 3.

Van De Zandschulp vs Hurkacz :

I never know which Hurkacz to expect, but he is a more experienced version of Botic at this time. Van De Zandschulp has the kind of name that is very cool but I hope I only have to type for one round. He came back from a set down to qualify and really deserves to be here. He has a huge serving game and defends the baseline well for a taller guy. If Hurkacz blinks or gets sloppy, he could lose this match, but he should be able to expose Botic’s movement a bit in longer rallies. Hurkacz in 4.

Fognini vs Barrere :

It’s not up to me who wins this. It’s up to Fognini. Is the world around him perfect? Are things going his way and only his way? If yes, then he will compete. If no, then he will make vague attempts to reference it in the hopes of everyone agreeing to cancel the world and rename it Fogninia. When these guys come up early in the draw I’m happy to write about them, but in the bottom half it feels like unnecessary attention to talk about them. Barrere is great and can win this if Fognini throws a tantrum, but since adults cannot be told when to go to sleep or take a bath, it is not as easy to predict their tantrums as it is with children. Fognini in 4 probably, but I won’t take him seriously until he wins a round.

Fucsovics vs Simon :

It feels like they added extra matches this year. Fucsovics is not always the best on clay, but Simon is a bit past his prime. If this is the retirement tour, I hope he plays well. Fucsovics has no excuses not to win this one though. Simon has less power, and Fucsovics is just as consistent as he is. Fucs in 3.

Albot vs Delbonis :

JUST HOW MANY MATCHES ARE THERE IN THIS TOURNAMENT? Albot has been dreadful on clay, and Delbonis has been struggling but just started to find form in the last month. Delbonis should be in control here, and has been way more active than Albot. Delbonis in 3.

Andujar vs Thiem :

“JUST HOW MANY MATCHES ARE THERE IN THIS TOURNAMENT?” echoes the sky, to no response. A majestic wolf pads through the jungle, majestically. It pauses to look at a frog, which blinks at it quite froggishly. “Delicious,” says the wolf, and chomps the frog. “Hehe, u suck,” says the frog, and ventures off down into the wolf’s tummy. Slowly, the vision begins to blur. A man awakens from the dream. Not just a man, but a man of substance. A man of wisdom. A man, named Pablo Andujar. He is sitting on a plane heading to Paris. Others have chosen to ride inside the plane, but he is sitting on top of it, quite serenely. Quite clayly. “The man on the internet is talking about me again,” he says to the spirit eagle which flies alongside him. “Maybe you should stop taking ayahuasca before your flights? I might not even exist” suggests the spirit eagle. Pablo grimaces at the idea. “Eagles are stupid” he notes to himself.

Majestic folklore aside, Pablo Andujar-Alba is the worst first round for Thiem to receive, and the best. The worst because he is an error-free composure machine who moves the ball extremely well and wins 2 titles a year, and the best because Thiem will need to play himself into shape at this event and the more clay specialists he faces the better. Thiem’s danger in this event will be from guys who put the ball in awkward spots or who have mercurial offense, and clay specialists tend to work the points progressively and play with safe margins. Thiem will have ample time to produce shots and to work on his defending here. He’ll have the bigger serve, and the equation here will be winners to errors. Andujar won’t blink, and will take this match if Thiem plays at the level he has in previous events. It’s a fun question mark, and a good Thiem is great for RG, so I hope he’s able to come through what looks to be an extremely difficult but fair test. Thiem in 4-5.

Tsitsipas vs Chardy :

Tsitsipas is a tremendous tennis player wrapped in a cautionary tale. In a land of paranoid negative judgements and egoic insistencies being wrapped in the word “woke”, Tsitsipas is a good example of someone who likes to think things over but has bad influences. Like most professional tennis phenoms, he’s been surrounded with people who depend on his success, and who overlook all negative behaviors/trends in order to get him there. The result is a fellow who is always in danger of fainting because he is always trying to get a whiff of his own farts. The criticism he gets is warranted, but I am optimistic about his future. There is only so much thinking you can do before you realize the quality of your previous thinking was ridiculously bad, and I think an affinity for philosophy is something that eventually will stop being a way to seem interesting and eventually be a benefit for his mental prowess on and off the court. For now though, he is a cucumber in a pretty wig.

Chardy is always a delight to watch, and he isn’t likely to go the full distance with Tsitsipas but he will happily steal a set or two if the Greek player lapses. Chardy’s errors tend to come when he’s overwhelmed on the defensive, but his game is a bit bigger than his opponents’ ability to defend generally so he’s a good mark to make a competitive match out of one where he is outmatched on paper. Coming into this Tsitsipas is almost in the role Thiem was in previous years where he’s had a few great matches against Novak/Nole and also he’s in the bottom of the draw which should prove great for him. Tsitsipas in 3-4.

Korda vs Martinez :

Sebastian Korda really had a great week in Parma, upending Cecchinato in the finals. It wasn’t the most star-studded event ever, but it’s the first American clay win in 10+ years and Korda seems like a legit top-40 stalwart. He has just enough height to serve effectively, but not too much to cover the baseline effectively. He seems at times to be moving almost in slow motion, but the power he produces on both wings is very useful in buying him some extra time to recover court position. I used to know a coach who said rather than cut off the angle and hit a poor shot, take the extra two steps to get set and smoke it. This is a rough opening draw for both players, as Martinez has earned his place on tour via great clay performances and consistent challenger wins. Korda is in his peak form, but still has an opponent that could take him out. Martinez has lost some tight matches recently, including a late L against Gasquet last week, but he’s likely to compete very hard here, and Korda will have to deal with the post-tournament hangover which often leaves many players a bit burnt out the next week. Martinez, like most clay specialists, works the point conservatively and challenges his opponents movement. He has good patterns on the forehand and Korda is likely to have to do a ton of work to get across here. I’m optimistic about the Americans future, but very wary of the upset here. Martinez in 5.

Marterer vs Krajinovic :

Krajinovic has Paire’s consistency, yet is one of the most consistent players on tour. A withdrawal last week leaves all sorts of question marks about his health for this first round match. Marterer is a hard hitting lefty who has hovered in between the challenger and main tour for a few seasons now. A win against an injured opponent here would do wonders for him since his hardcourt game is good enough that if he got some opportunities this summer he’d definitely be able to get on tour, but if Krajinovic is healthy he’s likely to have an edge in baseline rallies. Krajinovic in 4 if he’s healthy, Marterer in 3 if he isn’t and is just picking up a check.

Querrey vs Isner :

The favorite is definitely Isner given his good service in Madrid, but Querrey and Isner are unlikely to ever produce any consistent results and are both a bit past their primes. I’ll be cheering for Querrey, but Isner in 4.

Raonic vs Monteiro :

Raonic hasn’t played a single clay match. Monteiro is a clay specialist. The only problem is that Raonic’s serving can just beat anyone on any surface. I doubt he’ll play his best in his opener, so the Monteiro upset is very possible even though the hard-working terror from Brazil hasn’t been winning most of his matches this spring. I’m willing to watch Raonic make his usual 3rd round appearance at a major, but I’m not sold on it til he gets there. Monteiro in 4.

Johnson vs Tiafoe :

Delray champions meeting so early? So unfair. Steve Johnson is really stickin around the tour, and has proven he’s willing to go down preemptively to the challengers to keep his points high enough. Tiafoe has had some bright spots this year, yet people are still disappointed. Progress is slow, and the only thing that will really make fans happy is to see him go all out. This is a must-win for him, which makes it tough. Tiafoe is prone to toying with his opponents when he feels dominant, and professional tennis is played at too fast a pace to really take points off. I hope he competes here, and the question mark is his withdrawal from a recent event. If Tiafoe is healthy, Tiafoe in 4, but compatriots often wind up in drawn out battles.

Gerasimov vs Couacaud :

You win. I don’t actually know much about Enzo Couacaud’s game. He’s a guy who often gets wildcards from the French tennis association, but doesn’t do a lot with them. He’s good enough to win some challenger matches, and has a great draw here. Gerasimov is capable, but clay makes his movement even more of a liability. He managed to lose a match last week up 6-4, 4-0 40-15, so he won’t be coming into this too confident. Egor is sporting a streak of nonstop losses, and Enzo has been winning a couple real nice matches at the lower level, including one over Vilella Martinez. Couacaud in 4.

Gombos vs Carreño Busta :

Pablo has been a bit quiet since withdrawing from Rome. It’s hard to get a clear sense of his physical form at this point as the tour players keep this stuff very much under wraps heading into majors, but he should be okay here, as his past earnings are high enough that he’d withdraw if he had a significant trouble. He’s had some abdominal troubles in the past and that was likely the issue that made him not want to grind it out for a few hours against Nishikori. Gombos beat ARV last week which is great, but he’s a cut behind the level here. PCB has proven he can struggle with anyone, but Gombos would be grabbing the biggest win of his career beating PCB on clay. PCB in 4.

Dimitrov vs Giron :

Part of me wants to believe in Dimitrov. This isn’t the “he can overcome” spot that Raonic is in, but quite the reverse. Giron isn’t great on clay, but will compete hard anyway. Dimitrov should have a deep run here, but will likely lose in round two to Galan Riveros. Dimitrov in 4-5.

Pella vs Galan Riveros :

Pella’s foot issue is proving to be a silent sideliner for his results on tour. It keeps looking promising but he just can’t win multiple matches. Galan Riveros probably shouldn’t have had to qualify here, but he did fairly easily. He’s the better player and has better health at the moment. Galan in 3.

Ruusuvuori vs McDonald :

Ruusuvuori hasn’t won a match on clay yet this season. Mackie has been grinding hard and has a number of wins. This is a pretty straightforward spot for the upset to happen. Mcdonald doesn’t have a huge edge anywhere though aside from recent match results, so it may take a while. Mcdonald in 5.

Londero vs Garin :

I saw something like 9 games being given to Londero in this one. Is Garin suddenly Rafael Nadal? Multiple breaks and holding serve nonstop are near impossible to pull off for a guy Garin’s height, and Londero has been struggling real hard to win matches but he’s been losing by somewhat narrow margins at times. I think he’ll acquit himself well here in at least two sets, and Garin should be better in the end, but woof is the price tag crazy. Garin in 4.

Opelka vs Martin :

Opelka is favored here which is a little odd considering Andrej Martin’s run this past week saw him pull off a number of upsets and actually steal a set from Djokovic. There’s something extremely annoying about seeing pros destroy hundreds of dollars of equipment when anything doesn’t go their way, but children just aren’t careful with their possessions. Opelka is near unplayable at times, so the match is on his racquet. His inside out forehand has been a clean winner for the past month or so, and I think Martin may be a bit fatigued here, but if these two get into rallies I don’t think Opelka can win. Martin is very adept at opening up the court and will challenge Opelka’s movement. Idk about servebotting on clay, and I think Martin should be a closer price here. Martin in 5.

Munar vs Thompson :

Thompson is the hardcourt version of Munar. Munar in 3.

Paul vs O’Connell :

Tommy Paul finally got things going this past week, and clay seems to be his best surface. O’Connell is better suited to hardcourt, and I’m surprised he got the WC here. Paul in 4.

Bublik vs Medvedev :

Prove it! Medvedev has said he doesn’t like clay. Well, this is a good opportunity for a quick exit. Bublik will play quick enough offense that Medvedev can get upset, and Medvedev has really phoned it in a number of times already on clay. I think we’re all expecting him to overcome his complaints, but the way he hits the ball just doesn’t get through the court on clay, so any matches he manages to win will likely be a struggle. I don’t want to completely write him off, but we have a guy saying he doesn’t play well on clay, saying he doesn’t like clay, and consistently losing on clay. Then we say “this guy will now win on clay”. I can’t follow the logic, and I’m tempted to believe Medvedev will lose this. Bublik in 4.