Jun 05, 2021

2021 Roland Garros ATP & WTA Round of 16

Round of 16 matches are here. I’m getting this one up a bit early so Federer and Berretini’s match (if it happens) will be added a bit later today. The wild ride continues and as we get down to business I’m happy to get to watch more of each match, even if the tournament seems intent on scheduling them all at the same time. One thing’s for sure though, no matter how many matches they schedule at once, it will never be enough for Tennis Channel to run out of bad announcers.

Djokovic vs Musetti :

Novak Djokovic has endured one of the toughest draws he could have had so far. None of the matches involved a remote threat to him, but three easy matches is a spot that he often loses motivation in and manages to drop a set. Against Berankis he was clinical, and his smooth movement makes it easy to not notice how fast he is. The extra ball comes back and his excellent balance/yoga training mean that he is able to put it back into play in a controlled and defensive manner. There is a threat looming on the horizon, but Djokovic seems very well equipped to deal with it. He isn’t dealing with the neck issues, his shoulder and elbow seem to be okay, and he is remaining fairly calm on the court.

Musetti reaching the round of 16 at a major is a crazy result, but it’s not surprising after the 2021 he’s turning in. Some early “not ready yet” losses as a significant favorite have been present, but it’s near impossible to perform well every time and Musetti has most importantly played to the level of his opponent in more difficult matches. The highlight against Cecchinato has to be a behind the back shot he played for a winner while running the wrong way, but a better takeaway is how measured and consistent he has been throughout the tournament. Clean shotmaking and conservative decisions show a belief in his game and a comfort level that takes many players a long time to find. For this next match, I think we’ll see something akin to the Medvedev Djokovic Australian Open finals. Musetti has a great shot tolerance and a great deal of skill, but Djokovic has proven time and time again that if he has control of rallies, you are in trouble. The height and spin Musetti gets will create a minor problem for Novak to solve, but his footwork will adjust and he’s coming into this very fresh and with a few warmup matches. It will be exciting when Musetti makes inroads, but Djokovic is serving well, playing well, and likely will only lose to Nadal in this event. Djokovic in 3.

Berretini/Kwon vs Federer/Koepfer :

To be added later today. Originally this said Berretini vs Federer but nothing’s guaranteed in this tournament.

Nadal vs Sinner :

Nadal was clinical today against a very game Cameron Norrie. Norrie did a great thing today despite a pretty straightforward loss. He brought the same level of competitive play and large margins into this match, and while it didn’t give him a chance to cross the finish line, it did force Nadal to do a lot of work to win. Norrie was able to get into some of Nadal’s service games and even held a lead in the second. A good mental showing for Norrie, who will likely continue to have a good year since he doesn’t seem to be sporting any injuries or doubts.

For Sinner, it was a similar scoreline with a bit more worry. Mikael Ymer has actually done his best at the majors so far in his career, and he is getting a lot more efficient with his shot selection in rallies which is scary given his speed/stamina. The hole in his game is still that his serve generally comes back a large % of the time, and this meant that even though he was able to go the distance in rallies with Sinner, he was never able to hold a break advantage once he got it. Sinner was his usual self. It’s almost robotic how he hits the ball back in the court in a probing manner with increasing pace, and while he sits in my mind as an offensive talent, he extends rallies well which gives him a chance for extra points. This matchup may become an annual thing, and it would seem that Nadal and Djokovic both get their chance this round to display a bit extra in their game. Nadal’s serving was subpar leading up to this event but it was crisp against Norrie, and his forehand has lacked depth at times but he is starting to add a bit more zip when he finally has the court open. The biggest thing that we see time and time again with Nadal is that he improves as he gets more matches in. Sinner will acquit himself better than he did last year, but Nadal has been winning so long that the commemorative awards and statues and court namings are already becoming old news. He’s healthy, and he’s the best player in the event. This will be an entertaining matchup because it will take a ton of work from Nadal to hit past Sinner, but he tends to have an answer for everyone that always looks the same yet I never see coming. Nadal in 4.

Schwartzman vs Struff :

Whoever summoned Kohlschreiber likely did so just to free the tour of Karatsev’s onslaught. He didn’t play his best today but it was one of those spots where he would have had to play 4 hours of tennis to have a shot. Diego in an early round can be overpowered but as the game slows down and he gets in a good rhythm on his backhand, it becomes an obviously exhausting task to beat him. It does set up an interesting clash with Struff though, as Struff’s plan is to go through his opponent and Diego is a venerable wall. Struff and Alcaraz was a reminder that players don’t just go away because the future arrives. Struff had more experience, and didn’t hesitate in this match. It was close in the scoreline, but it was largely Struff dictating when he had the chance, and his serve earned him a lot of errors. Alcaraz showed some mettle late in the third fighting and breaking back at 5-1, but Struff was just a tiny bit more sure of what his gameplan was in this one. Alcaraz alternated between dropshots and power and my read that he had more variety was correct, but it tended to mean that he had to play more points perfectly, while Struff just ripped forehands and looked to keep his backhand in the court. Struff took a moment to say some nice words to Alcaraz at the net after the match, and I don’t know what he said but it looked inspiring and Struff was very classy to have to awareness there to encourage a young player.

It would seem that Schwartzman will have a hard time holding serve in this contest, since Struff is looking to tee off on second serves, but Struff’s losses to consistent baseliners are a theme in his career, and Diego gets the added benefit of playing him in a later round and in a season where he has less wear and tear since he’s only just finding form in this event. I’d expect some close sets and Struff may win one or two if he starts strong, but Schwartzman is the name you expect to see in the quarterfinals. Schwartzman in 4-5.

Zverev vs Nishikori :

Hating someone doesn’t make them lose? I was excited for Djere’s solid play and physicality to trouble Zverev, but my parade was rained on. The roof was closed for their match, and that makes a huge difference. Zverev is one of the best indoor players on the tour right now. Maybe only Medvedev is better. The reason is that he is a giant individual, and those big swings take a bit of time and also require the ball to be right where he expects it. The balltoss on his serve can go awry in outdoor play, and his forehand can also misfire a great deal when he’s combatting the weather. Indoors, things bounce purely and acoustic effects also lock you into good timing on shots. The conditions are the same for both players of course, but Djere’s chances are only present in a gritty humid affair. Clay slows things down, but not enough, and Zverev played a solid first set. In the second, it seemed like Zverev suffered a bit from mental fatigue. He’d thoroughly dismissed Djere, but there were still two sets of work to do. He let some double faults and errors creep in, and genuinely seemed like he was still in control, but that the match would be leveled at 1-1. Djere gave the break back, but broke again for 5-3. Serving at 40-0, things seemed wonderful. The next rally saw Djere give up on a ball, yet Zverev hit it exactly back to where he was standing. Djere hit it sideways for some reason, and that was the last time he got a look at being involved in the match. Zverev stopped making errors, and Djere really doesn’t hit clean winners or look to so he faded quickly. Fatigue may have played an issue after his match with Kecmanovic, but Zverev’s power and serve should not be discounted. I tend to focus in on the errors with players I am not a huge fan of, and so I look at Zverev’s serving woes, immaturity, and forehand shanks as something that his opponents can target. It gives them hope, but they still have to return a huge serve point after point, and just because Zverev isn’t going for winners like Federer doesn’t mean Djere doesn’t have to run down and reflect powerful groundstrokes in rally after rally. A well earned victory for Zverev, and this theme of opponents chances seeming to fade both to the spectator and to the opponent as the matches progress is a scary thing going forward, since Zverev will only get better.

Anyway, this is the part where I usually start building a case for Clay Nishikori to beat Zverev. A few interesting matches in the past few days have raised questions for me though, and they have to with player fatigue. Often we see a player complete a long match, and are sure they’ll be on their last legs. The next round, they crush it. Often we see a player get a round off, and assume they’ll be fresher the next round. Bogdan certainly got the benefit of it, as her ballstriking against Badosa was just a bit crisper and this let her dominate the match until her game slowly settled down a notch. Cirstea has been disregarded by oddsmakers, and has been adding tape to her ankle/foot on every other changeover so far, yet she continues to roll. I don’t want the answer to be “I don’t know”, but it feels very difficult to accurately gauge how much benefit Nishikori’s forfeit against Laaksonen will be. In terms of sets, Nishi and Zverev have both played 11. The extra day and a half of rest though should mean we see Nishikori at his best. This Nishikori shows glimpes of the brillance that he once had, but we’re more accustomed to close matches. In the past I’d have laughed at him going 5 with Gianessi, but now it makes sense. This is a very uphill battle for the popped collar prince, as Zverev’s serve gives him such an easier path to winning games. Zverev’s backhand being worldclass defensively also takes away Nishikori’s best attribute which is locking people into bh to bh exchanges. They played in Madrid though and Zverev won in 3. I would expect the slower conditions here and the potential that Zverev fares worse without a closed roof to mean that this is Zverev’s first real test where he will either show he is a cut above, or be moved down significantly in the futures markets. Did I manage to convince myself that Zverev is going to lose again? Is he just the European version of Fritz for me? Possibly. Journalists are supposed to be unbiased, so Zverev in 4. But also, Nishikori in 5.

Davidovich Fokina vs Delbonis :

Davidovich Fokina and Casper Ruud should take a bow. There has not been another match in this event that was more exciting and played at a more frantic pace. Only ADF takes medical timeouts and then competes at his physical peak. Only Casper Ruud hits his forehand as hard in the 5th set as he did in round one. Late in the fifth they were still crushing the ball, and the only thing stranger than their impressive stamina was the scoreline. Ruud won the 4th 6-0, and the 2nd 6-2. Heading into the 5th there was the possibility he could lose a tiebreaker and still cover the spread for the match, which is a rare pokemon. Most have heard already, but Fokina was facing break point while serving for the match and hit an underhand serve. Ruud missed the slice into the net, and a game that was about 10 minutes and saw both players have multiple match and break points was over soon after. ADF has to be exhausted after that match, and one of the tipsters in the DC chat mentioned that it feels safe to back him since he’ll either win or withdraw. A guy who seems fragile physically but competes all out is an interesting prospect, but it would feel very anti-climactic to see Delbonis cruise through this match. They haven’t met before, but Delbonis has been playing very well in the past few weeks. He tends to turn the game into a heavy bruising shot for shot competition, and his forehand will be the biggest weapon on the court. Delbonis’ movement can be a liability though, and ADF’s dropshot heavy offense is coupled with a great ability to redirect his shots. He tends to run around his backhand but also around his forehand, and the result is that he gets to see his opponent’s early movement when it’s there. This kind of footwork may be a bit flat if he’s fatigued from the Ruud match, and Delbonis will be pretty fresh since Fognini helped him out significantly by imploding once he lost a break in each set. Fognini called himself stupid in the press conference afterward, which was partially frustration with the journalists, but also a fair point. Fognini isn’t stupid though, and it’s great self-awareness that he knows he gave away good opportunities to close out his service games. I like more honesty and jovial banter in an interview, so Fognini moved up a little in my book this week. Didn’t he also say him and his wife have sex like 100 times a day or something like that? This is obviously false, because his clothes appear too tight to ever actually be removed, but good for him. Question marks surrounding ADF are fair to raise, but too speculative. He’s been the better player for a while now, and should beat Delbonis. ADF in 4.

Tsitsipas vs Carreño-Busta :

Tsitsipas and PCB is something that a few seasons ago I’d have thought was completely even. Pablo is a more serious competitor than most, and his results at majors prove that. He’s become a bit like Gasquet where he always appears in the later rounds but can’t really beat the top guys. Stefanos’ recent play is likely to make this continue. His 4 setter against Isner is pretty much as quick as anyone could have defeated the big server, and Tsitsipas has played serious clay court tennis from the start of this season until now. Something changed in him during the 5 setter he had with Novak last year. He seemed to realize within the match “oh crap I could win this”. It was somewhat too late at the time since he was running on fumes, but it gave him a chance to see that his level was already there to challenge the top guys even though he did not feel confident. A little belief goes a long way, and since he can’t seem to remember most of the inspirational quotes he tries to quote, believing in himself is a simple reliable thing to stick with. PCB will make this a long contest, but he needs an implosion from Tsitsipas. It would be easy to see Tsitsipas losing a set here with some errors at the end of a close one, but PCB has played pretty close to the lower level opponents he’s faced so far, and the Greek’s serve is a huge weapon to help him avoid long rallies with the reliable Spaniard. Tsitsipas in 4.

Garin vs Medvedev :

Christian Garin just woke up. Whenever you see him, the expression on his face is “huh? tennis? ok” Giron played decent, but Garin was in full control. I’m glad he won, because this sets up a match that I think many are going to expect Medvedev to win after his first two rounds. HAHA YOU GUYS THINK HE’S GONNA WIN YOU’RE NOT SMART LIKE ME! Honestly, I am scared to even suggest Nadal might win a match at this point. I have gotten blindsided by so many results this week, and it is nice to be humbled but not this much. I am a bumblebee buzzing around your colorful shirt. I think I’ve found the answer but I am likely to get swatted. My thinking in doubting Medvedev here involves the method he scored most of his points with in the early rounds. Bublik and Opelka both attempted to go through Medvedev. They weren’t able to score their usual plethora of points on serve, and they forced shots in the rallies and made errors. Against Opelka, Medvedev made the match look too easy. He didn’t go for much, and just kept reflecting Opelka’s power until he earned an error. It was a great result from a guy we hope will win a lot on clay in the future, but he had help. I’m somewhat pessimistic about his match with Garin because I think the roles will be reversed. Garin’s play on clay amounts to a very strong athlete playing a very simple game. He plays as if he is sick of you wanting to play fetch but will keep returning the ball, and when he has chances with his forehand, he is very capable of hitting through the court. This becomes less a physical test for Medvedev like it was in earlier rounds and more of a mental one. Garin outlasted him in Madrid when Medvedev seemed to be throwing away his clay season, but Medvedev’s trouble in hitting through the court is well documented and Garin is likely to keep him out there for a very long time. It’s late in the writeup but I’m just realizing just how good these quarterfinals are. Everyone in the tournament has a perfect test, and there are some clear favorites to win the event but a lot of twists and turns left. It should be tough for either player to pull away here. Garin plays a bit too straightforward to really leave Medvedev in the dust, and the court hinders Daniil enough that he won’t be able to find his way out of rallies if Garin locks down which he tends to do as matches progress. I think the upset is only going to come via an unravelling from Medvedev, but I’m afraid that I haven’t seen anything change about the way he plays on clay other than his opponents. Garin in 5.

WTA Singles :
Jabeur vs Gauff :

This is a great matchup and well deserved. Jabeur was in an offensive battle against Linette, who redlined early (as she does) and stole a first set where she was down a break and rattled off 4 games in a row to close out. That was the end of winning games though, as Linette’s lack of matches saw her game falter a bit. Jabeur took the opportunities, and I cannot think of a better player at dismissing a tired opponent. Jabeur’s easy power and dropshots just made this a match that Linette never got to steady herself in after the 2nd, and Ons will have a winnable match in this round as well. Brady unfortunately pulled out due to an injury. Gauff was sweet to come over and give her a hug, but it oddly felt like a nice reward for Gauff who has been playing her heart out for the past week. Jabeur and Gauff have traded clay matches in recent history, with Jabeur winning the most recent one in Charleston. Charleston is a bit faster than RG though, and Gauff is not the opponent I’d want to be playing late in a major. For her it’s a question of “when” not “if” as far as winning a major. Although she went a bit away from her offensive display that saw her perform so well at Wimbledon, that ability is still there, and a season spent pushing and playing very defensively have ironed out some issues on the backhand and left her as a very consistent player who still hits big. This match will be about time. Whoever can take their opponents time away is going to earn errors since both hit big, and Gauff will be a little bit fresher so I expect a full 3 sets here. Jabeur finished her last match very strong, but Gauff is a much better mover than Linette over the long run in a match, so I think she’ll find success in the later stages where Linette faded. Gauff in 3.

Stephens vs Krejcikova :

Stephens continues to play well, and I expected Muchova to be able to deal with her power but it gave Sloane a slight edge. It was a convincing win, but nothing was more convincing than Krejcikova’s play against Svitolina. She isn’t really outlasting her opponents or getting terribly tricky as much as she is playing as if they aren’t even there. Stephens’ speed and power are huge factors, but I think her lack of variety will play into Krejcikova’s hands here. Barbora has already hit through one of the tours best defenders in the previous round, and I think the run will continue, even though Stephens is near the peak of her game. Krejcikova in 3.

Kenin vs Sakkari :

Kenin and Pegula played even for quite some time, but Kenin’s ability to produce shots when there is pressure at the end of a match is a testament to good coaching and solid belief that the right shot doesn’t need to be overhit just because it’s the end of a game. There’s nothing spectacular about the forehands she produced as she closed out against Pegula but they were all well placed and they were all instant winners since Pegula’s attention on court had gotten a bit frantic. The “I’m going to dig in and compete” is a common default for players but when your opponent is playing an accurate game you can give away too much with your movement and positioning. Sakkari and Mertens probably had the best match of the day, and it continues to be Mertens that just can’t quite get across the finish line at the end of sets. I think a bit more variety on serve would help, but baseliners tend to lose a bit of pop on their serves as a match progresses, and Sakkari is going to win almost all physical battles on tour. For Maria, her serve was great today and her attitude was better. She didn’t get upset after shot after shot was ruled against her at the end of the second set, and Mertens hung tough for a while in the third and really spread the ball well but Sakkari kept competing and kept believing. I’ve been using that word belief a lot in this article but it’s probably more about focus.

Kenin can beat Sakkari, but she’s not likely to. She’ll need to take every opportunity to control rallies, but only her backhand really has the power to hit past Maria. Sakkari’s serve is a lot better, and her fitness is as well. Kenin has the experience in these big moments, so the battle for her is likely getting to the deciding set. If she can get there, she’ll be able to dictate rallies and Sakkari having never really dominated a major may struggle a bit to produce her shots, but I would guess that Sakkari’s struggles will come early and then fade as she adjusts to the match. Sakkari in 2.

Kostyuk vs Swiatek :

Danger, Iga. Kostyuk brought a basket of aces today and was nice enough to share them with her friend Varvara. She got up a break in the second and just served ace after ace. Gracheva played much better in the second set, but it didn’t really matter. It brings up a really dangerous spot for Swiatek, who easily could have had a third set to play today. Kontaveit started off her match swinging big and playing aggressively. This has always been her game. It worked, and Swiatek began making errors and got stuck on defense. Kontaveit slowed down though. It’s that “now that I have it I just want to keep it” vibe that’s so easy to fall into. You want the same errors your opponent gave you earlier, but you’re no longer offering up the shots that will earn them. Kontaveit had chances and even got to the tiebreaker, but it just seemed like she was down a set even though it was still the first. The second was lopsided, and I think Kontaveit’s coaches should focus on the early section of the first set. It is near impossible to beat a top tennis player, but it is very possible to play a good set of offensie tennis. This should always be the approach for Kontaveit. She’s good enough to beat these players, but no one is good enough to negate peak tennis offense so these matches are about who takes control.

Kostyuk and Swiatek sounds like a straightforward affair as far as names, but Swiatek’s struggles in the last round show that she is not yet the robotic winner that many regard her as. Kontaveit doesn’t really have a great serve, and Kostyuk does. Kostyuk will have the same equation as Kontaveit though; can she play offense throughout the match, or will she succumb to Swiatek and get run around. Swiatek is only really beatable because she still makes errors, and those errors tend to disappear unless there is scoreboard pressure. Win the coin toss, get on the board, and return aggressively. These are things Kostyuk is capable of, and despite it being a monumental upset to want, this is a player who just beat Muguruza comprehensively and who has not dropped a set. I’m unsure if she’s shown the kind of performance in her career it will take, but she’s shown the ability this week. Small nod to Swiatek for her experience and because she tends to problem solve when her game goes whereas Kostyuk tends to look to her box and get upset. Swiatek in 3.

Williams vs Rybakina :

Collins did okay in her match against Serena, but her serve really needed to be better. Serena was able to break back when she gave up the advantage, and her own serve netted her a ton of simple returns. The surface seemed to bother Collins as well, and as the tournament progresses there are more and more bad bounces and it becomes harder for someone who likes to take the ball on the rise to succeed. A nice embrace at net ended this somewhat onesided affair, and Williams will have another very winnable match. Rybakina has the type of offense that can blow Serena off the court, but so did Sabalenka at the Australian Open. So have lots of players in history, but situationally it becomes difficult to produce. Serena hits a very heavy ball, and her serve makes her able to negate break points which is a tough mental hurdle for an opponent to overcome. Rybakina’s movement is actually a bit worse than Serena’s, so this will really come down to who gets to swing first. Hard to pick against Serena in a deciding set, and I think that’s where this will go. Williams in 3.

Azarenka vs Pavlyuchenkova :

Azarenka and Keys played an entire match in the time that it took for Pavlyuchenkova to win the third 6-0. Keys reliably goes for offense, and it just didn’t click. There shouldn’t be a plan B, but plan A often looks like a plan B. Sabalenka crashing out in such dramatic fashion was a very 2019 moment, but her stretch of quality over the past few months has been so good that I suppose we’ve all been spoiled. This is one I think anyone could write the preview for. Aza and Pavs will play a high-level affair, and the winner will be hard to spot if you don’t have a scoreboard to look at. They’re both great baseliners, and the small edge will always be that Azarenka is a bit taller and so has a small edge serving and in terms of reach. That extra defense and her relative advantage in time spent on court should see her through here, and if it’s in straight sets her opponents should start to worry. Azarenka in 3.

Zidansek vs Cirstea :

Zidansek and Sinakova was like every Siniakova match so far. High quality offensive trading and with no real losers. It’s unfortunate to play so well and bow out, but Siniakova’s disappointment shouldn’t stand in the way of focusing on how important this run was for her career. She’s always been a powerful player but has always struggled with consistency. With those troubles gone, ze future iz bright. Zidansek and Cirstea is a half a puzzle because of Cirstea’s injury. She called the trainer multiple times and requested an additional layer of tape on her ankle/foot each time. It appears her ability to stop when running to her backhand is severely hampered, yet she planted herself right at the service line and battered all of Kasatkina’s serve. She may even be better while injured, because her laser sharp offensive offerings are all she really looks to employ. Zidansek should be able to expose her movement issues, but it becomes almost like a servebot vs a pusher in the sense that Zidansek doesn’t want to wind up in a tiebreaker with such a dangerous player. The whole Podoroska/Bencic/Kasatkina section has been something that I’ve been seeing wrong each round, so I’d value my opinion here as much as a frog values a cloud. Zidansek’s run has been through tougher opponents, so I’d give her the nod. Zidansek in 3.

Vondrousova vs Badosa :

Vondrousova was a little bit better than Hercog from start to finish, but Hercog has cool tattoos, so who is the real winner? I suppose it is Vondrousova. Bogdan’s lack of a match against Osaka benefitted her greatly, as her shots were a bit too fast for Badosa. Whether Paola knew what was at play or not, it was a very difficult first set for her and she was run around nonstop. Things turned around in the second as some of the zip came off Bogdan’s backhand, but the third set really could have gone either way. Badosa is deceptively lanky and I think that’s part of the reason why she’s starting to dominate. Her court coverage and shots don’t seem to be anything unique, but when reviewing her game there isn’t really a weakness out there, nor a shot that she doesn’t get a racquet on. Simply put, she is outlasting her opponents and her proclivity to hit to the open court when she has an opportunity is removing errors from her game. It’s the kind of recipe that will be evenly matched against Vondrousova, and it’s difficult to say how either player will score in this one. Vondrousova’s movement may be a bit worse, and she has a bit less power, but being lefty is a huge plus, and Badosa’s frustrations against Bogdan are likely to multiply as Marketa has a very frustrating array of slices and dropshots. I’m going to still side with the better athlete here though. Badosa has been dominating her matchups and has been consistently winning, and Vondrousova’s season has been a bit on the mediocre side. Badosa in 2.