May 29, 2022

2022 Roland Garros Men's Round Four Writeup

Getting to the second week at a major is a badge of courage, and so is not acclimating to a French sleep schedule and passing out during the Gaston match today. This post is a bit late and I apologize; WTA will be up in around an hour.
Djokovic vs Schwartzman :

Djokovic had a much easier third round than most of the draw, which is impressive since there were a bunch of 3-0 shutouts. Bedene wasn’t really able to threaten Novak nor was he able to extend rallies enough to earn errors. Somehow, Diego Schwartzman managed to turn in a more impressive scoreline than Novak’s 3,3,2 win with a 3,1,2 win of his own over Dimitrov, including a comeback from 0-2 down in the third. Dimitrov seemed to have a wrist injury in this match, and had taken a medical timeout in the previous match to have work done on his right wrist. 59 unforced errors were the reason Dimitrov lost on paper, but we all know it was Diego’s solid defending. Schwartzman puts everything back in play and keeps his backhand very low. In this match he also was pretty sharp on passing shots, but with Dimitrov trying to make rallies quick and play aggressive, it made him an impatient and simple target a lot of the time.

Diego has never beaten Djokovic, but the matches are always close. It’s been a few years since Novak edged him in deciding sets on clay, but current form matters a bit more than past matches, and Diego is on fresh legs and playing very sharp. One of the less annoying Tennis Channel announcers (might have been Paul Annacone) made a good point about why Novak does better against Diego than Nadal. By looking to take the ball early all the time, he maintains control in rallies and maintains pressure on Diego. Nadal’s deep court position when returning also gives Diego a bit more control. Both are adept at finishing off the best defensive test on clay on tour, but Novak gets it done with a bit less effort. Here, i expect Schwartzman to do a bit better than he usually does. Novak is on a solid win streak but he was pushed in the third against Molcan and the super drawn out extended rallies that Diego brings aren’t something that Novak has dealt with for an entire match since his return to professional tennis. Djokovic in 4.

Auger-Aliassime vs Nadal :

Novak gets Diego, and Nadal gets Felix. Two tremendous hopefuls against two legends of the game. FAA’s third round was a straight set victory that took every bit of focus from Felix. Krajinovic was able to take every set to extra innings, but he just doesn’t have as big of a serve as Felix. Leads evaporated and a few errant dropshots and backhands let FAA advance. Krajinovic remains one of the almost complete players on tour, and while he can do anything he tends to make one of each mistake possible along the way. If he improves his serve, he can compete at the top level, but if not he likely will keep losing close ones.

Nadal passed his first big test with flying colors, defeating Botic Van De Zandschulp in straight sets without really looking to be in danger. There was a break in his opening service game, and a late surge in the third by Goatic, but Nadal looked comfortable. To beat Felix, he’ll need a similar performance. In many ways, playing Botic first primes him to play FAA. Both have a big serve, a reliable backhand, and play behind a big forehand. The last meeting on clay between these two was a 6-3, 6-3 win for Nadal, and I’d expect a few similar single break sets. Felix can push anyone when he’s peaking, but he’s still finding his exact game and strategy on tour. Where I think Nadal thrives is where he usually does. His forehand is going to kick up on FAA’s backhand and Felix can lose depth/power on that wing when he’s dealing with height. Honestly, who doesn’t? Nadal is 108-3 at Roland Garros. That’s just ridiculous. Stop being ridiculous Nadal, but also keep on being ridiculous forever. Gtfo but also pls stay forever we love you. I expect Felix to find his way into this match once Nadal’s level drops and Nadal to have to regroup. It’ll be good to see how he handles that. Nadal in 4.

Zverev vs Zapata Miralles :

Zverev recovered well from his nerve-wracking win against Sebastian Baez and edged past Nakashima. He didn’t threaten Nakashima’s serve very often but the different in ballstriking in this match was very evident. Callbacks to the FAA/Kraj match are fair here, as Zverev’s serve let him coast even though the scoreline was close, and Nakashima’s play was excellent but he had to earn all of his points. Earning points? Oof, it’s tough. Bouncing the ball over people’s heads while shouting “AAAHHHHHHH”? Solid. Zverev’s grunts are not only manufactured, they’re also annoying. They don’t seem to be adding anything to his forehand, and that wing is improving slightly but still looks very prone to deceleration when he goes down the line. You can’t shout the ball past your opponent, and it almost seems like the more noise he makes the less depth he puts on the ball. Something to consider, but I genuinely think he is uncoachable based off his behavior and attitude towards his coaches (some pretty embarrassing disrespect during the UTS exhibitons) so he really is taking the long route to the top of the game.

This next match is an excellent spot for Zverev to win in straights again. Zapata Miralles is having his best result at a major and a career-changing moment. After giving back a break of serve to lose the 4th set against Isner, I was pretty worried for the homey Bernabe. The 5th set usually goes to the veterans and bigger names, but he broke early and held on for the win. He’ll play his best against Zverev but Alex defends really well during rallies and hits much heavier than Zapata. It’s a straighforward spots for Zverev. Zverev in 3.

Khachanov vs Alcaraz :

Khachanov played spoiler in round 3 beating Cam Norrie in 4 sets. Karen broke early in every set and just held onto the lead. He serves well, he hit really sharp winners with his forehand, and he didn’t drop his level once. Everything fans have been begging for him to do, he did. Norrie isn’t tremendous on clay, but he makes every effort to frustrate his opponents into errors so this was a real high level win for Khachanov. This could have been a bit closer as Norrie was only 5/21 on break points, but still a great win. While these two were playing extended rallies and duece games, Alcaraz was cruising past Sebastian Korda. If your movement isn’t world class, Alcaraz is going to beat you. He was all over Korda’s serves and once he got a forehand he was in control of rallies.

Khachanov will know what’s ahead of him, but one solid thing about him is that he plays to the level of his opponents. Korda is a better server than Khachanov and creates angles a bit better, but Khachanov is way more stable defensively and will play Carlos closer. After playing Norrie, the infusion of power from Carlos will be tough to deal with, but the long rallies are something Karen will be ready for. One huge disparity is that Norrie’s serve was very ineffective in the third round, and Carlos hits his spots pretty well and has a good kick serve for seconds. There’s not a ton to go off of for this, as it’s their first meeting and both are potentially displaying a new level. I do think Alcaraz Zverev is inevitable, but this is a tougher test than ARV or Korda so it should be close. Alcaraz in 4.

Ruud vs Hurkacz :

It was a hard loss to take, but Sonego should be proud of himself. He wasn’t given much of a chance against Ruud but he redlined his game for this one. Every forehand, every backhand, every swing was with intent to score. He had 16 backhand errors to Ruud’s 1 by the fourth set, and rather than shooting himself out of the match he really took Ruud’s best weapon away. Ruud plays a very secure game. He uses a ton of topspin, doesn’t miss much, and works extremely hard on putting the ball in tough spots. If you are the sort to make unforced errors, he’s going to outlast you. By going even more aggressive, Sonego put pressure on Ruud to make routine balls. When it was 4-4 in the 4th, Ruud was as tense as I’ve ever seen him so this really could have gone either way.

Hurkacz’s price heading in was something like -140. Hurkacz is ranked a lot higher than Goffin, but Goffin had just beaten him and was on a tear. It is a tiny bit odd for Hurkacz to still sit as the favorite, but he proved the books right with his best performance yet this event. Hurkacz hasn’t been broken in any of his matches, which is unheard of on clay regardless of your opponent. He was able to boss Goffin around from the baseline, but the asterisk here is that it appeared like Goffin hit a wall early in the first. He was doubled over between points, and seemed like he had to go for winners when he was out of position more often than usual. It got worse as the match went on, and Hurkacz is through with relatively fresh legs which will be important against Ruud.

I’m not so sure Ruud beats Hurkacz. He just had a very difficult time with Sonego’s pressure and Hurkacz is serving great. The thing driving Hurkacz forward is how reliable he is from the baseline. When someone finally makes him play a long rally, there’s no impatience there. Having a serve like his usually means poor movement and an emphasis on winning quick points. He won’t win a ton of those here, but his stability will give him a fighting chance since Ruud tends to work the point slowly rather than immediately hitting to the open court. For Ruud, it’s incredibly important for him to take care of his own serve. He won 70% of his first serve points and 63% of his second today, and these are the type of numbers he needs. If Hurkacz can break, he’ll win the set. Goffin should have been his first huge test, but his physical fitness just wasn’t there. Ruud will drag this out, and I would expect this to be the closest match of the 4th round. Ruud in 5.

Rune vs Tsitsipas :

Holger Vitus Rune was solid today. He started the match down 0-40 in his first service game, and the crowd was ready to get excited. He held though, and came into this match with a gameplan that anyone playing Gaston should take note of. Rune played a ton of balls down the middle with medium depth and good height. It got Gaston to open the angles first, and Rune was really solid at counterpunching once that had happened. His balance when he’s running to his forehand wing is really exceptional, and he places the ball down the line over and over. Rune broke early in each set, and kept the crowd out of it. They tried the wave, they tried cheering, and they even tried booing at one point but it didn’t matter. Great run for Gaston and I hope he continues to improve because this run was less a cinderella story and more an exceptional talent playing hard on a big stage.

Tsitsipas was similarly clinical in what I thought would be a tough match against Ymer. Ymer seemed a bit flat for this match. Tsitsipas gave him no pace to work with and hit with a bunch of height. He was content to wait for Ymer to create first and when he did Tsitsipas was ready to zip forehand winners right past the great defender. Ymer’s serve looked weak today honestly, and he’ll need to do a lot more with the placement in the future if he wants to pressure the top players. I also thought he should have been more proactive about moving to the ball. He let a lot of shots drive him back, and from behind the baseline it’s nearly impossible to get anything past Tsitsipas. Playing a guy with a one-handed backhand and allowing him to hang behind the baseline and swing without pressure is a bad plan.

This Rune Tsitsipas clash would have seemed very scary after the Kolar Tsitsipas match, but seeing Tsitsipas perfectly navigate the Ymer challenge tells me he’s maturing as the seasons go. Rune is quick, and has no real holes in his game, but Tsitsipas hits bigger than him off both wings. This is one where Tsitsipas should ratchet up the pace a little bit and try to move Rune back. The pace of the match so far in Rune’s career seems to dictate how many errors he makes. With time, he’s a top 20 player. Tsitsipas’ serving is the hallmark of all his runs, and his arm will be fresh for this. Even if Tsitsipas goes down in the scoreline, it’s starting to look like his physical dominance over his opponents is a key, and the variety of his playstyle means he can change gears when he needs to. Tsitsipas in 4-5.

Rublev vs Sinner :

Local gingers near you want to thwack! After a tricky match against Christian Garin, we get a really funky clash between the two hardest swingers left in the draw. They may not hit the biggest or have the most revolutions, but Rublev and Sinner were made for each other. Sinner had a really nice comeback in the second set against McDonald where he saved numerous set points, and he’s my pick for this match. Both crush the ball. Both have a decent serve but don’t score a bunch of unreturned serves. Both are prone to errors and don’t back off when the pace is quick. The reason I like Sinner in this matchup is that Rublev has had a lot more chances to get going at Roland Garros and it just hasn’t happened. Clay isn’t the ideal surface for him it seems, and I felt Garin had chances to sense this match to 5 sets that he should have taken. Sinner is just as good defensively and will rush Rublev’s swings as well in a manner that Garin just doesn’t. Aggression wins and Sinner ran away with the match when he won in 3 in Monte Carlo. Sinner in 4.

Medvedev vs Cilic :

Medvedev? Are you okay? No complaints from me or any tennis fans if this guy wants to put his complaints aside and keep winning on clay. His game isn’t suited to it, but you can’t hit past this guy on a fast hardcourt so how will it happen on slow clay? Kecmanovic showed the holes in his game in this loss; he was unable to return serve for much effect, and in rallies he was a little bit too defensive. In his defense, myself and many others sort of expected Daniil to just implode at some point. Him beating Djere and Kecmanovic in straights is a pretty good sign that that won’t happen.

Cilic ended Simon’s heroic run with a solid offensive performance. Simon put a bunch of balls back, and Cilic was just ready at every moment with another offensive offering. The result was a safe 3 set win and a matchup that leaves me scratching my head a bit. Medvedev is -300 against Cilic, a huge jump from the -160 he was against Kecmanovic. Cilic has had limited success against Medvedev in terms of wins, but within the matches they’ve played Cilic has thrived in big sections. Medvedev’s passive style allows Marin to control rallies, and his own offense may take a handful of shots to get past Med, but between his serve and his aggression he’s able to earn points in handfuls. It’s not much of a prediction to say I expect this to be a more competitive match than the previous rounds, because Medvedev has pretty much rolled. Cilic has just hit through two extremely solid defensive tests though, so Medvedev’s serve is the big equalizer here. I’d expect Medvedev to outlast Cilic, but this may go the way of the challenger if Medvedev isn’t careful. Medvedev in 5.