Nov 03, 2022

2022 Rolex Paris Masters Round of 16

Alcaraz vs Dimitrov :

Nice work for both these guys to easily dispatch difficult opponents. Wonderful to see Dimitrov playing well enough to beat a motivated Fognini 6-0. He was also up some early break points in the second but Fognini managed to extend this one all the way to the end, only to go down 7-5 in the second. Dimitrov ended up winning by 8 games, but that sort of second set lapse won’t be easily overcome against Alcaraz. Rumors of a knee issue circled Alcaraz’s first match here, but he looked fine against Yoshihito Nishioka. He won points from absurd positions and his backhand looks well suited to dealing with height. Dimitrov and Alcaraz have never met before, so it’s good that Grigor is getting his first shot against the new #1 when he’s in good form.

The -290 pricetag attached to Alcaraz is about right. Dimitrov is at his best and is coming up with highlight reel shots. He’s serving fairly well and he’s really going after his forehand inside out. All that adds up to him being competitive against Alcaraz, but I don’t think he’ll be able to get across the finish line. Alcaraz’s defense is going to force Dimitrov to hit a number of shots to score points, and Dimitrov’s backhand is a safe target for Alcaraz. What I do like about Dimitrov’s chances is that his athleticism is similar to Carlos’. He can cover any shot, and having a one-hander means he can come up with very good passes on the run. I’d expect a lot of highlight reel shots here, and Alcaraz to gradually wear down Dimitrov late in sets. If Dimitrov can win the first, I think he loses in three, but the first set is essential for him given his second set regression against Fognini. Alcaraz in 2.

Rublev vs Runeblev :

Two years ago when Rune first made the trip to South America to grind the clay 250s and challengers, he was getting a lot of respect from oddsmakers. Prices like -400 abounded in the early rounds, and though he didn’t generally win multiple rounds, he did show a huge amount of power for his size despite not focusing on maintaining court position. That faith seems to have been well-scouted, as Rune is currently on a tear that very few could have predicted. He’s done great work in isolated moments, but seemed to be an eternal victim to his own temper. The focus he’s played with this week is a good sign of maturity, and he seems tired at times but he also looks physically stronger than he was even just a few months ago. Hurkacz’s serve kept him looking like the eventual champ in their match, but Rune just kept plugging away in rallies. He came up with at least one sliding pass down the line that really impressed me. It’s so tough to stabilize your body enough to take that ball down the line, and this is after playing 17 matches in the last 30 days. Hurkacz does fine from the baseline, but Rune seemed to be threatening to score just off the pace and weight of his shot whereas Hurkacz was trying to create angles and slide the ball through the court. It doesn’t guarantee success, but Rune’s commitment to hitting harder than Hurkacz paid dividends at the end of the first set and he ran away with the second.

The next round is a puzzle, because Rublev hasn’t been that great this year. He won Gijon, but he’s thrown in enough racquet smashes and tears this year that some of his fans have seemed actually concerned about his well-being. He beat Isner in very quick fashion, and I think that this is a unique spot. Rune is playing better tennis than Rublev, and has been for a few weeks. He also is playing an awful lot of tennis, and the Paris scheduling has afforded the top seeds a really nice cushion. Rublev got a day off in round one, and played Isner playing on back to back days. Now he has another day of rest, and again plays a guy playing back to back. That’s one thing in his favor, and Rublev represents a much tougher baseline opponent than Hurkacz. Rublev trades power well and his backhand is extremely solid. His second serve is a nightmare, but his arm is fresh so this should be pretty even. We’re getting treated to some really high quality tennis at this event considering how late in the season it is, but the Next Genners are really starting to produce and there seem to be a lot of them. Rune’s likely to serve a bit better than Rublev, and he moved better also. It’s hard to get any real info from the +120 he’s priced at by the books. I don’t think they’d cross 0 (make Rune a favorite) with Rublev in decent form and ranked 9 spots higher than Rune.

If Rune does lose, it’ll be from the baseline, and it’ll be gradual errors from fatigue. It’s hard to see it coming though, because his variety has been solid (some exceptionally well disguised and timed dropshots on his forehand wing in the last round) and his focus has been better than his opponents. I honestly meant to write this and arrive at Rublev winning by the end, but this is another brand new matchup between surging talents and I’m expecting a very close contest. Rublev in 3.

De Minaur vs Tiafoe :

Oh good, an easy one. The great thing about having a lot of difficult matches to call is the knowledge that we’re about to watch some amazing tennis. Alex De Minaur has just pulled off the upset of the tournament (sorry Simon), outworking Medvedev in a two hour and forty seven minute war. I saw some actual holes in Med’s game in this match. His stability from the baseline can make him a bit complacent, and his shot selection at the business end of sets seemed ineffective. He has a way of reflecting pace and power and challenging his opponent to open up the angles, but in pressure moments (5-5, 15-30 type spots) it seems like Medvedev’s just guiding the ball in. When he does this and make errors, it’s doubly poor because the shots weren’t really going to score anyway. De Minaur was willing to take big cuts at the ball late and come to net, and he really profited with this tactic. I think we’ll see more players really going all out against Medvedev on offense late in matches since he’s so well established that they really have nothing to lose if they miss. Medvedev also struggles a bit to stick his volleys (Cam Norrie also struggled with this today). De Minaur’s footspeed definitely played a role in this, but Medvedev had balls to put away and went a bit too safe and ornate. I’m excited to see him play Alcaraz because honestly I think his lack of pace on his shots may have him at a disadvantage in that matchup given how ADM was able to thrive. This is all pretty critical considering Medvedev had some break points late in the third and is coming off a title win in Vienna.

Tiafoe had a much simpler time, and it surprised me a little to see the straight set wins. The tale of the tape on this one was Tiafoe’s play on big points. He saved 100% of break points (7/7) and when that happens it’s not only mathematically difficult for the opponent but it’s also psychologically exhausting. Tiafoe’s serving is good enough to play him to even terms against most people on tour, and he’ll need to serve well to get his first win against ADM. They’ve met three times with Alex winning all three, but the caveat here is that these matches were in 2019,18, and 16. Tiafoe was just not producing his best tennis a few seasons ago and anyone playing consistent ball and finding his backhand was likely to net a win. This should be another fairly even contest. De Minaur’s speed makes him hard to beat on these Paris courts, but Tiafoe’s serve/forehand is the biggest weapon on the court. Should be close, and I’d expect Alex to ride the confidence from beating Medvedev to victory. Expecting is a bad plan in tennis betting, but I’d honestly suggest skipping most of these matches if you have any uncertainty at all. At the level these guys are playing, there isn’t really a result that would be such a shocking outlier, so ultimately the juice you pay to books (risking 120 to win 100) winds up defeating you over time if you incur needless risk. This is Tiafoe’s best shot to win, but it’ll take a long time to get there. Tiny X factor for me is Alex’s willingness to get to net here and the pace of the court letting him get full swings on his forehand. ADM in 3.

Simon vs The World :

BRING IT! WE DON’T CARE! You have an army? Well we have a Simon. Gilles Simon treated the French crowd to a really hard-fought win against Taylor Fritz. 3 hours and 7 minutes of grueling tennis, which saw him save 6/9 break points despite serving on 60% of his first serves in. Fritz looked a bit nonplussed on how to navigate Simon’s style, and the unforced errors really cost him here. Simon broke down Fritz’s forehand here with constant angles, but he also knew when to break out of those and send the ball down the middle. When Gilles finally went for some offense, he had Fritz moving late. 3 hours and 2 double faults? Just another heroic display of control from Simon. He doesn’t do a lot, but his precision and defense are world class still. This is probably the end of the road for him, but he’s given us a beautiful career and even today his classy attitude saw him laughing off bad calls and teasing the ref. I watched a lot of tennis today, but I think Mo Lahyani reffed that one.

Picture a baby playing an elegant card game. The baby is tired though, and begins dozing off. The baby’s opponent, not wanting to lose, begins cheating, but announces their moves in a soothing fashion so that the baby does not wake up or notice. That is how Mo Lahyani’s score announcing sounds to me. Beautiful, but I do not think he really has the four of clubs. Simon vs the world is a fair fight, but unfortunately the world currently contains Felix Auger-Aliassime. FAA and Ymer played an extremely entertaining match, and Felix was slightly better on the day. I didn’t expect Ymer to hit wit the pace he did today, but it’s a good sign for him. He got a little sidetracked in the second set when the umpire called a serve out, and ended up arguing for a while and then continuing to complain during the changeover. The serve was on the opposite side of the umpire, but it’s never a great idea to give your opponent the idea that you might be playing frustrated. Even if you aren’t, it causes your opponent to keep an eye on you more than usual and this translates to them reading your shots a bit better even if they don’t realize it. Ymer seemed to tell the ump he was going to report him, which was kinda odd, and he also told him “you still want to argue this call?” even though the umpire was being pretty polite and Ymer was the one bringing it up.

End of the road here for Simon. Felix is much more proactive with his footwork on the court, and moving towards the ball forces your opponent to guess more. Simon is a great defender, but Felix’s weight of shot and his proclivity for getting to net should be a big difference here. Fritz was content to work the point, but not consistent enough to. Fritz also only served at 58% for the match, and Felix will be a lot more effective. FAA in 2.

Djokovic vs Khachanov :

Only Djokovic can win 7-6, 6-4 against Maxime Cressy and make it look like he’s a lock to win the tournament. Cressy can score on anyone, and if tennis were a single set affair I think he could win a major. He played decent in baseline rallies, but Djokovic is looking like he’s enjoying being back on tour. Having Medvedev out has to make things a little lighter on him mentally, and playing a guy he’s 9-1 against is a good spot. Khachanov has had some bright spots this year, and he did win Paris in 2018 (beating Djokovic in the finals as a +430 underdog) but his win against Huesler wasn’t the kind of level that he’ll need to beat Novak. It’ll be the classic problem for Khachanov; he has all the tools but just plays a bit too straightforward to really force the top tier into errors. Djokovic can get in a rhythm here, and his spot-serving has him as one of the best servers on tour. I would guess the only reason he isn’t constantly lauded for his serving is because he’s so adept at everything else. Khachanov will be a good chance for Djokovic to open up and proclaim himself as a frontrunner here, but I would expect Djokovic to win by a break in each set. Djokovic in 2.

Ruud vs Musetti :

Super handsome match. Who wins? Puzzle. Musetti is cruising through this draw, and he’s looking better than Ruud at indoor tennis right now. Basilashvili gave me hope, but Musetti folded him up extremely quickly. It honestly makes the loss to ARV a bit more puzzling, but that’s in the rear-view mirror now and he also lost to Huesler so it may just be a lefty thing. If his backhand can be broken down, Ruud will win this match. Casper isn’t at his best on hardcourts, but Paris is a bit slower than most so Ruud will have ample chance to get into baseline rallies. He’s not really serving to great effect so far, although he did roll Gasquet in set 1 before stealing a tiebreaker in the second. My concern with Ruud is only his track record. I think he’s easily one of the best players on tour and in the top 5 as far as discipline. If there’s a code he hasn’t mastered yet, he’ll be working on it. Ruud also got the benefit of playing guys on no days rest while he gets a day off, so he should have a decent shot at this even though he’s a flight risk in indoor tennis. I think the low bounce of Paris hurts his forehands efficiency, and his backhand almost gets into moonball territory during the outdoor swing so that’s not ideal here either. The conditions help his defending while hurting his offense. If Musetti serves well, he should win a close match. If Ruud is able to return well, I think he’s more consistent overall and he’ll squeak by in 3. Someone in 3.

Tsitsipas vs Moutet :

Books took a beating I imagine on the Tsisipas Evans clash, but they were spot on about Evans’ level. He played really solid tennis, but Stefanos had an answer for everything. It’s nice to tune in to a Tsitsipas match to see great tennis rather than to hope for a tantrum, and I think he’ll be able to win this quarter of the draw. Moutet has just beaten two of the best defensive baseliners on tour in Coric and Norrie, and took marathons to get the job done in both. The Norrie match was an exhibition, with Moutet playing free flowing offense and frustrating Norrie into some uncharacteristic attempts. Norrie struggled with his volleys at net, and Moutet put lob after lob back in play. Some Norrie put away, but every extra ball saw the stress build and his swings tighten up. A number of lobs went for winners also, as Moutet has mastered the dropshot/lob combo. What I was surprised with here was Moutet dominating things in the forehand exchanges. He was able to work himself inside the baseline and his inside out forehands went for clean winners more than you’d expect against Norrie. Just a middling performance from Norrie, and honestly he was struggling a bit in the second set that he won also, but won 8 points in a row from 5-5 at a most unexpected time.

Moutet would usually be a good shout to frustrate Tsitsipas but the Greek champ is hitting his backhand well so far here. He’s serving 69% of first serves in and only faced a single break point against Evans (saved it). Winners to unforced was 28 to 7 and I think it’s easy to forget the peaks during the valleys, but Tsitsipas is one of the top 10 players on tour when he’s playing well. Moutet will struggle to dominate baseline rallies here but he can definitely get himself near the business end of sets if he continues to execute. A light note, but Moutet’s temper has been absent here. There were times where Norrie looked like he’d be taking over, but Moutet applauded the good shots, and even apologized to him for the crowd at the end of the match. You can tell the wins mean something to him, and hopefully he does continue to mature a bit because his ranking can get a lot higher if he remains stable in tough matches. Tsitsipas in 2-3.

Carreño-Busta vs Paul :

Early on Shapovalov looked to be the better player, but the court speed really hurt him. It was just taking too many shots to hit through Pablo, and once you play PCB into a rhythm it takes a big serving performance to win in any convincing fashion. They ended up in a third set and PCB got the job done. Some fatigued errors may have been present for Shapo, but this is the type of match he struggles in. RCB had similar success against him just keeping the ball low to Shapo’s forehand and hiding in the backhand corner defending. Good win for Pablo, and good progress for Denis. Him closing out the season on a high note is invaluable for his offseason training, and he looks physically stronger which is always a key to improving your game once you’re on the tour.

Tommy Paul is the hero today. The talented American looked to be getting the standard Nadal treatment in the first, but he was able to hang on in the second. His serving paid dividends here, and being willing to go for big shots was the key in the second set tiebreaker. He rushed the net, he went for big angles, he mixed up his game. These aren’t magical tactics, but since Nadal hadn’t been playing much, he was a little bit slow to react and less than automatic on his passing shots. The third set saw Tommy continue his solid rhythm, and his reward is apparently playing the rest of the Spanish top 20? Paul will be in control of this one if he wants to be, and he’s a bit more stable/conservative with his offensive approach than Shapovalov so he won’t shoot himself out of it. The tricky part is going to be the number of shots each point will take to win. If I’m Tommy’s coach tonight, I’m just having him take deep breaths and drilling into him that he wants the ball to come back. When you play any get artist, or player who comes up with better than expected shots from tough positions, you have to flip your mindset. Wanting the point to be over is fine, but wanting the ball come back will keep you motivated and remove the anxiousness/compulsion to force a winner. Can Paul win? Sure. It’ll probably take 3 sets though, and I would worry slightly that the level Pablo reached in Montreal may appear. PCB in safemode is beatable by Paul’s serving, but PCB moving the ball well will likely earn errors and get across the finish line. If it sounds like I’m copping out and picking both, yes. This match, like a few here, are entirely too close to call. It’s another brand new matchup between guys you’d expect to have played already as long as they’ve been successful on tour, and both are conveniently playing great tennis when it happens. Paul in 3.