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Ricky’s Picks • 2018 French Open Men’s | ATP Tennis Draw

Rafael Nadal of Spain during a training session on a court at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 25 May 2018. The 117th French Open tennis tournament starts with its first round matches on 27 May 2017. EPA-EFE/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON



By Ricky Dimon


Congratulations, Rafael Nadal, on French Open title No. 11…. Or something?


That seems to be the general sentiment among tennis circles following Thursday’s draw ceremony in Paris. Of course, Nadal was already an overwhelming favorite even prior to those festivities. It’s not like he needed a good draw–but a good draw is what he got. If everyone else (or at least the 64 players in the other half of the bracket) is playing for second place, what a battle that could be. Alexander Zverev, Grigor Dimitrov, Dominic Thiem, David Goffin, Kei Nishikori, Novak Djokovic, and Stan Wawrinka all find themselves on the other side.


Nadal’s quarter


Rafael Nadal of Spain during a training session on a court at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 25 May 2018. The 117th French Open tennis tournament starts with its first round matches on 27 May 2017. EPA-EFE/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON

On paper, Nadal’s eighth of the bracket is riddled with players who have plenty of flair and almost as much talent. Unfortunately that is where the good news ends for said players. First-round opponent Alexandr Dolgopolov is less than 100 percent these days, nearest seed Richard Gasquet is not the Gasquet of old (and he is also 0-15 lifetime against Nadal), Jack Sock is in disastrous form, and Denis Shapovalov is only 19 years old. As usual, Roland Garros week one will be a sleepwalk for the Spaniard.


The only real question in this section is who will lose to Nadal in the quarters. No. 6 seed Kevin Anderson has never been at his best on clay and he recently retired from a Rome match due to a thing injury. If Anderson falters, the winner of a first-round showdown between Pablo Cuevas and Aljaz Bedene could capitalize. It would also open the door for the likes of Diego Schwartzman, Philipp Kohlschreiber, or Borna Coric.


Best first-round matchup – Joao Sousa vs. Guido Pella


Somehow, this is the first-ever head-to-head matchup for Sousa and Pella. Although both men are without question all-court players, it could be especially fun on clay. A five-set, five-hour baseline grind would not be unexpected, as both guys will be willing to trade groundstrokes and stay out there for as long as it takes. Sousa recently captured an emotional title in front of his Portuguese fans in Estoril, while Pella produced quarterfinal results on the red stuff in Houston and Geneva.


Cilic’s quarter


Cilic landed on Nadal’s side instead of Zverev’s, but other than that he was dealt arguably the luckiest hand in the entire field. Cilic’s most difficult possible test through three rounds would come against whoever wins the Adrian Mannarino vs. Steve Johnson opening-round match. Kyle Edmund could challenge the 2014 U.S. Open champ in the fourth round, but Edmund first has to navigate waters that include Alex de Minaur, Geneva finalist Marton Fucsovics, and Fabio Fognini. Can Cilic take advantage? Although he is less than incredible on clay, the Croat reached the Rome semis and lost to Zverev 7-6(13), 7-5.


Juan Martin Del Potro would be a trendy semifinal pick out of this quarter, but he is once again a question mark due to physical problems (this time a groin injury). If Del Potro cannot bring his best tennis to the table, an already up-for-grabs draw would become even more enticing for John Isner and Tomas Berdych. Isner, of course, is dangerous in any situation; Berdych is a former Roland Garros semifinalist.


Best first-round matchup — (18) Fabio Fognini vs. Pablo Andujar


This will be a classic clay-court contest between two veterans who have never collided on any other surface. Fognini leads the head-to-head series 3-1, but they have not met since the 2015 Barcelona tournament—where Andujar coasted 6-1, 6-3. Making a comeback from injury, Andujar captured a title in Marrakech and reached the Barcelona third round as a qualifier. Fognini made a quarterfinal showing in Rome and stole a set off Nadal, and the Italian warmed up for Roland Garros by reaching the Geneva semifinals.


Dimitrov’s quarter


This is where everyone wants to be. It’s away from Nadal while also avoiding the Zverev-Thiem-Nishikori-Wawrinka-Tsitsipas Group of Death. So…. Congrats on your draw, Djokovic! Of course, that doesn’t mean it will be easy for the 2016 RG champion. His sample size of recent success is small, as his semifinal showing in Rome was encouraging but also not enough to confirm that he is back to his slam-winning self. Djokovic may have to face David Ferrer in the second round, Roberto Bautista Agut in the third, and Dimitrov in the fourth.


Roland Garros owes Goffin a favor after the Belgian suffered a freak ankle injury early in his 2017 appearance that derailed the rest of his season until a resurgence in the fall. Consider this draw his favor. Goffin’s nearest seed is a rusty Gael Monfils and one of his potential fourth-round adversaries is an even rustier Nick Kyrgios. Pablo Carreno Busta could present a problem in the fourth round, but this does not seem to be the same Carreno Busta who reached the quarters in 2017.


Best first-round matchup — Nicolas Jarry vs. Jared Donaldson


Very little in the rankings separates these two up-and-coming stars (Donaldson is 57th; Jarry is No. 59), and the story could be a similar one on the court during first-round French Open action. Donaldson has more experience at this level (42 career ATP match victories compared to Jarry’s 21), but Jarry has an advantage on clay. The 22-year-old Chilean was the breakout star of February’s Golden Swing, with a quarterfinal performance Quito, a semifinal run in Rio de Janeiro, and a runner-up result in Sao Paulo.


Zverev’s quarter


There is no debate that this is the most brutal part of the bracket. That being said, it really isn’t as bad for Zverev as one might think. Having never reached a major quarterfinal and having advanced to a fourth round only once (last summer at Wimbledon), the key for him is week one. And week one should be easy (Ricardas Berankis to begin, Damir Dzumhur as his nearest seed). As long as the German can sink his teeth into the tournament by defeating Dusan Lajovic in the last 64, he will likely settle down and pick up the pace starting in round four. That’s where Zverev could run into Wawrinka, but the struggling Swiss will be hard-pressed to make it that far.


It’s at the top where this section is especially loaded. Thiem will likely meet Stefanos Tsitsipas four a mouth-watering second-round matchup, and Tsitsipas just upset the Austrian in Barcelona. The winner could go up against Ernests Gulbis in the last 32 and Kei Nishikori for a spot in the quarterfinals. As for Nishikori, Benoit Paire (second round) and either Sam Querrey or Frances Tiafoe (third round) likely stand in his way of week two.


Best first-round matchup — (15) Lucas Pouille vs. Daniil Medvedev


Pouille has basically been all or nothing in 2018. Before picking up one win at the Rome Masters and then losing to Edmund, he either reached the final (three times, with one title) or lost his opening match (six times) in nine straight tournaments. It certainly won’t be “all” at Roland Garros for the Frenchman, and there is good chance it could be “nothing” because Medvedev is one of the toughest unseeded players in the field. Although the Russian has also struggled on clay, he is still 13-9 this year with a title in Sydney.


Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.

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