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Ricky’s Picks • Thiem vs. Tsitsipas & Monfils vs. Klizan & Nishikori vs. Paire • Second-Round Action Begins @ 2018 French Open Tennis

Dominic Thiem of Austria in action against Ilya Ivashka of Belarus during their men’s first round match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 28 May 2018. EPA/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON

 

 

By Ricky Dimon

 

A loaded bottom half of the draw at the French Open is back in action on Wednesday, when Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas are among those scheduled to take the court. Theim and Tsitsipas are in a quarter of the bracket that is also home to the second-round showdown between Kei Nishikori and Benoit Paire.

 

Ricky previews some of Wednesday’s best matchups and makes his predictions.

 

(7) Dominic Thiem vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas

Thiem and Tsitsipas will be facing each other for the fourth time in their careers on Wednesday. The head-to-head series stands at 2-1 in favor of Thiem, who got the job done 7-5, 6-4 in Doha and 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 at the Indian Wells Masters. Alarmingly, however, the 25-year-old succumbed 6-3, 6-2 on his favorite surface–clay–in the Barcelona quarterfinals.

 

That setback combined with an immediate exit from Rome (orchestrated by Fabio Fognini) put a damper on Thiem’s clay-court swing, but it has otherwise been somewhat successful. The eighth-ranked Austrian reached the quarters in Monte-Carlo (lost to Rafael Nadal), finished runner-up to Alexander Zverev in Madrid, and captured the Lyon title last weekend. Tsitsipas has been the tour’s breakout star in 2018, with 15 of his 19 career ATP-level match wins and a climb from 91st to a best-ever 39th in the world. The 19-year-old \was runner-up to Nadal in Barcelona, but he lost to lower-ranked opponents in Estoril (Joao Sousa) and Madrid (Evgeny Donskoy) prior to a Rome second-round loss to Juan Martin Del Potro. Tsitsipas opened in Paris on Monday by beating qualifier Carlos Taberner 7-5, 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-3, while Thiem made routine work qualifier Ilya Ivashka 6-2, 6-4, 6-1. A full week in Lyon, the end of which saw Thiem blow away Gilles Simon in the third set of their title match, seems to have done the two-time Roland Garros semifinalist more good than harm.

Pick: Thiem in 4

 

Martin Klizan vs. (32) Gael Monfils

Thiem vs. Tsitsipas could be the best Wednesday’s matchup. Monfils vs. Klizan could be the most entertaining. Two of the ATP’s colorful characters will be facing each other for the third time in their careers, with their two previous meetings having been split at one win apiece. Monfils got the job done 7-6(5), 6-4 at the 2007 Washington, D.C. event; nine years later, Klizan triumphed 6-7(1), 6-3, 6-1 in the Rotterdam title match.

 

This a battle between two talented players who rarely bring their best tennis to the table but almost always put on a good show. Monfils certainly has not been doing much of the former this year, as recurring physical problems have prevented him from building on early momentum (a season-opening title in Doha). Like the Frenchman, Klizan has struggled in 2018 with both his form and his health. But the left-hander from Slovakia heated up just in time for the French Open, qualifying in both Barcelona and Munich and advancing to the quarters of each event. He also crushed current Roland Garros sensation Marco Trungelliti 6-1, 6-2 in the quarterfinals of a clay-court Challenger event in March. Both Klizan and Monfils mostly cruised in round one, although the latter cannot afford another slow start like the one he endured against unheralded French wild card Elliot Benchetrit on Sunday.

Pick: Klizan in 4

 

(19) Kei Nishikori vs. Benoit Paire

Kei Nishikori of Japan in action against Maxime Janvier of France during their men’s first round match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 27 May 2018. EPA/IAN LANGSDON

Nishikori and Paire are already familiar foes–including at majors and in Paris. The head-to-head series stands at 3-2 in favor of Nishikori, who got things started by getting the best of Paire 7-6(2), 6-2 at the 2012 Paris Masters and 6-3, 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-1 one season later at the French Open. Paire evened the scored with a pair of 2015 victories (needing final sets at both the U.S. Open and Japan Open) before Nishikori once again pulled ahead thanks to a 6-3, 6-2 successin the 2016 Barcelona semis.

 

Paire has been unspectacular on clay this season (4-5 record), so he has already done well to earn a spot in the second round. The world No. 51 did it by defeating tough clay-courter Roberto Carballes Baena 6-3, 6-7(3), 7-6(9), 6-1. Ranked lower than usual, Nishikori got a couple of bad draws earlier in the clay-court swing but benefited from a seed at Roland Garros by cruising past world No. 307 Maxime Janvier 7-6(0), 6-4, 6-3. Japan’s top player finished runner-up to Rafael Nadal earlier this spring in Monte-Carlo and is coming off a quarterfinal showing at the Rome Masters.

Pick: Nishikori in 3

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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