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Ricky’s Picks For French Open Day 8, Including Thiem vs. Nishikori and Djokovic vs. Verdasco

Dominic Thiem of Austria plays Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece during their men’s second round match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 30 May 2018. EPA-EFE/YOAN VALAT

 

 

By Ricky Dimon

 

Things may start to heat up at the French Open as the proverbial second week begins on Sunday with fourth-round action. Dominic Thiem, Kei Nishikori, Novak Djokovic, Fernando Verdasco, Alexander Zverev, and Karen Khachanov are among those taking the court.

 

Ricky previews three of the best matchups and makes his predictions.

 

(7) Dominic Thiem vs. (19) Kei Nishikori

Thiem and Nishikori will be squaring off for the third time in their careers and for the first time in more than two years. Both of their previous meetings have gone the way of Nishikori; 7-6(4), 7-5 on the grass of Halle in 2015 and 6-3, 7-5 in Rome one season later. Fast forward 25 months, however, and Thiem is now a two-time FO semifinalist who has emerged as arguably the second-best clay-courter on tour behind Rafael Nadal. The world No. 8 has not been quite that good this spring, but he still sports a 32-8 record in 2018 with a pair of titles in Buenos Aires and Lyon (both on clay) plus a runner-up showing in Madrid. So far this fortnight, Thiem has defeated Ilya Ivashka, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Matteo Berrettini without too much trouble.

 

Nishikori needed five sets to survive Benoit Paire in round two, but he has otherwise coasted against Maxime Janvier and Gilles Simon. Japan’s reached the Monte-Carlo final before getting some bad draws and falling to Novak Djokovic in both Madrid and Rome while also exiting right away in Barcelona against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Nishikori has displayed flashes of top-10 material during his comeback from a wrist injury, but inconsistency remains an issue.

Pick: Thiem in 4

 

(20) Novak Djokovic vs. (30) Fernando Verdasco

Nishikori’s comeback has been more successful over a longer period of time, but Djokovic’s return to the tour is picking up a lot of recent steam. The former world No. 1′s two head-to-head defeats of Nishikori were part of a stretch that saw him finish runner-up to Nadal in Madrid. Building on what is his first ounce of momentum since last spring, Djokovic advanced to the RG fourth round with wins over Rogerio Dutra Silva, Jaume Munar, and Roberto Bautista Agut. The two Spaniards threw plenty at the 20th seed, but he still had enough to beat Munar in straight sets before getting the best of Bautista Agut 6-4, 6-7(6), 7-6(4), 6-2.

 

Up next for Djokovic is a 15th career contest against Verdasco, who trails the head-to-head series 10-4. They have not faced each other on clay–a surface on which Verdasco has won three of five previous encounters–since 2010, when the Spaniard pulled off an upset in the Monte-Carlo semifinals and the Rome quarterfinals. The veteran achieved no such success at those clay-court events this time around, but a return to Roland Garros appears to be just what the doctor ordered. He has advanced out of the first round in 13 consecutive appearances and has now made fourth-round appearances an impressive eight times. Never, though, has Verdasco made it all the way to the quarters.

Pick: Djokovic in 4

 

Karen Khachanov vs. (2) Alexander Zverev

Zverev has been playing with fire at Roland Garros as he tries to erase the demons of past Grand Slam failures. The world No. 3 was one set away from bowing out in the second round and he was one point away exiting in the third round, but he ended up beating Dusan Lajovic 2-6, 7-5, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 before outlasting Damir Dzumhur 6-2, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6(3), 7-5. Zverev, who is 20-3 on clay this season and 20-1 against opponents not named Rafael Nadal, preceded those wins with a 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 destruction of Ricardas Berankis.

 

Up next for the 21-year-old is a second career encounter with Khachanov, who dropped their only previous meeting 7-6(3), 6-4 on the indoor hard courts of St. Petersburg in 2016. The Russian has also made plenty of strides since then, owning two ATP titles (including earlier this season in Marseille) and a ranking of 38th that left him just one spot out of seed at the French. Khachanov earned his place in round four for a second straight season by beating Andreas Haider-Maurer, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, and Lucas Pouille, donating just one set to Garcia-Lopez (in a tiebreaker) along the way. However, the underdog has never defeated anyone in the top eight and Zverev should start playing looser now that he has survived two early-round scares.

Pick: Zverev in 4

 

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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