10sBalls.com • TennisBalls.com

Ricky’s preview and picks for Day 8 of the French Open Tennis • Nadal and Thiem back in action

By Ricky Dimon

Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem are on a collision course for the French Open semifinals. Of course, they have never been ones to look past their next opponents, and that will be especially important on Sunday because they are both overwhelming favorites against surprise fourth-round participants. Nadal is going up against Sebastian Korda, while Hugo Gaston is up next for Thiem.

Ricky previews the unexpected matchups and makes his predictions.

(Q) Sebastian Korda vs. (2) Rafael Nadal

The good news for Nadal is that he has been so good for so long that he is now playing against opponents who idolize him. By his own admission, the bad news is that means he is old. Whatever the case, the 19-time Grand Slam champion will be going up against one such opponent–Korda–in the French Open fourth round on Saturday afternoon. The 20-year-old American had never won an ATP-level match prior to this fortnight, but he qualified for the main draw and followed up that success with defeats of Andreas Seppi, John Isner, and Pedro Martinez.

Nadal did not come close to dropping a set during victories over Egor Gerasimov, Mackenzie McDonald, and Stefano Travaglia. The second-ranked Spaniard has been in fine form even though conditions for him in Paris are not ideal in September and October as they are in May and June. That does mean Korda has a chance, but the world No. 213 is the kind of player who can withstand the patterns that make Nadal so ruthless on clay. Korda stands at 6’5”, hits a big ball, and wields a rock-solid two-handed backhand. It’s hard to see Korda winning a set, but it may not be a complete beatdown.

Pick: Nadal in 3 losing 8-10 games

(WC) Hugo Gaston vs. (3) Dominic Thiem

Thiem and Gaston will also be going head-to-head for the first time in their careers, which is no surprise given that Gaston had also never won a match on the main tour prior to this event. A wild card has proven to be life-changing for the 20-year-old Frenchman, who has made the most of his opportunity in the form of victories over Maxime Janvier, Yoshihito Nishioka, and Stan Wawrinka. Although Wawrinka had been showcasing good form through two rounds, Gaston managed to pull off a 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-0 stunner on Friday.

It only gets much, much tougher for the world No. 239 on Sunday. Thiem has been the second-best player at the French Open over the past three year years, including two runner-up performances (both to Nadal). Fresh off his first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open, the third-ranked Austrian has gotten right back in gear to beat Marin Cilic, Jack Sock, and Casper Ruud all in easy straight sets. Consistency and defense has sometimes been enough to break Thiem down at times, but based on how well he is playing right now the only way to beat him–or even compete with him–is meet fire with fire. Gaston certainly does not have the offensive tools with which to do that.

Pick: Thiem in 3

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