NOTE: This was written prior to the start of Round 3 (not that anyone is paying attention to the French Open or, for that matter, even reading past this note now that they realize this post is all about the French Open)
Well, the great tournament that is the French Open is now two rounds complete and, as always, it is getting interesting. The bracket, itself, is a bit daunting to look at and analyze, but if you break down the first three rounds into 16 eight-team tournaments, you can make a little more sense of the craziness that is the first week. So, that’s what BSB is here to do. Each eight-team mini-tournament will be referred to as a “pod” and will be named after the top seed in that pod.
The Nadal (1) Pod:
THIRD ROUND MATCH FRIDAY – #1 Nadal vs. Hewitt
The top half of this bracket is where the top-seed and #1 player in the world sits. Unsurprisingly, Rafa cruised through the first two rounds, beating two qualifiers (Marcos Daniel and Teimuraz Gabashvili) in straight sets.
The other seeded player in this pod was 26th seed, Ivo Karlovic, but he ran into one of the all-time great fighters, Lleyton Hewitt, in the first round. Karlovic won the first two sets in tiebreakers, but Hewitt’s bulldog mentality won him the third set in a crazy tiebreaker and then battled through the fourth and fifth to win yet another 5-setter in a Grand Slam. Hewitt then smoked Andrey Gobulev in the second round to set up Friday’s matchup with Nadal.
BSB’s PICK: Nadal in 4. As much as it hurts me to say it, but Hewitt just isn’t the same player he once was and Nadal is, well, the best tennis player on the planet and quite possibly the best clay-court tennis player of all-time.
The Ferrer (14) Pod:
THIRD ROUND MATCH FRIDAY – #14 Ferrer vs. #23 Soderling
The top of the bracket features 23rd-seeded Robin Soderling, who, if he puts it all together, could have a terrific year this year. Soderling beat Kevin Kim and Denis Istomin in straights to move into a big third-round match.
The bottom is where “Mr. Fifth Set” David Ferrer has been placed. Ferrer actually won in straights in his opening round match with Frederico Gil, but Nicholas Kiefer tested “Mr. Fifth Set” in the second round, which is generally a bad idea. Ferrer, who is clearly the fittest player on tour and who LOVES five-set matches, won another one over Kiefer in the second round to move into a nice second-round match.
BSB’s PICK: Ferrer in 5. “Mr. Fifth Set” will do it again against a game Soderling. Interestingly, this will set up a Round of 16 matchup with Ferrer’s countryman Rafa Nadal, with the winner probably staring at yet another Spaniard, Fernando Verdasco, in the quarters.
The Davydenko (10) Pod:
THIRD ROUND MATCH FRIDAY – #10 Davydenko vs. #17 Wawrinka
Nickolai Davydenko cruised in the first round match against Stefan Koubek, but needed four sets to beat Argentinian Diego Junqueira in the second round. The gritty professional now moves into a tough third-round match.
Federer’s doubles partner, Stanislas Wawrinka, has started to make a name for himself in the singles arena, as well. Though, he seems to have plateaued between 15-20 in the world now and can’t seem to crack the top 10. This tournament could be big for him, though it didn’t start that way. He was down two sets to one in the first round against French qualifier, Nicolas Devilder, but he rallied to win. He then moved on to the second round where he regained his form and absolutely pummeled Nicolas Massu, 6-1 6-1 6-2 to advance to this third-round tilt with Davydenko.
BSB’s PICK: Wawrinka in 4. Maybe I’m swayed by the “potential” of Wawrinka, which he doesn’t seem to be realizing. Or, maybe I’m just biased against the perpetually over-ranked Davydenko (because he plays EVERY single week), but I like Wawrinka in this one. However, I think that if Davydenko can get it to a fifth set, he would have the advantage, being the much fitter of the two. I think Wawrinka needs to win this in 4 or probably face elimination.
The Verdasco (8) Pod:
THIRD ROUND MATCH FRIDAY: #8 Verdasco vs. #31 Almagro
The top of this pod features perennial under-achiever Nicholas Almagro, the 31st seed here. Almagro did beat Agustin Calleri in straight sets in the first round, which is a pretty good win, considering that Calleri is a pretty solid clay court player. He then dropped the first set to Ernests Gulbis, but came back to win in four.
Fernando Verdasco, who has catapulted himself into the top ten with some fantastic tennis recently, has cruised through the bottom of this pod, crushing a tough Frenchman Florent Serra, 6-2 6-1 6-4, and punishing Phillip Pelzschner, 6-1 6-2 6-3, in the second round.
BSB’s PICK: Verdasco in 3. He is just playing far too well right now. Even though Almagro has a really good all-around game , his mental makeup is just not what it needs to be to deal with the consistency and shot-making ability of Verdasco. Expect a Verdasco-Nadal quarterfinal that should be epic.
The Murray (3) Pod:
THIRD ROUND MATCH FRIDAY – #3 Murray vs. Tipsaravic
Andy Murray, who has established himself as one of the “Big Four” in men’s tennis, enters the French as the least accomplished of the four in clay court tournaments. And, he got at it right away, with as tough of a first-round match as a seeded player could have, facing unseeded Juan Ignacio Chela. Murray was up to the task and smoked the clay court specialist 6-2 6-2 6-1, in one of the more impressive results of the tournament thus far. He did then drop a set to Potito Starace in the second round, but came back to win a tough third set and the 6-4 in the fourth.
Janko Tipsaravic has a big game, but cannot find the consistency to crack the top 20 (which is where his talent suggests he ought to be). Well, Tipsaravic has put it together so far, beating a tough Spaniard Albert Montanes in the first round and then upsetting the 28-seeded Feliciano Lopez 6-7 6-4 7-6 6-3 in the second round. The big test remains now for the young Serb here in the third round.
BSB’s PICK: Murray in 3. As good as Tipsaravic is, Murray is just too tough and too experienced for him. Tipsaravic will have some good results this year, and it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see him give Murray a match here, but Murray should prevail and should do it without dropping a set.
The Cilic (13) Pod:
THIRD ROUND MATCH FRIDAY – #13 Cilic vs. #18 Stepanek
Radek Stepanek is the 18th seed in this year’s French Open and he drew a former French Open champ, Gaston Gaudio, in the first round. Well, Gaudio is not quite the player he was back when he won the title in 2004 or in 2005, when he was #5 in the world, and Stepanek quickly dispatched him in straight sets. He then moved on to beat a very game Frenchman Mathieu Montcourt, to advance to the third round.
In the bottom of this pod, Marin Cilic, the 13th seed, beat Czech qualifier Jan Henrych in straights and then Israeli Dudi Sela in straights. He started each match with a 6-0 bagel in the first set and only lost a total of 11 games in the 6 sets, so he cruises into the third round with barely even breaking a sweat.
BSB’s PICK: Cilic in 3. Stepanek is a solid all-court player, but Cilic is tough on the dirt and should be able to cruise into the Round of 16, where Andy Murray should be waiting–and should be worried.
The Gonzalez (12) Pod:
THIRD ROUND MATCH FRIDAY – #12 Gonzalez vs. Ouanna
The top of this pod has the hard-hitting Chilean Fernando Gonzalez–who has quickly become a really good all-court player. Gonzalez cruised by both Jiri Vanek and Rui Machado in the first two rounds, never dropping more than 3 games in any of the 6 sets.
The bottom of the pod had featured 20th seeded Marat Safin, in his swan song (so he says) in Paris. Safin beat Frenchman Alexandre Sidorenko in straight sets in the first round. The other first-round match in the bottom of this pod was another Frenchman, Josselin Ouanna against Spaniard Marcel Granollers. Ouanna won a fourth-set tiebreak to even the match at two sets apiece and then rolled, 6-1 in the fifth to move on. Safin, trying to eliminate a second straight Frenchman, lost tiebreakers in the first two sets, before winning the third 6-4 and the fourth 6-3 to send it to an epic fifth set. Ouanna ended up winning 10-8 in the fifth, in the longest match of the tournament so far and ending the French Open career of great Marat Safin.
BSB’s PICK: Gonzalez in 3. Ouanna has survived two five-setters, including the most recent against Safin that went 10-8 in the fifth. Even a well-rested Ouanna would be a heavy underdog against Gonzo, but with all that tennis already under his belt, he is probably out of gas and should get rolled by the Chilean. Then again, the French crowd can do wonders, but don’t expect it here.
The Simon (7) Pod:
THIRD ROUND MATCH FRIDAY – #7 Simon vs. #30 Hanescu
A relative late-bloomer, the Romanian Victor Hanescu has, at the age of 27, achieved his highest world ranking and is seeded 30th in this year’s French Open, where all the way back in 2005, he reached his only Grand Slam quarterfinal. He has won two interesting matches so far, beating Belgian Steve Darcis in three straight tiebreakers, then defeating a really tough unseeded player, Mikhail Youzhny, 7-5 7-5 7-5, in the second round. The true test for Hanescu’s potential breakout tournament is coming up on Friday.
The bottom of this pod is highlighted by the emerging French star, Gilles Simon. The 24-year old is ready to have a terrific season, leading a truly resurgent French tennis culture, that expects big things in this, their national event. However, Simon did not start auspiciously, dropping the first set of his tournament and needing five sets just to get out of the first round against South African Wayne Odesnik (ranked 77th in the world). Simon did recover and play much better, albeit against an exhausted and overmatched American Robert Kendrick, with a straight-set second round win, in which he only lost 1 game total in the final two sets.
BSB’s PICK: Simon in 4. Hanescu is playing the best tennis of his career, but Simon is young and hungry. In front of his countrymen, he should be able to get past Hanescu and into the Round of 16, where a real test should await him, in the form of Fernando Gonzalez.