It is often said that the middle Saturday of a Grand Slam is the best day of the tournament, for two main reasons. First, it is usually the day when both the men’s and women’s singles enter the fourth round (in the case of Roland Garros, which has such a prolonged start, there will be third round games in Paris on Saturday) and consequently there are usually a plethora of attractive matches. Secondly, it’s usually the first day of a Slam that most tennis fans have a chance to stop working and start watching, on TV or live, for hours on end.
The 2017 middle Saturday in Paris promises to be a particular treat, with a trio of big men’s matches to look forward to. Here’s a preview of the “big three” matches this weekend.
Andy Murray v Juan Martin del Potro
Their meeting at Roland Garros will be their third encounter in the last 10 months or so, following their Olympic singles final in Rio, which Andy Murray won in four sets, and their epic five-set encounter in the Davis Cup semi-final in Glasgow last autumn, which Juan Martin del Potro won en route to guiding Argentina to their first ever Davis Cup victory.
Murray has been one of the least convincing World No.1s in recent memory, having endured a wretched first half of 2017 as a result of illness (a debilitating bout of shingles), injury (an elbow problem) and, by his own admission, a problem with remotivating himself in the wake of reaching the No. 1 position. However, in the five-set format of a Major he has had a chance to prevent early problems in the opening rounds from turning into something more dramatic, and he will hope that he is gradually rediscovering the form that took him to the final at the French Open last year.
It’s on 😬
Del Potro didn’t need to do anything to add to his image as a gentle giant, but his heart-felt comforting of Nicolás Almagro after the Spaniard succumbed to injury in their second round match was a reminder of what a great guy he is. More importantly, he is a great player, who would surely have won more than his one Slam (the US Open in 2009) if he had not experienced his own appalling run of injuries.
On the clay of Paris, on which the two have never met, it will be close – perhaps even as agonisingly close as their Davis Cup classic. Nevertheless, with Ivan Lendl back to inspire and guide him at a Major, Murray must be the favourite – just.
Prediction: Murray in four sets (or maybe even five).
Kyle Edmund v Kevin Anderson
Kyle Edmund is that rarest of tennis beasts, a British player whose favourite surface is clay. As opposed to faster grass or hard court surfaces, clay gives him that little bit more time to wind up and unleash his awesome forehand. However, he has not proven that love of “le terre battue” until this year, which is the first time that he has reached the third round in Paris.
By contrast, Kevin Anderson has a game built for grass, with his enormous serve, powerful ground strokes and (at 6 foot 8) his sheer physical presence. It was perhaps only Nick Kyrgios’s typically petulant and senseless self-destruction in the second round that allowed him to come this far in the tournament, but as a seasoned campaigner and cool head he will be determined to make the most of this opportunity.
This is a genuine 50:50 match, with Edmund perhaps just edging it.
Prediction: Edmund in five sets.
Gael Monfils v Richard Gasquet
A decade ago, the French tennis public would have hoped that a 2017 encounter between Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet at the French Open would have been in the final itself, or at least in the second week of the tournament. However, such has been both players’ relative fall from grace in recent years that they are only meeting in the third round.
Nevertheless, it promises to be a superb, stylish and utterly Gallic match-up, with both men possessing a wonderful repertoire of strokes. In particular, Gasquet’s single-handed back-hand remains a thing of beauty and a joy forever, even if it never takes him to the Slam that he and his country crave. But Monfils may just have the better all-court game, especially on clay.
Whatever the result of this match, it is hard not to think that tennis in general and the French Open in particular has already seen the best of these two players. Like so many other talented men in this period of the game’s history, Monfils and Gasquet have had the misfortune to play in the finest era of men’s tennis ever, when a single Major has probably been worth two or three in other eras. However, it is undeniable that the French have a new, younger hero to root for, Lucas Pouille, who may lack the lavish ability of Monfils and Gasquet but might just possess the mental fortitude that they have so demonstrably lacked.
Prediction: Monfils in five sets.
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