Week 1 of the French Open is (mostly) in the books, and with it some players have performed at, or beyond expectations, but others crashed out early, and had a disappointing adventure in Paris. As the second week of the tournament dawns, it appears that only the big three of Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, and Andy Murray have a real shot at winning the tournament. Dominic Thiem is the most likely dark horse left in the field.
Although Zeballos run will probably end against the red hot Dominic Thiem he’s still reached his best ever slam result (4th round) and at age 32 that’s a tremendous accomplishment. The injury retirement of David Goffin helped Zeballos in round 3, but he still earned quality wins over veterans Ivo Karlovic and Adrian Mannarino, a big accomplishment for the current world #84.
Hardly anyone expected the 33 year old Verdasco to turn back the clock and reach the fourth round in Paris for the first time since 2014. Verdasco has never advanced beyond the round of 16 in Paris, but it’s reasonable to suggest he could defeat Kei Nisihkori/Hyeon Chung and reach the quarters, given how good his form has been. Despite years of decline from his best tennis, which was once of a top 10 caliber, Verdasco remains lethal on the forehand side, and has moved well all tournament. He stunned Alexander Zverev over two days, came back from 2 sets to 1 down against Pierre-Hugues Herbert, a home hero, and then defeated fellow veteran Pablo Cuevas in a match he was an underdog in, but won easily regardless. Even without winning another match, I’d argue Verdasco is the story of the men’s tournament in the opening week.
Three wins in Paris have propelled the previously struggling Anderson to a third career round of 16 result at the French Open. Anderson has outperformed on clay after struggling with injury problems for a while, and demonstrated he can step up in the biggest moments, at the highest level, as he upset Nick Kyrgios, beat Kyle Edmund in five sets, and in the opening round put away Malek Jaziri with relative ease, three players who have different styles. Anderson’s serve is clicking, and we’ll see if he can go beyond the fourth round this time.
The Madrid finalist was a popular dark horse at the start of the tournament, but he deserves credit for not letting up and having any disappointing performances. Defending semifinal points, Thiem has dominated Bernard Tomic, Simone Bolelli, and Steve Johnson, with a reasonable chance at upsetting Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals presuming everything goes to form. Djokovic’s weakness in the third round shows he’s vulnerable to a player of Thiem’s skill level and commitment. Win or lose, Thiem has acquitted himself well as a serious slam contender.
Pablo Carreno Busta
Another popular dark horse pick who has performed up to expectations, Carreno Busta has dropped just one set through three matches, and after wins over Taro Daniel and Florian Mayer, he dominated Grigor Dimitrov to reach the fourth round for the first time in his career in a Grand Slam. PCB has been gradually improving on all surfaces, and clay is his best one, so he should be proud of his result thus far, and he has a shot to go even further given his clay court skillset.
The Champion in Rome, and a winner of two clay court titles this year, the 20 year old Zverev was a trendy pick to go as far as the final. Typically the Rome champion performs well in Paris given the similarity of the surface, but Zverev lost control in his opening round match against Verdasco. Played over two days, Zverev looked inconsistent and lost at times, spewing errors and struggling with his second serve. Despite much promise, Zverev has never made it to the second week of a slam in eight main draw attempts.
In contrast with John Isner, who has had a poor season but is playing well in Paris, or Steve Johnson, who reached round 3, Sock entered Roland Garros with a solid record this year and a previous second week showing in Paris under his belt. On clay his top spin is dangerous and he should have done much better than crashing out to the underachieving Jiri Vesely in straight sets. At Wimbledon and the US Open, Sock will need to step it up and play up to his top 15 ranking.
Twice a semifinalist in Paris, the home favorite Tsonga had won a title in the run-up to Roland Garros, and looked to have found his form on court. It all came crashing down against unheralded Argentine Renzo Olivo though, Tsonga underperformed on his serve, surrendering too many break point chances, and he dropped the match in four competitive sets that he was on the losing end of, three out of four times. A veteran player like Tsonga should be doing better in close Grand Slam sets when he faces them.
Juan Martin Del Potro
Despite the fact he hadn’t played Paris in five years, the former RG semifinalist Del Potro has to be somewhat disappointed with his performance as he reached the third round with a straight sets win, and a retirement, then got drubbed by Andy Murray, fading in the third set, after having reasonable chances at taking the first two sets and putting a struggling Murray on the ropes. Del Potro isn’t the best clay courter, and perhaps I expected too much of him, but he left a shot at the second week sitting on the table, and couldn’t win the big points against Murray.
Kyrgios has yet to reach the second week in Paris, and crashed out in the second round with yet another immature display of frustration and a lack of patience. The 22 year old openly admitted he doesn’t enjoy playing long points on clay and gives up running to go for a low percentage point ending shot, and after a strong win in round 1 over Philipp Kohlschreiber, he boiled over and lost control against Kevin Anderson his serve abandoning him after the first set as he lost in four from a set up. Beyond his talent, a lack of composure has kept Kyrgios from playing his best tennis, and if he can’t learn to calm down he may be off the tour by the time he’s 25.
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