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TTI Talks: State of the ATP (French Open Edition)

Photo: Christopher Levy

Photo: Christopher Levy

Not long after the draws were announced, the TTI Crew reconvened in their secret lair to hash out all the details heading into the second major tournament of 2015. Who has what it takes on the terre battue? Check out Part I of our super-sized roundtable, where we talk through what promises to be quite an exciting men’s event. Stay tuned for our WTA picks, out Saturday afternoon! Check out our full picks compiled into an easy-to-follow grid at the bottom.

Of the ATP, who is/has:

1. The Biggest Darkhorse?

RENÉ

I always struggle a little with picking a dark horse because you’re hardly ever going to go for a complete unknown. Given its instability, the bottom half might collapse big time, and I can see several players taking advantage of a possibly open draw. For that reason, I’m going with Gael Monfils. The enigmatic Frenchman might have skipped Rome but I can see him upsetting Roger Federer in the fourth round, and quarterfinal or even semifinal appearance is not out of the question.

ANDREW

No. 28 seed Fabio Fognini has not only been enjoying some big wins over Rafael Nadal of late, he’s also an experienced player with great clay court acumen and a penchant for causing upsets. Luckily for the Italian, he finds himself in a quarter of the draw led by Tomas Berdych and packed full of seeds whose games he knows incredibly well: Jo Wilfried Tsonga, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Feliciano Lopez, and Fernando Verdasco.

If the veteran can build momentum early in the tournament, he might be able to carry that through and at least challenge Kei No. 5 seed Kei Nishikori at a quarterfinal stage. From there onwards, who knows? He’s looking like a big threat at this tournament.

DAVID

Bet on him at your peril, but I’ve got a good feeling about Ernests Gulbis. The Latvian has a boatload of points to defend — having reached the semifinals last year — yet comes into the tournament with no expectations thanks to just two match wins all season. With all that bad luck, the pendulum had to swing the other way and Gulbis was blessed with the best possible draw. His potential third round opponent, Gilles Simon, had to pull out of Nice with injuries, and No. 8 seed Stan Wawrinka has hardly been a bastion of consistency since winning last year’s Australian Open. Already in a half devoid of three of the Big 4, someone up there wants the entertaining former Top 10er to do well. Whether he will is another discussion altogether.

NICK

There are a lot of darkhorses on the men’s side, many of whom could go deep due to a mix of clay court prowess and advantageous draw. Pablo Cuevas, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Fabio Fognini, Philipp Kohlschreiber and Nick Kyrgios just to name a few. But the biggest darkhorse of all has to be the one with the biggest game and that is the American, John Isner.

JANE

Gael Monfils. The No. 13 seed has showed consistency and desire this spring. If he keeps his French nerves to a low twitch, he could meet Roger Federer in the fourth round, provided he gets past No. 21 seed Pablo Cuevas. Monfils has Federer’s number, too, having beaten him at Davis Cup, and Monte Carlo.

And we cannot forget the classic five-setter from last year’s US Open.

JEFF

Although he’s been dropped into a section with players big in height, character and reputation, the diminutive David Goffin might make a big splash on the stage where he and his stylish game first emerge three years ago. A potential “David and Goliath” match against John Isner awaits in the third round, but the French-speaking Belgian — who is extremely popular in Paris — counterpunches well against big servers and enjoys clay in general. He might very well extend his clay season an extra week this year.

VIKA

Frenchman Gael Monfils is a player who fits the definition of darkhorse — a showman with the game to upset anyone, anywhere, on any given day. Unfortunately for Monfils, he hasn’t really lived up to that moniker over the course of his career, with injuries and mental blocks often getting in the way. At his home major, however — where he reached the semifinals in 2008 and has appeared in the quarterfinals on three other occasions — things have been different. With a home crowd that loves to be entertained behind him, he’s often shown some of his best tennis.

2. The Early Exit?

RENÉ

Stan Wawrinka, surely. The Swiss’ results have been so scattered this year — heck, this month. Defeats Nadal one week, loses to Delbonis the next. He doesn’t have the most difficult of draws and he’s actually one of the few people with enough weight of shot to hit through what should be pretty cool and damp conditions, but I’m totally picking Wawrinka to go out to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the third round. Also, shout-out to Nishikori: Thomaz Bellucci is a mean floater, but I cannot see the Brazilian sustain the necessary level of play over four or five sets.

ANDREW

Although many of the big names — particularly in the top half of the draw — find themselves in loaded quarters with plenty of young talent looking to make names for themselves, I see more upsets happening in the quieter bottom half of the men’s draw. Tomas Berdych finds himself facing a potential third round encounter with Italy’s Fabio Fognini, and I’d give the Italian the edge in this case. Berdych may have gained the advantage of becoming a Top 4 seed by virtue of Nadal’s ranking drop, but on this occasion I think the chalice has turned out to be poisoned.

DAVID

While he has been winning most of the matches he should this clay court season, No. 7 seed David Ferrer failed to break through in any of his opportunities against the game’s best. As we’ve seen in players like Agnieszka Radwanska, that build-up of emotional let-downs can lead to some surprising round losses. The reSerbgent Viktor Troicki poses a threat in the third round, and Ferrer could also have issues against Daniel Gimeno-Traver or even Geneva finalist Joao Sousa.

NICK

After winning the Australian Open last year, Stan Wawrinka was unable to make it happen in Paris, losing in the first round to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in four sets. In what could be a revenge match, Wawrinka could play Garcia-Lopez again, this time in the third round. I don’t expect any of the Top 8 seeds to go home too early given their draws, but if any of them do, this may be where it would happen.

JANE

Stan Wawrinka. Although the No. 8 can get it done with brilliance, he, like Nadal this year, has been up and down. Though he may advance to the third round, No. 26 seed Guillermo Garcia-Lopez looms.

JEFF

For the most part, this year’s Top 8 seeds all have fairly decent draws in the first few rounds and have all been in good form. While I foresee most of them making the second week, you never know what kind of tennis sorcery Fabio Fognini can pull, especially on his favorite surface, which might spell trouble for Tomas Berdych in the third round.

VIKA

Stan Wawrinka. Wawrinka returns to Paris a year removed from his upset at the hands of Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the opening round, and a date with the 26th seeded Spaniard could be on the cards for last year’s Australian Open champion in the third round. He showed off some brilliant tennis in upsetting Rafael Nadal in Rome, but out of the paths of all the Top 8 seeds, his might be the one most likely to fall short of his projected result.

3. The Toughest Draw?

RENÉ

I actually don’t think any of the Top 8 men have an exceptionally difficult road through the fourth round — as long as they’re all playing well, that is. Most of them have one name in their section that causes a frown but few are on legitimate upset watch. I’ll go out on a limb here and say Andy Murray — he might have taken out Nick Kyrgios in convincing fashion in Australia, but the 20-year-old has the serve and the swagger to make things uncomfortable in a third round.

ANDREW

By virtue of a first glance Andy Murray jumps out as the obvious name here, but he is a good enough player — and is in impressive enough form — to come through threats from Kyrgios and Isner. Murray already defeated Kyrgios earlier in the year, ending his dream run at the Australian Open with little discomfort; I don’t predict the young Australian will manage the upset here.

Take a close look in the bottom half of the draw and you will see No. 4 seed Tomas Berdych faces potential match ups with Radek Stepanek in the second, Fabio Fognini in third and either Kohlschreiber or Tsonga in the fourth rounds, respectively. I’m not confident the Czech will come through the challenge of Fognini — who is always a big threat on clay. These are all extremely experienced players who will be relishing landing in Berdych’s open quarter; for me, his is the toughest road.

DAVID

Much has been made about top seed Novak Djokovic’s form over the last eight months. He is unstoppable, unflappable and, as many are predicting at the French Open, unbeatable. That all may be so, but the road towards the Career Grand Slam is undoubtedly littered with mental land mines, and even ostensibly beatable opponents could conspire to make this first week — an important one as it will likely be that long before he faces nine-time champion, Rafael Nadal — a surprising struggle. The Serb will could play a tricky young Aussie in the third round (either Kokkinakis or No. 27 seed Bernard Tomic) and the big-serving South African in Kevin Anderson, who might do well in the thuddingly heavy conditions that are predicted, in the fourth. Since 2009, the French Open is the only major tournament where Djokovic has faltered in the first week, and if he’s not careful, this week could be death by one thousand champagne corks.

NICK

Andy Murray’s potential second and third round opponents of Vasek Pospisil and Nick Kyrgios are much more difficult than the potential second and third round opponents for any of the other Top 8 seeds.

JANE

Out of sync with his sliding, hitting, and mind control, Rafael Nadal will try piecing together whatever he can starting on Day 1. But, I have to agree with Roger Federer: until Nadal’s out of the draw, he has to be considered the favorite. Who can argue with a 66-1 record!

JEFF

As has been mentioned, the Top 8 seeds all have straightforward early-round draws, and I’d expect most of them to make it to the second week. Nadal might have a difficult time in his second round with Alexandr Dolgopolov or Nicolas Almagro, both of whom registered wins over the defending champ in 2014. Former semifinalist Jurgen Melzer or a steadily improving Adrian Mannarino could wait in the third round, so it’s not a cakewalk for Nadal. But even despite all the questions surrounding his form and confidence, I don’t see him losing early even if he might drop a close set here or there.

VIKA

Andy Murray might be undefeated on clay for the first time in his 28 years of living, but the draw hasn’t exactly been kind to him. All eyes point to his projected third-round encounter with Nick Kyrgios, but the Scot could also have a tricky battle with Canadian Vasek Pospisil in the second round — provided Pospisil is fully recovered from the ankle injury he suffered in Madrid.

4. The Most Exciting 1R?

RENÉ

I’m liking Almagro-Dolgopolov but I’m loving Sock-Dimitrov. The American has had a very solid year since coming back from injury while Dimitrov, by contrast, has had a fairly lackluster past six months. For the Bulgarian, a deep run at the French would be key to regain some of the momentum he’s lost this year — and set him up well for the grass, where he has a lot of points to defend. But there is a very good chance that Sock is going to play spoiler and dump the 10th seed out of the tournament early.

ANDREW

Dimitrov hasn’t been enjoying great form in 2015, while Sock won his first ATP World Tour title on the clay(!!) of Houston and looks to be a player very much on the rise. They’re both popular young guys who can play exciting tennis — it’s a shame that one of them will have to exit in the first round, but at least there’s an opportunity to prevent too ignominious a death if they both play the entertaining tennis of which we know they’re capable.

DAVID

For all that is made of the Parisian crowd, never let it be said that they don’t know how to root for the home team. That means the sure-to-be-show-court affair between wildcard Lucas Pouille and No. 12 seed Gilles Simon is guaranteed some fan electricity. The 21-year-old Pouille began the clay court season with a win over Nice finalist Dominic Thiem, and has otherwise been acquitting himself well on the Challenger Tour since his breakthrough run to the Auckland semifinals as a lucky loser. Across the net, there is no telling how former World No. 6 will pull up after retiring in Rome with injuries. But he told the French press this morning that he feels ready to play, and a grinder like Simon will undoubtedly give his all to ensure that his people are given their money’s worth.

NICK

I will be interrogating anyone on The Tennis Island who does not pick Sock/Dimitrov. Jack Sock, the Houston champion, has really started to make a name for himself. His opponent, Grigor Dimitrov, is one of the flashiest and most brilliant shot makers tennis has seen in quite some time. There could be some ‘tweeners from Dimitrov’s end and some inside-out forehand winners from the concession stands from Sock’s end.

With Dimitrov on a bit of a decline in 2015, this could be a fantastic opportunity for Sock to score a sensational upset at a major.

JANE

Dimitrov/Sock is a nightmare matchup for round one. It’s Sock’s best test on clay, which he’s found to his liking. A turn of events for the Nebraska boy raised and bred on American hard courts. Sock won Houston, a minor shockwave for the American, too. Dimitrov has had a rocky year, with a racquet change and inconsistency on court. If Sock’s serve and forehand click, Dimitrov will have his hands full. The Bulgarian, though, is the better athlete and will arrive on court will more variety that could dent Sock’s assets.

JEFF

While Dimitrov vs. Sock is an appealing battle of (as of yet) unfulfilled potential, Dolgopolov/Almagro is the one I look forward to most. The crafty Ukrainian can have many flashes of hot and cold over a best-of-five match, much like his fiery Spanish opponent. Almagro is on the road back from injury and hasn’t yet rediscovered his old Top 10 form, but surely his most successful major should inspire a few more stunning backhand winners than usual.

VIKA

Despite the risk of Nick kicking me off the Island, I’m going to choose another match featuring an American — John Isner vs. Andreas Seppi. The pair have split their previous meetings — with Isner winning a five-set battle in the first round of the Australian Open in 2010 and Seppi coming from a set down to win at his home event in Rome in 2012 — and could prove to show off a nice contrast in styles to kick off the tournament. The Italian veteran proved his worth in upsetting Roger Federer in Australia, and this could certainly be a long one.

5. The Unheralded Opposition?

RENÉ

Too many to mention. Kokkinakis and Thiem spring to mind but I’m going to go with Lucas Pouille. He’s in one of the softest brackets with injured Gilles Simon and slumping Ernests Gulbis. I wouldn’t be surprised one big to see him make the fourth round out of what seems to be a very open section of the draw.

ANDREW

Quietly hidden in Novak Djokovic’s quarter is Australian youngster Thanasi Kokkinakis. While he is unlikely to come close to a win over Djokovic himself, a trip to the third round — taking out No. 27 seed and fellow Aussie Tomic could be a match that makes headlines and builds excitement for the third round encounter.

Kokkinakis is an increasingly popular figure on the men’s tour, and a match up with Djokovic on one of the biggest stages would be a moment for tennis fans to relish.

DAVID

Kokkinakis is looking like the sexy pick for this one, so I’m going to go more against the grain and pick Japanese qualifier, Yoshihito Nishioka. The teenager ended the Aussie’s US Open challenge in last year’s qualifying tournament, and made it into his second Grand Slam main draw with two straight set wins sandwiched between a grinding affair against Norbert Gombos. Drawn against No. 4 seed Tomas Berdych, the diminutive lefty can pose a surprising test for the Czech Goliath who is already tipped by many to exit the event early. Nishioka made his first-ever ATP World Tour quarterfinal in Delray Beach, but has seemingly adjusted well to the clay and as a veritable unknown, can continue sneaking between the headlines.

NICK

It’s highly likely that Martin Klizan, the 2015 Casablanca champion, could reach the fourth round beating just one seeded player (Gilles Simon). The other seeded player in this 1/16th of the draw is Ernests Gulbis and if you don’t know how Gulbis’ season has gone, it’s probably best that you don’t ask.

This is a really soft section of the draw and it would not surprise me in the least to see Klizan playing in the second week.

JANE

Wildcard Thanasi Kokkinakis. Huge talent. Has nothing to lose. The way he played at Indian Wells says he can reach deeply into reserves of body and soul

JEFF

Thanasi Kokkinakis has a great draw, with a qualifier in the first round and a fellow Aussie who is (tennis-tically) allergic to clay, so he might make a nice run in the first week. Djokovic awaits in the third round though, so while I wouldn’t bet on him making it much further than that, the young charismatic Australian has the game to make a big push at one of tennis’ biggest stages.

VIKA

While every bone in my body tells me not to bank on him, I’m going to go with Thomaz Bellucci. The bewildering Brazilian (CHECK OUT THAT ALLITERATION) had a great week in Geneva to win the title, and certainly has the game to take out Nishikori in the second round. Could we see him in the second week? Why not, but whether he does so could ultimately come down to one person: himself.

6. The Semifinalists?

RENÉ

I see Djokovic surviving the [insert hyperbole here]-quarterfinals and then taking out Ferrer in the semifinals — because, why not? The bottom half is at least as difficult, but as previously indicated, I’m going with Monfils to make a big impact, reaching the semi-finals where he’ll run out of gas against…Nishikori? This is a weird one, mainly because a possible Nishikori-Berdych quarterfinal was a toss-up and I also don’t quite believe that the Japanese No. 5 seed has got the form to make another major final. But here we are. The bottom half truly feels pretty open.

ANDREW

Djokovic vs. Murray – I don’t see Nadal successfully working his way past Djokovic this year. I think the match could be incredibly close, but the top seed has had an iron will throughout 2015, which I don’t see collapsing before the semifinals. Murray, meanwhile, has a tough draw but one that his experience and good form should carry him through.

Nishikori vs. Federer – Kei Nishikori has something of a dream draw, landing far away from the biggest seeds with a path to the quarterfinals that looks incredibly relaxed. Federer will have to come through Wawrinka in the quarter-finals, but that match looks to be the only big threat to Federer’s chances of making the final four.

DAVID

I’ve seen this movie before. I’ve seen it nine times, as a matter of fact. Where Robin Soderling had the element of surprise in 2009, Nadal can see Djokovic coming from across the Seine. For the Serb to be triumphant in such an early stage, he will have to put on a truly Herculean effort of which, in six previous French Open encounters — three since 2011 — he hasn’t proven capable. My bigger question is whether Nadal will be able to recover in time for his projected semifinal against Murray who, unlike Djokovic, will have some degree of surprise on his side. Though he beat Nadal in Madrid, no one will be expecting the once-and-future King of Clay to have a letdown against the Scot, which could cause a calamity of unpredicted proportions.

The other semifinal is far less epic, but could be a nonetheless entertaining affair between Kei Nishikori and Gael Monfils. I’m not 100% confident in the Frenchman’s ability to unseat No. 2 seed Roger Federer, but I have to think the Swiss Maestro will be saving his best for Wimbledon, or even the US Open.

NICK

Interestingly, putting in Federer and Nishikori was much easier than putting in Murray and Nadal here. My head tells me that Djokovic is going to beat Nadal. It’s all adding up for a Djokovic quarterfinal victory over Rafa. My gut tells me that Nadal is still going to find a way, somehow, to pull it out. It may be irrational considering what we’ve seen from Nadal over the last few months, but I still think he’s going to summon something special.

JANE

At the end of the day, I see Nadal taking out Djokovic to reach the semifinal, where he will get another grudge match against Murray. Across the draw, I see the seeds holding to form, with Berdych making it to another major semifinal, where he will play Federer for a spot in the final.

JEFF

Djokovic vs. Ferrer, Nishikori vs. Monfils. Let it be clear that one should NOT write off Nadal as a contender for this title; he has the tennis (obviously) to win his 1864689th French Open championship — and might indeed undermine Djokovic’s career grand slam campaign as he did in 2013. But all logic points to the Serb to make the final four, as he has not only been the best on clay this year, but also the best since Wimbledon last year. Ferrer has secretly had an excellent 2015 with a handful of titles and has bested Murray here before.

Nishikori has been both exceptional and underwhelming this year, but has a manageable draw and no pressure to defend his first round loss here last year. Monfils has always played his best in front of French crowds and could very well get the best of Federer at a Slam as he almost did in New York last last year.

VIKA

Novak Djokovic vs. Nick Kyrgios and Tomas Berdych vs. Roger Federer. “Unexpected” semifinalists have been a bit of a story at Roland Garros over the past few years — looking at you, Ernests Gulbis — and if anyone has what it takes to spring big surprises on big stages, it’s the Aussie. Federer is the anchor of the bottom half as the No. 2 seed, and with Berdych being a master of players he should beat this year, I don’t expect two surprises to be in the cards on the men’s side.

7. The Champion?

RENÉ

I have Djokovic winning against pretty much anyone coming from the bottom half of the draw. Once the Serb makes it to the semifinals, I can’t see anyone upsetting him and stopping his march to the French Open title.

ANDREW

It’s Djokovic’s year, and I think he’s going to do it by beating Nadal, Murray, and Federer in succession. Quite a way to finally complete a collection of major titles, and to continue the incredible dominance he’s shown throughout 2015.

DAVID

He doesn’t strike me as a naturally vindictive person, but as Andy Murray clutched the Australian Open runner-up trophy, his eyes bore straight through nemesis Novak Djokovic. From that moment on, he vowed unequivocal revenge, and there would be no colder dish the Scot could serve than to steal the Serb’s thunder and become only the second non-Nadal to win the French Open in ten years. Coach Amelie Mauresmo has given him all the tools necessary for success at her home Slam, helping him move confidently through 10 straight clay court wins. All the hype surrounding the potential for a Career Slam yet this, the narrative to end all narratives, is right under all of our noses. Do you smell it?

NICK

66-1, nine French Opens, and still looking for more. He’s not the favorite, he hasn’t looked great, but he’s still my pick and until someone other than Robin Soderling can beat him, I’m taking Nadal. Again, it may be extremely irrational, but Nadal winning the French Open has been as certain as the sun rising.

JANE

If he can get past Monfils, Roger Federer might swoop in for a narrative of his own and finally defeat Nadal at the French Open. It seems highly unlikely, but the No. 2 seed has been playing as well as anyone during the clay court season, and with Djokovic out of the way, it may truly be anyone’s to win.

JEFF

It’s so difficult to not pick Djokovic, who is more rested than he was in his similarly successful 2011 season when he fell to Federer in the semis. Nadal would be my close second choice, as defeating him on clay in a best of five has proven to be a nearly impossible task over the last decade. While some might speculate the pressure Djokovic puts on himself might overwhelm his bid this fortnight, his tactics against his chief rivals are immaculate and I’ve never seen him serve better; he has to be the rational favorite for the title.

VIKA

While death and taxes are the only two things surer than Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros, I have to pick Novak Djokovic. It seems as though the stars have finally aligned for the Serb to complete the career Grand Slam and take home his first Roland Garros crown.

How else can you explain that champagne cork making a sharp left? #angels

TTI’s Picks:

Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 12.16.53 PM

Who would you have chosen? Sound off in the comments!

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About David Kane (138 Articles)
23-year-old tennis writer. Long Island raised me, @Twitter made me. My hindrances are deliberate; my whole life is thunder. @DKTNNS

1 Comment on TTI Talks: State of the ATP (French Open Edition)

  1. Coppejans and Sock for my “unheralded competition”!

    Like

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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