Are you ready for the second Grand Slam of the year? We’re not sure we are. Victoria is currently dealing with altitude levels worse than Madrid on the road in Denver while René is recovering from his four-week Eurotrip around the clay courts of the continent. As the Rolling Stones once sang, however, “Time waits for no one,” — and neither does Roland Garros.
With qualifications underway and streamed (!) for the entire week, Chiesa and Denfeld are jumping in before the men take the final hurdles of their quest to determine the 16 last places in the Roland Garros main draw.
Victoria Chiesa: Andrea Arnaboldi vs. Tobias Kamke
Both the Italian and the German have looked in fine for thus far in their qualifying campaigns, combining to win eight of the eight sets they’ve played in the two previous rounds. It hasn’t always been easy for these two on the terre battue in Paris, and Arnaboldi’s run thus far this year has served as a stark contrast to his qualifying campaign of a year ago, when he won the longest match in the history of Roland Garros qualifying which spanned over four hours through two days.
The two have played three times previously, with Kamke holding a 2-1 edge, but haven’t played since 2014. Each match has been particularly one-sided in favor of the winner in their head-to-head, but something tells me the Italian lefty will be the one to punch his ticket to his third main draw in Paris.
René Denfeld: (2) Yoshihito Nishioka vs. (20) Radek Stepanek
This is a brutal one to start with — I find Nishioka’s speed around the court and his lefty forehand tremendous to watch, whereas Stepanek’s continued love for the game and willingness to fight through qualies and push the big names with his net-charging is admirable. Both men have been pushed to the brink in their second round qualifying matches, winning deep in the third set. This match represents one of the most interesting final qualifying rounds and a complete contrast of styles — had this match taken place on Thursday, the recovery factor would’ve played a big part in this, but since the Czech and the Japanese won’t be contesting their final qualifying match until Friday, I’ll go based on recent form — and Stepanek’s looked pretty solid.
VC: Peter Gojowczyk vs. Steve Darcis
Five years removed from his best showing at Roland Garros — a third round in 2011 — Darcis is looking to get back to the main draw stage against the mercurial German Gojowczyk. While his clay court campaign this season hasn’t been the strongest, Gojowczyk has shown no signs of wanting to do anything more than just get through this portion of the season. He’s 0-2 on clay this year, which included a loss to Cedrik-Marcel Stebe in Munich, who’s coming off a year away from the game.
The Belgian’s missed just one Roland Garros in the past nine editions, and he’s lost just five games in two career meetings vs. the German (one retirement.) All signs point to “the Shark” swimming away with this one.
RD: (4) Jan-Lennard Struff vs. Andrey Rublev : Geoffrey Blancaneaux vs. (22) Andrey Martin
This is where the scheduling of the French Open qualifying becomes a little more problematic and I’m forced to pick a qualifier out of the four men who made it into the second round in this bracket. The Russian youngster Rublev has not been making the waves many thought he would since his first noticeable run on the clay courts of Barcelona in 2015, while Struff just recently posted a very solid result at the Heilbronn Challenger — reaching the final.
I’m inclined to pick the winner of this match over either French wild card Blancaneaux and No. 22 seed Martin, I’ll go with my compatriot Struff to qualify for the Roland Garros main draw, ending his long wait to return into the Top 100 after a disastrous 2015.
VC: (5) Thomas Fabbiano vs. Marco Trungelliti
The Italian and the Argentine couldn’t have had more opposite roads to get to this stage, with Fabbiano rolling through his first two matches and Trungelliti taking the long way around; he dropped the opening set vs. Matthias Bachinger before rallying to win in three, and has an equally difficult road to get past American Denis Novikov, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5.
While the Italian won just once match on clay this year in five tournaments ahead of Roland Garros, it seems as though something switched on for Fabbiano, as he looks to be in good form here. It remains to be seen what Trungelliti can do after two lengthy matches to get to this stage, so I think the No. 5 seed looks to be one who’ll advance into the main draw.
RD: Aleksandr Nedovyesov vs. Carlos Berlocq
Nedovyesov hasn’t had a particularly great 12 months, having lost 17 out of 21 matches from August until March this year — two of his only wins have come at qualifying at the Australian Open, falling in the final round of qualification at the hands of Ryan Harrison.
In the last few weeks, however, the Kazakh has been able to regroup somewhat and he has made it into the final round of qualifying once again — this time facing Argentine Berlocq. The No. 19 seed was pushed deep in the third set of his second round match, fending off Arthur De Greef 9-7 in the end.
The 33-year-old had a couple of months away from the tour from November until April due to a shoulder issue but I’ll pick the experienced clay veteran over the Kazakh despite his struggles against the Belgian on Wednesday.
VC: (7) Roberto Carballes Baena vs. Marius Copil
Ah, Marius Copil. How do I even begin to describe Marius Copil?
For those of you unfamiliar, Copil and I go way back to a little thing called the ROUFIN Odyssey of 2012. (Ask Louise Engzell about it.) Since then, I’ve been waiting for the Romanian to be a consistent…something on the ATP Tour, but he hasn’t really panned out in the way I expected after that fateful weekend in Cluj.
He’s up against your prototypical Spaniard in the form of Carballes Baena, who’s currently making a charge towards the Top 100 after playing nearly-exclusively on clay this year, sans two first-round qualifying losses in Indian Wells and Miami. I fully expect him to be able to neutralize Copil’s big serving and hitting on this surface, and make the main draw in fairly straight-forward fashion.
RD: (8) Dustin Brown vs. (24) Daniel Brands
This match-up is just cruel: one of the more charismatic of the German players against the comeback-ing Brands-machine. Neither player looked in great form heading to Paris with neither winning a match since February and Brown lacking match play due to a patella tendon issue. Now both of them got two wins under their belt and at least one of them will make the main draw — which I’m very happy about since the number of German men in the main draws of Grand Slams has been somewhat dwindling in recent years. However, it’s also rough for the one missing out, and I’m going to go with Brands here — just a gut feeling, no more, no less. I’d be surprised if it wasn’t in two tie-breaks or something along the lines, as this is a pretty close one to call.
VC: Adrian Ungur vs. Frances Tiafoe
One of the more contrasting matches in the men’s qualifying draw sees the flashy American taking on the Romanian veteran for a place in the main draw — perhaps rather unexpectedly.
I’ll freely admit that Tiafoe’s surprised me here — he had an excellent win against noted #dirtballer Clezar in the opening round after getting waxed in the opening set, 1-6, 7-5, 6-2. On the other side, Ungur’s been everywhere and back at all stages of men’s tennis over the course of his career, and he’s too had a big win over another American — No. 9 seed Tim Smyczek in the opening round. Ungur is a decent clay-courter but has only featured in the main draw once in nine previous appearances — when he rather famously took a set off Roger Federer in 2012. I think a win here to qualify would be another nice step in Tiafoe’s development, and he’ll get there in three sets.
RD: Sergiy Stakhovsky vs. Marsel Ilhan : Federico Gaio vs. Guido Andreozzi
Again, I’m finding myself in the hardly enviable position to pick between four players whereas Victoria get all the nice, sorted brackets. So disrespectful.
Stakhovsky might be the highest seeded player here but the controversial Ukrainian hates the red dirt — why else would here trek across Asia’s hard courts during the European clay court season? Ilhan is somewhat more comfortable on the slippery surface but my pick for this quarter is Andreozzi — the Argentine might not have won or played an awful lot of matches in the past few weeks but he has a title on clay under his belt in 2016 and that has to count for something. In all honesty though — this is pretty wide open.
VC: Matteo Donati vs. Ryan Harrison/Gerald Melzer
Oh look, I finally got a bracket with more than two players in it!
The match up between Harrison and the younger of the Melzer brothers is an intriguing one on paper, as neither bothered much with European red clay at all ahead of Roland Garros. Harrison was the only one to even play a match, and he was promptly defeated by World No. 148 Renzo Olivo in the first round in Heilbronn. However, both had decent results on the American “clay,” reaching a semifinal and a final respectively, and have never played each other.
Waiting for the winner is another Italian in Donati, who scored a quality win against Elias Ymer in the previous round. The 21-year-old also routined James Ward in the opening round, and despite being ranked No. 270, is my pick to continue this nice little run he’s having into the main draw.
RD: Karen Khachanov vs. Jordi Samper-Montana : winner vs. Aslan Karatsev
Finally a bracket where my final round is already sorted out and I don’t have to choose between more than two play–
I’m fairly confident that Khachanov is going to maneuver his way through this section. The 19-year-old Russian has posted some pretty good results on clay this spring, including wins of Pablo Carreno-Busta and Aljaz Bedene and winning the challenger in Samarkand a little over a week ago.
VC: (13) Igor Sijsling vs. Kenny De Schepper
In what could’ve easily been a main draw meeting a few years back, the Dutch No. 13 seed takes on the Frenchman for a place in the 128.
The big Frenchman doesn’t have the greatest track record at his home Grand Slam, having fallen in qualifying in three out of his five appearances, but I think this is the year that he finally makes it into the main draw on merit out of the qualies. Although Sijsling’s won the pair’s previous two meetings, those came on indoor hard court at the Challenger level, his track record at Roland Garros isn’t anything to write home about either. Both players’ clay seasons in 2016 have been up-and-down to say the least, but in this case, I think playing at home will push De Schepper over the line, and he’ll make the main draw in two tight sets.
RD: (14) Nikoloz Basilashvili vs. Daniel Gimeno Traver : Axel Michon vs. (29) Jared Donaldson
One of the tougher section of the draw could see all four men make it through. Basilashvili was the aforementioned title in Heilbronn last week against solid opponents, but Gimeno Traver knows his way around a clay court. The hometown favorite Michon is the big question mark, while Donaldson has had a good run at the Challenger in Savannah — but over the course of the past 12 months, he hasn’t really been able to make many steps to close in on the Top 100.
Curiously enough, the Georgian and the American faced off in the final round of the French Open qualifying in 2015, with victory coming for Basilashvili in three sets. I wouldn’t be surprised to see exactly the same scenario unfold all over again and will pick Basilashvili to defeat Donaldson at the final hurdle for the second year in succession.
VC: Laslo Djere vs. (21) Adam Pavlasek
This battle of 20-somethings — Djere is 20 while Pavalsek is 21 — . Unheralded Djere picked up a decent win over the No. 15 seed Marco Chiudinelli, dropping just four games, in his qualifying opener
While yet to make an impression consistently on the ATP World Tour, both men were Top 10 players in their junior days and have shown flashes of the tennis that they’re capable of producing here this week. They also know their way around a clay court — combined, the pair have won 15 titles at the Challenger and Futures level, and 13 have come on the red stuff. However, I’ll take Pavlasek by the slimmest of margins in this one — the Czech has slightly more experience on the main ATP stage, and will be the one to make his Roland Garros debut after a three-set tussle.
RD: Andrey Golubev vs. (27) Radu Albot
In March, Golubev won a Challenger in Jonköping…then his lost his next six matches on the trot. Now, he’s two sets away from qualifying for the main draw of the French Open. Tennis is weird like that sometimes.
The last man in his way is the Moldovan Albot who took out Pere Riba and Christoph Lindell on his way to the final qualifying round — and due to some of the more consistent results over the course of the past eight weeks or so, I’ll go with the No. 27 seed to make his way into the main draw for the first time — after blowing match points against Calvin Heremy in the second qualification round in 2015.
Who do you think makes the Roland Garros main draw? Sound off in the comments!’