They start at 5 am EDT.
Stade Roland Garros
Tuesday, May 28, 2019
Men’s First Round Picks
Sascha Zverev over John Millman
When John Millman beat Roger Federer in the Round of 16 at the 2018 U.S. Open he made a name for himself and became part of the tennis public’s consciousness. Unfortunately, he really hasn’t won much since then, and has been using the ranking points won back in September to keep his career afloat. I will, however, give Millman credit for successfully coming back from two major surgeries: right shoulder in 2013 (for which he was out a full year) and groin in 2017. All pros have injuries. Not all come back with their games intact. Sascha Zverev comes into this tournament as one of the favorites, but certainly not one of the top four. He is streaky, but when on, he is a pleasure to watch. He streaks across the court with his long locks flowing, and strikes the ball like a super hero on steroids. All he has to do is to learn how to win, which is coming, and he’ll be a worldwide favorite very soon. Zverev should roll, but Millman is nothing if not a tough competitor.
Gael Monfils over Taro Daniel
Gael Monfils, now ranked No. 17, was having one of the best starts of any pro on Tour in 2019 before he came up lame in Indian Wells and had to pull out of his quarterfinal match with eventual champion Dominic Thiem because of an injured Achilles. Although he’s come back, he hasn’t approached the heights with which he was playing at previously. Nonetheless, he sports a 2019 record of 18-6, with a title in Rotterdam where he beat Wawrinka and Medvedev to walk away with the 405,000 Euros and the 500 ranking points that went along with it. Taro Daniel, a 26-year-old American who plays for Japan, is ranked No. 103, and is a very pedestrian 9-13 for the year. There’s a lot to like about Daniel. He likes classic rock, particularly Led Zeppelin, Woody Allen movies, and playing ping pong. And he did beat Novak Djokovic in last year’s Indian Wells tournament. But that was sixteen months ago now, and he’s shown nothing more than some tough losses since then. Monfils will have his way in this one.
Juan Martin del Potro over Nicolas Jarry
One thing is for sure about this match: everyone, everywhere loves both of these players, and it’s hard to root against either one of them. Nicolas Jarry is the 6’6” grandson of former Chilean pro, and University of Miami alumni Jamie Fillol. Jarry comes from a particularly athletic family where both of his parents played professional volleyball, his grandfather reached No. 14 in the world back in 1974, and his great uncle, Alvaro Fillol, also played on the fledgling ATP Tour. His uncle, Martin Rodriguez, who also played on the Tour and peaked at No. 71 in singles and No. 15 in doubles, coaches him. Jarry is currently ranked No. 58 and he’s on his way up. Del Potro, one of the most popular players on the Tour is currently ranked No. 9. It’s been ten full years since he won the 2009 U.S. Open over Federer, which, after all the injuries, surgeries, and rehabs, feels like a lifetime ago to the amiable Argentine. If it seems like del Potro is always coming back from an injury, he is. This will only be his eighth Tour match this year, and he’s only won $200,000 so far in 2019—a mere pittance compared to the over $25 Million he’s won in his career. Still, del Potro is a very, very good player and a dangerous opponent. Just recently I’ve noticed that he has been able to hit topspin backhands again, after three left wrist surgeries (March, 2014, January, 2015, and June, 2015), and this only serves him well, as it adds to his accomplished repertoire of shots. Both of these guys are 6’6” and hit big serves and have giant forehands. If del Potro is healthy, he’ll win this match. If not, Jarry is good enough to send del Potro back home to his Mom (a literature teacher) and his Dad (a veterinarian).
Simone Bolelli over Lucas Pouille
Lucas Pouille had the tournament of his life getting all the way to the semis at this year’s Australian Open. Along the way he took out Kukushkin, Marterer, Popyrin, Coric, and Raonic before being decimated by eventual champion and world No. 1, Novak Djokovic. Unfortunately, he’s been abysmal ever since. He lost in the first round in Montpellier, Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo, and Barcelona before finally dropping down to play a Challenger in Bordeaux just three weeks ago. He won the Challenger, which must have given him confidence, because he followed that up with a single win in Madrid before bowing out to Hubert Hurcacz 5 and 1, and then resumed his plunge by losing to Matteo Berrettini in the first round in Rome. This slide is deep and long, and looks particularly serious. Maybe a matchup with Simone Bolelli is what Pouille needs to get him going. But maybe not. Bolelli holds a 3-1 lifetime mark against the Frenchman, and the only win Pouille pocketed came when Bolelli retired from a 2015 match in Moscow. Bolelli, ranked No. 187, is nothing special on the Tour. He’s played almost exclusively Challenger events this year, but popped up on the Tour’s radar when he resurfaced for a showing at the Australian Open (he lost in the first round of the qualies), Pune, India, where he won three matches, and Marseille, where he won two qualifying rounds before being dropped in the first round by Benoit Paire. Somebody’s gotta win this match – I’m picking Bolelli.
Fabio Fognini over Andreas Seppi
Fabio Fognini is playing some awesome tennis lately. The proof, obviously, is in his recent win of the Masters 1000 event held in Monte Carlo where he knocked off Rafa Nadal on his way to the title there. Still, Fognini is nothing if not inconsistent and unpredictable. Take his history with fellow Italian, Andreas Seppi. The first four times these guys played Seppi took Fognini to the cleaners, both on clay and on hard courts. Fognini didn’t win a single set. But then Fognini turned the tables and took all four of the next four matches they squared off in, with the last three in two Masters 1000 events and the 2017 French Open. So I think Fognini has the better game now, has the momentum, has the backing (as he’s become a giant crowd favorite), but you still never know. If Fognini, married to 2015 U.S. Open champ Flavia Pannetta, starts cursing in either English, French, Spanish, or Italian, look out! He could lose to anyone, and that includes his countryman, Seppi.
Roberto Bautista Agut over Stevie Johnson
RBA has come roaring back from 2018 groin and abdomen surgery to secure himself a place among the most respected players in the game. He’s ranked No. 21 in the world, but he’d be higher if he didn’t miss last year’s Wimbledon and two Masters 1000 events and the big opportunity to gather a lot of ranking points from them. He’s most dangerous on the slow stuff, but he showed grit, determination, and a surprising knowledge of the hard court game when he got to the quarters of this year’s Australian Open beating Murray, Millman, Khachanov, and Cilic before dropping a four set classic to Stefano Tsitsipas, who had just come off beating Roger Federer a round before. He followed that up with a quarterfinal showing in Miami, topping Tipsarevic, Fognini, and Djokovic, losing in two tiebreakers to 6’10” John Isner and his service bombs. Johnson, on the other hand, is an altogether different story. The two-time NCAA champion out of USC has had a decent career, but as of late, the Tour players, having figured out long ago that he does not possess a backhand, have finally figured out how to beat the 6’2” Californian. With knowledge comes power, and most of the elite athletes have now powered past the American. Johnson has played eleven events this year and has won first round matches in only four of them. RBA himself is 6-0 against Johnson, and since you have to showcase all of your physical gifts, or pay for not having them, on the clay of Roland Garros, you can consider this match a slam dunk for RBA before it’s even played.
Taylor Fritz over Bernie Tomic
Remember back in 2016 when Australian Bernie Tomic was ranked 17th in the world? Well, that was a long time ago and today Bernie is considered yesterday’s news. He’s all of 3-8 this year, and is generally considered a good draw and an easy out for the Tour pros today. He’s reverted to playing mostly Masters 250 tournaments, and by this time next year you’ll see him in Challengers if this slide of his continues. Fritz, on the other hand, is a bright spot among young up-and-coming Americans, and it’s fun to watch his progress each week. Fritz, ranked No. 42, is a 21-year-old Californian who is 6’4” with impeccable tennis breeding. His father, Guy, is a tennis coach, his mother, Kathy May, was a WTA Tour regular and Top Ten player in the late ‘70’s—early ‘80’s, and his wife, Raquel Pedraza, was a top Junior, having competed in all four of the Junior Grand Slam events. Fritz, unlike other Americans, came to Europe early to play on the Spring European clay court circuit, and has benefitted from the training. He appears equally adept on the slow stuff as he does on hard courts, and seems to be absorbing knowledge weekly. He should knock off Tomic, with nary a moment to spare, as he races towards Round Two here in Paris.
Mackie McDonald over Yoshihito Nishioka
This one’s gonna be a battle. Both of these guys are at about the same point in their development as tennis players, and will scratch and claw their way to gain this win. There’s not much to pick between the two of them. Nishioka is 23-years-old, McDonald 24. McDonald’s ranked No. 66, while Nishioka is No. 72. They’re each 5’10” or less, and the American has won ten matches YTD, while the man from Japan has taken eight. The only slight hint on who to favor is that Nishioka has won the only two matches these two have played, the most recent a couple of months ago in Portugal, where Nishioka won 2 and 4. I’d give this fact more credit, except that this is a Grand Slam event, and since they play the best of five sets, I think the match will favor the man who is fitter. I believe it’s McDonald, but this match is really a pick-em. I like McDonald because he’s an ex-NCAA Men’s Singles champion, and I give extra credit to him for that.
Dusan Lajovic over Thiago Monteiro
Dusan Lajovic is starting to make his name known around the Tour this year, particularly with his startling run to the finals at Monte Carlo, a Masters 1000 event. There, he ran through Jaziri, Goffin, Thiem, Sonego, and Medvedev before bowing out to Italy’s Fabio Fognini in the finals. With those ranking points earned, he has bounded up the ladder and is currently ranked as the 35th best player on the planet. Although the Serb only sports an 11-13 record YTD, he is playing good tennis, and is buoyed by a lot of confidence, right at the best time. Monteiro, ranked No. 112, is a 6’0” Brazillian who is not playing as well as he did two years ago when his ranking topped out at 74. Monteiro is playing a lot of Challengers lately, and he won one back in January in Uruguay, the week after the Australian Open when he beat players ranked 409, 633, 154, 372, and 228. Although I don’t think Lajovic is really one of the top 35 players on Tour, I think he’s good enough to beat Monteiro.