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Austria’s Dominic Thiem plays a shot against Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas during their third round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris on June 1, 2019.
Austria’s Dominic Thiem plays a shot against Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas during their third round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris on June 1, 2019.|Michel Euler | Associated Press
Tennis

French Open Monday: Abrams picks the Men’s Round of 16 – Djokovic v Struff, Zverev v Fognini, del Potro v Khachanov, and Thiem v Monfils

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

Stade Roland Garros
Paris, France
Monday, June 3, 2019
Men’s Round of 16

Sascha Zverev over Fabio Fognini
What a fiery matchup this one will be. These guys are both phenomenal shot-makers and movers, which means this one will be long and close. Fognini is playing great tennis, but even though I don’t think we’ve seen Zverev’s best since last November when he won the ATP Championship, I like the German because even if he doesn’t play great, he’ll make fewer errors than Fognini. Yes, the fabulous Fognini took out Zverev in straight sets at Monte Carlo, but he also beat Nadal in straight sets there too. He peaked then, and he’s playing well now, but it won’t be enough. It would be even a bigger bonus if Zverev plays the way that he’s capable of.

Juan Martin del Potro over Karen Khachanov
I’ve been waiting for Khachanov to catch fire, and he finally has, although I question whether winning three matches is really catching fire. The 6’6” Russian has had just a horrible first five months of 2019, finding it difficult to get out of the first round at most tournaments. After the Australian Open, Khachanov lost in his first match in three straight tournaments before he won three matches in Indian Wells, then he lost his first match in four more straight events. The clay has saved him a bit, and I think it’s because it gives him more time to execute his shots, which seems to be more important to him than taking time away from his opponents. Altogether, he’s 10-12 on the year going into the French. With del Potro, on the other hand, there’s always a risk that he’ll come up lame. He’s had more operations the past five or six years than he has in total wins in 2019. But when he’s healthy and on, he’s great, and a pleasure to watch. He seems healthy here, although that’s a relative word when referring to the big Argentine. I think the bottom line is that Khachanov has never beaten del Potro, and I don’t think it’s likely to happen for the first time here.

Jan-Lennard Struff over Novak Djokovic
I might be letting my personal feelings get the better of me here, but I’d love to see Nole lose, and this is the first chance of that here in Paris. To repeat what I wrote on Thursday: I don’t like Djokovic. I don’t like how he plays. I don’t like how he acts. I don’t like his bullshit after-match fake display that supposedly salutes the fans. And I’d like to see him go down. Struff, a 6’5” 29-year-old very tough German is competing as well as ever, and has come through three tough wins (Shapovalov, Albot, and Coric) to get to the Round of 16, so he’s match-tough. You can’t say the same for Djokovic. He’s breezed through his first three matches, where his opponent seemed to get easier the further he went (Hurkacz, Laaksonen, and Caruso), and not only hasn’t he lost a set yet, but he hasn’t even been tested. That ends here. Struff attacks, plays first-strike-tennis, and moves forward. Djokovic isn’t used to playing against this style, and I think it will pay off for Struff, as he upsets the #1 player in the world, moving forward into the quarters. And if he loses, we’ll see the dark side of Nole: he’ll question calls, he’ll stall and delay, and he’ll generally act like a petulant child.

Dominic Thiem over Gael Monfils
Gael Monfils, the face of French tennis, has yet to lose a set in this year’s French Open, and will have many of his friends and fans at Roland Garros to cheer him on. They’ll have a lot to cheer about, as Monfils is as much an entertainer as he is a fantastic tennis player. They’ll see him hit at least one “tweener” between his legs. They’ll get to watch him hit his patented jumping backhand, where he looks like an NBA player. And if they’re really lucky, they’ll catch him hitting (usually a forehand) around the post—under the height of the net, into the court, for a spectacular winner. But they won’t see him win this match. These guys have played four times, and Thiem has yet to go down to defeat. He is considered the second best clay courter in the world, and got to the finals last year before bowing out to Rafa and his 11th French Open title. And if Thiem is to prove that last year was no fluke (it wasn’t’—he got the to the semis in the two years leading up to last year’s finals appearance), he’ll have to get through some great players, starting with Monfils. He will.