Bet Monday's French Open: Neal Abrams picks 18 men's first round matches
The action starts at 5 am EDT from Roland Garros in Paris.
Monday, September 28
Men’s Singles Predictions
Hubert Hurkacz over Tennys Sandgren
These guys have played here before and the Pole won in four sets just two years ago. Sandgren’s biggest asset is his dogged determination, but his style just doesn’t translate well onto the dirt here. I’d expect Hurkacz to win in four again.
Casper Ruud over Yuichi Sugita
21-year-old Casper Ruud, from Oslo, Norway, is a star in the making. His father was a pro back in the 70’s, and although Casper is following father Christian’s path, Casper is the better player. Seeded 28th here, and ranked 25th, I expect Ruud to hit Sugita, a 32-year old from Tokyo, off the court. They play the same game, but Ruud plays it better.
Frances Tiafoe over Jan-Lennard Struff
Not too long ago Frances Tiafoe was considered a bright hope for the future of American tennis. No more. After being absolutely embarrassed by Russian Daniil Medvedev 6-4, 6-1, 6-0 at the U.S. Open just two weeks ago, Tiafoe was further embarrassed last week by 18-year-old Italian Lorenzo Musetti, ranked #180 at the time, in a Challenger event in Forli, Italy. Here’s how I look at this match: either Tiafoe steps up and wins a match (and this is the one he’s presented with) or considers throwing in the freaking towel for the rest of the year. He has tested positive for Covid-19, and he’s either gonna “man-up” and out-duel Struff, a very tough customer, or he should simply take the next two months off to heal, and then get back to training. A loss to Struff might be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Jack Sock over Reilly Opelka
Jack Sock appears to be back after more than a full year of desultory results, including going more than 12 full months without winning a singles match. He looked better in February playing in Delray Beach, but like everyone else, had to put his comeback on Covid-required hiatus. He still possesses one of the wickedest forehands in the game, and as he regains confidence I expect him to begin winning matches again. This would be a great one to start with now. He took out defending champion Radu Albot in Delray before getting gassed against Stevie Johnson in the second round there. He then went to Indian Wells to play the Challenger there and won five matches, including those against Ugo Humbert and Brandon Nakashima, before he lost to Johnson again in the Finals there. Now, with some wins and some confidence under his belt, I think Sock will return enough serves against the 7-foot Opelka to take out his compatriot. After all, if these guys end up getting into any rallies from the baseline on the dirt here in Paris, Sock should dominate. After all, it’s nice to be 7 feet tall on a basketball court, but not so much on the slippery red clay of Gay Paree!
Feliciano Lopez over Daniel Altmaier
Everybody loves 39-year-old Spanish star Feliciano Lopez. His game is exciting. He’s charismatic and friendly. And he’s a global star. The question here is, can a man at his advanced age win on the slow slop that Europeans call red clay. I say he still has enough in his tank. Altmaier, 22, from Kempen, Germany, has little experience, and only two lifetime wins on his resume. To me, Lopez wins this match and adds to his 490 lifetime wins. The real question will be, can he recover enough to win another round?
Mackie McDonald over Steve Diez
Former NCAA champion, UCLA’s Mackie McDonald, now 25, has not had a wonderful 2020. He dropped his first round match in Melbourne to Brit Dan Evans 6-3 in the fifth, crashed out of a Challenger in Newport Beach 7-5, 6-4 to 539th ranked Raymond Sarmiento (who?), lost in the quarters at another Challenger in Dallas, and lost in the first round of Qualifying in New York back in February to 269th ranked Noah Rubin. Then he crashed out of Delray Beach to Opelka in the second round, lost a three-setter to Tommy Paul in Acapulco, before he lost in the second round of the Challenger in Indian Wells to Taro Daniel. After the Covid-required hiatus, McDonald, however, has looked better. He won two rounds in the qualifying for the Cincinnati Western and Southern played in the New York City bubble just four weeks ago before losing to UCLA teammate Marcos Giron, also a former NCAA champion, and then looked much better going out in five tough sets in the first round of the U.S. Open to the very tough Casper Ruud. He’s finally got a good draw here, and I like him a lot against Canadian qualifier Steve Diez, who now lives in Spain. Diez is another qualifier who only has two career wins to his name in main draws. I’d expect some long baseline rallies in this one, but I can finally say, “…take the American in this one.”
Cam Norrie over Daniel Elahi Galan
Cam Norrie plays an all-court game, and is aggressive as much as he is patient. But no matter what strategy he employs in this matchup with Daniel Elahi Galan, a 24-year-old Colombian, the Brit will win. He’s just better.
Jiri Vesely over Liam Broady
British tennis is so much better than it was twenty years ago you’ve gotta respect almost anyone that comes out of their program, and respect is what I’ll give 26-year-old Liam Broady. But on the slow dirt of Paris, I see no way the inexperienced Brit can take out 68th ranked Jiri Vesely, who has been around for 11 years and has pocketed over $4.1 million. Vesely will grind this one out.
Filip Krajinovic over Nikola Milojevic
Filip Krajinovic is now ranked 29th, and appears to be playing better and steadier as he grows older and more experienced. In the three tournaments that he’s played since the tennis reopen, Krajinovic has lost to Novak Djokovic in the Round of 16 in Rome, 10th ranked David Goffin in the Third Round at the U.S. Open, and to Milos Raonic in the quarters at the Western and Southern. He’s not going to lose to Nikola Milojevic, a 25-year-old Serbian Qualifier ranked 144th.
Felix Auger-Alliassime over Yoshi Nishioka
Earmark this match for a good one, but you might want to wait until they enter the fourth hour to actually watch it as this one will go long. Yoshi Nishioka is a grinder, and although he has very few weapons, he makes few mistakes, and he’ll stay out there all day and night if that’s what it takes to win. But Canada’s 19th seeded Felix Auger-Alliassime is a very special player. Yes, he’s still young—having just turned 20 last month. But he’s got game, and he’s figuring out how to win matches on all surfaces against all types of competition. I like the Canadian, and if FA2 wins, it will be his first over the Japanese, having lost both in a Challenger in 2015 and in 2019’s Indian Wells (7-6 in the third).
Guido Pella over Salvatore Caruso
Guido Pella, the 30-year-old Argentine, has been on the Tour for 13 years now. He’s consistently good (ranked 37th), never great, but a sure bet to win against lower ranked players, especially on slow stuff. Here, against 85th ranked Italian, Salvatore Caruso, Pella will grind down the Italian. This could be a battle, but Pella will triumph.
Tommy Paul over James Duckworth
Surprisingly, American Tommy Paul is ranked 58th, a darn good ranking, which is high enough to get him into all the big tourneys, and to be a favorite in many matches….like this one. I expected Paul to be both better and more consistent by this time, but he’s good enough to win this match against James Duckworth, a 6’1” Australian ranked #91, and he’s still only 23-years-old. So maybe he’s got enough time to become both better and more consistent.
Albert Ramos-Vinolas over Adrian Mannarino
This match between guys ranked 39 (Mannarino) and 44 (Ramos-Vinolas) will be brutal. Besides the fact that they’ve been playing against each other their whole lives (they come from neighboring European countries Spain and France), they have split their six previous matches on the Tour. But the three times they’ve played on clay, Ramos-Vinolas won them all, and their respective court mastery goes all the way back to 2014 when they were both teenagers and played a Challenger match on hard. Mannarino won that one that I haven’t even counted as their seventh match. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if Mannarino won, considering how good they both are and how close their career records are, but if former form holds, the Spaniard will win this fourth match on clay.
Pablo Carreno Busta over John Millman
PCB is awfully tough to beat, and almost never loses to anyone ranked below him on clay. That’s what we’ve got here. Millman will fight, will claw, will dig, will attack…and will lose. It’s pretty much that simple.
Karen Khachanov over Kamil Majchrzak
If you watch Russian Karen Khachanov hit, you’d think this guy was ranked in the Top 5 because he looks that good. He’s not. He’s inconsistent, he’s a bit of a pussy and can’t close out sets or matches, and he doesn’t seem to have the grit and determination of compatriots Daniil Medvedev or Andrey Rublev. With that said, he is very, very dangerous. If he plays as well as he’s capable of, he’s a future Grand Slam winner. Well, he won’t need to play his best against 24-year-old Pole Kamil Majchrzak, to win. But this should serve as a good warm-up for what holds next for Khachanov.
Daniil Medvedev over Marton Fucsovics
The big news about the very dangerous Daniil Medvedev is that he’s never won a match at Roland Garros. This year will be the end of that. He’ll play Fucsovics, the Hungarian ranked 63rd, whom he has played three times previously, including a Challenger match, and he’s never been tested. This one should be a slam dunk for Medvedev.
Rafa Nadal over Egor Gerasimov
When a maestro practices it’s called a rehearsal. Does it really matter who Rafael Nadal, 93-2 lifetime in Paris, plays in the first round here? No, I don’t think so either. Nadal rehearses with Egor Gerasimov.
Dominic Thiem over Marin Cilic
Boy, what six years mean to a professional athlete. Just six short years ago, Marin Cilic was on top of the tennis world, having just won the 2014 U.S. Open. Now, he’s ranked just 40th in the world, and at 31, isn’t getting any younger. The new U.S. Open champion, Austria’s Dominic Thiem, is 3-0 lifetime against Cilic, and they’re playing on the red dirt in Paris where Thiem has reached the Finals two years in a row, losing only to the invincible Rafa Nadal. Thiem will begin his journey this year here with a win against Cilic.