At long last, the clay season has reached its culmination. Its crown jewel: the two-week marathon on the terre batue at Roland-Garros in Paris. The clay lends itself to upstarts because of its slow-moving, high-bouncing nature, and it can trouble more established players. Rain is forecast for the French Open on Sunday, but if the tournament proceeds, keep an eye on the following matches as the French Open gets underway.
Marquee Matches Day 1
Milos Raonic (8) vs Janko Tipsarevic
Raonic has been a top player for several years but has yet to have a real breakthrough at the French Open—his best performance is a quarterfinal showing in 2014. Raonic’s biggest weapons are his big serve and forehand, but those may be neutralized on the clay, forcing him to play longer points and rely less on power. In addition, his matchup with Janko Tipsarevic could be more challenging than it appears on paper—Tipsarevic is a former top ten player who has struggled with injuries the past two seasons.
Prediction: Raonic in four
Nick Kyrgios (17) vs Marco Cecchinato
Kyrgios, along with Dominic Thiem, is in the top tier of the younger generation on tour. Kyrgios is powerful player that has a sometimes-volatile personality. Kyrgios already counts career wins against Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, and he had a decent clay season, reaching the semifinals in Estoril while challenging top players at Masters 1000 tournaments in Madrid and Rome. His matchup with Marco Cecchinato will more likely set the tone for his tournament rather than provide a stern challenge—Cecchinato is currently ranked 124th and this season has only advanced once past the first round of a tour-level event.
Prediction: Kyrgios in straight sets—look for him to challenge the top players in Paris
John Isner (15) vs John Millman
Isner is a perennial top player but comes to Paris having only played one clay court tournament this spring. Millman has played no tournaments on clay due to his ranking. The American contingent, raised on hard courts and typically uncomfortable with sliding and other clay techniques, is a yearly point of complaint for television commentators. Isner, along with Jack Sock, is the best hope for the United States—Isner’s best result in Paris is a fourth-round showing in 2014. Isner should win comfortably, but the way he plays will be a potential predictor for his ability to challenge the top players during the fortnight.
Prediction: Isner in four sets
Karolina Pliskova (17) vs Shelby Rogers
Pliskova is an established top player, but has never reached beyond the second round in Paris. Rogers, a young American who is a bit of a journey woman, could push her. Rogers’ best career success—two tour level finals, including one this year in Rio de Janeiro—have come on clay. Rogers’ comfort on clay could make for an entertaining match.
Prediction: Rogers in three
Garbiñe Muguruza (4) vs Anna Karolina Schmiedlova
Muguruza established herself as a top player at Wimbledon last year, where she reached the final. However, she has yet to repeat such a success. She reached the quarterfinals in 2014 and 2015, and is comfortable on clay. She may have an early challenge against Schmiedlova, who previously reached the third round at the French and is ranked a solid 37th in the world. Muguruza should use her big forehand to take control, but Schmiedlova should not be overlooked.
Prediction: Muguruza in three