Key questions for Week 2 of the French Open men’s draw

For most players, making it into the second week of a Grand Slam is a goal worthy of props and a virtual trophy. For the elite players, it’s a springboard to potential glory. Either way, making the second week has become an important milestone.

As top seed Novak Djokovic said after his third-round win Saturday at the 2019 French Open: “Reaching a second week of a Slam is a success … [but] it’s going to get only tougher from here. But I look forward to it.”

Draw analysis at the start of the tournament is a murky enterprise, but by the second week, many of the caveats have melted away. Let’s look at some of the key questions looming in the coming days at Roland Garros:

Most difficult path forward

Stefanos Tsitsipas’ two-day, four-set win over ATP No. 60 Filip Krajinovic on Saturday vaulted him to a live ranking of No. 4 — leapfrogging over Next Gen star Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem. But the “Greek Freak,” seeded No. 6, has his work cut out.

Next up: furiously resurgent Stan Wawrinka, a former champion at Roland Garros. If the seedings hold up, Tsitsipas would then clash with Parisian idol and No. 3 seed Roger Federer, then No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal — all for the privilege of dueling in the final with the winner of the past three majors, No. 1 Novak Djokovic.

Tsitsipas’ electric game fits no niche: He is as quick as any gifted counterpuncher, explosive as any exponent of the big power game. But it’s difficult to imagine the 20-year-old having enough gas in the tank to make it all the way.

Least likely to survive

They could just as well call the French Open the Big Dog tournament, given how well the top seeds traditionally perform. All eight of them are in the fourth round for a sixth straight year. The other three majors haven’t even had the top eight seeds survive to Round 3 since Roland Garros in 2015. That’s bad news for Juan Ignacio Londero, the unseeded 25-year-old from Argentina.

Sure, Grand Slam events often turn up a “surprise quarterfinalist.” That might happen again, what with unseeded, mercurial Benoit Paire, Leonardo Mayer and Jan-Lennard Struff still in the draw.

Londero, ranked No. 78, had a terrific draw following his upset of No. 15 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili. He beat French wild card Corentin Moutet in his most recent match, but his luck has run out: He plays Nadal next.

Novak Djokovic faces a kind draw at the French Open. Christophe Ena / AP Photo

Easiest path forward

The stars are nicely aligned for Djokovic to win his fourth successive major, thereby completing a second “Djoker Slam.” Djokovic places in the top 5 in just two categories in the tournament’s “Infosys Slam Leaderboard” stat tracker. But they are two key areas: receiving points won and break points converted. That’s why Djokovic hasn’t lost a set — and has yielded as many as four games just twice.

On top of that, Djokovic’s draw is kind.

He next meets No. 45-ranked Struff, who was roughed up by No. 13 seed Borna Coric before winning 11-9 in the fifth.

Then it’s probably on to No. 5 Zverev. The 22-year-old German is riding a seven-match winning streak after his triumph at Geneva ATP 250 the week before Roland Garros. But he has played an awful lot of tennis to get over his recent rough patch, including two five-set wins in Paris over noncontenders. His stamina will be questionable.

Most surprising contender

It’s a close contest among the unseeded, but we’ll go with Paire because of the X factor — make that two X factors. Paire is French, and the native players always feel intense pressure as well as enthusiastic support. Paire also has a reputation as a hothead who hasn’t lived up to his potential. This is his first foray into the second week in Paris.

Paire’s draw has been friendly. He has shown impressive self-control, and his mercurial game has been sharp. He has belted more winners than anyone thus far, and he ranks fourth in first-serve points won. Kei Nishikori, Paire’s next opponent, is physically fragile at the best of times. Seeded No. 7, the Japanese star had a knock-down, drag-out five-setter in his prior match. If Paire gets by Nishikori and into the quarterfinals, he could trouble Nadal with his drop shots, pace changes and booming serve.

Elite player with the most to gain

Sure, Djokovic is on the cusp of a huge achievement. And a 12th French Open title for the oft-injured No. 2 seed would be an epic accomplishment. A win by Federer would add another chapter to his legend.

2 Related

Then there’s Juan Martin del Potro. The No. 8 seed defeated Nadal and Federer in successive matches at the tender age of 20 to win the 2009 U.S. Open, But just months later, his career became an endless saga of surgeries and injuries. He played all four majors again last year for the first time since 2012.

Del Potro fought through another knee injury scare in his second-round win over Yoshihito Nishioka. He told reporters later, “After all I have gone through, my feelings in my knee, I had to be careful and fight mentally during those games. … It was costing me to move and to play, but if you’re strong mentally, the passion, the desire to play and to compete, is what takes over.”

That’s his history — and character — in a nutshell. Time is running out for the 30-year-old 6-foot-6 slugger from Argentina. He will next face No. 10 seed Karen Khachanov, with either Thiem or Gael Monfils after that.

Sentimental favorite

The French have had an outstanding tournament thus far. Is it an omen? Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga have long been the most likely to become the first male French singles champion since Yannick Noah in 1983. Tsonga is out of the picture, but “La Monf” is enjoying a career resurgence. Seeded No. 14, Monfils has compiled an 18-6 record this year, with a title win in Rotterdam.

Monfils’ next opponent is No. 4 seed and defending finalist Thiem, who plays with a similar mindset, setting up shop well back of the baseline and forcing long rallies. Monfils is more athletic than Thiem, but the Austrian clay expert is more consistent.

Monfils leads all players in receiving points won, and he ranks fifth in break point conversion. The great unknown is the effect of the home crowd. The French love the spectacular gets and leaping blasts Monfils produces, but he will have to avoid getting too jacked up and playing to the fans. Two wins and Monfils would face Djokovic in the semis.

Elite player with the most to lose

It seems crazy to say that “King of Clay” Nadal, 11 times the champion, 89-2 for his career, has anything to lose. But he is a victim of his own success. A Nadal loss in Paris has become almost unthinkable.

There’s a bigger picture, though.

Nadal will turn 33 on Monday. He has frequently been injured, but with 17 Grand Slam titles, Nadal is still within striking distance of Federer’s record 20. But a loss on what amounts to his home court might put the kibosh on his chances of catching Federer.

Then there’s this little matter of his rivalry with Djokovic, who leads their series by a slim 28-26 margin. The men are seeded to meet in the final, with Nadal holding a 2-0 edge. They’ve split their past two matches, with Djokovic hammering Nadal in the Australian Open and Nadal avenging the loss just two weeks ago in Rome.

With unseeded Londero next, then either unseeded Paire or Nishikori, Nadal has a great shot at making the semis.

“I am healthy [again],” Nadal told the crowd after his previous win. “And when I am healthy, I’m happy playing.”

Best fourth-round matchups

Tsitsipas vs. Wawrinka (first meeting)

Will the revitalized former champion’s power offset the speed and mobility of the man looking to be the youngest quarterfinalist since del Potro a decade ago?

Mayer vs. Federer (Federer leads 3-0)

Can Federer’s stamina hold up through what might be a grueling test against a gifted, powerful ball striker?

Fabio Fognini vs. Zverev (Zverev leads 2-1)

Will Fognini’s win over Zverev in Monte Carlo a few weeks ago give the creative Italian the confidence to again weather the punishing serve and groundstrokes of his more powerful rival?

Khachanov vs. del Potro (Del Potro leads 3-0)

Is there a way the Russian can outhit del Potro, because that’s exactly what this one will be about.

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