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Universal Tennis will be following the action throughout the 2021 Roland Garros, primarily focusing on the second week of play. We are excited to provide a deep dive into the competition through our data provided by our soon to be released website called Universal Tennis INSIGHTS. INSIGHTS will be powered by the same engine that supports the UTR Rating.
The 2021 Roland Garros will add a new dimension to an event that has attracted the finest international players since 1925 – introducing night matches under the lights in Court Philippe Chatrier.
On 12 outside courts, lights will also allow play to continue past sunset, which is at about 9:30 pm in Paris. But there will be only one featured match in Court Philippe Chatrier – at 9 pm (3 pm ET/12 pm PT) from the first Monday, May 31, to the second Wednesday, June 9.
When the 2021 draw was done on Thursday, many tennis fans were disappointed that Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal were drawn in the same half and can only meet in the semi-finals. The fact that Daniil Medvedev had crept just ahead of Nadal into the No. 2 ranking spot meant there was a 50/50 chance of the two superstars being in the same half. Fate obviously didn’t favor the dream final.
The fact that Djokovic, Nadal and even Roger Federer, who has conceded he will not be a serious contender this year because of his lack of recent match play on clay, are on one side of the draw opens up things for the three most prominent members of the younger, so-called NextGen – No. 4-ranked Dominic Thiem, No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas and No. 6 Alexander Zverev – in the bottom half. As it currently stands, INSIGHTS predicts the probability of the winner coming from the top half of the draw at 60% vs. 40% from the bottom of the draw.
Nothing is guaranteed, but it creates the strong possibility of one of the mid-30s men (Djokovic or Nadal) going against one of the mid-20s men (Thiem, Tsitsipas or Zverev) in the championship match.
In the women’s draw a lot of excitement has been generated around defending champion Iga Swiatek. The 19-year-old Pole was brilliant in triumphing last October – winning all 14 sets she played and averaging a measly four games lost per match.
She has since had decent success, including in her only Grand Slam event where she lost to Simona Halep, in the fourth round at the 2021 Australian Open. But her win in Rome two weeks ago, especially her 6-0, 6-0 thrashing of No. 9 seed Karolina Pliskova in the final, has revived images of her sublime run at Roland Garros last fall.
Along with Swiatek, world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty and No. 3 Aryna Sabalenka form the trio of best bets for the title. Garbine Muguruza, Naomi Osaka and Bianca Andreescu, all three Grand Slam champions, are also contenders. But each has an asterisk beside her name – whether it’s because of injury, unfamiliarity with clay and/or lack match play on the surface. INSIGHTS’ prediction for the women’s draw is pretty much a coin flip with the probability of the winner coming out of the top half at 51% vs. 49% for the bottom half.
Here are six first-round matches that have special interest:
(13) David Goffin vs Lorenzo Musetti: The 30-year-old Belgian against the emerging 19-year-old Italian. It’s a first meeting for the two and the No. 76-ranked Musetti looks to be in superior form – putting together an 8-6 record on clay this spring and reaching the semi-finals of the ATP 250 event in Lyon last week. The No. 13-ranked Goffin has gone in the opposite direction, tailing off after reaching the Monte Carlo quarter-finals. He is now 5-4 with losses to players ranked No. 58, No. 64 and No. 55 in the first or second round of his last three tournaments. Despite the difference in their rankings, their clay UTR Rating is extremely close (Goffin at 15.07 vs. Musetti at 15.05). This has the potential to be a very tight match with INSIGHTS showing the slight edge to Goffin with a 53% win probability.
(2) Daniil Medvedev vs Alexander Bublik: These two lanky Russian natives (Bublik now represents Kazakhstan) are 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-6 respectively and share a reputation as two of the more colorful characters on tour. Bublik, 23, has something of a carefree attitude and a penchant for underarm serving while Medvedev, 25, has been having a kind of clay-court breakdown. The world No. 2 won just one match at clay-court, ATP 1000 events in Madrid and Rome this month while proclaiming “I hate clay,” even to the point of asking an ATP supervisor in Madrid “please disqualify me.” It makes for good media coverage but which of these two eccentric individuals will be level-headed enough to come through with a win? Medvedev is a surprising 0-4 over his career at Roland Garros while Bublik is 2-2. Although Medvedev has had a difficult run this year on this surface, the data still predicts a sizeable advantage with a 88% win probability.
Fernando Verdasco vs Philipp Kohlschreiber: This match-up features two 37-year-olds who are playing their 17th Roland Garros. It’s clear the No. 107-ranked Verdasco, who reached as high as No. 7 (2009), and Kohlschreiber, who made it to No. 16 in 2012, are on the downside of their careers. Neither has shown much on clay this spring – Verdasco going out in the first round in Estoril, Madrid and Munich. Kohlschreiber has only played three events in 2021, all in the past month – compiling a 2-3 record at two Challengers and the ATP 250 in Munich. Kohlschreiber leads their head-to-head 6-4 heading into a match-up that will likely be the last of two lengthy and impressive careers. Kohlschreiber currently has a .10 advantage in terms of clay UTR Rating which therefore shows a slight advantage in win probability at 52% vs 48% respectfully.
(4) Sofia Kenin vs Jelena Ostapenko: This first rounder features two former Grand Slam champions who are not playing at an elite level in the women’s game at the moment. Kenin, then 21, won the 2020 Australian Open, and was runner-up to Swiatek last October in Paris. Ostapenko bolted from a ranking of No. 47 to win the 2017 French Open at age 20.
The No. 44-ranked Latvian is 5-3 this spring at clay-court events in Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome while No. 5 Kenin, adapting to life without her father Alex as her coach, is 0-3 at tournaments in Charleston, Stuttgart and Rome. Ostapenko won their only previous meeting in 2020 Fed Cup (now Billie Jean Cup) qualifier action. This is a fateful match-up with the loser certain to leave Paris knowing she has experienced much better days on the red clay in the City of Lights. INSIGHTS is currently indicating Ostapenko the slightest advantage with a clay UTR Rating .09 higher and her win probability at 54% for this match.
(12) Garbine Muguruza vs Marta Kostyuk: Champion at Roland Garros in 2016, Muguruzu reached the semi-finals the following year but has exited in the fourth and third rounds in her last two appearances. The 27-year-old Spaniard has struggled with a thigh injury during this year’s clay-court season and has only played one European clay-court tournament, losing to No. 6-ranked Elina Svitolina in the third round in Rome. Kostyuk is a promising, big-hitting 18-year-old from Ukraine who is 6-3 in qualifying and main events in Istanbul, Madrid and Rome this spring. She had a breakthrough on the biggest stage by pushing eventual champion Naomi Osaka to 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-2 in a highly-competitive third round match at the 2020 US Open. This is a first meeting for Muguruza and No. 81-ranked Kostyuk. While Marta’s current hot streak has her trending in the right direction, INSIGHTS still calculates a sizeable advantage to Muguruza with a 82 win probability.
(15) Victoria Azarenka vs Svetlana Kuznetsova: These two former two-time Grand Slam champions – Azarenka at the 2012-13 Australian Opens and Kuznetsova at the 2004 US Open and Roland Garros in 2009, have been in and out of the tour over the past few years. 2020 US Open runner-up Azarenka after giving birth to son Leo in 2016, has suffered with a back ailment this year and played only one clay-court event leading into the French Open, going 1-1 in Madrid three weeks ago. Kuznetsova, 35 and ranked No. 40, has been bothered by a hamstring injury and has not played a tournament since the hard-court Miami Open in March. Azarenka, 31, leads their head-to-head rivalry 6-4, one that goes all the way back to a first meeting at the US Open in 2007. Similar to what we saw in the previous match, INSIGHTS is showing Azarenka to come out on top in this match with a significant advantage at 88% vs. 12% respectively.
Be sure to come back later in the tournament to read more about the competition and some deeper dives into the later-round matches of the second Gram Slam of the year.