3 min read
Parisians are happy to be back to a springtime Roland Garros after last year’s rather unwelcoming autumn edition in a world turned upside-down by a pandemic.
The 2021 event has been more hospitable with warmer temperatures and modest crowds limited to 5,388 per day on site, with a maximum of 1,000 spectators in the three main stadiums and 35 percent capacity in each of three groupings of outside courts.
Crowds at the French Open are traditionally among the sport’s most passionate and so far the tournament has provided plenty of memorable moments, even if a surprising number of big names, mainly in the women’s draw, have lost or withdrawn. Seeds No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 – Ashleigh Barty, Naomi Osaka and Aryna Sabalenka – were out after week one. Despite that exodus one of the favorites, defending champion Iga Swiatek, and the biggest name, Serena Williams, remain on course to meet in the final.
- INSIGHTS currently predicts a 21% chance that one of either Williams or Swiatek will take home the title.
- While an in-form trio of former Grand Slam winners – Victoria Azarenka, Sloane Stephens and Sophia Kenin – have an established pedigree with INSIGHTS calculating a 27% chance that the 2021 champion will come from this group of 3.
- Then there’s prodigal 17-year-old American Coco Gauff with a 53% chance to go to the next round and can continue to make noise.
- Despite some of the upsets and withdraws, INSIGHTS has had a strong start to the tournament correctly predicting the winners on the women’s side in 83 of the 104 matches (79.8%).
On the men’s side No. 4 seed Dominic Thiem and No. 7 Andrey Rublev have been ousted but the game’s dominant duo – top seed Novak Djokovic and No. 3 Rafael Nadal – continue to move on unscathed. A younger generation led by No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev, erstwhile hater of clay and the revelation of the tournament so far, as well as No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas and No. 6 Alexander Zverev are staking claims to be the player to emerge from the bottom half of the draw and reach next Sunday’s final. No. 8 seed Roger Federer, as well as he has played so far, still cannot be viewed as a viable option for the title, especially as he himself has said as much.
- INSIGHTS reveals a 50% chance that one of either Djokovic or Nadal will lift the trophy in a week’s time.
- Medvedev, Tsitsipas, and Zverev, 3 bottom half draw players, are displaying a 44% chance to be the last man standing when the dust settles.
- As we enter the second week of this Slam, according to INSIGHTS, the biggest upset was Philipp Kohlschreiber’s victory over Aslan Karatsev in 4 sets.
Here is Sunday’s line-up:
No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas vs No. 12 Pablo Carreno Busta:
This will be the third meeting between the 22-year-old Greek and the 29-yearold Spaniard. Tsitsipas won their two previous matches, including 7-5, 6-3 in the 2018 Barcelona semi-finals on clay. Both carry positive memories of last October’s Roland Garros – Tsitsipas reaching the semi-finals before losing to Novak Djokovic in five sets after the No. 1-ranked Serb had defeated Carreno Busta in four sets in the quarter-finals. Tsitsipas said getting himself in the right mental space with a little aggro helped him turn things around in a 5-7, 6-3, 7-6(3), 6-1 win over monster-serving John Isner in the third round. Next in the round-of-16, Carreno Busta’s metronomic ground strokes will provide a completely different challenge for Tsitsipas, as will the change from a night match Friday to daytime Sunday in Court Philippe Chatrier.
Carreno Busta, 17-8 at the French Open, will be hoping to make his third quarter-final at Roland Garros (2017/2020) on clay, with his prospects not as promising at his next scheduled Grand Slam, on grass at Wimbledon, where his record is 0-5.
- When we look at this match through INSIGHTS, the calculation shows the win probability favoring Tsitsipas 75% - 25%.
No. 6 Alexander Zverev vs unseeded No. 49 Kei Nishikori:
While these two will have their minds on other matters on court Sunday in the fourth round, they could talk about fatherhood – Zverev and his ex-partner welcomed a baby daughter in March while Nishikori and his wife announced recently that they are expecting their first child. The two players have faced each other at their previous events of the 2021 clay-court season – the 24-year-old German defeating the 31-year-old Japanese 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in Rome and 6-3, 6-2 in Madrid. Zverev has taken a fairly uneventful route to the round-of-16 while Nishikori had to survive two five-set ordeals that averaged four hours each before his last opponent, qualifier Henri Laaksonen, retired after the first set. He now has an amazing 26-7 record in five-set matches. Zverev, 15-7, isn’t so bad himself and leads their overall head-to-head 4-1 going into Sunday’s night match in Court Philippe Chatrier.
- INSIGHTS is predicting that Zverev will continue his winning ways over Nishikori with a win probability in this match of 78%.
Unseeded No. 46 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina vs unseeded No. 51 Federico Delbonis:
The young Spaniard, 21, and the veteran Argentine, 30, offer a fire and ice contrast with Davidovich Fokina more dynamic and explosive while Delbonis is calm, almost stoic, on court. In the third round, Davidovich Fokina was redlining his game in a sensational 7-6(3), 2-6, 7-6(6), 0-6, 7-5 victory over No. 15 seed Casper Ruud. Post match the 22-year-old Norwegian said of the emotional Davidovich Fokina, who had survived another five-setter against qualifier Botic Van de Zandschulp in the second round, “you never really know what’s going to come out of his racquet. He can produce extremely good shots and extreme winners, passing shots, beautiful drop shots. But sometimes he can also do more mistakes.”
The steady Delbonis, an impressive 17-6, including qualifying, at spring claycourt events in Europe, should be a perfect foil for the feisty Spaniard in their first ever meeting scheduled for Court Suzanne Lenglen.
- INSIGHTS has the pair in a virtual toss up at an exact 50-50 for this upcoming match.
No. 20 Marketa Vondrousova vs No. 33 Paula Badosa:
It’s the form player of 2019 against the form player of 2021. Two years ago Vondrousova reached the Roland Garros final and lost to Ashleigh Barty, while this year Badosa is 13-2 on clay at events in Charleston, Madrid and Belgrade, where she won the title. She survived a 2-6, 7-6(4), 6-4 emotional rollercoaster on Friday against Ana Bogdan while Vondrousova has won her last six sets without dropping more than three games in each of them as she heads into her first meeting against the 23-year-old Spaniard. The Czech, 21, could lose 1,300 ranking points from her 2019 runner-up finish after this year’s event – possibly falling from No. 21 to over No. 60. But she’s taking it in all in good spirits. Everyone is like, ‘yeah, it’s gonna drop, it’s gonna drop,’” she said about her ranking. “I’m like, ‘yeah, just please drop it now and I can play (more) calmly.’”
A year ago Vondrousova had the misfortune of being red-hot eventual champion Iga Swiatek’s first-round victim at Roland Garros. This year that potential match-up couldn’t take place until the final.
- The road to the final may be a difficult path however as INSIGHTS does show a slight edge for Badosa as a 55% favorite over Vondrousova.
No. 7 Serena Williams vs No. 21 Elena Rybakina:
This is the first meeting for 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams and the 21-year-old Moscow-born Rybakina, who now represents Kazakhstan. Williams has compiled an incredible 364-52 record in her career at Grand Slam events while Rybakina is just 7-6. At 6-foot tall, the Kazakh packs some power and owns two career titles – Hobart in 2020 on hard courts and in Bucharest in 2019 on clay. Her career high ranking was No. 17 in February, 2020. As far as Grand Slam experience against a great opponent like Williams, Rybakina did play world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty in the third round of the 2020 Australian Open, losing 6-3, 6-2.
As for Williams, she said about her form on clay after a 6-4, 6-4 win over compatriot Danielle Collins in the third round, “I just needed to find me, know who I am. Nobody else is Serena out here. It’s me. It’s pretty cool.” Rybakina would certainly not dispute the latter but she will try to make things a little less cool in Court Philippe Chatrier on Sunday.
- INSIGHTS calculate Serena as the favorite in this match with a 64% chance of coming out victorious.
Unseeded No. 54 Sorana Cirstea vs unseeded No. 85 Tamara Zidansek:
Zidansek, an unheralded 23-year-old from Slovenia, had not won a match in two previous Roland Garros appearances, but she had not been lucky – facing No. 11 Garbine Muguruza in 2020 and No. 20 Elise Mertens in 2019. This year she played a brilliant opening match to upset No. 6 seed Bianca Andreescu 6-7(1), 7-6(2), 9-7 and then overcame an in-form Katerina Siniakova 0-6, 7-6(5), 6-2 in the third round. Cirstea, in her 13th Roland Garros, reached the quarter-finals 12 years ago in 2009 but has not made it past the third round in her subsequent 10 tries. But the 31-year-old Romanian has had an impressive spring on clay – winning a title in Istanbul (Mertens) and finishing as runner-up (Krejcikova) in Strasbourg right before this year’s Roland Garros. It’s a first meeting between Cirstea and Zidansek.
- Although they have a similar record vs. common opponents, INSIGHTS does predict Cirstea will move on to the next round with a win probability of 66%.