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The 2021 Roland Garros is barely into its second week but already Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are just two wins each away from a blockbuster match-up in the semi-finals.
With Daniil Medvedev sneaking into the No. 2 seed spot, Nadal at No. 3 came out of the tournament draw in top-seed Djokovic’s half, setting the stage for a potential semi-final between tennis’ two best players.
Standing in the way in Monday’s round-of-16 will be two 19-year-old Italians – Lorenzo Musetti, who plays Djokovic, and Jannik Sinner, who takes on 13-time champion Nadal.
It would appear the odds of both Italians winning and advancing to the quarter-finals are extremely slim, but their raw talent is undeniable. Musetti is a stylish performer while Sinner is more of a workmanlike executioner.
- In terms of INSIGHTS, Nadal is now showing to be the most likely winner of the men’s singles draw at 26% probability.
- The odds that the winner comes from the top half of the draw is 56% vs. The bottom at 44%.
- Currently, the odds that one of the top 2 seeds will be the champion is projected to be 44% with the rest of the field making up 56%.
In the women’s draw, especially after Sunday’s upset of Serena Williams, it’s beginning to look like it’s the field against defending champion Iga Swiatek, who has now won her last 20 sets in a row at Roland Garros – 14 in winning the title a year ago and six in reaching the fourth round in 2021.
There are still two former Grand Slam champions – 2017 US Open winner Sloane Stephens and 2020 Australian champion Sofia Kenin – in Swiatek’s half of the draw. The Pole, who turned 20 last week, was tested, at least for a set, in a third round 7-6(4) 6-0 victory over Anett Kontaveit on Saturday – just the second of those 20 sets when she has been extended beyond 6-4.
- With the most recent matches taken into consideration, according to INSIGHTS, Swiatek is now the odds on favorite at 24% odds with the next closest player at 19%.
- INSIGHTS is also predicting the winner is more likely to come from the top half of the draw at 64% compared to the bottom half at 36%.
Here is Monday's line-up:
No. 24 Coco Gauff vs No. 25 Ons Jabeur:
Gauff, 17, versus Jabeur, 26, is a fascinating contrast of a young emerging superstar and a more experienced competitor whose modus operandi for winning tennis matches is variety and guile. Jabeur beat Gauff 6-3, 6-3 at the WTA event in Charleston in April but the American has lifted her level since then – playing an excellent first set in a 7-6(3), 6-3 semi-final loss to Iga Swiatek in Rome and then showing grit in winning the WTA 250 event in Parma, Italy, a week before Roland Garros began.
Jabeur, playing in her 17th Grand Slam and hoping to equal her previous best, a quarter-final at the 2020 Australian Open, has only nice things to say about Gauff. “What makes it different with Coco is mentally she’s strong,” said the Tunisian, who had to retire in her last event in Madrid with a right thigh injury. “She never gives up or lets the pressure get to her. She deserves to even be a better ranked player. Also she’s nice outside the court.”
With Gauff having won their two 2020 meetings (Rome and Lexington), they will meet for a fourth time and play Monday’s first match on Court Philippe Chatrier.
- This match has the closest of UTR Ratings in the upcoming matches with a difference of just 0.02. It is therefore not surprising that INSIGHTS calculates this match as a virtual toss-up giving Coco the slight edge in win probability at 51%.
No. 8 Iga Swiatek vs unseeded No. 81 Marta Kostyuk:
Separated by year, the 20-year-old Swiatek and Kostyuk, 19 in three weeks, played once in the juniors in a pre-Australian Open tournament with the Pole winning the final 6-3, 6-3. But Kostyuk, from Ukraine, got the last laugh because Swiatek went out in the first round of the subsequent 2017 Australian Open juniors, an event that Kostyuk went on to win.
Since that time Swiatek has soared to the top of the women’s game while Kostyuk’s advance has been more gradual. But last summer she showed her potential against a top-class opponent when her power-packed tennis pushed eventual champion Naomi Osaka to 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-2 in an up-tempo, US Open third round in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
While the 5-foot-9 Kostyuk, the same height as Swiatek, has the explosive game to threaten anyone, these days Swiatek isn’t just anyone as they meet for the first time as professionals – Monday night in Court Philippe Chatrier.
“I played her once (in juniors), never practiced with her,” Kostyuk said about Swiatek. “I know she’s a very aggressive player and you have to be aggressive with her, as well.”
- As mentioned earlier, it is no surprise with Swiatek now being the predicted winner that she is favored to win this match with a win probability of 79%.
Unseeded No. 33 Barbora Krejcikova vs unseeded No. 59 Sloane Stephens:
It just doesn’t make sense that Sloane Stephens is currently the No. 11-ranked American and that, a month ago, she was playing in the qualifying at the Italian Open in Rome. But the 2017 US Open champion, one of the purest ball strikers and slickest movers on court, appears to have rediscovered her mojo after defeating No. 9 seed Karolina Pliskova and No. 18 Karolina Muchova in straight sets on her way to the round-of-16.
In a sad place after deaths in her family due to COVID-19, the 28-year-old Stephens said about her struggles, “I took the time to get myself together, find what makes me happy on court, and kind of find my groove back.”
Her groove will be tested Monday by another in-form player, Krejcikova, the one-time doubles specialist who has rocketed up the singles ranking and won the Strasbourg WTA event leading into Paris. The Czech, 25, has beaten Venus Williams, No. 32 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova and No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina in only her fifth Grand Slam event in singles.
It’s a first-time meeting for these two dynamic women.
- This match has the largest difference of UTR Ratings in upcoming matches and to the surprise of some, INSIGHTS predicts Krejcikova to come out on top with a 82% win probability.
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. 1 Novak Djokovic vs unseeded No. 76 Lorenzo Musetti:
It has been a while since a player like Musetti – a natural showman with an exceptional talent – has come along in men’s tennis. The 19-year-old Italian has all the shots, the flair and the good looks to quickly become a huge star in the sport. Already ranked No. 76, and up to No. 61 in the live rankings with his round-of-16 at Roland Garros, Musetti hit a behind-the-back volley winner in his last match that had the tennis world buzzing. “I wanted to do it, but if I try like 10 times probably, I don’t gonna do it like one time,” he said. “It’s sort of lucky and the magic. I don’t know how to call it, but was fun.”
While his match Monday in Court Philippe Chatrier against Djokovic is their first meeting, they have practiced several times in Monte Carlo. “He’s got a lot of firepower from both forehand and backhand,” 18-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic said about Musetti. “He can play with a lot of spin. He’s got a great feel, and (can) come to the net. He can play short balls, drop shots.”Experience could be the difference in this match. Djokovic is playing in his 64th Grand Slam event, while for Musetti it’s his very first in the main draw.
- This match has the largest difference in UTR Ratings for the upcoming matches on the men’s side at 0.77 and INSIGHTS favors Djokovic heavily with his win probability for this match at 85%.
No. 3 Rafael Nadal vs No. 18 Jannik Sinner:
It’s always a big stretch to find a player who could possibly beat Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros – only Robin Soderling in 2009 and Novak Djokovic in 2015 have managed to do it. The 19-year-old Sinner is one of those but that’s not to suggest he will do so, only that he might have the ability on his day. The result of their quarter-final a year ago at the French Open – Nadal winning 7-6(4), 6-4, 6-1 – showed that the Italian could stay close for most of two sets. Last month in Rome, their only other encounter, had a predictable outcome – but Sinner kept it competitive in a 7-5, 6-4 second-round loss.
“I have played twice already against Rafa,” he said after a three-set win over Mikiel Ymer on Friday. “So this time is going to be a little bit different.”
Nadal, who had Sinner as his practice partner during the pre-Australian Open quarantine period in Adelaide in January, said about the Italian, “he has big shots. Gonna be a tough one. I need to be aggressive too, because if not it’s very difficult. I need to make him play from tough positions, and I can’t make a lot of mistakes no? He’s a dangerous one. He’s young. He’s a great player. We know each other well. So let’s see.”
They will reprise last October’s quarter-final a round earlier on a warmer afternoon in the same Court Philippe Chatrier arena on Monday.
- While the UTR Rating difference is not quite as large as the previous match, Nadal is still heavily favored at 80% over Sinner with his UTR Rating 0.60 points higher.
No. 10 Diego Schwartzman vs unseeded No. 42 Jan-Lennard Struff:
It’s rarely anything but a bigger opponent against a smaller (5-foot-7) Diego Schwartzman when the 28-year-old Argentine goes on court. Monday, in Court Suzanne Lenglen, he will face a 6-foot-4 Struff across the net.
The 31-year-old German pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the tournament when he ousted No. 7 seed Andrey Rublev 6-3, 7-6(6), 4-6, 3-6, 6-3 in the opening round before beating 18-year-old Spanish wunderkind Carlos Alcaraz 6-4, 7-6(4), 6-2 in the third round.
Schwartzman, a losing semi-finalist to Rafael Nadal last year, had been eliminated in his opening round at his three previous 2021 tournaments in Madrid, Rome and Lyon. But he hasn’t lost a set so far in Paris against Yen-Hsun Lu, Aljaz Bedene and Philipp Kohlschreiber. He has split two previous matches with Struff – defeating the German 6-3, 6-0 in Monte Carlo on clay in 2017 before Struff won 6-3, 7-6(8) indoors at the 2019 Davis Cup Finals in Madrid.
The weather was cool and on the damp side when Schwartzman faced Kohlschreiber on Saturday and the Argentine said then, “today was similar to October. It was cold. The conditions were cloudy, and the ball was not jumping. So I was happy.”
The forecast is for mostly sunny and 25 degrees Celsius / 77 Fahrenheit on Monday, which might be more favorable to the big-serving Struff, who’s hoping to go one better than his round-of-16 at Roland Garros in 2019.
- While the win probability is not quite as large as the Nadal or Djokovic matches, INSIGHTS still predicts the edge going to Schwartzman by a fairly significant 70% win probability.