The final matches in the men’s third round at this year’s French Open are scheduled for Saturday in Paris, with Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Andy Murray all set to be in action.
The one member of the ‘big four’ not playing today is Roger Federer, who has his feet up after landing our ‘sure thing’ of Friday in an entertaining three set win over Damir Dzumhur, who played his part in a watchable match.
There was rarely any danger of a tie break in that one, but there was a really vital one in the opening set of my long shot Pablo Andujar’s clash with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Andujar lost it and that was really the catalyst for a disappointing loss to a mediocre Tsonga, whose tournament will surely come to an end next up against Tomas Berdych.
Rafael Nadal vs Andrey Kuznetsov
The Russian will be hoping he can come in here and ‘do a Soderling’ number on Nadal, with Kuznetsov’s only real hope here to blast away and hope he find a lot of lines.
According to Malek Jaziri, one of Kuznetsov’s vanquished opponents from earlier in the tournament, the Russian played like a top two or three player against the Tunisian and he can light it up when he is on a good day.
He has beaten David Ferrer and he has taken sets from Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Milos Raonic, and surely a set is his best hope here against a Nadal who won’t fancy hanging around long.
Another plus for Kuznetsov is likely to be the overcast weather, which doesn’t aid Rafa’s game as much as bright sunshine does on clay, but this one is likely to play out in a similar fashion to the Nicolas Almagro match.
That puts me off the total games, but Rafa has been slow to start in most of his matches this clay swing and of his 16 matches on clay starting in Monte-Carlo in April he’s won the first set in fewer than 8.5 games only three times.
Only against Marsel Ilhan, Simone Bolelli and Lucas Pouille has Nadal managed to win the opener 6-2 this swing and assuming Kuznetsov’s radar isn’t totally off the 1.69 on over 8.5 games has to be a good bet on the numbers.
He’s certainly been playing well enough to suggest he can match the efforts of Almagro and Quentin Halys, both of whom took Rafa past the 8.5 games mark in set one this week, and a match against a leftie (Jurgen Melzer) in round two can't harm his chances of starting well either.
Novak Djokovic vs Thanasi Kokkinakis
Both of these players had their physical struggles in the last round, with Djokovic needing some manipulation after “jamming my hip up a little bit” on one of his many slides behind the baseline.
Kokky came through a marathon five setter against fellow Aussie Bernard Tomic from two sets down and after falling awkwardly on his own racquet and gaining a bruised hip for his troubles.
I doubt either injury will have any effect on Saturday’s match, with Kokky playing doubles on Friday and Djokovic stating that it was nothing to worry about.
Fatigue is more likely to be a factor for Kokkinakis and there can’t be many worse opponents to face after recovering from a two set deficit the previous round than Djokovic.
It is the kind of match that the Aussie will relish and I don’t see him freezing on this big occasion, but he’s not bringing a great deal to the court that is likely to hurt Djokovic and a three set win seems likely.
For a long shot today I’m going to take on a treble that will pay around 5.10 if successful and it starts with the 10:00 UK time clash between Marin Cilic and Leo Mayer, which to me has all the makings of a long one.
This pair met here back in 2010 and went five then and something similar is to be expected this time around, with both finding some fine form in recent matches and looking pretty evenly matched on this surface.
Both serve well and hit hard off both wings and I like the over 178.5 total minutes here at 1.87, which will probably cover a long four setter or more.
Their 2010 clash took 253 minutes and with Mayer having played a fair bit of tennis lately I’d expect the trainer to make an appearance or two in this one the longer it goes on.
The second leg of the bet takes in David Ferrer and Simone Bolelli to go over 8.5 games in set one, with Bolelli in very good form and in Ferrer’s last dozen matches on clay only three times has the opener ended in eight games or fewer.
Ferrer has a fine record against the Italian and it’s easy to see why, with the Spaniard generally making too many balls for the often errant Bolelli, but it’s a tall order for Ferrer to come straight out and land an eight game set.
Finally, I’m siding with under 39.5 games in the Richard Gasquet/Kevin Anderson clash, with the Gasman likely to be a little too classy on this surface for the South African.
Anderson has a 3-15 record against the top-20 on clay and for me he looks so unnatural on it and lacks the touch at net to ever be much of a force in these conditions.
Gasquet often gets too bogged down with his patterns of play and spends too long miles behind the baseline, but he should be on the front foot in this one and the crowd should help him over the line in three or four.
Sure thing: Back Djokovic to beat Kokkinakis 3-0 at 1.22
Value bet: Back over 8.5 games in set one of Nadal/Kuznetsov at 1.69
Long shot: Back over 178.5 minutes in Cilic/Mayer, over 8.5 games in set one of Ferrer/Bolelli, and under 39.5 total games in Gasquet/Anderson at 5.10