The remaining spots in the fourth round of the men’s singles at the 2016 French Open will be taken on Saturday, with eight round three matches on the schedule in Paris today.
It was a day packed with drama on and off the court on Friday, as Rafael Nadal withdrew from the tournament citing a wrist injury, and there were struggles for some of the other seeded players.
Andy Murray wasn’t one of them though, as the Scot easily landed the ‘sure thing’ of -1.5 sets against Ivo Karlovic, but Kei Nishikori had to go five with Fernando Verdasco; Jack Sock and Gilles Simon were beaten; Milos Raonic had an injury scare; and as for John Isner…
Well, our luck in tie breaks has been rotten of late and it continued on Friday, with ‘value bet’ Teimuraz Gabashvili walking away from his clash with Isner with a loss in a match he should have won in straight sets.
Having blown a 6-4 lead in the set one tie break, Gaba won the next two sets and had a break lead in the fifth, but his peculiar mentality saw him become distracted (again) and lose the next six games in a row. Against Isner. On clay.
Novak Djokovic vs Aljaz Bedene
Only one place to start for ‘sure thing’ backers on Saturday and that’s with the world number one, who faces a grinder of limited ability in Bedene, who doesn’t have much in his game to be able to trouble the likes of Djokovic.
He’s solid enough and he scored a good win over another grinder in Pablo Carreno-Busta in the last round, but versus top-five opponents the Brit has never done better than 4-6 in any of the seven sets he’s faced them in.
He’s faced Djokovic on one prior occasion, which was at the 2015 Australian Open and that was a routine win for the Serb and it’s difficult to see the kind of game that Bedene has being any sort of threat to Djokovic.
The 3-0 win for Djokovic will pay around 1.21 and that looks the safest 'sure thing' on Saturday.
David Goffin vs Nicolas Almagro
This fourth career clash between the Belgian and the Spaniard could well be very different to the first three – all of which took place between March 2012 and April 2013.
Almagro was world number 12 on all three occasions, while Goffin was between 47 and 148 in the world and much has changed for each player since those days, with Almagro blunted by injury and Goffin now ranked almost in the position that the Spaniard was at number 13.
Almagro has looked pretty good here so far, but Goffin will make him play more balls to win points than Jiri Vesely or Philipp Kohlschreiber, and Almagro will have to be on peak form to win this I would suggest.
I wouldn’t put it past Nico to come up with the kind of performance needed here, but it’s unlikely and the more likely outcome is for Goffin to win it in either three or four sets.
There are a couple of ways to play this one and the under 38.5 total games at 2.02 may be the call for a spot of value.
Almagro tends to get his wins in comfortable fashion, with one set dropped so far this week and in his last 14 matches at the French Open he’s only been involved in one five set match.
Of his 23 career wins at the French Open only one has been in five sets for Almagro and Goffin of course was beaten heavily by a big hitter in Jeremy Chardy here a year ago.
That loss to Chardy was a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 defeat and he hasn’t played a five set match here since his debut as a lucky loser back in 2012.
Goffin has won 18 of his 22 matches this season against players ranked lower than himself and his serve and confidence are much improved in 2016 from what we’ve seen before from the Belgian.
He ‘should’ be winning this match but I like the under 38.5 games here at a better price and especially given the trend of three and four set matches at the French Open and in their history.
Borna Coric vs Roberto Bautista Agut
We’re set for some thundery weather in Paris on Saturday according to the forecast and it seems likely there’ll be further delays to play this weekend, which will add more dampness to the courts.
And that won’t help RBA, who likes it quicker and may well face a really tough battle from Coric in this fourth career meeting at around 15:00 UK time.
RBA has faced a half fit Dmitry Tursunov and a tired Paul-Henri Mathieu so far at this year’s French Open and he should be tested far more by the young Croatian, who has the fitness and determination that Tursunov and Mathieu lacked.
PHM had played a five setter in his previous round yet still should have taken the opening set against RBA in their round two clash and the Frenchman said of that match: “It's a bit frustrating because I cannot offer the game I would want because I feel I'm limited [physically].”
The Spaniard confirmed my suspicion that he prefers faster conditions when he commented after the Mathieu victory: “The temperature rose 4 or 5 degrees and the court was faster, which benefitted me a lot.”
On a damp clay court this one could be a real grind and Coric did win the most recent clash between the pair, which was a three set battle in hot conditions in Chennai at the start of this season.
Coric then can clearly trade with RBA and tough it out, so there could be some value on the 2.10 about the Croat with a +1.5 set start.
That can be combined with Alexander Zverev +1.5 sets against Dominic Thiem in what looks set to be another tight tussle and a third clash between the pair of up and coming talents in the last month.
Thiem won both of those matches, which were on clay in Munich and Nice, but both were deciding set wins and in the Nice match Zverev was out on his feet and it will be interesting to see how they match-up on Saturday.
It’s an early start at 10:00 UK time and my worry with Thiem as a 1.30 chance is accumulated fatigue and blisters that the Austrian may well be struggling with.
Both have played far too much tennis this swing, with Thiem having contested 46 sets and Zverev 49 sets this clay season and that compares with someone like Nadal, who has played only 31 sets.
Surely they’ll both be tired and Thiem looks a tad short, having been a 1.44 shot in Munich and 1.33 chance in Nice, and the +1.5 sets on Zverev would make a 4.79 ‘long shot’ double for Saturday.
The pair are fairly evenly matched when it comes to their best level and it may well come down to survival of the fittest.
Sure thing: Back Djokovic to beat Bedene 3-0 at 1.21
Value bet: Back under 38.5 games in Goffin/Almagro at 2.02
Long shot: Back Coric +1.5 sets and Zverev +1.5 sets at 4.79