Taylor Fritz figures to have his hands full as he goes in search of back-to-back wins on clay for the first time in his career. He faces second seeded Gilles Simon on Wednesday. Fritz scored his first ever ATP-level win on dirt on Monday in opening round play at the Open de Nice Cote d’Azur. Fritz edged Illya Marchenko 7-6 (4), 6-4.
(2) Gilles Simon vs Taylor Fritz
Simon comes in off a first round bye and has not played since losing in the third round in Madrid to Andy Murray. Simon’s clay court numbers this year are about what you would expect at 5-3. Two of those three losses came to Murray and Stan Wawrinka with the other at the hands of Pablo Carreno Busta. So the Frenchman basically beats the guys he should beat, but doesn’t ramp it up against the top tier players. That’s been his career m.o. on clay. In Nice, he is 5-3 with two semifinal and one quarterfinal appearance. He has not played here since 2014.
Fritz showed a good serve against Marchenko on Monday, winning 79 percent of his first serve points. That is what helped carry him to his early season success on hard courts, but has been missing since February. When the young American is getting that first serve in consistently, he can be problematic for his opponents. He did only get in 52 percent of his first serves on Monday though, so Marchenko did see almost as many second serves as first serves. Marchenko was unable to take advantage, but Simon will likely do more if that happens again. Fritz was broken twice on three chances and secured three breaks of Marchenko out of ten tries.
With Fritz only 18, there have not been any chances yet for these two to meet. The Pig thinks that probably plays more into Simon’s hands on this surface. If it was a hard court, then Fritz might be able to use his power advantage slightly better early on. In this case, the slower clay court conditions likely give Simon the chance to dictate the match at his pace.
That pace of course is usually tortoise-like with Simon preferring to grind out long rallies that challenge the opposition’s patience. It will be interesting to see how good Fritz’s scouting report is when he gets into this match. It’s no secret that Simon prefers to put the ball back in play endlessly to force his opponent to make additional shots that often end with impatient errors if the opposition is not in the proper frame of mind. Fritz will know that ahead of the match, but executing a proper game plan is easier said than done.
If Fritz doesn’t go in expecting the grind, then this could get ugly with the American choosing to go for big shots when he’s not in the proper position to get a winner out of that shot. That is what Simon does and meeting him for the first time can often exploit that sort of impatience. Fritz has to be mentally prepared to stay the course in rallies and not bail out early.
If he can pump in his first serve with regularity, then he’s going to have an opportunity to stick around in sets and minimize some of the damage Simon can do in rallies. The problem for Fritz is that his serve has not been quite the rock it was earlier this year and that has meant more chances for his opponents. When things were rolling for the 18-year-old, you’d often only see three or four break chances per match, but whe he struggles, he has been routinely allowing double digit break chances.
Check that stat on Wednesday because if it is drifting into double digits, the chances of Fritz pulling off an upset will be dipping down near zero. This is still an ATP 250 event though and motivation for veteran players can be extremely sketchy in the week before a Grand Slam. Fritz has enough quality to catch Simon napping if he’s not focused or just flat. It’s possible, but I’ll side with Simon’s style prevailing in this one on a surface where Fritz is still perhaps not quite comfortable.
Simon wins in straight sets