2017 French Open R1 Preview: Nick Kyrgios vs Philipp Kohlschreiber

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It could be a dangerous first round match for 18th seed Nick Kyrgios as he takes on German veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber. Kyrgios heads to Paris battling both hip and shoulder injuries that could prevent him from making a deep run at Roland Garros.

(18) Nick Kyrgios vs Philipp Kohlschreiber

The seeded Aussie arrives in Paris this week with his body failing him. Kyrgios was forced out of the Rome draw due to a hip injury and did not look right in a three set loss to Nicolas Kicker last week in Lyon. News of a shoulder injury won’t quell the talks of a first round upset at this year’s French Open with a tough competitor in Kohlschreiber on the other side of the net. Kyrgios says he has done all he can to prepare himself to play, undergoing rehab every day to strengthen his body.

As for Kohlschreiber, his form has been mediocre at 14-11 in 2017. During the recent Euro clay court swing, the German went just 4-4. Three of those wins came in Marrakech during a run to the final, where he lost to Borna Coric in three sets. Kohlschreiber has not played since Madrid however and comes to Paris having lost three of his last four matches on the surface. At 33-years-old, the German will be playing at Roland Garros for the 13th time in his career.

Mixed History For Both at Roland Garros

While Kohlschreiber has been playing at the French for over a decade, 2017 will be the fifth trip to the main draw for Kyrgios. He’s proven to be okay on clay, but he’s been dumped out in straight sets the last two years in round three. Last year, it was Richard Gasquet who whipped him 6-2, 7-6, 6-2. Coincidentally, Kyrgios was dealing with a shoulder injury in that match as well – perhaps a bad omen for Tuesday’s match.

Kohlschreiber has only been as far as round four in his 13 trips to Paris with the last coming in 2013. He had a tough draw last year with Nicolas Almagro in round one, dropping a four set match to the Spaniard. His two previous losses at the French Open both came in five sets. In 2015, Pablo Andujar beat him in round two and it was Andy Murray who outlasted him in 2014. Murray edged the rain-stalled match that lasted two days, 12-10 in the 5th set.

What to Expect

A healthy Kyrgios has been a legit threat on tour early in 2017. After his early exit from the Australian Open in round two to Andreas Seppi, Kyrgios ripped off a solid run of results. He made three semifinals in four tournaments, including the Miami Open. He also added on a quarterfinal run at Indian Wells. The flip to clay has been poor for Kyrgios however. He did make the round of 16 in Madrid, but was crushed by Rafael Nadal in straights. He was forced to miss the Estoril Open due to the death of his grandfather and then suffered the troubling loss to Kicker in Lyon.

Clay obviously negates some of the power advantage you expect Kyrgios to have in most instances. The hip and shoulder issues could further sour that potential advantage, all of which could give Kohlschreiber legitimate hope of the upset. Early on, I think you’ll have a pretty good idea of how the injuries are playing with the Aussie. The shoulder issue is with his right shoulder, so his serve would be greatly effected if it’s bothering him. The chronic hip condition would impede his movement and make him a sitting duck in baseline rallies.

From past issues with both body parts, you know that if his body is hindered – Kyrgios lets that effect him mentally and you’ll see plenty of him talking to himself and whomever else might listen. What Kohlschreiber must do is avoid letting any of that “show” effect his own mentality. He will need to approach this match as if Kyrgios will be fit and ready to go. Certainly if Kyrgios shows any ill effects, you’d expect the veteran to pounce.

Match Tactics

Kyrgios always wants to play quick and aggressive tennis. With possible physical limitations, that will be even more imperative. He’ll look of course to pound the forehand whenever possible. If his serve is effected by the shoulder, Kyrgios will need to figure out a way to manage himself and find a way to effectively put Kohlschreiber off-balance, even if he doesn’t have the pop on his serve for cheap points. If Kohlschreiber is getting on the end of a lot of Kyrgios’ serves, then the German can craft the baseline exchanges to his liking. You’d expect him to move Kyrgios around and target the backhand.

An important element for Kohlschreiber will be his own serve. It’s not overly impressive, but it can do damage when the German finds a rhythm. Kyrgios is not renowned for his return skills, so Kohlschreiber can at-minimum put the Aussie into poor court positions with good placement and variation. I would expect Kohlschreiber won’t shy away from playing longer baseline rallies with Kyrgios if he can get them or at-worst, force Kyrgios to bail out of the exchanges and try to paint lines with winners.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

The injuries for Kyrgios are obviously a huge question mark going into this match. A healthy Kyrgios has too much power for Kohlschreiber, even on clay. A limited Kyrgios is an entirely different story. If his power isn’t as effective, then it comes down to whether the 18th seed can be consistent in other aspects of his game – defense and ground strokes. The word consistency obviously is not always associated with Kyrgios, so it will be a real fight for him if he’s limited.

For me, Kyrgios seem to already have it in his head a little bit from the interviews I have seen that he’s going to be feeling some pain in this match. He has yet to prove that he can cope with being less than 100 percent in a match and problem solve his way to wins. Kyrgios is more apt to getting frustrated in those situations and letting his game slip on all levels. Depending on how bad his condition is, this match may not go the distance in any case. With all the questions surrounding NK, I side with Kohlschreiber to advance by hook or crook.

Prediction: Kohlschreiber wins in four sets

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