2017 French Open R3 Previews: Andy Murray vs Juan Martin Del Potro, Gael Monfils vs Richard Gasquet

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Andy Murray and Juan Martin Del Potro clash for the 10th time in their careers with a spot in the fourth round as the prize. It is the first meeting since last Fall when Del Potro famously beat Murray in the Davis Cup semifinals 6-4. 5-7, 6-7(5,) 6-3 ,6-4.

(1) Andy Murray vs (29) Juan Martin Del Potro

Murray battled his way into round three with a feisty four set win over Martin Klizan. Murray again dropped a set early as he fell down after dropping the opening set tiebreak. He righted himself to take the next two sets, before needing a miracle rally from down 3-5 in the fourth set. Murray found that miracle, forcing a tiebreak that he ultimately won to edge Klizan 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 (3). Overall, the numbers were solid for the world number one with a 79 percent win rate off his first serve and 62 percent off his second serve. Murray saved five of seven break chances. As usual, his defense and return were solid – leading the Scot to break Klizan six times on 14 chances. Murray was good off the ground with 41 winners to 29 unforced errors. After the match,

Murray mused about what he could take from the win, saying, “the most positive things for me are physically I felt good after a pretty long match in tough conditions, and also I made some quite significant changes during the match to my tactics.”

Del Potro won an abbreviated match against Nicolas Almagro in the second round, when the Spaniard injured his knee in the third set. At that point, it was a set each and tied in the third. Del Potro put up good numbers, winning 79 percent of the points off his first serve. He was a little weak on the second serve, winning just 48 percent. He was broken once on two chances. That break of serve was the first against him this tournament. His groundies still seemed a bit in-flux with just 18 winners compared to 10 unforced errors when the match was abandoned due to the injury.

Legendary 2016 Battles

It had been three years since Andy Murray and Juan Martin Del Potro last squared off, when they met at last summer’s Olympics in Rio. What ensued were two tasty battles with Murray prevailing in four sets in Rio and then Del Potro with the gutsy five set win later in the year in Davis Cup play. The Olympic clash saw Murray come out on top 7-5, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 to win the Gold Medal. It may have been a fairly predictable result in the end with DelPo coming off a grueling three set win over Rafael Nadal in the previous round.

Murray used that fatigue to his advantage in the end. He broke Del Potro nine times on a whopping 23 chances in that match. The Argentine won just 62 percent off his first serve and 37 percent of the points off his second serve. Murray scuffled a bit himself on serve, broken six times on 12 chances. He did score better win rates on serve though at 72 percent and 54 percent.

The Davis Cup match was high drama with Del Potro rallying from down two sets to one. Shockingly enough, Murray had 35 aces in that five set match to 19 from DelPo. He had a better win rate off his first serve, taking 81 percent of the points to 71 percent for the Argentine. DelPo finishing slightly better on second serve, winning 54 percent compared to 48 for Murray. The bugaboo for Murray in the match was errors. He racked up 58 forced errors and 48 unforced errors. DelPo had just 44 and 28 respectively. Del Potro would tally two more breaks than Murray, six to four. Murray despite his gaudy numbers, was forced into 20 break chances in the match with Del Potro only dishing out ten.

Match Tactics

There is no doubt that Murray is going to make Del Potro work his butt off with some extended rallies. Murray can’t afford to let DelPo set up for short and sweet points using that vicious forehand. The best way for Murray to neutralize Del Potro’s power is to wear him down and take his legs. If he can dictate the ground game, he’ll move towards doing that. The slower surface should allow Murray chances to get onto Del Potro’s serve, something he’s been able to do even on quicker hard court surfaces. When the rallies go long, look for Murray to try and get to Del Potro’s backhand when possible. Del Potro is still good hitting the backhand in a stand-still position, but he’s far less effective with it on-the-run.

As for Del Potro, power, power, power. He wants to serve big and get his first serve in play routinely. He needs some cheap points to avoid the rallies we just talked about. The forehand is his obvious weapon, so the Argentine will try to get around and hit it as much as possible. It’s a shot he can hit well on-the-run too, so it’s still good when he’s forced to move around the court. From a defensive standpoint, Del Potro will want to make sure he makes Murray work on serve. The slower surface means Del Potro should have plenty of chances to get his racquet on Murray’s serve.

And of course, don’t expect to see a ton of work around the net in this one. Baseline tennis is where both will prefer this to be played, although I can see Murray utilizing his court coverage advantage to bring DelPo in when the timing is right. Both are pretty solid around the net, but again the more there is movement involved – the more the action should favor Murray.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Del Potro is still an unknown quantity to me. Missing the first part of the season plus some of the clay court season due to personal issues, he’s still feeling his way into match play. He’s shown some brilliant moments and also had some major hiccups. Murray has had his own inconsistency issues coming to Paris, but seems to be working out some of the kings through a pair of tough encounters so far. I think there are some big pluses to be taken from how Murray has battled in the opening two rounds. It is much more reminiscent of the Murray from 2016 who was on top of the tennis world.

There is no doubt that Del Potro can win this match. His power game can be a major issue for Murray if DelPo is able to consistently get to his forehand and serve well. On this slower surface though, it’s also a bigger question. I do expect this one to go back and forth, but I think Murray’s defense makes the difference.

Prediction: Murray wins in four sets
An All-French affair will decide one of the slots in the round of 16 at this year’s French Open. Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet will lock horns for the 14th time. Monfils leads 7-6 in the series.

(15) Gael Monfils vs (24) Richard Gasquet

It’s been a bright start for Monfils in Paris with the Frenchman’s injury status questionable coming into the tournament. He had missed plenty of time this year with knee and Achilles ailments. Nothing has hindered him much to this point as he has won both his matches in straight sets. His second rounder ended 6-1, 6-4, 6-1 in his favor over Thiago Monteiro. Through both rounds, La Monf has been broken just three times in eight chances. His serve has been respectable, although maybe not overpowering as he has won 72 percent of his first serve points and 52 percent off his second. The best news for Monfils’ fans is that he’s played under control with 44 winners and just 23 unforced errors.

Gasquet came to Paris short on form with just a 1-2 mark on clay this season. He’s been fairly solid, winning in four over Arthur de Greef in round one and in straights last time out against Victor Estrella Burgos. He was impressive the first two sets against Burgos who was broken six times in the 6-1, 6-0, 6-4 Gasquet win. The 24th seed has been broken just three times on eleven chances in his first two matches. Gasquet was solid off the ground against Burgos with 27 winners and 16 unforced errors. He had 46 and 25 in round one.

Two Straight Wins for Gasquet in Series

Gasquet comes into this encounter having beaten Monfils the last two times they played. That includes a three set win indoors in Marseille earlier this year. Gasquet also beat La Monf indoors in Montpelier in 2015. Those are the only two times they have played in the last two-plus years. Their lone clay court meeting saw Monfils win in straights in Barcelona in 2011.

The meeting in Marseille saw Monfils broken six times on eleven chances, while Gasquet was broken three times on seven chances. Their win rates on serve were nearly identical. Gasquet won 67 percent off his first serve and 56 percent off his second. Monfils won 64 and 56 respectively. Monfils did get more easy poins with 16 aces, but had a problem with double faults – tallying eight total for the match.

Clash of Styles

This is definitely a clash of polar opposites off the ground. Gasquet is a steady, clean hitter whereas he know that Monfils hits bigger and often goes for spectacular and sometimes stupid. Gasquet obviously won’t fall for any of Monfils’ sometimes strange tactics, having seen his countryman play often. For Gasquet, it’s got to be about consistency on the ground. His one handed backhand remains a sublime weapon to all parts of the court and he’ll try to use that to stretch Monfils. La Monf may get a spectacular save off of an odd angle from that backhand, but the Gasquet hope will be that he saves that first tough angle, but leaves himself far enough away for Gasquet to put the point away.

Monfils would do well to find his best serving against Gasquet to gain some easy points and ramp up the pressure on Gasquet’s serve. The Gasquet serve is very breakable, so Monfils will go in knowing that he will see chances in this match. With a lack of match play due to injury, you would also think Monfils would think about playing shorter, more aggressive points. Long rallies don’t necessarily preclude him from winning points, but if this match stretches four or five sets – his fitness could be an issue. Gasquet isn’t exactly an endurance machine though, so I would not expect that the Gasman wants to go toe-to-toe in numerous lengthy rallies either.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

This is difficult to predict with both lacking a lot of play heading to Paris. Both have done good work through the first two rounds, but neither has been up against a player of the caliber they will be facing on Saturday. You can never underestimate Monfils ability to come to Slams cold and get on a roll and this is the match I believe will dictate whether he’s a legit threat to run deep or not. There’s always something about La Monf in these spots, whether it’s inpredictability ot the ability to step up and make something out of a nothing season. This feels like it could be that spot again.

It would not stun to see Monfils fall apart under pressure or for this match to find a fitting end with a retirement, but I’m going with the showman to win a match that might have some lopsided sets along the way.

Prediction: Monfils wins in five sets

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