Montpellier aka Gasquet-land
Alexander Zverev ended the French dominance of this event in recent years by taking the 2017 title. He won’t be back to defend it this year. The French have still managed to put a player in the final of the Open Sud de France each year since its inception in 2010. This year’s field is led by David Goffin. The top seed was busy playing in Belgium this weekend in Davis Cup play, so there might be a chance that he passes on the tournament altogether. Lucas Pouille leads the French contingent and is seeded second. He reported a neck issue that kept him from Davis Cup action, but I am guessing it was more precautionary so that he could play Montpellier. Rounding out the top four seeds are Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Damir Dzumhur. Tsonga reportedly has been carrying a knee injury since the Australian Open, so his status could be a little iffy this week as well.
Richard Gasquet is the only other Frenchman among the seeds. At number five, Gasquet comes in as a three-time champion in Montpellier with a 20-4 mark overall. The final three seeds will all be making their Open Sud de France debuts with Andrey Rublev, David Ferrer and Yuichi Sugita seeded six, seven and eight. Sugita was also involved in Davis Cup play this weekend. He will be aided by those matches taking place on a similar indoor surface to Montpellier, but hampered by the quick travel turnaround from Japan to France. Between injuries and Davis Cup play, there are quite a few question marks in this field that could yield some upsets. That’s been pretty routine in Montpellier with at least three seeds going down in their openers in three of the last four years.
That segues right into the weekly look at players who could spring upsets over seeded players in their first matches of the tournament.
Simon opens against a German qualifier Yannick Maden and then could get a shot at top seed David Goffin in round two. Simon is 2-1 in his career against the Belgian with one of those wins coming last Fall in Shanghai. This hasn’t been the best of tournaments for Simon with a career mark of 6-6, but if there is someone you don’t want to play after having played in Davis Cup plus travel, Simon is on of those guys. His backboard playing style will make Goffin work and has obviously paid dividends against him in the past. Don’t forget Goffin has never played a main draw match in Montpellier. He did play indoors on the weekend with Belgium, so that will help – but this is still a dangerous spot.
A no-brainer as he takes on David Ferrer in the opening round. The Russian did play here in 2017, losing to Benoit Paire in straights. For Ferrer, this is his first trip to Montpellier. Ferrer has a good career winning clip slightly about 60 percent indoors, but he’s lost his first match on an indoor hard court in four of the last five tournaments he has played on the surface over the last two years. Khachanov’s power could be a major factor in this one and has the Spaniard on definite upset watch in round one.
Despite being matched up against the most prolific player in this tournament’s history in Richard Gasquet, I think the Russian has a shot to pull off the upset early. Gasquet was fortunate to only have played one match in France’s win over The Netherlands this weekend, so he probably won’t be a burnout victim. Still, it’s a quick turnaround from an emotional weekend against a dangerous opponent. Medvedev is another young Russian with plenty of power to spare. Indoors if he can find a rhythm, you have to rate him a shot.
The Aussie made the quarterfinals in his only trip to Montpellier back in 2016. He’ll get a shot at Sugita who played a lengthy five setter against Fabio Fognini on Sunday in Japan. If Sugita does make the trip to France, there’s every chance that he’s going to have a difficult time acclimating on short rest. Even if Millman hasn’t had a ton of experience on this surface, having had a good result here in the past with a nice set-up could yield a positive result for the Aussie.
Quarter #1 Seeds
(1) David Goffin: 0-0
(7) David Ferrer: 0-0
This is a very tricky section. You’ve got Goffin as the lead seed, but on the quick turnaround from playing a pair of Davis Cup matches this weekend. Goffin has played several times in the week following Davis Cup play during Belgium’s rise to prominence over the last two years. He has not lost his first match, but this is also perhaps his most difficult first match opponent potentially. I mentioned his opener should be a tough one likely against Gilles Simon. Simon starts with qualifier Yannick Maden. The German is playing just his fourth main draw match at an ATP event. Should Simon pass, he’ll be a tough out for Goffin with a 2-1 mark against him lifetime. Ferrer is in the bottom half, but draws a tough one against Karen Khachanov in round one. That could be an upset as well, so this part of the draw likely will be without at least one seed in the quarterfinals.
The other match to watch is Ricardas Berankis vs Julien Benneteau in round one. Benneteau had a resurgent start to the season with an unexpected run to the third round at the Australian Open. That included an upset over Goffin in round two. Berankis helped lead Lithuania to a win over Estonia in Davis Cup play on an indoor surface. He also made the Rennes Challenger final prior to that, so he is in good form. The winner of that match will be a tough test for either Ferrer or Khachanov.
There is a lot of wiggle room here with Goffin playing the tournament for the first time and coming in off a heavier workload over the weekend. You can make a case for three or four different guys coming out of this quarter. The potential match-ups here for Goffin against Simon and either Ferrer or Khachanov steer me away from him. He may well prove me wrong, but all three have wins over him and have pushed him in losses. Most of me leans to the Ferrer-Khachanov winner as moving along in this quarter.
Quarter #2 Seeds
(4) Damir Dzumhur: 0-0
(5) Richard Gasquet: 20-4 (2013,2015,2016 – W)
Gasquet is royalty at this tournament, having been involved in the final five straight years with three titles. He was done no favors though with the draw against Daniil Medvedev in round one. The Russian made the quarters here last year before losing to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straights. Gasquet is going to earn it if he makes it six straight years getting to the final. Getting match play in Davis Cup may benefit him in this case. Should he advance, he’d face a fellow Frenchman with qualifier Kenny De Schepper or Pierre-Hugues Herbert waiting. Both would be favorable match-ups for the #5 seed.
Up top, Dzumhur gets the bye and waits for either French wild card Calvin Hemery or Ruben Bemelmans. The Belgian Bemelmans was heavily involved in his country’s Davis Cup win over the weekend, playing singles and doubles. He’s had some good moments indoors albeit more so on the Challenger circuit with four finals in the last two years. Hemery is 23 and short on experience at this level with this being just his fifth main draw match. He’s 1-3 in his first four. A win would be surprising.
Dzumhur should set up well here as a sleeper. He won back-to-back indoor titles last Fall and went 13-3 on indoor hard courts in 2017. This looks like it could come down to Dzumhur or Gasquet with Dzumhur having a better early draw and the bye.
Quarter #3 Seeds
(3) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: 4-2
(6) Andrey Rublev: 1-0
Rublev opened with a straight forward win over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez on Monday. The sixth seed certainly has the tools to do well indoors with his big forehand and serve. Consistency as always is the biggest issue with the Russian with double faults becoming a big detriment to his game early this season. That problem did not crop up in his opener yesterday. It’s going to be a tricky round two regardless with Jeremy Chardy or Stefano Tsitsipas coming up next. Chardy hasn’t been great on this surface, but he made the quarters last year here and lost in three to eventual champion Alexander Zverev. Tsitsipas is a hard hitter who turned the tables on Chardy last year in their second straight meeting at the Brest Challenger, which is indoors. The Greek played on this surface last week at the Challenger level, making a semifinal run in Quimper. That might give him a leg up on Chardy, plus the confidence of beating him last year.
Tsonga will need to prove he’s healthy as he’s been struggling with a knee issue since losing to Nick Kyrgios in Australia. He gets a bit of extra rest with the bye and then Dustin Brown or Nicolas Mahut. JWT is 4-0 vs Mahut and 1-0 vs Brown. Mahut has given him some tough matches indoors however, where he’s had better singles results than outdoors. Tsonga has made the semis in his two previous trips to Montpellier and has a workable draw to make it three, if he’s fit. Neither Mahut or Brown has been especially inspiring so far this year, so the route is there for Tsonga if he’s git. Rublev certainly could be the biggest beneficiary of any lingering health problems for Tsonga, but I think you also have to watch out for an unseeded player in this section like Tsitsipas or maybe even some home cooking for Mahut.
Quarter #4 Seeds
(2) Lucas Pouille: 1-2
(8) Yuichi Sugita: 0-0
Pouille has the question mark surrounding him after being pulled before a Davis Cup match last Friday due to a neck problem. He’ll have had some rest, so he likely will be okay. Pouille gets a bye before facing Norbert Gambos or Carlos Taberner, both of whom made the field through qualifying. You’d think that sets up well for Pouille who is just 1-2 in Montpellier, but is playing here for the first time since 2015. The 23-year-old has won a title indoors each of the last two seasons, so he’s got the game. The bad thing is he only has one match played in 2018, so he may still have some rust to shake off.
Sugita is in a tough spot. He played twice in Japan’s loss to Italy in Davis Cup action, including a five set loss to Fabio Fognini on Sunday. Throw in the quick travel and he’s a prime candidate for an upset. He faces John Millman to start. Millman has won consistently indoors at the Challenger level, but will need to prove himself here. He did make the quarters last year in Montpellier and is savvy enough at 28 to take advantage of a fatigued opponent. The survivor of that match takes on Benoit Paire. The Frenchman opened the tournament with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Mischa Zverev Monday. He’s as sketchy as ever as far as trusting him to take advantage of a draw, but this might be a sneaky spot for him with Pouille’s lack of match play.
For me, I think that’s where this quarter goes – to the French. Pouille, if he can find his game and Paire if he can find someone else’s brain to use for the week.
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AND THAT’s THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO …
Gasquet’s record of success here makes him the odds-on favorite to challenge for a fourth Open Sud de France title. This is a tough field though depending on how certain players bounce back from Davis Cup and injury. I think whomever makes it through Gasquet’s quarter could be in position to make the final. In the bottom half, the French contingent has more questions because of injuries and rust with Pouille and Tsonga looking shakier shots to reach the final. I do think Pouille rates the better shot of the two. On the unseeded front, Khachanov and Paire are the two I am looking at who could surprise with deep runs.