The 2014 French Open, the only one of the major championships to start on a Sunday, gets underway tomorrow at Roland Garros, with defending champion and world number one Serena Williams, 2009 champion Roger Federer, and the great French hope, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, all featuring on the opening day of play.
Matches of the Day – Day 1
1. Milos Raonic vs. Nick Kyrgios
Raonic is one of the pack of up-and-coming players seeking to disrupt the near-monopoly that the Big Four has had on major titles in the majority of the past decade. Wawrinka showed it was possible in Melbourne this year, and Raonic has been in good form this season, making it to the semi-finals in Rome and pushing Djokovic all the way before losing a tight 3-setter.
Raonic will need to be on his guard against young gun Kyrgios, who upset Radek Stepanek in the first round in Paris last year. The Aussie, who has a big serve and plays his best on the big stage, recently strung together a couple of Challenger titles in the US, and will come out with nothing to lose in this one. Raonic’s greater experience and superior fitness should see him prevail, but this should be a fascinating contest between two of the most exciting players on the ATP Tour. Raonic in 4.
2. Belinda Bencic vs. Venus Williams
Swiss teenager Bencic is a player on the rise, collecting the junior singles titles at the French Open and Wimbledon last year before announcing her arrival on the WTA Tour with a run to the semi-finals in Charleston, having made it through qualifying into the main draw.
Williams is at the other end of her career, still capable of producing top-flight tennis but able to do it less consistently than she could at the beginning of this decade. Bencic is a clever player and will look to move Williams around the court and out of position, but the elder Williams sister should be able to ride her enormous serve through to the second round. Williams in 3.
3. Roger Federer vs. Lukas Lacko
Poor Lukas Lacko. The earnest Slovakian hasn’t had much luck in terms of Grand Slam draws, forced to play Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in the early stages of the Australian Open in 2014 and 2012 respectively, and now forced to play 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer in the opening round of this year’s French Open. Lacko is a consistent player from the back of the court but he lacks the firepower to hurt Federer.
Federer looked a little rusty in his loss against Jeremy Chardy in Rome, although the conditions for that match were awful and thus not a lot can be read into the result. I think the Swiss star will ease himself into the tournament, working his way past Lacko with a minimum of fuss as he seeks to improve his clay-court match fitness before the second week of the tournament. Federer in 3.
4. Tomas Berdych vs. Peter Polansky
Former French Open semi-finalist Tomas Berdych will be relatively satisfied with his draw for this year’s tournament, with the Czech star drawn to face John Isner or Tommy Robredo in the quarter-finals and a potential semi-final against Federer (whom Berdych has beaten in Grand Slams before) on the horizon.
Berdych faces Canadian Peter Polansky in the opening round after the Canadian worked his way through qualifying, overcoming an awful recent record in Grand Slam qualifying tournaments to earn his spot in the main draw. Polansky, with three matches under his belt already at Roland Garros this year, will be raring to go, but the sixth seeded Berdych has enjoyed a consistent start to 2014 and should have too many weapons for the Canadian. Berdych in 4.
5. Pablo Carreno Busta vs. Mikhail Youzhny
Winner of the ATP Tour’s most improved player award in 2013, young Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta burst into the world’s top 100 last season, a 39-match winning streak on the secondary tours spearheading his rise from a world ranking north of 600 to a place inside the world’s top 70.
As with most Spaniards, Carreno Busta is most at ease on clay and he will certainly make life difficult in his match-up against Russian veteran Mikhail Youzhny in their opening round clash. Youzhny is a tough opponent on any surface, and pushed Nadal to 3 sets in Rome, but Carreno Busta has nothing to lose and has the fitness to go the distance. I’ll take Youzhny by a whisker. Youzhny in 5.
Put your house on: Serena Williams to cruise past local hope Alize Lim. The crowd will be doing their best to encourage Lim, but Serena should barely raise a sweat in this one.
Upset alert: As detailed above, rising star Pablo Carreno Busta could cause some problems for Russian fifteenth seed Mikhail Youzhny.
Likely to go the distance: It’s never easy playing a compatriot and Edouard Roger-Vasselin has had some good results this season. Accordingly, I think Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will need to work hard to get past his fellow Frenchman in this one.
That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve on Monday. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter: @satelliteserve.