ROUND one of the 2019 French Open men’s singles concludes on Tuesday, with the remaining 20 matches from the top half of the draw scheduled to play, and Unibet tipster Sean Calvert is back to preview the action from Paris.
Martin Klizan vs Mikhail Kukushkin
In the absence of many tempting underdogs to get our teeth into so far this week I’m happy to back Klizan at this price in these conditions against Kukushkin, whose stats make him very much second best here.
The Kazakh is much happier in quicker conditions than this and his clay record over his last 50 matches at main level shows that his win rate is down at 30% (15-35 win/loss) and his service hold/break total in that time is 95.9.
That falls to 88.0 in his nine matches played on clay at main level in the last 12 months and if we look at his all-time career record on clay at main level versus left-handers it falls to 85.0 (3-10 win/loss).
It doesn’t get a great deal better in matches played in the main draw of the French Open, with Kukushkin holding a 4-7 record and three of those four wins came against Tennys Sandgren, Nicolas Mahut and Daniel Brands, with the other a then-93rd ranked Ernests Gulbis (Kukushkin was 1.69 favourite for that match).
So, a clash on clay against a leftie like Klizan, who won’t mind if it’s a bit damp on the day, doesn’t look an ideal draw for Kukushkin.
In Klizan’s last 50 main level matches on clay he’s 28-22 win/loss, with a hold/break total of 101.5 and that increases to 104.4 in his 15 matches in the last 12 months on clay at main level.
Klizan is 7-7 at the French Open, but that doesn’t tell the whole story, as in completed matches he’s only been beaten by Andy Murray, Gael Monfils, Rafa Nadal, Gilles Simon and a then-39th ranked Marcel Granollers, since 2012.
Indeed, he’s also faced Kei Nishikori here (Klizan won in straights as a 4.44 chance), so he’s played some great players and neither Murray nor Nadal beat him easily.
Kuku has won both prior meetings with Klizan, but one was at Challenger level in 2010 and the other on grass (Klizan is 4-12 on grass in his career) at Wimbledon three years ago, so neither are relevant here.
Of the short-priced favourites on display on Tuesday the quartet of Alexander Zverev, Gael Monfils, Fernando Verdasco and Damir Dzumhur look the ones that might be made to work hard for their wins.
Zverev has been in rancid form and got very lucky indeed to win in Geneva, but that win, however fortunate it appeared to be, may have boosted his brittle confidence.
He shouldn’t be losing to someone like John Millman on clay, but there again Zverev should have been beaten in four sets by Dzumhur last year as a 1.08 chance, so given Zverev’s recent form Millman might make a match of this.
He certainly will if Zverev goes back to pushing the forehand, as he did for much of the time in Geneva and beforehand and the over 33.5 games looks an option in that one.
Verdasco is usually either very good or very mediocre at the French Open and if it’s the latter against Dan Evans the unfancied Brit can make a match of this with his low slice likely to cause problems for Verdasco.
Evans will need to serve well to pin Verdasco back a bit and rely on some trademark periods of wild errors from the Spaniard, but on his worst surface Evans has produced some good results and he may surprise Verdasco a bit here.
Monfils has been struggling since his fine start to the season ended with yet another injury at Indian Wells and against the very solid Taro Daniel he can’t afford any dips if he’s going to justify odds of 1.12.
Dzumhur showed a bit of form on clay for the first time in a long while last week in quicker conditions at slight altitude in Geneva, but with a record of 7-16 in the last two years at main level prior to that I’d be concerned about him as short as 1.29 on Tuesday against Antoine Hoang.
But it’s been another French Open struggle for underdog backers so far and it looks like this will be the worst year for round one dog winners since there were only seven in 2014.
There have been either 12 or 13 in each of the last four years, but we head into day three on six, which is a poor return even by French Open standards.
0.5 points win Klizan -1.5 sets to beat Kukushkin (2.28, Unibet)