Novak Djokovic has been rattling through the matches in his early rounds this week, having beaten Aleksandar Kovacevic in the first round rather routinely and only really being pushed for a set versus familiar foe Marton Fucsovics in the second round additionally.
The obstacles that lie between Djokovic and a third French Open title only gets tougher as he faces Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the third round in one of our three must-watch matches of the day. Davidovich Fokina has never been the most consistent in terms of results over the course of a season, but he crucially understands his way around a clay court, has picked up his biggest win of his career at Monte Carlo in 2022, where he actually beat Djokovic en route to his only Masters final to date. On top of that the Spaniard has the firepower for someone like Djokovic to truly take notice of and respect coming into this one.
Djokovic will be pleased with the match taking place earlier in the day, where he can perhaps get a lot more use and pop out of his serve and then as a result it puts more emphasis on his plus one forehand. The true test for Djokovic will be when he’s pushed to the mid-length and longer exchanges, as Davidovich Fokina is someone that can really prove tough to hit through, possesses some of the best clay court coverage on tour and is quite unpredictable in terms of shot selection, too. I think Djokovic will have enough to sneak this one out in four sets, but this is comfortably his sternest challenge of the tournament so far.
Prediction: Djokovic in four sets.
Stefanos Tsitsipas  vs Diego Schwartzman H2H and Match Fundamentals
Stefanos Tsitsipas has been searching for a better level throughout much of the 2023 season, but has had a successful clay court season so far, having made two quarter-finals in Monte Carlo and Madrid, a losing effort in the final of Barcelona, and even a semi-final in Rome. The problem for the Greek has been how unconvincing his quality has been in many of those wins, with the return of serve, and backhand the obvious areas of understandable scrutiny. With that being said Tsitsipas managed to beat Roberto Carballes Baena in the second round, as much as the Spaniard lacks serious weapons he demands high consistency from his opponents on any given day on the clay.
Tsitsipas’ third round opponent will be the slumping Diego Schwartzman of Argentina. Schwartzman has been the thorn in the side of many players on the slow red clay and it is definitely where he is the biggest threat. The problem for the diminutive Argentine has largely been as simple as confidence. In the 2022 season he went on a losing run of 13 of 15 matches, and at this very tournament he has managed to win back-to-back matches for the first time since US Open 2022. Schwartzman’s ground game was built around volume of shots, baseline solidity and a dangerous backhand but all of those qualities have eluded him of late, but it will be interesting to see if he causes Tsitsipas problems and re-discovers some of his old form.
Tsitsipas has struggled for a long time with getting returns into play, but against Schwartzman that should not be an overwhelming problem, with the Argentine possessing one of the tamest serves on tour. If Tsitsipas can ensure his forehand is the dominant groundstroke and he can utilise his all-court advantages well, then I can only see a straight sets win here.
Prediction: Tsitsipas in straight sets.
Peyton Stearns vs Daria Kasatkina  H2H and Match Fundamentals
Peyton Stearnsis very much an unknown quantity on tour, with her game upside and just how far she can really climb those rankings being something that will be interesting to follow in the next twelve months. The American started the year outside the Top-200 but has since catapulted to just inside the Top-70 and she does not seem to be wanting to stop there. She beat former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenkoin the second round and what stood out the most really was her unforgiving fearlessness on every groundstroke, her eagerness to get the forehand into play by running around her backhand, but also how she can truly compete with the notable heavier ball-strikers on tour.
Daria Kasatkina is comfortably the more experienced on tour, more specifically has huge pedigree on a clay court and sealed a wonderful victory in the second round against drop shot queen Marketa Vondrousova. But the problem for the Russian in recent years has been playing with the necessary intent and approaching matches with a mindset to win it instead of playing not to lose.
That is perhaps why I feel like Stearns will end up grabbing the upset victory here. In the second round Ostapenko’s serve was getting the treatment and being devoured by Stearns, and if anything Kasatkina’s biggest vulnerability lies with the placement behind both first and second serve. As a result I think Stearns’ early aggression will guide her to victory and perhaps Kasatkina will lack that dominant court position to do much about it.
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