Tomas Berdych (Czech Republic) vs. Gael Monfils (France) - In arguably the most appealing and enthralling opening round encounter, the flamboyant and flashy Frenchman Gael Monfils will take on number five seed, Tomas Berdych. The enthusiastic and fervent French crowd will surely rally behind Monfils, an ideal player for an audience readily willing to embrace a showman of their own. Tomas Berdych, on the contrary, is much more systematic and methodical on court and the Czech can be very machine like in the destruction of his adversaries. It will be absolutely imperative for Monfils to balance the margins in this match, something he has struggled immensely with throughout his career. If Monfils is content with submissively defending against the offensive weaponry of Berdych, he is placing himself under the will and dictation of a superior opponent, an opponent who will happily comply in obliterating a barrage of low risk, defensively struck shots. If Monfils decides he wants to take matters into his own hands and blast away from the baseline, he’ll be integrating a strategy that is much too high risk too work, especially on a slower surface and against a solid mover in Berdych. Finding a happy medium between offense and defense and executing this medium to perfection will be the Frenchman’s route to success. And a big part of this happy medium is court positioning. Monfils can ill-afford to find himself miles behind the baseline in a position where he has no capacity to attack and Berdych can dissect the court. These two have met three times, with Berdych winning on each occasion. This includes a 6-1 6-1 Berdych victory on the blue clay courts of Madrid in 2012. Monfils most recently reached the final in Nice before losing to Montanes and Berdych reached the semifinals in Rome beating Djokovic in the quarterfinals (after being down 6-2 5-2) before losing to Rafa in the semifinals.
Prediction: Monfils is still looking to find his peak form whereas Berdych has been red hot in the last couple of months. Berdych in 4 Sets.
Rafael Nadal (Spain) vs. Daniel Brands (Germany)- The result of this match is pretty much inevitable, but Brands is definitely not as light of an opening round opponent as Nadal could have faced. The 6’5 German has had a highly impressive year, qualifying for his first seven tournaments and ascending to a career high ranking of 58 in the process. Brands has beaten the likes of Tipsarevic, Baghdatis, Youzhny, Chardy, and Monfils (x2) in 2013. Rafael Nadal’s year hasn’t been so bad either. Coming back from a seven month layoff, the Spaniard has made an absolutely stunning comeback winning 36 of 38 matches, reaching the final of all eight tournaments he has entered (winning six of them), and beating Federer in routine fashion on two separate occasions. In order to make any significant inroad in this match, Brands will need to serve remarkably well and hope to exploit Nadal’s distant return position. I wouldn’t be surprised if the German threw in some serve and volley to disrupt Rafa’s rhythm and shorten points. Brands is also very potent from the baseline, particularly off the forehand side, but his backhand will obviously be the tipping point shot in this match as is to say if Nadal is able to get to his backhand on a consistent basis and Brands is unable to neutralize, Rafa will feast on that side the entire match.
Prediction: Nadal advances in three sets, but Brands provides resistance.
John Isner (United States) vs. Carlos Berlocq (Argentina)- It’s been quite the confusing year for John Isner. From missing the Australian Open to getting demolished by Denis Istomin in Memphis to beating Almagro in the Houston Final then losing his next three out four matches, Isner has had a weird first half of 2013 to say the least. For the most part, my confidence in Isner has been nonexistent. The only point of the season when it was restored was obviously following his title in Houston. Since then, it has fallen back to the abyss. Coincidentally, Berlocq and Isner both come into this match with a 13-12 record on the season. Berlocq beat Dolgopolov and Nishikori before losing to Murray in the fourth round of Indian Wells but has failed to carry this wave of form through to the clay court season. The fourth ranked Argentinean has won five matches since the start of April and has not made it past the second round of any event. This match promises to be very competitive as both guys will be eager to capture an important victory against a struggling opponent. Isner’s kick serve to the Berlocq one-handed backhand will be a key play in this matchup and should facilitate Isner’s desired first strike strategy. Berlocq has a high propensity to grind matches out especially on clay courts. As is such, it will be important for him to keep Isner pinned behind the baseline and on the move. Isner thrives on setting up and crushing short balls with his forehands. If Berlocq can keep Isner from attacking, he’ll be giving himself the best chance to win. The longer the rallies, the more Berlocq is favored.
Prediction: I’ve always believed Isner to be a player with significant clay court potential and I think he’ll be motivated to make a big push in Paris. I’ll take Isner in 4 sets.