Damien Kayat takes a look at the selected round of 16 and 32 matches from the Palais des sports de Marseille taking place at Hard Indoor, Marseille, France.
ATP Tour 2020 | Palais des sports de Marseille | Hard Indoor, Marseille, France
Selected Round of 16 and 32 Matches- 19 February 2020
Round of 16
Benoit Paire (8/11)
vs Alexander Bublik (11/10)
Benoit Paire is one of the more enigmatic talents on tour, following in a trend of current French players such as Gael Monfils and Lucas Pouille. Just look at the exploits of the Frenchman over the last year. He wallowed in mediocrity for most of 2019, but still managed to pick up his 2nd and 3rd ATP titles. He won titles at the Lyon Open and Grand Prix Hassan II. He then went on to perform on the North-American hardcourt swing, reaching the final of the Winston-Salem Open. Paire then opened 2020 with a run to the final of the Auckland Open. He then lost in an epic five-set match against Marin Cilic at the Australian Open. But in typical Paire fashion, he then lost back-to-back opening round matches at the Maharashtra Open and Rotterdam Open. Paire beat Barrere in the opening match and who knows which incarnation of the Frenchman will appear in this match.
Alexander Bublik is a Kazakhstan player of Russian descent. He is known for a formidable serve that can overwhelm opponents. The 22-year-old actually had his moments last week in Rotterdam, simply committing too many unforced errors against Andrey Rublev. His greatest moment of the year was a semi-final run in the Aussie Open doubles. Bublik certainly showed incremental improvement in 2019. He won Challenger events in Pau and Monterrey before reaching larger finals on the ATP Tour. He reached the final of the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships and Chengdu Open. He then flaunted some Grand Slam kudos with a 3rd round run at Flushing Meadows. So it’s fair to say that Bublik has been on a gradual upward curve over the last year.
This will be the first time these two will have met, though they have paired up in doubles competition before. I think this could be fairly tight but I have to opt for the Frenchman, playing in front of the Marseille crowd.
Round of 32
Mikhail Kukushkin (23/20)
vs Pierre-Hugues Herbert (13/20)
Pierre-Hugues Herbert is coming off yet another successful doubles week with Nicholas Mahut after winning the Rotterdam Open. He seems to be carefully moderating his schedule in an attempt to have some dual success on the singles and doubles tour. It seems to be working to some extent for the talented Frenchman. Herbert has already picked up quarterfinals in Qatar and the Open sud de France. Herbert already has the career Grand Slam in doubles and seems to be intent on launching one final singles bid. He has reached three career ATP Finals, all of which have come on hardcourts, the last of which came in last year’s Open sud de France. Herbert will once again be aiming to make it deep in a French hardcourt event.
While here is yet another Kazakhstan player originally of Russian stock. Kukushkin certainly meets the criteria to be classified as a journeyman pro. The 32-year-old is a sturdy pro who very few outside the tennis world would recognise. Having said that, he did reach the final in this event lasts season, beating the likes of Shapovalov and Rublev on the way. Kukushkin had a smorgasbord of quarterfinal finishes to his name last season, including the St Petersburg Open and Los Cabos Open. Kukushkin tends to thrive on indoor hardcourt surfaces and will push the Frenchman all the way. He will be the underdog here in front of what is sure to be a highly partisan crowd.
These two have only met once before, which also happened to be in France. The Kazakhstani actually managed to beat Herbert in the Paris Masters in 2018. For that reason I’m prepared to side with the underdog here. Herbert is coming off a big week in Rotterdam and Kukushkin is good at sniffing out little opportunities.