Damien Kayat previews Lloyd Harris vs Cameron Norrie and Karolina Pliskova vs Sloane Stephens from the 3rd round of the French Open.
ATP and WTA Tours 2021
Grand Slam Tennis
Roland Garros, Paris, France (Outdoor Clay-Court)
Selected 3rd Round Matches- 3rd June
Llyod Harris 2/1 | Cameron Norrie 37/100
This should be a fascinating match between these two South African-born players. Llyod Harris has evolved massively over the past year. He reached his first final in Adelaide last year and enjoyed an even more impressive showing in Dubai this year. He beat the likes of Thiem and Nishikori en route to his first ATP 500 Final. But generally speaking, the South African isn’t renowned for his clay-court prowess. His big-serving style is far more suited to faster surfaces. He looked a lock to go down to in-form Sonego in the opening match. But he defied expectations to produce perhaps the best clay-court performance of his career. He served exceptionally in clutch moments, saving six of seven break chances in the match. What was even more impressive was his play on return. He hit a mammoth 40 winners in that match. Harris will once again need to serve well but he won’t feel beholden to that shot after this complete display.
25-year-old Brit Cameron Norrie has nonchalantly racked up an impressive 2021 campaign, highlighted by his emergence as a formidable clay-court presence. Norrie reached finals in Estoril and Lyon leading up to this. Norrie’s opening round victory over qualifier Bjorn Fratangelo was a nervous straight sets affair. At least he was able to break the British French Open curse. All six of the British entrants were eliminated in the first round last year. Dan Evans, Heather Watson and Johanna Konta were also eliminated in their opening matches this year. But Norrie was able to survive this scare despite looking somewhat shaky against the qualifier (he probably had flashbacks to his last two first-round exits in Paris). Norrie’s game is well suited to this surface. He lacks massive firepower but excels when matches become wars of attrition.
Verdict: Harris at 2/1
This will be the first-ever meeting between these two. Norrie is the nominal favourite considering his recent clay-court form. But I can’t look past Llyod’s demolition of the in-form Lorenzo Sonego. If he serves and returns with that level of efficiency, I can see him reaching his 2nd consecutive Grand Slam 3rd Round.
Karolina Pliskova (9) 3/10 | Sloane Stephens 2/1
The 29-year-old Czech has been a nearly woman of the Grand Slam circuit, losing in two semi-finals and one final. For some reason, she hasn’t been able to replicate her general tour success at the highest level (this is a woman who was ranked number one in the World Rankings). Pliskova’s aggressive game and relative lack of mobility suggest that she wouldn’t thrive on clay. But to the contrary, the Czech star has actually played some excellent clay-court tennis. She has won in Stuttgart and Rome. In fact, she has reached the Rome final for the last three consecutive seasons. Reaching this year’s final was the highlight of her year thus far. However, that double doughnut final defeat to clay-court phenom Iga Swiatek must have done some damage to her confidence. When Pliskova’s confidence is down, that serve starts to get a bit wobbly. She picked up a solid opening victory against Donna Vekic and now faces the mercurial talent that is Sloane Stephens.
Sloane Stephens is almost the antithesis of Karolina Pliskova. She hasn’t enjoyed the same steady presence in the world’s top 10 that Pliskova has. However, she has claimed that all-important Grand Slam title. She won the US Open in 2017 and also reached the final here in 2018. But erratic form and a laissez-faire approach to her own game has seen her plummet down the world rankings. Stephens does possess the ability to turn on the style on the big stage. She also counts clay as her personal favourite surface. Her best results this season have certainly come on the sticky stuff. She reached the quarterfinals in Charleston before a semi-final showing in Parma two weeks back. She will be feeling slightly jaded after that marathon against Carla Suarez Navarro. Navarro pushed Stephens to three sets in what was an emotional return for the Spaniard following cancer recovery.
Verdict: Stephens at 2/1
Stephens holds an excellent 3-1 head-to-head record against Pliskova. Curiously, Pliskova won their only ever encounter on clay, demolishing the American in straight sets at the 2018 Madrid Open. I’m going for Stephens. Her superior movement just makes her far more dynamic than Pliskova on this surface.