Damien Kayat previews Coco Gauff vs Jennifer Brady and Elise Mertens vs Maria Sakkari in the 3rd round of the French Open.
2021 WTA Tour
Roland Garros, Paris, France (Outdoor Clay-Court)
Selected 3rd Round Matches- 5th June
Coco Gauff (24) 11/20 | Jennifer Brady (13) 14/10
With all the media frenzy surrounding Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from this year’s French Open, it’s easy to forget that we still have a tennis tournament to settle. This 3rd round clash should be a tantalizing all-American power struggle. My pre-tournament dark-horse Coco Gauff just goes from strength to strength on this surface. Ordinarily, the young American has to slug her way through these opening rounds, routinely showing off her levels of durability. Not this year. Two straight-sets victories point to greater maturity and ruthlessness in the American’s game. Gauff has had an extremely solid 2021 campaign that has really burst into life during this European clay-court swing. She reached the quarterfinals in Charleston before a brilliant semi-final run in Rome (that semi-final in Rome being her first WTA 1000 semi-final). She then won her 2nd WTA title on the Parma clay in her final preparation for this event. Gauff’s decision to team up with Venus Williams for the doubles-met with fanboy enthusiasm by the broader tennis community- resulted in a fairly tame first-round defeat. I think that augers well for the American: playing both formats could prove detrimental to the American’s chance of a deep run this year.
Jennifer Brady entered this year’s French Open lurking under the radar following a fairly humdrum post-Aussie Open season. Brady was a force of nature in the post-lockdown period. She won the Top Seed Open and reached her maiden Grand Slam semi-final at the US Open. She just carried that over into 2021, going one better in Melbourne and storming into her first Grand Slam Final. During the lockdown period, she seemed to hone her power-based game into a more efficient beast. Her serve was more accurate and her all-round defensive game was tightened. But then things started to collapse. She had a 3-5 record going into the Mutua Madrid Open. This necessitated a coaching change, with Brad Stine replacing long-time coach Michael Glasser. She looked impressive against noted clay-court player Sevatsova in the opening round. But she needed all her Grand Slam nous to overcome Ferro in the 2nd round.
Verdict: Brady to win at 14/10
This will be just the 2nd match between these two. Jennifer Brady decimated Coco Gauff in the semi-final of last year’s Top Seed Open. This is an extremely tight call. Coco Gauff was a pre-event dark-horse pick of mine, so it almost feels sacrilegious to doubt her. But I can’t help but shake the feeling that Brady’s Grand Slam street-smarts will see her through this match.
Elise Mertens (14) 64/100 | Maria Sakkari (17) 12/10
Elise Mertens burst onto the scene with that unheralded run to the semi-finals of the 2018 Aussie Open. And while she hasn’t catapulted to more headline-grabbing success, the 25-year-old Belgian has amassed an extremely creditable singles career to go with her brilliance in doubles. Much of her success has come on hard courts but she’s an all-court player. She won two clay-court titles in 2018 and reached the final in Prague last year. Her consistency of groundstrokes and determination on court are akin to that of Kei Nishikori. 2021 has also been an extremely solid campaign for Mertens. She won her first title in two years at the Gippsland Trophy. She later reached her 2nd career WTA 500 semi-final in Dubai. She started her clay-court season well, reaching the final in Istanbul prior to a quarterfinal run in Madrid. She hasn’t looked elite thus far in Paris, needing three sets to edge past Diyas in the last round. But Mertens is a dogged competitor not to be underestimated.
Maria Sakkari is yet to drop a set this week and she looks in imperious form. Sakkari is enjoying a wonderful season that has seen her break into the top 20 of the world rankings for the first time. She started the season with strong semi-final showings in Abu Dhabi and the Grampians Trophy. In her Grampians Trophy run, she took down the likes of Muguruza, Kenin and Kerber. But it was her performances in Miami that really sent her stock skyrocketing. She decimated Naomi Osaka en route to her 3rd WTA 1000 semi-final appearance. Her results have somewhat petered out since then. She reminds me of a slightly more diminutive Aryna Sabalenka. She serves well and plays on the edge of over-aggression.
Verdict: Sakkari in straight sets at 14/10
These two are certainly no strangers to each other. Mertens leads the head-to-head stakes 4-3. Their last match ended in a Sakkari victory in 2019. I have a gut feeling that Sakkari’s superior hitting power will come to the fore in this match. Mertens’ success is based on consistency. I think that Sakkari has another level to her game. I would even be tempted to make some money by going for a straight-sets Sakkari victory at 14/10.