With expectations doubtless heavy upon him, French #1 Lucas Pouille begins his first French Open campaign as his nation’s top-ranked player against the unorthodox but dangerous Russian Daniil Medvedev. Pouille has reached two Slam quarterfinals, at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2016, but has never gone beyond the third round at his home Slam. Medvedev, however, has never even won a match in Paris, losing in the first round on his debut last year. But who will win this one?
Pouille and Medvedev have met twice before, with both matches coming last year on hard courts with Pouille triumphing both times. The Frenchman was first victorious in front of a home crowd in Marseille in the quarterfinals where he overcame Medvedev in three sets 4-6 6-1 6-4. Pouille was rather more comfortable in defeating the younger man in Shanghai late in the season, emerging a 6-4 6-2 winner from their first round clash in China.
Last time out
Pouille does not enter the French Open in the richest vein of form, having struggled somewhat to replicate the impressive results he had last year. He lost in his first match at the Monte Carlo Masters where he had last year reached the semifinals. He then fell at the first hurdle in his title defence in Budapest where John Millman defeated him in straight sets. Things did not improve in Madrid as Benoit Paire defeated him in straight sets and though he won his first match in Rome, Kyle Edmund accounted for him reasonably comfortably in the second round.
He may take comfort from the similar struggles of Daniil Medvedev, who has won just one match on clay so far this season. That was in Monte Carlo, where he conquered Marton Fucsovics in the first round. Since then, he has lost first round in Estoril, Madrid and then in Rome, where Robin Haase got the better of him in three sets, despite the Russian winning the first. Medvedev, has, however, had some tough draws, and may feel he was playing better tennis than his results suggest.
How do they match up?
There can be little doubt that Pouille is an extremely naturally gifted tennis player. The Frenchman has a powerful forehand with a very clean and reliable stroke production. His backhand is also usually solid, although the Frenchman surrenders some of the control he exerts over the shot when he goes for winners from that wing, which can lead to him racking up a significant number of unforced errors. His serve, whilst not amongst the best in the game, is powerful enough to win him a fair number of free points.
Medvedev, despite his 6’6 frame, is not one of the biggest servers on Tour, relying instead on his groundstrokes for success. He tends to hit both his forehand and backhand hard and flat, which makes him at his most effective on a fast court, a trait he shares with Pouille. The Russian is also comfortable drawing his opponents into the forecourt with dropshots and his backhand slice can be a dangerous weapon, though less so on a clay court than on grass.
Neither man is in form and there is arguably thus little to separate them. But Pouille is the more experienced of the two and he should have the support of the Philippe Chatrier crowd, who are amongst the most passionate in tennis. That might just be enough to swing the match in the Frenchman’s favour. Pouille also has a little more variety at his disposal, which can be vital on clay. Expect him to win through in four sets.