Home Sport 2021 French Open: What to Watch on Thursday

2021 French Open: What to Watch on Thursday

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How to watch: 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time on Tennis Channel; streaming on Tennis Channel+.

The four Grand Slam tournaments are the most important tennis events of the year. For good reason, they draw the world’s best players. But it’s a rarity for all of the top players, the tournament favorites, to be playing in the same half of the bracket.

On the women’s side, Iga Swiatek and Ashleigh Barty, the past two winners of the French Open, are both looking to extend their Roland Garros win streaks to nine matches. On the men’s side, the three most decorated champions of the sport, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, are appearing in the same half of a major draw for the first time. With 58 Grand Slam titles among them, the Big Three are still dominating. Any other player in their half will have quite a challenge to reach the final.

Here are some matches to keep an eye on.

Because of the number of matches cycling through courts, the times for individual matchups are estimates and may fluctuate based on when earlier play is completed. All times are Eastern.

Philippe Chatrier Court | 10 a.m.

Roger Federer vs. Marin Cilic

Roger Federer, a 20-time Grand Slam champion in men’s singles, recently returned to the ATP Tour after a pair of operations on his right knee. Now 39, he has missed the French Open four times in the past five years, often resting during the clay-court swing.

Marin Cilic has won just one Grand Slam tournament, the 2014 U.S. Open, which made him the fourth most successful male player entering this year’s French Open. Twice, Cilic was denied a second major title by Federer, at Wimbledon in 2017 and the Australian Open in 2018.

The two players are not well suited to the crushed brick of Roland Garros; Federer’s elegant slices and Cilic’s powerful serve and volley are dampened on clay. This match will revolve more around tennis fundamentals and fitness than on stylistic strengths.

Philippe Chatrier Court | 10 a.m.

Sloane Stephens vs. Karolina Pliskova

Sloane Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, had to play through the qualifying rounds of the Italian Open in May, the first time she needed to qualify into a tournament since 2012. In the first round at Roland Garros, she edged Carla Suárez Navarro on Tuesday in a late-night match. Both players have had off-court struggles in the past year; Suárez Navarro recently underwent treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma, and Stephens had deaths in her extended family from Covid-19.

Karolina Pliskova, the ninth seed, had a good run on the clay-court swing, reaching the final of the Italian Open. But then she was dismantled by the 2020 French Open champion, Iga Swiatek. Pliskova won only 13 points and lost, 6-0, 6-0. She will need to shake off any doubts from that performance.

Philippe Chatrier Court | 8 a.m.

Ashleigh Barty vs. Magda Linette

Ashleigh Barty, above, beat Bernarda Pera in the first round, and will next meet Pera’s doubles partner, Magda Linette.Credit…Adam Pretty/Getty Images

Ashleigh Barty, the first seed, was pressed by Bernarda Pera in the first round. To win in three sets, Barty focused on consistency, making only 25 unforced errors as she focused on lengthening points. Her first serves were not in fine form, however. She landed only 66 percent of them, and when they did land, she was less likely to win the point than on her second serves. The 2019 French Open champion, Barty will need to address this issue.

Magda Linette, ranked No. 45, struggled at the beginning of 2021, losing five of her first six matches. She has turned it around just in time, gaining some confidence as she reached the semifinals of the Internationaux de Strasbourg last week in France. Now, she will try to avenge the loss by her doubles partner, Pera, and upset Barty to equal her best major result.

Court 7 | 10 a.m.

Aslan Karatsev vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber

Philipp Kohlschreiber, ranked No. 132, was once a regular presence in the fourth round of major tournaments. But in the past eight Grand Slam events, he has not made it past the second round, and this once fearsome player now seems to be edging toward the end of his career. That’s not to say that he is without hope. In the first round, he beat Fernando Verdasco, a clay-court specialist and former world No. 7.

Aslan Karatsev, the 24th seed, burst into the public eye with an outrageous run to the semifinals of the Australian Open as a qualifier, knocking out three seeded players before being dismissed by Novak Djokovic. It was not just a flash in the pan. He followed that with his first ATP Tour title at the Dubai Open and big victories on clay over Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev. Karatsev’s consistency can be tested over the best-of-five format if Kohlschreiber imparts pressure with aggressive baseline play.

Here are a few more matches to keep an eye on.

Elina Svitolina vs. Ann Li; Suzanne Lenglen Court, 5 a.m.

Sofia Kenin vs. Hailey Baptiste; Court 14, 5 a.m.

Novak Djokovic vs. Pablo Cuevas; Suzanne Lenglen Court, 10 a.m.

Rafael Nadal vs. Richard Gasquet; Philippe Chatrier Court, 3 p.m.