|French Open 2014|
|Radek Stepanek  (CZE)||vs||Ernests Gulbis  (LAT)|
ScheduleFriday, 30 May 2014 at 11:00 GMT / 12:00 UK / 16:30 IST
VenueCourt 1, Roland Garros
He's considered the elder statesman of the ATP tour theses days, but don't tell him that! Radek Stepanek is the wily campaigner with the wide range of shots, and he'll be gunning for the fourth round against Latvian Ernests Gulbis, the recent winner of the Open de Nice Côte d’Azur.
When the tale of the tape is cast, Gulbis has the measure over his Czech opponent, having had a more lucrative run during the first half of the year. He's also ten years younger, and his form by comparison is superior at this stage.
However, in the white hot heat of battle, these grand slam matches more or less become one-off affairs, as better prize-money and ranking points can help a player ascend through the ATP snakes and ladders board. So form and reputation can fly out the window if one is not careful, as Stan Wawrinka found out on Monday.
I'm pretty certain that both players will have seen the carnage that took place on the first few days of play, and see this as a great opportunity to further their claims in the tournament. However, on their side of the draw, the great Roger Federer looms as the most likely opponent in the fourth round, with either Tomas Berdych or John Isner the probable match-up in the quarter finals. So both players need to ramp it up if they are to progress to week two.
Stepanek hasn't had a great season to date. He's only made two quarter finals (Sydney and his home tournament Ostrava), bombing out in the opening rounds elsewhere. He also had the indignity of losing to Australian upstart Nick Kyrgios in the first round of last years French Open, but he made up for it by winning three smaller titles in 2013 (Prostejov, Orleans and Mons), and has done well to reach the third round here at Roland Garros, having seen off Argentinian Facundo Arguello in a five-set first round match, and then surprisingly dispatching 15th seed Mikail Youzhny in four sets in round two.
Gulbis on the other hand has won two titles this year, both in France (Nice and Marseille), and has made two semi finals and four quarter final appearances. He's now snuck quietly into the worlds top 20, and seems to have found his mojo after 10 years on the circuit (went pro in 2004). To reach the third round, Ernests defeated Lukasz Kubot and Facundo Bagnis.
Gulbis has the wood on Stepanek in this category too, for three contests and three victories. His overall win/loss record sits at 55%, his record on clay a touch higher at 56%. Like some other players moving up from the lower rankings into the top 20 or 30, he'd probably need to increase that ratio slightly to be competitive within that ranking bracket. Stepanek's win/loss record is nearly exactly the same (56%) while on clay he's at 55%. The only difference is the volume of matches played. Stepanek has an overall career appearance of 627 matches while Gulbis has 342.
Stepanek's victory over Youzhny should prove a warning to Gulbis, but I predict Ernests will prevail in four, and go on to meet Federer in the fourth round.