Day 5: Things to look out for

A former champion, comeback kings and backhand blockbusters highlight Thursday's action

 - Alex Sharp

Day five of Roland-Garros is on the agenda and world No.1 Novak Djokovic leads the schedule.

With a plethora of matches to get stuck into, here’s what to look out for on Thursday in Paris.

Big-hitters Pliskova and Ostapenko square off

Three years ago a jovial but fearless Jelena Ostapenko cannon-balled 299 winners at Roland-Garros to grasp a maiden major title.

Since then it is fair to say the Latvian's form has fluctuated, but the world No.43 appears to be back on track. A first Roland-Garros victory since winning the title on Tuesday came as a relief.

Now the task has ratcheted up several notches. Second seed Karolina Pliskova stands in her path.

Egyptian sensation Mayar Sherif gave the world No.4 a thorough test at the first hurdle and will have to be on her toes across the net from Ostapenko.

“With Jelena, we had some good matches, some strange matches. I think she's a lot up and down but for sure she can just play well,” said Pliskova, expecting the unexpected.

“From the baseline she can just like really hit the ball. She can make a lot of winners, but also a lot of mistakes.”

Pliskova leads their head-to-head standings 3-2, whilst Ostapenko clinched a 7-5 decider in their most recent clash last autumn in Beijing.

Ostapenko, having fallen slightly out of the spotlight, is relishing competing without the pressure and expectations.

“I just have to be more confident in my game and more consistent. If there is a consistency in my game, I think I'm gonna be a very dangerous player and it's gonna be very, like, not easy to beat me,” stated the rejuvenated 23-year-old.

“If I get my consistency back like in 2017 and beginning of 2018 also, I think I'll be back in like top 10.”

Rublev out to back up after epic

Andrey Rublev certainly rolled the dice in his first round. The rocket-fuelled Russian managed to escape from two sets down for the first time in his career for a maiden victory at Roland-Garros. 

The 13th seed’s 6-7(5), 6-7(4), 7-5, 6-4, 6-3 comeback victory over Sam Querrey was a performance that infuriated Rublev, who had just captured his third tour title of 2020 on Sunday.

He is in astonishing form, so his sluggish start on Tuesday will raise questions over his levels of physical and mental reserves.

Andrey Rublev, Roland Garros 2020, first round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

“I was feeling completely tight. I choke another level. Since the first point of the match till the last match of the match I was completely freeze. I couldn't do one step, I could only hit, I was tight like I don't know,” admitted the riled Russian. 

“I’m happy that I have this one more present that I'm here, and I'm alive and I have another opportunity to change this, one more chance to show different attitude, different game.”

That present is facing Spanish youngster Alejandro Davidovich Fokina for their first duel. The world No.70 is capable of sparkling shot-making and will have surely heard of Rublev’s struggles on Tuesday. 

Can he pounce and take his chance? Or will Rublev dust himself off and reapply the devastating level he’s shown already this season?

Bring on the backhands

For the casual viewer or tennis enthusiast watching, the single-handed backhand is a work of art. A triumvirate of seeds take to court on Thursday, ready to wield this fine shot.

Just like Rublev, Hamburg finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas will hope to have replenished his resources from a two-set deficit in the first round. The Greek's gracious single-handed backhand will need to be firing against Uruguayan veteran Pablo Cuevas, the world No.60 who also uses a single-handed backhand. 

The top 10’s latest recruit Denis Shapovalov is the overwhelming favourite to dispatch Roberto Carballes Baena, so watch out on social media for his glorious backhand doing the business.

If that wasn’t enough, 18th seed Grigor Dimitrov will be whipping his textbook single-handed backhand in a bout with Slovakian Andrej Martin.

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