Popcorn matches: Day five

Zverev may face another serious test, while Sabalenka and Anisimova meet again.

Alexander Zverev©Julien Crosnier / FFT
 - Ian Chadband

Amid an exciting programme of second-round matches, here are four stand-out clashes to savour around the grounds on Thursday.

Alexander Zverev v Mikael Ymer

“It’s going to be a fun one!” says fifth seed Zverev, of his second round battle with 20-year Mikael Ymer, the superbly elastic athlete who’s tipped to outdo his elder brother Elias and become the man who can relight the old fire in Swedish men’s tennis.

> ORDER OF PLAY: Thursday 30 May (Day 5)

Yet it could prove anything but ‘fun’ for Zverev if he gets embroiled in yet another five-set war of attrition - four of his last five matches at Roland-Garros have gone the full sapping distance, including his four-hour opener against John Millman that at one point reduced the 22-year-old to a racquet-smashing outburst of frustration. 

“It's been a few not easy weeks, easy months for me, personally," Zverev said afterwards. “So I just reminded myself that I'm still one of the best tennis players in the world.”

Could Ymer feel the backlash from the ATP Finals champ?

Aryna Sabalenka v Amanda Anisimova 

This pair of rising WTA stars had their first clash at the Australian Open in January. Belarusian Sabalenka, then 20, was in such rampant form at the time that she was among the tournament favourites but the preciously talented 17-year-old American routed her 6-3, 6-2.

Now, Sabalenka, No.11 in the world, is out for revenge but it won’t be easy against Anisimova, the comet from New Jersey who’s rocketed up the rankings to No.51 after winning her maiden WTA tournament in Colombia in April to become the youngest US winner on tour since Serena Williams in Indian Wells 1999.

Dominic Thiem v Alexander Bublik

“A bit crazy, aggressive and highly competitive player on court, Alex is recognised by his peers to be a fun, smiling and warm character off the court.”

That’s how the 21-year-old Russian-born and based Kazakh Bublik introduces himself on his website, and with the firepower to accompany that ‘crazy, highly competitive aggression’, he can give the 2018 finalist Thiem an uncomfortable ride, especially if the Austrian repeats his lacklustre four-set opener against Tommy Paul.

Mind you, if the ‘Dominator’ conjures up the virtuoso shotmaking of his last two sets, we are in for a treat.

Serena Williams v Kurumi Nara

Is it time for the real Serena to really announce herself again? There were moments in her rusty start to the tournament against Vitalia Diatchenko that she looked a shadow of her old imperious self but by the end she was steamrollering the Russian with such ruthless intent that we were reminded exactly why a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title may still be on the agenda after a stop-start season.

Nara, a diminutive 27-year-old Japanese who was once ranked as high as No.32 but has now slid down to 238, doesn’t have the ammunition to hurt Serena but can test the great one with wiles and patience.

“I think I’m finally on the mend,” mused Williams, signalling how her injury-riddled season is now history - and that could spell bad news for all her fellow contenders.

*Find out how to follow all the Roland-Garros 2019 action on TV here.