The long rallies; sly drop shots and heavy topspin are almost upon us. The years’ second Grand Slam is just days away, so it’s time for a preview and for you to openly mock my picks.
As always we’ll start with the Ladies. Until Naomi Osaka won back-to-back Slams with last years’ US Open and the Australian Open a few months back there had been seven different players win the preceding Slams, talk about parity. Even at the French Open since 2014 we’ve had five different Champions. Sharapova, Serena, Muguruza, Ostapenko and Simona Halep last year.
Even this season at the big WTA clay events there have been three different winners, Kvitova in Stuttgart, Kiki Bertens in Madrid and Karolina Pliskova in Rome. So, what does all this mean? That this event is a betting man’s nightmare.
Serena withdrew from last weeks’ Italian Open with a left knee injury and was photographed at Disneyland Paris in a wheelchair although she did practice on the newly built Centre Court this morning.
Since a Qtr final loss to Karolina Pliskova in Melbourne the 37 year old has played four matches since and one on clay, as great as Serena is I just can’t see her being a factor. She doesn’t have the matches, fitness or clay court form coming into the event.
That could mean good things for Australian Ash Barty who is in Serena’s section of the draw; they could meet in a 4thround. Barty is having a stellar season, winning Miami, finalist Sydney, QF Australian Open, she also had a good result on clay in Madrid, losing a tight QF to Halep. Clay might not be her preferred surface but I’d like to see Barty get to a potential QF match up with World Number One Naomi Osaka.
The Japanese player has a tricky section to navigate though, including a potential second round against the winner of Azarenka vs Ostapenko, two Grand Slam Champions.
The other potential QF match ups could be Halep vs Kvitova, Stephens vs Bertens and Kerber vs Pliskova. The question is will we get a first time Grand Slam winner, as the French Open tends to give us. Pliskova and Bertens are the most likely if this was to happen but you also could throw in Svitolina or Belinda Bencic as well.
Ok, time for a pick. I was way off with the Sabalenka choice for the Australian Open winner, although she was the form player going in. There are multiple form players going into this event and potentially I’d say 15 players could win it.
I’m going to go with Simona Halep. Ironically even though she’s been world number one and is the actual defending Champion the Romanian is coming into this low key. She’s won enough matches on the clay this season, has the Grand Slam monkey off her back, isn’t the player everybody is talking about and knows how to win big matches.
Lets move over to the Men. There are definitely not 15 players that can win this event. If I were being generous I’d say seven. Nadal, Djokovic, Federer, Wawrinka, Del Potro, Theim and Fognini, all these players besides Nadal and Djokovic would be long shots.
Rafa who has won the French a non-human like eleven times has found form just in time. The 32 year old won Rome last week, his first tournament victory of the season, some were beginning to wonder if there was some slippage in his game but the Rome victory over a weary Djokovic in 3 sets confirmed he still has the chops and will come into Paris a big favorite. He has landed on Federer’s side of the draw and they could meet in a Semi Final.
Federer is playing the French for the first time since 2015 as has done quite well this clay season so far, reaching the QF’s in both Madrid and Rome. For him to do well in Paris he should pray for hot weather making the conditions a little quicker, allowing him to serve and volley a little, shortening the points. If he avoids some early round marathons he could make a blockbuster QF against his Australian Open conquerer Tsitsipas.
World Number One Djokovic is also showing good clay court form in winning Madrid over the Greek star Tsitsipas, that happened just in time as Novak had gotten himself caught up in all the ATP Player council drama the last few months and his results seemed to suffer for it. He could face a tricky first round against the hard hitting Polish player Hurkacz but I’d predict a semi final showing against last years’ French Open runner up Dominic Thiem, who some are choosing as this year’s Champion.
As for the Aussies, Nick Kyrgios withdrew from the tournament last night citing ‘illness’. This occurred after he went on an Instagram rant “French Open sucks, compared to this place (Wimbledon). Get rid of the clay man, who likes the clay? It is so bad’. This comes after he went on a chair throwing, crowd arguing tirade in Rome where the ATP fined him and took away his tournament ranking points, this guy sure likes drama.
Bernie Tomic opens against American Taylor Fritz, that’s winnable. John Millman plays 5thseed Alex Zverev, that’s also winnable considering the Grand Slam failings of Zverev. I can’t see either of them making to the second week.
This tournament also has enormous historical Grand Slam ramifications. Currently Federer is on 20, Rafa on 17 and Novak sits at 15. At age 37 you wonder how many more chances Federer will get to win a Slam and has gone four Slams without making it past the Quarters.
If Rafa wins this he will surely see himself in striking distance of Roger’s 20 and if Novak lifts the trophy he would have won the last three majors and also within reach of Federer’s total.
So, who wins? Nadal has the easier path to the final and should get there.
Djokovic on the other hand has some landmines on the way to the final, as mentioned before he could get pushed in the first round, has a potential QF against Monte Carlo winner Fognini and that semi final match up against Thiem, if he makes the final he’ll likely be beat up, which is advantage Rafa.
For this reason I’m choosing Rafa to win his 18thGrand Slam and move to within two of Federer’s 20.