French Open Preview 2020

Roland Garros is finally here, albeit five months late.  It’s weird it will be the final Slam played this year, but this is 2020 so everything is weird.  The rising number of Covid cases in recent weeks has forced the organizers to cap spectator numbers to 1,000 on site, from a proposed 20,000 at one point.

Even at this late stage there’s still confusion as to if the thousand number is limited to staff for the tournament or actual fans, discussions with the government are still happening. Eighty percent of the French Tennis Federation’s budget is derived from Roland Garros so obviously they want as many fans as possible.

On court we have certain storylines that are more concrete.  On the Women’s side from the top ten Barty, Osaka, Bencic and Andreescu are out, either from injury or Covid concerns. Serena Williams is still chasing 24 Slams; she’ll turn 39 years old in days and clay is her worst surface. The draw did her no favors; I’d be surprised she makes it past an in form Vika Azarenka in the 4thround.

After skipping the US Open Simona Halep is back.  The Romanian won the star studded Rome tournament last week, in Paris she could play the American prodigy Amanda Anisimova in the 4thround. She’ll be there on finals weekend.

Another favorite is Gabi Muguruza who’s in the bottom half; clay is her best surface, watch out for a hard-hitting Mugu vs Sabalenka 4thround. The usual suspects are here, Kvitova, Pliskova, Svitolina and Sloane Stephens.

There’s a chance for a surprise winner if we add in Keys, Azarenka, Ostapenko, Goerges and Gauff.  Ok, it’s time for a pick.  There’s one player who is consistently good in Paris, she’s at least reached the 4thround or better the past six years, and that’s Gabi Muguruza.  The Spaniard knows what it takes to win Roland Garros and I’m picking her to win over Halep.

Over to the Men, US Open Champ Dominic Thiem took Rome off last week but you still wonder what he has left in the tank after such an emotionally draining five set final in New York in winning his maiden Slam title. He’s in the same half as Rafa Nadal and has a tricky 1stround against Marin Cilic.  He could be on upset special alert.

If ever a player is on a mission then winning here in Paris should be Djokovic’s white whale after what happened in New York.  He’ll feel the title was taken away from him and after watching that nervy fifth set between Thiem and Zverev it’s not a stretch to think Novak handles that moment a lot better.

The Serbian will likely face Khachanov the Russian in the 4thround and Shapovalov/Medvedev/Tsitsipas in the semis.  Despite a shock loss for Rafa in Rome last week to the short Argentine Schwartzman he’ll make a 4thround against Fognini, which could be interesting, but the King of Clay is still the man to beat, knowing he won’t beat himself.

Choosing a champion here is more straightforward. Despite a 93/2 star wars number win/loss record in Paris the cooler weather in September won’t help Rafa. The usual heat in May causes the ball to bounce high on the clay, which helps the Spaniard; the cold takes the height from the topspin, making it play more like a hard-court.

Also, Rafa needs plenty of matches to play into form, which isn’t happening here. Fognini/Wawrinka/Zverev/Schwartzman/Thiem are potentially in his path to get to the final but if he makes it through to Sunday he’ll be hard to beat.

Even though Nadal leads Novak 17-7 in their head to head matches on clay I can’t see Djokovic not winning this, especially after his New York debacle. But this is 2020, so anything is possible.

 

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