French Open Preview 2021

The second Grand Slam of the year begins next week, when qualifying matches will get underway at Roland Garros, with main draw starting May 30th. Summer in Paris is the pinnacle of the dirty, dusty clay court season.  The French covid cases have dipped from 35,000 per day a month ago to 14,000, which will allow more fans into the stands.

The French Tennis Federation announcing up to 1,000 fans per show court until the Quarter Finals, that number will be capped at 5,000 in the 15,000 seat main stadium for the finals.

On court the clay season hasn’t provided many answers, especially on the women’s side. Ash Barty was having a good run, winning the Porsche Grand Prix over Aryna Sabalenka and losing in the final to Sabalenka in Madrid, then in Rome an old arm injury flared up, forcing her to retire.  According to Barty, she’ll be “good to go” in Paris.  Good news, considering the 2019 French Champion is a real shot to win.

Sabalenka will be another one to watch, although her performance in the Slams is underwhelming, having never reached a Quarter Final. Last years Roland Garros Champion, Iga Swiatek is running hot at just the right time, having blitzed Karolina Pliskova 6-0. 6-0 in the recent Italian Open final.

Sabalenka

Simona Halep fans are sad the Romanian star withdrew from the tournament yesterday, after a calf injury forced her to retire against Angie Kerber in Rome, it’s been rough going for Halep, having not reached a clay final all season, hopefully she’ll right for Wimbledon.

It’s hard to predict how Naomi Osaka will go, having never been past the 3rdround in Paris, she also lost early in Madrid and Rome, but the World number 2 does perform best at the Slams, having won the last two (Aus, US). Serena Williams is still chasing Margaret Court’s 24 Slams, the American stuck on 23.  She hasn’t won a Slam in four years and I doubt these next two weeks will change that, the 39 year old losing early in Rome and Parma, she could be a week one casualty.

So many unknowns here, the injury concerns of Barty and Halep, under performing Sabalenka at Slams, danger players Kenin, Svitolina, Muguruza and throw in Bianca Andreescu, who tested covid positive weeks ago in Madrid, but is still hopeful of a Paris start.

Picking a Champion is fool’s gold, but I’ll try anyway.  I’m going with last year’s winner, Iga Swiatek, she’s in form and knows what it takes to win in Paris. She is also the favorite with the bookies at $4.50.

Over to the men, Rafa Nadal is peaking perfectly.  The Spaniard winning Rome last week over Novak, although his clay season before that was patchy, losing in Monte Carlo to Andrey Rublev and in Madrid to Zverev, but as always he’ll be near impossible to beat in Paris.

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Before the Rome final, Novak had done nothing since winning the Australian Open, with early losses in Monte Carlo and Belgrade, but if anyone can stop Nadal, it’s Novak, or possibly Dominic Thiem, who already has been runner-up twice in Paris.

The return of Roger Federer has been shaky, losing early in Doha and Geneva, but don’t expect anything from the Swiss in Paris, he’s even stated “my season starts on the grass”, he knows his best chance at more Grand Slam glory comes at the ‘Big W’.

More reliable second week threats are Shapovalov, Zverev, Tsitsipas, Berrettini and lookout for Italian teen sensation Jannik Sinner, who pushed Nadal in Rome.

Ok, time for a winner.  The bookies have made their choice obvious, with Nadal paying $1.83, sheesh.  Unless there is a monumental upset, I see only two players capable of beating Rafa over five sets in Paris, Novak or Thiem.

If the draw works out that Rafa has to beat them back-to-back, then realistically that’s the only chance I see that he may not win his 21stSlam, which would make him the all-time leader, but even if the draw pans out that way, I’m still picking Rafa to win. They don’t call him the bull for nothing.

Whatever happens, Roland Garros will provide plenty of tennis drama in the coming weeks.

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