Tomorrow marks the start of what looks to be a rather damp 122nd edition of the French Open, and yet again the questions on everyone’s lips are, “can anyone dethrone Nadal?” and “who the hell is gonna win the Women’s?”
Just like in 2017, the King of Clay Rafael Nadal comes into the tournament with an intimidating 17-1 winning record on the red stuff this year. Also just like last year, but for a defeat to Dominic Thiem, Rafa has only dropped two sets in his 17 wins. Try and pick holes in the Spaniard’s chances, and it’s almost impossible to find any. Rafa’s dominance on the dirt combined with a kind draw makes him, rightfully so, odds on for his 11th title in Paris.
The only man to cause Nadal any pain on clay in the last couple of years is Dominic Thiem. His previous two trips to Paris have yielded Semi-finals for the Austrian, but he has been drawn in the ‘quarter of death’ alongside Zverev, Nishikori and 2015 Champion Wawrinka. What’s more Thiem could face an early banana skin in the form of Stefanos Tsitsipas, who swept him aside in Barcelona in straight sets. If Thiem makes it to the Quarters, he could face off against Alexander Zverev. The three-time masters champion hasn’t yet lived up to expectations in the Slams, but comes to Paris boasting a 17-3 record on clay including wins in Munich and Madrid, with an untimely rain delay and a rejuvenated Rafa denying him yet another Masters title in Rome. Like Thiem the German faces a tricky draw but on current form you would back him to be walking out on to Court Philippe Chatrier in two weeks time.
In the absence of Andy Murray, British number one Kyle Edmund carries our country’s best hopes of an extended run in Paris. His projected draw would see him encounter Fognini, Cilic, Juan Martin Del Potro and then Nadal. Sadly, we think it’ll be an early bath for the 16th seed.
On to the women’s draw and it’s a bit like betting on the Grand National. The last 6 Grand Slams have yielded 6 different champions. There is a conservative pool of about twenty players all vying for the trophy. Among this pool are the power players, capable of blowing away their opposition but who struggle with consistency. Then you have your consistent players who struggle with the blowing away part. The wonder woman who was capable of both, hasn’t played in a Grand Slam for 16 months, otherwise occupied with motherhood and Royal Weddings. With just four matches under her belt this year, it’s hard to see the unseeded 453rd ranked Serena Williams going the distance in Paris, but she can never be written off.
Aussie Open winner Wozniacki hasn’t reached a final since her triumph over Simona Halep. Rising Japanese star Naomi Osaka swept aside Halep on her way to winning Indian Wells in March, but was thrashed by Halep in Rome last week. World number one Halep is the bookies favourite, yet she was outclassed by Elina Svitolina last week in Rome . Svitolina is surely a strong contender, but the Ukranian has a tendency to capitulate on the biggest stage of all. Last years victor, Jelena Ostapenko, has three wins and three losses to her name on the red stuff this year. It all makes for confusing reading.
US Open winner Sloane Stephens could be an outside bet. Barring her out-of-the-blue win in Miami she hasn’t beaten any player in the top 25 all year, but with a decent record at Roland Garros (W14, L6) and a liking for turning up at the big ones 80/1 seems long.