In the wake of the US Open, the tennis scene would typically begin its wind down for the year. The ATP Tour Finals line up would look almost nailed on (bar a late scramble for ranking points in the Paris Masters to secure the 8th spot).
Obviously though, it’s 2020 and everything has been turned on its head. All Chinese events are cancelled, so the women won’t get their chance for a showdown in Shenzhen and only Novak, Rafa, Domi and Daniil have their places anchored at the O2. Which means it’s all to play for on the ATP tour and with all the serious points on offer in the ‘City of Love’, we should be in for an entertaining autumn.
The usual 1000 points is on offer in the November masters but it’s the potential 2000 in Roland Garros that makes Paris the hot focus for the end of season action. It wasn’t possible to reschedule Wimbledon, the £114mil pandemic insurance policy taken out in 2003 could have made that a fairly easy decision. But where the English faltered, the French have shown uncharacteristic resilience and have ensured their slam will go ahead; albeit a few months late.
With a fully-fledged qualifying event, fan access and the likes of Nadal, Halep, Wawrinka and Svitolina (amongst plenty of others) all back in action after swerving Flushing Meadows, the atmosphere certainly seems a lot like what we’d usually expect of the biggest tournaments on the circuit.
Granted, only 1000 of the usual 15,225 spectators will be able to gather onto Court Philippe Chatrier and we’re still missing defending champ Ash Barty and both recent Queens of the US Open, Osaka and Andreescu. Thus, leaving Sofia Kenin as the only female in the draw to have lifted a slam within the last 15 months and following a grim 0&0 exit in Rome last week, she’s not looking too likely to be much of a threat this year.
So, is the women’s wide open as usual?
There have been 6 different names on the Suzanne-Lenglen Cup since 2014 – Halep will be looking to end that streak if she can win her 2nd French Open in 3 years. Without having to make the Hard-Clay transition and coming off back-to-back titles in Prague and Rome it’s hard to disagree with her being hot favourite; currently sat at 3/1. It was a shame to see Muguruza hand her a quadruple-fault to take the Rome semi-final last week – it probably would have benefitted her to come through more organically. Nonetheless, she’s looking seriously good. We’re also writing Garbine off after such a terrible display of mental strength there despite being Halep’s closest rival at 7/1.
The rest of the field looks pretty tight odds-wise. The more talented hard hitters and generally better players in Serena, Vika and Kvitova are well matched by the clay court specialists Bertens and Vondrousova. Unfortunately, the latter pair find themselves bunched into the top quarter with Halep, so we won’t get any of those unpredictable encounters this year.
Finally, we think the recent schedule will massively favour those who avoided the hard-court season. Having 6 months over 2 weeks to prepare for the red stuff has to be a serious advantage, particularly on a surface that demands such consistency. So, eyes are on Halep, Bertens and Svitolina. Whilst similar logic applied to the men would have you keeping tabs on Monfils, Wawrinka, Fognini and of course Rafael Nadal.
A ropey performance from Rafa against Diego Schwartzman in Rome has pushed him just the wrong side of evens but it would be impossible to suggest that was short given his 12 victories here and has the extra set to play with if he struggles to find his form early on.
Naturally hot on his tail are Djokovic (2/1) and Thiem (5/1). We’re getting mixed messages from Novak though. Discrediting his bizarre loss to Carreno Busta in New York, he’s 31-0 for 2020 but definitely hasn’t looked 100% since the circuit returned last month. Having fought off coronavirus and dealing with the mental battles in the backlash of his infamous Adria Tour and the disqualification it makes sense for him to be priced slightly longer than usual. Having said that, he’s a man that has always thrived in the face of adversity, it may only fuel him to dig even deeper this year.
We can’t see Thiem backing up his US Open title. He probably trains harder than anyone else on the tour and in his post-final interview expressed how he had dedicated his whole life to winning a slam. So soon after fulfilling his lifelong ambition, he may take his foot off the gas and be susceptible to an early exit on the Parisian clay this year. With Cilic, Ruud, Wawrinka and Nadal all on his potential route, making the final here would be a tougher ask than his win in Flushing Meadows.
As for the rest, the field don’t tend to win men’s slams. It’s highly improbable that anyone would be able to sustain a level that could beat Djokovic and Nadal back-to-back over 5 sets on clay.
However, opportunity rides high in the 2nd quarter for Medvedev, Tsistipas, Rublev and Shapovalov to make an RG semi without facing any of the top 3. Plus, there are a few other players that could make a name for themselves here. Corentin Moutet has exceptional retrieval skills, work ethic and passion; he’s vulnerable to being overpowered in certain match ups at just 5ft 9in but could be a tricky customer for some of the top dogs. You won’t find a man more comfortable on clay than Cristian Garin and Casper Ruud looks primed for his first proper slam breakthrough despite a tough draw.
We’re excited for the action to kick off tomorrow, so will leave you with some first-round matches to whet your appetite: Evans vs Nishikori should be a real contest. Both Cilic vs Thiem and Murray vs Wawrinka are battles of former slam winners, whilst Goffin and Medvedev face serious challenges in Sinner and Fucsovics respectively.
As for the women, Coco Gauff will be a good test for Konta and 19 y/o Kaja Juvan should be a tricky customer for an out of form clay-struggler Angie Kerber. Otherwise there’s a lack of standout first round affairs. Fingers crossed that only sets up some better matches in the latter stages.
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