Can anyone see past the clay court tedium that has become Rafael Nadal on clay in Europe? I certainly can’t. While there was a romance and a sense of an end of an era with the stepping down of Uncle Toni fittingly on the achievement unlocked of La Decima – it now feels a little mundane. Let’s instead rejoice in some of the up-comers such as Stefanos Tsitsipas as a legit dark horse, and I suspect Grigor Dimitrov will be heading to the grass early.
On the women’s side the heart wants Simona Halep to win, although Elina Svitolina was a worthy second place in my deliberations after her emphatic win in Rome over Halep. My dark horse of the two returning mothers is Serena Williams. While Victoria Azarenka would also be a worthy pick and arguably has had a few more matches – don’t be surprised if the former champion makes a state,emt here. While I don’t expect the defending champion Jelena Ostapenko to defend her crown, I suspect Caroline Wozniacki will be the steepest seed drop.
The Brits can rightly hang their homes on Kyle Edmund to go the furthest although he might stumble once more at the hands of Marin Cilic. I will give Johanna Konta the benefit of her first main draw win, and if she gets past Yulia Putintseva I could see her progressing to the third round but I suspect her first seed in Venus Williams might be a step too far. Heather Watson can certainly get a round in, but Elise Mertens will be too much, and I think Cameron Norrie will maybe be a little fatigued from last week to go past the first round.
All seems set for another success from Rafael Nadal: the Spaniard not only would be the favourite regardless of the draw, but it’s all on his main rivals to conquer a sport in the final against him. Dominic Thiem, David Goffin and Alexander Zverev are all in the bottom half and may need some brutal battles to get to the final stage. The physical problems and the surface place many question marks on Nick Kyrgios who may leave Paris even in the first round, as he plays compatriot Bernard Tomic.
As usual, it is hard to make predictions for the WTA draw, but even though she has suffered quite a few tough losses, it seems that time has come for the World Number 1 Simona Halep to take her maiden slam title: she wouldn’t be facing Elina Svitolina until the final and her side seems a little easier than the Ukrainian’s, especially in the early rounds. Despite being a lover of the surface, Julia Goerges opens with a tough cookie like Dominika Cibulkova and her path is full of dangerous floaters, while I believe I would keep an eye on the ever-fighting Maria Sakkari to cause some upsets.
For the Brits, on the women side Johanna Konta has the best chance to make an impact at Roland Garros, following last year’s R1 shocker. If she comes out alive from the tough (mental) battle with Yulia Putintseva in the opener, the draw is fairly open as she should be considered the favourite in a potential match with Venus Williams for a second week appearance. Heather Watson says to like clay, but she does not seem in a moment nor a spot where she can hope for more than one win. Kyle Edmund can do well on the men’s draw, but it won’t be an easy task: he’s got many specialists on his path, including what looks like a fun clash with Fabio Fognini on the third round.
Ten French Open titles and his current status as the world no. 1 pretty much say it all. This season, Rafael Nadal has proven once again his mental and physical excellence, and his lone victor on the surface this season – Dominic Thiem – looks unlikely to take him down over best-of-five sets. Couple that with one of the nicest major draws he has seen in years, and the Spaniard is the heavy favourite for victory.
Any of John Isner, Juan Martin del Potro or Kevin Anderson could be in for an early upset – despite recent positive results for the trio. Isner and his big serve are hardly a tantalising prospect over best-of-five sets, but he is far from the most intimidating opponent off the ground.
The women’s tour is still vastly unpredictable. The leading favourites to triumph – Simona Halep and Elina Svitolina – are perhaps unlikely to do so: as the more a player becomes established on tour without winning a major, the harder it seems to accomplish that feat. Petra Kvitova is not first choice for triumph, but she is in-form and has what it takes. Despite my doubts over Serena Williams‘ current form, she is a great contender for this year’s dark horse. The former champion has shown little to get excited about since her return to tour, but her work ethic is second to none – and her presence in Paris suggests that she feels something is possible.
Jelena Ostapenko, after a lacklustre clay-court season, is the sort of player who could whip out her best tennis when the magical memories of last year in Paris resurface – but just as easily flop in the early rounds. In order to pick a top ten player, I go with Ostapenko (who I almost predicted to win the thing) highly apprehensively… although this time next week I could be wondering why I didn’t choose Venus Williams.
The Road to Roland Garros should take us straight to Rafael Nadal’s 11th title on the terre battue, but I think there are a lot of fascinating storylines, such as Novak Djokovic’s return to form, Alexander Zverev’s quest to finally make a dent at a major, and what we can expect from Stefanos Tsitsipas and Denis Shapovalov. I’m very curious to see who reaches the final and which players end up exceeding expectations.
The women’s side is far more mysterious. Who has any idea of what Serena Williams will bring? Maria Sharapova looks good but can she back up her Rome breakout? Simona Halep has proven herself on clay for a long time now, and I’ve chosen her for the title because I believe she has the most experience and the most talent on the surface. Once again one could make a case for about 10, maybe even 15 potential champions.
As far as the Brits go, Kyle Edmund is the guy who has shown the most in 2018 and he’ll remind us all how good he is again at Roland Garros. As for Johanna Konta, Heather Watson and Cameron Norrie, it will be tough to make the second round. We know about Konta on clay, and while Norrie is a very exciting young talent, he’s pretty green.
Will anyone pick someone other than Rafael Nadal? Will Rafael Nadal lose any sets, let alone being taken the distance? It’s tough to imagine. The ten-time Champion won’t enjoy the rainy conditions of the first week if they come to pass as forecast – but he’s been handed a dream draw into the semi-finals, finals even all things considered. Juan Martin Del Potro’s groin injury remains a question mark and as a result someone from his sector could truly capitalise – and why not e.g. compatriot Leonardo Mayer? Beyond the Argentine, it’s worth keeping and eye for Borna Coric to punch his way through the draw. If Grigor Dimitrov makes the Semi-Finals as he is seeded to do, it would truly be one of the tournament’s bigger suprises. The Bulgarian comes into the French with next to no traction whatsoever.
With the number of variables that keep floating around in my head, I could make a case for at least 8-10 players but I ended up picking Elina Svitolina to win her first major. Serena Williams feels like the ultimate easy answer for a dark horse here but ultimately there are other athletes in softer sections of the draw who could make it further? Don’t put it past Petra Martic to relive her glories of list year – and keep an eye out for Kaia Kanepi who could make another ostensibly “random” run to a GS QF. Meanwhile for a shock exit, Garbiñe Muguruza seems in immediate peril facing Svetlana Kuznetsova in Round one but I see her navigate through the tricky opener, hence I’m picking Venus Williams.
I have Kyle Edmund making the fourth round but I wouldn’t be surprised if he made another semi-finals. Cameron Norrie I don’t think will make it past Peter Gojowczyk in his opener. Jo Konta will have her hands full with Yulia Putintseva – ultimately I see her bowing out to Martic in the third round. Heather Watson has a shot a surviving her opener against Oceane Dodin – but Elise Mertens will prove to be too much to handle in the second round.
Rafael Nadal has the kindest of draws and will be grateful to avoid any of his main challengers until the final, which, to be honest he should also win relatively comfortably with his main rivals likely tired out.
Petra Kvitova has had a great clay court season and has a good looking draw, although, as ever the women’s competition is incredibly tough to call.
Kyle Edmund should be the shining light for the Brits and will hope to go deep. A meeting with Marin Cilic in the fourth round could go either way – if he was to win he may well get to the semi-finals of a slam once more. I’d expect everyone else to be out relatively early.
The question is not ‘who will win the French Open?’ but ‘can ANYONE challenge Rafael Nadal ‘the King of Clay’ at Roland Garros? And the answer? No. The only two that even stand a chance at contention are Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev, but neither amounts to a serious title-challenging case.
As for a dark horse, keep your eyes on Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas – he reached the finals in Barcelona and Portugal and looks ready to make an impact at a Slam. Shock exit – Novak Djokovic has struggled for form this season and after disappointing early exits at the Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami Open and falling to Thiem in Monte Carlo, I think we could see another upset for the Serbian.
The women’s draw, however, is very much open. My money is on Maria Sharapova – this could be her year for French revival. Though Simona Halep also poses a strong campaign, if a little boring. Serena Williams will be there and unseeded, but after having her first child back in September, the former champ hasn’t quite found her form, yet. She’s definitely the dark hise to keep your eye on and could cause a real upset along the way. Elina Svitolina has yet to prove herself in Grand Slams and could make a shock exit, early doors.
As for the Brits, Kyle Edmund is the only real hope after Johanna Konta‘s poor form of late. Heather Watson and Cameron Norrie will struggle to get past round one, but the Yorkshireman has shown he can set up against big opponents.
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