Tennis Elbow: Two titans lost, but a third one’s still there at the French Open

May 30, 2016

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the first week of the 2016 French Open and looks ahead at the second.

A week ago, we said that the 2016 French Open seemed destined to become one of the better ones in recent memory.

Well we were wrong on it being “better”: a French Open that lacks the people’s champ in Roger Federer AND the best clay court player ever in Rafael Nadal can’t be “better” in any sort of way.

But we were right on the nose in predicting that it would indeed be memorable.

While we’ve had over a week to process the Swiss’s absence—maybe we’ll just need to start acknowledging that he’s an old man now?—Nadal’s withdrawal stings a whole lot right now.

Nadal has played 12 French Opens
9 titles
72 wins
2 losses (Soderling, Djokovic)
1 withdrawal with left-wrist injuryhttps://t.co/Wb1S4i000A

— Carl Bialik (@CarlBialik) May 27, 2016

Consider that this is the first time in the Spaniard’s career that he withdraws from a Grand Slam event he has entered, and that it comes at the French Open, the tournament he has traditionally owned.

Life comes at you fast, and now’s probably as good a time as any to think about a tennis world where neither Nadal nor Federer is as relevant as they have been.

Let’s see, what else did we get over the first week at Roland Garros?

Hmm, well we know that Milos Raonic, though he was very much still in the running when it was announced (i.e. the Canadian has since lost 2-6, 4-6 and 4-6 against unseeded Albert Ramos-Vinola), will add the great John McEnroe to his coaching staff for the grass season.

'Milos has a great team with Ricardo Piatti and Carlos Moya. I'm going to be a consultant on the grass. I'm excited'. McEnroe (Eurosport)

— DavidLaw (@DavidLawTennis) May 27, 2016

Raonic is probably one of a select few players capable of winning Wimbledon, and his hope has to be that the presence of McEnroe can help make the difference in a tight match.

Oh, there was also tennis played this week in Paris and, as usual at the French Open, it was excellent; perhaps none as crazy as this point between Barbora Strycova and Agnieszka Radwanska.

The most fun point of the year, from Barbora Strycova and Agnieszka Radwanska. #RG16: https://t.co/MOzJshp5ZZ

— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) May 27, 2016

As for what lies ahead, all eyes will be on the likely two favourites, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic.

For the former, this French Open is a chance to fully sink her teeth into this 2016 season, where she still has only one title to her name. She’s won a bunch of matches, as she typically always has, sure, but Serena Williams is known for winning tournaments. Better yet, she’s known for winning major tournaments: of her 70 career titles, a full 30 per cent have occurred at Grand Slams.

Williams very well may add a 22nd major title this week in Paris, as she’s yet to truly be bothered in winning her three first matches in straight sets. She’d take it.

Meanwhile, Djokovic will hope to make history at the end of this week by winning his first French Open title, thereby completing the career Grand Slam. It’s become harder and harder to ever doubt his credentials, but possessing at least one title at each Grand Slam would forever etch his name in tennis lore. If ever there remained doubt whether he belonged alongside Federer’s and Nadal’s names, this win would fix everything—and possibly push him over the top.

Djokovic is odds-on favorite to win the French Open. Murray is a distant second; Wawrinka a really distant third https://t.co/SFAvGs6qyK

— Carl Bialik (@CarlBialik) May 27, 2016

And with the withdrawal of his two chief rivals, Djokovic has as good a chance to win Roland Garros as he ever has.

Since Sept. 2010, Djokovic has won 74 of 78 matches against the guys he could face before the final: https://t.co/cYZ582wTo0

— Carl Bialik (@CarlBialik) May 27, 2016

The folks at FiveThirtyEight believe Djokovic would already two French Opens if not for Nadal. Let’s go get the first one.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

French Open 2016 Day 10 Preview: Vintage Venus has a new Swiss Miss on her hands

May 30, 2016

by Caroline Arabel-Vaughn

So the first week has come and gone. Seeds have fallen, rain has fallen, but the greatest news for the Parisian crowd is that not all the French have fallen. The nation’s hopes are still alive in Richard Gasquet as he reaches his first Roland Garros quarter final. With Roger Federer absent from this year’s affair, Gasquet is certainly the most stylish in the draw. And he has been playing at a level where some believe he can inch even closer to ending the 33year drought of Frenchman Roland Garros victory. With a full washout of matches on Monday – the first full washout day since May 30, 2000 – Tuesday’s order of play will be action-packed (if it doesn’t rain again. Our top two matches are:

Timea Bacsinszky [8] vs Venus Williams [9]

There are only two female players to have ever won Le petit As title twice- Martina Hingis and Timea Bacsinszky. And Venus Williams had been around long enough to play both Swiss prodigies. The Martina-Venus rivalry was one of the best rivalries of women’s tennis with their tight 11-10 head to head in Martina’s favour.

However, Venus leads the Bacsinszky head to head 2-0. So why would this be an engaging affair? Because both women are playing awesome tennis right now. The young Swiss is going from strength to strength without dropping a set this tournament. Meanwhile, the former world number one is looking very much like her vintage self.

The Williams game is well known. She’s a power player, attacking from the baseline, and hitting outrageous winners from defensive positions. Venus is also an avid volleyer, using her long wingspan effectively.

The Bacsinszky game is less known, but ever intriguing. The Swiss has a backhand like a whip, and when she cracks it, extreme angles are created. She also loves to drop shot. She has previously dismissed serves with drop shots, much to her opponent’s displeasure.
Perhaps more important, is Timea’s intelligence, endurance, and ability to adjust to the situation on court. She will need those qualities to adapt to the power and speed of Williams.

Bacsinszky’s has won 3 tournaments, but her best grand slam performance is last year’s French open semi final. Williams is a 7 time grand slam champion. However, both players are looking for their first Roland Garros trophy and a place in this year’s quarter finals.

Tomas Berdych [7] vs David Ferrer [11]

Though the rise of Tomas Berdych has never cumulated in grand slam silverware, he still remains one of the greatest threats on tour. Causing memorable upsets, the tall Czech is one of only 3 players to have wins over each of the “Big Four”.

Berdych is a powerful ball striker. His easy grip allows for clean flat strokes. He builds his big-hitting game around a strong serve and trying to dominate the rallies early.

The players have a very tight head to head, with Berdych leading 7 to 6.

If David Ferrer wants to even the score, he will need to do more than play solid defence to Berdych’s aggressive hits. Though Berdych has great footwork on court, he does prefer to stay at the baseline. The Spaniard should try and move him around, drawing him away from the comfort zone. Ferrer must also hold on to his serve, as the Berdych serve often proves impenetrable. This way the pressure will stay on the Czech, who can be mentally fragile during intense moments.

Both men have advanced to the Roland Garros quarters before. Both men are going for their first grand slam win. But when this match is over, only one man will inch one step closer to realising that dream.

PODCAST: Week two at the French Open without Rafa Nadal

May 29, 2016

Welcome back to the TennisConnected Podcast for 2016!

Parsa Samii and Nima Naderi return to discuss week two at the 2016 French Open and review week one action. With Rafa Nadal out of the event, Novak Djokovic has increased his chances of winning the final piece of his Grand Slam collection. We also discuss the women’s draw and the latest news regarding Milos Raonic and John McEnroe.

As always, you can alternatively listen to the #1 tennis PodCast via iTunes and never miss another episode. It is very easy and completely free.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

French Open 2016 Day 8 Preview: Stan will continue to be the Man

May 29, 2016

by Caroline Arabel-Vaughn

By the end of the first week, the grand slams usually see their fair share of upsets. But this week’s upsets have not come from defeats. Injuries have instead taken centre stage this year as the crowd favourites succumbed to body sprains and pains. Roger Federer and Gael Monfils were hampered from even making it to the starting line. Subsequently these last two days saw the tearful withdrawal of Rafa Nadal followed by the emotional departure of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga mid match. The draws have really opened up and we are watching to see who will take advantage of these untimely exits.

Garbine Muguruza [4] vs Svetlana Kuznetsova [13]

When discussing the future of women’s tennis, Garbine Muguruza is clearly leading the young pack. She became a crowd darling having dismissed Serena Williams in two sets at 2014 Roland Garros, and pushing her to the edge the following year during her maiden grand slam final at Wimbledon.

Muguruza’s bold style of play includes a big serve and trademark down-the-line backhand. The world number 4 is aggressive player who loves to take the game to her opponent from the first shot.

Though strong on both wings, Svetlana Kuznetsova will try and put the Muguruza forehand under pressure, as this is the more vulnerable aspect of the Spaniard’s game.

Kuznetsova, one of the tours most underrated players, is a two-time grand slam winner whose trophies include the 2009 Roland Garros Coupe Suzanne Lenglen. The Russian is an all-round player with powerful ground strokes and heavy topspin. Varying her shots with spins and slices often keeps her opponents guessing.

This game will likely be characterised by engaging baseline rallies as each player tries to find the angle or draw the error of the other’s racquet.

Andy Murray [2] vs John Isner [15]

Andy Murray often seems to get more than his fair share towering giant opponent. Having powered through the tour’s tallest player, Ivo Karlovic, in the previous round, Andy now faces off against the tour’s third tallest – John Isner.

Isner’s game is built around a consistent huge serve followed by a powerful forehand. The American will use this weapon to try and hit Andy off the court. He will deliver big serves when it matters most, and use aces to get him out of trouble.

But the Scott’s game matches up perfectly against the big servers. Known as one of the best returners, the world number 2 will neutralise Isner’s greatest weapon, put the ball back in play, then start to tactically break down the American’s game.

Both players are patient to build their points from the back of the court, but ultimately Andy’s superior all-court play will overwhelm Isner. In their five previous meetings, Isner had only taken one set off Murray. We expect Andy to improve on that head to head today with another 3 or 4 set defeat.

Stan Wawrinka [3] vs Viktor Troicki [22]

Troicki is looking to make his first grand slam quarter final. But a formidable Wawrinka stands solidly in his way.

Having come through that near disastrous first round, Stan has found his form again. Blasting through his next two rounds in straight 3-setters, the defending champ is on an upward curve.

The Swiss will aim to keep his first serve percentage high, and ensure he is firing accurately off both wings. This would also be a good opportunity to test out some drop shots.

The Serb had a grinding style of play and with recent improved fitness is moving better in the court. Troicki must hold his serve to keep close to Stan and not allow the Swiss to pull out and run away with the set. He will have to test different tactics against Stan, possibly some net play and slices to throw Stan off his rhythm.

With such humid atmosphere, Troicki may struggle to move the slow ball. Meanwhile Stan will use the heavy conditions to generate more power and dominate the rallies. This game is entirely on Stan’s racquet.

French Open 2016 Day 6 Preview: Gasquet vs. Kyrgios highlight the show

May 26, 2016

by: Caroline Arabel-Vaughn

All was in order on Day 5 at Roland Garros. There were hardy any upsets as the top seeds forged though to the third round. The match of the day was easily the Jo Wilfried Tsonga and Maros Baghdatis five set thriller. Down two sets, the crowd lifted the Frenchman’s spirits and willed him to battle past Baghdatis to take the last three sets. And looking ahead to Day 6, the battles are far from over.

Richard Gasquet [9] vs Nick Kyrgios [17]

The last time Richard Gasquet and Nick Kyrgios faced off on a grand slam court, it was fireworks. There was racquet smashing, swearing, hugging, and heavy fines for both players. According to Nick, some of his favourite matches have been against Gasquet. Their last two grand slam encounters, both at Wimbledon, were blockbusters. Nick prevailed the first year, saving an astonishing 9 match points. When he lost both the match and his cool the following year, he was accused of “tanking” the game.

Nick’s explosive style of play makes him one of the most exciting players to watch. The talented Australian blasts off all wings. His forehand fires and his backhand X and his serve X. However, against a player as consistent as Gasquet, Nick’s greatest challenge will be his focus and concentration.

Meanwhile Gasquet will have to ramp up his aggression, particularly to close out against Kyrgios. He has one of the most admired backhands in tennis, and will use this weapon to produce winners and draw errors of the Kyrgios racquet. Moving Nick around the court with savvy net play could also be an effective strategy.

If Nick is wise with his shot selection, he could upset the Frenchman. But with the home crowd behind their countryman, Gasquet may channel that energy to sail over the finish line. Regardless, it will be a memorable match of elegance versus showmanship.

David Ferrer [11] vs Feliciano Lopez [21]

David Ferrer and Feliciano Lopez have something in common. Both Spaniards have appeared in over 50 consecutive grand slams. Along with Roger Federer, these three have played the most consecutive grand slams among all active players on tour.

Ferrer is arguably the best active player on tour who has never won a grand slam. Winning over 300 matches on clay, he is second only to Rafa Nadal. Though he grew up on clay courts, he admitted a recent preference for hard courts, particularly as he gets older and looks to shorten the points.

The tenacious counter-puncher will attack Lopez’s backhand slice, while agile Lopez will use the net to his advantage. Lopez, known for his superb grass court game, will likely also serve and volley. He will pummel down his big serve, but Ferrer being one of the best returners will be able to get the ball back in play. Both players are extremely fit and will endeavor to move each other around the court. This could easily be a 5-set match!

Simone Halep [6] vs Naomi Osaka

Unseeded Naomi Osaka is the centre of much chatter as she seems poised to be the next rising tennis star. This is the second successive grand slam appearance where the Japanese has made the third round, having reached the same level at this year’s Australian open. With a big serve and lethal forehand, her aggressive play could possibly rattle Simona Halep.

However, defeating Halep would not be an easy feat as the Romanian is one of the best movers on court, with the ability to hit winners from defensive positions. She is compact, quick, tactical, and surprisingly powerful. The world number five is expected to win this match, but if Osaka continues on her current high level of play, it could be competitive. This first head to head could either prove a learning experience for the teenager or produce an exciting upset.

French Open 2016 Day 4 Preview: Wawrinka, Raonic and Radwanska in action

May 24, 2016

by: Caroline Arabel-Vaughn

With two of the year’s hottest players not making it past their first rounds, the women’s draw has certainly opened up. Third seed Angelique Kerber crashed out in 3 sets while fifth seed Victoria Azarenka retired from a knee injury. The men’s draw was a mélange of smooth sailing and close calls for top seeds, as Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal eased through, while Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray clung on to fight another day.

Stan Wawrinka [3] vs Taro Daniel

The pressure to match last year’s fearless assault on Roland Garros surely must overwhelm. Perhaps the most unpredictable of grand slam champions, Wawrinka seems a player who can just as easily beat or lose to anyone on tour. The defending champion survived a first round scare, defeating Lukas Rosol in five sets, and narrowly escaping notoriety of becoming the first defending champion to lose in the first round. With the tightness and nerves hopefully dispatched, a free-swinging Stan should easily dominate Taro Daniel in tomorrow’s match.

This will be Daniel’s 4th Grand Slam, and his first time reaching the 2nd round. His last outing against a top player, he was quietly dismantled by Murray in Davis Cup straight sets. However, having played most of his ITF-Futures tournaments in Spain, the American-born Japanese prefers clay courts to hard surfaces. With both players favouring the red dirt, Roland Garros makes for an apt first meeting. If Stan is off his rhythm, Daniel may push the Swiss to a close set. But our prediction is Stan in 3.

Milos Raonic [8] vs Adrian Mannarino

Another first meeting is Milos Raonic and Adrian Mannarino. Many are anticipating for Raonic to break through this season and win a grand slam. He is a man with the belief. And of course he is the man with that serve. He crept close at this year’s Australian Open, being one of the final four. Though his game is most effective on faster surfaces, he did reach quarter finals at both Monte Carlo and Madrid. But with 8 career titles, he is yet to win one on clay.

Mannarino was runner up for 2 tournaments last year, and has had a career-high ranking of No.27. The Frenchman, a savvy lefthander, has an unorthodox game and can be tough to read. This may throw Raonic off balance at times, but Raonic being the more consistent and focused of the two, should ultimately prevail without too much trouble.

Agnieszka Radwanska [2] vs Caroline Garcia

It has already been five years since Caroline Garcia made her unforgettable debut on Philippe Chatrier. Two games away from dismissing Maria Sharapova, the teenager showed an array of exciting talent. Though Garcia is yet to have her breakout season, hopes will be high amongst her fellow countrymen.

Still one of the most fascinating players to watch, Agnieszka Radwanska’s court craft was no match for Jovanovski. The number 2 seed raced through her first round, allowing her opponent only two games.

This match up will be intriguing as each player has entirely different strengths. Garcia hits hard and generates a lot of pace. Radwanska specializes in slices and lobs. Garcia, one of the best servers on the woman’s tour, even has a kick serve. Radwanska’s biddable serve is a weakness. Garcia’s tactics can be mediocre; Radwanska is the magician of point construction. Head to Head is close, with Radwanska leading Garcia 2 to 1. Hard to call. Aga should win, but stretched to 3 sets.

Tennis Elbow: Looking ahead to Day 3 of the 2016 French Open

May 23, 2016

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the first weekend of the 2016 French Open.

Already, this edition of Roland Garros profiles as one of the better ones of recent memory—right?

Okay, it sure is too soon to decide anything when there’s a good 14 days of the event remaining, but the first day of this 2016 French Open sure was a memorable one.

Though, really if we’re being honest, the memorable headlines started before Roland Garros even did.

Indeed, on May 19, the Swiss (and people’s champ) Roger Federer withdrew from the event and ended his streak of 65 straight Grand Slam events at which he had competed. “I have been making steady progress with my overall fitness, but I am still not 100 percent and feel I might be taking an unnecessary risk by playing in this event before I am really ready,” Federer said. “The decision was not easy to make, but I took it to ensure I could play the remainder of the season and help to extend the rest of my career. I remain as motivated and excited as ever.”

Just like that, one of the sport’s most impressive streaks was over.

Federer’s (fake) alter ego took to the Twitterverse to ease the pain of his legion of fans, reassuring them that while we may not see him on the court in Paris, he would certainly remain active on the social media platform with the little blue bird: because while you may need good knees to hit tennis balls, you don’t need them for #goodtweeting.

Still, not all was lost. While the Swiss and foremost tennis player in the world wouldn’t be present, plenty of others would be. And the tennis Gods made sure to heal our wounds a little bit, creating two wonderful, wonderful main draws.

Roland Garros has now started and, well, it seems to have taken a few favourites by surprise. Garbine Muguruza, seeded No. 4 and working on two career French Open quarterfinals, needed all of two hours and 24 minutes to beat Anna Karolina Schmiedlova by the score of 3-6, 6-3 and 6-3.

Boom or bust candidate Stanislas Wawrinka, meanwhile, very nearly busted his way out of the main draw escaped a forceful escape bid from Lukas Rosol and managed to see another day by winning 4-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 and 6-4. Will it propel him to another French Open title?

Wawrinka and Muguruza weren’t the only two either, as a number of big names had more difficulty getting through their opening match than what most had anticipated.

What’s the end result? The end result is that day 3 in Paris promises to be one hell of a ride.

That’s right, day 3 will feature the opening statements from Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal and, who knows, maybe Andy Murray will manage to stick around beyond the first Tuesday as he and Radek Stepanek complete their first match.

There is probably the most notable of six first-round matches that haven’t been completed on the first day of action; Lucas Pouille and Julien Benneteau, notably, appear locked in a back burner of a match, one that could take still quite a long time to complete. We’ll also keep our eyes on Ekaterina Makarova and Sam Stosur, both of whom need to finish their match and both of whom hope to advance.

And don’t forget that through it all, “Roger Federer” will be tweeting; there’s no better way to spend your Tuesday.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

PODCAST: Previewing the 2016 French Open from Paris

May 21, 2016

Welcome back to the TennisConnected Podcast for 2016!

It’s time for the second Grand Slam of the year at the French Open. Parsa Samii and Nima Naderi return to preview both the women’s and men’s draws and provide their take on Roger Federer’s absence.

As always, you can alternatively listen to the #1 tennis PodCast via iTunes and never miss another episode. It is very easy and completely free.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Thiem defends Nice title; Wawrinka wins Geneva Open

May 21, 2016

OPEN DE NICE COTE D’AZUR—NICE, FRANCE

Top seed Dominic Thiem won a match up of youngsters on the ATP World Tour on Saturday, defeating good friend Alexander Zverev 6-4, 3-6, 6-0 in Nice, France. Needing one hour and 39 minutes to defend his title, Thiem struck five aces and broke the serve of his opponent on six occasions. Winning his third title of the season, Thiem will now head to Roland Garros, where he is seeded No. 13.

Zverev, who was playing in his maiden Tour final, will face Pierre-Hugues Herbert in his opening match at the French Open. The year’s second Grand Slam gets underway on Sunday in Paris.

*****

BANQUE ERIC STURDZA GENEVA OPEN—GENEVA, SWITZERLAND

Top seed Stan Wawrinka completed his Roland Garros preparation in style on Saturday by defeating Marin Cilic 6-4, 7-6(11) to win the title in Geneva. In a match that featured great shot-making from the back of the court, it was Wawrinka who saved three set points in the second set before prevailing. Notching his 14th career title, Wawrinka will now head to Paris to defend his title. The Swiss star defeated Novak Djokovic to claim the Championship last year.

French Open 2016: Tournament Predictions

May 21, 2016

by: Tom Cochrane

With the 2016 French Open commencing tomorrow, it’s time to predict both the men’s and women’s singles champions.

On the men’s side, world number one Novak Djokovic is desperate to complete the career Grand Slam by capturing the one major title to have eluded him to date, whilst on the women’s side top seed Serena Williams is looking to defend her title and claim the twenty-second Grand Slam title of her illustrious career.

Will Djokovic finally find success in France? Can anyone stop Serena? Read on for my thoughts and predictions.

*****

Tournament predictions – Men’s Singles

Tennis fans worldwide will be disappointed with the withdrawals of Federer and Monfils from the tournament, but there are still a number of fascinating story-lines heading into the second major of the year.

Djokovic remains head and shoulders above everyone else on the ATP Tour, and once again returns to Roland Garros fixated on lifting the trophy. The Serb has had a couple of hiccups during this year’s clay-court season, losing to Vesely in Monte Carlo and Murray in Rome, but in some ways I think those losses will benefit him. Last year, Djokovic arrived in Paris on a 22 match winning streak, which he extended to 28 consecutive wins before being upset by a red-hot Wawrinka in the final.

This year, Djokovic doesn’t bear the burden of any winning streak, and I think we will see the Serb remaining very low-key in the early stages of the tournament, seeking to negotiate his way through to the second week of the tournament with a minimum of fuss.

There’s no doubt Djokovic wants the French Open title more than any other at this point in his career, but he and his coaching team understand the importance of staying in the moment and not letting desperation or the weight of expectation affect his performance. The Serb has a relatively easy path through to the quarter-finals, where he is likely to face former finalist Ferrer, who is always a tough opponent on the red dirt, or Berdych, who has struggled against the ATP Tour’s elite performers in recent times.

Nine-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal has had a very good clay-court season after a poor 2014, the Spaniard picking up titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. Federer’s withdrawal allowed Nadal to become the tournament’s fourth seed, meaning he won’t face Djokovic until the semi-finals. However, the Spaniard has a tough path to the final four, with match-ups against bogeyman Fabio Fognini and the much-improved Dominic Thiem on the cards.

Nadal was very close to beating Djokovic in Rome, but couldn’t seal the deal in either of the sets the pair played. If the fourth seed can boost his confidence by performing well in the lead-up to the semi-finals, I think the Nadal-Djokovic clash, if it eventuates, will be far closer than last year’s encounter in Paris which Djokovic won easily.

In the bottom half of the draw, defending champion Stan Wawrinka and the in-form Andy Murray are scheduled to meet in the semi-finals. A finalist in Madrid and the winner in Rome, Murray is enjoy a second consecutive season of success on clay and I think the Scot has his best ever chance of claiming the French Open title. He’s got a tricky first round match against the veteran Stepanek, but I fancy Murray to move through to the quarter-finals without too much trouble. There he will likely face Kei Nishikori, who has proved himself to be one of the ATP Tour’s best clay-courters in recent years. I favour Murray to come out on top given the best of five sets format, but he’ll need to be at his best if he faces Nishikori as predicted.

It will be interesting to see how Wawrinka backs up last year’s sensational victory at Roland Garros. The Swiss star has a relatively easy section of the draw, although French counterpuncher Gilles Simon is lurking as a tricky potential opponent. In the quarter-finals Wawrinka could face eighth seed Milos Raonic or former US Open champion Marin Cilic, but I think the third seed will be too strong should he face either Cilic or Raonic.

In many respects, Wawrinka enters this tournament with nothing to lose after his unexpected 2015 triumph, and that may allow him to play with the freedom and aggressive shotmaking that saw him stun Djokovic in last year’s final. A Murray-Wawrinka semi-final, should it eventuate, would pit Wawrinka’s hard-hitting against Murray’s counterpunching nous. Murray’s improved first and second serves have delivered results so far this year, and I think the Scot is in better form than Wawrinka right now.

After splitting the Madrid and Rome finals, it would be no surprise to see Murray and Djokovic square off in the French Open final. Murray won the last encounter, in Rome, but for a variety of reasons Djokovic was not at his best in that match. Djokovic has had the better of Murray in their recent Grand Slam finals and, assuming Djokovic is at full health, I think the Serb will be too strong for the Scot over five sets.

Winner: Novak Djokovic

Finalist: Andy Murray

Semi-finalists: Nadal, Wawrinka

Outside Chance: Nishikori, Thiem

*****

Tournament predictions – Women’s Singles

After her surprise loss to Angelique Kerber in the final of the Australian Open earlier this year, one can be sure that Serena Williams will be determined to reconfirm her status as the dominant player on the WTA Tour.

Williams has a few tricky players in her section of the draw, including former champions Ana Ivanovic and Francesca Schiavone, but I think the American will march her way into the quarter-finals in impressive fashion. Victoria Azarenka, Williams’ toughest opponent on tour, is her likely opponent in the final eight and whilst such match, if it eventuates, would no doubt be tightly contested, I favour Williams on the red dirt as Azarenka is a far better performer on faster surfaces.

Timea Bacsinszky was a surprise semi-finalist at Roland Garros last year and the Swiss player could well make another deep run this year. Other players in her very open section of the draw with a chance of making the semi-finals include Madison Keys, who reached the final in Rome, and Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber, who will no doubt have much greater confidence following her triumph in Melbourne.

In the bottom half of the draw, two-time French Open quarter-finalist Garbine Muguruza is well-placed to make a deep run, with the Spaniard finding herself in a weaker quarter of the draw. By contrast, the bottom quarter of the draw is littered with talent, with second seed Agnieszka Radwanksa paired with former French Open finalists such as Errani, Safarova, Stosur and Halep.

After a difficult start to the year, Simona Halep enjoyed a much-needed confidence boost by claiming the title in Madrid and, under the guidance of the  very astute Darren Cahill, I think the Romanian can put together a run to the final four in Paris. If she and Muguruza square off in the semi-finals, as predicted, I favour Muguruza courtesy of her greater firepower.

A Muguruza-Williams final would be a repeat of last year’s Wimbledon final, where Muguruza had some chances but Williams was ultimately too composed and experienced. Muguruza has beaten Williams in Paris before, but if the pair meet in the final this year then I think Williams will handle the pressure of the situation better and eventually prevail.

Winner: Serena Williams

Finalist: Garbine Muguruza

Semi-finalists: Bacsinszky, Halep

Outside Chance: Azarenka, Radwanska, Kerber

That’s it for now. Enjoy the fortnight of tennis from Paris and be sure to follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

Next Page »