Action in the main draw of the second Grand Slam of the year gets underway in Paris tomorrow. Ahead of the start of play, I’ve set out my thoughts and predictions for the men’s and women’s singles events.
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Read on to find out more about whether Rafael Nadal will be able to capture an historic tenth French Open, and about just who will reign supreme in a wide-open women’s field in Paris.
Tournament predictions – Men’s Singles
What a difference a year makes. This time last year, Novak Djokovic arrived in Paris having won three consecutive Grand Slams and hellbent on achieving the career Grand Slam. The Serb accomplished his goal, but the hangover has been far more severe than anyone predicted.
In the last year, Djokovic has lost his world number one ranking and the Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open crowns, and has parted ways with superstar coach Boris Becker and longtime head coach Marian Vajda. A replacement superstar coach, in the form of Andre Agassi, has recently been engaged. However, given that Paris represents their first time working together, it’s unrealistic to expect too much from the partnership in this event.
Djokovic’s slump has been matched by Andy Murray’s inconsistency, with the Scot hampered by illness and injury and a mediocre run of form since the start of 2017. Murray’s push for the world number one ranking at the end of 2016 was ultimately successful, but appears to have taken its toll on the top seed, in much the same way that Djokovic’s triumph in Paris last year triggered a release of emotion which appeared to affect his intensity in the following months.
The relative decline of Djokovic and Murray has enabled both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to rediscover their past glories, with Federer’s win over his great rival in Australia giving the Swiss maestro an incredible eighteenth Grand Slam title. Nadal has successfully leveraged his positive start to the year into another dominant clay-court season, claiming titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid before a minor slip-up against Dominic Thiem in Rome.
Nadal looks fit and hungry again, and is showing no signs of the confidence issues which had plagued him in the past. Coach Carlos Moya has injected some freshness into the Nadal game plan and, in particular, has strengthened his fellow Spaniard’s first and second serves. The loss against Thiem may well be a blessing in disguise for Nadal, having allowed him a few days of rest and recovery at home in Mallorca before traveling to Paris, and eradicating any complacency he may have accumulated during the clay-court season to date.
With Djokovic and Murray struggling for consistency, Federer skipping the tournament and Dominic Thiem still to properly assert himself at Grand Slam level, Nadal enters this year’s French Open as the red hot favorite. Djokovic and Nadal are due to meet in the semi-finals, and I can’t see the Serb having the confidence or the form to outlast the Spaniard if the pair meet as scheduled.
In the top half of the draw, I think Murray will scrap and grind his way through the first week, but I suspect he may be ousted by Nishikori, assuming the pair face off and the Japanese star’s troublesome right wrist holds up adequately.
Stan Wawrinka’s 2017 form has been patchy to date, but the Swiss star has a habit of producing his best tennis at the biggest events. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Stan the Man take advantage of a fairly favorable draw and make it through to another final in Paris. However, even at his best, I think Wawrinka won’t be able to match it with the man who is looking to break his own records at Roland Garros. No man has dominated a major like Nadal has dominated the French Open, and it would be a magical moment for the sport, and sports in general, if the Spaniard is able to capture “La Decima” this year in Paris. I, for one, won’t be betting against him.
Winner: Rafael Nadal
Finalist: Stan Wawrinka
Semi-finalists: Nishikori, Djokovic
Outside Chance: Murray, Thiem
Tournament predictions – Women’s Singles
Speculation about this year’s women’s tournament has largely revolved around who isn’t in Paris, rather than who is. With Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova not playing for various reasons, the women’s event is devoid of some of the biggest stars on the WTA Tour. That said, the French Open represents Petra Kvitova’s return to the tour after her horrific stabbing, which is a much-needed boost for the event.
With a number of big names absent, and world number one Angelique Kerber struggling for consistency just like Murray, the scene is set for a rising star to announce themselves at Grand Slam level, much like defending champion Garbine Muguruza did in Paris last year. The Spaniard has struggled for form in the twelve months since that marvelous victory, but Muguruza typically plays well in Paris and I expect her to mount a strong defense of her crown.
Elina Svitolina has had a terrific start to the season and, despite being hampered by a thigh complaint, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the young Ukrainian make a deep run into the second week of the tournament. Big-serving Czech Karolina Pliskova is another young star who is knocking on the door of the Grand Slam winners’ club. Although clay isn’t her best surface, Pliskova has the weapons to do damage on any surface, and could well play a key role in the determination of the ultimate champion.
Simona Halep has enjoyed a fine clay-court season, but with recent ankle issues I can’t see the Romanian being able to move around the court with as much power and speed as usual. Given that footwork and court coverage is at the core of her game, that’s a major problem. Similarly, I can’t see Kerber having an impact in this event – to my mind, she simply doesn’t have the consistency and confidence at present to do so.
In my opinion, this year’s women’s singles winner won’t be one of the new breed (although I expect one of them to come close) but, instead, one of the tour veterans who is able to utilise her experience and guile to claim the crown. Aussie Sam Stosur has to be given a chance, with the former US Open champion having made one final and three semi-finals in Paris previously. However, my money is on two-time major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova. The Russian veteran, the only member of the top ten over the age of 30, claimed the French Open title in 2009 and has produced a string of strong results so far this season. In a field with no clear favorite, I’m predicting that the Russian will claim a third major crown and a second French Open with a hard-fought win over Svitolina in the final.
Winner: Svetlana Kuznetsova
Finalist: Elina Svitolina
Semi-finalists: Muguruza, Pliskova
Outside Chance: Halep, Stosur, Svitolina, Mladenovic
That’s it for now. Enjoy all the action from Paris over the next fortnight and be sure to follow my tournament updates and insights on Twitter: @satelliteserve.