Rafa obviously comes into this year’s event as a strong favourite! Personally, I can’t see past him, yes he finally got beat this season on clay by Dominic Thiem, but over 5 sets I just think it’s a totally different kettle of fish. Even over the best of 3, the task has looked mammoth, prior to his loss to Thiem, Rafa had won Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid dropping just two sets in total. The first of these was in his first match back on the dust against Kyle Edmund. He was narked and stayed on the practice courts, missing the player’s party. It obviously struck a cord as the only set he dropped after that was against Fognini in Madrid, Fabio notorious for causing the Spaniard problems in the past. Put this over 5 sets and the thought of him being worn down doesn’t really come into my mind. It’s possible but it’s going to have to take precision tennis for up to 5 sets, painting lines and running Rafa ragged. Anyone fancy it?? Which half of the draw the Spaniard is drawn in will be absolutely massive! Muzza and Djokovic are the world’s top two and last year’s finalists and during the last year, they have shown us why! Of late that has not been the case though and Dominic Thiem and Sascha Zverev have been the next two stand out performers behind Rafa for me. They will undoubtedly both feel like they have a chance against Nadal, but being in the other half would make it other players problems until the final. Both of these lads are the two that look likely to step it up in the next major with the quality of their performances over the last few weeks. They both possess major weapons and that is a necessity, especially if you have any chance of dismantling Nadal in Paris. Muzza has looked tired and out of sorts of late and though not impossible, this looks too big a challenge at the moment. Djokovic has shown us a few glimpses and like Rafa is a totally different animal over 5 sets, I just feel that last year’s champ will go somewhere along the line though. He would need a favourable draw to be there on finals day. Stan Wawrinka doesn’t look to be in the best of form either, but that can mean nothing with Stan as he can just gain confidence and momentum at any time. It’s just very difficult to read his form and know when that golden spell is going to come. Like Muzza and Novak, I don’t think it will come in Paris. Others players who have a chance of going deep at RG are the classy Pablo Cuevas and I also expect Lucas Pouille to have a good run in front of his home crowd. Cuevas has shown supreme consistency on clay and is a very tough nut to crack on this surface, one of my ”useful operators” remarks. Pouille can blow a bit hot and cold, but I would expect him to be in the zone here in front of the Parisian crowd. I’ve always liked how the Frenchman has looked, a top match player over 5 sets. Other outsiders, I think could go well are Pablo Carreno Busta and Jack Sock, both have shown they can get some top results on clay. Players who can spring a surprise or two here are John Isner and Gael Monfils (a fit Gael that is). Both of these players have the ability to breed on confidence, so get them into the tournament and they can prove very difficult opposition to put away. Diego Schwartzman is also worth looking out for, though I’m still not sure about the plucky Argentinan over five sets for two weeks. A player all the seeds will want to avoid early on, I’m sure of that!
I don’t think I can remember a Grand Slam event that has been quite as open as the Women’s event is. A look at the betting here proves that with Halep favourite at a top priced 5/1. The next few in the betting are defending champion Garbine Muguruza and Elina Svitolina. Halep had initially hit a golden patch of form again and looked certain to go off a very strong favourite for RG, that was until the torn ligament in the final of Rome. She says the Doc rates her at 50/50 for the event. I wonder if this is a bit of gamesmanship from the Romanian, in the bid to ease the pressure, time will tell. Fitness and mental toughness will be two of the biggest barriers in the Romanian’s way here, on her assault at the title. Her form over the last few weeks has made her the favourite and rightly so. I still think it might be a bit too soon for Elina Svitolina and that the ups and downs over the two weeks will catch her out at some stage. I think there might just be a little bit more maturing to do to make the next step up from winning premier events on the tour. I have been made to eat my words in the past so let’s see with this case! Last year’s champion Muguruza also comes in with injury concerns but I have to say I haven’t liked her chances for a while now anyway. With the exception of the semi’s in Rome there hasn’t been a lot to get excited about for the Spaniard since her quarter-final at the Oz Open. World number one Angie Kerber looks a highly unlikely winner, so poor have been her results this year, something drastic will have to alter. She has never made it past the last 8 here either! I think Karolina Pliskova will also get found out on her journey in Paris, the Czech doesn’t move well enough on the surface for me and her shots just don’t penetrate the court as well as the other surfaces. I like the chances of 2009 champ Svetlana Kuznetsova and think that Kiki Mladenovic will go close. Kuzzy has always been a big game player and should sense the opportunity that is up for grabs. A complete player who should have won more slams, this could be the time again. Mladenovic has impressed in both Stuttgart and Madrid on the faster clay. I actually prefer her game on grass or hard but you can’t argue with her preparation. Like Pouille, she will need to embrace the home crowd, not always an easy task for some players that! Other players I think could have decent runs are Carla Suarez Navarro and Marketa Vondrousova. Vondrousova only has to navigate qualies and she will be a big danger in this draw! Big time. So open is this event though that plenty of young guns such as Daria Kasatkina, Jelena Ostapenko, Anett Kontaveit and Ashleigh Barty could all go well and will fancy their chances of making a mark at a Slam. Venus has been playing well all season and may well go a few rounds here but I’m still thinking that Wimbledon could be her time. Kiki Bertens and Anastasija Sevastova have also posted some decent efforts of late. Petra Kvitova will hopefully make her return to the tour here and that is obviously great news, this would make sense to get some match practice in before the grass. Another outsider with a squeak was Laura Siegemund, who has sadly had to pull out of the event here after apparently cracking her knee in Nurnberg last night, let’s hope it’s not too serious for the German street fighter.
Let’s see what tomorrows draw throws up!
Andy Del Potro