On this week's Beyond the Baseline podcast, Rennae Stubbs discusses her French Open predictions, Rafael Nadal's chances and much more.
On the latest edition of the Beyond the Baseline Podcast, host Jon Wertheim talks with Rennae Stubbs about the clay court tournament results so far and her early thoughts on the French Open predictions. Will Rafael Nadal be the favorite once again at Roland Garros, or will he see a tougher challenge from other players looking to dethrone the King of Clay? And how will Roger Federer play into the equation as he returns to the dirt for the first time since a quarterfinals finish in 2015? On the women's side, is Simona Halep the favorite? Wertheim and Stubbs also discuss the increasing age of players in the sport; how much the clay court lead-ups factor into French Open results; and much more.
Jon Wertheim: [At the 2019 French Open,] would you take [Rafael] Nadal versus the field?
Rennae Stubbs: I'd take the field.
JW: You’re not even getting to that point—you think there’s a favorite. You’re picking [Dominic] Thiem.
RS: Yes, I am. Listen, if Rafa ends up doing winning another one, it won't surprise me at all because you know he could work his way into a tournament once his confidence is up. What I'm talking about is the fact that he has to have very low confidence going into the French Open after what happened to him in Australia. He did not have a good swing. He pulled out of a lot of events on the hard court. Then he hasn't had the clay court build-up. He still has some tournaments left—like I said I'll reserve my opinion until after Rome fully. But he goes into the French Open for the first time not being confident at all in himself and his tennis and that we can never have said in the past. No matter what he did in the hard court season, he came to the French Open on fire. That’s not the case this time.
JW: Let me ask you this. If he gets to the finals, he will likely play six matches on one court and one match the second court, on Lenglen. How much of advantage is it?
RS: Oh, huge. Massive.
JW: Why don't we talk about this more? I'm leading the witness.
RS: It's an enormous advantage. And nobody talks about it. I mean it's safe to say, if you go out and play on it on Philippe Chatrier against a player that's been out there a few times or a bunch of times, certainly it is good for them to have played out there. But if you've never played out there, or certainly if you've only played once maybe twice, it is such an advantage. The feel is different. The look is different. For the first five to six games, as a player, you're telling yourself: Keep your head down. Stop looking around. Oh my God, I'm on Centre Court. Oh my God. Oh my God. All these people, all the TV's are on me. I'm playing Rafa. That's all that's going through your head.
JW: Even just the dimensions: Where am I standing? How much room do I have until I hit the flower boxes?
RS: Everything is so different. And you know certainly for young players, I mean it's just like overwhelming for them. But you know even for a veteran player that's ever been out there. If you put Rafa on Court 8 at Roland Garros, he would probably win 99.9% of the same matches that he's won on Philippe Chatrier as well. Although he wouldn't have the room to run.
JW: I mean Serena Williams at the U.S. Open: there is one court on which she’ll play. I got to think that is an advantage.
RS: That's a huge advantage. Massive. Court speeds are different. I wouldn't say that the court speeds necessarily—well it is a little bit different in Paris. It can change from Lenglen to Philippe Chatrier, it’s a little bit harder on Lenglen and a little bit higher bounce—I think, if I can remember, it's been a while since I played there. But they are still different too and that's unusual.
JW: What about the guy who has not played a lot of clay court tennis over the last few years. Roger Federer. What kind of chances you give him at Paris?
RS: I think he'll go deep for sure. I think that you know this is a guy that you can pretty much write a ticket to the quarters straight away just because he's so good. I mean talk about playing every match on one court—he will play every match on Chatrier.
JW: Fan favorite… For what it's worth, he's popular everywhere he goes, but he's three hour train ride from home. Is he a contender?
RS: Absolutely. I mean the only guy that's really negated him winning five or six French Opens is Rafael Nadal. So you know if Rafa is certainly not at his absolute best, I mean there's absolutely no question that Roger can win the French Open. No question. Once these top players get through the first week, which they will do, that's when you start going: OK, these are the guys that you expect to be there. Now when you talk about the outsiders—like the Thiem and Wawrinkas and these guys that can do damage—they will certainly have a bigger say this year than they've ever had at the French Open.