The 2020 French Open is upon us. Like the U.S. Open, this will be a different kind of major. We have an autumnal Roland Garros. With a roofed court. And fan capacity that seems to dwindle by the day. And even a new tennis ball this year. And for all these twists, it won’t be as crazier the prospect of player other than Rafa Nadal or Novak Djokovic winning the men’s title.
1. Novak Djokovic: After a dismal—historically dismal—U.S. Open, the world No.1 responded admirably, holding his own in Rome. Getting defaulted from an event and winning the next one is a feat in itself. Nadal is still the homme to beat. But Djokovic—the 2016 champ—is 1a.
2. Rafael Nadal: The man to beat. As always. In Rome, the best claycourt player of all time looked rusty—not unlike the clay itself. But his record doesn’t speak for itself. It screams. He’ll benefit from best-of-five. He’ll benefit from the familiar, spacious court. He’ll benefit from offdays. Some concern over the heavier conditions and the early sunsets. Still, immutably, the favorite until proven otherwise.
3. Dominic Thiem: For the first time in his career, he heads to a tournament as a major winner. You wonder about the state of his mind and body after the two-week odyssey that was the 2020 U.S. Open. But he has had two weeks to regroup. And remember: not only is he a finalist in Paris two years running, but his last win at Roland Garros was a takedown of Djokovic.
4. Daniil Medvedev: Nobody’s claycourter—can this be right? He has NEVER won a match at RG?—could be good for a few rounds on ballstriking alone. But it will be an achievement if he survives the first week.
5. Stefanos Tsitsipas: Well…Last year he lost an insta-classic here to Wawrinka and it took him months to recover. A sensitive soul, this guy. How long before he gets over the tragic-comic loss at the U.S. Open? He gave some indication in Rome, losing in the first round to young Jannik Sinner; but is alive in Hamburg as we write this. Starts against dangerous, Nadal-sparring Jaume Munar.
6. Alexander Zverev: Zverev has won Masters 1000s events on clay and has reached the Roland Garros quarters the last two years. The question: how has he recovered from his disappointment in New York?
7. Matteo Berrettini: Has proven he has top 10 chops. Now a question of taking the next step. Not much of a track record in Paris but two of his three career titles have come on clay.
8. Gael Monfils: Highest-ranked French player (by a considerable margin) is a former semifinalist. Still a great joy to behold, even as the years mount. But his best days are past.
9. Denis Shapovalov: The newest member of the top 10 is coming off a solid U.S. Open and then—reinforcing how well his game translates to clay—a run to the Rome semis. (Where he played a match-of-the-year candidate against Schwartzman.)
10. Roberto Bautista Agut: The cut-and-paste: Steady as she goes, as The Raconteurs would put it. Not likely to win. Not likely to bow out early. The proverbial “opponent no one wants to face.” Much like…
11. David Goffin: We see Goffin in Paris and always remember a) his breakthrough against Federer and b) this freak accident. Not unlike the guy under him (RBA) a steady, reliable, admirable competitor. Who simply has too much skill/pride/enterprise to leave but simply lacks the firepower to stay late.
12. Diego Schwartzman: Coming off a career result in Rome, including a takedown of Nadal, his first top-five win. An admirable overachiever who will always struggle to go seven rounds without getting overhit. But if you are a player, you don’t want to be near him in the draw. And mere mention of his name gives us an excuse to link this.
13. Andrey Rublev: Still only 22, he’s already had quite a career arc. Like Medvedev, never won a match at the French Open.
14. Fabio Fognini: Not a lot of recent data and he is 33. But usually good for a fourth round showing, no more; no less.
15. Karen Khachanov: Bit of a distressed asset. So much to like, not least the Safin-esque game from the backcourt. But the grit, and thus the results, don’t keep up with the talent.
16. Stan Wawrinka: former champs get mentioned. (Even when they are rusty and coming off a coaching break-up and a loss to a teenager…..and drawing Andy Murray off the jump.)
18. Grigor Dimitrov: Inspired by Thiem, Dimitrov keeps treading water a bit; but the skills have never been in doubt.
21. Cristian Garin: 10-2 on clay this season.
23. Benoit Paire: Say this—it’s never boring with this guy.
24. Borna Coric: Will try to build on fine run in New York.
26. Filip Krajinović: Has played in the restart including a drubbing of Thiem in Cincy.
28. Casper Ruud: A player other players discuss often. Headed to the top. 12-3 on clay in 2020.
30. Hubert Hurkacz: A pole-star; and the best player you have, perhaps, never seen.
• Andy Murray: Highly unlikely he has 21 winning sets of claycourt tennis in him. But can prove he can play best-of-five and his tennis cortex remains unrivaled.
• Jannik Sinner: The best teenager in tennis, coming off a fine week in Rome.
• Dominik Koepfer: A late bloomer ascends.
• Lorenzo Musetti: Wait, what? Not in the draw? But we need to namecheck him. Everyone onboard the train!
Upset Special: Sinner d. Goffin
First Round Matches to Watch
• Murray vs. Wawrinka: When was the last time two three-time majors champs battled in R1?
• Thiem vs. Marin Cilic: When was the last time TWO first-round matches pitted major champs against each other?
• Monfils vs. Alexander Bublik: Should be held in a comedy club.
• Djokovic vs. Mikeal Ymer: Djokovic will win, but a good time will had by all. (and how about the small surge for Scandinavian tennis?)
Djokovic d. Shapovalov
Nadal d. Thiem
The defending champ (Ash Barty) is not here, opting out on account of the pandemic. The winner of the previous major (Naomi Osaka) is not here, cautious about injuries. The winner of the major before that (Sonia Kenin) lost her last match 6-0, 6-0. And the winner of the major before that (Bianca Andreescu) is injured as well and isn’t here either. Put that all together and you have anarchy, a Roland Garros women’s field as wide open as Montana.
But wait! In comes Simona Halep to restore order. That’s what we’re predicting anyway. As the fall French Open gets underway. The fog of the pandemic hasn’t lifted, but we survey the women’s draw.
1. Simona Halep: The favorite and 2018 champ hasn’t lost since Australia. After taking the U.S. Open opt-out, she looked organized and fleet of foot in Rome. A potentially tricky first-rounder against Sara Sorribes Tormo, but that will focus her early. Our (decidedly undaring) pick to win.
2. Karolina Pliskova: A top seed at the U.S. Open, she played error-addled tennis and lost early. Responded well in Rome…. until she retired from the final. Health is a concern. So is maintaining self-belief when she runs into trouble.
3. Elina Svitolina: Didn’t play the U.S. Open in order to focus on the clay. Won only three games (against Vondrousova) in the Rome quarters. But remains in Strasbourg draw at the writing. Now 26, is she ready to win big and remove herself from best-player-never-to-have-won-a-major conversation?
4. Sofia Kenin: Well….she lost in the fourth round at the U.S. Open, which was disappointing but not embarrassing. She then went to Rome and lost 6-0, 6-0 to Azarenka. We’ll see how long a result like that lingers, like a bad odor in the backseat of an Uber. Kenin is tough. Kenin can play on clay (she, of course, beat Serena in 2019.) But you fear she is a bit of a distressed asset right now.
5. Kiki Bertens: An admirably professional, easy-to-like player who does her best work on clay. Skipped the U.S. Open to prepare for this. But, alas, she’s in the Halep quarter.
6. Serena Williams: Credit her for playing and continuing the chase for No. 24. But not entirely clear why she’s doing this—especially since it means staying in a hotel. You hope the leg injuries that hampered her U.S. Open won’t hamper this campaign as well. She is a three-time champ in Paris. And she is Serena. And she can’t complain about her draw. But realistically….
7. Petra Kvitova: A bit of a disappointment on the fast courts on New York, falling to Shelby Rodgers. Her flat strikes don’t always the right margin for error on clay. But always capable of top-shelf tennis, and thus always a contender.
8. Aryna Sabalenka: Again, this is becoming a bit voyeuristic. She answers the great hypothetical: “What if a good player hit every ball as hard as possible?” Makes for good viewing. Does not make for great strategy. Make her miss and she will oblige. Jessie Pegula goes first.
9. Jo Konta: Lady Jo comes in having made a coaching change since the U.S. Open parting with Thomas Hogstedt. Starts off against Coco Gauff. If she brings her veteran tennis to bear and gets by that, her draw opens.
10. Victoria Azarenka: What a difference a month makes. Playing like it’s 2013. And transitioned so well from the U.S. Open to clay. Tennis is better when she’s in I-will-not-be-quiet mode. Could play Venus in round two.
11. Garbine Muguruza: Former champion is our pick in lieu of Halep. Nice to see her tennis on an upswing.
12. Madison Keys: Coming off a disappointing U.S. Open that saw her retire with a neck injury. Former semifinalist in Paris who can blast through any surface. A rematch with Cornet—playing in her 55th-straight major—looms in R2.
13. Petra Martic: A fluid and versatile player who offers tennis for the soul. At her best on play and has been deep runs here before.
14. Elena Rybakina: Began the year with no major single wins to her record. She’s now a top 16 seed. Watch her play.
15. Marketa Vondrousova: A finalist last year; but that seems like 1982. Played some fine tennis in Rome that was a long time coming. Tough first rounder again Iga Swiatek.
16. Elise Mertens: One of those solid players who does everything capably, won’t beat herself, will seldom take a bad loss at a big event….but isn’t quite ready to be considered a contender.
17. Anett Kontaveit: Starts against Caroline Garcia. Draws opens after that.
18. Angelique Kerber: Not at her best on clay but a French Open away from a career major.
20. Maria Sakkari: Nearly beat Serena twice at one venue. Still needs to work on closing, but otherwise solid.
21. Jenn Brady: Even on a sub-optimal surface, so much to like after her U.S. Open breakthrough.
23. Yulia Putinseva: A feisty player—with RG success on her resume—who infuriates opponents. And loves doing so.
25. Amanda Anisimova: A semifinalist in 2019, beating Halep—then the defending champ—in the process.
30. Ons Jabeur: This time, with feeling. Her sui generis tennis is all the more punctuated on clay.
28. Svetlana Kuznetsova: Former champs get mentions.
Dark Horse pasture
• Fiona Ferro: One of only six WTA title winners, post-COVID.
• Coco Gauff: Sadly for her, American 16-year-old begins against veteran Jo Konta.
• Jelena Ostapenko: Former champs get mentions. But comes in having lost previous match to Nao Hibino.
• Jil Teichmann: Swiss athlete could face Halep in round two.
• Sloane Stephens: Showed some signs of life at the U.S. Open before retreating against Serena. And she is a former RG finalist. Man, could she use a deep run.
• Venus Williams: has looked terrific in the return and while is not her surface, good for her for competing. And not the worst draw.
• Genie Bouchard: Is winter finally over?
Upset Special: Jessie Pegula d. Sabalenka
First Round Matches to Watch
• Serena vs. Kristie Ahn: Here we go again.
• Konta vs. Coco: Rough first round assignation for both.
• Caroline Garcia v. Anett Kontaveit: Garcia beat the top seed (Pliskova at the U.S. Open. Can she beat the No. 17 seed to kick off her home Slam?
Muguruza d. Kvitova
Halep d. Azarenka