After the dramatic US Open, in which Dominic Thiem won his first grand slam and Naomi Osaka proved that she is one of the best hard court players ever by winning her third slam, we move to the French capital Paris for the second grand slam in the post-COVID-era.
The COVID situation in France is not rosy. The country is seeing an upsurge in the number of cases (around 15,000 daily). Still, unlike the US Open, the authorities will allow up to a 1000 spectators a day to watch the matches. The Grand Slam will miss a lot of high profile faces such as Roger Federer (out for the season with a knee injury), Nick Kyrgios (COVID concerns), the defending women’s champion & world no.1 Ashleigh Barty (harsh lockdown in Victoria) and recently crowned US Open champion Naomi Osaka (hamstring issues).
Rafael Nadal: It’s hard to bet against a man who has won the title 12 times in the past. He is the king of clay and has a record of 93-2 at the slam. But the preparation has not been ideal for Rafa. He did not defend his US Open title citing COVID fears and lost in the quarterfinals of the Rome Masters, a title he has won 9 times in the past. The draw for Nadal is challenging. In the round of 16, he could face Fabio Fognini. Fognini is one of the few players who has the ability to beat Rafa on clay, having defeated him 3 times on the surface, including their most recent meeting on the surface at Monte Carlo 2019. He might face Zverev in the quarterfinal and Thiem in the semi-finals. Both of these guys are in good form, with Thiem being an exceptionally skilful player on clay. There are concerns about his match practice and Rafa himself said that he has always been beatable on clay. That being said, Nadal has the habit of underplaying his chances and nobody likes the prospect of facing him at Philippe Chatriette, a court that is akin home to him.
Novak Djokovic: Djokovic has had a rollercoaster of 2020. His tennis has been incredulous. He has a record of 31-1 in 2020.That one loss being the disqualification he faced at the US Open post unintentionally hitting a lines person. He has been criticized for his decision to hold a tournament amidst the Covid-19 pandemic (that eventually became a COVID hotspot) and his views on vaccines. He recently resigned from the position of president of the ATP council. Novak would be more than happy to reverse the series of bad news cycles that he has found himself in 2020. What better way to do that than to win his 2nd French Open. The prospects look good after he won his 5th Rome Masters crown last week. Novak has a relatively easier draw. He might face Khachanov (H2H 3-1) in the round of 16. Matteo Berrettini, the no.7 seed is in his quarter of the draw, though given the surface it’s likely that he might face Roberto Bautista Agut. The Spaniard has defeated him 3 times, but never on clay. In the semifinals, Medvedev is his expected opponent. This semifinal could be a good one, as Danil has the game to take out Djokovic on clay. That being said, a Novak vs Rafa final seems highly probable.
Dominic Thiem: Thiem started the year with a bang. He was up two sets to one in the Australian Open final and had Novak Djokovic on the ropes. Eventually, the Serb prevailed, handing Thiem his 3rd grand slam final loss. Something exactly the opposite happened in the 2020 US open final. Thiem was down 2-0 in the US Open final. In the end, he won the title in the final set tie-breaker. The win might give Thiem the much-needed belief to take on the Big 3 in grand slams. Thiem has an impressive record at the Roland Garros. He has made it to the finals in the previous 2 editions, losing both times Rafael Nadal. The key for Thiem would be to avoid lengthy matches in the opening rounds and to conserve his energy for the later battles. Thiem did not take part in a warm-up tournament for the French Open, which might end up being a good decision. Thiem has a tricky draw. In the round of 16, he could face the 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka (H2H 1-3) or the 3-time grand slam winner Andy Murray (H2H 2-2). In the quarters, Monfils (H2H 6-0) or Schwartzman (H2H 6-2) are his likely opponents. This could be followed by a clash with Nadal in the semis and Djokovic in the finals. It is difficult to defeat Novak & Rafa in the same slam. But Thiem has the power, stamina and strokes to do it and it wouldn’t be a surprise if it is third time lucky for him at the Roland Garros.
Player to watch out for
Diego Schwartzman: Diego, standing at 5’6, is the shortest player in the ATP top 100. Despite the disadvantages that come with a short height ( a weaker serve and less oomph on the groundstrokes), he has repeatedly proven that he is not to be taken lightly. Diego has one of the all time best returners, comparable to the likes of Djokovic, Agassi & Nadal. He is a threat on clay; the surface favoring those having returning prowess. Recently, he convincingly defeated Nadal at the Rome masters. Schwartzman could face Coric (H2H 2-2) in the round of 32 and Monfils (H2H 2-2) in the round of 16. From there on in lies the challenge of Thiem, Rafa and Novak for the Argentine.
SF1: Novak vs Medvedev
SF2: Nadal vs Thiem
Final: Nadal vs Djokovic
(Cover image credits: www.rolandgarros.com)