Is Nadal primed for La Decima? Can Halep land her first major?: French Open 2017 predictions
As the French Open approaches, The National’s sports desk provide their predictions for both the men’s and women’s singles events. To move on to the next prediction, click on the red arrows in the bottom right corner of the image, or if using a mobile device, simply swipe.
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JON TURNER — ONLINE SPORTS EDITOR
Champion — Rafael Nadal
Sometimes it’s best not to fight it, and just go with the obvious choice. Even in past years when Nadal was struggling with form and his body was held together by duck tape, he was still a force to be reckoned with on the red clay of Paris. But there are no such issues in 2017 for the nine-time French Open champion. Nadal, 30, enters Roland Garros close to his devastating clay court best. The Spaniard strung together a 17-match winning streak, collecting titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid before his run came to an end against Dominic Thiem in the Rome quarter-finals. Factor in the best-of-five set format and all signs point to Nadal claiming ‘La Decima’.
If not Nadal then who? — Novak Djokovic
Apologies if these are proving to be the most obvious predictions possible, but the 2017 Roland Garros winner will be one of two players. If Nadal inexplicably, miraculously gets stopped at some point along the way, then the defending champion from Serbia will retain the title. Djokovic’s game may not be where it was 12 months ago, but he is playing himself into form at just the right time. The defeat to Alexander Zverev in the Rome final shows there’s still work to be done, but over a two-week, best-of-five sets tournament — and with his abundant experience of major finals — Djokovic is best-placed to triumph if Nadal falls short.
Surprise package — Andy Murray
Is it cheating to choose the world No 1 — and last year’s finalist, no less — as a dark horse? Given Murray’s alarming slump, it seems as though any top 30 player with a capable clay court game will fancy their chances against the 30-year-old Scot at present. His defeats to Borna Coric and Fabio Fognini in Madrid and Rome respectively were meek, and the fact he is struggling to identify the problem is a big cause for concern. But this is still the No 1 player in the world and if he can build up some momentum in the first week, a respectable run to the semi-finals is certainly not beyond the three-time major winner.
Disappointment — Dominic Thiem
The Austrian has a game perfectly suited to clay and his recent form has been mighty impressive, with runs to the final in Barcelona and Madrid — losing both times to Nadal, so no shame there — before defeating the Spaniard in Rome last week. His decimation at the hands of Djokovic in Italy, though, highlighted the inconsistencies that can sometimes plague his game. If he has one of those days against a solid clay court specialist, the world No 7 could be a high-profile first week causality.
Champion — Svetlana Kuznetsova
With no Serena Williams, Angelique Kerber woefully out of form, and current favourite Simona Halep struggling to overcome an ankle injury, a blanket could be thrown over 15 players who could all be this year’s Roland Garros champion. Kuznetsova is in solid if unspectacular form, but the Russian world No 9 knows how to win in Roland Garros, as her 2009 title can testify. With no much to split the leading contenders, her added experience could make the difference.
Surprise package — Kristina Mladenovic
Having established herself as a fine doubles player, Mladenovic is enjoying somewhat of a breakout season on the singles circuit. Her power hitting and strong net game helped her land a first WTA singles title in St Petersburg in February, and the slower clay courts have not limited her powers, either, with runs to the finals of both Stuttgart and Madrid. Playing in front of her home crowd should offer added motivation, and the world No 14 from France is capable of a deep run in Paris.
Disappointment — Angelique Kerber
Since returning to world No 1 earlier this season, it’s been tough going for Kerber, who is yet to win on the WTA Tour in 2017. Indeed, she’s reached just one final and one semi-final this season, and her poor run of form looks set to continue in Paris. Kerber’s remarkable 2016 season was achieved by riding a wave of momentum with sky-high confidence fuelling her every victory. Confidence is now low, there is zero momentum, and it could be early curtains for the German at Roland Garros.
GRAHAM CAYGILL — SPORTS EDITOR
Champion — Rafael Nadal
It’s obvious, but the Spaniard has been superb on clay over the past month, racking up titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid and it would be a big shock if he does not leave Roland Garros on June 11 with a 10th French Open title. The only factor that may count against him is endurance and his body holding up to two weeks and seven matches. There is no sign of him having any issues at present so everything points to Nadal standing tall.
If not Nadal then who? — Stan Wawrinka
There is nothing in Wawrinka’s form going into the French Open that screams potential challenger. He’s only won two matches in total at tournaments in Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome. But then his form in 2015 was not particularly impressive before winning the Roland Garros title. And that is the beauty of Wawrinka; you do not know what you are going to get. If he finds his form he can be unplayable at times, and he will be someone Nadal and the other big names would be wary of meeting in the later rounds.
Surprise package — Alexander Zverev
It may seem like a predictable name to drop in here, given he won the Rome title last week, but the 20-year-old German has been one to watch for a while. Despite his promise, he has never been beyond the third round at a grand slam before, but with the confidence of beating Novak Djokovic in the Rome final under his belt, he will expect to break new ground and be a factor in the second week of the tournament at the very least.
Disappointment — Andy Murray
Rarely in recent years has there been such low expectations of a world No 1 going into a major, such has been the Briton’s mediocre form in 2017. If he gets to the quarter-finals, on his current levels of performance, that would be an achievement. An exit before the semi-finals has to be considered a disappointment, given he reached the final last year, and has only once since 2010 not made the last four at Roland Garros.
Champion — Elina Svitolina
Had an inconsistent build-up to Roland Garros, going out in the first round in Madrid to a qualifier in Saisai Zheng, but then reeled off wins over Karolina Pliskova and Simona Halep on her way to winning the Rome title. The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships winner is having a great 2017, and while still fairly inexperienced at 22 at fighting for top honours, in a wide open draw the Ukrainian has a great chance of winning her first grand slam title.
Surprise package — Madison Keys
The American has been in and around the top 20 for the past two years without having the breakthrough performance at a major tournament. While the world No 13 had a poor run on clay so far, losing every match she has played, she can go well on the surface, as the run to the last 16 last year highlighted. If she can navigate the early rounds, Keys has the ability to go deep into the tournament.
Disappointment — Johanna Konta
The Briton has become one of the top names in tennis in the past 18 months, but clay is clearly not her favoured surface. She has gone out in the first round the past two years in Paris, and there has been nothing in the past month of action to hint that the world No 8 will be a contender in the second week, with her focus more likely turning towards Wimbledon.
AHMED RIZVI — SPORTS REPORTER
Champion — Rafael Nadal
Nadal is back with a vengeance after struggling over the past two seasons, winning Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid, where he defeated Novak Djokovic for the first time in eight matches. The world No 2 was subdued in straight sets, but not many can stand up to Nadal when he is at his best, on his favourite surface. The man has won a record 52 titles on clay and has a 91.6 (382-35) winning percentage on the surface. This year, that percentage is an even better 94.4 (17-1). Can anyone stop him from winning a 10th French Open crown? Seems unlikely.
If not Nadal then who? — Dominic Thiem
Why? Because he is the only man to defeat Nadal on clay this season. Yes, he was drubbed 6-1, 6-0 by Djokovic in his next match at the Rome Masters, but that was an anomaly. Thiem has been the second-best player on clay this season, winning in Rio de Janeiro and reaching the final in Barcelona and Madrid. The right draw and he could make a huge impact with his one-handed backhands.
Surprise package — Stan Wawrinka
Might seem a bit harsh to put a former French Open champion and world No 3 as the surprise package, but Wawrinka comes to Paris with a 2-3 record on European clay courts this season. He has looked miserable thus far, but we know how he can switch it on at the majors. In any case, the form book has never been a great gauge for the Swiss player.
Disappointment — Andy Murray
The world No 1 has just not been in his elements this season. After a stunning surge in the second-half of last season, his form seems to have petered out. The Scot has lost his last two matches on clay and with him not moving as well as he usually does, the French Open could be a disappointing campaign.
Champion — Simona Halep
Title in Madrid, final in Rome and semis in Stuttgart. Halep is on a hot streak and, with the usual suspects like Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova missing, the Romanian should be favourite for the title. The 2008 French Open junior champion, Halep came up short in the 2014 final against Sharapova, but this could be her year, ankle injury permitting.
Surprise package — Kiki Bertens
A semi-finalist at the French Open 12 months ago when she was ranked No 58 in the world, Bertens could once again be the surprise package at Roland Garros. She has done well in the lead up, reaching the last eight in Madrid and the semis in Rome, and could bring that form to Paris.
Disappointment — Karolina Pliskova
The world No 3 has won only two matches in her five previous main draw appearances at Roland Garros and she is unlikely to improve on those stats this season. Overall, her winning-percentage on clay is a mere 52 per cent and that should tell you a lot.
Updated: May 26, 2017 04:00 AM