Home | Comment |

Preview | Roland Garros 2020

Unusual time and conditions may upset Rafa's routine

Courtside in Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros
Courtside in Philippe Chatrier | Crosscourt View

By Stephen Higgins | 26 September 2020

It’s almost October and we’re about to embark on the last grand slam of the year. And of all events, it will be the French Open on red clay. 2020 really is the strangest year!

While it’s unclear how many spectators will be allowed into Stade Roland Garros due to Covid-19 restrictions, we will at least have a sizable portion of the top players.

Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and our newest major champion, Dominic Thiem, are all in the men’s draw. On the women’s side, there are notable absentees including defending champion Ash Barty (safety fears), US Open champion Naomi Osaka (hamstring) and Bianca Andreescu (recuperating).

With heavy autumnal conditions, possibly accentuated by a new ball, expect an odd tournament with some long matches.

Men’s Draw

The French Open poses the same question every year: can any man stop the King of Clay? Well, in this most peculiar of years...maybe.

12-time champion Rafael Nadal arrived in Paris after a disappointing turn in the Italian capital. The Spaniard was flung from the quarter-finals by an outrageously good Diego Schwartzman. Remember that almost all warm-up clay events have been cancelled so the Mallorcan is without that usual preparation.

Rafael Nadal
12-time champion Rafael Nadal | Beth Wilson

This should not prove an issue in the opening rounds, but the possibility of Kei Nishikori in the third, and long-time nemesis Fabio Fognini in the fourth, will be of concern. If the 34-year-old survives those challenges, he probably won’t mind a potential quarter-final clash with Sascha Zverev or David Goffin.

On the other side of the draw, the world no.1 will be more than pleased.

It’s hard to see Novak Djokovic losing, or troubled really, in the first four rounds despite the presence of solid guys like Hubert Hurkacz and Karen Khachanov. The 2016 champion is then projected to meet Roberto Bautista Agut or Matteo Berrettini in the last eight. Again, you’d expect him to win unless there’s a surprise of New York proportions.

The other chief contender is of course Dominic Thiem, the new US Open champion and a two-time finalist in Paris. After his extraordinary Flushing Meadows effort, the Austrian skipped the clay warm-ups to rest his fatigued body. I don’t think the lack of practice will be as big a concern for Thiem as he is a natural clay courter.

The 27-year-old will certainly need to find form quickly with Marin Cilic first up. From there, the draw gets uglier with potential bouts against Reilly Opelka (second round) and Casper Ruud (third) ahead. We may then see a blockbuster fourth round between Thiem and Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka or Felix Auger-Aliassime. Rome finalist Schwartzman could await the winner of that tussle.

There probably isn’t a winner beyond those three but a number of players can cause trouble.

Daniil Medvedev
Daniil Medvedev | Crosscourt View

Daniil Medvedev has a decent route to the second week if he can repeat his US Open trick and defeat countryman Andrey Rublev. There may also be strong runs from Schwartzman and a Canadian who is really coming into his own. Denis Shapovalov made deep runs in both New York and Rome and is now a top 10 player.

Finally, will we get some magic from Stefanos Tsitsipas who has found winning form in Hamburg?

Women’s Draw

We are sadly without Ash Barty and Naomi Osaka this fortnight so Simona Halep will be the clear-ish favourite.

The 2018 champion and two-time finalist loves Paris and must be brimful of confidence. Halep has won three straight tournaments in Dubai, Prague and Rome.

Simona Halep
2018 champion Simona Halep | Crosscourt View

The 28-year-old has a good draw here and her relentlessness and consistency should lead to the last eight. There, she could face anyone from Jo Konta to Maria Sakkari, Kiki Bertens and even former champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Karolina Pliskova, Elina Svitolina and Sofia Kenin make up the remainder of the top four seeds but two of them may struggle to last in Paris.

Pliskova retired in the Rome final with a leg injury and it’s unclear how well she has recovered. Kenin on the other hand was bounced out of the Italian capital with a double bagel from Victoria Azarenka. If the conditions are as slow as feared, it won’t favour the Australian Open winner.

Svitolina will be one to watch though. The Ukrainian - who skipped the US Open - made the quarters of Rome and is into the final of Strasbourg. Her Roland Garros draw is manageable up to the fourth round where she could meet Anett Kontaveit or Elise Mertens.

As for other contenders, there are many. Or are there?

If the pattern holds, only six other women are likely to win: Kiki Bertens, Serena Williams, Petra Kvitova, Aryna Sabalenka, Jo Konta and Victoria Azarenka.

From that selection, Victoria Azarenka is clearly in the best form after her stupendous run to the US Open final. As so often happens in tennis, the Belarusian looks likely to meet Serena Williams again, this time in the fourth round.

Serena Williams can of course be a factor in Paris but the slow conditions and a tricky draw are problematic. The 23-time major winner may have to beat Azarenka, Kontaveit and Halep back-to-back to make the final.

Karolina Muchova
Karolina Muchova | Crosscourt View

As for outsiders, I’ll be intrigued by the progress of Elena Rybakina, Maria Sakkari, Karolina Muchova and another former champion, Garbine Muguruza.