Tennis - French Open Preview
The eagerly awaited second Grand Slam of the 2017 professional tennis season gets underway today and the elite of both the ATP and WTA Tours will attempt to lift the coveted championship trophies in two weeks’ time. As is normally the case at Grand Slams, the top 10 seeds more often than not contend the finals and the French Open is no different. The men’s tournament has witnessed only one winner seeded outside the top three seeds over the last decade (Wawrinka 2015 seeded 8) and, in that period, only one player reached the final seeded outside the top five (Soderling 2009 seeded 23).
Only four active players have won the French Open over the last decade and Nadal rises above the rest with an astounding seven titles in this period (nine in total between 2005 and 2017). The only other players to win the title in this period were Federer in 2009 (does not play this year), Wawrinka 2015 and defending champion Djokovic in 2016. After a blistering return to form on the red dirt during this year’s European Clay court season, Nadal is the clear favourite to win an unprecedented tenth French Open title and it’s hard to oppose him given the form of his main rivals such as Murray, Djokovic and Wawrinka on clay this season.
Of the three Wawrinka (14/1) appeals the most as a former winner and more importantly he avoids Djokovic and Nadal, who are in the bottom half of the draw. None of the players in his quarter of the draw will hold any great fear for him as he’s beaten them all in the past and, if he makes it to the latter stages again and is fully fit, he’s more than capable of beating anyone over the best of five sets. The other main challenge may come from the NextGen stars Thiem and ninth seed Zverev, and of the two Zverev (16/1) appeals the most as he avoids Nadal and Djokovic.
He surpassed Thiem recently by landing a first Masters Series title at Rome where he swept aside Djokovic in the final in straight sets. Zverev does face a very tough opener against the experienced veteran Verdasco, but there are rarely many easy matches at Grand Slam level and he defeated Verdasco at the Madrid Masters recently in straight sets, which is a big positive.
He also resides in Murray’s quarter of the draw, but potentially won’t meet the number one until the quarter-finals. There’s no guarantees he will meet Murray as the Scot faces some potential early banana skins, such as the aggressive Kuznetsov in round one, Klizan (nearly beat Wawrinka in the Australian Open this year) in the second round, the big hitting Del Potro in round three then possibly Berdych (sseded 13) or Isner (21) in the fourth round. Zverev’s main challengers in his section of the draw look like Nishikori (sseded 8) and Cuevas (22) and this could be Zverev's first main big challenge as the Uruguayan has been very strong and consistent on clay this season and beat the young German at the Madrid Masters recently.
Looking at the bottom half of the draw the best approach to making a potential profit could be opposing Djokovic in the Fourth Quarter and Thiem (10/3) and Ramos-Vinolas (25/1) are in good enough form to take advantage should the world number two falter like he has done so many times this season.
The women’s event is as wide open as ever with Serena Williams not playing and top seed Kerber, third seed Halep and defending champion Muguruza are all out of form and struggling with injuries this season. From the top half of the draw, 2016 semi-finalist Bertens (40/1) seeded 18 proved last year she is more than capable of winning this tournament and the signs look good again as she has just comfortably landed the Nuremberg Cup. From the bottom half of the draw 16th seed Pavlyuchenkova (55/1) is turning in to a much more consistent player. She has always been at home on clay and at Roland Garros, having been a quarter-finalist here in the past and, with none of the players in the bottom half of the draw really setting the world alight on clay this season, she looks over priced and worth siding with.