Who Will Win in Paris? French Open Preview

For over five months, professional tennis completely shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Major tournaments including Indian Wells Masters, Madrid Open, and Wimbledon, a Grand Slam tournament, had no choice but to cancel. However, in August, tournaments began returning, and through strict protocols that excluded fans from attending, the US Open successfully took place. Usually, the French Open, known officially as the Roland-Garros, is the second Grand Slam of the year, but now it will be the third and final Slam, making it particularly important in the writing of 2020's legacy in tennis. The clay court tournament will begin in Paris September 27 and end October 11. Although some big names will be missing, including 2020 US Open champion Naomi Osaka, Ashleigh Barty, Bianca Andreescu, and Roger Federer, the tournament remains packed with talent.

On the men’s side, the favorite will remain the same man who has dominated the tournament for over a decade: Rafael Nadal, who will be the second seed at the tournament. Despite his loss to Diego Schartzman in Rome at the Italian Open, beating Nadal in Paris in the best-of-five sets format is almost an impossible task, given his superb historical performance on clay courts with his wicked forehand topspin. Dominic Thiem will present the most formidable challenge to Nadal, as he has made the Roland Garros final the past two years and just captured his first Major title win at the US Open. Thiem operates with assassin-like precision on the court, and whereas many players crumble in long points, Thiem grinded down Alexander Zverev in the US Open final by lengthening the rally, particularly useful against taller players with big serves. Novak Djokovic has also consistently gone deep in this tournament (winning in 2016), so expect to see him in the semifinals. His aggressive baseline play with flat and powerful shots make it difficult for any player to match him shot-for-shot. The most intriguing dark horse pick, though, is undeniably Casper Ruud. The 21-year-old Norwegian has reached a career high ranking of 30 in the world and has won his first career Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Tour title in 2020, propelled by his fluid movement and strong defensive tennis.

The depth in talent in the women’s game means that there are many contenders for the title. 2018 champion Simona Halep has a strong chance to win her third Major title, as she has looked impressively comfortable on clay. She already won the WTA Prague Open in August and just added the Italian Open to the trophy cabinet. Serena Williams has lifted the title in Paris three times and will continue her quest for her 24th Major. Williams has all the tools to win, with her outstanding serve and high-power forehands, but she turns 39 on September 26, so time is running out. With three top-ten overall players absent, this year’s French Open offers her a chance. Among other veterans, a few weeks ago, 2020 US Open Finalist Victoria Azarenka would not have been even considered as a contender, but her impressive run of form in the Western & Southern Open and US Open has made her a threat.

Not all top players are pegged to go deep at Roland-Garros, though. For one, the 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, who was “double bagelled” by Azarenka in Rome (losing 6-0, 6-0) and has not played on top form as of late, in part due to the high number of unforced errors she has been making, recording 22 against Azarenka, compared to Azarenka’s four. Amanda Anisimova will enter with more positivity, though, after making the semifinals last year at just 17 years old, defeating Halep along the way. Her deep backhand and flat, versatile forehand have become her best assets, although she has not excelled on clay so far this year, losing in the second round in Rome and the first round in Strasbourg.

With notable absences, the tournament being played in September instead of June, and qualifying players testing positive for Covid-19, the 2020 French Open will be unlike any of the editions preceding it. Given the unpredictability of the US Open, which gave us an expected Thiem-Zverev final and Azarenka’s poetic resurgence, will the French Open provide a first-time Major winner, or will the old favorites Nadal and Halep take over after sitting out for the US Open?

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