The French Open begins tomorrow and on the men’s side, the tournament looks a bit of a formality for Rafael Nadal still. The Spaniard looks to build on his current 10 titles, hoping to extend a record that will be unbeatable long after he has retired from the sport. Nadal must win the trophy to hold on to his World No.1 ranking otherwise Roger Federer will regain the top spot despite his absence.
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It’s difficult to project a scenario where Nadal loses at all, never mind before the final. Even with rain expected for large parts of next week, wet conditions will do little to halt him against weak opposition in the first week. He ensured that he would return to No.1 with a three set win in the final of Rome. The first seed that Nadal can play is Richard Gasquet – the Frenchman has beat Nadal just once in sixteen attempts at professional level. That was their very first meeting in a 2003 Challenger, where Nadal retired after losing the first set. Jack Sock is 1-3 on European clay this year, opening up chances for others to make the fourth round and face Nadal. Denis Shapovalov seems the most likely of those as the other seed – the Canadian has adapted well in his first main tour season on clay but was outplayed in his 6-4 6-1 loss to Nadal in Rome.
Even as sixth seed, Kevin Anderson seems an unlikely quarter finalist at the French Open of all tournaments. However, he has the chance to do it if he can see off the threat of a number of competent clay courters. Paolo Lorenzi and Pablo Cuevas are opponents early on while Diego Schwartzman will be targeting this draw for his first French Open quarter final. The Argentinian is now at a career high of No.12 in the rankings despite a relatively disappointing clay swing so far, going 4-5 in Europe. Opening against Philipp Kohlschreiber, Borna Coric will be dangerous as an unseeded player in this section. The Croatian has shown major improvement in 2018 although there may be some concerns after he retired down 4-1 in the opening set in his match in Rome.
Although it will likely not matter too much, Nadal should be happy to avoid the better of the top players in the 3-8 seedings range. His projected semi final would be against Marin Cilic, someone who has never been too productive on clay at the highest level. Cilic has made just one French Open quarter final with his performances in the Masters events not too impressive either. Best placed to take advantage of the draw here are Fabio Fognini and Kyle Edmund. Fognini’s talent is undeniable although he remains as inconsistent as usual. He was one of the few to win a set off Nadal this spring while Edmund is progressing nicely. He beat Djokovic and Goffin in Madrid while pushing eventual finalist Alexander Zverev in 2 tight sets in Rome.
Juan Martin Del Potro‘s form in North America would have had him placed as one of the main threats for Nadal going into Paris but that looks less certain now. After a lengthy rest period, he disappointed in Madrid and Rome with just two wins to his name. He retired down a set in Rome due to a groin injury which may well hinder him going into the tournament. Albert Ramos-Vinolas may advance to the fourth round from his section, providing a good opportunity for one of Tomas Berdych and John Isner to make the quarter finals or better. It would be Berdych’s fourth quarter final in Paris should he get that far. Isner and Ramos faced off a few weeks back in a potential showcase of their matchup, with the Spaniard winning in three tiebreak sets.
With Alexander Zverev finally getting into form, the German looks set for a slam breakthrough – something that sounds bizarre when you consider he is the World No.3 and here, the No.2 seed. Zverev was on a 13 match winning streak on clay over Munich, Madrid and Rome before his loss to Nadal in the Rome final. He was a break up in the deciding set only for a rain delay to allow Nadal to regain his composure and go on to win. Zverev’s disappointments at slams have been well documented but his current level of play suggests he is best placed to qualify for the final from the bottom half of the draw. Had Stanislas Wawrinka found some form coming into Paris, the potential fourth round matchup would have been fascinating. The former champion most recently lost to Martin Fucsovics 6-4 6-0 in Genevea, suggesting he is nowhere near ready to establish himself as a contender once more.
The Zverev-Dominic Thiem quarter final seems likely to produce the finalist from this half. There was a glimpse of things to come in Madrid with Zverev winning in straight sets to reduce the deficit to 2-4 against Thiem in the head to head. Thiem’s run of two straight set semi finals in Paris may be in danger due to Zverev and a few other players in the quarter. Stefanos Tsitsipas has been showing great potential this year although it may be a bit too early for the Greek. Kei Nishikori is 19th seed and has continued to play well in his comeback from injury. However, his struggles against Novak Djokovic in recent weeks may mean he is not ready for the next step given the Serbian is still nowhere near his top level.
Djokovic had shown improvement in Rome though, making the semi finals. He pushed Rafael Nadal in a tight opening set before falling in two, his best tournament since his return. He had been plagued by bad three set losses over the past few months but the longer format may suit him going into Paris. The quarter he is in offers possibilities to advance far with Grigor Dimitrov and Roberto Bautista Agut the top names standing in the way of him and the quarter finals. Agut has struggled on clay at the first sign of higher level opposition while Dimitrov has failed to build on his Monte Carlo semi finals run and goes into Paris with three straight losses, albeit to three opponents inside the top 25.
One of those was players was 10th seed Pablo Carreno Busta, who will hope to at least match his quarter final of last year in Paris – the first in his career. The Spaniard will hope to grind his way past potentially two of the more powerful hitters in the game – although it is hard to guarantee that both Gael Monfils and Nick Kyrgios will make it that far. Kyrgios may struggle having not played on European clay this year, last playing in Houston. Meanwhile, Monfils will still have to make it past 8th seed David Goffin. The Belgian has gone 9-4 on clay this year with two Masters quarter finals. Three of those losses came to top 4 seeds at the tournament, suggesting that Goffin is a good thing to go deep until he meets one of the top stars. He would meet Grigor Dimitrov at the quarter final stage, the same round he lost to the Bulgarian in Monte Carlo.
Prediction – Rafael Nadal def. Alexander Zverev in the final