At the start of 2017, there seemed to be 2 clear challengers for the French Open title – Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, the latter of which was seen to have a great chance of completing a career grand slam to add to his new No.1 status. Rafael Nadal appeared to be fading but 5 months on, he is the clear and odds on favourite in a number of places while the aforementioned duo have been struggling all year. Meanwhile, the form player prior to the clay and current Race No.1 Roger Federer decided that his season would be better suited concentrating on the grass and hard courts and hence will be not competing at the event.
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Nadal has been in blistering form and it seemed like he was set to go into Paris unbeaten during the European clay swing. He picked up titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid before losing in Rome. Having beaten Dominic Thiem in the two tournaments previous, it seemed he would make it three in a row but the Austrian made his claim for being a contender with an impressive straight sets victory over Nadal. Perhaps it is a good thing for Nadal that he doesn’t have the spectre of an unbeaten clay run hanging over him but he is now such a heavy favourite that all the pressure is now back on him to win his 10th French Open title and move back 1 closer to Roger Federer’s record of 18 after missing the opportunity to catch up in Melbourne.
He had to withdraw from the event midway through last year so will be roaring to go when the event begins on Sunday. “It’s true that since the beginning of the season I am happy the way that I played. I think I played well in almost every event that I was in. I played well on hard, then played great on clay. I’m happy about the events that I won – three events I have won have been very important for me.” he said. His route to the final will likely see him meet with either Dominic Thiem or Novak Djokovic in the semi finals – any other choice would be a major shock even with Djokovic’s inconsistent 2017. Threats prior to that include a potential fourth round with Jack Sock and a possible quarter final against Milos Raonic or Grigor Dimitrov. Dimitrov was close to taking out Nadal in Melbourne but faltered at the last. The Bulgarian has also struggled for form in recent months and not built on his excellent semi final run.
Djokovic is still several thousand points behind Andy Murray in the ATP rankings but can make a big charge for the No.1 spot in the next few months if he was to pick up at least one slam. His 2017 has been a disaster by his standards and sees him only 7th in the race after 5 months of the tour. A 2nd round loss at the Australian Open followed by multiple losses to Nick Kyrgios on the hard court swing didn’t bode well for him coming onto the clay. He failed to make the final of Monte Carlo and Madrid before finally getting there in Rome. However, it still didn’t work out for him as Alexander Zverev put on a stunning display to win his first Masters 1000 title at the expense of the World No.2 and move into the top 10 for the first time himself. Djokovic will likely have the edge over many of these opponents but it has to remain a concern that he couldn’t get it done in a final even when he didn’t have to face Nadal on this occasion. The previous round saw one of Djokovic’s best displays for a long time, dropping just one game to Dominic Thiem a day after the Austrian’s surprise win over Nadal.
World No.7 Dominic Thiem is amongst the second tier of contenders for the title and has shown potential with another good run so far this year. He picked up the Rio title earlier in the year before making finals in Barcelona and Madrid. While he was unsuccessful on both occasions, he did manage to avenge his losses to Nadal in Rome although his loss to Djokovic in the semi finals put somewhat of a dampener on that. However, anyone who can defeat Nadal on clay and constantly make the deep end of tournaments has to be seen as a contender. “The win over Rafa was of course a big thing for me,” said Thiem in his pre-tournament press conference. “I mean, I played the best player on clay three times in three tournaments. I learned a lot from those matches.” All eyes will be on the projected quarter final between he and Djokovic but Thiem will have to outlast an opponent who beat him on clay already this year in David Goffin. The Belgian won a three setter in Monte Carlo before Thiem’s run in Spain.
It’s amazing to think that the World No.1 is something of an afterthought but that is the case with Andy Murray coming into this tournament. After the high of making World No.1 last year, he has had an even more troubling 2017 than his rival Novak Djokovic. He comes into Paris just 4-4 on European clay and has lost three of his last four matches – two to opponents that are far from contenders in Borna Coric and Fabio Fognini. The loss to Dominic Thiem doesn’t look so bad in retrospect but as a World No.1 it’s obvious that expectations are much higher for him. He did contemplate if the high of No.1 has contributed to his struggles prior to the tournament. “I was just saying it happens a lot in sport when, you know, if you achieve something quite big it can be quite natural to maybe struggle for a few months. I have been training as well as I could the last few months, you know, just maybe in a couple of matches it’s just been a little bit flat.” he said. Murray’s opening round opponent is a competent clay courter in Andrey Kuznetsov but it is a third round with Juan Martin Del Potro that stands out. The Argentine star did lose to Gastao Elias in his last outing but if both are at their best we could have a first week classic on our hands.
Murray would have to beat Stan Wawrinka and one of Kei Nishikori or Alexander Zverev to make the final if seeds performed as expected in his half of the draw. There’s no doubt he would be battle-tested if he did get there but Wawrinka and arguably even Zverev will fancy their chances at taking out Murray. Already a champion at Roland Garros, Wawrinka has been under the radar with early losses in Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid. He plays in the Geneva final today but that won’t make up for his struggles of the past month. New top-10 player Zverev comes into the tournament with 2 clay titles including his first Masters. He is relatively new to best of 5 although it is difficult to judge based on previous results given the German’s rapid improvement over the past 12 months. Zverev’s story will be one to watch out for but a run to the title that could well be Nishikori-Murray-Wawrinka-Djokovic/Nadal suggests that it will be a step too far, at least for one year.
SF: Stanislas Wawrinka def. Andy Murray
SF: Rafael Nadal def. Novak Djokovic
F: Rafael Nadal def. Stanislas Wawrinka