Before each day's play at the 2019 French Open, we'll preview three must-see matches.
The Spaniard and the Belgian have played just four times. Nadal has won all three of the meetings on clay, but Goffin sprung a surprise and beat Rafa on indoor hard courts at the ATP Finals in 2017. At 28, Goffin is still as silky-smooth from the baseline as ever, but his oft-injured body has taken a beating over the years, and he’s a couple of seasons removed from his peak, when he finished in the Top 10 for the first and only time. Goffin has part of what you need to challenge Rafa: an excellent two-handed backhand that he can take on the rise and direct to either corner at will. But he doesn’t have another part: height. At 5’11”, he’ll still be returning Nadal’s crosscourt forehands from up in his hitting zone. There should be some great points, though. Winner: Nadal
“I know probably more about his dad than about him,” Federer said of the prospect of facing Casper Ruud, who is the 20-year-old son of Christian Ruud, a Norwegian player whose career was on the downslope just as Federer’s was revving up in the late 90s. While this match has been billed as a battle of generations, it can also be seen as a proxy fight between rivals; Ruud grew up idolizing Rafael Nadal, and he has trained at his academy in Mallorca. Not surprisingly, he’s proficient on clay, and he plays with plenty of topspin. He has had something of a breakout season in 2019, cracking the Top 100—and then the Top 70—and reaching his first final, in Houston. Is Ruud ready to beat Federer at the French? I’d say he’s still a year away. Winner: Federer
Like Osaka vs. Azarenka, this match-up of once and future Top Tenners feels like it should be happening in the second week, rather than the third round. But to be honest, neither woman has been anywhere close to her best of late. Muguruza, a two-time Grand Slam champion, is down to No. 20 in the rankings; Svitolina, after a strong start to the season, has been slowed by a knee issue. Neither has reached a quarterfinal at any of this year’s French Open tune-up events. Svitolina leads their head to head 5-3, and she won their only meeting of 2019, in Dubai, with ease. But I’ll take Muguruza in this one; if the 2016 Roland Garros champ is going to come out of her funk anywhere, it’s probably going to be Paris. Winner: Muguruza