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Djokovic, Nadal, Thiem: Which of Roland Garros' Big 3 will prevail?
Or could someone else spring a surprise? A Roland Garros men’s preview.
Published Sep 24, 2020
2020 Roland Garros previews: Expert Picks | Men's Preview | Women's Preview | Top 5 First-Rounders | Men's Draw | Women's Draw | Quarter-by-quarter analysis | Make Your Picks
Once upon a time, in the days when Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic were the top three seeds, we held our collective breath as the Roland Garros draw was made and we found out who had ended up in whose half. This year, there was a new actor in that familiar drama. While Djokovic and Nadal are still at the top, the injured Federer’s role was played by newly-minted major champion, and two-time Roland Garros runner-up, Dominic Thiem. Again, we waited to see who would end up in whose half.
Today we found out: Thiem is scheduled to face Nadal in the semis, while Djokovic could play No. 4 seed Daniil Medvedev in that round.
There are, of course, 124 other players contesting the delayed, 2020 edition of Roland Garros. Here’s a look at how the draw shook out, and who it might favor.
Djokovic comes to Paris at the tail end of a topsy-turvy month. He started it by getting himself defaulted from the US Open, but has since stabilized himself with a title run in Rome. All of which leaves the Serb where he usually is: On the top line of the draw, and one of three favorites—along with Nadal and Thiem—for the title.
Of the three, Djokovic has the easiest path to the final. He’ll start against Sweden’s Mikael Ymer; the first seed he could face is No. 29 Hubert Hurkacz; and the second-highest seed in his quarter is Matteo Berrettini. The Italian is obviously a talent, but he also never been past the third round at Roland Garros.
It may be more likely that Djokovic will face either Roberto Bautista Agut or Pablo Carreño Busta—who got the default win over Djokovic—in the quarters. Both of those stubborn Spaniards could be a challenge, but by that stage of the tournament I’m guessing Djokovic will have settled into a strong clay-court groove.
First-round matches to watch: Berrettini vs. Vasek Pospisil; Hurkacz vs. Tennys Sandgren; Bautista Agut vs. Richard Gasquet; Jan-Lennard Struff vs Frances Tiafoe
Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, the top two seeds here, make a puzzling pair. Both are among the cream of the Next Gen crop, but are either of them in a place to make of the most of their potential over the next two weeks? Medvedev is coming off an opening-round loss to Ugo Humbert in Hamburg, while Tsitsipas is coming off an epochal, six-match-points collapse to Borna Coric at the US Open.
Neither will have a cakewalk in his first-round in Paris: Medvedev plays hard-hitting Marton Fucsovics, while Tsitsipas faces Spain’s Jaume Munar. All in all, though, there are worst quarters to be in: The first seed Medvedev could face is Nikoloz Basilashvili; for Tsitsipas, it’s Filip Krajinovic.
Three dark-horse seeds: Denis Shapovalov, who made the semifinals in Rome last week; and Andrey Rublev and Dusan Lajovic, who have both played well so far in Hamburg this week.
First-round matches to watch: Medvedev vs Fucsovics; Tsitsipas vs. Munar; Shapovalov vs. Gilles Simon
Thiem is the most crucial question mark in the men’s draw. How will winning his first major title, after working so hard and waiting so long to do it, affect him? Will he be mentally fried, or fired up for more? It’s anybody’s guess right now.
One thing is clear: He’ll have to earn his second Slam just like he did his first. Thiem starts against Marin Cilic; he could play big-serving Reilly Opelka after that; on-the-rise dirt-baller Casper Ruud in the third round; 2015 Roland Garros champion Stan Wawrinka in the fourth round; Nadal in the semis; and Djokovic in the final.
Player to watch: Diego Schwartzman. The Argentine is coming off a runner-up run in Rome that included a win over Nadal. He seems to have a manageable road to the quarterfinals in Paris.
First-round matches to watch: Thiem vs. Cilic; Gael Monfils vs. Alexander Bublik; Felix Auger-Aliassime vs. Yoshihito Nishioka; Wawrinka vs. Andy Murray. The last time the Swiss and the Brit played at Roland Garros, in a five-set semifinal in 2017, they both ended up needing surgery.
Can we say that a player who has won a tournament 12 times will have to run a “gauntlet” if he wants his 13th? That’s probably an exaggeration, but on paper Nadal’s road doesn’t look like a smooth one.
He’ll face 83rd-ranked Egor Gerasimov in his opener, and possibly 32nd-seeded Dan Evans or Kei Nishikori in the third round. But after that, things could get spicy. In the round of 16, Nadal is scheduled to play Fabio Fognini, who has beaten him on more than one big occasion. In the quarterfinals, he could face Alexander Zverev, who is coming off a final-round finish at the US Open. In the semis and final, Nadal will likely have to go through Thiem and Djokovic back to back.
Nadal looked strangely lackluster in a loss to Schwartzman in Rome this weekend, but Paris always has a way of settling hm back down. Last year, he lost in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid—but he was his old, unbeatable self at Roland Garros.
First-round matches to watch: Evans vs. Nishikori; David Goffin vs. Jannik Sinner
Semifinals: Djokovic d. Shapovalov; Nadal d. Thiem