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French Open men's preview: Roger in Rafa's half; 'Novak Slam II' quest
Can Djokovic defeat Nadal in the Roland Garros final for the first time?
Published May 23, 2019
View the entire men's bracket at our Roland Garros tournament page.
We’ve come a long way to get where we were after the last Grand Slam event, the Australian Open. In March, we wondered about Novak Djokovic after his early losses in Indian Wells and Miami. In April and May, we wondered about Rafael Nadal after his losses in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, and Madrid. But now that the second Slam of the year has rolled around, those questions have mostly been answered, and Djokovic and Nadal are solidly back at the top of the favorites list in Paris. Will they meet in another, possibly history-changing final? Here’s a look at their paths through the draw, and who might get in their way.
Djokovic will attempt to become the first man in the Open era to win four straight major titles on two separate occasions. Will this opportunity make more determined than he might otherwise be to grab his second title at Roland Garros? I’m thinking yes; how many more Djoker Slams can he possibly hope to have a chance to win?
As far as obstacles go, there’s talent in this quarter, but nobody who qualifies as looming. Djokovic will start against 43rd-ranked Hubert Hurkacz, and could potentially play Sam Querrey, who knocked him out of Wimbledon in 2016, in the second round. The three players in this section who are most likely to give him trouble are Borna Coric in the round of 16, and either Alexander Zverev or Fabio Fognini in the quarterfinals.
Question Mark: Roberto Bautista Agut. The Spaniard beat Djokovic in Miami, but has struggled mightily through this clay season.
First-round matches to watch: Denis Shapovalov vs. Jan-Lennard Struff; Fognini vs. fellow Italian Andreas Seppi; Nick Kyrgios vs. Cameron Norrie; Taylor Fritz vs. Bernard Tomic; Zverev vs. John Millman
Which Dominic Thiem will we see in Paris? The one who looked like a future French Open champion in beating Nadal in Barcelona? Or the one who looked like something else entirely in going out to Fernando Verdasco in Rome? I’m guessing the former. The last two years at Roland Garros, Thiem has made the semis and the final, and hasn’t lost to anyone other than Nadal. Now that he’s among the Top 4 seeds, he can’t meet any of the Big 3 until the semifinals. This is the Austrian’s quarter to lose.
Thiem will start against U.S. wild card Tommy Paul; the first seed he could face is Kyle Edmund; and the second-highest seed in his section is Juan Martin del Potro.
Question Marks: Gael Monfils: Does the aging-but-occasionally-resurgent La Monf have another drama-filled run at Roland Garros in him? He starts against Taro Daniel and could play Verdasco in the third round.
Del Potro: He’s played just seven matches this season, but he looked like his old, pulverizing self against Djokovic in Rome.
Felix Auger-Aliassime: The Canadian kid likes clay, but is he ready for best-of-five on it in Paris? He opens against Jordan Thompson, and could play Delpo in the third round.
It has been 10 years since Roger Federer won his lone French Open title, and three years since he entered the tournament. What can we expect from him?
Federer has played some good tennis on dirt this spring, losing a close match to Thiem in Madrid, and winning a close one against Coric in Rome. Best-of-five over two weeks will be another test entirely, but Federer’s draw makes a second-week run seem doable. He might see his share of Italians along the way: He’ll start against Lorenzo Sonego, and could play Matteo Berrettini and Marco Cecchinato after that. If Federer survives until the quarters, he may find himself up against either Stefanos Tsitsipas or Stan Wawrinka.
Question Mark: Wawrinka. He’s won the title here, but he’s been unable to build any momentum so far this spring. His draw in Paris should give him a chance.
First-round matches to watch: Tsitsipas vs. Max Marterer; Cristian Garin vs. Reilly Opelka; Frances Tiafoe vs. Filip Krajinovic
What could make an 11-time champion at an event even more of a favorite? A quarter that doesn’t include any of his recent nemeses. Thiem, Fognini, Tsitsipas, Federer, Kyrgios: they’re all elsewhere. By the time Rafa has to face one of them, if he ever does, he should come in with his usual full head of Roland Garros steam. Nadal will try to build that head of steam against two qualifiers in the opening two rounds, and possibly David Goffin in the third round, Nikoloz Basilashvili in the fourth, and Kei Nishikori in the quarters.
Question Mark: Daniil Medvedev. He had a strong start to the clay season, with deep runs in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, but has tailed off since. What does the Russian have left for Paris?
Dark Horse: Laslo Djere. The 31st-seeded Serb has won a tournament on clay this season.
Semifinals: Djokovic d. Thiem; Nadal d. Wawrinka
Final: Nadal d. Djokovic