Rafael Nadal will turn 31 next week, he hasn’t won a major in three years and he was beaten by Dominic Thiem in Rome this past Friday.

Despite all of that, Tennis Channel commentator and former world No. 4 James Blake believes that the Spaniard is the overwhelming favorite to win Roland Garros, which begins on Sunday.

And who can blame him? The nine-time French Open champion has had a resurgent 2017, going 36-6—including a 17-1 mark on clay—and taking home titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid.

Also working in Rafa’s favor is the fact that Roger Federer has opted to skip the season’s second Slam, and Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have largely underperformed this year.


“I still have to put Rafa in as a pretty heavy favorite the way he's been playing, the way the other top players have been playing,” said Blake, who will cover the tournament on Tennis Channel from first ball to last. “How much success he's had there, I would think of him as a pretty big favorite.

“…I'm excited to see Rafa right now, playing about as well as he's played in the last five years, back where he's dominated so much at the French Open.  I think it's great for the sport.”

Blake admits that he was among those who, about a year ago, doubted whether Nadal had enough left in the tank to win another major. But even before his dominant clay season, Nadal began to turn heads with encouraging—and sometimes brilliant—performances in Melbourne, Acapulco and Miami.

Thiem, who snapped Nadal’s 17-match winning streak this past week before falling to Djokovic in the Italian Open semifinals, reached the French Open semis for the first time in 2016. Blake loves the 23-year-old Austrian’s game and thinks it’s just a matter of time before he captures his first Slam.


“Thiem, on a given day, can beat anyone in the world, as he showed in Rome,” Blake said. “…Thiem, for many years to come, will be a contender there.  I think he's someone that will get a Slam at some point in his career. If I had to bet on one he would get, it would be Roland Garros.  But it might just be a waiting game for the rest of the tour until Rafa is done collecting all those French Open titles.”

Nadal is expected to be the fourth seed behind top-ranked Murray, 2016 champion Djokovic and 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka. Thiem, ranked seventh behind Federer and Milos Raonic, is 29-12 on the year. He won the Rio Open—his eighth career title—on clay back in February.

James Blake: Rafa is the French Open favorite, but watch out for Thiem

James Blake: Rafa is the French Open favorite, but watch out for Thiem

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