Can Simona Halep and Rafael Nadal defend their titles in Paris at the 2019 French Open?
On the latest edition of the Beyond the Baseline Podcast, host Jon Wertheim and Jamie Lisanti break down the 2019 French Open men's and women's draws and preview the second Grand Slam tournament of the season. With Simona Halep and Rafael Nadal returning to defend their titles, Wertheim and Lisanti discuss the possibility of Halep winning her second major title and Nadal winning an incredible 12th title on the clay in Paris. Ahead of the tournament's start on Sunday, Wertheim and Lisanti also discuss the best first round matches to watch; the top off-court storylines that could dominate the conversation at Roland Garros; dark horse picks that could make a run; top players to keep an eye on it the draw; their picks and predictions for the winners; and much more.
Jon Wertheim: Naomi Osaka is bidding to win three straight majors—something no female player has done except for Serena Williams in the last quarter century. Naomi is attempting to do that and I don't like her odds. You know why? Because she plays the winner of Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka. Those are two major winners in the past. They will play in the first round and the winner gets to play Osaka. Then I see other players I see Maria Sakkari, who beat Karolina Pliskova in Rome and is an ascending young player. I see Caroline Garcia, who was in the top 10 not that long ago. Madison Keys, a semifinalist last year at Roland Garros is in that quadrant. And same for a player from America. She is 37 years old. I suspect you've heard her name. Serena Williams is in that quadrant. And even Bianca Andreescu, who won Indian Wells. It's an interesting draw for Naomi Osaka. If I were a betting man, I don't like her chances here. It's a rough, rough draw for Osaka.
Jamie Lisanti: And you forgot Ash Barty, all the way down there in that quadrant too.
JW: You know you're right. Wow. That's what we would call a quarter of death. This was not a great draw for either Williams sister. I am jumping ahead to the bottom half of the draw and I see that Venus plays Elina Svitolina, the ninth seed.
JL: Unseeded Venus Williams.
JW: You gave me a softball. You're exactly right. This is why it's so important to be a top 32 player or to have a top 32 seed. If you’re number 33 and below, you could face anyone.
Give me your top three picks in order.
JL: After the draw came out, that first quarter just literally shook up everything. I just hit delete on my Word document. You got to give Serena a chance. I mean just like Federer on the men's side—someone who has hasn't played there in awhile or just hasn't played that much—they're both late in their careers but at the end of the day, they are both big time champions. Serena has won three times in Paris. You can't count her out. I don't care about the knee injuries. I don't care about her not playing as much. If she gets rolling here, I don't see why she can't do some sort of damage. Simona Halep has a good chance, especially now after seeing her draw. She’s been kind of moving quietly under the radar in the past few months leading up to this tournament, which I think is the way she kind of prefers to operate. And I think that could help her.
JW: No titles in 2019 for Simona Halep. You are picking the player who's not only the defending champion but as we record this, she's also the betting favorite. So you are seeing a lot of people in agreement with you.
JL: Who are you picking?
JW: I have some recency bias with Pliskova coming off the Rome title. I go back to Serena. What do we always say about players when they get older? A lot has to go right. I don't think a lot is going to go right for Serena unfortunately. I mean I think if she had a soft draw, if the weather cooperated, if she got through the first week without much of a sweat. But boy, she's probably going to have to work just to get through the middle weekend. And you wonder what she has left. We just don't have the data points on Serena right now. The ball striking is second to none the competitive will is second to none. She's beaten six players this year. So I think we just haven't seen the match play.
JL: I was going to say Sloane Stephens—I think she is the wild card here. Which side of the bed is she going to wake up on? She was a runner up last year and I think she really thought she could win that match. I remember her seeing her afterwards and she was a lot more visibly upset at the loss. That could help her this year.