- Get prepared for the French Open, which begins Sunday, with Jon Wertheim's seed reports, upset specials, predictions and much more.
It is Niels Bohr who is usually credited with this gem: “Never make predictions, especially about the future.” The risk-reward ratio suggests you’re better off focusing on the past and present. But part of being a sports fan is speculating on the unknown. So it is that we make our 2019 French Open seed report…
1. Novak Djokovic (SRB): Your 2016 champ returns with designs of winning his fourth straight major. The existential GPS coordinates are unimaginably different from a year ago. There are 127 singles matches to be played between 128 competitors, yet you have feeling that this title will come down to a few pivotal games (and a few pivotal overheads?) deep in the final when Djokovic and Nadal meet for—zut alors— the 55th(!) time.
2. Rafael Nadal (ESP): To paraphrase the sages: “What happened in Monte Carlo, happened in Monte Carlo. What happened in Barcelona, happened in Barcelona. What happened in Madrid, happened in Madrid. What happened Rome, happened in Rome. And here we are.” Not the usual Nadalian spring excellence these past couple weeks. But he wins Rome, which gives him a confidence jetpack. And, more to the point, the guy is to claycourt tennis what James Holzhauer is to trivia. If you want to bet against a guy who’s won 11 titles including last year’s rendition, you are braver than I.
3. Roger Federer (SUI): He’s making his first trip to the Paris sandbox since 2015. After a dazzling March, it was not a powerhouse clay season for RF. But his reputation precedes him, and this we say with certainty: a decade since his lone RG title, he’ll take a backseat to no one in fan support.
4. Dominic Thiem (AUT): Gets a 4.5-star Uber rating for his clay play. A finalist last year; can he go one better in 2019? So much to like about the unassuming Austrian (is there any other kind?), but we worry about the Bo5 factor.
5. Alexander Zverev (GER): This sleek German model resides in the autobahn breakdown lane right now. He’s already lost 10 matches in 2019 and does not project confidence nor contentment. And note he enters the historically inhospitable Land of the Best of Five. Then again, with the spotlight diverted elsewhere, perhaps he’ll emerge.
6. Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE): Not only has he built on his Melbourne breakthrough—he’s done so on clay, including a takedown of Nadal on the dirt. The inevitable Greek Freak comparison: he has an uncanny knack for playing both bigger and smaller than he actually is.
7. Kei Nishikori (JPN): As always, a steady, admirable player…who just lacks the weaponry—and durability—to compete for the biggest trophies.
8. Juan Martin del Potro (ARG): Simply not enough match play this year as he’s been working his way back from still another injury. A semifinalist last year, but is he in shape to play two weeks’ worth of Bo5 matches?
9. Fabio Fognini (ITA): Bravo for pops, who turns 32 on Friday and is up to a career-high ranking of world No. 11. His Monte Carlo title included a 6-4, 6-2 destruction of Nadal. Less rosily: he’s only been to the quarters once in Paris—and that was eight years ago.
10. Karen Khachanov (RUS): A cover-your-eyes bad year so far for a player who appeared poised for a true breakthrough. He’s 10-12 on the year, and comes in colder than a Russian winter, having lost six of his last seven matches.
11. Marin Cilic (CRO): In the midst of a forgettable year and not at full health.
12. Daniil Medvedev (RUS): A fine dark horse. He’s so steady off the ground. The off-brand Djokovic is at a career high ranking. He’s lost three straight matches, but he can play his way into the tournament.
13. Borna Coric (CRO): Another dark horse. Former French Open junior finalist could have (should have?) beaten Federer in his last match and is blessed with a fine draw.
14. Gael Monfils (FRA): All hail Le Monf. His best days are behind him but he plays his role with brio, bringing joy to the kingdom.
15. Milos Raonic (CAN): The Pride of Chelsea cuts no corners…but clay ain’t his surface.
16. Nikoloz Basilashvili (GEO): Some of the most ferocious ball-striking in tennis.
17. Marco Cecchinato (ITA): A Cinderella semifinalist in Paris last year. And good for him for sticking around the top 20.
18. Diego Schwartzman (ARG): He was the only man to take a set off Nadal at Roland Garros in 2018. Discuss: is Schwartzman the best candidate to continue the proud tradition of David Ferrer?
19. Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP): Awfully nice bounceback year—so far it incudes multiple wins over Djokovic.
20. Guido Pella (ARG): Credit the Argentine for tip-toeing into the top 20.
21. Denis Shapovalov (CAN): The fan base might be getting impatient for the next step in his ascent, but worth bearing in mind: he just turned 20.
23. Lucas Pouille (FRA): Not as good a clay courter as he ought to be, but, realistically, your best bet for a homegrown champ.
24. Fernando Verdasco (ESP): A player no one wants to face. Even at age 35. Even with that average backhand. The lefty has wins over Thiem, Kachanov (twice) this month alone.
25. Stan Wawrinka (SUI): Your 2015 champion, Stan is once again on the contenders list.
26. Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN): When you’re 18 and closing in on the top 20, you’re doing something right. FAA can play on clay. And he does so without worrying about defending points.
28. David Goffin (BEL): Fallen off over the top 18 months or so, but a player no one wants to face.
30. Matteo Berettini (ITA): 6’5” Italian has already won a clay-court title in 2019.
31. Dusan Lajovic (SRB): Monte Carlo finalist beat Thiem, Medvedev and Goffin along the way. Plus he zings a gorgeous one-hander.
32. Laslo Djere (SRB): Want a sentimental favorite? Look no further.
Nick Kyrgios (AUS): Pity he couldn’t start against Verdasco.
Christian Garin (CHI): 22-year-old Chilean has won two titles and 12 of his last 13 matches. And he won the juniors in 2013. Starts off v. big American Reilly Opelka.
Grigor Dimitrov (BUL): Game—and service toss especially—is in a state of flux. Good for him for having the humility to go through qualies last week.
Casper Ruud (NOR): Come here, Ruud boy.
Frances Tiafoe (USA): Best hope on the men’s side to make America great again.
First-round matches to watch
Cam Norrie v. Kyrgios: Because Kyrgios.
Verdasco v. Dan Evans: Danger meets danger.
Shapovaolv v. Jan-Lennard Struff: A rough one for both guys.
Ivo Karlovic v. Feliciano Lopez: combined age of 77.
Upset Special: Quentin Halys d. Nishikori.
Doubles winner: The Bryan Bros, Bob and Mike, for old time’s sake.
Semis: Djokovic d. Thiem, Nadal d. Berrettini
Final: Nadal d. Djokovic
1. Naomi Osaka (JPN): On the plus side, she’s going for her third straight Major, a feat no woman not named Serena Williams has accomplished in the last quarter-century. On the other side of the ledger: Osaka has never won a clay event.
2. Karolina Pliskova (CZE): A hot pick after her Rome title. Is the “Best Player Never to Have Won A Slam” ready to shed that label? We’re thinking so.
3. Simona Halep (ROU): The defending champ is the favorite with the oddsmakers (which is to say: the betting public). But she hasn’t won a title in 2019.
4. Kiki Bertens (NED): A Player of the Year candidate. A late bloomer but so what? In keeping with the horticulture motif, she has a green thumb for red clay.
5. Angelique Kerber (GER): Somewhat surprisingly, never been beyond the quarters in Paris…though she did get there in 2018.
6. Petra Kvitova (CZE): As good a candidate to win as anyone, and came within a few games of offering the great comeback story in Australia. Now, she gets another chance. We will see how she is doing physically after a Rome withdrawal. Precautionary or portentous?
7. Sloane Stephens (USA): Your guess is as good as hers. She came within a set of winning the title last year. Since then, it has been the usual Arctic or Saharan journey. Usually comes to play the big events, though.
8. Ashleigh Barty (AUS): At the point where the question becomes: “Is she ready to win Majors?” We say yes…but not perhaps on clay—she is 2-5 in her career at Roland Garros.
9. Elina Svitolina (UKR): Unfortunately, she has done some of her best work this year on social media (with her French partner in crime, Gael Monfils). She’s only 13-8 on the year, with zero titles. Now would be a nice time to apply the jumper cables to her year. Starts against Venus.
10. Serena Williams (USA): So many questions, so few data points. From a ball-striking standpoint, she will be a contender to win every Slam she enters. She could arrive with a walker and those tennis balls underneath and you would have to consider her a potential champion. But 2019 has been a challenge. Is she rationing her energy to peak at majors or is time doing its inevitable can-can?
11. Aryna Sabalenka (BLR): We all like the titanic hitting, but the absence of a back-up plan is becoming a concern.
12. Anastasija Sevastova (LAT): Credit the Latvian veteran for playing at this level coming off a quarterfinal in Australia.
13. Caroline Wozniacki (DEN): For so long she was such a durable player. Now, sadly, health and wellness are big factors. She’s also never been beyond the quarterfinals at RG. Clay has been more foe than friend.
14. Madison Keys (USA): A semifinalist last year, and while it is a different kind of clay, she did win on dirt in Charleston in April. So much game and still waiting for the big breakthrough. Can still say it is a when and not an if.
15 Belinda Bencic (SUI): Seems to be in career 2.0. And she is only 22. Has already won 27 matches on the year and the top 10 beckons.
16. Qiang Wang (CHN): Maybe the best player you’ve never seen.
19. Garbiñe Muguruza (ESP): Former French Open champ is way too good to be ranked this modestly.
21. Daria Kasatkina (RUS): Awfully quiet year, but such a fun player to watch.
22. Bianca Andreescu (CAN): Hasn’t played since Miami, but if she can come anywhere close to replicating her March play on clay, this will be fun.
23. Donna Vekic (CRO): Still learning how to close matches.
25. Su-Wei Hsieh (TPE): Watch her play. Trust us.
26. Johanna Konta (GBR): Awfully encouraging clay stretch. But get this: the next match she wins in Paris will be her first.
27. Lesia Tsurenko (UKR): An up-and-down player who has beaten Osaka already this year. She tends to come to play at the Slams.
28. Carla Suárez Navarro (ESP): As much for her one-handed backhand as for her claycourt resume.
29. Maria Sakkari (GRE): A fun-to-watch player who’s racked up solid wins (Kvitova, Kontaveit, Mladenovic) on clay.
31. Petra Martic (CRO): versatile and athletic player has gone deep in Paris before.
Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS): In Pliskova’s pocket of the draw, but all two-time major champions get mention. Speaking of which…
Victoria Azarenka (BEL): A two-time Grand Slam champ playing her way back. First-rounder against….
Jelena Ostapenko (LAT): The wheels have fallen off a bit, but a former champ is a former champ.
Kristina Mladenovic (FRA): Two years ago she was being considered as a favorite. Now with former Osaka coachSascha Baijin, she is way too good to be ranked this modestly (No. 54).
Marketa Vondrousova (CZE): Czech teenager has all kinds of game and a surprisingly light touch.
Monica Puig (PRI): The 2016 Olympic gold medalist has found some traction recently.
First-round matches to watch
Ostapenko vs Azarenka: The draw emcee said, saltily, “would have been a good match... two years ago.” We’re still watching in 2019.
Sabalenka v. Cibulkova: Styles makes fights.
Svitolina v. Venus Williams: Why a top 32 ranking is essential.
Upset Special: Azarenka/Ostapenko d. Osaka in R2.
Doubles winner: Krejcikova and Siniakova— the Czech mates are the best in the business.
Semis: Halep d. Barty, Pliskova d. Bencic
Final: Pliskova d. Halep