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Previewing the 2020 French Open

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Roar Guru
22nd September, 2020
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Traditionally the second grand slam event of the tennis season, the 2020 French Open will instead be the third (and final) grand slam tournament of the year as the sport resumes its season following its suspension due to COVID-19.

Normally the French Open is held from late May to early June, but in March it was announced that the tournament would shift to the dates of 20 September to 4 October, and then it was pushed back a week to start on 27 September.

This means that the majority of players have had to quickly adjust from the North American hard courts to the European clay courts, with the ongoing tournament in Rome having begun only days after the conclusion of the US Open.

The US Open, which had hundreds of thousands of tennis fans locked out of Flushing Meadows for the first time, saw Dominic Thiem become the first man born in the 1990s to win a grand slam, while Naomi Osaka was victorious for the second time in three years on the women’s side.

The Austrian will arrive at Roland Garros looking to win his second major title in quick succession, while Osaka will be missing due to a hamstring injury she carried right through her run at Flushing Meadows.

After opting to bypass the US Open, the undisputed king of clay, Rafael Nadal, will return to his kingdom as he aims for a 13th French Open crown and a record-equalling 20th major singles title, which would see him draw level with Roger Federer.

Defending champion Ashleigh Barty won’t return to Paris to defend her title, while the injury-prone Bianca Andreescu will also be missing from the main draw.

Up to 15,000 fans will be allowed to attend each day’s play at Roland Garros, with a maximum of 5000 to be permitted into each of the three main courts: Court Philippe Chatrier, Court Suzanne Lenglen and Court Simonne Mathieu. All other courts will remain empty.

It will be the first time that the roof on Court Philippe Chatrier will be utilised, which will allow for play to continue should rain suspend play on outside courts, as well as for night-time tennis, as seen at Melbourne Park and Flushing Meadows.

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Let’s now preview some of the contenders for the title, starting in the men’s draw.

Rafael Nadal [2] (ESP)

French Open history
Best result: champion (2005-08, 10-14, 17-19)
Last year’s result: champion, defeated Dominic Thiem in the final

Australian Open result: quarter-finals, lost to Dominic Thiem
US Open result: did not play

Titles so far this year: Acapulco

As is always the case at Roland Garros, the man to beat is Rafael Nadal.

After opting to skip the US Open, the Spaniard returns to a kingdom where he has dominated ever since he played his very first match in Paris as an 18-year-old in 2005.

Fifteen years and 12 titles later the 34-year-old will look to continue breaking his own records in Paris, with a jaw-dropping 13th title in sight as well as the lure of equalling modern-day great Roger Federer on 20 major men’s singles titles.

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Nadal’s Roland Garros preparations took a major hit when he was defeated by Argentine Diego Schwartzman in the quarter-finals at the Italian Open, making for a less-than-ideal lead-up to the tournament.

While he will again start as the red-hot favourite to triumph in Paris, he will face some serious opposition, not least Dominic Thiem, who will arrive in Paris on the back of having won his first major title at Flushing Meadows earlier this month.

However, facing Rafael Nadal at the French Open has proven to be the tennis equivalent of conquering Mount Everest and it is no surprise that he’s the favourite to claim the title.

Prediction
Champion

Rafael Nadal receives a serve

Rafael Nadal receives a serve. (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

Novak Djokovic [1] (SRB)

French Open history
Best result: won (2016)
Last year’s result: semi-finals, lost to Dominic Thiem

Australian Open result: champion, defeated Dominic Thiem in the final
US Open result: fourth round, defaulted vs Pablo Carreno Busta

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Titles so far this year: ATP Cup, Australian Open, Dubai

The spotlight will be on Novak Djokovic, who enters the clay-court major having suffered the ill-fortune of being the first man to be disqualified from a major in two decades.

The Djoker was defaulted from his fourth-round match in New York against Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta after unintentionally striking a lineswoman out of frustration during a critical point in the first set, in which he dropped his serve to trail 6-5.

It was his first defeat of the year after having won his first 26 matches, including winning a record eighth Australian Open title in January. He was also instrumental in landing his country the inaugural ATP Cup title at the start of the year too.

Sitting on 17 major titles, Djokovic has the chance not only to win an 18th major title but also to become the first man since Rod Laver 51 years ago to complete a double career grand slam.

That would also see him close to within one of Rafael Nadal on the men’s grand slam leaderboard and also deny the Spaniard the chance to equal Roger Federer’s haul of 20.

He was able to put the controversy at Flushing Meadows behind him by defeating Diego Schwartzman to win the Rome Masters for the fifth time, claiming a record 36th masters title in the process (he had jointly held the record of 35 with Rafael Nadal going into the final).

This will make him one of two huge threats to Rafael Nadal for the title, the other being Dominic Thiem.

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Prediction
Semi-finals

Novak Djokovic plays a backhand

(Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Dominic Thiem [3] (AUT)

French Open history
Best result: runner-up twice (2018, 2019)
Last year’s result: final, lost to Rafael Nadal

Australian Open result: runner-up, lost to Novak Djokovic in the final
US Open result: champion, defeated Alexander Zverev in the final

Titles so far this year: US Open

For the first time Dominic Thiem will pose a bigger threat to Rafael Nadal’s Roland Garros title hopes than anyone else in the men’s draw.

The Austrian goes into the Parisian major off the back of winning his maiden grand slam title at the US Open, where he came from two sets to love down to defeat Alexander Zverev and break new ground for men born in the 1990s.

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In doing so he became the first man since Gaston Gaudio at the 2004 French Open to recover from a two-set deficit in a major final and the first man from his country to win a major title since Thomas Muster claimed the French Open in 1995, a quarter of a century before Thiem’s achievement.

This erased the disappointment of three previous defeats in grand slam finals, two of them to Rafael Nadal here at the French Open and to Novak Djokovic in five sets at the Australian Open back in January.

He has, however, beaten both men at the majors, upending the Spaniard at Melbourne Park on his way to the final earlier this year and twice defeating the Serb at the French Open, including in the semi-final last year.

Wins over those two men, as well as his run to the title in New York, will give him plenty of confidence as he aims to win his second major title in quick succession.

But he’ll have to overcome history to do so – no man this century has won his first two major titles in succession and the last man to win two major titles within a six-week window was Nadal (he won the French Open and Wimbledon back-to-back in 2010).

He can again reach the final, but if he’s matched up against Nadal, he will have his work cut out trying to prevent the 34-year-old from matching Roger Federer’s record of 20 major men’s singles titles.

Prediction
Final

Dominic Thiem of Austria

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

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Alexander Zverev [6] (GER)

French Open history
Best result: quarter-finals twice (2018, 2019)
Last year’s result: quarter-finals, lost to Novak Djokovic

Australian Open result: semi-finals, lost to Dominic Thiem
US Open result: runner-up, lost to Dominic Thiem

Titles so far this year: none

Off the back of his run to the US Open final sixth seed Alexander Zverev will be the man to keep an eye on at Roland Garros.

The 23-year-old fell just short of winning his maiden grand slam title when he fell to Dominic Thiem in a thrilling US Open final earlier this month, having led by two sets to love. He served for the championship at 5-3 and was within two points of the title at 5-4 in the final set.

Had he won, he would’ve become the first German man to win a major since Boris Becker won the 1996 Australian Open and the first in New York since Becker in 1989.

Earlier this year he fell short of becoming the first German man to reach the Australian Open final since Rainer Schuettler in 2003 when he lost to Thiem in the semi-finals in four sets.

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Nonetheless, he will pose a big threat to the men listed above at Roland Garros, having twice reached the quarter-finals in the past two years, losing to Dominic Thiem in 2018 and to Novak Djokovic last year.

This year he will look to go one further and prove that he is definitely up there among the contenders for the title. He will better his two previous quarter-final showings and reach the final four.

Prediction
Semi-finals

Also watch out for

Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Stan Wawrinka, Pablo Carreno Busta.

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Now we switch to the women’s side of things, which has been decimated by the absences of defending champion Ashleigh Barty, who has cited health concerns, while Naomi Osaka will also be missing due to a hamstring injury.

Barty’s decision not to defend her title means this will be the first time since 2008 that the women’s defending champion has not returned to Roland Garros the following year.

Osaka, meanwhile, was able to manage her hamstring injury through her title run at Flushing Meadows, but with the French Open starting this week, she has decided not to risk further injury and therefore sit out the rescheduled clay-court swing.

This means 2018 champion Simona Halep has been promoted to top seed, with Karolina Pliskova in second.

Simona Halep [1] (ROU)

French Open history
Best result: won (2018)
Last year’s result: quarter-finals, lost to Amanda Anisimova

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Australian Open result: semi-finals, lost to Garbine Muguruza
US Open result: did not play

Titles so far this year: Dubai, Prague

With Barty and Osaka missing, 2018 champion Simona Halep becomes the new title favourite.

The Romanian will arrive at Roland Garros having won three titles, the most of any woman this year, having claimed her first Italian Open title after her opponent, Karolina Pliskova, was forced to retire in the championship match.

It marks the eighth consecutive year that she has won at least one title, and as a testament to her consistency she has been continually ranked inside the top ten since January 2014.

She returns after opting to miss the US Open due to health concerns. Earlier this year she reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open, where she lost to Garbine Muguruza, while her Wimbledon title defence will have to wait until next year.

The top seed has three times reached the championship match at Roland Garros, all of which have been decided in three sets, but was only able to take the chocolates once when she defeated Sloane Stephens to break her major title duck in 2018.

Last year the Romanian was on the wrong end of a massive upset win by American teen sensation Amanda Anisimova and will want to redeem herself if given the chance to face her at Roland Garros once again.

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With Barty and Osaka out of the draw, there’ll be no excuses for Simona Halep not to at least reach the final. If she goes all the way, she will dislodge the Australian from top spot in the WTA rankings.

Prediction
Champion

Simona Halep

(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Karolina Pliskova [2] (CZE)

French Open history
Best result: semi-finals (2017)
Last year’s result: third round, lost to Petra Martic

Australian Open result: third round, lost to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
US Open result: second round, lost to Caroline Garcia

Titles so far this year: Brisbane

One player right among the title contenders is second seed Karolina Pliskova.

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After starting the season with a successful defence of her Brisbane title, the Czech has suffered two disappointing defeats at the majors, first losing in the third round of the Australian Open and then bombing out in the second round of the US Open.

Her loss to Caroline Garcia at the latter event marked the fifth consecutive major in which she has failed to reach the quarter-finals.

Thus you never know what to expect from the 28-year-old, whose erratic performances at the majors since reaching the 2016 US Open final are cause for concern.

Last year, for example, Pliskova was good enough to beat Serena Williams at the Australian Open only to bomb out in the third round at Roland Garros, where she was beaten by Petra Martic.

The Czech looked set to turn a corner when she reached the final of the Italian Open last week only to be forced to retire against Simona Halep after dropping the first set 6-0 and appearing headed for a humiliating defeat.

However, she is expected to take her place in the main draw and will start second-favourite to Halep for the title.

Prediction
Semi-finals

Kristyna Pliskova

(Photo by Zhizhao Wu/Getty Images)

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Sofia Kenin [3] (USA)

French Open history
Best result: fourth round (2019)
Last year’s result: fourth round, lost to Ashleigh Barty

Australian Open result: champion, defeated Garbine Muguruza in the final
US Open result: fourth round, lost to Elise Mertens

Titles so far this year: Australian Open, Lyon

Another player to watch in the women’s draw is reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin.

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Since her breakthrough at Melbourne Park at the top of the year the 21-year-old American’s form has at times been inconsistent, often bombing out early at tournaments, though she was able to claim a title in Lyon shortly before the season shut down in March.

Kenin had a golden chance to reach the quarter-finals at the US Open for the first time only to be on the wrong end of an upset win by Belgian Elise Mertens.

Her transition to clay copped an embarrassing blow where she suffered the ignominy of a double-bagel defeat at the hands of the resurgent Victoria Azarenka in Rome.

The American was the first player to suffer such humiliation while ranked in the top five since Maria Sharapova, who was a month away from turning 18 when she was whitewashed by Lindsay Davenport at Indian Wells in 2005.

Other notable major champions such as Mary Pierce (in 2002), Ana Ivanovic (2012) and Jelena Ostapenko (2018) have also been on the wrong end of the most dreaded scoreline in tennis this century.

Kenin was scheduled to play in Strasbourg this week but withdrew after her early loss in Rome, preferring to focus on the French Open where her best result is reaching the fourth round last year.

Despite the embarrassing loss in the Italian capital, Kenin will bounce back and reach the final eight.

Prediction
Quarter-finals

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Also watch out for

Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Garbine Muguruza.

The French Open gets underway this Sunday night (AEST).