The second major of the season is upon us as the French Open starts this Sunday in Paris.
This time around, we will unfortunately not get to enjoy Roger Federer’s balletic movement or Andy Murray’s anguished cries while in pursuit of a dropshot.
After adding a 20th grand slam title to his trophy cabinet in Melbourne, the Swiss maestro decided to skip the clay court swing entirely and prepare for his beloved Wimbledon. Meanwhile, Murray is still trying to get his tricky right hip after surgery in January.
Thankfully for spectators the world over, and not so much for the 127 other lads in the draw, that supernatural Majorcan has trekked to the French capital.
The Men’s Draw: Top Half
Rafael Nadal claimed his 10th Coupe des Mousquetaires (La Décima) last summer with a straight sets victory over Stan Wawrinka last year. The world no.1 has an absurd 79-2 career record at the French Open and if the warm up tournaments are anything to go by, the 31-year-old will unsurprisingly break the 80 win mark this coming fortnight.
Nadal – the massive 2/5 favourite to claim the Roland-Garros crown – has once again dominated the dirt with shiny cups collected at Monte-Carlo, Barcelona and Rome.
Those title runs included straight sets defeats of Novak Djokovic, Grigor Dimitrov, Dominic Thiem, David Goffin and Kei Nishikori. He can be mean like that.
The top seed will begin his French Open campaign against world no.54 Alexandr Dolgopolov and Nadal will be delighted with his quarter to boot. Seeds like Kevin Anderson, Diego Schwartzman, Jack Sock, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Denis Shapovalov, Richard Gasquet and Feliciano Lopez are unlikely to have the tools required to down the King of Clay.
Watch out for the unseeded trio of Joao Sousa (100/1), Borna Coric (20/1) and Pablo Cuevas (33/1) in this section, as they are all handy on the red stuff and could be good each-way value to advance from the quarter.
Australian Open finalist and no.3 seed Marin Cilic leads the second quarter (at 9/4 to advance past it), but his bludgeoning style usually fares better on quicker surfaces. Juan Martin del Potro (11/4) would have been favoured to progress from this section, but the Argentine is struggling with a groin strain that forced him out of Rome.
One man who could take advantage of this unpredictable quarter is Brit upstart Kyle Edmund at 8/1. The 23-year-old’s devastating forehand took him to the last four in Melbourne and he has carried that confidence into the clay season, making a final in Marrakech and dispatching Djokovic in Madrid.
The Men’s Draw: Bottom Half
If there is to be a Donald Trump/Brexit moment where Nadal surprisingly falters before the final, we may well see a new name engraved on the Coupe des Mousquetaires.
There are a strong generation of younger players emerging on the ATP Tour and Alexander ‘Sascha’ Zverev is the best of the bunch so far. Aged just 21 and 6” 6’ tall, the German has climbed to world no.3 and is seeded second in this year’s draw due to Federer’s absence.
With an overwhelming serve and arguably the best backhand in the business right now, Zverev is a player to fear at 10/1 to score his first Grand Slam victory. He made the last four in Monte-Carlo before winning back-to-back trophies in Munich and Madrid. Just to show off, the German also managed his way to the final in Rome and nabbed a set off Nadal.
Zverev will expect to beat Ricardas Berankis in his opening match, but things get dicey after that.
The world no.3 has found himself drawn in a quarter with 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka, two-time semi-finalist Dominic Thiem, and two-time quarter-finalist Kei Nishikori.
While the Swiss and Japanese are trying to rediscover previous form, the Austrian is raring to go. The 24-year-old beat Nadal a few weeks ago in Madrid, the third time that he has bettered the master on his surface.
This quarter also contains Stefanos Tsitsipas and Karen Khachanov, two rising players that pose a significant threat to both opponents and commentators.
At this point you’re probably wondering where Novak Djokovic is?
Well, he’s in the third quarter and will have gained some confidence after a run to the last four in Rome. The Serb of course won the French Open in 2016, to complete a career grand slam whilst holding all four majors.
You’re probably aware that it’s been a struggle since then for the 12-time major-winner. However, with his elbow on the mend and a few wins on the CV of late, Djokovic could make a big impression in Paris at 10/1.
The 31-year-old is in an extremely open section with Grigor Dimitrov, David Goffin, Gael Monfils, Pablo Carreno Busta and Nick Kyrgios. The old Novak had a significant winning record against all of those bar the Australian. It will be interesting to see how close the 2018 model is to the 2016 version over the fortnight.