So it has come down to John Isner or Fabio Fognini in the semifinals, and then maybe Alexander Zverev in the final. And that’s it. Other than a complete physical collapse, those are the only real obstacles for Rafael Nadal at the French Open.
His draw should feel like a cool springtime breeze in Paris. And he might run through the tournament and reach 11 just like he did in getting #10 a year ago, and that’s without dropping a set.
With many guys injured or absent and with the younger gen still learning the game, this could be one of his easier paths thanks to a very advantageous draw.
Let’s get to it.
RAFAEL NADAL QUARTER
There Alexander Dolgopolov to start, then Joao Sousa followed by Richard Gasquet. In the fourth, maybe Jack Sock can get a set. Or Maybe Denis Shapovalov beats Sock! Sock hasn’t been playing that well, and I think I’ll go with the Canadian to meet Rafa. Kevin Anderson is in their but he’s iffy with a recent thigh injury. Borna Coric, who opens against Phil Kohlschreiber in a good one, is also dealing with a bad neck. So maybe a South American like Diego Schwartzman or Pablo Cuevas gets out to that quarter – I’ll lean with the Argentine. Either way, Nadal rolls into the semifinals without a loss of a set.
The Pick: Nadal
MARIN CILIC QUARTER
If Juan Martin Del Potro’s groin was 100% I’d pick him to get to the semis. But more than likely it won’t be and that spells trouble for the big guy. But there are many other giants in this section from which to choose: Marin Cilic, John Isner and Tomas Berdych. All of whom could make the semis. But they could also lose the first week – Berdych in the first round against Jeremy Chardy. Instead, I’m going to go a complete curveball and take Fabio Fognini to have his best French Open, beat Kyle Edmund, Marin Cilic and then maybe a Ramos-Vinolas to get to the first Slam semi (and it’s his 30th birthday today, so why not!).
The Pick: Fabio Fognini
GRIGOR DIMITROV QUARTER
After a pretty weak top half, the bottom half features a lot more depth, danger and intrigue. Novak Djokovic will be a lowly 20 seed in a section that includes Grigor Dimitrov, David Goffin, Gael Monfils, Roberto Bautista Agut, Fernando Verdasco and even David Ferrer who could meet Novak as early as Wednesday! On form, Goffin has looked good but so too did Novak last week in Rome. Meanwhile, Dimitrov has been a dud, Monfils in coming off injury, RBA is better on hard courts and Ferrer seems to be an afterthought. Verdasco, though, interests me. Best-of-5 should help Novak past Ferrer, RBA and then Verdasco/Dimitrov. And I think he’ll use his experience to beat Goffin and get back into a Slam semi!
The Pick: Djokovic
ALEXANDER ZVEREV QUARTER
The Kid Zverev has got to make a Slam quarter and I think this is the event he finally does it, and goes beyond. The draw is there for him with Stan Wawrinka still not back in full flight, though Karen Khachanov could be an issue. But in that quarter he’ll be tested by the winner between Kei Nishikori-Dominic Thiem. Nishikori has a great draw while Thiem could the Greek kid Stefanos Tsitsipas in the second round. In the fourth rounder, Thiem has never taken a set in two meetings with Nishikori, but I’ll go with the Austrian to get out to the Zverev match. The run for Dominic ends as Zverev takes him out.
The Pick: Zverev
Nadal d Fognini: Happy-to-be-there Fabio makes it fun, but Rafa’s all business.
Zverev d Djokovic: Djokovic’s improving, but I just don’t think his serve is where it needs to be.
Nadal d Zverev: Rematch of the Rome final and the outcome is the same. Rafa in three.
So really no surprise with Rafa. The question is, how many sets will he lose? One? Two? I can’t see more than two unless he runs into a hot-handed Isner or Zverev catches fire. Maybe Theim can give him trouble again.
Roland Garros is Rafa’s house. That simple. And outside of two losses to Thiem, no one has touched him on clay the last 16 months.
That said, if Zverev can get to the semifinals, especially the finals, maybe the floodgates open for Alex and next year he takes that step and becomes the “Rafa Stopper”! Someone is going to do it, and someone is going to be winning French Opens in 3-4 years from now and it won’t be Nadal.
I will also add it’s too bad so many players are nursing injuries like Delpo, Coric, Wawrinka and Monfils. Because guys like them could certainly take advantage, if healthy, of the open draws like we’ve seen this year – I’d really like to see a Coric-Nadal QF!
So the race for second place starts on Sunday.
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