The only real intrigue to the French Open draw released today was in which half would World No. 3 Dominic Thiem land, with Rafael Nadal or with Novak Djokovic’s. He ended up with Nadal, so there will be no Nadal-Thiem final for a third straight year. However, they can still meet in the semifinals, and odds are they will.
The US Open champion is arguably the second favorite behind Nadal — he has beaten Djokovic twice in the last three years in Paris. But can he take that next step and knock out Rafa?
Here’s are my picks.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC QUARTER
I don’t see anyone getting in the way of Djokovic here (other than himself). The Serb could get Hubert Hurkacz in the third, maybe Ugo Humbert in the fourth, Roberto Bautista Agut or a rematch with Pablo Carreno Busta in the quarters (both probably prefer hardcourts), so there’s no real threat. Karen Khachanov could get hot (more than likely not), maybe Cristian Garin. Matteo Berrettini is better on hard, Jan-Lennard Struff can be dangerous. But in best-of-5, unless Djokovic unravels again, he’s should be in the semifinals.
The Pick: Novak Djokovic
DANIIL MEDVEDEV QUARTER
Daniil Medvedev is under a 40% winner on the clay. His game should translate — he’s quick, gets a ton of balls back, decent serve — but so far it has not. And he’s in a tricky section. Adrian Mannarino in the second, big-hitting Nikolaz Basilashvili in the third. If he gets through that, I think countryman Andrey Rublev gets him in the fourth. In that bottom section, you have Denis Shapovalov, Grigor Dimitrov and Stefanos Tsitsipas. That’s a lot of talent, lot of one-handed wizardry. Dimitrov hasn’t been the same since the virus, Tsitsipas seems to have hit a short-term ceiling so I’ll go with Shapovalov to emerge, beat Tsitsipas and knock out Rublev to reach the semifinals. That said, if the conditions are wet, cold and heavy, that should help someone like Medvedev.
The Pick: Denis Shapovalov
DOMINIC THIEM QUARTER
Thiem opens with the man he replaced as the most recent new Grand Slam winner, Marin Cilic. I like Thiem in that one and I think he should cruise into the semifinals. Reilly Opelka is dangerous in the second round if the courts are playing quick. Casper Ruud in the third, Stan Wawrinka in the fourth and then I think Diego Schwartzman comes out to the quarters, losing to the Austrian. Of course Wawrinka meets Andy Murray in maybe the best first round. I think Stan wins that. Wawrinka could get Felix Auger-Aliassime in the third, but I don’t think the Canadian does his best work on the clay. Gael Monfils and Borna Coric lurk as obstacles for Schwartzman. If Monfils gets hot, he could be dangerous, though with few of his home fans in the stands, he’ll lose some of that energy.
The Pick: Dominic Thiem
RAFAEL NADAL QUARTER
Who can beat Rafael Nadal in his quarter? No one comes to mind, LOL. Dan Evans could be a third round foe, Fabio Fognini in the fourth and then the improved Alexander Zverev in the quarters. Zverev can be dangerous – he took a set off Rafa in the Rome final a few years ago – but in a best-of-5 it’s a big ask. The toughest in the sport. Also in this section, Italian teen Jannik Sinner meets David Goffin in a good opener. Alex De Minaur is in there but he won’t trouble Rafa. No one will.
The Pick: Rafael Nadal
Djokovic d Shapovalov: Djokovic too much experience for the lefty.
Nadal d Thiem: I think Thiem loses a little edge after that US Open title while Nadal is hungry for a win.
Nadal d Djokovic: I could 100% see Djokovic win this if the conditions are fast and dry.
As we saw in New York, during this pandemic, anything can happen. The lack of fans (or far fewer in Paris), the isolation, limited entourages, etc, are truly helping to equalize things.
I also think the weather will play a role. There’s a roof now, which will help the top players, but the temperatures in late September, early October will be much cooler than when they play in May/June. Then there’s rain.
The favorites (Nadal, Djokovic, Thiem) also haven’t played much on the clay. Thiem didn’t even play a match. So for Thiem and maybe Rafa, who lost early in Rome, the first week will be important for them to find or re-find that rhythm.
After the Top 3, it drops off considerably. Medvedev is unproven on the clay. Schwartzman is OK. Tsitsipas seems off of late. How does Zverev recover after that devastating US Open loss. Wawrinka?
Then there’s the belief that maybe Thiem’s win gives hope for the field. But does it really? Djokovic didn’t lose a match point and Nadal wasn’t there.
In the end, I think Rafa gets his final French Open. Here comes 13.
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