Rafa-Less Roland Garros Begins Djokovic’s Summer Of History; French Open Picks & Pans
The next four months could very well change the course of history in tennis. And it could be Novak Djokovic’s most important 100 days of his career.
That leaves a bounty of summer riches at the feet of Djokovic, but can he collect.
The Serb is presently tied with Nadal atop the Grand Slam leaderboard at 22. But why stop there?
Margaret Court has the all-time mark (man or woman) at 24. Then Serena at 23 followed by Djokovic and Nadal. Djokovic has a chance this summer to not just pass Nadal and set the men’s record, but go past Serena’s 23 and tie Court at 24, and set himself up for an all-time record of 25 either in New York or Melbourne — imagine passing Court in Australia!
The French Open might not be the place to pass Rafa, but he’ll be favored at Wimbledon and the US Open and with Father Time putting in the directions to Novak’s house in his map app, this is a golden opportunity. And potentially final chance at winning multiple Slams during a season.
I say that because next year will only be tougher with guys like Carlos Alcaraz and Holger Rune improving. In addition to the young guys, Daniil Medvedev is back in form, I expect Alexander Zverev to be return to full strength later this year and then there’s Stefanos Tsitsipas who is due and Jannik Sinner is poised to be a future force.
Maybe Wimbledon next summer, but he’ll also be hyper-focused on the Paris Olympics. Imagine if he can get to 25 before Wimbledon next year, then he can just focus full energy on that gold medal.
But that’s a long way off. He basically needs three of the next four Slams. This summer is his best chance to get a couple more.
Wimbledon in July should be his as the young kids are still figuring out the grass. The US Open will be tough and I think the Australian even tougher as the field continues to catch up.
As for this week, I don’t like Novak’s chances. In Australia he was also dealing with an injury, but he comes into his worst Slam not only with potentially an elbow problem but also struggling on the court.
Onto my overall picks.
CARLOS ALCARAZ QUARTER
It looks for the world like an Alcaraz-Tsitsipas quarterfinal. Felix Auger-Aliassime could upset the Greek and maybe if Lorenzo Musetti can catch fire he could make some waves.
Musetti beat Alcaraz last summer in Hamburg but in best-of-5 that’ll be tougher. Cameron Norrie is in there along with Sebastian Korda. But the American is far from his best form coming off a wrist injury and Norrie doesn’t have any good wins the last month.
So it should come down to Alcaraz and Tsitsipas and with the world taking the Spaniard, this could be Tsitsipas’s time. He’s been to the French final — and arguably should have won the title. He also made the Australian final earlier this year. But other than a 5-setter over Sinner at the Australian, I don’t see any signature wins nor titles like Alcaraz has. That’s enough for me.
The Pick: Carlos Alcaraz
NOVAK DJOKOVIC QUARTER
Djokovic has a great draw. Potentially in his path are Spaniards Alejandro Davidovich Fokina and Roberto Bautista Agut plus in the quarters Andrey Rublev who’s been MIA since his Monte Carlo title. In best-of-3 at say the Masters level, anything can happen.
But in best-of-5 with high stakes and a dry weather forecast, Djokovic is going to be a hard out. And I just don’t see anyone else coming through unless that elbow flares up or a Rublev, Stan Wawrinka or even the impressive Arthur Fils catches fire.
The Pick: Novak Djokovic
CASPER RUUD QUARTER
The one syllable section features 2022 finalist Casper Ruud, Rune, American No. 1 Taylor Fritz and Australian Open semifinalist Tommy Paul. Safe to say, this will come down to another Ruud-Rune quarterfinal just like last year.
Ruud has the experience and arguably the bigger serve and forehand, but right now Rune is the better player. And he showed that last week in Rome beating the Norwegian.
There are some others who can make some noise like Francisco Cerundolo, Geneva winner Nicholas Jarry, rising Czech Jiri Lehecka and Dusan Lajovic and I’ll add in Jan-Lennard Struff who played so well at altitude in Madrid. But I like the trend here at that’s Rune.
The Pick: Holger Rune
DANIIL MEDVEDEV QUARTER
Suddenly Medvedev is a popular pick after his Rome win. I like the Russian as a player and for entertainment purposes, but I’m not ready to buy in just yet. Rome was cold and drenched by rain. That’s not forecasted for Roland Garros.
So I think Medvedev will do well — he’s got a fantastic draw — but I don’t see him getting past the quarters.
On the other side, there’s Sinner, Grigor Dimitrov, Frances Tiafoe, Alexander Zverev and even qualifier Aslan Karatsev. Of the bunch, I’m going to lean with Sinner. The Italian is long overdue for that big breakthrough and I think if he can stay healthy (i.e., not get sick) he’s going to reach his first Grand Slam semifinal.
Sinner has got to have seen Alcaraz and Rune coming up and now ranked ahead of him. Hell, even Matteo Berrettini’s made a few deep runs, so I’ll take a chance here and risk ending up in the sin bin.
The Pick: Jannik Sinner
Alcaraz d Djokovic: A lot will depend on the road to that point and the weather conditions, but I’m thinking Alcaraz is fresher and just playing better at this stage. I know there’s a lot on the line for Novak, but this just isn’t his surface.
Sinner d Rune: Sin to win! I think if Sinner can breakthrough to his first Slam semifinal, he’ll relax and play even better against Rune who’ll likely be favored.
Alcaraz d Sinner: I really, really want to pick Sinner here but Alcaraz is just more polished and I have to wonder about Sinner’s physical wellness should he make the final. I know Alcaraz is good because he’s proven it, but Sinner’s never won a Masters and has only one 500 title coming in Washington over Mackenzie McDonald. Alcaraz ain’t no McDonald’s.
Matches start tomorrow — I really hate these Sunday starts, but $$$ rule — on Tennis Channel and NBC for those in the U.S.
The no-Nadal really makes things interesting and exciting. As we have seen this clay season, tournaments are really turning upside down with guys like Medvedev winning and qualifiers and lucky losers making very deep runs.
The forecast calls for clear skies and near-perfect conditions. So that will be a welcome sight after all the rain in Rome.
As for the winner, it’s likely going to come from that top pack of Alcaraz, Djokovic, Rune and Tsitsipas. But I’m here for the unexpected. Remember what happened the last time Rafa didn’t play Roland Garros?
FRENCH OPEN SUNDAY SCHEDULE
Court Philippe-CHATRIER – Début à 11h00
1 SD 1 Marta KOSTYUK (UKR) contre Aryna SABALENKA (—)
2 SM 1 Jiri VESELY (CZE) contre Stefanos TSITSIPAS (GRE)
3 SD 1 Alizé CORNET (FRA) contre Camila GIORGI (ITA)
Pas avant 19h00
4 SM 1 Adrian MANNARINO (FRA) contre Ugo HUMBERT (FRA)
Court Suzanne-LENGLEN – Début à 11h00
1 SM 1 Karen KHACHANOV (—) contre Constant LESTIENNE (FRA)
2 SD 1 Maria SAKKARI (GRE) contre Karolina MUCHOVA (CZE)
3 SM 1 Laslo DJERE (SRB) contre Andrey RUBLEV (—)
4 SD 1 Danielle COLLINS (USA) contre Jessica PEGULA (USA)
You Might Like:
Rafael Nadal: What Happens To Me In Rome Won’t Impact The French Open
By The Numbers: Rafael Nadal Wins The 2014 French Open
Rafael Nadal Just Got Waxed At Madame Tussauds [Video]
Djokovic v Murray, Tsonga v Wawrinka; French Open SF Picks And Pans
Novak Djokovic: I Believe I Can Go All The Way And Win The French Open