The Men’s Side of the Draw
The contenders …
World number one Rafael Nadal will arrive in Paris as the heavy favorite to capture his 11th French Open title. Last year, Nadal won Roland Garros in dominating fashion, winning every set he played, and losing just 35 games over the course of seven matches. Assuming he’s able to stay healthy, it will be difficult for anyone to dethrone the “King of Clay.”
If there’s any player that has a fighting chance against Nadal, it would be Dominic Thiem. Last year, the 24-year-old was the only player to beat the Spaniard on clay, upsetting Nadal in the Italian Open quarterfinals. The Austrian went 24-5 on clay in 2017, reaching the semifinal at Roland Garros and the finals in Barcelona and Madrid. Thiem has already captured a clay court title this year, winning the Argentina Open in February without dropping a set.
The pretenders …
Sam Querrey has had quite the start to the year, reaching a career high of number 11 in the ATP Men’s Singles Rankings in January, and getting engaged to his girlfriend Abby Dixon in March. However, the American is unlikely to extend his good fortune at Roland Garros. The 30-year-old has a horrid 4-11 record at the French Open, losing in the first round in eight of his 11 appearances. Querrey’s dismal record in Paris is strange considering the fact that he’s had some success on the red surface. He has two career top-10 wins on clay, beating Richard Gasquet and Gilles Simon when the Frenchmen were ranked nine and seven in the world, respectively. He even won a clay court title, beating John Isner in the 2010 Serbia Open final. Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the past, and do not foresee Querrey making a deep run at Roland Garros.
In 2018, Kevin Anderson has won the New York Open and reached the finals in both Pune and Acapulco. His stellar results earned him a spot in the top 10 of the ATP Men’s Singles Rankings for the first time in his career. However, the former U.S. Open Champion simply does not have what it takes to make a deep run on clay. In eight main draw appearances at Roland Garros, the 31-year-old never reached the quarterfinals in Paris. Anderson has a 12-18 career record at clay court Masters events, having yet to advance past the third round at Monte Carlo, Rome, or Madrid. The Johannesburg native has never beaten a top 10 player on clay, a feat that is unlikely to change at the 2018 French Open.
The sleeper …
In the third round of the 2017 French Open, Diego Schwartzman took a two sets to one lead on Novak Djokovic before falling to the Serbian in five sets. Schwartzman’s game is well-suited to clay, where the slow courts will make it extremely difficult to hit winners past the speedy 5’7” Argentinean, who has never advanced past the third round at Roland Garros. He won all seven of his Challenger titles on clay, and was the victor at the Rio Open this past February.
The Women’s Side of the Draw
The contenders …
After missing more than a year of action due to the birth of her daughter Alexis, Serena Williams has won just two of four matches in her return to play. She most recently lost 6-3, 6-2 to Naomi Osaka in the first round of the Miami Open. However, if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last 20 years it’s that you can never count out the 23-time Grand Slam champion. Serena has won 72 career titles, with 13 of them coming on clay. Until the new mother decides to hang up her racket, she’ll be a favorite at any event that she decides to play.
Could this finally be the Grand Slam where Romanian Simona Halep breaks through? After losing the Australian Open final in devastating fashion, Halep is still looking to win her maiden Grand Slam title. It may very well come at Roland Garros where Halep is a two-time finalist. The world number one has won six career titles on clay, including the last two Madrid Opens. She has appeared in 29 career finals and three Grand Slam finals. Eventually, she’s going to win one of them.
The pretenders …
With some strong results to start the year, 24-year-old Caroline Garcia is sitting at a career high ranking of seventh in the world. But let’s not make the mistake of thinking she is a legitimate threat at Roland Garros. Garcia went just 3-6 at the French Open between 2011 and 2016. She did make the quarterfinals last year, but had the good fortune of avoiding a seeded player in her first four matches. She won’t be as lucky in 2018.
By virtue of reaching the Indian Wells Masters semifinal and the Miami Open quarterfinals, Venus Williams has ascended to a ranking of eighth in the world. But the seven-time Grand Slam champion has never won in Paris, and hasn’t advanced past the fourth round since 2006. Don’t expect 37-year-old Venus to go on too deep of a run at Roland Garros.
The sleeper …
Maria Sharapova hasn’t won a match since the Australian Open, where she won just four total games in her third round loss to Angelique Kerber. The 30-year-old Sharapova is currently ranked just 42nd in the world. Still, Sharapova is a two-time French Open champion, and has an 11-2 career record in clay court finals. She may no longer be considered a significant threat, but Sharapova has the game to make a serious run at Roland Garros in 2018.
Peter Mendelsohn is a contributing writer to Long Island and New York Tennis Magazines. He is the owner of tennisdork.com. He is currently pursuing a degree in sports journalism. He previously spent five years as a personal injury lawyer in Toronto, Canada. He may be reached by phone at (647) 984-5509 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeterMendel7