Barely seven months after the last clay court Grand Slam was played, the 2021 French Open gets underway on Sunday when the stars of the tennis world head to the Roland Garros facility in Paris to battle it out for the second major of the year.
Rafael Nadal continues his domination of this tournament back in October and he will line up looking to defend the title and win it for an incredible 14th time. Plenty of players arrive in form looking to deny him though on what could be more open event than usual.
2020 – Rafael Nadal
2019 – Rafael Nadal
2018 – Rafael Nadal
2017 – Rafael Nadal
2016 – Novak Djokovic
2015 – Stan Wawrinka
2014 – Rafael Nadal
2013 – Rafael Nadal
2012 – Rafael Nadal
2011 – Rafael Nadal
There are 128 players in the draw which has been determined prior to the event beginning and the competition is a straight knockout over the best of five sets like the other Grand Slams. Where there is a difference in this one is that there is no tiebreak in the final set of matches. They have to be won by two clear games when the score reaches 6-6. The champion will be crowned on the third Sunday of the tournament.
Although he isn’t the defending champion, Novak Djokovic continues to be ranked number one in the world and it is he who is the top seed this week as a result of that. The big news when the draw was made is that the next highest ranked player in this quarter is a certain Roger Federer and already the eyes wander towards a possible quarter final between the two. Six other seeds will be out to stop that from happening though. They include the big hitting and in form Italian star Matteo Berrettini, Taylor Fritz, Felix Auger-Aliassime, David Goffin and the young pair of Alex de Minaur and Ugo Humbert.
There is no shortage of household names who don’t have seeded spots who are in this quarter. Lucas Pouille was a Grand Slam semi-finalist as recently as last January while Marco Cecchinato is a former semi-finalist here. The home favourite Jo-Wilfred Tsonga is also in this quarter as are the veterans Feliciano Lopez, Kevin Anderson and the former US Open champion and Wimbledon finalist Marin Cilic. This is a competitive section even with Djokovic in it.
Amazingly the defending champion and perennial Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal is only the third seed this fortnight and he has landed the worst draw in terms of the fact that he is in the same half as Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. As far as this quarter is concerned though there aren’t too many in the way of awkward obstacles before the latter stages. Andrey Rublev is the potential quarter final opponent for Nadal while the other six seeds in this section are Nicoloz Basilashvili, the surprise package of the season so far in Aslan Karatsev, Diego Schwartzman, leading French favourite Gael Monfils and the Italian pair of Jannik Sinner and Lorenzo Sonego.
There is a mixture of possible surprise packages and home players who will be looking to light up the fortnight and make a name for themselves. Richard Gasquet is a veteran of these parts but will be looking for a late hurrah in his career while the British ace Cameron Norrie heads to Paris in great form. Pierre-Hugues Herbert is another of the home players looking to make an impression along with Adrian Mannarino while Albert Ramos-Vinolas and Federico Verdasco are a couple of veterans looking to upset one or two. Dusan Lajovic is another who could cause one or two problems.
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The US Open champion Dominic Thiem is the headline attraction in the third quarter of the draw. The former finalist here hasn’t been in the greatest form this year so he might be vulnerable. That will give the man he beat in that US Open final more belief that this could be the scene of his first Grand Slam title with Alexander Zverev a potential quarter final opponent. He isn’t bulletproof himself though so the six other seeds – Fabio Fognini, Hubert Hurkacz, Casper Ruud, Roberto Bautista Agut, Karen Khachanov and Dan Evans – will all fancy their chances of going deep.
This is a wide open quarter of the draw with a lot of qualifiers in it but of those who might have a chance of doing a bit of damage along the way we have Miomir Kecmanovic, Kei Nishikori and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina while the home maverick Benoit Paire will have plenty of eyes on him although not necessarily for his standard of play! Marton Fucsovics and Gilles Simon complete a very open looking section.
The Monte-Carlo Masters and Lyon champion Stefanos Tsitsipas is the top seed in the betting in the bottom quarter of the draw if not the rankings. He was so close to making the final here in October and will be looking to go one step further this time around and if he is going to get out of the section he might well need to overcome the Australian Open finalist Daniil Medvedev in the last eight. Plenty of other players will be looking to deny those two a semi-final spot and from a seeded point of view they include John Isner, Milos Raonic, Pablo Carreno Busta, Grigor Dimitrov, Cristian Garin and Reilly Opelka.
There are plenty of power hitters and big servers in this section of the draw who might not be suited to this service but someone has to come out of the quarter. Among those looking to cause a surprise are Alexander Bublik, Tommy Paul, Guido Pella, Frances Tiafoe and Sam Querrey. Filip Krajinovic and Jeremy Chardy might have the nous to be bigger dangers than some of those players but you sense this could be Tsitsipas’ section to lose.
It isn’t very often that Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are all in a Grand Slam and yet we get the chance to place an each way bet without having to face any of the before the final but that is the case here if you focus your attention on the bottom half of the draw. We have to do that because Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal dominate the betting but only one of those will be making the final this year. You could probably go at the tight prices on Nadal given his record here but he hasn’t been as dominant on the clay in the lead up to this tournament as he often is which is a concern.
The other half sees the likes of Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem expected to contend, if the rankings are anything to go by. I make reference to the rankings because Medvedev is the highest ranked of that quartet but he despises clay so he’s easy to pass over. Zverev has never been the last eight here which is a concern too. Tsitsipas is in brilliant form and is the danger for sure but at twice the price I’ll take a punt on Thiem. Yes the Austrian hasn’t been in great form in 2021 but his record in this event in the last five years – basically while he’s been at the top end of the game – reads SF SF F F QF, the latter being last October when he was still coming to terms with winning the US Open. Bubbles and a niggle or two have been offered up as the reason for Thiem’s poor form but bubble life is beginning to see an end and you can manage yourself better in a Grand Slam than you can a regular event. Thiem has long since been touted as a winner of this in waiting. It might be that he doesn’t beat a Nadal or Djokovic in the final but we are still getting 6/1 he gets that far. That is attractive enough for me despite his poor form, which even then it should be remembered he made the SF in Madrid not too long ago.
I’ll leave the top two quarters alone given the dominance of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal but I’ll head to the bottom quarter. While I’m happy to take a chance on Thiem’s odds outright his form doesn’t merit putting faith in him to win the quarter on top of that as we’ll have the chance to hedge in the semi-final should he make it that far anyway. A bet has to be had in the bottom quarter where Daniil Medvedev isn’t likely to be a contender and Tsitsipas rarely does things the easy way.
I do respect the form of Tsitsipas though so I’ll pick someone from the other half of the bottom quarter with the pick being Cristian Garin. The record of the Chilean in Grand Slams isn’t great but I very much doubt he has had a run to the quarter final in which the only seeds he can face are a massively overrated on clay Grigor Dimitrov and either Medvedev, whose disdain for the surface I’ve mentioned, or Reilly Opelka who surely can’t be a factor in these slower conditions. From there, I’ll take my chances that Garin has a reasonable shot at Tsitsipas or hopefully meets someone else and at 10/1 I’ll pay to see how close to the semi-final he goes.
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