The 2015 French Open begins this Sunday (May 24) with 128 men and 128 women vying for clay court supremacy. In reality only a handful of players on either side of the draw have a potter’s chance at taking him the crown. Let’s take a look at the contenders.
Rafael Nadal is the greatest clay court tennis player of all time. He has won nine – count’em, nine – French Open titles including the last five. However, when play begins at Roland Garros this Sunday, Novak Djokovic will be the favorite to win his first championship in Paris. A win by the “Joker” would make him the eighth male to complete a career Grand Slam and continue a run that has seen him surpass Nadal and Roger Federer as the unquestioned top player in the world.
When Djokovic won January’s Australian Open title, crushing Scotsman Andy Murray 6-0 in the fourth and final set, the Serbian equaled Andre Agassi, Ivan Lendl, and Jimmy Connors with his eighth major title. At 27 years old, only seven players have won more majors in their careers than Djokovic. Since the start of 2011, Djokovic has won seven of 17 majors. He dropped a four-set French Open championship match last year to Nadal, and was again beaten in four by Nadal in 2013. This season, after winning in Melbourne, Djokovic reached the final of the ATP tournament in Dubai and won in California, Miami, Monte Carlo, and Rome. Djokovic is 10-13 to win the title, and the only reason it’s not 1-3 is because of Nadal’s historic run.
A winner of 14 majors, Nadal is second all-time, and just three titles behind Federer for the most in history. Not only has the Spaniard won nine French Opens, but they have come in the last ten years. However, Nadal is not playing well at the moment and has fallen to No. 7 in the world. He lost to Stan Wawrinka in the quarterfinals in Rome, was beaten badly in the final at Madrid by Andy Murray, and lost to Fabio Fognini in the third round in Barcelona. That said, given his prowess at Roland Garros, Nadal is 7-2 to win the title, and the only legitimate option besides Djokovic.
If you are looking for a long shot, Federer has reached the French Open final five times and won once (2009). Federer’s resume still makes him the greatest player of all time, but he last won a major in 2012, and has made just one major final in his last ten tries. Federer is 25-1 to earn his second title at Roland Garros.
After Djokovic, Nadal, and, arguably, Federer, there aren’t any convincing options.
Murray is at 9-1, which looks much too high for a veteran who doesn’t play his best on clay and has never been to a French final.
World No. 5 Kei Nishikori, who hasn’t been passed the quarters, is at 16-1. And World No. 4 Tomas Berdych is at 50-1 in recognition of his mediocre 17-11 career record in Paris.
On the women’s side, 19-time major champion Serena Williams is a reasonable 11-4 favorite. While she ended last year by winning the US Open, and earned the Australian Open title to start 2015, Williams has just two titles all-time in Paris. She earned her French Open championships over a decade apart (2002 and 2013), but has made early exits in two of the last three tournaments this season; after winning in April in Miami, Williams lost in the semis in Madrid to Petra Kvitova, and withdrew from the tournament in Rome with an elbow injury.
Maria Sharapova has been in the French Open final each of the last three years and won twice. She enters the 2015 edition as the defending champ after downing Simona Halep in an epic three-set affair last year. Sharapova has been excellent so far this season, as well – just not as good as Williams. She lost to Serena in the Australian Open final and won a clay court tuneup in Rome recently. Sharapova is 4-1 to take the title.
Among players who have not won the French Open before, Simona Halep (9-2), Victoria Azarenka (9-1), and Kvitova (10-1) all stand a reasonable chance.
Halep, as mentioned, was a hair’s breadth from the 2014 title. Azarenka, a two-time major champ, has never reached the final in Paris and has been just ok since returning from an injury. Kvitova won in Madrid, has two major titles, but has reached the semis just once at the French Open.
Nadal may “upset” Djokovic, but betting against a younger, better player at this stage in his career isn’t really good advice, and picking anyone besides those two is like playing roulette. Betting on Williams at 7-2 is decent value if she is healthy. Kvitova is sharp and talented, and if she gets a decent draw, worthy of a play.
(Photo credit: sk4t [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)