Sunday, May 12, 2019

The French Open--always a beautiful mystery

Kiki Bertens (photo by Daniel Ward)
The French Open, my favorite major, will begin soon, and--as always--it's a bit of a mystery as to who will win it. That makes the already-thrilling event even more interesting!

Who can win the French Open?

Defending champion Simona Halep: There is no doubt (at least in my mind) that if anyone can defend a French Open title, it's the Romanian star. Halep is looking better than ever, and her confidence--sometimes a wavering factor--appears stable. But there are others who could take the title away from her, and key among them is Dutch star......

Kiki Bertens: Madrid champion Bertens is being widely touted as a potential 2019 French Open champion. I join those who think that her chances are very good, but then, I said several years ago that I thought Bertens (this was before she became a "thing") could win at Roland Garros. Is this her year? I would pick her over anyone in the field, including Halep. Her confidence is high, and she has richly enhanced her game, especially her serve. Always excellent on clay, Bertens is now truly dangerous.

Caroline Garcia: The Frenchwoman used to hate playing on any center court, and especially in Paris, but she has matured a lot, her clay game is solid, and she will have the crowd solidly behind her whenever she's on the court. She's definitely a contender.

Garbine Muguruza: Yes, I know that Muguruza's game is kind of a mess, and that she is one of the most (if not the most) inconsistent champions ever, but there's a switch in the Spaniard that sometimes gets turned on at majors. When that switch is turned on, Muguruza becomes the most fluid ball-striker to be found anywhere. She has won the French Open already, which is always an advantage.

Elina Svitolina: Yes, I also know that waiting for Svitolina to win a major is like waiting for Tennis Channel commentators to pronounce players' names correctly. But I still believe that it's going to happen, and who konws? Unfortunately, she's been struggling with a knee injury, but if she recovers in time for Paris, she's on the list (albeit at the very edge).

Petra Kvitova: I heard a commentator say yesterday that Kvitova now has belief in her clay court skills, and I don't know where she got that information, because--no matter how many clay court tournaments she wins--the Barking Czech has always had trouble believing in her clay court skills. Also, the clay titles that she has won have involved faster-playing courts than those used at the French Open. But I'm still naming her a contender because she is playing quite well and it doesn't seem right to omit her from the list.

Angelique Kerber: Yes, she's currently dealing with an ankle injury, and she recently had to deal with a viral illness. Yes, she has always shied away from stating a belief that she could win at Roland Garros. But Kerber, like Muguruza, can pop up and win anything at the least expected time. (I put her on the list with the caveat that she fully recovers from the ankle injury.)

Then there are the players who perhaps should be on a contender list, but they are not:

Alona Ostapenko: The 2017 French Open champion has not made the changes to her game that are needed for her to be an elite player. If anyone on the tour needs a coach who is able to force those changes, it's Ostapenko, and I hope she finds one because she is too talented (and far too entertaining) to slip down the rankings they way she has.

Julia Goerges: As recently as a year ago, I considered Goerges a dark horse to win the title, but she has been dealing with a neck injury and has a way to go before she can get back to her previous level.

Sloane Stephens: The 2018 runner-up could surprise me, but I just can't go with her because of her inconsistency. I know that Muguruza is inconsistent, too, but for me, the Spaniard is in a different--albeit strange--category.

Daria Kasatkina: This should be the year that Kasatkina makes the contender list, but the Russian player is somewhat of a mess right now. I hope that she (and her beautiful game) can make the contender list next year.

Obviously, I have omitted Naomi Osaka from the contender list. Others, I'm sure, will disagree. But I just don't see Osaka winning in Paris this year.


colt13 said...

In agreement about Osaka.

Barty will cause some people trouble.

Diane said...

You're right; she will. No surface seems to be her true enemy. And it's probably fortunate for the field that the French Open will be Andreescu's first clay tournament of the season.

Megan Fernandez said...

I think the reigning two-Slam champ gets a nod, if she's healthy. Not the absolute favorite but I'd put her in the top 5 for her desire to win and experience. Serena's also a top 5 prospect whenever she is in the draw.

I decided a while ago that I'm not picking anyone who hasn't reached the later stages of a major, as long as there are a bunch of healthy Slam winners in the field. Sure, it can happen, but it's not that common. So I can't pick Bertens. Not enough Slam experience for me. She's had one SF (French) and QF (Wimbledon last year), but also a ton of R1 and R2 losses. But it won't be a hue surprise if she wins. I'd just favor people who have proven they can handle pressure at a Slam - Halep, Osaka, Serena.

I'd put Bencic and Keys in the dark-horse conversation as much as Svitolina.

You have more faith in Muguruza than I do! But she's still in Rome. She could turn it on, for sure. She had an injury last year that seems to have lingered a bit this year, if we're being charitable. Elbow, I think? She sure does lose a lot of matches that she should win.

Diane said...

You make a very good point about experience at majors, Megan. I more or less agree with you, but—this is the French Open, and that means anything can happen. Power players’ shots are neutralized (except for Ostapenko!) by the clay, and they can be flummoxed. I do like Bertens and Halep as the most likely to win. Mugu is injured again, so that makes her even less likely to pop up and do something big.

Belinda could certainly pull something big off, but I don’t see Madison doing it.