As we head to Roland Garros for the second slam of the season, Andy Schooler is here to provide his French Open Men’s preview.
World Number 1
Tournament history (most recent 1st): W-RU-SF-QF-QF-W-RU-RU-SF-RU-SF-QF-3R-SF-SF-QF-2R
Best Grand Slam performance: Winner, 20 titles (2 at French Open)
2022 record: 12-4 (1 title – Rome)
Claycourt form: W Rome, SF Madrid, RU Belgrade, L32 Monte Carlo
Having returned to something approaching top form in Rome, where he won the title without losing a set, the defending champion looks a worthy favourite.
He beat one of his main title rivals, Stefanos Tsitsipas, in the Italian capital and while some will point out his defeat to Carlos Alcaraz in Madrid, Djokovic did come within a couple of points of beating the Spaniard in what are considerably different conditions to those found in Rome and Paris.
Knows how to win at Roland Garros where he’s been remarkably consistent over the years (12 consecutive QFs or better) and after his much-publicised disrupted start to the season, looks to have hit form at the right time.
World Number 6
Tournament history: 3R
Best Grand Slam performance: Quarter-finals, 2021 US Open
2022 record: 28-3 (4 titles – Madrid, Barcelona, Miami, Rio de Janeiro)
Claycourt form: W Madrid, W Barcelona, L32 Monte Carlo
The new kid on the block has been compared favourably with claycourt legend Rafael Nadal – and for good reason.
He’s matched or broken several age feats set by Nadal, who famously won this tournament at 19.
Alcaraz is well fancied by many to do the same and he arrives on a 10-match win streak after claiming titles in Madrid and Barcelona.
But the big question is how will he deal with the best-of-five format if the going gets tough? And it may well do.
Six of those 10 matches mentioned went to a final set – this is not a replica of the Nadal steamroller we so often saw over the years – and if sets are dropped regularly in Paris, it could be a problem.
World Number 5
Tournament history: SF-W-W-W-W-3R-QF-W-W-W-W-W-4R-W-W-W-W
Best Grand Slam performance: Winner, 21 times (13 at French Open)
2022 record: 23-3 (3 titles – Australian Open, Acapulco, Melbourne)
Claycourt form: L16 Rome, QF Madrid
Undoubtedly the greatest claycourter of all-time – it’s worth remembering the previous record for French Open titles was Bjorn Borg’s six, which Nadal has now more than doubled.
However, preparation for his bid to win a 14th title suggests he’s facing an almighty task over the next fortnight.
A stunning start to the season was halted by a rib injury and when Nadal did return on his beloved clay, his long-term foot problem – one which almost forced him to retire last year – arose again and he will head to Roland Garros yet to win a clay title in the calendar year. The only time that has previously happened was in pandemic-hit 2020.
His record means he remains a short price but Nadal is not a bet this time around.
World Number 4
Tournament history: RU-SF-4R-2R-1R
Best Grand Slam performance: Runner-up, 2021 French Open
2022 record: 31-10 (1 title – Monte Carlo)
Claycourt form: RU Rome, SF Madrid, QF Barcelona, W Monte Carlo
Last year’s runner-up is an interesting price to go one better this time around – and his Roland Garros record so far shows year-on-year improvement.
Tsitsipas’ level during the clay season has been consistently high with the title won in Monte Carlo and another final reached in Rome.
It’s undoubtedly a concern that the Greek has lost to Djokovic and Alcaraz, arguably his main title rivals here, in the past few weeks but there still looks to be a touch of value in his odds.
World Number 3
Tournament history: SF-4R-QF-QF-1R-3R
Best Grand Slam performance: Runner-up, 2020 US Open
2022 record: 24-9
Claycourt form: SF Rome, RU Madrid, L16 Munich, SF Monte Carlo
There’s certainly an argument to be made that a world no 3 who has made the semis of all three claycourt Masters events this year is overpriced at 18/1.
However, Zverev’s record at Roland Garros isn’t great.
He has only beaten one top-25 player at this venue, while another issue has been an inability to put the supposed also-rans away – only eight of his 18 French Open victories have come in straight sets.
That has often proved costly come the second week.
Possesses one of the game’s great backhands but his big serve is blunted somewhat by these conditions and there certainly look more likely winners.
Best of the rest
For any of the outsiders to get to the final, they may well need a bit of luck in Thursday night’s draw.
But while at the time of writing we haven’t the luxury of knowing which section they’ll be in, a couple of bigger prices do pique interest.
When the tour hit the European clay last month, I didn’t expect Casper Ruud to be going off at 45/1 here but the Norwegian endured some early exits in the warm-up events.
However, he returned to something like his best in Rome last week, reaching the semi-finals, to suggest he’s capable of putting together a challenge in Paris.
Possessing an under-rated serve, Ruud is at his best on this surface and his price is tempting.
The same can be said of Diego Schwartzman, who has made at least the quarter-finals in three of the last four editions of this tournament.
The Argentine is one of the best returners in the game and no-one’s serve looks secure against him on the clay.
He hasn’t had the most convincing run-in but did make the last eight in Monte Carlo (where he really should have beaten Stefanos Tsitsipas) and the semis in Barcelona.
With a decent draw, the layers may regret chalking up Schwartzman at 100/1.
Leading contender – Novak Djokovic – 13/8
Outside chance – Diego Schwartzman – 100/1