French Open: The Outsiders7 min read
Our tennis man Andy Schooler picks out five big-priced outsiders for this year’s French Open, which gets under way on Sunday.
When Daniil Medvedev beat Stan Wawrinka in the first round of Wimbledon in 2017, it looked like the rising Russian star would thrive best on faster courts.
But this spring there have been real signs that he is maturing with his claycourt game flourishing on the back of some newly-found patience.
Medvedev beat world number one Novak Djokovic en route to the semi-finals in Monte Carlo and backed that up with a run to the final in Barcelona.
Those results continued as good start to 2019, one which had seen him win in Sofia, finish runner-up in Brisbane and reach the last 16 of the Australian Open, where he was the only player to take a set off eventual champion Djokovic.
He arrives at Roland Garros at a career-high ranking of 14th and well placed to take advantage of any slip-ups by the leading contenders.
The mercurial Italian has always had plenty of talent, particularly when it comes to claycourt tennis, but until recently he was probably best known for his on-court meltdowns.
They included a tirade against a female umpire at the 2017 US Open, whom he labelled a “whore” and a “cocksucker”.
But Fognini finally let his tennis do the talking in Monte Carlo last month where he beat Rafael Nadal en route to claiming his maiden Masters title.
With the biggest title of his career safely banked, perhaps Fognini will produce a better attitude, knowing he truly has the talent to beat the best on this surface.
He’s since lost to Dominic Thiem in Madrid and Stefanos Tsitsipas in Rome – far from disastrous results – and if he can produce his top form in Paris he should at least be looking to equal his best effort there, a quarter-final in 2011.
Not many players can trouble Nadal like Fognini can – his win in Monte Carlo was his third on clay over the 11-time champion and he’s also beaten him over five sets at the US Open – so maybe he could just be the one able to spring a shock.
Monfils’ career has mirrored Fognini’s in many ways; his talent has rarely been in doubt but using it in the ultimate way has always been a problem.
In his case, it’s often been a physical issue which has undermined his attempts at the highest level, particularly in the Slams where the best-of-five format applies.
Still, Monfils has enjoyed a good season so far, winning in Rotterdam, although there have, of course, been a couple of injuries to deal with along the way.
This event is the highlight of his year though and he’s usually been able to deliver something like his best at Roland Garros.
He may have just the one semi-final (in 2008) on his CV but three other quarter-finals and three last-16 appearances show how he’s been able to produce results at his home event.
What is also notable is the list of players he’s lost to. Eight of his 12 defeats have come against top-10 ranked players (including four against a certain Roger Federer). The other four have all been to strong claycourters – Guillermo Canas, David Nalbandian, Fognini and David Goffin.
That suggests if he can get a decent draw, Monfils has a good chance of going deep again in this French Open. With his form decent and fitness looking relatively OK, maybe this athletic shotmaker has one more shot at matching compatriot Yannick Noah’s title feat of 1983.
We’re heading into proper long-shot territory now but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest Garin should not be as big as 200/1 for the French Open.
He’s won titles on clay in Houston and Munich in the past couple of months and ahead of this week’s event in Geneva held an impressive 19-6 record for the season, a run which includes a perfect 8-0 streak in final sets.
He’s in the top 10 for return games won this season (29.1