Sunday, 22 May 2016

Roland Garros - what I expect

Roland Garros 2016 is scheduled to start in a matter of hours, weather permitting, and I am probably the last person to put forward my predictions for what may occur over the next two weeks.  So that will be what follows.

Before the crystal ball analysis, results from the four tour events - WTA Nurnberg was won by Kiki Bertens from the Netherlands over Colombian Mariana Duque-Marino.  The home crowd was disappointed that the two German players left were defeated in the semis, preventing a fairy tale tournament ending.  However for Kiki her win was a form boost coming into a tough first round Roland Garros clash with Angie Kerber.

In Strasbourg, it was a win for the home country when Caroline Garcia denied Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the final.  Considering her lack of clay court form this year, Garcia's victory couldn't be better timed as she moves west to do battle in Paris.

Stan Wawrinka may be smarter than we all thought.  He has had a rather forgettable 2016 for someone supposedly part of the "Big 5".  However as reigning Roland Garros champ, his win overnight in Geneva, overcoming Cilic in the final, may just have clicked him into shape for a legitimate shot at defending his title in Paris.

Dominic Thiem defended his Nice crown with a three set win over Alexander Zverev in the final there, and both must be fancying their chances of deep runs in the Roland Garros draw.

Now for the French Open (Roland Garros) preview:

Women's Singles

Serena Williams is the defending champion and number one seed, but until a matter of days ago, her 2016 title trophy cabinet was bare.  Rome fixed that gap, and the 21 times Major winner enters the second GS tournament of the year as clear favourite.

With the consistent inconsistency of most of the rest of the top ten, it becomes difficult to select challengers to Serena for the French Open.  Her expected route to the quarter final appears reasonably comfortable, although Serena managed last year to make things as difficult for herself as possible in early rounds, so nothing is guaranteed.

Because of the flawed seed placements, the likely quarter final opponent for the top seed will be fifth seed Vika Azarenka, whose rise back to the top few has been a highlight of the WTA Tour this year.  Wins in Indian Wells and Miami, the former significantly including the defeat of Serena in the final, marked Vika as the best player on tour.  However, clay has always been her worst surface, and that, together with a back injury, has slowed her momentum at the wrong time.  Last year,  Serena beat Vika in the third round at Roland Garros, but even not at her peak, Azarenka took the match to three sets.  Hopefully the back will stand up to the stern test of the Paris clay, and if so I believe Vika has the mental strength to elude the missiles thrown her way.  Dangers exist in the form of Suarez Navarro and Cibulkova.

I expect Serena to win this quarter final and face either eighth seed Timea Bacsinszky or the winner of third seed Angie Kerber and 15th seed Madison Keys.  Kerber won in Stuttgart but was beaten in her opening matches in both Madrid and Rome, so doesn't fill me with great confidence, while Keys impressively made the Rome final, only losing to Serena, and recording wins over Kvitova and Muguruza along the way.  Timea has shown consistency, most recently making the quarters in Rome, after winning in Morocco earlier in the year.  Her part of the draw appears rather soft, and I am predicting a quarter final match up between Bacsinszky and Keys, with Keys the winner, then to play Serena Williams in a semi final, the two participants of the Rome final.

The bottom half of the draw is a lottery - Roberta Vinci is seeded 7 but there is no way I can see her winning through to the quarter finals - she has not beaten a player in the top ten all year, and her only win in the last three events was over a player barely ranked in the top 200.
The next highest seeds in Vinci's quarter are the Czech pair Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova, both of whom have had patches of promising form but of late have hardly impressed enough to suggest either is worthy of a Roland Garros quarter final berth.
I am following form and selecting Romania's Irina-Camelia Begu to take a quarter final spot.  The 25th seed has made the quarters in Madrid, losing to eventual winner Halep, and the semis in Rome, bowing out to eventual winner Williams.  Her scalps in the process included two top ten players Muguruza and Azarenka.

Begu's quarter final hurdle to clear will be fourth seed Garbine Muguruza, who has lately found enough of her best tennis, I believe, to cause some damage at Roland Garros this year.  She will need to keep a careful eye on Russian pair Svetlana Kuznetsova and Ekaterina Makarova, especially Sveta, winner here in 2009 and playing some good tennis in 2016.

Garbine should avenge her defeat at the hands of Begu in Madrid and make another GS semi final.

Her opposition when she arrives there will be the winner of the two final quarter finalists from my look into the future - Simona Halep and Aga Radwanska, seeds six and two respectively.  Halep has one of the easier draws, with last year's runner-up Lucie Safarova a likely round of sixteen match up.  However Lucie, apart from Prague has had a rather empty year, and Halep, also a previous runner-up here, is primed to do well, having only recently picked up the Madrid crown.

Radwanska must beware a likely second round clash with Caroline Garcia, who will carry the momentum of the French crowd and the Strasbourg title on to the Paris clay. Thereafter, it should be plain sailing for the second seed, but not if Barbora Strycova has anything to say about it.  Another dangerous player to watch out for.

I believe that Aga will win through to the quarter final against Halep and despite all the evidence pointing against it, defeat Simona and face off against Muguruza in the semi final.

So after predicting a few upsets, my forecast semi final line-up is surprisingly as per seedings except for Angie Kerber, whose place I've given to Madison Keys.

The final will be won by Serena Williams over Aga Radwanska.

Men's Singles

However hard I try, I cannot find a legitimate contender for the Men's crown at Roland Garros outside of three names - the three clear favourites.  Although with the Geneva result I am tending to throw Wawrinka back in the mix.

Novak Djokovic is outright favourite for several reasons, among them his record on clay (second only to Nadal among current players), his record at Roland Garros, and above all his capacity to beat everyone anywhere, and his ability to fulfil that potential almost all the time over the past 18 months.

Of course winning Roland Garros has become an increasingly annoying gap in Novak's resume, and his 'shocker' in Rome (he only came second God forbid !) apparently gave permission for all and sundry to doubt his credentials.  Andy Murray was now the rightful clay court master, and the reign of the Serb was probably over.

Yes, Murray is handling this surface very well now, but realistically Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic still have the two best records, particularly at this tournament.  (Apart from winning it in Djokovic's case)

Let's predict the quarter final contests.  Novak may have to navigate his way past Delbonis and Bautista Agut, but it is one of the easier draws, on paper, that the top seed has been given in a Major for some time.
Djokovic is seeded to meet seventh seed Tomas Berdych in the quarters but I don't fancy Tomas making the journey.  His big serve may see him survive Pablo Cuevas, but David Ferrer should have too much patience and returning ability on clay in a likely fourth round clash.  Djokovic, then, to defeat Ferrer in one quarter final.

Rafa Nadal, fourth seed, has a more difficult road to the quarter final, not necessarily with his first three matches - his poor history with Fognini shouldn't weigh too heavily on him.  It is the round of sixteen that becomes interesting and possibly gives us the match of the tournament to that point - Nadal v 13th seed Dominic Thiem.  Thiem has won more matches this year than anyone, except for Djokovic, and is in great spirits having won the ATP event in Nice.
Thiem could win the French Open in the future but Rafa will ensure it is not 2016.

The other player in Rafa's quarter final should be the winner of David Goffin and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, if they both make the round of sixteen.  Players of the calibre of Kohlschreiber and Souza will do their best to prevent that. I am putting my money on Goffin to reach the quarters and be beaten up by Nadal once there.

So semi final between Djokovic and Nadal is not a very controversial tip from yours truly, but really it is the only logical selection.

Milos Raonic, the eighth seed, faces some tough times in his quarter, with names such as Sock, Pouille and tenth seed Cilic all with good form and threatening.  Raonic, though, has his big serve to fight through, even on the clay court, and I can see him in a quarter final against Stan Wawrinka.  Stan does not have many concerns in his section of the draw - maybe Gilles Simon can worry him a little but not enough - and Wawrinka will also knock over Raonic to book a semi final spot.

That leaves two quarter finals and one semi final spot. 
In Kei Nishikori 's quarter, the seedings suggest a fourth round clash for the fifth seed against ninth seed Richard Gasquet.  However what everyone except the French crowd wants is for Nick Kyrgios (17th seed) to win through.  I don't think the French would mind the entertainment either.
Can the Australian avenge his defeat at the hands of Nishikori last time ?  I think so, because he is learning and improving all the time.

Ok, maybe with an ounce of home country hope, but with a fair bit of empirical evidence too, Nick Kyrgios to take a quarter final spot.
Andy Murray will be Nick's opponent, simply because there is no one with the game to counter him in that part of the draw.

Nick bows out with head held high and Murray v Wawrinka is the semi final as per seedings.

Hardly a surprise but I've selected the top four seeds to fight out the semi finals.

So close to picking Stan over Andy in the semi, but Novak Djokovic will defeat Andy Murray in the final and complete his career Grand Slam.

As per usual these forecasts will come back to bite me, unless they are correct, in which case I will scream them again from the rooftops.

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