The French Open, 2020’s final Grand Slam event, starts on 27th September. Normally it is the second Major of the year. However, postponement this year was due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The good news is that the organizers have already started the qualification matches for this premier tournament, with the 1st round starting from Monday, and the even better news is that 5000 paying spectators will be there to cheer their favourite players.
Who are the former Champions who will be playing this year? Rafa Nadal with 12 wins will be eagerly looking forward to his lucky 13th. It will also enable him to equal Federer’s tally of 20 Majors. Novak has won the French Open once and he will be looking forward to adding to his overall tally of 17. Winning his 2nd title here will make him the 1st among the great trio to win all the four Grand Slams twice. Rafa, of course, will also have a chance to so, but later at the Australian Open 2021. Former one-time winner Federer has opted out of this year’s tournament due to injury.
No other current player has won the French Open, which shows Rafa’s dominance at this premier event.
The top four seeds are Novak, Rafa, Thiem, and Medvedev. The draw is out as well. Let us see how the draw looks for the top four seeds, who all they will meet, and how they have fared against them overall, at Grand Slams and here at the French Open. I will be assuming that the match-ups in the latter half of the tournament will actually take place. For instance, while discussing Thiem-Rafa or Novak-Medvedev, I will be assuming that the higher-ranked player will progress to the next round.
Rafa starts off against Egor Gerasimov of Belarus. They will be meeting for the first time. Rafa’s 1st tough opponent will be Fognini in the 4th round. They have met 16 times with Rafa winning 12. On clay is 6-3 in Rafa’s favour and on hard courts, it is 6-1 in Rafa’s favour. In Grand Slams, they have met twice and Rafa has won at RG while Fognini has won a thriller at the US Open after losing the 1st 2 sets. Only 2 players have defeated Rafa on clay more than once in a season, and apart from Novak, the other is Fognini. It will be a good match, and I expect Fognini to take a set off Rafa. Sinner and Goffin too are in Rafa’s Quarter, and while both are excellent players, I do not expect them to cause problems to Rafa if they meet.
Rafa would most probably meet Sascha in the QF. They have met six times and Rafa has won their 1st five matches. On clay, it’s 3-0 Rafa. In Grand Slams they have met just once and Sascha stretched Rafa to five sets at the semi-finals of the AO. The second most awaited match of the tournament (apart from Rafa-Novak of course) would be a Rafa-Thiem SF. The 2 champions have met 14 times with Rafa winning 9 matches. On hard courts, they have won once each, while Rafa has an 8-4 h2h on clay. In Grand Slams they have met 6 times with 5 wins for Rafa. At the French Open, they have played four times and all the matches were won by Rafa. Thiem fans will be hoping that he will repeat his feat of one win over Rafa on clay courts which he has been doing for the last 4 years.
If Rafa gets past Thiem he will meet Novak in the final. The two giants have met 55 times with Novak having a 29-26 h2h lead. On clay, they have met 24 times with Rafa having a 17-7 lead. At the FO, it is an overwhelming 6-1 for Rafa. Overall also in Grand Slams, it’s 9-6 for Rafa. A crucial fact is that at the finals, no one has even stretched Rafa to 5 sets. Rafa will be carrying that confidence. The only problem is that Rafa is short of match practice while Novak has won 2 Masters and looked good at the US Open as well till he defaulted.
Interestingly Novak has started his mind games already by suggesting that heavy clay and less bounce, will be there at Paris and Rafa prefers high bounce and hot and warm conditions where he can use his spin a lot. Novak diplomatically concludes that Rafa will still be the favourite of course.
What about Novak’s draw. He meets former Junior Wimbledon finalist Michael Ymer of Sweden for the 1st time. In the 4th round, he is likely to meet Khachanov. They have met 5 times and Novak has won 4 including their only meet-up in a Grand Slam which was at Wimbledon. Khachanov’s only win was in a big match-the Final of the Paris Masters. In the SF, Novak is likely to meet Berretini whom he has defeated the only time they have met. Medvedev is the likely opponent in the SF. They have met 6 times with a 4-2 h2h in Novak’s favour. The only Grand Slam encounter was at the AO which Novak won, while Medvedev won their only clay-court match, which was at the Monte Carlo Masters.
Thiem has undoubtedly the toughest draw amongst the top 3. He has 7 tough matches in a row. A blockbuster opening round is versus Cilic. While Cilic has won all their three matches including their only Grand Slam match which was at the US Open 2020, he will certainly be wary. Thiem next meets the giant American Opelka, a former Junior Wimbledon Champion ( defeated Ymer who will meet Novak), who at 6’11 is the joint tallest player ever, along with Ivo Karlovic. They have faced each other once and Opelka took a set off Thiem and then retired in the 3rd set at the Madrid Open. Next, he will meet the talented Casper Ruus in the third while the fourth round will possibly be versus Wawrinka or Murray, who also have a blockbuster 1st round match. Thiem’s quarter-final will be versus Monfils or Schwartzmann. SF as discussed is versus Rafa.
There are various motivations for Thiem to not just defeat Rafa but try and win the tournament. Being much younger, he has lost four times to Rafa here. He is now a Grand Slam Champion and also has a win over Rafa at the Australian Open. He would like a win and also go on to win the FO since he is at 9125 points to Rafa’s 9850, and winning the FO will mean he gains 800 points and becomes the new World Number 2. For that, he has to defeat both Rafa and Novak. Not easy, but then you don’t become the world Number 2 just like that.
We have seen 2 Blockbuster 1st round matches in Murray-Wawrinka and Thiem-Cilic. There are some more. Goffin-Sinner, Gael Monfils- Alexander Bublik, Richard Gasquet-Roberta Bautista Agut are the other 3 terrific 1st round matches which will be keenly awaited.
Finally, we come to Medvedev. He does not have any tough matches initially ( my opinion) and his 1st tough match will be Tsitsipas in QF. Of course, Tsitsipas has a tough 4th round match with Shapovalov but I feel Tsitsipas after his disappointing Rome Masters will make amends at the French Open. The two young guns have faced each other five times and Medvedev won their 1st five matches including their solitary Grand Slam meet-up at the US Open. Their 6th match was at the 2019 ATP Tour finals which Tsitsipas won. Theirs will be a match keenly awaited as well. If Medvedev wins, he meets Novak. I have discussed the Novak-Medvedev h2h. If Tsitsipas wins, he and Novak will meet for the 7th time. They have split their 6 matches so far, and Novak has won their only match on clay courts. They have not met in Grand Slams.
Medvedev with 5890 points has lots to gain and a major gain for him will be dislodging Federer 6630 from world Number 4 spot which he will do if he reaches SF. He will, however, be hungry for more, and now that Thiem is a Grand Slam winner, he too would like to join the coveted club as early as possible.
This, therefore, is the draw. One crucial tournament rule is that in French Open you need to have a clear lead of 2 games in the final set to win, unlike other tournaments where they have gone in for tie-breaker in the final set. This will be very crucial and fitness will play a major role.
Why do I feel that Rafa and Novak will be fitter than players 12-14 years younger and ultimately the two greats will fight to lift the 2020 French Open? Looking forward to a great tournament.
The blogger, Ritesh Misra, is an IRS Officer currently based in Mumbai. He tweets @riteshmisra. His hobbies are sports, films, and music.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Pragativadi and Pragativadi.com does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.