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French Open Favorites Are No Locks

Posted by Webster Washington on 5/25/2016 10:50:38 AM

When trying to weed out favorites in major tournaments, you usually round up the usual suspects. But for this year's French Open, the usual suspects look very vulnerable, so both the men's and women's sides are more testy than they have been. Let's mull over the top contenders.

Men

First of all, Roger Federer is a throw-out. His knee and back problems caused him to withdraw this year. That however doesn't make things that much easier for our favorites.

NOVAK DJOKOVIC has never won the French Open in 11 tries. So that could give him some drive. Since he's won everything else in his career, and has reached the French finals in three of the last four years, you still have to consider the world No. 1 the favorite. Winning the French Open would give him four consecutive major championships, something no man has achieved since Rod Laver won a true Grand Slam in 1969. He won a title on clay this season in Madrid, defeating Andy Murray in final. But he also lost a quirky first-round match in Monte Carlo.

RAFAEL NADAL has shown signs of a resurgence since his disappointing decline in 2015. He's won twice on clay this spring - in Barcelona and Monte Carlo. He beat Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka on the way to his Monte Carlo triumph, adding to his credibility here. But he lost to Murray in Madrid and to Djokovic in Rome. Once the master of the red dirt, he has won nine French Opens. He's on the same side of the bracket with Djokovic, so that rivalry could extend in the semifinals here.

ANDY MURRAY had a bit of a breakthrough this year by beating Djokovic for the first time on clay in the Monte Carlo event. But he's never reached the French Open finals and he struggled in the first round this year.

STAN WAWRINKA is the defending champion at Roland Garros, so he deserves some love. He has two tourney trophies to credit this season, but he has beaten no one of significance and lost to Nadal and Nick Kyrgios in tournaments this year.

Women

Serena Williams has been absent for much of the season, but it's not like anyone has stepped up to fill the void. Angelique Kerber was bounced in the first round, so she's a contender out of the way.

SERENA WILLIAMS should have the motivation of trying to catch and surpass Steffi Graf as the all-time Grand Slam singles title champion. With 21 titles, she trails Graf by just one. Approaching age 35, Serena has some urgency to reach that plateau. The defending French Open champ, Williams has played in just four tournaments this season, and won her first in nine months last week in Rome. She didn't lose a set along the way. Still, Serena hasn't beaten a top-five contender this year, and with so little play this year, her endurance against top-rated talent is suspect.

SIMONA HALEP has a singles title this year and rolled through her first round match in straight sets. Her clay-court win in Madrid puts her on this board, but she beat nobody in winning it.

VICTORIA AZARENKA stormed into the clay season on a 12-match winning streak that got her two titles. But she's done little since, losing her first match in Rome and in the third round in Madrid. And she could have to deal with Serena as early as the quarterfinals.

AGNIESZKA RADWANSKA breezed to an opening round win at the French, and has a singles title to her credit. She has lost twice to Serena this year, and got bounced in the opener in Madrid. Still her 21-6 singles record deserves respect.

Picking Winners

While Djokovic has never won this thing, and Serena has not played that much this year, their reputations make them favorites, simply by process of elimination. But the men's division appears to be closer, and I would be willing to give Nadal a chance if he comes +600 or better to win the French Open. And I would go with Djoker at +500 or better. On the women's side, I picked Serena at +200 some time ago, because that was the first time in months I had seen her with a halfway appetizing number. I wouldn't touch the rest of the women's field at lower than +800. Meanwhile, the individual matches should offer value, particularly in the later rounds. If Serena gets on a roll, don't try to beat her.

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