2018 Roland Garros Preview – Men’s Singles

After a clay court season where one man, that man, has dominated, winning 17 of his 18 matches on-route to claiming his 11th title in Monte-Carlo, his 11th title in Barcelona, and his eighth title in Rome, with his only blemish being a loss in the quarter-finals in Madrid to Dominic Thiem.

And with his great rival in Roger Federer sitting out the clay court season for a second-straight year, can anyone stop Rafael Nadal from claiming an astonishing 11th title at Roland Garros, and a 17th Grand Slam title overall to move to within three of Federer’s record of 20?

So, let’s have a look at the men’s singles draw for Roland Garros 2018!

Section one

Of course this section of the draw features Nadal, who needs to defend his crown to retain the No.1 ranking, and while there are a couple of potential dangers that at their best could give Nadal trouble, most notably Denis Shapovalov, who made the semi-finals in Madrid, and perhaps Jack Sock, who has had a poor start to the year with just five wins from 15 matches. However, I cannot see either of them, let alone anyone else in this draw defeating him this year at Roland Garros.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (1) Rafael Nadal vs. (24) Denis Shapovalov

 

Section two

Section Two is a wide-open section featuring Diego Schwartzman, Borna Ćorić, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Feliciano López, who will equal Roger Federer’s record of 65-consecutive Grand Slam appearances, and Kevin Anderson, who are all capable of going deep here, but none of whom have reached the quarter-finals before at Roland Garros, with the best results being fourth rounds from Kohlschreiber (2009, 2013), López (2004), and Anderson (2014, 2015, 2017)!

However, in terms of form, Schwartzman (18 wins from 30 matches) and Anderson (20 wins from 28 matches) are clearly to two most in-form players in 2018 from this section, and without any truly obvious selections, one of these two will meet Nadal in the quarter-finals!

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (11) Diego Schwartzman vs. (6) Kevin Anderson

 

Section three

This section of the draw is also an interesting section, but one that contains a clear three standouts in Marin Čilić, who made the quarter-finals in Monte-Carlo and the semi-finals in Rome, Fabio Fognini, who made the quarter-finals in Rome, and Kyle Edmund, who made the quarter-finals in Madrid, as well as the final in Marrakesh, and the quarter-finals in Estoril before that.

While I expect Čilić to make the fourth round, it will be a tough third round battle to decide who will meet him in the round of 16, one that the Italian will be favoured to win over the Brit.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (3) Marin Čilić vs. (18) Fabio Fognini

 

Section four

If Juan Martín del Potro is fit and healthy, he can go deep into this French Open, but has only played four matches during the clay court season as he struggles to overcome a groin injury, but as long as he is right, he will at least make the fourth round where he will meet either John Isner, who made the quarter-finals in Madrid, or Tomáš Berdych, who lost in the first round in Monte-Carlo, Madrid, and Rome, but is capable of producing on the big stage.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (9) John Isner vs. (5) Juan Martín del Potro

 

Section five

In section five of the draw, David Goffin is the clear favourite to at least make the fourth round, if not the quarter-finals, after quarter-final appearances in Monte-Carlo and Rome, as well as making the semi-finals in Barcelona, but who he could meet in the fourth round is an interesting prospect! He could meet either Nick Kyrgios, who hasn’t played for over a month as he attempts to overcome an elbow injury, but is capable of finding form at short notice, or Pablo Carreño Busta, who made the semi-finals in Barcelona, as well as in Estoril, and looks to be in good form!

Kyrgios will face fellow Australian Bernard Tomic in the opening round in what could be an encounter full of tension!

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (8) David Goffin vs. (10) Pablo Carreño Busta

 

Section six

Section six contains the 2016 champion Novak Djokovic, who seems to be finding some form after a poor start to the season in his troubles from coming back from an elbow injury (10 wins from 17 matches) after making the semi-finals in Madrid, but faces a tough draw here, potentially facing David Ferrer in the second round, Roberto Bautista Agut in the third round, and Grigor Dimitrov or Fernando Verdasco in the fourth round, but in saying that, other than Dimitrov, who made the semi-finals in Monte-Carlo and the quarter-finals in Barcelona, looks the most in-form player here!

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (20) Novak Djokovic vs. (4) Grigor Dimitrov

 

Section seven

Dominic Thiem is in this section of the draw, the only man to defeat Nadal during this clay court season, and has made the semi-finals here for the last two years, but while he is the favoured player in this section, he faces a tough second round match-up with the Greek teenage sensation Stefanos Tsitsipas, who made the final in Barcelona, and the semi-finals in Estoril, before he can make a smooth passage through to the fourth round to probably face Kei Nishikori, who made the final in Monte-Carlo, and the quarter-finals in Rome on his comeback from a wrist injury suffered before the US Open last year.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (7) Dominic Thiem vs. (19) Kei Nishikori

 

Section eight

The 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka is in this section of the draw, but comes into the French Open in such poor form (three wins from eight matches), and his first round loss in Rome was his first match in just under three months in his struggles to overcome his knee problems.

The only player I can trust in this section is Alexander Zverev, who has been in amazing form, winning in Munich and Madrid, but also making the semi-finals in Monte-Carlo, and the final in Rome off the back in winning in Madrid. In my view, Zverev is the only player I truly believe can trouble (or beat) Nadal this year at Roland Garros!

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (15) Lucas Pouille vs. (2) Alexander Zverev

 

My predicted quarter-final match-ups

(1) Rafael Nadal vs. (11) Diego Schwartzman

(3) Marin Čilić vs. (5) Juan Martín del Potro

(8) David Goffin vs. (20) Novak Djokovic

(7) Dominic Thiem vs. (2) Alexander Zverev

 

My predicted semi-final match-ups

(1) Rafael Nadal vs. (5) Juan Martín del Potro

(8) David Goffin vs. (2) Alexander Zverev

 

My predicted final match-ups

(1) Rafael Nadal vs. (2) Alexander Zverev

 

My predicted 2018 Roland Garros champion

(1) Rafael Nadal

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2018 Roland Garros Preview – Women’s Singles

In a clay court season that has been wide open, we head now to Roland Garros for the 2018 French Open with a wide open field of contenders for the title, looking to knock defending champion Jeļena Ostapenko, who won her first career title here last year against Simona Halep, off her perch!

In addition to this, six players (Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki, Garbiñe Muguruza, Elina Svitolina, Karolína Plíšková and Caroline Garcia) are in contention to either retain or gain the world No.1 ranking by the end of the championship.

So, who will win at Roland Garros in 2018? Let’s have a look at the women’s singles draw!

Section one

Section One contains last year’s finalist and the No.1 seed Simona Halep, and given her consistent form, quarter-finals in Stuttgart and Madrid, as well as making the final in Rome, she is certainly the one to beat in this section, and will most likely meet either Daria Gavrilova or Elise Mertens in the fourth round.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (1) Simona Halep vs. (24) Daria Gavrilova

 

Section two

Caroline Garcia has been arguably the most consistent player during the clay-court season, making the semi-finals in both Stuttgart and Madrid, as well as the quarter-finals in Rome, and should make it through to the fourth round for a likely meeting with Angelique Kerber, despite Kerber going out of the opening round at Roland Garros the last two years!

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (12) Angelique Kerber vs. (7) Caroline Garcia

 

Section three

Garbiñe Muguruza has struggled for form during the clay-court season (two wins from four matches), but I can’t see anyone stopping her from making the fourth round where she will likely meet CoCo Vandeweghe, who made the final in Stuttgart, and is capable of doing some damage if she gets on a roll!

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (3) Garbiñe Muguruza vs. (15) CoCo Vandeweghe

 

Section four

This is a really interesting section with 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams returning to play her first grand slam after the birth of her first child, five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova continuing her redemption story from a drugs suspension, and with other standout players in Karolína Plíšková, Ashleigh Barty, and Julia Görges.

Both Sharapova and Plíšková should meet in the third round in what will be a blockbuster match-up, and while I respect her record, I don’t think Williams is in good shape at the moment, and I think either Barty or Görges will meet either Sharapova or Plíšková in the fourth round.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (17) Ashleigh Barty vs. (28) Maria Sharapova

 

Section five

The defending champion Jeļena Ostapenko is in this section of the draw, and after making the quarter-finals in Stuttgart and Rome, looks like a strong tip to go through to the fourth round after a difficult second round match against two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka.

Johanna Konta is also in this section of the draw, along with seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams, with the winner of their third round encounter to meet the defending champion in the round of 16.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (5) Jeļena Ostapenko vs. (9) Venus Williams

 

Section six

After making the quarter-finals in Stuttgart and winning in Rome, Elina Svitolina is a strong chance of going deep at Roland Garros, and will likely meet either Madison Keys, who won two matches in Rome, or Naomi Osaka, who won a match in Rome, in the fourth round.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (13) Madison Keys vs. (4) Elina Svitolina

 

Section seven

Petra Kvitová has been in strong form during the clay-court season, winning in Prague and Madrid, and while she isn’t renowned for being strong on clay, making the semi-finals at Roland Garros just once (2012), you sense she has the right draw to go deep here, and will likely face last year’s US Open champion Sloane Stephens, or Anastasija Sevastova in the round of 16.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (8) Petra Kvitová vs. (10) Sloane Stephens

 

Section eight

The 2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki is the strongest player in the final section of the draw, and despite some underwhelming performances during the clay-court season, with best results being quarter-finals in Istanbul and Rome, I think she can go deep at Roland Garros, where she has made the quarter-finals twice (2010, 2017).

Wozniacki will likely meet either Russian youngster Daria Kasatkina, or Spanish veteran Carla Suárez Navarro, who both made the quarter-finals in Madrid.

 

My predicted fourth round match-up: (14) Daria Kasatkina vs. (2) Caroline Wozniacki

 

My predicted quarter-final match-ups

(1) Simona Halep vs. (7) Caroline Garcia

(3) Garbiñe Muguruza vs. (28) Maria Sharapova

(5) Jeļena Ostapenko vs. (4) Elina Svitolina

(8) Petra Kvitová vs. (2) Caroline Wozniacki

 

My predicted semi-final match-ups

(1) Simona Halep vs. (28) Maria Sharapova

(4) Elina Svitolina vs. (2) Caroline Wozniacki

 

My predicted final match-ups

(1) Simona Halep vs. (4) Elina Svitolina

 

My predicted 2018 Roland Garros champion

(1) Simona Halep

A look at some of the upcoming rule changes in Grand Slam tennis

The start of the 2018 season of tennis is not too far away from beginning with the world’s best players busily training and preparing themselves for the start of the 2018 ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) World Tour and the 2018 WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) Tour seasons, and the first big event of the year, the first Grand Slam of the year, the 2018 Australian Open down in Melbourne at Melbourne Park.

However, there have been five major rule changes that have been announced recently by the Grand Slam Committee, one which will come into affect for Grand Slam tournaments beginning in 2019, four coming into affect for Grand Slam tournaments beginning in 2018, with one of those rule changes coming into affect for qualifying at the 2018 Australian Open.

So, here are the major rule changes for Grand Slam tennis from 2018 and/or beyond!

 

Rule 1: A 25-SECOND SHOT CLOCK BETWEEN POINTS.

This new rule will come into affect for qualifying at the 2018 Australian Open, and is something which has been discussed numerous times among tennis commentators around the world, and in fact the International Tennis Federation (ITF) has had a rule for many years with a time limit of just 20 seconds in-between points, but this has been leniently policed to say the least, and the ATP World Tour and the WTA Tour introduced a much more policed time limit of 25 seconds back in 2012 for 2013. If the server breached the time limit, they would receive a warning for the first violation of the rule, and then on subsequent breaches of the rule, they would lose a first serve. If the returner breached the time limit, they would receive a warning for the first violation of the rule, and then on subsequent breaches of the rule, they would lose the point.

It is going to be intriguing to see how this is policed, perhaps in a similar way to the way they police it right now, but it may get the crowd or spectators more involved into the match, which in actual fact could cause more problems for both the chair umpires and players alike, which would extend the length of matches, rather than reduce the length of matches due to the supposed “unsportsmanlike behaviour” of the crowd.

The only potential benefit I can see with this rule is to punish a player(s) who are in poor, physical condition, especially after a long rally or point, to get back to playing the next point within 25 seconds, which could break matches wide open in favour of the fitter player over the unfit player relatively speaking. Whether this outweighs the potential negatives of this rule that I mentioned in the previous paragraph remains to be seen! However, would the chair umpire, who is just as engrossed in a match as the players and crowd, show common sense to the players to give them more time to get ready for the next point after a long rally, or would the chair umpire show no discretion to the players involved, and perhaps lose control of a match like some officials in other sports which have problems with officiating standards, and unintentionally destroying the fabric of the game?

I know the game of tennis has created this new rule with good intentions, but I am not sure it will work, in part due to the lack of “perceived” tennis education of the people (in some parts of the world) who attend these big events just for the social experience of watching tennis, rather than for the love of the game! Maybe they can use the money raised from the next rule change to improve the education of the fans of the game.

Rule 2: PLAYERS WILL BE FINED UP TO $20,000 FOR EXCEEDING THE PRE-MATCH WARM-UP TIME LIMIT. PLAYERS GET ONE MINUTE TO BE READY FOR THE PRE-MATCH MEETING, FIVE MINUTES FOR AN ON-COURT WARM-UP AND ONE MINUTE TO BE READY FOR THE FIRST POINT.

This rule change, which will come into affect at the 2018 Australian Open, where players will be fined up to $20,000 for exceeding the time limit for the pre-match warm-up will have little effect on players who are already wealthy in world tennis in my opinion. Men’s world number one Rafael Nadal is an unbackable favourite to be fined the most for breaching this new rule, assuming that he plays in all four grand slams, and plays a good number of matches, while other wealthy players on both the ATP World Tour and WTA Tour will be happy to sacrifice some of their prizemoney if it helps them win a Grand Slam title.

However, it will penalise the players who aren’t wealthy, and make them change to conform to the rules! However, like with Rule 1, many of the young players, often less wealthy than their older counterparts, who have come onto the various tours in recent years are quick in getting ready, and quick in their time of getting ready for the next point.

I see no beneficial impact with this rule change that comes to mind and that I truly believe in, and I believe instead of narrowing the gap between the “rich” and the “poor”, it will do exactly the opposite, making the game less attractive to people and children to take up and play!

Rule 3: A MAIN DRAW SINGLES PLAYER WHO IS UNFIT TO PLAY AND WHO WITHDRAWS ON-SITE AFTER 12PM ON THURSDAY BEFORE THE START OF THE MAIN DRAW WILL RECEIVE 50 PER CENT OF THE FIRST-ROUND PRIZE MONEY, DESPITE NOT PLAYING. THE ‘LUCKY LOSER’ WHO REPLACES THE INJURED PLAYER WILL RECEIVE THE REMAINING 50 PER CENT.

In principal, I like this new rule, which will come into affect at the 2018 Australian Open, where by a main draw singles player can “admit” to being injured, and say that they will be unable to take their place in the particular Grand Slam singles main draw, and receive a portion of the first round prizemoney on offer before the start of the tournament, but I don’t think it will sort out the problem of players retiring in the first round of Grand Slam tournaments.

In 2017, 16 men and four women retired from first round matches in Grand Slam tournaments. In comparison to recent years, this isn’t the most since 2013, in both cases, with 19 men retiring from first round Grand Slam matches in 2014, while eight women retired from first round Grand Slam matches in 2016.

On average in the last five years, a total of 14.4 men have retired from first round Grand Slam matches across a single year, which is slightly lower than the number of male players who retired from first round Grand Slam matches in 2017. However, when you remove the seven male players who retired in the first round at the All England Club in 2017, then the number of first round retirements at the other Grand Slam events in 2017 is well below the average at the other three Grand Slam tournaments.

With the women, a total of 4.6 on average have retired in the first round of a Grand Slam per year over the last five years, which is a higher number that the four who retired from first round Grand Slam matches in 2017.

Overall, I don’t think there is a general issue with players playing with injury, and then retiring with injury early in an opening round match of a Grand Slam, and I don’t believe it will fix any “perceived” problems with players retiring from first round matches early!

Rule 4: A MAIN-DRAW SINGLES PLAYER WHO RETIRES OR PERFORMS BELOW PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS MAY BE SUBJECT TO A FINE UP TO THEIR FIRST-ROUND PRIZE MONEY IN 2018.

This rule, which will come into affect at the 2018 Australian Open, is perhaps the worst rule change out of the five, and it will be very hard to policy because if you suddenly suffer a devastating injury while you are on the court, are you going to be subject to a fine of up to your first round prizemoney when you are screaming in pain, and facing many months on the sidelines due to injury?

In addition to this, it is very difficult to interpret or see who is giving their best effort, and who is not giving their best effort, because someone could win 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 and not be giving anywhere near their best effort, while someone who lost 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 could be giving everything that they have to no avail, so I believe this new rule will do nothing other than give the ITF to punish who they see as “perceived” troublemakers on the tour.

Rule 5: THE NUMBER OF SEEDED PLAYERS IN MAIN-DRAW SINGLES WILL REDUCE FROM 32 TO 16.

This rule, which will come into affect at the 2019 Australian Open, appears to be a really good rule change on paper, giving us some big matches during the opening three rounds of a Grand Slam.

The 32-seed system in Grand Slam tennis has been in place since the start of Wimbledon back in 2001, and since then only two unseeded men (Goran Ivanišević, and Gastón Gaudio), and four unseeded women (Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters, Jeļena Ostapenko, and Sloane Stephens) have won Grand Slam singles titles in the 32-seed era to date, and only three men (Albert Costa, Pete Sampras, and Roger Federer), and three women (Venus Williams, Francesca Schiavone, and Flavia Pennetta) have won Grand Slam singles titles in the 32-seed era to date when they have been seeded 17th to 32nd.

I don’t necessarily mind cutting the seeds down from 32 to 16, but I don’t think it is going to necessarily create more even matches during the first week of a Grand Slam on its own!

The most important thing that the ATP World Tour and the WTA Tour need to change is their ranking system to a two-year ranking system, similar to the world rankings in golf, which will solve the issue of injuries and mental illness in many top-level players, giving them time to sort out their issues properly without placing pressure on them to come back too quickly. Only then will the 16-seed system seem fair to everyone!

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So, what are your thoughts on these major rule changes in Grand Slam tennis?