The French Open is upon us, and this Grand Slam is filled with interesting storylines as always. Read on to see which players are primed for success on the red clay of Roland Garros and which ones could be heading home early, as well as my pick for the title winner.
Rafael Nadal - It's never wise to pick against the King of Clay at Roland Garros. While Nadal is "just" 14-3 on his favorite surface this season, he should still be viewed as the favorite to take home his 12th French Open title. In his most recent action, Nadal overcame his mental block against Novak Djokovic with a 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 win in the final of the Italian Open. The Spaniard looked like the dominant clay-court force we've come to know and love over the years in that tournament – all five of his opponents were ranked no worse than 42, yet he managed to serve up a bagel set to four of them, including Djoker in the final.
Fabio Fognini - Fognini took home his first ever Masters 1000 title at the Monte Carlo earlier in the clay-court swing, and the Italian shotmaker is primed for another strong result on his favorite surface. Seeded ninth, Fognini has a great opportunity to reach his second career Grand Slam quarterfinal, with the first coming at this tournament back in 2011.
Felix Auger-Aliassime - Auger-Aliassame could be the Giannis Antetokounmpo of men's tennis. The two share much more than just hard to pronounce names, as both are lanky athletes with immense physical gifts. Antetokounmpo has become a household name in the basketball world at age 24, and it won't be long until Auger-Aliassime – six years Giannis' junior – is similarly renowned for his on-court exploits. The 6-foot-4 Canadian is the youngest member of the top 100, and Felix is seeded 28th here after already reaching a pair of finals on clay this season. It's only a matter of time until he breaks through at a Grand Slam, and Auger-Aliassime's defensive-minded game makes clay his best surface at this stage.
Alexander Zverev - Zverev found his game in Geneva over this past week, but he had been slumping for a while prior to that tournament win. After dropping three of his last four matches on hard courts, the fifth-seeded German posted a pedestrian 5-6 record on clay before pulling out a few tight matches against lesser opponents to win the Geneva Open. With questions about Zverev's ability to deliver at Grand Slams still swirling about, he's at risk of an early exit despite what looks like a favorable draw in the early rounds.
Kyle Edmund - The top-ranked Brit in the draw has gone just 1-5 on clay in 2019, dropping his past five matches. Edmund's draw is exceedingly tough as well – he'll face 40th-ranked Frenchman Jeremy Chardy in the first round and would play No. 4 seed Dominic Thiem in the third round if both guys get there.
Christian Garin - Garin has already had a tremendous clay-court season, taking home titles in Houston and Munich while beating Zverev en route to the latter championship. The 22-year-old Chilean is one of the many South American players who feels most comfortable on clay. Garin just missed out on earning a seed in this tournament, but he's as dangerous as any unseeded guy in this draw.
Richard Gasquet - Gasquet missed the first part of the 2019 season due to hernia surgery, dropping him out of the seeded range. The veteran Frenchman remains one of the most dangerous floaters in the draw given his wealth of experience, especially with the home crowd likely to get behind him. Fellow unseeded Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is in the same boat, though it's worth noting that both Gasquet and Tsonga will face a tough road to the third round. The former could face 15th-seeded Nikoloz Basilashvili in the second round while the latter could draw No. 7 Kei Nishikori in that round if they all escape Round 1 unscathed.
Nobody but Nadal, Djokovic and Roger Federer has won a Grand Slam title since the start of the 2017 season, and that's unlikely to change here. Federer's a notch (or five) below these other two guys on clay at this stage of his career and 2018 finalist Dominic Thiem is knocking on the door of the top tier on the dirt, but this is a different Djokovic from the one that fell in the quarters as the 20th seed here last season. I'll take Nadal over the field, but Djokovic is the field's best chance at preventing a 12th French Open title for Rafa.
FIRST ROUND UPSET WATCH
Jarry is a tricky opponent. He beat Zverev on clay earlier this season and had two match points against the German in the final of Geneva on Saturday. The in-form Chilean could cause problems for del Potro, who has been limited to seven matches in 2019 by a knee injury, posting a 4-3 record to date.