| By Long Island Tennis Magazine Staff
Photo courtesy of USTA/Brad Penner

 

This article first appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of Long Island Tennis Magazine


Can Nadal win 12th French Open crown?

If Rafael Nadal is in the French Open draw, he generally becomes the undisputed favorite to be the final one standing when all is said and done. That has been the case for nearly two decades, and will be the same in 2019. But at 32-years-old and with injuries stalling the first few months of his year, Nadal certainly seems as if he may be more vulnerable this year than in year’s past. A knee injury forced him to withdraw from the BNP Paribas Open with the goal of returning for the clay-court swing. But when he did, he powered his way to a triumph at the Italian Open, downing Novak Djokovic in the finals. He is an 11-time French Open champion and, despite the wear and tear on his body, Rafa will be a strong favorite to capture his 12th French Open crown.


Halep’s encore

 

Last year, Simona Halep finally captured her maiden Grand Slam title by toppling American Sloane Stephens in the French Open final. It was her third major final, and her third trip did prove to be the charm. She has yet to win a title in 2019, but it will be interesting to see how her game turns around when she hits the clay.

“Honestly I cannot believe it. I was dreaming for this moment since I started to play tennis,” Halep said after last year’s Roland Garros triumph. “I’m really happy that it’s happened in Roland Garros in Paris. My special city.”

We’ll see if Halep can once again channel that Parisian magic.



Thiem’s time?

 

Dominic Thiem broke through to his first Grand Slam final at Roland Garros a year ago, but could not overcome the dominance of the aforementioned Nadal. But at just 25-years-old and currently ranked fourth in the world, Thiem’s time to hoist a major trophy shouldn’t take much longer. His game is suited for the clay surface of Roland Garros, and his run to the finals came after back-to-back semifinal showings in 2016 and 2017. Those results indicate that he is trending upwards, and he can be considered a true contender at this year’s French Open. Eight of his 12 career titles have come on a clay surface, so look out for Thiem to be competing well into the Paris fortnight.


The young stars of 2019 … how will they fare?

 

One of the biggest storylines on the WTA this year has been the sheer parity that has existed. Through the first 16 tournaments of the season, there were 16 different champions. With that, there have been a lot of young players on the tour who have been able to find success. Most notably, Canada’s Bianca Andreescu. The 18-year-old has burst onto the in 2019, capturing titles in Indian Wells and Newport Beach, and reached the Auckland final to start the season. Other young stars such as Amanda Anisimova and Belinda Bencic (pictured above), who has returned to form after a couple of years battling injuries, have been successful in the first few months of the year, and helps to create a deep and dynamic field on the women’s side of the French Open.



Keys recent success on clay … can it continue?

Photo courtesy of USTA/Darren Carroll

 

It’s no secret that American players, both male and female, have not been very successful on clay. But that could change this time around.

Madison Keys, who has been a top-ranked American for a number of years now and reached the U.S. Open finals two years ago, did reach the semifinals in Paris last year, and could be due for a deeper run this year. She won her first ever clay court title with a win at the Volvo Car Open in Charleston in April, which should inspire some confidence in the 24-year-old.

“I feel like because it was such a rocky start for me all of those years ago, I’ve held a little bit of a grudge,” said Keys. “I guess now, I kind of have to let that go. Maybe I’m a clay court specialist now!”

That statement will be put to the test at Roland Garros.



Can Djokovic continue his dominance?

Photo courtesy of USTA/Darren Carroll

 

The last year or so on the ATP World Tour has belonged to Novak Djokovic. He is the winner of the last three Grand Slams, and will be attempting to win the Novak Slam for the second time in his career. From 2015-2016, Djokovic won Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the Australian Open and the French Open in one of the most remarkable runs in the Open Era. He has an opportunity to do that once again as he descends on Paris. A year ago, he lost to unknown Italian Marco Cecchinato in the quarterfinals, but you can be sure that the Serb will be laser-focused this time around. The French Open has been the tournament where Djokovic has had the least success over his career, but this rejuvenated version of one of the sport’s all-time greats seems primed to win his fourth straight major title.