1. Rafael Nadal. Following right behind the early success of his old foe Roger, Rafa Nadal seems to be playing his best tennis in years. Nadal ripped through the draw in Melbourne before meeting Federer in the finals where he lost a five-set epic match. Rafa would again play Federer at Indian Wells, and in Miami met him in the finals, but lost in straight sets on both occasions. The nine-time Roland Garros champ had to withdraw from last year’s tournament with a nagging wrist injury, but looked very dangerous on the dirt as always. The upcoming clay court season looks promising for “The King of Clay” who has only ever lost two matches in Paris in 12 years playing the event. Look for a gritty Rafa to make the push for his 15th major title and 10th taste of the French Open trophy.
2. Kerber’s test. With Serena Williams out for the rest of 2017 after announcing her pregnancy, Angelique Kerber is expected to reclaim the world number one spot ahead of Roland Garros. The two-time Grand Slam champion from Germany hasn’t always fared well in Paris as her best showing was a quarterfinal appearance back in 2012, and she was bounced by Kiki Bertens in the first round last year. Kerber hasn’t played her best tennis so far in 2017, but look for her to reverse that trend at this year’s French Open.
3. If you don’t know Garbine Muguruza by now … she’s a big serving, powerful baseliner who unexpectedly beat Serena Williams in straight sets in last year’s French Open final. Although the reigning Roland Garros champion has had success here before, Muguruza has been inconsistent and unpredictable since her first taste of Grand Slam glory. While this is the case, don’t count her out of the running for this year’s title because she knows her way around a clay court.
4. Did somebody say Nick Kyrgios? The flashy, young Aussie has been nothing short of entertaining this year, just as he has been since bursting onto the scene in 2013. The difference four years later? He’s been playing consistent tennis which has been backing up his flashy shot-making and outspoken personality. He defeated Novak Djokovic twice in two weeks in the month of March, in Acapulco and again in Indian Wells. Kyrgios is 9-2 since the beginning of March and has been hitting highlight reel shots in what seems like every match. Look for Kyrgios to be both winning and entertaining at the 2017 French Open.
5. Slumps. It’s almost scary how similar these two have started 2017. Both Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray began their respective seasons in Qatar, where they met in a three set final which could have easily gone either way (Djokovic won). In Melbourne, Djokovic was ousted by Denis Istomin in the second round, while Murray lost in the fourth round to Mischa Zverev. At the Mexican Open in Acapulco, Djokovic bowed out in the quarter finals to Nick Kyrgios, while on the other side of the world, Murray picked up his lone title in Dubai over Fernando Verdasco. Just when it seemed both players were finding their stride, they both suffered early exits in Indian Wells where Murray failed to win even one match. Both players then withdrew from the Masters in Miami, citing the same exact injury just days apart. Both Djokovic and Murray are 12-3 in 2017, both have only one title, both suffered early exits in Melbourne and Indian Wells, and both players cited elbow injuries right before Miami. But don’t expect their struggles to continue for much longer, and the two greats will look to bounce back after a rough start to 2017.
6. Look for Jack Sock, plain and simple. The guy is on fire in 2017. Sock has a record of 18-5 and has already racked up two titles (Delray Beach and Auckland). He started 2017 ranked 23rd in the world, but has climbed to 14th in the world since then. He battled his way to the semifinals at Indian Wells, beating Dimitrov and Nishikori, and easily made it to the quarterfinals in Miami. Who did he lose to? None other than Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal who are arguably the best players so far in 2017. Sock has been trending upward recently, so look for a big win against a top player at Roland Garros.
7. The young and up-and-coming (men). Be on the lookout for a handful of young guns in the men’s draw. Alexander Zverev, Lucas Pouille (pictured above), Karen Khachanov, Frances Tiafoe and Jared Donaldson are all top 100 players who can make some noise at any Grand Slam and some will likely get direct entry into the main draw of the year’s second Slam. Leading the pack is the 19-year-old Zverev, who has quite possibly the most potential of his generation. Zverev won his second career title in Montipellier where he beat veterans, and home crowd favorites Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet. In Miami, Zverev triumphed over big serving American John Isner, and three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka before losing to Nick Kyrgios in a nail-biter of a quarterfinal. These guys are capable of stringing together a couple solid wins, so look out for the youngsters at Roland Garros.
8. The young and up-and-coming (women). All eyes should be on Daria Kasatkina, Ana Konjuh, Jelena Ostapenko, CiCi Bellis (pictured above) and the other members of the under-20 club. Bellis is the youngest of the crew at just 18-years-old and has begun 2017 under the radar due to an injury, but began the year as the youngest player in the top 100 after turning pro last year. She recorded her first top 10 win over Agnieszka Radwanska in Dubai to reach the quarterfinals, which catapulted her 14 spots in the rankings to world number 56. In 2015, Bellis started out ranked 248th in the world. Be on the lookout for these young ladies, as they can most definitely make some noise if provided the right draw.
9. Kvitova's Return. Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitova will return to professional tennis at the French open, she announced in a press conference in Paris on Friday.
“I knew this day would come. I’m really happy that really here, the dream comes true,” Kvitova said. “I’m here in the draw and I’m playing tennis again, and was a difficult time for me, of course. I know that my hand, it’s not perfectly ready. It’s still not 100 percent ready, so we will see how everything goes, but I’m happy that I am able to play again.”
Kvitova was injured in a knife attack back in December after an intruder entered her home. That night, she underwent nearly four hours of surgery and soon after began a grueling rehab process.The two-time Wimbledon champion will take on American Julia Boserup in the French Open’s opening round.
10. Thiem's Time. Austria's Dominic Thiem has put together a wonderful clay-court season which puts him right in the discussion as one of this year's Roland Garros favorites. The seventh ranked player in the world was a finalist in both Barcelona and Madrid before reaching the Rome semifinals. His success on clay, as well as his win over Nadal in the Rome quarterfinals, should give him a boost of confidence as we approach the French Open.
<p>Troy Haas is a contributor to Long Island Tennis Magazine. He can be reached by e-mail at THaas909@gmail.com.</p>