French Open expert picks -- Will Novak Djokovic win? Or Carlos Alcaraz? And is Iga Swiatek simply unstoppable?

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The 2022 French Open starts Sunday, and with Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal both in the draw, along with rising stars Carlos Alcaraz, Iga Swiatek and Ons Jabeur — it is set to be an exciting two weeks.

Will Djokovic defend his 2021 French Open title? Can Swiatek win her second major? Will Alcaraz win his first? Our experts weigh in.

Who will win the men’s singles title and why?

Chris Evert: Novak Djokovic, because his timing to peak is impeccable. He has his clay court legs and instincts back, and he’s fresh from his time off earlier this year.

Pam Shriver: Carlos Alcaraz is ready to win his first major. His last few months have been a meteoric rise towards the top of men’s tennis at just 19 years of age. His strength has grown since last year’s US Open run. He is ready to grind for seven matches, 3 of 5 sets. While the top half of the draw is loaded with the top three favorites, Alcaraz is in the better section of the top half. His coach Juan Carlos Ferrero has won Roland Garros, and Carlos is ready to join him as a Roland Garros champion.

Rennae Stubbs: Djokovic. After winning in Rome, he is mentally and physically back after the debacle at the beginning of the year, and is ready to show why he is the best player in the world.

Mary Joe Fernandez: Rafa Nadal is the favorite even though he did not win a warm-up clay event. When you win a Grand Slam 13 times you are the favorite until you retire. Nadal feels at home on Philippe Chatrier and it has been almost impossible to beat him in best of five sets.He has played so well to start the season that he can draw on that confidence to win in Paris again.

Luke Jensen: Alcaraz. The young and extremely confident Spaniard is ready to take his first major. He has every shot on the court and his super weapon is his calm demeanor under pressure. He won in Madrid, beating Nadal and Djokovic soooooo look out! The kid is 16-1 this year in the red mud!

Patrick McEnroe: Djokovic will get past Nadal, Alcaraz and Stefanos Tsitsipas to win his 21st Grand Slam title.

Brad Gilbert: The imbalance of the top half of the draw (group of death), with Djokovic rounding into form, the emergence of Alcaraz and Nadal (with injury concerns there), makes me look to the bottom half of the draw and the great opportunity for Tsitsipas to win it.

Cliff Drysdale: Alcaraz. He is young but so were Boris Becker, Mats Wilander, Chrissie Evert, Tracy Austin, Michael Chang and Pete Sampras.

D’Arcy Maine: I can’t resist: Alcaraz. Could this be slightly premature? Absolutely. He’s only played in four five-set matches thus far in his career and has an incredibly tough draw, with potential showdowns with Sebastian Korda (the only man to beat him on clay thus far this season), Alexander Zverev and Nadal or Djokovic en route to the final.

But he’s been nearly flawless on the surface in the lead-in events, and it seems all but certain he will be hoisting a major trophy at some point in the near future, so why not now?

Tom Hamilton: I’m backing Alcaraz to win. The young Spaniard was immense at the Madrid Open and is riding a wave of confidence into Roland Garros. There are question marks over whether he can prevail in five-set matches, but he’s the man to beat with those around him tipping him for multiple Grand Slams. This time around, it could all come down to that semifinal (if he makes it) where he will likely face the winner of the potential Nadal-Djokovic quarterfinal.

Simon Cambers: Djokovic. It didn’t look that way when he was losing early in Monte Carlo, but with Nadal not 100 percent and having won Rome in style, everything’s in his favor. Alcaraz may prove me wrong, but I think he’s a year away from winning, while Djokovic will channel all that happened in Australia into winning a third Roland Garros title.

Bill Connelly: I was fully prepared to pick Alcaraz here. „He’s been unbelievable this year, and with Nadal hobbled and Djokovic still trying to find his form, this is his moment,“ I would have said. But then Djokovic laid waste to a loaded field in Rome. His serve and forehand are in rhythm again. His forehand looks as dangerous as ever, and it’s fair to assume that defeating him in a best-of-5 match remains one of the most difficult feats in sports. Djokovic’s the favorite.

Aishwarya Kumar: Alcaraz. The 19-year-old is unstoppable right now. In the span of two months — from March 22 when the Miami Open began to May 22 when the French Open will begin — he has won two ATP 1000 titles and one ATP 500s title. And he didn’t beat just any top player for those trophies. He became the first person to beat Nadal and Djokovic in a single clay court tournament to win the Madrid Open earlier this month. He is playing impeccable tennis right now. He has suddenly become the man to beat — and he told me earlier this month that he is ready to win a Grand Slam!

Who will win the women’s singles title and why?

Evert: Iga Swiatek, because she believes in her improved aggressive game now, her open stance sliding is pretty terrific and she takes the ball earlier than anyone.

Shriver: Swiatek will continue to win at the year’s second major. She possesses the most dominant shot on the women’s tour — her forehand — and she will use it to punish her seven opponents on her way to her second Roland Garros title. Swiatek’s comfort on clay and her confidence will be too much to overcome.

Ons Jabeur is my outsider. Everyone besides Swiatek is an outsider. Jabeur has become the best drop-shotter in tennis. Since losing the Charleston Open final in April, Jabeur has been on a mission, winning the Madrid Open and making the final of the Italian Open. She has the fitness and belief now to win a major. Jabeur would have learned a lot by watching Ashleigh Barty’s style the past few years.

Stubbs: Swiatek. By far the best player in the world at the moment and the most dominate on clay. She is on one of the hottest winning streaks in history, and I expect it to continue.

Fernandez: Swiatek is the clear favorite. She has won five tournaments in a row. Her game translates the best to clay as she moves so well on it and hits such a heavy forehand. She has a great balance of offense and defense. It also helps that she has won the French Open already.

Jensen: Swiatek is just rough on the dirt. She is the first generation born and raised on the modern game-changer polyester string that allows massive amounts of spin. Swiatek uses spin to devastate her opponents. Most importantly the WTA locker room doesn’t think they can beat her and that intimidating factor wins in Poland Garros!

Gilbert: Swiatek has massively stepped up and it is her versus the field at the moment.

McEnroe: Swiatek will roll to the title without dropping a set.

Drysdale: Swiatek. Everyone’s choice I suppose, but you cannot argue with success and the confidence that comes with it. That said, if you offered me Iga versus the field, I take the field because of the pressure of expectation.

Maine: Swiatek. We haven’t seen anyone be this unstoppable in the women’s game since Serena Williams in her prime, and Swiatek seems almost a near-lock to win her second Suzanne Lenglen Cup. It’s not just that she’s won all four 1000-level events she has played in, or the fact she hasn’t lost since February, it’s how she’s done it — she has dropped just two sets on clay all season and hasn’t lost more than five games total in any of her five finals. There seems little doubt that the Iga Era is officially upon us and it’s unlikely anyone will be able to play spoiler right now.

Hamilton: It’s Swiatek’s title to lose. She is 28 games unbeaten and in ridiculously good form. While the likes of Ons Jabeur and Simona Halep will have eyes on winning at Roland Garros, Swiatek heads into this championship as the clear favorite, as she looks to add a second Grand Slam to her name.

Cambers: It’s impossible to see past Swiatek. She won the title two years ago before she was even established on the WTA Tour. Now, she’s the world No. 1, has won five straight tournaments and exudes confidence. Plus, she loves clay. Unless she struggles with the pressure, she’s the likely champion.

Connelly: Swiatek’s draw isn’t great — she might have to beat both Halep and Paula Badosa before she even reaches the finals — but … come on. She hasn’t lost since Valentine’s Day. She’s in amazing form. She’s already won this tournament before. At worst, she’s 50/50 versus the field.

Kumar: It’s going to be very hard to beat Swiatek. It’s utter and complete domination. And, remember, she is just 20 years old. This is Swiatek’s time, and I, for one, can’t wait to see her lift her second Grand Slam title.

Who could surprise this year?

Evert: Bianca Andreescu could surprise. She’s had only a few matches but looked sharp nonetheless. She has a new coach and a new positive attitude. Denis Shapovalov could also surprise, as he’s gaining more confidence by the minute in beating the top ones.

Shriver: Casper Ruud is prepared to have a major breakthrough. His forehand, clay-court comfort, and placement on the bottom half of the draw mean he only has to beat one or two top contenders to win his first major. His dad Christian, a former ATP tour player, has helped teach Casper how to be a contender for majors. It’s time for a surprise major winner on the men’s side.

Stubbs: Amanda Anisimova. She was a semi-finalist at the 2019 French Open, loves the faster clay in Paris and is becoming more confident at the highest level.

Fernandez: Anisimova and Jessica Pegula can surprise this year. They both have played very well all year and their flat, deep ground strokes will give the field trouble.

Jensen: Ruud from Norway is No. 8 on the planet but not many people outside the locker room know this guy. His pops Christian was an ATP baller with the same style of clay court game. Casper brings heavy groundies and supreme fitness that can bring home the title.

Gilbert: I like the way Miomir Kecmanovic is playing as well as Jannik Sinner. Coco Gauff has a great draw and I’d like to see her make a deep run.

Drysdale: The surprise of the event will come from Gauff and/or Naomi Osaka. Osaka is one of the top 3 ball strikers in tennis, and there is some mental strain off her.

Maine: It might be ridiculous to say this since he reached the final last year at Roland Garros, but with Alcaraz, Nadal and Djokovic fielding the majority of attention on the men’s side, it feels as if a maiden Grand Slam victory for Tsitsipas would actually surprise a lot of people. And that’s not exactly a far-fetched outcome. The „Current Three“ (*working title) are all on the same side of the draw, as is Zverev. But Tsitsipas sits all by his lonesome on the other side with Daniil Medvedev, who recently returned from injury and has never had much success on clay, as perhaps his biggest threat. Tsitsipas won the title in Monte Carlo and reached the final in Rome — and could potentially finish the job he started last year in Paris.

Hamilton: Have a look at Ruud on the men’s side of the draw. He’s at ridiculously long odds to win a maiden Slam in Paris despite being the No. 8 seed, but he’s playing well and is at home on clay. And on the women’s side, keep an eye on Anisimova. If she gets past her brutal opening round match against Osaka, then she should make a decent run into the second week.

Cambers: I was expecting Gauff to do more on clay in 2022 given the way she played last year, but though she’s been quiet, she’s well capable of getting on a roll. Simona Halep, with Patrick Mouratoglou in tow now, could also go well in a tournament she loves.

Connelly: When Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez ended up in the US Open final, that set the „surprise“ bar pretty high on the women’s side. So let’s take a flier on Osaka. She hasn’t seen much success on clay in her career, and she’s 1-1 on the surface this spring, but if she can get past Anisimova in the first round — a mighty „if“ — she would face a qualifier in the second round and in Maria Sakkari, a potential third-round opponent who hasn’t found her rhythm this year just yet. A more rational „surprise“ candidate might be Anisimova herself, or Sloane Stephens in the bottom of the draw, but let’s aim high.

On the men’s side, keep an eye on Sebastian Baez. He has played his way into the ATP top 40 with almost completely clay-court results. He beat Marin Cilic and Francis Tiafoe on the way to the title in Estoril, and he challenged both Zverev (in Rome) and Cameron Norrie (Lyon) pretty well recently. He could face Zverev in the second round, but at the very least he knows he can hang with the world No. 3, and if he topples Zverev, he could go a long way.

Kumar: Taylor Fritz — and hear me out here. He just beat Andrey Rublev and Nadal to win Indian Wells. He made it to the fourth round of the Australian Open. He is a former US Open junior champion. He’s just 24 years old. He has been laying the groundwork to have a breakthrough tournament, and it might well be in Paris now. The U.S. has not brought home a men’s singles Grand Slam trophy since 2003 (Andy Roddick, US Open), so I can definitely see the US tennis fans rallying behind Fritz for a surprise run this year.

Which player do you think has the most compelling backstory?

Evert: Alcaraz. He believes winning Grand Slams now are a reality. He handles pressure like a veteran, has every shot in the toolbox and gets off the mark, and his first step is better than anyone right now. He has been phenomenal in such a short period of time.

Stubbs: Jabeur. She is the first woman from Tunisia to really have a shot at winning a Grand Slam, and is an inspiration to all young women from Africa.

Fernandez: I am looking forward to seeing how Dominic Thiem plays coming back from injury. He was one of the best clay court players before his injury.

Jensen: How about former No. 1 Osaka? It was a year ago that she unplugged from the WTA Tour at this event, needing a break from the media. Now she is back and eager to compete. She has an Achilles strain but she spoke about the Michael Jordan „Flu Game“ as inspiration to compete while not feeling your very best. For Naomi to win in Paris would be a wonderful comeback story.

Gilbert: Without a doubt, Alcaraz is the most compelling story here. Everyone knew he was coming like a freight train, but maybe not this fast. Can he repeat what Nadal did in 2005?

Drysdale: Djokovic is the most compelling story. How will he react to the Alcaraz phenom? Is the COVID-19 controversy really behind him? Can he catch Nadal?

Maine: There are so many to choose from, but Jabeur stands out for me here. The world No. 6 has already made so much history for her home country and for tennis. She has already become the first Arab woman to reach a major quarterfinal (which she has done twice), but it would be incredible to see her take it even further and become the first Arab player to reach a major final. And, since she’s on the opposite side of the draw from Swiatek, she has as good a chance as anyone to do just that.

Hamilton: It’ll be fascinating to see how Thiem does in Paris. He has played just six matches this year, and lost the lot as he continues his comeback from a wrist injury sustained last June. The former world No. 3 is a wonderfully talented player, which guided him to the 2020 US Open title, and has also spoken openly about his struggles with the mental side of the game in the wake of that first Slam. He reached the 2018 and 2019 men’s finals at the French Open, and if he secures that first win and gets the wind in his sails, he could be one of the stories of the tournament.

Cambers: Well, Petra Kvitova has been through an awful lot in her career, and no one would be a more popular winner than her if she could find her game. She has been out of form this year so far, but for someone with her firepower, it only takes one big performance to turn things around.

Connelly: Jabeur. First, her style of play is so intensely unique and interesting, and everything has clicked for her on clay this year. Beyond that, she has thrived despite carrying the weight of „the first.“ As in, for nearly every achievement, she is either the first Arab woman to do it, the first African woman to do it, or both. That creates unique pressure, and she is handling it well. She might be the favorite to reach the final in the non-Swiatek side of the draw.

Betting on the French Open

Is there a player at the top of the odds board that you think a bettor should jump on right now?

Gilbert: The first thing that jumps out at me is how unbalanced the top and bottom halves are. The top three favorites (Djokovic, Alcaraz and Nadal) are all on the top half of the draw. If I am looking for value, I’d head to the bottom half, where Tsitsipas (+400) has a much more favorable draw. Tsitsipas made the finals last year and led two sets to none before the Djokovic comeback. Medevedev (+2000) is down there as well, but he hasn’t played the big clay court tourneys, so I’d go Tsitsipas.

Is there a long shot that you are looking at?

Gilbert: Staying with the bottom half of the draw, there are plenty of guys to target that have it easier than the top. One guy I’d look at is Serbia’s Miomir Kecmanovic at 65-1. He is in that favorable side of the draw and can beat Medvedev in the third round and would then have an open shot to the quarters.

How are you assessing the women’s field after the draw?

Gilbert: For the first time since at least 2005, the women’s favorite is a shorter favorite than the men’s as Swiatek arrives as a 3-1 favorite, fresh off winning 28 consecutive matches. It’s the longest unbeaten streak on the WTA tour since Serena Williams won 35 straight in 2000. It’s really her versus everyone else. Your betting should begin and end there. She should be even money to win each match in straight sets. She didn’t drop a set when she won here in 2020.

Anything else jump out to you on the women’s side?

Gilbert: I would take Swiatek versus the other 127 players if that prop bet exists. Her versus the field.


Quellenlink : www.espn.com

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