There’s a saying sometimes used during the Olympic Games when one athlete is expected to win the gold medal even before their event begins. Commentators have been known to say that everyone else in the field is just “playing for silver”. On the tennis tour, there is no silver medal at the end of each event. One player gets the trophy and that’s it.
The expectation, even before this year’s clay court season started, was that Rafael Nadal would win a record eleventh French Open title and raise the La Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy. Now that the Paris Grand Slam is here, the expectation is still the same.
Nadal, except for one loss in Madrid, dominated the clay season once again. The next two weeks are predicted by many to be something of a victory lap for Nadal at his favorite major. Nadal himself will not concur with such predictions, only because he knows full well that the unexpected can happen.
But is there a man lurking in the draw, like Robin Soderling did years ago, that could stop Nadal this year? There are a few, but most of them ended up in the bottom half of the draw. Alexander Zverev, seeded No. 2, played Nadal close in the Rome final. But Zverev has to first overcome his own lack of results at the Grand Slams. The German has never gone past the fourth round at any major. Is the best three out of five format really that daunting for him?
Dominic Thiem, who did beat Nadal in Madrid, could well be Nadal’s biggest threat. But did Thiem do himself any favors by playing and winning the Lyon event right before Paris?
The biggest name, and biggest question, of anyone in the men’s draw is former winner Novak Djokovic. Now seeded No. 20, Djokovic’s comeback this year had been filled with head-scratching performances in some of his earlier matches, though he started showing more of his old winning form in Rome. Djokovic could potentially put together a run of victories that get him deep in the draw, but it still might be to much to expect Djokovic to go all the way to the final this year.
If there’s an air of certainty in the men’s draw, things are very up in the air on the women’s side. Once again, the women’s title is open for the taking by any number of players in the field. And lest someone expect one of the top seeds to be a favorite, just remember last year’s unseeded Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia essentially ripped winner after winner to claim her first ever major title.
Serena Williams, a former three-time champion, is yet again the most talked about player in the draw. This year is different though in that Serena is returning to Paris still on the comeback trail after having a baby daughter last year. Williams, is unseeded, though many feel she should be even though the Paris tournament does not have a history of making exception in the seedings for past champions.
Williams, who hasn’t played a match since an early round exit in Miami, certainly could make a deep run if things go her way. But the expectation is that Wimbledon or later this summer on the hard courts in America is where she will return to her true Grand Slam winning form.
Six women, Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki, Garbine Muguruza, Elina Svitolina, Caroline Garcia, and Karolina Pliskova, all could end up as WTA No. 1 after the tournament ends. But don’t count out Petra Kvitova, the most successful player on tour since January, to perhaps finally add another major to her two Wimbledon titles.
One could say all the players are playing for silver, the silver trophies to be exact. But this year’s French Open will once again produce two champions who endured and rose above all the rest.