2020 French Open experts’ picks: Can anyone stop Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep?

Sports

The 2020 French Open begins Sunday with only 1,000 spectators allowed on site, questions about whether France’s coronavirus cases will continue to rise and the debut of the new $55 million retractable roof atop Court Philippe Chatrier.

The French Open normally starts in May but was postponed this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rafael Nadal has his eyes on the prize in Paris. If Nadal manages to claim a 13th French Open championship, he would also collect his 20th Grand Slam title overall, tying Roger Federer‘s record for a man.

Nadal may be the betting favorite, but watch out for Novak Djokovic. Djokovic resumes his bid for Grand Slam title No. 18 — which would put him two behind Federer, one behind Nadal — after he was defaulted from the US Open.

Simona Halep may have missed the US Open, but she stands as the women’s favorite. Halep has appeared in three of past six French Open finals. Her Italian Open triumph Monday gave her nine career titles on clay, tied with Venus Williams for second-most among active women. Serena Williams leads with 13.

Our experts make their picks for the last Grand Slam in an unusual sports year.

Who will win the men’s singles title?

Jerry Bembry: Djokovic. He has only won the French Open once, in 2016, but he should be inspired and focused after he was defaulted at the US Open.

Pete Bodo: I think the fates have really worked against Nadal this year, which is the big picture explanation for why Djokovic will win.

Cliff Drysdale: Daniil Medvedev is a clay-court artist and ready to pick up the pieces if Nadal implodes.

Chris Evert: Djokovic will be the winner because Nadal is a little vulnerable at this time. Djokovic is hungry for titles especially after the US Open fiasco.

Brad Gilbert: Tough call call between co-favorites Nadal and Djokovic. Slower, heavy fall conditions mean I am slightly leaning toward Djokovic — who comes in after a victory in Rome — to win his second French Open.

Tom Hamilton: Beware the wounded Djokovic. After his disastrous US Open, Djokovic will bounce back at Roland Garros in the uncharacteristic autumnal chill. With a favorable draw, Djokovic will knock over Nadal in the final.

D’Arcy Maine: Djokovic has won the French Open just once during his storied career, but this might just be his best chance for a second major title on clay. The world No. 1 won last week’s Italian Open in convincing fashion — dropping just one set en route to the trophy — and he will undoubtedly be looking for redemption in Paris after his controversial exit in the fourth round in New York. With Nadal — the 12-time Roland Garros champion — out of form in his one tournament (in Rome) since the restart, it feels like things are aligning for Djokovic to win Grand Slam No. 18.

Patrick Mouratoglou: Djokovic, because he did not lose a match this year (I do not count his disqualification at the US Open as a loss). He is a great clay-court player, beat Nadal many times on clay, and the conditions this year are extremely difficult for Rafa — plus he lacks competition.

Pam Shriver: Djokovic is your men’s winner because his motivation following his US Open default is sky-high, and he won Rome. Nadal is not his usual Roland Garros-ready self, and no one is playing better than Djokovic right now.

Alexandra Stevenson: Everyone thinks Djokovic. I’m going with Nadal. This will tie him with Roger for 20 Grand Slams. I like his mental edge more than Djokovic. Nadal is my forever clay champion. I like the look of Dominic Thiem. It would be amazing for a double Slam.

Rennae Stubbs: Nadal because until he’s not functioning as a tennis player, he will be the favorite.

And on the women’s side of the draw?

Bembry: Halep. She won the French Open last year and is the clear favorite based on who’s not at this year’s tournament (Naomi Osaka, Ashleigh Barty, Bianca Andreescu).

Bodo: Halep laid low during the pandemic, and her strategy was vindicated by her triumph in Rome. With Barty and Osaka out of the way, she has a clear path to the title.

Drysdale: Halep is solid, reliable and mentality strong.

Evert: Halep will win. She won two clay warmups and didn’t play the US Open so she’s fresh and eager. She moves well, is consistent and has the best clay-court combination.

Gilbert: I usually say 15-20 women can win it, and that is definitely possible. Halep comes in on a roll, winning two clay court titles, so I am going with the chalk call on this one — Halep to win her second French Open.

Hamilton: The 2018 winner Halep picked up the Italian Open earlier this week and is on a 14-match winning run. While Garbine Muguruza and Victoria Azarenka are also in the mix — and never rule out Serena Williams — Halep is in fine form and is my pick to land her third Grand Slam title.

Maine: Halep. The tournament’s top seed and 2018 champion hasn’t lost a match since the season resumed in August — winning 10 straight matches (all on clay) and earning the titles in Prague and Rome. And not only does she look to be in prime match shape, but her decision to skip the US Open may prove ingenious as there appears to be no one more prepared for the surface than her. She is the favorite, and she will prove exactly why throughout the fortnight.

Mouratoglou: Serena, because she is the greatest.

Shriver: Halep is your 2020 French Open winner. She stayed in Europe since the WTA Tour reopened and has not lost. She loves clay, is the best mover in women’s tennis on terre batteau and has won Roland Garros before.

Stevenson: Clay is the equalizer. Rosie Casals of the Original Nine, once told me to stay off clay during my career because I had specifically been trained on hard court. It does make a difference. Halep has been training and working for this one, and giving up the US Open only helps her body and resolve to put it all out there. The only misstep for her would be the lack of Grand Slam immediate match toughness. But her stature on the red clay outlasts all comers, including Serena. Although I’m always on Serena’s side. Remember, at the age of 9, Serena grew up practicing on clay. She understands the surface. I think her game suits the clay at this time in her life. She could be a surprise contender.

Stubbs: Halep. She’s been on clay the whole pandemic and goes into the French Open as a huge favorite.

Which player will be the biggest surprise in the men’s draw?

Bembry: Gael Monfils. You just want to root for the talented 34-year-old Frenchmen to have a great showing in his home Slam. Perhaps the (limited) fans at Roland Garros will be enough to give him a boost.

Bodo: I have to go with Andrey Rublev because Medvedev, the highest seed in his quarter of the draw, has never won a match at Roland Garros.

Drysdale: Diego Schwartzman had a good showing beating Nadal in Rome.

Evert: Denis Shapovalov will have a surprise run.

Gilbert: I would like to see an American man make the second week, maybe someone outside of the top 60 to make a quarterfinal.

Hamilton: Schwartzman is hitting top form, having recently defeated Nadal and Shapovalov in the Italian Open. He will need to navigate through a tricky draw which could potentially include Miomir Kecmanovic, Borna Coric and then Thiem, Stan Wawrinka or Monfils. But he has the skill set to spring a surprise.

Maine: Coming off of his first major quarterfinal run and having broken into the top 10 for the first time, momentum seems to very much be on Shapovalov’s side. Not to mention, he followed up his run in New York with a semifinal appearance on the clay in Rome just last week.

He has never advanced past the second round in Paris and faces a tough road against some talented potential opponents but certainly has the skill and the confidence as of late to make a run into the second week.

Mouratoglou: Rublev. He keeps improving, he is comfortable on clay and the power he has will be helpful on the slow courts of Roland Garros this year.

Shriver: Schwartzman is your outsider ready to do well. He beat Nadal in Rome and lost early in the US Open so he is rested. He reached the quarterfinal in Paris before and is on the opposite side of the draw from Djokovic.

Stevenson: Djokovic and Nadal. One or the other will upset each other. Maybe Alexander Zverev or Stefanos Tsitsipas or Pablo Carreno Busta or the wonderful Thiem will make a run. Thiem and Zverev — the next great “Federer-Nadal” will have to meet Nadal on his half.

With no defaults, Djokovic will have a couple of Spaniards, Medvedev and Tsitsipas to get through. But Djokovic will be in the finals against Nadal, the People’s Prince. The End.

Stubbs: I can’t see anyone outside of Rafa, Novak or Thiem winning, so I can’t pick an outsider.

Which women’s player will make a surprise run?

Bembry: Sloane Stephens. Two years ago Stephens, nearly playing at the top of her game, was a French Open finalist when she lost to Halep. Can Stephens, who played well at the US Open until a devastating loss to Serena Williams, come out of a tough quarter where she’s one of four major champions? A good showing could shake Stephens out of a two-year funk that has followed her 2018 US Open title.

Bodo: Assuming that the candidates exclude the top eight seeds, as well as former Grand Slam champs like Azarenka, I’ll go with Maria Sakkari. She’s been improving day by day since the reboot.

Drysdale: Madison Keys.

Evert: Azarenka will have another surprise run.

Gilbert: Someone outside of top 75 will make the quarterfinals, and someone unseeded looks to make the semis.

Hamilton: Azarenka has won 15 of her past 17 matches, and her appearance in the finals of the US Open suggests she is back to her best. She fell in the quarterfinal of the Italian Open to the much-tipped Muguruza, but she can still surprise the best in the world on her day.

Maine: While the first-round clash between Johanna Konta and Coco Gauff will understandably get all of the hype, watch for Sakkari to quietly emerge from their half of the quarter and make a run to the quarterfinals. The 25-year-old has had an impressive summer, with a quarterfinal appearance at the Western & Southern Open and a fourth-round showing at the US Open, and her poise and self-assuredness seem to grow by the match.

Mouratoglou: Muguruza. She is very comfortable on clay and takes the ball early, which will be an asset on those slow courts. And she is back in good shape.

Shriver: Muguruza is your “outsider” poised to do well again in Roland Garros. She is a past winner and can hit with power through the red clay.

Stevenson: Women always make surprise runs in draws. It’s the nature of how women are taught to compete vs. the male player. Sociologically, they bring a grudge factor to the court. Caroline Garcia, Aryna Sabalenka, Amanda Anisimova and Ons Jabeur are all players to watch for a Halep upset.

Stubbs: Outsider for the women is Muguruza.

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