Roland Garros 2019 Dark Horses

Goffin
Photo courtesy of www.treizecizero.ro

A dark horse has not won Roland Garros in some time- Gaston Gaudio, ranked 44 at the time, was the last man to do so in 2004. That was before the Rafa Nadal reign in Paris began, and with the Spaniard still in slam winning form, it’s hard to see another dark horse making a bolt for it and crossing the line. Still, if anyone is going to get our heads spinning a la Gaudio, Kuerten or Chang, it could be one of these five.

David Goffin

Goffin is a little high profile for a dark horse, but he’s not expected to win the event, is not a top 16 seed (he’s seeded 28), and he’s underachieved for someone of his skill, talent and promise. But, while Goffin has all those attributes in his favor when it comes to his Roland Garros chances, he is, unfortunately, this year, in Rafa Nadal’s last 32 section.

Still, that may be the best stage for Goffin to meet the defending champion and get the win. Nadal has only exited that stage of the tournament in 2016 when he had to withdraw with a left wrist injury, but a couple of weeks shy of his 33rd birthday, the Spaniard is going to suffer more and more random bad days here and there, as we have seen this Clay season in which he did not win an event until Rome, and those days are more likely to be at the start of the event, where last year Nadal was not playing his best tennis, than in the later stages of the draw.

In 2018, Nadal did not meet anyone who could take advantage of his less than stellar early round performances, but Goffin won’t let him get away with anything less than his best.

If a dark horse is going to make a run for it then a win versus the tournament favorite is the best way to get things going, as Chang did when he beat Ivan Lendl in the fourth round on his jaunt to the 1989 title.

Such a victory would give Goffin all the confidence he needed to finally realize all that potential he has shown us over the years which peaked when he reached the ATP WTF ’17 finals.

One unlucky injury after another – from falling on tarp at Roland Garros ’17 to hitting his eye with his racket at Rotterdam ’18- has gotten in the way of Goffin delivering on the promise he showed on his run to the ’12 Roland Garros fourth round.

However, if you believe in tennis Gods and balance then Goffin is certainly due a little good fortune, and catching Nadal on a bad day at Roland Garros would definitely even matters out for him if not swing the pendulum of fate overwhelmingly in his favor.

Cristian Garin

22 year old Garin has won Clay titles in Houston and Munich this season and is the 2013 Roland Garros junior champ. The Chilean has future men’s singles French Open champ written all over him.

He’s drawn the improving Reilly Opelka in round 1 and the vulnerable and unpredictable 24th seed Stan Wawrinka in round 2.

If the draw had not been kind enough to him, he’s then potentially got Marin Cilic (11) in round 3. Cilic on his day could send Garin packing in straights, but Cilic has more off days than good recently, and is as good a former slam champ and Roland Garros quarter finalist an up and comer could hope to meet.

Tsitsipas in the round of 16 is a tough proposition, but the Greek is still raw and Garin won’t be intimidated. This section of the draw is the Federer one, and the Swiss’ presence in the quarters is anything but a certainty. Schwartzman, Cecchinato and Berrettini are all lurking in Federer’s section, and a Garin match versus one of that trio would be like Roland Garros of the 90s- unpredictable and prowling with Clay courters looking to make the tournament their own.

Felix Auger Aliassime

Felix Auger Aliassime is the 25th seed, the Rio champ and is in Juan Martin del Potro’s section of the draw.

del Potro is a player no one wants to see opposite the net in a big event, but he’s also only played 8 matches all season while FAA is on an escalating career trajectory, going 17-11 for the year and rising from 108 at the start of the year to his current ranking of 28.

Karen Khachanov and Lucas Pouille could await in the last 16 and neither are consistent enough to be sure they will make it there or deliver if they do.

Thiem in the quarters could be where FAA falls, but Thiem might have the very tricky Fernando Verdasco on his hands in his last 16. The Spaniard conquered Thiem in Rome and gets up for potential upsets early on in Slams. The Spaniard, however, is not so strong following up on those shock wins, so FAA could find the draw opening up and the semis of a slam at his feet.

The tennis world would be at his feet, too, if he could break through and win a slam aged 18 and seeded 25.

Guido Pella

The Argentinian made Rafa Nadal looked very shaky indeed when he took him to a first set tiebreak in their Monte Carlo last eight match.

Pella comes into the French Open ranked 22 in the world (he was 66 starting the year) and having won his first ever title at the age of 28 in Sao Paulo (he’s since turned 29).

Pella is 9-5 in the European Clay season and that performance vs Nadal in Monte Carlo was the peak, but he’ll go into the event match fit and fairly fresh which could see him into the second week of a slam for the first time in his career (he’s 3-4 lifetime at the French).

Dusan Lajovic

The Monte Carlo finalist has, at 28, hit his prime. He won’t be going under the radar if he meets Nick Kyrgios in round 2, and in round 3 he could be hitting the headlines beating Sascha Zverev, who he had on the ropes in last year’s event, in round 3.

Fognini, Lajovic’s Monte Carlo conqueror, could be his last 16 opponent, and five sets would give the Serb a little more time to settle his nerves and capitalize on any of the Italian’s lapses in a match.

Djokovic in the quarters could be a match too far. But, if Lajovic is going to write his name alongside Chang, Kuerten and Gaudio, he’ll have to topple one of the favorites along the way, and you’d rather meet Djokovic before the semis in a slam than after which is when the world No.1 starts going up the gears as each set goes by.

Beating Djokovic at that stage would be the stuff of dark horse dreams, but strange things happen at Grand Slams and consistent clay courters strong off both wings and with years of experience have had strange and wonderful experiences at Roland Garros and Lajovic should call Gaston Gaudio for a chat should he find himself on the verge of experiencing them.

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.
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