Roland Garros The Favorites The Second Tier Nishikori Tsonga Thiem Kyrgios
Roland Garros has four clear favorites in Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka. Standing hungrily behind them are six players we believe are next in line take the title. The Tennis Review previews the chances of Kei Nishikori, Dominic Thiem, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, David Goffin, Nick Kyrgios, and Marin Cilic (10).
Kei Nishikori (5): Quarter-finalist 2015
Tennis fans have been waiting a while for Nishikori to build on his run to the 2014 US Open final and compete for another slam trophy, and this Roland Garros could be when he finally does it.
Nishikori has had a good lead-in to the French Open and was impressive in his defeat to Djokovic in Rome in which the Japanese led 3-1 in the final set tiebreaker.
Some loose errors let the match slip away from Nishikori, but the five set format in Paris means he will both feel less pressure if he does get such a lead and that he will also have more time to recover if he lets a set slip.
The Japanese has a good draw with Murray in his quarter. The second seed may be a favorite to win, and matches up well to Nishikori, but Nishikori will feel less pressure in the quarters than he would versus a slam veteran like Murray in the last four, and has the aggressive baseline game to defeat Murray.
A win would leave Nishikori confident in a potential semi-final with Stan Wawrinka, and would also mean he was playing his best tennis, the kind that beat Wawrinka in a tough five setter at the 2014 US Open.
If Nishikori got to the final versus Djokjovic, the Japanese has a great chance of upsetting the Serb. Djokovic has the pressure of the tennis world on his shoulders with the Non Year Calendar Slam on the line and Nishikori has beaten him in a big slam match before at the 2014 US Open . He also showcased in Rome why he is such a dangerous player when he plays controlled aggressive tennis against the Serb- the Japanese can get the Serbian out of position, and surprise him with his formidable shot-making skills.
If Nishikori can take advantage of Djokovic’s nerves, he could finally get that breakout Slam win, one which feels long overdue, and one which could signal an exciting shift in the tennis hierachy.
Dominic Thiem (13): Second round 2014, 2015
Thiem just won his third title of the year in Nice, beating Alexander Zverev in three sets in the final, the perfect preparation for Roland Garros.
Thiem has a tough draw with a possible clash with Zverev in the third round, and then Rafa Nadal in the last sixteen. Both matches are very winnable. Nadal may be back to winning clay court titles, but he has still not been beyond the quarters of a slam since Roland Garros 2014 and is vulnerable to someone like Thiem who is confident and has beaten him before.
Thiem’s has won more matches than anyone bar Novak Djokovic on the tour this season, winning many of them at ATP 250s and 500s, but has not taken that confidence into the bigger events, making just one ATP 1000 last eight, in Rome. The time has come for him to step up and the Grand Slam format with its five sets and day off between matches could be the stage for Thiem to take the time he needs to find his big match game, one which if he does tap into, considering his excellent clay court skills, would make life very difficult for his potential Roland Garros rivals.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (6): Semi-finals 2012, 2015
Tsonga has a habit of saving his best for the big events and last year’s semi-finalist could easily make a run for the title if the draw opens up.
The French man will certainly have the crowd’s support, and could even spring a surprise on the top seeds in his half- Djokovic and Nadal-if he gets inspired and they get edgy. The Frenchman has big wins over them in the recent past, beating Djokovic in Canada in 2015, and defeating Nadal in last year’s Shanghai semis when the Spaniard was on a good streak of form.
Slam matches tend to have a habit of making history in rivalries redundant, too. Anything can happen in best of five in front of crowds of 15,000 fans, especially partisan ones, and Tsonga, while prone to letting victories slip from his grasp, also has a habit of pulling off some real upsets, too.
David Goffin (12): Fourth round 2012
The Belgian made the 2012 Roland Garros last sixteen as a lucky loser, and his recent runs to both the semis of Indian Wells and Miami tell us he is starting to feel comfortable again at the game’s prestigious events.
Goffin has a great clay court game- check out his recent double bagel destruction of Tomas Berdych on his way to the Rome quarters- but is prone to one crucial weakness which could damage his long-term French Open chances- closing out matches versus the big guns.
That weakness can be overcome though, and the Belgian has shown he can do it- defeating Wawrinka in a nervy Indian Wells match.
Goffin would benefit from Thiem upsetting Nadal- he would face the winner in the quarters-and while Djokovic in the semis would be a long shot, Goffin has the variety to trouble the world No.1- he led him 3-0 in the final set of their 2015 Cincinnati third round and pushed him to a tiebreak in the Indian Wells semis.
If Goffin can play aggressive tennis and deny Djokovic the baseline rhythm he thrives on, then the Belgian could make his biggest breakthrough yet on the stage where he first showcased his talent to the tennis world.
Nick Kyrgios (17): Third round 2015
Of the #NextGen, Kyrgios is the one whose game is the most ready to win a slam. The Australian is the first man since Roger Federer to reach two slam quarter-finals at different events as a teenager and plays some of his best tennis against the higher ranked players on the big stage.
He also has a tough draw with Gasquet in the last 32, and Nishikori in the last 16, but he is competitive with both men and is powerful enough to hit through the clay court and overwhelm them. Most importantly, he has the belief that he belongs at the top of the game, and the slams are where he has tended to show it.
Marin Cilic (10): Fourth round 2009, 2010, 2015
You cannot count out one of tennis’ few active Slam champions, especially considering his run to the Nice final where he played a competitive final with Stan Wawrinka.
The 2014 US Open champion has some of the best technique in the game, a huge serve that can hit through the clay, and the kind of ground strokes which, when on form, can trouble even the likes of Djokovic (the Croatian took the eventual runner-up to four sets at Roland Garros in 2014).
If the Croatian gets some wins and some confidence, he could go on the kind of streak that surprised many on his way to the 2014 US Open final where he showed he had the game, and most crucially, the self-belief to be a Grand Slam Champion.
Read our other Roland Garros previews: Who Will Win A Very Open Roland Garros?
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