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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

French Open predictions: Nadal to win title No 11? Will Halep make it third time lucky?

As the tennis world descends on Paris, here are some pre-tournament predictions

Rafael Nadal starts the French Open as the overwhelming favourite to win his 11th title. Christophe Petit Tesson / EPA
Rafael Nadal starts the French Open as the overwhelming favourite to win his 11th title. Christophe Petit Tesson / EPA

Graham Caygill, sports editor

Men's Champion: Rafael Nadal

Sorry to be predictable but not sorry. Even though he looked fallible in both Madrid and Rome, it is still very hard to see anything other than an 11th Roland Garros title for the Spaniard.

Nadal has the game and the experience to once again leave Paris as champion and strengthen his already remarkable legacy on clay.

If not Nadal, then who? Dominic Thiem

For the second successive year, Thiem has shown that Nadal can be beaten on clay in the build-up to Paris. Last year it was in Rome, this year Madrid.

The Austrian has bounced back well from a wobble at the end of 2017 to establish himself in the top 10 and he has the game to be a serious challenge to Nadal.

Whether the seventh seed can take three sets off the Spaniard on clay is the hard part, but we know he can do two sets already so why not three?

Novak Djokovic. Cameron Spencer / Getty Images
Novak Djokovic. Cameron Spencer / Getty Images

Player to watch: Novak Djokovic

Is it cheating to name the 12-time major winner as an outsider? Not really when the Serbian's form has been as poor at it has been for almost two years.

Djokovic showed signs of form in pushing Nadal hard in the Rome semi-finals, and despite being the 20th seed he has a fairly open draw that gives him a strong chance of making it deep into the second week.

If he plays anywhere near his best he can go far in Paris.

Biggest disappointment: Kyle Edmund

The Briton has had a great 2018 so far, highlighted by his run to the semi-finals of the Australian Open.

But even though he has impressed at times on clay this year, going deep in the French Open may be a challenge.

Fabio Fognini is a potential third-round opponent for the 16th seed and it is easy to see this being his first major setback of the year.

Simona Halep. Thomas Samson / AFP
Simona Halep. Thomas Samson / AFP

Women's Champion: Simona Halep

The Romanian has twice lost in the final at Roland Garros and this feels like will be third time lucky.

Since losing to Jelena Ostapenko 12 months ago in agonising fashion, Halep has impressed as she reached world No 1 and was unfortunate not to win the Australian Open in January.

Halep is too good a player not to be a major winner. Clay remains her strongest surface and there is no reason why she cannot finally win a major title here.

Player to watch: Kiki Bertens

The world No 18 is something of a clay court specialist and she reminded everyone of what she is capable of with her run to the final in Madrid earlier this month where she lost to Petra Kvitova.

Consistency is an issue but the Dutch player is in the form where she could match, or better, her run to the last four at Roland Garros that she achieved in 2016.

Jelena Ostapenko. Thomas Samson / AFP
Jelena Ostapenko. Thomas Samson / AFP

Biggest disappointment: Jelena Ostapenko

Inconsistency would be the best word to describe the Latvian since she won the French Open in devastating style 12 months ago.

A rough start to the year saw her lose seven of her first 11 matches, but a run to the Miami final reminded everyone what the 20 year old is capable of when she is near the top of her game.

It will be a shock if the fifth seed, on current form, goes deep into the tournament and so for that reason, compared to last year, it has to be considered a disappointment.

Jon Turner, assistant sports editor

Men's Champion: Rafael Nadal

Has there ever been a more dominant force in tennis history than Nadal on clay? The stats, the records and the titles speak for themselves, and on the evidence provided by the Spaniard's performances leading up to Roland Garros, there is nothing to suggest his reign will end anytime soon.

A blip in Madrid offered a modicum of hope to his rivals, but Nadal's response in Rome reminded them all that the world No 1 is still the king of clay. French Open title No 11 beckons.

Alexander Zverev. Cameron Spencer / Getty Images
Alexander Zverev. Cameron Spencer / Getty Images

If not Nadal, then who? Alexander Zverev

Behind only Nadal in terms of clay court form and success this season, Zverev enters the French Open sure to improve on his rather ordinary grand slam record.

After a semi-final showing in Monte Carlo, the 21-year-old German embarked on a 13-match winning run that included the Munich and Madrid titles, before being stopped by Nadal in the Rome final.

If Nadal is operating on a different level to everyone else, Zverev is the only player that appears to be in hot pursuit. Little should be read into the fact he has never gone beyond the fourth round of a major, and as the No 2 seed, the German will theoretically have a nice path through the early stages of the tournament.

If, and it's a big if, Nadal does stumble along the way, Zverev is the player best equipped to take advantage.

Player to watch: Denis Shapovalov

Few players are as exciting to watch as the Canadian teenager, who seems to have found his groove on clay after successive opening defeats in Monte Carlo and Budapest.

A march to the semi-finals in Madrid, where he beat Milos Raonic and Kyle Edmund en route, highlighted a player who was finally comfortable on the red dust.

Shapovalov, 19, may still be in the early stages of what looks set to be a long and illustrious career, but he has the game and the temperament to make an impact now.

A glance at his draw shows no reason why he can't reach the fourth round - where he will meet Nadal. But until his showdown with the Spaniard, Shapovalov should illuminate the French Open.

Grigor Dimitrov. Dean Mouhtaropoulos / Getty Images
Grigor Dimitrov. Dean Mouhtaropoulos / Getty Images

Biggest disappointment: Grigor Dimitrov

One of the biggest talents in tennis, Dimitrov is going through a bit of a rough patch at present. Reaching the Monte Carlo semi-finals was an encouraging start to his clay court campaign but successive opening round defeats in Madrid and Rome are not exactly the ideal preparation heading to Paris.

The world No 5 from Bulgaria has never progressed beyond the third round at the French Open, and while his draw does not look too intimidating, it will be a surprise to see him go beyond the quarter-finals.

Women's Champion: Petra Kvitova

It's been a good few weeks for the world No 8 from the Czech Republic. She arrives in Paris on an 11-match winning run that ensured she won successive titles in Prague and Madrid, and will rightly start her French Open campaign as one of the favourites.

Even better than that though is the news that a suspect has been detained following the knife attack 18 months ago that threatened to end Kvitova's career.

Kvitova said she was "very happy" with the "great news", and with her focus squarely on tennis, she will take some beating at Roland Garros.

Maria Sharapova. Christophe Petit Tesson / EPA
Maria Sharapova. Christophe Petit Tesson / EPA

Player to watch: Maria Sharapova

After a season beset by injury and struggles for form, the Russian former world No 1 looks to have hit her stride just in time for the French Open.

A run of four successive defeats was followed by a quarter-final in Madrid and a semi-final in Rome as Sharapova saw her ranking climb up to No 29.

A two-time French Open champion, Sharapova has pedigree in Paris and if she gets past sixth seed Karolina Pliskova in the third round, she should go far.

Biggest disappointment: Garbine Muguruza

For a player as abundantly talented as Muguruza, 2018 has been somewhat of a letdown. One title, in Monterrey, and one final have been her best showings so far this season and her clay court form does not suggest a serious challenge in Paris is on the cards.

Muguruza has won two matches in three clay tournaments, and she faces a tricky opening round opponent in veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 2009 French Open champion.

Muguruza, the 2016 winner in Paris, has previously defied form to excel at grand slams but it won't happen this time around.