The 2018 French Open has arrived. On the men’s side, Rafael Nadal is looking to win his 11th title in 14 years on the Paris clay. He is such a big favorite that doing a traditional comprehensive preview almost seems pointless, more on that later. For now, here are some good first-round matchups to keep an eye on.
(22) Philipp Kohlschreiber vs. Borna Ćorić
Ćorić is a rising young star who made a name for himself by reaching the semis on the hard courts of Indian Wells in March. He has also been to the third round at Roland Garros twice. Kohlschreiber is a sturdy veteran who remains a tough out on all surfaces. This will be a nice win for whoever gets it.
(21) Nick Kyrgios vs. Bernard Tomic
These two compatriots have played some good tennis in their careers. However, both have been subject to disciplinary actions for their behavior on and off the court. This could be a great match or a total mess. Either way, it is sure to be interesting.
(12) Sam Querrey vs. Frances Tiafoe
The present of American men’s tennis meets the future here. Tiafoe reached his first career clay-court final this year. The youngster is getting better every day and brings great energy to the court. Meanwhile, Querrey is just 4-11 lifetime at the French Open. It is not a stretch to call Tiafoe the favorite in this match.
(17) Tomáš Berdych vs. Jérémy Chardy
Berdych is no longer the player that reached the Wimbledon final in 2010, but is a model of consistency who has finished ranked inside the top 50 every year since 2004. His battle with a streaky big hitting Frenchman who is playing on home soil should be fun.
Sports are amazing and anything can happen. However, if you bet a dollar on Rafael Nadal to win the French Open this year, you can only get 40 cents back. Anyone with an interest in being right has him taking home the big trophy. Rather than breakdown the whole draw, it makes more sense to examine the toughest possible opponents for Nadal.
(11) Diego Schwartzman (quarterfinals)
The diminutive Argentine is generously listed at 5-foot-7. He won a medium level clay-court event in Rio in February. Schwartzman does not possess much in the way of power, but is developing a reputation as a poor man’s Nadal for the way he can wear down opponents, especially on clay. Everything Schwartzman does well, Nadal does a tick better. But Schwartzman can at least bother Nadal.
(9) John Isner (semifinals)
Prior to tearing his groin in Rome, Juan Martin del Potro may have been the biggest threat to Nadal’s dominance, but getting to a semifinal to oppose Nadal is now a tall order for the former US Open winner.
(3) Marin Čilić has played some of the best clay-court tennis of his career this year. He is the most likely opponent at the semifinal stage for Nadal.
Still, big-serving American John Isner can somehow find his way through. He is an uncomfortable matchup for anyone. He holds countless serving records. No opponent can break his serve more than once or twice a match. The rest of Isner’s game is nowhere near as good, but all his matches are close. He took Nadal to five sets at this event a few years back.
(7) Dominic Thiem (final)
Thiem is really the only name to trust on the bottom half of the draw to reach the final. (2) Alexander Zverev is always a trendy pick to break through at a major, but that is becoming like waiting on Santa Claus. The 21-year-old German has never been past the fourth round of any Grand Slam.
Thiem is becoming a regular in the semifinals at this event and is the only player to beat Nadal on clay each of the last two years. He would still be a massive underdog in the final against Nadal, but he is the only player in the field who is playing well and has no reason to fear the top seed on clay.
Championship match prediction: Nadal d. Thiem
The 2018 French Open begins Sunday at 5:00 a.m. on Tennis Channel. The NBC family of networks will also have coverage throughout the event. Be sure to follow me on Twitter below to see my complete picks for both singles draws.
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