French Open 2015: Championship Odds and Predictions for Top Contenders
The best tennis players in the world have descended upon Roland Garros' clay courts, and after a long winter and spring, it's finally time for the French Open to begin.
This year's tournament is shaping up to be one for the ages. For the women, Serena Williams is going for her 20th Grand Slam, and Maria Sharapova is trying to defend her 2014 title. Meanwhile, an in-form Petra Kvitova is gunning for her first French Open title, and Simona Halep is aiming for her first Slam title, period.
The men's side is even more dramatic. Novak Djokovic is trying to capture his career Grand Slam after years of trying, while a struggling Rafael Nadal is trying to recapture his mojo.
No matter what, it should be an exciting fortnight in Paris. Keep reading for the odds (via Odds Shark) and my predictions for the top stars at the French Open.
Roger Federer: 16-1
Seed: No. 2
Prediction: Roger Federer has had an up-and-down clay-court season. He won a small clay-court title in Istanbul and made it to the Rome final, but a third-round loss to Gael Monfils in Monte Carlo and a second-round loss to Nick Kyrgios in Madrid were concerning.
While Federer still has enough talent to stay with anyone on any given day, he's also much more vulnerable at this stage in his career, particularly on the slow clay that doesn't suit his natural game.
Federer got a lot of help from the French Open draw gods, ending up in a half without Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray or Rafael Nadal. But he still has to potentially face Monfils in the fourth round and Stan Wawrinka in the quarters. Both of those guys could spell big trouble.
I predict that Federer will fall to his big-hitting compatriot in the quarters and then set his sights on Wimbledon.
Victoria Azarenka: 7-1
Seed: No. 27
Prediction: Remember Victoria Azarenka, the two-time Australian Open champion and former No. 1? Well, after an injury-plagued 2014 season, the Belarusian is rounding back into form.
This clay season, Azarenka has taken Serena Williams to a third-set tiebreaker in Madrid and made it to the Rome quarterfinals earlier in May, defeating No. 5 Caroline Wozniacki along the way. She ended up losing to Sharapova. While Azarenka isn't quite back to her peak form, it's clear she's getting back to the game that took her to the French Open semifinals in 2013.
Unfortunately, she drew Serena in the third round at the French Open. If Azarenka can beat her—which she will have a shot to do, especially earlier in the tournament when Serena is more vulnerable—she will be a huge favorite to go all the way. I don't see that happening, though—Azarenka will beat Serena again at some point, but she's not quite there yet.
Azarenka will go home in the third round.
Kei Nishikori: 14-1
Seed: No. 5
Prediction: Kei Nishikori is no longer just the future of the sport; he's the present. The Japanese superstar has risen to No. 5 in the rankings, and during this clay season, he has one title and only two losses, both to the best clay-court players of the year in Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic.
Nishikori's game translates easily to all surfaces, but particularly clay, where his movement, tenacity and defense are really rewarded.
But besides his talent, Nishikori has another big thing going for him this French Open: his draw. Like Federer, he is on the side of the draw opposite from Murray, Djokovic and Nadal. The unpredictable Tomas Berdych is Nishikori's toughest test until he gets to the semifinals, where he's likely to face Federer or Stan Wawrinka.
I like Nishikori's chances to make his second Slam final, but expect him to end up as the runner-up like he did at the 2014 U.S. Open.
Petra Kvitova: 10-1
Seed: No. 4
Prediction: How nice is it to have Petra Kvitova back in the conversation for a Slam that isn't on grass? The hard-hitting Czech lefty, who made it to the French Open semis back in 2012, found her swagger on the clay courts of Madrid earlier this month, taking the title, with a win over Serena Williams in the semis.
Kvitova has a nice draw in Paris, with her biggest test before the semifinals potentially coming from Madison Keys, the 16th-seeded American who knocked Kvitova out of the Australian Open earlier this year. Particularly at the French Open, I give Kvitova the upper hand in a rematch.
Serena will likely await Kvitova in the semifinals, and even though Kvitova does have what it takes to defeat Serena, nobody does revenge like the younger Williams sister. I see Kvitova making the semis, losing and happily turning her focus toward a Wimbledon title defense.
Andy Murray: 8-1
Seed: No. 3
Prediction: It's a brave new world in the men's game these days, and it's Andy Murray of all people leading the charge. Clay has always been by far the Brit's worst surface, but he has broken through this year under the tutelage of his French coach, Amelie Mauresmo.
Murray won the first clay-court title of his career at the beginning of the month in Munich and then immediately followed that up with a huge win over Nadal to capture the Madrid title. With his renewed confidence and clicking game, he deserves to be the third favorite for the Roland Garros trophy.
Murray's draw isn't a cakewalk, though. He could face the dangerous Nick Kyrgios in the third round, big-serving John Isner in the fourth and former French Open finalist David Ferrer in the quarterfinals.
I expect a great showing for Murray, but he'll be worn down by the tenacious Ferrer in the quarters.
Simona Halep: 4-1
Seed: No. 3
Prediction: This time last year it was Simona Halep who made a huge splash on the clay courts of Roland Garros, making it all the way to the final and pushing Maria Sharapova to the brink in a thrilling three-set final that was one of the best tennis matches of the entire year.
Now a year later, Halep is still a fixture at the top of the game, but after a fabulous showing this spring on the hard courts, she hasn't quite reached her peak level on clay yet. Still, she's a big-time threat and has the ability to expose the weaknesses of even the best players in the women's game.
The Romanian has a fairly easy quarter, with only Ana Ivanovic standing in her way of the semifinals. There, she could meet Sharapova or Carla Suarez Navarro; even though Halep lost to Sharapova in the final last year and lost to Suarez Navarro earlier this month, I predict that Halep will be zoned in and ready to go.
At the Australian Open she crashed out with a paltry performance in the quarterfinals, and I think back on the Slam stage she'll be more motivated than ever to showcase her competitive spirit and multifaceted game. Halep will get back to the final, where she'll fall once again.
Rafael Nadal: 9-4
Seed: No. 6
Prediction: Well, here we go. After nearly a decade in the top five, Rafael Nadal's ranking has dropped down to No. 7 in the world, which has made the men's French Open draw quite a mess.
We'll likely have Nadal, the winner of nine of the last 10 French Opens, facing Novak Djokovic, current world No. 1 and eight-time Slam champion, in the quarterfinals. The tennis gods are cruel when they want to be.
Nadal has not looked like himself for more than a couple of matches in a row throughout the clay season, and he's coming into the French Open without a title in April or May for the first time in his career. He lost to Novak Djokovic in the semis of Monte Carlo, Fabio Fognini in the third round of Barcelona, Andy Murray in the final of Madrid and Stan Wawrinka in the quarters of Rome.
The Spaniard is a step slow, ultra-defensive and generally unsure of himself and his game. The best-of-five format and magic of Roland Garros could be a cure-all, but that's not likely. I see Nadal's remarkable Roland Garros run coming to an end at the hands of Djokovic in the quarters.
Maria Sharapova: 4-1
Seed: No. 2
Prediction: It's beyond time for us all to get used to Maria Sharapova, clay-court great. After all, she has won the French Open two of the last three years and is coming in hot again this year after winning in Rome.
The clay simply gives her enough time to set up her shots and properly adjust the margins, and that combined with her power, great returning and improved movement is a winning formula.
Still, Sharapova has never successfully defended a Slam in her life, and she has a tough road ahead of her this year. The Russian has danger awaiting in her quarter, with a re-invigorated Samantha Stosur and two of the most impressive clay-court players of the last two months, Angelique Kerber and Carla Suarez Navarro.
Kerber actually defeated Sharapova in Stuttgart in April 2015, and Suarez Navarro had Sharapova on the ropes in the Rome final before running out of gas.
I predict Suarez Navarro will actually get the best of Sharapova at the French Open and take her out in the quarterfinals. The Spaniard's tricky game will leave Sharapova impatient, which is usually a sign of trouble.
Novak Djokovic: 4-5
Seed: No. 1
Prediction: The biggest question going into this French Open has been: Will it finally be Novak Djokovic's year?
The Serb has been very vocal about his desire to win Roland Garros and capture his career Slam, and with Nadal struggling a bit, this could be the opening he's been waiting for. In fact, as frustrating as the Djokovic vs. Nadal quarterfinal draw was, I think it works in Djokovic's favor—he won't put quite as much pressure on himself in the quarters, and getting Nadal earlier in the tournament is always better than getting him later.
Djokovic is on a roll headed into Paris, with a 23-match winning streak in his back pocket and victories in the last four tournaments he's entered, all Masters events. He is playing far better tennis than anyone else in the ATP circuit right now and has rarely been pushed to his top level.
Therefore, I think Djokovic will be the Roland Garros champion. At long last, his time has come.
Serena Williams: 5-2
Seed: No. 1
Prediction: Like Nadal, Serena Williams is coming into Roland Garros without a title in April or May for the first time in a while. She lost to Petra Kvitova in the semis of Madrid and had to withdraw from Rome due to a sore elbow.
But unlike Nadal, I do not think that Serena is suffering from a lack of confidence or fitness. I think that withdrawing from Rome preserved her body for the French Open, and with 19 Slams in her pocket, the 33-year-old is honed in and focused on getting No. 20 as soon as possible.
Serena has a tough draw, with potentially Victoria Azarenka in the third round, her sister Venus Williams in the fourth and Caroline Wozniacki in the quarters. However, tough opponents always have a way of focusing and inspiring Serena.
That's why I see Serena adding to her legacy in two weeks' time and winning her third French Open title.