The Big Questions: Part 1

Best matches, early-exit fears, the next Ostapenko and more - the writers make their predictions!

Jelena Ostapenko Roland-Garros 2017©Julien Crosnier/FFT
What tennis storyline excites you most coming into Roland-Garros 2018?

Alex Sharp: I've found Novak Djokovic's rocky return from injury fascinating. His early rounds will be intriguing, whether the Serb can recapture his former gladiatorial performances. As for the women's draw, it’s all about the French contingent – I always find a deep home run adds a special facet to a Grand Slam.

Kate Battersby: I want to see if Denis Shapovalov’s European clay court swing has already peaked, or whether he can carry the momentum of Madrid and Rome onto the supreme stage of the Parisian terre battue. Remember, just 12 months ago the Canadian went out in the first round…of qualifying. He’s come a long way.

Dan Imhoff: Jelena Ostapenko’s lights-out brand of tennis with her back to the wall in last year’s final was a welcome breath of fresh air. The chance to see the Latvian silence rivals and critics alike to become the first maiden slam-winner since Monica Seles in the women’s draw to defend her title would be great for the sport. A similar revelation would be seeing a player able to hit through Rafael Nadal and end his extraordinary reign on the clay in a display of fearless, lights-out aggression.

Sarah Edworthy: Seeing how the two former world No.1 tennis mums Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka fare as unseeded floaters in the women's singles. It was one thing for Serena to win the Australian Open when she was eight weeks pregnant, but to get to the sharp end of another Slam at her first attempt as a mother would confirm her GOAT status.

Ian Chadband: It has to be Serena’s return to the big-time. Can Superwoman materialise into Supermom? If anyone can… On the men’s side, with my union jack striped knotted-hankie on, I’m looking forward to seeing how far Brit Kyle Edmund’s big game will transport him after his breakthrough run to the semi-finals of the Australian Open.

Rafael Nadal Stan Wawrinka Roland-Garros 2017
Which big name is most likely to suffer an early upset?

KB: Grigor Dimitrov has rarely looked convincing of late, although he has a kind draw. Meanwhile either Maria Sharapova or Karolina Pliskova is destined for an early exit by the time the third round is done.

AS: Stan Wawrinka fell in the opening round to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez back in 2014 and could be set for a repeat as he searches for form following knee surgery. Caroline Wozniacki has been handed a tough opener, too – American Danielle Collins has proven in recent months she relishes tackling the top players.

DI: Grigor Dimitrov bowed out here in the opening round in a five-setter to Viktor Troicki two years ago. Seeded fourth, he might survive that opener but as with every year he’s already got one eye on the grass. Ostapenko avoided first-time slam winner’s curse – falling in the first week of the subsequent major – at Wimbledon last season, but it would be no surprise to see Caroline Wozniacki to fall prey in the first week.

SE: I also fear for Caroline Wozniacki

IC: Serena Williams won't be as vulnerable as in her first match for more than two months when she’s tested by the big serves of leftie Kristyna Pliskova, but if she survives that, she’ll probably have the talented Ashleigh Barty hounding her in the second round.

Is there an unseeded player who could "do an Ostapenko" and surprise everyone with a deep run?

IC: Probably not, but how about a couple of Greeks bearing serious gifts? Maria Sakkari is coming off a fine Italian Open where she KO’d Kiki Bertens and Karolina Pliskova, while Stefanos Tsitsipas, finalist in Barcelona, has the stylish power game to go deep. 

KB: Stefanos Tsitsipas, perhaps – now ranked 40, he didn’t miss a seeding by much. That potential second round clash with Dominic Thiem looks intriguing, after the Greek’s demolition of him in Barcelona. If Tsitsipas can produce a repeat outcome, he has possibilities here.

AS: As Kate and Ian said, Stefanos Tsitsipas could become a crowd favourite with his firebrand of tennis. Look out for former world No.7 Belinda Bencic, who has been sidelined by a foot injury since March and can build momentum with her powerful play.

SE: They’re long shots, but: Frances Tiafoe, the youngest American to reach a clay-court final in 28 years (at Estoril), has the requisite confidence and joie de vivre, as does Francesca Schiavone, the 2010 champion, after a dynamic run through qualifying.

DI: Another vote for Stefanos Tsitsipas, and, if she’s injury-free, Kaia Kanepi is always one of the most dangerous ball-strikers in the women’s game. The Estonian is a six-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist – including twice in Paris – but would have to beat No.14 seed Daria Kasatkina at the first hurdle.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, Roland Garros 2018©Cedric Lecocq / FFT
Which first-round match-up excites you the most?

AS: I think in-form Kyle Edmund and fledging Aussie youngster Alex de Minaur could produce a cracker, while Andrea Petkovic and Kristina Mladenovic promises to be a right rollercoaster.

IC: Garbine Muguruza’s dust-up with Svetlana Kuznetsova looks pretty splendide, although when you look at their head-to-head, you can’t really back against the Spaniard. Then there’s Nick Kyrgios versus Bernie Tomic – awww, mate! How can you not get enthused by this? It could be the maddest thing served up by Australia since Bananas in Pyjamas.

DI: If it materialises, with both players injury-free, Nick Kygrios versus a resurgent Bernard Tomic is intriguing. While not the preferred surface for either, it’s a story of Tomic’s slow road back to potential redemption and the unpredictability of which Nick Kyrgios will turn up. It’s not a match either will want to lose. On the women’s side, it’s hard to go past Serena Williams versus Kristyna Pliskova purely for the anticipation of seeing where the American great’s game is at as her comeback gathers pace.

KB: The thought of Kyrgios and Tomic prompts a certain smile…

SE: I too am looking forward to Kyle Edmund vs Alex de Minaur, the former young upstart taking on a hungry young player of great potential.

Click here to read The Big Questions: Part 2!