French Open 2020 draw positions Novak Djokovic, Simona Halep as favorites

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After being moved from its traditional spring date, the 2020 French Open is finally upon us. Sure, it feels as if the US Open just happened, because, well, it did, but the players are now some 3,600 miles away on a completely different surface and gearing up for the last major of the (incredibly strange) year.

The clay-court event features more of the top players than the US Open, but it remains notable for who isn’t playing — Roger Federer is still sidelined as he recovers from surgery on his right knee, and world No. 1 and reigning champion Ashleigh Barty, No. 3 and 2020 US Open champion Naomi Osaka and No. 7 and 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu are all missing the event due to concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic and lack of preparation time.

Still, this event is not lacking in star power. Rafael Nadal, a 12-time champion in Paris, makes his return after missing the U.S. swing, as does 2018 champion and top women’s seed Simona Halep.

Novak Djokovic will look to redeem himself after a controversial early exit in New York, and Serena Williams will continue her quest for Grand Slam title No. 24 after falling in the semifinals at the US Open. Players such as newly crowned major champion Dominic Thiem, US Open finalists Alexander Zverev and Victoria Azarenka, and surging American Jennifer Brady will look to bring their hot streaks to another continent.

As Roland Garros held qualifying and will have a limited number of fans, the tournament will perhaps feel slightly more normal than the US Open, but concerns over the health and safety of the players and those on the grounds will continue to be paramount and probably remain a frequently discussed storyline throughout the duration.

However, even with numerous protocols and restrictions in place, we’re still in store for some great tennis over the next two weeks. Here’s our analysis of the draw, breaking it down quarter by quarter.

First quarter
Men
Djokovic will be highly motivated in this event, given the shocking default he was hit with at the US Open. There’s an interesting mix of power and guile in this quarter.

Player with the toughest path: Frances Tiafoe had a good US Open, but he might need to beat Jan-Lennard Struff and Feliciano Lopez, very different players both weaned on clay, if he hopes to meet No. 7 seed Matteo Berrettini in the third round.

High seed most likely to be upset: No. 10 Roberto Bautista Agut has a challenging first round against Richard Gasquet, who will be inspired by his home crowd.

Player most likely to surprise: Vasek Pospisil is a Canadian, born and bred on hard courts, but he has a massive serve and had a great US Open. He meets Berrettini in the first round.

Player with easiest path: Djokovic, who else? If No. 15 Karen Khachanov survives to the fourth round, he has the power to hit anyone off the court.

Best first-round matchup: Bautista Agut vs. Gasquet should provide some dazzling shotmaking.

Semifinalist: Djokovic.

Women
This might not seem like a particularly tough quarter at first glance, but Halep will have her work cut out for her getting out of this tricky group. With Kiki Bertens, who beat Halep on clay in the 2019 Madrid Open final, as well as 2019 semifinalist Amanda Anisimova, rising star Maria Sakkari, two-time major champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, a resurgent Eugenie Bouchard and whomever escapes the epic Johanna Konta-Coco Gauff first-round showdown, prepare for some surprises in this section of the draw.

Player with the toughest path: Konta. The 2019 Roland Garros semifinalist has to play Gauff, the 16-year-old phenom, in her first match. If she is to escape that, she probably would then have to face the always-challenging Camila Giorgi, followed by Sakkari then Bertens. Good luck with that.

High seed most likely to be upset: Bertens, the fifth seed, has played in only two matches since the restart — losing in the first round in Rome and retiring in her opener in Strasbourg. She doesn’t exactly look to be in prime form and could be vulnerable against any opponent.

Player most likely to surprise: Bouchard. If you’re rolling your eyes at this right now, you obviously haven’t seen the Canadian play over the past six weeks. She played seven matches in seven days in Istanbul to reach the finals, before losing in three very dramatic sets, and made the quarterfinals in Prague. With momentum on her side, she is more than capable of pulling off the upset on any given day.

Player with easiest path: No one has a particularly easy path in this quarter, but Halep probably won’t have any problem until the third round, where she could face Anisimova. The 19-year-old American beat Halep, then the defending champion, during the 2019 quarterfinals in straight sets and clearly knows how to beat her. Still, she has played in only three matches on clay, and Halep appears to be more than up for the rematch.

Best first-round matchup: That should be clear by now — Konta vs. Gauff. This matchup doesn’t even feel fair for either player but promises to be a great clash in the first career meeting between two stars with much to prove. Konta, a 2019 Roland Garros semifinalist, is looking to make another deep run in Paris, but Gauff is no stranger to the spoiler role and already has made it to the fourth round at both Wimbledon and the Australian Open.

Semifinalist: Halep. She has played in two clay tournaments since the restart and won them both. Her proven success on the surface and recent experience will be enough to propel her back to the final four.

Second quarter
Men
Most of the big names in this quarter are not known for their clay-court prowess which, combined with a manageable first few rounds, ostensibly leaves No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas in the driver’s seat.

Player with the toughest path: No. 9 seed Denis Shapovalov is looking to get past the second round for the first time at the French Open. He plays tough out Gilles Simon (who will have home-court advantage) in the opener, and his third-round opponent could be No. 18 Grigor Dimitrov with Tsitsipas waiting in the fourth round.

High seed most likely to be upset: No. 4 seed Daniil Medvedev has never won a match at the French Open. Who woulda thunk it?

Player most likely to surprise: Andrey Rublev, the No. 13 seed, lost a very close quarterfinal to fellow countryman Medvedev at the US Open. It could be a very different story on clay.

Player with easiest path: Filip Krajinovic, the No. 26 seed, has been on fire recently. He opens with a qualifier and could get a wild card next. If he can survive a potential third-round meeting with Tsitsipas, he could go deep.

Best first-round matchup: Speedy Frenchman Simon is a superb counter-punching defender. He has been playing well, but he’s 35. That will level the playing field and set up an appealing contrast with offense-minded Shapovalov.

Semifinalist: Rublev.

Women
The “Williams Sisters” quarter, or the “Group of Moms.” Call it what you want, but it doesn’t change how stacked this section of the draw is. Both Serena and Venus Williams are here, as well as Azarenka, who beat Serena in the US Open semifinals, and US Open quarterfinalists Tsvetana Pironkova, Elise Mertens and Yulia Putintseva, the upset-minded and former world No. 4 Caroline Garcia, and of course No. 3 seed Elina Svitolina. So yes, there is some serious talent and momentum in this group.

Player with the toughest path: Serena. The tournament did her no favors as she continues her quest to make history. With a tough opponent in the first round (Kristie Ahn), she would potentially have to face fellow mom Pironkova, who battled her for three memorable sets in the US Open quarters, in the second round. And it would only get harder from there — with a potential rematch against Azarenka in the fourth round.

High seed most likely to be upset: Serena. See above.

Player most likely to surprise: Garcia. The 26-year-old knocked off top-seeded Karolina Pliskova in the second round at the US Open, and she knows she’s capable of beating anyone on any given day. She has a tough test in the first round against No. 17 seed Anett Kontaveit, but as a former French Open quarterfinalist (2017), she knows what it takes to win on clay and lives for the big moments and opponents.

Player with easiest path: There is no such thing as an easy path when it comes to women’s tennis, but Svitolina’s half of the quarter (that’s 1/8th of the draw for all you math people) appears less intimidating than the other half that features Serena and Venus, Azarenka and Putintseva. However, if she reaches the round of 32, she would potentially face No. 27 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova, and then have Kontaveit and Mertens looming.

Best first-round matchup: Kontaveit vs. Garcia is another match that feels as if it should be much later in a Grand Slam, but here we are. The two faced off in Rome earlier this month, with Kontaveit taking the victory, but this certainly go either player’s way. Honorable mention here to Serena vs. Ahn. The two Americans met in the opening round in New York, and Ahn gave Serena more than a formidable challenge.

Semifinalist: Azarenka. The two-time Australian Open champion isn’t known for her play on clay, but with her dominant run at the US Open, followed by an impressive string of matches in Rome — she bageled Sofia Kenin in the second round — it feels as if momentum is more than on her side.

Third quarter
Men
Thiem, runner-up to Nadal the past two years, is seeded No. 3, but you have to wonder how his motivation and fitness will be affected by his recent Grand Slam breakthrough at the US Open.

Player with the toughest path: Gael Monfils, seeded No. 9, should be able to get out of the gate quickly, but back-to-back potential matches against No. 12 Diego Schwartzman and Thiem to make the semis seem like a big ask.

High seed most likely to be upset: Thiem is a master on red clay, but for starters he potentially faces two big hitters: former Grand Slam champ Marin Cilic and American bombardier Reilly Opelka. An emotional post-US Open letdown is possible.

Player most likely to surprise: Is it permitted for Frenchmen to dream? Monfils, “La Monf” to his multitude of boosters, seems healthy and well-rested and was 16-3 in 2020 before the pandemic shut things down.

Player with easiest path: Former champion Stan Wawrinka is seeded No. 16. Although Andy Murray is no typical wild card in the first round, Wawrinka could very easily get to the fourth round playing only wild cards. Four landed in his eighth of the draw.

Best first-round matchup: How could it be anything but Wawrinka vs. Murray?

Semifinalist: Schwartzman.

Women
This section might be lacking the big names compared to the other quarters, but it won’t feel that way once play gets underway. Fourth-seeded Kenin, the reigning Australian Open champion, headlines this group, but it will be an uphill battle if she hopes to make it to her first semifinal in Paris. Garbine Muguruza, whom Kenin defeated in the final in Melbourne, will be looking for her second title in Roland Garros. Brady, hot off of her run in New York, and Aryna Sabalenka, the No. 8 seed, also will be trying to play into the second week.

Player with the toughest path: Sabalenka. The 22-year-old will face Jessica Pegula, who made the quarters at the Western & Southern Open and the third round at the US Open, in the first round, then potentially could face Daria Kasatkina, a 2018 Roland Garros quarterfinalist, in the second, and then No. 21 seed Ons Jabeur in the round of 32. Did we mention those are just her first three matches? Muguruza or Brady probably would be waiting in the fourth round.

High seed most likely to be upset: Sabalenka. Did you see all of those potential matches?

Player most likely to surprise: Jabeur. It feels as if the Tunisian star is posed for a breakthrough after a strong start to the year. She advanced to the quarterfinals in Australia before losing to Kenin and made the quarters at the Top Seed Open and the Western & Southern Open since the restart. Her tricky and unpredictable game could bring her some more big wins.

Player with easiest path: On paper, it’s Kenin as the bottom half of this quarter is significantly less challenging. But that said, Kenin hasn’t been playing particularly well lately (please take a look at the 6-0, 6-0 score from her loss to Azarenka in Rome for further proof). Donna Vekic could be a tough battle in the third round, as would either No. 14 seed Elena Rybakina or No. 22 seed Karolina Muchova in the fourth.

Best first-round matchup: Sabalenka vs. Pegula in a rematch of round of 16 at the Western & Southern Open. The 26-year-old American won that clash in three hard-fought sets and is more than capable of pulling off the upset yet again.

Semifinalist: Muguruza. She didn’t look her best in New York and admitted to not being fully prepared, but she followed it up with a semifinal run on clay in Rome. She knows how to win on the surface, and in Paris, is ready to follow up her terrific start of the year with another dominant major run.

Fourth quarter
Men
No. 2 seed Nadal’s draw might not be quite as friendly as it appears at first glance, not with Kei Nishikori (silent for so long due to injury but terrific on clay — especially in five-setters) and one-time nemesis Fabio Fognini lurking in the same eighth.

Player with the toughest path: Zverev, seeded No. 5, could get dialed in over the first two rounds, but then gritty competitor Alex De Minaur and versatile No. 11 David Goffin are potential obstacles to a quarterfinal date with Nadal.

High seed most likely to be upset: Nadal was beaten in the quarterfinals of Rome — the only tournament he has played since Acapulco in February.

Player most likely to surprise: Jannik Sinner, a 19-year-old Italian phenom, has already beaten Tsitsipas on clay and insiders think he might be the next big thing — if he can knock out Goffin in his opener. The winner will be positioned to make a nice run.

Player with easiest path: If he feels comfortable and can dismiss potential threats from rivals who don’t seem quite as dangerous as they once did, Nadal would be content to see Zverev’s name opposite his in the quarterfinals.

Best first-round matchup: It will be compelling to see if Goffin’s giant tennis brain can find solutions when he meets Sinner, who clouts the ball with youthful exuberance.

Semifinalist: Nadal.

Women
This quarter features four major champions (Petra Kvitova, Angelique Kerber, Sloane Stephens and Jelena Ostapenko) and two players (Pliskova and Madison Keys) who are among the best currently on the WTA Tour to have not won one yet. This is going to be a tough part of the draw to escape. Godspeed, everyone involved.

Player with the toughest path: Pliskova could face Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open champion, in the second round, and Stephens, a 2018 French Open finalist, in the third. She fell in the second round of the US Open to Garcia and has often struggled on the biggest stages. Advancing far in this draw might be a struggle for her, despite being the top seed in the quarter and second overall.

High seed most likely to be upset: Pliskova. When the lights shine brightest, it seems Pliskova shies away. Combine that with tough potential early opponents, and it doesn’t look good for the 28-year-old’s quest for her first Slam title.

Player most likely to surprise: Keys. Typically a fixture in the second week at majors over the past several years, the No. 12 seed uncharacteristically lost in the third round in Melbourne and New York. She didn’t play in any of the clay tuneup events, but she reached the semifinal in Paris in 2018, and the always competitive Keys probably will do everything she can to salvage her 2020 season.

Player with easiest path: There is no one with an easy path in this quarter, but Kvitova might have the least challenging first three rounds, so she can take this category by default. The two-time major champion would then likely take on either Kerber or Keys in the fourth round, and then, frankly, flip a coin.

Best first-round matchup: This is a toss-up between Leylah Fernandez vs. Magda Linette, and Julia Goerges vs. Alison Riske. Fernandez, an 18-year-old Canadian, is firmly on the rise and could pose a serious challenge to the 31st-seeded Linette. Goerges and Riske, the No. 19 seed, are both seasoned veterans who can rise to any occasion.

Semifinalist: Kvitova. In a quarter filled with major champions, she might just have the slight edge.

Semifinals
Men: Djokovic over Rublev, and Schwartzman over Nadal.

Women: Halep over Azarenka and Muguruza over Kvitova.

Finals
Men: Djokovic over Schwartzman.

Women: Halep vs. Muguruza.


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