The 2021 French Open main draw begins Sunday 30th May and all eyes will be on Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal again in the men’s draw. Nadal is a 13-time French Open champion and is bidding to overtake Roger Federer in the total Grand Slam events tally. The two are currently tied on 20 each and with Federer turning 40 in August, it looks unlikely he’ll be able to add to his collection.
Although Federer does play this year’s French Open, he isn’t expecting to have a good run in the draw having lost his only warm-up match on the clay and having barely played on the tour in the last two years. Although Nadal is the reigning champion and has won the tournament every year since 2017, he is seeded number 3 for this year’s tournament.
Daniil Medvedev has broken into the top 2 and arguably would likely have come into the tournament with the World number 1 ranking, but for missing a large part of the clay-court season after a positive Covid-19 test before the Monte-Carlo Masters event in April. Dominic Thiem has lost the final to Nadal in each of the last two years but he isn’t in good form and would need to really improve in order to challenge.
In the women’s draw, all eyes will be on top seed Ashleigh Barty, winner of this tournament in 2019. She did not play in 2020 due to the pandemic. Barty is also looking to defend her World Number 1 ranking and will need to make the final in order to prevent Naomi Osaka, the number 2 seed, from taking the top ranking. Osaka is refusing to participate in press interviews at this year’s tournament, over mental health concerns and as she feels the same questions are asked after each match.
The defending champion is Poland’s Iga Swiatek, who stormed to the title in 2020 without losing a set. She is ranked 9th this time and there will be a look at her potential run through the tournament later in the article. Other notable entrants are 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams (seeded 7), former champion Garbiñe Muguruza (seeded 12) and tennis’ Queen of Instagram, Elina Svitolina (seeded 5). The women’s game is usually far harder to predict and usually throws up more surprises. There doesn’t seem to be a dominant force in the women’s game which generally makes it more exciting watching how the draw unfolds.
The 4 men to watch
There really is only one place to start. Rafael Nadal will take some serious beating. He’s won 13 times overall, since winning on his debut in 2005. He has won the last 4 years in a row, with an overall record of 100 wins, and just 2 defeats at the tournament. He did suffer a walkover loss in 2016 as he was unable to play his 3rd round match due to injury.
This year, his draw is likely to look like Alexei Popyrin in the first round, home favourite Richard Gasquet in round 2, Lorenzo Sonego in the third round before another Frenchman in the 4th round in Gael Monfils. Andrey Rublev likely awaits in the Quarterfinal before a showdown with World Number 1 Novak Djokovic in the Semifinal before Daniil Medvedev in the final.
It looks a particularly difficult route through. Gasquet is a very dangerous player, his shotmaking is sensational and with a partisan crowd behind him, he could really cause an upset. Monfils is probably less likely to offer too much of a challenge but Andrey Rublev has had a brilliant 2021 to date.
He is one of the most in-form players and it could prove to be too much for Nadal to beat Rublev, Djokovic (one of the two men to beat him at this tournament) and then Medvedev in the final. He is certainly capable, no man wins a tournament 13 times without having the game to beat anyone he plays.
Novak Djokovic has been world number 1 for a record 322 weeks (and counting). He’s collected 18 Grand Slam titles, losing a further 10 finals. He has won 5 year-end Championship finals and has won 36 Masters titles, including winning all 9 Masters tournaments at least twice each. He is level on 36 Masters titles with Rafael Nadal, with Roger Federer further behind on 28.
Despite all these achievements, Novak is still trying to prove himself as good as, if not better than Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. He has won all 4 Slam titles and held all four at the same time – which Federer and Nadal have not achieved, despite winning all 4. Djokovic could face Federer in the Quarterfinal should both get that far.
He would then face Nadal in the Semifinal before a likely showdown with new force Daniil Medvedev in the final, in what would be a repeat of the Australian Open final from earlier in 2021. Djokovic remains one of the most impressive athletes and winners on the tour, but he has started to lose matches he wouldn’t have done previously.
A straight-sets defeat to Dan Evans at the Monte Carlo Masters was not expected and losing in the semi-final in Serbia was another surprise and disappointment for Djokovic, losing to Aslan Karatsev. He then lost to Rafael Nadal in the final of the Rome Masters which may have dented his confidence.
Daniil Medvedev has had a rapid rise over the last 2 years to climb into the top 2 in the world. He is quite a defensive player who focuses more on limiting unforced errors and missed shots, rather than trying to outhit an opponent or defeat them with clever tactical play. He hasn’t won a match at the French Open yet, however.
He has lost two Slam finals (in Australia earlier in 2021 and at the US Open in 2019) and made one Semi-Final but he’s a player very much on the up. His positive Covid-19 test has slowed his progress in 2021 but he will fancy a good run in Paris. The draw does look particularly difficult for him, however. Alexander Bublik will be looking to continue Medvedev’s poor form in Paris in the first round before
American Tommy Paul awaits in the 2nd round. Giant Reilly Opelka potentially awaits in the third round before it gets really serious in round 4. Grigor Dimitrov, number 16 seed, has failed in many ways to live up to the expectations of him but he continues to be a dangerous player on his day. If Medvedev can get that far, Greek number 1 Stefanos Tsitsipas awaits in the Quarterfinal.
Tsitsipas is a clay-court specialist and has achieved his best results on this surface. Arguably, Medvedev wouldn’t be the favourite in that match, before two-time runner up Dominic Thiem potentially awaits in the Semifinal before a showdown with either Djokovic or Nadal in the final. I think it very unlikely that Medvedev will take the crown, but he’s a dogged player who rarely misses and who always makes their opponent play an extra shot or three in a rally.
Greek sensation Stefanos Tstsipas has at times flattered to deceive in his career. Standing 6’4 at 22, he made the Semifinal in France in 2020 and started 2021 with a Semifinal loss at the Australian Open. During his run to the Semis there, he came from 2-0 down against Rafael Nadal to win (only the second man ever to achieve such a victory).
He won his first Masters title in Monte Carlo on the clay in April, in doing so he became the first Greek player to win a Masters title. Tsitsipas also won the title in Lyon on a clay court surface. A far more attacking player than Medvedev, Tsitsipas is always a fan favourite and will no doubt enjoy vocal support from the crowds in Paris. Being in the same Quarter as the number 2 seed, Daniil Medvedev, Tsitsipas should comfortably make that stage and then it will be a real opportunity for both men to make a Semifinal.
Journeyman Frenchman Jeremy Chardy is his first-round opponent before playing the winner of Sebastian Korda and Pedro Martinez in round 2. An American probably awaits in the 3rd round, facing either Sam Querrey or John Isner and then most likely Spaniard Pablo Carreño Busta in the 4th round. Although the Spaniard is a clay court expert, you would be very surprised if Tsitsipas didn’t make the Quarterfinal showdown with Medvedev which could decide who gets the chance to dethrone the King of Clay, Rafa Nadal, and the world number 1 Novak Djokovic.
The 4 women to watch
Nobody was expecting Iga to win the French Open in 2020. She hadn’t previously gone past the 4th round at a Slam event and was ranked 54 in the world. In winning the tournament, she became the youngest French Open winner since Rafael Nadal and lost just 28 games across her 7 matches.
Only Stefi Graf has lost fewer games en route to winning the title. She didn’t drop a single set and only once lost as many as five games in a single set. Her run through to the final saw her defeat then World Number 2 Simona Halep, who was on a 17 match winning streak and was the big favourite to win the title. Iga this year is seeded 8th which means she’ll have to face former Muguruza in the 4th round if they both get there, then potentially a re-match of last year’s final against Sofia Kenin.
World Number 1 and top seed Ashleigh Barty awaits in the Semifinal with a potential final against World Number 2 Naomi Osaka to defend her title. Could the Polish lady go on to dominate in France as Rafael Nadal has done? Or will she be another of the many single Slam winners in the women’s game? The French Open has seen some shock winners on the ladies’ side in the last few years, including Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko who hasn’t been able to follow up her Maiden Slam title with any sustained success.
Naomi Osaka has won the last two Grand Slam events she has played (she skipped the French Open in 2020 which had been rescheduled to take place after the US Open). Osaka is threatening to become a dominant force in the women’s game, but she will need to play more tournaments than she currently does in order to do so.
Her schedule over the last year has been reduced due to the pandemic and her schedule for 2021 is focussing on the major events. Osaka won the Australian Open for the second time in February and she will be looking to improve upon her record of not making it past the third round in Paris.
She has the game to do better but there are questions around her mindset and/or mentality as she has refused to take part in media duties citing mental health concerns. She has spoken about the questions being repetitive and potentially unsettling for an elite athlete who is trying to keep themselves with the goal of winning, day in and day out.
The tournament has responded by threatening fines and potentially even expulsion from the event if she doesn’t change her stance. Several players have spoken of how tough the last year has been on the players, who have to quarantine upon arrival at events and take multiple tests in order to ensure they can compete.
A surprise finalist in 2019 whilst still 19, Vondrousova is a player who is capable of springing another surprise. She is the 20th seed, so her route through the competition will be difficult. She begins her campaign against the experience Kaia Kanepi before taking on the winner of an all-French first-round match between Cornet and Tan.
Assuming she makes it, the third round would likely be against the 16th seed, Kiki Bertens, before a showdown in round 4 against number 2 seed Naomi Osaka. If Osaka is taken out before then, that section of the draw will really open up but it’s a big ask. Her experience of getting through to a final previously would be invaluable to her and on that run she was the underdog in every round.
Her run through was generous that year and is less so this year – but she’s got the game to be a challenge for any opponent, she makes a lot of returns on serves and has a wicked drop shot which on Clay could prove a real weapon and is a rarity in the modern Women’s game.
Unseeded Daria Kasatkina is inconsistent at best and undisciplined at worst. She has a tendency to overhit the ball and her defensive game opens up multiple opportunities for her opponent to attack her. Despite all this, I think she’s underperformed at previous Slam events (she has never progressed beyond the 4th round at a Slam event) and her draw this year looks favourable.
There are some downsides, she has a Slam champion in her section, Bianca Andreescu, along with British hope Johanna Konta. Neither is comfortable on Clay courts and neither will pose too much of a threat in that section. Number 10 seed Belinda Bencic is also in this section, but I think Kasatkina has a favourable run through to the Quarterfinal, where Naomi Osaka potentially awaits her.
Otherwise, the bottom half of the draw stars Serena Williams who has struggled for form over the last year or two, or arguably three. There is almost always a surprise player progressing at the French Open and my suggestion this year is Daria Kasatkina.