French Open men’s preview: Who else … Rafa!

From Roland Garros –

THE FAVORITE
Rafa Nadal has won nine titles here but faltered since 2014. Without a doubt, over the past two months, he has finally been more aggressive and more consistent. Can he win it again when in the past three -, his body was sore and pretty weak? He is finally and gradually changing his tactics, given that as a 30-years-old, he needs to change. 
On clay, he is the favorite. His major test could be in the semifinals; watch out against Novak Djokovic, who has beaten Nadal a ton of times after 2014. Nadal might have to face the steady Roberto Bautista Agut or the American Jack Sock in the fourth round, and maybe another Spaniard, Pablo Carreno Busta, in the quarters. Others looming include Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov in the quarters, if they learn to love clay. It’s all about Nadal; if he gets on a roll, then he can throw anyone into the back wall and win it.  

CLOSE TO THE FAVORITES
Andy Murray is the No. 1 so even though he has been struggling this year. When he walks on court, he will attempt to lock it in. But he’s never won Roland Garros, and while he has gotten better on clay, he gets frustrated. Will he do it here? At some point for sure. This year he will have to take out the very young Alexander “Sascha” Zverev, if they get to the quarters.

Novak Djokovic has won this tournament last year, blasting away and having the best time of his life. But after he left from Paris, he was a little bit tired, and then he didn’t know why he was running the wrong way, and then his serve went down, and he couldn’t kiss the lines, etc. Since then, he has won just two events. He just hired a new coach, Andre Agassi, to help him now. Maybe he will, but to win Paris when he is still shaky? It’s a lot to ask. He has to be super patient and if he does, he has a shot to grab RG again, but that would be surprising. He might have to play against the up-coming Dominic Thiem in the quarters, who smoked him in the semis of Rome. 

Here comes the No. 3 Stan Wawrinka, who just won Geneva beating Mischa Zverev. The Swiss was a little out of it, but when he wakes up, he can win any title, which he as done at Roland Garros, the Aussie Open and the US Open. His one-handed backhand is legendary. Wawrinka can win it again, but he could face a number of fine players: maybe against Fabio Fognini in the third round, against Richard Gasquet or Gael Monfils in the fourth round, and against Jo Tsonga (who just won Lyon over Tomas Berdych in the final), Nick Kyrgios or Marin Cilic in the quarters.  It’s a very tough draw for Wawrinka.

BEST OF A REST
Alexander Zverev just won Rome, the first time that one of young kids actually grabbed an ATP Masters Series since, well, forever. The German really likes the clay, but still, he will have to face the vet Fernando Verdasco in the first round, maybe against Kei Nishikori in the fourth round, and against Murray in the quarters. Of course he can win a major very soon, but in two weeks in front of the massive crowds? Only he can stay calm within himself.
  
Thiem is another who is coming up very quickly. He’s already in the top 10 and he loves the clay. Can he actually upset Djokovic in the quarters? I doubt it, but he needs to improve his form now. 

A number of Americans can reach the second week: Steve Johnson, if he can out hit Thiem in the third round; Sock, who would have to best Ryan Harrison and then to crunch Bautista Agut in the third round; and John Isner  — who played very well in Rome — has to take down two phenomenal players, against Berdych in the third round, and if he beats him, then he will likely play against Murray in the fourth round. Brutal.

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