Elina Svitolina, Rafael Nadal in top form, but not all French Open contenders can say the same

Tennis


The Euroclay swing is coming to a head next week at the French Open in Paris. All the big run-in tournaments are now over, and the top contenders are mostly resting and prepping this week for the second Grand Slam of the year. While legions wait on tenterhooks to learn if Serena Williams really is going to play at Roland Garros, we’ll take a look at who’s hot — and not — as the event approaches, including their spring record on clay:

ATP

Hot: No. 1 Rafael Nadal (17-1)

The record says it all. In fact, that lone loss to Dominic Thiem may have improved Nadal’s chance to win his 11th French Open. Nadal’s 21-match winning streak came to an end in that match, along with his record of 50 consecutive sets won. That all took pressure off Nadal. He showed in winning Rome last week that the loss just rekindled his ferocious appetite.

Hot: No. 3 Alexander Zverev (16-2)

It’s impressive. As different a player as the 6-foot-6 German 21-year-old is style-wise from Nadal, Zverev’s clay record is almost identical. The message is there’s more than one way to win on clay. But whether Zverev’s aggressive, serve-based game can sustain him through two tough weeks on red dirt remains to be seen. As good as Zverev is, he has had trouble living up to his well-deserved hype at Grand Slam events.

Not hot: No. 5 Grigor Dimitrov (5-4)

Dimitrov got off to a great start on Euroclay, making the semifinals in Monte Carlo. But as so often seems to be the case with him, he took his eye off the ball, winning just two more matches and losing in the first round at both of the Masters events.

Not hot: No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro (2-3)

After his terrific hard-court spring, Delpo decided to reduce his clay-court commitment. Although he had good reason, that may have been a mistake. The groin injury he sustained in Rome may keep him out of the French Open all together.

Hot: No. 8 Dominic Thiem (8-4)

If there’s an heir to the “King of Clay” out there, it’s this slugging, powerfully built 24-year-old Austrian. Thiem is 3-6 against Nadal, the nominal King of Clay. More surprising, all three Thiem wins over Nadal were on clay (seven of those nine meetings have been at Masters 1000 or Grand Slam events). Thiem has been a little bit erratic this year, but he loves the surface and will go into the French Open well rested.

Hot: No. 9 David Goffin (9-3)

It’s easy to underestimate the frail-looking 5-foot-11 Belgian. But he’s a smart player who has all the shots in the book. And that slender build enables him to have excellent speed and stamina. Goffin lost to only one man ranked below him during the Euroclay season, and failed to make at least the quarterfinals just once.

Hot: No. 11 Pablo Carreno Busta (8-4)

Maybe the spring record doesn’t knock you out, but Carreno has become the No. 2 man behind Nadal in Spain’s reservoir of clay-court experts. He’s been steadily improving (he was ranked No. 30 at the start of 2017) and gaining confidence, as he demonstrated in his quarterfinal win over Dimitrov in Barcelona.

Not hot: No. 15 Jack Sock (2-3)

That he finished No. 8 in 2017 once again created high expectations for Sock — and once again they are petering out. A muscular 6-foot-3 with loads of power, Sock has a Jim Courier-esque game but, seemingly, nothing like his Davis Cup captain and former French Open champion’s drive.

Hot: No. 17 Kyle Edmund (10-5)

You wouldn’t expect a South African-born British player to care very much about becoming a solid clay player. But Edmund seems to, and the results speak for themselves. He had wins this spring against Djokovic and Goffin, and Edmund has been particularly tough on the Frenchmen who will be a force at Roland Garros, logging wins over Richard Gasquet and Lucas Pouille.

Not hot: No. 18 Tomas Berdych (0-3)

A former semifinalist and two-time quarterfinalist at the French Open, Berdych is slowing down at age 32, along with other players of his generation, David Ferrer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils — none of whom is in the top 15.

Hot: No. 22 Novak Djokovic (7-4)

Djokovic’s comeback this spring has been one of those “one step forward, two steps back” affairs, but he finished strong in Rome, making it all the way to the semis before he lost to his rival Nadal. There were numerous flashes of that familiar passion and expressiveness along the way, both good signs. Djokovic should be able to draw on his past success at the French Open for confidence.

Not hot: No. 25 Stan Wawrinka (0-1)

The French Open champ of 2015 is discovering that bouncing back from serious knee surgery at age 33 is a monumental task. He’s played just one match on clay this year, a loss to Steve Johnson in Rome. His last clay match before that was the French Open final of last year.

WTA

Hot: No. 1 Simona Halep (8-3)

The 26-year-old Romanian lost to Elina Svitolina for the second year in a row in the Rome final. But Halep’s tournament was built on impressive victories, those over Maria Sharapova and Caroline Garcia among them. A two-time French Open finalist, Halep may have gotten just the jump-start she needed for another try at the French Open title.

Not hot: No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki (6-3)

The record isn’t so terrible, but look at who dealt her defeat: Pauline Parmentier (Istanbul), Kiki Bertens (Madrid) and Anett Kontaveit (Rome). Average ranking of those three: No. 56.

Not hot: No. 3 Garbine Muguruza (2-3)

Muguruza is a two-time Grand Slam champion, with one of those titles earned in Paris. Why such a poor record? It’s beginning to look like Muguruza, who’s already 24, just isn’t going to mature into the dominant champ the WTA craves to replace Serena Williams.

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Elina Svitolina successfully defended her Italian Open title after beating the world number one Simona Halep in straight sets 6-0, 6-4 in Rome.

Hot: No. 4 Elina Svitolina (6-2)

We’ve been here before — just last year, in fact. But consistent as she is, Svitolina seems no closer to cracking the Grand Slam code than she was in 2017. She has yet to go beyond the quarterfinals at a major. Has her time finally arrived?

Not hot: No. 5 Jelena Ostapenko (3-3)

A .500 record in six matches on clay is not a great way for a champion to prepare to defend her title. It just adds fuel to the theory that the pressure to go into Roland Garros as a favorite will be too much for Ostapenko, who’s just 20, to handle.

Hot: No. 6 Karolina Pliskova (9-2)

Those nine wins represent a streak that began in Stuttgart and didn’t end until Petra Kvitova stopped Pliskova in the semifinals in Madrid. Pliskova lost her first match in Rome, to No. 42 Maria Sakkari, but she’s had plenty of match-play. This spring, Pliskova has wins over defending French Open champ Ostapenko, Halep and Sloane Stephens.

Hot: No. 8 Petra Kvitova (9-1)

Although she’s a Grand Slam champ and regular in the top 10, Kvitova has been something of a sleeper as she continues her rebound from a devastating hand injury. Her biggest enemy has always been herself, as she’s struggled with consistency issues throughout her career. And nobody wins at Roland Garros without being consistent.

Not hot: No. 13 Madison Keys (2-3)

Granted, she issued a walkover to Halep in her second match in Rome. On the other hand, how do you explain the straight-sets loss in the first round at Madrid to a wild card ranked No. 129? Keys continues to be an enigma.

Hot: No. 18 Kiki Bertens (12-3)

She leads the WTA tour with wins during the clay segment (and she’s still playing, this week). She is especially tough on clay. Bertens has beaten all kinds of good players in recent weeks, including Wozniacki, Maria Sharapova and Caroline Garcia. At 26, Bertens is at her physical peak with her confidence also blossoming.

Not hot: No. 21 Naomi Osaka (1-2)

Osaka had a great hard-court season in the United States this March, winning Indian Wells, but she admits to being baffled by clay. At least she knows where she stands.

Hot: No 29 Maria Sharapova (7-3)

The only Grand Slam event the 31-year-old Russian has won in more than a decade is the French Open. She’s never been afraid to go after what she wants, and she’s well-seasoned on clay. But will she be able to avoid that off day that so often derails her?



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