With the 2019 French Open beginning Sunday in Paris, we gathered 14 of our ESPN tennis experts to glean their knowledge and get their picks for this year’s tournament.
Will Rafael Nadal win an astonishing 12th title at Roland Garros or will Novak Djokovic complete the “Djoker Slam”? Will Simona Halep repeat or can Kiki Bertens continue her stellar play and break through on the women’s side? Who are the dark-horse contenders? And is anyone picking all-time greats Roger Federer or Serena Williams?
Here’s what our experts have to say:
Who will win the French Open men’s title?
Patrick McEnroe: Dominic Thiem.
Chris Evert: Rafael Nadal. Hard to beat in five sets on clay.
Brad Gilbert: Very tough call on the men’s winner, especially with weather issues coming the first week: (1A) Djoker and (1B) Vamos Rafa.
Cliff Drysdale: Rafa. Only kryptonite or Novak could prevent a dozen French Open titles.
Pam Shriver: Since Rafa won Rome playing his most consistent tennis of his year and he has won Roland Garros 11 times, I will go with Rafa winning his 12th French Open.
Darren Cahill: Novak Djokovic. He’s playing for his own place in history by holding all four majors at once for the second time in his career. His form is strong, and he looks ready for the physical and mental test Roland Garros delivers.
Rennae Stubbs: Nadal. Winning Rome is the perfect warm-up to give him the belief that he once again is the favorite. His clay-court form was a little worrisome, even for his standards, but after Rome, I am sure we will see 12 French Open titles at the end of the two weeks for Rafa — and stunning if we do.
Peter Bodo: Nadal. Sure, he lost a few matches on clay this year. But the best-of-five format changes everything, and you have to take the 11-time French Open champion’s win over Djokovic in the Italian Open last week as an omen.
Bonnie Ford: Nadal. Impossible to pick against him. Still.
Alyssa Roenigk: Djokovic. Although 11-time champ Nadal devoured Djokovic on clay at the Italian Open last weekend, the Spaniard looked slow in the early clay swing, losing in the semifinal in Barcelona (to Thiem) and Madrid (to Stefanos Tsitsipas). That opens the door for Djokovic, who with a win at Roland Garros will hold all four Grand Slam titles simultaneously.
D’Arcy Maine: Looking for his third straight title and 12th overall at Roland Garros, can anyone but Nadal really be considered here? Riding high off an impressive win over Djokovic in the Italian Open final, the Spaniard looks ready to remind everyone just why he’s considered the “King of Clay.” And while he seems more beatable than he has been in other years — he lost in the semifinals in both Barcelona and Madrid — it still seems impossible to think anyone has a better chance of walking away with the trophy at Nadal’s favorite tournament.
Tom Hamilton: Is Nadal’s crown slightly slipping? He has found himself matched on clay a number of times already this year, but his win in Rome suggests he is timing his run to perfection. His monopoly of the French Open also could serve as a mental block for his competitors. Nadal is at home at Roland Garros and should add a 12th title to his collection.
Jerry Bembry: It’s hard to pick against Nadal, who enters the French Open fresh off his Italian Open win over Djokovic. With three straight French Open titles (and 11 of his 17 Grand Slam titles at Roland Garros), the “King of Clay” is the overwhelming favorite.
Simon Cambers: Nadal. Winning Rome showed he is coming good at the right time. And over five sets, on clay, he is still the man to beat.
Who will win the French Open women’s title?
Patrick McEnroe: Simona Halep.
Chris Evert: Halep is the most solid and fresh, finally.
Brad Gilbert: The women’s winner feels completely wide open. It could be 15 different winners, but I will take a shot at Kiki Bertens.
Cliff Drysdale: Halep. Happy feet, great mover. Pressure is off. Has been there, done that.
Pam Shriver: I would be happy with picking and stating why any one of the top 15 ranked women can win in Paris. Since Petra Kvitova has been playing consistently well and can hit through a damp, cold clay court, I will pick her to win her first major outside of Wimbledon.
Darren Cahill: Halep. She is playing her favorite major and always feels confident on the courts at Roland Garros. She loves the atmosphere of Paris and will be tough to beat in what is a wide-open event.
Rennae Stubbs: Halep. I think that once the tournament gets going and she gets her teeth into it again, she will show once and for all why her tennis on clay is the best. I don’t think her form is strong enough to say she is the overwhelming favorite, but if I had to pick one, it’s her. And like Nadal, she knows what it feels like to win in Paris.
Peter Bodo: Bertens. The pressure on defending champ Halep will be too much for her to bear. Bertens, a late bloomer who has come into her own, showed a lot of game — and mental strength — in the spring clay season.
Bonnie Ford: Sloane Stephens. Refreshed by her coaching switch, and it’s hard to imagine anyone more motivated if she gets to the final.
Alyssa Roenigk: Halep. The defending French Open champ has seen the final at Roland Garros over the past two years. So far on the red stuff this season, she reached the final in Madrid and lost her opening-round match in Rome. She finds her footing in France and makes a run toward her first title of 2019.
D’Arcy Maine: Bertens is quite possibly playing her best tennis right now. The Dutch star is one of just three players to have won multiple tournaments during the fickle 2019 season. Currently ranked a career-high No. 4 in the world, the 27-year-old knocked off four Grand Slam winners, including Halep in the final, to win her first Premier Mandatory title at the Madrid Open earlier this month, then followed that up with a semifinal run at the Italian Open. With Halep showing some vulnerabilities amid the expectations, three-time champion Serena Williams having played just one match on clay leading into the tournament, surging Petra Kvitova dealing with a calf injury and reigning US Open and Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka not exactly a specialist on the surface, this Grand Slam feels like it is anyone’s title to win. Bertens reached the semifinals at Roland Garros in 2016, and with momentum very much on her side this time around, she looks poised to have a lengthy stay in Paris.
Tom Hamilton: Halep has yet to win a tournament this year, but she is still the player to beat at Roland Garros. She will feel strangely at ease in Paris as reigning champion, and her premature exit in Rome could work to her favor, as she will be well-rested for Paris.
Jerry Bembry: Eight different women have won the past nine Slams, which shows the parity in the women’s field. But look for Halep, who is probably the best women’s clay-court player in the world today, to defend her 2018 French Open title despite her recent disappointing outing in Rome.
Simon Cambers: Kvitova. She is the in-form player on tour, and if she can survive her usual nerves in the first couple of rounds, she will be hugely dangerous.
Who is your men’s dark-horse contender?
Patrick McEnroe: Fabio Fognini.
Chris Evert: Fognini, but it’s all Djokovic and Nadal, so that’s not going to happen.
Brad Gilbert: I’m hoping for a young player, 21 and under, to triumph, but leaning toward Stanimal (Stan Wawrinka).
Cliff Drysdale: Fognini, because he needs this stage to share his dynamic game and personal demons with the world. Plus, I love watching him.
Pam Shriver: Anyone who has won Roland Garros before in the Rafa era is dangerous to win again. Wawrinka is a proven clutch big-match player. Assuming he stays healthy, he is my dark-horse pick.
Darren Cahill: Juan Martin del Potro. Not much is expected of del Potro after coming back from injury, but his match versus Djokovic in Rome should give him enormous confidence that he is back and as dangerous as ever.
Rennae Stubbs: Fognini. It’s about time he proved himself at a Slam.
Peter Bodo: Daniil Medvedev. The 23-year-old Russian produced consistent results in his rise to the elite level. Although he lost early in Madrid and Rome, he has that old-school “human backboard” consistency that can still work on clay.
Bonnie Ford: Stefanos Tsitsipas. Unintimidated by big moments and opponents.
Alyssa Roenigk: Tsitsipas. Although it’s a long shot that a player outside the Big Three will take the title in Paris, if anyone can upset that trio, it’s 20-year-old Tsitsipas, who already beat Nadal on clay this year. (He also beat Federer in the final in Dubai in March and in Melbourne in January.)
D’Arcy Maine: If Nadal is the “King of Clay,” think of Dominic Thiem as a young member of the royal family who is aggressively making his way up the successional line. The runner-up at Roland Garros in 2018 and the winner of last month’s Barcelona Open — where he beat Nadal in the semis — the 25-year-old Austrian certainly seems to have the best chance to become a first-time Grand Slam winner in Paris. He has advanced to at least the semifinal round at Roland Garros the past three years and has beaten Nadal on clay an astonishing four times in his career. Could this be the year Thiem finally knocks Nadal out when it counts most and becomes just the second non-Big Four player since 2004 to win in France? It seems possible.
Tom Hamilton: Having gotten to the final last year, Thiem has the ability to go one further and win this time around. He won the Barcelona Open this spring to sit alongside his earlier triumph at Indian Wells and will hope to take this run of form to Paris.
Jerry Bembry: Is it fair to label Tsitsipas, the No. 6 player in the world, a dark-horse contender? Of course it is, considering this 20-year-old from Greece just recently emerged as a force following his surprise semifinal appearance at the Australian Open. His play at the French Open will reveal just how much his confidence — and game — have grown.
Simon Cambers: Wawrinka. The three-time Slam winner is almost back to his best after injury and is a man who improves as tournaments go on.
Who is your women’s dark-horse contender?
Patrick McEnroe: Bianca Andreescu.
Brad Gilbert: Rooting for a young player 21 and under, but leaning Garbine Muguruza.
Pam Shriver: My dark horse is No. 15-ranked Bencic. Now healthy again, she is showing why Martina Hingis and her mom have always liked Bencic’s all-court guile. It would be an irony if this Swiss could win her first major at the only major Hingis never won.
Darren Cahill: Victoria Azarenka is building confidence after a slow start to the year. She has never lacked belief and will be dangerous if she steps foot into the second week.
Rennae Stubbs: Sakkari. She has played really well leading into the French, and I think she could surprise here in Paris.
Peter Bodo: Madison Keys. She has been flying under the radar and hasn’t played especially well in Europe, but she was a semifinalist last year and can hold her own with the high-profile “power game” contenders: Bertens, Karolina Pliskova and Petra Kvitova.
Bonnie Ford: Kvitova. Just a hunch.
Alyssa Roenigk: Kiki Bertens. With a win in Madrid, where she beat Halep in the final, and a semifinal appearance in Rome, Bertens is in the midst of the best season of her career. Currently ranked No. 4 in the world, the 27-year-old Dutch player once known as a clay-court specialist is one to watch in Paris.
D’Arcy Maine: With no obvious favorite in the women’s draw, it feels like a case could be made for virtually any of the top 20 or so players to be the dark horse to watch. So really, flip a coin. However, Ashleigh Barty, ranked No. 8 in the world, certainly should be on everyone’s list to consider. The Australian won the biggest title of her career in Miami earlier this spring, and while she didn’t win any of the lead-up tournaments, she did take home a doubles title with Victoria Azarenka at the Italian Open, and seemed to be finding her groove on the surface throughout the event. She withdrew from this week’s Internationaux de Strasbourg due to a right arm injury, but that feels more precautionary than anything, and she says she still plans to play at Roland Garros.
Tom Hamilton: Bertens beat Halep in Madrid earlier this month and reached the semifinals of the Italian Open. She has spoken openly about her shift in mental approach, and with this newfound self-belief, expect her to be a feature in the closing stages at Roland Garros.
Jerry Bembry: In a women’s field dominated by a long list of big names (Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams and Halep), it’s easy to overlook Muguruza, one of just four players to win multiple Slams since 2016 (Angelique Kerber has three; Muguruza, Serena Williams and Osaka each has two). Muguruza demonstrated that clay is her favorite surface with her 2016 title at the French Open (which followed quarterfinal appearances at Roland Garros in 2014 and 2015).
Simon Cambers: Sakkari. As she showed in reaching the Rome semifinals, the Greek is improving fast and has the strength and talent to go far.