From Navratilova To Nadal: Tennis Legends And Coaches Pick Their French Open Favourites - UBITENNIS
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Grand Slam

From Navratilova To Nadal: Tennis Legends And Coaches Pick Their French Open Favourites

Ubitennis has a closer look at the players who have been backed to win Roland Garros this year.

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The women's French Open trophy (photo by Gianni Ciaccia)

With the French Open getting underway on Sunday, players are making their final preparations ahead of the start of the most prestigious event to take place on the clay.

 

Once again the usual suspects will be heading into the event as favourites to win. Although 2019 has been far from predictable with a series of different winners each week. On the WTA Tour, Karolina Pliskova, Kiki Bertens and Petra Kvitova has been the only players to have won multiple titles this season. Meanwhile, five players have achieved the accolade on the men’s tour. Including Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.

With a grand slam title at stake, some are wondering if more surprises will be in store. Especially in the women’s draw with many still inspired by Jelena Ostapenko’s shock run to the title back in 2017.

Maybe the best indicator is to get the opinion of those who have been involved in the sport for the majority of their lives. Here is who some former players and coaches have backed to win the title this year.

Justine Henin

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Former Belgian player Justine Henin knows what it takes to win the Roland Garros title. During her career, she won the tournament four times and was undefeated between 2005-2007. In the Open Era only Steffi Graf (six) and Chris Evert (seven) have won the women’s French Open title more times.

Henin’s pick for the women’s title this year is reigning champion Simona Halep. The Romanian has featured in the Paris final three times since 2014 and it is currently the only grand slam where she has won 20 or more main draw matches. Her current win-loss record stands at 24-8.

“It is going to be a very interesting tournament. I think Simona Halep is going to be the favourite. I like her game, I like how she plays on clay because on clay you need to be a complete player, both physically and mentally,” Henin told the Indo-Asian news service on May 1st.
“Every grand slam, you get one or two surprises. So, I am expecting that also to happen,” she added.

During a recent interview with Digi Sport TV, Halep has dismissed the idea that she feels under pressure to perform at the French Open. Since winning her maiden major title 12 months ago, she has only won one additional trophy on the WTA Tour. Doing so at the Canadian Open last summer.

“I have no expectations because it’s the first time when I have to defend a trophy at a Grand Slam,Halep said. “(I just want to) be relaxed, enjoy the tournament and try to win some matches. Nothing more!”

Toni Nadal

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Uncle Toni, who is best known as the former coach of Rafael Nadal, believes there will be three key contenders for the men’s title. Besides multiple champion Nadal, Toni has named world No.1 Djokovic and 2018 runner-up Dominic Thiem as favourites.

“I do not know, Rafael has not played in a perfect way in Madrid, Monte Carlo or Barcelona, he reached the semifinals and I think here and in Paris, he will play well”, Toni told Tennis World USA shortly before the Italian Open.
“I think he is the favourite with Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem.

Federer has also been named as a potential threat. The Swiss player hasn’t played in the clay-court major since 2015 and it will be only his third tournament on the clay since June 2016. Federer’s first and only triumph at the French Open was a decade ago in 2008.

“Roger Federer too, he has won a record 20 Grand Slam titles, it’s normal he is one of the contenders, less than Djokovic and Rafael but if he plays well he can beat one of the top guys.”

Arantxa Sanchez Vicario

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In the Open Era, Sanchez Vicario in the only Spanish woman to have won Roland Garros on multiple occasions. The 47-year-old was victorious in 1989, 1994 and 1998. Placing her on equal ground with Serena Williams for most titles won at the event.

Unsurprisingly Sanchez Vicario lists compatriot Nadal as the man to beat, but says this year he will face a greater threat from his rivals. The King of clay has endured a mixed season on the dirt so far. Reaching the semi-finals at three consecutive events before going on to win the Rome Masters. His first ATP silverware of the season.

“Nadal is the one to beat because of the success he has had on clay. Also, playing five sets is a different story compared to three sets,” Sanchez Vicario told Firstpost.
“This year, there are going to be more players who can challenge Rafa for the title. Novak Djokovic, obviously, is one of them. Dominic Thiem is a very good clay court specialist. Then we also have Roger Federer and Stefanos Tsitsipas. So it is wide open.”

The Spaniard has previously backed Halep to defend her title. Beyond that, she lists Petra Kvitova as a player to watch out for in the draw. The Czech is currently one of three players to have won multiple WTA titles in 2019. However, Kvitova hasn’t reached the French Open semi-finals since 2012.

“Kvitova is a very dangerous player and none of the players like to face her when she’s on top. The fact that she is left-handed gives her an advantage, so she’s definitely one of the contenders in Paris,” Sanchez Vicario said.

Vicario also lists Ashleigh as a threat because ‘players will struggle against her.’ She also described Naomi Osaka as a ‘worthy No.1’ and has shown that she can ‘play on all surfaces.’ Both Barty and Osaka are yet to win a trophy on the clay during their professional careers.

Mats Wilander

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Former world No.1 Mats Wilander said his dream final in the women’s draw would involve Serena Williams. The American has only played in one clay event this season heading into the major. At the Italian Open Williams defeated Rebecca Peterson before withdrawing due to a knee injury.

“It would be nice to see Simona Halep in the final, because she the most interesting character on the WTA (tour) and I’d like to see her in the final with Serena Williams, because it would be nice for people to see her come back and not stay with the remembrance of the (US Open) final. Halep – Williams would be my final dream.” Digi Sport quoted him as saying.

Whilst Wilander said he would like to see Williams in the final, during a separate interview he played down her chances.

“I do not think she can win the title. I would be very surprised if she won 7 matches on clay. She will win a Grand Slam, but not the French Open.” He said.
“The three favourites are quite obvious: Simona Halep, first, Naomi Osaka, second. Then I think it’s Sloane Stephens.” He concluded.

As for the men, his pick mirror that of Toni Nadal. Nadal is the front runner, followed by Djokovic and Thiem.

“Obviously he has already played much better in Madrid, he is 32 years old, 33 soon. He does not have to win every tournament to get a chance at Roland Garros. Yes, at 3 sets out of 5, it will be difficult to defeat him.” Wilander commented about Nadal.

Greg Rusedski

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1997 US Open runner-up Greg Rusedski believes Djokovic is on par with Nadal when it comes to his chances of winning. The Serbian is currently on a 21-match winning streak when it comes to the majors. Should he prevail in Paris, Djokovic would be the champion of all four grand slams at the same time for the second time in his career.

“For me joint-favourite is Djokovic and Nadal. Nadal announced himself. Before this match (Italian Open final) I was putting Djokovic as a slight favourite ahead of Rafa,” Tennis365 quoted Rusedski as telling Amazon Prime.

Interestingly, he didn’t mention Federer in the running. However, he listed both Stefanos Tsitsipas, who reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open, and Fabio Fognini as outside contenders.

“I look at the outside guys, Tsitsipas has said, ‘I’m coming to the party!’” He explained.
“He’s a guy we didn’t think was going to step up this quickly.
“If you took someone as the third favourite I’d have to say Dominic Thiem, after Djokovic and Nadal.
“The wildcards are Tsitsipas and Fognini. Fognini is probably fifth or sixth, because he can be brilliant or crash out early.”

Martina Navratilova

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This year marks the 35th anniversary of Navratilova’s last singles triumph at the French Open. Back in 1984 she defeated Chris Evert 6-3, 6-1, in the final. Earlier this year, the former world No.1 wrote an editorial for wtatennis.com about Petra Kvitova. A player who has previously said she has been inspired by Navratilova growing up.

Looking ahead to the French Open, the 62-year-old believes Kvitova could win Roland Garros as long as the conditions are in her favour.

“I would love to see Petra punctuate her comeback by winning a major this year, adding to the Wimbledon titles she took in 2011 and 2014.” Navratilova wrote.
“She is a threat on any surface, and could even win Roland Garros for the first time this year, though much will depend on the speed of the playing conditions in Paris, which can vary quite a bit. When Petra is on, she can beat anybody.”

Paul Annacone

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Finally, Paul Annacone has described Nadal as the ‘clear favourite’ to win. Saying the Spaniard knows what it takes to overcome his previous disappointments on the tour. Annacone is a former world No.12 player who went on to have a successful career as both a coach and commentator. He is best known for his work with Pete Sampras (1995-2002) Federer (2010-2013).

“Nadal knows what he has to do,” he said.
“One of the most impressive things about Rafael Nadal and so many great players is their ability to sift through the emotional responses and be really pragmatic about where they are in their game. He knows where he is and he knows how to win on clay.
“And I still think there is no tougher test in men’s tennis than beating him three out of five on red clay.
“So for me he is the favourite for Roland Garros, the clear favourite, not even close.”

Current odds to win

Men
Nadal – 9/10
Djokovic – 12/5
Thiem – 6/1
Tsitsipas – 16/1
Federer – 18/1
Zverev – 20/1

Women
Halep – 7/2
Bertens – 8/1
Osaka – 10/1
Williams – 12/1
Kvitova – 12/1
Stephens – 14/1

Source – bwin.com

Grand Slam

Marcos Baghdatis And Iga Swiatek Among Initial Wimbledon Wildcards

Marcos Baghdatis and Iga Swiatek have received a wildcard for Wimbledon as the third grand slam of the year approaches.

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Marcos Baghdatis (@BNPPARIBASOPEN - Twitter)

Marcos Baghdatis and defending Juniors champion Iga Swiatek are among the initial wildcards for Wimbledon. 

 

The initial wildcards for Wimbledon have been announced this morning with former Wimbledon semi-finalist Marcos Baghdatis among the Men’s wildcards.

Having not played since May and not appeared on the main tour since February, Baghdatis is a surprise choice for a wildcard spot given the options.

Players such as Nicolas Mahut, Feliciano Lopez and Dustin Brown were seen as candidates for a main draw wildcard but it seems that at the moment that spot has been given to the Cypriot.

Joining Baghdatis as main draw wildcards on the men’s side is the British trio of James Ward, Jay Clarke and NCAA champion Paul Jubb.

Meanwhile on the women’s side, last year’s Women’s junior champion Iga Swiatek has been given a wildcard after her incredible rise.

Since winning the Juniors title last year, Swiatek has reached her maiden WTA final, risen to number 65 in the world and reached the fourth round at Roland Garros.

Joining Swiatek, as the British wildcards are Harriet Dart, Heather Watson and Katie Swan as there are four more spots to be announced.

As more wildcards are yet to be announced, the likes of Feliciano Lopez, Dustin Brown and Katie Boulter could still receive a main draw wildcard.

Meanwhile in the doubles event Lleyton Hewitt has once again received a doubles wildcard despite ‘retiring.’ The 2002 singles champion will team up with compatriot Jordan Thompson.

Here are the wildcards below, with the singles draws taking place a week on Friday:

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ATP

Greg Rusedski Tips Tsitsipas To Become The Next Federer

The Greek sensation has been backed to rise to the top of the world rankings.

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Stefanos Tsitsipas (photo by chryslène Caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

Former US Open finalist Greg Rusedski has praised Next Gen star Stefano Tsitsipas by saying he has characteristics similar to that of Roger Federer.

 

The former world No.4 believes the greek has what it takes to conquer the men’s tour. So far this season Tsitsipas has played in four ATP finals, winning titles in Marseille and Estoril. In total, he has won 32 matches on the tour this year. The joint-highest alongside Rafael Nadal. At the age of 20, he is already the first man from his country to reach the semi-final of a grand slam and crack the top 10.

“He’s so much better as a player than he was a year ago and he’s getting better,” Rusedski told Amazon Prime.
“His transitioning game coming forward, playing doubles so much more this year. I think he will be a Wimbledon champion as well as a world number one. He’s that good.”

Continuing his tribute to the world No.6, the Brit believes he plays similar to some of the stars of the game. Tsitsipas is currently 10-15 against top 10 opposition in his career and has defeated every member of the Big Three at least once. The most recent being against Nadal at the Madrid Open.

“He reminds me of a young Roger Federer. A guy who’s got that full package.” Rusedski analyzed.
“He looks a little bit like Bjorn Borg the way he walks around the court but what I like, he’s a complete player and he has this mental fortitude where he believes he belongs.”

Tsitsipas is the top seed at this week’s Fever-Tree Championships in London. He will be hoping for a strong run ahead of the Wimbledon championships, which he reached the fourth round at last year. Looking ahead to the grand slam, he is optimistic about the prospect of ending the dominance of Nadal and Co. It has been 16 years since a player outside of the Big Four (counting Andy Murray) has won Wimbledon.

“I want to be honest. I would love to see something different this year,’ he said.
‘Hopefully, it can be me, but I think it’s good for the sport to have a bit of variety, something different. It’s boring to see all these guys winning all the time. Djokovic is the reigning champion.”

Tsitsipas will play Kye Edmund in his first match at Queen’s.

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ATP

Nick Kyrgios Confident of Inflicting ‘Damage’ At Wimbledon, But Not With Andy Murray

The Australian explains why he doesn’t want to play doubles with Murray at The All England Club.

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Nick Kyrgios (photo by Chryslène Caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

LONDON: The grass courts of London feels like a second home for Australia’s Nick Kyrgios.

 

It is a time of year he relishes. Five years ago at Wimbledon, he made his first breakthrough with a run to the quarter-finals. Stunning Rafael Nadal on route. Since then, his love affair with the surface has only got stronger. Even if he is yet to contest a final of a grass-court event on the ATP Tour.

“It’s quite similar to Australia. Ultimately it feels a little bit like home.” Kyrgios told reporters on Monday.
“This is probably my favorite time of the year. Obviously, the Aussie summer is pretty good, but just being in London when the weather is like this is pretty hard to beat. Just playing on grass every day, it’s a lot of fun.” He added.

The 24-year-old kick-started his grass campaign two weeks ago in Surbiton at a Challenger event. Playing in the doubles tournament with Thanassi Kokkinakis, the duo won a match before falling in the quarter-finals. Following on from that, in Stuttgart, he crashed out in the first round to Matteo Barattini, who went on to win the tournament.

The results may not be groundbreaking, but Kyrgios’ belief and confidence remains unhinged heading into the next grand slam of the season. Currently ranked 39th in the world, it is touch and go if he will be seeded at Wimbledon. Depending on how he performs this week at Queen’s.

“I definitely feel like I can do damage.” The former top-20 player commented about his Wimbledon prospects. “I have had a lot of good wins on grass. Obviously made a quarterfinal run when I was a little bit younger, but I think if the stars align, for sure I can do damage there.”

It will take a lot for Kyrgios and his rivals to break the dominance of the Big Four, who has won the Wimbledon trophy every year since 2003. However, he feels that should a shock happen in a grand slam. It is more likely to take place at the grass-court major.

“I’d probably say it is. I say if somebody is serving big and feeling themselves that week, I think for sure they could probably make more of a run.”

The return of Murray

Besides his own goals, Kyrgios is also relishing the return of one of his rivals and friends. Andy Murray is set to play in the doubles at the Fever-Tree Championships alongside Feliciano Lopez. It will the first test for the three-time grand slam champion after undergoing hip resurfacing surgery.

“He’s a warrior. I hit with him a couple times in London, obviously when I took a spell from the French.” Kyrgios said of the former world No.1.
“He’s still hitting the ball unbelievable. I think he’s well good enough to do damage in any doubles of any players, especially this week with Feliciano. I’d almost pay to watch that match. They’re going to be tough to beat.”

Looking further ahead, Murray is still pondering who he will team up with in the doubles at Wimbledon. It will be only the second time he has played doubles at the major and first since 2005. Among the candidates for a partner was Kyrgios, who has now ruled himself out.

“It’s just good to see him back, but I don’t think I want to carry him for Wimbledon dubs. I think he can find someone else to do that for him.” He explained.
“When I hit with him in Wimby a couple weeks ago, we spoke about it. But it’s best-of-five sets, which is tough. I don’t know if my body — if I happen to go deep at Wimbledon, it’s too tough to play doubles.”

Flying solo, Kyrgios is hoping for a boost this week at the Fever-Tree Championships. In his first round on Tuesday, he plays Adrian Mannarino. A player who won an ATP title in s-Hertogenbosch on Sunday.

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