This French Open has been miserable for players, fans and tournament staff. Rain and chilly temperatures created delays, forcing winners to play days in a row. Floods in Paris, the worse in over a Century, have constrained the local population as The Louvre remained closed in order to move art to higher floors. Player tempers have run ragged, too. Novak Djokovic, for example, was fined $4,000 USD for racquet abuse yesterday. And, earlier in the week, top-ten seeds Agnieszka Radwanska and Simona Halep accused the tournament of not caring because why would they make them play in the rain.
But don’t give up on Paris yet. The weekend has a bright lineup with history projected to be the biggest winner.
Serena Williams, the perennial top seed, will play for her fourth French Open title and her 22nd Grand Slam tomorrow. Garbine Muguruza (No. 4) will stand across the net on Court Philippe Chatrier, attempting in her first French Open final to upend the presumptive winner. The two met in the Wimbledon final last year, with Serena coming out on top. It was her last Grand Slam title in a year she was expected to win them all.
Novak Djokovic (No. 1) will try for the fourth time to win his first French Open and, thus, win a career Grand Slam. Andy Murray (No. 2) stands in Novak’s way. Murray is the first man from Great Britain to make the final in Paris since Bunny Austin in 1937.
Bob and Mike Bryan will attempt to win their 17th Grand Slam while the team of Mark Lopez and Feliciano Lopez (No. 7) will do their best to grab the glory and take it home to their homes in Spain.
And what’s in store for the host country? One that searches for a ray of hope in a year of disorder? Answer … the French team of Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia (No. 5). They will have their hands full Sunday as Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina (No. 7) are formidable Grand Slam opponents, winning the title in 2013.
What are DownTheTee’s predictions?
Looking at all the records and stats, we shouldn’t bet against Serena Williams. Odds are forever in her favor. She is 21-5 in major finals. She has never lost a final in Paris; although, she’s never been asked to defend a title in Paris.
Yet the times they are changing within the women’s ranks. At 35, Serena’s form throughout the tournament has looked sluggish, especially at the beginning of matches. Perhaps that has to do with the wet conditions. But as the presumptive victor of her 22nd crown, the pressure must be about enough to collapse a bridge.
She has not won a major since Wimbledon, either, and lost to Angelique Kerber in the Australian Open. On top of all that, her right adductor is a problem. With cool, damp conditions predicted and only a few hours to recover and prepare for Saturday, Williams will probably have another slow start and could very well stumble to the point even her magnificent tennis cannot abide.
“It is what it is,” she told the press, trying to turn her own mind away from the trappings that could provoke speculation. Yet, she has to know and acknowledge deep down the nerves and ponder her opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.
And, therein lies the rub.
Although Muguruza fell to Williams at Wimbledon, it was her first slam final, the Columbian native defeated Williams during the second round of in Paris in 2014. The loss was a shock for Williams and put Muguruza on the game’s radar. Today, in her semifinal against Samantha Stosur, Muguruza pounded the Aussie into submission, wasting no time to show off her aggressive game. If she does that tomorrow, treats the occasion as just any ole match, and recovers from dips in play and expectations, she has a good chance to win her first major title.
Therefore, DownTheTee is going out on a limb to pick Muguruza in two sets to hand Williams yet another loss in a major final and deny her her 22nd Grand Slam.
There’s no one hungrier for victory on Sunday than Novak Djokovic. He’s tried and failed three times, last year probably the most humbling as Stan Wawrinka’s power and precision destroyed Novak’s dream once again. Rafael Nadal denied Novak his glory the other two years.
In his words Novak’s semifinal win over Dominic Thiem, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4, was his ‘best performance of the tournament.’ That’s a good stopping off point and starting point for his biggest task of the year.
“Now I put myself in a position I wanted to be in ever since last year’s final,” he said, as reported by the ATP staff.
The match will be a physical one. Again, conditions are expected to be wet. That means longer rallies and no easy winners. Aces will be few, so free points can’t be counted on.
Andy Murray has only two Grand Slams on his resume. He won them by beating Djokovic — the U. S. Open and Wimbledon. And in Rome a couple weeks ago, as well, where the Serb was out of sorts and off. Murray, too, can muster that ugly mentality and look as if he’s going to implode. But he hasn’t of late. In fact, he was two points away from elimination against Radek Stepanek in the first round.
The Scot has never played in the French Open final, but it won’t make that much of a difference. They are both honed and skilled athletes. Murray is just as fast or faster than Djokovic. And Murray is an accomplished doubles player, sensing opportunities to close the net or use drop shots for maximum effect.
Murray said he played one of his best matches today, defeating the 2015 Roland Garros champion 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2. “I’m just really proud. I never expected to reach the final here. Hopefully, I can put up a good match in the final.”
Sunday’s outcome is a toss up. Both have incentive, with a tip-of-the-hat to Djokovic’s on that point. He, too, will be the one under pressure … not a nice situation for any champion. If he wins he’ll join the ranks of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andre Agassi, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Don Budge and Fred Perry, as men to have completed a career Grand Slam.
DownTheTee picks Andy Murray, though, to once again put the brakes on Djokovic’s dreams. Murray has had his best season ever, has less pressure, wants to uphold the mantle of his Big Four appointment and wants to do it in a big way and not buckle, once again, to an opponent he’s know since juniors.
The match will be tight and long, probably with rain delays. But Murray will cap it off in four sets.