Rafael Nadal and Simona Halep will launch their French open defense in two weeks and four-time Grand Slam champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario supported the duo to retain their title in Paris, even though they have not won a clay title this season at Roland Garros's management.
Despite the lack of a lease this season, Nadal has reached the semi-finals in all four tournaments he has played. Nadal lost Fabio Fognini in the last four at Monte Carlo, Dominic Thiem in Barcelona and Stefanos Tsitsipas in Madrid. For a man named King of Clay, a title-less run-up to the French Open will doubt his chances of retaining his title.
The French open champion Sanchez Vicario believes, however, that her compatriot Nadal is the favorite of a 12th French open title that gives her phenomenal consistency to the red dirt.
"Nadal is the one to beat because of the success he has had on clay. Also playing five sets is a different story than three sets," Sanchez Vicario said. First Post during a telephone interview.
"This year, there are more players who can challenge Rafa to the title." Novak Djokovic is, of course, one of them. "Dominic Thiem is a very good clay court specialist, so we also have Roger Federer and Stefanos Tsitsipas. It's wide open," said Sanchez Vicario, who was in Bengaluru as international event ambassador for TCS World 10k.
Sanchez Vicario won the French Open title in 1989, 1994 and 1998, while also reaching the finals three times during that decade. The Spaniard was involved in a fierce rivalry with Steffi Graf and Monica Seles, where the trio won nine times in Paris in the 90s. The years after 2010, however, have seen seven different masters, where women's traits are becoming more and more unpredictable.
With 18 different players winning 19 titles this season, Sanchez Vicario denotes women's moves as very open without clear favorites. As he leaned against Serena Williams, Vicario had to choose a winner as she believes that the two-week period can be unpredictable for competitors. But if forced to choose, Sanchez Vicario would recover Halep to maintain his title as she was consistent over the years on clay.
Sanchez Vicario also praised Naomi Osaka for her maturity and ability to deliver under pressure, winning two back-to-back Grand Slams while also climbing to the top of WTA World Rankings. However, she called on the 21-year-old Japanese star to show more coherence between Grand Slams.
"She proves she can play on all surfaces and is a worthy world no. 1. Now it's just a matter of maintaining this consistency under pressure from other players," Sanchez Vicario said.
Since being knocked out of Hsieh Su-Wei in Miami, Osaka came back on the tour in Stuttgart, where she reached the semifinals before being withdrawn due to a stomach injury. She got to reach the quarterfinals in Madrid and Rome before a handshake forced her to withdraw in Italy.
Apart from Osaka, Vicario Petra Kvitova and Ashleigh Barty believe the players are watching. Kvitova has played a remarkable comeback by winning seven titles since recovering from a horrible knife attack in 2016, threatening his tennis career at risk.
"Kvitova is a very dangerous player and none of the players likes to meet her when she is at the top. That she is left-handed gives her an advantage so she is definitely one of the competitors in Paris," Sanchez Vicario.
Kvitova is not the only Vicario warns against. Ashleigh Barty's versatile play style and never-say-die attitude will cause problems for those who play against the daring Australian.
"I've always thought Barty has great potential. She has the ability to change games and although she may not be her favorite surface, players will fight her. "
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Arantxa Sánchez Vicario