Tennis: Defending champs Nadal, Swiatek lead top picks in French Open 2021

Rosy Mina

Posted at May 28 2021 08:19 PM

Tennis: Defending champs Nadal, Swiatek lead top picks in French Open 2021 1
Former World No. 5 Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia speaks with Rosy Mina of ABS-CBN News in an exclusive interview arranged by FOX Sports Asia.

MANILA—Following their stellar victories at the Italian Open earlier this month, Roland Garros defending champions Rafael Nadal and Iga Swiatek are touted as the top contenders in the French Open happening from May 30 to June 13 in Paris.

This is according to former professional players and FOX Sports Asia pundits Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia, Tamarine Tanasugarn of Thailand, and Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus, who named their top picks and dark horses in an exclusive interview with ABS-CBN News.

Nadal of Spain remains the runaway favorite to win what would be his 14th French Open title and 21st grand slam, with former World No. 5 Hantuchova saying, “Honestly, I don’t see anyone coming close to Rafa. There is something about him when he gets to this place that he suddenly becomes ‘not human’ anymore and I still don’t see how anyone will be able to beat him.”

The French Open has been Nadal’s stronghold since 2005, but Baghdatis believes that the young guns, who have been upping their game recently, could pose greater challenges for the King of Clay who turns 35 on June 3. “I don't think it’s gonna be an easy task for Rafa this time, and I think it’s gonna be very interesting,” commented the former World No. 8.

Hantuchova, the 2005 Roland Garros mixed doubles champion with Fabrice Santoro of France, added: “It seems like the guards are shifting and changing slowly but surely. But the Three Musketeers are still there holding strong,” pertaining to No. 3 seed Nadal, top seed Novak Djokovic of Serbia, and No. 8 seed Roger Federer of Switzerland.

The Big 3 are all in the top half of the draw, and Djokovic and Federer could meet in the quarterfinals. If Djokovic pulls through, he could face Nadal in the semifinals. The Swiss Maestro, however, admitted to Tennis World that he knows he will not win the French Open. 

Tennis: Defending champs Nadal, Swiatek lead top picks in French Open 2021 2
Former World No. 19 Tamarine Tanasugarn of Thailand talks to Rosy Mina of ABS-CBN News in an exclusive interview arranged by FOX Sports Asia. Photo by Rosy Mina.

The three pundits believe that World No. 1 Djokovic is the second strongest contender, even if Nadal overcame him in the Rome final. As for the Next Gen players, Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece leads the pack after the 22-year-old won the Monte Carlo and Lyon titles. 
“Tsitsipas has been having an incredible past couple of months and he was so close to beating Novak in Rome. I think that was one of the best men’s matches I’ve seen recently,” Hantuchova said of the thrilling quarterfinals clash. 

Baghdatis and Tanasugarn cited the good chances of two-time Madrid champion Alexander Zverev of Germany and two-time finalist Dominic Thiem of Austria. A surprise choice is second seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia. “Not because he keeps saying how much he hates clay,” Hantuchova reasoned with a chuckle, “which I do not understand because I think he can play on it as well, so good, but that’s his choice.”

Out to prove their clay court prowess

Although just the No. 8 seed, Swiatek of Poland is considered as the formidable frontrunner after her masterful 6-0, 6-0 victory over Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic in the Rome final. “I think the way she won Rome was just amazing and I think she's a favorite,” Baghdatis said of the 2020 champion, who turns 20 on May 31. 

“I think she’s done so well to handle all the pressure and expectations after winning a slam at such a young age. I think it’s remarkable how she’s been able to just follow it up with great results, which doesn’t happen too often when you win slams at such a young age. So, I definitely feel like she’s got a great chance to defend the title, especially with the way she played the finals in Rome,” stated Hantuchova. 

Tennis: Defending champs Nadal, Swiatek lead top picks in French Open 2021 3
Former World No. 8 Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus converses with Rosy Mina of ABS-CBN News in an exclusive interview arranged by FOX Sports Asia. Photo by Rosy Mina.

World No. 1, top seed, and 2019 champion Ashleigh Barty of Australia is also deemed as a favorite by the pundits. Simona Halep of Romania, the 2018 champion, would have been a top contender, but she withdrew due to a left calf injury. 

Baghdatis adds No. 2 seed Naomi Osaka of Japan, whom he described as someone “who wants to prove something on clay. You know everybody’s saying she’s not very good on clay, and I don't believe that. I think if she gets a couple of wins in the first few rounds, I figured she can be very dangerous in the second week of the grand slam.” He also mentioned Maria Sakkari of Greece because she loves to play in the French Open.

Tanasugarn did not count out 23-time grand slam champion Serena Williams of the United States. “I think Serena wants to prove that after she gave birth to Olympia, she wants to prove the ‘mother power’ to win another grand slam after that. I think Serena is among the strongest ones also,” stated the former World No. 19 Thai.

Hantuchova sees two more players who could go far in Paris. First is Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, who edged out Barty to claim the Madrid title. “I feel like with her game, if she has a good day, she can hit everyone off the court. So, definitely, she is one of the dangerous players in the draw.” 

She also mentioned 17-year-old Coco Gauff of the U.S., who won the singles and doubles titles in Parma. “She has been playing really well the last couple of weeks. I think it’s a little bit too early to talk about her as potentially winning but definitely, she’s on the right path,” the Slovak tennis star noted. 

Catch the live coverage of the Roland Garros as it premieres from May 30 to June 13 across FOX Sports channels.

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