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Why Tennis Needs Silence

By André Rolemberg

Whether you watch it on tv, on live, or at your local club, tennis has a unique quality among sports: it needs silence.

If you play the sport, you also notice it for yourself that any noise can break your flow, disrupt your momentum, make you downright pissed off.

Why?

Every athlete needs focus to perform. Most athletes have the super-human ability to shut off any influence from the outside world, as if nothing else existed but themselves and the game being played. 

Even tennis players have that ability. Novak Djokovic spoke about the ability to cut out the crowd chanting his opponent’s name, and even magically making it sound like they were saying his instead. Djokovic is one of the most focused players ever to walk on a tennis court.

But noise still sucks. Somehow, it still messes everything up. So, if every sport needs a state of absolute focus to be performed at the highest of levels, why do tennis players need complete silence, to the point where it is a requirement if you want to watch a match live?

Here’s a few things I think could explain this rather uncommon need.

Rally structure

First of all, there is the way the rallies happen. In tennis, you are only allowed a single touch at the ball. The touch happens in a split second, meaning you cannot just land the ball on your racket and think about it: it must leave your racket nearly as soon as it touches it. 

This is true for doubles as well. There is no saving grace. You mess up, and that’s it for the point. No one will be there to save it. Unlike in volleyball, a sport with some similarities, where players can produce miraculous defense and turn into attack before it even crosses the net. Or a routine play turned into nightmare if a player fails to do the job right in the first two touches: a third can still keep the point alive.

In tennis, that single touch is what you have. What’s worse: it only guarantees your survival for a little longer.

You can successfully hit the ball back 40 times in a rally. If you miss on the 41st time, you lose the point. Hitting the ball back in is the bare minimum, the prerequisite to playing tennis. Hit the ball out, your efforts are often nil.

Scoring system

The scoring system in tennis is a work of art. It is divided in a few pieces that, grossly putting, are independent of each other.

You need to score sets to win a match. You need to score games to win a set. You need to score points to win a game. You need to keep the ball in play longer than your opponent to win a point.

Conversely, you can hit 50% more balls in than your opponent, and they still finish with more points. You may win more games in a match and your opponent still wins the match. You may win more points then your opponent, and still lose the match. You may do literally everything better than your opponent, albeit just marginally, and still lose the match.

Look at these numbers — brutal. And what is worse, you must win to advance. Tennis really can be an unforgiving sport.

This brings us to pressure points: the ones that close out the clusters of a game, a set, and a match.

When a point is worth more than others, to a point where all your work can turn out completely fruitless, nerves kick in. The absolute need for precision and focus become the ultimate truth. There are no second chances. Or, at least, not after you hit your first serve. 

Players need silence, because one single point gone the wrong way and it cascades down into catastrophe. A lapse in concentration, a shanked forehand, a shaky second serve, and the momentum gets pulled hard towards the other side, as if all your teammates decided to drop the rope at the same time in a game of tug-of-war.

Speed of play

Several sports are quick paced, but there’s something to be said about the incredible speeds at which balls are thrown around on a tennis court. 

Not only does the ball go fast, but also racket heads move at super-human speed to generate the amounts of pace and spin we see coming from players.

With a tiny ball, rackets that have become bigger, but are still somewhat small especially if you consider that only the “sweet spot” is where you want to make contact with the ball, it makes sense to say that any distractions and it’s all over.

As previously stated, you misfire, you lose the point. Even on serve, if you lose your first serve, there goes what is possibly the biggest weapon in the game, and you have to make a choice between going for the second serve and risk losing the point with a double-fault, or playing more conservative and counting on winning the point in a rally which likely will start neutral.

When things happen fast, you have to move fast and think fast. When that happens, you cannot afford to get caught in any sort of distractions. Head in the game, or you’re off-tempo. 

Technique and physics

And just as things happen fast, you must be able to do things fast, but also well. Tennis technique is very precise and also does not allow much room for sloppiness and error.

Moving well means reading the trajectory of the ball, judging the distance from your body to the contact point, placing your legs in the optimal position for optimal balance, swinging with the right distance from the racket head to your body, applying the right amount of spin or “feeling” the right trajectory of a flatter shot or a slice.

All of this happens in a fraction of a second, but obviously no one is truly thinking about these things as a step-by-step guideline when playing. It happens with muscle memory and proprioception, which is basically thinking with your body.

But, just as you can lose your train of thought if someone interrupts you mid-sentence, you can lose your balance and spatial perception if something significantly disturbs the environment you’re in.

Some sports have a higher tolerance to this. Think of soccer, basketball, hockey. They will stop at almost nothing short of a streaker or something that physically interrupts play, like an object thrown on the field/court/ice (and even still, hockey players can even play for a few seconds without a stick that has been broken, and still lies around during play.)

Tennis does not tolerate much at all. Camera flashes, people moving, a whisper too loud between people or from commentators sitting courtside. 

Any small disturbance jeopardizes the outcome of a point. It could be a nuisance at 0–0 in the second game of the first set, on serve. It could be 30-all at 11–11 in the fifth set of a Wimbledon final.

The importance of a crowd

Should crowds just shut up, then?

Absolutely not. Players have *some* tolerance to a little bit of noise, and can play through “ooohh’s” and “ahhh!” sometimes. Murray did that on match point against Djokovic at his second Wimbledon final, and won. Who could blame the British crowd? It was a historical moment. Even I, who’s never been to Great Britain, felt the magic energy.

So crowds have space, and can turn things around. Think of Leylah Annie Fernandez in her US Open matches. Think of the electric atmosphere during Tiafoe-Sinner in Vienna last year (2021). Players can work the crowds. They can draw energy and adrenaline from them.

Crowds matter. 

The point is, you want to be involved in the game, you want to be a part of it. What you don’t want to be is the one who breaks the flow, that swims against the current and consequently ruins everyone’s experience. Making noise at a bad time is like talking on the phone during a movie in the theatre. It doesn’t enhance the experience, it just makes you stick out like a sore thumb, and like such, anyone would want to get rid of the pain as soon as possible.

Make noise between points, scream your favourite player’s name, jump up and down.

But when the umpire says, “quiet, please”, then… Quiet. Please.

Getting Upset

I started the tournament with an all-nighter.

I was on the phone with a friend — break had started recently, so we had all the time in the world. As I often do, even to people who don’t follow tennis obsessively, I mentioned my irritation with tennis fans and commentators’ nature to fawn over one-handed backhands. My friend, though she isn’t a tennis fan, perfectly summed up the debate as a clash between “watchability and practicality,” with the one-handers being subjectively watchable but objectively impractical per my argument. I later brought up a racket smash debate I had with Scott and Blair Henley, which my friend pointed out fell under the same umbrella. Scott, and Blair to a lesser extent, found racket smashes entertaining, while I found them a waste of expensive equipment. Practicality is ideal, but from a fan’s perspective, watchability is key.

Anyway, we hung up somewhere in the sleepy ocean between two and three a.m., and with day one of Roland-Garros beginning at five, there was no way I was forcing myself to get up after only two hours of rest. There was plenty to do before the tournament started — I posted a couple pieces to the site, I listened to some music, and I thought about how in 2016, I only watched the last couple rounds of Roland-Garros, while this year I would be busting my sleep schedule to catch an opening match. And I didn’t want to miss that opening match. Dominic Thiem was playing.

A beautiful song I came across recently.

Thiem managed to take on and often beat Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic during his best years, 2019 and 2020. His stint near the top of the game saw him blend watchability and practicality smoothly. Thiem is one of the few players whose one-handed backhand can function as a strength rather than a weakness. It’s still a chink in his armor, but he hits it with such fierce power that he can use it to his advantage more often than not (that said, even Thiem has mentioned he would teach the two-handed backhand if he were coaching kids). The rest of his game was sensible — huge hitting, but to pretty safe targets around the court. His mix of power and reliability broke opponent after opponent, bringing Thiem to the 2020 U.S. Open title and a career-high ranking of #3.

Then injuries hit. Scott told me recently that Thiem had it all for about two minutes before having his prime ripped away. I wish I could call Thiem’s comeback from an injury-blighted 2021 stop-start, but it’s mostly just been stop. As someone who loves Thiem’s tennis, I’ve found his struggles frustrating enough to write a rant about how I wish he didn’t have to do this, and that was even before his losing streak reached the extent it’s at today. His game, so finely tuned at its best, has been sputtering since his comeback. His forehand is at 80 or 85% power so far, which is worrying. At his peak, Thiem would hit the absolute crap out of every single forehand, which constantly put his opponents on the defense. Now, though, the decreased power means he’s having to engage in many more neutral rallies, which his game isn’t built for. That crucial forehand has been decidedly off during all six of his comeback matches, each of which ended in a loss. His forehand just isn’t visibly progressing towards where it needs to be, creating a lot of warranted pessimism surrounding Thiem’s potential return to his best days.

It felt right that the tournament began with a Dominic Thiem match. Not only has Thiem done really well at Roland-Garros over the years — in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019, he lost to the eventual champion, twice in the semifinals and twice in the final — but the start of a major represents a blank slate. It’s an opportunity to turn things around, which Thiem desperately needs. Best-of-five represented a chance to, at the very least, lose in three sets instead of two. This last isn’t much of a difference, but momentum has to start somewhere. Maybe Thiem would find his somewhere in a third set.

*****

The very first point of the match reminded me why I love clay court tennis. Hugo Dellien, Thiem’s opponent, targeted Thiem’s fragile rapier of a backhand, making him hit six, eight, ten shots from that wing. Eventually, he approached the net, forcing Thiem into an errant passing shot. The rally was grueling. The stands were sparsely populated; Thiem isn’t the huge crowd draw he was a couple years ago. It was an instant clue as to what it would take to win the match — lots of long, patient points, without much rapturous applause from the stands to buoy the tired legs.

Down break point in the second game, Thiem lashed his backhand down the line for a winner, but it was clear already that the match was going to be a slog. The first two games took eleven minutes. Both guys were defending well — in the words of Rowan Ricardo Phillips’ The Circuit, “clay swallows winners and spits them back at the player who hit them.” Each point had to be earned, either by a spectacular shot or by methodically breaking down the opponent’s defenses.

Dellien won the first set 6-3, playing some fantastic tennis. He attacked with backhands down the line and kept Thiem on the move despite only hitting a few winners. Thiem had some vintage moments — a forehand winner down the line on the run, a couple backhand winners down the line — but the story was similar to his other comeback matches. There were no break points to capitalize on, there were few moments of pure confidence. It was as if someone was trying to do an impression of Dominic Thiem.

I felt good about Thiem’s chances to ease into the match after losing the first set, but he instantly committed the cardinal sin of falling down a break at the start of the second set. A line-kissing backhand winner at love-30 wasn’t enough to save him. The mix of practical consistency and eye-popping power was way off, with Thiem blending overly passive play with excessively risky shots. I started to drift off, nearly 24 hours without sleep taking their toll. When I forced my eyes open, Thiem was down 3-6, 2-6, 0-2. The match was all but over. I didn’t feel like riding along to the finish line, so I went upstairs to sleep for a few hours. When I woke up, I got to wonder for a moment if the scoreline had been a bad dream.

Dellien looked sympathetic towards Thiem as they shook hands at the net. Screenshot: Eurosport

*****

Upsets happen constantly in tennis. A lot of the time, upsets seem to have nothing to do with the players and more just the latest manifestation of the tennis’s unpredictability. At the 2016 Australian Open, Novak Djokovic hit 100 unforced errors in a match against Gilles Simon. The stat was so hilarious as to be almost unbelievable — not only is 100 an ungodly high number, but Djokovic was ranked #1 in the world and had just completed perhaps the best men’s tennis season ever. His performance was not watchable or practical. He was lucky to win the match. Then, a mere two rounds later, Djokovic took apart Roger Federer with one of the most terrifyingly great performances of all time. Federer had won 17 majors at this point, but he was a total bystander as Djokovic won the first two sets in under an hour. The shift from the error-fest against Simon happened as if by magic; it was as sudden as it was dramatic.

The first half of this video should really come with a warning label attached.

Stuff like this happens in tennis. Anything can go very wrong or right at any given moment. Really, it shouldn’t be a surprise when a top player gets overthrown by an underdog. And yet, every time a big tournament starts, I think a lot of fans experience some selective amnesia. We look at the draw laid out prettily before us, already looking ahead to the rounds when the favorites to win the tournament could play each other. The prospect is enticing enough for us to momentarily forget that for the aforementioned matchup to actually take place, each player usually has to win four or five matches to get to the late-round stage of the desired clash.

Ons Jabeur, after winning the Madrid Open and following it up with a runner-up performance in Rome, was the hot pick for the second favorite to win the tournament (behind Iga Świątek, of course, who has won 28 straight matches). Yet she lost in the first round today. The match was close — she led by a set and a break, and both sets she went on to lose were decided by fine margins — but she did lose, and her tournament is over. The shock is still settling in for me, because her exceptional Madrid and Rome performances are still recent, and it was only a few days ago that we decided she was the second favorite at Roland-Garros.

There were a litany of other weird results today — Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, who made the final in Monte-Carlo (a tournament which has very similar conditions to Roland Garros, usually meaning that if you can do well at one, you’ll do well at the other) lost meekly. Garbiñe Muguruza, the 10th seed and a former winner of this tournament, lost after winning the first set. Felix Auger-Aliassime, who is ranked in the top ten, had to win from two sets down. Jenson Brooksby, who has been having an excellent year, lost so badly that I could have played in his place and done only slightly worse.

Remember, this is all just day one of the tournament. Roland-Garros is two weeks — the first round isn’t even halfway over yet. So I can think about how Thiem’s loss this morning made me upset, and how he’s lost each of the last 11 matches he’s played, and how as much as I would like to imagine he’s a contender to do well at tournaments based on his resume, he’s not, he’s barely a contender to win a match at this point. If I do, though, I might miss something important, and by the time someone lifts the trophy at the end of Roland-Garros, Thiem will be a footnote on a footnote of how it happened. Contextualizing the disappointments is practical, and if done right, the rest of the tournament will become more watchable.

It’s The Hope That Kills You

Towards the end, he was clawing at his face in frustration as if trying to rid himself of the faults of his game by the grip of his fingertips alone. Those errors remained stuck in place like long discarded gum, hardening as cement would and freeing unforced errors that ultimately came thick and fast, devouring any chance he had of winning, leaving him slump-shouldered and finished.

This was Dominic Thiem’s eleventh tennis match loss in a row, a streak that uglies itself throughout the past year or so of his career and marks a significant downturn in his fortunes. His 2020 U.S. Open title seems a distant memory and it must be a difficult for him not to cast his thoughts back to that moment where all had seemed together and right and finally worth the struggle.

Mere months later and he found himself toiling in a sinkhole that ultimately ended his 2021 season early and has carried him limping through until now. If this all seems a tad dramatic, that’s because it is. Thiem’s absence from the game and eventual scratchy return is filled with questions that nobody can yet find the answers for and given the Austrian’s prominence at the top of world tennis before his wrist injury, this messiness for him now signifies the heartbreak that must come with the fightback.

There’s been a lot of talk of Thiem’s forehand, that weapon that opponents cowered in fear from not so long ago, nightmaring their dreams the night before they faced him and leaving a thin film of cold sweat across their brows. It’s a looser shot now, not as tight or as explosive or quite as consistent as it used to be. It still produces moments of breathtaking power but there’s errors there now as well, mistakes that come sliding into rallies at inopportune moments and gift points to those same opponents that once screamed in frustration as it scorched the baseline corner line beneath their feet and scurried off as just one more winner on a long list of winners.

And so many have already said that Thiem is surely done if he cannot reclaim that old forehand wing of his. “That’s the shot that won him a major!” they cry and they might well be right but I can’t believe that Thiem is not a good enough player to be able to adapt his game to fit a more comfortable and less physically debilitating swing path. His forehand was a lot but it wasn’t everything and Thiem’s game has layers to it that he now must explore further if he hopes to get back to somewhere close to his best.

And to do that, he must have confidence in himself, something he admits he has wrestled with of late on the match court.

Should he be able to locate his confidence in the back-catalogue of his mental strength, trust and faith in his ability as a top level player will propel Thiem far. Indeed, it’ll leverage him through any necessary-but-difficult-to-accept changes to his backswing and shot preparation, however small or big those changes need to be.

Before anything else must come a match win. This streak and the frequent mentioning of it across social media will be doing his mindset no favours and so to end it as soon as possible will be front and centre of his goals moving on from the 2022 French Open. Let’s sort that out first and foremost. If that means dropping down to challengers and playing smaller clay court events while the ATP convene on grass, so be it. Let them have their party without him. He’ll be back to greet them when he’s ready.

*****

They say it’s the hope that kills you. I’d tell Dominic Thiem fans that the opposite is also true. The lack of hope will drag at you further with every loss. Keep the hope close, even if it leaves you gutted out with disappointment at times. And when Thiem is once more on an upward trajectory – and he will get there! – make sure you shout and scream and yell about it until your nearest and dearest tell you to shut the fuck up.

And then yell about it just a bit more.

Defogging the Future

By Archit Suresh

With Roland-Garros fast approaching, I decided to open up my third eye and take a look through the old crystal ball as we try and discover who’ll come out on top at the end of this year’s least controversial major!

(Please, tennis gods, give us a break from the first and third majors this year and prove me wrong in New York.)

Now be warned, everything you’re about to read from this point is guaranteed to come true so there is absolutely no sense in attacking the mentions of @Popcorn_Tennis1 on Twitter. That said, I’m sure we wouldn’t mind the free foot traffic, so you may choose to do whatever you’d like with this information. Again, that’s @Popcorn_Tennis1 on Twitter. I don’t run the account, so let us have it.

Let’s start by breaking down each quarter of the draw.

The Quarter of Death

Quarter-final Prediction: (1) Djokovic v. (5) Nadal

Other Contenders: (9) Auger-Aliassime, (15) Schwartzman

Potential Darkhorses: (19) Dimitrov, Fognini, Wawrinka, (17) Opelka, 

Round 1 Popcorn Match: Wawrinka v. Moutet

I’m sure when the draw broke, every single tennis fan’s eyes widened as they saw that the stage was set for a Djokovic vs. Nadal quarterfinal. Funnily enough, every single former French Open champion comes from this section of the draw with Wawrinka joining Djokovic and Nadal. It seems so much of this quarter, and tournament, all depend on the health of Nadal’s foot. The Spaniard claims to feel quite confident about his chances at lifting the Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy for a 14th time. Who are we to doubt him? After all, the guy’s won it 13 times. If there’s one thing anyone has learned from the past 20 years, it’s to never doubt Rafael Nadal at the French Open.

If there’s one man who’ll like his chances against the King of Clay, it’s his great rival Novak Djokovic. The Serb enters the tournament as the odds-on favorite for the title, but he’ll have to put in the hard yards to get there. He’d potentially have to beat Nadal in Paris for the second year in a row, a feat never accomplished by anyone before. After that it could be Carlos Alcaraz waiting for him. Even if he gets through both esteemed Spaniards, it won’t be enough to win the title. Don’t forget about Diego Schwartzman, the veteran Argentine, who never fails to bring his best tennis on the Parisian clay and who could run into Djokovic in the fourth round. Last year, Djokovic had to play at almost peak level to take down a hampered Nadal, and I just don’t feel like he’ll be able to replicate that effort two years in a row. If anyone can prove me wrong, though, it’s Novak Djokovic. If Djokovic or Nadal have to come through this quarter by beating the other, it might take a monumental effort that could be hard to recover from…

The “Why is Alcaraz in this half too?” Quarter

Quarterfinal Prediction: (3) Zverev v. (6) Alcaraz

Other Contenders: (10) Norrie, (13) Fritz

Potential Darkhorses: Baez, (27) Korda, (25) Davidovich Fokina, Thiem,

Round 1 Popcorn Match: (27) Korda v. Millman

Alcaraz is entering Roland Garros with form, confidence, and rest. Three keys to winning a title. So far, the Golden Boy has answered every possible question we’ve asked of him. There’s only one thing left for him to prove, and that’s winning a slam. People will question whether Alcaraz is both physically and mentally ready to win seven best of five set matches over the course of two weeks. I’m not worried about Alcaraz if he comes up against the best players in the world. As long as he survives the draw until those matchups, he’ll be ready to bring his best. The question is whether his best is enough to beat Djokovic or Nadal, when they’re willing to go to the darkest places to win at all costs. Over the years, the Big Three have found ways to make best of five tennis look like a different sport. Alexander Zverev has done the same, in a very different, less pleasing-to-the-eye fashion. I’m predicting his struggles will continue. He’ll get to the quarters, but the level of tennis he produces against the best players on the biggest stages just has not been enough, and it won’t be enough against Alcaraz. 

The “Stefanos Tsitsipas Loves Paris” Quarter

Quarterfinal Prediction: (4) Tsitsipas v. (8) Ruud

Other Contenders: (14) Shapovalov, (12) Hurkacz, 

Potential Darkhorses: Goffin, (19) De Minaur, Cerundolo, Rune, Musetti

Round 1 Popcorn Match: (14) Shapovalov v. Rune

Honorable Mention: (4) Tsitsipas v. Musetti

If there was anyone who could be more ecstatic than Stefanos Tsitsipas after the draw came out, good luck finding them. Tsitsipas somehow landed safely on the opposite half of Nadal, Djokovic, and Alcaraz. Still, it is not cakewalk to the final. Tsitsipas still must go through a tough first round opponent in Musetti and navigate his way past other tricky players to get there. For Ruud, this clay season has not been ideal, but he seems to be finding his form on the dirt at just the right time. Holding seed and finding his way to the quarters here could be a big step in the right direction for the Norwegian.

The Clayvedev and Friends Quarter

Quarterfinal Prediction: (11) Sinner v. (28) Kecmanović

Other Contenders: (2) Medvedev, (7) Rublev,  

Potential Darkhorses: (16) Carreño Busta, (30) Paul, (20) Čilić, (28) Kecmanović

Round 1 Popcorn Match: Garin v. (30) Paul

Maybe this quarter is what Medvedev needs to find his form at just the right time, despite his disdain for clay. Those underrating his abilities should be wary of how good major champions really are, even on their worst surface. That being said, I don’t think Medvedev is there just yet, and Miomir Kecmanović could be the benefactor of it. Kecmanović easily would be the most improved ATP player of the year if it weren’t for the rise of Carlos Alcaraz, but he might be the surprise of the tournament by making a run to the second week. Jannik Sinner has flown under the radar all season, while simultaneously producing quality results and battling a slew of injuries. This might be his time to shine. I have him getting a statement top 10 win against Rublev, while also reaching the semis here at Roland-Garros, where the only player he has lost to has been Rafa Nadal (!).

Here We Go!

(6) Alcaraz def. (5) Nadal

(4) Tsitsipas def. (11) Sinner

Final

(6) Alcaraz def. (4) Tsitsipas 

(Yes, I went there.)

Carlos Alcaraz will be your French Open champion! After scraping through against Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal will be just diminished enough for Carlos Alcaraz to take care of him in the semis in a tight battle, after which I think he’ll be ready to take on Tsitsipas in a highly entertaining five-set thriller!

I know this is very much going to ruffle some feathers, but I’m sticking with my predictions. You all better hope I’m wrong, because you’ll never hear the end of it from me if I’m right.

Full predictions.
Part 2.

Top Ten Favorites for WTA Roland-Garros

By Hanya El Ghetany, Nick Carter, Myles David, and Owen Lewis

After our panel ranking of the ATP, we had to try looking at who the WTA contenders are at this year’s Roland Garros. In retrospect, doing a top twenty would have been easier. Despite there being one clear favourite, the battle for second is wide open (or even first should the leader falter). Once again we start from Number Ten:

10. Barbora Krejčíková (Nick)

The competition for this spot was fierce. We considered Anhelina Kalinina, Belinda Bencic, Danielle Collins, Jil Teichmann, Daria Kasatkina and of course Emma Raducanu. Barbora Krejčíková shouldn’t be that wild a pick given she’s defending the title. However, she is playing for the first time since February due to injury and has not played a match on clay in 2022. It seems unlikely she’ll be the first back-to-back women’s Roland Garros champion since Justine Henin, but she should still go deep. The defending champion has traditionally reached at least the fourth round in Paris and by then perhaps Krejčíková will have found her feet. When she’s at her best, she is the benchmark everyone has to rise above to be a true contender.

9. Bianca Andreescu (Owen)

Andreescu, if she plays at her best, could surely jump a few spots on this list. Even early in her return from injury, she’s been playing great tennis. Merely making Iga Świątek sweat is an accomplishment at this point, and Andreescu pushed her all the way to a tiebreak in Rome. Andreescu’s game is simply a delight. She has it all – offense, defense, variety (cheeky slices from both forehand and backhand), and a champion’s mindset. She’s won a major and has more experience than several other youngsters on the WTA, even with her recurring injuries. Her best level is nothing short of terrifying – it makes her draw, which is decent, seem almost irrelevant. While other players have built a better base in 2022 and might be more in-form, Andreescu’s best tennis is better than almost all of theirs. Clay isn’t her best surface, but if that top-level tennis shows up, she will be a title contender.

8. Jessica Pegula (Owen)

Pegula is in the Badosa mold – a solid, incredibly well-rounded player who can hit heavy groundstrokes from anywhere on the court, off both wings. Though it brings me pain to type this, she was sensational in her win over Sara Sorribes Tormo in Madrid. The match was physically grueling, and she saw a 5-1, ad-in first set lead evaporate to 5-4, but kept cool and kept firing missiles to big targets. While she didn’t back up her runner-up Madrid performance in Rome, a loss to Sabalenka is nothing to be ashamed of. Her draw is manageable. The highest seed in her quarter is Karolina Plíšková, who doesn’t take to clay as easily as other surfaces. Pegula tends to do a great job of beating the players she should beat, so it’s easy to see her in the later rounds. She’ll probably run into Świątek if she makes the semifinals, at which point it’s difficult to see her run continuing. She’s more of a safe bet to go deep than a dark horse pick to win the whole thing.

7. Aryna Sabalenka (Owen)

Sabalenka struggled at the majors for a while, but shattered the ice with runs to the semifinals of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year (she was even close to winning both those matches). She’s one of the most powerful players around. With clay giving her time to set up her massive groundstrokes, Sabalenka will be a handful for anyone. Her recent run to the Rome semifinals, which included wins over Pegula and Anisimova, who are also on this list, was encouraging. It came to an end with a lopsided loss to Iga Świątek, but Sabalenka is one of dozens of players who have to deal with the young Pole’s monstrous form. If Sabalenka can keep the double faults to a relative minimum – though she’s developed a real affinity for winning despite her serve going haywire – she’ll go deep.

6. Maria Sakkari (Nick)

Maria Sakkari was within one point of the Roland Garros final in 2021. Realistically, given how spent Pavlyuchenkova was in the deciding match, had Sakkari converted against Krejčíková in their epic battle she probably would have lifted the trophy. Sakkari is a hard player to back to win an event given she has only won one career title and seems to have a block once she wins four or five consecutive matches. But, you cannot doubt her clay-court prowess. Hell, she beat Świątek at Roland Garros last year. This season, she was doing well in Stuttgart before having to pull out injured, which likely affected her in Madrid. She got her mojo back in Rome, reaching the quarterfinals before another gut-wrenching loss, this time to Ons Jabeur (Sakkari was up 6-1, 5-2, 30-love). Sakkari clearly has the talent and fighting spirit to succeed. If she can finally unlock it at the critical stage of a major, then Roland Garros seems the natural place for this to happen. 

5. Amanda Anisimova (Myles)

Amanda Anisimova has been largely touted as the next “big thing” in tennis. In large part due to her surprise run to the 2019 Roland Garros semi-final, a lot of stock was bought into the fact that she would be challenging for major titles in the future. There have been a few curve balls thrown her way while on the ascent upwards though. In the fall of 2019, she was dealt a devastatingly tough blow with the passing of her father and admittedly took some time off to reset. By the time the season ended in 2021 her ranking had slipped well beyond the top 70 in the world and pundits were questioning if they had seen the best of the bright athlete from New Jersey. Thankfully, when the tour headed to Australia at the top of this season Anisimova found a rich vein of form and brought her brilliant ball striking, effortless timing, and new Wilson racquet into a second career WTA title at the Melbourne 2 Australian Open warm up tournament. The rest of her 2022 season has been remarkably consistent heading into the second major tournament of the year.  A semi-final showing in Charleston and back-to-back quarterfinal appearances in Madrid and Rome make her a name to watch out for in the draw. A familiar foe awaits her in the first round of Roland Garros — the same opponent she sent home during the round of 16 at the Australian Open, Naomi Osaka. Anisimova saved match points in that heavy hitting clash and will hope for some of that same magic when they face off again. Anisimova sits in the section of the draw anchored by #4 seed Maria Sakkari and filled with other dangerous threats like unseeded Bianca Andreescu and Karolina Muchova. Should she hold true to the form that has seen her ranking sit just seven spots away from her career high of 21, Roland Garros could once again prove to be a prosperous stomping ground for the 20-year-old.

4. Paula Badosa (Owen)

Badosa has embarked on one of the more impressive improvement arcs we’ve seen in the past several years of tennis. In 2021, she started going deep at tournament after tournament, capping the year with a massive title at Indian Wells. What was most striking about Badosa’s win was the way she went for her shots in the deciding-set tiebreak against Azarenka. She played like a seasoned veteran, yet it was her first big final. She is just 24, she is ranked #3 in the world, and she had a good run at Roland Garros last year (she made the quarterfinals and lost a very tight 8-6-in-the-third match against Tamara Zidanšek). There are no evident flaws in Badosa’s very well-rounded game. She has struggled physically in the past – at the Australian Open, for instance, when she was unable to recover from a grueling battle with Marta Kostyuk in time for a fourth-rounder against the red-hot Madison Keys. Clay makes economical wins difficult, but Badosa may not want to play too many three-setters (though the Parisian conditions are far easier than those in Melbourne). Her consistency makes her an unlikely candidate to go out early, and if she can find her best tennis late, she can absolutely go all the way.

3. Simona Halep (Owen)

Simona Halep loves Roland-Garros. It’s where she won her very first major title, and she made finals in 2014 and 2017 even before that. Her phenomenal defense and consistency shine on the red clay, with only the biggest of hitters usually able to take her out. Though Halep has had to deal with some injuries this year, her form has been good – she played Świątek tough in Miami (who is beginning to look invincible); she made the quarterfinals in Madrid. Halep’s draw is difficult. She’s slated to play Świątek, the overwhelming favorite, in the fourth round (or the “eighth final,” as Roland-Garros puts it on their draw sheet). That will likely end badly for Halep. Świątek hasn’t lost since February and has won two of her last three matches against Halep. If for whatever reason that match doesn’t happen, though, or if Halep manages to beat Świątek, I like her chances to go all the way. She’ll likely play herself into form, and a giant-killing win over Świątek would give her an ocean of confidence. Halep will be a tough out no matter what.

2. Ons Jabeur (Hanya)

Jabeur is looking to end her clay season on a high note. There is a reason why Jabeur is everyone’s top contender after Iga (spoilers!). Jabeur played a total of 20 matches this season on clay. Her numbers are excellent; she’s compiled a 17-3 record. She lost the Charleston final to Bencic, and the Stuttgart quarterfinal to Badosa. Since then, Jabeur has been on a winning streak and took home her first 1000-level masters in winning Madrid. She made it to the Rome final the following week losing to the world’s number one. I honestly don’t think that anyone would have put Jabeur as a serious contender at Roland Garros if it hadn’t been for her solid clay season run, but she’s vaulted herself into the top of the favorites list quickly. Regarding her draw, I don’t see any potential problems facing Jabeur till the quarterfinals where she would likely play Andreescu. There is a possibility of Jabeur meeting Raducanu in the round of 16 and given both ladies’ performance this season, I think it will be an easy win for Jabeur. If Jabeur keeps up her fight, we could potentially see a remake of the Rome final with Ons and Iga once again facing each other in the final. The question everyone will be asking is: will Jabeur avenge her Rome loss and take home her first major championship or will Iga make it two French Open wins? 

1. Iga Swiatek (Nick)

This should come as no surprise to anyone. Iga Świątek is the world number one, a former Roland Garros champion and is on a mammoth 28-match winning streak. If that wasn’t impressive enough, she has only lost six WTA Tour matches on clay in her career, has only lost to top ten players on this surface since 2020, and is unbeaten on the dirt in 2022. She has been the favourite for the title before though, in 2021, and fell in the quarterfinals to Maria Sakkari. That loss to Sakkari was very strange, although it has been put down to her running out of gas I’m still not sure that was the whole story. In any case, I think only a blip like that could stop her winning Roland Garros in 2022, which is not impossible. However, that’s all on her and right now Iga Świątek feels unstoppable (to the point that she joked with Ons Jabeur during the latter’s press conference that the only way to beat her was to put something in her water bottle). She is the biggest women’s title favourite ahead of a major since Serena Williams was at her peak. It is doubtful anyone would be disappointed if she capped this amazing run with her second Roland Garros trophy, which is a likely possibility.

Top Ten Favorites for ATP Roland-Garros

By Nick Carter

Roland Garros starts on Sunday, and most of us are pretty confident in who we think will still be in the tournament in two weeks. A few of us at Popcorn made lists of the top ten contenders for the men’s title in Paris, which I’ve compiled and written some thoughts on. To keep the suspense, let’s start at number ten. 

Note: this was written pre-draw release.

10. Daniil Medvedev

At time of writing, Daniil Medvedev has just lost to Richard Gasquet in Geneva in his first match back after a medical procedure to rectify a hernia. It was a slow start for the world number two but he almost fought back to take it to a third set. Medvedev historically hasn’t liked clay, but his game can actually work well on the surface. His quarter-final last year was impressive given everyone thought he might lose in round one. He is rusty but if he gets a decent draw (Ed. note: he certainly has) he’ll warm up quickly and be in the second week. Medvedev is also in pole position to return to the number one ranking after Roland Garros, provided Djokovic doesn’t defend his title. That being said, Daniil can guarantee top spot if he reaches the final, which is a long shot but not impossible.

9. Felix Auger-Aliassime

I don’t know if anyone would have put Felix Auger-Aliassime as a genuine contender for the quarterfinals of Roland Garros before the clay season started. The Canadian’s 2021 record on the surface was dire, and he’d massively underperformed on it since reaching the 2019 Rio Open final. However, Felix has slowly built his form and then established himself as a contender by impressively beating Jannik Sinner in Madrid. Then came his match against Djokovic in Rome, who had to play his very best just to win in straight sets and fend off Felix. Over five sets in slower conditions, FAA will probably need a favourable draw to go really deep but we’re confident he’ll be in the second week.

8. Andrey Rublev

Andrey Rublev is a hard man to predict, but one would expect him to have a good run if he’s on his game. His Belgrade title was incredibly impressive. Yes, Djokovic eventually ran out of steam in that match but Rublev was playing some magnificent tennis at the end of the second set. He had that little bit extra in the tank, and for most of the match he really took it to Djokovic and showed that he deserves his place in the top ten. Aside from in Rome, Rublev has only lost to other in-form players in Sinner and Tsitsipas. He is looking very good for a quarterfinal slot, which would be his first at a major in over a year.

7. Casper Ruud

After Miami, most were expecting big things in the clay season from Casper Ruud. What followed was incredibly disappointing from the Norwegian. For a man who is the favourite for any clay court ATP 250 event, he underperformed in all the big events. The low points kept coming, bottoming out in Madrid after an opening round loss to Dusan Lajovic. Then came Rome, and an awesome semi-final run. He avenged an earlier defeat to Botic Van de Zandschulp, fended off an in-form Denis Shapovalov and in the end went down fighting against Djokovic. This has to have given him a confidence boost and if he wins Geneva, that momentum should launch him to that elusive second week of Roland Garros, and probably beyond.

6. Jannik Sinner

Jannik Sinner edged out Casper Ruud for this spot on the list, and with good reason as his clay season has been pretty solid. The man who was the next big thing until Alcaraz came along, Sinner has shown he is at his most comfortable on clay, and don’t forget he reached the Roland Garros quarterfinals on debut. Injuries have been the biggest issue for the Italian, as lack of fitness probably held him back against Zverev in Monte-Carlo and definitely against Auger-Aliassime in Madrid. However, he went deep in all three Masters events and lost only to red-hot players. He’s the lowest ranked player on this list, so could have an unlucky draw in the fourth round against someone further up this list. If things do fall his way though, he could barge his way into the quarterfinals, or dare we say it, the semifinals.

5. Alexander Zverev

Those who follow tennis closely will know that there are four clear favourites for Roland Garros. Alexander Zverev is very much the fifth wheel on this vehicle (and like all spare wheels, many feel best kept out of sight). On paper, Zverev is a title contender. He reached the semifinals at all three clay Masters 1000 events, including the final in Madrid. Zverev also has a chance to take the number one ranking after Roland Garros, although the only scenario where he can is if he wins the title and Medvedev doesn’t reach the semi-finals. Here’s what is holding back Zverev from being put in the same category as the four ahead of him: past performance and current form. He lost recent matches to Tsitsipas and Alcaraz, and it’s likely the same result would have occurred against Djokovic and Nadal were they near their best. There is of course the fact he has yet to beat a top ten player over five sets in his career. Zverev could well make the semi-finals if the draw falls his way. He could be in the final as it’s not beyond the realms that his biggest challengers would be in a different half of the draw (Ed. note: it ended up being within the realms). Winning it, whilst possible, is unlikely.

4. Stefanos Tsitsipas

Last year’s Roland Garros finalist is in a strange place. Again, Stefanos Tsitsipas has had massively impressive clay results this season. He’s reached the semifinals at minimum in the three clay Masters 1000s and has only lost to Alcaraz, Zverev and Djokovic, all now ranked in the top six. Tsitsipas has also won Monte-Carlo, which has very similar conditions to Roland Garros. His level on clay is what the rest of the field needs to match to be realistic contenders. Yet there is a sense that he hasn’t played quite as well as he did on clay in 2021, despite having better results so far in 2022. It seems that Djokovic has that bit more, which Nadal certainly does when he’s fit. Alcaraz seems to have the Greek’s number. So, 4th seems fair right now based on those match-ups, but if Tsitsipas unlocks his full potential, don’t count him out of the title fight. Anything less than a semi-final is going to be an underachievement for him (Ed. note: given the draw, anything less than a final might be an underachievement for him).

3. Carlos Alcaraz

Are we on the Carlos Alcaraz hype train? Probably. There’s officially no one he can’t beat right now. He’s beaten Nadal and Djokovic now, the ultimate tennis yardsticks, plus Tsitsipas, a high clay standard at the moment. Alcaraz is on a clay winning streak of ten matches. He has form, momentum and confidence. There is still one big question mark for him: best of five sets. He has shown he can perform in this format on hard courts in New York and Melbourne, but going head to head with Tsitsipas or Berrettini is a different challenge to taking on Djokovic or Nadal. Alcaraz vs Djokovic in Madrid was incredibly close, and if it had been best of five, the Serb may well have dug out the win. This unknown, magnified by lack of experience of the teenage Alcaraz, means he still is not quite the favourite for the title, but if he were to win Roland Garros it would not be a surprise. Anything less than second week would be an underachievement, but I have a suspicion Alcaraz will be in the semi-finals at least.

2. Rafael Nadal

It feels wrong to say that a man who has won Roland Garros thirteen times is the second favourite for the title. Rafael Nadal is the greatest clay court tennis player ever; I don’t think anyone could argue with this. He has often proven to be unbeatable in Roland Garros, only losing there three times over the course of his glittering career. In the end, it is injury that is holding most of us back from putting Nadal as the definite favourite. Had he not had his rib injury in Indian Wells, he may well have got better results in the clay events and would be the red-hot favourite. That foot issue is still a factor though, and we saw it really affect him against Denis Shapovalov in Rome, with him surrendering 14 straight points late in the third set. With a bit of time to recover and an extra day between matches at a major, it’s possible he will recover a high enough level. The reality is that if Nadal is fully fit, he will be unstoppable. Because of this huge unknown, it’s hard to set any expectations for him other than reaching the second week. Everyone will be watching Rafa very carefully, but we’ll only know how he’ll be when he faces the biggest tests.

1. Novak Djokovic

Let’s be honest, Novak Djokovic is the clear favourite on paper. Four of the five people whose lists I looked at for this article put him as number one. Aside from a false start in Monte-Carlo, Djokovic has reached at least the semi-finals in every event he’s played, and arguably has only lost to players who were in peak form. He has regained his fitness, and was his old dominant self in Rome, which gives him the most momentum going into Roland Garros. Don’t forget he is the defending champion and the only one who can really challenge an in-form Nadal on clay. Furthermore, Djokovic needs to win to be certain about retaining his number one ranking (although the final will do if Medvedev doesn’t reach the quarter-finals and Zverev doesn’t win the title). Right now, unless Djokovic’s fitness is still suspect (which is possible), the only man who many of us see him losing to is Nadal, provided the Spaniard is fit. If Novak does win, he puts himself in pole position to take the lead in the grand slam title race after Wimbledon. It is all intriguingly poised in Paris, and we’re all looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

Honourable Mention: Diego Schwartzman

Sadly, Diego Schwartzman just missed the cut here. Jethro had him relatively high on his list (6th), and he shouldn’t be counted out. Making the semi-finals in 2020 and quarter-finals in 2021, he had the misfortune of playing Nadal both times, and managed to take a set in the latter match. In 2018, he also reached the quarterfinals where he again lost to Nadal in four sets, breaking Rafa’s 37 set winning streak at the French Open. Don’t sleep on Diego; he’s always a dark horse in Paris, and is one of the best clay court players in the world on his day.

A 2013 Perspective On The ATP GOAT Debate

By Aoun Jafarey

Picture this, you walk into a room to join the company of the greatest players ever to play the game of tennis. You are in their company and have been chosen to figure out amongst them who really deserves the honor to hold the crown of the greatest player of all time. Every tennis player that has ever completed the greatest ambition of a tennis player is sitting in that room, the accomplishment of winning a slam. Seeing how this is the most difficult task that can be lay forth in front of any objective and logical tennis fan, you decide you are going to reach a smaller group of contenders by running a few rounds of elimination. Everyone agrees and you decide that first and foremost everyone who is to remain in this room has to have been ranked the number 1 player in the world at some point in time. To your surprise, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Andy Roddick and Carlos Moya all share smiles while a certain man of a short frame gets up to walk out. You look closely and you realize that you have just asked Rocket Rod Laver to exit this competition, Federer smiles at his box while Rafa has already collapsed on the floor in sheer disbelief that he’s ahead of Laver (“For me to finish ahead of Rod is a big illusion, no?”). You pause and realize that maybe this wasn’t the best way to start. You stop everyone and announce that everyone who has never won a slam should leave the room. Laver returns to his seat, a little more settled while a disappointed Marat Safin regretfully heads back to his seat at the table, he was already prepared to head out to the club down the road expressing his lack of interest in becoming the best. You see Gaston Gaudio walking back to his seat and you ask security to get rid of him anyway. All is settled again.

You now realize that you have 159 individuals left on this list, despite having thrown out Gaston Gaudio. This isn’t helping much, so you think and think and then decide that the individual must have done more than just win a slam, so you make it two. Two slams it is then to make it to the next round and then all of a sudden the smiles hosted by Ferrero, Moya and Roddick have turned into an acceptance of reality, they are greats no doubt but this is about a lot more than just being great. They exit peacefully. Safin is still pissed he has to be there, he could’ve slept with 3 different women by now or broken 37 rackets. Some say he might even prefer the latter. He’s visibly annoyed but a pat on the back from Pat Rafter with an exchange of few words reminds him that they aren’t going to make it to the next round. Sampras looks at them with a cocky smile, they both raise their U.S open trophies in return. Agassi chuckles and snorts a line with Wilander, but it’s time to get back to business the list is still too long and Safin still too eager to leave.  91 men have accomplished this arduous task, of winning a slam twice in their life. The number doesn’t help, it basically means that if you win a slam, based on history you have a pretty good shot of winning another (9/16 almost, yes I rounded a little bit). Enough is enough though, McEnroe is sick of this, you hear a signature “Are you serious?!!” and you know it’s time to step things up. There it is, to make things simpler and the process faster, 5 slams at the very least or back to back years as number 1. To Safin’s delight, he is allowed to leave. Pete escorts Rafter himself and Andre introduces Wilander to crystal meth. Borg is finally paying attention, Lendl not smiling, Federer reassuring himself and Rafa suffers another collapse because yet again it another big illusion for him to be here. Andy Murray has to leave, he feels more strongly about GTA 5 anyway and at this point no one in Great Britain is interested anymore. To the delight of Serbia, Novak Djokovic has emerged as a serious contender… at least so far. The list now looks like this:


S.No
Player NameTotal Slams
1 Roger Federer 17
2 Pete Sampras 14
3 Rafael Nadal 13
4 Roy Emerson 12
5 Björn Borg 11
6 Rod Laver 11
7 Bill Tilden 10
8 Andre Agassi 8
9 Fred Perry 8
10 Henri Cochet *8
11 Ivan Lendl 8
12 Jimmy Connors 8
13 Ken Rosewall 8
14 Max Decugis *8
15 Henri Cochet 7
16 John McEnroe 7
17 John Newcombe 7
18 Mats Wilander 7
19 René Lacoste 7
20 Richard Sears 7
21 William Larned 7
22 William Renshaw 7
23 Anthony Wilding 6
24 Boris Becker 6
25 Don Budge 6
26 Jack Crawford 6
27 Lawrence Doherty 6
28 Novak Djokovic 6
29 Stefan Edberg 6
30 Frank Sedgman 5
31 Jean Borotra *5
32 Tony Trabert 5

To your delight, that is exactly 32 men. Now think of this as a slam, this is basically everyone that was seeded in the tournament. For simplicity sake, you make a R32 draw with the number 1 facing number 32, 2 facing 31, 3 facing 30…. 16 facing 17.

So far all practical purposes.. Let’s skip to the last 8. I could go into more detail about who really should be in the last 16 with guys like Novak, Wilander and Don Budge ranked outside of it based purely on slam tally, but we aren’t here to figure the best 16. It’s about the GOAT and in all honesty, none of those guys really make a case to be the GOAT atm. Novak definitely has the potential with a lot of amazing tennis left in him (the guy has made 3 slam finals 3 years in a row, 9 of 12.. Ridiculous effort!), so Nole fans, please take this in your best stride and accept things as they are at the moment, perhaps this piece will need significant revision in a matter of 5 years, but we can come back here then. Not for now.

The main contenders:

You have 8 men left in the room now. Their names are:

Rod Laver, Pete Sampras, Bjorn Borg, Roger Federer, Jimmy Connors, Roy Emerson, John McEnroe and Rafael Nadal.

There are a couple of guys you feel the need to carve out an explanation for and you start with Andre Agassi after noticing some white stuff all over the floor. He’s a great, perhaps a top 10 of all time for now, but he doesn’t make it into the exclusive club. The other guys ask why? Particularly when Andre is the only man amongst all of them who has held all 4 slams, the WTF’s and the Olympic gold medal, an explanation is needed and that is exactly what you end up presenting. Andre’s career has a lot of ups and downs, for one he made the mistake of not playing the Australian open to celebrate Christmas at home instead, something Borg is guilty off too in this group but he has other accolades to defend himself. What he lacks most was the ability to finish strong when finally made it all the way to the finish line, he converted only 8 of his 15 slam finals, a conversion rate that is not good enough when Sampras pulled out 14 of 18, Borg 11 of 16, Federer 17 of 24 and Rafael 13 of 18. Even in arguably his best year, his slam wins came over guys who are not in contention of this title (Medvedev at the French and Martin at the U.S), while he was brushed aside in the Wimbledon final by Sampras in straights. To be the G.O.A.T you have to face up to your biggest challenges and make the most of those situations, and this is precisely where Andre falters compared to the men remaining in this room. Much like Rafa, he had a challenge of beating one of the greatest grass courters ever to win Wimbledon but he didn’t. He did end up winning one lone title there earlier in his career, but the bitter truth is he was never really the best on any particular surface and even his record at the Australian is at the mercy of Novak winning another one. Andre, never possessed the sort of dominance that the very best did at some point in their career, and some of them were able to maintain it for a period that is remarkably long. Sampras and Federer exchange a few smiles while Emerson and Laver feel like they’ve been screwed due to no proper ranking system established while they were playing at their best. Rafael is in pure disbelief that he’s still here while Connors and McEnroe are still noticeably uncomfortable that this race hasn’t ended.

…just incase you were wondering which Medvedev Agassi lost to…


Then there’s the case for another absolute legend, Ivan Lendl. He walked out with no smiles as well, but for some reason he didn’t seem to care. His expression was very similar to when the man he coaches won Wimbledon relieving the British (only when he wins is he British) of a 77 year drought of a “home bred” champion at Wimbledon. You couldn’t tell what Lendl was feeling. But that’s okay, some say he celebrates and mourns with the same expression. Some even go on to say that the Mona Lisa was actually an early sign of the coming of Ivan Lendl; you just can never decipher what he actually feels like. Lendl is a slightly different case than Agassi though. True that they both entered club 100 (100 weeks or more as number 1) and Lendl is actually 3rd in the category of most weeks at number 1. He was annoyingly consistent; he made 8 U.S open finals in a row. He made 19 Slam finals. He had a forehand the U.S army tried to use in the Gulf war, but despite all this he only ended up winning 8 of his 19 slam finals (Kind of like the French at actually winning the war). Shocking to say the least for a man with 270 weeks at the peak of the sport, with 3 years where he ended with staggering numbers of 84-7, 74-6, 74-7 (1985-87). He spent 9 years being ranked in the top 5, 10 straight in the top 10. Then he made the mistake of becoming American and it was a slippery slope from their onward. On a more serious note though, his 3 years were great but the fact of the matter remains that even in those 3 years, his losses were more noticeable. He lost the big matches. The one’s that define careers and greatness, 3 of 8 U.S open should ring a bell. Never being able to win Wimbledon was another problem he couldn’t solve. He was and is to date probably the best example of the man who was good enough to be the best according to the system, but not necessarily the best in a manner other players defined their best years and those are the best men that still remain seated before you for the final few rounds.

Good But Not Good Enough To Be The GOAT: Ivan Lendl and Boris Becker battle at Wimbledon

Emerson has numbers that stand the test of time against anyone, the only issue is that most of them came at a time when the slams were only open to amateurs and that 6 of his 12 were in Australia at a time when people didn’t travel to Australia because it was inconvenient. He also never won a singles major in the open era, which says a lot, unlike his compatriot Rod Laver who actually ended up winning his second calendar slam during the open era. He still holds some ridiculous records that have him as a standalone. Only man apart from Laver to win every major at least twice (Nadal needs an Australian, Federer needs a French to match this) and the only man to have won the calendar slam in doubles and singles. No doubting his credentials, but a couple of wins in the open era would have suggested a lot more about his overall greatness.

4 down and 4 remain. You are now left with Rod Laver, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. There are a couple of things they all have in common, but the most important one is that each of them is the best of his own generation while holding double digits for slams. It is no surprise then that they are also 4 of the top 5 in overall slams, that said it is important to identify that slam wins are the in fact the greatest measure of a players overall greatness, however now that we have them narrowed down it is time to get into the details to actually separate them and figure out the G.O.A.T (for now).

First thing I’d like to explain before I go deeper into this, athletes today are better than they were before. Sport today is much bigger than it was before, competition has grown stiffer exponentially over the decades, and therefore tennis players today are also more complete than they were before. To give you an example, look at the record time for a 1 mile run. It was 4:30 seconds plus in the 1930’s and now it’s down to 3:43 seconds. Think of what that means, and see the improvement that has taken place. It basically says that a man who once held the world record 8 decades ago would not even be in the picture today, can you blame it all on the shoe technology? Or do you accept that athletes are just better in this day and age? That’s up to you, I prefer to accept the latter. The reason I wanted to clear the air about this is because I wanted to simply explain why Laver is 4th on this list, despite the 2 calendar slams. Was he the best of his generation? Absolutely, no one can deny that, but the greatest of all time is not a title that he can hold. Compare this to cars, if we’re trying to measure the greatest track car of all time, Laver would be the original Ford GT, but where does the GT stand today? The numbers it once possessed are now beaten by a Mustang Boss 302. A car you can buy for around $45K. Does that mean I don’t marvel at how amazing the GT once was? No, that would be incorrect. I have a very deep sense of appreciation for it, but when it stands behind the current competition by so much, it would be unfair to call it the greatest of all time. Lastly, yes this isn’t a one to one analogy but I hope it explains what I’m trying to get to, tennis has evolved and winning today is harder than it was ever before. I am not the only person who feels this way, many of the pros do too, notably John McEnroe and Rod Laver. I can’t base any of this as a fact, but it can’t be denied factually either.

Sampras is the other semi-finalist, his 14 slams and 6 year end number 1 trophies are about as good as it gets but with Pete there was always a hole in his career. His performance on clay, his accomplishments on grass and hard courts are so great that the rest of the playing field can’t match him, even if they have a more balanced inventory of trophies. The problem is though, that we’ve seen other players who have done well enough on all surfaces to be considered ahead of him at the moment. All of this isn’t just based off trophies because you could always argue that Federer only has 1 more French than Sampras and between the two of them that’s one slam on clay. Here’s what Federer also has that Sampras doesn’t, 2 semi’s and 5 finals at RG (including a four final streak, 06-09) and he has the second most wins recorded at RG after a very obvious Rafael Nadal. This is just Federer’s portfolio on clay, if you take everything else out of the equation and just look at his performance on clay, he has 1 slam and 2 masters along with a plethora of finals and semi-finals. That by itself is a career better than that of your current world number 3 and 5, David Ferrer and Juan Martin Del Potro. On the other hand it’s not like Pete made the French quarter finals consistently, in fact he has multiple exits before the 3rd round there. Meaning he didn’t make the round of seeds, or the round of 32. That’s how weak he was on a particular surface, which is why there will always be that hole. Think of it as an exam with three parts of equal weightage, his grass score would be 98/100 along with about 95/100 on hard courts, but what about the red dirt? He fails there in comparison to Federer, and while he’s clearly ahead of Rafael at the moment on both grass and hard courts, the gap isn’t anywhere near as wide as that between Rafa and Pete on clay. To put it simply, Pete didn’t need to run into a top 10 or even 20 opponent to be beat on clay, it could’ve been anyone, even during the prime of his performance. Which is why he stalls at number 3.

Pistol Pete: Pete Sampras in his Prime

The last two are quite predictable, in fact I could’ve saved about 7 pages by jumping straight here and no build up, but that would have been disrespectful toward the other 157 players that have won a slam (I’m not a fan of Gaudio, he got lucky that Coria injured himself that match).

So then, how do you separate these two? Put together they hold 30 slams, or 7.5 years of grand slam tennis. That’s slightly less than the life of an English Bull dog or Boxer. They are both quite frankly remarkable athletes and the sort of specimen that you may not see for another couple of generations. Federer for his mastery of the game, there isn’t a shot in the book he can’t play, in fact his book of tennis is denser than anyone else’s. Rafa has evolved like no other player before him, he has faced obstacles throughout his career but not one of them has proved to be big enough to stop him on his way to his 13 slams and 3 year end titles. In a perfect world, I would never separate these two because they each have a very strong claim to the title, but in that statement I admit there is bias to myself being a diehard fan of Rafael, I have followed him on tour since 2004, before he had ever even stepped foot at RG as a professional. So without any bias, the award does belong to Federer (at the moment). Here’s why:

1. 5 year end titles

2. 17 slams

3. 302 weeks of holding the number 1 ranking

4. 24 Slam finals

5. 36 Slam quarter-finals in a row (9 straight years, every slam printed his name on the quarter final cards)

6. 20 straight Slam semi-finalist appearances (5 straight years)

7. 21 Masters Titles

8. 4 WTF Titles

9. Joint holder of longest streak at Wimbledon

10. Longest winning streak at the U.S Opens

11. Joint holder of most Australian Opens

12. 4 straight finals at RG

13. Greatest clay court winning percentage if you take Rafa out of his losses, in other words he’s the second greatest clay court player of this generation

…I can go on, but there’s no need.

The GOAT?: Roger Federer shakes hands with Rafael Nadal after defeating the Spaniard at Indian Wells 2012. Screenshot: SkySports Youtube Channel

Great Expectations

Rome is done. The next big tournament is Roland-Garros, which, if you take the cynical point of view, is the make-or-break milestone of the clay season. You could argue that to win Rome and to lose at Roland-Garros would be a failure, because the Rome champion wasn’t able to produce their world-beating form on the biggest stage.

These expectations are unfair, on some level, because tennis is a game based on errors and consistency of any kind is hard to come by. (In 2018 and 2019, for example, Dominic Thiem lost in the first round of Wimbledon after making the final of Roland-Garros.) At the same time, though, there comes a point when anything besides a title is a disappointment. Daniil Medvedev was in that situation at the Australian Open this year — he had made the final the year before, he had won the last hard court major, Novak Djokovic wasn’t playing — but lost in the final from two sets up, sealing pretty much the most devastating outcome possible.

This year’s Roland-Garros will be interesting because it feels like several players are in that simultaneously enviable and pressure-filled spot. On the women’s side, Iga Świątek is the overwhelming favorite. She is the world #1 and is increasing her lead in ranking points by the day, she has won the last five tournaments she’s entered, compiling a 28-match winning streak along the way, and she has won Roland-Garros before. No matter how you spin things, if she doesn’t win in Paris, it will be seen as an underachievement. Is that fair? Maybe not, given that her unreal run of form for the past several months has wildly exceeded expectations, but tempered predictions are the privilege of players far worse than she is.

No pressure, right?

The men’s side features a few players who seem like they should win the title — you’ve got 13-time Roland-Garros champion Rafa Nadal (his foot has been giving him trouble, but if he’s fit or even close to it he’s the favorite), you’ve got last year’s winner and recent Rome champion Novak Djokovic. Then there’s Carlos Alcaraz, who’s 28-3 on the year, beat both Djokovic and Nadal in Madrid, is the best player in the world on form, and seems never to tire. Last year’s finalist and current Monte-Carlo champion Stefanos Tsitsipas is also a contender — I’d rank him fourth on the favorites list, but in 2021, he was a set away from the title. It feels like all of them are supposed to win — if Nadal loses, he’s not living up to his record at the tournament; if Djokovic loses, he’s not making the most of his Rome title; if Alcaraz loses, his world-beating form of the last few months will feel more hollow; if Tsitsipas loses, he’ll have failed to progress from his runner-up finish last year.

A brutal part of expectation in sport is that only one player or team can win the big one(s) every year, but each contender has their own arc. The fact that the grand prize is individual never seems to factor into projections. When a player makes a personal-best run at a major, it’s great, but it immediately becomes a big part of who they are — that is their potential now, so that is the expectation for what they do in the future, and it’s simultaneously the case for a bunch of players. The expectations are very public, too — in 1993, Andre Agassi fantasized about what he would say to journalists who sledged his chances if he managed to defend his Wimbledon title. (He did not.) In 2015, Brian Phillips wrote a piece on Nadal before Roland-Garros and the paradoxical balance between his insane records at the tournament and his way-below-average form that year. Pressure, in an extremely stifling way, is a compliment. It means people think you can, and should, accomplish things. Pressure is what makes the losses hurt.

Expectations can even grow during a match. Win the first set? You’re supposed to win the match. Fail to convert a match point? Better recover from it, or this loss will be devastating for you. As a fan, my favorite matches are ones in which both players barely avoid a few fatal deficits. I used to say that in the best matches, each player would save at least one match point. With a stolen win or a shattering loss on the line, the drama is through the roof. Both players compete like their lives depend on it.

As a player, though, facing those expectations has to be hell. Świątek’s early-round matches at Roland-Garros will only be scrutinized if she loses or gets pushed. If she wins, few will care, because it’s what she’s supposed to be doing. Fans and pundits have known she’s amazing for a while now; there won’t be many pieces on her dominance during the first 90% of Roland-Garros, because they’ve all been written already. She’ll get all the praise if she wins the title, but none if she doesn’t. And this is her “reward” for winning 28 matches in a row (besides the ranking points and prize money, anyway).

I almost wonder if winning streaks are better appreciated in hindsight, because while they are happening, they are basically a state of sameness. The monotony is glorious, sure, with win after win after win, but it’s very easy to get used to. Accepting it as the new normal doesn’t take long. Prime Federer is often spoken about in reverential tones, though some were bored of him when he ruled the game from 2004 to 2007. I was recently talking to my aunt about how we often get nervous before something, then despite coming to realize it wasn’t as bad as we expected, we are often unable to carry that lesson into the next thing we get nervous about. I think the same kind of selective amnesia applies to appreciating the dominance of a tennis player. Everyone seems aware of how rare GOAT-level talent is, but seems desperate to compare other players to the GOATs anyway. Richard Gasquet was once called Baby Federer, and when that didn’t pan out, the cursed moniker got passed on to Grigor Dimitrov. It is obvious that players who win 10+ majors do not grow on freaking trees, but it was as if the tennis world had agreed to collectively forget that rather crucial piece of information.

Like, walk me through the thought process here. This young dude also has a one-handed backhand, so let’s compare him to one of the greatest athletes to ever walk the earth. That should be a good motivator for him and not at all an impossible standard to live up to! I kid, but it could not have taken people long to see that Gasquet and Dimitrov were very obviously not in the same ballpark as Federer. Watching this video alone will tell you that in about thirteen seconds. That Baby Fed nickname should have been killed on sight.

Even though I’m aware of the phenomenon, I find myself in the midst of it with regards to Świątek. I wrote about her the day before yesterday, and made a table of her then-27-match winning streak alongside the alarmingly low number of games she was dropping to each opponent, but after she beat Jabeur to win the Rome title, I didn’t know if there was enough material for a follow-up piece. Świątek was imperious in that final, and Jabeur a more-than-worthy challenger — Świątek tried to snare her with her patented bagel in the second set, but Jabeur stormed back from 0-4 down, getting a break back and threatening to get another in an epic 2-4 game. The tennis was brilliant: Jabeur played freely, feathering drop shots and crushing forehands, but Świątek’s unrivaled court coverage and power somehow got her out of the game after saving four break points. I didn’t feel surprised, though — the tennis world has come to expect this lofty level of play from Świątek. Beyond a simple match summary, I didn’t know how to add to the conversation about the final. I can feel myself starting to think what Świątek is doing is normal, and it isn’t, it is so far from normal, I have no idea when the next winning streak of this caliber will pop up. The way to best honor this streak is probably to say (truthfully!) that she’s done a ton of amazing stuff this year, and that she has more than earned an unexpected loss or two, and that it’s by no means a failure on her part if she doesn’t win in Paris.

And yet. I don’t totally believe this. I can acknowledge the possibility that one of the Roland-Garros favorites could lose out of an understandable dip in form, but I will still be disappointed if Świątek bows out early, or if Djokovic, Nadal, Alcaraz, or Tsitsipas lose to anyone except each other. Results are, unavoidably, a magnet for wildly high expectations. I think that the fans’ joy is the players’ pain at times (let’s not forget Djokovic’s tears during the U.S. Open last year, and how he said after he just wanted the whole thing to be over, despite being inches from *the Calendar Grand Slam*). At least three of Świątek, Nadal, Djokovic, Alcaraz, and Tsitsipas will walk away from Roland-Garros with a broken heart. I expect the tennis to be spectacular.

Vaulting to Greatness

In January, after Iga Świątek overcame a pretty uneven day to beat Kaia Kanepi in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, I wrote that being able to win with a B or C level was a great sign for her. The game she tore through Roland-Garros with in 2020 was astonishingly good, but god-mode tennis can’t be produced at will. In a way, winning on a bad day is more encouraging than winning on a great one, and though Świątek had a successful 2021, she didn’t win ugly that often. The win over Kanepi seemed like a very positive turning point.

Oh, and we were treated to this brain-melting match point.

Ironically, though, Świątek hasn’t need to play many more matches like the Australian Open scrap against Kanepi. Her best level is back and out in force — she’s riding an insane 27-match winning streak. Most of these wins have been in straight sets. A recent habit she’s picked up is absorbing an opponent’s best level for a set, winning it anyway, then absolutely stomping them into the pavement in the second. Just ask Bianca Andreescu. Świątek’s level of play at Roland-Garros in 2020 never seemed like an anomaly, but it was undeniably better than she played for almost all of 2021. Yet now, in practically no time, it has started to feel like the norm.

This is Świątek after winning the first set against Andreescu, which was a really high-quality, attritional hour of tennis. Just a brief racket shake, a quick yell, and a purposeful march to her chair. Business as usual. Screenshot: WTA

Świątek is reaching the level of dominance that makes you genuinely question what it will take to beat her. A little while ago, she looked to be fatiguing (though she won Stuttgart anyway), but she made the smart call to skip Madrid and is now storming through Rome fully rested. Naomi Osaka had a crack at Świątek on hard courts (Osaka’s favorite surface) in the Miami final, but could only win four games. Osaka can undoubtedly improve from the level she displayed in that match, but she tends to struggle on clay and grass, so likely won’t be a threat to Świątek for at least a couple months. Jelena Ostapenko, the last player to beat Świątek, is notoriously inconsistent. Danielle Collins, the next-to-last player to beat her, has suffered through injuries and a loss of form since the Australian Open. Andreescu destroyed Collins 6-1, 6-1 shortly before meeting her own lopsided end at Świątek’s hands. There is no apparent rival for the young Pole at the moment.

Behold, in all its glory, Świątek’s 27-match winning streak and the shockingly low number of games she’s conceded:

OpponentGames lost
Viktorija Golubic10
Daria Kasatkina3
Aryna Sabalenka5
Maria Sakkari7
Anett Kontaveit (Doha final)2
Anhelina Kalinina8
Clara Tauson10
Angelique Kerber11
Madison Keys1
Simona Halep10
Maria Sakkari (Indian Wells final)5
Viktorija Golubic (Świątek sealed the #1 ranking with this win, and has not relinquished it since)2
Madison Brengle3
Coco Gauff4
Petra Kvitová6
Jessica Pegula7
Naomi Osaka (Miami final)4
Mihaela Buzărnescu1
Andreea Prisăcariu0
Eva Lys2
Emma Raducanu8
Ludmilla Samsonova16
Aryna Sabalenka (Stuttgart final)4
Elena-Gabriela Ruse3
Victoria Azarenka5
Bianca Andreescu6
Aryna Sabalenka3

Some brief thoughts:

  • Poor Aryna Sabalenka has played Świątek three times during the Pole’s rampage, winning five, four, and three games, respectively. She is currently ranked 8th in the world. This is brutal. (Also, if this trend holds up, within a few more meetings, she will be handed a double bagel.)
  • The outlier in this table is the match against Ludmilla Samsonova, which was extremely close. Struggling with fatigue, Świątek had to squeak across the line, 7-5 in the third. Many picked Sabalenka to win the final the following day; Świątek won 6-2, 6-2.
  • Since the start of this streak, she has lost an average of 5.4 games per match. This is thumping dominance.

Tomorrow, Świątek takes on Ons Jabeur in the Rome final. She’s a solid favorite, what with her world #1 ranking, four consecutive tournament wins, and 27-match winning streak (though Jabeur is playing some fantastic tennis of her own, having won her last 11 matches). Regardless, Świątek has little to lose: if Jabeur does manage to topple her, Świątek might well use the loss as extra motivation ahead of Roland-Garros. Her tennis has been so supreme — smothering movement, heavy forehands and backhands, the ability to miss infrequently even when she aims close to the lines, rally tolerance, serving that is difficult to attack — that it’s hard to imagine someone taking out a strong version of her.

Świątek is already reaching historic levels of dominance. We’re seeing stats like this, and she’s only 20. Tennis being the brutal sport that it is, even winning streaks bring challenges with them — winning more means playing more, for instance, increasing the odds of injury — but Świątek looks set to have a truly monumental career. It’s insane to think that a mere three and a half months ago, she had just struggled mightily through a match against Kanepi only to get crushed by Collins one match later. Świątek has put the entire puzzle together in an astonishingly short time, and the potential seems limitless for the years of her career that stretch out ahead.

WTA Rome: Uncanny Similarities and a Rivalry in the Making

By Myles David

Emma Raducanu and Bianca Andreescu seem to share quite a bit in common in the tennis world. 

– Nike sponsored athletes

– Global brand ambassadors

– Born in Ontario, Canada

– Teenage U.S. Open champions

These are just a few of the similarities the Gen-Z stars could strike up a conversation about in their local coffee shop. Instead, their priorities often pull them into long hours on the practice courts honing their games and bodies to remain at the top of the Women’s Professional Tennis scene. Standing at the forefront of the search for this decade’s new WTA superstar does come with its fair share of trials and tribulations though. Both women experienced post-breakthrough lulls in their on-court performances since hoisting trophies in New York. After Andreescu’s 2019 triumph, she missed the entirety of the pandemic adjusted 2020 season with a torn meniscus and posted a 17 -12 win/loss record during her 2021 return. Similarly, Raducanu’s form since lifting her first major championship has been filled with troubling losses, nagging injuries, and inconsistences in her coaching camp. The teenager was only able to land five match victories before heading into the 2022 European clay court swing. 

Luckily for fans of the two burgeoning brunettes, things seem to be swinging in a more positive direction. Both women began their clay season simply trying to find some footing while navigating a surface that neither have had a wealth of experience on. Andreescu was coming off the heels of another lengthy hiatus away from competition as she took time to reset, refocus, and grow. Despite the time away she was able to notch victories in Stuttgart and Madrid with back-to back round of 16 showings. Raducanu entered her clay court season on the backs of disappointing showing during the Indian Wells and Miami Masters tournaments but found a spark of good form by reaching the quarterfinals in Stuttgart and round of 16 in Madrid.  

Enter the 2022 Italian Open in Rome.

When the women’s draw was released, all eyes went to the hugely promising 1st round matchup between the two U.S. Open Champions. The fascinating prospect proved even more intriguing as this was the first time the two were slated to go head-to-head and the first time either woman had competed in the Italian capital.  The stage seemed set for an early round high-profile showdown, something WTA fans have become increasingly more accustomed to. 

Showcasing great focus and executing her signature brand of controlled aggression, Bianca Andreescu raced out to a 5-1 lead in just 30 minutes on court. Both players looked to take initiative early, but Raducanu came up short as Andreescu didn’t allow her to settle into the smooth baseline rhythm she often showcases. Just before Andreescu was set to serve out the first set, Raducanu called the trainer on court for a back issue. The back issues required off court attention and when play resumed, Andreescu wrapped up the first set 6-2 without much fuss.  Unfortunately, the highly anticipated clash came to an abrupt halt as Raducanu pulled the plug on the match and retired only three games into the second set.  The Brit mentioned in her pre-tournament press conference that she was carrying a “niggling” back injury but hoped to work through it. 

Although fans and spectators weren’t treated to the entirety of what could have been, there are still some positive takeaways, one of the largest being Bianca’s full commitment to a return to top form. In only her third tournament back and against the reigning U.S. Open champion, she showed the type of focus and determination that saw her rise to her career high ranking of #4. If she continues to put in the work and avoids major injuries, she should be a serious factor when the tour heads back to hard courts. As for Raducanu, it’s not all bad news. Despite the injury setback, she still heads into the second major of the season with something she had been seriously lacking, on court confidence. Finding the groove of winning back-to-back matches as she accomplished in the first part of the clay court season must account for something and will hopefully serve her well as she continues to navigate the WTA tour.

Fans may have missed out on the fullness of what these two dynamic players can bring to the court, but they’re both laying the groundwork for a seriously entertaining rivalry in the future. If both women continue to play with the unbridled passion for the sport that saw them make huge waves in New York city, tennis will be all the greater for it. 

Quick Day At The Office: Bianca Andreescu signs autographs after her first round victory at the Rome Masters. Screenshot: WTA Youtube Channel

ATP Rome: Crazy and Not-So-Crazy Predictions

By Hanya El Ghetany

The tournament that has been dominated by Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal over the last 10 years just started and I’m here to tell you a couple of ways Rome could pan out. 

The first thing I like to look at are statistics. Since 2010, we’ve seen at least one member of the big three in the final. For five years, we’ve witnessed Djokovic and Nadal in thrilling finals with Nadal winning three and Djokovic winning two. In addition, Nadal reached two more finals beating Alexander Zverev and Roger Federer, and Djokovic reached four more finals, winning two against Diego Schwartzman and Federer and losing two to Andy Murray and Zverev. Unfortunately, looking at the draw we will not have the possibility of another Nadal and Djokovic final. However, if all things play out as expected, we might have them facing each other in the semi-finals. Djokovic’s road to the final includes R32: Aslan Karatsev ,R16: Stan Wawarinka/Laslo Djere, QF: Miomir Kecmanovic/Felix Auger Aliassime/Alexander Bublik/Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, then Nadal in the semi-finals. Nadal’s road to the final includes R32: John Isner, R16: Denis Shapovalov/Nicholas Basilashvili, QF: Casper Ruud/David Goffin/Sebastian Korda/Jenson Brooksby, then Djokovic in the semi-finals. On paper, Djokovic’s road seems a tad easier than Nadal. However, we never rule out the possibility of a Nadal and Djokovic semi-finals, in which case I see Djokovic winning and reaching the final. I don’t see the top bracket going any other way, especially in the case of Djokovic. Nadal might face some names that will be troublesome. Shapovalov might be competitive, but I don’t see Nadal losing this one. The crazy possibility I will bring you is Ruud beating Nadal in the QF and facing Djokovic in the semi-finals. I honestly don’t see another name causing trouble for these two. Do you think something crazy might happen? 

TOP-HALF EXPECTED SEMI-FINAL POSSIBILITY: DJOKOVIC vs NADAL

TOP-HALF CRAZY SEMI-FINAL POSSIBILITY: DJOKOVIC vs RUUD 

The bottom-bracket is where it gets interesting. There is one way this route could pan out which is the Italians getting their dream of having an Italian champion and the possible scenario where this could happen is Jannik Sinner showing up like a gladiator. Far-fetched, but still not impossible. With Carlos Alcaraz pulling out, Sinner’s potential troublesome meets will be Andrey Rublev, Grigor Dimitrov, Zverev then Djokovic in the final. Not an easy road, hence the need of gladiator Sinner. 

One player who is always under-hyped by fans and does well is Stefanos Tsitsipas, who once again will face Dimitrov. Whoever wins this match will meet Rublev/Sinner in the quarterfinals. 

Zverev’s road to the semi-finals is the easiest. He meets either Talon Griekspoor or Sebastian Baez in round of 32, then Alex De Minaur or Tommy Paul, My money is on the Australian and then possibly Cameron Norrie in the quarterfinals.

BOTTOMHALF EXPECTED SEMI-FINAL POSSIBILITY: TSITSIPAS VS ZVEREV

BOTTOM-HALF CRAZY SEMI-FINAL POSSIBILITY(1): SINNER VS ZVEREV

BOTTOM-HALF CRAZY SEMI-FINAL POSSIBILITY(2): DIMITROV VS ZVEREV

My far-fetched hope is to see Sinner or Dimitrov in the final. Tsitsipas will do as well. My prediction is that Djokovic will reach the final meeting one of these three players. 

FINAL PREDICTIONS (1): DJOKOVIC vs TSITSIPAS

FINAL CRAZY PREDICTIONS(2): DJOKOVIC vs SINNER

FINAL CRAZY PREDICTIONS(3): DJOKOVIC vs DIMITROV

FINAL-POSSIBLY NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN-PREDICTION(4): RUUD VS (TSITSIPAS/SINNER/DIMITROV)

Let us know which scenario you like the best or seems the craziest to you.

A possibility?: Could Casper Ruud make a deep run in Rome? Screenshot: TennisTV Youtube Channel