There is no shortage of storylines as the French Open approaches. ESPN tennis analyst Patrick McEnroe weighs in on five hot-button questions, including what to expect from world No. 1s Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic.
1. Is Serena Williams making a mistake by playing doubles?
That’s something that could potentially be an issue for her, especially recovery-wise. A lot depends on how the tournament goes for her. When Serena plays doubles with her sister Venus, it’s for one reason, and that’s to win, not simply to get practice time in.
At Serena’s age, 34, it’s a lot to ask, but at this point, she has to get doubles matches in if she wants to play the Rio Olympics. But when you factor in her chase to not only win the French, but catch Steffi Graf’s mark of 22 Slam wins, there’s going to be a lot on Serena’s plate. If she plays a late match one day in Paris and is scheduled for a doubles match early the next day, then sure, I can see Serena pulling out.
The other part is that if she navigates through her first few rounds with few setbacks, and the weather is warmer (which would make the courts play faster), I think it could be beneficial for Serena to play doubles and stay sharp throughout the tournament.
2. How important is it for Novak Djokovic to win the title this season?
The older he gets, the more difficult it’s going to get to win the French, which is the most physically demanding of the majors. I won’t say Djokovic is running out of time … but he’s running out of time.
I’m not suggesting he has only one or two more years to win in Paris, but he’s not going to be able to utterly dominate like this forever. Djokovic is a great clay-court player, but certainly, he is more susceptible to more players on clay than any other surface.
3. How would you grade Rafael Nadal’s game at the moment?
His results have clearly been more up than down this year compared to 2015. If he were a C or C- last year, I’d give him a B+ so far this season. He’s in a much better place having won in Barcelona and Monte Carlo. For Rafa in his prime, it’s not a great clay season, but for the player we’ve seen the past couple of years, it’s a significant step up.
He’s played Djokovic pretty close the past few times they’ve met, which speaks to his confidence level. Can he make a run again? Of course? Is he the odds-on favorite to win the French? No, not yet anyway.
4. What are Nick Kyrgios’ chances of making a deep run?
At this point, he’s a dangerous floater. He’s not ready yet physically to go the distance on clay, which is much more demanding than grass where he can belt aces for three sets and win. Stamina and athleticism are two major pillars on clay, but he’s not there yet.
On the flip side, Kyrgios has proved he can be a threat on clay. He took out Stan Wawrinka in Madrid and Milos Raonic in Rome. Nadal needed three sets in Rome to escape Kyrgios, which speaks to the Aussie’s improved play. But he’s going to struggle if he has to play two or three tough matches against the elite players on clay.
5. How would you measure success for Venus Williams at this point?
For the French, it’s getting into the second week. Clearly, she’s capable of beating top players, but she could also lose in the first or second round as well. If she can get through a few matches, then great. But the focus for her has to be Wimbledon, where she can make a deep run on a surface on which she’s much more comfortable.
The French will be a platform for Venus to get confidence, make sure her health is where it needs to be and get to England ready to roll.