Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, bracketed through history, are bracketed within 33 spaces of each other in the 2021 French Open draw of 128. A pity because, for all the talk of regime change, it’s still Nadal’s event, as he seeks a preposterous 14th title. And Djokovic would be next on your contender list. Federer meanwhile, placed in Djokovic’s quarter, might be making his final Roland Garros appearance. If those are the Big Three, the Considerable Four, we’ll call them—Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev, Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tstisipas—are all at the bottom. We have generational divides. We have night matches. We have the second major of the year. Bearing in mind that “it’s difficult to make predictions. Especially about the future,” herewith your seed reports for the ’21 French Open.
1. Novak Djokovic
The top seed and No.1 player. But after taking Australia, his 18th major, he has retreated a bit. Coming off a straight set loss the last time he was in Paris. Without a tournament win since Australia. His 2021 mottled with losses to Aslan Karatsev and Dan Evans … and still the best bet to win after Nadal, even when they’re on the same side of the draw. One upset or tweak to the defending champ and says here Djokovic takes a second RG title.
2. Daniil Medvedev
A finalist at his previous major, but not much to show for since then. A great opportunity to bring to bear his clay court expertise and zeal for the surface. (He is also fat and short. Paris is devoid of tourists. Entrecote’s line moves fast …) Not only is Medvedev a self-avowed clay-phobe, but he doesn’t hide it, responsible as he is for the best self-deprecating line in recent memory. Hard to recall a No. 2 seed with less of a chance to win six rounds.
3. Rafael Nadal
What’s funnier: His seeding or the notion that he is trying to win this major for a 14th time, enabling him to tie Pete Sampras on French Opens alone? Yes, he turns 35 the second week. Yes, his serve has been stubbornly erratic. Yes, he lost to Zverev. But his year is designed to peak for this occasion. And best-of-five gives him the cushion he needs. Your overwhelming favorite, unfortunate as it is (for both), that Djokovic is in his half.
4. Dominic Thiem
A major winner within the past year. A multiple-time finalist at Roland Garros. But 2021 has been a tough year—“I’ve fallen in a hole.” As his 2021 has been buffering, his confidence has as well. Especially for such an inveterate player, it’s jarring he has only nine wins (against six defeats) on the season, his last a 3–6, 2–6 drubbing by Cam Norrie.
5. Stefanos Tsitsipas
Tennis’ seeker now seeks the next step in his ascent: a major final. A lovely clay player who’s proven he can reach semis (including at RG). He’s played a lot of matches, won a lot of matches, beaten Nadal in a five-setter, played often brilliantly on clay and projected his singular personality. … Still needs to ascend a level on the org chart, and to his credit, he knows it. The most in-form player on his side of the draw, we see a final in his future.
6. Alexander Zverev
Not unlike Tsitsipas, he’s beaten Nadal, won plenty of matches (including the Madrid) … and there’s a lingering doubt whether he can string together 21 sets and win that first major.
7. Andrey Rublev
A wonderful player, with easy power. No one has more ability to take a midrally ball and smoke a winner. But the best-of-five results don’t keep pace with the best-of-three results. A bit like Aryna Sabalenka. A brilliant player week to week, who wins lots of matches week to week but still needs to make a dent at a major. And until that changes, there’s an optimism ceiling.
8. Roger Federer
A former champ, but enters this—the major that demands the most of him—with a 2021 match record of 1–2. He will be rightly toasted (at the major closest to his home) and smell the courtside geraniums. But not a threat to win, not with such little match play.
9. Matteo Berrettini
The leader of the Italian brigade has real top 10 chops. He can play on clay and brings to bear real nuance for a guy who is 6′ 5″ and 210 lbs.
10. Diego Schwartzman
A French Open semifinalist in 2020 (and slayer of Nadal the week prior), but the pocket gaucho is having a rough time lassoing wins in ’21. He’s 12–9 on the year. Take out a magical week winning in Buenos Aires—when he played no one inside the top 40—and he is sub-.500.
11. Roberto Bautista Agut
The cut-and-paste: “Steady as she goes,” as The Raconteurs would put it. Not likely to win. Not likely to bow out early. The proverbial “opponent no one wants to face.” Much like …
12. Pablo Carreño Busta
Not a contender to win, but PCB is putting together a fine career, including deep runs at majors.
13. David Goffin
We see Goffin in Paris and always remember a) his breakthrough against Federer, and b) this freak accident. A pro’s pro who simply has too much skill/pride/enterprise to leave early but also lacks the firepower to stay late. Note first-rounder against Lorenzo Musetti.
14. Gaël Monfils
Monsieur Monf playing his 15th French Open. Damn. They grow up, these entertainers. Has finally won a match post-COVID-19, and seems recovered from his recent groin injury, but, much as we all love the guy, you wonder if the show, irretrievably, is drawing to an end.
15. Casper Ruud
Star this pony in your racing form. A steady ascent and a steady presence. Coming off the title in Geneva. Big Week 2 potential here.
16 Grigor Dimitrov
Has played deep in majors, but the results don’t keep pace with the likability.
19. Jannik Sinner: First major—surely of many—as a seed. A second-week player in 2020.
20. Hubert Hurkacz: The Florida-based Pole, has two titles (both in Florida) in 2021.
21. Felix Auger-Aliassime: Still looking for the major breakthrough. And still looking for a tournament title. You suspect both will come.
25. Karen Khachanov: Too good to be ranked outside the top 20.
26. Aslan Karatsev: The story of the year so far. A qualifier at the previous major. A top-32 seed at this one. Insane. The pan is still hot, no longer flashing. Amazing how far you can go playing fearless tennis.
27. Dan Evans: Anyone with a recent clay win over Djokovic merits mention. Not a clay specialist by any stretch, but has graduated from “dangerous floater” to credible seed.
28. Lorenzo Sonego: The Karate Kid references are officially stale. Here’s what’s not: his tennis. Playing elite ball over the last nine months.
Dark Horse Pasture
Reilly Opelka: So much beyond the serve and the height.
Sebastian Korda: In 2020 he was the last American standing. Still only 20.
Tommy Paul: The rare American thoroughly at home on the dirt.
Márton Fucsovics: Has already won 15 matches in 2021.
Lorenzo Musetti: Sinner 2.0.
Carlos Alcaraz Garfia: Spaniard is climbing fast and is barely 18.
Alexander Bublik d. Medvedev
First-Round Matches to Watch
Hugo Gaston vs. Richard Gasquet: Gas/Gas on the scoreboard is a night match candidate.
Sam Querrey vs. John Isner: American on American Part One.
Steve Johnson vs. Frances Tiafoe: American on American part deux.
Casper Ruud vs. Benoît Paire: The Frenchman is 2–13 on the year but always leaves his mark on events these days. Faces …
Jannik Sinner vs. Pierre-Hugues Herbert: Last year PHH had Zverev in trouble. Big opportunity for an upset.
Pavić and Mektić, quietly turning in a dominant season, 37–4 this year.
Nadal d. Djokovic
Tsitsipas d. total surprise
More Tennis Coverage:
• Where the Confederates Fell, Arthur Ashe Still Stands
• What’s In Store for Serena Williams in 2021 as She Chases Major No. 24?
• 2020 Sportsperson of the Year: Naomi Osaka