The ATP’s second major of the year is finally here, with the French Open at Roland Garros starting Sunday. This year’s version will look very different with the absence of the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal. Rafa announced last week that not only would he be skipping out on his most successful tournament (14 titles), but that he will step away from the game with hopes of returning in 2024.
With Nadal out, this opens the door to a possible new champion. Here’s a preview and pick to win the 2023 men’s French Open.
Carlos Alcaraz (+165)
Novak Djokovic (+260)
Daniil Medvedev (+700)
Holger Rune (+750)
Jannik Sinner (+1100)
Casper Ruud (+1400)
The surface and format
Roland Garros is a clay-court tournament played in a best-of-five-sets format. Expect a lot of breaks of serves and breaks back. As of now, weather conditions look to be solid with warmer temperatures and no rain or wind for at least the early rounds.
The bigger factor: best of five sets. It takes a strong mindset to excel in majors. If a player is down two sets, does he have the mental fortitude to fight back and go a full five with Djokovic or Alcaraz? If a player is up two sets, can he keep the aggression to close it out in three or, at worst, in four? Winning a major takes grit, aggression, creativity, stamina and mental toughness.
The bottom half of the draw
Medvedev, Sinner, Ruud or Rune is the most likely winner of the bottom half of the draw.
Medvedev might like clay now after winning the Italian Open over Rune, 20, in straight sets. The conditions — cold and rainy, which muted the ball's bounce — were favorable for Medvedev to excel. Cooler temperatures allowed the ball to be more flat and slow, which ultimately favored the better baseliner. The best baseline player right now is Medvedev. So far, it’s not looking to be cold and rainy in Paris but rather warm and sunny. Medvedev does have a favorable draw, however. Betting Medvedev to win his quarter is a better option than to win Roland Garros.
After winning ATP Masters 1000 Paris in early November by defeating Djokovic in the final, Rune has since reached the final at ATP Masters Monte-Carlo and won ATP 250 Munich last month. His style of play is starting to resemble that of Djokovic's: a great returner who is strong from the baseline, with a power forehand and a killer drop shot. Plus, he has speed and stamina to sustain a baseline game.
As to who will reach the final from the bottom half of the draw? It’s tough to predict. It’s wide open.
Sinner can be the disruptor because his pace and topspin action will be even stronger in the warm and sunny conditions. If Sinner gets through his quarter, then he will most likely face Rune in the semifinal.
The top half of the draw
This should be called, “Why Carlos Alcaraz will win the 2023 French Open.”
You see both Stefanos Tsitsipas and Novak Djokovic and think, “Alcaraz has a tough draw.” If he wants to win, Alcaraz will have to do so going up against some of the strongest clay players around. I still like his chances.
Alcaraz is firing at his peak. While Djokovic is the GOAT (in my opinion), I’m suspicious of his current physical form and rhythm. Djoker just hasn't been in “dominate everything” form lately. The field is catching up, and Djokovic is not playing his best while also dealing with injuries to his hamstring and elbow.
I don’t worry about Tsitsipas because he’s just not a strong opponent at this point in his career. His backhand is still a weakness and it often gets exposed, and Tsitsipas recently parted ways with his coach. Either opponents are figuring out his game, or he just doesn’t have the skill set to break through right now.
Alcaraz did lose in straight sets to a qualifier in Rome, but he won three of his last four tournaments before that. It’s not a surprising loss after a winning streak right before a major.
Best bet: Carlos Alcaraz to win the French Open
This is Alcaraz's third Roland Garros main draw but just his second playing without needing to qualify. Alcaraz has far more experience now, is 4-0 this year against top-10 opponents and 20-2 on clay. He has the tools, mindset and experience to win his second major.