Friday Top 5: French Open dark horses

Friday Top 5: French Open dark horses

Afternoon all. Sorry the post is a bit late today. A friend is coming to stay and so we decided to take Boris for a bath. He hadn’t had a wash for well over a month and he was smelling like … well, like a dirty dog. Our efforts to improve his hygiene, of course, were in vain; on arrival back home, he naturally headed straight for the garden and started rubbing himself on the muddy ground. I’m glad we spent all that money on the vanilla-scented shampoo.

Anyway, the French Open gets underway this weekend. With a whole host of big names absent, practically empty stadiums – just 1,000 spectators will be allowed in per day due to coronavirus restrictions – and a new-look Philippe Chatrier stadium, things will feel pretty different this year at Roland Garros. But the clay is still red, the balls are still yellow and the French will still say “Ooh la la” after a rasping Rafa Nadal forehand winner. So I guess some things never change.

With that in mind, I thought this week’s Friday Top 5 should look at some of the dark horses that could cause a few upsets in the men’s draw over the coming fortnight. To qualify as a dark horse, I have decided that you have to be ranked outside the top 15; everyone knows the likes of Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas etc will likely be there challenging for the title in the second week, so I’m not sure it would be particularly interesting to talk about those guys. Instead, below I highlight five players who are not necessarily household names, but who will arrive in Paris in good form and in confident mood. Right, let’s get into it.

Casper Ruud (#30)

It’s been a breakthrough couple of weeks for Ruud. The 21-year-old Norweigian, who trains at Nadal’s academy in Mallorca, has been long-touted as one of the game’s rising stars and is finally starting to produce the corresponding results. In Rome last week he enjoyed a fine run to the semifinals, recording his first top-10 win with victory over home favourite Matteo Berrettini and putting up a real fight against Djokovic in the process. He has backed up that performance by reaching the semifinals in Hamburg this week, where he will face Russian Andrey Rublev. He loves the clay – all three of his tour finals have come on the dirt – and the top seeds will be wary of his huge forehand.

Dusan Lajovic (#24)

A curious player who has suffered from inconsistency throughout his career, Lajovic had a great 2019 – reaching the final of the Monte Carlo Masters – and has found some form recently this year. The Serb began in brilliant fashion, registering wins over Roberto Bautista-Agut, Karen Khachanov and Felix Auger-Aliassime as his country won the inaugural ATP Cup in January. Like Ruud, Lajovic also loves the clay, claiming his only title to date last year and winning 51% of his career matches on the surface. With a classic one-handed backhand loaded with topspin and increasing self-confidence, the 30-year old will be looking to cause an upset or two.

Stan Wawrinka (#17)

It might seem a bit strange to call a three-time Grand Slam champion – and former Roland Garros winner – a dark horse for this tournament. But Wawrinka has had a strange, stop-start year and has no real clay court form to speak of coming into the tournament. The Swiss opted to skip the US Open last month because of coronavirus concerns, and bumped into an inspired Lorenzo Musetti in the first round in Rome. Nevertheless, it would be foolish to underestimate the 35-year-old, whose huge hitting off both wings can still cause the top players a world of problems.

Cristian Garin (#22)

Over the last two years, Garin has emerged as one of the finest clay-court players in the world. The 24-year-old Chilean has reached five finals on the dirt since March 2019 – winning four of them – and is now on the fringes of the top 20. He struggled initially post-lockdown but seems to have found some form in Hamburg this week, where he thrashed Kei Nishikori and is currently playing in the quarterfinals. A typical South American clay courter, Garin is extremely solid from the back of the court and moves around the dirt with ease. This week he will be expecting to improve on his career-best showing at Roland Garros – a second round appearance last year.

Filip Krajinovic (#28)

The second Serbian on this list, Krajinovic is enjoying his most consistent year on tour after overcoming a series of niggling injuries. Semifinals on the hard courts of Montpellier and Rotterdam pre-lockdown have been followed up by a quarter-final showing in Cincinatti, a third-round appearance at the US Open and a run to the last-16 in Rome. The 28-year-old’s best results have tended to come on hard courts, but he did reach the final on the Hungarian clay last April. A former Masters 1000 finalist in Paris, Krajinovic will be hoping to add to his good memories in the City of Lights this week.

Right, I’ll leave it there for today. Have yourselves a great weekend – there will be a newsletter ready for you tomorrow morning as always – and I’ll be back here on Monday.