The very best in men’s and women’s tennis return for the swashbuckling clay-court slam that is Roland Garros when the 2021 French Open takes place from 23 May-6 June in Paris.
French Open 2021 predictions
Arguably the toughest tournament to win in all of tennis, the French Open brings together the best players in the world on the physically demanding Parisian clay as the top ATP and WTA stars slug it out for one of the biggest prizes the sport has to offer.
Roland Garros 2020 was a most unusual edition of the historic tournament as the Grand Slam was rescheduled to late September-early October. This unusual, autumnal French Open was played in front of very minimal crowds and often in bad weather, but the lack of sun didn’t deter the competitors. Iga Swiatek of Poland became the seventh woman since 2010 to claim her maiden major title at Roland Garros when she defeated Sofia Kenin 6-4, 6-1 in the final, becoming Poland’s first Grand Slam champion, male or female, without dropping a set on her way to the title.
In the men’s final, Rafael Nadal faced Novak Djokovic for the 56th time – and triumphed in spectacular style, winning 6-0, 6-2, 7-5. The victory, one of the most one-sided Nadal has ever scored against one of his biggest rivals, saw Nadal win a thirteenth French Open title and his 100th match at Roland Garros as well as tying Roger Federer’s all-time record of 20 Grand Slam titles.
Nadal will have an opportunity to move ahead of Federer when he and his rivals return to the French Open in 2021 – a French Open which will take place in its traditional calendar slot at the end of the European clay-court season, live from Roland Garros from 23 May-6 June.
French Open predictions: Who will win the men’s title?
The 2020 French Open taught us that when it comes to Roland Garros, there’s really only one question we should be asking: Rafael Nadal, or – somehow – somebody else?
Nadal’s biggest challengers, Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem, will be suiting up for another assault on the King of Clay’s throne when the French Open returns from 23 May-6 June 2021.
Rafa to reign supreme in 2021?
Nadal’s 2020 French Open victory was only the latest of an unimaginable 13, but it might have been the most impressive of all his title runs. The Spaniard came into Roland Garros having only played one tournament in the preceding seven months, and suffering a shock defeat at that; moreover, the conditions and balls were widely perceived to be unfavourable.
If Nadal can win a French Open played in chilly, damp October weather, facing Djokovic in the final, and not drop a set on his way to the title, then Nadal can win the French Open in its regular May-June slot in 2021 – especially if he has the chance to exceed Federer’s all-time record of 20 major titles by doing so.
Roland Garros redemption for Djokovic?
Djokovic’s 0-6, 2-6, 5-7 defeat at Nadal’s hands, especially when he seems to have come into the match believing so firmly that he had a great chance to win it, must have stung enormously. But if we know one thing about the Serb, it’s that he always – always – comes back stronger from a painful defeat.
In the past ten years, Djokovic has only three times failed to make the final four at the French Open; he’s been in the final four times, and his 74-15 record is eclipsed only by Nadal. It’s unthinkable, at the present moment, to imagine that Djokovic won’t be in the semifinals at Roland Garros, and the number of men who can beat him there is miniscule: Nadal, Dominic Thiem and perhaps a rejuvenated Stan Wawrinka. That’s about it, and if Nadal should not be fit, Djokovic would be the overwhelming favourite to complete a second career Grand Slam.
Thiem’s time at the French Open?
Dominic Thiem’s maiden Grand Slam title may have come, not at the French Open like everyone predicted, but on the hard courts of New York; still, the Austrian’s first love is clay. A two-time Roland Garros runner-up, Thiem has twice beaten Djokovic at the French Open, which is no mean feat; and he has recorded a victory now over Nadal at a Grand Slam, albeit not in Paris.
Thiem went out in the quarterfinals to Diego Schwartzman in 2020, but that wasn’t entirely surprising as the Austrian tried to deal with the emotional and physical fallout of winning his first Grand Slam just a few weeks before. We should expect him to be much more formidable in 2021.
Tsitsipas leads other challengers
Besides Nadal and Djokovic, the only other former French Open champions still active are Federer (2009) and Stan Wawrinka (2015), and neither look likely to repeat in 2021: Federer may not even play, understandably prioritising Wimbledon and careful of his body after multiple knee surgeries in 2020, and Wawrinka has never really got back to his best after his own, more serious multiple knee surgeries.
Nadal, Djokovic and Thiem are such consistent performers at Roland Garros that it’s really difficult to see past them, but if we did look at someone else as a potential champion, who might it be? Stefanos Tsitsipas really impressed with his French Open performance in 2020, reaching the semifinals with wins over Grigor Dimitrov and Andrey Rublev, and stretching Djokovic to a fifth set. But the Greek, comfortable as he is on clay, is a little mercurial and not quite a consistently brilliant performer; he’s also yet to beat Nadal or Djokovic over the best of five sets.
Daniil Medvedev is currently being rated bizarrely high by the market given that he’s never won a match at the French Open in four attempts, and there’s no real reason to believe that he will start in 2021. Alexander Zverev is a better bet; he’s made the second week at Roland Garros on his last three appearances and his tendency to hang back behind the baseline and inconsistent serving hurt him less on clay than on other surfaces. But it’s incredibly difficult to see past Nadal, and almost impossible to look beyond Djokovic and Thiem if Nadal somehow doesn’t win.
French Open 2021 Men’s Tips
How does one look anywhere else but to Rafael Nadal (6/5 @ bet365) when considering the 2021 champion? The 13-time Roland Garros winner is understandably the favourite to make it an immense 14 titles in 2021. He is 100-2 at the French Open; the conditions will be back to his favoured sunny, hot early summer; and he will likely have the incentive of being able to surpass Federer’s haul of 20 major titles if he wins.
If it’s not Nadal, and injury is a bigger threat to the Spaniard than any of his rivals, you have to look at Djokovic or Thiem, Nadal’s two main challengers in recent years at Roland Garros. Djokovic (10/3 @ SkyBet) has two strikes against him: One is that he’s lost twice to Thiem at the French Open, and if the Austrian is to land in his side of the draw, that could put paid to Djokovic’s chances of reaching the final. The other is that Djokovic was really comprehensively dismantled by Nadal in the 2020 final in a manner that will have left a lasting impression on both men.
So Thiem (5/1 @ Paddy Power) might be the better bet. A few crucial years younger than both Nadal and Djokovic, his chances of being fit and healthy are better. He knows how to beat Djokovic at Roland Garros, and should he come up against Nadal, he will carry the confidence of having beaten the Spaniard in best-of-five and being a major winner himself after his US Open triumph in 2020.
Outside this trio of clay-court titans, Roger Federer (20/1 @ SkyBet) is likely not to even be in attendance and the highly-rated Daniil Medvedev (20/1 @ BetVictor) has never won a match at the French Open, while Andy Murray (100/1 @ BetVictor) and Stan Wawrinka (100/1 @ William Hill) are both shadows of their former selves. Stefanos Tsitsipas (20/1 @ BetVictor) is a more likely contender, especially after his impressive semifinal run in 2020 (and performance against Djokovic in that semifinal), but it is impossible to envision him beating two or more of Nadal/Djokovic/Thiem, and that’s almost certainly what’s going to be required if he is to get his hands on the Coupe des Mousquetaires. The same goes for Alexander Zverev (22/1 @ SkyBet).
Nadal is by far the likeliest champion. But with odds on him that make it very difficult to find real value, an each-way bet on Dominic Thiem might be the best way to go.
French Open women’s predictions
The 2020 French Open title was always going to go to the player who could adapt the best to the unusual conditions of the autumnal, almost spectator-less edition of the tournament – and that player turned out to be Iga Swiatek, the 19-year-old Pole who did not drop a set on her way to the title.
Swiatek’s dazzling run showed again that women’s tennis has a wealth of talent – and a wealth of opportunity for those who can bring their best game for two weeks.
Swiatek returns as the defending champion in 2021, but while the past decade has seen seven women win their maiden major title at the French Open, none of them have managed to defend that title or even make it back to the final. Who will be holding the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen when the 2021 French Open women’s final finishes on Saturday 5 June?
Swiatek to defend her title?
Nobody who saw Iga Swiatek scythe through the draw to win her first Grand Slam title without dropping a set – or making it look remotely hard – can doubt that she has it in her to win many more majors.
But although she’s currently highly rated by the market, it’s important to remember we’re talking about an incredibly young and still-raw player who hasn’t even really had her sophomore year on tour yet. She’s going to have to adjust to her new status, and players are going to adjust to her and figure out how to make life difficult for her. There’s a reason that none of the women who have won their maiden major at Roland Garros this decade have been able to defend the title.
Consistent Halep to return to the final?
Simona Halep was the overwhelming favourite to win the French Open title in 2020, and for good reason: She was playing great tennis, looking confident and fit, and has plenty of experience, now with two Grand Slam titles (including Roland Garros in 2018) and a bushel of runner-up finishes to boot.
We can realistically expect Halep to come into the French Open in 2021 in similar form. But the 2020 Halep, well as she was playing, was rendered irrelevant by Swiatek, and this is always going to be the case with the Romanian: A fundamentally counterpunching and defensive player, she can always be overwhelmed by an attacking, explosive player having a great day. She’s probably more difficult to beat at Roland Garros than anybody else, however.
Barty seeks winning return to Roland Garros
Ashleigh Barty wasn’t able to defend the maiden major title she won at the 2019 French Open, opting not to travel and her preparation hampered by Australia’s internal travel restrictions.
Barty played so little in 2020, which should have been her season to face the challenge of consolidating the gains of her brilliant 2019, that it’s hard to know what to expect from the Australian in 2021. But as good as Barty is, it’s worth remembering that when she won her title in 2019, she was taking advantage of a soft draw at Roland Garros. She’s unlikely to get quite so lucky again – and if she does she might not be able to capitalise on it, with all the expectation on her shoulders.
Former champions Serena and Muguruza
While Serena Williams can never be discounted, her performance at the 2020 French Open – she won her first-round match but pulled out before her second due to an injury sustained at the US Open – showed that she’s less likely to win at Roland Garros than anywhere else: Her own body is now her biggest opponent, and clay is more physically demanding than any other surface, both to adjust to and to play on.
Garbine Muguruza is a better bet. The Spaniard, a French Open champion in 2016, made her first Grand Slam final since winning Wimbledon in 2017 at the Australian Open in 2020 and looked to be set for a resurgent season. She never quite recovered her momentum after the shutdown, but Muguruza’s big power game is formidable and she makes a great team with Conchita Martinez.
Other contenders at Roland Garros
Sofia Kenin’s ability to adapt to diverse and adverse playing conditions shone when she made the final in 2020, and although the American’s game is not really a natural fit for clay – and like other fundamentally defensive types she is always vulnerable to an attacking player having a great day – she is a tremendous competitor and very difficult to beat.
Naomi Osaka is still not very comfortable or experienced on clay, and Bianca Andreescu is an unknown on it. Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova can actually be very effective on clay – both women have made French Open semifinals, Kvitova in 2020 – but Kvitova is unpredictable and Pliskova a predictable Grand Slam underperformer; Elina Svitolina is likelier to win a major on hard courts.
French Open 2021 Women’s Tips
The last three champions of the French Open lead the favourites: Defending champion Iga Swiatek (11/2 @ Sky Bet), 2018 winner Simona Halep (6/1 @ BetVictor) and 2019 winner Ashleigh Barty (11/1 @ BetVictor).
Of the three, Halep is the safest bet. How Swiatek will cope with being a top player and major champion while still being very inexperienced is a total unknown; you can also expect players to adjust to her game in 2021. Barty is not really a natural clay-courter. But Halep has only failed to reach the fourth round at Roland Garros once in the past seven years, making the final three of those years. She does have vulnerabilities – most significantly, a lack of outright explosive power which means that she can almost always be beaten by an attacking player having a good day, unless she produces a perfect performance as she did against Serena Williams in the Wimbledon 2019 final – but she’s also almost certain to be in the mix heading into the closing stages. You can’t say that about many other contenders.
Sadly Williams (16/1 @ SkyBet) is one of those you can no longer count on, as her physical issues are likely to scupper her chances at the French Open as they did in 2020, while Naomi Osaka (11/1 @ BetVictor) is still finding her feet on clay; Bianca Andreescu (14/1 @ Paddy Power) is a total unknown quantity on clay.
Sofia Kenin (14/1 @ SkyBet) is, like Halep, a counterpuncher vulnerable to a more explosive player, but the 2020 French Open finalist is a tremendous competitor and not to be underestimated. She joins Halep and former champion Garbine Muguruza (14/1 @ BetVictor) on a short list of players with a very real chance to win, for me; Petra Kvitova (16/1 @ SkyBet) also can’t be ruled out, while Elina Svitolina (20/1 @ BetVictor) has a chance to kick on after a frustrating 2020 and prove she’s a real contender for major titles. All in all, however, the unknowns are immense and you have to go for the player who has a consistent record of pulling off deep runs at Roland Garros. That’s Simona Halep.
*all odds correct as of 11.51 GMT on 17/11/2020
French Open 2021 tournament information
Name: French Open
Location: Paris, France
Venue: Stade Roland Garros
Dates: 23 May-6 June
Category: Grand Slam
Draw Size: 128 singles
Men – Rafael Nadal (12)
Women – Chris Evert (7)
Men’s singles – Rafael Nadal
Women’s singles – Iga Swiatek
French Open player performance
Who are the best-performing male players at Roland Garros?
|Rafael Nadal||13 (2005-8, 2010-14, 2017-20)||0||Champion||100-2|
|Roger Federer||1 (2009)||4 (2006, 2007, 2008, 2011)||Did not play||70-17|
|Novak Djokovic||1 (2016)||4 (2012, 2014, 2015, 2020)||Runner-up (lost to Rafael Nadal)||74-15|
|Stan Wawrinka||1 (2015)||1 (2017)||R3 (lost to Hugo Gaston)||44-15|
|Dominic Thiem||0||2 (2018, 2019)||QF (lost to Diego Schwartzman)||28-7|
|Andy Murray||0||1 (2016)||R1 (lost to Stan Wawrinka)||39-11|
Who are the best-performing female players at Roland Garros?
|Serena Williams||3 (2002, 2013, 2015)||1 (2016)||R2 (withdrew)||66-13|
|Simona Halep||1 (2018)||2 (2014, 2017)||R16 (lost to Iga Swiatek)||31-10|
|Svetlana Kuznetsova||1 (2009)||1 (2006)||R1 (lost to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova)||52-17|
|Garbine Muguruza||1 (2016)||0||R3 (lost to Danielle Collins)||26-6|
|Ashleigh Barty||1 (2019)||0||Did not play||9-5|
|Jelena Ostapenko||1 (2017)||0||R3 (lost to Paula Badosa)||9-4|
|Iga Swiatek||1 (2020)||0||Champion||10-1|
|Kim Clijsters||0||2 (2001, 2003)||Didn’t play||23-7|
|Sloane Stephens||0||1 (2018)||R2 (lost to Paula Badosa)||25-9|
|Marketa Vondrousova||0||1 (2019)||R1 (lost to Iga Swiatek)||7-4|
|Sofia Kenin||0||1 (2020)||Runner-up (lost to Iga Swiatek)||9-3|