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Expert picks: Who will triumph at Roland Garros in 2022?


With Roland Garros fast approaching, we chatted to our panel of experts to preview the upcoming action in Paris.

They gave their thoughts on the storylines exciting fans plus predicted their champions ahead of the year’s second Grand Slam event, which begins this Sunday.

Our panel

Todd Woodbridge: 22-time major doubles champion and now tennis commentator
Alicia Molik: former world No.8 and now Australian Billie Jean King Cup captain
Wally Masur: former world No.15 and previous Australian Davis Cup captain
Casey Dellacqua: former top-30 singles player and top-five doubles player
Simon Rea: former coach of Nick Kyrgios and Sam Stosur

With Djokovic winning in Rome, he appears back to his formidable best. Is he the favourite for the Roland Garros title?

WOODBRIDGE: "What he started to produce in Rome is reminiscent of what he has done in previous years, when he's gone on to win major titles. I truly think he has to go in as favourite, regardless of what Alcaraz has done, and what Nadal has done in the past and even earlier this year. I think it's just all coming together at a very important moment for Novak, and he'll be very pleased with how his confidence is going into Paris.”

PODCAST: The AO Show previews Roland Garros

MOLIK: "Yes, I do see him as the favourite. Sounds strange saying it, because he's No.1 in the world, but it's a bit of a monkey off his back. I was worried a month ago when Novak, who's one of the most supreme athletes in tennis, was saying after a couple of losses that he ran out of gas. That was actually quite worrying; I was wondering if he could regain that. I was also worried for him with the mental strain of not playing as much as the rest of the field – would he feel like he's lost that winning edge, or match practice, or fitness? So for him to win Rome, I think that would be a relief for him, and all of a sudden people now know he's a contender.”

MASUR: "He had a very close loss to Alcaraz in Madrid, but you almost thought: tough week, not winning, does that dent his confidence a little bit? But he comes back in Rome with a vengeance. It kind of makes you think he's timed his run perfectly. Practice week ahead of the French, another week of early-round matches to kind of fine-tune. He just about is my favourite, yes.”

DELLACQUA: "When I look at Novak, particularly during Rome, he started to hit his forehand really well. And I think once he got that rhythm, you really saw that self-belief. I get pretty worried for the rest of the field when you can see Novak has got that real sense of self-belief about him, how tough that is going to be for other players to beat him come Paris.”

REA: "He's certainly looking pretty good. Pretty impressive to see the way he's built into his clay-court campaign; we saw the amazing match against Alcaraz in Madrid, and then he’s gone from strength to strength into Rome. So he hits Paris with plenty of momentum, and you’ve got to imagine he's going to be tough to stop from there. But it’s probably not quite the preparation that he's been accustomed to – off to a bit of a slow start in Monte Carlo, with a bit of a hiccup – so just a little 'half-asterisk' there in my mind.”

Carlos Alcaraz is generating plenty of headlines, given his results. But is it too early to be predicting him to win a Grand Slam tournament?

WOODBRIDGE: "I think it's actually too much pressure to put on someone his age. He can't be the favourite when he hasn't had any experience going deep in majors, because they're best-of-five sets; it's a completely different scenario to the three sets he's been playing at Masters level. This will be that test we see for Alcaraz whether he is following in the footsteps of Nadal... I'd be very surprised if he did go on to win the French. Yes, he'll perform well, but it will be a real eye-opener for all of us in the tennis world to see what he's able to produce. If he does something special, it is an extraordinary run the young man's on and it's going to be fun to watch.”

MOLIK: "I know he's a great player, but we've seen him be a great player over one-week events. He's had some great Grand Slam performances, but I think it's a whole other level. I think he's a contender... It's not necessarily premature, because we've seen Nadal do it (at the same age). I think it'd be a big ask because of the hype. I think he's capable. He's very mature, but he's still young. You've got Novak at full confidence after winning Rome, so it's a different beast. I'd love to see him win, personally – what a nice story that would be, the changing of the Spanish guard. It would be pretty awesome."

Rafael Nadal (L) congratulates Carlos Alcaraz after Alcaraz won their 2022 Madrid Masters quarterfinal in three sets. (Getty Images)

MASUR: "I guess the big question mark for me is (about him) going the distance against those very best players at the business end of the tournament. He beat Novak 7-6 in the third in Madrid; there might be another two hours to go to win that match, ultimately, if it's best-of-five. Can Alcaraz do it? Absolutely. He has the ability to stay with them physically. Then you've got to couple that with the mental effort required to stay completely focused, not having any dips (within five-set matches). Alcaraz is showing us all the signs that he can do it. Going into the French in this kind of form, he may be undeniable. Will he do it in two weeks’ time? I guess we'll have to wait and see.”

DELLACQUA: "As a fan of the game, I just think it's so exciting to have someone like Alcaraz. But I think of other players in the men's game, like Tsitsipas, who over the length of a five-setter on a clay-court could really still trouble a lot of players, even Novak and Rafa. I do think it's going to be a big task for Alcaraz, but I think it's really added the element of excitement to Roland Garros, to see what come to fruition, to see what he does do.”

REA: "While I might not think that he could be considered a favourite up against Nadal and Djokovic, do I think that it's possible this young man can win the event? Yeah I do. I really believe in possibility and dreaming big here with this guy in mind. I think anything's possible. (His form and results) kind of crescendoed into beating both Nadal and Djokovic at Madrid. I think his body of work says he can win the French."

How do you see Nadal’s chances at his favourite event, given his restricted lead-up, plus latest injury struggles in Rome?

MOLIK: "It's not the ideal lead-up, is it? Normally he's played a bank of matches. Hard enough to win a Slam when you're healthy, and he will have doubts about his body. Over three or four hours, over five sets? It's going to be a tall ask. If he proved to win the French Open this year, he would be super-human. But, we've seen stranger things happen. I think Alcaraz and Djokovic are favoured to win over Rafa, but I wouldn't discount him. He could've had a complete rest before Roland Garros, but he's also conscious he needs to play. It's a real tough one.”

MASUR: "Nadal's got a remarkable ability to come back and play well after injury. But (this being) on the eve of the French Open, the timing is bad. How much time does he have to rest and recover and prepare for what's coming his way? He'll leave no stone unturned to get it right, and look at what he did in Australia after a long period of injury and preparation. But I guess I'm just nervous for him, a few days out.”

REA: "When you hear that number of 13 Roland Garros titles and you stop to reflect on it, it's beyond all of our wildest imaginations. Having been lucky enough to sit in the stands during his AO final, I haven't been in a sporting environment like that I don't think in my lifetime. Again, I believe in possibilities. Are there question marks there physically? Sure. But we saw huge question marks over him in that AO match. On Court Philippe Chatrier, in Paris, if he's able to overcome adversity, these are the conditions that he's going to do it in. I'm not going to discount him.”

On the women’s side, can Swiatek continue her incredible run and go all the way to the title in Paris?

WOODBRIDGE: "If she had not won Roland Garros before, and she went in thinking this was her big chance, then that could be something mentally that could be an issue for her. Having already won it, she knows what it feels like, she knows the expectations, and I think that experience of that one Slam already under the belt there is really going to help her enormously.”

MOLIK: "Unbelievable what she's done, huh? It's amazing. I think she can. I think she's done a really good job to manage her body well; haven't seen any lacking speed or physical performance in her matches. She looks motivated, but she looks a lot calmer on court. I think that's been a big shift; she's invested in a psych, she's made changes to her coaching team. She's given them her full confidence.”

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MASUR: "It's a bit hard to back against her isn't it? She's done it in Paris before. To me she does have that point of difference; she moves so well on clay, but she's kind of got that stinging forehand and she can change the shape of it and get it out of the strike zone of so many of the other players. I just watch Iga go about her business and that's what really impresses me. Good athlete. Great player.”

DELLACQUA: "Who would have though we'd be in this position, where Ash Barty retired, Swiatek took over that mantle of No.1, and has really dominated since then? I definitely think she goes in as the favourite; the way she's playing, I get this sense that there's a lot of effort that goes into everything she does. There's a lot of intent, she travels with her psychologist. I feel like the only person who could challenge her is potentially herself, in a way... I do think Swiatek is definitely going to be the one to beat, if she can keep everything together mentally – Grand Slams are a different kettle of fish.”

REA: "Unbelievable momentum. For me, what was almost the catalyst for this journey was back at Indian Wells when she was a set down in her first three matches. And I think those wins almost become the most impressive of her last three months, because of what they've parlayed into, in terms of overcoming adversity, hanging in there when she didn't bring her best tennis to the table. Then to carry the momentum of that and go on a streak like this... it's enormously impressive. It's hard to see her being stopped – it's going to take a Herculean performance from someone to stop it."

Of all the other women, who is best-placed to win at Roland Garros – and who could match Swiatek if she is playing her best?

WOODBRIDGE: “The rest of the women's field are not playing her particularly well, and very one-dimensionally; just going in and hitting hard. And she loves that, and she's got great confidence. Hopefully they go in with a better game plan at Roland Garros.”

MOLIK: "Badosa is one for me who can grind, but with her heavy kick serve and heavy forehand, she's really dangerous still. I don't think I can take Sabalenka out of the equation either, or Sakkari. Sakkari does have a game that's pretty reliable both in warm and cool conditions. And she's always fit, she's never physically down. Maybe not as dangerous as Sabalenka or Osaka, or winning as much as Iga, but I'm just going to throw her in there as well.”

MASUR: "There's been a lot of different winners in women's Slams; I guess it's a little bit different when you've got best-of-three. There's a lot of powerful players on the women's tour who can blow everyone away and kind of take the match away from their opponent. You look at a bunch of players in the top 15 and they're all very capable; Ons Jabeur is obviously someone to keep an eye out for on this particular surface.”

Ons Jabeur, the Madrid champion and Rome finalist who has gone 17-3 on clay in 2022, has caught the eye of many of our experts. (Getty Images)

DELLACQUA: “There's such a great number of women, just there, ready to also go out and win, like an Ons Jabeur, a Paula Badosa. I never like to eliminate Simona Halep from the field. Sabalenka, we've still got to put her name in there. There are a number of women there that are very ready to also have a great tournament.”

REA: "Ons Jabeur is firmly planted in the top 10, is an experienced campaigner and continues to improve year on year, and seems to excel on clay. She's the one I've got a little mark next to in my notebook; her competitive balance of plenty of matches, plenty of growth and improvement in recent times, and that intangible notion of momentum and self-belief at the right time. It seems to be really growing.”

Women’s majors have all been so open in recent years. When was the last time we had such a red-hot favourite for the title?

MOLIK: "Maybe Justine Henin 15 years ago? (For Swiatek) to not feel a loss in such a long time, you almost as an athlete want to have felt the threat. Iga's done a good job to be pretty clinical; she's won a lot of matches in straight sets. If anything does bring her down, it will be herself. It will be that extra pressure and expectation she puts on herself because she's won so much.”

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MASUR: "You're probably going back to the days when you had Serena in absolutely dominant form on a faster surface, where she was almost unbeatable. To do what Swiatek has done is pretty extraordinary. It's just a big physical and mental effort over the past couple of months on different surfaces, which is so impressive.”

DELLACQUA: "It's an interesting conversation. We've got Iga and Ons there, but I guess if they don't get to the final, then the draw is well and truly wide open to probably another 15 to 20-odd players that could win the event.”

REA: "I feel like you'd have to go back to your Serena days in her halcyon period, maybe 2013 to 2015, when she picked up a couple of French Opens in that time. I just think in the furnace of Grand Slam pressure ... I'm not quite so sure Swiatek is necessary the sure thing to deliver on this title that a lot of us are expecting she is. I think there's some challenges coming her way over the next fortnight. So I wouldn't be absolutely stunned if it wasn't her holding up the trophy.”

Who is your pick to win the men’s singles title?

WOODBRIDGE: "I'm going to go with Tsitsipas. He's not the favourite, but I think he's the outsider who could take away a Grand Slam. Lost in the final last year, had chances. It's been a really good, solid clay-court season for him, and I almost feel his time is due.” 

MOLIK: "It's Novak.”

MASUR: "I've got to go with Novak – his timing seems impeccable.”

DELLACQUA: "Even despite injuries, because I always go with my heart for a lot of things, I'm going Nadal.”

REA: "I think it's gonna be a Spaniard. Do I dream about the youngster emerging and being that next wave? Or do I think the ageing veteran's got No.14 to add to the collection? I think Alcaraz can win Roland Garros, so if you're going to ask me for one, 51-49 Alcaraz over Nadal.”

Who is your pick to win the women’s singles title?

WOODBRIDGE: "I think it's all about Swiatek, and I think she's going to keep riding that wave of momentum that she's got. The outsider for me would be Badosa; her ball-striking is as good as any out there. She's potentially ready to go up another step; let's keep an eye on her.

MOLIK: "I'm going to take a bit of a side-step here, and go with Badosa. I feel like she's got a game that can blossom on clay and it could blossom any French Open, and I just give her a chance at this one. If she's confident, she does have a game that can do a lot of damage to a player like Swiatek. Not many people can; I feel like she can.”

MASUR: "I've just got to go with that undeniable form of Swiatek.”

DELLACQUA: "Swiatek."

REA: "I'm going to go with Jabeur. Why not? We've seen hot favourites go into sporting events in the past and come unstuck, sometimes at the final hurdle. So I think this could be Jabeur's time to capitalise on the momentum she's generated across the clay-court season.”