Andy Murray is third favourite with the bookmakers to win the 2017 French Open, with the world number one bidding to register a maiden victory at Roland Garros after securing three other Grand Slam titles.
A few years ago, it would have been implausible to consider Murray a possible contender to win this clay court tournament in Paris, but the 29-year-old has markedly improved on the surface and certainly has the potential to go deep.
Indeed, the past three years have seen the Brit reach the semi-final stage. In 2014, Murray was knocked out by Rafael Nadal in straight sets, managing to record just six games in total.
A year later, Murray pushed Novak Djokovic all the way at the last-four stage, eventually losing a deciding set after clawing things back from going two sets down. Djokovic would then go on to lose to Stan Wawrinka in the final.
In 2016, Murray really got his act together and made the final, where he faced old adversary Djokovic, with the Scot taking the first set 6-3 and actually going In-Play favourite to become a first-time winner at Roland Garros. However, his Serbian opponent was also chasing down his first French Open title and ultimately proved too strong, emerging victorious after four hard sets, leaving Murray to consider whether he would ever become the King of Clay.
The return of Rafa could be a problem
Rafael Nadal is still regarded as the modern day King of Clay, despite the fact that the Spaniard hasn’t won the French Open men’s singles title since 2014. He certainly wasn’t anywhere near his best when Djokovic beat him in 2015 and a wrist injury put paid to his chances a year later.
Many regarded Nadal as something of a spent force last year considering the increasing improvement of Murray and Djokovic, though the nine-time winner of this tournament is enjoying a renaissance and demonstrating that he will be a difficult nut to crack this year.
Rafa was hovering around odds of 7.00 to win the 2017 French Open title at the start of the year, though his brilliant run in the Australian Open, where he reached the final only to lose narrowly to Roger Federer, illustrated that there’s life in the old dog yet.
Nadal is going to arrive at Roland Garros as the player to beat, and it’s unfortunate for Murray that he will have to contend with someone who is bidding to make history by securing a tenth French Open title.
Nadal recently secured yet another ATP Barcelona title, with this being his tenth victory at the Catalan capital and his 18th ATP 500 title to boot. Previously to this, Nadal had secured the 29th Masters 1000 title of his career when landing the spoils at Monte Carlo.
It explains why the 30-year-old is now trading around odds of 2.20 to win at Roland Garros, and he’s been partly helped by the fact that Djokovic appears to be faltering at present.
The curious case of Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic is a living legend of the game, with the Serbian having won 12 Grand Slam titles, and his victory at Roland Garros in 2016 means that he’s achieved victory in all four of the major competitions.
He will go to Paris as reigning champion and second favourite in the eyes of the bookmakers, though his decision to part company with several members of his coaching staff and entourage has raised eyebrows in the tennis world.
It appears as though the 29-year-old’s career has temporarily stalled, and perhaps this was on the cards considering how gruelling the sport of tennis is at the top level.
Djokovic was beaten in the last-eight stage of the Monte Carlo Masters by David Goffin, and his preparations for Roland Garros have now begun in earnest, with the Serb having reached the last-four in the previous six occasions. Perhaps it’s a foolish person that writes him off this time.
However, Murray will certainly feel as though his arch-enemy is vulnerable going into the 2017 French Open, and perhaps he will meet with Nadal in the final should the two players find themselves in opposite halves of the draw.
How does Murray feel about his chances?
“I’m pretty sure that in the next six to eight weeks I’ll play some good tennis.”
Perhaps this quote by Murray prior to Madrid Open (where he lost to Borna Coric in the third round) sounds a little wishful rather than overly confident, with him having suffered from shingles, flu and a tear to one of his tendons, among other complaints. Perhaps he can now have a degree of sympathy with what Nadal has gone through over the past two years.
Murray did reach the semi-final stage of the Barcelona Open before a three-set defeat at the hands of Dominic Thiem; with the Brit unable to press home an advantage after winning the first set 6-2. However, there were victories against Feliciano López and Albert Ramos Viñolas along the way.
There is a school of thought that a player like Murray will look to peak in time for a Grand Slam event like the French Open, though he must consider Nadal as an awesome threat considering that the Spaniard has been winning every title in sight since the clay court season began.
Can Roger Federer find his feet in the French Open?
Let’s not discount a player who has won the most recent Grand Slam title, with both Roger Federer and Nadal rolling back the years to compete in the 2017 Australian Open final where the pair played out a five-set thriller.
In the end it was the Swiss legend that emerged victorious and Federer has won at Roland Garros before, albeit in a year where Robin Söderling beat Nadal at an earlier stage.
Federer has a mixed record in the French Open compared to other Grand Slams, with the clay surface clearly his least favourite, though it’s worth noting that the 35-year-old has fared well in his previous five major appearances.
Federer was absent through injury in Paris last year, but he did reach the semi-final stage of the Australian Open and Wimbledon, while he then went on to win in Melbourne earlier this year.
On the flip side, the last time that the Swiss actually made it to the last-four stage was 2012, and perhaps Wimbledon and the US Open represent the opportunity for further Grand Slam successes for this veteran of the game.
Murray not concerned by lack of form
Murray has become such a positive thinker that it’s unlikely that you’ll ever hear him write off his chances when it comes to any tournament, particularly a Grand Slam event.
He has hardly had an ideal preparation for the 2017 French Open, though his lack of time on the court might actually play in his favour ahead of a fortnight full of five-set matches where stamina and endurance are really the qualities required.