Q&A with tennis legend Chris Evert as she picks her French Open winners

French Open
Chris Evert French Open trophy

Eurosport tennis expert and seven-time Roland-Garros champion Chris Evert has previewed the upcoming French Open from Paris.

It’s great to have tennis back, did you find the US Open exciting? 

I thought they did the best they could do under the circumstances, and that was, you know, the number one importance, obviously, was safety, and I think we only had one incident with a French player, ironically. I thought that, even though it was fanless it was still intense, and the players still wanted to win it, even probably more than ever, because they really had to be flexible, they had to be focused. It couldn’t have been easy for them to kind of be living and playing in that environment. I thought that the last couple of days the Women’s Semi Finals was exciting, the Women’s Final was exciting. In the Men’s Final, even though it wasn’t the highest quality, those two guys are playing for their lives out there, and I thought that made for great TV.

Just moving on to the tournament, who’s your favourite for Roland Garros in your eyes?

One of 20 players, but my French Open favourite is I think is Simona Halep. Of all the players, to me she’s the most solid, she’s the most reliable. She has the perfect clay court game, perfect, she moves well and she’s consistent, and those two ingredients make her a great player… and the fact that I think she’s gotten more mentally tough over the past few years, and again she didn’t play the US Open, so to me I think that gives her more fire coming into the French.

Who can stop Simona Halep, are we looking at a Muguruza type player, Plíšková, Azárenka, although she’s maybe known as more of a hard courts player, or anyone else in mind?

I say look out for Coco Gauff. I know she’s had some losses and I feel like she’s feeling the pressure a little bit more this year than last year, but I still think she’s dangerous and I still think, when she’s playing pressure free and relaxed, she could beat any of the top players, so I still say look out for her. Viktoria Azarenka is a possibility, but I think 95% of her tournaments that she’s won have been on hard court, and I think she really looks for that solid footing. So, I’m not sure about her moving and her sliding on the clay, but I certainly think you’ve got to give her a shot.

I feel like Sophia Kenin has lost confidence since the Australian Open, I mean, she lost love and love to Azárenka and if she gets it back, for sure you have to give her a shot, but right now I think she’s low on confidence. Garbine Muguruza’s been impressive, she’s been very impressive, you’ve got to give her a shot, you’ve got to give her… yes, definitely.

The likes of Kenin and Pliskova don’t seem to have really coped with that pressure too well, do you think that’s fair to say that, or is it unfair?

I think it’s unfair for Kenin, because she had six months off. This has never happened before, and any momentum that she had after winning the Australian Open was crushed by this pandemic for six months. And she just hasn’t come back firing, I think it’s a matter of time, because we know the game is there and we know she’s mentally one of the toughest players out there. I say give it time, I just know if she can turn it around in this quick of a time, from losing love and love, 6-0, 6-0 last week, to all of a sudden coming in and winning the French Open. It’s going to have to take some solid matches, maybe some really testing matches for her the first week of the French, but do I believe that she has it to get it back? Absolutely.

And you know what, I haven’t even mentioned Serena, I mean, she’s kind of a wild card here too, again just passionately wanting this 24, but again I think her game was better suited for the hard courts than the clay. I think that clay is going to be tougher, I think it’s going to be the toughest Grand Slam for her to win the French Open.

Simona Halep with Italian Open trophy

What does Simona Halep need to do to be a French Open champion again, does she have to do anything with her game?
She has to stay emotionally stable, she has to manage her emotions. Mentally and physically are her strengths. We’ve seen her come back in so many matches when she’s been in a hole. Her fitness level is off the charts, she can stay out there all day, her skill set is off the charts on clay. To me it’s emotional, is she committed 100% to winning the French Open and can she try not to be as emotional as she has been in the past, that’s the key for me.

Is it a help having a coach – Darren Cahill – who she seems to have a good chemistry with in her corner?

I think Darren and Wim Fissette are the two star coaches on the women’s tour, and I think Darren really knows her well, knows how to handle her, knows what to say at the right moment, knows how to calm her down, and he’s been tremendous for her. I think even strategy-wise and game-wise, skill set wise, I think he’s been great for her, so she couldn’t do any better in the coach department. She’s got all the great resources around her, any time in the past she’s lost a match, she’s had to fight herself. So can she stay cool and calm during these two weeks is the question? But she’s still my pick.

Angie Kerber, she had a pretty good showing at the US Open, how do you feel she’s going in to Roland Garros. I think it’s the last title she hasn’t won…

I think you’ve got to hold serve to win a Grand Slam, I think you’ve got to have a big serve to win a Grand Slam and you’ve got to be able to hold, because breaking Serena’s serve or breaking serve is getting increasingly harder as the women develop bigger serves, so I think you’ve got to hold your own and I think that’s probably the weakness in Angie’s game that may prevent her from winning the French open.

Alex Zverev and Dominic Thiem, is it an advantage that they’re going into the French Open with a lot of confidence and belief that maybe they didn’t previously have or a disadvantage they went so deep at the US Open and having to change surfaces so quickly?

They both had two weeks off, neither played a tournament I don’t think. It’s always a disadvantage to me when you can’t play a practice or warm up tournament before on the same surface, I think everybody tries to do that, so that’s a bit of a disadvantage.

I don’t know how their bodies feel physically. The only advantage would be the confidence level, the confidence, they both have to be feeling good. I don’t think clay is his best surface for Zverev, with that big serve, he’s got a good volley. I’m not quite sure with the moving again, you’ve got to be so nimble and agile to move on the clay courts, and slide and change direction.

That’s what Novak and Nadal, that’s what they all are. So I’m not quite sure that Alex would go deep and win the French Open anyway because his game style is not a clay court game style, but Thiem’s is and Thiem has done well at the French Open before, Thiem has reached the finals before.

I think that Thiem does have the game and Thiem has won the US Open, so maybe he’ll use it to his advantage and he’ll just be so on top of the world that he’ll play great. He has the game and he has the confidence. So after Nadal, Djokovic, to me he would be the next pick for me, those three.

Is Rafa Nadal as clear a favourite in 2020 as he was in 2019, 2018, 2017, etc.?

Not as much as clear cut, not as much, no. I mean, especially after his loss last week, but still the number one pick, still the number one pick for anybody who has any intelligence.

This idea that obviously it will be cooler conditions might be a bit of a disadvantage to Rafa Nadal?

Everything matters, everything, every little thing that’s different from previous years is going to be an adjustment for Rafa. The question is, I don’t think he’s going to lose confidence after losing last week to Schwartzman, I think it will get him even more fired up.

His whole game wasn’t there but he doesn’t play much before then and you can’t blame him for that. I only think that the chink in the armour for him is the fact that he hasn’t played his way into top form after the last six or seven months, that’s the only chink. He’s always played two or three clay court tournaments going into this.

I don’t want to be negative about him, he’s still the French Open favourite, but I still think that there’s a little bit of the edge is off because of the pandemic and because the other players might just feel more relaxed and maybe be a little more prepared to play on the clay. Rafa needs everything to be in line. So if all of a sudden it’s cold one day, rainy the next, hot the next, all those adjustments are going to be difficult for anybody, and even for Rafa, because he’s human being.

Chris Evert is a tennis expert for Eurosport. All courts and all matches from Roland-Garros will be live on Eurosport and Eurosport app starting Sunday 27 September.

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