Not shockingly, I think the top tier of contenders for the 2018 Roland Garros crown is occupied by a lone individual. Here are my tiers of interest for the second Grand Slam event of 2018:
Tier 1 – Rafa
Rafael Nadal is ranked #1, the defending champion, a 10-time champion (!), and won Monte Carlo, Rome, and Barcelona in 2018. He is the favorite. His game simultaneously pressures his opponents while maintaining a high margin for error. That unique combination plus a dogged determination and insane athleticism make Nadal a nightmare in Paris.
Tier 2 – Players who Could Realistically Win the Title
Novak Djokovic has been showing that reports of his demise were terribly premature. Djokovic won Roland Garros in 2016 and beat Rafa in 2015. I am not sure if his body and game are quite where they need to be to beat Rafa in a 3 out of 5 sets Grand Slam final, but if Nole wins 6 matches to reach the final he will obviously be playing well. Throw in his deep experience and past success and Nole’s airtight tennis could grab a 2nd title in Paris.
Dominic Thiem has won a match versus Nadal in each of the past two clay seasons. Thiem has gone 10-2 in the past 2 Roland Garros. Based on form and recent history, Thiem may be the 2nd most likely champion.
Sascha Zverev has won two Masters 1000 shields on clay and pushed Rafa in Rome. His game has been primed for a strong major showing, but he has also underperformed at the past few majors. His firepower gives him a chance.
Tier 3 – Players who Could Pull Upsets or make a Deep Run but are Unlikely to Take the Title
This group has a lot of members, but I do think Rafa has a few rugged baseliners in his potential early path. Juan Martin del Potro’s backhand likely can’t do enough damage to win 7 matches, but he is clearly a player to monitor. John Isner’s serve often leads to close matches regardless of his opposition. If Isner gets a contender into a close match, who knows.
Tier 4 – Everyone Else
Since 2004, major titles have been hard for players outside of the top tier to acquire. I don’t see many players outside of the top 2 tiers having much of a chance to grab this title. It should be a fun event, but I don’t think we will see a champion come out of nowhere either.