Bartoli: 'Nadal and Halep the ones to beat'
FOX Sports analyst feels nine-time champion Rafael is slight favourite in a tight French Open field
Marion Bartoli, the 2013 Wimbledon champion, has tipped Rafael Nadal and Simona Halep as the favourites in this year's French Open, which begins this week.
The chances of Nadal and Halep have been boosted by the absence of two players, who would have been strong candidates at Roland Garros after winning the Australian Open in January.
Serena Williams will sit out the French Open because she is pregnant, while Roger Federer has skipped the tournament to focus on the grasscourt and hardcourt events ahead.
Bartoli, who will be reporting for FOX Sports live from Paris during the French Open, said predicting this year's singles champions is "the toughest call in the history of the tournament".
Speaking to The New Paper over the phone yesterday, the Frenchwoman believes Australian Open runner-up Nadal and world No. 4 Halep have a slight edge in the men's and women's competitions respectively.
In the men's singles, nine-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal has been touted by many as the clear-cut favourite.
Bartoli agreed the title is well within the grasp of the world No. 4, but it won't come without an "absolutely intense" fight.
The 30-year-old Nadal recently won three consecutive claycourt titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid, before losing to Dominic Thiem in the quarter-finals of the Rome Masters last week.
Bartoli said: "Looking at the past year and how it has been shaped, based on how many times Rafael won, I would say he will get his 10th title this year.
"But, it doesn't mean it's going to be easy. (Novak) Djokovic (who lost 6-4, 6-3 to Alexander Zverev in the Italian Open final last night) has regained some of his form."
Bartoli wasn't surprised by world No. 1 Andy Murray's dip in form this season.
The Scot was bundled out of the second round of the Italian Open by Fabio Fognini.
Bartoli put it down to fatigue.
She said: "Andy is exhausted. Winning so many matches in a row for four years, doing it all over again, it takes so much from you, physically and mentally. That's just human.
"I don't know if he will recover in time this year but, for sure, next year he will start again fresh and make a comeback.
"Andy and Novak are strong contenders - when they start to get momentum, it's very difficult to predict anything.
"But, at the end of the day, there can be only one winner, and I think it will be Rafael."
In the women's draw, Bartoli feels Halep can clinch her first Grand Slam title.
The closest the Romanian came to winning one was in 2014, when she lost in the French Open final to Maria Sharapova.
Halep, who won the Madrid Open two weeks ago, needed treatment after going over on her right ankle in the second set in the final of the Italian Open last night. She lost 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 to Ukraine's Elina Svitolina.
Still, she is one of the in-form players on Tour and Bartoli fancies her chances.
"You can tell she's feeling a lot stronger now after her performances in Rome," Bartoli said of Halep before last night's final. "I think she will arrive with a lot of confidence in Paris and that will help her."
Halep's cause will be helped by the poor form of world No. 1 Angelique Kerber, who has yet to win a tournament in eight attempts this year.
Said Bartoli of Kerber, who is known to struggle on clay: "The issue is not so much her game (on clay) but more about her movement.
"I commentated the final against Serena (in the 2016 Australian Open) where (Kerber) was just moving so well.
"Her entire game is built around that - because she doesn't possess that much sheer power, she has to use her movement to her advantage.
"For some reason, it is not the case for her this year.
"Her movement has decreased a lot."