The French Open at Roland Garros begins this weekend and despite the protestations of a certain Australian loudmouth, is one of the BIG five slams of the year. From May 26 to June 9 the world’s best will battle it out on the clay. Publisher Roger Parker gives his tips for glory on the red dust of Paris…
After clinching La Undécima last year, Nadal will be looking to add an unheard 12th French Open title and his 18th Grand Slam. In a best of five on clay, Nadal is virtually unbeatable. It is difficult to find a weakness in a man who has a 86-2 record in Paris.
This time last year there was no question that Nadal was the favorite to win the French Open, given that his only major rival during this period was Roger Federer, who kept opting out of playing on clay to preserve his body for Wimbledon.
The Spaniard’s impressive win over Novak Djokovic in the final of the Italian Open also means that he will travel to France in peak form.
If there is anyone or anything that could stop Nadal from lifting another French Open title, it is his body.
This time last year Novak Djokovic seemed like he was down and out.
Having spent all of 2017 and the first half of 2018 in a mysterious slump of form, no one could quite predict whether he would be able to make a comeback.
He has held four Grand Slams at once before and he will be going for it again. The world number one decimated Rafael Nadal in straight sets in the first slam of the year in Australia. But his form has cooled down since then as he suffered unexpected losses in Indian Wells and Miami.
Djokovic saves his best tennis for the slams An all-round player, Djokovic is a dangerous player on clay and is one of the two players to beat Nadal at the French.
Will it be number 15 for the Serb?
According to Amazon Prime tennis expert Greg Rusedski, who didn’t name Roger Federer as one of his contenders for the Roland Garros crown Rafa and Novak’s closest contenders for the French Open could be young guns Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas rather than Roger Federer who has made a concerted effort to return to Roland Garros for the first time since 2015.
The former British No 1 also believes Fabio Fogini is a potential wild card though admitted there is an uncertainty over which version of the world No.11 will turn up on the day.
His only win at the French came in 2009 and the Swiss will be looking to add another slam in Paris before he calls it a day.
Federer has made the emotional admission (20 May 2019) that the French Open could be his last EVER professional tournament – because at his age, any tournament he plays could be.
Federer made the bold decision to return to clay during the 2019 season after deciding to skip it for three years in a row.
The Swiss veteran prompted theories that he could retire at the end of the current season by the announcement, and he has now admitted that his trip to Roland Garros could be his last tournament in the sport.
“The fact that this can be my last Roland-Garros? Each tournament can be the last,” Federer told French TV channel Stade 2.
Although the 37-year-old admits that any tournament he now attends could end up being his last, he isn’t planning for it to be at the upcoming Grand Slam.
He continued: “I do not see my arrival at Roland Garros this year as if it was the last.
“I want to play it like 10 years ago, it does not change.
“I will be happy if I win a few games and if I can perhaps spend the first week at Roland Garros.”
“We do not know the draw, it’s hard to talk about it. But it would be a shame to visit Roland for the last time.
“It would be bad, but I will give my best.”
Furthermore, clay is the most demanding surface on the tennis tour. With Federer at 37, it could prove too difficult for him to maintain the kind of form required to win perhaps the most gruelling Grand Slam of them all.
It is not a surprise that for last year’s French Open finalist, clay is Thiem’s favoured surface.
If there is anyone who can beat the Spaniard on clay, it is the Austrian.
His all-round game makes him a threat on clay and Roland Garros represents his best chance of winning a Grand Slam. The only hurdle that stands in his way is Nadal, who has beaten him in the semis and finals in the last two years.
Already being heralded as the successor to Nadal’s rule over the clay court season, last year’s runner-up has shown that he is ready to make the push to win the French Open. Although he ultimately lost to Djokovic in the semifinals in Madrid, he did manage to beat Federer in the quarters. For that reason the young Austrian is unquestionably one of the favourites to go on and win the French Open.
Current ATP Masters title holder Alexander Zverev’s disappointing 2019 continued when he crashed out of the Italian Open in the second round earlier this month.
Losing to home favourite Matteo Berrettini, meant that his preparations for the French Open are far from ideal.
The German has only gone past the quarter-final stage at one tournament this year and is not in great shape ahead of the second grand slam of the season.
“ I still got to improve. And as I said a few weeks ago, I think every week is going to be better for me and this week was better than the last week, the last week was better than the previous week, and next week I hope is going to be better than this week, so basically for the French Open I’ll be perfect (laughing).”
Zverev said recently in Rome that “being a top four seed in the French Open has zero importance”. That remains to be seen.
This young Greek player has shown that he will be a force to be reckoned with in the very near future. This season he has defeated both Federer and Nadal, and has two titles under his belt.
His performances this year have presented the case that he has arguably overtaken Alexander Zverev as the figurehead for the next generation of tennis stars.
Whilst the German cannot seem to maintain any kind of form, Tsitsipas has gone from strength to strength. Although it would be a shock if he won the French Open, his performances in Madrid and Rome showed he’s no slouch. Therefore, he deserves to be on this list.
Rafael Nadal’s next closest competitor for French Open supremacy is legendary French tennis player Max Decugis, who won eight championships from 1903 to 1914.
Five different women have been crowned French Open champion in as many years. There hasn’t been a dominant female figure on the clay courts of Roland Garros like Rafael Nadal in the men’s singles draw.
An open feel to the French Open leaves plenty of excitement building in Paris for the second Grand Slam of the year. Who are the leading ladies and contenders for Roland Garros this year?
Chris Evert is the true queen of Roland Garros. The Florida native won seven French Open titles from 1974 to 1986.
It should come as no surprise that French tennis players have historically dominated the French Open, accounting for 30 championships since the event’s inception. The last French player to stand tall at centre court was Mary Pierce, who won top honours in 2000.
Romania’s best current sporting export Simona Halep has reached the French Open final three times in her career and last year finally landed a maiden slam in Paris. She remains one of the most consistent players on the WTA Tour which seems to have a lot more variety of winners on it than the men’s equivalent.
It used to be that such high standards were something Halep just couldn’t quite reproduce at the business end of majors, but she has come on for defeats to Maria Sharapova and Jelena Ostapenko – plus an Australian Open final loss to Caroline Wozniacki.
According to Paddy Power’s French Open Betting the women’s singles, Halep is the early 4/1 favourite to retain her Roland Garros crown.
Given she has also won multiple WTA Tour titles on clay, that status is arguably justified.
Dual Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova has never gone beyond the semis at Roland Garros, but did reach the Australian Open final for the first time earlier this year.
The Czech Republic representative looks sure to maintain her lofty position in the WTA world rankings alongside Halep.
Kvitova is a three-time winner of the Madrid Open, so it’s not as though clay doesn’t suit her game and style of tennis. Winning at Roland Garros, meanwhile, would complete a comeback from career threatening injuries suffered when her Prostejov apartment was robbed back in December 2016.
While Kvitova has won WTA Tour titles since that horrific incident, she hasn’t tasted Grand Slam success this side of the damage done to her hand. A fairytale win for the Czech cannot be ruled out though, as she’s 10/1 second-favorite for the French Open this year – putting her just ahead of three-time winner Serena Williams.
Japanese/Haitian star Naomi Osaka has won the last two Grand Slam titles on offer – doubling up at the US Open last year and the Australian Open earlier in this season. The 21-year-old needs to her game on clay after those hard court successes.
With youth on her side, Osaka is only going to get even better and, on that basis, must rate a very serious danger to more established players on the women’s tour. A player from the Far East has enjoyed French Open glory before with China’s Li Na winning in 2011.
Osaka’s back-to-back Slam successes suggest she is no flash in the pan and here to stay. At 14/1 to win the French Open, she is the same price as 2016 Roland Garros champion Garbine Muguruza and last year’s beaten finalist Sloane Stephens.
She showed very good signs of progress on the dirt to have a respectable 7-1 record on this surface. However, the world no.1 didn’t manage to win a title on clay after she withdrew from 2 tournaments for different reasons.
Osaka retired before the semifinal in Stuttgart for an abdominal problem while she was not fit to compete in Rome because of an injury to her right leg. She still decided to spend some time in Rome after withdrawing before heading to Paris where she will try to win her 3rd slam.
Serena already training in Paris looking for title #24
As she’s shown time and again, one thing is for certain: Williams can never be counted out.
Lengthy layoffs have had minimal impact on Williams, as she’s been quick to get back in a groove. The greatest example of this has been her most recent comeback last year. Upon returning to the tour after taking time to become a mother and focus on family, Williams reached two Grand Slam finals, at Wimbledon and the US Open.
The seeds for another major were actually planted in clay earlier in 2018, when the former world No. 1 advanced to the round of 16 at the French Open. However, an arm injury forced her out of the tournament before her fourth-round match against Maria Sharapova, whom she had defeated 18 consecutive times.
A positive run through the Slams promised bigger things to come in 2019, and she entered the Australian Open on a mission. In her first three matches in Melbourne, the seven-time champion dropped only nine games, then won a tight three-setter against then-world No. 1 Simona Halep living up to her status as one of the favourites.
However, in the quarterfinals, Williams’ dream of capturing her 24th Grand Slam singles title came to an end as Karolina Plisvkova rallied from the brink of defeat—a 5-1 third-set deficit—for the stunning victory. On her first match point, Williams rolled her ankle and was never able to recover. Save for an unlucky twist, Williams could have possibly been the last woman standing and been well on her way to reclaiming her spot at the top of the women’s game.
The 27-year-old late-bloomer became the first women’s champion in Madrid not to drop a set all tournament, and she beat four Grand Slam champs—Stephens, Halep, Petra Kvitova, and Jelena Ostapenko—on the way.
Was the end result in Madrid—a 6-4, 6-4 win by Bertens over Halep—also a sign of things to come? It sure seemed like it.
The demure Dutchwoman tries to keep under the radar, but her form is well exposed now.
Must be on the short list of favourites for the French Open.
Two of the four Madrid semi-finalists—Halep and Sloane Stephens—played for the title at Roland Garros in 2018, while the other two, Kiki Bertens and Belinda Bencic, have already won tournaments this year, and are sure to figure in more major matches down the road in 2019.