Stars hoping to shine in absence of clay king Nadal – 10 to watch at French Open

By Sports Desk May 24, 2023

The French Open will take place without Rafael Nadal for the first time since 2004.

The Spaniard’s withdrawal through injury opens the door for the rest of the men’s field, while two-time champion Iga Swiatek will look to cement her dominance of the women’s event.

Here, the PA news agency picks out 10 players to watch at Roland Garros.

Novak Djokovic

While the king of clay is absent, title hopefuls will still have to get past another 22-time grand slam champion. Djokovic has lifted the Coupe des Mousquetaires twice and lost in the final on four other occasions. However, his preparation has been far from perfect, with surprise losses and concern over an elbow problem.

Carlos Alcaraz

 

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While Nadal’s absence undoubtedly leaves a huge hole, Spanish fans have another phenomenon to cheer in the shape of Alcaraz, who has reclaimed the world number one ranking from Djokovic. An early loss at the Italian Open was a shock but the 20-year-old was supreme in winning titles in Barcelona and Madrid and is firmly in the frame for a second grand slam title.

Holger Rune

If neither Djokovic nor Alcaraz lifts the title then the best bet may be on young Dane Rune. The 20-year-old has soared into the top 10 over the last six months and already boasts two wins over Djokovic. Ambitious and not afraid to rile up opponents or the crowd, Rune looks a slam champion in the making.

Daniil Medvedev

The mercurial Russian is no lover of clay but the confidence he has carried from an excellent season has translated to the red stuff, bringing him victory in Rome on Sunday. Medvedev has won more matches than any other man so far this year and will be seeded second in Paris.

Jannik Sinner

 

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Sinner’s emergence at the top of the game was rather overshadowed by Alcaraz’s even more rapid ascent but their rivalry has been a tonic to a sport adjusting to the loss of its aging superstars. This year has seen the big-hitting Italian establish himself in the top 10 and a grand slam breakthrough may not be too far away.

Iga Swiatek

The Pole strolled to her second Roland Garros title last year as part of a 37-match winning streak. A clay-court natural, Swiatek can appear unstoppable on the surface but the gap at the top of the women’s game has certainly narrowed. Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina have been the players of the season so far while Swiatek has had a couple of injury niggles.

Aryna Sabalenka

The jocular Belarusian got the grand slam monkey off her back by beating Rybakina in a superb Australian Open final and has continued in the same vein ever since. Defeating Swiatek to win the clay title in Madrid was a big moment, although that is a much faster court. Sabalenka is yet to do well in Paris but she is a different player and competitor to 12 months ago.

Elena Rybakina

Rybakina may have been a surprise Wimbledon winner for many last summer but the danger caused by her power game is self evident, while she is as cool a customer as they come. The 23-year-old has shown excellent consistency this season and lifting the title in Rome saw her climb to fourth in the rankings.

Zheng Qinwen

China has been searching for a star to follow in the footsteps of former French Open winner Li Na and, in 20-year-old Zheng, they might just have found it. Athletic and powerful, she has risen steadily up the rankings into the top 20. Zheng reach the fourth round on her Roland Garros debut last year and was the only player to take a set off Swiatek.

Marketa Vondrousova

Even among the numerous women who have made grand slam finals in recent years, Vondrousova flies under the radar. Beaten by Ashleigh Barty at Roland Garros in 2019 as a teenager, the Czech has struggled with injury since. But she is one of the most naturally talented players on clay and has been showing good signs this season.

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